Authors: Frederick Ramsay
Tags: #Mystery & Detective
Gamaliel had thus far shown no inclination to accede to the task he’d asked of him—to take this upstart down— and now he had been co-opted by the Prefect to settle some inconsequential business at the palace. He claimed this assignment prevented him from pursuing the High Priest’s matter further. It would not do. He needed the Rabban to act and he didn’t care what the Prefect wanted. There were the demands of Rome and there were those from the Lord, he thought. The latter should take precedence.
After a day of fuming at what he believed to be a deliberate slight, however instigated by Pilate, he determined that if the Rabban could not come to him as requested, he would go to the Rabban. Such a move could be viewed by the Temple staff as a reduction in his position and certainly unusual to say the least. The High Priest did not wait on anyone. But he must make this exception. All this he explained in detail to Jabez ben Ratzon, his newest aide, who nodded and agreed, rather too obsequiously Caiaphas thought. He also caught the look in Jabez’s eye when he thought his back was turned. This young man had ambition but not much in the way of intelligence, a not particularly promising combination in any young man so awkwardly gifted. Was he yet another potential threat to the High Priest? Caiaphas felt acid spike in his stomach.
In the end, he sent messengers out to locate the Rabban. It was enough that he would go to Gamaliel, but he refused to be seen wandering about the city in search of him. The messengers would locate him and keep him in sight. Caiaphas would then be led directly to him. He hoped that would allow him to maintain some small measure of dignity.
Gamaliel sat in the atrium of Antipas’ Palace deep in thought when the High Priest announced his presence. He’d brought with him only a small entourage. Hoping, Gamaliel supposed, that it would draw less attention and at the same time provide fewer witnesses to what could be an embarrassment to him at the hands of the Rabban.
“Rabban, greetings in the Name.”
Gamaliel stood and bowed. “High Priest, I greet you equally. I regret I could not attend you as you requested but, as I believe you have been told, the Prefect had enlisted me in this affair and I could not refuse. Be assured, this employment is not of my choosing or liking.”
“Of course, I understand. The Prefect can be very insistent.”
“And the task important, at least he believes it to be. I am of a different mind but —”
Caiaphas waved off these last remarks and signaled Gamaliel to resume his seat presumably to consider how best to convince this man of the danger the rabble surrounding the troublemaker from Nazareth posed.
Gamaliel settled in to hear the High Priest out. He knew what would be forthcoming and why the High Priest thought it so important. He would listen with half an ear and the same time could be used to think through the events of the last two days and try to make some sense of them. The steward had been far too eager to inspect and identify the odd bits and pieces he’d removed from the pool. He wished he knew why. Barak’s telling of the events he assumed to be the most accurate because he had the least to hide. Thus, every account from the others he’d heard should be measured against that of Barak. The royals, he admitted to himself, would not tell the truth. It was their nature to dissemble if they felt threatened and often they did so simply out of habit. Certainly the Prefect’s interest in the events would be taken as a threat to them, so they would position themselves carefully.
Often, he thought, the truth could only be found in the spaces between the words, not in the words themselves, like the mortar between bricks. If anything useful would come from their accounts, it must be pried loose from the discontinuities in their stories. Still he would need to query them and then search the interstices and crevices.
Caiaphas droned on. “You see our position?” he’d said and seemed to be waiting for a response. Gamaliel did, indeed, appreciate the High Priest’s position and thanked the Lord he did not share it, or ever would. The High Priest lived in a constant fear of being deposed—by the emperor or by the Lord. Perhaps by both and perhaps justifiably. No one of his acquaintance would be upset if he were. So in the case of this annoying rabbi, what should he say to Caiaphas? What could he say? Like a stubborn captain of a ship, Caiaphas had set his course and neither threat of storms nor becalming would persuade him to alter it.
“I believe, High Priest, that your best course, our best course, is to do nothing. If this man is a fraud, as you and I both believe, he will eventually blow away like sand in the desert.”
Caiaphas scowled. Clearly this was not the message he wished to hear.
“Hear me out, High Priest. If he is what he claims to be, then you cannot stop him no matter what you or I will do, nor should you. Moreover, if his movement takes hold, we will have our hands full trying to catch up, will we not? My advice is, stay calm and wait. And in all events, ignore him. It is a maxim that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of both is indifference. If you wish to destroy an idea, ignore it. Attacking it will only draw more attention to the subject and have the reverse effect to the one you envision. Reportedly, this man is barely educated, mildly to extremely heretical, but no threat to you or the Nation at the moment that I can see. I admit I have not heard him myself and am relying on students and friends to guide me here. But, having said that, I urge you do not give him
by persecuting him. No good can come of it. Trust the Lord to manage the heresies, his followers, and his lack of depth. My students track him almost every day. I will let you know if and when he crosses the line.”
Caiaphas did not seem pleased. His face turned bright red as if he’d spent too many hours in the sun.
“This will not do, Rabban. I must have this matter settled.”
“I cannot see why, High Priest. The man has done nothing more or less than a handful of others have done before him. You can see the results of those claims. How is this one any different from, say, Judas of the Galilee, who at least fought and eliminated a small contingent of Roman soldiers before he ended up on a cross?”
Caiaphas sputtered and stood. “I am not done with this, Rabban. I need someone to pursue this. As you are not willing, perhaps the Temple requires a stronger Rabban.”
“Perhaps it does. The Sanhedrin can always choose to replace me and it can do so at anytime. Since you are determined to see this through, I would suggest that you might put young Jabez or Ehud on it. They are both extremely clever and able. I am certain one or the other will find a solution to your problem.”
“Jabez ben Ratzon has red hair. People like that are unreliable and I do not trust him.”
Gamaliel let this
pass. What a man’s hair color had to do with anything he could not imagine. Caiaphas rose, obviously ill pleased, made his farewell and huffed from the atrium. The poor man, he thought, has too much on his mind, and his problems so many and varied and all compounded further by the fact he is an unreconstructed Sadducee. Not that being a Sadducee presented a problem in and of itself. There were days, indeed most days, when Gamaliel’s own position might fairly be described as that of a Sadducee. He would deny it of course, but he knew the value of integration with gentile society. There was a line that separated Greek practice and Judaism as delivered in scripture that needed to be observed. That line should not be crossed and Caiaphas, of late, often crossed it. Centuries had passed and yet Alexander’s Hellenism continued to color the culture and divide the Nation. Ironically, for the most part most people did not know how they thought about it personally, but they knew what they wanted their High Priest to think.
Gamaliel watched his colleague and sometime nemesis leave the court. He sat down on the bench once again and turned his thoughts back to the problem at hand: how to question the royals. Could he truly expect any hope of hearing anything of value from them?
The king’s steward arranged the interviews with the royal family to begin with the Princess Salome. In spite of Gamaliel’s objections, the king had insisted that Chuzas also sit in on each interview. Furthermore, he required an hour to elapse between each interview. The ploy was as transparent as the wrappings on one or two of the resident concubines that Gamaliel had interviewed the previous day; he could object but even the threat implicit in Pilate’s ring did not provide him with the means to forestall it. The interviews were to proceed as the king insisted or they would not take place at all. Gamaliel agreed, but made a mental note to describe this process to Pilate if, and he assumed when, the investigation sputtered to the unsatisfactory conclusion he expected.
A private room had been set aside for his meetings. Gamaliel noted sourly that the walls were paneled with latticework painted a dark red. He felt sure that behind some part, perhaps all of it, someone could, and undoubtedly would, sit and eavesdrop on what transpired and they could do so easily and anonymously. Not for the first time he wondered what the purpose of this exercise was: certainly not justice for the girl. To avoid a scandal? In this palace with this king? A ridiculous thought, surely.
This day’s work, he decided would not offer up much in the way of useful information. Clearly all the interviewees would be briefed by the steward or listen at the wall or both. Their stories would jibe in every detail and reveal nothing useful. The only way he could see to get around that would be to couch his questions in such a way that at least some of them would not be anticipated. Then, he reminded himself, he would search the “mortar between the bricks.”
The Princess Salome swept in and took her place in the chair provided. Gamaliel had not seen the young woman up close before. His previous sighting of the girl allegedly responsible for the death of the Baptizer had only been from a discreet distance. She was a beauty, no denying that. And seeing her close up he understood how easy it must have been for her stepfather to lust after her. When he looked closer he saw that she had the physical makeup, probably inherited from her mother, to go to plump early. Salome, Princess of Judea, should find a husband and quickly for she was destined to become as broad across the middle and as heavy as a Judean merchant’s wife. The signs were there.
He cleared his throat, as much to rid it of the overpowering scent that surrounded the princess like an invisible nimbus as from nervousness. “Princess, I will be brief. What can you tell me of the events that took place on the night of the murder? I assume you were there for some of them, is that not so?”
The woman, eyes downcast in a theatrical rendering of ingenuousness, murmured her answer. He could not make out any but two or three words. “I must apologize, Majesty, I am old before my time, it seems, and my hearing is not what it should be. We are in a private room so no one but I will hear what you have to say.” He knew it was a lie, and she knew it, too, but he preferred to let the court, or whoever might be lurking behind the lattice, believe he’d not uncovered their sham.
“I am sorry, then, as well, Rabban. I said that I attended the dining and stayed for some of the music. My poor head hurt so that as soon as I thought it proper or sufficient, I left and went to my chambers to lie down. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I remember is the klaxon sounding and shouting and many men rushing about.”
“Did you go to the baths either before or after the dining or the alarm sounding?”
“Rabban! No of course not. It is not my place to bathe in such a public manner.”
“I see.” The image of her reported nakedness or nearly so before the entire court crossed his mind and he wondered at this assumed modesty on her part. As to her statement, in truth, he did not see how it could be she knew nothing. Her painfully apparent dissembling annoyed him so that even if he wished to believe her, he could not. He reached for the cloth he’d retrieved from the pool the day before. It had dried and he spread it out for her to inspect. It looked fresh and hardly used. “Do you recognize this bit of cloth?”
Salome’s eyes dilated briefly. Clearly she did. “No. I don’t think so. What is it?”
“What is it? I would have thought you could tell me. I believe, but I am not certain—there are some things not permitted for me to know—that it is a cloth used as some sort of private garment, a small one, in fact. It might have been worn by a boy or a young woman. You don’t recognize it now?”
“Where did you find it?”
“Ah, that is the thing, you see. It was in the bath. Whoever wore it that night lost it somehow and it sank to the bottom.” He stretched the cloth towards her. “Look again. Perhaps if you see it more closely, some remembrance may occur.”
She reached out and took it in her right hand and inspected its edge. “It is not one that belongs to anyone I know,” she said and handed it back.
“And you know this how?”
“We mark all our everyday things,
you understand, with an initial or a symbol on the edge where the cloth has been hemmed so that after it has been laundered, it will be returned to its proper owner. There is no mark on this piece anywhere.”
“I see. Could it have been worn by a guest and left by mistake?”
“I wouldn’t know. I told you I was not at the bath. I went to my chambers and fell asleep.”
“Yes, so you said. So, you would not have seen a boy or young woman wearing this scrap of cloth. Yes, I see.”