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Chapter Seven

“Shall this be your first visit to Damascus, Yeshu’a?” Yusuf asked, as the long camel train pulled away from Jerusalem, at dawn of that fateful day, East. While his heart was full of hope and yearning for knowledge, Yeshi’a could still feel the pull and heartbreak of the family he was leaving behind.

“I have no memory of anywhere other than Egypt and Jerusalem, my friend. I feel my life is about to begin,” replied Yeshu’a, as he rode high on the spare camel, swaying back and forth, along-side his friend Yusuf. As they travelled together with the camel train to Damascus, Yusuf promised to journey further with him, as far as Babylon, where he would quietly pay for a place on another train continuing further east.

“Your journey will be a long one, I fear. It could take you many moons to get to Sind,” Yusuf advised. “I wish I could go further with you.”

The route between Jerusalem and Damascus was a well-trodden one, with merchant trains going back and forth almost every day. Trade was the main purpose for their existence, both cities enriching themselves in the process. They would travel along the route, which was under the protection of Roman garrisons, then on through Samaria, and to the Galilee, before swinging north-east to Damascus.

It was quite clear to the average onlooker that the Romans had no time for Israelite or Arab. The high taxes that the Roman authority imposed upon the Jewish people, to maintain their military forces, created much tension between Roman and Judean. The Bedouin Arab, being nomadic visitors, unlike their merchant cousins, simply kept clear of the conflict. The Roman’s saw them as being no better than the smelly camels they rode upon. The Judeans were different, however, they were educated, and many held important positions within the Roman political structure and were beneficially used as “go-betweens,” to keep the peace.

The first two days were, generally speaking, uneventful. The air was now beginning to cool, as the caravan train proceeded slowly up to the high ground close to the Sea of Chinnereth, more recently referred to as Lake Galilee, where one could observe and marvel at its cobalt blue waters standing out in stark contrast to the burnt brown of the surrounding desert landscape. The lake was glass smooth in the sunlight, as fishermen worked their nets as they had done for aeons, around the Jordan inlet to the north of the lake. Farmers tended their crops as black and white kingfishers flashed and dived over the waters from the shelter of the little nearby wood of eucalyptus trees. It was a scene of great tranquility and beauty.

The camel caravan train proceeded to pass village after village, many of which were set in exquisite picturesque groves of date palms. Women sat outside their brown box-like houses pounding maize for bread or baking in outdoor dome-like ovens. The small dusty patches of land between the houses were crowded with chickens, camels, donkeys, water buffalo, and scampering brown children. Some of these brown-mud homes would have two or even three storeys, while on their flat roofs elaborate pigeon houses were built, around which thousands of blue and white birds fluttered.

The town of Hazor lay ahead, which was fortified many years before by Solomon, but occupied now by Romans. The train had no need to stop there. Their route swung north-east to Damascus, where they would sojourn for a couple of days to replenish supplies and rest, before pushing on to Babylon.

The nights were beginning to be much colder now, and Yeshu’a was grateful for his warm blanket, the only possession he carried and much valued as they traversed higher ground. He declined the hospitality of sharing a tent for the night, preferring to wrap himself in his blanket under the shelter of the acacia trees. The acacia tree was equally welcome during the blistering heat of the day, as it was against the chill winds of night.

Yeshu’a and Yusuf huddled around the night’s camp-fire in idle conversation, eating a light meal.

“Yeshu’a. May I ask if you see me as a pagan, because I have no knowledge of your God?” Yusuf asked, hesitantly.

“Indeed no,” replied Yeshu’a, somewhat startled by the question. “I know you to have a pure heart. God loves all men, of every religion and none, whether they believe in Him or not. He is the Father of all. Indeed, it does not matter if you do not believe in God, as long as you believe in yourself.”

Yusuf sat in silence as he contemplated the reply, and eventually looked across through the flames at Yeshu’a and asked, “How then does one worship your God?”

“Work is worship! If you serve your fellow man, you serve God. Except for God in man, there is no other God! Man is God. God is man. There’s no difference between the man and God. One can call Him by any name and He responds. As I said, my God is the God of all.”

The answer made Yusuf smile, as if the reply filled a deep void within him. He could see the logic behind Yeshu’a’ words. Being of service to others must certainly be more important than just praying or giving alms, he mused.

“If you are rich and you give a coin to a poor man,” Yeshu’a continued, “It is of little loss to you, as it soon passes from the hands of the poor man, and once again he has nothing. Whereas giving him food, clothing and service, these sustain him, and you are greater in the eyes of God.”

Yusuf was silent for a moment, and said, “What you say is good, but is it in accordance to the teachings of your rabbis? They seem inflexible in what they preach, it seems to me.”

“I have gleaned much from my own studies and my own conscience,” said Yeshu’a. “However, there is much that I disagree with in the teachings of our priests. Is it wrong to think for one’s self?”

Yusuf smiled and nodded, “Thank you, Yeshu’a, for those words of comfort. I’m beginning to see things differently. We will talk again,” as he placed some further twigs upon the fire before retiring to his tent.

Yeshu’a laid back against the tree, wrapped the blanket tightly about him, and surrendered to slept.

His father, Joseph, came to him that night in a dream. He wore the gleaming white robe of an Essene and in his left hand he held a long staff, as he stood in the middle of a dry, dusty road. No word was spoken. Yeshu’a saw him raise the staff and point it along the road ahead, and as he looked the road seemed to lengthen, rise upwards and become rougher. Puzzled, Yeshu’a looked back to Joseph, but he had gone.

Yeshu’a awoke from his sleep with a start, sitting bolt upright and breathing heavily. What does this mean, he thought. It slowly dawned upon him that his father was pointing the way to the future. A future that was going to be a long, up-hill journey, on a rough, dusty road. This was a similar image to that which he was given in the cave those many months previous. However, he knew in his heart that he would be sustained on that journey, by the love of his Lord.

The night was still, as he looked around him. The fire had long done out. Now the only illumination was by the half moon that cast a dark light upon the surrounding tents and animals. He could detect lights from fires in the villages, far below on the edge of the lake. Yeshu’a slept no more, ’till the sun’s rays of orange light came rushing up from the eastern horizon. His thoughts turned to his home and his mother, who would now be up baking the day’s bread before anybody else in the house stirred. His nostrils could almost detect the aromatic smell of fresh bread, almost.

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