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The Galilean Secret

The second chapter of author Evan Drake Howard’s The Galilean Secret, a story about hope and faith in the time of Jesus.

An inspiring story of hope and faith in the time of Jesus

Jerusalem, A.D. 30

On the morning of her wedding, Judith Levy of Jerusalem knew she couldn’t go through with it.

She woke up before dawn drenched in sweat. Stomach churning, she put on her tunic and sandals and felt her way to the bedroom window.

Oh, why am I not attracted to Gabriel? The lament that had haunted her for months now sounded like a scream. She stared into the darkness that draped Jerusalem like a shroud, her breathing short, her head throbbing.

She liked and admired Gabriel ben Zebulun but could not marry him. She stumbled toward the nightstand beside the bed. On it stood the candle in the brass holder that she had set out the night before. The candle that she must light and place in the window.

The candle that would signal Dismas, Gabriel’s older brother, that she would elope with him instead.

Judith hesitated. How could she do it? If she ran away with Dismas and they were caught, they would be stoned to death as adulterers. When her quivering fingers touched the candle, she drew back, terrified.

She tiptoed into the hall to listen for the steady breathing of her parents, her older brother and his wife, and her two younger sisters. Relieved that no one was stirring, she paused by the lamp outside her parents’ door and caught a whiff of the flame’s oily scent.

She thought of Reuben, her brother who had died a year earlier at age four. He should have been here too. But he was gone—because of the Romans. Because they had murdered him as sure as she was standing here. Her throat tightened, as it did whenever she remembered Reuben and how his death had occurred. Fighting back tears, she returned to her room and sat down on the bed.

Oh God, oh God, what should I do? She wiped sweat from her forehead and groped for the candle again. Her hands shook like those of a leper.

She glanced out the window to see the stars glittering in the silent purple sky, beckoning her. If Dismas didn’t come before the sun rose, she would be forced to marry Gabriel, the man her father had chosen for her a year earlier. The man she did not love, but couldn’t bear to hurt.

When she again reached for the candle, she quickly withdrew her hand. Her passion for Dismas had so consumed her these past few months that she never questioned her decision to run away with him. Until now.

Gabriel offered her the security she had always known as the well-educated daughter of a wealthy spice trader. She considered him handsome in an understated, approachable way. Not only did his boyishly endearing features frame the most serene brown eyes she had ever seen, but he was also a gentleman and a successful merchant like his father, with his own food and clothing market.

Dismas, on the other hand, had shunned business to become a stonemason and to join the Sicarii, the dagger-wielding Zealots intent on overthrowing Roman rule. Suddenly the thought of abandoning her learning and comforts for a vagabond life in the desert made her gasp, as if winded after a footrace. It is not too late to back out, she told herself. But how could she? As kind and good as Gabriel was, she felt nothing for him.

She swallowed hard and buried her face in her hands. Tears stung her eyes; she struggled to catch her breath. Looking up, she peered through the gray-black darkness and made out the candle on the nightstand. She thought of the girls who accepted loveless matches as if they were mandated by God, and she thought of the Jews—her own family included—who had nothing but contempt for the Romans but did nothing about them.

She could no longer live with such hypocrisy. With the wedding only hours away, she had to flee what she feared most—a passionless marriage.

I must go and fight the Romans with Dismas, she told herself. In his arms I become the woman I long to be. The thought of making love to him calmed her trembling. Her heart leapt. She grimaced and reached for the candle. This time she seized and held it tightly. Tiptoeing into the hall again, she approached the lamp, lit the candle from its flame and then quietly returned to her room.

She strode to the window and placed the candle on the ledge; then she went back to the bed and reached under it. After retrieving the long rope that she had hidden there, she returned to the window, tied the rope to its frame and peered out.

Where was Dismas? She moved away and rummaged through her bag. Made of homespun cloth, it was full of clothes from the oversized wooden chest in the corner of the room. Her mind was full of questions. Had Dismas reneged on his promise to elope with her? Had bandits robbed and beaten him?

Assured that she had packed everything, Judith lifted the bag onto the bed and sat to brush her long chestnut hair. Comforted by the scent of pine, a gift from the trees along the street, she heard footsteps below.

Dismas! She threw the brush into the bag and ran to the window. His gaze was directed upward, his hair windblown, a faint smile on his ruggedly handsome face. A shudder ran through her; she gripped the ledge, hesitating.

He waved. “Please hurry!”

Judith froze, unable to bring herself to climb down the rope. How could she betray her betrothed, shame her father, ruin her mother’s wedding plans, disrupt the lives of two families and more than one hundred guests? But then, as she gazed into Dismas’s expectant eyes, she wondered, How can I not go with him?

He was pacing nervously. Before she could decide what to do, he seized the rope and began to climb up, his muscular arms moving in tandem with his sure steps on the wall. In an instant, he had entered her room. She brushed away a tear and put a finger to her lips.

He met her gaze and whispered, “What’s wrong?”

“I am not sure I can do this,” she said.

He studied her, as if admiring her glinting hazel eyes, and when he spoke his voice was low. “After all our planning, are you going to back out now? What about the anguish we’ve known under the Roman fist?”

She turned away. “What about Gabriel’s anguish?”

“He’ll get over it.” Dismas reached for her arm. “But if you marry him, I never will. And neither will you.”

Taking the measure of his sculpted athlete’s frame and tight-set jaw, she said, “I am afraid of the desert, of what might happen to us.”

“That’s why you need me. I’m strong enough for both of us, and where I want to take you is the only place worth going.” He said nothing more, but took her in his arms, whispering her name.

Then he was kissing her, igniting a flame that rose from the soles of her feet, up her legs, through her torso, to the place where their lips met.

His sweet scent, combined with the pine and traces of lemon and hibiscus from the garden below, enveloped her in what seemed a dream. The night became luminous, as if possessed by a hidden radiance that only he controlled. She held perfectly still, savoring each shared heartbeat.

Her rage at the Romans surfaced like oil in a boiling cauldron of water.  Dismas understands that love is more than doing your parents’ bidding, and that freedom must be fought for. She saw him as an idealist, a man on a righteous mission. That is why he had volunteered to go to the caves at Qumran, near the Dead Sea, to serve under the fierce and heroic Zealot commander, Barabbas.

The first splashes of dawn were reflecting pale light into the room. She gazed into Dismas’s steely dark eyes, which were focused like a warrior’s. A thud from the hall interrupted her thoughts. Dismas tensed, shifting his weight onto the balls of his feet, preparing for a fight. After she waved him toward the wooden chest, he lifted the lid and ducked inside. She stuffed her bag under the bed and slid beneath the blanket, pretending to be asleep. Her heart throbbing, she expected her brother or father to storm into the room.

Perhaps this is an omen. An omen of the trouble that will fall on us. If her burly brother searched the room and found Dismas, the two would fight. Her father, Nathan, would rush to Gideon’s aid and help him to prevail.

She and Dismas would be publicly humiliated and severely punished, if not stoned. Not even Gabriel would want her then.

But no sound followed the thud. Then there were plodding footsteps. Were they headed toward her room? She braced for a confrontation, but the footsteps stopped. Her heart beat easier as she realized what had happened: her sixty-six-year-old father had gotten up to relieve himself,as he often did in the early morning. Lying perfectly still, she waited until the soft, barefooted steps signaled that her father had gone back to bed.

Dismas poked his head out of the chest, glanced around the room and then dashed to the window. Judith was close behind. One leg over the ledge, he paused to face her and said, “As a Zealot I am determined to return Israel to the true worship of God. I’ve never met a woman who shares my two great passions—love and freedom.” He cupped her face in his hands. “I would never pressure you to come with me, but I want you to. I want you to be my wife and fight for freedom with me.”

She could not resist the wildness she saw in his eyes. It was as if a dam had broken and a river was sweeping her downstream on whitewater rapids. She had tried to forget about Dismas, but she could not help herself.

At twenty-one Dismas was four years older than she, and had the confidence and life experience that she lacked. His strength made her more secure than money ever could. She pulled the bag from under the bed. I must go with him, she told herself, reaffirming her passion for the Zealot cause and Dismas.

“You are my future now, Dismas,” she whispered under her breath. “Promise you’ll never disappoint me.”

The first rays of sun were painting the horizon pink as a cock crowed in the distance. When Judith saw Dismas on the ground, she tossed her bag down, took the rope and boosted herself over the window ledge. Her feet dangled precariously until they found the outer wall and pushed against it. Not daring to breathe, the rope chafing her hands, she leaned back as a burning ache shot from her shoulders to her fingertips.

Suddenly her foot slipped and her knee hit the wall, cutting the skin.

“Who’s there?” Her father’s demanding voice came from his window.

She froze, dangling against the stone.

“Hurry!” Dismas said.

She could hear people rushing into her room.

“Go ahead and jump! I’ll catch you.” Dismas held out his arms.

She fought to hang on, her body swaying wildly from side to side as she slid down the rope. As her feet neared the ground, she let go and Dismas caught her. “Let’s go!” He tucked her bag under his arm and took her hand. She broke into a sprint, pulled forward by Dismas, who was guiding her toward a heavily loaded horse that she could see up the street.

“Judith!”

She heard her father shouting but did not look back, the image of his slender frame and stern features etched in her mind. He sounded frantic, desperate. Dismas boosted her onto the horse, threw her the bag and then climbed up himself.

“Judith, come back!”

“Please, Judith, don’t do this!” Recognizing the voices of her sister Dinah and her mother, she stole a backward glance. Expressions of terror creased their still sleepy faces.

Her brother Gideon had flown down the stairs and out the door. “Come back with my sister!” Gideon’s deep voice boomed as he sprinted to within feet of the horse, cursing Dismas.

Judith closed her eyes tightly, determined to shut out all doubt. She clung to Dismas as the horse began to gallop into the morning, leaving her family and their futile shouts behind.

—–

Excerpted from The Galilean Secret, © 2010 by Evan Drake Howard. All rights reserved.

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