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Saturday 7 April 2012

FOUR VEILS - Excerpt from FIFTH GOSPEL - a Novel.


AIAPHAS had been in the Temple with Ananias preparing for the evening ritual, when two Pharisees burst into the court, with their eyes wide in their pale faces. He knew they were afraid, they were all afraid. The events of these last hours had all men jumping out of their skins.
But not Caiphas.
He sighed and scratched his back absently. Would this day never end?
‘What do you want?’
One man said, with authority, ‘We’ve come to ask why you have not dispatched the Levites to Golgotha? They have to break the bones of those men before the beginning of the Sabbath, so that they can be taken down!’
Caiaphas did not like being told. He said, ‘Impossible! It is too late, soon is sunset, besides, I have to go and kindle the incense.’ He began to ascend the steps.    
But those dreadful Pharisees would not be put off.
‘Listen Caiaphas…there is time. If not, the families will have to wait until after the feast to bury them.’
‘So what?’ he said looking at the fools. ‘Let them rot for a few days on their crosses…what harm can it do? It may be a good thing to let the birds have their fill of Jesus’ pitiful carcass. Let all men see it as they come and go! That way, whoever passes will be reminded that Jesus of Nazareth was not a god, just a liar, full of his own importance!’
He turned to go, but was prevented by the other man.
‘No!’ the stubborn Pharisee countered, ‘The Sanhedrin must comply with the law, this Sabbath is a High day, Caiaphas, and you know as well as we, that when the Sabbath falls on the second Paschal day, the law is even more inviolable! How can the people celebrate, the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, with the smell and sight of carrion meat outside the gates!’
Caiaphas sighed, weary and bored; he waved a hand as if he were shooing a fly. ‘Very well…you may send three guards.’
‘But the Romans won’t allow it unless you go, Caiphas!’ said the other Pharisee, ‘for without you the soldiers have no authority.’
Caiaphas turned an indolent eye upon the Pharisee, a look that could whither a plant, but it did nothing to change the resolve on that stubborn face. ‘The lot, dear Solomon, has fallen to me, I must kindle the incense…do you see how impossible it is?’
‘If you send the captain of the guards, with the lance of Phineas,’ Annanias offered now, from behind them, ‘the Romans will know that a mandate has been given, and they must demure before it.’
Caiaphas was full of pleasure for it, since the lance of Phineas had been that lance used to kill idolaters and adulterers, who had also not complied with the Laws of Moses. There was a species of poetic eloquence in using it against a heretic. He wished that he had thought of it himself.
Later, as he ascended the three steps, to commence the ritual burning of the incense, a speck of a feeling announced itself, a feeling against all logic. He pushed it back into the dull corners of his ill used heart, and tried to preoccupy himself with his task, but it would not go, it would have its way, until finally, it spread apart the curtains of his mind, and announced itself loudly in his ears:
Could he have been the Messiah?
This petition rang out from his soul, before he could snatch it, and fell over the heavy four-coloured veil that hung taut before the Holy of Holies, over the golden altar of incense that glowed red with coals.
Oh no! He had unwittingly petitioned the ancient oracle!
Behind him, the Levites were kneeled and he was full of relief – it had seemed to him that he had said it out loud, but he had not.
He gathered his wits about him, kindled the incense and took the golden censer from the fire, but at that moment a wind had entered the city - an ancient wind called Ruach. It moved over the colossal bridge and swept through the archways, forcing its way through the gates of the Temple, curving its back around the sanctuary of shining marble and glittering gold, sweeping through the court of the women, the court of Israel and the court of the Priests, and entering the chambers so strongly, as to fan the sacred fires into flames.
Ruach…Elohim…Aur!  Breath…Elohim…Light!
It moved from behind the columns and the walls and reached out its hands to grasp at Caiphas’ vestments and tore at his robes. It spoke, and the sound of it grew loud in his ears. He drew his hands to dampen its voice and dropped the sacred incense to the marble floor.
Dismay and confusion swirled around the sanctuary now, but Caiaphas heard only these words:
Now, day turned to night, and the earth began to move of its own accord, sending the golden candlestick, with its seven lit lamps, crashing to the floor. Caiphas lost his balance and followed it, hitting his head on the altar. The priests dissolved in panic as the wind, full of sand and dust, made them choke, and the shaking of the earth tore through the ground like the hand of a furious god.
Caiaphas struggled to stand, but his vestments were lifted up to his face, like devil’s wings. And as the earth exchanged places with the air, he was gripped by terror and tried to make a way out of the Temple, but there was a great commotion and confusion among those who had come for the service. The crowds, coming together of a sudden, made a crush through the porches and many fell and were trampled underfoot. At this point, a crack in the earth was heard and those veils guarding the holy place, long and wide and thick and wrought in seventy-two squares joined together, gathered the wind into themselves like sails, and were made pregnant. In their convulsions and birth throws, there began a rip, and a loud rent sounded as the four veils were torn from top to bottom, making open, the most Holy Place to the eyes of all.
The storm and the earthquake swallowed up the cries of terror and shock. God Himself, in His wrath, had rent the four veils with His own hands, and was gone from that place where he had dwelt in mysterious gloom. What portent was this? The priests asked themselves.
Only Caiaphas knew the answer, for he had heard the voice of the oracle. God had forsaken their Temple because they had killed His only Begotten Son.

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