George Moore.

The Brook Kerith A Syrian story online

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thoughts were opposed to his. That would be a long story to tell,
Mathias answered, and I am in the midst of my argument.

The expression that began to move over Mathias' face told Paul that he
was asking himself once again what his life would have been if he had
remained in Alexandria. Talking, he said, to these Essenes who stand
midway between Jerusalem and Alexandria my life has gone by. Why I
remained with them so long is a question I have often asked myself. Why
I came hither with them from the cenoby on the eastern bank, that, too,
is a matter that I have never been able to decide. You have heard, he
continued, of the schism of the Essenes. How those on the eastern bank
believe that the order can only be preserved by marriage, while those on
the western bank, the traditionalists up there on that rock in that
aerie, would rather the order died than that any change should be made
in the rule of life. In answer to a question from Paul he said he did
not believe that the order would survive the schism. It may be, too,
that I return to Alexandria. No man knows his destiny; but if you be
minded, he said, to hear me, I will reserve a place near to me. My mind
is distracted, Paul replied, by fears for the safety of Timothy; and
perhaps to save himself from Mathias' somewhat monotonous discourse he
spoke of his apostolic mission, interesting Mathias at once, who began
to perceive that Paul, however crude and elementary his conceptions
might be (so crude did they appear to Mathias that he was not inclined
to include them in his code of philosophical notions at all), was a
story in himself, and one not lacking in interest; his ideas though
crude were not common, and their talk had lasted long enough for him to
discern many original turns of speech in Paul's incorrect Greek,
altogether lacking in construction, but betraying constantly an abrupt
vigour of thought. He was therefore disappointed when Paul, dropping
suddenly the story of the apostolic mission, which he had received from
the apostles, who themselves had received it from the Lord Jesus Christ,
began to tell suddenly that on his return from his mission to Cyprus
with Barnabas he had preached in Derbe and Lystra. It was in Lystra, he
cried, that I met Timothy, whom I circumcised with my own hand; he was
then a boy of ten, and his mother, who was a pious, God-fearing woman,
foresaw in him a disciple, and said when we left, after having been
cured by her and her mother of our wounds, when thou returnest to the
Galatians he will be nearly old enough to follow thee, but tarry not so
long, she added. But it was a long while before I returned to Lystra,
and then Timothy was a young man, and ever since our lives have been
spent in the Lord's service, suffering tortures from robbers that sought
to obtain ransom. We have been scourged and shipwrecked. But, said
Mathias, interrupting him, I know not of what you are speaking, and Paul
was obliged to go over laboriously in words the story that he had
dreamed in a few seconds. And when it was told Mathias said: your story
is worth telling. After my lecture the brethren will be glad to listen
to you. But, said Paul, what I have told you is nothing to what I could
tell; and Mathias answered: so much the better, for I shall not have to
listen to a twice-told story. And now, he added, I must leave you, for I
have matter that must be carefully thought out, and in those ruins
yonder my best thinking is done.

Speak to the Essenes; tell them of my conversion? Paul repeated. Why
not? he asked himself, since he was here and could not leave till
nightfall. Festus had given him leave to go to Jericho to preach while
waiting for the ship that was to take him to Rome, and he had found in
Jericho the intolerance that had dragged him out of the Temple at
Jerusalem; circumcision of the flesh but no circumcision of the
spirit.... But here! He had been led to the Essenes by God, and all that
had seemed dark the night before now seemed clear to him. There was no
longer any doubt in his mind that the Lord wished his chosen people to
hear the truth before his servant Paul left Palestine for ever. He had
been led by the Lord among these rocks, perhaps to find twelve
disciples, who would leave their rocks when they heard the truth of the
death and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth and would carry the joyful
tidings to the ends of the earth.




CHAP. XXXIII.


The Essenes, ten in number, were seated in an embrasure. A reader had
been chosen (an elder) to read the Scriptures, and the attention of the
community was now engaged in judgment of his attempt to reconcile two
passages, one taken from Numbers in which it is said that God is not as
man, with another passage taken from Deuteronomy in which God is said to
be as man. He had just finished telling the brethren that these two
passages were not in contradiction, the second being introduced for the
instruction of the multitude and not because the nature of man is as
God's nature, and, on second thoughts, he added: nor must it be
forgotten that the Book of Deuteronomy was written when we were a
wandering tribe come out of the desert of Arabia, without towns or
cities, without a Temple, without an Ark - ours having fallen into the
hands of the Philistines. He continued his gloss till Mathias held up
his hand and asked Hazael's permission to speak: the words that had been
quoted from Deuteronomy, those in which the Scriptures speak of God as
if he were a man, attributing to him the acts and motives of man, were
addressed, as our reader has pointed out, to men who had hardly advanced
beyond the intelligence of childhood, whose minds were still simple and
unable to receive any idea of God except the primitive notion that God
is a greater man. Now the reason for my interruption is this: I should
like to point out that for those who have passed beyond this stage,
whose intelligence is not limited to their imagination, and whose will
is not governed by selfish fears and hopes, there is another lesson in
the words: we can rise to the consciousness of God as an absolute Being,
of whom we know only that he is, and not what he is, and this is what is
meant when God is spoken of by the name I am that I am.

Eleazar was minded to speak: Mathias begged of him not to withhold his
thoughts, but to speak them, and it was at this moment that Paul
entered, walking softly, lest his footsteps should interrupt Eleazar,
whom he heard say that he disagreed with the last part of Mathias'
speech, inasmuch as it would be against the word of the Scriptures and
likewise against all tradition to accept God as no more than the
absolute substance, which strictly taken would exclude all differences
and relation, even the differences and relation of subject and object in
self-consciousness. I shall not be lacking in appreciation of the wisdom
of our learned brother, Paul heard him say, if I venture to hold to the
idea of a God whom we know at least to be conscious, for he says: I am,
a statement which had much interest for Paul; and while considering it
he heard Manahem say: it is hard to conceive of God except as a high
principle of being and well-being in the universe, who binds all things
to each other in binding them to himself. Then there are two Gods and
not one God, Saddoc interposed quickly, an objection to which Manahem
made this answer: not two Gods but two aspects, thereby confuting Saddoc
for the moment, who muttered: two aspects which have, however, to be
reduced to unity.

Paul's eyes went from Saddoc to Mathias, and he thought that Mathias'
face wore an expression of amused contempt as he listened and called
upon other disputants to contribute their small thoughts to the
discussion. Encouraged by a wave of his hand, Caleb ventured to remark:
there is God and there is the word of God, to which Hazael murmured this
reply: there is only one God; one who watches over his chosen people and
over all the other nations of the earth. But does God love the other
nations as dearly as the Hebrew people? Manahem asked, and Hazael
answered him: we may not discriminate so far into the love of God, it
being infinite, but this we may say, that it is through the Hebrew
people that God makes manifest his love of mankind, on condition, let it
be understood, of their obedience to his revealed will. And if I may add
a few words to the idea so eloquently suggested by our Brother Mathias,
I would say that God is the primal substance out of which all things
evolve. But these words must not be taken too literally, thereby
refusing to God a personal consciousness, for God knows certainly all
the differences and all the relations, and we should overturn all the
teaching of Scripture and lose ourselves in the errors of Greek
philosophy if we held to the belief of a God, absolute, pure, simple,
detached from all concern with his world and his people. But in what
measure, Manahem asked, laying his scroll upon his knees and leaning
forward, his long chin resting on his hand, in what measure, he asked,
speaking out of his deepest self, are we to look upon God as a conscious
being; if Mathias could answer that question we should be grateful, for
it is the question which torments every Essene in the solitude of his
cell.

Has any other brother here a word to say? Now you, Brother Caleb? I am
sure there is a thought in your heart that we would all like to hear.
Brother Saddoc, I call upon thee! Brother Saddoc seemed to have no wish
to speak, but Mathias continued to press him, saying. Brother Saddoc,
for what else hast thou been seeking in thy scroll but for a text
whereon to base an argument? And seeing that it was impossible for him
to escape from the fray of argument, Brother Saddoc answered that he
took his stand upon Deuteronomy. Do we not read that the Lord thy God
that goeth before thee shall fight for thee, and in the desert thou hast
seen that he bore thee, as a man bears his sons, all the way that ye
went till ye came unto this place. But Saddoc, Eleazar interrupted, has
forgotten that one of the leading thoughts in this discourse is that the
words in Deuteronomy were written for starving tribes that came out of
Arabia rather than for us to whom God has given the land of Canaan. We
were then among the rudiments of the world and man was but a child,
incapable, as Mathias has said, of the knowledge of God as an absolute
being. But then, answered Saddoc, the Scriptures were not written for
all time. Was anything, Mathias murmured, written for all time? Paul was
about to ask himself if Mathias numbered God among the many things that
time wastes away when his thought was interrupted by Manahem asking how
we are to understand the words, the heavens were created before the
earth. Do the Scriptures mean that intelligence is prior to sense?
Mathias' face lighted up, and, foreseeing his opportunity to make show
of his Greek proficiency he began: heaven is our intelligence and the
earth our sensibility. The spirit descended into matter, and God created
man according to his image, as Moses said and said well, for no creature
is more like to God than man: not in bodily form (God is without body),
but in his intelligence; for the intelligence of every man is in a
little the intelligence of the universe, and it may be said that the
intelligence lives in the flesh that bears it as God himself lives in
the universe, being in some sort a God of the body, which carries it
about like an image in a shrine. Thus the intelligence occupies the same
place in man as the great President occupies in the universe - being
itself invisible while it sees everything, and having its own essence
hidden while it penetrates the essences of all other things. Also, by
its arts and sciences, it finds its way through the earth and through
the seas, and searches out everything that is contained in them. And
then again it rises on wings and, looking down upon the air and all its
commotions, it is borne upwards to the sky and the revolving heavens and
accompanies the choral dances of the planets and stars fixed according
to the laws of music. And led by love, the guide of wisdom, it proceeds
still onward till it transcends all that is capable of being apprehended
by the senses, and rises to that which is perceptible only by the
intellect. And there, seeing in their surpassing beauty the original
ideas and archetypes of all the things which sense finds beautiful, it
becomes possessed by a sober intoxication, like the Corybantian
revellers, and is filled with a still stronger longing, which bears it
up to the highest summit of the intelligible world till it seems to
approach to the great king of the intelligible world himself. And while
it is eagerly seeking to behold him in all his glory, rays of divine
light are pouring forth upon it which by their exceeding brilliance
dazzle the eyes of the intelligence.

Whilst he spoke, his periods constructed with regard for every comma,
Mathias' eyes were directed so frequently towards Paul that Paul could
not but think that Mathias was vaunting his knowledge of Greek
expressly, as if to reprove him, Paul, for the Aramaic idiom that he had
never been able to wring out of his Greek, which he regretted, but
which, after hearing Mathias, he would not be without; for to rid
himself of it he would have to sacrifice the spirit to the outer form;
as well might he offer sacrifice to the heathen gods; and he could not
take his eyes off the tall, lean figure showing against the blue sky,
for Mathias spoke from the balcony, flinging his grey locks from his
forehead, uncertain if he should break into another eloquent period or
call upon Paul to speak. He was curious to hear Paul, having divined a
quick intelligence beneath an abrupt form that was withal not without
beauty; he advanced towards Hazael and, leaning over his chair,
whispered to him. He is telling, Paul said to himself, that it would be
well to hear me as I am about to start for Rome to proclaim the truth in
that city wherein all nations assemble. Well, let it be so, since it was
to this I was called hither.

Hazael raised his eyes and was about to ask Paul to speak, but at that
moment the bakers arrived with their bread baskets, and the Essenes
moved from the deep embrasure in the wall into the domed gallery, each
one departing into his cell and returning clothed in a white garment and
white veil. Paul was about to withdraw, but Hazael said to him: none
shares this repast with us; it is against the rule; but so many of the
rules of the brethren have been set aside in these later days that, with
the consent of all, I will break another rule and ask Paul of Tarsus to
sit with us though he be not of our brotherhood, for is he not our
brother in the love of God, which he has preached travelling over sea
and land with it for ever in his mouth for the last twenty years.
Preaching, Paul answered, the glad tidings of the resurrection,
believing myself to have been bidden by the same will of God that called
me hither and saved me from death many times that I might continue to be
the humble instrument of his will. I will tell you that I was behoven to
preach in Jericho - called out of myself - God knowing well they would not
hear me and would drive me into the mountains and turn my feet by night
to this place. Be it so, Paul, thou shalt tell thy story, the president
answered, and the cook put a plate of lentils before the brethren and
the baker set by each plate a loaf of bread, and everyone waited till
the grace had been repeated before he tasted food. The peace, concord
and good will; all that he had recommended in his Epistles; Paul saw
around him, and he looked forward to teaching the Essenes of the
approaching end of the world, convinced that God in his great justice
would not allow him, Paul, to leave Palestine without every worthy
servant hearing the truth. So he was impatient to make an end of the
food before him, for the sustenance of the body was of little importance
to him, its only use being to bear the spirit and to fortify it. He took
counsel therefore with himself while eating as to the story he should
tell, and his mind was ready with it when the president said: Paul, our
meal is finished now; we would hear thee.




CHAP. XXXIV.


Yesterday the Jews would have thrown me into the Jordan or stoned me
together with Timothy, my son in the faith, who instead of following me
round the hill shoulder kept straight on for Cæsarea, where I pray that
I may find him. These things you know of me, for three of the brethren
were on that balcony yesternight when, upheld by the will of God, my
feet were kept fast in the path that runs round this ravine. The Jews
had abandoned their hunt when I arrived at your door, awakening fear in
Brother Saddoc's heart that I was a robber or the head of some band of
robbers. Such thoughts must have disturbed his mind when he saw me, and
they were not driven off when I declared myself a prisoner to the
Romans; for he besought me to depart lest my presence should bring all
here within the grip of the Roman power. A hard and ruthless power it
may be, but less bitter than the power which the Jews crave from the
Romans to compel all to follow not the law alone, but the traditions
that have grown about the law. But you brethren who send no fat rams to
the Temple for sacrifice, but worship God out of your own hearts, will
have pity for me who have been persecuted by the Jews of Jerusalem (who
in their own eyes are the only Jews) for no reason but that I preach the
death and the resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose
apostle I am, being so made by himself when he spoke to me out of the
clouds on the road to Damascus.

Of this great wonder you shall hear in good time, but before beginning
the story you have asked me to relate I would before all calm Brother
Saddoc's fears: I am no prisoner as he imagines me to be, but am under
the law to return to Cæsarea, having appealed to Cæsar as was my right
to do, being a Roman citizen long persecuted by the Jews; and I would
thank you for the blankets I enjoyed last night and for the bread I have
broken with you. Also for the promise that I have that one of you shall
at nightfall put me on the way to Cæsarea and accompany me part of the
way, so that I may not fall into the hands of my enemies the Jews, of
Jerusalem, but shall reach Cæsarea to take ship for Rome. None of you
need fear anything; you have my assurances; I am here by the permission
of the noble Festus.

And now that you have learnt from me the hazard that cast me among you I
will tell you that I am a Jew like yourselves: one born in Tarsus, a
great city of Cilicia; a Roman citizen as you have heard from me, a
privilege which was not bought by me for a great sum of money, nor by
any act of mine, but inherited from my father, a Hebrew like yourselves,
and descended from the stock of Abraham like yourselves. And by trade a
weaver of that cloth of which tents are made; for my father gave me that
trade, for which I thank him, for by it I have earned my living these
many years, in various countries and cities. At an early age I was a
skilful hand at the loom, and at the same time learned in the
Scriptures, and my father, seeing a Rabbi in me, sent me to Jerusalem,
and while I was taught the law I remember hearing of the Baptist, and
the priests of the Temple muttering against him, but they were afraid to
send men against him, for he was in great favour with the people.
Afterwards I returned to Tarsus, where I worked daily at my loom until
tidings came to that city that a disciple of John was preaching the
destruction of the law, saying that he could destroy the Temple and
build it up again in three days. We spoke under our breaths in Tarsus of
this man, hardly able to believe that anyone could be so blasphemous and
reprobate, and when we heard of his death upon a cross we were overjoyed
and thought the Pharisees had done well; for we were full of zeal for
the traditions and the ancient glory of our people. We believed then
that heresy and blasphemy were at an end, and when news came of one
Stephen, who had revived all the stories that Jesus told, that the end
of the world was nigh and that the Temple could be destroyed and built
up again, I laid my loom aside and started for Jerusalem in great anger
to join with those who would root out the Nazarenes: we are now known as
Christians, the name given to us at Antioch.

I was telling that I laid aside my loom in Tarsus and set out for
Jerusalem to aid in rooting out the sect that I held to be blasphemous
and pernicious. Now on the day of my arrival in that city, while coming
from the Temple I saw three men hurrying by, one whose face was white as
the dead, with a small crowd following; and everyone saying: not here,
not here! And as they spoke stones were being gathered, and I knew that
they were for stoning the man they had with them, one Stephen, they
said, who had been teaching in the Temple that Jesus was born and died
and raised from the dead, and that since his death the law is of no
account. So did I gather news and with it abhorrence, and followed them
till they came to an angle, at which they said: this corner will do.
Stephen was thrown into it, and stones of all kinds were heaped upon him
till one spattered his brains along the wall, after which the crowd
muttered, we shall have no more of them.

That day I was of the crowd, and the stone that spattered the brains of
Stephen along the wall seemed to me to have been well cast; I hated
those who spoke against the law of our fathers, which I held in
reverence, as essential and to be practised for all time; and the mild
steadfastness in their faces, and the great love that shone in their
eyes when the name of our Lord Jesus Christ was mentioned, instead of
persuading me that I might be persecuting saints, exasperated me to
further misdeeds. I became foremost in these persecutions, and informed
by spies of the names of the saints, I made search in their houses at
the head of armed agents and dragged them into the synagogue, compelling
them to renounce the truth that the Messiah had come which had been
promised in the Scriptures. Nor was I satisfied when the last Nazarene
had been rooted out of Jerusalem, but cast my eyes forward to other
towns, into which the saints might have fled, and, hearing that many
were in Damascus, I got letters from the chief priests and started forth
in a fume of rage which I strove to blow up with the threats of what we
would put the saints to when we reached Damascus. But while the threats
were on my lips there was in my heart a mighty questioning, from which I
did not seem to escape, perhaps because I had not thrown a stone but
stood by an approving spectator merely. I know not how it was, but as we
forded the Jordan the cruelties that I had been guilty of, the
inquisitions, the beatings with rods, the imprisonment - all these things
rose up in my mind, a terrible troop of phantoms. Gentle faces and words
of forgiveness floated past me one night as we lay encamped in a great
quarry, and I asked myself again if these saints were what they seemed
to be; and soon after the thought crossed my mind that if the Nazarenes
were the saints that they seemed to be, bearing their flogging and
imprisonments with fortitude, without complaint, it was of persecuting
God I was guilty, since all goodness comes from God.

I had asked for letters from Hanan, the High Priest, that would give me
the right to arrest all ill thinkers, and to lead them back in chains to
Jerusalem, and these letters seemed to take fire in my bosom, and when
we came in view of the town, and saw the roofs between the trees, I
heard a voice crying to me: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is
hard for thee to kick against the pricks; and trembling I fell forward,
my face upon the ground, and the Lord said: I am Jesus whom thou
persecutest. Arise, and go into the city and it shall be told to thee
what thou must do; by these words appointing me his apostle and
establishing my rights above those of Peter or John or James or any of
the twelve who walked with him whilst he lived as a man in Galilee. My
followers, who were merely stricken, but not blinded as I was, took me
by the arm and led me into Damascus, where I abode as a blind man till
Ananias laid his hands upon me and the scales fell from my eyes, and I
cried out for baptism, and having received baptism, which is spiritual
strength, and taken food, which is bodily, I went up to the synagogue to
preach that Jesus is the son of God, and continued till the Jews in that



Online LibraryGeorge MooreThe Brook Kerith A Syrian story → online text (page 31 of 37)