Authors: Frederick Ramsay
Tags: #Mystery & Detective
Gamaliel had not yet witnessed the man in action nor had he any wish to do so. Perhaps during the Feast which began the next day he would, perhaps not. Rabbis from all over the Nation usually converged on the city during the Holy Days. Perhaps this one would too and he’d get his chance. On the whole, he thought Caiaphas to be overreacting. It was his right to do so, of course, but Gamaliel did not wish to be party to a program aimed at hounding illiterate fishermen and farmers who at least followed someone, even if, strictly speaking, not someone correctly trained or ordained. He would leave persecution to ambitious clerks like Ehud or the new one, Jabez ben Ratzon. There were far more important things needing his attention than harassing this rag-tag group of would-be reformers and apocalyptic busybodies.
The High Priest had expected him at daybreak. Why such an early hour he could not fathom, but the High Priest had, of late, seemed unduly agitated about most things and he guessed meeting at such an early hour secured some measure of privacy not normally accorded the man. He would be disappointed. The Lord created all things in an order that not even the High Priest could alter. It is the nature of Pharisaic thinking, that order should be in all things and all things should be in order. The Lord provided the Law. The Law provided the order, and the Pharisees provided its correct interpretation. Nothing more need be said. It was the lesson he pounded into his students and, if and when they would take the time to listen, the other members of the Sanhedrin. They, however, were not as teachable as his rabbinical students.
A bowl of dates, a jug of goat’s milk, and a small loaf of freshly baked bread awaited him on a rough wooden table that he’d insisted be placed in the archway leading to the street. He wanted to absorb the sounds and scents of Jerusalem as he ate. He also wished to have a few more moments to frame his answer to Caiaphas. He ate slowly measuring time with his chewing and watching the mass of humanity moving back and forth on the street beyond, a street that led to the Temple. Satisfied at last that he could withstand the High Priest’s ire and fortified by prayers and his morning meal, he stood and made for the gate. The blended scents of camel, donkey, cooking oil, and sweaty travelers washed over him like a warm bath and required him to pause a moment to adjust to the city, his city, David’s city. At the doorsill he paused to let a group of pilgrims newly arrived in Jerusalem for the seven-day-long Feast of Tabernacles
pass by. He wondered idly where they had come from, north, south? Then, he stepped gingerly into the street prepared to confront the High Priest, his students, and anyone else who proposed to challenge him this day.
A young man stepped in his path.
“Honored sir,” he said. “Are you Gamaliel, Rabban of the Sanhedrin, teacher, and most noble man of the Law?”
“I am he. I am not so sure about some of the other titles you have bestowed on me, however.”
“Sir, I am bidden to tell you to come at once to King Herod’s palace. I am to say it is a matter most urgent and—”
Gamaliel held up his hand. He studied the youth’s face. If there was any guile in him, he would detect it immediately. He had acquired a faculty over the years for discerning the truth from a man’s face, any disingenuousness in his soul, if such existed. It had served him well over the years particularly when screening pupils and dealing with his colleagues in the Sanhedrin. Many young men wished to study with him, only a select few would.
“And what is this matter that is of such great importance that the king summons me?”
“It is not the king, sir, who summons. It is the Prefect who requires your presence.”
“Pontius Pilate summons me to Herod’s palace? This cannot be true. No Roman willingly sets foot in the king’s palace, nor would he be welcome.”
“Nevertheless, it is the message I bear.”
“I am sorry, but I have an appointment with the High Priest at this very moment. Tell Pilate he must wait.”
“Sir, he insists. More than that, he has sent his soldiers to accompany you. It will not do to refuse.”
Gamaliel looked up and realized all activity on the street had come to a near halt. Passersby stood and gawked, first at the guards in their ornate garb and half armor, then at him. He wondered what must be going through their minds. How often did one travel up to Jerusalem and see the Rabban of the Sanhedrin taken into custody by a clutch of legionnaires?
“Very well, young man, as I have no choice in the matter, you may take me to Pilate, but it will be against my wishes and better judgment.”
Pontius Pilate, the Prefect to Judea and Palestine, stood in the retreating shade offered by a portico at the entrance to Herod’s palace. The Prefect, Gamaliel noted, had not entered it after all. He stepped carefully to avoid some camel offal left by a small caravan that had passed down the street only recently. He kept the Great Man, Rome’s anointed overseer, the famous and universally hated Pilate, in the corner of his eye as he did so. He had a fleeting, unkind thought that given the choice, he’d rather take the offal and avoid the Prefect. Then, he reflected that perhaps he was being too harsh. It wasn’t just a matter of distrusting gentiles. He had stated publically and frequently the Nation’s need to soften views of those who did not share their beliefs. But this particular specimen of humanity…Somewhere, someone must approve of this man. He must have a mother at least, and the emperor thought enough of him to give him this posting. Of course, that would have been Tiberius, and everyone knew that aging old man was prone to mad flights of fancy and other peculiarities.
As Pilate lounged against a pillar, his eyes darted back and forth impatiently seeming to search the street. Clearly, he did not know what or who to expect as the famous Rabban. The two had never met. Gamaliel had seen him once or twice, from a distance, when the emissary from Rome had addressed the people on the occasion of the removal of the Legion’s standards from the Temple Mount, and again when he made his pathetic triumphal entrances into the city before each of the High Holy Days. A proud and arrogant man, given to fits of brutality, he’d been told. He was of above average stature, lean and quite dangerous looking. Not a man to be trifled with.
Gamaliel greeted him and bowed his head marginally. If the great Pilate expected more in the way of obeisance he’d need to say something.
“You are the Rabban?” Pilate asked, as if there’d been some mistake.
“I am, Excellency. I have been summoned? To what purpose, may I ask?”
“I expected you to be older. All your people in positions of power, it seems, must achieve the age of your Moses at least before they are considered trustworthy. Well, never mind about that. You may well ask, ‘to what purpose.’ It is your king and his household that require your services in resolving this sordid matter, not I. It is only my duty to bring the authority of my office to assure you will comply with their needs, and mine.”
“Sir? A sordid business, you say? I am at a loss.”
“Ah, I take it you have not heard, then.”
“I have only just made my morning prayers and eaten my first meal of the day. It is early yet and I have not been about to hear anything. What, may I ask, should I have heard?”
“Murder, Rabban. There is a dead woman, a young girl of questionable status in the palace and it may signal a scandal. For me, I do not care a bowl of dates for the business one way or the other, but it has been done in this place under the king’s nose. And as he is the king and rules because Rome decrees it to be so, it will not do to have a scandal involving this family. No, it is not allowable.”
“A scandal in the family of Herod? Surely you cannot be serious, Prefect. You must know the history of this royal line? One more death, one more scandal involving one woman or a dozen would hardly be noticed much less a cause for concern. The people over whom this king rules have little regard for him. We view him as only slightly less trying than yourself, Prefect, with due respect.”
Pilate’s face blazed and for a moment Gamaliel thought he would lash out at him with his fist or even his sword. He didn’t. Blunt speech had its place in the Sanhedrin and with students. With the Prefect, however, it didn’t sit well. For this Roman bully to have resisted an opportunity to drop one more upstart Jew in the dust must mean the situation was truly serious.
“I will overlook that remark, Rabbi,” the Prefect said.
Gamaliel tensed and then relaxed. So, now only Rabbi. Not Rabban. A mild rebuke surely.
“My apologies, a slip of the tongue, but you understand no one likes a conqueror however sublime. How can I be of service to your Excellency?”
Pilate harrumphed and swung one long muscular arm in an arc. “Follow me.”
Pilate led Gamaliel through the portal and swerved to the left, avoiding the palace proper and turned into a small atrium at one side. He sat on a bench and indicated Gamaliel should do likewise.
“You know the torturous history of this family, these Hasmoneans favored by Julius, is both complex and marginally incestuous.”
“It is the nature of royalty, Excellency, to interbreed so as not to share power, wealth, or position. Your own Caesars, for instance—”
“Caesar is yours as well, Rabbi. Best not forget that and you will do well to keep your opinions of Rome’s ruling house to yourself. Please do not interrupt me again. I have much to tell and little time to tell it.”
“Again my apologies. You were saying the lineage of our late great king seems complex.”
“A Gordian Knot, more like, but an Alexandrian solution to unraveling it is not available to us so we must struggle through it as best we can. Since you know it better than I, I will skip to the branch of that thorn-encrusted tree that concerns us today. You are aware, doubtless, that this King, Antipas, has acquired his brother’s wife.”
“Indeed. It is a matter of concern for the rabbis and for many others. It is held to be a sin to marry one’s brother-in-law under these particular circumstances. Not a few critics have pointed that out. John the Baptizer comes to mind”
“Your holy man who lost his head to the king’s whims and weakness. Yes, him of course. At any rate, it is reported to me that the liaison with his new queen began well before his brother, Herod II who is variously called Boethus or Philip, died and set her free to remarry.”
“That would not surprise me or any perceptive person, Excellency. The house of Herod is not given to subtlety. Your point being?”
“My point? Indeed, to the point, I must back up a bit. The first Herod, Julius Caesar’s friend, executed his two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus.”
“Among many others including a wife and her mother, Alexandra.”
“Exactly. Alexander had married a princess of Cappadocia, Glaphyra, who was his niece, I believe.”
“Somewhat removed, but yes.”
“She bore him three children before he found himself accused of plotting to oust Herod and was strangled with the cord.”
“With the permission of Augustus, yes I know, but three? I know of only two, both of whom eventually fled Judea after Herod died. There they renounced the one true Faith and now live and prosper in the land once ruled by their grandfather.”
“Ah, yes, but there was a third, a son, Archelaus, named after the grandfather, who—”
“Who was alleged to be descended from Mithridates but was deposed by the emperor, moved to Rome and died there a decade ago. It is confusing because the same names keep popping up. That is to say, both that of Glaphyra and Archelaus. I am sorry. I have untracked your course. You were saying?”
“Very well, you know your history. At any rate this Archelaus, the grandson, may or may not have also fled to that place with his brothers. And what they are up to in the absence of a king is not clear, but Cappadocia has always been a hotbed of intrigue and rebellion. It is lately rumored this youngest son is here in Jerusalem, not in Cappadocia, perhaps even in this very palace, why or how I cannot imagine, but where there are princes, there are plots and intrigue.” Gamaliel resisted the temptation to interrupt the Prefect again and waited for what came next.
“Antipas would be his uncle, after all. So, to continue, there is also Menahem, the late king’s adopted son, or so they say. He is here as well. It is not as clear why this man received such favor from Herod. I suppose he could be one of the first Herod’s bastards by some member of his court. I presume his ancestry made it advisable to treat him as a son rather than a foundling. Your Herod is a puzzle to say the least.”
“Puzzle hardly does him justice. His tree is so twisted, its branches so tangled, and the roots so decayed, that foster brother might have seemed the best or only choice. If he had offspring, it inevitably raises the issue of inheritance. At any rate, I assume all this relates to the murder in some way. But here, a son of Alexander? Do you have any idea where he might be staying? He is kinsman to the king. Surely if he were here in the palace, we would know of it.”
“Yes, so I imagine. Do you suppose this man, who might by now be named anything other than that with which he came into the world, is hiding in plain sight? It is rumored he was involved somehow with Herodias and her daughter, the dancer who, as you know was a willing accomplice in the death of your scruffy holy man.”
“Involved? In what way? And this relates to a murder, how?”
“I have no idea. I am merely arranging the game pieces in the circle. You will cast the stones to see where they move next.”