A black raven swooped down towards the open window of a small house, on the stony waste-land at the outskirts of the city. It perched on the window- ledge jostling smaller birds out of its way to get to the bread crusts placed there for all feathered friends, by Yeshu’a.
Upon catching sight of young Yeshu’a through the open window, the raven spread and flapped its wings as if reassured about something no mortal would comprehend, and flew off into the morning sky.
Murree rejoined her husband in the house he found for them, and the family was pleased to have the stability of a home once again, after their long and wearisome journey from Egypt. Their return journey took them through Judaea, where Murree visited her sister Elizabeth. It was a joyful reunion, full of hugs and tears.
“You’ve changed, my sister,” Elizabeth said, with delight, as they embraced. “And such a beautiful family you have.”
Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a high priest, who had married Murree and Joseph. Both girls were daughters of Hanna and her husband Joachim, a wealthy farmer, of the family of Aaron.
“What of your eldest, John?” Murree asked.
“He is a good boy, but I hardly see him, these days; he spends so much time in the desert. He lives a primitive, but prayerful life, in caves,” throwing up her hands in despair. “He eats only fruits, honey, berries, and dresses simply. Much of his time is spent in the company of Banus, who is also a Brother of the Essenes. He’s also trying to grow a beard! I hardly recognise him any more.”
“He sounds so like my Yeshu’a. Always praying. Does little around the house. He has made strange things to happen. Miracles people call them.”
“Perhaps we have given birth to a couple of rabbis,” Elizabeth laughed, as she began to prepare a meal. “Still you have Joseph’s sons and beautiful daughters to console you.”
Murree fell silent, then confided, “Fatima has grown attached to a young Bedouin boy. He is a nice young man, but much older than she. He is educated, and comes from a rich family. I hope nothing comes of it. He is not of our belief, if he believes anything.”
Murree giggled as she described his skill at catching duck, and collecting “manna” in the desert.
“At least they will not starve,” said Elizabeth, joining in the laughter.
Yeshu’a could be frequently found in the city’s great Temple, where he listened to the rabbis teaching scripture, and debated with others on the steps outside. From time to time he would interject, correcting or interpreting, what was being taught by the elders. This was not appreciated by the learned men, much less by his mother who later heard whispers of the incidences. Miriam would sometimes accompany Yeshu’a, and would relay, with a giggle, back to the family the encounters in the sacred Temple.
“Yeshu’a, you should not question the teachings of the elders,” his mother would pronounce. “You will make them angry and only cause trouble for yourself.”
“Their teachings may be correct, but the emphasis they place on earthly things, troubles me. And why kill animals inside the Temple? God does not want His creation sacrificed to Him. These animals are as beloved of the Father as is all nature.”
“They must know what they are doing,” said Murree. “Is it not the teachings of Moses?”
“No. God wants us to sacrifice the animal tendencies within ourselves, not those creatures beloved of the Father.”
“Oh, you’re like your cousin, John. Wandering about in the desert… Living on berries… Praying in caves! What will become of you both?” his mother sighs. “When are you going to settle down, and marry a nice girl? You are good with your hands. Your father has taught you some of his skills at carpentry, did he not?”
“Mother, I cannot marry. I have so much to learn, so much to do for God.”
“Not marry? Yeshu’a, why do you speak like this? If you wish to study and be a rabbi, you can still marry,” Murree pleaded. Yeshu’a being a descendent from the House of David, with his royal origins and rare intelligence, would make him an ideal suitor for many of the daughters of the rich local families. For any learned young man, or rabbi, it was an honour to marry one of their daughters.
“Many wealthy merchants admire you,” his mother argued. “They would welcome you as a husband for their daughters, and you would have a position in society. I hope you are not going the way of your cousin?” Yeshu’a smiled at the thought. He was not as yet reacquainted with his cousin, John. Although they were of an age and it was his hope that he would meet with him before long.
“Mother, I shall be leaving home soon, but not to go with John,” Yeshu’a said. “I am going east to the land of the Buddha. I wish to study in Bharath (India).”
Murree dropped the terracotta bowl she was holding, with the shock, splattering its contents at her feet. She stared at Yeshu’a in disbelief. Miriam and Ann, rushed into the house and stood with wide open eyes at the scene.
“Going east? Surely not! Yeshu’a, we do not follow their religious beliefs, their practises,” Murree pleaded. “We follow the ancient teachings of our forefathers.”
“I too wish to follow the teachings of our fathers, but I equally wish to learn of other roads to God,” he replied. “I have no wish to follow our custom of betrothal next year. Marriage is not for me; it is not my destiny.”
“How will you live? How long will you be away?” so many questions came tumbling out. When his brothers entered they too joined in, as they searched Yeshu’a face for answers. “How will you travel? Can we come?”
“I have no wish to cause you distress, mother. I will eat simply, and sleep where I find myself. I do not know how long I shall be away, but I will return,” he assured them. “Humanity is lost. It is in distress…in a no- man’s land! I want to help give it direction.”
The news of Yeshu’a’s intended departure, came as a shock to all. Word was carried to others; Elizabeth, his aunt, his mother’s uncle, Joseph, and not least to the merchants who had such plans for him! Since the family’s return from Egypt, their home was a place for rich and noble to gather, who desired the young Yeshu’a for a son-in-law, for he was now renowned for his edifying discourses in the name of the Almighty.
To the orthodox Jew, however, celibacy was considered repugnant to God, and accordingly an unmarried man could not claim to be a teacher. But as an Essene, Yeshu’a would have gone against the rules of the Order, should he have married and taken of himself a wife! It would have retarded the sacred work he was to undertake, as the prophesies foretold.
On the Sabbath, which was several days later, Yeshu’a visited the Temple once again, while on this occasion coming face-to-face with Joseph, his mother’s uncle, who came from a place called Arimathaea. Joseph was a counsellor to the Jewish Sanhedrin, and a close friend of Nicodemus, also a member of the Sanhedrin and leading lawyer of a portly stature. They were each Brothers in the Essene Order.
It had been Joseph’s ambition to invite Yeshu’a to join him in his import and export business. He was rich and influential, being an importer of tin from mines in as far-flung places as, Phoenicia, and Cornwall, in the land called Britain. He always took a deep interest in the welfare of all of Murree’s children, even while they lived in Egypt.
“Ah, the bright young man, who teaches the elders holy scripture,” announced the jovial Nicodemus, upon sighting Yeshu’a, at the Temple’s entrance. “Have you come again to teach these tired old men the ways of the Lord?” Lowering his voice slightly, he said, “The elders were disturbed by your answer to the question, ‘Can blood sacrifices wash away sins?’ I understand you refuted the suggestion.”
“No. I merely wished to contribute to the discussions,” replied Yeshi’a obediently. “I said that it is never right to offer human or animal blood sacrifices to God; that he who kills, kills himself, and he who eats the flesh of the slain beasts, eats of the body of the dead.”
“Joseph, do you know this young man?” asked Nicodemus, with a quizzical smile.
“I have not had the pleasure of meeting him since his return from Egypt,” replied Joseph, who was setting sight on Yeshu’a for the first time. “However, I do know him to be my niece’s son.” Addressing Yeshu’a, he said, “We must talk, you and I, about your future.”
Nicodemus made his excuses and left the two to converse privately on family matters.
Joseph and Yeshu’a strolled into the gardens adjacent to the Temple grounds and seated themselves on a marble bench, amidst heavy scented flowers and under the shade of palm-fronds, pierced by shafts of sunlight.
This was their first meeting, the first of many, as time would show. Yeshu’a had only heard of Joseph as his mother’s uncle, with great influence in society, and rich in worldly goods.
As Yeshu’a sat next to Joseph, not really listening to him speak, he saw a tall muscular man in his early fifties, well groomed in rich robes. His face was slim with a dark trimmed beard, turning grey.
Joseph had hoped that some day Yeshu’a would join him in his business, and travel with him on his long trade sea-voyages. Joseph’s own son, also called Joseph, was reluctant to share in his father’s business, preferring instead a career in law, and possessing a small farm.
“I was informed of your plans to leave home and travel east,” Joseph said, in a slow quiet voice. “We, in the Essene Order, are concerned as to your decision to travel to Bharath so soon. It is indeed a cultured and spiritual country, but you are still young and have no knowledge of their many languages, nor their cultures and customs. We are responsible for you, for it is written, that God has noble plans for your future life.”
“I do not understand,” Yeshu’a replied.
“Your mission during your last life upon this world, was incomplete. Your duty now is to reconnect with your last incarnation as Moses, when you failed to complete the journey to the Promised Land, Kashmir! You will learn, in time, of the prophecies. I shall not speak of them now other than to say that you have a most important role to play in this life, and it is our bounded responsibility, as elders, to watch over you until you have grown to full maturity,” Joseph informed him. “That is why your father, Joseph, took you to Egypt as a babe, to reconnect with your incarnation as Moses.”
“But why? Why must I have to “reconnect” as you say,” asked Yeshu’a.
“When you, as Moses, received the Commandments, and saw those whom you were leading to their new land in the act of idolatrous worship, you became so angry and disgusted, that you cast down and broke the sacred tablets,” Joseph explained. “By that very act you were deemed to have a another incarnation, to fulfil your Mission. Furthermore, you were only to glimpse, but not enter, the Promised Land.”
“When I complete this life’s event, will I have a further re-birth?”
“It is written that you will be re-born in the Advent of Sai, which will be known as Prema Sai, when the Lord Himself will again take human form,” Joseph announced, stunning the young Yeshu’a into wide-eyed silence.
As an important member of the Essenes, a strict ancient esoteric Jewish order, Joseph of Arimathaea knew of the destiny which lay ahead for young Yeshu’a, and the suffering he would have to undertake for mankind’s sake, but had not reckoned on its commencement at such an young age. For now he was only concerned for his immediate welfare, offering whatever was needed for the journey, but that offer Yeshu’a declined.
Yeshu’a felt that he needed room to expand and had no wish to be hemmed in at this stage of his progression. While he respected the Order to whom his father belonged, he knew inwardly, of the wider road along which he had to travel.
They conversed quietly together for some time.
Upon taking his leave to return home, Yeshu’a strolled through the noisy market place, by means of a warren of twisting alleyways, examining items as he went. Stalls catered for every household need; food stuffs of every description, cloths of every hew, and pristine cooking utensils. Circus side-shows were a feature of most bazaars, with acrobats, fire-swallowers, animal acts, and -- quietly hidden aside -- the usual games of chance. All goods were paid for by coin; gold, silver or brass, and one had to have one’s own basket to take away their goods of vegetables and fruit, as no containers were offered.
It was here that Yeshu’a suddenly came upon Yusuf and Sabaat, whom he had not seen since their caravan journey for Egypt. The former had a welcoming smile and a warm greeting, while Sabaat, on the other hand, showed nothing but a stiff acceptance, assumed more for his cousin’s sake.
“Yeshu’a! It is good that we meet again. How are you and yours?”
“All are well, Yusuf. Have you travelled far?” asked Yeshu’a, eager for news.
“The caravan is journeying to Egypt again, from Damascus. We will be returning two moons from now. What have you done since we last met?”
“Study mostly, Yusuf. I am intending to travel east to Bharath, very soon. It is my wish to study there,” Yeshu’a said, with more than a degree of excitement in his voice.
Yusuf stared at him in surprise. Why would anyone want to travel such a distance just to study, he thought, least of all a young man of barely fourteen years? Were there not excellent schools of learning in Jerusalem, Alexandria, or indeed, Rome! After a brief thought, he suggested for Yeshu’a to await his return, and they would journey together to Babylon, recommending it as a much safer route. Indeed, it was sometimes necessary to pay safety-money to warrior tribes, including Bedouins, along the route.
“I will travel with you as far as Babylon, and assist you in joining a worthy caravan from there, to wherever the journey takes you,” Yusuf promised, as they said their ‘farewells’.
Yeshu’a proceeded to walk out towards the edge of the great city of Jerusalem, to his home on the outskirts, while a light wind blow the fine dust, as fine as talcum-powder, through the streets. He noticed as he went the decline in the quality of housing, the further he went from the magnificent stone buildings in the city centre, housing the rich in worldly wealth, compared with the smaller mud-walled structures housing those who were rich only in hope.
The home his mother made for the family was a single storied building, with just enough room to accommodate the entire family. They kept livestock in pens at the rear, consisting of their faithful goat, a few sheep and some laying chickens. Murree tried growing vegetables on a small patch of common land nearby, with some success. Weaving and fine needle-work, which were skills she learned from her mother at a young age, were a source of family income. Her husband’s workshop was a short distance from the home and the children would gather there pretending to assist, but in Joseph’s eyes they were more of a hindrance.
“It was a surprising day. First meeting uncle Joseph, and later the smiling Yusuf, then the dour Sabaat,” Yeshi’a said, with a chuckle, to his mother over the evening meal. “All seemed interested in my journey east, I don’t know why.”
“Everyone is naturally concerned for you. You are still much too young to be travelling such a distance, into a strange country,” Murree replied, with more than a hint of worry in her voice.
“But, mother, you must know we are never alone. We need never fear, for fear itself, is the only fear. The protection of our dear Father and His angels, is always with us.”
His mother could only sigh and hope he was right, for she knew it would be many years before she would see him again. She lay awake for hours most nights, worried as to what would become of Yeshu’a on such a perilous journey. Murree had the other children to consider, she told herself, so she attempted to remove Yeshu’a’s trip from her mind and concentrate on the household chores.
Joseph nodded in acceptance upon hearing the news. He always knew that this day must come, but dreaded it when it did. As a prominent Essene he was aware of the destiny that lay ahead for Yeshu’a. However, to assist Yeshu’a on his journey of study to the east, Murree quietly sold some family possessions, during the course of the next few weeks, including pieces of jewellery she received from her mother, Anna, on the day she wedded Joseph. While not agreeing with the decision to go, she respected it, but was deeply anxious for his safety, as any mother would be.
Market-whispers were that there had been an outbreak of plague far to the east, many dead. Fearful of it spreading, the camel train overseers took the precaution of restricting the number of travellers from further east. “Probably rumours,” Murree consoled herself, more for comfort that from any knowledge or fact. Anyway, she thought, it takes so long for news to filter through by camel caravan train, perhaps the danger had ceased long passed. She could not help recalling all she knew of the plagues of Egypt, in former times, that gripped with fear the minds and hearts of the people.
“With God’s Grace, Yeshu’a will come to no harm,” Joseph would mumbled to her as they lay together awake at night.
At mid-morning, the following day, her daughter Anna came dancing lightly into the house; she always danced and hummed to herself, as young people have done down through the ages. She was artistic, a talent she inherited from her father, but unlike her father, she preferred to work mostly with metals, rather than wood, with a future ambition to work with gold and silver, when fortune dictated it. However, it was unlikely she would ever be apprenticed to a smith who would give her the training she desired, because of the social stigma associated with women working in these male dominant crafts. For the present, she was content to treat it as a hobby.
“I have made a present for Yeshu’a, to take with him on his journey,” she announced, holding high a Star of David, made of polished brass. “He can wear it on his girdle cord.”
“That was a kind thought, Anna,” her mother said, without looking up from her needle-work.
“But I do not know why he has to go, mother, and journey so far. We may never see him again.”
“Yeshi’a feels he has to go. I tried reasoning with him. Even uncle Joseph offered to take him into his business, to no avail.” Murree sighed her answer. “He is determined to go, and feels he is guided by God in doing so. He goes with my blessing. Would you feed the chickens for me, Anna?”