“What’s your feel for the man himself?” Gamaliel said.
“He will do it, without question.”
Gamaliel was aware of the fixed look from his friend, Onkelos, willing him to believe it, to take the report seriously, difficult though it was.
“He is not a man to play with half measures,” Onkelos said. “They say he will be the next emperor.”
“And you are alive because of it.” The truth of it sobered them for a moment. A lesser man would have sent Onkelos back as a corpse. That was also a clear message.
Onkelos had given his report as the evening sun dwindled in strength and the shadows stole into the corners of the house. The library, with its parchments and the musty smell of learning, was Gamaliel’s haven from the outside world. His writing desk was close by the large window looking out upon a sea of green garnished with red and yellow flowers. The garden was another oasis that was best savored in the early evening when the chic-a-dees invited him with their call to come away for a while and rest.
With an effort he tore his mind away from the garden back to Onkelos, back to the guilt. The royal scent of jasmine and thyme came to him on a gentle breeze as they sat together on the couch, two old friends filled with grief. Onkelos had given the message he was to bring back from the Roman general in return for his life. He had been found out, his questions not always falling on friendly ears.
Gamaliel fought his guilt with practicality. They needed to know. The Roman legions being mobilized in Egypt were stirring like an awakening lion behind them while the people celebrated their victory over the governor of Syria. Vespasian was not one to be taken lightly. They needed to know his intentions.
“No one will believe it,” the old rabbi said quietly.
Gamaliel heaved a great sigh, not for the first time that day.
“Will he accept terms of surrender?” he said.
“No, there will be no chesed. He went to great pains to make that clear.” Onkelos shifted in his seat adjusting the folds of his robe to cover the raw stub that took the place of his right hand. Gamaliel looked away, his eyes unable to look at the evidence against him.
“Then what does it matter?” Gamaliel said.
It wasn’t really a question but Onkelos answered anyway.
“He wants us to suffer the knowing.”
Silence greeted the thought, stretching it into agony. Gamaliel’s face seemed to sink in on itself, his eyes hollow and staring, seeing nothing but darkness ahead.
“Yes.” It was obvious once spoken, and so painfully true. Could it be so? The HolyCity destroyed, the Temple razed to the ground?
“Adonai Elohim will not allow it,” Gamaliel said. Was it a question or a statement? Even Gamaliel didn’t know.
Onkelos was silent, his eyes on the ground, sitting quietly, at peace.
There was something strange here. Onkelos had not told him everything that had happened on his journey. There was both a sadness and a joy in his eyes that had nothing to do with the dire events they were discussing.
But Gamaliel had no time to ponder what it meant at the moment. His mind was filled with a whirlwind of questions and concerns for his people. Still, the look on the face of his dear friend was as mysterious and glowing as the look on the face of his grandson. And neither one had a right to be so happy. Not now.
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The Temptations of the Cross by Bert A. Amsing
Copyright © 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.
Footnotes and references included in original manuscript.