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JULIAN AT BETH-HAREM TO NAOMI IN ROME.
AN INNKEEPER. THE JEWS IN ROME. THE MERCHANTS. -UNBELIEF. -RUMOURS ABOUT JOHN THE BAPTIST. THE JORDAN.-HEROD ANTIPAS.-HERODIAS. — ARRIVAL AT BETHHAREM.-Judith.
ATIGUED by reason of our journey of the preceding day, the sun was far advanced into the heavens before the noise of the inn-yard awoke us from our slumbers, and we were ready for the pleasing labour yet before us. Crowds of travellers, in not more haste than ourselves, surrounded the gateways with their camels, asses, and other beasts of burden; some quarrelling with Jael on account both of their entertainment and the sum he had demanded of them; some with each other about some idle distinction of nation or tribe; while a large number pursued in quiet their own affairs, or looked on and laughed at those, who, because life did not present enough of necessary evils, were seeking to multiply them. Jael moved among them a sort of monarch, from the power he possessed, not over others, but over himself, therefore indeed, over others also. He was not to be ruffled by any of the reproaches, which, whether justly or not, were showered upon him. Those who had abused him most he did not fail to dismiss from his dominions with some wish of peace, while from them he received, perhaps, only curses in return.
"Jael," said Onias, as we stood beneath the shadow of a plane-tree, watching the scene, while Ziba was making the last preparations; "Jael is a man who lives for himself alone. Though you behold him so pliant, and so prompt to please and serve, and so patient under what seem unde
served reproaches, he is yet as void of faith, both toward man and God, as this pomegranate-shell is of meat. His aim is but one, his purse. And to fill this in the best manner he justly thinks, is to attract by his attentiveness and submissiveness to all people of all names and nations,— Jew, Samaritan, Arab or Roman, it is the same to Jael, and Jael is the same to them. He is just to one as soon as to another, and will defraud one as soon as another. In what proportion he is knave, and in what honest, no one knows. When I am on this road, and weary with the way, my feeling is, and doubtless it is so with all," Here now shall I be certain of such observances as hardly my best friend could lavish upon me; and I approach the roof of Jael as if it were another Beth-Harem. Behold there! how to that churlish Greek he returns smiles and parting salutations for railing." He then approached us as if for some further discourse, but we at the same moment mounting our beasts and bidding him farewell, he only wished us well on our way, and we sallied forth from the yard.
"The sun shines not more constantly," said Onias, as we plunged into some deep, thick shadows, beneath which the road here wound along, " than the face of Jael; but while the sun shines for others, Jael shines only for himself. His smiles were frowns, unless each drew fish of some sort to his net, birds of some sort to his snare. He perceives no difference between Roman, Greek, Jew, and Samaritan, but as they contribute more or less to his wealth, which grows and swells like Jordan in the early rains. Though the land now lie cursed and barren, and the enemies of the people of God rise up around her, and dwell within her very borders, carrying her not away into captivity, but binding her a captive on her own soil, not a finger would this man move for her deliverance. Nay, rather I doubt not, would he league himself with the adversary, than that the base traffic should suffer damage which fills his hands with gold. And many such there be here, and over the face of the whole land, so that were Messiah himself to
come, I surely think they would deny him except he came in Cæsar's name. Saw you not last night his manifest vexation at the reports brought from the Jordan?"
"It was evident enough," I replied, "that he liked them not. They foreboded in his ear a new uproar as in Cæsarea. But in these rural districts there could be little danger."
"I know not that," answered Onias: "the people lie thickly sown among these deep shades; we see them not, but they are for multitude like the ripe seed of the mustard shaken by the winds from the tree. A great cause would call them up in hosts not easily numbered. And a slight cause rouses them. For if many be of Jael's nature, more are not. The ears of the people are wide open to any sound of liberty. The rulers, as is ever with those who enjoy power, are indeed of another mind. Change could do little for them in the best event, and might shake them from their seats. But the people do yearn, even as the hungry for food, for the approach of some power that shall raise them to their ancient place. They await its coming with impatience."
"They will then," I said, " flock around this prophet on the Jordan, if he be one in truth. Yet we perceive not signs of it."
"There are not a few," rejoined my uncle, "who, moved by what they deem a divine impulse, go forth to teach and declare in the streets and highways, in wild and desert places, what they might as well deliver within the walls of the synagogue. These now cease to stir the people. He of whom Jael spoke seems to be of this order. There will be other signs—another approach, when He shall come. Time will unfold what it shall."
Onias here withdrew into himself, buried in thought, of which he seemed to desire no participator. So we then rode along in silence together on our way; but soon wearying of this, I left my uncle to his reflections, and turned back to where Ziba was slowly toiling along with his heavy-laden camel, that I might hold discourse with him.
As I reached him he was singing at the top of his voice a song in praise of the wines of Judea; but soon as I joined him he broke off, saying, " that by the song he was singing he was trying to lose the taste of the vile drink that had been served to him by the rogue Jael, which was more sour than the visage of Ben-Ezra of Cæsarea. Truly, those maids in the woods knew how to deal with a stranger, camel-driver though he was. They were no Samaritans, after all, that was certain. Their wine was sweet as a dried grape, and it was poured out like water. Jael's, indeed, was in abundance enough, but what signifies an abundance of that which cannot be swallowed? Yet would he stand by and commend it as fit for kings, and sweeter than wines of Greece or Italy, with such oaths and smiles, too, that one was ready to give the lie to his own burning throat. Well, well, wait awhile, and the poorest of us will have better wine than the best of Jael's."
"How so? shall you all turn vine-dressers, or what is to happen?"
"What is to happen? A Jew! and you know not that? You may hear it every day with your ears open. Things are not to remain as they are. Some new kingdom is to be set up, some say under Herod of Galilee. So the Herodians, most of them, think. As others judge, he who is to reign is yet, and shortly, too, to make his appearance, but how or whence, no one knows, or can know. But why do I tell you this, when you are yourself, I doubt not, a scribe at least? Yet methinks I heard you are from Rome."
"I am from Rome," I answered; "but still I am a Jew."
"What sort of Jews," he asked, "are they in Rome? do not know that I should think thee a Jew. Do they keep the law in Rome?"
"Surely; or we were not Jews."
"I see not that," answered Ziba. "We keep not the law here in Judea, yet we are Jews."
"There are two ways," said I," of keeping the law;
one is to keep the letter of the law only, as the Pharisees; ; the other to observe the letter, but keep it in its spirit too."
"We only do the first hereabouts," replied the cameldriver. "There's that Jael; he is an elder of the synagogue hard by his inn. You would think, to see him there, as I have when on this road, that never a prophet loved God like him; yet the next day shall you pay him a full sum for sour wine, and your camel's food shall be half chaff, while he will at the same time so smile and affirm as to cheat you, before he has done, out of your own judgment. As I have heard the Prophets read and the Law, they command not only to say prayers, offer sacrifices, and go up to Jerusalem at the feasts, but to be an honest man besides. Is it not so?"
"I warrant you it is, if it is anything. I truly, do not keep the law in any way; I am a camel-driver. But this that I have said is the sort of keeping I see in Cæsarea and Jerusalem. Ah! what do I not know of some of those long-faced Pharisees? Many is the time in Cæsarea I have tracked them from the very doors of the synagogues to their haunts. For me, I love an honest sinner like myself. None of your two-faced, smooth-tongued, rotten-hearted knaves, who, having cheated the world all the week, think on the Sabbath to cheat God as well, by their fastings and prayers. It is these who choose the highest places in the synagogues, where we can all look on and see the game that is played, that teach us to despise not them only, but the law too. Such have more to answer for than their own wickedness in the judgment-day, who have not only not kept the law themselves, but hindered those who would. There's many a ruler of a synagogue I have known, who, if he were in the world to come to keep company with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob for his reward, would not be good company enough for Ziba the camel-driver."
"In the new kingdom you speak of under Herod, or some