25 – RESURRECTION
El Shaddai would not stand by and watch the enemies of Yeshua desecrate his body after the appointed three days in the tomb. He caused the Earthly end of the worm-hole to Barbelo to be located inside the sealed tomb, and allowed the waters of the Sacred Pool in Hamar to flood it.
Two Issacharites dove into the Pool to retrieve the body, and when it had been taken to Canterwood many of the Issacharites wept, for Yeshua had been wiped off the face of the Earth like only the Romans could do it, and the body was almost unrecognizable. With all the dignity they could summon, an Issacharite priest of Bat-El used the Golden Gift to consume the body of Yeshua until it was no more.
After the three days had passed, the enemies of Yeshua were satisfied they had thwarted any possibility that his followers might rally around an empty tomb and form the nucleus of a messianic cult. They rolled away the stone so they could move Yeshua’s body from its temporary place in the tomb of Yosef of Arimathea and bury it in some more permanent but unmarked place. And there was nothing inside but a foot of water.
The superstitious Romans fled in great fear, and none of the priests and scribes would speak about what happened, nor did they tell Pilate that his soldiers had shirked their duty and run away. Petronius reported to Pilate that the Jewish elders were satisfied with the procedure and had taken the body of Yeshua away themselves. And Petronius ordered his soldiers to forget what they had seen.
From the first moments of her existence, the living sun Bat-El experienced things no Eloah had ever been subjected to over the whole history of her race, which extends back for billions of years. No Eloah had ever been conceived inside the body of her mother. No Eloah had ever dared to cut the line of communication with her own father as Bat-El had done at her mother’s request. No Eloah had a direct means of communication that Bat-El enjoyed by sharing a single sun’s body with El Shaddai.
And while El Shaddai and Mastema had taken possession of planet-dwellers as Bat-El had done with Yeshua, only Bat-El’s human avatar had experienced a death so wretched, so agonizing that in combination with all the other factors it drop-kicked Bat-El to a whole new plateau of ability. Not even her mother would ever duplicate the power that Bat-El discovered she suddenly had in the wake of the crucifixion.
It is a universal law of reality that there is no crown without suffering. What suffering, and what a crown! Bat-El found that she knew the whole panoply of her future as readily as any other sentient being could remember his or her own past.
At first Bat-El was excited to tell her mother of this new ability, for it seemed it could be turned into an invincible weapon to use against Mastema, but as she scanned her future history she reached a blind wall just a little over two thousand years along the time-line. And the only clue she had as to the cause was that Bat-El knew both she and her mother would suddenly take ill a few years before hitting that wall, and together grow progressively worse until the end. Bat-El hadn’t thought it possible that Elohim could get sick, at least until they were very old. And by old, she was thinking of billions, or even trillions of years.
El Shaddai suspected that somehow, in about two thousand years, Mastema would contrive a way to kill them. And this was puzzling, because 40,000 years of real space separated Sol from the K-Class star that was the body of Mastema.
Bat-El did not foresee that they would succeed in reaching contact with El, the greater community of Elohim before they reached that black curtain of oblivion. She almost slipped into despair, but then Bat-El realized that her view of space had been greatly enriched by adding the dimension of time. Her mother could locate the mouth of a fold-door anywhere in the Solar System, but she couldn’t really see it the way Bat-El now saw it. Bat-El discovered that she could put her end of the worm-tunnel anywhere she wanted in time as well as space, so long as it didn’t extend beyond the blank walls that marked her birth and her death.
They decided to try an experiment. Talishi flew in her avatar from the Castle Brys on Sealiah Island to Hamar, then took the passage from the Sacred Pool to Earth to a place where she could prepare herself in the attire of a female servant. Then she summoned the end of a fold-door and crawled inside.
Bat-El located the other end of the fold-door in the house of the high priest Yosef Caiaphas during the fifth trial of Yeshua. Talishi found she was able to move about at will, because her status as a servant made her almost invisible to the men of power. Only her very light skin and white hair drew some attention.
As she moved toward the chamber where they were questioning Yeshua she recognized the man Yeshua had called his chief disciple, Shimon the son of Yona. Talishi said, “I know you, sir! I saw you with Yeshua!” And this was absolutely true, because Talishi, as El Shaddai, had access to the memories of Bat-El, as Yeshua.
But Shimon grew nervous and declared to the woman who was really his own God, “I tell you I do not know the man!”
Talishi smiled at him warmly, having forgiven Shimon on the spot.
In the largest room of the house Caiaphas put Yeshua under oath by the living God and asked him straight out if he asserted to be divine. And Yeshua, thinking that he needed to move things along, said, “Henceforth you shall see me seated at the right hand of God.”
Then Caiaphas rent his robe and said, “The charge of blasphemy is proven! This man deserves to die! But we have no authority to execute Yeshua. We must bring him again before Pilate in the morning.”
Talishi entered the chamber and moved to stand at Yeshua’s left side, placing him to her right. She said in the loudest voice she could muster, “Behold my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased!”
And within the blink of an eye they were both gone, leaving a spherical hole in the intricately tiled floor of the chamber.
By making this change, Bat-El saw that Talishi had caused all of reality to fork. There was universe Alpha, the one where she as Yeshua had been crucified, and there was universe Beta, the one where Yeshua and Talishi had disappeared before the very eyes of the Sanhedrin in the house of Caiaphas. Bat-El could see both forks, and she could place the end of a worm-hole in either one.
Bat-El opened a fold-door in the empty tomb in Universe Alpha.
Early in the morning, after the sun had risen, Miriam of Magdalena, who had been the lover and closest female follower of Yeshua, took with her Miriam the mother of Yeshua, and also Yeshua’s sister Salome. They came to the sepulchre where Yeshua had been laid by his enemies.
And Yeshua’s girlfriend said to his mother and sister, “Although we could not openly weep and lament on that day when Yeshua was crucified, let us now do so at his tomb.”
Salome said, “But who will roll away for us the stone also that is set on the entrance of the sepulchre, that we may go in and sit beside him and anoint my brother’s body?”
Her mother said, “If we cannot do so, let us at least put down at the entrance what we brought as a memorial for him, and let us weep and lament until we have gone home again.”
So they went, but they found the sepulchre opened. And they came near, stooped down, and found Talishi there sitting in the midst of the sepulchre. Talishi said to them, “Why are you come? Who do you seek?”
Mariam of Magdalena said, “We seek he who was crucified. Please, if you have taken his body away, where have you taken him?”
Talishi said, “You will not find Yeshua, nor has anyone taken him, for he is risen by the power of El Shaddai and has gone. But in the city seek out Shimon who is called Kephas, and the other followers of Yeshua, and he will appear to you there.”
The women fled in much confusion and returned to the city.
And at this time the eleven remaining disciples of Yeshua hid themselves in the room where they had shared the first Banquet of God with him, and the door was locked, because they were filled with great fear on account of the Jews.
Miriam of Magdelena came to them, gave the special knocking sign, and was admitted into the room with them. And she said to Kephas, “I have been to the sepulchre where they buried the Lord. He is no longer there!”
And the disciples began to debate among themselves what this news meant.
Then a worm tunnel appeared in the midst of the room, but there was no flood of water, because it was possible for Bat-El and El Shaddai to open a tunnel between any two points on Earth. Yeshua floated through it, and the tunnel disappeared again. Yeshua stood among them, and greeted them with great joy, but they could hardly believe their eyes. And Yeshua said, “The peace of El Shaddai be with you.”
But they were very frightened, because they thought he was a ghost. So Yeshua said, “Do not be afraid! Look at my body and see that it is truly myself. Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see me have.”
But he had no holes in his hands or feet, nor scars from the Roman whip, and some of the followers did not believe it was he. So Yeshua told them certain things they had once shared that only the disciples would know. Then they acknowledged it was indeed Yeshua, but they still thought he must be a ghost. So Yeshua asked for something to eat. They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and Yeshua took it and ate it in their presence to prove he was not a spirit.
Then Simon Peter came to full belief, and regretted fleeing from Yeshua’s side in his darkest hour and denying that he knew him when he was in the house of Caiaphas. He sank to his knees and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Yeshua assured Simon he was already forgiven, and he said, “Indeed, soon I will depart from all of you, and return to El Shaddai, but you are eyewitness of all these things. Now you are no longer disciples but my apostles. I will send you forth to preach the forgiveness of sins and to bring the Banquet of God to all the nations of the world, beginning here in Jerusalem.”
And he took them out of the city as far as Bethany, and the tunnel appeared again beside him. Yeshua withdrew from them and entered the globe, and the globe was lifted into the sky, and they watched it until they could see it no more.
After that the apostles returned to Jerusalem to begin the work that Yeshua had trained them to do with much prayer and thanksgiving, and ever they came together to eat the memorial feast established by Yeshua on the evening he was arrested. And they had no more fear of the Jews, for their master had suffered the most cruel death men could devise, yet he was risen to a second life, and for those who were baptized and came to believe, the same was promised to them.
26 – INTERLUDE
As the keeper of the sword Dragonthorn, Kari Antero was convinced that she had the power to bend the will of everyone around her, even the will of her father the King. At least, this is what her father constantly assured her, to his ultimate undoing.
Some time ago Kari had taken Demonstroke all the way to the city of Mastema to put it to the ultimate test. Now, while the Council had taken a short recess she dismissed the guards blocking her way to Kirodiel’s chamber and received yet one more confirmation of her invincible power of persuasion.
Joy was lounging sensuously inside the chamber like some exotic black cat. In fact, everything about her was black except her unnaturally pale white skin. Kari told her she was dismissed also. Joy left quickly without a word of protest.
“How did you get in here?” Kirodiel demanded angrily after witnessing his woman sent away abruptly like some common servant.
“It wasn’t very hard,” Kari said. “I’m very persuasive it turns out. Yet the last time we met, you had the stronger power, it seemed.”
“I don’t know what came over me then,” he said. “And Joy would certainly never understand if she discovered the truth of the matter. She has very unpleasant ways of making her displeasure known.”
“I came to see if your resolve to keep our secret has not withered.”
“You must be thinking of the requirement for strict sexual purity for every woman who is entrusted to guard the Dragonthorn blade.”
The penalty for losing my virginity is more terrible than any other punishment in the history of Barbelo.
“Yes indeed, Princess. I am given to understand that if you were discovered to be, ah, disqualified, you would be actually rendered immortal and buried alive in a coffin deep under the ice to suffer the horror of eternal claustrophobia for all eternity. A truly horrible fate to contemplate for any creature no matter what their crimes, and sufficiently horrible, in fact, that it has never been found necessary to measure it out. In a way I’m flattered that you risked that awful penalty for a single session in bed with me.”
“So what are your feelings on this matter, Lord Kirodiel?”
“I find that I still have no desire at all to reveal it to anyone, and even thinking about revealing it to another person causes me to be overcome with a very bad depression that grows worse and worse the closer I come to making my urge into an actuality.”
“It is a shame that it must be so, Lord Kirodiel. When last we met you said that I had a very lovely ass and could not keep your hands from caressing it.”
Kirodiel puckered his mouth in disgust. “Princess, right now I wouldn’t reach across your ass to grab a winning ticket in the Salem numbers racket. I resent very much that you have somehow wound this spell around me. Your secret is safe. So if that is all you want, then please leave.”
Kari pivoted on one foot and marched out of his chamber without a sound. When she was well out of earshot Kirodiel began to snicker. The effort it had taken not to laugh the entire time was almost too much for him!
“So that was the girl,” Joy said, emerging from behind a curtain. She had doubled back by secret ways and listened to almost the entire exchange. “What a stupid twit, my Lord! It’s a wonder you didn’t have done and unleash the dragon on Vaska the instant she came to you and gave her so-called virtue away.”
“It is not her virginity that controls the dragon,” he told Joy, “but the sword. I need only to manipulate her into breaking the sword and then you can take control of the beast yourself.”
“With the sword broken I will have no problem flying Demonstroke. But I need access to his holding pen, my Lord. There’s a limit to the range of my power.”
“My guards can get you in easily enough,” Kirodiel said. “But tell me, Joy, how is it you can make beasts do your bidding anyway?”
“My lord already knows Yeshua and Talishi have what they call the B’nei Elohim project going on the side. A little below gods we are, the saying goes, a little above humans. As I understand it, I cannot control any animal until Yeshua prepares it with some kind of bead in their brain, much as El Shaddai once prepared Samuel to receive his voice long ago in Palestine. Your dragon, however, has already been prepared by yourself, Lord. I will merely tap into that.”
“Good. Then we shall await the moment when Princess Kari breaks the sword. There must be no doubt in the mind of Talishi and all the assembled ladies and lords that what follows is entirely the fault of the princess.”
And though Joy had removed herself to the enemy camp, and served Mastema with her whole body and soul, it never at any time occurred to her to mention that Yeshua had discovered a way to manipulate time. The compulsion never to reveal this, directly or even indirectly, ran to the very inner core of the B’nei Elohim.
When Baron Bayard Firegem was alone with Luzea Cedarbranch in his chambers he commanded her to disrobe, but Luzea balked, saying:
The Queen would give me twelve whistling lashes I fear you more than a hundred slashes
“Nonsense, Luzea, I know you have seen the whipping tree do its work. It may be the tamest form of life native to Barbelo but it is nasty enough. Twelve lashes means at least two cracked ribs and maybe even some kidney damage. So remove that dress and let me see what I bought with my lies to my mother.”
Luzea slowly complied, but she was trembling. The baron commanded her to lie back on the bed so he could drink in the vision of her nude body. Luzea was lovely, he thought, with that untamed female scent he craved, but her purely animal fear took all the appeal out of what he wanted to do with her. As well mate with a captive hare.
The Baron sighed, and said, “You commoners are fortunate. You can do as you like but among the royal family of Sala we only allowed to take wife from among our peers, upon pain of exile. And when the Queen sets her mind to exile she has an option that is truly outlandish.”
Luzea sensed that he was relenting in his enthusiasm for “punishing” her and her trembling began to subside a little bit.
“Oh, but only if you knew how good you seem to me,” he lamented. “I’m a Gold Beard baron with a decidedly overwhelming preference for unspoiled women.”
My Lord endeavors not to let this show, But tell me does your mother the Queen know?”
“Yes, Luzea, she has known for a long time. My taste for commoner female flesh was overlooked as long as I kept things quiet and discreet. But the Queen is beginning to lose patience.”
There was a scratching sound in the ceiling above, and the Baron rolled to one edge of the bed just in time as a thin ceiling panel gave way. Aliwe Halil fell to the bed just then, landing on Luzea’s nude body amid many wooden splinters. One naked leg of Luzea curled around Aliwe almost instinctively with pleasure, a conditioned response from their many sweet nights together.
The Baron smiled, got fully dressed, and strode toward the door to leave them alone. “I do ask that you put my room back in order when you are done, ladies. I’ll tell the guards to give you an hour alone.”
Before he left he remembered something and turned to Luzea. “There’s still my mother’s wrath to allay. You will have to feign some kind of injury so horrible that you refuse to speak of it. I think that will satisfy her.” He looked at the two of them starting to squirm and tilted his head. “And that should be me there wrapped in your lovely arms and legs, young Luzea!” Then he closed the door.
Aliwe and Luzea had not been practicing lesbians for a very long. They were damn good at it.
27 – THE WAY
In the days that followed the departure of Yeshua the apostles remembered that he had commanded them to teach the world everything he had taught. But no one had bothered to actually write down anything that Yeshua had said or did over the months and years they had known him. So they tried to come up with a definitive set of teachings by pooling together their memories of what Yeshua had said, but as is so often the case, human memory is imperfect and colored by preconceived notions. There was only a seed of discord at first but over time this seed would grow.
Shimon, son of Yoni, who was also called Kephas, found that sometimes if he touched a person who was injured or sick, they would seem to shift before his eyes, and instantly become unconscious. But when they awoke their infirmity would be healed. He had no idea that Yeshua was really taking the subjects to a distant point on the Earth on Timeline Alpha, rendering them unconscious, healing them over a matter of days or weeks, and then returning them to the precise point he had taken them on Timeline Beta with their bodies arranged in more or less the same position they had.
After that Kephas began his healing ministry in earnest, and many new converts were added to the followers of the Way. The crippled and diseased would line the streets where their families laid them, hoping that Kephas shadow would at least touch them if he himself would not. “And so it begins,” Caiaphas the High Priest said, “just as we feared it would when the body of this Yeshua went missing. Now these men and those of like mind will go among the people and tell them this Yeshua is risen, and stir them up to vain superstitions.”
Yet the apostles, despite the fears of Caiaphas, were not of like mind. The newborn Yeshua movement snapped in two when it was barely out of the starting gate. One faction, led by Yeshua’s half-brother Yakob the Righteous believed the movement was nothing more than a new take on orthodox Judaism and proposed to work towards an accommodation with authorities such as the Pharisees and Saduccees and even the Romans. Perhaps this attitude took hold because Yeshua had chosen not to give his brother the illusion of the power to heal. Yakob’s group decided to remain in Jerusalem close to the levers of power.
The other faction, led by Kephas, remembered how the authorities ruthlessly executed both Yohanan the baptizer and then Yeshua himself. They were not remotely interested in making peace with any enemy save Death, which Yeshua had shown through his resurrection could be conquered by anyone who made the rule of El Shaddai present in the world. In time, Shimon’s group migrated north, first to their original home near Galilee, then they moved further north to settle in Antioch.
Yeshua monitored the progress of his apostles at various points on Timeline Beta, and at first, aside from the odd “miracle” he did to prod things along, he did not interfere. But standing on Mount Olive the summer exactly forty years after he had been crucified, Yeshua witnessed the end of the Second Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. He knew Judaism was finished as a religion of the temple. From that point going forward personal adherence to the purity code of Moshe, as taught by rabbis in synagogues, would atone for personal and corporate sin which had previously been absolved by animal sacrifices.
Spot checks further up the timeline confirmed no third temple would ever be constructed. What troubled Yeshua was that over that same span of time his followers never took his message of the Banquet of God to anyone other than the Jews. In that scenario, with the fall of Jerusalem his own movement would be rapidly extinguished as well. He went back to the 30s to see what he could do.
Early on the Jewish aristocrats and religious authorities realized the new “Way” of Yeshua was a cancer growing on their power structure, and it was progressing geometrically. They realized the only way to stop it was to escalate to bloodshed.
The first victim of this new policy was a deacon named Stefanos, who had been selected to aid the apostles in attending to the physical needs of the people while they focused on preaching. Stefanos was particularly fired up for Yeshua, and it was easy to manipulate a mob into interpreting his preaching as the provocation of a Jewish apostate and stone him.
This death was witnessed by a certain Pharisee named Saulus of Tarsus, and he heartily agreed that Stefanos had to die. He volunteered to become the chief thug for the orthodox Jewish side, and went around the country kicking in the doors of Yeshua-followers and dragging them, men and women alike, to prison.
When Herod Agrippa I took command of Judea, appointed by Emperor Claudius, the Jewish authorities told him that Yeshua was a man who had deemed himself to be God, and had drawn many followers to him, and these followers continued to make converts even after Yeshua had been executed. Herod was a good Jew and this deeply offended him. He took the violence to a whole new level by arresting Yakob Boanerges, brother of Yohanan, and putting him to death by the sword.
This seemed to have the desired effect. The followers of Yeshua’s way went underground in Jerusalem, but Saulus heard they were still openly preaching in Damascus, so he went there with letters from certain rabbis authorizing him to find Yeshua’s disciples and bring them to Jerusalem in fetters.
And when he was on his way to that city, Bat-El caused the mouth of the wormhole to fall upon Saulus. It was the first “alien abduction” in history. Night was transformed to day. There was a warm alpine meadow with many different flowers, and stunted trees, and the biggest mountain Saulus had ever seen, covered by dozens of glaciers. There, seated in the meadow, was Yeshua, who said, “Do not be afraid, Saulus.”
Saulus asked in reply, “Who are you, Lord?”
And the man said, “I am Yeshua, the offspring of the living God. I am the one you are truly afflicting when you arrest my followers, for they are my hands and feet in the world.”
Saulus sank to his knees and said, tearfully, “Forgive me, Lord.”
“There is nothing to forgive, Saulus. You honestly believed my followers were turning the children of Israel away from our God. I honor your zeal, but I have a better use for it.”
“Anything, Lord,” Saulus said. “What would you have me do?”
Yeshua smiled at him, “After you have been baptized men shall no longer call you Saulus. After that you shall be Paulus, and you will be my missionary to the Gentiles.”
“The Gentiles, Lord?”
“I know it’s very ironic. You studied the Code of Moshe under Rabbi Gemaliel and your observance of it is impeccable. You are the perfect Jew, Saulus, but it turns out that is all the Code of Moshe is really good for: making Jews flawlessly unlike anyone of the neighboring nations and kingdoms. But the written law doesn’t make you objectively righteous to my Father because God can see inside your heart and loyalty has to begin from deep within. Do you see?”
“I do, Lord, there is the kind of righteousness based on the fear of being caught, and there is the righteousness which springs from the desire to please one’s master.”
Yeshua laughed. “Clearly you are going to be the brains of my organization, if you join me, Saulus. No doubt you have heard of the man I left in charge of my flock back there, Shimon, son of Yona.”
“I understand you renamed him Kephas, or ‘Rock’, Lord.”
“That’s true, but you may not know why I did that.”
“The rumor is he is a man of great strength, Lord.”
“I named him Kephas because he is as dumb as a rock. Nevertheless, if I turn you loose without putting you into the proper relationship with Shimon and my brothers and my other followers, you will run where I do not want you to go.”
Yeshua, speaking these words, stretched out his hands and touched Saulus’ face. Instantly, he was filled with dismay. “Lord, I cannot see!”
“Others will guide you to Kephas,” said Yeshua, and Saulus did not see how he was returned to the place where he had been taken from.
28 – UNION
When the table was set in order after the meal and everyone had taken their places again, it was Talishi’s turn to state her piece. She said, “Mastema is Lord of this world. That no one denies, and House Gerash has always been especially devoted to him. And yet humans are not native to Barbelo. Long ago we were grafted in from Earth, where El Shaddai and Bat-El reign. Perhaps this is why House Sala have cast their lots with the God of the other world, and why the other houses of Barbelo, and even the inhabitants of the city of Salem in the Middle Land, have varying degrees of devotion between the two deities.
“This is tolerable to El Shaddai, I can assure you, since El Shaddai has always called human beings the Students, and one of the most important thing a student can learn is how to think, not what to think. But I can also assure you that this state of affairs is not tolerable to Mastema. I’m quite certain that he has already begun to make his move, and you will soon discover why he has maneuvered to keep the other four house off balance and at each other’s throats. For he does not call human beings students, but rather servants.
“I will not attempt to influence the decision of this council, but I do offer a warning that if you decide to present a united face to House Gerash that afterward you move with supernatural speed, for Lord Kirodiel will then be presented with no choice but to attempt to take out each one of the four houses one at a time. And now I would bid good King Arman Bellon to tell his tale.”
He stood up and said, “Thank you Lady Talishi. Your worlds are weighty and to be pondered deeply. We here in Rumbek have also played the fool for the arms merchants of House Gerash, despite the formidable water barriers which protect us on three sides, and the Nine Mile Wall which protects us on the fourth. At times during the last century we have campaigned often against the Red Beards and even crossed the Ice to assail House Larund. But for the last twenty years, with only one recent exception, the unfortunate incident with Count Zelus, we have been at peace with the rest of Barbelo. That is why when High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel came to me with tidings of House Antero building many portable pontoons designed to bridge the straits north and south of Magodon, I was not panicked into buying the catapults he was offering to repulse the supposedly immanent attack.
King Brogan Antero said, “Kirodiel did offer to sell us the prefabricated pontoons, King Arman, but I was never tempted to buy any of them.”
“So you said, King Brogan, through your ambassador, and thus we both knew Kirodiel to be a liar. It brought to mind a state visit to the Middle Land I had made some time prior, when I crossed the Ice and passed through Salem to Ganelon and thence to the city of Mastema. In Ganelon I saw some of the finest bottom land I have ever seen, better than around Saharad perhaps, with soil so deep and rich it was nearly black, yet there were no crops, save weeds.”
“The Middle Land has a manufacturing economy now,” said Lord Kirodiel with obvious pride, “not a primitive agricultural one like the other four monarchies.”
King Arman replied, “Your land is indeed a manufacturing economy, High Lord Patriach Kirodiel, but it manufactures weapons of war. Solely. Noble ones, let that fact sink in for a moment. Everyone who makes a living in the Middle Land is either employed to make weapons directly, or they support those do. Their livelihood rests on keeping us at each other’s throats.”
“I will tell you what our economy purchases for us,” Kirodiel countered. “In a legal sense even my guards are on the same level as myself, with the same rights and obligations to the state. Can any of you noble born say the same thing about yourself and any one of your servants? A lowly apprentice could rise to attain to my seat on the State Council. Blood counts for nothing in the Middle Land, only ability and loyalty to Mastema. We have a theocratic meritocracy.”
Queen Aurra smiled at this. “Not just individuals but kingdoms, too, may form republics after a fashion, Lord Kirodiel.” She stood up and raised her voice. “At this time I propose the creation of an entity I choose to call the Union of Kingdoms. Within each individual kingdom, we royals shall maintain our absolute sovereignty. Yet decisions which have an effect outside of our respective borders, such as concluding treaties or going to war, shall be thrashed out in council chamber with every kingdom represented.”
“I second your proposal, Your Highness,” said King Brogan Antero, standing up again as well. “At this moment you may consider House Antero to be joined to House Sala in a Union of Kingdoms precisely as you describe.”
After Brogan vowed to join Queen Alodra’s new Union of Kingdoms, Arman Bellon announced his decision to add his land to the Union as well, followed by Belen Larund, whose conflict with the Queen had accelerated this Council of Royals, and whose assent now at the end completed it.
Lord Kirodiel remained sitting. He was perceptive enough to know the White Beards were not and never would be invited into this Union. Without looking at any of the nobles he said, “Review your own history, O privileged ones. Can you remember a single battle between your kingdoms and House Gerash? Or even hearing about one? You cannot, and if you scratch a little deeper you will find that it was not for lack of trying. We clipped your little seedling attacks before they could proceed beyond a simple skirmish and take root. How were we able to do this time after time, you ask? Very simple. House Gerash, you see, always retains the newest and best arms for its own defense.”
“Yet there are unintended consequences to becoming makers of arms rather than customers,” King Arman countered. “We have a continuous warfighting tradition which you lack. Take extreme care, then, lest your attacks sputter to nought in confusion and your forces become prisoners.”
“No doubt your fathers of old weighed that very thing in their calculations as well,” Kirodiel countered. “The wise ones refrained from assailing the Republic. The foolish ones made their sorties and were repulsed. So this can be no new warning to you: If ever House Gerash should find your so-called Union of Kingdoms standing at cross-purposes to our interests, beware.”
Princess Kari Antero stood up then, drawing the diamond sword Dragonthorn from its jewel-encrusted scabbard strapped to her back. She was moved to say, “Lord Kirodiel would also do well to remember that the Middle Land is not the only realm which can bring unmatched weaponry to the field of battle!”
“Nay, daughter!” King Brogan admonished Keri sharply, “Your King now commands you! Stand down and restore the sacred blade to its place!” And the King was very wroth because Kari was the only person allowed to be armed in this chamber, and that only on a ceremonial basis.
29 – ROME
With the conversion of Saulus, reality forked once more, creating Timeline Gamma. And Yeshua saw that although his Nazarene movement would survive the fall of Jerusalem, the blank wall in the future marking the death of Bat-El and El Shaddai remained intact.
Saulus, blinded by the touch of Yeshua, was led the rest of the way to Damascus by his traveling companions. Before he entered that city, they were intercepted by Ananias, a disciple who had been alerted by Yahweh. Ananias took them to his house in the city. There Saulus was baptized, and following the command of the Lord he began to call himself Paulus.
After a number of days, they journeyed again to Jerusalem, where Ananias tried to get the brethren to accept Paulus, but everyone was afraid of him, and feared he was trying to infiltrate their cells in order to betray them to the Jews.
In the end it fell to Barnabas, an old friend of Paulus who studied with him under Rabbi Gemalial, to meet with the man and find out what his story was. Barnabas was one of the earliest converts to Yeshua. He had been a wealthy landowner who sold his holdings in Crete and used the money to fund Kephas’ ministry. So Barnabas had the ear of Kephas, and after a long talk with Paulus he believed his friend really had met the Lord somehow and converted to the Way, just as he said. Yet it seemed incredible, and it would be a hard sell, for as Saulus he had been the worst enemy of the nascent Church.
Through the mediation of Barnabas, then, Kephas came to Paulus, who was still blind, and it was entirely within the power of Kephas to leave Paulus thus and remove a thorn from the Church. But Kephas was preaching a gospel of forgiveness, and he knew that Yeshua would scorn his hypocrisy if he did not try to heal the man. So Kephas touched his eyes, and something like scales fell away from them, and Paulus could see again, but his vision would never be nearly as good as it was before he met Yeshua, and Paulus would require the services of an assistant to write all his letters. Yet that, too, was part of Yeshua’s plan to mold his character. For years after that Paulus would beg the Lord in prayer to remove this impediment, and Yeshua would always answer, “No.”
“The Lord Yeshua spoke with me,” Paulus said to Kephas. “Not in a vision, but man to man, just as I am speaking with you now.”
“So you say,” Kephas replied. “He spoke with me too, after he was raised up from the dead. He spoke with me for years before he was put to death so I actually know the Lord. Can you say the same?”
Paulus shook his head, conceding the point. “The Lord said I was to be sent to the Gentiles.”
“And what will you tell the Gentiles?” Kephas asked. When Paulus again had no answer to that, Kephas said, “I see that Yeshua has left it to me to teach you his doctrine. Gentiles you say? Did you know that some of the apostles, even the Lord’s brothers, insist the Gentiles must become good Jews before they can be baptized in the name of Yeshua? That only the circumcised can come to the table of the Banquet of God?”
“The Lord Yeshua made it very clear to me that is not what he intended.”
Kephas nodded. “I’ve been trying to find some middle way. But now you come along and say you will go to the Gentiles, and not receive them as Jews first. I tell you that is the sort of thing that can split our Way irretrievably in two.”
“‘Come now, and let us reason together’, says the Lord,” cited Paulus from the prophet Isaiah.
And so they took the issue to the whole church at the Council of Jerusalem, convened by Yakob, the brother of Yeshua. Paulus was not permitted to speak, but Kephas pled his case before the council, and his position as the chief apostle carried much weight. But Kephas did not have the ultimate authority over whole the Church that would be enjoyed by the Popes much later.
Although he could not speak, the astonishing transformation of Paulus from enemy of the Way to a wannabe apostle carried much weight. So the final verdict of the Council of Jerusalem was that Gentile converts to the Way of Yeshua did not have to be circumcised or adhere to the whole Code of Moshe, but a handful of commandments which had Jews believed had been binding on all men since the time of Noah were retained. Paulus was not happy with the compromise, but few negotiators ever are.
Paul was ordained the Apostle to the Gentiles, while the original apostles would bring the children of Israel, scattered throughout the world, to the Banquet of God.
Finally Yakob the Righteous deigned to speak to him. “Remember, Brother Paulus, that here in Jerusalem we are burdened with many poor. Do not forget these people when you preach to your more affluent Gentile flocks of Yeshua and the Banquet of God.”
And so, with the blessing of the whole Church, Paulus began to make a series of travels throughout the northeastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and he wove a network of a dozen new Churches in Greece and Asia Minor. Paulus benefited from his Roman citizenship, which came to him by virtue of being the son of his father. His father had purchased Roman citizenship upon becoming a successful tent-maker in Tarsus. This was a trade that Paulus had learned from his father, and a trade he relied on to support himself as he engaged in his missionary activity.
One time when Paulus had returned to Jerusalem with financial contributions he had collected from his constellation of Gentile churches, a vicious rumor sprang up to the effect that Paulus was teaching Jewish Christians not to obey the Torah. Yakob didn’t believe it for a minute, but he suggested that Paulus ritually cleanse himself in Herod’s temple to lay the questions to rest, and Paulus took this advice.
With everyone walking on eggshells over this point, an opening was seen by the enemies of the Church. After the death of the Roman procurator Porcius Festus, in the short span before Lucceius Albinus replaced him, the High Priest Ananus moved quickly during the power vacuum and assembled the scribes and priests and Sadduccees. Yakob was invited to attend this “hearing”.
Ananus said to him, “We, as well as all the people, know you are a just man, and partial to none. Therefore we ask you to restrain your people, for they have gone astray in their opinions about this Yeshua of Nazareth, and hold that he is the Messiah. Stand, then, upon the summit of the temple, that from that elevated spot you may be clearly seen, and your words clearly audible to all the people. For it is Passover, and all the tribes have congregated here, and some of the righteous Gentiles also.”
Yakob ascended to the pinnacle of the temple as he was asked, but there he declared that Yeshua sat in heaven at the right hand of God, and he that shall come again on the clouds of heaven with all the holy angels to judge the living and the dead.
The members of the council in great wrath threw him down from the temple, so the people would see and be afraid.
But Yakob was not killed by the fall, only crippled. So the members of the council began to hurl stones at him. In great pain he struggled to his knees under the bombardment and prayed, “I beg you, Lord God our Father, do not hold this against them, for they do not know what they do!”
Finally a textile worker took the staff he used to wring out the garments he dyed, hurled it directly at the head of Yakob, and smote him dead.
A huge fire broke out and destroyed a tenth of the city of Rome. Rumors began to spread that the Emperor Nero himself had started the fire to make room for his new palace. To diffuse these suspicions, he put a few Christians under torture and got them to “confess” to arson to stop the agony. Based on this “testimony” hundreds of known Christians were placed under arrest and fed to dogs, or crucified, or turned into screaming human street lamps. Kephas was arrested, flogged, and crucified on Vatican Hill. Paulus was a Roman citizen and could not be flogged or crucified so instead he was beheaded on the Ostian road just outside of Rome.
After that a revolt against Rome broke out in Judea, centered in Jerusalem. Nero appointed General Vespasian as military commander over three legions to put down the unrest. At first Vespasian had some success in Galilee, but when Nero was forced to commit suicide the Empire was plunged into civil war. Vespasian took some of his forces to Alexandria to secure the Egyptian grain supply, and ultimately was declared Emperor himself by the Senate. He left his son Titus in charge of the final assault on Jerusalem.
The city was defended tenaciously by the Jews, but with four Roman legions surrounding Jerusalem with mighty earthworks, the outcome was never in doubt. After a siege of five months the entire city, including the temple which was central to Judaism, was pillaged and razed to the ground, except for three towers and the Western Wall, retained on the orders of Titus as a reminder to the surviving Jews of their lost glory. Yeshua watched from the summit of Mount Olive.
Jerusalem, one of five Patriarchal Sees in the universal Christian Church, ceased to exist, even in name. The Romans eventually turned it into a colony named Aelia Capitolina.
The mother of Yeshua passed away peacefully while living in the house of Yohanan Boanerges in Ephesus, Asia Minor. Yeshua sent Issacharite women to gather her body and bury her near the Pool of Bat-El in Canterwood. No one saw her body removed. Yohanan knew only that before she could be buried her body could not to be found, and no one on Earth could have taken it. Thus began the cult of Mariam that would persist for all time.
When Yohanan died, bringing to a close the Apostolic Age, the leaders of various Christian communities began to assemble biographies of Yeshua, and all of these were forgeries, attributed to various deceased pillars of the Church to add a vernier of authenticity. This soon got out of hand. The bishops of Corinth and Carthage complained that someone was writing false epistles using their name to discredit them and promote their own agenda. In Rome, two men laid claim to the bishopric at the same time, and the controversy did not end until the Roman Emperor Maximinus Thrax exiled both of them to Sardinia.
Some emperors were a bit more harsh. Valerian ordered that all Christian bishops, priests, and deacons, including Pope Sixtus II, must sacrifice to the Roman gods, under penalty of death. Many of them chose death. Decius extended the persecution to the Christian laity. He issued an edict requiring all citizens to sacrifice to the emperor in the presence of a Roman official and obtain a certificate proving they had done so. Most Christians complied rather than incur fines or even death.
Other emperors, however, were more tolerant. Emperor Constantine, in fact, converted to Christianity on his deathbed and Julian the Apostate was the last non-Christian emperor. Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the empire, and eleven years later he outlawed most pagan rituals.
In the Seventh Century, a rival monotheistic religion called Islam arose to challenge Christianity, but the empire would resist the Muslim onslaught until the Fifteenth Century when Constantinople finally fell to the Ottomans. This marked the final end of the Roman Empire.
During the long twilight period leading up to that, the Popes called for a series of seven Crusades, all of them brutal wars of conquest against the Islamic empire by Christendom. During the seventh Crusade Mastema the Accuser came to Yeshua in Canterwood and handed him a sheaf of parchment. He said, “This is a papal bull titled Ad Extirpanda from Pope Innocent IV. Note in particular Law 25, where he authorizes the use of torture against heretics.”
“The head of state or ruler must force all the heretics whom he has in custody, provided he does so without killing them or breaking their arms or legs, as actual robbers and murderers of souls and thieves of the sacraments of God and Christian faith, to confess their errors and accuse other heretics whom they know, and specify their motives, and those whom they have seduced, and those who have lodged them and defended them, as thieves and robbers of material goods are made to accuse their accomplices and confess the crimes they have committed.”
Mastema said, “I can assure you, Yeshua, having made something of a study of this, there are things that can be done to human beings short of killing them or breaking their limbs that make even the agony you endured in Judea pale in comparison. Twelve hundred years, Yeshua, and this is what has become of your ‘Banquet of God’. So I think I can say, without contradiction, that I have won.”