Fine sand filled the old man’s mouth and caused his eyes to squint in order
to see his sandals on the path. The harsh taste on his tongue was not the taste of
local sand which occasionally blew across the countryside leaving table tops soiled
enough to write verse on, but of the fine sand blown from the east, far from the
borders of Palestine and the small village of Cana in Galilee.
As he limped his way down the path to the carved out cavern at the end of the
garden, Caleb stopped and spat grains from his tongue and pulled his cloak over his
head to protect his eyes. He watched as the darkness moved over the village, reminding
him of another day many years earlier when a twin of this storm had darkened the
sky over the holy city of Jerusalem. But it wasn’t only the storm he recalled.
The taste in his mouth brought back mournful memories of a day forty years past.
A day he thought about many times and many times put out of his mind before tears
blurred his sight. After passing through the opening of a cave used as a stable,
he turned and again gazed out across the horizon–at least where he thought the horizon
should be. The sun had been so obscured by the storm that the landscape blurred into
a field of dark gray, no shadows and no sound but the wind.
One animal stood in the dimness of the cave, and Caleb felt his way along the
wall to where the large donkey stood tethered. The beast jerked its head as the coarse,
weathered hand touched him on the flank but soon calmed down when the familiar voice
“Be at peace old friend and rest well tonight. Tomorrow we’ll make one more trip
together, and I need you to be strong. Are you hungry?”
The creature seemed to understand the tone of voice, but it also knew a treat
would soon follow. The old man limped his way to a large cypress wood box in the
back of the alcove. His hand reached out and searched in the dimness until it touched
the lid of the box. He opened it and felt around until he found a flat clay bowl
with which he scooped a mound of oats from the bottom of the box being careful not
to fill the vessel too full. The donkey could smell the treat and snorted impatiently
in its eagerness.
The quick moving sandstorm faded over the village as the sky changed from a brown
to a bluish grey. Caleb held the bowl for the busy mouth as the light slowly came
back into the cave filtered through flakes of floating dust. Deep in thought he stared
out onto the day’s second coming of the sun while his mind flowed with images of
his youth and days filled with astounding experiences that even now he didn’t understand.
Light filled the grotto and the old man could see the large flat stone near the
back wall where it lay. Almost entirely covered by hay and dust not revealing its
true purpose, the stone rose up like a small plateau on a flattened meadow. He reassuringly
rubbed the palm of his hand on the rear of the donkey as he moved around it then
shuffled over to the stone and lifted one end up against the stable wall. Beneath
the rock was a deep hole which had secretly secured its contents for decades. He
reached in and pulled out a rolled up, canvas satchel the length of his forearm then
moved closer to the light of the late day sun. A sense of pride and accomplishment
filled him as he turned the bag over and over looking for signs of damage on the
surface. The tree sap, bee’s wax and soot that were smeared on the outside and the
wax coating on the inside kept the canvas from being destroyed by moisture and insects.
Caleb knew the contents were safe, but he couldn’t resist the temptation. He untied
the leather cord wrapped around the middle that held tight the thick bag. He unrolled
the top until the opening lay in the palm of his hand, and with a gentle search of
the contents a small smile moved across his wrinkled, white-bearded face.
Excerpts from the book
The sun had slipped behind the Galilean highlands and the shadows quickly faded
with the dusk. Birds that preyed on late day insects returned to their nests and
bats replaced them as if to fill the position of night watch. Against the twilight
horizon, both were soaring silhouettes distinguished only by the sharp erratic movement
of the bats as they suddenly switched course in a lunge for a small winged morsel.
The constant sound of insects became a background melody unnoticed by the ear while
farther down in the valley the sounds of the night prowlers increasingly filled the
darkening wilderness with howls and screeches.
The travelers moved to the sleeping mats to await the dawn. The old man felt uneasy
about closing his eyes. Under his cloak he had strapped the small sword around his
waist and positioned it in front of his groin so he could lay his right hand on the
braided handle, ready to draw the blade out in one quick swoop. As he laid his head
on a rolled up cloth and finally closed his eyes, a thought from the past streaked
across his mind. Something about living by the sword and dying by the sword. He recalled
when he had heard those words and then dozed off into the realms behind his eyelids.
The morning brought out the songbirds for the day watch as the sun’s early rays
draped the ridges of the highlands above the sleeping bodies below. The old man
realized he had overslept as the bright morning light blinded his crusty eyes when
he was harshly awakened by a stream of high-pitched donkey snorts. He quickly rose
and burst out of the tent with his sword drawn at arms length. The creature ran wildly
in circles at the end of the rope, stirring up dust and snorting in panic. Fortunately,
it was not near the tent, or the crazed animal would have trampled it and the dreamers
The old man jumped into the circle being made by the tiny hooves and grabbed the
rope. When he had finally calmed the donkey, he looked around to see what had spooked
it. He knew of only two things that made the animal act in such a peculiar way–dogs
and horses. Neither was in sight. He hobbled to the top of a nearby knoll for a view
over the shrubs and grass. There toward the hilly ridge high above moved the cause
of the commotion–Roman soldiers, some on foot and others on horseback heading south
in the direction of Jerusalem. They were quite far off, but the scent carried on
the morning breeze was potent enough to worry the beast senseless. Their movements
were muffled by the distance, but the blanket of dust they stirred practically obscured
the bushes that lined the ridge. Assured they were not seen, the old man quickly
went back to the tent, to a sleeping Miriam who had dozed off again.
I must explain the terrain on the lake’s eastern shore. Most of the land sloped
gently upward to the highlands surrounding the water, but at our landing spot the
shore was more rugged with steep cliffs. Caverns carved out of the stone in days
gone by covered the entire hillside and were used as burial tombs. About halfway
up the hill, on a level area, lay the cemetery for the town of Kheresa. The village
of Kheresa was nearby and you may remember it was the home of the twins, James and
On the way up the hill the twins made reference to a madman who had once been
chained in one of the caverns and fed by the townspeople. The twins believed he was
now loose and roamed the hills in his madness. We looked around us like frightened
children. As we came to the cemetery, the shouts of a ranting, naked, crazy man
startled us. He jumped out of a cave scaring us cold. After regaining our composure
and realizing he was harmless, we laughed with relief. The man’s sanity came and
went, and during periods of sanity he would find clothes and live among his fellows.
One of the evangelists recalled that he had recently seen that strange man at the
Bethsaida camp listening to the preaching of the Master. The madman’s name was Amos.
When Amos recognized the Master, he fell to his knees saying, ‘I know you, Joshua,
but I am possessed of many devils, and I beg you not to torment me.’ That poor madman
really thought he was full of demons, but if he had a demon, then why was he able
to be sane at times and not at others. I think he was just sporadically demented.
The Master reached down and grabbed him by the hand and said, ‘Amos, you are not
possessed of a devil. You have already heard the good news that you are a son of
God. I command you to come out of this spell.’ Right away Amos seemed well and sane,
talking normally to us all.
Soon after he was made well, a few villagers happened by and marveled at Amos
carrying on a normal conversation. On the highland above us, gentile swine herders
guarding their pigs had seen the healing of Amos and ran into town to spread the
word leaving their swine unattended. We heard barking and turned to see, in disbelief
and amazement, that several dogs had chased many of the pigs over a cliff to their
deaths. Dumb pigs. That took place soon after the Master spoke to Amos which made
it seem as if one event was caused by the other. The apostles, except for Thomas,
as well as the evangelists and even Amos said that Joshua drove the demons into the
swine which made them crazy enough to jump over the cliff. But it was clearly the
dogs barking that caused the fear and panic in the pigs. Others saw the dogs, too,
but chose to believe they barked at demons in the swine.”
“It could have been the dogs barking at demons. I’ve seen dogs bark at nothing
at all as if they perceived spirits.”
“Well, I was there and I know what I saw!” The old man paused, staring at her
disbelief. “Before long, other townsfolk came out and mumbled in amazement at Amos
sitting there conversing with us in a normal manner. Also, gathered around us were
the gentile swine herders who had come down from the highlands after seeing their
pigs at the bottom of the cliff. They were quite upset about losing their stinking
swine. We didn’t care because they’re dirty, unclean animals. I mean the swine of
course, but the herders weren’t much better. Amos excitedly shouted that the demons
left him and entered the pigs. Those who believed, spread the word.
Caleb joined Miriam on the knoll. “In my years of travel I’ve seen many stray
dogs roaming together. Usually, they hang around camps and caravans hoping to be
tossed morsels of food. They’re ordinarily harmless but have been known to attack
lone travelers for food. They never bothered me because of the mule and his feisty
nature.” The old man put his finger in his mouth then reached it high over his turban.
“What in the name of Moses are you doing, Father? Does it taste good, that dirty
“I wasn’t tasting my finger. I was wetting it. I wondered why the donkey wasn’t
reacting to the dogs, if it is dogs. He’s more afraid of horses, but dogs can make
him nervous, too. With a wet finger I’d feel which way the breeze blew, and as I
suspected my finger is colder on the backside meaning the breeze is blowing from
the highlands down to the river. The dogs can smell us, but the donkey can’t smell
them. I think we’re safe with the river between us. I don’t recall a crossing near
Miriam hurried to the pack and removed a water jar. “I need to tend to private
matters and while I‘m away, I’ll get a refill. Like you said, they’re on the far
side of the Jordan and shouldn’t bother me. If you hear my scream, come running with
your sword.” She moved through the brush a few steps and turned around to say, “Remember,
keep your ears sharp,” then vanished through the reeds.
“Be careful, dear,” the old man said to himself as he relaxed by laying on his
side with his arm beneath his head. He listened to the rustling of the breeze in
the leaves and grasses around him, even closing his eyes in order to hear better.
Rising from her crouch behind a cluster of nettle bushes, Miriam went to the river’s
edge and filled the jar then put her arm through the cord attached to the neck and
hung the container beneath her arm. She concentrated her eyes on the far riverbank
where willows clustered along the river’s edge, interrupting areas of low grasses.
She looked for a movement but saw only the flashing of sunlight reflected off the
leaves flickering in the wind. Yapping down river abruptly disrupted her attention.
‘Dogs after all,’ she thought. After glancing back in the direction of the camp,
she moved down river in search of the sound.
The thicket flourished more on her side of the river making it difficult to stay
close to the bank as she clambered over twisted branches and dead limbs. While continually
glancing across the flowing water, Miriam took care not to step in soggy soil, but
several times had scraped her lower leg on the sharp, dry bark of tangled oleanders
causing blood to mix with the dust on her skin. Movement caught the corner of her
eye as she broke into a clearing. She halted and held her breath until the source
of the motion revealed itself. She slowly squatted to make herself less visible.
On the other side where a willow grew horizontally into the shallow water of a
sandbar, a large, shorthaired mongrel, the color of old, dry leather spotted with
gray stains, paced in and out of the water trying to retrieve an object caught in
the branches. Miriam counted at least four other dogs of various sizes romping and
yipping behind him in encouragement to succeed at his task. In and out of the water
he pranced working up his courage, each time reaching a paw out attempting to snag
the object bobbing on the surface. Finally, braving to go out a little farther, he
hung a toenail in what appeared to be cloth. There was a familiarity to the object
brought ashore. Miriam recalled the cloth-like object floating downstream earlier.
The spotted one grabbed the garment by his fangs and waded back to the bank where
the others yelped in circles as they made attempts to grab it away. He made a quick
jerk to place the object firmer in his mouth. At that moment a shutter of horror
fell over Miriam as she recognized the coveted treasure. When the cloth fell away,
an arm with fingers spread wide became visible, at least what was left of it. Miriam
slightly gagged at the sight before arresting her emotions.
There was something she hadn’t previously noticed about the spotted one. As he
moved around to avoid losing his prize, she could see his back right leg was limp,
unusable and drawn up close to the body. A fight over the arm ensued and the spotted
one was forced to drop his catch in order to nip at the would be bone snatchers.
Miriam stood up wanting to remove herself from the sight. The three-legged one
caught her motion and stared at her with his one good eye. The look was one of surprise
but of determination, also. He left the arm to the others and began barking frantically
as he paced the bank. On his three good legs he ran up and down the river’s edge
searching for a place to cross. Miriam’s heart pounded in her throat. She regretted
her decision to venture away from camp. Hurriedly, she scrambled through the thicket
cutting herself more as she sought the safety of the sword.
Caleb, disturbed by the sound of rustling reeds, woke from his light nap. When
he saw Miriam scurrying toward him, he rose to his feet. He didn’t wait for her to
speak. He could see she was panicked and drew his sword as he surveyed the thicket
Pilate took his seat before the mob while the Master stood off to one side between
two soldiers. Pilate said to the chief priests, ‘You brought this man before me with
charges that he perverts the people, forbids the payment of taxes, and claims to
be king of the Jews. I’ve examined him and fail to find him guilty of these charges.
In fact, I find no fault in him at all.’ I felt a ray of hope he would set him free.
He continued. ‘Then I sent him to Herod, and he must have reached the same conclusion
since he has sent him back to me. Certainly, nothing worthy of death has been done
by this man. If you still think he needs to be disciplined, I’m willing to chastise
him before I release him.’ Good! I thought. Beat him and let him go!
The mob shouted and cursed Pilate as a group of men came up the steps hollering
the name, ‘Barabbas.’ ‘Give us Barabbas!’ they said. It was customary during Passover
for the Roman governor to release a condemned prisoner at the request of the people.
When those men came demanding to have someone called Barabbas released, Pilate thought
he could get them to choose Joshua instead. Barabbas was a real political agitator
and a murdering robber, a very dangerous fellow and so why would they want him released?
Part of the mob around me had been cheering the Master only a few days earlier
when the temple was cleared of money changers, so why wouldn’t they want him released?
Pilate needed a way out of the predicament and releasing Joshua for the Passover
was his way out, so he thought. He told them again that he could find no charge worthy
of condemning the Master to death. He asked them which one they’d like released,
Barabbas, the murderer, or Joshua of Galilee?
The chief priests and Sanhedrin councilors all shouted at the top of their voices,
‘Barabbas, Barabbas.’ The mob, like sheep, blindly followed their lead and shouted
for Barabbas, too. No one yelled, ‘Joshua.’ My heart sank. Something welled up inside
of me, and I was about to shout the name of Joshua when Pilate stood up and waved
his arm to shut them up.
He was agitated that his plan failed. He seemed angry at the ruthlessness of the
priest for wanting a murderer released. His voice revealed his disgust when he sarcastically
said, ‘How could you choose the life of a murderer in preference to the life of a
man whose crime is that he figuratively calls himself the king of the Jews?’
I hung my head. Pilate had no idea what he had just done. By calling the Master
the king of the Jews, he had sentenced him to death. The leaders became infuriated
and shouted even louder, ‘Give us Barabbas!’ A guard came from inside the structure
and handed Pilate a note. He read it to himself. I found out that the note was from
his wife, Claudia, a partial believer in the Master’s teachings after being influenced
by servants. The note revealed that she had a dream the previous night which caused
her much suffering. She prayed that her husband would have nothing to do with the
death of an innocent man. Pilate truly looked worried and perplexed.
While he read her words, the temple priest went through the mob urging for the
release of the robber and for the crucifixion of the Master. Once again Pilate foolishly
addressed the crowd asking, ‘What shall I do with the one called the king of the
Jews?’ In one loud voice like thunder in the clouds they screamed, ‘Crucify him!
My lips couldn’t contain my voice any longer. The words ‘Release him! Release
him!’ blurted out of my mouth. Not very loud at first, but then I shouted them out
hoping Pilate would hear. Those around me stopped yelling while giving me a strange
and piercing look.
Pilate spoke again raising his voice to be heard, ‘Why would you crucify this
man? What evil has he done? Who will come forward to testify against him?’ Pilate
leaned into a gale force, fighting a battle he could only lose.
‘Crucify him!’ They yelled back.
‘Release him,’ cried my struggling throat. One angry priest told me to shut up
unless I wanted to be crucified, too.
Again Pilate appealed to them, ‘Once more I ask you, which of these prisoners
shall I release to you at this Passover time?’ The coward had the power to end it
all right then, but his fear of the Sanhedrin poisoned his judgement.
The growing mob shouted, ‘Give us Barabbas!’ as I yelled louder over their screams,
‘Release Joshua!’ Just as I caught the face of Pilate turning in my direction as
if he heard me, a hand struck me in the face knocking me to the ground. I lay there
a bit dazed and staring at the paving stones covered in grains of sand. I rose to
my knees and crawled away from the restless forest of legs, down a few steps to finally
rest against a column. Blood ran from my cut lip onto the front of my cloak. In my
confusion, I thought ‘Esther will have a hard time getting the blood from this cloak.’”
Miriam winced at the thought of her father being hit and bleeding. She wanted
to say something but kept her peace. The day was waning and they had yet to find
a suitable campsite. Miriam decided to wait until he paused in his story to suggest
“I could still hear the coward above me asking the same question hoping to get
a different answer. ‘If I release the murderer, Barabbas, what shall I do with Joshua?”
And again he got the same answer, ‘Crucify him!’ I came to the conclusion he was
deaf. I heard Pilate say something else, but I couldn’t make it out and to be honest
with you, Miriam, at that moment, I didn’t care. But the mob became quiet with only
a murmur moving through it. I listened but couldn’t tell what was going on.
Then by my arms I was lifted to my feet. At first, I thought I was being arrested
until the familiar faces of two of David’s associates smiled at me. What a relief!
I wasn’t alone after all. They informed me that several of them had been coming and
going to bring news to David. They told me that the Master had been taken into the
courtyard of the praetorium by the guards with Pilate leading the way.
We waited and waited for quite some time before Pilate returned with the Master
in tow. My God, Miriam, the sight of the man was more than I could bear. Blood dripped
from his brow where a crown of thorned branches had been jammed over his head. The
blood mixed with the sweat that ran down his cheeks. He stood slightly bowed over
with grief and pain still wearing the purple robe now saturated in blood stains on
They had taken him into the courtyard and stripped him of the robe and tunic exposing
his bare back. They tied his hands to a post and attacked him with knotted whips.
They beat him without mercy until Pilate stopped them. As Pilate left the inner courtyard,
he instructed the guards to bring the prisoner once he was dressed. After the guards
stopped whipping the Master, they put the robe and the crown on him and put a rod
in his hand as a mock scepter. They knelt before him saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews.’
They spat upon him and struck him in the face with their hands. When they made ready
to return him, one of them grabbed the rod and hit him in the head. The scourging
was against Roman law which stated only a man condemned to die by crucifixion could
be beaten. Pilate, who wanted to let the Master go free and hadn’t condemned him
yet, unlawfully had him scourged hoping the blood drawn by one method would eliminate
it drawn by another. His plan utterly failed.
When the mob first laid eyes on the scourged Master, they gasped to a hush at
the horror before them. But it lasted only a moment until one priest cried out, ‘Crucify
him.’ Then the entire mob chanted the same, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ The jackals.
Again Pilate ‘the deaf governor’ stepped forward and raised his arm, ‘I perceive
that you are determined that this innocent man shall die, but what has he done to
deserve death? Who will declare his crime?’ He squirmed like a worm dug out of the
From out of the mob, Caiaphas, the high priest, stepped forward right into the
face of Pilate and said, ‘We have a sacred law, and by that law this man should die
because he made himself out to be the Son of God.’ I could tell Pilate was becoming
anxious and worried at not convincing the mob of the prisoner’s innocence. He waved
for the crowd to hold its peace while he took the Master by the arm and led him back
inside, that time with John Zebedee.
Pilate sat Joshua down and visibly trembling with fear he sat down beside him
and asked, ‘Where do you come from? Really, who are you? What is this they say, that
you are the Son of God?’ The Master said nothing but stared into the eyes of the
weakling. Pilate continued, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize that
I still have the power to release you or to crucify you?’ The stupid man hadn’t realized
he had lost his power long ago.
The Master desired to set Pilate straight saying, ‘You could have no power over
me except if it were permitted from above. You could exercise no authority over the
Son of Man unless the Father in heaven allowed it. But you aren’t so guilty since
you are ignorant of the gospel. He who betrayed me and those who delivered me to
you, they have the greater sin.’
Again did Pilate return with the Master before his accusers. He couldn’t find
a way out of his nightmare. He said to them, ‘I am certain this man is only a religious
offender. You should take him and judge him by your own law. Why should you expect
that I’d consent to his death because he has clashed with your traditions?’
He signaled a soldier to untie the hands of the Master, but before it could be
done, Caiaphas ran to the side of Pilate and shaking a finger in his face yelled,
‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend, and I will see that the emperor
knows all.’ That was it. They wore him down. The threat of losing his governor’s
position and his wealth because Caesar may believe he was disloyal and not a friend
was more than he could take.
The coward had Joshua brought near the judgement seat and pointing a finger at
him he screamed at the mob. ‘Behold, your king.’
They shouted back, ‘Away with him . . . Crucify him!’
In sarcasm Pilate screamed back, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’
The priests shouted back, ‘Yes, crucify him. We have no king but Caesar.’ Pilate’s
head dropped to his chest. That was the end. It was over. He had lost the battle.
At that moment he looked more sorrowful and beat up than the bleeding man beside
him. Sweat gushed down his clean-shaven face, falling in big drops from his chin.
Pilate turned and reluctantly ordered the release of Barabbas as the mob cheered.
Then he called for a basin of water, and for everyone to see, he washed his hands
saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this man. You are determined that he shall
die, but I have found no guilt in him. See you to it. The soldiers will lead him
The mob cheered and a high priest yelled, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’
Tears slowly rolled down my cheeks. I quietly wept alone.’
Caleb looked down at his feet and then over to Miriam where he saw the moisture
welling up in her eyes. They remained glassy and filled, but a drop never formed
to fall. She cleared the lump in her throat, but still the first words grabbled in
her mouth. “I’m horrified and dismayed at the unrighteousness of it all. I don’t
know how you withstood the agony of it! I promised myself not to interrupt you, but
I suffer in your memories and feel your pain and must tell you.”
The old man said nothing as his forehead fell into the palm of his hand. Miriam
looked back down into the valley to reassure herself and let out a deep sigh. “We
should be going before the dusk catches us without a camp. We’ll find a spot, eat
and you can finish your story in peace before we sleep. Our journey is coming to
an end, and we’ll have us a long rest before going to see Abner.”
Miriam rose and led the way through the low brush of the highlands, toward the