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Full text of "The Greatest Story Ever Told A Tale Of The Greatest Life Ever Lived"

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The Greatest Story 
Ever Told 



A TALE OF 

THE GREATEST LIFE 

EVER LIVED 



Other books by Fulton Oursler 

BEHOLD THIS DREAMER! 

SANDALWOOD 

STEP-CHILD OF THE MOON 
POOR LITTLE FOOL 

THE WORLD'S DELIGHT 
THE GREAT JASPER 

JOSHUA TODD 

A SKEPTIC IN THE HOLY LAND 
THREE THINGS WE CAN BELIEVE IN 

THE PRECIOUS SECRET 
A HISTORY OF PROTESTANT MISSIONS 



The Greatest Story 
Ever Told 



A TALE OF 

THE GREATEST LIFE 

EVER LIVED 

by 

Fulton Oursler 



GARDEN CITY, N.Y. 

Doubleday & .Company 9 Inc. 

1949 



COPYRIGHT, 1949, BY FULTON OURSLER 
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES 

AT 
THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y. 



I have two friends, man and wife, 'who in their lives, privately and 
professionally, exemplify the teachings of Jesus Christ more truly 
than do any others I know. Their modesty prevents me from record- 
ing even their initials, but to them I dedicate this imperfect work 
in affection and gratitude. 

FULTON OURSLER 



Preface 



THIS is the story of Jesus. It is a chronology of events from the 
betrothal of Mary and Joseph to the days after the Resurrection, and 
the episodes are taken from the four Gospels. What is imaginative in 
the narrative is largely detail to fill in chinks left open in the Bible 
accounts; nothing has been included that did not seem a reasonable 
assumption from the records. 

In writing anew the wonderful life of Jesus, the author has had 
but one thought in mind, and that was to induce readers to go to the 
Gospels and hear the story at firsthand. It was Rabbi Solomon B. 
Freehof, of a great Jewish temple in Pittsburgh, who said to me at 
dinner one evening that the unspoken scandal of our times was the 
hidden fact that Bible-reading had been largely given up in America. 

Later, as I traveled around the country and talked to many differ- 
ent kinds of men and women -f ellow passengers in Pullman and day 
coach, stenographers, lecture committee chairmen I made casual 
allusions in conversation to biblical passages. I soon discovered that 
references which in my boyhood were cliches of front-porch talk 
had no meaning whatever for these later companions. Even such 
obvious phrases as "Thirty pieces of silver" or "The talent buried in 
a napkin" or "The angel that troubled the waters" left many listeners 
with blank stares. Yet when I explained the meaning, their interest 
was clear j a sample from the great history invariably roused the 
appetite for more. 

These experiments helped me to come to a long-considered resolu- 
tion. Ever since my first visit to Palestine, in 1935, I had been 
tempted. A tour of Galilee, Samaria, Judea, and Trans) or dania had 
evoked again in me a deep interest in Christianity which had filled 
me up when I was young. Now, after twenty-five years of contented 
agnosticism, I was stirred up again. I began to read various chronolo- 
gies by which Catholic and Protestant theologians bad sought to 



Vlll PREFACE 

straighten out the apparent confusions and contradictions in the 
Gospels. This book follows none of the established time and sequence 
formulae but draws from several, in what seemed to the writer the 
most natural and probable line. 

The book is not offered as an explanation or an interpretation. It 
is rather an attempt to tell, faithfully, just what the four Apostles, 
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, assert to have happened in those 
thirty-three years of the life of Jesus. It is, further, an effort to 
state the believing Christian's understanding of the meaning of those 
years. There is no intention here to rationalize or to hunt out a sym- 
bolism. While sometimes dramatized, the story is completely faith- 
ful to the literal statements of the text. 

While I was still at work on the manuscript I found myself on 
a sponsored radio program negotiated for me by a producing agency 
of which Mr. Waddill Catchings was chairman. During this associa- 
tion of more than three years I became well acquainted with Mr. 
Catchings, and in 1943 I suggested to him that die manuscript on 
which I was working would provide stirring material for a radio 
presentation of episodes in the life of Our Lord and dramatizations 
of the Christian teachings. 

Where many another radio producer might have been frightened 
off, Mr. Catchings was attracted at once. Together, in many con- 
versations, we explored the difficulties. Could we please both Catho- 
lics and Protestants with such a presentation? Would those of other 
faiths protest? Could any sponsor be found to take the risks implied 
in those questions? Would the general public be shocked at the 
sound of an actor's voice impersonating the Master? 

To these and many other problems we felt eventually that we 
had found the solutions, and soon Mr. Catchings began to approach 
possible sponsors. Here our path was for a time full of discourage- 
ment. More than once, after prolonged negotiations, we had reason 
to believe that a contract would be arranged, only to have the plans 
fall through at the last moment. But never did either of us lose hope. 
This confidence was justified when, through the efforts of Mr. 
Catchings and the bold enthusiasm of Mr. James H. S. Ellis, head of 
Kudner Agency, Inc., the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company 
expressed an interest. Mr* Paul W. Litchfield, head of the firm, 
wanted to be shown how our plans would be materialized in actual 
performance. 

It had seemed to me from the first that the parable of "The Good 



PREFACE IX 

Samaritan," with its deathless dramatic action and its basic lesson 
against intolerance, would make an ideal beginning. Here, in a most 
exciting story, was the Christian teaching on racial hatred. 

Accordingly a script was prepared. Step by step I outlined the 
story and my friend, Henry Denker, took that skeleton and with 
dialogue and sound effects clothed it with exciting life. Then Mr. 
Marx Loeb, radio dramatic director, began to assemble a cast of 
Broadway actors. All of us Catchings, Ellis, Denker, and myself 
sat with Loeb, listening to brief recordings of scores of voices, pick- 
ing not only the actor to portray Jesus, but all the other figures in 
"The Good Samaritan." And Mr. William Stoess was enriching it 
all with his special arrangements of music. 

Yes, Mr. Litchfield said, when he had listened to the recorded per- 
formance of our experiment; yes, he believed in it thoroughly. But 
he had one reservation: Could we do as well in all the shows to 
follow? 

"If you can do one more show as good as the first, I will be 
convinced," he said. 

For the second experiment I selected the parable of "The Unmer- 
ciful Servant." Mr. Litchfield heard it and signed the contract. To 
his everlasting credit let it be said that while spending near to a 
million dollars a year on the program he refused to take any of the 
time for advertising. Because the laws require it, the name of the 
sponsor must be mentioned at opening and closing. So one hears: 
"The Greatest Story Ever Told presented by the Goodyear Tire 
and Rubber Company." That is all, until it is repeated at the close. 

The program began in January 1947. Since then, week after week, 
Sunday evenings at 6:30 P.M. over the network of the American 
Broadcasting Company, we have presented "The Greatest Story 
Ever Told." Many of the half-hour dramas have been original stories 
modern parables if that is not too bumptious a term but illustrating 
always some text from the New Testament. The plots for these I 
brought to Denker and he, with skill and inspiration, transformed 
them into vivid scripts. But also we frequently drew our material 
straight from this book, notably the five weeks of the Nativity scripts 
and the three episodes at Easter. The mood and method of this book 
have always been the basis and spirit of the radio program. 

Each script was read, corrected, and approved by Monsignor 
Joseph A. Nelson, of St. Patrick's Cathedral staif in New York; Rev. 
Dr. Samuel Shoemaker, rector of Calvary Protestant Episcopal 



X PREFACE 

Church; and Rev. Dr. Paul Wolfe, minister of the Brick Presbyterian 
Church, New York. With them has been associated Mr. Otto Frank- 
furter, brother of Justice Felix Frankfurter of the United States 
Supreme Court. Nothing has appeared on the programs without the 
approval of these four. 

There have been no clashes; the program has gained in favor ever 
since it began. I cite one of many collateral miracles: In the spring 
of 1947 the General Tire and Rubber Company, a competitor of 
Goodyear, took page advertisements in newspapers throughout the 
country urging the public to listen to its rival's radio program. The 
Christian influence makes itself quickly felt. A little leaven leaveneth 
the whole. 

With much help and counsel I have told here the great story once 
more the story of the greatest event in human history. For once 
upon a time and long ago it actually happened, according to the 
faith of true believers, among which the author counts himself. 

God, who had fashioned time and space in a clockwork of billions 
of suns and stars and moons, in the form of His beloved Son became 
a human being like ourselves. On this microscopic midge of planet 
He remained for thirty-three years. He became a real man, and the 
only perfect one. While continuing to be the true God, He was 
born in a stable and lived as a workingman and died on a cross. 

He came to show us how to live, not for a few years but eternally. 
He explained truths that would make our souls joyous and free. 

This is the story of Jesus the greatest story ever told. 



Contents 



Preface vii 

Book One 
A CHILD IS BORN 

1. The Man Who Waited i 

2. The Betrothal 7 

3. The Unknown Messenger n 

4. No Dreams Tonight 22 

5. Hail, Mary! 25 

6. What a One, Think You! 28 

7. When Half-Gods Go 33 

8. Joseph Dreams a Dream 38 

9. Command from Rome 42 

10. The Long Journey 46 

11. Shepherds at the Back Door 52 

12. Two Pigeons, Please! 55 

13. The King and the Child 61 

14. Kill Them All! 68 

Book T<wo 
A BOY IN NAZARETH 

15. By the Nile 71 

16. Herod's Last Night Alive 72 

17. Behind the Masquerade 76 

18. Jesus Barabbas So 

xi 



Xli CONTENTS 

19. Where Is My Son? 83 

20. Strange Word from the South 88 

Book Three 
THE PREPARATION 

21. The Voice in the Wilderness 91 

22. New Friends 96 

23. The Caterer Is Amazed 101 

24. The Wicked Queen 105 

25. The Woman at the Well 108 

26. What Have We to Do with You? 112 

27. Peter's Mother-in-law 116 

28. The First Clash , . , 120 

29*. A Tax Agent Resigns 123 

30. John Had to Know 128 

31. A Young Girl Dances 132 

Book Four 
THE FIRST YEAR 

32. Chosen 137 

33. The Second Step 139 

34. The First Box of Ointment 145 

35. The Woman Who Understood 147 

36. The Teller of Good Yarns . 148 

37. A Time of Wonders 154 

38. Not Without Honor 157 

Book Five 
THE SECOND YEAR 

39. Barley Loaves and Fishes 159 

40. The Conspirators Return 163 

41. Transfigured 166 

42. Tribute to Caesar 173 



CONTENTS X1U 

"Book Six 
THE THIRD YEAR 

43. You Must Have a Devil 177 

44. A Real Investigation! 182 

45. That Better Part 185 

46. The Dinner Tables of the Mighty 187 

47. Urgent Teaching 190 

48. Come Forth! 194 

49. A Political Setback 197 

50. The Great Feast 199 

51. Palm Sunday 203 

52. The Great Clash 206 

53. The Political Boss 210 

54. The Upper Room 220 

55. The Parting 226 

56. The Bargain 229 

57. A Visit to Pilate 233 

58. We Are Ready 235 

59. The Dark Garden 236 

60. The Prisoner 240 

61. Denial 244 

62. The Judges 245 

63. On Trial 248 

64. Prove It! 256 

65. The Affirmation 257 

66. Pilate's Fireplace 261 

67. Claudia's Dream 263 

68. The Drunken King 270 

69. Crucify Him! 275 

70. The Dolorous Way 280 

71. Finished! 283 

72. Why Do They Not Care? 290 



The Greatest Story 
Ever Told 



A TALE OF 

THE GREATEST LIFE 

EVER LIVED 



Book One 

A CHILD IS BORN 



Chapter i THE MAN WHO WAITED 



PEOPLE in Nazareth said that Joseph was like his great ancestor, the 
favorite son of Jacob. It was true that the carpenter of Nazareth, 
with his small golden beard, so different from his black-haired neigh- 
bors, was a dreamy, quiet-spoken man, looking more like a scholar 
than a craftsman. 

His uncle who brought him up had taught the orphan boy his 
trade. With those great knotty hands of his Joseph could build a 
house or a fence, fashion a chair or a bench, hang a door, mend a. 
wheel, build a new plow or yoke. On the high street in Nazareth, 
his little shop with its earthen floor had a clean, constant smell 
of shavings and sawdust. In the back was a cot and near by a grate 
on which Joseph, the bachelor, cooked simple meals. On long eve- 
nings he would sit on his heels at the open door and sew a rent in 
his smock or stand outside and breathe deep of the cool air. Later, 
by the yellow flame of a 'rush burning in an oil lamp, he would 
read for hours from borrowed scrolls. 

The golden-bearded Joseph with the prematurely bald head was 
called a visionary because he refrained from gambling with travelers 
of passing caravans; he avoided tavern women, and found his pleas- 
ure in good talk with a few neighbors. Among Nazarenes these were 
queer habits, for generally they were a rowdy lot. 

This town lying hidden in the mountains was near a post on a busy 
trade route between Europe and Asia, so there was often excitement 
in the neighborhood, a tide flowing back and forth of cartels and 
baled merchandise pungent fragrances and spicery and rainbow 
silks of the East, skilled manufactures of the West, win& and oils, 
the barter and trade of Alexandria and Damascus. At night caravans 
often rested in the fields, and the rocky hillside gleamed with golden 
tongues of camp fires. The townsfolk got their news from those 



2 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

travelers, and day and night lived in an atmosphere of the new, the 
strange, and the exciting. They were rough men, these merchants 
and camel drivers, and the people of the town were rough, too, 
ready to take offense, ready to brawl, to gamble and haggle ready 
for anything! 

Late one afternoon Samuel of Cana stood in dark silhouette on 
the threshold of Joseph's shop, at the end of the Street of the Copper- 
smith. The young merchant was tall and powerful against the fad- 
ing light. 

"The Lord be unto you," he said politely. 

Joseph put down his hammer, separated his bare feet which he 
had been using as a vise for a board, brushed sweat from his forehead 
with the back of his hand, and grinned at his friend. 

"And peace be with you, Samuel, Come in. Your chest of good 
Galilean oak and sycamore is finished and I am about to eat. Join 
me?" ' 

"No, I have just eaten at home. But thank you." 

The giant Samuel sprawled on the shavings litter of the floor, 
while Joseph, forsaking chisel, adze, and saw, squatted on his bare 
heels and spread out a repast of bread and curds and a cup of 
milk. 

"Who fixed you such a dainty meal?" asked Samuel suspiciously. 

"When a man is an orphan and has no wife, he must learn to do 
for himself." 

"You are lonely, Joseph?" 

"Sometimes." 

There was a moment's pause as the carpenter smeared his bread 
with the curds. 

"I have a cure for loneliness," murmured Samuel, a gleam in his 
inkberry eyes. 

Joseph chuckled with private amusement. 

"I can guess!" He laughed. 

"No," Samuel cried vindictively. "IVe long ago given up trying 
to make an adult out of you, Joseph. No amourettes, no little love 
affairs for you! Of course you don't know what you're missing, but 
that's not what I was thinking about at all. My thoughts for your 
future were elsewhere." 

"Where then?" 

"Jerusalem!" 

Are there not enough carpenters in the big city?" 



A CHILD IS BORN 3 

"Carpenters, bah! Joseph, don't you ever have a thought beyond 
your work?" 

Joseph blinked self-consciously. 

"Why, yes, Samuel, I think about many things that have nothing 
at all to do with my work," 

"What, for instance?" 

"Oh-the law." 

"Bah!" 

"Bah!" repeated Joseph with a wag of his bald head. "Bah is not 
an argument, Samuel. It is a noise." 

"It has a meaning just the same. It means that I and many like me 
are tired of being taught about the patriarchs and the judges and 
the prophets-the history of Israel We are tired of more than that. 
We have had enough of being ruled by foreign powers; we are all 
slaves, run by Herod for the benefit of Rome, and what has Rome 
to do with us? We want to be free!" 

"Oh," said Joseph. "That again! Better lower your voice, 
Samuel." 

The danger was real. Roman spies were everywhere. It was folly 
to take part in political discussions, with the police listening, holding 
the downtrodden people in a misery of fear. One learned not to 
speak ideas aloud. In the last century there had been a series of 
hapless rebellions in the land; fierce and fanatical men still roamed 
the hills of Galilee, striking at Romans when they dared. Some of 
the best of the young men of the province, healthy and strong ones, 
enthusiastic ones, had perished in those feeble and foredoomed re- 
voltsthousands of patriots dying for Israel during the one hundred 
years the Romans had held Israel. Not only Galilee of which Naza- 
reth was one of the chief towns did they hold, but Judea, too, with 
Jerusalem, the golden capital. All the territory that once had known 
the valor of Joshua, the power of David, the wisdom and glory of 
Solomon was now paying tribute to the Emperor Caesar Augustus. 

Ah, Samuel could tell Joseph, conditions were getting much worse. 
Rich and powerful men of their own nation were collaborating 
with the invaders, fattening their fortunes by betraying their own 
people. How long must they endure slavery with treason thrown 
in? Did Joseph realize that in every village young men were once 
more plotting to throw the Romans out and make the people free? 
Why would Joseph not join? 

Ever since Joseph could remember impetuous youths in Nazareth 



4 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

had been planning a secret, melodramatic resistance against the Ro- 
mans, but it never came to anything more than talk. 

"Don't you love your own country?" prodded Samuel reproach- 
fully. "Aren't you one of us in spirit, at least?" 

Joseph's smile was quizzical. Poor workman that he was, he be- 
longed to the house of David and his line ran back, clearly indi- 
cated in the scrolls of the Nazareth synagogue, all the way to Jacob 
who was of Isaac, who was of Abraham; and farther than that, even, 
to Seth who was of Adam, who was of God. 

The smile deepened as he patted the knee of his impetuous friend. 
This revolutionist really did want to save Israel But how? By up- 
rising, by blood, by death. In the holy books prophets had promised 
liberation salvation for the people who had known the terrors of 
war, the slavery of Egypt, the wanderings in the wilderness, the 
captivity of Babylon, and now the Roman occupation. But salvation 
was to come, according to these ancient writers, when a messenger 
was born, the long-promised Messiah, who would lead the nation to 
peace. Joseph believed his books, therefore a good man must not 
turn to blood and death to hasten salvation. And Joseph was well 
aware that every son of the house of David was being watched. 

"But have you heard the news from Jerusalem?" demanded Sam- 
uel, impatient of books. "I have been talking to some camel drivers 
who arrived only this morning. Bang Herod has murdered more 
of his family he has already* murdered one wife, as you remember 
and every day of his life he kills our own innocent and helpless 
people, according to his whims. As a sensible man, how can you de- 
pend on promises made hundreds of years ago, when today " 

"When today," Joseph interrupted, "the God of Israel is still the 
same Lord. We must rely on him, and, Samuel, don't let me hear 
you say bah to that, for that would be blasphemy." 

"Bah!" insisted Samuel fiercely, "Go and report me. Let them 
put me to death for blasphemy I would rather die than live like 
a slave." 

Joseph stood up, brandishing his saw over his head, but his grin 
belied the violence of the gesture. 

"This saw is a tool without soul or conscience," said Joseph. "It 
can be used to cut open a Roman's skull, or it can help make a cradle 
for a Nazarene baby. That's up to the man who uses it. Every man 
has tools; the whole world would be better off if we used them for 
peace rather than war." 



A CHILD IS BORN 5 

"You mean that we should go on submitting to unspeakable Herod 
and Rome and do nothing?" 

As he spat out these contemptuous words, Samuel scrambled to 
his feet and confronted his friend. 

"The ruin of our people," Joseph retorted, "has always been to 
depart from faith and depend on their own powers. We know that 
a deliverer will come and we've just got to wait." 

"Do you think the Messiah is coming tomorrow perhaps the 
next day?" 

"Who knows?" asked Joseph simply. "Violence, revolution, all 
these secret schemings are tricks learned from aliens who have forty 
gods, and all forty are not enough, and any one of them too many, 
to give them peace." 

"I would still like to know," persisted Samuel, "whether you ex- 
pect to live to know the Messiah." 

Joseph chuckled. What a fanciful idea! 

"A workman like me know Him? What would a poor carpenter 
know about such great affairs? No, I look forward to a quiet life," 

"And lonely, Joseph. You said so." 

Joseph waggled a great forefinger amiably. 

"Not at all. I do not expect to be lonely forever. Like .any other 
man, I want a wife in my house . . ." 

"And children?" 

"Many, I hope; a houseful; I would enjoy them." 

Samuel's burning eyes softened a little. 

"Well, I hope you find the girl of your heart, my friend. She will 
never have to fear a thrashing from the gentle kind of husband you 
will make her." 

Joseph did not seem to be listening. He stood very thoughtful, 
with a touch of sadness in his manner. His eyes were on the door- 
way; he was staring out into the street as if he were expecting some 
wonderful vision. Only his right hand, huge and flexible, reached 
out and seized the other by the elbow. 

"I have already found her," he confided. "She is very young and 
very different from all other women in the world." 

"Come out of your trance, Joseph, and tell me how this girl is sb 
different." 

"She is not as any of the others are; that is all I know how to tell 
you. Look, Samuel, I was sure of it she is coming toward us now. 
See her, with the empty red jug on her head?" 



6 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Samuel strode to the doorway and shaded his eyes with his hand. 

"Don't stare," admonished Joseph severely. 

"I will admit that her walk is more than ordinarily graceful," an- 
nounced Samuel over his shoulder. 

"Everything about her is more than ordinary," murmured Joseph, 
taking a place near to the hulk of his friend, who nearly filled the 
doorway. The carpenter's head was turned to one side, and he was 
looking under the upraised arm of Samuel, and there was still that 
distant look in the blue eyes as if he were enraptured by the strains 
of music. 

The shadowed street was almost empty as a girl came toward them 
down the narrow pavement. Dark hair framed the pale face above 
the light blue mantle and the intense blue eyes set so wide apart. 
She walked in grace. 

"Joseph," said Samuel, lowering his voice, "there may be some- 
thing in what you say. That girl is somehow different* Yes, she is. 
Can it be the expression? It is most unusual; it is, why . . . look . . * 
it has me stammering, man ... it is ..." 

Samuel lowered his hand. 

"Never have I seen such serenity on any face," he acknowledged. 
"It gives me, my friend, a strange sort of feeling." 

He looked after the girl searchingly as she passed, eyes straight 
before her, arms lifted gracefully, fingers spread against the red 
water jug. 

"What can it be that sets her apart?" the merchant fumed. Then 
he shook himself and with forced heartiness turned into the shpp 
again. 

"No wonder you won't go with me to Jerusalem," he barked. 
"Tell me, has that maiden promised . . ." 

Joseph sank dismally on the bench. 

"I have never even spoken to her," he admitted. 

With a boisterous laugh Samuel walked over and laid a hairy hand 
on the bald head. 

"Shy as ever, Joseph," he teased. "You have to pluck up your 
courage, boy. You're not too young, you know! And the bucks of 
this village are not blind. Don't be losing time." 

Joseph looked up with -an air that gave a sudden strength to his 
face. 

"I am not afraid," he said quietly. 



A CHILD IS BORN 7 

Samuel snorted loudly. It came to him then with a sense of ob- 
scure annoyance that the gentle people of this world are a strong 
and obstinate mystery. There was conviction in the words of Joseph. 

"At least tell me one thing. You don't know her parents?" 

"Not yet. They have just come here from Jerusalem." 

"Have you never learned her name?" 

"Her name?" Joseph looked up. "Oh yes, I know that." 

"Tell me, then, before I go." 

"Her name," said Joseph, "is Mary!" 



Chapter 2 THE BETROTHAL 



FOR this night's negotiations Joseph had made great preparations. 
Behind the curtain at the back of his shop he scrubbed all the sweat 
from his stocky body. The muscles of Joseph were strong as those 
of any Nazarene bully. He could put his shoulder under a Roman 
axle and lift a broken chariot from the mire. Thoroughly he cleansed 
himself and trimmed his beard and washed the sawdust out of the 
stiff tangles of his curls. Carrying a gift of Damascus sweets, he set 
off through the crowded Street of the Coppersmith. 

Now Joseph turned to scan the crowded street. There, up and 
down, in an unending stream, a noisy crowd of men and women 
tramped in the ooze of the unkempt thoroughfare. Unruly Galilean 
workmen, some in sandals but most of them barefoot, and all in a 
hungry hurry, so it seemed, shouldered and elbowed their way home 
as if rudeness with them were a purpose in life. The air was clamor- 
ous with insults in a variety of languagesGreek and Roman for 
the strangers and piercing, passionate tones of home talk a frenzied 
fluency of Aramaic Chaldee. The babel of all three tongues mingled 
with the bleating of lambs and goats, the hoarse sneezing of camels, 
and the soft, incessant clonking of their desert bells. And everywhere, 
underfoot and in corners and doorways, homeless scavenger dogs 
were snuffling for garbage. 

Just at the edge of the town, about a mile from Joseph's work- 
shop, on a shoulder of a hiU stood the house of Mary. It was some- 
what more substantial than the average dwelling and much more 
charming to die eye than the shacks of sun-dried bricks in which 



THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



lived so many of the valley people on the floor of Sharon and the 
great plain below. 

Mary's home was made of the mountain stones. It was covered 
with plaster, and the white half -ball dome at the top had a square 
terrace all around it on which fruits and vegetables were drying 
tonight. The flooring of that dome-shaped roof was on a slant to 
pour the scant rain down into a rocky cistern in the rear; the parched 
land of Palestine hoarded every raindrop. 

The door opened into the one large chamber of the house. The 
house's mighty walls were of rough-dressed stones, four feet thick 
to keep out the heat, and smoked by old fires; in the hollow height 
of the roof pigeons cooed and fretted in the dark. At the rear was 
a high platform that was really the family home an elevation of 
masonry ten feet above the entrance on the ground floor. It was 
raised on stone arches and reached by a steep stairway the heart 
of this household, where the family ate, slept, and lived. 

Near the front opening the ground floor was cluttered with the 
family's livestock: sheep and goats, a rooster and his hens. When 
the family had company overnight Mary had to sleep on this floor 
level, near the warm animals, and she always enjoyed the adventure. 

Joseph was greeted at the door by Joachim. Inside were Anna, 
Mary's mother, and a strange woman he had never seen before. This 
was Elizabeth, kinswoman of the family. 

Once, sometimes twice a year, they had a visit from Cousin Eliza- 
beth, daughter of Anna's much older sister. Between Mary and 
Elizabeth there was a difference of more than forty years; it was 
like being cousin to your own grandmother. Most of these forty- 
years the older cousin had been married to a country priest in a vil- 
lage not far from Jerusalem; his name was Zachary, and the town 
they lived in was called Ain Karim. 

Cousin Zachary was even older than his wife; his back was so 
stiff that he found it hard to stoop over and trim his toenails. About 
the aging pair there was a settled feeling of taut dignity, as if they 
had dutifully made friends with sorrow. 

They were very poor, and the village of Ain Karim where Zach- 
ary labored in the synagogue was small and obscure. There he 
served the townspeople, married and circumcised them, advised 
and buried them a busy and peaceful life. Elizabeth had arrived with 
news. Soon Zachary was to be pulled out of his obscurity. To any 
litde village priest the honor might come. Now Zachary was called 



A CHILD IS BORN 9 

again, after years, as a priest of the line of Abia, if you please, to 
celebrate the sacrifice at the holy place, in the Temple of Jerusalem. 

"You tell me this? Great news indeed!" Anna closed her eyes 
and remembered the glory and the magnificence of the great tem- 
ple. That good old Zachary should wear the white-and-yellow robes 
and the blue tassels before all the worshipers and send up smoke to 
the very nostrils of Jehovah! 

"Oh, Elizabeth, aren't you happy?" 

"Yes, my loved one, I am very happy." 

Joachim entered and cleared his throat. 

"This is Joseph," the husband announced awkwardly. "He comes 
to tell you how much he loves our child." 

Anna sank to the floor and crossed her legs and shook herself 
from side to side and made a sad, low, crooning sound as if an adum- 
bration of sorrow had fallen upon her. 

"Mourning," exclaimed Joachim reproachfully. "There should be 
no sadness in all this." 

"You are right! I know it I know!" 

Anna lifted a tear-stained face* 

"I trust your judgment, beloved. I do not mean to make sadness. 
I am sure Joseph must be a fine young man because he has so 
touched Mary's heart that she is really foolish in her thoughts of 
him beautiful, foolish thoughts of love and pretty dreams. I want 
Mary to have happiness. To know deep love and kindness and sweet- 
ness as we have always known it, Joachim. I am sure you know best." 

Joachim spread out his arms, palms to the roof. 

"Then why is she crying?" he demanded of the universe. 

"I don't know. I really don't know. We are an unusual family, 
Joachim; we have strange feelings at times " 

"You have been dreaming?" 

"No. It's just a fearlike a pain in my heart that portends some- 
thing and won't go away as if our Mary will know too great a 
misery because of this. The feeling has been there ever since I saw 
her this afternoon come home from the well* They had seen each 
other there. I don't know what I fear, Joachim. All I know is that 
there is pain, this foreboding . . . something that makes me deathly 
afraid." 

She made a hopeless gesture and scrambled to her feet. 

"There! I will have done with such feelings. Bring in the young 



10 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

man," she said in an altered voice. "He is very determined, as you 
say. And he does have a handsome beard. One has to admire that." 

The worry in her heart was lessened when Anna met Joseph for 
the first time. Later she admitted to her husband that the carpenter 
made a good impression the moment he came through the door. 
Such devotion as Anna had for her child carries with it a kind of 
prescience: she divined something warming and good and trust- 
worthy in the awkwardness of the workman; in his placating smile 
she sensed a guarantee of honor. As she led the visitor up to the 
household platform, it came to Anna that Joseph was a gentle but 
very strong man. 

There was a certain ceremoniousness in the beginning of the in- 
terview: the drinking of a traditional cup of hospitality, passed from 
hand to hand, and an embarrassed discussion of weather, of crops, 
and of burdensome taxes. Then they came to a complete stop, and 
after a silence Joseph blushed and said bluntly: 

"I love your daughter Mary. I saw her on the first day you moved 
into this town. I have seen her every day since, except that sad time 
when she was ill with a cold and you kept her in bed." 

"You knew about that?" gasped Anna, then turned her head sus- 
piciously. She had heard what the others had not the distant tin- 
kling sound of young laughter. Where was that Mary? She had gone 
to the roof with Cousin Elizabeth. Wherever she was now, she was 
listening. Anna remembered that she, too, had listened when Joa- 
chim had made his formal call upon her father. 

Joseph told them how he was the son of Jacob Heli, who had 
died long ago and who was the son of Matthan, and that the book 
of his generation carried his family back to Abraham. 

"All this I have inspected in the scrolls at the synagogue," Joachim 
told his wife. "He is the son of Abraham and the son of David." 

"Mary is also of the house of David," nodded Anna. 

Joseph further explained that the uncle who brought him up had 
been dead for three years; the suitor stood alone in the world, with- 
out aunt or uncle, brother or sister or cousin. 

"I am lonely and I want Mary to be my wife. I have come to es- 
pouse her, if it will be your pleasure to have it so," he finished, a 
little frightened of the high-sounding words. 

Anna and Joachim exchanged nods, and the mother walked with 
dignity to the door leading to the open roof. 

"Mary!" she called. 



A CHILD IS BORN II 

And presently Mary, light blue mantle over her shoulders, came 
barefoot into the room and stood before Joseph. Elizabeth followed 
and put her arms around Anna. The father took the young man's 
hand and placed it in the hand of his daughter, and gave them his 
blessing. 

The future bridegroom thanked the mother and father but kept 
looking at his promised one; so young and strong and dreamy was 
Mary that night. 

"You are espoused," said Joachim. 

"You are betrothed," said Anna* 

"Peace be with you," said Joachim and Anna. 

"And the Lord be with you," murmured Joseph and Mary. 

Tomorrow all Nazareth would have the glad information. Why, 
thought Joseph, as he laid his other hand over hers, this is almost as 
official as being married. In this province of Galilee, and indeed in 
all Palestine, once a couple were engaged, only the most serious 
circumstances could justify man or woman in breaking off. 

And Joseph chuckled at the ridiculousness of the notion that he 
could ever be minded to break his engagement with Mary! 



Chapter 3 THE UNKNOWN MESSENGER 



OF COURSE Joseph was invited to go along with the family to attend 
Cousin Zachary's proud occasion in the Temple. 

The prospect was tremendously exciting. In all his life Joseph had 
never been more than ten miles outside the town of Nazareth, and 
now, at last, he would behold the city and the Temple a lifetime ex- 
perience! 

One brisk day in the Palestinian spring Mary and Anna mounted 
rented donkeys, and Joachim and Joseph, reins in hand, started off, 
leading them oil foot, for the three-day journey to Jerusalem. It was 
a journey of contentment all the way, free of accident or misfor- 
tunea time of long talk among the four. After that experience 
Joachim and Anna loved Joseph as if he were their son; the* family 
ties were bound before the marriage in the intimacy of their trip 
down the great southern road, until at the close of the third day 
they came in view of the capital. 



12 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Oh!" gasped Mary, whispering in Joseph's ear. "This is all so mag- 
nificent." 

With the double delight of a country boy on his first long jour- 
ney and a well-read man who knew the history of where he was 
and what he was seeing, Joseph beheld Jerusalem. The sight of the 
mustard-colored walls, the bastions and indented parapets, the bat- 
tlements and towers roused in the carpenter a kind of tranquil 
ecstasy the state he had sometimes known in prayer. 

Soon, less exalted, but not less interested, they passed through 
the gate and made their way down the noisy darkness of the roofed 
streets, stepping gingerly to avoid the filth of the paving stones and 
lifting their noses helplessly. The reek and feculence and foulness, 
the unutterable stink of the Jerusalem streets, were in their nostrils 
even as they stared at the ivory and gold glories of Herod's palace 
on the western hill, his amphitheater for games and his castle, An- 
tonia, named for his great chum, Marc Antony. 

A broad area, this place of the Temple, with its still unfinished 
colonnades. The eyes of Joseph bulged. Its great rectangle was at 
least four hundred yards the long way and three hundred yards 
east and west a vast plant of worship and sanctuary and market 
place for ecclesiastical supplies. As they came nearer to it Joseph 
began to see signs warning Gentiles to keep out of the inner courts 
on pain of death. 

Now they were entering the outer and lowest court, first ap- 
proach to the sanctuary where Cousin Zachary was to appear in his 
hour of glory, chief performer at the sacrifice just before sundown. 
Already thousands of worshipers filled the rectangle within the 
five gates of this mighty edifice with its courts and double galleries, 
its marble pillars fifty feet high, and its roof made of blood-red 
cedar from Lebanon. 

Mary's heart was filled with wonder; she had the odd feeling that 
she had been here before. Actually, as a very little girl she had been 
brought here by her parents, but she had been too young to re- 
member it. Yet today everything seemed vaguely, frighteningly 
familiar the outer square, cluttered with tables of the money- 
changers; the clamor of people counting their coins, and the brattle 
and brangle around the cattle stalls where shrill voices of bargaining 
men and women mixed with the cooing doves and the bleating of 
lambs destined soon to die in smoking sacrifice. 

Without delay Anna and Elizabeth and Mary proceeded to the 



A CHILD IS BORN 13 

Court of the Women, beyond which they might not go. Joseph 
and Joachim, mounting the farther steps, paused at the entrance to 
the inner court to take it all in. The rays of the evening sun poured 
down fiercely on their heads; the service was soon to begin. 

And now Joseph had arrived at the very spot where David had 
built the altar and where Solomon had reared the wonderful Temple 
that had stood here for nearly 400 years until it was destroyed by 
Nebuchadnezzar. The imaginative workman from Nazareth was 
almost swooning with an awesome feeling that blanched his face 
and tightened the muscles by which he swallowed. 

For this present Temple at Jerusalem was a symbol to Joseph as it 
was to all the people. When his enslaved ancestors had at last 
straggled back from the captivity in Babylon they had beeft able to 
build themselves only a poor substitute on the site of vanished glory. 
That second temple, too, had passed, and in its place now stood the 
most magnificent of all three a gift to the people from their detested 
ruler, King Herod. 

A gift of appeasement it was, but it failed of its purpose. No 
tyrant in history ever was more hated than Herod was hated by the 
people who worshiped here. He was not of their blood; he was an 
Arab from Ashkelon, a tribal warrior, ferocious enough to win many 
a battle, shrewd enough to be an expert politician, but no true king 
of theirs. 

By turns Herod had tried being cruel and kind. Having despoiled 
their treasury, and with the very money he had filched from them, 
he built this magnificent house of God. The people took his new 
Temple to their hearts but they barred him from entering any part 
of it. 

Joseph reflected on all that had come to pass here since the Baby- 
lonians sprang down like wolves, sacked the city, and left it, as they 
boasted, "a haunt of jackals"; of all the other wars that had oppressed 
the capital, and the thirty-eight sieges of Jerusalem. It did seem to 
the country carpenter that there was something in this city of im- 
mortal and indestructible destiny. 

There would always be a Jerusalem, he thought, as long as Jeisa- 
lem remained true to the ideals of those altars of old, when fee people 
were free under their own kings. 

But would that time ever come again? Now that^ as hk friend 
Samuel had said, the very leaders of Israel played 'a secret game with 
Herod? 



14 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

On one side of the high altar before them sat a short, watchful 
man with a goatlike beard, a priest in his early fifties who kept his 
eyes fixed on a small doorway. As Joseph looked at this little man 
he felt for a moment the pang of a curious presage; he forgot all 
about Cousin Zachary in the contemplation of this grim figure. 
Suddenly he heard an irreverent chuckle close to his left ear, and, 
turning, beheld the incorrigible and yet friendly face of Samuel, 
the merchant, the revolutionist. Samuel winked elaborately and 
turned a lowered thumb toward the grim figure on the altar and 
whispered: 

"That man you were watching is Annas! Famous and mighty 
Annas! It is very unusual for him to be at such a service as this." 

To the provincial workman from the north the name meant little, 
but Samuel, with a baleful glance up at the altar, explained that 
Annas was the High Priest of the Temple; then Joseph felt very 
much awed. But the gossip, shaking his head and still further lower- 
ing his voice, insisted that Annas was not a godly man at all but a 
mere politician; in fact, he did not even believe in a future life nor 
in the resurrection. 

"The important thing about Annas," whispered Samuel, "is that 
he is the political boss. It is Annas who bargains in secret with Herod 
and then comes out and tells the people just what to do. His enemies 
say that he has betrayed his own people for years." 

It was Annas, Samuel declared, who controlled the banks and set 
up the money-changers at their tables in the Temple; he also owned 
the concessions for the selling of birds and animals for the sacrifice. 
The money-changing and the selling of doves and lambs were two 
branches of the same business; in controlling them, Annas and his 
crew bilked everybody and through their cheating became among 
the richest people in the world. A powerful friend, an implacable 
enemy, a man with a long tooth that was Annas, the High Priest. 

"I wonder," Joseph was thinking, "why I feel so afraid of this 
Annas?" He looked around, but Samuel had vanished. The young 
revolutionist had strange comings and goings. 

Even from far off Joseph could see the iceberg-blue eyes of Annas, 
and wondered if those glittering eyes ever melted or if that straight, 
hard mouth could ever relax in a tender smile. It was strange, in- 
deed, that Joseph should feel warned of Annas. What had a little 
peasant carpenter to fear from the High Priest of the Temple? 

"Ah," sighed Joachim, "there comes Cousin Zachary now. Joseph, 



A CHILD IS BORN* 15 

look; that is he! Cousin Elizabeth must have sewn that wonderful 
robe for him!" 

Why, old Zachary looked young in his fine raiment. How erect 
he stood in the gorgeousness of ceremonial robes, stiff and straight 
and chin up for all his seventy years. A bright gleam was in his fad- 
ing eyes as he lifted his arms, a sign that the people were to cleanse 
their hearts with prayer in readiness for the rubric of the sacrifice, 
the performance of his sacred office. Standing beside the altar of un- 
hewn stone, Zachary closed his eyes, and all the people prayed. 

Of the thousands praying in the rectangular courts only Cousin 
Elizabeth knew of one special intention this old priest would be in- 
cluding in his prayers this afternoon. But Joseph could guess from 
what Mary had already told him. Zachary's faith was tenacious and 
humble; some of his relatives called it fanatical and preposterous that 
though he was past his threescore years and ten he still asked God 
dutifully every day that Elizabeth and he might have a child. 

Now the priest turned and faced the congregation. Hanging from 
a chain in his right hand was the censer from which silver smoke 
plumed upward, and the sweetness of burning spices was carried on 
chill winds blowing from the desert of the Dead Sea. All priest and 
servant of the living Lord, Zachary held his censer high and let the 
south and east winds carry off the smoke while he began to mount 
the twelve steps, one for each of the tribes of Israel, Lifting the tem- 
ple veil with his left hand, he disappeared into the tabernacle, the 
little holy place, where minor priests came closest to the presence 
of God. 

With bowed heads and closed eyes the crowd waited. For a long 
while there was no sound, not even a cough. Then, presently, 
Joachim opened one eye and glared at the altar. What was keeping 
Zachary within? No one was to be seen on the platform except the 
grim, observant figure of Annas. Joachim gave a puzzled look 
around at Joseph. Zachary had already stayed much too long in the 
holy retreat. Something must be wrong. There was not much for 
him to do in there; the priest was to stand only for a moment in 
silent prayer. He must look up at the golden candlesticks and down 
upon the cakes made of wheat and barley with oil of honey; upon 
the twelve loaves of the showbread he must look and then, in a pro- 
longed moment of silence, he was supposed to swing the censer three 
times. After these actions were performed Zachary was meant to 



1 6 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

back out of the holy place, face the reverent multitude, and offer up 
the final prayer. 

By now five minutes had gone by and there was still no sign of 
Zachary* 

"Something is strange/' Joachim murmured to Joseph. Had the 
old village priest fallen ill in his hour of glory? Did anyone dare go 
to see, past the veil and into the holy place? 

Then suddenly Zachary came out in a wild rush from the sanctu- 
ary, and something very serious was wrong with him the whole 
multitude could see that Swaying dizzily down the twelve steps, he 
staggered to the rim of the open part of the altar. As Zachary tot- 
tered there, Annas, the High Priest, leaped forward and put strong 
arms around him. In the stillness of the sunset air they could all hear 
the crisp voice of Annas asking for an explanation. But Zachary, 
cheeks pale, eyes glittering, hair mussed, could only stamp his right 
foot and wave his arms in frantic movements, pointing to his open 
mouth as if he had swallowed the mystery and therefore could make 
no sound. 

There was nothing to be done but for Annas to leave him stand- 
ing there by the altar of unhewn stones while he, as High Priest, took 
over the service, made the final prayer, and dismissed the people. 
Then and then only could Elizabeth get out of the Court of Women 
and beat her way to the outer square where Joachim held Zachary 
waiting, The old wife sheltered her man in her arms. 

"We're going home, Zachary," she murmured. "Don't weep. Don't 
try to talk. We will go home now." 

Not until they were back home in Ain Karim and the curious vil- 
lagers had been shooed away, leaving the weary little family to them- 
selves, did Zachary divulge the facts. He sat at the table, motioning 
for parchment and quills; Zachary would talk with them by writing; 
the first great fact was that he had been stricken dumb. 

"Ah! Ah! For once in his life he could celebrate the sacrifice in 
Jerusalem and he was stricken dumb! " Elizabeth sobbed and groaned; 
surely they were under a curse of God. 

But Zachary admonished her with uplifted finger. His glaring eyes 
seemed to remind her that this was not the first time in the history of 
the earth that a man had been stricken dumb. There were much more 
important matters. 

"Ah! Ah!" cried Elizabeth, "my husband is right; my husband is 
always right. What has he to tell us?" 



A CHILD IS BORN * IJ 

Slowly, and forming the inky characters with great exactitude so 
that his meaning could not possibly be mistaken, Zachary wrote on 
the parchment: 

"I have been listening to an angel!" 

When she read these words, Elizabeth gave a low moan and began 
pacing back and forth, beating her fists against her temples and 
sighing disconsolately. Zachary had not only been stricken dumb; 
he had gone mad. See what he had written. Ah! Ah! It was blas- 
phemy. Tear it up before someone reported it to the High Priest; a 
man could be put to death for such dangerous thoughts. 

But Zachary rose up, too, and stood in the way of his wife so that 
she couldn't go on pacing up and down and crying; he was dumb 
but he was not deaf; he heard it all and it made him impatient. 
Writing again, he declared he was still master in his own house. 
Let her call him mad if she pleased, but would she first have the kind- 
ness to receive what he was trying to tell her; what the angel said? 
Stop f the tears! Would she listen? 

The house of Cousin Elizabeth was a noisy place just at that mo- 
ment; everybody except the scribbling Zachary seemed to be talk- 
ing at once. Anna was trying to comfort Elizabeth, and Joachim was 
taking his stance in the middle of the floor to speak his mind. 

"Since when," Joachim reproached them, "has it been madness to 
believe that angels can talk with men? Are we to deny the Scriptures 
of Moses? And since when, Anna, have you forgotten, or you, 
Elizabeth, that we have always known that ours is a remarkable 
family? Since our great ancestors we have had strange dreams and 
always obeyed the will of God. Does Zachary look mad to you, 
Elizabeth? Let us be quiet and ask him what actually happened in 
there!" 

Zachary lowered his head gratefully to the towering and suddenly 
authoritative figure of Joachim. He sank wearily in his chair; he was 
an aging man and it had been a day to try the stoutest nerves. He 
pointed again at the line he had written: 

"I have been listening to an angel." 

The others nodded solemnly. The priest picked up his pen and 
wrote again: 

"I entered the sanctuary. A figure was standing there. He stood 
with folded wings and looked at me. I was terribly frightened and 
almost dropped die censer. My brain felt numb. My body was cold. 
My knees . . " 



1 8 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"I can guess how you felt, beloved," urged Elizabeth. "But did 
the angel speak to you?" 

Zachary nodded emphatically. 

"Then please write what he said." 

Zachary bent over the parchment and his hand moved faster and 
faster: 

"He spoke in a deep tone unlike any voice I ever heard, and he 
said: Tear not, Zachary* Your prayer is heard!' " 

A chill went down the spine of Elizabeth; her thoughts whirled. 
Could it have been the secret prayer that Zachary had made just 
before he mounted the twelve steps? She bent over and saw that the 
old man was still writing; still quoting the winged messenger. 

" 'Your wife, Elizabeth, shall bear you a son.' " 

Elizabeth began to weep again, and Anna and Mary with her, 
while practical Joachim, his hands clasped, leaned over Zachary's 
shoulder reading word after word as the old priest scribbled on, now 
in a frenzy of writing: 

" 'And you shall call his name John.' " 

"John!" cried Elizabeth. "John! John! That means the gracious 
gift of God!" 

Zachary nodded to her. His face was still white as the parchment 
under his hand; his chin bobbed up and down in confirmation. Yes, 
they were to have a son and they would call his name John. And he 
wrote again: 

" 'And you shall have joy and gladness. Many shall rejoice in his 
nativity and he shall be great before the Lord. He shall drink 
no wine or strong drink and he shall be filled with the Holy 
Ghost 

Zachary's hand stopped, the same question agitating all. What 
could be the meaning of that strange phrase? A baby coming to 
them. The very thought made Elizabeth put her hands against her 
breasts and croon aloud. But what could those queer words mean: 
the boy was to be "filled with the Holy Ghost"? None of them 
knew. 

It was all hard to believe, yet look at Zachary! That guileless and 
pious old man, who scorned lies and pretense, could not be acting a 
part. And how would anyone err about seeing an angel? Zachary 
was dumb and that must be a sign. Why was he not permitted to 
speak? 

Zachary still had to tell them the answer to that question. En- 



A CHILD IS BORN 19 

treating them with shaking hands to be quiet and to hold back their 
questions, he went on writing his account. The angel had not fin- 
ished when he said that the man-child, John, would be filled with 
the Holy Ghost. He went right on speaking in that same bass, un- 
earthly voice, to predict that the son of Elizabeth and Zachary 
would grow up to bring many of the people of the country to the 
worship of the Lord their God. More, the angel declared that John, 
who was yet to be born, would have the spirit and power of the 
ancient prophet Elias. At this the others could keep quiet no longer. 

"Do you realize what you are writing there?'* gasped Elizabeth. 

"The coming of a prophet!" murmured Anna. "I told you we are 
a strange family. We always 'were a strange family." 

"Wait until it happens!" replied Elizabeth cautiously. It was plain 
to see that she felt it necessary to remain skeptical. But the speechless 
priest was writing furiously: 

"I mean what I say. Every word of it. I saw the angel. I heard 
his voice. Once and for all I insist that you remain quiet and hear the 
whole story." 

Silence again as he continued: 

"The winged messenger with whom I held this interview finished 
his first remarks with these words: 'He shall turn the hearts of 
fathers unto their children and the incredulous to the wisdom of the 
just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people/ " 

The priest looked around him at the strained faces and shrugged. 

"Then I felt a little better," he wrote, "because I recognized the 
quotation. It was from the Book of Malachi, the last of our prophets. 
But here I made a serious blunder. Since the familiar quotation made 
me feel more at ease, more like myself, I suppose I lost a little of the 
awe I felt. I am afraid I was a little disrespectful to this angel. At least 
I plucked up enough courage to speak for the first time and asked 
him a question. I spoke with great humility but I felt I had a right 
to know, and so I simply asked: 'Whereby shall I know this? For I 
am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.' " 

"And what did he say to that, Zachary?" The words burst uncon- 
trollably from Elizabeth. 

"He answered me at once," wrote Zachary. "He simply said that 
he was Gabriel." 

Gabriel! Their faces paled with fear at the very idea. Gabriel was 
the celestial messenger who had visited the proptiet Dtoiel oae of 
the four archangels of die heavenly host. 



20 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Zachary nodded solemnly; sensed their awe. 

"That is what he informed me," Zachary continued writing. "He 
told me that he stood before God habitually and that he had been 
sent to the holy place just to bring me these glorious tidings. But 
his manner was much more serious and reproving now, let me tell 
you. He had not liked my doubts. I felt sure of that by his manner. 
He told me that I was not going to be allowed to talk any more. 
'Behold, you are dumb,' he said to me. And he said I was not going 
to be allowed to speak again until the day when these things come 
to pass 'because,' he added, 'you have not believed my words.' " 

And Zachary dropped his pen, looked helplessly around him, and 
pointed to his open mouth, while he grew red in the face trying to 
make a sound which would not come, not even a groan. 

"Did he say anything else?" breathed Elizabeth. 

Her husband shook his head and wrote again: 

"I closed my eyes and prayed a moment. When I opened them 
again, the angel was gone. That was when I staggered out of the 
holy place and found that his words were already proved true: 
I could not speak." 

Had the old man dreamed these things in a vertigo, a sudden 
stroke? Such things had happened within their experience. With 
all the faith in the world Zachary might be imagining the whole 
story. Elizabeth insisted on calling the flea-bitten physician of the 
town who prescribed a purgative and a diet of warm barley soup 
and figs. Moreover, the patient must remain flat on his back for 
three or four days. Of course the doctor was not told the Temple 
story; that was for the ears of the family alone. Soon after the doctor 
left Zachary fell into a deep sleep. 

Late into the night the others talked the marvel over. Elizabeth 
found it hard to believe it was anything more than the phantasy of 
a sick and tormented mind. Anna was puzzled. Joachim stubbornly 
remained the believer. In the face of the realism of the womenfolk 
he argued mystically: such visitations were not uncommon in the 
olden times; why should people assume, then, that the age of miracles 
had passed? Was there ever a time when people were more in need 
of miracles? 

Joseph kept his own counsel, and no one asked Mary what she 
thought. In their eyes she was still a child whose views were not 
sought in family counsels. But before they went to bed Mary said 
to Elizabeth: 



A CHILD IS BORN 21 

"Cousia dear, you have prayed a long time. I believe in your 
prayers, Elizabeth. Why should we be surprised if God has heard 
them and will answer them? Why not wait and believe?" 

And that, as time was soon to prove, was the wisest thing said in 
the family that night. 

Curiously, though, the next morning there was not much talk about 
the mystery of the priest and the angel. By unspoken agreement 
they avoided the topic. Human beings, when confronted with the 
strange and inexplicable, have an immediate instinct to get back to 
the accustomed and the normal. We do not hug our miracles close; 
we put them hastily away, preferring the commonplace to live 
with. It is as if some compulsive hand wipes clean the wall on which 
the handwriting appeared. 

At breakfast Joachim and Anna and Mary and Joseph talked 
about the weather and the crops and the taxes, and Joachim decided 
they must be starting home that afternoon. 

Even on the return journey they spoke only once or twice, and 
that briefly, about Zachary's experience. More and more they were 
relieved to put the whole matter out of their minds. But when they 
were all back in Nazareth and Mary carried a hot lunch down to 
Joseph at the door of the carpenter shop, she sat with him there, in 
wood chips and sawdust, her bare feet tucked under her skirt, light 
blue mantle tossed back, and they talked together. 

"Do you believe it will come true, Joseph?" Mary asked, as if this 
were the moment when she would be told how she should think 
about it thereafter. 

Joseph was slow to reply. He leaned his bearded chin on his palm 
and stared off into vacancy, as if there were some hint in his heart 
that the words he spoke now might someday bind him like a 
vow. 

"Zachary is a good man. He wrote clearly and distinctly; his 
thoughts weren't confused or wandering; he didn't ramble like a 
drunken man. He should trust a messenger from God." 

"Oh yes, Joseph. You saw that he was as rational as you or I." 

The frown left Joseph's face and he turned to her fondly. 

"Look at it this way," he argued. "Zachary is not only dumb; he 
is also committed by a prophecy to prove himself a man who has 
talked with an angel, or else one who has a delusion. There is no 
escape from that. Either he and Elizabeth are to have a son or he 
has told a demented tale. No man in his right senses would put him- 



22 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

self in such a position with his wife and relatives unless he believed 
it with all his heart and soul. Now would he, Mary?" 

And Mary, sighing with admiring happiness, said: "No, Joseph. 
Why hadn't I thought of it that way?" 

And she rejoiced at how fortunate she was to be engaged to a 
man who saw things so clearly and so wisely. After that conclusion 
they had themselves to talk about. Over the months the exciting 
episode receded in their minds until one day, by caravan messen- 
ger, a note was brought to Anna. 

"Peace be with you, my beloved one," Elizabeth had written. 
"God has heard our prayers, indeed, and the promise of the holy 
archangel is fulfilled. Anna, my darling aunt, listen and tell Joa- 
chim and dear Mary and that fine young man, Joseph listen, be- 
lovedat my age I am going to have a child!" 



Chapter 4 NO DREAMS TONIGHT 



AT THE close of the day's work Joseph sat in the back of his shop 
and emptied a palmful of coins from a crock taken down from a 
tall shelf. Farthings and pence and two gold pieces he had there 
a fragile fortune, but it would soon be enough. Ever since he had 
fitst seen Mary he had saved every mite against his wedding day, 
which would not be long. 

"Almost enough for everything," he congratulated himself. "And 
my wife won't have to skimp and scrape." 

Wife! What a magical word for a lonely man. 

"Tonight," he resolved, "I will tell the family that we do not have 
to wait any more." 

It was spring in Nazareth and the warmth of April was in Joseph's 
heart. The green hillsides all around the town were spread with 
little blue and yellow and crimson flowers, their petals richer than 
the incredibly bright carpets that came in bales on Arabian camels. 
You could even taste the flower sweetness in the wind blowing 
through the door of the shop. 

It was good to step abroad after the long day's work. Good to 
feel himself a living part of the town. A Roman soldier strode arro- 
gantly by, leading an officer's white horse, a pampered animal fed 



A CHILD IS BORN 2J 

only on barley and chaff. But Joseph did not hate the Roman; he 
did not hate anything in this soft April dusk. His heart was happy. 
Through the gloaming and the untidy crowds he made his way with 
confident haste. Now and then the carpenter was saluted by a cus- 
tomera farmer, a shepherd, a blacksmith and he relished every 
greeting with a sense of peaceful security. To be known and liked 
gave him a sense of belonging a feeling of maturity. Soon he would 
be a married man and a householder in Galilee; a workman with a 
good trade, a home, and a family; a part of the very backbone of 
the community. 

Oh yes, he knew now that in Jerusalem sophisticates looked down 
on the countrified Nazarenes, yokels with a ridiculous northern ac- 
cent. Travelers whose broken wheels he mended told how in the 
stadium shows of the capital comedians often imitated the rude ways 
and provincial dialect of the Nazarenes and that a favorite jest on 
the Jerusalem streets was the question: "Can anything good come 
out of Nazareth?" 

But Joseph, with all his fellow townsmen, felt that the people of 
Jerusalem were unnatural and overcivilized. Anyway, he was proud 
of his home town and expected to be very happy there with Mary 
and children and work. What more could any man ask? Let Samuel 
have his Jerusalem and his revolutions too. 

A psalm of David came to his lips as he marched on through the 
crowd. Everywhere around him were noisy people, enveloped in 
their own errands. Once he passed a knot of excitable citizens sur- 
rounding two old rabbis, all talking at once. For a hasty moment 
Joseph's lighted lantern lit up their beards and caps. Dark-skinned 
men, some with oily curls, tall bodies wrapped in street-stained 
robes, they were engaged in a sidewalk arbitration. A husband who 
had been penalized demanded to know the precise kind of meat 
offering he must bring to the synagogue for his atonement. A be- 
reaved father complained that he had been overcharged by the 
funeral minstrels. Men and women and children all in a clamor about 
their own affairs! But their numbers grew less as Joseph trudged on, 
and the streets thinned and the crowds fell behind. 

Just ahead of him was a lane, and at its turning was tie toese of 
Joachim and Anna, white dome ghostlike in the dusk. At one side 
of it ran a staircase daat-led to the roof, and looking up there Joseph 
saw- Mary, She had a lantern in her, hand and &e"'Vrts bending over, 
collecting dates: and figs that had been spread out to dry in the hot 



24 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

sun. Knowing his footsteps, she straightened up and waved her hand. 

Then Joseph passed into the house with the freedom of one who 
feels himself already a member of the family. Anna was busy over an 
earthen pot filled with live coals; she would spread the outside with 
freshly kneaded dough and the heat would bake it into bread. 
Joachim strode forward, the two men bowed ceremoniously, and 
the younger man kissed the father's beard. 

"Welcome the more for coming early," said Joachim heartily. 

Joseph seated himself beside the older man and plunged at once 
into his business. He had saved his money, he had improved the liv- 
ing quarters behind the house, he was ready to buy a goat and hens 
and a rooster; he wanted his wife. Why should there be any delay? 

"Who makes delays?" demanded Joachim. 

The carpenter glanced uneasily at Anna. 

"No, Joseph," said Mary's mother, looking over her shoulder as 
she patted the dough, "I will not stand in your way. I know now 
that you love Mary and that she loves you. There is really no sense 
in waiting. I am forced to agree with you about that; it will be bet- 
ter so. Have you fixed a date in your mind?" 

"I want to marry her yesterday," jested Joseph, and they all 
laughed. "But no, I have not fixed any date. I want to talk with Mary 
after supper tonight. I would like it better that way." 

To this Joachim made no comment, but his glance was a little 
puzzled. In his married life he made all the decisions; at least Anna 
had succeeded in making him believe so. 

Later, in the damp darkness of the Nazareth road, Joseph and 
Mary strolled and talked. They were full of their plans and felt a 
little awed by them. Completely occupied with a dozen small and 
enchanting details about their wedding, they were oppressed that 
soft evening with no foreboding. The clover-laden night winds car- 
ried no warning of what was in the air, and once, when the pair 
stood silent together and looked up at the lean and golden scimitar 
of the new moon and the hiving, glittering stars, and all earth seemed 
hushed for them to listen, they did not hear the faintest rustle of a 
wing. 

Minds and hearts filled only with their personal plans, it was late 
when they were ready to say good night, but they had come to a 
decision. Within three months they would be married. Joseph would 
have liked it earlier but Mary pointed out that there was still sewing 
to do and a few more shekels her father wanted to accumulate, she 



A CHILD IS BORN 25 

knew, to fill out her modest dowry. Three months would not seem 
so long, now that the date was fixed. 

"I hope I see you early tomorrow," said Joseph when it was time 
for him to go home. 

"Very early, Joseph. When I go to the well for the morning 
water," she promised. 

Their hands clasped and they parted. Joseph strode off bravely to 
his carpenter shop; he flung himself down on his pallet with a happy 
sigh and buried his head in his arms and thought how fortunate he 
was among Nazarene men; how happy he was and how much hap- 
pier he was going to be. Soon he fell asleep. Sleeping, he dreamed 
only of the slight, inconsequential phantasmagoria that all men 
dream of: Mary's blue mantle blowing in the clover-laden wind and 
Mary's dream-laden eyes. 

No grand dreams, such as his ancestors, the prophets, had known 
in olden days. No foreseeing of what was on the way, marching in 
a mighty silence toward the earth. And no more than Joseph did 
Herod the Great and his kingdom of Judea with him, nor Caesar 
Augustus in his Roman palace, dream that night that the world was 
about to roll another way. None even to feel one cosmic hint that 
near at hand was a social and moral revolution, coming without 
harp or cymbals but in the deep soundlessness of this night. . . . 

Early the next morning Joseph awoke to know that something had 
gone amiss. He heard a pounding on the door and his name being 
shouted. As he opened sleepy eyes he beheld Joachim standing, pale 
and distrait, distracted hands uplifted. 

"Peace be unto you, Joachim," Joseph muttered, embracing him* 
"What is it? Tell me, what is wrong?" 

"The Lord be with you, Joseph," groaned the father, laying a 
heavy hand on Joseph's shoulder. "Listen, my son. Mary has disap- 
peared." 



Chapter $ HAIL, MARY! 

MARY, the young betrothed, the blue-eyed, black-haired girl who 
loved Joseph heart and soul had fled Nazareth because within five 
minutes after she had said good night to her beloved her life, her 
body and soul, had undergone a change* 



26 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

It was an experience shattering to the very roots of her being. For 
hours after it happened she was unable to speak; she could scarcely 
breathe. It was so inexplicable, so dazing and frightening that for 
the time she could not force herself to tell her mother or father or 
even Joseph. 

How could she ask them to believe that she had actually known 
such a wonder? 

Yet she bad known it. Without one instant's preparation she had 
walked into it, immediately after that tender good night at the gate. 
Joachim and Anna had been chatting up on the roof; they, too, had 
much to talk about. The hens and rooster were perched and fast 
asleep; the dog was out barking behind the garden, and the sheep 
and goats were dozing. 

Feeling a little chill, for the night was damp, Mary had crossed 
the lower floor inside the house and mounted to the inner terrace. 
As she went up the steps to the platform she realized that she was 
not alone. A tall figure was standing near the farther wall! 

A stranger. An odd and altogether different stranger! Because he 
seemed to stand in light where there was no lamp, and a kind of 
silvery mist enveloped him as if the light were his cap and gown. 
Mary opened her mouth to speak, to demand who he was and what 
he wanted there, but he anticipated her with an unexpected greeting. 

"Hail, Maiy!" 

The voice was kind and fathomlessly deep; such a voice as Mary 
had never heard before bass and yet tender. 

"Full of grace!" the voice continued. 

Hail, Mary, full of grace! She felt embarrassed and even more 
frightened. 

"The Lord is with you. Blessed are ypu among women." 

She folded her hands and she knew then how she was trembling 
in every muscle. The stranger saw. 

"Fear not, Mary." 

She bowed her head. She must not be afraid. She knew she could 
trust this deep and tender voice. But she could not still her quaking. 
She closed her eyes and listened to the astounding words this 
stranger was speaking. She had found grace with God. She would 
conceive in her womb and bring forth a son. 

She too! That was akin to the message that had come to Zachary 
for Elizabeth. Cousin Elizabeth was to have a son and his name must 
be John. 



A CHILD IS BORN 2J 

"And you shall call his name Jesus!" 

"Jesus! He will be my son. Jesus! Jesus, son of Mary! I shall 
bring him forth and hold him in my arms and sometimes I shall give 
him to Joseph to hold too!" Her mind was a place of wild, birdlike 
thoughts; yet she must listen to all that the stranger continued to 
tell her: her son Jesus was to have the throne of David, his father 

"And of all his kingdom there shall be no end*" 

Then came her instant need for reality. The very human impulse 
that had made Zachary question his angel and lost him his speech as 
penalty now possessed Mary, too, for there was in her, as in us all, 
an insatiable necessity for die actual in the midst of the marvelous. 
Who this stranger was she did not know; yet the maiden who heard 
his words felt bound to question him. 

"How shall this be done?" she asked in a whisper. "Seeing I know 
not a man?" 

But there came no frown on the austere and shadowy face of the 
stranger. Instead, in the starry blaze of his eyes she read only com- 
passion. He took a step nearer and she saw the folded wings and 
knew him for what he was. 

His voice lower and deeper still: 

"The Holy Ghost shall come upon you. The power of the Most 
High shall overshadow you and therefore also the Holy which shall 
be born of you shall be called the Son of God." 

Mary felt stifled, suffocated, as she heard these incredible words. 
She to be the mother of a son who would be called the Son of God? 

How could one little Nazareth girl take all that in? 

The voice of the stranger was lowered into an intimate whisper: 

"Your cousin Elizabeth . . " 

He paused until she nodded, and then he went on: 

"She also conceived a son. In her old age! This is the sixth month 
with her that is called barren. Because with God nothing shall be 
impossible!" 

TMs was the reality she needed. For the angel had spoken truth 
as she knew it. It was true about Elizabeth. Well, then . . . 

She looked up at him plaintively, her eyes half closed, her words 
coming so softly that she could barely hear herself speak. 

"Behold the handmaid of die Lord. Be it done unto me according 
to your word," 

As if by incantation the angel vanished; one instant he was there, 
gone the next. Ami Mary, swayii^ and 'immuring crossed the 



28 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

floor and sank to her knees and lay upon her pallet and closed her 
eyes and wept and prayed. Too much to understand! She wanted to 
scream for Anna and throw herself into those strong, stout arms 
and cry to her mother what had just happened. But she could not 
bring herself, even in the first agony of that hysteria, to risk cer- 
tain disbelief. They thought of her as still a child, anyway. They 
would say she had imagined this thing because Elizabeth was having 
a child and Zachary had said he saw an angel. 

Mary lay there quietly while Joachim and Anna tiptoed down 
from the roof. They went to their bed after their prayers. But Mary 
could not sleep. She stole up from her bed after two hours of rest- 
lessness; she wrote her mother a note, made herself a bundle, and 
set off alone down the long road. 

There was one other person in the world to whom she felt she 
must first confide the experience. 

She was walking to Cousin Elizabeth. 



Chapter 6 WHAT A ONE, THINK YOU! 



"WELL, Joseph?" demanded Joachim, something like truculence 
in his voice. "Now you've heard. What do you say?" 

Joseph shook his head slowly and turned to the washbasin. From 
a jug that Mary had filled with water for him only the night be- 
fore the carpenter poured a splash into the basin and dashed a hand- 
ful on his face. He wet his hair and beard and, panting a little, dried 
himself with a bundle of hay. 

"Mary had a good reason," was his answer. "Be sure of that." 

Joachim's face softened. 

"She must have had," he agreed. "But can you imagine what it 
would be? This is an unheard-of thing, Joseph. A girl does not run 
off from her parents." 

"And from her espoused one," 

"And, of course, from her betrothed," Joachim agreed. "Why, 
only last night you two were setting the date for the wedding. Do 
you suppose she got a little giddy; overexcited, I mean? She is a very 
young girl." 

"No, not Mary," declared Joseph firmly. "There was never an- 



A CHILD IS BORN 29 

other so composed as she. As serene. And," he added with an elo- 
quence of words not usual in him, "unshakeable in her purposes. She 
loves me. She is going to marry me. Last night we made great plans. 
Something happened after I left her, I am sure of that; something 
good; we must believe when we do not know." 

But the same thoughts were in both minds. The great southern 
road was long and difficult. 

"If," sighed Joseph, answering his own doubts, "she had wanted 
me she would have called me. And God will protect her," he added, 
his voice breaking. 

Joseph's faith was fully justified. As one under special protection 
Mary traversed the weary distance. She had walked only a few 
miles when a small caravan overtook her and offered her a donkey 
to ride to the next town. Most of the whole way she was carried by 
kindly strangers; three successive nights she found shelter with 
friendly travelers glad to share with her their hospitality. In her 
bundle was food enough but she need not have brought it along; 
everyone offered her food. 

Brooding she was, all the way; the wayfarers were struck by a 
feeling of special separateness that distinguished her. One of the 
least of them, a bearded old tatterdemalion who had journeyed east 
and west on the backs of camels for more than forty years, a rake- 
hell from the Damascus bazaars, gave her a cup of flavored water late 
one night and whispered: 

"Where have you found such peace?" 

There was no mirror for Mary to study; it would be days later 
before the peasant girl would notice for herself the pallor that was 
coming to her face and neck, arms, and the backs of her hands, like 
cream over strawberries; the blood-red natural color of strength 
and youth was giving way to some newer and purer force taking 
possession. 

Without a mirror she realized that something had taken hold of 
her and changed her. She felt as if she were a new person, a stranger 
who keeping all previous memories was nevertheless different; a 
mixed awareness of glory and humility. She felt small and weak 
and yet powerfully protected. She walked with a new assurance 
in which there was not pride but a profound sense of pamcipatioti 
in the universal flow of life; kinship with all nature. The sap rising 
in the twisting trunk of a sycamore tree was also in her blood; the 
very sight of dewdrops on the morning grass seemed enough to 



30 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

slake her thirst; the warmth of the sun itself was stored within her 
being and shone from her as well as upon her from the sky. Not 
a glisten in the eyes of a weeping child but became a part of the 
love in her thoughts, and the singing of birds, the softness of winds, 
the good taste of milk, everything good and useful made a unity in 
her, a oneness, a celestial unwearying sense of belonging. 

This was the way she had felt ever since the Annunciation of 
the Angel. These were her sensations, waking and sleeping; her 
thoughts were simple and almost like the thoughts of someone else: 
ideas hatched on some distant star and only vaguely related to pres- 
ent place and time. And this was so, even while thoughts of reality 
persisted; they were of Anna and Joachim a little, and of Joseph 
a little more. How could she tell him? What could she say to him? 
Cousin Elizabeth must advise her. 

The image of Cousin Elizabeth was uppermost in her mind and 
sustained her through the seventy-five-mile journey. It was nearing 
sunset of the third day when she found herself four miles east of 
Jerusalem, back in the tiny suburb of Ain Karim; ahead only a short 
way was the squat house of Zachary and Elizabeth, and there was 
her cousin, six months big with child, sitting on the dooryard stoop. 

Now Mary had come all the long distance to Elizabeth, not be- 
cause she doubted the angel but because she believed in him. Only 
for a moment during the shadowy interview had she questioned 
the message. There was never again a doubt in her mind; she had 
acted on the message with prompt faith. Yet even the trust of Mary 
was startled at the confirming greeting she received. 

"Hail, Mary!" cried Elizabeth happily* 

The elderly and pregnant woman did not seem at all astonished 
at seeing her young cousin. The stern face was flushed with pleasure 
as she got to her feet and waved both hands, and as Mary came 
nearer she cried out: 

"Blessed are you among women! " 

The dusty figure of Mary stopped short in the road. Those very- 
words she had heard before from the angel! 

"And blessed is the fruit of your womb!" 

"You repeat the angel's words to me, Cousin Elizabeth. How did 
you know?" 

Elizabeth embraced her, and then whispered: 

"For look, as soon as the voice of your salutation sounded in my 
ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And you are blessed 



A CHILD IS BORN 3! 

because you have believed, because those things shall be accomplished 
that were spoken to you by the Lord." 

With a sob of relief Mary flung herself into the arms of Elizabeth. 
For what seemed an eon, an incalculable period of time, she stood 
there quivering in that comforting embrace. Then, speaking very 
softly, she uttered the words of her Magnificat, all unaware that the 
world would sing those words and pray them for thousands of 
years, but pouring them out for the first time in the consolation of 
her communion with Elizabeth; 

"My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in 
God my Savior. Because He hath regarded the humility of His hand- 
maid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 
Because He that is mighty hath done great things to me; and holy 
is His name. And His mercy is from generation into generations, 
to them that fear Him." 

As at last Elizabeth led her into the house, she whispered: 

"Do you realize that you are pregnant already?" 

Mary's eyes entreated her. 

"I have not known a man." She trembled. 

"Of course, beloved!" 

For the first time tears rolled down Mary's cheeks. 

"You believe me. You know," she quavered. "But how can anyone 
else ever believe me? Will not Joseph be sure to think . . ." 

"What would any man think in his place?" asked Elizabeth. "But 
God, Who has shown us these things, will surely show us how to 
talk with Joseph. Come in now. You are tired and dusty and hungry. 
No more deep talk until you have rested." 

So Mary had a good rubdown by Elizabeth, who was a practical 
nurse and often helped the sick of the village. With strong, well- 
oiled hands she rubbed Mary's arms and back and thighs and eased 
them of travel aches and pains. Then, having washed the feet of 
her guest, she gave her bread to eat and cool goat's milk to drink 
and bade her lie down. Almost before she closed her eyes, Mary was 
asleep. 

The kindness with which she was received on her arrival never 
once wavered in the months that followed. In her advancing preg- 
nancy Elizabeth was not strong enough to do the housework and 
so Mary remained to be a maid to her until the child was delivered. 
At once she wrote notes home, e^laiaing this as her intention. She 
also told her mother that she had passed throtigh an experience of 



32 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

which it was impossible for her to write. When she came back to 
Nazareth she would confide everything. 

To Joseph she sent a dutiful and tender note, telling him that the 
time was soon coming when she would explain to him why she had 
to' leave so suddenly. No mention of the day they had set for their 
wedding; indeed she did not dare to speak of their marriage at all. 
For Mary was perfectly well aware that any man might refuse to 
believe her and cast her out. This was her only source of unhappi- 
ness in those first three months. She was busy, she worked hard, 
and she retained within herself that supernal sense of universal be- 
longing, of general participation with earth and stars in the mystery 
of life. 

She remained in Ain Karim until the great day when pains of the 
womb brought Elizabeth moaning to her couch. The midwife and 
Mary succored her through long and weary hours of labor until 
at last her child came into the world. As the angel had predicted, 
a man-child, more than ten pounds in his birth weight, screaming 
of voice at the age of one minute he was, and red and wild-eyed 
and with a look of outrage at the behavior of the world on his broad 
and wrinkled little face. 

And, true even to the last prophetic accent of the angel, Zachary 
immediately found his voice again. For the first time in nine months 
the village priest could speak. Friends and relatives and neighbors 
clamored around him, exclaiming at the wonder and drowning out 
his own long-postponed tones, refusing to listen to him but rejoicing 
at the top of their own lungs that Zachary could talk again, which 
he could not, not until they quieted down and gave him a chance. 

When he was alone with his family, Zachary wonderingly re- 
peated the words of his neighbors: 

"What a one, think you, this child shall be? For the hand of the 
Lord was on him." 

And delighting in the musical resonance of his own tones he raised 
them an octave and cried out: 

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel." 

Later, when baby John was washed and rubbed with ointment 
and his already unruly hair smoothed with a little oil, Mary carried 
him in and laid him in the arms of his father. On the rugged face 
of the priest there was a look of almost juvenile delight as he gazed 
down upon this child of his old age. 



A CHILD 'IS BORN 33 

"John!" he murmured teasingly, as if the child should already 
know his name. "John, our gift from God! John!" 

Perhaps there was a touch of sadness in his voice. Perhaps Zachary 
was oppressed with the realization that he had not much longer 
to live; that he could not remain another lifetime on earth to guide 
the career of his little son. But he consoled himself that this was 
probably a saint he had brought into the world. The wildest, rough- 
est, toughest, and bravest of saints! Even from his little boyhood 
John would be different; he would not play as other children. Shun- 
ning companionship, he would be drawn to the gaunt, parched gul- 
lies that go down to the desert, and the steep, blistering hillsides of 
the Judean wilderness. John would even turn aside from the spice- 
flavored lentils of his mother's kitchen; he would refuse goat's milk, 
and grow up to prefer locusts and wild honey. 

The baby, less than two hours old, nestled peacefully now in the 
arms of his old father while Mary looked down, pale and smiling, 
upon him. John was to know less than most men of love and merci- 
ful tenderness, yet he was to open the gates for the coming of love 
into the world. 



Chapter 7 WHEN HALF-GODS GO 



SUDDENLY Samuel, the trader, returned from Jerusalem and called 
on Joseph. 

"I think," the carpenter said, "I notice a change in you, Samuel" 

"No, I am just the same." 

"Let be, then." 

"Please, Joseph, what kind of change did you think you saw in 
me?" 

"Well, then, if you will not be offended . . ." 

"I promise not to be," 

"Your speech has changed, for one thing. You no longer sound 
like a Nazarene." 

Samuel grunted smugly. Far from being offended, he was flattered. 

"Of course, 51 he agreed. "In the big city they laugh at the way 
we talk. Some of them can even tell a man from Lower Galilee from 



34 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

a man from Upper Galilee just by his accent. In Jerusalem you soon 
learn to talk as other educated persons do." 

Joseph nodded, not without admiration. Like most country people, 
he disliked the vices of the metropolis, yet he took a certain pro- 
prietary pride in its vastness and busyness; he liked to think that 
he understood the best and the worst about the great place. 

"Is it only my accent that has changed?" asked Samuel carefully. 

Joseph shook his head slowly. 

"It is a little more than that. When you lived here in Nazareth 
you were a merchant and you acted like one, even when away from 
your bazaar." 

"And how does a merchant act?" 

"Very politely, Samuel. His voice is low and trustworthy if it 
were not, the customers would distrust him. And there is a kindly 
look in his eyes . . ." 

Samuel began to laugh. 

"And I come back looking like a criminal, is that it?" 

Joseph again shook his head. 

"You don't look like a ruffian at all, Samuel. But you do look 
hunted. And furtive! And frightened!" 

Samuel instantly became serious. 

"There is never a moment when I am not in fear of my life. Go 
on working, Joseph; no reason for you to lose a day's earnings be- 
cause I am here. But let me talk to you a little while you do your 
sawing and chiseling. The last time I talked to you, I thought I 
knew all about the wickedness of Reb Naamaan. But now . . *" 

"Who is Reb Naamaan?" asked Joseph innocently. 

Samuel cupped his hands around his mouth and whispered in his 
friend's ear. 

"King Herod. We never dare mention his real name when we 
talk. The sound of that name in your mouth will bring a spy to 
your elbow instantly; if they misunderstand you, it may cost you 
your life. So we never mention him except in code. Joseph, his deeds 
would shame a tiger." 

"More beast than man, then?" asked Joseph in a sad tone. He put 
aside his tools and sat down for a moment on a sawhorse. 

"Oh, don't underestimate him," cried Samuel. "He is a brilliant 
leader . . ." 

"Herod? You call such a man brilliant?" asked Joseph, thoroughly 
shocked. 



A CHILD IS BORN 35 

"The truth must be told even about Beelzebub himself. Herod 
has brains. He has a kind of military genius. And he has bravery* 
But he has the hardest heart, the most unused conscience this side 
of Sheol. He and his ghastly sister . . ." 

"You mean the one they call Salome?" asked Joseph hesitantly. 

"The same. They work together in a kind of satanic partnership 
to increase the misery of our people. Imagine! He is fifty-nine years 
old, with nine wives . . ." 

"Nine wives!" groaned Joseph. "Nine wives, indeed." 

"And only God knows how many concubines," snarled SarnueL 
There was a moment's silence and then Samuel came nearer Joseph, 
towering above him, and clamped both palms on his shoulders. 

"Joseph," he cried, "hasn't the time come for you to change your 
mind? How goes it with you? The last time I was here you were 
mooning about marrying some girl you had never met But I see 
by the look of the premises that no one lives here but you. You* re 
still a bachelor. Her father refused you, then? Come with me to 
Jerusalem . . # " 

"She accepted me!" protested Joseph, leaping to his feet. "We 
are to be married in a few days." 

"A few days. You mean that?" 

"Yes. We set the time almost three months ago today." 

"Then where is she? Where is the excitement? Where are the 
wedding preparations?" 

Joseph looked distressed. 

"You see, Samuel," he explained, "she has a cousin who has not 
been in the best of health. She went to see that cousin. I am ex- 
pecting her back any day." 

"You're still hard to figure out," Samuel grumbled. "But look 
here, Joseph. I am with a caravan that rests in Nazareth tonight 
We are taking, along with our merchandise, a troop of Roman min- 
strels who will make a tour of eastern cities, singing the Roman 
songs. Come down with me this evening to the camp fire. Let's have 
supper together. And sing a few songs for old time's sake. And 
talk more about our affairs. Will you do that?" 

Sunset found Joseph at the camp with his friend by a small fire 
of dried twigs. They ate bread and cheese and listened to the roister- 
ing voices of the minstrels, who sang to the accompaniment of a 
stringed instrument on which the musician played with little padded 
hammers. One sang an ode of Pindar, the lyric pod: of Greece. 



36 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Another chanted of Dionysos, god of wine and the drama, who had 
changed his name to Bacchus and made himself a Roman. Pagan 
songs, yarns, and dithyrambs about the gods of Rome and how they 
mated with mortal women, breeding half -gods who always stirred 
up a lot of trouble in the world. 

"Now you're hearing something," gloated Samuel. "Not those 
sickening old psalms. Did you hear that song of the god and the 
woman?" 

"Yes. These men are simply pagans, worshipers of false gods, in 
whom they do not really believe, anyway. But their gods are not 
real. Their stories are false. They are just inventions. The singers 
themselves laugh at them." 

"Of course, Joseph. And does that not have a personal meaning 
for you?" 

"I do not follow, Samuel. You must speak clearly." 

"Didn't you tell me a year ago that you would not fight for the 
freedom of the people?" 

"I remember." 

"But do you remember what reason you gave me?" 

"Certainly* I said we must put our trust in the promises of God," 

"And He promised to send a deliverer, wasn't that it?" 

"Right." 

"Who was to be God's own son, and born of a virgin? Am I not 
now quoting the prophecies?" 

"Yes, Samuel." 

"And it is on those very prophecies that you were relying?" 

"Yes." 

"Well, then " 

Samuel crept forward. He was lying on his stomach, his vast legs 
lost in shadow, but his face, resting in his palms, was reddened by 
the fire. 

"Can't you see, Joseph, that it is all just an old wives' tale told 
in every language? Every silly religion teaches the same thing. You 
talk to the Indoos from India and the Iranians from Persia. Or, for 
that matter, talk to the Greeks. They all have the same story of 
gods having children by mortal women," 

He paused, and when Joseph did not speak, he prodded his friend: 

"Don't you see?" 

"See what?" 

Joseph was showing unexpected stubbornness. 



A CHILD IS BORN 37 

"That you are making your decision on a fairy tale. You are be- 
lieving in a universal nonsense." 

Joseph leaned forward, and now the light was on his face. 

"In universal truth," he replied with the same tranquil conviction 
that always annoyed Samuel with its force. "Even though some 
people worship these false gods, and believe in myths, the Messiah 
will not come just for our people, but for all for everybody!" - 

"What's that, Joseph? Watch yourself. You will be uttering a 
blasphemy." 

The two men laughed, but Joseph finished what he had to say. 

"God is not just a little tingling like Herod. Not just the God of 
our people alone. He is God of every people; of every human being 
living in this world. No matter what others believe, I am sure the 
Messiah will come not only to us, but to the Romans, the Indoos, 
and Persians, as well as everybody else." 

Samuel clucked his tongue. 

"I think that is both nonsense and blasphemy." He sighed. "There's 
something rather pretty about it though. It would be glorious if 
anybody could believe it." 

"Our people have believed it for a long time." 

"Oh, I know. I went to school as well as you, Joseph. I'll admit 
that I wasn't so interested. I remember that God made the promise 
to redeem the race of Adam, after the flood." 

Joseph cut in earnestly: 

"Was there ever a time in history when we needed the Messiah 
more?" 

"This Messiah has become an obsession with you," objected Sam- 
uel. "And with too many other people. It is what is holding us back. 
I will admit that we need a leader. I went to Jerusalem to join the 
revolutionary movement and was ready to put my services at the 
command of someone who could use them. But I could find no real 
leader of the resistance. That is what we have to have. We want a 
superior military genius. Do you expect your Messiah to be a great 
general?" 

Joseph shook his head. 

"I fear," he smiled, "that you are incorrigible. You want a soldier 
Messiah. That is so he can attack Herod, throw out his soldiers and 
the Romans. A puny country like Palestine against the empire of 
Rome! That is a man-sized undertaking, even for a messiah. But 
still not enough for you. After he has thrown out the foreigners, 



38 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

put Herod and his supporters to death, he will then have to tran- 
quilize our own people, and unify them. After a military genius, 
you want next a Messiah who is also a political master. Before long 
you will be asking for a great financier too!" 

Joseph laughed softly at his own words. 

"Perhaps not you, Samuel, but a great many expect the Messiah 
to be all those things and more, and I fear that they will be greatly 
disappointed because I do not think he will be any of them." 

"And what do you think he will be like, then?" 

In the waiting silence a driver, suddenly befouled by the beast he 
had just fed, screeched a malediction on the whole tribe, and swear- 
ing that when God had finished designing all the other animals, 
he made camels from the scraps. And then before Joseph could 
answer Samuel a hand was thrust from the darkness behind him 
and tapped the carpenter on the shoulder. Startled, he turned swiftly, 
looking up into the face of Joachim. 

"Peace be with you," the young man breathed, aware of sudden 
fear. 

"And the Lord be with you, Joseph. I came over here to ask you 
to come to your shop. Mary is there, waiting for you. She says she 
wants to talk with you at once. Alone." 



Chapter 8 JOSEPH DREAMS A DREAM 

ON THE wooden table the rush lights were lit and fluttering, and 
the shadows were like jumpy phantoms on the white plaster of the 
wall. Mary was standing before the door, and the lambent yellow 
flames of the candles inside were playing over her face in shivering 
light. But the sportive light only showed clearer to Joseph how 
much Mary had changed; she looked like a phantom of the girl he 
remembered. 

She was so pale now that she might have been a specter, not of 
the dead but the living. She whose cheeks had been ripe orchard 
red with the warmth of health; whose strong arms could swing the 
household baskets, heavily burdened, and take pleasure in her own 
strength; whose stride was young and free and full of the energy 
of earth* was now a wraith of her former self, yet she had growa 
taEer. There was a primrose pallor in her skin. Especially the en- 



A CHILD IS BORN 39 

larged glow of her eyes startled Josephit summed up the mystical, 
frightening change in her. 

"Mary!" 

"Joseph!" 

"Peace be with you!" 

"And the Lord be with you." 

"Beloved, are you ill?" 

"Beloved, don't come nearer to me. Not just yet. There is some- 
thing I have to tell you." 

He stood, straight and tall, twisting his cap nervously in knotty 
fingers, his brow heavily creased. 

"Say it at once, Mary, beloved, whatever it is. I am listening." 

"Then, Joseph, beloved . . ." 

"Yes?" 

"I am with child." 

If the world had broken into two parts and dropped away into 
bottomless space, her words could not have sounded more unlikely. 
She had spoken softly; all her talk was soft, with a new and dignified 
strangeness and sweetness which he noticed vaguely and wondered 
if, having been away from Galilee, she was losing the country ac- 
cent of the people, like Samuel, but it was more than that: it was a 
new and singular dignity in her voice and the remote music of it, 
the authority in it. 

Mary with child! 

Joseph stood, unmoving; the fingers stopped playing with the 
cap; it was as if he had fallen into a catalepsy. Mary running off. 
Mary staying away. Mary coming back. Mary with child. 

"Joseph!" she faltered. "Speak to me." 

"But you have not known me," he spoke in a far-off whisper. 

"I have not known man." 

"But you say you are with child!" he cried, and in his wounded 
tone was the pain of a man who cannot believe his own anguish. 

"Yes, Joseph." 

"Whose child?" he groaned. 

"Not the child of any man," she answered, her pale face clear be- 
fore him. 

"What is this you say?" 

And he mumbled her words, repeating them twice over, trying 
to grasp the incomprehensible. 

"It is from God," she insisted. "It is not from man but from God. 



40 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

The angel Gabriel, who came to Zachary, came also to me. Eliza- 
beth's child is born and he is a man-child and his name is John, just 
as the angel declared. And now I am the handmaid of the Lord and 
shall be the mother of the Promised One!" 

"Mary! Do you know what you are saying?" 

"Yes." 

"If the elders hear you, they will have you put to death." 

"Still it is true, Joseph." 

He threw his cap to the ground and flung himself after it on a 
pile of chips and sawdust. 

"Tell me this strange thing," he invited glumly. "I shall listen and 
no more interruptions." 

Step by step Mary rehearsed for him the incredible proceedings. 
From the moment when they had bidden each other good night 
she took up the story: the meeting with the stranger on "the inner 
terrace of her home, the annunciation, the folded wings, the vanish- 
ing of the angel whom she knew to be Gabriel. She explained why 
she could not come at once to Joseph, nor to her parents; she felt 
only Elizabeth would understand. And Elizabeth had understood; 
in fact, Elizabeth had learned of it all in advance in a dream and 
had greeted her with the same salutation as the angel. She had 
remained with her cousin until John was born; had conceived and 
of the Holy Spirit. She was a virgin and she was going to bring a 
child into the world. 

And then there was a long silence. At last Mary said: 

"You are thinking deep thoughts, Joseph." 

"I am thinking," muttered Joseph, slowly scrambling to his feet, 
"it is a curious thing that no angel came to me." 

He exhaled a vast and hopeless sigh. 

"Surely I have a right to be shown the truth of this matter!" he 
cried. "Am I expected to take this shocking story casually? I have 
no wish to quarrel. The Lord knows that I have loved you, Mary, 
with all my mind and all my heart and all my soul. I have no eyes 
for any other only you. Since I first saw you, my whole" life has 
been shaped around you. I counted on you. But if this thing has 
happened, why is it that no angel reassured me? Is that so unreason- 
able? Don't I count at all?" 

She wept. It had not occurred to her that he had been neglected 
by the angel. But it was true. Joseph had only her word for what 
had happened. And that was a great deal to ask of any man. 



A CHILD IS BORN 4! 

"Have you told your mother?" 

"No; nor Father, either. I felt I must tell you first." 

Joseph went to her slowly and she noticed how his shoulders 
were bowed, how sagging the line of his small golden beard, how' 
stricken his eyes. A wave of mothering pity went through her; she 
wanted to gather him in her arms and croon to him. 

"I must think," said Joseph. "Tomorrow we will talk more." 

"Then peace be with you, Joseph." 

"And the Lord be unto you, Mary." 

He heard the rustle of her mantle as she gathered its folds around 
her and walked, face toward the starless sky, out of the shop and 
into the Nazareth night. 

That was a dark night for Joseph. Sleepless he lay with misery 
darkening his soul; he tossed back and forth on the straw pallet, 
groaning in disappointment and grief, beating his fists against the 
rough walls; he was ready to scream to the top of the city's heights, 
yes, and to the invisible stars. Tearfully he recited old psalms and 
prayers, hoping to quiet the storm in his heart. What was it his 
lovely betrothed asked him to believe? That a virgin was to have 
a child; that she was still as pure and innocent as he had known 
her to be the day they promised each other to be husband and wife. 
She asked him to accept God as the sole Father of her son. Then 
she was asking him to believe something even more irrational 
that their son no! not his son, but hers was to be the Deliverer 
for which the people had been waiting for thousands of years; that 
Mary was bringing into the world the Messiah. With a shudder he 
remembered the Roman songs of the travelers around the camp fire: 

Lord, God of Hosts, bring peace to my soul! 

But peace seemed far off. In the gentle. soul of Joseph stirred a 
new possibility a way by which he might escape from this anguish; 
he might run off with Samuel and join the revolutionary movement 
and forget Mary and the child. Forget by learning how to kill. 

These were momentary notions. They were not welcome to 
Joseph's spirit. He admonished himself: he must be wise and calm 
in the disaster. He would not raise a scandal. There must be no dis- 
grace. Joseph was minded to put away Mary privately. That was 
by far the best way. Somehow things could be managed without 
gossip. There was always a way to manage that, in Nazareth as every- 
where else in the world. 

When she came home, he would many her* He would ask no 



42 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

more questions, raise no more doubts, accept the situation and stand 
by her; he still wanted her. And then, having decided all this, Joseph 
broke into stormy sobs and the little moans of a man's heartbreak. 

His face was wet when at last he fell asleep. 

Like his great ancestor, Joseph, son of Jacob, the young carpenter 
of Nazareth dreamed a dream. 

It was not a vivid, waking experience, such as Zachary and Mary 
had known; it was a man's dream in his sleep, but it was so real, so 
complete that on him it had all the effect of reality. In the dream the 
angel of the Lord came to Joseph too; spoke kindly to him, almost 
paternally, and told him not to be afraid to make Mary his wife; 
that the child had been in truth conceived of the Holy Spirit, that 
the name of the child was to be Jesus, and that he was to save the 
people from their sins. Then the dream ended. 

Slowly Joseph wakened. The darkness all around was so deep 
that it was as if he lay in the womb of grief. Eyes open, staring into 
black vacancy of space, Joseph found himself muttering a prophecy 
from old Scripture-the words of the great Isaiah: 

"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin 
shall conceive and bear a son," 

And then Joseph turned a little cold at a new thought that rushed 
upon him. He would marry Mary, yes, and help bring up her super- 
natural son. 

Joseph did not know it, but even as Mary changed, so he was 
changing now; changing into a great man. He could do that be- 
cause he possessed what is called the gift of faith. He would marry 
Mary. And he would be her most chaste spouse! Lying there in the 
immeasurable dark, Joseph renewed his betrothal vows. 



Chapter 9 COMMAND FROM ROME 

JOSEPH watched over his young wife with ever-deepening and guard- 
ian concern. And Mary, with unresting love for Joseph, cooked 
his meals and scrubbed and mended his clothes, never tiring of keep- 
ing that little house and shop shining and clean. 

It had been a very simple wedding in Mary's house; afterward, 
Joseph, arm around his bride, led her down the long and muddy 
street and proudly through the open door. 



A CHILD IS BORN 43 

From their first moment alone together they knew perfect com- 
panionship. Theirs was a marriage based on the yearning of soul for 
soul, unbound to the earth; they were profoundly in love, so that 
they felt closer than any union possible to mere bodies, knowing a 
richness of delight that lay beyond the reach of flesh. 

They worked all day; they visited with Joachim and Anna and 
neighbors and friends in the evening; at first they went on a few 
outings with friends. To the town they seemed a normal and or- 
dinary couple. 

But when they were alone together, they often talked of the won- 
der that had altered their lives. 

How very curious, Joseph sometimes found himself thinking. 
While all Israel was in trouble, the people hoping and praying for 
the promised Deliverer, Mary was carrying in her womb a miracu- 
lous child. 

"Ah, if it should really be so, Mary " 

"God will show," she whispered, hushed and scared. "We must 
wait!" 

Only that afternoon new tales had come from Jerusalem of the 
scheming of Herod to lay new taxes on the backs of the people. 

"How can we pay?" a traveler railed. "We are starving already. 
Our herdsmen tend lambs that they cannot eat. We are all under- 
nourished. More, now, this Arab king is thinking about/' 

How had he heard about Herod's secret plans? The traveler 
winked at Mary and Joseph. The workers of revolution had ways 
of finding out everything that was going on. Their spies scrubbed 
and dusted in the very bedchamber of Herod and his wives. Watch 
and see! 

And then this same traveler told of how he had visited recently 
with Elizabeth and Zachary. He gave a great account of their little 
son John. That was the strongest boy baby he had ever seen; his 
little hands had incredible strength, and he could already walk, long 
before his time. But so far John had not uttered a word 

Not long afterward Joseph learned that this visitor had known 
what he was talking aboutthe news came just when Joseph had 
begun to worry about Mary's condition. The village midwife and 
Anna both agreed that the time was not far off for her child to be 
born, and Joseph was insisting that Mary must not do any more 
housework; she must lie down a great deal and rest. He had all a 
young husband's terror of tke first ordeal of motherhood. 



44 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

It was then that the word spread through every street in Naza- 
reth of a new fiat from Rome: there was to be an empire-wide 
census. The word had an ominous sound in Israel; the people had 
an ancient, almost superstitious aversion to being counted. 

But the orders for this colossal undertaking came down straight 
from the Emperor himself; an imperial command from Caesar Au- 
gustus: every one of his subjects was to be enumerated. 

"And for what?" asked the little dyer in his shop down the street 
from Joseph. "Why? Because they are going to increase the taxes 
and no one must get out of paying." 

Get out of paying? Joseph laughed. You could get out of the 
world quicker than that The Romans by their land tax took one 
tenth of every man's corn and two tenths of his grapes and fruit. 
And then there was the poll tax; one per cent from everybody. And 
all the other taxes. Now, more! 

Soon the news was blazoned and proclaimed throughout all the 
provinces. Jerusalem, it seemed, had been ignored in making the 
arrangements; Caesar Augustus did not trust his puppet, Herod. 
From the throne the word came that the people of Israel were to be 
counted as an all-Palestine group, under the management of the 
ranking emissary in the area, Cyrenus, governor of Syria. And Cyre- 
nus had already announced stern penalties for any person living in 
Palestine who did not obey this positive and authoritative command. 

The most disturbing fact to Joseph was that it meant a long 
journey for him when he felt he was needed at Mary's side. To re- 
main in Nazareth and be counted was impossible, because under the 
ruling each person must be registered in the city headquarters of 
the tribe to which he belonged. For Joseph, that meant he must go 
all the way down to Bethlehem. 

."Not only you," he was told by one of the elders of the Nazareth 
synagogue. "Your wife must also go to her rightful headquarters 
to be counted." 

Joseph's incredulous look was full of sudden fear. 

"How can Mary go?" he protested, "Don't you know she is going 
to have a baby any day?" 

"What do Romans care about Jewish wives or babies?" the elder 
returned with a shrug. He did agree, at Joseph's urgings, to make 
an appeal; to see if an exception could be made in this case. The an- 
swer .came back swift and certain, "No!" 

They must leave at once to be in Bethlehem on the appointed day! 



A CHILD IS BORN 45 

Bewildered at such inhumanity and injustice, Joseph scarcely- 
heard the clamor of talk around him; in the synagogue there was 
sorrow in many a heart. "We were counted once by Moses; why 
should we be counted again?" Not much logic in the question, but 
no one was feeling logical; they were thinking with their nerves, 
with their emotions, above all with the galling sense of power ex- 
erted by empire's force upon them. 

Later, Joseph talked long with Mary about it. He reminded her 
how, in the second year after the flight from Egypt, Moses had 
mustered the tribes, all except the priestly caste of Levi, who were 
exempted from military service and taxes. From then on, according 
to those tribal divisions set up by Moses, their ancestors had marched, 
pitched their tents, and made their offerings. And ever since the 
branches of family trees had been faithfully preserved in or out of 
captivity, under generals, kings, and judges. Some records in the 
Nazareth synagogue and the family traditions made it clear that 
both Joseph and Mary must go to Bethlehem, because that was 
David's city, and they were both of the house of David. 

"Why should it have to be?" demanded Joseph, who was pro- 
foundly shaken by the danger to his young wife. "Our priests have 
their own way of arriving at these things and it is good enough. 
When they want to count, they have only to add up the passover 
lambs and multiply by ten." 

"And why by ten, Joseph?" asked Mary, delighted as always 
with his knowledge. 

"Because from ten to twelve persons may eat a passover lamb. 
Then we have to make an allowance for the lepers and the other 
unclean outcasts. But we know pretty accurately just how many of 
us there are. This journey to Bethlehem! Oh, Mary, I am afraid . . ." 

But Mary smiled confidently. 

"Joseph, my beloved," she said, "remember what the angel said 
to me?" 

" 'Do not be afraid, Mary!' " he quoted. 

"And what did he say to you in that dream?" 

"The very same words." 

"Then we should not be afraid. And there is something else. I 
have been listening to the Scriptures in the synagogue; the rabbi 
does not know how eagerly, Joseph. There are prophecies." 

"About the Messiah, Mary?" 



46 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Yes. That he was to be born in Bethlehem. Had you forgotten, 
Joseph?" 

He gasped. 

"No, Mary I had not forgotten. It confounds me now to re- 
alize , . ." 

"Should we be afraid, Joseph?" 

"No, Mary, my beloved. We shall go to Bethlehem," 

The next morning they began their journey. 



Chapter 10 THE LONG JOURNEY 

FROM Nazareth it is a distance of seventy-five miles to Bethlehem 
of Judea. For Joseph and Mary and Anna and Joachim the aged 
father and mother also had to go down to be counted that made 
a three-day journey. The two women rode on stubborn little Gali- 
lean donkeys, while their men trudged alongside and held on to 
the reins. 

They went by the way of the great pilgrim road, running north 
and south, crowded with other families, on donkey and traveling 
afoot. Wayfarers by the thousands cluttered the highway, all leav- 
ing their homes because the Emperor of Rome had said that they 
must. Resenting the edict, most of them, nevertheless, made a holi- 
day of the excursion; friendly bands kept together and camped and 
cooked and at night pitched tents around wood fires; they slept on 
blankets spread upon the ground. 

During the heat of the day they sang lustily from the psaltery: 
the brave and happy songs of David; several men had brought along 
little harps and plucked at the strings as they marched. So it was 
not a lonely journey and Mary did not suffer. Her light blue mantle 
was tucked back like a high collar rising behind her head and the 
wind played with her hair; she was pale and her face was much 
thinner, but her eyes were quiet and she remained very still; not 
once did she join in the singing; she seemed to be listening and wait- 
ing- 
Joseph tried to beguile her. Only once before had he ventured 
from his home town, and he had an unaccustomed traveler's eager- 
ness to find out all about the places through which they passed and 
then to tell his wife what he had learned. Casting a learned eye on 



A CHILD IS BORN 47 

the fertile fields and orchards that lined the road, he recounted what 
farmers had told him of prospects for the harvest. But soon the 
farms were left behind and their way led through rocky 'Galilean 
hills and red earth weathered from the hard limestone of the high- 
lands; the fields now were like deserts broken with fragments of 
black stone. 

"Mary, beloved, we are coming near to Shiloh." 

"Is Shiloh a big place, Joseph?" 

"Not so very big. Except in history. The teacher in the synagogue 
says it was there that the mother of Samuel came to pray for the 
gift of a child." 

"Ah, she certainly had an answer to her prayers. We must keep 
on praying like that, Joseph." 

"Yes, we must." 

And a little later: 

"Now we are coming into Gilgal." 

"Gilgal? I have heard the name. What happened there, beloved?" 

"That was where Samuel judged our people more than eleven 
hundred years ago." 

"It seems too far off, that time, to be real." 

"Yes. I suppose history is always like that to modern people like 
ourselves." 

With Mary sitting on the donkey and Joseph pulling at the bridle 
rein, they passed through the tall defile of rocks that was known in 
legends as the Valley of Tears. They laughed their way through 
its gloomy shadows; Anna had driven up and was riding abreast 
of her daughter, and now old Joachim began to tell stories of his 
boyhood. 

They talked, too, of the great events of old that seenxed as near 
to them now as the historic regions they traveled Gibeah, where 
once was the palace of the fierce and arrogant King Saul; and not 
far off Bethel, where Jacob made his prayer and the backsliders 
sounded their cymbals before the golden calf. 

"And there," added Joseph thoughtfully, "Amos made his proph- 
ecyof the Messiah!" 

Hearts were lighter the third morning because they expected to 
reach their journey's end before nightfall. Joseph was apprehen- 
sively watching his wife all day; he *had been wakeful during the 
night arid heard her sighing in dreams, and he kept praying con- 
stantly that they would get safely to Bethlehem. 



48 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Bethlehem!" 

A shout went up. Throngs of the pilgrims began to sing the psalms 
of David again and others, tired as they were, danced with joy in 
the dust. But a most solemn feeling came over Joseph when he saw 
the white roofs and greenery of the little town. He took Mary's 
hand and they looked together; slanting golden light on white plaster 
houses topping the green hillsides, where flocks of sheep were graz- 
ing drowsily. 

This. was the city of their tribal ancestors. And Mary recalled the 
old story of how the great millionaire Boaz came down this very 
road on his camel one day and saw a poor woman moving about 
in his field. The reapers had long since gone, but this lovely and 
hungry young woman was laboring for spillings of grain they had 
left behind them on the ground. Ruth and Boaz! They were among 
the ancestors of Mary and Joseph! 

The pair rested on the road for a few minutes as they gazed upon 
the serene landscape, the tall spurs of the hills, the wheat fields, the 
olive clumps, the fig trees and many other trees tall, strong in 
their green reach against blue sky and puffy white clouds. 

"Those trees are wonderful, are they not?" asked Mary. It was 
her way of being casual in these last desperate hours. She knew he 
had a carpenter's eyes for such things and easily named for her the 
poplars and live oaks, the pines, the firs, and the tamarisks. 

"Are those the ones you told me were cut down for the ships?" 
asked Mary. 

"Right, my. beloved. They are used for masts and keels; the Medi- 
terranean Sea is full of such things from Bethlehem." 

And as they renewed their steep climb into the town Joseph kept 
determinedly talking. He had noticed a tightening of his wife's hands, 
a whitening of knuckles. 

"The child must be coming," he told himself. "I will get her to 
a bed as quickly as possible. Meanwhile I will try to keep her mind 
busy with other things." 

And so he chattered on about the noble respect in which all men 
held this city of their ancestors. It was from here that Saul had set 
out to find his father's cattle and laid the foundation of the king- 
dom. Here Jesse, son of Obed, son of Ruth, had pitched his tents, 
and here his youngest boy, David, had watched his sheep; David 
the poet, the soldier, the king, had lain on these same grassy hill- 
sides and heard the morning stars sing together. 



A CHILD IS BORN 49 

Presently a well-intentioned traveler tried to join in the travel 
lecture of troubled, anxious Joseph. Blandly this talk-hard seized 
Joseph by the wrist. 

"Over there!" he pointed, "Where the olive groves meet with 
the road? That solid little building of small rocks with the white 
plaster roof. See it?" 

"I see it!" acknowledged Joseph, with the sigh of a man who has 
other matters to see to. 

"That is one of the most ancient sights in the world. Inside there 
is a great boulder, all shiny smooth worn that way by the kisses 
of women for a thousand years, my friend women who weep and 
wail." 

"Why do women kiss and weep in that place?" 

"Because it is poor Rachel's tomb!" 

Joseph shuddered and drew his wife quickly away from this mor- 
bid stranger. He had forgotten that it was here the great tragedy 
had befallen Rachel; here she lost her life in giving birth to Benja- 
min. 

Now they entered the streets of Bethlehem, and the press of pil- 
grims was so great that the pair could scarcely move forward; no 
one would even listen to Joseph when he asked the way to a hotel; 
one urchin laughed in his face at such a question. Five hostelries 
they tried but all were filled up. Joseph kept on doggedly; he forced 
his way through the door of the last tavern and demanded to talk 
to the host. 

"My wife is ill," pleaded Joseph. "Her baby is about to be born." 

The innkeeper was a stout and grumpy man with an enormous 
stomach. He had rolls of fat under his chin, and little dumplings 
hanging under his eyes, and oily gray curls. 

With red hands clasped in front of him, he gaped at these four 
Nazarenes, and it seemed to Joseph as if all mercy fled from his little 
eyes. For a moment he said nothing; then he curled fat fingers around 
his mouth and bawled hoarsely: 

"Sarah!" 

His wife, just as stout as he was she might have been himself 
in women's clothes came shuffling from the back of the house. 

"What you want?" she demanded, hoarse voice a replica of his 
own. 

"Look at this woman." 

"Which?" 



50 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"The young one, not the old one," 

"I see her, yes." 

"Is she having her baby now or is this a scheme to get lodgings?" 

The greasy wife leaned forward, hardening the creases in her neck. 

"This one," she announced, voice even hoarser with fright, "is 
having the baby now. I know. I have had ten." 

"Please," implored Joseph, "for the love of God " 

"Don't you realize," growled Sarah, "the place is full? All Bethle- 
hem is full. There's not a bed in the town tonight. But she can't 
have a baby here on the floor. We've got to do something. Gabriel!" 

"Hah?" answered the innkeeper obediently, 

"There is one warm and comfortable place where we haven't put 
anybody yet." 

"Is there now? Where? Just where?" demanded Gabriel. 

"In the stable!" 

"The stable!" echoed Joseph miserably, and Anna put her arms 
around Mary, But the young wife looked gratefully at the innkeep- 
er's wife. 

"You are very kind to think of it," she said. "A stable is warm. 
And it will be Hke home, because often I slept downstairs with the 
sheep and the goats." She turned to Joseph. "These people would 
surely take good care of their animals. And we will be alone there." 

She turned quickly back to the old woman. 

"You will not rent it to anyone else besides us?" she pleaded. 

"No," smiled Sarah slowly, with a reluctant chuckle. "And I 
will help you. God knows we women have got to help each other." 

The stable was in a roomy cave that extended under the whole 
building of the inn. Joseph held Mary's hand as he led her down 
twisting stone steps to an earthen floor; in his free hand he held a 
lantern that threw against the rough walls the magnified shadows of 
Anna and Joachim and Mary and himself. 

"Where are we going to put her down?" cried Anna distractedly. 

Heaving and puffing, the stout Sarah came clumping down the 
stairs behind them, and after her Gabriel, puffing even louder than 
his wife, both clasping fresh bundles of straw. They laid a bed 
against the inner wall, which was warmer and not so damp, and they 
brought linen and a coverlet and a pillow for Mary's head. 

Then Gabriel and Sarah had to leave them, for business was brisk 
upstairs, but both of them paused to give a hoarse: "God be with 
you tonight!" As their footsteps died away the four at last felt re- 



A CHILD IS BORN 51 

lieved, if only to be alone. Anna helped Mary to undress, and then 
she went upstairs in search of jars of heated water, while Joseph 
stood near brooding. 

"Why do we have no sign now?" he was asking himself. "Where 
is the angel? Why doesn't Anna hurry back?" 

Anna soon came back with the water. She briskly exiled Joseph 
and Joachim through a rear door in the stable, bidding them to stay 
out until they were sent for. It was dark outside, the night air moist 
and cold. 

Meanwhile Anna, with the wisdom of old wives, urged Mary 
not to lie on the straw but to get up and walk. Mary obeyed. Back 
and forth in the stable she walked, amid the braying of donkeys 
and bleating of sheep, her nostrils filled with the sweet, pungent 
odors of barley and oats and hay. To and fro she walked. 

And Joseph was trudging up and down in the dark area behind 
the stable. Again and again he tightened and then loosened the frayed 
girdle around his travel-stained robe. He fingered the pouch that 
held his store of coins and wondered whether he had enough money 
to see them through. The hours dragged on. Joachim had sat down 
on his haunches and soon fell asleep. But Joseph walked on like a 
man in a nightmare, waiting, praying until at last and suddenly he 
heard the sound a child's first cry. 

In the dimmish light he knelt beside the bed of straw where Mary 
ky, pale and weak but wide-eyed and with a small, brave smile for 
him. 

"See!" she murmured. 

Joseph was on his knees. Mary held out firm hands, lifting up her 
son, wrapped in Grandmother Anna's swaddling clothes lifting him 
up adoringly, the fate of the world reposing in the chalice of her 
hands. 

Even in the first instant of seeing the child Joseph was aware 
of something extraordinarily different about him. Somehow he knew 
that this newborn baby, whose face was not red and crinkled but 
smooth and white, and whose expression was of such potent inno- 
cence and affection, had come into the world to get nothing and to 
give everything. 



52 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Chapter n SHEPHERDS AT THE BACK DOOR 



MARY had fallen asleep, and there was quiet in the stable. Anna and 
Joachim made a bed for themselves, far back in the shadows. And 
Jesus, the baby, lay asleep in his first bed, which was the food box 
of the donkeys and the cows a manger which the foster father had 
hastily filled with fresh hay and barley oats that smelled sweet and 
clean. 

For Joseph, sleep was impossible. His mind, his very soul, was too 
tremulous and excited. Again he paced in a kind of march around 
the stable, stopping regularly to see that Mary and her child still 
breathed, which they did, quite naturally. There was glee in Joseph, 
a sacred rippling joy in his blood, a bounce to his muscles; his only 
regret was that he had no one to talk to. Joseph in that dark hour 
could have poured out his heart in rapturous conversation. 

"The oddest thing about it,'* he told himself, in the absence of any 
companion, "was the feeling I had when I looked into that little fel- 
low's eyes. I seemed to have known him all my life. He wasn't a 
stranger!" 

Was that a special fact because Jesus was a special child? Because, 
after all, Joseph was not the child's father, and even now he did not 
allow himself to forget it. Yet he felt a tender closeness to the baby, 
deeper and truer than fatherhood itself. He still felt baffled that 
there was no further sign. 

A long time had passed while Mary carried her baby, with no re- 
assurance from supernatural beings. Nine months since the angel 
had stood with folded wings in the Nazareth house; the day of the 
Annunciation. After that the dream message had come to Joseph; 
then silence; months of commonplace reality. Was it not strange 
that the baby had been born without some demonstration? Here 
was the child; where were the angels? 

He listened for a rustling of wings and heard only the sleepy 
bleat of a yearling lamb. That, and presently a low rumble of distant 
voices, the shuffling of feet outside the house and, at the lower back 
entrance of the stable, the knocking of a staff. 

With a gasp of concern that Mary would be awakened, Joseph 



A CHILD IS BORN 53 

hurried to the door. Unfastening the latch, he opened the upper half 
of the door, then put a finger warningly to his mouth. A group of 
bearded faces were staring in at him. One man held up a lighted 
lantern. Behind them was still the night, dark and clear, with the 
sparkle of unaccountable and extraordinarily brilliant stars. Joseph 
had not seen those stars until now. 

"Peace!" breathed Joseph. "This is no time to make noise." 

"The Lord be urifo you," returned one of the men in a low, pla- 
cating voice. "We have not come to make any trouble at all" 

"Who are you, then?" 

"We are shepherds from the hills outside this town. We have 
been tending our flocks." 

"The hour is late," insisted Joseph firmly. 

He would have closed the door but the speaker held up his staff. 

"Wait. Only one question. Has a child just been born in this 
place?" 

A quiver of alarm passed through Joseph. Was something wrong? 
Their papers not in order, perhaps? Had they broken the law in 
taking shelter in the stable? No one ever knew what queer laws 
might be declared by King Herod. 

"Why do you ask, shepherd? How is it your business about a 
child?" 

"Don't be afraid of us, man. We are friends." 

"Well, then yes. A child has been born here." 

"Only a little while ago?" 

"True. Within two hours." 

* 

Low exclamations came from the bearded mouths of the shep- 
herds. They turned and patted one another on the back and one of 
them whispered: 

"It is true, then." 

And the first speaker laid a kindly hand on Joseph's shoulder. 

"Tell me is it a man-child?" 

"It is." 

"And could it be possible that you have laid the child in a man- 
ger?" 

<c Yes," answered Joseph, feeling the tears gather in his eyes. 
"There was no cradle, you see. The town is overcrowded; there 
was nowhere else I could take my lady . . ." 

"Then God be praised!" murmured the shepherd fervently, and 
the others muttered agreement in their beards. 



54 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Listen, man," cried the one with the lifted staff. "We five men 
have just seen a marvelous sight. An unbelievable sight And it has 
to do with you," 

Marvelous sight! And unbelievable. Hope sprang up in Joseph's 
thoughts. 

"Believe this thing we tell you. We were all tending our flocks 
tonight, minding our own business. The night was clear, air cool, 
stars bright, everything going along just as usual. Suddenly Jonas 
here interrupted our talk and pointed at the sky." 

"That I did," confirmed Jonas. "There was a great big bright 
light in the sky and the shape of it like an angel bigger than the 
world. And I heard a voice . . ." 

"We all saw the light," declared the first man. "And we all heard 
distinctly that voice from the sky." 

"What did the voice say?" asked Joseph eagerly. 

"It told us not to be afraid." 

"Yes. It always begins that way. And then?" 

"And then it said it brought us great news. The Savior of the 
world was being born. I remember the very words; how can I ever 
forget them? Tor this day is born to you a Savior who is Christ the 
Lord.' " 

"Christ the Lord," whispered Joseph. 

"Yes, friend. That's what the voice said* It told us the child was 
being born right here in this town and that we would find it, 
wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger," 

Here another shepherd pushed himself forward. 

"You can never imagine what happened then," he broke in ex- 
citedly, "The whole heaven seemed to open up. The curtain of the 
stars was split like a tent, and through the opening we saw a host of 
.angels that filled the sky and they were all singing at the top of 
their voices . . ." 

"And do you know 'what they were singing?" demanded Jonas, 
again interrupting. "The words were: 'Glory to God in the highest 
and on earth peace . . ,' " 

And then the shepherds seemed to lose their tongues. The sound 
of their own story seemed to subdue them. Strong, out-of-doors 
men, who smelled of grass; practical men, and yet they had told 
the story with something of the frenzy of poets. Now came the re- 
action. 

Their leader lowered his lantern and sighed deeply. 



A CHILD IS BORN 55 

"Of course," he said with an apologetic air, "we can't expect you 
to believe all this." 

Then his eyes flashed open and he looked straight at Joseph. 

"But it is true," he averred, as if he were taking an oath, "I saw it. 
I heard it." 

Joseph wrung their hands. He believed them utterly, as they went 
on to tell how they forsook their fat-tailed sheep and ran into Beth- 
lehem. Of every dark straggler on the streets at such an hour they 
had asked questions. Where could they find the newborn baby? 
And when they found this house then they must know if it were 
lying in a manger. Someone had sent them to the stable of the inn. 

The tale of the shepherds brought peace to Joseph. The sign 
had come at secondhand, which was better. These men, panting 
and out of breath and sweaty, full of strength and humility, had 
seen the gates of another world open up and had heard singing from 
on high, the heavens rejoicing at the birth of Mary's child. Humble 
workingmen of the fields were the first to come and visit the new- 
born Jesus. 

Joseph received them with open arms and one shepherd after 
another kissed his beard. On tiptoe they followed him as he led them 
straight to the manger, where they looked down and then knelt be- 
side the sleeping figure of Mary's son. 

Soon they were gone, and Joseph resumed his unsleeping vigiL 
But now his heart was calmed. The sign had come. In his mind's ear 
he could hear the unnumbered hosts of the servants of God, singing 
to the ages: "Peace on earth to men of good will." 



Chapter 12 TWO PIGEONS, PLEASE! 



"JOSEPH, my friend, are you going to have this child circumcised? 1 * 

asked Samuel, who had come to the stable when at last he had found 

out where the family stayed. 
"But of course. Why not?" 

"You yourself say that he is not born like other children." 
"That is correct. But whatever is done that is out of course of 

natural ways is not to be done by me, Samuel. I love this child more 



56 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

than I love my own life, but I must remember my place. I am only 
his foster father. And I have thought a lot about that, Samuel. It is 
a terrific responsibility for an ignorant carpenter like myself." 

"Not so ignorant," interrupted Samuel, with a loyal shake of his 
rough hair. 

"Mary and I have made up our minds," pursued Joseph, "to bring 
Jesus up very carefully and the very best we know how. Every- 
thing that should be done will be done." 

"Fine, Joseph, but . . ." 

"So of course he will be circumcised. I am going to follow the 
law of our people with him in everything. Scrupulously. The law 
says that every little boy baby must be circumcised on the eighth 
day of his life. That doesn't mean the seventh or the ninth." 

Samuel gave a little snort. 

"The eighth day, and not the seventh or the ninth," he scoffed. 
"Why would such meticulousness be important to a great gentle- 
man like God, who runs the whole world?" 

Joseph shrugged. 

"I haven't the faintest idea," he admitted calmly. "And I doubt if 
I could understand, even if someone explained. But I do know what 
is written in the scrolls and that's enough." 

Samuel squinted at his friend. He loved this gentle carpenter, and 
yet there was something in their chemistry that was opposed; the 
boisterous Samuel was impatient of all obedience. He did not want 
to hurt Joseph, and yet something urgent in the heart pressed him 
on to bait and heckle. 

"And, no doubt, Mary will be purified?" he asked? 

"Why not?" 

"Why should any woman have to be purified of motherhood?" 

"Be careful of blasphemy!" 

"Bosh! For seven days a woman is supposed to be unclean after 
her baby is born. There is no other word for it than bosh. You 
have to wait three and thirty days while she is allowed to touch 
nothing that is hallowed and a lot of other silly rules." 

"We obey them," said Joseph ^crisply. 

"But, Joseph. Isn't it still true that you think the Holy Spirit was 
the father of the child?" 

"I tnow it is so." 

"Was that sin?" 
. "No." 



A CHILD IS BORN 57 

"It was sinless? Your wife was still a virgin when this child was 
born?" 

"Before God, yes!" 

"Then, if she is sinless, why must she be purified? Answer me 
that, Joseph?" 

The husband of Mary laid his hand on the shoulder of his friend 
and smiled patiently. 

"It was not our doing that the law of nature was altered so that 
this child could be born," he answered simply. "We could not have 
done that if we wanted to. We are not lawmakers and therefore 
we cannot be law changers. Our business is to try to understand the 
laws and obey them, not find out the reasons for them, not try to 
make exceptions for ourselves. I haven't brains enough to fathom 
God, Samuel. And pardon me, old friend neither have you. So we 
just act according to our lights." 

And thus according to their lights Jesus and Mary and Joseph 
and Anna and Joachim left the stable under the inn on the eighth 
day after the Nativity and rode their donkeys six miles up the steep 
heights that led to Jerusalem. The air was warm and a pleasant 
breeze was fluttering through the abundant sunshine; the hills were 
green, and the trees moved gently, and the world looked beautiful 
to the mother with her child in her arms. 

Their eyes were turned upward to take in the great glory of the 
capital, the proud city of walls and towers on its bold south prom- 
ontory of the bleak limestone ridge. 

"Think of it, Mary," remarked Joseph. "Some of the old residents 
I talked to in Bethlehem have never seen this great city, so near at 
hand. Think of that! Living so close and never bothering to go over 
and see," 

"I think Nazareth is a very much pleasanter place," Mary an- 
swered. 

With this the others agreed. They said that Jerusalem was a great 
pkce to visit but they would never want to live there. But the 
height and sweep and power of the great city stirred their imagi- 
nation, willy-nilly. As they came up from the gorges, the ravines 
and gashes in the earth, the gullies and deeps of old geological catas- 
trophes and the walls of the city came more plainly into view they 
felt again a surge of pride in such a big place. 

Now they were approaching the level of the high, irregular city 
wall; it was the color of a yellow cat, its great tawny stones piled, 



58 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

course on course, thirty feet high. As far as the eye could see the 
wall continued, with its eight gates and sixty watchtowers each 
guarded by Herod's cutthroats. They entered that morning through 
the Sheep's Gate. In the shadow of the archway Mary looked down 
into the baby's face; his eyes were open, and there was a focus to 
their gazean intelligence that startled her; it was as if this baby 
mind understood his first entrance into Jerusalem, and that he would 
come here again, and more than once, and at last to tragical ends! 

But the baby's eyes soon closed and he dozed off, unmindful of 
worldly wonders. The others looked about them with eager inter- 
est, seeing the white arches of the stadium, called the xystus, where 
young men were encouraged by Herod and the Romans to 
strengthen themselves by athletic drills for prowess in battle. 

"Jesus must never be a soldier," was the instant prayer in Mary's 
heart. 

And she turned quickly from this gladiatorial training ground to 
the theater where heathen plays were produced. All manner of 
filthy drama was shown there, its intellectual degradation matched 
only by the physical filth of the streets. The gentle country folk 
were bewildered anew at the violent contrasts in poverty and riches 
on every hand; great houses and mud hovels; wide plazas and dark 
curling streets full of disease and crime, and high on a nearby ter- 
race, close to the Temple itself, the dazzling palace of Herod and 
its three military towers, filled with the soldiers of the apprehensive 
king, who more and more lived in fear that the people would rise 
up and give him his just deserts. 

Samuel had told Joseph about the lavish iniquities of that palace; 
of the king's couch, made of gold and ivory and white velvet; of 
his wives and concubines and maidservants and manservants and 
cooks and minstrels and dancing boys and the unending round of 
entertainment in its halls and peristyles and banquet chambers. 

The four grownups on their mission of devotion saw the signs of 
wealth and pleasure on one hand and also the want and teeming dis- 
content, unwashed pavements slippery with mortal slime and excre- 
ment, lying at the base of the rich people's glory; there was barely 
enough water to drink in this Jerusalem and palaces where vice 
played all day and all night and laiies where hunger and leprosy 
crouched together. 

They were glad when they reached the outer gate of the Temple 
area and found a little knot of relatives waiting to welcome them: 



A CHILD IS BORN 59 

Zachary, joyous and very talkative beside the radiant Elizabeth, who 
had brought little John in her arms. Strutting forward and back, 
they found also the mocking but very friendly and companionable 
Samuel 

It was not the first time that Elizabeth and Mary had met since 
the birth of Jesus; three times in the last week Elizabeth and Zach- 
ary had made the journey over to Bethlehem. Now they all moved 
inside the Temple walls with happy faces and halted in the outer 
court to buy their ritualistic offerings. And here Mary looked to 
Joseph, wondering what he was going to decide. 

According to the law they could purchase a one-year-old lamb 
for a burnt offering and a young pigeon for a sin offering, or Jo- 
seph could choose the less expensive course of buying two turtle- 
doves or two young pigeons, depending altogether on his conscience 
and his purse. 

Feeling that he could not afford anything better, for Gabriel and 
Sarah had charged them plenty for the use of the stable, Joseph de- 
cided to buy two plump pigeons. He picked out one and Mary the 
other, and Joseph carried them in his hands as he proceeded toward 
the inner Temple. Looking about him, Joseph felt again that sense 
of belonging and continuity of race and, history of which this 
Temple was the symbol Herod might have paid for it, but the 
people's architects designed it, the people's labor built it, and here 
the people drew to themselves apart from tyrants and overlords; 
here they remained most peculiarly themselves, uncontaminated by 
any intrusion from the outer world. And here, in spite of Roman 
armies and puppet Arab king, they persisted in adhering to the last 
meticulous detail of their faith. Within earshot of Herod, who was 
not deaf, they came regularly not only to praise the Lord, God of 
Hosts, but to entreat Him to deliver them from their conquerors. 
That was the principal prayer raised in the Temple their oppressor 
had built for them. 

But as Joseph and Mary were about to cross the court, where the 
offerings would be turned in and ceremonies performed t there came 
a startling interruption. 

Mary, with the sleeping Jesus against her breast, was walking a 
little behind Joseph, when a shadow fell across than; a withered 
figure swayed out from under a pillared archway; a purblind old 
man tottered before than in die sun. 

"What's he want?" asked Samuel hastily. 



60 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

But Zachary, the priest, who knew his way about the Temple, 
lifted his hand reassuringly. 

"Don't be worried," he said, out of the side of his beard. "It's 
only Simeon. Everybody around the Temple knows old Simeon. 
He's harmless." 

"He's old enough all right," agreed Samuel. 

Indeed, Simeon was so decrepit that it seemed a wonder he did 
not fall apart, from sheer inanition and decay. 

"He is a devout and just man," remonstrated Zachary, "and he 
tells everybody that once he was visited by the Holy Spirit. The 
angel promised him that before he died he was to see the Messiah 
in the flesh." 

Samuel looked warily at Zachary. The priest's face was set in an 
ivory calm. The others stood back while the tall, ragged figure of 
Simeon crept nearer, toward Mary and Joseph with the child. 

There was a moment of curious silence as he halted and lifted up 
his hands and croakingly thanked God. At last, he groaned aloud, 
he could be allowed to die. A chill ran even in the spine of Samuel 
when he heard that prayer. The whole group stood still, as other 
persons came hurrying down the courtyard; a crowd collected, all 
watching as Simeon leaned forward and his emaciated face of a 
thousand wrinkles came close to the young mother. 

"This child is set for the fall!" he gasped. The sunken eyes 
gleamed again straight at Mary. "And for the resurrection of Israel," 
he went on huskily. 

His bony right hand raised, the lean, misshapen forefinger 
pointed crookedly at the mother's heart. 

"And your own soul a sword shall pierce!" he predicted. 

As tears gathered in Mary's eyes, he added: 

"Out of many hearts thoughts shall be revealed." 

Now Simeon swayed back, waving both hands haplessly, as if say- 
ing farewell to a life he had never enjoyed; as if this moment were 
a tremendous relief to him and he was glad to lose himself in shad- 
ows. 

Before anyone could speak, there came a new voice the sound 
of crying and out from under the same arcade appeared a woman 
crawling on her knees. 

"She, too, is incredibly old," muttered Zachary. "Even older than 
Simeon. Her name is Anna. For eighty-four years she has been a 
widow. Since the day the Temple was built she has never left it" 



A CHILD IS BORN 6 1 

"And what is she saying? " snapped Samuel 

"Listen!" said Zachary. 

Anna was struggling to stand up in front of Mary. Looking down 
into the face of the sleeping child, she found her voice, so clear that 
even the dying Simeon could hear what she was saying: 

"Here, indeed, is the deliverer of the people!" 



Chapter 13 THE KING AND THE CHILD 



OF COURSE dark-brown Herod heard of these matters. Ever since 
Zachary had been stricken dumb on the altar there had been rumors 
of queer happenings in Jerusalem, and Herod's spies, hearing every- 
thing, reported all the gossip, including whispers from the north 
that a virgin of Nazareth was going to have a baby. The shepherds, 
too, had naturally babbled about their supernal experience. When, 
right out in the courtyard of the Temple, old Simeon then declared 
the child to be from God and promptly died, after having conspic- 
uously and publicly waited so many years, and when the old crone 
Anna added her testimony, Herod quite reasonably began to feel 
vexed. 

"Is the king going to arrest us?" asked Joseph, when Samuel told 
him about it. 

"Very likely, I'm sorry to say," grunted Samuel. "This Herod is 
now afraid of his shadow. But he is a lot more afraid of a rival to his 
throne. And that's what he is likely to consider your child, if he 
takes the stories seriously." 

Spies of the revolutionary movement, still working as servants in 
the Herodian palace, had heard with their own ears and seen at 
firsthand exactly what had happened. First the agents of the king, 
diligent every day, reported the strange stories, but had to admit 
that the tales were vague; they had learned nothing circumstantial, 
not even the names of the father and mother. Rumors had been dis- 
torted and multiplied and spread in profusion; some had it there 
were twins, others that it was a girl child; so far, th&nk God, Herod 
did not know that Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth and Mary his 
wife were the ones he sought, nor that they were still quartered 
with the child in a Bethlehem stable. 



62 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Herod had a turbulent scene with his spies. 

"What kind of service is this?" he roared at them. "Get me facts!" 

They came back with alarming facts. Three wise men from the 
East had arrived in the capital. They had no caravan; merely four 
camels, the extra beast loaded with bales and boxes which they kept 
ever near them at the khan. Gossip said they were kings, traveling 
incognito. 

"Three strangers and four camels at the inn," Herod said to his 
spies. * What kind of men do they pretend to be? Merchants? Am- 
bassadors with gifts for me? Or what?" 

"They are called magi," the spy reported. 

"What are magi?" 

"Magi are wise men," was the answer. "Yet these three do not 
seem to be so very wise. They have gone up and down Jerusalem 
from the stadium to the Temple, saying nothing wise at all but in- 
stead asking questions of everybody." 

"What questions?" 

The spies gulped and flushed and cleared their throats. 

"What questions, fools? Speak up or I'll have you flogged." 

"They are asking about the birth of a fabulous child who is to 
take the throne of Israel. They say they have seen his star in the 
east and have come to worship him." 

With armored fists Herod struck the two men down. He kicked 
them with his boots. He screamed and ranted and ordered them car- 
ried out and put to death. He drank two goblets of foaming wine 
and ordered music and dancing girls and Egyptian singers and 
dancers, and then as soon as the music began, he cleared the apart- 
ment of them with one scream of mortal rage. Gasping, he lay on a 
couch for an hour, fanned by a tamarisk boy, who was a spy of 
Samuel's resistance group. 

Later, when he felt calmer, Herod talked with Nisus, his secre- 
tary, who knew more about magi than the spies. 

"They can do wonders, those people," Nisus declared. 
, "Sorcerers?" 

"Holy men in their own land. Priests of Eastern occultism. They 
are capable of understanding the past and of foretelling the future." 

"So!" exclaimed Herod, and the tone came from the belly. "Bring 
Annas and the chief priests and the scribes to me." 

But when these worthies responded, he decided to talk with 
Annas alone. They understood each other. 



A CHILD IS BORN 6j 

Even in those early days Annas, already the political boss of 
Jerusalem, was hated by the people because they knew he had sold 
out to Herod and Rome. If a revolution were ever successful, 
Annas, leader of the forty richest families in the land, would have 
been the first to be put to death. The people well knew how he had 
come to terms with tyrant and invader. He had asked Herod: What 
does the Empire want of Palestine? Taxes and tranquillity was the 
answer. 

"Taxes we will get for you, tranquillity we guarantee" such was 
the bargain Annas had made. "Only we must keep order ourselves, 
and we must collect the taxes." 

Then Annas and his friends hired the collectors and taxed the 
people almost double, keeping the unjust half for themselves. They 
had their own secret police to ferret out rebellions and punish up- 
starts. Annas and Herod perfectly well understood each other. 

Herod began the interview with a crafty grin. 

"Annas," he said, "I have been having a dispute with some of my 
friends in court here. I sent for you to settle it." 

Annas spread his palms toward the ground and inclined his head 
forward. 

"I hope I can help your brilliant majesty," he replied with com- 
posure. He had no fear of Herod, but he was careful to observe 
every detail of court punctilio. "You have only to command me," 
he added, in court etiquette. "My very life is in your august 
service." 

Herod laughed. He always relished flattery and servility, even 
when it was purely formal; he fed on adulation, though he had 
not tasted many sincere compliments. 

"It's about your religion." 

Annas sucked a hollow tooth. 

"Your Majesty is interested in our religion?" 

"Of course I know nothing whatever about it. And I don't want 
to learn, either." 

"No, Majesty?" 

"All I want is to settle a dispute. Is it true that you have scrip- 
tures that predict the coming of a deliverer of your people~a Mes- 
siah, as you call it?" 

"Majesty, that is correct." 

Herod, who had the bulging eyes of a hyperthyroid victim, 
leaned forward, truculent and roiled 



64 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"You realize that can mean deliverance only from my royal 
authority," he snarled. "You realize that is sedition?" 

Annas turned his head to one side and smiled composedly 
through his goatlike beard. He appeared quite unperturbed. 

"Majesty," he said, "you will forgive me if I correct a tiny mis- 
take. These prophecies were made about the time of our captivity. 
When we were in Babylon. Hundreds of years ago." 

Herod sat back a little relaxed. 

"But your people still go on believing in them," he complained. 

"Some of them do," agreed Annas, with disarming frankness. 
"But, Majesty, is it not the same in every religion? The ignorant 
take things literally. Why undeceive the stupid masses of people- 
especially if it keeps them on their good behavior? No intelligent 
person believes in any of the wonder stories of the old Scriptures, 
and certainly not in the prophecies," 

"Don't you, as a priest, believe in them, Annas?" 

"No, sire. I am a Sadducee. We don't believe in such things. We 
don't even believe in a future life or a resurrection." 

"Neither do I," barked Herod irritably. "We live today, we die 
tomorrow, and that's all there is. Anybody who believes anything 
more is a fool." 

"Precisely, Your Majesty." 

Annas was hoping they would not have to pursue the conversa- 
tion, but apparently Herod was still not satisfied. 

"Was there anything said in those old books of yours about where 
the Deliverer There was some title for him, too, wasn't there?" 

"Yes, sir-the Christ." 

"Ah, yes, that's the term I heard. Was there anything said about 
when or where the Christ was to be born?" 

Annas heaved a sigh and scratched his head. His confession was 
thoroughly honest. 

"Yes, there was, Your Majesty, but I am sorry to say I have for- 
gotten it. That should show you how important it seemed to me." 

"Well, couldn't you have it looked up for me?" 

"At once." 

"Then come to me at the same hour tomorrow and give me place 
and date. Have I made myself clear?" 

"Perfectly, Your Majesty." 

No sooner was Annas gone than Herod commanded that the three 
wise men be brought to the throne room. 



A CHILD IS BORN 65 

For this interview he arrayed himself in his kingliest robes to im- 
press the savants and rulers from the lands beyond the Euphrates. 
A frontlet of diamonds and rubies gleamed on Herod's forehead, the 
diadem of Judea, and from it rose a tufted egret that was like a 
little rainbow springing from his gray hair. 

It was a curious meeting. The august travelers from the East be- 
haved admirably before the king, observing all the proprieties of a 
throne-room audience. Then, rising, they announced their names- 
Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. 

Herod looked upon them with a bkndiloquent smile, affable and 
suave. 

"We are curious to know," he told them, "why it is that we are 
honored by a visit from such great dignitaries." 

They told him very simply that they were following a star. 

"A star?" repeated Herod. His spies had mentioned something of 
this, but vaguely; there was the court astrologer, Marto, waiting now 
in the rear. Herod beckoned to Marto. 

"Listen to this carefully, Marto. Was it a large star, friends, that 
you followed here?" 

The Magi nodded. It was a large star, in the east and very bright. 
They had been following it for many days. 

"Would you know what it is, this star, Marto?" demanded the 
king, chafing at having to go on pretending to be amiable. 

Marto explained that there had recently appeared a most remarka- 
ble conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars a condition that would 
not recur in more than a million years. But that fiery display had 
faded away more than a week ago. 

"Then you three have seen a star that my astrologer has not found," 
reflected Herod aloud. The wise men said nothing. 

"Well, at any rate, what do you say this star portends?" 

The Wise Men were very wise, indeed, because they merely shook 
their heads and said they could not tell fortunes. But did they not 
know what it meant for the future of Israel? No, they could not be 
sure of anything in the future; the star led them on, that was all. 

"But," persisted Herod, "what do you expect to find under this 
star?" 

Then Balthazar told him. 

"A child," the old traveler answered, closing his eyes. 

"A child?" Herod's voice was creamy with interest. "And what 
about this child?" 



66 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Melchior answered that they were not free to talk until their er- 
rand was complete. 

"Very well, then," growled Herod. "Where do you expect to 
find him?" 

"Bethlehem!" 

"Bethlehem. Such a place?" 

Again they shrugged. They could only follow the star. With the 
coming of night they would resume their journey. Herod saw that 
it was, useless to bring mere force against wisdom, and turned a 
cunningly smiling face upon the three. 

"Then this is what you must do," he dissembled. "Go find the 
child and then come back and tell me and I will go worship him 
too." 

Lifting a sweating hand to his brow, Herod allowed them to de- 
part. No sooner were the doors shut behind them than he gave the 
signal to his spies; they were to follow the Wise Men and search 
everywhere else besides; find the child that had been born under 
a magical star. 

But in the darkness of that night Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, 
with their extra laden camel, eluded Herod's pursuers. The Wise 
Men rode by an inside lane, on to Bethlehem, as if there was noth- 
ing in the world of human cunning that wise men had to fear. They 
found the town, the inn, the stable. They knelt, and their eyes were 
full of worshipful glory as they gazed upon Mary's baby. 

Then the Wise Men embraced Joseph, kissed his beard, and 
bowed ceremoniously. Having bestowed their gifts, they departed 
from the stable, but not to return to Jerusalem. The waiting Herod 
was never to see them again. Having bedded down at another inn, 
all three Magi went promptly to sleep and dreamed the same dream. 
Because of that dream, they rose in the middle of the night and got 
away on their camels, completely outwitting several searching 
bands from the palace. By another way they headed for their own 
country and so, obedient to their own vision, they jogged out of 
history, never to reappear. 

It was a night of dreams powerful in meaning. The visit of the 
Wise Men had come at a time when Mary and Joseph felt troubled 
and bewildered, for this was the night of the day that they had car- 
ried the baby to the Temple. 

The incidents of the morning had been shocking to the simple- 
hearted family, and the terror of those two encounters lingered 



A CHILD IS BORN 67 

the old man Simeon squeaking down the long range of pillared 
arches that at last he could die, having seen the face of the Savior of 
all the people of the world. And after Simeon, the fasting and pray- 
ing widow of eighty-four years, Anna, who had crept out of the 
shadows of a marble pillar and called him the Redeemer. 

The dream that followed in Joseph's sleep was even more upset- 
ting. 

Once again the foster father of Jesus found himself face to face 
with the same bright angel that had come to his bedside in Nazareth 
and told him to marry Mary without distrust, for, the child in her 
womb was miraculous. This time the bright angel gave Joseph new 
instructions: 

"Arise, and take the child and his mother and fly into Egypt; and 
be there until I shall tell you. For it will come to pass that Herod 
will seek the child to destroy him." 

But how? How get to Egypt? It would take money to travel so 
far, and only a few coins were left. 

It was a most tormented Joseph who stood in the dark stable thus 
early in the morning, accepting to the full the stern warning of his 
dream yet penniless to obey. 

What to do? 

Almost instantaneously he learned there was nothing needed for 
him to do at all; the money for the long trip to Egypt was already 
provided. For now he saw, moving toward him in the gloom, the 
bent figure of his father-in-law. Joachim, too, could not sleep. So he 
had busied himself usefully, unpacking the gifts the Wise Men had 
left for the child. 

"Flasks of perfume," Joachim whispered to his son-in-law. "Frank- 
incense, the most perfect of all; an ointment made from olive oil, 
sweetened with spices, fragrant gums, odors of pressed flowers, and 
in the second package, another stuff called myrrh they told me it 
was an aromatic gum taken from a thorn tree!" 

Joseph laid a hand on the shoulder of his father-in-law. 

"Joachim," he sighed, "we have now to think of other matters." 

"And this third gift," the old man rumbled on, "is the smallest 
and the heaviest of all the Wise Men's bounty. Guess what is in this 
bundle, Joseph?" 

"What, Father-in-law?" 

Joachim shook the package and a heavy clinking sound echoed 
to the vaulted roof of the cave. 



68 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"It's gold!" whispered Joachim. "They brought us frankincense, 
myrrh and gold. They must have known we would need it!" 

"Glory be to God. Praise His Holy Name," gasped Joseph, and 
fell to his knees. 



Chapter 14 KILL THEM ALL! 



HEROD was livid when he learned that the mysterious Wise Men 
had escaped his clutches. 

Which way had they gone? His spies galloped all the roads. Down 
through Jericho and across the plains of Transjordania; up through 
the northeastern provinces, through Samaria and the two Galilees, 
and on through Syria to the distant east. Which way? 

Outriders with spears were charged to bring back the Wise Men 
but came home empty-handed. It was then that the fears of Herod 
broke like an explosion in his soul; he was lost in a demoniacal panic. 

"In spite of hell I will find this miraculous child!" 

That was the one frenzied thought that batted around in his brain. 
The one clue he had was that the child was supposed to be in Bethle- 
hem. But crowded Bethlehem was full of babies. How find the right 
one? 

A horrible notion occurred to him, and for a cautious instant even. 
Herod hesitated. No. He would better not try that idea! After all, 
he had already been rebuked seven times by Rome for his cruelties, 
In the old days Rome had never been afraid of cruelty, but now, 
apparently, there were limits under this peaceful-minded Augustus. 
The one thing the dun-skinned Herod cared about was his throne. 
Because the child was a menace to his reign, he meant to get rid of 
it. But he must act carefully. Or must he? Was he the King of Judea 
or was he not? 

"I have always been strong and now what does it matter? I am 
an old man. Soon I shall die. No. No. I have a long time to live yet. 
I will be sitting on my throne when this upstart child has a beard. 
No. I am not going to die soon. I must get rid of this child. He must 
never live to grow a beard!" 

His face blanched at his own scheme. But terror smoked again 
in his brain, and fright was roaring in his ears. A queasy turn of his 



A CHILD IS BORN 69 

stomach set him trembling and sweating with weakness. He clapped 
red palms together. When his captains came, he spoke to them 
crisply, briefly, firmly, his right fingers scratching at the poniard in 
his belt. It was his last resort, but if it had to be, it had to be. 

"Do aU as I have told you!" 

Those captains had to go out of the palace and lead troops to 
Bethlehem to do his atrocious bidding. They surrounded the city, 
occupied the streets, rushed into the houses with drawn short swords 
and uplifted spears. By the order of the king, they cut to death 
every boy baby in the town. Not one of those holy innocents was 
sparedonly the infant Jesus. 

And that was so only because Joseph and Mary and Jesus obeyed 
the messenger and had already left behind them the city of this 
massacre. They had bade fond farewells to Anna and Joachim. Then 
Joseph put mother and child on the donkey's back, their precious 
goods, the gifts of the Magi bundled and tied to the sides of the little 
beast. Staff in one hand, Joseph seized the donkey reins with the 
other and in the middle of the dark the family started out from 
Bethlehem. 

Before them lay the Sinai Desert where for forty years their 
ancestors had wandered after the escape from Pharaoh. 

They were taking the road back to Egypt. 



Book Two 

A BOY IN NAZARETH 

Chapter 15 BY THE NILE 



HEROD'S SPIES sought them even in Egypt. Had anyone seen a bald- 
headed carpenter with a small golden beard turning silver and his 
blue-eyed dark-tressed wife, little more than a child herself, with 
an indescribably lovely infant whose smile was like the warm light 
of the sun? More than once these spies came uncomfortably near, 
when their trail led them past the stone obelisks set up by Cleopatra 
in the gilded city of Heliopolis; there the Nazareth family had 
settled. Some day those obelisks would be set up in Paris and Lon- 
don and New York and Constantinople and other great cities then 
not even thought of, for unborn eyes to see stone monuments that 
Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus had also seen. 

The family learned, too, that there was an intense and senseless 
dislike of their people in the land. Joseph and Mary learned about 
anti-Semitism in Egypt. 

At the very time when Jesus was taken there some of the haters 
of the race in Alexandria were reviving a vicious old lie. They 
spread the tale that all the children of Israel, who had been led by 
Moses into the desert, were nothing more nor less than lepers; that 
was the only reason why Pharaoh had let the people go. In this 
atmosphere of ancient and persistent racial hostility Mary and Joseph, 
displaced persons of a very long time ago, had to care for the little 
son. 

Surrounded by such hatred, Jesus learned to lisp His first prayer 
in a pagan town, committed to the idolatry of a whole gallery of 
mythical gods. During the first years of His life He lived among 
Egyptians parading before gigantic stone images of Ra, the deity 
of the midday sun; Isis, the mother; Osiris, the father; Horus, the 
son; before horned bulls of holiness, too, and the sacred cat of 
Bubastes in the very midst of such ignorance and fear the baby 



72 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Jesus was taught by Mary, His mother, crooning at her cradle, to 
say: 

"Hear, O Israel! The Lord, our God, is one God!" 

Their new home in HeKopolis was some ten miles away from the 
Pyramids; here there was less prejudice than they had found in 
Alexandria. Whenever he had the time, Joseph, who had obtained 
work at his trade, sought out travelers from Palestinian provinces, 
hoping for news from home. None of the news was ever good; the 
excesses of Herod grew worse. 

Thus nearly two years passed before Joseph had another super- 
natural experience, but at last it came. 

Once more the angel interrupted their quiet lives with a sign 
from the other world; one last dream for Joseph, a vision with great 
news, the angel declaring: 

"Arise and take the child and go into the land of Israel For they 
are dead that sought the life of the child." 

They are dead! They meant Herod! He was king and spoke plu- 
rally of himself as "we" this and "we" that, and of him the angel 
spoke plurally, too, in proclaiming the end of him. 

With no question in their minds Joseph and Mary, the most per- 
fect believers in history, obeyed the directive. From his sleep Joseph 
sprang up and began to pack at once. Taking the child and mother 
on a donkey, he turned again to the gray and yellow desert that lay 
between them and home. 



Chapter 16 HEROD'S LAST NIGHT ALIVE 



As THE long desert days passed and the little family drew nearer to 
their own part of the world, other travelers in wayside camping con- 
firmed the news. 

Yes, Herod the Great was dead and what a death! . 

"He must have been mad to kill all those babies in Bethlehem," 
one wayfarer remarked. "Their bodies had scarcely begun to rot 
in their graves before their murderer had to follow them in death- 
Yon can have no idea what it has been like in Jerusalem the last two 
years. His own son tried to poison Herod. Did that news reach 
Egypt? And how Herod had him killed? 



A BOY IN NAZARETH 73 

"Oh yes, we have had evil's own time of it. Secretly the whole 
population of Jerusalem was praying every night for Herod's death. 
And every day there were old women's tales of birds squeaking in 
the rafters of the palace; vultures winging lower, as if nosing a feast 
that was soon to come. Omens everybody was whispering about 
omens. 

"The servants in the palace, of course, kept the rest of us con- 
stantly informed. So we know that Herod suffered the most awful 
agonies. There was a slow fire inside him that seemed to get hotter 
and hotter. Queer too; it gave him a vehement appetite. He couldn't 
stop eating. But his entrails were ulcerated and the worst pain of all 
was in his bowels. So he would eat, and then soon began to scream, 
and that went on many times a day. His feet were swollen with bags 
of a transparent fluid that settled there and squashed as he walked; it 
got so that he could not put his feet down. 

"And what a time the king had breathing during that last year! 
The stench of his breath filled the palace and he snorted all the time. 
Every now and then he would have convulsions. And here was the 
singular part of those convulsions: they gave him an inhuman kind 
of strength, so that he could fling strong men across the room and 
break skulls against the walls. 

"Yet almost until the very end Herod still tried to believe that he 
was going to get well again, as he had so often done before. He 
had a hundred doctors from every part of the world. He did every- 
thing they told him to do, some of those things being silly and 
ridiculous, but nothing helped. Only a few months ago he was car- 
ried on a litter all the way beyond the river Jordan and bathed him- 
self in the warm baths at'CalHrrhoe. Another time they lowered his 
entire body in a vast vessel full of oil. He fainted then, and we all 
hoped he was dead. But the servants' screams of joy at his supposed 
death brought him back to life. 

"That was when he began to fear that nothing could save him. 
So for a little while he began to be kind. He gave orders that every 
soldier should receive a bonus of fifty drachmas. Much larger sums, 
of course, he gave to the commanders and to his friends. But later 
he seemed to go out of his mind again; he screamed and ranted 
against our people and then finally hit upon a most hideous and hor- 
rible scheme against us which he at once put into execution, 

"One morning he called in his prime minister and gave orders 
that all the principal men among our people two hundred of the 



74 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Jewish leaders-should be arrested. He ordered workmen to put up 
a great fence and make a camp Inside and in that barracoon, that 
concentration camp, he caged them alive for a while. But that didn't 
satisfy him; he changed the orders and had them confined in the 
hippodrome at Jerusalem. And when the prime minister asked what 
he intended to do with those two hundred prisoners, all scholars 
and leaders of our people, Herod told the prime minister to get out* 
He sent for his sister Salome and her husband Alexis, and this is 
what he said to them, as taken down behind a curtain by one of our 
own: 

" 'My sister and brother-in-law, I shall die in a little time, so great 
are my pains; death ought to be cheerfully borne and to be wel- 
comed by all men. But what troubles me principally is this: I know 
that I shall die without being lamented. Because I have always 
done my duty as a king, no one is likely to weep for me when I am 
dead. There will be no mourning of the people. They all hate and 
despise me and will rejoice at my passing. So, curse them all, I have 
formed my own plan to outwit them. The minute you see that I am 
really dead and make sure of it, sister act swiftly and discreetly* 
Let no one know that I am no longer living. Keep my death a pro- 
found secret. Call out the soldiers and send them to the hippodrome. 
Kill every Israelite leader that is imprisoned there. Sky all two hun- 
dred without allowing one to escape. Kill them! Then all the people 
of this wretched country will mourn and weep for their own that 
we have killed, and when that lamentation is well started, then you 
can announce my death. And what can they do about it then? I will 
have had sorrow at my death! Is it not a good scheme, sister?' 

"That, my friend, was how it was! Five days later the rapacious 
King Herod died. But not before he had caused the death of his own 
son Antipater. He died, but the captives in the hippodrome were not 
slain, according to his instructions. His people did not obey that last 
command, that wicked thing, fell, barbarous, hideous. His rule of 
thirty-seven horrible years is at an end. People say that he stole to his 
throne like a fox, ruled like a tiger, and died like a dog. A man he 
was of great barbarity toward all men equally. He was a slave to his 
passions. His reign was one of plunder and rapine. Yet fortune 
favored him for a long time. I wonder why?" 

Joseph and Mary shuddered with horror at the awful end of 
tfaeir powerful enemy. They listened to vivid descriptions of how 
be ms carried on a golden bier to be buried in high state on the 



A BOY IN NAZARETH 75 

ridge above Jerusalem. The air along the route was full of talk 
of politics and state affairs and what would happen next in the 
capital. 

From another traveler they learned that Herod's will had been 
opened; the last will, indeed, for in his illness Herod had torn up 
his previous will, written a new one, torn that up, and written an- 
other new one which he died without a chance to destroy. The 
effect of this will was to make Joseph at once alter his plans. 

By his final testament, a compromise in his palace of conspiracies, 
Herod carefully broke up the little jigsaw empire he had put to- 
gether in a long, arduous lifetime. To his son Archelaus he be- 
queathed Judea with the precious title of king. The troops had 
given Archelaus homage as soon as the will was read, now all the 
world knew he was the new ruler in the capital. But not of Galilee! 
To Herod Antipas, another son, Herod bequeathed Galilee, with 
Perea, and with the title not of king but of tetrach. 

What would life be like in Jerusalem or any part of Judea 
under the new king? Joseph had often heard that of all the sons 
Archelaus was most like the wicked Herod. He decided not to settle 
in Judea as he had been planning for the last two years to do. Who 
could say whether Archelaus in inheriting Herod's throne had not 
also inherited his fears which had led to the massacre at Bethlehem? 
Already the gossip of desert caravan men was that Archelaus had 
gone to Rome to have confirmed by the Emperor his succession 
and crown under the will of his father and already, while he was 
gone, some of his friends had tried to do him in. 

Mary and Joseph, crossing the sands of Sinai, took counsel to- 
gether on these reports and decided not to settle near Jerusalem, as 
they had thought of doing, but to go back to Galilee, back to Naza- 
reth, where Joseph had a good trade as a carpenter. 

Thus the period in their two lives of the supernatural, of wonder 
and danger and flight and strangeness came to pause. For Joseph that 
period was never to be renewed. Nearly thirty years of peace and 
quietude lie before mother and son, sheltered from the world, before 
the signs wiU come again, multiplying and beckoning them into dan- 
ger. 

By that time Joseph will have passed on. 



THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Chapter 17 BEHIND THE MASQUERADE 



WHEN Jesus learned to toddle, he followed His mother around the 
house and sang with her at her work. He played with chips of wood 
and little boats that Joseph carved for Him. He had a companionable 
smile, sharing every moment in unspoken felicity, and yet from in- 
fancy He took time out to be alone, for what seemed reveries and 
daydreams. 

Time to pause, bread in hand by the open door and look know- 
ingly into the sky and the soaring, creamy clouds. To lie in the 
field on a dewy morning, and press the cool, moist grass against His 
cheek. To listen at the night window as if the very wind spoke in 
whispers that only He could understand; to smell Mother's hand, 
kneading the dough, and to taste, in long, slow mouthfuls, the cool 
innocence of a cup of milk. 

There was in the child Jesus from the very beginning an acute 
sharpness of all the organs; His were the first perfect faculties since 
Adam, and by them and through them he received a fulness of sensa- 
tion not known to those around him. The sounds He heard, the 
colors He saw, smells and tastes and feelings were rapturous with a 
completeness and intensity, an ecstasy even, possible only to the 
mortal whose soul and body are perfect to receive the gifts of nature. 

"He sees more than we do, no matter what He looks at!" Joseph 
would muse, and Mary would smile, as if to answer; 

"And why not?" 

Nor was the mother surprised at the friendliness the birds and 
animals showed Him, nor that He was tender and full of concern, 
even for ugly little red worms; His sympathies at home with all 
living things. 

Nevertheless Mary and Joseph saw to it that Jesus was strictly in- 
structed in the stern school of Shammai. Sitting on the floor of the 
synagogue, Jesus was taught from the beginning the Scriptures and 
the prophets of His people. In His home teaching Mary and Joseph 
proceeded with awe-filled and secret care. They depended on the 
grace of God to show them how to bring him up. He must be taught 
His lessons, His manners, His skills. So mother and foster father 



A BOY IN NAZARETH 77 

prayed for light, and meanwhile they had their own resources of 
kindness and common sense. 

But often they were baffled. 

"I don't know what to think sometimes," Joseph confided one 
night when Jesus was fast asleep and they were preparing for bed. 
"Already He looks far beyond our little town." 

That was after Joseph had dutifully tried to impart to the boy a 
sense of old tribal closeness, of intimate and binding family loyalty* 
Somehow, although He remained silent, Jesus seemed to be nourish- 
ing richer and larger loyalties. It was not that the boy seemed far 
away from His mother and foster father or His relatives; it was, in- 
stead, that He showed a friendliness, a willingness to be affection- 
ately close to everyone else too. That broadness of affection was new 
to Joseph, 

But when the carpenter talked to Mary about it, her serenity was 
undisturbed. From the first she meant to hold on to a complete as- 
surance in the supernatural destiny of her Son. She could never for- 
get how He was conceived, and how bora. 

Nevertheless, strict rules of family life were completely observed 
in the household. They faithfully obeyed the laws. Like all their 
neighbors, they would rather be stoned to death than eat unclean 
food; they kept to the letter the Levitical ceremonial laws, just as 
they observed conscientiously all the customs and festivals, days 
when they might labor and days when they might not. They recited 
prayers and sang psalms; their lives were consecrated to an exact 
fulfilment of the Pharisees' regulations. Thus Jesus grew up in an 
atmosphere of regimented duty where the things one was allowed to 
do, could not do, and must do, were regulated almost from hour 
to hour. 

On the Sabbath, for example, in the house of Mary and Joseph, 
one could not light a fire or put one out. A man could not peel a 
fruit. A woman could not knead her dough. A boy could not wash 
his dog. A girl could not plait her hair* An old man could not tie a 
knot in a string. No one could write or cross out what had been 
written. All was forbidden, except, of course, that a man could go 
to the help of a bogged cow or a trapped sheep. 

Jesus obeyed those laws as a child, but in spite of the grim regime 
He enjoyed his boyhood. He was lean and strong of body, fleet of 
foot, unafraid of climbing heights, especially the blunt shoulders of 
Mount Tabor, only five and a half -miks from the town, or of 



78 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

descending into hillside caves; He could shout as loud as the next 
boy and laugh as gleefully* No matter what happened, He was never 
known to snivel or accuse, to cry and run at the nose or complain. 
But Jesus had no taste for triumph. If one thing set Him apart from 
his playfellows, it was a lack of interest in the rewards of competi- 
tion. He loved to run, but He cared nothing for a racer's laurel. He 
would contend in boyish trials of strength but took no pleasure in 
lording it over His defeated partner; there was joy enough in the 
mere exercise; joy in the full use of life forces and what good the 
trophy? 

That was true also in His studies, in which He effortlessly ex- 
celled, His friends hated the whole idea of school, but boys in Naza- 
reth had to go whether they liked it or not. Nearly two thousand 
years ago education in that hillside town was already compulsory, 
and there was a Nazareth school board that saw to it that no child 
played hooky after he was sk years old. 

Invariably Jesus read quickly and easily the scrolls the teachers 
lent Him, mostly the works of Moses and the prophets; it was as if 
He already knew the Scriptures and now refreshed His memory, 
In a short while He knew the writings by heart. Ask Him a question 
out of Leviticus or Deuteronomy and He could answer it instantly; 
as Josephus was kter to write of most boys and girls of that day, "It 
, ' was graven into the very soul.*' 

Sometimes Joseph would take Him on a picnic to the top of the 
Mghest hill above Nazareth and show the little boy the whole cir- 
cuitthat, Joseph explained, was the meaning of the word "Galilee" 
fifty miles from north to south and thirty-five miles from the sea- 
coast to the boundary line. As they looked out to the distant blue of 
die Mediterranean Sea, Joseph would point to the long crouch of 
the Carmel ridge and thence on around the horizon to the peaks of 
forbidden Samaria. Yonder, in a vast declivity, lay Joseph's favorite 
vista, the broad sweep of the plain of Esdraelon, carpeted with wild 
flowers to obliterate the bloodstains of its ancient battles. They 
could see far into the Jordan Valley, all the way to Gilead and, 
turning the other way, behold the Sea of Galilee, the mountains of 
Lebanon, and the snow like a chain of pearl around the high throat 
of Mount Hermon. 

Tired of the grand sights, and of recalling the tales of how Gideon 
defeated the Midianites and where Saul and Jonathan died together, 
Joseph and Jesus would open Mary's picnic box and munch awhile, 



A BOY IN NAZARETH 79 

c. I then lie supine on the grass, forgetting the wide scene of gray- 
rocky hills and green pastures, forgetting the storied past; lying on 
their backs, they would know the communion of silence which is a 
strong binder of the affections of men. 

But 111 His daily life Jesus was also looking around Him; he was 
learning a great deal through His own observations. Already He was 
beginning to challenge in His own thoughts the tyrannical power 
exerted by the religious authorities. The people of Nazareth had to 
be constantly running to the synagogue for advice in the simplest 
of household affairs. Whatever one wanted to do must be done only 
on the advice of the priests and with their consent; they settled 
everything. As a Nazarene lad Jesus was supposed to perform, 
promptly and obediently, any task set Him by a scribe; He must 
carry the fellow's bundles, run his errands, water his donkey, sweep 
out his dirt. The mild eyes of Jesus betrayed no insubordination; 
His thoughts, in those years of boyhood, were never spoken except 
once! And that was some years later on. 

Jesus also found the religious services prolonged and tiresome. 
Everybody had to stand during interminable pray ers^ petitions to 
God in which the same thing was said over and over again. The day 
was to come when Jesus would teach a simple, noble prayer of His 
own in which there would be none of those "vain repetitions" which 
so wearied Him as a child. 

Actually for Jesus, as for every Nazarene boy of His time, the 
synagogue was the school of life. There was very little of the world 
that one could know outside one's own household and synagogue. 
But the still very young Jesus saw through the imposing masquer- 
ade of ecclesiastical services to the atrocious fact that all too often 
only the letter of the law was being kept while its living spirit was 
being droned away. 

By supernatural insight, His alone, He was looking already be- 
yond the boundaries of family, of village, town, and nation, and be- 
holding a world that should be one world, one home for people and 
all the people, children of God. 



80 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Chapter 18 JESUS BARABBAS 

THE boys of the village liked to talk everlastingly about deliverance 
of the nation from foreign tyranny. At heart they were all little 
revolutionists. Their games, like cowboys and Indians of today, were 
of Zealots and Romans, patriots and tyrants. On street corners, 
around fires in the field, on the steps of the synagogue, their elders 
toopeddler, shepherd, everybody talked of a king who was to 
come one day and free Israel by force of arms. But Jesus showed 
scant interest in the boys* games of revolution though He heard 
every day about the crimes of government. 

And indeed the years of His childhood were no improvement for 
Israel over the sway of the kte King Herod. The acute misery of 
the people brought about a rebellion in Galilee when Jesus was 
eleven years old. 

That abortive uprising began and ended in the town of Sepphoris, 
only four miles away from Nazareth. There was a patriot called 
Judas of the forbidden Zealot party, and he led a desperate crew 
of whom Joseph's old friend Samuel was a vigorous lieutenant on 
a madman's enterprise. Those were the days when the secret coun- 
sel ran through the province: by blood and sword "the holy simple- 
ton,** Judas, was going to save everybody, free everybody from 
Roman tyranny. "No Lord but Jehovah" was the rallying call; "no 
tax but to die Temple; no friend but the Zealot." So Judas, the Gali- 
lean, raised an army of rebels, a rag, tag, and bobtail valiant crew who, 
following his bidding, raided the king's armory in Sepphoris and 
then began to march. Soon enough the Roman colonial troops, under 
General Varus, cut the army of Judas to pieces, and Sepphoris was 
burned to the ground. 

Jesus would always remember the smell of the cremated city 
which filled the nostrils of Nazareth. Those inhabitants of Sepphoris 
who did survive the fire were sold into slavery. 

That was a time of panic for the Nazarenes: Judas beheaded on 
tie field of battle, the rebel soldiers in flight and hiding, perhaps in 
his own cistern. AH the neighbors of Joseph had stood on die heights 
and watched in despair the fury of Roman punishment. Two thou- 



A BOY IN NAZARETH 8 1 

sand men, suspected of complicity in the schemes of Judas the Gali- 
lean, were crucified in the open country two thousand crosses with 
hanging victims between Sepphoris and Nazareth. Those two thou- 
sand crucifixions some of the victims men He had run errands for 
were among the early memories of the boy Jesus. 

In the midst of such civil clashes there was the gravest anxiety in 
Joseph's mind, when one day a long-bearded stranger in Syrian dress 
walked into the shop and whispered a name. Then Joseph knew the 
stranger was Samuel in disguise. Samuel, who had survived the 
broken rebellion and escaped the Romans; Samuel, who now, very 
casually, dropped in to tell of new, even more desperate plans. 

"King Archelaus is worse than Herod but not so smart," Samuel 
told Joseph late that night as the two stood talking in hushed voices 
near the front door. In the dim light Joseph looked at his old friend 
with misgiving. Formerly Samuel, wild as he was, his blackholly 
eyes full of rebellious zeal, had always in his voice a ring of idealism. 
Now he sounded tired and disillusioned. 

"Have you heard the news, Joseph?" 

"What is it now, Samuel?" 

"The new king's cruelty has stirred up the people so that they 
have sent a committee to Rome secretly, of course to complain 
against the puppet ruler to the real boss the Emperor!" 

"The Emperor!" Joseph repeated, and clucked his tongue. He was 
no politician, but he knew enough to realize that great Caesar Augus- 
tus on his throne would not be pleased at -such reports. Already he 
had mastered the world; now he meant to keep it in order and, as 
he had said, wherever possible in an atmosphere of intellectual lib- 
erty. His ambition was to make Rome a light to future history. And 
it was true that before Octavius, now called Augustus, had come to 
power, the old republic had been torn with dissensions. As Emperor, 
he had healed th'e hatreds, and for forty-five years he had reigned in 
comparative peace while Virgil composed his epics, Livy wrote his 
histories, and Ovid the Metamorphoses. 

What, then, Caesar was likely to ask, was all this disorder in the 
land of Israel? He was certain to be most majestically annoyed, was 
he not? 

"That is just how it turned out," agreed Samuel "The committee 
is back and we know now what is going to happen." 

It seemed that the Pharisees on the committee had leagued with 
envious relatives of Archekes and fell at the Emperor's feet to re- 



82 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

port vastly exaggerated accounts of the only disturbances left in his 
empire. 

"This will never, never do!" complained the Emperor angrily, 
according to Samuel's reports. "I am going to see to it that after this 
there shall be peace in Palestine f orevennore." 

"That is an admirable idea," agreed Joseph ironically, "How can 
it be done?" 

"By order of the Emperor, the king will be banished and we will 
get a new one!" 

"A new one! Another one? Is that a remedy? Why cannot the 
Emperor learn that peace in Palestine can come only from God?" 

"From scribes?" scoffed Samuel. "Like Hillel, you mean?" 

"Alas," Joseph said, "Hillel is no more." 

One of Palestine's earnest seekers after peace, the famous Rabbi 
Hillel had died only a few weeks before. His maxims were quoted in 
every synagogue. Once he said to a Gentile who had sought to un- 
derstand the laws of God: 

"That which is unpleasant to you, do not to your neighbor. That 
is the whole law and all the rest is but its exposition." 

"Dead or alive," the insurgent Samuel retorted, "Hillel was of no 
help. He counseled peace. There can be no peace. It is as I have 
always told you Israel must fight, fight to the death. The trouble 
has been that we have had no leaders. Well, at last I am going to be- 
come a leader. Joseph your hand. 

"I am going away from Nazareth and you will know me never 
again. My old self dies tonight. I shall haunt the caravan roads, 
pounce and rob and plunder and slay when I have to; I shall stop 
at nothing to finance a new rebellion* My old name is forgotten; 
Samuel is no more." 

The brave lift to Samuel's chin, now exposed by moonlight, was 
slighdy adolescent. He saw himself, like any small boy, a rogue, a 
picaroon adventurer, a patriot. And Joseph saw that nothing could 
be done about it, 

"Alas, my old friend, will nothing stop you from this craziness?" 

"Nothing, Joseph* Someday the people of this land will have to 
choose between your views and mine." 

"Your new name? Have you chosen it? What will it be?" 

*1 have chosen it. Only you may know because I can trust you. 
My new name will be Bar-Abbas! " 

"I owimend you to God, Bar-Abbas!" 



A BOY IN NAZARETH 83 

"To freedom, if you please! And, Joseph, kiss the little Son for 
me. Tell Him I have also taken His name. Hereafter I shall be known 
as Jesus Bar-Abbas!" 

And Samuel rushed down the road. Joseph was never to see him 
again. But Mary was to see him in the darkest hour of life. 

"If he would only put his trust in the promises of God," mur- 
mured Joseph. "In the Messiah. And yet, he did ask me to kiss our 
little boy!" 



Chapter 19 WHERE IS MY SON? 



MEANWHILE, in His school and in conversation Jesus heard more and 
more of the Messiah who was to bring freedom to the people: 

"A prophet like unto rne will the Lord raise up to thee." 

Writers and haranguers at the crossroads constantly assured the 
tax-ridden people that the long-awaited Christ would soon be with 
them. The most popular book at the time, one that Jesus often heard 
discussed, was by an unknown author and was called The Praising of 
Enoch. It emphasized the old promises of deliverance. More than 
once Jesus was to mention the book as he preached through Pales- 
tine. This and the prophetic book of Daniel were the best sellers of 
His boyhood. 

Everywhere men were quoting from the prophets to anticipate 
just how the Son of God would come to earth. 

"There will be a great star in the heavens to announce His birth," 
said one. 

"He will be born into the line of the house of David in Bethlehem, 
but He will live in Galilee," said another. 

Naturally Joseph and Mary had told Jesus of the three Wise Men 
who brought Him gifts and said that they had seen His star in the 
east ( and had come to worship Him. Also He knew that He had been 
born in Bethlehem and that Joseph and Mary were both of the 
princely house of David, 

But very early in life Jesus learned what the people were expect- 
ing from their Messiah, and He knew that they were wrong. There 
was coming to them no Savior with supernatural genius for war and 
government. No Messiah was to lead them m revolution, free than 



84 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

and make them in turn masters of the whole world. God would not 
send His Messenger to earth merely to rally the glory of David and 
Solomon. It was in vain that the people waited for such a Messiah 
a trinity of patriot, general, and king. 

Already more than one man had falsely proclaimed himself as the 
expected Messiah. Jesus heard much talk of one called Thedeaus. 
The Jews demanded a sign from the pretender, so he boldly led 
them up to the Mount of Olives and commanded the walk of Jerusa- 
lem to fall down. When the walls stood firm, Thedeaus was left 
alone. 

Such adventures merely emphasized the people's need for a real 
leader; there was a slow ferment in every heart, a turbulence, an 
anguish, that threatened to turn into mass hysteria and that would 
be restrained by Roman spears. 

Such was the state of the world, of the Roman empire, Judea, 
Nazareth, when Mary and Joseph decided to take the twelve-year- 
old boy on a visit to Jerusalem for the Passover. Year after year the 
family made this journey, but this was the first time they would 
take Jesus with them. 

In Jerusalem again Mary's growing boy looked around him, fasci- 
nated by the splendor and the squalor of palaces and slums, the 
penury in the midst of magnificence, and especially the beauties of 
the Temple, with its walls of cedar and marble. As He walked with 
Mary and Joseph through the Gate that was called Beautiful, Jesus 
carried a few coins that His foster father had given Him: mites and 
pennies knotted in the hem of His robe; with these copper pieces the 
boy paid His own way into the Temple courts. 

That was when Joseph explained to Him about money in the Tem- 
ple* Because Judea was a prisoner state and occupied by legions of 
the Imperial Army, only empire money, coins bearing the head and 
sign of Caesar, could be used for buying and selling. But the older 
Jewish coins, by special concession could be (and must be) used 
within the area of the Temple. When one came to the ancient prom- 
ontory to worship God, one carried with him the coinage of Rome, 
but while one was still in the outer area of the Gentiles, the fore- 
court outside the sacred precincts, one must make an exchange of 
that silver into Jewish money. 

"And," the gentle Joseph added sadly, "a man invariably loses 
money on the transaction. For this Roman piece he gets less than 



A BOY IN NAZARETH 85 

half in the people's own money, because he has to pay the agio, the 
premium for changing cash; that is how the money-changers around 
the Temple get rich! Men like Annas and his friends!" 

But why did anyone need money for obligations in the home of 
God? Why? For to buy sacrifices! One had to pay for doves and 
lambs, for burnt offerings on the altar. And for these little birds 
and beasts one was charged five times what they were worth* The 
profit of that also went to Annas and his friends. 

On learning this the Boy Jesus became very pensive. And what 
thoughtful mind could fail to remember that this city of dreadful 
contrasts in human existence was the birthplace of Jeremiah that 
great prophet to whom the boy felt so close; that singer and saint, 
who could look into the wrongs of the state and then lift his gaze 
straight into heaven. And Jesus could remember also the persisting 
legend that Jeremiah, having been proved right to the people he 
tried to save, was exiled into Egypt to die a martyr* The world has 
a way of punishing its friends. 

By this time Jesus and His father had crossed the outer court* 
And still the Boy was remembering, too, that Isaiah the prophet 
had also once walked these streets, telling the people: "Cease to da 
evil; learn to do good; seek justice, relieve the oppressed; judge the 
fatherless, plead for the widow . . ," 

Toward the northwest corner of the court there was the terrace, 
divided into three parts or elevations, one for His mother and the 
other women, another for the men and boys like Joseph and Him- 
self, and, closest of all to the Sanctuary, a court for the priests* 
That was where thirteen years before Zachary, now dead, had been, 
stricken dumb. The boy Jesus counted the twelve steps down which 
the dumbfounded old priest had fled, and admired the gilded door- 
way and hanging on its gilt rod, the veil of the Temple, a many- 
colored curtain woven in Babylon during the captivity. Gold spikes 
on the flat roof reflected the glitter of the sunset, and just over the 
doorway was a gleaming bunch of golden grapes* 

Wherever Jesus looked there were priests. On that very day 
twenty thousand of them were registered in the Temple and got 
their living from it. The pkce swarmed with men in ceremonial 
costume Levites with pointed caps and large pockets in which they 
carried the books of the law; Pharisees with their broad pWIacteries 
and deep white fringes on purple gowns; solemn Essenes in white 
robes and with than from Gailee ai^d Judea and die land beyond 



86 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Jordan crowds of earnest believers who came to buy lambs or 
pigeons and lay them on the altar to be burned; women after child- 
birth, sick people after recovery, grateful men and women and those 
who hoped soon to have cause to be grateful Jewish Parthians and 
Medes with close-cropped beards, Elamites, the dwellers in Meso- 
potamia and Cappadocia; Israelites from Egypt and Libya and Rome 
uncounted hundreds and thousands of them- Bargains were being 
struck, greetings exchanged, psalms sung; genuflections all day long, 
the smell of burning flesh, the smoke of incense. 

Jesus was gripped with this spectacle of color and noise and move- 
ment The voice of the Temple choir, the sounding trumpets, and 
the music of the sweet-stringed harps of old King David softened 
the intensity of His dark eyes. He watched the people kneel and wor- 
ship and heard the phrases of the priests and the intoned responses 
of the congregation; presently there was in all their hearts a mys- 
tical sense of communion as they sang the Sixty-sixth Psalm: 

"I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my 
vows, 

'Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken when I was 
in trouble . . . 

"Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his 
mercy from me." 

But why did they burn the animals? Why did they imagine God 
would be pleased when altars bled and smoked? Why did the poor 
have to spend their money to buy animals? Why must they buy 
them only from the priests? What did the priests do with the money? 
Did not such absurdities detract from the dignity and goodness of 
the Idea of God? 

What was it that Amos, the prophet, had said? 

"I hate, I despise your feasts. And I will take no delight in your solemn 
assemblies. Yea, though you offer me your burnt offerings and meal 
offerings, I will not accept them; neither will I regard the peace offer- 
ings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of your songs; 
and I will not hear the melody of viols* 

"But let justice run down as iwter^ and righteousness as a mghty 
stream" 

Why had no one carried on the fight for, the realities of religion 
that old Amos had begun years before? 

Seized suddenly with a great warm rush of zeal and a surge of 
socfa pe$tions, Jesus stood up, while Joseph remained praying with 



A BOY IN NAZARETH . 87 

closed eyes. Burning with eagerness, the twelve-year-old strode into 
an offshoot shelter of the inner Temple where the Fathers of Israel 
sat with the rolls of Scriptures around them and debated the texts 
of judges and prophets. A circle of admiring intellectuals was lis- 
tening in awestruck silence. 

Into this ring of professors of the sacred teachings walked the boy 
from Galilee and His tongue was on fire with the questions He now 
put to them. He seemed eager to learn from these sages, but they 
recoiled from His honest inquiries. 

Were ever such questions put to these brains before? Never, 
never! He was not there to higgle and dispute about trifling matters. 
The savants of the law listened first with scorn and irritation, then 
with incredulity, with astonishment, friendly, but with awakening 
alarm. Who was this radical child that dared to question and chal- 
lenge the recondite technicalities and the established order of a 
thousand years? And why did He continually seek to bring these 
scholarly minds back to the troublesome problems of human be- 
havior? 

Day and night came and the fifteen men still tried to answer the 
questions of this unknown stripling. New judges took the place of 
weary elderly ones, and the debate went on with the unwearying lad. 

It was impossible by logic or tergiversation to dislodge Him from 
the simplicity of His position; He merely kept reminding them of 
the beauty of their own neglected teachings, quoting every now and 
then from the magnificent simplicity of Micah, the prophet, when 
he demanded: 

"What does Jehovah request of you but to do justly, and to love 
kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" 

The new recruits to this famous debate had taken no note of the 
passing of time until Jesus, looking over the heads of His antago- 
nists, saw the pale face of Mary. Tears glistened in her reproachful 
eyes; for the first and only time since He was born she seemed not 
to comprehend. 

"Son, why have you done so to us? Behold, your father and I 
have sought you sorrowing." 

At once Jesus made His farewell to the groggy teachers; even 
the newest arrivals were worn out with the unwonted exercise He 
had given their brains. Around Mary's shoulders He wrapped the 
cloak of deeper blue that she wore now, and took her hand and led 
her toward the gate^ and as they walked together, die told Him what 



88 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

had been happening while He was immersed in his first mental joust 
with order, custom, and the way people have always done things. 

It seemed that Mary and Joseph had started on the journey back 
to Nazareth, feeling sure that Jesus was following with a troop of 
other Nazareth boys. But when they began to search for him, Jesus 
was not to be found. That was why, as soon as the sun was up, Mary 
and Joseph turned their faces back toward Jerusalem. There, at last, 
after weary search, they found Him arguing the law with the elders! 

Looking into Mary's eyes, Jesus said with a tender smile: 

"How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must 
be about my Father's business?" 

Did she not know? Why should He think she would know? And 
then Mary remembered that dark night when she had fled Naza- 
reth. When the supernatural had awakened her, she could not call 
mother and father and hope for their comprehension of her incom- 
prehensible experience in the conception of this child. Did you not 
know, Mother? 

For that moment it was Mary and Joseph who felt like children 
and Jesus their instructor. But only for that moment then He was 
their boy again. With an impulsive gesture He embraced His mother 
and kissed the gray and golden beard of Joseph. They had no 
further cause to worry. All the rest of His youth Jesus obeyed them. 
Mary watched Him grow up into strong manhood, advancing in 
wisdom. 



Chapter 20 STRANGE WORD FROM THE SOUTH 



FOR eighteen years, until Jesus was thirty, He and Mary lived in 
NazaretL In that long period of obscurity Joseph died, and so did 
Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna. For His mother and himself 
Mary's son earned a living carrying on the work in the carpenter 
shop. 

As a young man He was a solitary figure in a boisterously so- 
ciable community. What He saw in Nazareth was a miniature of 
the whole sorrow and bitter poverty and bewilderment and op- 
pression. He saw the people exploited by their own leaders, betrayed 
by their own flesh and blood, despoiled by thieves in high places, 



A BOY IN NAZARETH 89 

and ordered around by superstitious old men who split hairs over 
rules and regulations. Yet He saw, too, that the men and women 
of Nazareth had f ortitude and courage. They had hopes and dreams. 
They had good instincts as well as bad* He not only pitied them but 
loved them. Humanity was worth saving! 

The day was coming, as He had known from the beginning, when 
He must drop his carpenter's tools, leave mother and home, and 
devote the remainder of His life to bringing light to the bewildered 
and frightened. No one else would or could offer them new Ufe 
of hope, in this world or the next. 

Thus long before He left the shelter of Mary's home Jesus saw 
Himself in opposition to the priestly classes, the rich and the power- 
ful, who used religion for their own ends. The clash was sure to 
come. His fate was sealed the day Jesus began to look around Him 
and do His father's business, which was to bring light, to expose 
the darkness of evil to the light of truth, and to teach the poorest 
man the rich meaning and possibilities of life. 

And what would He teU about the meaning of life? The reason 
for it? He had listened to the talk of oriental travelers through Naza- 
reth, chattering about Nirvana, the denial of individuality. From 
them He knew the Vedic holy books of India, and the Sutras, and 
tales of their sacred Mahabharata. As they believed, one human life 
was like a drop of water falling into the ocean; men are still assur- 
ing other men of that same fallacy, and other men are still believing 
it; all identity to be lost, a man being nothing. Jesus would recall 
to them the truth. Man, individual man, with his infinite capacity 
to know the bliss of growth, the joy of action, the wonder of beauty, 
was the creature to whom He would address Himself; to man, who 
had immortal individuality. 

So the maturing Jesus, now nearly thirty years old, and brooding 
on the tribulations of the world, was ready to offer it joy. No dreary 
servitude, but a new way of living, a great search to be entered 
upon to find the kingdom of God. Not the kingdom set up by 
overthrow and revolt and independence; not the sort of thing Sam- 
uel, His foster father's friend, now called Jesus Barabbas, would 
hope for, but the Father's kingdom, not of this world as yet but 
one to be brought here by love. Of such unbounded capacity would 
the subjects of that kingdom become tihat man or woman could ask 
what they would and they should have it. All that men and women 
of good will had ever hoped and dreamed of good could come true* 



9O THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Not the shadow but the substance. Only they must first seek the 
truth and the truth would make them free* And that was a free- 
dom where men were just to other men, kind to their fellows, lov- 
ing and brotherly, adoring God, their Father. Such freedom in 
which war could not exist. Not only a world of one God but of 
one family with God as its Father. Let man love God first and then 
his fellow men; that summed it. 

The torment of the world all around Him made clear how urgently 
the message was needed. What respect could the people of Galilee 
feel for the national life when they beheld their tetrarch, Herod 
Antipas, stealing his brother's wife and making her his queen? That 
recent and shocking indecency was doing more than rousing in- 
dignation; it was causing people to lose heart, to ask if anything 
mattered any more. 

In the high hills around His home Jesus the workman slowly 
dreamed into objective form the message He had been born to de- 
liver. Now His heart was on fire with a dangerous purpose. He 
had reached sturdy manhood; His hair was long and soft and golden 
brown and hung around His shoulders; He had His mother's glorious 
dark eyes; His muscles were strong from hard work. His face was 
paler than the skin of most men. . . . 

Suddenly a strange word came to Narazeth word of a strong 
man from the wilderness of Judea, a man who was preaching in 
various towns down south and blessing people by dipping them 
in the water of the Jordan River; a new man named John. 

"That John," the widow Mary told Jesus, "is your own cousin; 
he is the son of Zachary and Elizabeth." 

And the same John was telling great crowds that he was the herald, 
the forerunner, preparing the reception for the Savior of the world! 

His message was that the Messiah was coming at last. 



Book Three 

THE PREPARATION 



Chapter 21 THE VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS 



JESUS was profoundly moved by what He learned about his cousin 
John. 

The story was brought down by traders from the capital how 
John was creating a furore, not only in Jerusalem but in all the 
countryside* The old-age child of Zachary and Elizabeth had grown 
in thirty years to be a giant. From birth John had been strong and 
powerful, as Mary well remembered. During childhood he had been 
brought to Nazareth on occasional visits, but in early manhood, 
after his father and mother died, the youth had vanished. For years 
his relatives heard little about him, although there were reports 
that he lived in a rocky cave in the blistered valley below Jerusalem 
near the Dead Sea, and that he ate only locusts and wild honey. 

Now, suddenly, he had emerged as a public character, and al- 
ready he was suspect in the eyes of the Temple police. Perhaps 
that was because he was different from ordinary men. Around his 
loins, so Jesus was told, John wore a girdle made from the skins 
of wild beasts; his cloak was of camel's hair, and his own hair and 
beard were long and tangled. Bronzed arms upraised, John would 
stand day after day on the outskirts of towns and shout to the 
crowds that the time had come for the people to repent of their 
bad lives. 

To people who had neglected and then virtually forgotten the 
stern ideas of the prophet Isaiah these words of John had a startling 
sound. 

"Do penance!" he shouted. "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand-" 

His audiences were not quite sure what he meant by the King- 
dom of Heaven. But they knew, well enough, that they had plenty 
to repent of. To their amazement this wild-haired John was not 
accusing merely the poor* Uke themselves, alone, as the priests and 



92 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

the scribes had generally done. No, John, fearless, fiery apparition 
from the desert, laid about him on all sides, sparing no one; not 
mighty Caesar who reigned in Rome, nor Pontius Pilate who was 
the Emperor's official agent in Jerusalem-not even Herod Antipas, 
the cruel son of the great Herod, and builder of Tiberius, whose 
title was Tetrarch and who still ruled the province of Galilee, after 
thirty years of discord. 

Such effrontery as John's made sensational news even in the 
cynical streets of Jerusalem. From out of the capital great crowds 
streamed, toiling down steep and rocky defiles, out into the parched 
and desert plains, to listen to this new man's voice crying in the 
wilderness. 

"You offspring of vipers!" John shouted imprudently at the ar- 
riving hordes. "Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to 
come?" 

Instead of getting angry at the abuse, many of them lifted their 
robes and waded into the water, doing just as he asked which was, 
as a sign of penance, to submit to baptism, a cleansing rite in which 
remorseful men were splashed and blessed. 

More than one of his puzzled followers had asked John if he were 
the expected Christ, the promised Deliverer and Savior of Israel. 
His answer, repeated around camp fires of resting caravans and over 
bake stoves and cook pots in a hundred towns, was: 

"I, indeed, baptize you with water. But there shall come one 
mightier than I the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose. 
He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire!" 

When these tales were talked over in Mary's kitchen, she was 
reminded of the words of Isaiah, the favorite prophet of Jesus: 

"A voice of one crying in the wilderness; prepare ye the way 
of the Lord; make straight his paths . . .*' 

It was when He heard these tales of John that Jesus sighed, laid 
down His carpenter tools, and after a tender farewell to Mary 
started off alone, on foot, going from Galilee to the wilderness to 
see for Himself. 

For most of the journey His way led him along the same road that 
He had traveled with His mother and Joseph often before. After 
days of lonely trudging He came to a desokte region: bare mountain- 
sides and limestone ravines where nothing grew; ancient rock tombs 
everywhere; pebbles and broken stones, emptiness and death. Hur- 
rying on, He reached the lower part of the Jordan Valley, welcome 



THE PREPARATION 93 

sight with tamarisks, reeds, and willows. Near the bank of the nar- 
row muddy river He saw a crowd of people in a trap of silence as 
they hearkened to John. Harsh and distinct, His cousin's voice re- 
sounded in the hot, dry air: 

"And now the ax is laid to the root of the trees!" 

Without difficulty Jesus made His way to the front; presently 
He stood calmly before John. For the first time since boyhood the 
cousins were face to face; John hulking, vociferous, sweating with 
earnestness; Jesus, taller, gaunt, and pale, in perfect tranquillity. 
A long moment and neither spoke, while the crowd watched curi- 
ously amid a low buzz of speculation. In that historic meeting 
though doubts were later to assail the mind of one both Jesus and 
John were sure. They knew their mission; knew, too, that they 
were doomed men. 

In a voice so low that only John could hear, Jesus said that He 
had come to be baptized by his cousin. John was shocked. 

"But it is I who ought to be baptized by you," he objected* "And 
you come to me?" 

Jesus lifted His head and replied with a disarming smile: 

"Permit it to be so nowfor so it becomes us." 

Then John bowed his wild head, that head so soon to be severed, 
and the two cousins walked together into the tumbling Jordan. There 
Jesus submitted his body to the rite of baptism that perfect body 
that was soon to be nailed to a cross. 

When the simple ceremony was over, Jesus, looking up through 
dripping eyes, saw a white pigeon flying over His head, hovering, 
pausing, with fluttering wings. The bird lighted on His shoulder 
and in it He knew that the Spirit of God had appeared to Him. 
Many in the watching crowd asserted that they heard a voice from 
heaven say: 

"This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased." 

This brief ceremony over, Jesus pressed John's hand in farewell. 
Telling no one what He intended to do, He made His way alone 
back into the wilderness. He was both led by the Spirit of God 
and driven by it; impelled and compelled to a great and lonely test 
This parched and arid place was to be His place of testing; here, 
with red-tailed buzzards wheeling overhead, He was to endure a 
hideous experience none the less frightful because He deliberately 
invited the trial upon Himself. 

On a hillside He f otmd a cavern and there He made his solitary 



94 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

camp. His sole reason for retreating to this grotto was that he must 
become acquainted with human suffering and temptation. He had 
to know them at first-hand and altogether before He "could begin 
His work which John had just welcomed. He must overcome temp- 
tation Himself as a man, not as God before He advised other men 
what they must do. 

That was why Jesus made His way into this gigantesque waterless 
region one day to be called Quarantaria an inchoate place like a 
piece of creation begun but not finished; abandoned by all except 
fanatics and madmen and a sect of queer ascetics called Essenes 
who had no property except in common in the dead lands where 
they lived a mountainous expanse of stone ravines, blistering hills, 
and beds of crumbling shale, where no birds ever rooted except the 
birds of prey; a lonely, scorched, and gloomy place fit only for 
panthers and wild boar. 

Here Jesus forced upon Himself a grueling discipline of fasting 
and solitude. For forty days He remained there eating nothing. And 
during those forty days the little home at Nazareth and the blessed 
face of Mary His mother seemed very far away. 

It was only after those forty weakening days and nights that 
Jesus was subject to the ordeal of temptation. Not until He was 
faint and exhausted did the temptations come at a time when He 
felt weakest, most lonely, and friendless. 

He stood on the height with evil itself* Around Him lay a scene 
like the panorama of the world: near at hand the dead yellow rock 
baked in the merciless heat of this forsaken valley, down which, in 
clear view, a lion stalked a stag. Oif in the southern distance lay 
the plain of Zoar and Sodom and Gomorrah, fit backdrop for this 
bitter temptation. To the north the hills of Moab behind the poison- 
ous mists rising out of the Dead Sea; sand and gravel casting up 
heat; torrid air and vicious smells, desolation and to the heart 
of the man Jesus was offered now all the beguilements and blan- 
dishments and cajoleries that have, since Eden, plagued the human 
race uttered more often than not in quotations from the Scripture; 
Satan is a great repeater of God's words. 

Why not abandon His great mission to help the suffering people? 
Why not think, instead, of Himself? After all, did the Son of God 
have to go on with this unnecessary farce? He who had the power 
to bring a feast ready to hand if He but gave the word! And an- 
other thing why remain a lonely, obscure man, a carpenter about 



THE PREPARATION 95 

to turn wayside preacher? If the miraculous signs of His birth were 
to be trusted, then He had the power of God, and all the world 
would have to serve Him, and He would know such titanesque 
glory as no conqueror in history had ever known not Darius, Alex- 
ander, Caesar. All mankind would adore Him. 

Why not? 

His answer He drew from Scriptures of long ago: 

"The Lord, your God, shall you adore and Him only you shall 
serve not in bread alone does man live, but in every word that 
proceeds out of the mouth of God. Get you behind me, Satan!" 

In his deliberately weakened condition evil had not been easy 
to resist. No temptation ever is. But now Jesus, who in addition 
to being really God was also a real man, had experienced the tor- 
ments that come to men. And He had banished the temptations by 
the example of sheer devotion. 

When the torturing forty days were over, haggard Jesus walked 
slowly back toward the Jordan River. It was good to come out 
again from the hot region where Cousin John had spent most of 
his life; good to feel the bracing, invigorating wind blowing on His 
perspiring face as He trudged nearer to the river. Dates in His sun- 
burned hands, He walked as He broke the long fast. 

His cousin John He found preaching to crowds even greater 
than before. As Jesus stood on the fringe of the multitude and lis- 
tened to the crowd's chatter, it became clear that in Jerusalem the 
authorities were already deeply disturbed about John the Baptist. 
He could pick up what the Temple politicians had been saying: 

"This John is a violent man who at any moment may incite the 
people themselves to violence." 

"He mocks our authority; he reviles Pharisees and Sadducees as 
hypocrites." 

So, it seemed, the priestly leaders had just appointed an investi- 
gating committee. A deputation had been ordered to go down to 
Bethania, beyond the Jordan, where John was currently preaching, 
to ask certain questions. Their hope was that the Baptist's answers 
would form the basis, later, of an indictment against himself. 

So here were the members of the committee now, near the very 
elbows of Jesus; their leader coldly facing John and demanding to 
know whom he claimed to be. And John, who saw instantly what 
Was bothering them, answered: 

'1 am not the Christ*" 



96 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

'What? Then are you the reincarnation of the old prophet Elias?" 

This, because the people had a prophecy that Elias the prophet 
was to return from death, reincarnated just before the coming of 
the Messiah. 

"I am not!" 

"Well, who are you, then?" 

"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness" thus, by quot- 
ing an old prophecy, he identified himself as the herald of the Christ 
to come. 

But he baptized, which was a ceremony supposed to cleanse men 
of sin. How dare he do that if he were not the Christ? 

"I am baptizing with water. But there has stood one in the midst 
of you . . ." 

John paused. His bold and searching gaze had picked out the pale 
face of Jesus. There was a moment of utter stillness. Then John re- 
sumed: 

". . . whom you know not. The same is he that shall come after 
me. Who is preferred before me! The latchet of whose shoe I am 
not worthy to loose!" 

The glum deputies from Jerusalem shook their heads and departed, 
shoving against Jesus without a glance in His direction and unknow- 
ing whom they had jostled. The crowd again engulfed John, and 
Jesus went on His own way. 



Chapter 22 NEW FRIENDS 



THE next morning Jesus took a walk and came face to face with 
the Baptist. At the sight of his cousin, worn and thinned from desert 
hardship, John threw up his hands and murmured: 

"Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world! This is the 
Son of God!" 

That day and the others that followed Jesus lingered, watching 
John and listening to his speeches and talking with him in lonely 
walks at night. But soon came a bright morning when the two were 
to part, never to meet again in this life. 

That was when John was standing with two friends, a young 
man with the Greek name of Andrew and die other a good-looking 



THE PREPARATION- 97 

northerner, also called John. These two Galileans rented boats in a 
fisherman's guild at Capernaum, also called Copharnaum, on the inland 
sea. Good friends they had been since boyhood, yet no chums were 
ever more unlike. Andrew was a sturdy, hardheaded man, proud of 
his sound business judgment On the other hand, John was excitable, 
imaginative, and full of curiosity. He had a stormy nature, too, and 
those who thought him over-gentle or effeminate were preposter- 
ously mistaken. A day was to come when John, feeling that Jesus 
had been insulted, would plead with the Master to call down fire 
from heaven upon His foes. 

This Andrew and this John were frowning and puzzled as they 
stood talking with the Baptist. For some days they had lingered in 
the neighborhood, listening attentively to all John had to say, but 
this was the first time they had ever spoken to him privately. 

"You are fishermen from the North Lake?" John asked in sur- 
prise. "Why did you travel all this long way just to listen to me?" 

Andrew put it very succinctly: 

"We earn very little money and most of that goes for taxes. We 
can't even afford to eat the fish we catch in our own nets. A dog's 
life is better. What can we do? Jump into the sea and end it? Then 
someone tells us a man is preaching down south, near Jerusalem, 
and that he has the secret of a happy life. A desperate man will try 
anything . . ." 

And here the Galilean gave a wintry smile, as his companion added: 

"So we tried you!" 

"And have I helped much, John?" 

At the directness of the question the two fishermen were em- 
barrassed. Before they could find speech the ragged Baptist pointed 
over their shoulders, where Jesus was walking toward them; he 
whispered to the two bewildered fishermen: 

"Look! There is the real Lamb of God!" 

This was a profound utterance, which his two groping inquirers 
fully grasped; it was an immense tribute to Jesus. As the Lamb of 
God, He became the living reality of which the Passover lamb was 
a symbol in the religion of Israel; by the same token, fulfilling the 
prophecy of Isaiah and Jeremiah. It was a statement to stun the two 
men. 

"I saw the Spirit of God descend on him when I baptized him 
with water," testified John. "He it is who baptizes with the Holy 
Ghost. This is the Son of God!" 



THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



There was no mistaking the urgency in the Baptist's words. Per- 
haps no odder pair ever stood together than Andrew and John that 
morning: fishermen away from the water, and from their nets and 
hauls; concerned only with the hard mystery of the world and 
the misery in their own lives. Not philosophers and mystics, they 
were interested less in truth than in their daily problems; these two 
practical young men from the Capernaum beach were consumed 
with a desire to find out whether it was worth while to go on liv- 
ing the hard life which was all they knew. Instead of imparting 
to them some magical secret, or merely telling them to return to 
their work in Galilee and lead pious lives, the Baptist pointed to 
the approaching Jesus and described Him as the Lamb of God. That 
might even mean the Messiah! 

More, he prodded the two young men to follow this stranger, 
now walking past and on toward the end of town, if they wanted 
to learn the true meaning of life. 

With hasty and grateful glances the Galileans hastened after the 
lithe figure, already crossing the sunlit square of Bethania. At the 
sound of overtaking footsteps Jesus slowed down and looked over 
His shoulder; then, halting at once, He turned and faced them. 
They saw a lean, clean-washed man of thirty, pale but muscular, 
with a brief golden beard and flowing yellow-brown hair and im- 
mense dark eyes. He laid a hand on Andrew's shoulder and smiled 
at John. 

"Looking for someone?" He asked. His winning manner told 
them that somehow He understood their plight disheartened men, 
almost completely discouraged. In the springtime, now that the 
rains had ceased, they had tramped a long way with their still-unan- 
swered questions: Was life worth living? Why toil and die in a 
world without any visible purpose or sense to it? Was life only the 
tragic, mixed-up mess it seemed to them? 

Jesus, looking through space and time, could foresee the fate of 
this earnest young Andrew one day to be tied like a letter "X" 
to a blazing cross; that would be in Patras. The future of John, too, 
who, in old age, was to behold visions and write the Book of Revela- 
tion* 

To this pair of confused men Jesus spoke with bold directness t 
explaining that He was planning a tour of all the Palestinian region 
a long series of roadside discourses to the people, trying to answer 
just such questions. He would need helpers immediately, but he 



THE PREPARATION 99 

did not want hasty enthusiasts who might abandon Him just as 
hastily. Not quick converts but firmly convinced ones were neces- 
sary. Before inviting them to be the first to join His mission He 
would require long discussions and debate with them; hours, even 
days of sharp questions as many as they could think up* He in- 
sisted that they must use their brains; He would not accept obsequi- 
ous assent to His ideas but logical, innermost conversion, because 
He was not merely asking them to give Him a part of their time. 
He needed their lives! Their souls! So they must make sure. In the 
end, if they believed in His message, they could join together and 
look for other disciples. 

To all of which the fishermen repeated their words; 

"Master, show us where you live and we will go there with you 
right now!" 

"Come and see! " 

Jesus led the way to lodgings in one of the temporary booths out- 
side the town, and from the twilight of the crow to the twilight of 
the dove, as dusk and dawn were called, the three sat together, and 
never before had John and Andrew heard talk like His. 

Again and again Jesus insisted that they must question Him 
thoroughly. They were perturbed men, out of balance, full of a 
frustrated sense of insecurity and injustice. When He spoke of a 
free, new vision of kindness and sacrifice, the overwhelming sweet- 
ness of His personality struck their hearts like lightning. Under 
the spell of His power they were quickly convinced, but Jesus re- 
fused to accept their hasty conversion. First they must try Him 
out, face Him with every doubt, confound Him if they could for 
they must feel not only His love in their hearts, they must, He 
reiterated, also be logically persuaded. He wanted their good sense 
as well as their faith, because for the work to which He would at- 
tract them a man must be so sure (as well as enraptured) that he 
would leave home, family, life itself to follow in His steps. A con- 
vert must not only have the gift of faith but logical conviction as 
well. 

If they could think of no more doubts, He would point out the 
objections they had overlooked. Night and day they asked and lis- 
tened and asked againbut there came a time when they could think 
of no more to ask. They accepted all that He had offered them, 
knowing, too, that even sterner phrases of the trath would come 
later. 



IOO THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Even so, they were enthusiastically ready to join Him. They felt 
immensely thrilled and impressed* There was no arrogance in this 
teacher's manner and no formality; already in those brisk hours 
they had come to feel as if they had known and loved Him of old. 

Andrew posed a final question: 

"Master, all that you propose for the world, a life of sacrifice and 
inner communion with the Father in heaven, sounds wonderful to 
us. But have you come to change the kw of Israel?" 

Jesus shook His head slowly. 

"No, Andrew, I come, not to change the law, but to fulfill it!" 

Instantly the two fishermen turned to each other. Did He mean 
what that answer might hint? That He was the Messiah? He had 
not said so. They did not ask; their hearts were burning now with 
a great exhilaration; merely being with Him had filled them with a 
sense of peace. 

"Master," said John, "we shall go with you in this undertaking. 
You have warned us that these ideas are dangerous. Let them be so! 
They are worth dying for!" 

Later Andrew confided that he had a brother that he would like 
the Master to meet, and ran off to find him. Meanwhile Jesus and 
John discovered that they, too, were distant cousinsstrange as it 
seemed, this younger John was the son of Zebedee and of Salome, 
who was a grown-up sister of Mary. Until this time the cousins 
had never met. 

Busy washing big, clumsy feet at the town fount, Simon the elder 
brother of Andrew looked tired and exasperated. He was a tall, 
broad, bulging man with robust shoulders and a rugged, healthy 
beard; eyes bright and fierce; face perpetually disgruntled. 

"Simon!" 

"Hey? Oh, so it's you. Laggard! What makes you heave and grunt 
so, Andrew?" 

"I'm out of breath, that's all, Simon. We have found Him! And 
I ran all the way to tell you about Him!" 

"Who has found " 

"John and L" 

"John and you have found what?" 

*1 hesitate to say it, but I actually believe we have found the most 
wonderful new teacher in the world. He knows the answer to every 
qiiestion you can think of." 

a What are you blabbering about now, Andrew?" 



THE PREPARATION IOI 

"We have found a Messenger of God. I am sure of It." 
Simon milked his beard and shook his bald head and wrinkled his 
freckled nose. 

"Don't believe a word of it," he growled* "You two strike me as 
getting sillier all the time. First you run after John the Baptist. You 
think he's the one. Then he tells you in plain words he is not. Now 
you fasten on somebody else " 
"Come and take a look for yourself." 

Simon finished drying his enormous toes. He knew that Andrew 
was a careful man, and a conservative, often keeping Simon himself 
with both feet on the ground. 

"All right/' he yielded, "I will go with you and set you right!" 
It was dusk when the two brothers came to the booth where 
John still sat listening to Jesus. As the great hulk of Simon filled 
the entrance and his shadow a shadow that was one day to heal 
diseases fell at the feet of Jesus, the Nazarene's face seemed to 
light up in richer welcome for the bald and bearded fisherman. Again 
the Master of timelessness with inner vision could perceive the fu- 
ture: lighted gardens in Rome and a cross turned topsy-turvy, with 
this same impetuous, baldheaded, square-bearded braggart, crucified 
head downward and burned alive, 
Jesus embraced him enthusiastically, exclaiming: 
"You are Simon, son of Jona! But you shall be called Peter." 
All were stunned at this extraordinarily friendly reception. The 
Master spoke with immense feeling in His simple words, as if He 
meant much more than He was saying. Simon, to be called Peter, and 
his brother Andrew, and John their friend, all waited for Jesus to 
say more. 



Chapter 23 THE CATERER IS AMAZED 



BUT after that greeting Jesus changed the subject. He proposed 
that they set out together and He would explain His message to them 
during the journey; since they were all natives of Galilee province, 
they would all walk home. To this the three were glad to agree. 
But the long trek up the stony northern roads had hardly begun 
when their number began to grow. The first recruit was a friend 



102 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

of Andrew, a wayfarer like himself with a Greek name, Philip, whom 
they overtook on the highway. 

This shy, thoughtful Philip, although he had been born in Caper- 
naum, had lived for most of his life in a watering place called Beth- 
saida. Now he was determined to get out of the town once a simple 
port of fishermen, it had lately become a resort for carousing Ro- 
mans, and no decent native could tolerate the open drunkenness 
and roistering lust and lawlessness of the soldiers. 

Jesus welcomed the young fugitive with instant approval, and 
Philip not only agreed to join the party and hear about the new 
teachings and the plans for spreading them, but he offered to try 
to enlist another friend. Begging a free ride on a passing camel, he 
hurried some miles forward until he spied the friend who was named 
Nathanael Bartholomew lying under a fig tree and staring at the 
sky. The skeptical young fellow was wondering what a philosophic 
man could possibly do with his life in a land of oppression like 
this one. 

"Nathanael!" called Philip, forsaking his mount. "We have found 
a most wonderful teacher. He is so wonderful, he might even be the 
man Moses promised. And the one the prophets promised too!" 

"Really, now!" mocked Nathanael with a noisy snort. "Wonder- 
ful, wonderful. Well, gullible, who is he?" 

"His name is Jesus." 

"Yes, and from where does this Jesus sprout?" 

"From Nazareth." 

"From Nazareth?" 

"Yes!" 

NathanaeFs laugh was lazy and patronizing. 

"Can any good thing come from Nazareth?" he jested. 

*TTou better come and see!" ordered Philip, yanking his old play- 
mate unceremoniously to his feet. And he forcibly led Nathanael 
down the road, until they caught sight of the approaching Master. 

"Look!" called Jesus, waving to Nathanael from a distance. "An 
Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile." 

All the others smiled, as Jesus added: 

"Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I 
saw you." 

Nathanael blinked. He bad been under the fig tree. But that was 
Dales beyond, where Jesus could not possibly have seen him. He 
stammered: 



THE PREPARATION 103 

"Master . . ." 

But Jesus put a friendly arm around him. 

"Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, you be- 
lieve!" 

His bearded chin toward the sky, he calmly promised: 

"Greater things than these you shall see." 

Once again Jesus had seen far beyond, not merely the present 
time and immediate space, but into the future of this Nathanael 
Bartholomew, the son of Talmai of Cana, in Galilee-the future in 
Arabia Felix where this innocent and simple man, who always con- 
sidered himself a skeptic and a sophisticate, would one day be flayed 
alive; and nearly a score of centuries deeper into the future, when 
his bones would be venerated in the Church of St* Bartholomew 
on an island in the Tiber. 

But on that faraway day in Judea Nathanael Bartholomew could 
not see an hour ahead; he only felt convinced he had found this 
greatest and truest friend, and that was enough! 

When, with his five new followers, Jesus came back home to 
Nazareth, He found His own household in a happy dither. It hap- 
pened that a daughter of friends of Mary was getting married. The 
family lived in the village of Cana, Nathanael Bartholomew's home 
town, and Mary was planning to go over to help in serving the 
feast; in the midst of her scurrying Jesus and His new friends reached 
the house. Eyes shining, the gray-haired mother gave them all a wel- 
come. Although Peter, Andrew, John, Philip, and Nathanael made 
a handful in the little home, whatever Jesus did was right in Mary's 
eyes; His friends were her friends, and she made room for them. 

More, she suggested they all come with her to the wedding. So, 
although the newcomers were a little weary, they all walked five 
miles more down the highroad from Nazareth until toward sunset 
they came into Cana of Galilee. Then, as now, it was a mere form- 
less jumble of stone houses and mud huts; a few gardens of the well- 
to-do, with cypress trees and olive groves. The narrow streets were 
overrun with burnoosed men straddling camels, veiled women on 
donkeys, and underfed children, scales on their eyes, scabs on their 
faces, carrying lambs upside down by their forefeet throiigh streets 
of noise, filth, stench, 

This evening there was a great stir of elation because of the wed- 
ding. Jesus did not often attend parties of this kind; He was too 
thoughtful, too studious, too solitary for such festivities. But to- 



104 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

night He had a happy time. He and the five disciples put aside all 
their intricate discussions and enjoyed themselves like everyone else 
at the happy affair. The fun was at its height when Mary beckoned 
to her son. 

Quietly the mother whispered a story of their hosts' sudden em- 
barrassment. More guests bad come than had been expected Jesus 
and His five friends among them! and now the wine was about to 
give out just when the festivities were at their peak; the caterer was 
in despair. 

"I want more wine!" squealed one curly-haired guest, holding 
up a large, wide-mouthed goblet a beaker which he turned up- 
side down, 

Jesus took His mother's hand, his face full of a meaning tender 
and intimate. There was a note of challenge in his voice as he ad- 
dressed her in the respectful phrase of that day: 

"Woman! What is that to me? And to you? My hour is not yet 



come/' 



All around was song and laughter. In the corner where mother 
and son talked there had come suddenly, stardingly, one moment of 
significance for all the rest of history a moment in which He, the 
son, and she, the mother, were partners. Do you realize, He was 
really saying to Mary, what it will mean if I do as you ask? You 
are asking me to show before the eyes of men and women, merely 
for the success of this convivial affair, the unlimited power of Al- 
mighty God. If I do what you ask, if I show this power, do you 
know what will happen? The story will fly over the land. All pri- 
vacy, all quiet, all further time of preparation will be gone. My 
ministry must begin immediately. And when that happens, I take 
my first step and you go with me to the cross. All this that wed- 
ding guests may have more to drink? 

She knew His thoughts, she, who kept so many things in her 
heart. She knew that by woman death had come into the world, 
and she believed that she had been given Eve's second chance, 
through this son, to bring salvation. For her, as well as him, this 
was the moment their faces turned to Calvary. 

Both knew what it meant. Their handclasp tightened; then she 
turned away, and went to the waiters, and told them: 

^Whatever He tells you to do do it!" 

Jesus turned and walked to the back of the room. There He 
f <mai the six stone water pots which were a part of the furnishings 



THE PREPARATION 105 

of every well-appointed home where frequent religious purifying 
ceremonies had to be held. Beckoning the attendants, Jesus asked 
them to fill the jars with water. Puzzled but polite, they did as He 
requested, filling the pots to the brim. Next, at His direction, they 
dipped up some of the fluid in a ladle. Then they screamed and 
shouted. The color had changed! The water was red! Indeed, It 
was no longer water at all it was wine! 

The hired caterer rushed up, tasted the wine, glared around him 
furiously, and swaggered up to the bride's father. What, he wanted 
to know, was happening here? Any sensible man served the best 
wine at the beginning of the feast and then, when everybody had 
had plenty to drink, he would serve the inferior stuff. But this late 
wine was the best the steward had ever tasted in all his forty years 
as a caterer in Galilee. 

Soon everybody in the room was talking about the wonderful 
wine, but Jesus and His disciples, in deep, reflective silence, were 
already walking back to Nazareth. 



Chapter 24 THE WICKED QUEEN 



THE following day Jesus and His mother set out with His disciples 
to visit their home town of Capernaum and meet their relatives and 
friends. Again they trudged the five miles to Cana and then con- 
tinued on, down and round a mountain with two humps, where one 
day Jesus was to preach His greatest sermon. 

And still on they trudged, past many of the bloodiest old scenes 
of Israel. Yonder were the caves of Endor, where Saul crept to have 
his future told by a witch. On, far below the level of the sea, where 
beside the lake of Galilee stood Capernaum. 

A great sight on the day they arrived, this lake port, seething with 
energy, overrun with men and women of all nations* Mother and 
son looked around them, startled and interested and a little sad at 
all the scurry of the pkce. It was a town rich, busy, and corrupt, 
one of the chief stations on the great route from Damascus to the 
Mediterranean ports of Egypt; a market where silver hordes of fish 
were carted through the streets, where wine from climbing grape 
arbors stained the bare feet of farm girls, and there were so many 



106 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

olive groves that a man could take a bath in oil. Through its high 
streets the caravans moved north and south, and one could buy 
and sell wheat and silk and ivory; well-paid artisans walked through 
the bazaars with hands stained blue from the indigo dyes made in 
next-door Magdala. 

When Jesus and His mother came to Capernaum with the five 
new friends, the city was called the Queen .of the Lake, the Majesty 
of Galilee. In rich glory it stood below desert mountains of yellow 
limestone, but immediately behind the town the hillsides were cov- 
ered with a profusion of fruit and nut and fig trees and red blooming 
oleanders. 

Here the bluff, excitable widower Peter became a guide, just to 
show Jesus and Mary around. First, Peter brought the Master and 
mother into his own home a one-story structure surrounded by 
a courtyard and presented his mother-in-law, a feeble old lady. 
Peter, the widower, took good care of her. 

And of course Peter knew the whole fifteen-mile length of the 
lake with its almost unbroken ring of cities and towns. He had 
fished this lake water all his life and now he introduced Jesus to 
other fishermen, showed Him on the beach the miles of drying and 
mended nets with the little lead weights the very same kind of 
nets and weights are used at Capernaum to this dayand showed 
Him, too, how the fish were pickled in barrels and sold to the mer- 
chants of Caesarea and the Syrian Jews. 

But more than lake and town and synagogue with Roman pillars 
Jesus saw on this first visit. Most important, He perceived that this 
crossroads of the east and west worlds was a strategic place from 
which He could speak to humanity. Here in this metropolis of 
travelers where men were forever in the midst of excitement and 
talk of new tricks of government, great events of war, crimes of 
Rome, and scandals of Jerusalem, here was a perfect platform, an 
incomparable rostrum from which to utter a message that would 
be carried to the farthest places. 

That was why Jesus there and then decided that Capernaum was 
to be the headquarters of His work. He would make it His own city, 
the home center from which He would carry out His Father's work. 

Yet, having made this decision, He did not at once settle there. 
There were more immediate tasks back home in Nazareth: first, 
lojig days of talk and explanation to His first five disciples. In those 
begmnmg days Jesus took time to get acquainted with the hard, 



THE PREPARATION 107 

logical Andrew; the thoughtful, almost cynical Nathanael; the eager, 
goodhearted Philip, and the always loyal, but explosive, quick- 
tempered Peter. They and John must be taught slowly, molded to 
work together, before others could be added to the company. And 
all must begin to understand the deeps of the startling ideas they 
were soon to hear Him preach. 

In those days they were just beginning to feel acquainted with 
Him, to relax within the warmth of His unbounded charm and 
understanding, to know Him as friend and brother as well as leader. 
At this time they did not suspect the vastness of the differences 
that separated Him from them. Some hoped that He might be the 
Messiah, but doubted it more than they believed. Sometimes they 
thought of Him as a great teacher, even a divine messenger, a little 
lower than an angel. That he was the Son of God, part of God, 
God himself as an expression of a Holy Trinity they did not, for 
a moment, dream. Not until He came back to them from death 
would they fully realize the being that He really was. Jesus could 
liave told them; He kept His secret, and only gradually over the 
next three years He initiated them into those mysteries. Had it been 
otherwise, they would have been too awed, too paralyzed with 
dread, to have known Him in His human nature and so learned 
from Him the tasks they must one day carry on alone. 

Those, the best and most tranquil days Jesus and His friends were 
ever to know, came to an end all too soon. Presently they must start 
back all the way to Jericho, for there were rumors that John the 
Baptist was getting himself into serious trouble. 

With the five Jesus left Nazareth, and they began again the long 
trek down to the edge of the desert. There they made a little camp 
and observed for a while the excitement that was growing around 
the courageous preacher. Day by day word of what John was tell- 
ing the crowds was being brought to Herod, the tetrarch and puppet 
ruler of Galilee. And day by day John's hints about the tetrarch's 
marriage made his adulterous queen more enraged. Finally one after- 
noon John thundered explicitly to Herod's astounded and frightened 
subjects: 

"It is not lawful for him to have his brother's wife." 

When she heard about this, Queen Herodias demanded of the 
king that John at once be tortured and put to death. But Herod 
dillydallied; he was politicaiy wise enough to realize that it would 
be folly for him summarily to execute so popular a man as John 



I08 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

had become. But he had to do something or lose his stolen wife, so 
a few days after Jesus and His followers reached the desert the 
king's soldiers suddenly rode up and seized John and dropped him 
into a dungeon. 

And then, most curiously, the little Herod Antipasdissolute, 
drunken, and singularly free from decency as he often wasbegan 
to take a curious interest in his prisoner. For some obscure reason 
the brave, uncompromising man from the desert fascinated the soft- 
skinned ruler on his tinsel throne. 

Often at night Herod would slip away from the lacy boudoir of 
dreaming, exhausted Herodias to go and talk with the man he had 
chained in a pit. Undoubtedly the king feared John, and he certainly 
could not understand the moral indignation that made him preach 
such indiscreet and indelicate sermons, yet something in the mys- 
tic's words stirred him, brought him a little light like a door that 
opens just a crack. 

The more Herod Antipas listened to John, the more thoughtful 
and melancholy he became; the more he realized that John was a 
just and good man, and thus the more to be feared. 

It was then that the queen, who had a cunning brain, decided that 
she must get rid of John the Baptist. 



Chapter 25 THE WOMAN AT THE WELL 



OHCE John was arrested, Jesus and His five friends started back to- 
ward Galilee. Guided by an inner voice, the Holy Spirit, the Mas- 
ter startled the others by His decision to go home by way of Sama- 
ria. 

Here, indeed, was a shock. Decent citizens avoided that province 
as they would a colony of lepers. The feeling of the Galileans 
against Samaritans was so deep and malicious that a mere glance 
from one was an insult, cause for a fight. That old feud between 
people of identical ancestry went back hundreds of years to the 
time when the Samaritans fraternized with invaders, when collabo- 
rationists married and intermarried, and forever since they had been 
held in revulsion by all patriots of Israel. The ancient hatred made 
trade and peaceful intercourse impossible in modern times. 



THE PREPARATION It>9 

Yet the land of the Samaritans was fair and could have been mnch 
more richly developed, with prosperity for many, native and 
stranger. The soil was fertile; it had more water than the southern 
part of the country because the limestone had not yet absorbed 
most of the springs. In the valleys the rich black earth was often 
flooded over. The Samaritans planted great fields of wheat, raised 
fine vegetable gardens and luxurious orchards, but no outsiders liked 
to buy their grain or vegetables or fruit. Good Jews would walk 
far out of their way to go around Samaria, Only Romans befriended 
them. 

Jesus led His five followers straight to this forbidden province, 
fifty miles north of Jerusalem, Once within its borders He did not 
rest until He had reached its most historic spot, the well of Jacob, at 
the eastern base of Mount Gerizim, where the earliest of Israelite 
patriarchs had worshiped. This was the land which Jacob had given 
to his son Joseph. Everyone thought of this spot as the oldest well 
in the world and near by, so the devout piously believed, was the 
actual grave of Joseph. 

By now the five disciples knew when Jesus desired to be alone and 
so they went on, a mile and a half, into the town of Sichar, or 
Shechim, as it is known today, to buy provisions for the evening 
meal. And knowing the fierceness of the feud, they were wonder- 
ing what kind of reception they would get from the Samaritans. 

Meanwhile Jesus sat in a reverie on the stone rim around the old 
well. Presently a woman came toward Him with a jug slung over 
her shoulder, a green hood thrown back from her head. As if she 
did not see Him at all, she busied herself tying a rope to the handles 
of her vessel and then lowered it into the darkness of the well 

"Give me to drink," said Jesus suddenly. 

With stunned deliberation the woman pulled up her dripping jug 
of water and set it on the stone. Then she turned to him blankly. 
Plainly he was not a Samaritan; this stranger was a Jew. She well 
knew how people in Jerusalem said, as a slang phrase in the streets: 
"We know you are a Samaritan and have a devil' 1 She knew* too, 
that it was forbidden of a God-fearing Jew to ask help of Samari- 
tans or to receive food or water from them; "He who takes bread 
of a Samaritan is like unto him who eats the flesh of swiae." He 
might make a friend even of a Gcetik font never a Samaritan* In 
bewilderment she answered: 



HO THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"How do you, being a Jew, ask to drink of me, who am a Samari- 
tan woman? 1 ' 

Jesus turned His head thoughtfully. The same old racial prejudice 
and fear! From boyhood He had been familiar with this mad and 
senseless hostility between His native Galileans and the Samaritans 
who lived next door. They fought like rival robber bands. The 
Galileans pillaged the Samaritans and the Samaritans ransacked the 
Galileans, each attacking the other from ambush. And the old quar- 
rel was forever encouraged and egged on by debauched govern- 
ments of both provinces. 

"If you would know the gift of God," said Jesus, "and who he is 
who says to you, 'give me to drink/ perhaps you would have asked 
of him," 

The consternation in her deepened. She ask water of him? Jesus 
nodded. 

"And he would have given you living water." 

The words "living water" thoroughly puzzled this buxom, vital 
peasant full of the swaying and shapely magnitude of sex. Putting 
the back of one hand to her cheek, she said: 

"Sir, you have nothing to draw water with and the well is deep. 
From whence, then, do you get your living water? Are you greater 
than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank out of it 
himself, and his children and his cattle?" 

Leaning forward and speaking confidentially, He replied: 

"Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again. But he that shall 
drink of the water that I will give him shall not thirst forever. The 
water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water 
springing up into life everlasting." 

She smiled incredulously, 

if Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst." 

"Go call your husband and come here," He suggested. 

Those words flustered her. With a toss of her head she replied: 

"I have no husband." 

And now the voice of Jesus was so low she could scarcely hear 
Him: 

"You have said well, *I have no husband/ For you -have had five 
husbands. And he whom you now have is not your husband! You 
have said truly." 

The woman leaned against the parapet of the wall, both hands 
grasping the stones. 



THE PREPARATION III 

"Sir," she gasped, "I see that you are a prophet." 

Then, as if to placate a dangerous man, she reminded Him that 
He should be merciful to her, because the patriarchs, common great 
ancestors of Samaritans as well as His own people, had worshiped 
on this mountain. Her face was growing paler, body trembling. It 
was a relief when, after a long pause, He spoke to her: 

"Woman, God is a spirit and they that adore Him must adore 
Him in spirit and truth." 

She whispered: 

"I know that the Messiah is coming who is called Christ. When 
He comes He will tell us all things." 

Jesus stood up and looked at her and said: 

"I am He who am speaking to you." 

She stood and looked at Him dumbly, for she had heard the great 
secret that He had not yet told His followers. There was a sudden 
noise behind them Peter, John, Nathanael, Andrew, and Philip- 
back from town, their arms filled with bundles of food. On seeing 
them, she concealed her face, forgetting her water jug, and ran off 
into the city, where she told everyone she met that the Christ, the 
Messiah was out at Jacob's well, 

Jesus, seeing the packages in the arms of His friends, astonished 
them quite as much as He had startled the Samaritan woman when 
he shook His head, as if reproving their headlong interruption, and 
said: 

"I have meat to eat which you do not know." 

"Has someone else brought him something to eat?" they won- 
dered. Throwing an arm over the shoulder of Peter, most baffled of 
all five, Jesus said simply, as one spells out a word to a child: 

"My meat is doing the will of Him that sent methat I may per- 
fect His work." 

He was going on, explaining to them that the harvest time of His 
work would not be long, when they heard a great sound of voices. 
Crowds of Samaritans were surrounding them; they had heard the 
story of the woman at the well and were trooping out to see the 
man she said was the Messiah; they would judge for themselves* 

So much did they approve His teachings that the Samaritans 
pleaded with this unknown Nazarene not to leave them. They made 
Him their guest, asking Him questions of ethics and Iranian be- 
havior, while they offered Him oval cakes of wfaeaten flour, which 
was their favorite bread, and bowls of meat stew with a most savory 



112 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

smell, and milk and wine. They washed His feet in the ancient form 
of their hospitality. And Jesus taught them and, with them, His 
five new companions. 

The Samaritans, who were no fools, asked searching questions, 
and what He taught them sounded very new and radical If He was 
the Messiah, how did He mean to improve the condition of the 
world? Wherever one looked, one saw intolerance, cruelty, misery. 

Did Jesus offer Himself as the hope of the distressed? 

And He, hearing these questions from the Samaritans, lingered 
with them two days while He told them of the Kingdom of Heaven. 
What He taught them was a new Testament, a perfection of the 
old law, brotherhood of man for man, for all were children of the 
Father; an end of old grudges and blood feuds and hatred; forgive- 
ness the answer to racial and religious strife; love to heal all wounds. 
This lesson of tolerance was his first public teaching. 



Chapter 26 WHAT HAVE WE TO DO WITH YOU? 



THROUGH the cool sweetness of a May morning Jesus led His band of 
five men down the highroad from Samaria back into Galilee. The 
tingle of new forces of the season filled their veins; there was a feel- 
ing of fresh and adventurous life in the spring creep of the land 
tortoise across the road and the squonking flocks of storks and 
cranes flying overhead 

They had come to a halt, for a little rest, not far from Nazareth, 
and beggars and curiosity seekers had gathered around them, when 
a shocked silence fell suddenly; all movement ceased, and the un- 
clean mob stood rooted in fear. 

A rich and powerful magnate had suddenly appeared among 
them. His breast was decorated with a pendent disk covered with 
watery-blue aquamarines, black opals, and emeralds. The very smell 
of the aristocratic oil in his ringlets commanded their bent heads; 
they were in the presence of wealth and authority. Through the path 
they instantly opened for him the nobleman strode forward. But as 
the crowd peeked and turned their heads, they observed that the 
stranger's face was pale, his eyes moist His words were incredibly 
humble. 



THE PREPARATION 



"I have heard/' he began without parley, "strange reports of you 
a carpenter of Nazareth. There is a tale of a fountain of wine you 
caused to spring up at Cana. And another tale, which has gone be- 
fore you, of how you read the mind of a disreputable woman at 
Jacob's well. Such reports have given me, a despairing man, hope. 
I need help. I come from Capernaum; my son is there very ill. 
Please come down and heal my son, for he is at the point of death." 

"Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not," Jesus replied 
with a testing glance at the rich man. 

"Lord, come down before my son dies," pleaded the father, 
breaking into sobs. 

Jesus closed His eyes; this man's tears were real. Softly He spoke: 

"Go your way! Your son Mves." 

As the rich man looked up, there was no doubt, but only hope in 
his face. His eyes spoke his gratitude as without another word he 
turned and with outstretched arms flailed a path for himself through 
the crowd and ran down the open road. The five disciples were 
speechless; Peter's brow knitted in wonderment. Not until later 
would those dubious disciples learn what had happened. 

The next day, as the ruler was still making his way down the 
steep roads to Capernaum, he was met by servants coming up to 
greet him, and with news. His son lived! 

"Praise God! At .what hour did he get better?" 

"Yesterday, at the seventh hour, the fever left him." 

At the seventh hour! That, as the father knew, was the exact 
hour when the carpenter from Nazareth had told him: "Your son 
lives!" 

This healing was a master stroke. It fixed the attention of the 
whole region on Jesus. Everybody heard of it; as He returned to 
the metropolis by the lake, throngs of people were frantic to see 
and hear Him. At once He was invited to make a series of public 
talks. Crowds packed the rectangular Capernaum synagogue with 
its illicit Corinthian pillars; they hung on to His words, but many 
with ears cocked for error. And sophistry! These fishermen and 
merchants and workmen were well instructed in Moses and the 
prophets. 

After the reading of the Torah, the attendant handed Jesus the 
scroll, and He repeated the prophetic words: 

"The spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon nie, because Jehovah 
has anointed me." 



JI4 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

And many were restlessly aware that they felt in the living pres- 
ence of knowledge and felicity and power when He began to 
speak. 

"Repent and believe." This the burden of His message, preached 
now for the first time publicly before crowds. Soon afterward He 
began to travel around the lake, from town to town, synagogue to 
synagogue. It seemed to the people that He was boldly proclaiming 
startling new truths, yet much of what He taught came straight 
from their own religious books, which they knew well, or had 
thought they did, until now. The difference was that He showed 
them a richer meaning of their own texts, bringing new light on old 
laws and prophecies, as well as flaming new promises. 

Finally, and with Mary happy to be with Him again, Jesus came 
home to Nazareth. Not to the carpenter shop now but to the syna- 
gogue. 

He came there to recall to people who had known Him all his life 
ancient doctrines, and especially the hard, strong advice of Isaiah, 
the troubled servant of the Lord, who praised the constructive 
power of suffering truth so hard for anyone to understand. On the 
Nazareth platform Jesus quoted to His fellow townsfolk from 
Isaiah: 

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me 
to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken- 
hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of 
sight to the blind; to set at liberty them that are braised." 

That day the townspeople were all deeply impressed, and com- 
plimented Mary for raising such a gifted son. He was not yet so 
famous or controversial a figure that they hated Him. Not until 
later were they to turn on Him, but when they did, it was to be 
with murder in their hearts. Now it was with a feeling of peace that 
Jesus and His five disciples walked the long road back to Caper- 
naum, where two deeds performed in public still further increased 
His fame. 

The first occurred in the synagogue. There Jesus was being 
heard by ever-growing crowds, enchanted by the power of His de- 
livery, the rich conviction in His voice, the force in His pliant and 
fortunate gestures; more and more He held them as under the spell 
of a storyteller. Not as the scribes and the rabbis, not with droning 
voice and mechanical utterance, with mere repetitions was He talk- 
ing to than, but with a natural skill greater than the technique of 



THE PREPARATION 115 

Roman actor or Greek orator. In every address He startled them 
with the completeness of His knowledge, the depth of His assur- 
ance, the intensity of His desire to pass on hope and courage to the 
oppressed. 

This promise so vitalized every lecture He gave that he had al- 
ready become the principal topic of conversation. Women, picking 
lentils in the field, praised His kindness to all who told Him their 
troubles; hucksters sitting at the market place, just within the city 
gates; dark-skinned traders, with earrings, stacking their bolts of 
silk and baskets of linen; day laborers sitting idly in the shade and 
waiting to be hired all sorts of men and women admired and 
trusted Him. Housewives at their ovens, leavening sweet dough 
with sour; the miller throwing chaff and grain against the morning 
breeze with his winnowing shovel, so that the wind would blow 
away the chaff and the good grain would fall to the ground; the 
husbandman in his field praying against locust and grasshoppers, the 
trappers in the hills, seeking partridge and fallow deer and keeping 
a wary eye out for stray bears from Mount Hermon all Caper- 
naum, at its daily jobs, talked about Jesus. 

How, they soon asked themselves, could anyone doubt, after 
that insane man had rolled on the floor of the synagogue last Sab- 
bath? 

Jesus had been talking when suddenly a man in the crowd began 
to scream. Running up to the front, he fell writhing to the floor. It 
was shocking to see him contorted in his ghastly spasms; the specta- 
tors shuddered. Many knew the man, and a chill of repulsion came 
over them because they believed he had a devil; believed that some 
spirit, unearthly and unclean, possessed his body, making him two 
persons in one frame. That, they thought, was why he rolled at the 
feet of Jesus and shrieked: 

"Let us alone! What have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? 
Did you come here to destroy us?" 

And then, oddly changing from plural to singular, as if only his 
real .self spoke, the sick man finished in a frightened gasp: 

"I know who you are the Holy One, of God!" 

Without a second's hesitation Jesus spoke sharply and decisively, 
commanding something vicious and unclean within the man: 

"Hold your peace and go out of him!" 

That moment the illness aided. The exhausted man ky quiet as 
a sleeping child. Who was this Jesus? Even the skeptics wanted to 



Il6 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

know more of this powerful personality who commanded evil 
spirits. 

No wonder the people talked. 

And right after this episode Jesus performed another strange 
deed in the home of His close friend, Simon, called Peter. 



Chapter 27 PETER'S MOTHER-IN-LAW 



IN THOSE days Peter was not too popular in his own household. He 
had been tagging around the south provinces, listening to John the 
Baptist, and now taking up with Jesus and neglecting the fish busi- 
ness. He who had always been a hard-working family man had be- 
come a dreamy, thoughtful fellow, whose boat was splitting at its 
seams and whose nets were dry. This did not make for peace in 
Peter's home. 

Just at this time Peter's mother-in-law fell ill not merely down 
with an aging woman's pains of the moon; no mere sick headaches 
or cramps, but seriously ill, with a glaze over the eyes, dryness in 
the throat, cheeks flushed, forehead burning a painful agony of 
fever. It was an epidemic illness, that fever, often prevalent in the 
low country after the first rains of autumn. 

Naturally Peter's wife called in a physician. This man, like many 
others of his craft, had a wise look, usually said nothing, but placed 
his hope, daily renewed, on the pharmacopoeia. Four hundred years 
before the Greek Hippocrates had founded a sensible medical sci- 
ence. But oriental charlatans clung to most outlandish remedies. 
Prescriptions consisted of the ashes of a charred wolf's skull, heads 
of mice, eyes of crabs, owl's brains, salt of vipers' sweat, frogs' 
livers, elephant lice from these resources were the simpler doses 
compounded. Boss a mule on the nose and cure a cold! Frogs cooked 
in vinegar would take away a toothache! For rarer troubles the doc- 
tor would turn to the foam of wild horses, mothers' milk, and the 
urine of unweaned calves. Did Peter's mother-in-law have colic? 
Let her swallow the drip of rabbits! Dysentery? Pulverized horse 
teeth for her! Troubled with her bkdder? Then she must partake of 
the kidneys of an ass mixed with a little scraping of mouse's fat. 

Bin none of their weird -prescriptions had helped Peter's mother; 



THE PREPARATION 1 17 

all febrifuges and other medicines efficacious against fever had failed 
to still the rising fire in the old woman's veins. 

When Simon returned home, just after the Master had healed the 
demoniac at the synagogue, his mother-in-law was much worse; 
Peter felt sure she was dying. The ex-fisherman did not wait, but 
rushed back to fetch Jesus. Andrew and James, John and Nathan- 
ael stood in the doorway as Jesus passed in and went directly to the 
bed and touched the mother-in-law's hand. She turned away from 
Him, hostile at first, then looked back with a bewildered air, not 
knowing how to account for the instant change in herself. Until 
then she hadn't thought much about Jesus. She had been sick. Now 
she was well! Strong enough to get out of bed and minister to all 
six of them. 

By sunset of that same day the whole town heard about It and the 
house of Peter was mobbed. The narrow streets before it and be- 
hind, the alleys and the broader highways were choked with sick 
people. They hobbled on crutches and crawled on their knees; old 
men were toted on the shoulders of their sons and old women 
cradled in the arms of husbands who staggered under their weight; 
children hastened and soothed by mothers and fathers, they all 
came clamoring. Some had pains and fevers, boils and cancers and 
leprous sores; minds that were like the stables of wild creatures, 
full of lust and hate and blood thirst. They were crippled and 
humpbacked and blind, they were dumb and tongue-tied. 

Upon them all, one after another, Jesus laid firm, cool hands. He 
blessed them, not with a solemn face but with a bright expression, 
even a chuckle, especially for the youngsters. Not one was left with 
boil, or fever, or speechless mouth. The cripples were uncrippled, 
the hunchback now had a straight spine, the dumb could speak 
and shout his thanks, the blind could see the Master's pleased but 
perspiring face. And others who, like the man in the synagogue, fell 
down in their writhings, were released and they, too, in their ecstasy 
cried out: 

"You cere the Son of God* 

That ivas when brow-knitted scholars in the synagogue began to 
read again the prophecies in old, neglected scrolls. One, with a little 
shiver, pointed out to his companion an ancient prophecy of Isaiah: 

"Land of Zabulon and land of Nephthalim . . . the people that 
sat in darkness have seen a great light , . ." 

Capernaum was on tine borders of Zabnloa and Nephthalim! 



Il8 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

And a second scholar pointed to another prophecy of that same 
neglected Isaiah: 

"He took our infirmities and bore our diseases." 

No wonder all Galilee talked! No wonder the crowds assembled 
so that for a brief spell Jesus had to seek renewal for Himself in a 
retreat to the desert. But not for long; finding solitude was not to be 
so simple. After curing old and young of diseases, He was not to be 
left to Himself. Word passed swiftly that He had left town; they 
feared He might never come back to Capernaum. The gathering 
crowds stormed Peter's house and demanded to know. Some hint 
they got because, dropping flax and seedlings, merchandise and fam- 
ily wash, they rushed out to seek and find Him on a rocky ledge 
some miles farther toward Damascus. Soon He was again sur- 
rounded by a sweating, unwashed delegation, entreating Him to re- 
turn. 

The Master explained that He must first visit other cities around 
the lake; assured them all that He would return and sent them on 
home. In the towns He now visited He repeated his first Capernaum 
program; He taught in the synagogue, and healed the sick. The tales 
of these healings were carried into Samaria and Judea, and He was 
already being talked of as far south as Jerusalem. 

The story that seemed to create the most wonder was not about 
healings, however, but the tale of a draught of fishes. 

The Master, as many now called Him, had been beleaguered by 
a listening crowd, pressing so close to Him that He was forced to 
the very edge of the lake. Near by were two fishing boats, with 
Dars, mast, and little sails* Fishermen stood ankle deep in the water, 
washing their nets, but their baskets, made of wicker and rope work, 
were empty. Others were gathering murex shells, washed in by a 
storm, to sell to the makers of Syrian dyes. 

Jesus saw that one of those ships belonged to His stormy fol- 
lower, Peter. Waving a hand to the impatient crowd, the Master 
clambered into Peter's boat. Would the sailors pull out a little 
farther into the water? Thank you, Peter! Now the impetuous, 
over-eager throng must keep its distance. Jesus had a little space for 
Himself, and, sitting quietly in Peter's boat, He finished His talk. 
When the crowd began to disperse, He turned again to his friend: 

"Simon, launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a 
draught." 

Peter heaved a patient sigh. He had begun to feel one needed a 



THE PREPARATION 1 19 

great deal of patience to deal "with this calm, pale, unruffled Jesus. 
Very politely the bearded fisherman made a protest. Clearly the 
Master did not realize . . . 

"We have fished all night and have taken nothing." 

But the Master did realize it! Indeed, that was why He had made 
the suggestion. 

So Peter called his helpers and they did as Jesus had advised 
them. No fish all night long, no fish for all their tough, hard work 
in the darkthey were completely discouraged. But now look! Look 
in the full glare of morning light silver pounds of flopping, wrig- 
gling, squirming fish, bulging the nets until the ropes broke. They 
had to call partners from another ship; they filled both holds with 
the catch and even so the ships wobbled and nearly sank with the 
weight of their cargoes. 

"And there is a meaning to It," whispered one fisherman to an- 
other. "Don't get discouraged; keep on fishing!" 

So they told the story from Nain to Bethany, but not all of it. For 
the gossips did not know the new self-doubt that overwhelmed the 
heart of Peter, the shamed fisherman, who, weeping at the memory 
of his own skepticism, pleaded with the Master; 

"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" 

The others stood by watching Andrew who was Peter's brother, 
and James and John, who were their partners, and Nathanael. They 
heard, as well as Peter, the quick, eager reply addressed to them 
all: 

"Come after me and I 'will make you to become fishers of men. 
Fear not!" 

That settled it as far as these five were concerned. They had seen 
and heard everything. This was their definitive call and they an- 
swered it, even though already warned it was a pathway to death. 
No more fishing except for men! 

They left the boats with Zebedee, the father of James, waiting 
only for a moment while their leader healed a wayside leper. They 
started out, ready to follow Jesus all the way to Gethsemane. 



120 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Chapter 28 THE FIRST CLASH 

FROM then on the first five disciples were constantly at His side, 
serving and helping when He would let them. They saw Him heal 
and exorcise and teach until they feared He would faint with fa- 
tigue. At such times He would invariably go off by himself to a 
desert spot; from such brief sessions of solitary prayer He would 
come back invigorated, as if within the space of an hour He had 
concentrated the benefit of a rest cure or a whole summer's vaca- 
tion. 

The five friends could not restore themselves. They were tired 
out when finally Jesus had completed His tour of the lake cities, but 
He came back to Capernaum the very image of strong, magnetic 
health. 

And Jesus was going to need His strength, for a long struggle was 
now to begin, never to be relaxed until the end. 

It was, in fact, on His return to Capernaum that He first clashed 
with the public authorities. They were agents from the Jerusalem 
Temple, sent down to make an official report on the wonder- 
worker, and the emissaries sat in the synagogue with the doctors of 
kw and looked anxiously at the crowds this unknown Master was 
attracting. Yet why should they feel distrustful? What they heard 
from Jesus, as He preached that day, was sound orthodox doctrine; 
He uttered no heresy. If that was what they feared, their long trip 
was a waste of time. But kter in the day events heartened the flag- 
ging hopes of the spies. 

Jesus had entered a private home and sat in an upper room, an- 
swering questions from a group of scholars. The Temple agents 
were there, too; they had orders to follow Him everywhere and 
miss nothing. Suddenly, overhead, they all heard a disturbance. 
Much annoyed, the master of the house climbed up to the roof. 
Who was making the racket? What he found there was a family, a 
wife and four sons, carrying a father, deathly i]L 

The sick man's wife pleaded with the outraged householder. Her 
aged husband had caught a strange disease; without warning his 
whole body had lost the power of movement or sensation except for 
aa intense internal suffering. They said, the wife and the sons, who 



THE PREPARATION 121 

had carried the sick man to Capernaum, that no doctor in Galilee 
knew how to cure paralysis. More, they knew that the old man's 
death must soon follow. 

That was why, in desperation, they had lugged the sick man a 
weary distance here. Once arrived, they still could not get to Jesus. 
The human crush around the synagogue had been too dense; no one, 
sick or well, would give way for them. Later He entered this house 
of a friend and sat talking with them in an upper room. So the pil- 
grims dragged the bed and the sick man around to the back of the 
house next door. No crowd there! Up a narrow flight of steps they 
carried their burden to the roof. One of the sons ran off and came 
back panting with an armful of ropes. 

These ropes they now attached to the corners of the bed, which 
was only a pallet or mattress filled with cotton and straw. 

Their purpose was clear. They wanted to lower the sick man 
through the opening in the roof, deposit him in front of the Mas- 
ter, and implore His mercy. All very touching, but the irate house- 
holder was ready to order them off the premises when the pale, up- 
turned face of Jesus stopped him; that glowing gaze was full of 
command. 

"Very well, then! Lower him away!" 

They lowered mattress and dying man to the floor. Jesus looked 
down at the unmoving patient, then up to the opening where 
staring down upon Him were the tired mother and her sons. He 
smiled winningly, then bent beside the dying stranger, laid lean 
hands on icy cheeks, and stroked the cataleptic eyes. He spoke in a 
profound hush: 

"Be good of heart, son! Your sins are forgiven you." 

A buzzing murmur raced through the audience. Bored at hearing 
the words of prophets thrown punctiliously at their heads, the 
Temple agents now sat up and gasped. Here was something to re- 
port to Jerusalem. 

"Blasphemy!" squawked one. "Who can forgive sins but God 
alone? Blasphemy!" 

No one replied as the dread charge, punishable by death, sounded 
and echoed in the room. Jesus was still bending over the sick man. 

"What is It," He askedi, facing the men from the Temple, "that 
you think in your hearts? Why do you think evil? Which is easier 
to say: your sins are forgiven you or arise! Take up your bed and 
walk?" 



I2Z THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

He patted the cheeks of the man who until then could not budge 
but only feel his great pain. Then Jesus whispered slowly and delib- 
erately: 

u But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth 
to forgive sins, get up! I say to you, arise! Take your bed and go to 
your house," 

Everything seemed to stand still for one breathless instant Then 
in sight of all the immovable man began to move. The speechless 
man spoke. The first sound was a great sob of relief, a convulsion 
of joy that shook his whole wasted frame. Struggling up to one el- 
bow, he cried: 

"Thanks be to God!" 

And hearing incoherent cries of joy from those five delirious 
faces at the opening in the roof the sick man put his palms on the 
earthen floor, forced himself to stand up, stood swaying for a mo- 
ment, and then weeping in his new strength, he bent over and did as 
he had been bidden: he lifted up his bed and walked out of the 
house. 

And Jesus smilingly waved His hand in faxewell to the relatives 
upstairs before they raced after the man He had healed. 

The crowds were breaking up in jabbering confusion* But the 
doctors of the kw and the agents from Jerusalem huddled in a cor- 
ner and put their heads together. The Son of Man? From where did 
He get that phrase? Ah! One of them remembered. The prophet 
Daniel had used the same pregnant words, 

"I saw in the night faces, and behold, one, like the Son of Man, 
came with the clouds of heaven . . ." 

The Son of Man! Fulfilment of Daniel's prophecy? Power to 
forgive sins? It was heresy. They would go back to Jerusalem and 
report upon this business. 

Here was the first strong clash with the Pharisees; no one did the 
Master criticize with deeper indignation. Throughout the oncoming 
centuries scholars and teachers were to complain about the uncom- 
promising severity of Jesus toward this class; yet nothing that has 
ever been said in their behalf has lessened the force of His indict- 
ment. Here were leaders, spiritually ill and dying, yet wielding 
power over the minds of the common people. He had to denounce 
them; His very silence would have been an endorsement of their 
emphasis upon wholly external practices. 

The Mosaic kw meant to them the observance of their multiplied 



THE PREPARATION 123 

regulations. Humility was rare among them; the Pharisees did not 
humbly and in secret try to get nearer to God; when they did good 
works, they let everyone know; they thought their excellence, such 
as they saw it, came from their own merits; they thought of them- 
selves as God's pets in the schoolroom of life. They were arrogant 
scholars, and, as Jesus was to call them, "Blind leaders of the blind!" 



Chapter 29 A TAX AGENT RESIGNS 



ONLY a few weeks later Jesus proceeded to shock masses of the 
people quite as much as He had already disturbed their overlords of 
the Temple. 

That was when He added a sixth man to His little band of fol- 
lowersand chose for the honor the most unpopular man in Caper- 
naum, a functionary everybody loathed the publican, collector of 
the Roman taxes. This new disciple was called Levi, son of Al- 
phaeus, and Jesus made his acquaintance where he sat in what was 
known as the "Receipt of Customs," the place of collecting tariff 
duties from travelers and caravaneers. 

There was no personal reason for the people of Capernaum to 
hate a poor and good-natured man like Levi, but they did; they felt 
bound to despise and to detest anybody connected with taxes. In 
their code, it was forbidden to pay taxes to a conqueror except un- 
der protest. Technically, the taxes were paid to Jewish officers, but 
most certainly the monies put in Levfs hands finished up in a 
Roman strongbox. Annas and others of his Jerusalem cronies hired 
honest men in desperate need why else would a good man take 
such a job? and one of several they had employed in Capernaum 
was Levi, son of Alphaeus. 

He seemed a mild-mannered little man as he sat there at the bar- 
rier of the frontier road, humble and acutely aware of how he was 
despised. In his loneliness he had become a student; it helped him in 
his job to speak Roman and Greek and other travelers* tongues; he 
was quite learned in the literature of East and West. But that did 
not improve his popularity. No petty torment the people could in- 
flict upon him was considered too cruel. He was tiie visible agent 
of the taxes, so he was tmclean, the butt of all. 



124 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Robber!" the little boys called after Levi when he walked down 
the street, and at the supper table their fathers coupled the word 
"publican" with sinner and harlot master-all of a class. 

Yet Levi continued to be a hard-working and conscientious man, 
who watched carefully over every mite and farthing, testing the 
true ring of dinarius and penny against a little block of marble; the 
Roman coins called pence, and pounds, and the talents of silver and 
of gold. And he remained an outcast; no one would sit at table with 
him; he could not testify before an ecclesiastical court; long ago he 
had lost all standing and all friends. 

It was before the tariff booth of Levi that Jesus passed one morn- 
ing and looked attentively into the sad eyes of the publican. 

"Follow me!" He said suddenly. 

- To the amazement of all the hangers-on the publican stood up in 
an obedience that was instantaneous and complete. Not a moment's 
question! The chapfallen crowd gasped as despised Levi, son of Al- 
phaeus, rushed from his table and calling to his assistant to take over 
his schedule of merchandise tolls, his careful accounts, his hoard of 
coins leaving all these for someone else to attend to without hesi- 
tation fell in step and walked off briskly with the Master. 

Some of the thoughtful citizens remarked that night that while 
many sick persons had been healed instantaneously and sent home 
well and strong, no one else had instantaneously left one kind of life 
to take up another as simply and directly as did Levi. He was asked 
to follow, and he did it at once. 

More, the neighbors saw how proud he seemed to be with An- 
drew and Philip, James and John and Nathanael that afternoon. At 
last he had friends! Prouder still to be told by the Master he would 
00 longer be called Levi, but from hence he was to be known as 
Matthew. Proudest of all to bring the famous Jesus to his own 
despised house, and then to bustle out and buy provisions with 
spendthrift hand and scurry back home to prepare a feast; how glad 
Matthew was to bring in what rag, tag, and bobtail people he knew 
to meet and. break bread with Jesus. 

Who were these friends of the taxgatherer? Tramps. Alcoholics. 
Outcasts like himself, naturally, together with fellow collectors. And 
other low folk tipsters and gamblers, hellions and good-for-noth- 
ings, furtive creatures from life's seamy side every one. 

Here was room for scandal! Back from Jerusalem, to spy on Him 
once more, the Temple agents stood gleefully in the moonlight out- 



THE PREPARATION 125 

side the house where the publican and his friends were eating and 
drinking. 

As some of the companions of Jesus sauntered out for a breath of 
air the agents from Jerusalem accosted them. One took Andrew by 
the shoulder; another drew aside Bartholomew and James; the 
smartest of all chose Peter. 

"Look here," he blustered to the big fisherman. "Why does your 
Master eat and drink with publicans and sinners?" 

The answer came with shocking quickness. Suddenly, in the 
lighted doorway, appeared the lean silhouette of the teacher from 
Nazareth calling to them: 

"They that are well have no need for a physician, but they that 
are sick. Go, then, and learn you this: 

"I love mercy and not sacrifice! 

"And I am not come to call the just but sinners to repentance." 

The agents drifted off into the darkness. They would be up most 
of the night, trying to find fault with what He had meant. 

But immediately after there came another kind of deputation 
from Jerusalem. 

This time it was a group of followers of John the Baptist. The 
cousin of Jesus was still imprisoned, kept in a pit like a dangerous 
beast by troubled, conscience-needled Herod Antipas. A group of 
pallid men, with symbolic ashes worn in their uncombed hair, 
mourning for John's imprisonment, came to consult Jesus. They 
were friendy but deeply worried, even resentful men. Peter summed 
up for them: they wanted to know why the followers of John, men 
like themselves, must fast often and make prayers but the six dis- 
ciples of Jesus never seemed to fast; they ate and drank and enjoyed 
life. 

Apparently the story of Matthew's party had been carried far and 
fast by these Temple visitors. 

The answer should not have shocked these melancholy followers 
of the Baptist; not if they remembered how John himself had al- 
ready acclaimed Jesus as the fulfilment of the prophecies. If Jesus 
were the Messiah and these six men were His chosen assistants, then 
His answer should be clear enough: 

"Can the children of the marriage fast as long as the bridegroom 
is with diem? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be 
taken away from them; and then they shall fast in those days!" 

The followers of John, still unsatisfied, went home, just as the 



126 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Temple spies returned with renewed zeal to trap the Master. Up until 
now He had chosen His words too carefully for them to indict Him 
for blasphemy. What, then? Well, among the more conservative the 
talk in Capernaum was that Jesus and His friends were rather loose 
in their observance of the Sabbath laws. There might be a real open- 
ing because disregard of the Sabbath was a heathen's offense and 
could also be punished by death. 

Thus encouraged, the Temple agents returned to the attack on a 
Saturday toward the end of June in the year AJX 28. The harvest 
was ripening as Jesus walked with His friends out into the open 
country. All around them were fields of grain called corn, not Indian 
maize but tall yellow wheat from which was made the good, tasty 
Palestinian bread. After ambling several miles Peter and John be- 
came hungry and quite casually they plucked some tall ears of wheat 
which they rubbed between their palms, crushing the grains and 
then chewing them raw. Suddenly, like jack-in-the-boxes, there 
popped up from the midst of the growing corn two of the Jeru- 
salem spies. 

Eyes gleaming with satisfaction, they brushed the earth from 
their knees and strode toward Jesus as the leader snarled: 

"Take a good look at what your men are doing that which it is 
not lawful to do on the Sabbath day!" 

What? Nibbling a few ears of growing wheat? That is what they 
found fault with exactly. In the Book of Exodus, second of the 
Books of Moses, reaping on the Sabbath was forbidden. Unquestion- 
ably these men were reaping! 

Thus the legalistic mind of a Pharisee wherever you find him on 
any continent, in any color, tongue, or creed, is today quite the same 
as then. 

Like a good Jew, the Master countered question with question: 

"Have you never read what David did when he was hungry 
himself and they that were with him? How he went Into the House 
of God and ate the loaves of proposition which was not kwful for 
him to eat nor for them that were with him, but for the priests 
only? 

"Or have you not read in the kw that on the Sabbath day the 
priests in the Temple break the Sabbath and are without blame? 
But I tell you that here is a greater need than the Temple, and if 
you knew what this means/ will have mercy and not sacrifice 
you would never have condemned the innocent. 



THE PREPARATION 127 

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath* There- 
fore the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath also." 

He had met their trivial accusation with a precedent against 
which nothing could stand. Again and again He was to demon- 
strate His complete familiarity with every jot and tittle of the Scrip- 
tures; here He had carried the argument into the very Temple 
which had sent them down to entrap Him. 

But pertinacity is also a characteristic of Pharisees! 

It was only a few weeks later, again on a Sabbath in the syna- 
gogue at Capernaum, that Jesus noticed the same fo:sy old faces 
hovering in the rear of the crowd. They were watching eagerly as 
a young man up front cried out to Jesus pleading that He heal his 
withered hand. Would the Master dare heal a man on the Sabbath? 
That question was in every mind in the synagogue. 

"Arise and stand forth in the midst," said Jesus. The groaning 
man tottered forward; the Master took the withered hand, all shriv- 
eled and gray, and held it between His own strong, pale hands. By 
this time the Pharisees should have realized how well the Master 
knew the law. He was well aware that to break the Sabbath was 
punishable by death; so it was stated in Exodus 31: 14. So once again 
His life was hanging by a thread as His clear challenge to His 
enemies rang out: 

"I ask you if it be lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil? 
To save life or to destroy it?" 

Then, letting His dark gaze sweep the crowd in one magnetic 
glance, He demanded: 

"What man is there among you that has one sheep and if the 
same fall into a pit on the Sabbath day will he not take hold on it 
and lift it up? How much better is a man than a sheep?" 

His intensely compassionate eyes held them. 

"Therefore," He answered himself, "it is lawful to do a good deed 
on the Sabbath day." 

Turning to the cringing man before Him, he continued: 

"Stretch forth your hand." 

In another instant both the man's hands were alike; the gray and 
withered one restored to health, white and firm and whole as the 
other. The tumult of the crowd ended the services. But the Temple 
agents, flatulent with anger, went off to conspire with Herodians in 
the town. That unsavory crew of royalists did not want to free 
Israel; they were marplots anxious to get rid of Pontius Pilate, the 



128 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

procurator of Rome, and establish a descendant of Herod the Great 
on the throne of Judea. Here were strange bedfellows but they 
were in agreement in asking one question: 

"How can we get rid of Jesus and His ideas?" 

The question is still being asked today. 

Meanwhile Jesus himself went into the desert alone and prayed all 
night. 



Chapter 30 JOHN HAD TO KNOW 

IN HIS prison den in the palace gardens John had heard reports of 
the works and sayings of his cousin Jesus; events like the healing 
of the withered hand and of the demoniac on the floor of the Caper- 
naum synagogue; reports, too, of a greater wonder the healing 
again, at long distance, of a Roman's servant. This miracle was per- 
formed for a centurion, an imperial officer who had come to ask 
help of the penniless wayfaring Jew a spectacle that astounded the 
native population. Especially when the Master offered to walk to 
the house of the Roman and he refused, exclaiming: 

"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof- 
just say the word and my servant shall be healed." 

"Amen!" cried Jesus to the Roman; "I want to tell you some- 
thingI have not found so great faith, not in all Israel." 

And as the tale came bektedly to imprisoned John the dying 
servant became instantly and completely well, without Jesus having 
to go near to the house. 

On this long-distance miracle the imprisoned Baptist brooded a 
long time. Another that made him ponder was an episode at the 
hamlet of Nain, where Jesus and the disciples, walking through 
the town gate, encountered a funeral party. A widow's son was 
being carried to the cemetery. Jesus stopped the procession and in- 
stantly called the dead young man back to life. This astounding 
fact had been witnessed by John's own emissaries. 

Strange, indeed, to have power over life and death and yet even 
John the Baptist was aware of doubts among his disciples; perhaps 
even in himself! And why not? He was himself now facing a moral 
choice between life and death* He could no longer rely on rumors. 



THE PREPARATION 129 

"Do what I ask," he had just been told by Herod Antipas the 
king, "and I'll set you free. Today! But refuse and I shall have to 
behead you, John. There is no other way; my wife gives me no 
peace about you." 

The shallow king with the egg-shaped head really seemed to want 
to be John's friend. This was not mere politics on Herod's part, al- 
though he did have to take into account the continuing popularity 
of his prisoner. But the ascetic man from the desert not only baffled 
Herod but fascinated him too; the Baptist's stoutheartedness and 
his intrepidity were the talk of the countryside. 

Just to show his kindness, the king informed the guards that John 
might have anything he wanted to eat. When John declined this 
bounty, it staggered the obese and gluttonous Herod; the Baptist 
sent back roasts and chops and broils and a hundred dainties from 
the palace kitchen. For John a few dry roots were enough, with 
leaves and wild honey and a gourd of water. This. austerity had an 
extraordinary effect on the childlike Herod. Until he met John, this 
weak son of a strong sire had believed in nothing and in no one. All 
men were liars, all moved solely by self-interest; all would sell out 
at the best price possible. So he believed. 

The more stubbornly John refused, the more the little king re- 
solved to discover his price. Something deep within Herod Antipas 
was perturbed; it would mean frighteningly much to him if it turned 
out that after all John had no price. Herod could forgive himself 
only because he considered no man was above a bribe; no one not 
susceptible of being corrupted. 

Late at night he would steal to the edge of the pit and look down 
at his prisoner. Coaxingly he would offer sweetmeats. He had plat- 
ters of lamb meat, dripping with hot gravies and garnished with 
tasty vegetables, poked by guards under the lean nose of the fasting 
preacher. But all to no avail. John simply called his tormentor to re- 
pentance. And more and more the monarch listened; he dabbled 
with these new ideas of morality, dipping lighdy but often. Finally 
one night the king forsook his bad-boy tricks and listened seriously 
as John told him that while he dallied with his inamorata, a new and 
mighty change was shaking the world. The Messiah had come in 
person, taking the body of a man. John was His announcer, His 
messenger. 

Herod, squatting on his haunches at the rim of the dungeon, 
shook with laughter. 



130 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"For a fairy tale-a delusion like this you would lose your life? 
Think, Baptist don't play fool! All you need do to go free is to 
take back your nasty words #bout my marriage to my brother's 
wife. Go out and tell the people that my marriage is all right; that 
Herodias and I are not living in adultery. I will get you a nice wife 
for yourself too!" 

Again John tried to make him understand, but Herod stopped 
his ears. 

"No, you are fooling yourself, Baptist. I don't want to wrangle, 
but this man from Nazareth is not God* You called him that. But 
did He ever call Himself that? Did you ever hear Him say He was 
even the Messiah? Couldn't you be mistaken, John?" 

The king's tone and manner were full of pleading; his fatuous 
sincerity touched John's heart, The untamed man from the Judean 
desert said to himself: 

"Here is my chance! My followers love me too much; they are 
loath to leave me and become disciples of the Master Jesus. And 
I am no longer with them to plead to them. Here, with this guileful 
king who understands nothing, perhaps I can settle it all!" 

And in tones unusually gentle for him John said: 

"Majesty, will you permit me to consult with some of my follow- 
ers about all this?" 

"You have only to name them, John, and I will send for them 
this instant! n 

That was how it was that two emissaries straight from John 
himself again came down to Galilee and confronted Jesus with the 
question they had been charged with; the answer to which would 
settle John's lif e-and-death decision: 

"Are you he that is come? Or look we for another?" 

With His hand moving toward a blind man's eyes, in the midst 
of many healings, the Master gave his answer: 

"Go relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see. 
The lame walk. The lepers are made clean. The deaf hear. The 
dead rise again. And," he finished with an ironical smile, "the gospel 
is preached to the poor!" 

The crowd, sick people and disciples, had heard the question and 
the reply. They knew about John; now Jesus established the Baptist's 
true position in a clear, direct statement: 

"John? What went you out in the desert to see? A reed shaken 
with the wind? A prophet? Yes, and more. Among those born of 



THE PREPARATION 



women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist but 
he that is the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he." 

And then He reminded them how the priests of the Jerusalem 
Temple had objected to John a year before as now they repudiated 
Himself. What did they want? John fasted and lived in wild places; 
Jesus dined and drank and was present at gay parties. Neither was 
acceptable to Jerusalem! 

"It is like to children sitting in the market place, who, crying to 
their companions, say: 

" 'We have piped to you and you have not danced; we have 
lamented and you have not mourned!' 

"For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say: 'He 
is a devil.' 

"The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and they say: 'Be- 
hold a man that is a glutton and a wine drinker, a friend of publi- 
cans and sinners!' " 

And Jesus waved good~by to John's emissaries a salute of the 
hand and a rueful smile. 

Two nights later Herod came again in the moonlight to look down 
into the pit at John. Behind the open gardens and the palm trees lay 
visible the wide plain and the silver-lighted highlands beyond. In 
the stillness of the night one could hear the babble and splash of a 
great fountain. The prisoner stood up briskly and politely; for all 
his confinement he had never known depression of body or lassitude 
of mind. 

"Well, Baptist. Your messengers have returned!" 

"Yes, Majesty!" 

"With an answer?" 

"Yes, Majesty." 

"Then you must have decided. John, will you recant take it all 
back unsay it about my wife and me? And go free?" 

To all the king's blandishments John had but one answer: 

"No!" 

In saying that, he knew he was pronouncing his own death sen- 
tence. Herod uttered the ferocious oath of a weakling and strode 
off to the boudoir of his lady* 



132 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Chapter 31 A- YOUNG GIRL DANCES 

BY NOW John the Baptist had been kept in prison at the palace in 
outlying Machaerus for so many months that his friends no longer 
lived in daily fear of his being put to death. There was really only 
one person who desired his blood: the queen, Herodias. But she 
had never softened her scolding hatred. Day and night she seethed 
with unyielding hatred that poisoned all her thoughts, ruined her 
digestion, and even inflamed her wartish blemish, a disfiguring de^ 
feet on the temple beyond her left eye, too deep-rooted to be taken 
off. 

On the night that John said no to the king a state dinner was 
being planned in the palace. In celebration of his birthday, fat and 
pursy little Herod Antipas had invited all the bigwigs of Galilee- 
princes, tribunes, important officials to come and sup. At the ap- 
pointed time they came, smiling their superior Roman smiles, flat- 
tering themselves as being sybarites and voluptuaries in a barbaric 
colony, making clear to one another with nudges and glances their 
contempt for this arrant provincial kingling, but making no secret, 
either, of their appreciation for his savory meats and well-aged 
wines. 

The night was hot, moist, and still. The tall banquet hall was lit 
with torches and long tapers and the sultry air was thick with the 
smell of roasts and heady liquors. The voices of the feasters ram- 
paged above the sinuous, devious songs of the minstrels. There was 
hardly one sober head at Herod's table when, at the height of the 
feast, the damask curtains parted and the king's stepdaughter came 
mincing in for the principal performance of the evening. 

She was the daughter of Herodias, this Salome, and the daughter 
also of PhiHp, Herod's brother. At an early age she was already ex- 
hibiting signs of nyrnpholepsy; she was full-bosomed and shapely, 
with shocking young eyes full of inviting hints. 

For an instant the damsel stood poised with outstretched hands 
her fingers moist with oils pressed from rare petals, attar in her hair, 
and die exact purpose of seduction in her brain. 

The players of the harps, the strokers and incessant beaters of the 



THE PREPARATION 133 

drums began their rhythmic motions, and Salome in the trans- 
parency of a diaphanous robe began to dance* She moved in voluptu- 
ous measures; the lifting and weaving of her thin, infantile white 
arms, the promise of her educated fingers, rhymed with the stealthy 
insistence of her hip movements, stirred the blood. 

Forward and back she moved in barefoot steps. At a final chasse 
movement, across to right and back to left, there was let loose a very 
hell of noise, bellows of praise, and the clapping of hands, the 
stamping of feet! Salome, a little scared at such incendiary success, 
would have run off, but Herod, who despised as weaklings men 
who did not suffer from inordinate desire, cast a grin around at all 
his guests, and made a rammish grab; then set the moist, panting 
young one on his knee. 

"Ask me whatever you want, Salome, and I will give it to you," 
he whispered hoarsely. There was a long silence of lascivious rest- 
lessness in the king, of wanton ogling by the child. 

What did the eldritch Salome want? Herod was never really to 
know. Looking at him appraisingly, like a fledgling paramour, see- 
ing what lust was like in a king's eyes, she kept silent. That female 
demon, her mother, had trained her for this. Then in his ecstasy 
the king swore his oath aloud: 

"Whatever you shall ask, Salome, my sweet, 111 give you though 
it be the half of my kingdom." 

Now there was an oath! Salome put her finger in her mouth. For 
that moment she was a giglet: a giddy little girl. Then she remem- 
bered her instructions and ran off to the queen, who waited in an- 
other apartment. 

"Mother, Mother, what shall I ask for?" 

The mother told the bacchante child quickly enough. The kingly 
boon must be not anything that Salome might want for herself, but 
what the mother desired with all her vengeful soul. The man John! 
The desert preacher with his pale face and cavernous eyes. That 
prude Baptist who had condemned her to the people for her new 
marriage. That insensible Baptist who, of all men she had known* 
was untroubled by her voluptuous beauty, unkindled by her fire. 
That water-splashing, locust-chewing, honey-sipping giant who 
would not yield to the natural passions of a man. 

"John die Baptist!" Herodias commanded intensely. "Ask for his 
head!" 

A Ikde disappointed, now bored and languorous, Salome ran back 



134 B GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

into the banquet hall, back to the king. He chuckled at sight of her, 
and while the table remained under its spell he lifted her wrapped 
body upon his couch. 

"Well, Salome, what will it be?" 

"I will that immediately you give me in a dish the head of John 
the Baptist/' 

The king put the moist child down from him. His eyes were 
sobered with unexpected horror. A moment of pudgy incertitude 
and then, as he realized that his wanton vow must now be paid in 
blood, lust died in his soul. The Romans watched him with sheer, 
gloating delight; in his quandary he was making good sport for them. 
They made bets on whether he would dare fulfill his own oath 
or be forsworn before them all. How, they sniggered, would he 
dare invoke by murder the ill-will of the crowds who had been bap- 
tized by John? Yet how perjure the royal word? Those Romans 
knew that the pampered Queen Herodias, indulged in all her wishes, 
had long desired this very thing. And they suspected that she had 
coached her child in that bawdy dance and waited for this drunken 
opportunity. A captain, who commanded a thousand Roman sol- 
diers, told his neighbor; 

"Herod is in a box. He will be wrong now no matter what he 
does." 

None could guess that there Was something more than political 
concern in Herod's heart, that the conscience of the king had been 
beleaguered by this rugged giant from the wilderness. John was 
strong, where the king was weak; John believed, where Herod was 
always in doubt; John was positive, and Herod loved him for it. 

But the king knew there was no excuse even for a reprieve, no 
chance for a temporary delay, and so he called for the cross-eyed 
steward of the feast. He regarded the servant as if he were Abaddon, 
the angel of the bottomless pit. 

"Fetch the executioner," he said miserably, pulling a fold of his 
robe over his paunch* "Have him bring us here now the head of 
John called the Baptist, Bring it in in a dish!" 

Hurrying to the prison, the executioner, shoving aside guard, 
keeper, and warden, woke John from a peaceful sleep. He ordered 
the prisoner, clad in his long, sleeveless garment of haircloth, to 
kneel and ky his head on a butcher block. With one expert swing 
the wall-eyed axman cut the head from the long, muscular neck. By 
the untidy hair he lifted the dripping head and let it fall in a deep 



THE PREPARATION 135 

dish of gold, .then carried it to Herod. And the king gave it to the 
hands of the dancing child. 

Now, as Salome started back toward the damask curtains, at her 
very first step the harpists smote their strings and the drummers 
beat with their sticks, and almost unconsciously the girl fell naturally 
into the old writhing of her dance. Her hips swayed again as she 
passed through the curtains, the lifted dish with the dead man's 
head held high in her little-girl arms. She laid the bloody thing at 
the feet of her mother and then, like a sleepy crosspatch, had to be 
put to bed. 

John's disciples buried the headless body and, riding night and 
day, brought the grisly news to Capernaum. 

Now, once again, Jesus retired to privacy and communion; to 
prepare himself for the coming ordeal, to renew his energies; to 
wash the soul for the time of the forerunner was over and his own 
mission lay before him. Once again, in bleak mountains frowning 
above the Sea of Galilee, beyond Capernaum, Jesus stole off to be 
alone. All through one starlit night he remained on the dark height, 
alone and yet not alone, his heart opened to the infinite. 

When morning came he was ready to take two radical steps. 



Book Four 

THE FIRST YEAR 



Chapter 32 CHOSEN 

THE first step was to complete the selection of His principal follow- 
ers, who would be trained to carry forward His work when He 
would have to leave/ them. 

Back in Capernaum He sent out Peter and James to bring to Him 
ten others whom He named from among the throng that helpfully 
and for months had followed Him wherever He went. An hour 
later He ranged the Twelve in a circle around Him, as they stood 
on an unfrequented part of the pebbly shore of the lake. 

Bald and bearded Peter with his freckled nose was there, of course, 
and his tall brother Andrew. Near them stood the pale Bartholo- 
mew, who was also called Nathanael. Then came bright-eyed, im- 
petuous John and his brother James, sons of Zebedee; and standing 
beside them bearded Matthew, the exuberant ex-taxgatherer. Mus- 
cular, athletic Philip stood with his arm around the publican's shoul- 
der. All these had been with the Master in His recent expeditions. 

The others were newcomers. They had been selected from the 
large group of disciples who had followed the Master around 
Galilee. 

First there was that other, younger James. Nearly forty years 
later, for love of Jesus, he was to be thrown down from the pin- 
nacle of the Jerusalem Temple, and, being seen still to breathe, was 
finally to be stoned to death. 

Standing with, the younger James was the even younger Jude, 
his brother; Jude, who was called also Thaddeus and Lebbaeas; Jude, 
who would be regarded as obscure by future geoeratioes, after 
being shot to death by arrows in Armenia sixty years from this June 
day when he was chosen. 

There was also Simon Zdfotes, again a brother of young James 
and Jude. Simon was to be crucified at an appallingly old age; some 



138 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

say he was one hundred and twenty-nine years old when he was 
nailed to an X~like cross in Persia. 

Last but one of those whom Jesus now selected was Thomas, 
surnamed Didymus, but better known as doubting Thomas, some 
later day in India to be ripped with a spear and die. 

At the end of the list was Judas, the son of Simon of Kerioth. His 
name, Judas Iscariot, meant Judas of Kerioth. 

A hybrid crew those twelve! Derived from incongruous sources! 
Yet Jesus informed them that He had chosen deliberately, and that 
His official mission must begin at once, with the death of John the 
Baptist, In the language of that day the term apostle meant "one 
who is sent," and applied especially to couriers who carried letters 
from rulers or others in authority. Explicitly he named His Twelve 
as messengers. He would send them out to preach, promising that 
they, too, should heal sicknesses and cast out demons* 

For a long time the thirteen stood in silent prayer, then started 
back into the town* Clearly, as they could see, He would need their 
devoted help. And the prospect was a little frightening; on that 
very day it seemed as if all the sick of the whole world were gather- 
ing in Capernaum. They came from as far as the great metropolis 
with its gaudy Temple, where no one, it seemed, had ever been 
healed; from distant parts of Judea, and even beyond; loose regi- 
ments of bedraggled men and women, streaming in from seacoast 
and mountains, from Tyre and Sidon, and rugged old Carmel, where 
Elijah had lived in his cave; farther still, from Idumea and from the 
oeter regions beyond the Jordan. From throughout all Syria came 
hosts of strangers, and from the ten nearby cities called the Decapolis 
that ringed the Sea of Galilee. 

Not without qualms the Apostles beheld the clamoring throngs. 
Soon it would be their job to heal such people. Life had, in so short 
a time, changed completely for these men, A little while ago they 
could have turned back, but no more. Jesus had chosen them, twelve 
and twelve only, as if in mystical recognition of the ancient tribes. 

They followed Him, as he made His way along the shore, healing 
many along the way, until the press of people grew so large that 
once again He took refuge in a fisherman's boat. The time had come 
wfam He and His chosen dozen must put the multitudes off from 
them and be alone together. 

After hours of sailing out of sight of the pursuing crowd they 



THE FIRST YEAR 139 

beached at a desolate part of the shore, below a towering mountain 
of black volcanic rock. The thirteen climbed up the steep path until 
they reached a shelter overlooking the inland sea and the late after- 
noon fog that now began to mist across the waters. 
Here Jesus took His second major step. 



Chapter 33 THE SECOND STEP 



THE time had come to make one speech to these Twelve that would 
sum up all His teachings, a complete and formal statement of His 
message, which the Apostles would learn by heart. 

For this purpose He had led them away from the multitudes to 
a rocky shoulder here on one side of the mountain, an isolated spot 
where they could be alone. 

As the disciples sat on their heels in a ring around Him, He began 
to teach. There was never heard in this world, before that day of 
divine revelation, or since, a more concise or orderly statement of a 
universal philosophical system; nor has there ever been another such 
chart of human behavior. Here was all the soul needed to know of 
God and creation and daily life, of today and hereafter. Here, too, 
were the most audacious promises ever made to humanity: the good 
news of eternity according to Jesus Christ. 

He began by telling them how a human being could be happy in 
his life on this earth. There were only eight rules one had to follow 
and one would be blessed. Not that He promised them security 
against the misfortunes of the world; He had no guarantee for any 
against pain, loss, grief, or disgrace. No such thing lay in the teach- 
ing whose revelations those Twelve were to start reverberating in 
every land. All that Jesus had to offer was happiness. That was a 
state of mental well-being by which a man could remain tranquil and 
yet with an eager zest for life, no matter how poignant his loss, how 
deep his sorrow, how excruciating his pain. Here were eight rules to 
keep that man serene and capable in the midst of any disaster. 

The eight rules, which were to be called the Beatkiules* were 
simple and wise but admittedly difficult to fellow. The way to de- 
struction was broad and inviting; the way to gtey, straight and nar- 



140 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

row* First of the rules was that a man must be poor in spirit; he 
must be gentle, practicing humility, not heady and proud and arro- 
gant; if one had succeeded in some great task, he was not to sit and 
gloat and brag, but must go right on, planning another job, a harder 
and better one. 

In the second rule a man must be meek; that was not to be a cring- 
ing coward but to believe in the goodness of God and in the friend- 
liness of the universe, even when the soul is suffering and can see 
no reason why it should suffer; the rule meant acceptance of God's 
will 

To mourn, too, would be a third blessing, but happiness would 
come, not in feeling sorry for ourselves so much as in feeling com- 
passion for others and trying to help them; a basic counsel implied 
in all the Master's teachings. 

Again the dynamic follower of His message would hunger and 
thirst after justice and righteousness; not merely in a legal sense but 
in a desire to understand and follow the kws that govern life and 
that are part of the will of God. 

We must also be merciful; so will we earn mercy for ourselves. 
And who shall not need it? 

Those shall be happy f too, who are clean and pure of heart; 
Jesus promised them that they would see God. But He meant what 
He said in the fullest sense: purity meant more than just a kck of 
lust; it called for a goal, a purpose in life. 

Again, those who were persecuted for the sake of justice, for the 
teachings He gave them they, too, would be happy, for theirs was 
tine Ejngdom of Heaven. 

**And, n He finished with the last beatitude, "blessed are you when 
they shall revile you and persecute you and speak all that is evil 
against you, untruly, for my sake. Be glad and rejoice, for your re- 
ward is very great in heaven," 

As there could be happiness in this world by following the eight 
rules, so there would be unhappiness if they were not followed. 

"Do not think," He instantly answered their thoughts, "that I am 
come to destroy the kw or the prophets, I am not come to destroy 
but to fulfill" 

And the fulfillment as He now described it to them was like a 
stvtfiog challenge, dazing to conventional old ways of thinking. He 
lecaflbd to them the Ten Commandments, called the Law. For ex- 
ample, you must not kill. Ah, but that was not the end of the mat- 



THE FIRST YEAR 14! 

ter* "I say to you that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in 
danger of the judgment." 

To wish a man dead is murder then? More than that! If your 
friend and you have quarreled, there is no place for you in church. 
Leave the altar, fleeing your gift, and find the man with whom you 
have disagreed. Make up with him; be reconciled to him then, and 
not before, you are in a proper state of mind to kneel before the 
altar of God. Agree with your adversary quickly, before things go 
too far. 

And what of thoughts of lust? They are the same as acts of lust. 
"Whoever shall look on a woman to lust after her has already com- 
mitted adultery with her in his heart." 

What is a man to do, then? He is to conquer himself at whatever 
the cost! If his right eye is rotten, tear it out. Better to lose an eye 
than infect the whole body and die. 

No way of ease and roses this! In a land where divorce could be 
obtained with communistic ease, Jesus now told them that there 
could be no divorce in the Christian life. He made his words plain; 
He said and meant that a man could have only one wife, and that to 
get rid of her, even if she made his life miserable or someone else 
beckoned him to voluptuous joy, was nevertheless to expose her to 
the danger of adultery. 

This revolutionary command against custom was followed up by 
one that seemed against nature itself. To the gasping Twelve Apos- 
tles, there to learn their immortal lesson, He told them they were 
not to resist evil. Now there was indeed a dazing idea. Not to resist 
evil? No, bewildered Twelve, and bewildered posterity, you are 
not to resist. When you learn that force is not the answer to force, 
peace will come to die world; never until then. As long as attack is 
answered by repulse, aggression by defense, wars will never end. 
That is true in your private lives as well; if a man punches you ota 
the right cheek, don't hit him back; turn the left cheek to his fist! 

Audible gasps from all Twelve! For months now they had heard 
His merciful ideas, but nothing so radical and shocking as this calm 
instruction. Did they remember the old Mosaic law of an eye for an 
eye and a tooth for a tooth? Certainly, Master, we all remember 
that! But they had forgotten a potent fact: that ooce upon a time, 
and long ago, tbe kw was not Bee that. Revenge wm a man's own 
business; break his tooth and lie could have your eye in vengeance, 
if only he was strong enough tp cat .it from yw& .Later the Mosaic 



142 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

law put a limit on human fury. To repay an injury, you could take 
in kind, but no more than equal justice. So the law was changed to 
put a curb on: an eye for an eye, but only a tooth for a tooth. 

Now came Jesus fulfilling the old law with a new and gracious 
expansion. Twelve listeners, get it straight and clear: if a man takes 
away your coat, give him your vest as well And if , under the cruel 
and oppressive laws of this occupied land, a Roman soldier compels 
you to walk with him a mile, carrying his shield and sword in the 
hot sun, go with him another mile, freely given when you don't 
have to, 

A light of understanding was shining on the faces of the listening 
Twelve. Thus a man could make himself free; the giving of more 
than required did that the new, astonishing, wholly Christian doc- 
trine of the law of surplus service. 

With a sense of increasing power and glory they heard Him go 
on to the golden rule that a man must do unto others as he would 
have others do unto him an improvement over all similar state- 
ments because it was positive, dynamic like Jesus himself. They were 
to give, when asked to give; lend, when asked to lend; and whereas 
the old law allowed one to love his friend and hate his enemy: "I say 
to you that hear, love your enemies, do good to them that hurt you^ 
and bless them that curse you, and pray for those that calumniate 
you." 

Was that humanly possible? For thousands of years afterward men 
were to debate that amazing command. How can you love your ene- 
mies? Unfortunately, in kter years, the words, translated into many 
tongues, were to lose the precision with which Jesus spoke that day 
in His native Aramaic Chaldee dialect. Jesus used two words for 
affection fiKus and agape. In our own texts these words, widely dif- 
ferent in meaning, were to be translated as one word "love." So a 
great deal of confusion was to be caused by the injunction to love 
our enemies. Jesus often used love in the strong sense of the old Greek 
word**g4^e~-a detached, impersonal, self-commanding sense of the 
Fathership of God which makes all people His children. Not that 
we are expected to feel caressing affection for our enemy, but we 
are to bless him, and pray for his salvation, and, forgiving his offense, 
leave his fate to God. 

This point, because of the precision with which Jesus invariably 
spoke, the Twelve thoroughly understood: "Be you merciful even 
as your Father in Heaven is merciM" 



THE FIRST YEAR 143 

With the same perfect clarity he went on to warn against being 
show-offs, especially of their good works. If they bragged of their 
fine deeds to excite the admiration of their fellows, then that ended 
it; their reward was that very admiration of their fellows and they 
should expect nothing further. The right hand must not know what 
the left hand does. Pray in secret too in the darkness of a closed 
room, and not, like pharisaical exhibitionists, on the street corners, 
with make-up on their faces to give them a haggard look of having 
piously fasted for a long time. "I tell you they have their reward!" 

How to treat others, how to govern one's own impulses, were, as 
they saw clearly, the urgent parts of His teaching. This was a way 
of life, a pattern of conduct for all to follow. We are not to judge 
another; nor to condemn. If we do judge, then we, too, shall be 
judged; when we condemn, we insure condemnation for ourselves. 
But if we forgive, we may also be sure of forgiveness, It is up to each 
one of us, individually; we can choose what to do; we have moral 
freedom. 

Carefully He explained all matters to them. A follower of Jesus 
would not criticize the small faults of others; he mttst be too busy 
correcting his own gross defects the mote in your brother's eye, the 
beam in your own, springing up in this mountain sermon out of 
boyhood rabbinical teachings in the Nazareth synagogue. One must 
be careful not to waste the treasures of spiritual understanding on 
those unready for receiving it; pearls were not to be cast before 
swine. Careful, too, to recognize a false teacher, of which there 
would come many; wolves in sheep's clothing. As a tree is known 
by its fruit, so is a man known by his acts. And the false teachers 
will unmask themselves by their deeds. 

All men were responsible for their deeds, their words, their very 
thoughts. Here was startling news for the twelve sobered listeners, 
A count was kept in eternity, a balance sheet would be ready for the 
final reckoning. He who did good deeds, said wise and kind words, 
and thought good thoughts was like a man who built his hoose on a 
rock. When storm and flood came, the house was unshaken* Those 
who did not follow this counsel lived in a house btrilt on sand; **The 
ruin of that house was great," 

This message placed an immense obligation on. each of the Twelve; 
He stressed that point and! they must all try to be worthy of it. He 
had chosen them because they were the safe of the earth but if salt 
loses its flavor, ft is wsefcss* They were the Igjbfi; of the world ami 



144 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

they must let their light shine before men, "that they may see your 
good works and glorify your Father in heaven*" 

What they had to teach was the fulfillment of the law: "Till 
heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from 
the law . . ." 

The whole design of a man's life should be to accumulate the 
treasure, not of time but of eternity. To do this he should love God 
and serve Him and nothing else; there could be no divided loyalty; 
a man cannot serve two masters. It was a basic mistake to let the 
exigencies of the world center on moral decisions; if God feeds the 
birds and clothes the flowers of the field more richly than the glory 
of Solomon, His earthly children should have confidence that He 
will care for them as well 

"Oh, you of little faith!" exclaimed Jesus sadly, when He had 
reached this point "You must seek first the Kingdom of God and 
His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you . . ." 

From the comfort of this great promise He passed on to others, 
even more audacious. To those whose lives were thus dedicated to 
righteousness there were these wonderful assurances: 

44 Ask and it shall be given you. 

**$eek and you shaU find. 

"Knock and it shall be opened unto you. 

* What man is there of you, who, if his son asked for bread, would 
give him a stone? If you then, being evil, know how to give good 
gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in heaven 
give good things to them that ask Him? Therefore, all things what- 
soever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to 
them; for this is the law and the prophets.'* 

AH these things and more Jesus explained to the Twelve as they 
sat around him on die ledge of the mountain overlooking the distant 
lake* The sun vanished behind the waters^ the gloaming came and 
deepened, and a little scimitar moon began to rise as He told them 
that only by prayers could a man find the strength to live a life like 
that And how should a man pray? Not with the vain repetitions 
that had bored and dmllusioned him in his childhood, but remem- 
bering always that God the Father already knew the needs of His 
children and the form of their prayer therefore should be: 

i *Oor Father who art in heaven, hallo wed be thy name. Thy king- 
dooi come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this 
day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive 



THE FIRST YEAR 145 

those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but 
deliver us from evil . . ." 
That was the Sermon on the Mount. 



Chapter 34 THE FIRST BOX OF OINTMENT 

CAUSTIC remarks made publicly by Jesus about the ruling caste be- 
gan reaching the ears of some of the most powerful of the wealthy 
faction, living close to Capernaum. A few nights later Jesus was in- 
vited to dinner at the house of a Pharisee, who had talked over the 
matter with cronies. 

"Why not have the fellow in? Let's take His measure. He may be 
harmless. If He isn't, well, we'll know what we have to do!" 

So the Master was summoned to sup with the rich Simon. This 
Pharisee had considerable curiosity, of course, about a wayside 
preacher reported to have magical powers. He also thought the man 
who voiced so much criticism of the rich might be bought by flat- 
tering hospitality and cease his most unpleasant attacks, which were 
unsettling to the mob. "Offer good prices and you can obtain any- 
thing," the rich man figured merchandise, honor, or faith, if you 
happen to have use for such things. But in addition to his curiosity 
and his scheming the Pharisee's vanity made him feel that as soon as 
this radical from a Nazareth carpenter shop was allowed to meet him 
personally he would see what a nice chap he really was, and criti- 
cism of the rich would wither away. He felt himself such a wonder- 
ful symbol of his class! 

But Simon, without knowing it, was letting himself in for a dras- 
tic evening. 

Jesus sat down at the table, amiably composed in spite of his host's 
omissions of certain common acts of courtesy. There were no other 
invited guests, and that, in the custom of the region, was an implied 
insult. His choice viands were not being served this evening, and 
he offered none of his fine wines, nor his strong oriental brandy, 
distilled from the juices of the cocoa palm, dearly die rich Simon 
could not bring himself to treat a carpenter as an equal. Moreover, 
Simon acted as if he thought his visitor ignorant of the hospitable 
attention any guest was entitled to. Nevertheless, Jesus was full of 
urbane consideration; the two ate of boiled rice, raisins, spice, and 



146 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

lamb meat, and they small-talked: crops promised well, but taxes 
were high and would go higher. There were rumors of war in the 
west. 

Then, suddenly, Simon leaned forward, glaring over the shoulder 
of Jesus. Behind the divan on which the guest reclined at the meal 
was a sight the Pharisee could hardly believe. Crouching there was 
a woman with long red hair; she was wrapped in a magenta robe of 
perfumed silk In soft, smooth hands she was holding an alabaster 
box. The Pharisee had no difficulty in recognizing the intruder; he 
had seen her long before, when nobody knew except the two of 
them. 

But tonight she had no eyes for him, powerful citizen though he 
was, with great authority and power to do harm to such as she. All 
frippery and trumpery of her trade laid aside, the red-haired woman 
kept her bloodshot eyes fixed on this penniless, mendicant Jesus. She 
wept ts she washed His feet. She wiped the calloused soles with her 
loog red hair f and tenderly kissed the insteps before she rubbed them 
with the ointment from her box of alabaster, 

The Pharisee sat back, fuming to himself; 

"There, you see! This man, if He were really a prophet, would 
surely know who and what manner of woman this is." 

Then Jesus said sofdy: 

"Sanaa, I have something to say to you." 

"MBt&r, my It." 

"A certain creditor had two debtors. The one owed five hundred 
pence and the other fifty." 

** Ateter?" 

a A0d whereas they had not wherewith to pay, he forgave them 
bo*.* 

ic Yes, Master?" 

"Wbicfa, therefore* of the two, loves him the more?" 

"I soppose the one to whom he forgave the most." 

"You have judged rigbdy! Do yew see this woman? I entered into 
your house; yoe gave me 00 water for my feet, but she, with tears, 
has washed my feet and with her hair has wiped them. 

*Tou gave me no kiss, but she, since she came in, has not ceased to 
kiss iny feet Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved 



And for the first time speaking to the redhaired womaa He added: 
sins are forgiven you." 



THE FIRST YEAR 147 

"Who is this that forgives sins also?" snarled Simon, rising. 

But Jesus was paying no attention to his host. He helped the red- 
haired woman to her feet and gently closed the lid of her box of 
alabaster. Costly, that box; even more costly the ointment; all her 
savings must have gone to buy it. 

And He said to her: 

"Your faith has made you safe. Go in peace!" 

And immediately afterward He, too, left the rich man's house. 



Chapter 35 THE WOMAN WHO UNDERSTOOD 



BECAUSE of happenings like that, the fame of Jesus was on every lip 
back in His home town. Cousins, uncles, and even more distant kins- 
folk, all known as "brethren" and sisters, in the common usage of 
the time, kept running to His mother to hear the latest news. 

"Mary, have you heard of the redheaded woman who rubbed your 
son's toes with spikenard and washed His heels with her tears?" 

Or: 

"Mary, do you know about the devotion shown to Him by those 
other women Joanna, the wife of Chusa, who is the steward of King 
Herod? Or of Susannah? Or of so many others?" 

If there was gossip or malice in the minds of her neighbors, Mary 
was still glad to hear any report from Jesus. Those women, she 
knew, cooked food for her son; sewed the rents in His long white 
robe; mended His sandals. And Mary smiled even more serenely 
when town gabblers told her the authorities did not like at all the 
way her son was encouraging women to take an interest in public 
affairs and to think for themselves. 

The more the populace talked about the growing fame of Jesus, 
the more the cousins and the uncles, the brethren, felt left out of 
things. If Jesus had now become such a great man in the region, then 
why shouldn't the world learn that He had relatives, too, who were 
admirable in their own way? Or was Jesus ashamed of them aE now 
that He was becoming so famous? 

So a number of relatives persuaded Mary to go with them, and 
they walked together down intt> the bdgfflg upraar of Capernaum. 
Because the Master had made it His headquarters, the town was 



148 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

having a boom. Always an overpopulated place, Capernaum was 
now thronged with tourists, drawn there by tales of Jesus, includ- 
ing thousands of sick people. Lodgings were overpriced, if and 
when you could find them. The harassment of those innkeepers 
made Mary think of long ago and far away. 

In the private house where Jesus lodged the crush of supplicants 
from the mob milling in the road made the warm air stifling. Far 
back of the fringe of the crowd Mary stood outside the house, while 
some of her big-shouldered relations began to batter forward until 
they got through the door of the house into the clamoring court 
and, at last and breathless, stood within sight of Jesus. 

"Look! w they panted to Him* "Your mother and your brethren 
stand without, waiting for you." 

And they grinned, fully expecting that He would instantly have 
a pathway cleared through the hubbub and rush down the opened 
corridor to greet the family from Nazareth. 

But Jesus, looking over their heads and past the crowd saw Mary 
waking beyond. For a moment the gaze of mother and son met in 
tender greeting. He knew that she had trudged a weary journey to 
see Him here. This toiling, hard-working Mary was no longer young. 
And she knew full well that He must still be about His Father's 
business. Between them, in that protracted hail of glance and smile, 
there was perfect understanding. With His eyes still looking devot- 
edly toward her, He spoke a question to the crowd: 

**Who is ray mother? And my brethren?" 

His arms as he outflung them seemed to bless all the poor and 
wretched* 

"Look tt my mother and my brethren!** he cried. "For whosoever 
shall do the will of God, he is my brother and my sister and mother." 

And Mary's smile to those disgusted relatives seemed to ask: 

"Is it not all glorious and sorrowful and triumphant?" 

Maiy, the mother, who understood so much! 



Chapter 36 THE TELLER OF GOOD YARNS 

As HIS public speaking continued, Jesus began to prove Himself the 
greatest teller of good stories the crowds had ever listened to. 
From the prow of a borrowed fishing ship He would often face 



THE FIRST YEAR 149 

the beach and expound His deepest ideas by simple, apt, and excit- 
ing tales. Agents and pedants from the Temple, occasionally reap- 
pearing to dog His footsteps and listen to everything He had to say, 
made wry faces at His habit of parable telling. 

It was new. It was different. So it must be worthless! And from 
the point of view of an intellectual it certainly was undignified! 

Besides, what was new about it? The very school children knew 
that Balaam had told parables and so had Job. The prophets had made 
up pointed stories to hold the attention, to make deep matters sim- 
ple to peasants as well as scholars. 

There were two practical reasons for His spinning of yarns. One, 
of course, was clarification. He was dealing with the most profound 
truths affecting mankind. It was too much to ask that all mechanics 
and fishermen should grasp abstract truths too readily. But they 
could grasp them when He bespelled them, telling narratives with 
mobile gestures and a perfect and wholly unrestrained ease of de- 
lineationhis heroes and villains and a whole great cast of fascinating 
characters were drawn invariably from familiar scenes; from their 
own daily life, the background of barns and highways. And all told 
with such cadence and modulation of the voice and such simple 
description that the characters seemed to spring up alive before 
them. 

But if His first purpose was to clarify, it was equally true that the 
second purpose of His stories was to mystify. His disciples often 
had to ask Him to explain the meaning of His parables, and once 
they demanded why He often spoke in so cryptic a manner. 

"To you," He told them, "is given to know the mystery of the 
Kingdom of God; but to the rest in parables, that, seeing, they may 
not see; and, hearing, may not understand; lest at any time they 
should be converted and their sins should be forgiven them and I 
should heal them!" 

Amazing words, themselves harder to understand than any para- 
ble. That behind all these words and deeds of the Master was a uni- 
versal purpose, beyond the grasp of men, was not yet clear to the 
disciples, nor is it clear to their descendants today. He had His 
work to do and it was the work of mercy and salvation. That work 
must go on, must not be interrupted before all was accomplished. 
In these enigmatic, seemingly hard words lay a mystery never to be 
fully revealed to His disciples. 

These figures of His parables were everyday folk farmers fore- 



JfO THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

ing the plow through stony, reluctant fields, or poorer men, plant- 
ing in little gardens all familiar sights in open Galilee. Some of His 
plots concerned drunken stewards and faithless servants and who 
had not heard of them? He could take the profoundest truths of 
prophets and old lawgivers and bring them down, in terse, practical 
words, to the kitchen and the bazaar. 

Of course He knew his material Intimately; He had lived in a 
house so dark that a woman must light a candle in the daytime to 
find the silver coin that she lost; He could, when it helped the story, 
employ the skng of the gardener, the baker, or the builder; He knew 
about rotten, leaking old skins and the new bottles of the wine 
merchant; and the brutal tyranny of upper servants over the lower. 

At times He fell back on the lore of the work He had done with 
His own hands. The carpenter spoke of the splinter and the beam; 
die strong and the weak foundations of houses; the green wood and 
the well-seasoned. All the teeming life about Him was material for 
His parables; pastures, flocks, good shepherds, and lost sheep; moun- 
tains and the hawks; how the mustard seed grows from a tiny grain, 
ike faith; rich merchants and poor fishermen; the ingathering of 
com sheaves and fruits. 

The one parabk of Jesus that die people remembered best was the 
adventures of the prodigal son. There was so much hope and prom- 
ise in k. There was a tale, the like of which they had often seen 
acted ia real Methe young man, taking what money his father had 
for him, and traveling off to the great city, expecting to become on 
his own a veiy great fellow before long. 

But within a short time a siren wound her arms around his foolish 
neck and smothered his good sense in a counterfeit passion that he 
believed to be true love; gamblers and thieves worked with her until 
a whole company of city buzzards picked clean the bones of his 
purse and then the young man was kicked out through the back 
door of the harlot's house. So hungry did he come to be that he took 
the only job he could find-a pig tender, an assistant to a swineherd; 
he even ate the husks intended for hogs. 

What to do? What to do now? The miserable young man came 
at last to a sensible resolution, He realized bitterly enough that the 
fcwest servant on his father's property ate better food than he did. 
CM worse he could not ask to be taken back into his old position in 
the famiy, but perhaps he might have a job working around the 
place. 



THE FIRST YEAR 15! 

"I will arise," the young man decided, "and go to my father/' 

And now what does the ragged homebound traveler see? A hurry- 
ing figure coming toward him through the dust of the road. It is his 
father, who has seen him from afar and has rushed forward to clasp 
him in loving arms, put a ring on his finger, a robe over his cold 
bones. "Kill the fatted calf, for my son has come home!" 

God, Jesus assured them, was a Father like that waiting for all his 
sons to come home. Here Jesus reached the highest point, the grand 
climacteric, the apogee of His teaching. 

But there was a next favorite story which He first told under 
most dramatic circumstances, because of a heckler in the synagogue 
at Bethany. At the time the vagabond Jesus had come down to Judea 
and was stopping at the home of three old friends of the family: two 
spinsters, Martha, her sister Mary, and Lazarus, their brother. 

It was an exciting scene that Bethany morning: the congregation 
crowded the little house of worship facing the highway running 
from Jericho up to Jerusalem* That was a robber-infested road, 
dangerous to travelers, to, this day as well as than a steep descent 
falling from the rocky height of the capital down to the Dead Sea. 

The people from roundabout that wilderness region, where John 
had grown up and Jesus had fasted and been tempted, loved to talk 
of tweedledum and tweedledee. They were a disputatious lot, relish- 
ing the subtleties of theological argument, fine points, and micro- 
scopic distinctions. Having heard how a carpenter from Galilee had 
worsted in debate some of the ablest dialecticians, they sensed a good 
show to come as they gathered to hear Jesus preach. 

One, a doctor of the law, was picked by the others to be their 
spokesman and to challenge the speaker. 

If Jesus had ever been careful in His public talks, He had dropped 
all caution by this time. In what He had to tell them there was now- 
adays every opportunity for conservatives to object. With what 
could seem to many only presumptuous impudence, Jesus informed 
them they were blessed because of what they were seeing with Him; 
prophets and kings had wanted to see these things and had not To 
the good people of this world He promised eternal life. 

In the solemn pause that f ollowed these words die lawyer stood 
up. With every appearance of civility, but with a leer in bis left eye, 
he asked: 

"Master, what must 1 do to possess eternal life?" 

like many a good Jew before him, Jesus countered: 



152 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" 

Question for question the heckler went on: 

"Master, which is the first commandment of all? n 

"The first commandment of all is, 4 Hear, Israel; the Lord your 
God is one God; and you shall love the Lord your God with your 
whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole mind, 
and with your whole strength. This is the first commandment. And 
the second is like to it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 
There is no other commandment greater than these." 

This apparently simple exchange of query arid answer was of 
deep technical meaning to the intellectual sharks. The lawyer had 
asked a legal question-and a dangerous one. What he was really 
getting at was whether the prohibitions-there were three hundred 
and sixty-five specific ones, together with the two hundred and 
forty-eight positive commands of the kw-were to be regarded as 
of equal value and importance; a tricky approach in a deliberate 
attempt to trip up Jesus and get Him into trouble with the author- 
ities. Without hesitation the Master gave a reply that simplified 
man's duty to his God and his fellow man. Quoting from the Mosaic 
books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus he had gone back directly 
to fundamental laws* These he distinguished from trivial man-made 
observances by which the Pharisees were keeping themselves and 
eveiyone else too busy. 

"On these two commandments/' Jesus further told his heckler, 
"depend the whole law and the prophets." 

But tihe kwyer did not sit down. 

**WelI, Master," he persisted, "you have said in truth that there 
is one God and there is no other besides Him. And that He should 
be loved with the whole heart and with the whole understanding 
and with the whole soul and with the whole strength, and to love 
one's neighbor as oneself is a greater thing than all holocausts and 
sacrifices." 

Jesus nodded, but His eyes studied the man intently. 

*Tou are not far from the Kingdom of God," He said. "You have 
answered right. This do and you shall live." 

Now the kwyer smiled. 

**And who is my neighbor? 17 he demanded sharply. By premedi- 
tation he had led the way up to this dilemma. Does the neighbor 
mean only a fellow Jew, Jesus? Surely you don't mean that a Gentile 



THE FIRST YEAR 153 

could also be a neighbor? Or, infinitely worse than that, a depraved, 
despised, unspeakable Samaritan? 

"Master, 'who is my neighbor?" 

From where he sat Jesus could look down the aisle and through 
the open door and portico out to the road beyond, the robber-in- 
fested highway. It was as if He were describing a drama being en- 
acted there: 

"A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell 
among thieves ..." 

A situation they all recognized and many had feared. Under the 
storyteller's spell their imagination went to work. They could see 
that "certain man" packing his bags for the journey, his worried 
wife helping him and pleading with him to wait until someone else 
could go with him. No, no the business was urgent; he must get 
to Jericho before dawn tomorrow. And then a small, piping voice 
spoke up his ten-year-old's voice; listen to the child; he knew 
somebody that was going on that road tonight: his chum's father. 

And who might his chum's father be? What did you say, niy son? 
Did I hear you say that your chum's father came from Nablus? 
Wife, explain this! A son of mine playing with Samaritan boys! 

And the father became even more apoplectic when his boy wanted 
to know what was really wrong with a Samaritan. Why, explain 
to him, wife! Samaritans were all dirty and untrustwordiy. Hun- 
dreds of years ago they collaborated with the Persian invaders . . , 

"But, Father, is my chum to be punished for what happened hun- 
dreds of years ago?" 

No more Samaritan boys for you; no son of mine may be seen 
playing with a Samaritan; it might even hurt me in my business. 
And so, having refused the suggestion of his boy, and given his or- 
ders and prayed in the Temple, the father starts out alone on the 
dark road. There he is overtaken by robbers, who strip him to the 
skin, leave him naked on the ground in the dark beaten, wounded, 
and half dead. 

And now the crowd was very still as Jesus told them: 

"And it chanced that a certain priest went down the same way; 
and, seeing him, passed by. 

"In like manner also a Levite, when he was aear the place and 
saw him, also passed by. 

"But a certain Samaritan, being on his journey, came near him; 
and, seeing him, was moved with 



154 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"And going up to him, bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and 
wine; and setting him upon his own beast, brought him to an inn 
and took care of him. 

"And the next day he took out two pence and gave to the host 
and said: 'Take care of him, and whatsoever you shall spend, over 
and above, I, on my return, will repay you.* " 

Here, for a moment, Jesus paused and looked from the bespelled 
faces of the people straight at the heckling lawyer. 

"Which of these, then, in your opinion was neighbor to him that 
feU among the robbers?" 

And looking back into the smiling face of the Master, the lawyer 
could answer only: 

"He that showed mercy to him." 

Even then he could not bring himself to use the definite but for- 
bidden word "Samaritan." But that was what he meant. 

"Go and do you in like manner!'* 



Chapter 3 j A TIME OF WONDERS 



LITE ooe afternoon Jesos and His group left the west side of the 
Lake of Galilee an$ sailed eastward for the desert shore, where there 
would be no crowds and they could all rest for a while. His resilient 
nature would always respond to small periods of rest. Now he was 
tired; soon after they shoved off he fell into a slumber peaceful and 
deepi as if no harm could possibly overtake him. 

But m those days, as now, the Lake of Galilee was one of the 
most treacheroijs of all earth's waters. One moment it ripples in 
wifely felicity and the aext will foam itself into shrewish fury. 

On this twilight voyage, while Jesus slept in the hinder part of 
the ship, His head on a lumpy old pillow, there came out of a sud- 
den dark cloud above them a spit of forked lightning and a peal of 
thunder. The blow of a high wind rattled die small sails; waves 
splashed frothing over the bow, and water poured over the side rails. 

"Master!" yelled the disciples. "We perish!" 

Grabbing Jesus by the shoulders, they shook him violently awake. 
As He blinked at diem sleepily, the Master did what no ordinary 
sailor would evei do: He stood uji in the rocking boat More, He 



THE FIRST YEAR 155 

spread His hands and commanded the storm to cease, as if expecting 
immediate compliance and got it. Instantly the wind fell off and the 
skies cleared and the little boat rode on over miraculously quieted 
waters. 

But, He asked them, with a mournful shake of the head: 

"Where is your faith? Why are you fearful?" 

What could they answer? Where was their faith? Many times 
they had seen Him give movement to paralyzed legs; sight to blind 
eyes; health to the centurion's servant; life to the widow's son. But 
they had not seen enough to abolish fears for their own skins. Even 
now Thomas wondered: was not the vanishing storm perhaps just 
a coincidence? 

It was not remarkable, therefore, that two thousand years later 
young men in universities were to smile and snort at the childish 
notion that man, born of woman, could, by one word of rebuke, 
send a tempest blowing on its way. Even those who saw it did not 
find it easy to believe. And they thought they had faith! 

They would see Jesus go buoyantly on His way, driving out 
of a cave dweller a legion of devils, watching as those dispossessed 
and invisible fiends entered into a wild herd of swine; they actually 
saw and heard the pigs and hogs and sows begin to squeal and grant 
and run violently down a cliff side into the lake where they were 
aE drowned; they even saw perturbed hog raisers of the neighbor- 
hood come in a delegation and plead with the Master to depart to 
" some other place and still, in their hearts, they had doubts. It would 
take a hill called Calvary to settle those doubts. Yet others did not 
need so much! 

For example, back in Capernaum Jesus healed an untidy woman 
sick with a bloody issue. For years she had not ceased bleeding; 
she had been dosed with the whole pharmacopoeia of her day; "had 
suffered many things from physicians.'* So great was the press of the 
eager crowd clustering densely around that at first the saffering 
woman could not get near enough to Jesus to ask His help. But she 
said to herself: 'If I can only touch the hem of His garment, I shall 
be whole." 

Ah, Peter John James-why could yon not believe lite this poor 
woman? See what happened to her now! The fountain of her wast- 
ing Wwxi was dried up ml she felt in her body that *hz was healed 
of the evil; those are the words of St. Mark 

a Who touched me?" demanded Jesus, whea this happened 



156 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

The others chortled at His question. Who touched Him? la all 
this jamming press of people? But Jesus silenced the amusement with 
one flat statement: some energy had been drawn out of Him, His 
power had been called upon, and in all the pressure of the milling 
crowd, He knew! And the rebuked disciples gasped with wonder 
In the next confirming moment when the woman fell down on the 
ground before the Master, acknowledging that it was she. And He, 
who had asked His own disciples, "Where is your faith?" said to her: 

"Daughter, it is your faith that has made you whole. Go your 
way in peace." 

Only a few minutes before the head man of a synagogue, a Jew 
called Jairus, had asked the Master to come and look at his sick 
daughter. They had been walking toward his house when the woman 
was healed of the bloody issue. But now, as they started off again, 
a screaming man pushed his way forward and told Jaims: 

"Your daughter is dead!" 

The father would have fainted, but Jesus put His arm around 
him. The power to alky pain and jostle death itself was in His hands 
for brethren and pagan but never for the unbeliever. So he whis- 
pered: 

"Fear not. Believe only! And she shall be safe!" 

Together they strode on firmly, until they came to the house of . 
death. Already the hired minstrels had come to offer their services; 
tbey were playing their stringed instruments and singing the psalm 
dirges a riot of noise and old custom. 

Jesos motiooed to the crowd to remain behind. Only Peter and 
James and John could go in with Him. On the doorstep He made 
a gesture toward the noisy mercenaries: 

**Give place! For the girl is not dead, but sleeps!" 

The hired mourners roared; already they were a little drunk; they 
were insolent and full of scorn. Inside the house Jesus led mother 
and father into the darkened room where the child lay, white and 
motionless. Jesus lifted up one cold, limp hand and murmured: . 

"Litde girl, arise!" 

At His words the child arose immediately. And Jesus, with the 
most pleased and tender and understanding smile, told Jairus and 
his wtfe to get her something to eat; any little girl, called back 
from death to life, would probably be hungry. He also entreated the 
parents not to talk about what had happened. 
But die $toiy spread like sunrise. 



THE FIRST YEAR 157 



Chapter 38 NOT WITHOUT HONOR 



BY NOW the neighbors in Nazareth were divided about the fame of 
Jesus and quarreling over him. 

Had He not become too important to talk to His own mother and 
family? 

Disgusted relatives, in spite of Mary, had spread the reproach 
and they found ready listeners. And others, perfectly decent folk, 
had the human feeling of being shut out from a recognition they felt 
rightfully entitled to. 

And why did He hang around Capernaum? Why, if this Nazarene 
were now a great man, did He forget where He came from? He 
might help His own town a little! They were all neighbors together, 
weren't they? So on street corners there were arguments and scrim- 
mages, for some would take his part; fisticuffs and knives in the al- 
leys. 

In the midst of this public unrest Jesus suddenly returned, and 
at once the Nazareth air grew as tense as the last moments before 
a thundershower. Mary's home was surrounded with people, some 
japing and mocking, others shouting friendly greetings. Peter and 
the others had to force a lane through which the Master could walk 
to the synagogue. 

And there, once more facing the same benches where as a child 
He had learned the kw and the prophets and the whole body of 
tradition, He talked about how a man should treat his fellow man. 

His discourse shocked every one of them. He drove home an 
old teaching, but it had to do with a new situation: the racial and 
religious intolerance of their time. They all had racial prejudices, 
and it infuriated them to hear Him tell them that they must give up 
those prejudices: God loved the Syrians and the Sidotuans too; He 
was God of the Gentile as well as of the Jew. 

A grumbling filled the synagogue. This was not at all what most 
of the crowd had come for. Who was He to-instruct them? Wasn't 
He a miracle worker? Well, what wias He waiting for? Come on, 
perform! And they began to make shrill noises and mocking faces, 
and stamp their f eek 



158 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

He was the son of Mary, wife of Joseph the carpenter, was He 
not? He had grown up with the rest of them in these very streets, 
praying before this very altar. Played with old companions and rela- 
tivesJames and Joseph and Simon and Jude among them and the 
girls of his acquaintance, too, all goggle-eyed now and giggling. 
Not one such girl or boy, no other citizen of Nazareth, could give 
a blind man back his sight, change a cripple into an athlete, exorcise 
evil spirits, drive out demons, or recall to life the stiffening dead. 
No one else pretended to do such things, either. But Jesus, now, so 
the tales went, had done all these things and more. Well, let's see 
Him do them now. 

a Sho*w us your powers, Jesus! Open the eyes of the blind, car- 
penterl Rmse us up a corpse, Mary's son!" 

Rows of impudent faces, full of taunting challenge, confronted 
him from the pews. Physician, heal yourself! As great things as we 
have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your own country! 

And the reply of Jesus came with a forgiving sigh: 

**A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and 
in his own home." 

A prophet, is it? He really considered himself a prophet, thai? 
At once a feeling of outrage swept through the synagogue. While 
they had waited for Him to perform His tricks like any conjuror 
with bag and stick, He would try to interpret doctrines to them! 
Not a smgle blind eye opened, although the pkce was thick with 
the b&id this morning; not a withered hand waved and shaken until 
it was whole; not a body climbing out of its grave? Yet He presumed 
tso give himself the airs of a prophet! 

Loud cries of anger came from the hot-tempered citizens of Naza- 
reth as they rushed upon Him, the whole squirming, motley crew 
with oit-throat eyes ablaze. They dragged Him out into the narrow 
street and up to die brow of the hill on which their town was built. 
From that great height, where often as a boy He had looked around 
Him at the world, they would chuck Him headlong down to the 
rocks. 

Not one of the crowd could tell afterward just what happened. 
A moment He was there, die next instant gone. All they could say 
to die stricken Mary was that He passed throiigh the midst of them 
sad wait His way. 



Book Five 

THE SECOND YEAR 



Chapter 39 BARLEY LOAVES AND FISHES 



THE queen had promised Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee, that, 
having beheaded John the Baptist, he would have peace of mind at 
last. He would be free, once and for all, of those gnawing doubts 
with which the Baptist had pricked his feeble conscience. The peo- 
ple, too, she predicted, would soon quiet down. But Queen Herodias 
was neither sibyl nor prophetess; she was wrong about both matters. 
The Baptist was dead, but the king could not forget him. And this 
Jesus, for whom John had been the great advertiser, was now mak- 
ing the perturbing gospel more popular than ever among the people 
in his domain. 

Not a day passed but the .king's spies brought him reports of the 
growing force of Jesus. 

"He has multiplied His influence fifty times over," ran one 
communication. That estimate had to do with an experiment made 
by the Master when He gave many of his disciples a trial com- 
mission to go out preaching in pairs. He had also assured them 
that from now on they, too, would have power to cure diseases 
and drive out unclean spirits from those who believed. 

"Heal the sick," He bade them. "Cleanse the lepers. Cast out devils! 
Raise the dead! Freely you have received, freely give . . ? 

The intellectual skeptics at Herod's court laughed, 

"How can this man give his dupes power over devils, when 
there are no such things as devils?" they jeered. 

But it was all die more disconcerting, as duly reported to Herod, 
when the disciples returned full of joyous accounts of their suc- 
cess. Yes, all had happened as He promised. "Lord, the devils also 
are subject to us in your name!" 

Jesos himself was foil of joy at their imports, aad at once thanked 
God in prayer: 



1 60 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because 
thou hast hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and 
hast revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, for so hath it seemed 
good in Thy sight." 

And more clearly than before, then, Jesus proclaimed Himself: 

"No one knows who the Son is but the Father, and who the Father 
is, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him. 

a Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will 
give you rest!" 

It was hard to laugh at reports like that 

How can a poor tetrarch laugh when every day he hears that 
wandering up and down the roads of his kingdom there is a mys- 
terious figure that actually does cure diseases, devilish or not? Herod 
for a long time refused to believe that there was such a person as 
Jesus; he believed the new wonder-worker was John the Baptist, 
risen from the dead. 

Moreover, he knew that the constant occupation of this mysteri- 
ous Nazarene was in preaching a radical doctrine, supplemented with 
healing. Through 204 cities and villages, the smallest of which num- 
bered 15,000 subjects of Herod, through town and open country 
and into the Greek cities of Transjordania, the Master went, trudg- 
ing with His ragged disciples all poorly clad, poorly housed, and 
poorly fed and winning the adoration of crowds by his healing and 
preaching. 

Such a situation would be a menace to any authority! 

Next Herod heard of something not only incomprehensible, but 
iacoeccivable. One could be told that it happened, but how could 
00ft think of it m happening? 

The scene was on the northeast side of the Lake of Galilee; the 
time was at the beginning of April, AJX 29, just when the paschal 
feast was again coming on. That day a great multitude at least five 
thousand people had followed the Master. Now evening was near 
and the crowds were hungry. Making a hasty inventory, the disciples 
found that hardly anyone had brought food on this excursion into 
the hills. 

But Andrew, Peter's brother, said: 

"There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small 
fishes. But what are they among so many?" 

As the story was carried to Herod, Jesus calmly invited the crowd 
p> sit down 00 the green hillside. Then He took the loaves, faced 
the cfcscending sun, and when He had given thanks, He distributed 



THE SECOND YEAR l6l 

to the disciples, and the disciples to the people, enough to feed the 
whole five thousand. 

How could Herod's mind, or anyone's visualize such a happen- 
ing? Yet he was informed that there were five thousand witnesses; 
that the Master had fed Herod's hungry subjects; and that act was 
enough to unsettle any king. 

And then, having shown them the abundance of faith, Jesus gave 
the people a stern second lesson: 

"Gather up the fragments that remain," He said, "that nothing 
is lost." 

They, who had been fed with miraculous abundance, now had 
to fill twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves! 
Clearly one must practice prudence and frugality in the very pres- 
ence of divine plenty. 

Herod was further told that a band of revolutionaries, young 
hotheads, led by a principal bandit patriot who dubbed himself Jesus 
Barabbas, were working to overthrow the Roman colonial govern- 
ment by violence. They had organized a posse to take Jesus by 
force, make Him their leader, and constitute him Kong of all IsraeL 

True, Jesus evaded them, losing Himself in the mountain. But, 
Herod asked himself, would this wonder-worker always run from 
such an offer? John the Baptist had been trouble enough, but Jesus 
might become a threat to established government itself, as politicians 
like to say. 

It all worried Herod the Tetrarch so much that he sent his own 
spies out for more reports. Some of his advisers were already telling 
him he had better put Jesus to death before it was too late. Talk 
about that plan was, of course, palace gossip and soon was carried 
to Jesus. The Master smiled grimly and said to the talebearer: 

"Go and tell that fox, behold I cast out devils and do cures today 
and tomorrow, and the third day I am consummated. 

"Nevertheless, I must walk today and tomorrow and the day fol- 
lowing because it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. 7 * 

Herod Antipas rubbed his head when he heard this, 

"He must mean He expects to be killed in Jerusalem," he mut- 
tered. And he never forgot those words; he passed them on, by mes- 
senger, to the Roman representative, Pontius Pilate. 

Next came a story of how the disdples, right after the feeding 
of the five thousand, set out alone without Jesus in a boat to sail to 
the hinterland across the lake from Capeosaum. It was dark night 



1 62 THE GREATEST STOEY EVEE TOLD 

when, again without warning, the air grew cloudy with impending 
storm; high and contrary winds blew all around them, and the ship 
was tossed helplessly. It was the fourth watch of the night, and the 
frightened Apostles, blown spray in their faces, spindrift on their 
beards, had given themselves up for lost, when they saw the Master 
coming toward them. He was walking upon the sea. 

Once again the wind began to veer, changing its direction, as he 
calmed the storm for them. 

The tale was not only circumstantial; it even had its humorous as- 
pect. For it seemed that Peter, seeing the watery promenade, sud- 
denly lost his fear of dying in the storm and called out to Jesus- 
might not he walk on the water too? Certainly; come right along! 
For a few giddy moments Peter emulated his Master, his big feet 
treading the wave, his mighty bulk unsinking in the sea. Then panic 
came to the big fisherman's heart; losing faith, he gave a lugubrious 
squawk of fright and at once began to go under. But Jesus touched 
his hand and escorted him smilingly to the gunwale of the boat 
That was when they began to convince themselves that Jesus was 
truly a divine being, far nearer to God than they had at first sup- 
posed, 

A braver roan than Herod Aatipas would fear a man who could 
walk on water. 

From this and other reports the tetrarch came to see, with gloomy 
hindsight, that his murder of John the Baptist had served only to 
bring Jesus into the supreme position as leader of the moral revolu- 
tion. Nothing could be more troubling, Once the disciples of John 
hid obtained the body of the Baptist and buried it, they spread 
w0rd everywhere that he had urged his followers to take up with 
Jesus. Until the beheading, thousands of the John people had pa- 
tiently waited for the Baptist to be let out of jaiL They had fully 
expected Herod to set him free. Far from being dispelled by John's 
martyrdom, they rushed to the Nazarene, adding their numbers 
and ardor to his following. Such a union of growing forces filled 
with dismay the chicken heart of Herod Antipas; night and noon 
jhe kept repeating to himself : 

"John I have beheaded. But who is this of whom I hear such 
things? " 

Be decided that one day he must have a talk with Jesus. But hav- 
ing oe most power of prophecy than his queen, he had no idea under 
cjrramstanoes they were eventually to meet. 



THE SECOND YEAR 163 



Chapter 40 THE CONSPIRATORS RETURN 



SCARED though they were at times, as rumors and threats of police 
interference increased, the Twelve Apostles remained with Jesus. 
But many other followers, at first loud in their zeal, began to fall 
away. Some found the doctrine He preached, the discipline He ad- 
vocated, too severe. Some were afraid of offending the palace. But 
the Master's increasing claims also seemed to many of them pre- 
posterous. For those were the days when He began to be most 
specific about His identity. 

As long as He had been vague, they could interpret His words 
and still follow Him. When He became explicit as He did in his 
famous Bread of Life oration and the whole series of speeches that 
followed itmaking it clear that He offered Himself as the Son 
of God; well, then a man had to be careful! The very idea that He 
would be a sacrifice for their sins no more need of burning lambs 
and doves frightened them. What if Jerusalem were to hear such 
talk? Birds and lambs were big business in the capital 

So many preferred to stand with the powerful of the earth than 
with this bold, other-worldly teacher from Nazareth. But He went 
much further than this* Although the tragedy He foresaw was stiU 
distant, He announced the miracle doctrine of the Eucharist to them 
now, long in advance of the Last Supper He would eat with them. 
This shocked and affronted many of His followers. They could 
walk with him no more, as they told him; one after another, in scores 
and hundreds, they deserted. Finally he called the Twelve into pri- 
vate council. 

"Will you also go away?" he asked them directly. 

The answer of Peter was a triumph of the oriental habit of an- 
swering one question with another. 

"Lord, to whom shall we go?" 

And then, in faltering voice, he summed it up: 

"You have the words of eternal life." 

It was a serious moment in their lives; it became more serious 
still as the Master looked at them and implied; 

"Have I not chosen you Twdhre-naad we of you is a devil?" 



164 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

That was another question given as an answer! 

In those days their traveling was incessant. The Master's talks 
were delivered in synagogues all over the countryside, miracle 
traveling hand in hand with doctrine. The pentecostal feast of the 
year 29 found him in Jerusalem, at the health-restoring pool of 
Bethsaida, near the sheep's gate. Here, at the basin below the Famous 
Five porches, he found a frustrated old cripple who for twenty- 
nine years had never been able to scramble down to the pool in 
time to be there when "the angel troubled the waters/' as the peo- 
ple said. Yet in the capital of His enemies Jesus promptly made the 
old fellow well in spite of the fact that it was the Sabbath. 

Under their breath the Pharisees swore at this popular rnendicantj 
this dusty wayfarer with His burr of the Galilean dialect; this car- 
penter from Nazareth, whose enemies said He was illegitimate and 
yet who allowed it to be claimed for Him that He performed mira- 
cles! On the Sabbath too! And when this interloper comes to the 
Temple itself and happens to see there the ancient chap He had 
cured at the Probatica pool, what does the Nazarene say to him: 

"Sin no more y lest something worse happens to you" 

And when they bait Him about that word "sin" He tells them 
simply to their reproachful faces, speaking as the Son of God with 
powers and prerogatives: 

"I cannot of myself do anything. As I hear, so I judge; and my 
judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of 
Him who sent me.** 

Ah, the Pharisees lamented to one another, we have done wrong 
to allow this yokel Messiah to get as far as He has. We should have 
scotched Him two years ago. Here He comes, bold as you please, 
at the close of His second year, to preach in Jerusalem right in the 
Temple! Bat only the lesser factotums talked so; the real rulers of 
the Temple authority, of course, were Annas, the former high priest, 
and his sons. And Annas laughed at the small fry who were afraid 
of Jesus. 

"Messiah!" jeered the old politician. "Our roads are full of self- 
proclaimed messiahs. Let them all spoutit is a safety release. To 
shut them up because of such twaddle is to show fear. Give them 
rope, I say t and let them hang themselves/* 

The lesser officials were too aware of Annas's complete political 
domination openly to disagree with him. Nevertheless they put their 
cofnptottbig heads privately together and decided that the whole 



THE SECOND YEAR 165 

nation would be better off without such a menace as Jesus. Not only 
did He break the Sabbath, but He said that God was His Father. 
That was a hellish thing for a man to say! They would deal with 
this presumptuous charlatan and stop His blasphemies, one way or 
another, before they were through with Him, and in spite of Annas. 

But because Jesus was so popular, they would have to move slowly, 
deliberately, and have a complete case against Him before they 
pounced. 

So when Jesus returned to Galilee, in June A.D, 29, the Temple 
agents were once more on His trail. Down from Jerusalem they 
came to heckle at every opportunity. You, Jesus we have watched 
you eat bread with unwashed hands. That is a violation. You know 
our observances! Why do you and your followers disobey? 

First in answer that ironical smile; then: 

"Well has Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written: 
This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from 
me. 

" 'In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the command- 
ments of men. For, laying aside the commandment of God, you hold 
the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups; and many 
other such like things you do. 7 " 

Now that was an answer with a vengeance. It was a revolutionary 
challenge. In a few words Jesus had indicted Temple tyranny and 
futility in enforcing the letter and smothering the spirit of the law. 
Boldly He accused them of an organized conspiracy against the 
heart of the people's religion, of taxing both heart and purse, too, 
stripping men not only of farthings but of hope. 

And such hypocrites were the critics who objected to the soil 
on His hands? What was true purity? Not what goes into the mouth 
of a man is impure, but what comes out of it those things which 
come out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile 
a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulter- 
ies, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. Those were the 
things which defile a man! 

This increasing quarrel of Jesus with Jerusalem became an absorb- 
ing topic of gossip in shops, bazaars, and synagogues* The people 
had long been familiar with simple disputation; they deariy loved 
an argument, the noisier the better. But it was with local teachers 
only that a poor man argued; not with scholars from the capital it- 
self! 



THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Furthermore, the simple home-grown debates concerned only the 
details, never the philosophy of the teachings. No one in Galilee 
had ever before dared to dispute the Tightness and wisdom of an- 
cient traditions. Many honestly found the flagrant contempt of Jesus 
for the ceremonials very shocking to their sense of the proprieties. 
All the province was soon in an uproar of taking sides. In the midst 
of which Jesus left them once more. 



Chapter^ TRANSFIGURED 

JESUS traveled north to the seacoast town of Sidon, one of the oldest 
dries in the world, to rest incognito for a while. In this fascinating 
ancient port on the Mediterranean He would live unrecognized in 
a rented house and move unobserved through the hustling and color- 
ful streets. Relaxing, He would spend long, quiet hours watching 
the building of mighty ships, whose tall masts and swelling prows 
would brave the storms of distant seas. Or He would pause at the 
shop of the sHvei^miths, toiling at resounding f orges, or look down 
into the red furnaces of glass factories and the vats of purple dyers 
from nearby Tyre- 
But not for long was He left in peace. One afternoon He went 
for t wilt A light rain was falling; the drizzle was cool to His 
forehead and the backs of His hands. A vagabond minstrel saw 
Hun and named Him. Soon the rumor ran through the town that 
He was Jesus, the wonder-worker from Galilee. As crowds began 
to gather around the front doorstep, the little holiday was over. 

Came first a Syro-Phoenician woman. This Gentile stood at the 
front door, imploring him to heal her daughter. To the grieving 
mother Jesus applied a grilling test of humility and faith. He spoke 
to her as she was accustomed to being spoken to, reminding her that 
she was outcast and He a Jew; **It is not good to take the bread of 
the children and cast it to the dogs." 

But it did not matter to this Syro-Phoenician mother if He called 
bar <we of the dogs. For she answered: "Yea, Lord, for the whelp 
also eat under the table of the crumbs." 



THE SECOND YEAR 167 

He smiled with approval on this devoted woman. She told Him 
that her daughter was possessed by a devil or was mad. Jesus, with 
that same debonair smile, gentle and courteous, cast out the devil 
and healed the girl completely. Then, going back to Galilee, He 
healed a deaf man, and a blind man who came feeling his way 
cautiously down the street. 

And then, a day later, as if to confute the skeptics who never left 
off mocking at the inconceivable tale of feeding the five thousand, 
Jesus repeated the miracle. This time not a full five thousand were 
fedonly four thousand famished men and women. 

Again He gathered together and used up what they hada point 
for all who hoped for miracles in their own private difficulties 
seven loaves and a few little fishes. With that slight store He fed 
them all. A sentimentalist would have thought that the fribbling 
Temple spies who not only tracked Him all the way north, and 
saw the whole thing, but who had generous helpings of the miracu- 
lous bread and fish knowing themselves vanquished, would have re- 
pented of their grisly errand and embraced the Master. Instead, 
what one of them did, a bilious fellow, chronically ill from liver 
trouble, was to step forward and impudently ask if Jesus would 
please show them a sign now. With crumbs still on His fingers! 

That was when Jesus told the spy and his accomplice there would 
be no sign for them! 

So He refused! He will not give them a sign to prove he was the 
Messiah? Very well, then, He must be a devil. Good-by, Nazarene, 
for now! You think we have botched our errand? Well, you'll hear 
from us later. 

Balked, their mission still unsuccessful, they went off to spread 
a story all over the province; wherever they went they defamed 
and slandered Him with the same line of propaganda. Jesus was 
not a prophet; not even a charlatan, a pretender to medical knowl- 
edge; He was ridden by a devil! These undeniable powers of His 
were bkck magic, straight out of hdl. 

Soon the tale of what the Temple agents said of Him came back 
to die Twelve. 

"Whom do the people say that I am?" Jesus asked keenly, as they 
sat one day near to the springs of the Jordaii; the sound of the water 
pouring out from die mountain'^ hip was lifce a song f 

The f erveat John, and Janie% Andrew, and shy, iMffideet: Philip 



1 68 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

told of strange tales that were believed. Some of the people thought 
He was John the Baptist, head back on his neck, cadaver out of the 
grave. Others thought He was Ellas, or some other prophet of olden 
time, reincarnated to call Israel back to first principles. 

"But whom do you say that I am?" Jesus persisted. 

Often His profundities blurred their thoughts and obscured their 
understanding, but this was a question they felt ready for. There 
was a moment's silence, then vast Peter stood up and hoarsely cleared 
his throat. 

"You," declared Peter, lifting his beard and forcing back his 
mighty shoulders, "are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 

"Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!" exclaimed the Master, "Be- 
cause flesh and blood has not revealed it to you but my Father, 
who is in heaven. And I say to you: that you are Peter, and upon 
this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not pre- 
vail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of 
Heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be 
bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on the earth, 
it shall be also loosed in heaven." 

Not one but was deeply affected, not only the disciples but the 
Master. He charged them with the utmost secrecy. Now was not the 
time to insist bluntly to the public that He was the Christ. The 
mere assertion would call down upon themselves the full weight 
and ferocity of Jerusalem. He would surely, be made a prisoner 
before He had delivered some of His most important coming utter- 
ances. Oh, the Temple would make Him prisoner anyway soon 
enough. 

Calmly and with a certitude that overawed all protest he forecast 
on that calm summery afternoon the coming struggle and its out- 
come. Not one of the Twelve could ever argue afterward that what 
happened in Gethsemane and on Golgotha was a surprise to him. 
Jesus foretold it all several times; already it was clear to Him how 
He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be put to death. 

"Lord," groaned Peter, feeling, in the new authority he had just 
received, strong enough to protest, "be it far from you! This shall 
not be!" 

Not alarm* but an instinctive awareness of danger flashed into the 
Master's face as he heard Peter's words; goodhearted Peter, so kck- 
ing in intuition. 

**G0 behind me t Satan! M whispered JesiB, looking directly at his 



THE SECOND YEAR 1 69 

friend, as if he were casting out a devil "You are a scandal to me, 
because you like not the taste of things that are of God but the things 
that are of men*" 

Peter bowed his shaggy head. Five minutes after having been 
called the foundation of the church he had been called Satan by the 
Son of God. Like the good man he was, he prayed for grace. 

Another apostle, Judas Iscariot, turned to one side, as if he would 
walk away. An underbred fellow, that Judas; with a gauche man- 
ner, awkward, even boorish, he seemed almost blatantly disinterested 
in the dreadful prophecy the Master was making for Himself. The 
eyes of Judas were turned to look off, as if his interest were caught 
by a scene below, a Roman funambulist, a performer on a tightrope, 
giving a roadside show. 

Meanwhile, as if prodded on by some deep necessity, Jesus told 
them flatly that the Kingdom of God was near at hand. 

"There are some standing here that shall not taste death till they 
see the Kingdom of God." 

Not know death? Yet Peter died. So did John and James, and all 
the Twelve. For twenty centuries afterward men would argue about 
that declaration. Ecclesiastics and theologians and masters of exegesis 
would set up a score of theories and probabilities and deductions. 

Yet only a few days later the prophecy came true. Peter and 
James and John came to that state of grace, miraculously, instan- 
taneously, and with an exaltation that probably surpassed any other 
single human experience. That was when they witnessed the re- 
markable phenomenon on the top of Mount Tabor. 

Mount Tabor rises at the northeast edge of the valley of Esdra- 
elon. It is not a great mountain, not so high, for example, as Mount 
Hermon with Its lingering snows, farther to the north. But Tabor 
is a holy mountain because, on its rounded summit, within sight 
of Jesus's own town of Nazareth, occurred the miracle of the Trans- 
figuration, 

To this day no one knows what really happened there. Jesus 
never explained the mystery. It was six days after He had predicted 
His crucifixion that He led his three close friends up almost to the 
very peak Near by was a stream, and they could hear the babble 
and the rippling sound of flowing water. When they were quite 
apart to themselves, Jesus knelt down on the stubble and dried-up 
grass and began to pray, and the others knelt with Him. Presently 
Pecer and James mid Ws brother John became aware that something 



I JO THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

extraordinary was happening. Some inexplicable access of power had 
suddenly taken hold of the Master, He was not now as He had been 
even five minutes before. 

The first great, overwhelming fact that His three friends had to 
grasp was that the shape of the Masters countenance was altered^ 
That, and a moment later the equally visible and undeniable fact 
that His garment became white and glittering. 

The robe that Jesus wore that afternoon was the robe of a teacher 
of Palestine, long and flowing, and no matter how clean in the 
morning, it was bound to be stained by dust before He had walked 
far. But now the raiment, for all its frazzled hem, was pure and 
glittering, as if woven not of common cotton and wool, but fashioned 
of an incomprehensible substance, soft and shining. White as snow, 
that raiment now, whiter than any fuller's earth can make cloth 
white; any launderer or bleacher of cloth with all the soaps and clays 
and scrubbing brushes. 

"He is being transfigured before us," Peter said in a hoarse whis- 
per. 

And now two others suddenly appeared and began talking with 
Jesus. The Apostles knew, without knowing how they knew, that 
they were present at and witness to some peculiarly important mo- 
ment, some vast and significant interruption to the normal course 
of natural law, some instance of infinite rarity when two worlds 
are in contact and the dead mingle with the living in felicitous com- 
munion- 
More, the three fishermen standing on the mountaintop not only 
saw the Master with Moses, the great leader dead all these vanished 
ceiiteries, and EEas, long-buried prophet, but they heard them talk, 
listening to wiiat they talked about. 

It was too much; the other world will always be too much for 
mortal eyes and ears. Their minds grew dense, their eyelids heavy, 
and they fell asleep, . . . 

Waking, they were just in time to see the close of this strange 
experience. As the Apostles rubbed their eyes, not knowing how 
long they had slept, light was shining around their beloved leader. 
They saw the two celestial visitors retreating, walking off as it were, 
not into space but into seme unknown dimension figures that pres- 
ently disappeared, 

^Blaster!" came Pete/s mighty basso, u k is good for us to be here. 
Let us? make three tabernacles. One for you. One for Moses. One for 



THE SECOND YEAR iyi 

And in sheer exuberance he grinned, as Luke pointed out later, 
"not knowing what he said." Before he could go on, a fog fell upon 
the scene, its damp embrace seeming to hide them all from the world, 
and they heard a voice: 

"This is my beloved son; hear Him." 

The three Apostles now were so scared that they fell face down- 
ward on the ground and stayed there until Jesus touched them and 
told them to get up. 

No more voices then! No more shining figures. Only Jesus smil- 
ing and binding them to secrecy. 

Now the favorites, Peter, James, and John, had secrets which the 
other nine must wait to learn secrets which the favored three them- 
selves did not understand. 

The obligation of silence had been kid in frightening terms: 

"Tell the vision to no man till the Son of Man shall be risen from 
the dead." 

In their uncertainty the three fishermen quizzed Him in private. 
What did He meanwhen He was risen from the dead? If all that 
they had seen meant that He was, indeed, the Messiah, what about 
the old prophecies which had promised that before the Messiah ap- 
peared, Elias would be reborn on the earth? How about that? The 
answer was staggering. The very people who had taught the old 
prophecies, the scholars who stood by the letter of the law, had not 
recognized that the spirit of Elias, the prophet, had been revitalized 
in the ministry of John the Baptist. 

Again Jesus repeated His prediction that He was to die a violent 
death. His persecution would coine from the very people who should 
support the truth but would not. 

No words that He spoke, no deed He would do would soften 
their hearts. And the three remembered how once, when He was 
about to heal a young man who had attacks which made him foam 
at the mouth, bite and tear and bruise himself , the scribes and the 
scholars had gone to the sick boy's father and tried to keep Urn 
from the Master. Better to have a dumb spirit, they advised; better 
to be an epileptic than to be healed by such as He! The father was 
greatly disturbed, but he loved his son so much that he could man- 
age humility of which the skeptics were incapable: 

"I do believe. Lord Help my unbelief!'* 

And of course the boy was heded because father and son had 
faitih like a grain of mostaid seed; if you had such f aitfa as they had 



172 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

shown, you might say to this mulberry tree, be you rooted up and 
be you transplanted into the sea, and it would obey you! 

The time was not far off, He constantly assured the Twelve, 
when He would be buried and rise again. Then the Apostles began 
to gossip and bicker among themselves. He would take on His king- 
dom when He rose again, and the whole world would have to recog- 
nize His power! And when that time came, they, the Twelve, would, 
of course, have very important positions. Before very long they 
were thinking about who would be the most important, which is a 
way human beings have of making dunces of themselves, even 
when they are close to God and on the way to being saints. 

Surely they would all sit somewhere quite near the throne of 
God, But in what order of precedence? The disciples, like wives 
of cabinet officers and ambassadors, began to be excited about proto- 
col. On the way to Capernaum one day soon afterward they dis- 
puted among themselves with some heat. 

When they were all in the house at Capernaum, Jesus, who had 
arrived before them, calmly asked: 

"What did you treat of on the way?" 

They did not want to tell Him what they had been talking about 
but He beckoned the whole Twelve to the back yard and when 
they had squatted around Him, He went on: 

"If any man desire to be first, he shall be the least of all, and serv- 
ant of aJL" 

And as they looked away, with good reason to feel sheepish, He 
called to a child playing in the doorway and drew him to His em- 
bfiaee* Then, holding on to him, He turned intently from face to 
face, and taught them with simple directness: 

"Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall 
not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever, therefore, should 
humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the Kingdom 
of Heaven. Whosoever shall receive this child in My name receives 
Me, and whosoever shall receive Me, receives Me not, but Him that 
sent Me. n 



THE SECOND YEAR 173 



Chapter 42 TRIBUTE TO CAESAR 

NEVER were they allowed to feel safe any more. Go where they 
would, spies from the Temple were at their heels. The Jerusalem 
agents were still baffled by the Master's adroitness in avoiding open 
blasphemy but still hopeful of tripping him. After two years, during 
which Jesus had been preaching north and south, they had failed, 
but their optimism was tireless. 

One day, when they were quartered at Peter's house in Caper- 
naum, the spies came, following a pair of taxgatherers and a Roman 
officer, wealing a baldric loop across his breast to hold his sword- 
all full of crafty smiles and palm rubbings. 

"Well, Simon, does not your master pay the diodrachma?" 

"You'll see," answered Peter with a scowl, and strode into the 
house. The whole question of taxes to a foreign power made the 
gorge rise in any patriot. And there were so many taxes! No end, 
it seemed, to the misery. In every Roman province the conquered 
people had to pay two direct and inescapable taxes poll and land. 
The poll tax was a property tax, distinct from the ownership of 
farms and houses and building lots. If you were a farmer, one tenth 
of your wheat and one fifth of your wine and fruit were taken for 
Caesar. On top of these taxes were piled every new and clever 
and outlandish trick those in power could devise, or the publicans 
could think up. As if the Temple tithes were not enough, the peo- 
ple must also pay the highway tolls, the house rates, the excise 
taxes, crown taxes all very much as poor creatures of governments 
and politicians have been doing ever since* 

More than once Peter had wondered whether he was not, by 
paying taxes to the representative of Rome, also committing a grave 
offense against the religious law of Israel, which, as far as the popu- 
lace was concerned, was the only true law. 

And resentful Peter also knew, as he stormed into Ms house, that 
these scoundrelly pubUcmi, as the Romans called tjbeir native col- 
lectors, would often lend money to impoverished f ellow Jews who 
found themselves unable to pay. By this act of hypocritical kindli- 
ness they converted a public obligation into a private debt, on which 
they could cfaaarge usury as mt&ccsfe 



174 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Such practices had heaped hard times upon Palestine. From broad 
fields the unhappy farmer would be reduced to a small farm, that 
is, from a plow to a spde-yet he still could not pay, and so he 
would lose his second, his smaller farm. Eventually he would be- 
come another of the thousands of beggars like those who still hold 
out their scrofulous hands to tourists in Nazareth and Cana and 
Tiberias and at all the gates in the wall of Jerusalem, Others might 
flee into the mountains, becoming bandits or revolutionaries, or both 
raiding towns, inciting mobs to rebel, and raising doubts even in 
the minds of cowards. 

"Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar?" 

One day soon the Temple spies would force Jesus to declare 
Himself on that poignant issue. But today they had to content 
themselves with payment in money, which is its own answer. 

For reasons of His own, apparently, Jesus chose to deky the in- 
evitable clash; He greeted Peter, as He stomped into the house to 
seek in the little hoard of the family for tax money, and knowing 
all the while there was not enough there. 

"What is your opinion? " Jesus asked Peter. "The Mngs of the 
earth, of whom do they receive tribute for custom? Of their chil- 
dren, or of strangers?" 

"Of strangers,** Peter replied with bitter certainty. 

The nod of Jesus was enigmatic. 

"Hm the children are free!" He exdaimed. "But that we not 
scaaialize them, to the sea and cast in a hook; and that fish which 
shall come first up, take; and when you have opened its mouth, you 
flUi lad a setter." 

A stater? A piece of money in die mouth of a fish? 

"And give it to them for me and you," finished Jesus. 

You are not a fisherman, nor am L Yet you have taxes to pay and 
so have L Are we then to hope for gold pieces in the mouths of 
lake trout? No! No! What are we then to do? We are to stop 
scowling, stop worrying, go on workingif you are a fisherman, 
fish! The needed money will ooine from your own labor and trust 
tfee beoevoleoce of our loving Father, who has promised to provide 
for afl needs of the aithfoL 

The money was pot in the taxgatherer*$ hands, the debt was 
paid, and die djsgfrmxded spies from the Temple sought comfort at 
the tavern. 

Two long years, and they had not trapped Him yet. 



THE SECOND YEAR 175 

Next year, they promised themselves, would be different! The 
members of the Sanhedrin, Supreme Council of Israel, were al- 
ready getting worried. Something was bound to happen. 

That was not the opinion of these frustrated detectives alone; it 
was shared by a few men in the Council itself liberal rich men who 
found some merit in these new doctrines being taught by the Naza- 
rene leader. 

That was why a visit to Jesus was secretly arranged for one of 
these rulers with vision. He came and walked with Jesus in the 
countryside one night. 

The stranger was a little man, richly dressed and with carefully 
trimmed beard, who introduced himself as Nicodernus, a member 
of the Sanhedrin. He came by night, he explained, because he could 
not afford to be known as an associate of the man who had created 
such a tumult of criticism. But Nicodemus, before he came, had in- 
formed himself of some of the history of this wayfarer. He got di- 
rectly down to business. 

"Master," he said, "we know some of us that you are a teacher 
that comes from God. For no man can do these signs which you do 
unless God be with him." 

- Jesus waited thoughtfully* He knew what Nicodemus was after. 
This wealthy man of good heart wanted to know the essence of 
Jesus's teaching. Jesus gave it to him directly: 

"Unless a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God." 

Nicodemus looked startled. These were strange words, hard to 
understand. AU Israel was waiting for the Kingdom of God, for 
the Messiah who would throw out the Romans and re-establish the 
independence of the race, but how could a man be born again to 
see that happen? Said Nicodemus: 

"How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second 
time into his mother's womb and be born again?" 

Jesus smiled and insisted: 

"Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost he 
cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the 
flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit. Wonder 
not that I said to you, you must be born again. The spirit breathes 
where he will and you hear his voice but you know not whence he 
comes and whither he goes. So is everyone that is born of the spirit," 

Nicodemus sighed and shook his head 

"How can these things be done?" 



1 76 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

As Jesus talked on, really giving this earnest man a panoramic 
statement of the plan of salvation, Nicodemus began to realize a 
part, at least, of the enormity of this teacher's claim. Jesus was 
calmly, quietly informing him that he, the Nazarene, was the Mes- 
siah, the bringer of the spirit for which all the race had been waiting 
for a thousand years, 

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten 
son that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but have ever- 
lasting life. For God sent His Son into the world, not to change the 
world but that the world may be saved by Him. He that believes in 
Him shall not change, but he that does not believe is already 
changed becaused he believes not in the name of the only begotten 
Son of God." 

Nicodemus went away very thoughtfully. 



Book Six 

THE THIRD YEAR 



Chapter 43 YOU MUST HAVE A DEVIL 

THE real danger to their safety began to be visible at the Feast of 
the Tabernacles. That was a great holiday; the popular proverb de- 
clared: "Who has not seen this joy of the Feast of the Tabernacles 
has not seen the glory of Israel." 

Together the thirteen started the dangerous journey to Jeru- 
salem. All the long way hostility seemed to meet them. The spies 
from the Temple had been very busy spreading their canards. A 
few of the disciples traveled on ahead, and two kept coming back 
to tell of animosity sowed in people's minds. 

In Samaria, where once they had been well received, they found 
a new coldness; when they visited here before they had been com- 
ing from Jerusalem; now they were going toward it, and the 
Samaritans hated Jerusalem and all travelers who went that way. 
James and John became purple with fury when they learned that 
there was no room to be made for them at the inns. In their rage, 
they were ready to have fire and brimstone fall upon Samaria and 
scorch it off the face of the world. 

Jesus shook His head sadly. These disciples! When would they 
understand that He came, not to destroy, but to save? 

Before they were even halfway to Jerusalem new spies met Him, 
demanding that they stand and be questioned. The knowledge of 
Jesus, the resourcefulness of His learning, and His instant access to 
all the vast body of the kw amazed them to the point of exhaustion, 

"How does He know, never having been trained as our rabbis 
are trained?'* the inquisitors groaned. 

Jesus blandly explained to them that He brought not His own 
doctrine but the law of One that had sent Him into the world. The 
Temple provocators worried about that "One/* especially when 
speaking of His divine mission. Jesus went on quietly to ask why 
they wanted to Mil Him. 



iy8 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"You must have a devil, Jesus; who wants to kill you?" 

They did, and they knew it, and Jesus knew it; the struggle would 
not long be delayed. In dialectic too swift and keen for their denial 
He held up their criticisms to ridicule. Why did He heal the sick 
on the Sabbath? That, again! Well, it was lawful to circumcise on 
the Sabbath, because by circumcision a man was improved; yet 
they would criticize Him when He improved not a part, but the 
whole man on the Sabbath? 

The boldness of such attacks astounded the agents. Already a 
case of blasphemy might possibly be made against Himif they 
could prove that He represented Himself to be of divine origin. 
Only, it did not seem to them too precise a case as yet because the 
people knew He was so poor. Even the most stupid man would 
not expect the Messiah to be born poor and humble! So they hur- 
ried back their reports to Jerusalem, upon which the high priest in 
the Temple turned lavender with ire. 

This current high priest, whose name was Caiphas, was the son-in- 
kw of the powerful old politician, Annas; only because the daughter 
of Annas was his wife was Caiphas high priest. He was a large, 
handsome coxcomb of a man and not very clever. 

At first even Caiphas was not inclined to take Jesus seriously, any 
more than was Annas kter on. But in October A.D. 29 the people 
of Jerusalem were already talking abo.ut the workingman from 
Galilee as if he were the most interesting person in the world far 
more interesting than any of the underground revolutionary leaders. 
Some enthusiasts even then openly declared they believed that 
Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Christ. As they argued: 

"When the Christ comes shall He do more miracles than this 
man does?" 

That kind of talk did begin to trouble Caiphas. His quarry was 
very adroit; there was no evidence against him yet on which to 
found a case, although he so often came close to it. But Jesus threw 
the Temple into an intellectual panic when they learned he had 
told his followers that He would be with them for only a little 
while and then would go to the One who had sent him: 

"You shall seek me and not find me, and where I am, you cannot 
come.'* 

"What is this saying? " they asked one another. 'Where will He 
g0 that we shall not find Him?" 

*Tf any maa thirst," Jesus was telling the public, "let him come to 



THE THIRD YEAR 179 

me and drink. He that believes in me, as the Scripture says, out of 
his belly shall flow rivers of living water." 

The Temple agents lifted their ears at the boldness of this indeli- 
cate self-assertion. Voices in the roadside crowd were shrill: 

"This is the Prophet indeed." 

"This is the Christ." 

"But was the Christ to come out of Galilee?" 

"No, the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem," 

"Jesus *was born in Bethlehem!" 

By this time even the tireless agents of the Temple were wearing 
down. When they came to report to Caiphas, the high priest, their 
voices were trembling. 

"Never did man speak like this fellow," they gasped, 

Caiphas was outraged. 

"Are you also seduced?" he stormed, "Has any one of the rulers 
believed in Him? No! Not one of us. Or of the Pharisees? No! But 
this multitude bah. They don't know the law. The crowd is ac- 
cursed . . ." 

Nevertheless, it was at this time that one of their own, one of the 
rulers as they liked to be called, actually did say a good word for 
Jesus. He was Nicodemus, the aristocrat, who, muffled in a great 
dark hood, had once talked by stealth with Jesus at night, to learn 
His doctrine. Now he accused the others of the Sanhedrin of malice. 
Said Nicodemus: 

"Does our God judge any man unless He will hear him and know 
what he does?" 

Upon which the aristocratic fellow judges of the Sanhedrin cried 
at Nicodemus: 

"Are you also a Galilean?" 

And left him standing alone on the Temple steps. 

All this was heating up as Jesus and his followers drew near to 
the city, and the crowds on the road thickened until it was like a 
inarching army. At the suggestion of Jesus the disciples catered 
Jerusalem alone. His time was not yet come when he should eater 
with them, provoke a demonstration, and so cut short his active 
ministry, in which so much was yet to be done. However, he did 
enter the capital that night alone, and in secret he moved among the 
throngs. 

Meanwhile, the Apostles, mingling with them openly, heard more 
talk of their Master than of anyone eke. He was tbe famous legend 



180 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

of the hour. Although here in the capital the opposition of the 
priests was well known, many dared to say a decent word for Him. 
Everywhere He was discussed with the utmost seriousness; was He 
a new revolutionist, a man sent from God, a risen prophet? All the 
old familiar questions. 

"And where is He?" asked some of the Eastern pilgrims. 

No one knew. 

"He is a good man," one bold spirit dared to say. 

"No!" cried others, "He seduces the people." 

"No!" cried still others. "He is the Messiah!" 

The crowds flowing into the city hired quarters in tents, because 
the feast commemorated the long nomadic years when their ances- 
tors lived in shelters made of goat skins. It was always celebrated on 
the fifteenth day of the seventh month, about the time when the 
harvest was brought home, so it was also known in Jesus's day as 
the Feast of the Ingathering, a very happy time. 

The Apostles stayed that night near to the Temple, which was 
illuminated* For the whole night dancers with torches were per- 
forming in the forecourt, and the air was sweet with the harmonies 
of dulcimer, cymbak, and trumpets, and drums played by an or- 
chestra of Levites. When dawn came, the crowds would follow the 
priests to the Pool of Siloam, and from the pool water would be 
drawn tip in a vessel, not of mere lead nor even of silver but of pure 
and shining gold. Afterward the water was poured out on the high 
altar of the Temple. 

Meanwhile, as Jesus slept on the Mount of Olives, to the east of 
this city, His enemies in a huddle behind the Temple sat up to dis- 
cuss ways and means to take His life. Finally one bleary-eyed con- 
spirator had an inspiration. 

"If you will listen to an old man," he wheezed, "I can tell you 
how to trip this fanatic into his grave and aH quite legally too." 

They listened and rejoiced at his cleverness. Here was a plan that 
looked like a certainty. And so simple! Thus the next morning, 
when Jesus walked calmly into Jerusalem, with polluting exhala- 
tions rising from its filthy streets, and appeared in the Temple, re- 
turning to his speeches, a band of Temple guards were busy else- 
where on business of the high command. From out of the snarled 
traffic of some hideous bystreet they lugged a woman from an adul- 
terous bed. She was the bait for the trick they meant to play. 

As Jesus sat in the Temple, teaching busily, a delegation of men 



THE THIRD YEAR igl 

suddenly appeared with the adulteress by the arm. They shoved 
her in the open space between Him and His listeners and one guard 
stood forward as interrogator. He spoke with deep respect, suave, 
indignant, and with every appearance of sincerity: 

"Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery. Now Moses 
in the Law commanded us to stone such as she. What do you say?" 

This kind Jesus from the Bethlehem stable, this healer of the sick 
was He likely to order the woman to be stoned to death? They 
knew it was not in Him to do it. Yet, on the other hand, if He told 
them they might disregard the Law, He was also guilty of a crime 
that called for death. Oh, here, now, was a most cunning trap! 

Jesus's eyes went from face to face, his gaze straight and full of 
question. He did not seem to notice the sniveling prisoner. Clearly 
the man who was her partner in adultery had not been detained. 
Having looked at all the guards and Temple scholars one by one, eye 
to eye, the Master leaned forward on his knees and with the nail of 
a lean brown forefinger wrote in the dust. 

There were those who said afterward that what He wrote was & 
list of women intimates of the members of this outraged delegation. 

When Jesus looked up again over His shoulder, He said calmly: 

"He that is without sin among you let him cast the first stone.'* 

And stooping down again, He resumed His mysterious writing in 
the dust. 

The trick had failed! For each man there knew about the im- 
proprieties of the others. And they could all read the writing in the 
sand. And so they hurriedly went out, beginning with the oldest 
man. 

The woman ky there, groveling on the stone pavement, abjectly 
prostrate. Jesus sat back, relaxed, and smiled at her such a tender 
smile as she had never hoped to see on any man's face. His head a 
little to one side, He asked: 

"Woman, where are those that condemn you? Has no man con- 
demned yon?** 

u No man, Lord.'* 

"Neither will I condemn you. Go!'* 

And she was almost out of earshot: when He called af 'tec her; 

"And sin no more!** 



1 82 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Chapter 44 A REAL INVESTIGATION! 



THIS episode of the harlot and the guards excited such hilarious ap- 
preciation in Jerusalem that Jesus became more than ever an issue, 
not only in homes, taverns, and outside doorways of the synagogues, 
but in the highest councils of the Temple. 

The rulers now determined to make a thorough investigation of 
His next miracle and to expose it as a fraud. They did not have long 
to wait. 

On the Sabbath day after a long argument in the Temple Jesus 
went walking with the disciples down one of the coiling, twisting 
streets when He came upon a blind man. Seeing the pitiful figure, 
some of the disciples halted the Master for a question. Probably this 
mendicant, who had never seen anything in his life blind before 
his first cry was the victim of the disease of a dissolute father. That 
was why the disciples asked him: 

"Master, who has sinned this man or his parents, that he should 
be born blind?" 

The answer which Jesus gave was bewildering: 

"Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works 
of God should be made manifest in him." 

Not waiting for more questions, he spat on the dusty ground and 
then, bending over, kneaded the wet dust into a kind of clay which 
he spread on the blind man's eyes. And he whispered: 

"Go wash in the pool of Sifoam." 

Off went the trusting blind man, thumping with his stick, and 
Jesus resumed His stroll. But it was not long before they heard a 
hullabaloo in the streets behind them. Here came the blind man 
again, having done as he was told; now he returned, romping down 
the highway, seeing the world the blue sky, the white clouds, the 
sun, the streets, the houses, the people, the smiles on children's faces. 
And people ran with him, jabbering: 

"Is not this he that sat and begged?" 

"He is like him, but " 

The beggar looked back over his shoulder, shouting scornfully: 

u l am he." 



THE THIRD YEAR 183 

They clamored around him: 

"How were your eyes opened?" 

And the man said: 

"That man called Jesus , . ." 

So! But the Pharisees had been telling the people they were not 
to believe in that man called Jesus. Plainly the thing to do was to 
take the former blind man and show him to the Pharisees. What 
would they have to say to this? 

The answer of the Pharisees was typical of all the Pharisees in the 
world then and ever since. Having heard the facts, they shook 
their heads. Here was a very serious offense indeed. Jesus could not 
possibly be a man of God and for the same old reasonif He had 
healed this blind man, He had done it on the Sabbath. Therefore He 
had broken the law of Moses. 

But a few of the rulers were more impressed. Timidly one asked: 

"How can a man who is a sinner do such miracles?" 

About this point they began to squabble among themselves. Fi- 
nally they turned on the beggar and put the question squarely to 
* "m: 

"What say you of this man that has opened your eyes?" 

The beggar answered doggedly: 

"He is a prophet." 

By this time the Pharisees had recovered from their first shock 
and retreated to firmer ground. They were certain the whole thing 
must be a fraud; of course there had been no healing the man had 
never been blind in the first place. Most likely he was a sensation- 
monger as well as a liar. But suddenly an old man and an old woman 
were shoved forward by the crowd. They were the beggar's father 
and mother. The Pharisees had to ask the old couple: 

"Is this your son who you say was born blind? How then does 
he now see?" 

The old man and the old woman said they certainly knew this 
man was their son and that he was born blind. 

"But how he now sees we don't know. Or who has opened his 
eyes we don't know. Ask our son; he is of age. Let him speak for 
himself." 

Their simple declaration left the Pharisees in such a quandary that 
they wanted to end the interview as quickly as possible. So they re- 
called the beggar and gave him some sound advice. Perhaps he had 
been a little blind; if now IK had his sight, let him give glory to God. 



184 raE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Don't you know this man Jesus is a sinner?" they nagged him. 

But the beggar answered: 

"If He be a sinner, I don't know. But one thing I know that once 
I was blind and now I can see." 

It was a long, tough day for the Pharisees! 

An even more desperate clash between Jesus and the Temple was 
to come soon afterward on the question of His authority. 

Who had told Him He could teach the people? 

Who had appointed Him? 

Plagued with these questions, the Master told them plainly that 
He was in Palestine to do the will of the heavenly Father, adding 
boldly that He and the Father were one. 

So carefully phrased were His assertions that not even then could 
the Temple make out a case of presumptuous blasphemy against 
Him. Yet the claim He then made to divinity was clear. He alone 
could fully know the Father; so He informed them. None except the 
Father could fully know the Son, either. That was an assertion of in- 
finite at-oneness between the two. Staggering declaration! Even 
more staggering was the profundity of concept, the precision of ut- 
terance, when He hurled at them the statement: 

"Before Abraham 'was made y I am!" 

Why all this disputation? Partake of universal beauty and won- 
der with me, you unhappy people; in one instant I shatter all the 
ideas an ordinary man has about time and space and sensibility; in 
another instant I give you welcome to eternity. 

M Cofne unto me, all you that kbor and are heavy laden and I will 
give you rest. 

*Take up my yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am meek 
and humble of heart and you shall find rest to your souls. 

"For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" 

For such words, in spite of all the power and antagonism of the 
Temple, the people loved him. 



THE THIRD YEAR 185 



Chapter 45 THAT BETTER PART 

It WAS about this time that Jesus found Himself scolded by one of 
the best friends He had in the world. That was Martha, the sister of 
Lazarus and of Mary, who lived in Bethany. 

For a long time the four had been good friends. At the very out- 
set of his ministry Jesus had met the gentle, shy Lazarus, who took 
him home for supper one night and introduced him to his sisters. 
Ever since that night they had all adopted Jesus into the family. 
Whenever he came near Bethany, which is only a few miles from 
Jerusalem, He must stay with them. It was in the synagogue near 
their home that Jesus had engaged in that breathless colloquy with 
the heckling lawyer and silenced him with a story destined for im- 
mortality the parable of the Good Samaritan. 

But there was a difference in the relation of Jesus to each of 
these three vivid personalities. Lazarus himself was a retiring, self- 
effacing man who never once dreamed that he was to be an instru- 
ment of universal power, an experiment in love and death. Mary was 
a thoughtful and dreaming girl whose brain was clear, curiously in- 
satiable, full of a great yearning to know and to understand. Her 
sister Martha was quite the opposite: the busiest housewife in Beth- 
anyand the most respected. She scrubbed and swept and dusted 
and washed and ironed and baked and roasted and basted and tasted 
and poured forth her abounding energies in performing all the duties 
a woman was expected to perform. 

One day Jesus came to stop at their home. In the cool shadows of 
late" afternoon He sat in the dooryard, talking of profound matters 
with Mary, the thinker and dreamer, who sat listening. Her eyes on 
the Master's face, she asked many questions, while from within the 
house came an increasing clatter of plates and pots and jugs it was, 
somehow, a very noisy kitchen this day. 

Suddenly Martha, red-faced, hands dripping wet, breath panting, 
appeared angrily OH the doorsilL She spoke with labor ed politeness. 
It was wonderful out in the front yard; she could feel the coolness 
now, but die c0dd not understand why her sistser Mary should sit 
at ease on the front stoop with their Illustrious guest and chat while 
die baked and stewed in the hot kitchen and got the supper ready. 



1 86 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

She, too, would like to have sat and talked, but somebody had to get 
the meal 

"Martha, Martha," Jesus answered, "you are careful and troubled 
about many things. But one thing is needful: and Mary had chosen 
that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." 

Now what was Martha to gather from that? She was very puz- 
zled, as she turned her back on her guest and her sister, to retire to 
the kitchen and go on with her cooking. Her face was very red, her 
heart very sick* 

She felt virtuous about doing all that drudgery just to give Him 
the right kind of meal Certainly both wanted to put a good table 
before Him. Both wanted Him to be comfortable, well fed, the food 
savory, the dishes shining, the linen crisp and clean. But it was 
Martha who must see to all that, and in return she heard those 
strange words as she came back to the kitchen wiping her hands, 
confusion in her eye. 

What could He have meant? Was honest labor being rebuked? 
Was this shiftlessness of her sister the good part which was not to 
be taken away from her? 

Here was a riddle for all the good Israelitish wives and daugh- 
ters. They had no voice anywhere except in the kitchen; they were 
like house slaves. No woman had ever appeared in those casual road- 
side debating societies where Christ and His disciples matched wits 
with argufiers of all sorts. In those days men believed that woman's 
pkce was in the house. She was expected to be careful and troubled 
about many things but never about ideas. Women were workers, 
not thinkers; practical, not speculative; drudges ministering to the 
physical wants of man, 

Maltha knew her duty and she did it with the self-righteousness 
that is found sometimes in such good housewives. And Martha re- 
sented any other woman but most of all her own sister who 
wanted to discuss philosophy with a man. No woman, before that 
Mary, had ever been allowed to do such a thing. 

Jesus was opening the door to Mary, the modern woman, when 
He encouraged her intellectual rebellion. 

He said that she had chosen the good part in taking an interest in 
matters which men had, until then, appropriated to themselves. It 
was an important matter that He settled on the doorstep in Bethany. 
Today all the women of the world have chosen that good part, and 
k sbaU not be taken away from them. 



THE THIRD YEAR 187 



Chapter 46 THE DINNER TABLES OF THE 
MIGHTY 



THOSE were busy days, filled with many healings including two 
blind men from Bethany, who howled down the dusty road: "Have 
mercy on us! " and ten lepers who were all made clean at one stroke. 
Only one of the ten gave thanks for deliverance from the loath- 
some disease, and he was a Samaritan! 

Once more, in defiance of the Pharisees, Jesus restored another 
patient on the Sabbath; openly, in front of all, on the floor of the 
synagogue. This poor woman was very ill; her body bent inward 
so that she was bowed together, head and toes nearly touching; she 
had not been able to look upward at all for eighteen years. By laying 
His hands on her, Jesus straightened out the contorted body; she 
was a well woman on the instant. Yet 

"Master, we would see a sign from you!" the hecklers told Him 
again. 

Aristocratic scholars from the Temple and the Pharisaical rabbis 
from the neighborhood synagogues no longer hid their fears of His 
effect on the common people. Enemies of various kinds were draw- 
ing together against Him in a conspiratorial unity of alarm. 

If they could have read the future (they who could understand 
neither present nor past) they would have -known that the very 
answer of Jesus was, of itself, a true sign, although He scorned to 
tell them so. There was a gleam in the dark eyes as He replied: 

"This generation is a wicked generation. It asks a sign, but a sign 
shall not be given it, except the sign of Jonah, the prophet. 

"For Jonah was in the whale's belly three days and three nights. 
So shall die Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and 
three nights and behold a greater than Jonah is here!*' 

They could not, of course, penetrate this sign, this precise pre- 
diction, of His three days in die tomb. But the Pharisees knew they 
were getting nowhere with Him; die chief counselors decided diat 
their agents sent out to ensnare Him had not been very clever. 
Wiser heads were needed now. 

That was why, on a twilight walk from die synagogue at Beth- 
any, Jesus was stopped by a ridi old Pharisee who invited Him to 



1 88 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

dinner. Here was news! True, Jesus had been entertained by rich 
men before this, and others had come stealthily, after nightfall, and 
kept their visits secret. But never before had Jesus been given social 
recognition so near the capital 

The Pharisee who invited him, a tall, sallow man with the cold 
eyes of an undertaker, never did cease regretting it for the rest of his 
natural life-because things went wrong for the host from the^mo- 
ment Jesus entered the house. It began when the Pharisee noticed, 
to his shocked dismay, that Jesus had not washed before dinner. 

Now, while the Pharisees knew little enough about sanitation in 
the time of Jesus, since the time of Moses they had had the good 
sense to wash faces and hands before they took food in their fingers. 
It seemed a perfectly fair question for the Pharisees to ask Jesus why 
He did not wash; He who had made cleanliness the very life of His 
teaching and whose first sacrament was baptism. Jesus had been 
teaching in the synagogue on the Jericho turnpike; then, jostled by 
a stinking, unscrubbed mob, He had walked across the stony hill- 
sides to keep his dinner appointment. He entered the burgher's 
house and sat down at table without asking first for a basin of water 
and a towel. 

The Pharisee did not mention the omission* He merely thought 
about it. What he did not realize was that he was in the presence of 
one from whom no thought could be concealed. It was not merely 
that Jesm knew what the Pharisee was thinking about washing be- 
fore meals. He knew the whole psychological history of this Phari- 
see; and why he had invited a wayside teacher in to dine. That old 
Pharisee also thought just like the rich man in Galilee, human na- 
ture seeming the poor thing it sometimes is that Jesus would be 
flattered by the invitation, A wandering visionary, with no home 
of His own, a man with no position in the community whatsoever- 
such a poor creature might be expected to feel a sense of great so- 
cial elevation. That would soften Him tip, making Him ready to be 
wheedled, A table heaped with good food, delicacies a poor man 
never tasted, goat skins puffed with European wines from Samo- 
thrace and Naples and Rome soon the vagabond would be heady, 
giddy, talkative He would say too much; why, they might even 
be able to nab Him before the dessert. 

Jesus knew that was how the Pharisee thought and how he had 
pboood his evening. When the Master entered the house, He did not 
for the single reason that He had no intention of remainipg 



THE THIRD YEAR 189 

there to break bread with this old schemer. Instead, the dinner still 
untouched, He seized the occasion to give His host and other guests 
a lesson they would never forget. He began by directly answering 
His host's discomfort because He had not washed: in quiet voice 
He stated simply: 

"You Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter. 
But your inside is full of rapine and iniquity. . . . 

"Hypocrites. Because you are like whhed sepulchers, which out- 
wardly appear to men beautiful but within are full of dead men's 
bones and of all filthiness." 

That was a dismaying beginning for an evening meal. The 
shocked silence was broken by one of the other guests, a scribe who 
knew every jot and tittle of the law; one, though, without much 
humor, for now he spoke up in a tone of pained protest: 

"Master, in saying these things about Pharisees you reproach us, 
the lawyers, also!" 

Did He? Most certainly He meant to! 

"Woe to you lawyers also! Because you load men with burdens 
which they cannot bear; and you yourselves touch not the packs 
with one of your fingers. You have taken away the key of knowl- 
edge; you yourselves have not entered in, and those that were en- 
tering in, you hindered." 

After that outspokenness Jesus arose and went quickly out of the 
house. That same night a second council was convoked in Jeru- 
salem. The lawyers and the Pharisees came together in what was like 
an ecstasy of hate. They must not have a man at krge, saying 
things like that! There must be some way found to catch some- 
thing from His mouth by which they might accuse Him. 

As a practical result of their convocation they decided to make 
another try. If He blaspheme in front of expert witnesses, they 
might be able to indict Him. So for the third time Jesus found Him- 
self invited to a rich man's table. On this night Jesus observed all 
the amenities. He washed His face and hands and reclined on a 
couch at the ruler's table. Suddenly, through the open door there 
staggered a man with dropsy an accumulation of water in various 
parts of the body. No one said anything as the dinner was inter- 
rupted by the silent apparition of this suffering man, but all the 
other diners looked at the Master. Would He forget that this was 
the night of the Sabbath? 

Sensing the familiar trick, Jesus looked around at aE of them 



190 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

the lawyers, the formalists, the Pharisees to whom the slightest dere- 
liction in the strict observance of the Sabbath was a mortal sin 
and He asked them a question: 

**Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?" 

He got no answer. But He waited for none. He turned to the 
sick man and made him well, and sent him away. 

"Which of you/' He then asked, "shall have an ass or an ox fall 
into a pit and will not immediately drag him out on the Sabbath 
day?" 

The silence was still acute. By this time, because of news of the 
healing, the house of the Pharisee was surrounded by a multitude. 
Jesus left the table, turned His back on the supper guests, and, 
standing in the open doorway of the rich man's house, He began 
to speak with supernatural eloquence and power, delivering the 
greatest of His parables-for that was when He told the story of the 
prodigal son. 

This exhortation to the multitude in front of the Pharisee's house 
was almost as moving as the Sermon on the Mount With supreme 
earnestness and poetic eloquence, He talked to them of God's for- 
giving way with sinners, of the virtue of humility, and the abomina- 
tions of pharisaical pride. This was a time when He served notice 
that no man could serve two masters and expkined the necessity of 
renouncing all to follow the way of Christ: 

"If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother and 
wife and children and brethren and sisters; yes, and his own life also, 
be cannot by my disciple. And he that takes not up his cross and 
follow me is not worthy of me." 

Well* that was the third time the Pharisees had Jesus in to din- 
ner. They would never ask Him again. 



Chapter 47 URGENT TEACHING 



BEYOND Jordan, in the country across from where he was baptized, 
Jesus retired for a while to talk over the future with the Apostles. 
There was now an urgency in His attitude; He told them the time 
was short before He would close his earthly mission, to bring for- 
giveness to the world 



THE THIRD YEAR 



This pardon of God to a man, based on how that same man par- 
dons his fellows, was the peak of His teaching, and it reached the 
peak of expression in this region near where John had first pro- 
claimed Him three years before. 

There was so much He had still to impart, and the human limita- 
tions of His chosen Twelve were sadly visible, yet they were the 
men who must carry forward the work when He was gone. To 
them He emphasized major problems the sex life, marriage and di- 
vorce, celibacy and virginity. Whom God had joined together, He 
told them again, let no man put asunder. 

But was celibacy ever to be recommended above marriage? Only 
for those who choose to be free of family ties and obligations, and 
the tyranny of the senses, in order to carry on the Master's work: 

"For there are eunuchs who were born so from their mother's 
womb; and there are eunuchs who were made so by men; and 
there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the King- 
dom of Heaven. 

"He that can take it, let him take it!" 

Then He turned and held out His arms to mothers and their chil- 
dren. His face glowing with love for all the little ones of earth and 
their mothers, He turned to the same disciples to whom He had ex- 
plained virginity, marriage and divorce, and with little boys and 
girls climbing all over Him, He smiled at their confusion. Peter! 
James and John! You are trying to chase these children away, as if 
they were a nuisance and a disturbance; listen: 

"Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for 
of such is the Kingdom of God. I tell you, whoever shall not receive 
the Kingdom of God as a child shall in no wise enter into it!" 

More and more He taught of the particular care God has for 
every living individual: 

"Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings and not one of them 
is forgotten before God? Yes, the very hairs of your head are all 
numbered." 

Thus He emphasized the uniqueness of the individual, and they 
loved it, though litde comprehending the literal import of His 
words. But two thousand years kter, in the laboratories of modern 
criminologists, the speetrograph and spectrophotometer show us 
that the hair on every mortal head is different from all others-, and, 
more, that each individual hair is "niimfoared," is different from any 
other hair on the same head! Not only are there no two thumbs or 



192 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

fingerprints alike in all humanity, but even the lines and whorls and 
loops and corrugations on the hoofs of cows and bulls and the feet 
of dogs and cats are all unparalleled. It is science today that shows 
individuality to be of persistent uniqueness in God's world, just as 
Jesus taught it. 

Science was to learn that not one man's sweat was like another's; 
you could break it down into its chemical elements, and find an in- 
finite diversity in mere drops of perspiration. Let the killer leave but 
a stain from moist finger tips on the lace collar of the woman killed 
and he can be convicted by it 

Every part of me and you is intrinsically and unmistakably you 
and me; the combination and proportions of your phosphorus and 
calcium and aE the rest of you are unique. That immense importance 
of your uniqueness, and mine, your individuality, your immortal 
soul was what Jesus was trying to bring home to the people: 

^Yes, the very hairs of your head are numbered . . . you are of 
more value than many sparrows." 

In those days, too, He began to promise them the coming of the 
Holy Ghost, which was the good spirit, the comforter, or paraclete, 
always to be guide and counselor to every Christian, after Jesus was 
gone. If they were ever brought into court, they were not to be 
afraid of how or what they should answer; the inner voice of the 
Holy Ghost would let them know in the hour of trial what they 
should say. They need not fear hunger or homelessness; they must 
pat tiieir confidence in His promise of this help to come. 

Jons seemed to be more deeply concerned than ever with the 
relations of the poor and the rich; or capital and labor; the responsi- 
bilities of workman and millionaire. A brightly dressed, golden- 
curled young man rushed up to Him one day on the open road and 
gasped: 

"Good Master, what shall I do that I may receive life everlast- 
ing?" 

"Why do you call me good?" Jesus waited a moment for the 
young man to get his breath, "None is good but God alone." Jesus 
was well aware this baffled young man was no more than a curios- 
ity seeker; he had no real faith ia Jesus or His divinity. "Then why 
ctl me good? You know the commandments: you shall not kill; 
you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear 
false witness; honor your father and mother." 



THE THIRD YEAR 193 

"But, Master, all these things I have observed from my youth. 
What else shall I do?" 

And again the smile of Jesus was rueful. 

"One thing is wanting unto you. If you will be perfect, go sell 
what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in 
heaven; and come, follow me." 

The kneeling man stood up. His face was stricken, tragically fuH 
of regret. He went away sadly. He was very rich; he had great pos- 
sessions. 

Looking after him, seeing his sorrow, Jesus remarked how hard 
it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God; harder than for 
a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Yet, He added whimsi- 
cally, with God all things are possible. 

But no sooner had the rich man gone off than the Apostles picked 
up that promise about treasure in heaven. 

Peter cleared his throat. 

"Master, we have left all things and have followed you* What, 
therefore, shall toe have?" 

Smug and self-righteous as he was at that moment, Peter spoke 
only fact. He and the others had certainly left house and nets and 
ships, brothers and sisters, father, mother, wife, children. The re- 
ward, they had thought, was well worth the price life everlasting. 
But after hearing that talk with the golden-curled young rich man, 
there was a large question in their minds. They had given up their 
all for the rest of their lives. What about the Jacob-come latelys? 
The people who had enjoyed a full worldly life and then, just 
shortly before they were going to die, joined up in the movement of 
Jesus? Would these late arrivals get as great rewards as the others, 
who had served a lifetime; had borne the heat and burden of the 
day? That didn't seem just for the kte ones had much more to 
repent than the original followers. 

Yet Jesus was constantly preaching forgiveness not once, not 
seven times, but seventy times seven; and endlessness of forgive- 
ness. How about those who asked forgiveness at the eleventh hour? 
Did they share equally in the great rewards to come? And even 
though He told them a parable of laborers in the vineyard, there 
was still a growing riddle in their souls. 

He saw their plight clearly; in the little time that was left He 
would try to buttress their faith. But in the midst of their counsels 
there came a call to Bethany, back to the house of Martha and Mary. 



1 94 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Chapter 48 COME FORTH! 



As ALL the world knows now, but few cared then whether they 
knew it or not, Lazarus was the brother of Mary arid Martha. By 
hired courier the sisters sent an imperative message to Jesus: 

"Lazarus, he whom you love, is sick." 

But to the consternation of the Twelve the comment Jesus made 
seemed almost casual: 

"This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God; that 
the Son of Man may be glorified by it." 

Now the sisters had not misrepresented the facts. Jesus did love 
Lazarus; He loved all three of that family as personally as He had 
ever loved any other mortal, except His mother. All the more sur- 
prising that He seemed to dismiss the desperate message while He 
lingered; He even seemed to dawdle for two whole days, nor would 
He budge from the town where the message had found Him. 

The earthbound Twelve Apostles applauded His behavior, al- 
though they completely misconstrued it. 

"Good thing He stays here! Sensible!'* they said among them- 
selves. "To go back to Bethany, so close to Jerusalem, would be 
Mke walking into the den of a bear. By now the Temple is so stirred 
npv they would be bound to do Him mischief. They might even hire 
a killer to put Him out of the way. Or even massacre the whole lot 
of us while we sleep. The Master is right: it is all very sad about 
Lazarus, of course every one of us loves Lazarus but it is much 
more prudent to stay right here and be safe!" 

Upon which Jesus suddenly told them He was going on to Beth- 
any. They bitterly protested. What could He be thinking of? Only 
a short time before, when He was there, agents of the priests tried 
to stone him. Why go back? His only answer was: 

"Lazarus our friend sleeps; but I go that I may awake him out of 
sleep.** 

"Lord," protested the disciples, "if Lazarus sleep, he shall do 
well!" 

Then the kindly smile faded from the lips of Jesus and He spoke 
to them sternly: 



THE THIRD YEAR 195 

"Lazarus is dead." 

That was mournful news. It was true that they had all loved Laza- 
rus. It was heartbreaking to think of their friend as dead. Yet even 
more shocking, fuller of heartbreaking bafflement were the next 
bewildering words of their leader: 

"Lazarus is dead. And for your sakes I am glad that I was not 
there that you may believe. But let us go to him." 

Then up spoke Thomas, whose other name was Didymus, in 
Greek, "the twin." Thomas Didymus was an early exponent of the 
scientific spirit; his hardheaded insistence on facts made the others 
call him Doubting Thomas. Doubter he was, a man slow to make 
up his mind, one truly born with a thirst for honest inquiry and 
one who dearly loved a fact yet once doubts were resolved, his 
loyalty was simple, fixed, and unshakeable. Although in this sudden 
resolution to go into danger Thomas foresaw nothing but disaster, 
he wheeled on his companions and snapped: 

"Let us also go! That we may die with Him." 

Their hearts were heavy, but they backed up Thomas, all of 
them, from John to Judas. 

The house of Martha and Mary was crowded with mourners, 
friends and relatives and professional weepers and groaners hired 
for the occasion, according to custom; criers and breast beaters, 
who created a frantic disorder night and day. 

As soon as she was told that Jesus was coming, Martha ran out 
to meet Him. Mary remained at home. Both women were in agony 
of sorrow and disappointment: Mary withdrawn to herself; Martha, 
the forthright practical one, rushed out. 

"Lord," she exclaimed bitterly on confronting Jesus at the edge of 
town, "if you had been here, my brother had not died." 

The redness of grief streaked her gaunt face and quivering cheeks. 
Then, recalling herself, she bowed her head submissively and her 
lips trembled: 

"But now also I know whatsoever you will ask of God, God 
will give it you." 

Jesus put His hand on her shoulder and whispered: 

"Your brother shall rise again." 

But Martha frowned, because even then she did not trust herself 
to believe or hope. 

*1 know that he shall rise againin the resurrection at the last 
day." 



I9<S THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Jesus had to force her to look at Him; made her eyes meet His 
own as He said: 

"I am the resurrection and the life." 

A hush fell on them all at these fateful words. 

"He that believes in me, although he be dead, shall live. And 
everyone that lives and believes in me shall not die forever. Believe 
you this?" 

"Yes, Lord! I have believed that you are Christ, the Son of the 
Living God, who are come into this world." 

By the look in His eyes she felt forgiven and released. She gath- 
ered up her skirts and, turning, rushed back to the house and called 
her sister Mary: 

"The Master is come and calls for you." 

Mary did not wait. Now she, too, ran out of the house, down the 
stony hillside. Everybody in the house followed her; they were in 
a tumult; what had happened? Perhaps Mary was going to the grave 
itself to weep and pray. If so, she must not go alone! 

Mary did not care who was following. At first her heart was lifted 
tip, like the heavenly gates and the everlasting doors in the psalm, 
just because Jesus had sent for her. But as she ran on, the memory 
of His absence at a time when they needed Him most, when they 
salt for Him and He hung back when He might have answered 
the resentment welled up in Mary, so that when she came to Him, 
although she fell down at His feet, she, too, reproached Him. 

"Lord, if you had been here, my brother had not died." 

She wept, and all the others that had followed her wailed with her* 

"Where have you laid him?" Jesus asked patiently. 

"Lord, come and see!" shouted the mourning relatives. 

Jesus wept. The sight of the Master in tears as they trudged all 
together once more into the Bethany hills made many a woman 
speak behind her hand to a nrighbor: 

"Look how He did love Lazarus!" 

"Ah, yes, but 

"But? But what?" 

"Could not He that opened the eyes of the man born blind have 
caused that this man He loved so much should not die? " 

Now they were come to the grave of Lazarus; it was a tomb, 
really a cave, dug down out of the slant of a rocky hill and reached 
by going down a set of three stone steps and crossing two large flag- 
stooes* A boulder stood before the entrance of the sepulcher. 



THE THIRD YEAR 197 

Jesus said: 

"Take away the stone." 

Let him who has an ear hear that! Remember all that you see 
here now, Apostles! miracle of reassurance for you when you shall 
need it most, from one coming desolate Friday until its Sunday. 

"Take away the stone," said Jesus, but the practical sister Martha, 
notwithstanding all the faith she had professed, had to protest: 

"Lord, he has been in the tomb for four days. By this time . . ? 

"Did I not say to you, that if you believe, you shall see the glory 
of God?" 

Sweating, gasping, and feeling they were doing a mad thing, the 
relatives shoved away the stone. And Jesus, going to the edge of the 
steps, looked up at the sky and spoke: 

"Father, I give thanks that you have heard me. And I know that 
you hear me always, but because of the people who stand about, 
have I said it; that they may believe that you have sent." 

There was a moment of critical silence. The spring winds blew 
sweetly on their faces and the smell of the tomb was crossed with the 
odor of wild flowers. Then Jesus cried in a loud voice: 

"Lazarus! Come forth!" 

And he that had been dead, the buried Lazarus, did come forth* 
He came of his own motion, revenant under his own propulsion, 
though he was bound, feet and hands, by the white winding sheet 
and his face tied around with a napkin under his chin. Jesus said to 
them: 

"Loose him and let him go." 

And Lazarus embraced his sisters. 



Chapter 4$ A POLITICAL SETBACK 



FROM a political point of view, the raising of Lazarus was a handi- 
cap. 

To bring back a dead man to life in the very shadow of Jerusa- 
lem's walls was bound to fill the capital population with awe and 
therefore further anger the priests. True, this was not the first dead 
person Jesus had bra^jfat back to Hfe^ but the miracle of the house 
of Jainis had been performed in a northern province; from such a 



THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



distance rumors of miracles were not taken too seriously. But not so 
with Lazarus, who lived right next door. Plenty of people in Jerusa- 
lem could swear that Lazarus had actually died and had been buried 
in his tomb. Now, with their own eyes, they could see him walking 
around again, living as usual. 

No wonder Caiphas, the high priest, found himself suffering from 
gas pains after every meal. Caiphas had run the Temple from the 
year 18, and always he had been a jumpy, apprehensive man. But 
now he was becoming sleepless a victim of insomnia because too 
many people were beginning to believe the Galilean miracle-doer 
really was the Messiah. 

That was more than a nuisance in the high priest's comfortable 
scheme of things it was potential ruin. The Nazarene must be 
stopped. 

After all, the Temple scouts had been dillydallying with the fellow 
for nearly three years, and with no results. How far must He be 
allowed to go? Not until the raising of Lazarus from the dead had 
Caiphas realized the depth of the peril. If a determined majority of 
the people were to come to believe in Jesus, before long they could 
and very likely would turn out of authority scribes and poli- 
ticians, Sadducees and Pharisees, concessionaires and all their rack- 
ets. The sacrificial fires would go out and the altars smoke no more, 
which would mean no more booth-selling of lambs and doves, the 
end of money changing and simony, good-by to the juicy traffic in 
sacred things. 

Hardly a rich man in Jerusalem whose pocketbook would not be 
affected by such a turn in the popular will. If the people believed in 
Jesus, they would throw out the men who exploited their hopes and 
fears* When that happened, the Roman officials, up to the mighty 
Pontius Pilate himself, would say to the high priests and all the in- 
terlocking directorates of the Temple aristocracy: 

"Since you cannot control your people any more, we won't make 
any more deals with you; we must do business with this newcomer 
who has the support of the people; we will make our arrangements 
with Jesus!" 

No, that would never do! As Caiphas realized the situation, he 
stroked his long and perfumed beard and murmured to his anxious 
comforters: 

a lt is expedient that one man should die for the people not the 
whole nation perish." 



THE THIRD YEAR 199 

How truly he spoke he did not know! 

Caiphas was in a hurry to settle Him, but Jesus needed time to 
complete His instruction of the Apostles. So He retired to a retreat 
His enemies did not know, to a place called Ephraim, a tiny and 
remote -brown mud village in the desert, fifteen miles to the north- 
east of Jerusalem. 

There Jesus taught His Twelve at length, making a third predic- 
tion to them of His death and resurrection. Six stages He counted 
out for them: betrayal, the sentence of the court, the handing over 
to the Roman governor, mockery and humiliation, crucifixion, and 
the final triumph. Here He became most precise, calmly preparing 
His friends for what was to happen when He would be mocked and 
scourged and spit upon. 

"The Son of Man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and to the 
scribes and to the ancients; and they shall mock Him and spit on 
Him and scourge Him and kill Him; and the third day He shall rise 
again/' 



Chapter 50 THE GREAT FEAST 



IT WAS now the time of the Passover, the greatest of all celebrations 
in Israel. From the sea and from over the caravan routes of moun- 
tains and deserts, by ships and camels and walking barefoot, travel- 
ers by thousands and scores of thousands turned weary and sweaty 
faces toward Jerusalem. No matter how tiring, they must make the 
journey, for the Pasch was coming: the great Passover feast com- 
memorating the night when the Lord, smiting the first born of the 
Egyptians, passed harmlessly over the houses of the children of 
Israel. All devout souls who could possibly do so wanted to make 
their way to the Temple at Jerusalem. For seven days they would 
join in the prayers, offering up the paschal lamb in the traditional 
sacrifice and eating the unleavened bread* 

Soft spring lay over that hard city on the great height Time for 
the cuckoo to sing and new little flowers to bloom* Time of the 
racing of the sap and a sense of resurrection in human bodies and 
thoughts, when life renews itself. 

Jesus and the Twelve were also going up for Passover in Jerusa- 



200 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

lem. The Apostles were boyishly excited by the great crowds; some- 
how the explicit prophecies made by the Master of blood and death 
soon to come had failed to weigh upon them. They were humanly 
giddy in the midst of great events. Actually when the Master had 
foretold His death, they could not bring themselves to believe it. He 
had always shown such resistless power! Was He not the Christ? 
How, then, could He be harmed? They simply couldn't accept it. 

So it was without any feeling of deep melancholy that they 
started out making a long loop down the mountain paths, in a de- 
tour to the southern road. 

Soon some of the Galileans recognized Jesus and clustered around 
Him; another miracle, please, dear Master!~-here are two blind men. 
And when sightless Bartemaeus was made to see, the crowds inten- 
sified until the road was choked. That was when the Master noticed 
a little man swinging perilously from the topmost bough of a syca- 
more tree. 

This swinging dwarf of a man was dangling a few yards back of 
the customhouse, and on that office door he cast, now and then, a 
wary eye on his balsam tax cash. 

In those days the Romans controlled the balsam trade, getting a, 
royalty from plantation owners on every shell. The balsam trade 
was a busy one and kept many workers employed; all around the 
city were plantations. The field hands would hack at the back of 
die trees with jagged stones and then -would hold a handful of wool 
near the open wound and catch the bleeding drops of sticky white 
juice. This would be squeezed into a mussel shell where it would 
harden and the shell would be its container All over the world went 
the balsam shells, to be sold to those who believed the odor would 
cure headache. That was one reason why the Romans had set up 
their special customhouse here on the frontier of Judea. 

And that was why they had a little hunchback, a misshapen man 
named Zacchaeus, to be their taxgatherer here. 

The townspeople called Zacchaeus a scoundrel. Like Matthew, 
the saint, he was lower than low in his neighbors' eyes, not only be- 
cause of his deformity but because he collected the tribute money 
imposed upon his own people by conquerors and made a good 
profit for himself on the transaction. He was very rich. 

Nevertheless, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. He beheld the mob 
come plunging ahead of the Master, down the road in a frenzied 
swirl of bumooses and dusty robes and rushing through the city 



THE THIRD YEAR 201 

gates, shouting and singing in fine, excitable mood. The hunchback 
was in a panic. He had to see this teacher of whose doctrines he 
had heard; he had been told that another despised taxgatherer, Mat- 
thew, was one of the Master's closest friends. Maybe the Master 
would deign to notice him too! 

Did any man ever feel more inferior than Zacchaeus? He was so 
small, his body so badly made, that he was almost a midget; he was 
a tax man, and no one would have anything to do with him. Only 
in this stranger from Nazareth did he see any promise of human 
warmth and understanding and now that Jesus was about to pass 
right in front of him and his customhouse, he feared he would not 
get even a glimpse of his hero, because the crowd was so large and 
Zacchaeus was so small. That was why the hunchback scrambled 
up into the branches of the sycamore tree a medium-sized, bushy 
green tree that swayed crazily under his monkey-like movements of 
arms and legs; and through the damp, flat leaves he thrust a bearded 
face to look down the squalid street for the man he had heard would 
be a friend to anyone. 

Jesus looked up and saw him there, in his brocaded silken cap, 
imported from Ctesiphon. Zacchaeus turned pale but the Master 
waved his hand and called: 

"Zacchaeus! Hurry up and come down! . . . Come dotm, for 
this day I must abide in your house!" 

The Master in my house! Jesus my guest! 

A savage, delirious tumult of joy was in the taxgatherer's heart. 
The malformed little millionaire tumbled down from the last branch 
of the sycamore tree; he ran with pounding feet down the avenue 
the crowd opened up for him; he cried and laughed. And Jesus 
laid His hand on the shoulder that came barely to His waist and they 
walked on together, while the crowd murmured and whispered. 

For now the people were as shocked in their way as so often the 
Pharisees and the Sadducees had been shocked in theirs: the Master 
was going to be a guest of a wretch like Zacchaeus, he who wore 
the great glittering beryl ring, a gift from Herod the Great himself. 
In the doorway of the house of the rich taxgatherer the Master, in- 
spired with His theme, told the gaping spectators the parable of the 
Ten Talents; and thus let them know that to be diligent about one's 
business and thereby to earn a profit was not dishonorable. That 
night, when salvation came to the house of Zacchaeus, there was 
song and celebration under the roof. 



202 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

On the following night Jesus slept in Bethany, closer by a day's 
journey to Jerusalem. But He did not bide in the house of His friends, 
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; instead He chose to put up at the house 
of a man called Simon the Leper one of those healed by Jesus. 
While He was in Simon's house, on that Saturday, the first day of 
April in the year 30, Martha served the supper and Lazarus sat at 
the table, with just as good an appetite now for his sister's cooking 
of braised lamb and garden vegetables as if he had never been laid 
in his cerements for three days in the family vault. 

Mary, the other sister, was mysteriously absent. 

Suddenly she came through the doorway and knelt at the feet 
of Jesus. Like the harlot back in Galilee, Mary carried in her hands 
an alabaster vase. In it was a pound of spikenard, a very expensive 
ointment; the sisters had used up their savings to buy it for the 
burial of Lazarus, Silence fell as the guests watched Mary. She knelt 
and lifted one foot of Jesus and began to rub instep and toes with 
the ointment. Both feet she massaged with the sweet-smelling paste 
and then, again like the other woman up north, she dried off the 
feet from head to toe with her long dark hair. 

Finally in the same critical silence she poured some more of the 
ointment on the top of the Master's head and rubbed it in with 
strong, slender fingers. The room was filled with the odor of the 
ointment. 

And Judas was whispering to Martha: 

"What a waste of this ointment! It could have been sold for three 
hundred pence! It cost much more than that, when it was bought 
originally for your brother Lazarus, who, as things turned out, did 
not need its sweet smell. You sisters could have sold it all and given 
the money to the poor!" 

The onlookers imitated the Pharisees now, muttering together 
and turning dark glances toward Mary, with her extravagant ala- 
baster vase in her hands; darkest glances of all came from Judas. 
For a long time Judas Iscariot had been the treasurer of the Apostles; 
he kept the purse and doled out the money, and of him John later 
said that he was a thief at heart and cared nothing for the poor. 
Judas would actually have snatched the box and what was left of the 
ointment from Mary's hands had not Jesus seen this bogus zeal for 
what it was and intervened. 

"Let her alone," He commanded, "that she may keep it against 
die day of my burial." 



THE THIRD YEAR 203 

Then, as shocked silence fell, He continued: 

"Why do you trouble this woman? She has wrought a good work 
upon me. In pouring this ointment upon my body, she had done it 
for my burial. What she had, she has done. She is come beforehand 
to anoint my body. The poor you have always with you, but me 
you have not always. I tell you, wherever this Gospel shall be 
preached in the whole world, that also which she has done shall be 
told for a memory of her." 

And indeed after nearly two thousand years, in which it has been 
told day after day, here it is being told again! 

On the day after Mary anointed the feet and head of Jesus, He 
walked with His disciples from Bethany up the stony road to Jerusa- 
lem. It was the Sunday before the Pasch or Passover and all the 
high roads were thick with pilgrims, noisy with their psalms. 

Yet what began as a pilgrimage for Jesus and His friends going 
into the city to join in celebrating the Passoverended in what can 
be called nothing less than the most remarkable triumphal march of 
all time. 



Chapter 51 PALM SUNDAY 



THE legions of the Caesars, tramping under arches of victory, were 
meaningless beside this sudden and miraculous triumph. One instant 
Jesus was one among a hundred thousand pilgrims; then, before any 
of His disciples could realize what was happening, the same Jesus 
was isolated, singled out, for the adoration of the people, the target 
of deep-toned amens and shrill hallelujahs! 

Yet it all came about so simply. They started early on that Sunday 
morning, passed through the hamlet of Bethanage, and paused at 
the foot of that green Mount of Olives, Olivet as the Christians call 
it, place of a garden where He was to meet agony, and from whose 
topmost point He was to say farewell to the world. 

Now at the base of the Mount Jesus paused-, called two of His 
disciples and gave them curious orders. They were to press on to the 
next little town, really a suburb of Jerusalem, and in the village they 
would find, tied to a hitching post, the colt of an unbacked ass, foal 
of a beast accustomed to the farmer's yoke, yet no man, woman, or 



204 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

child had ever ridden this youngster donkey. The two disciples 
were to loose the ass and bring him back to Jesus; if anyone tried to 
stop them, they were merely to say the Lord had need of the ani- 
mal's service. 

And so it all turned out! The two disciples, not a little upset by 
their errand, did not remember that the prophet Zacharias centuries 
before had written: 

"Tell ye the daughter of Sion. Behold the king comes to you 
meek and sitting upon an ass , . ." 

They found not only the colt but the mother who foaled him 
standing hitched, their owners lounging near by. The disciples un- 
hitched the young beast and gave their ready-made explanation to 
the startled owners. No objections! The words of Jesus, repeated 
to the farmers, was somehow all that was necessary; the disciples 
came back leading the dumb beast by a short tether of leather 
thongs. 

Jesus and the other disciples were surrounded as usual by a multi- 
tude, but at sight of the donkey some curious sudden resolution 
seemed to seize the crowd. They gave a great shout. Between them 
where they stood at the foot of Mount Olivet and the great city lay 
a gorge, the gulley called the Valley of Gehenna, a place of abom- 
inable memories. All the pilgrims must descend into that valley 
and then climb the steep paths on the other side in order to get 
up to the Jerusalem gates and journey's end. Yet suddenly, now 
mysteriously, inexplicably, the tramping hordes of pilgrims stood 
still, milled about, and, as if moved by a common and overmaster- 
ing purpose, made a vast human barricade around the tall, bearded 
figure with His friends in long white robes on the green hillside. 

The convoy of the two disciples was greeted with shouts and 
cheers as if, without being told, the crowd not only knew the un- 
backed colt was for Jesus, but also remembered that an ass's colt 
was the royal equipage, full of symbolism for the kings of Israel. 

Lurking agents of the Pharisees, always near, did not miss the sig- 
nificance of the urrridden ass, fulfilment of old prediction. They 
watched with narrowed eyes what followed the general, spontane- 
ous adulation of the multitude. When had such extravagant devo- 
tion been seen before in all Judea? The mob gone wild over this one 
man; the garments of the disciples laid over the ass's back for Him 
to ride tipon, and the people, catching the contagion, throwing 
down their clothes to the dust before the four feet of the beast They 



THE THIRD YEAR 205 

cast their robes for Him to ride over, while others turned to cutting 
down boughs from the trees of balsam, acacia, and tamarisk, and 
green branches of the palm trees. Running far ahead of the popular 
rider on the donkey's back, they strewed the ground before him 
with their greenery, with bouquets and nosegays and wild flowers. 

The Pharisees not only saw all this but they had to listen to the 
shouts of witnesses avouching a great miracle to the pilgrims and 
strangers; yes, sure they knew the man Lazarus; yes, they had seen 
him dead and wrapped and yes, by the eternal God of Israel, they 
had seen the cadaver called out of its grave and turn again into a 
living human being. 

And then thousands of men and women began to shout with joy, 
joining the voices of the Apostles, and crying: 

"Hosannah! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord? 

"Hosamah to the Son of David!" 

"Blessed be the kingdom of our father David? 

"Blessed be the King that comes in the name of the Lord? 

"Peace in heaven and glory on high? 

"Hosannah in the highest? 

Those words were enough to strike terror to the heart of any 
privileged caste. Why, they were saluting and adoring and praising 
hosannas to this man; they were calling Him king. He had the mob 
under a spell. 

They thought of Him not only as a real king but as one with un- 
earthly supernatural powers; an angel man, a God man they be- 
lieved it all! Of course then He could do with these people what- 
ever He cared to do. At any moment He could turn loose these 
mobs against all organized authority, against the Roman governor 
and the Temple priests, break down all supremacy, all power, set 
up Himself as ruler and king indeed. 

Such a sight, such a prospect, such a danger was intolerable to 
fanatic Pharisee and greedy Sadducee alike. A spectacle like this, of 
unbridled and fantastic trust and devotion, called for action. The 
priestly authorities looked at one another with pale, blank faces. The 
whole world is gone after him! 

Now the procession was climbing up, very near to the city with 
its long, curving walls of tawny stones; its tower forts and tall, 
armored gates. The sight of it, the nostalgic boyhood memories, the 
certainty of what was now at hand, brought tears to the Master's 
eyes. Weeping over Jerusalem, "the place of peace," Jesus cried: 



206 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the 
things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from 
thine eyes. 

"For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast 
a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on 
every side. 

"And shall ky thee even with the ground, and thy children 
within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon an- 
other; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation." 

It was as if He could see into the future, see the distant armies of 
Titus in their encampment forty years later on Mount Olivet; the 
fire and the sword that fell upon Jerusalem and made sure every 
word of His prophecy, so soon to be one of the awful facts of history. 

On He moved amid that sudden general ecstasy of love and utter 
trust. Through the city gate, where mobs of the narrow streets came 
spilling and mingling with the arriving crowds of pilgrims who 
escorted Him. Who comes? This is Jesus, the prophet; from Naza- 
reth of Galilee! The blind and the maimed followed Him as close 
as they could until He reached the courts of the Temple, and there, 
in the very shadow of the altar of the Most High, He healed them. 

And children, flocking near, took up the refrain of their elders: 
"Hosanna to the Son of David!" 

"Do you hear what these brats are saying?" screamed the scan- 
dalized theologians and the scribes. 

"Yes!" agreed Jesus. "Have you never read: 'Out of the mouths 
of infants and sucklings you have perfected praise?' " 

Ah! They knew what that meant a prophecy of old David about 
the Messiah! Was that not blasphemy enough? No, for He had stiB 
merely quoted a text; they could not arrest Him on that. 

But it could not be allowed to go on much longer! 



Chapter 52 THE GREAT CLASH 

THE whole Temple court of the strangers, court of the women, 
the inner court, even the high altar, the very sanctum sanctorum 
itself echoed with the full-throated clamor of His followers. 
Even the Gentiles, who did not celebrate the Passover, came as 



THE THIRD YEAR 207 

near as they could to see the wonderful prophet. With many ques- 
tions they plagued Philip, who came from Bethsaida, where there 
were many Gentiles and Philip, who was a little shocked, turned to 
Andrew. They talked it over. 

Was this Kingdom of God a blessing only for Israel? Or could 
even the Gentiles also be saved? Peter and Andrew left no doubt in 
the minds of the stout, dark-curled Gentile strangers; the message 
of the Master was for everybody. For that fact, if for no other, He 
was to die. And some asked: "If you think He is going to die, why 
doesn't He try to escape?" 

"And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for 
their cause I came unto this hour." 

So Jesus spoke, most distinctly, in the Temple. 

Did all who were there hear, at the same instant, a sound of thun- 
der? Many were to swear that what they heard was actually a voice; 
John, who was an ear witness, declared it was the voice of God; a 
repetition of what he had heard three years before on the farther 
bank of the Jordan, when that other John baptized Jesus. Then the 
spirit of God descended in the form of a dove; on this, the original 
Palm Sunday, there was no bird from heaven, but instead that thun- 
derous voice, as loud, as reverberating as a long peal of thunder, a 
cosmic voice, breath of the universal, answering the prayer to 
glorify His name: 

"I have glorified it and will glorify it again!" 

In the fear that caught them all, whether they thought it voice or 
thunder, Jesus quickly explained: 

"This voice came not because of me but for your sakes. Now is 
the judgment of the world; now shall the prince of this world be 
cast out." 

Summing up the full historical importance of His mission, He 
added, referring specially to the brutal death already planned for 
Him: 

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things unto 
myself." 

The Temple scholars and theologians! the ancients as they were 
sometimes called, because of their wrinkles and long beards and 
their reputation for wisdom, kept after Him with crafty questions. 
They even joined one day with a shrewd group of Herodians; work- 
ing together they cooked tip a new stratagem* 



208 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Tell us," they demanded, "by what authority you do all these 
things. Who is it that gave you this authority?" 

Now this was nothing more nor less than a new change on the old 
effort to trap Him into blasphemy. So sure He seemed of Himself to- 
day in the face of so much popular applause, they reasoned that per- 
haps He would become heady and forget to be careful. If He an- 
swered, as they hoped He would, that He was the Christ, then they 
would have Him, hip and thigh. 

But Jesus, shrewdest of all debaters and dialecticians, countered 
with a demand to be told whether they thought the baptism of John 
was from heaven or not. This was an adroit maneuver. They knew, 
as well as did He, that in public memory John, the beheaded, was 
now more popular than ever, a venerated martyr. If the priests were 
to say: "John's baptism was from heaven," the next question would 
be, naturally, "Why didn't you believe him, then?" 

But to say otherwise to maintain that John was merely a man, 
never a prophet would have been too dangerous; the old priests 
might be roughly treated by the crowd. All they could answer was 
that they did not know. 

This equivoque set the crowd grinning and chuckling so that the 
Pharisees had to return to the attack, this time trying to upset Jesus 
by posing another dangerous political and social question: Should 
a good Jew pay the Roman taxes? That was a real poser! For if 
Jesus said no, He would be guilty of treason. Pilate would polish 
Him off without ceremony. But if He said yes, all Palestine would 
be offended, 

Jesus called for a penny and pointed to the image on the coin; the 
profile in rilievo of Augustus Caesar. 

"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" and so with 
that astute answer, another trap failed. Even His enemies were 
ready to concede their admiration for the skill by which He demol- 
ished that craftily prepared piece of heckling. But while He was on 
the subject, Jesus denounced to their faces the scribes and the Phari- 
sees for also laying insupportable burdens on the shoulders of the 
people. 

Immediately these daring words reverberated all over the city. 
They were carried quickly to the luncheon table of Caiphas, the 
high priest. How the dandy Caiphas writhed! For his friends and 
partners to be called publicly and in so many words the devourers 
of widows' houses which he and most of the associates undoubtedly 



THE THIRD YEAR 209 

were! Jesus mocked their vanities, their sitting in the seats of honor, 
and getting bows from the poor men in the market place, and sew- 
ing bands on their robes with long, fancy fringes. They raked in the 
money and goods of the poor with their tithes, but forgot law, judg- 
ment, mercy, and faith. Serpents! Generation of vipers! How would 
they flee from the judgment of hell? 

This was the strongest lashing the Master had ever given His ene- 
mies, a castigation in the very shadow of the altar of their magnifi- 
cent Temple; He was ruining them in the eyes of a believing multi- 
tude enchanted by His every word. 

And even as He was speaking, He pointed to the dark, bent figure 
of a little woman creeping toward the money collection box; she 
dropped two brass coins into the treasury. Who got the widow's 
mites? Caiphas and his great father-in-law Annas and their elegant 
crew they would get the widow's cash and all the other mites and 
pence and farthings and pounds that fell into the Temple money 
boxes. So Jesus told the crowd that this poor woman had cast in more 
than all the others, for the others had given of their abundance but 
she of her want, her undeniable human misery. Looking round him 
at the Temple, majestic in its gifts and wondrous stones, glittering 
gilt and tessellated pavements, He warned them again that the days 
of the Temple were counted; not a stone would be left on a stone. 

Again He warned of the future. Let all who loved Him watch 
out for those who would come, quoting Him, preaching in His 
name, but really serving evil. There would be wars and seditious 
nations rising against nations; kingdoms arrayed against other king- 
doms; famines and terrors which would be only the beginnings of 
sorrows. But those who believed in Him should not be frightened, 
though the end was not yet in sight. For the good news must be 
preached to all nations. 

He did not try to belittle the peril of His followers. Those who 
loved Him would be unmistakably marked for persecution. When 
the police laid hands on them, however, they were not to be fright- 
ened, and, in panic, try to think what they would say in court on 
the day of trial. He would give them a mouth! And out of it wis- 
dom to confound their adversaries. Nor would all their foes be 
strangers. They and their descendants through centuries of the 
future would find themselves, because of their loyalty to their faith 
in Him, betrayed by friends, by their own brothers even, and by 
their parents. 



21O THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"In your patience," He advised them, "you shall possess your 
souls." 

That day He prophesied at length and with great explicitness. 
Not only did He forecast the woe that most certainly did fall upon 
Jerusalem only a few years after He departed, but He went on to 
define the nature of the end of the world itself. 

". . . And upon earth, distress of nations . . . men withering 
away for fear ... and then they shall see the Son of Man coming 
in a cloud . . . and the stars of heaven shall be falling down and 
the powers that are in heaven shall be moved. . . ." 

Before that great day of the Second Coming of Christ they could 
be sure that hypocrites who quoted Him solely to serve evil would 
appear in greatest profusion. Very clever and deceiving men they 
were certain to be; they would be doing miracles of themselves, 
showing signs and wonders of accomplishment anyway clever al- 
most enough to deceive His most pious followers. They must be 
very watchful 

And how soon would He come this promised second time? Ever 
since that day of prophecy in the Temple, loving disciples of the 
Master have been asking the same question with increasing anxiety. 
And for two thousand years, as still today, all of us must be satisfied 
with the answer He gave them: 

*'But of that day and hour no man knows, neither the angels in 
heaven, but the Father alone!" 

Because of the need for vigilance, He told them a story of wise 
and foolish virgins invited to participate in receiving a bride and 
bridegroom. Only five of the virgins thought to bring oil in their 
lamp; the five others, the foolish virgins, forgot to be ready and 
were left behind when the great time came. For this event of the 
second coming was far more than a mere ceremony or celebration: 
it would be literally and finally the day of the Last Judgment. 



Chapter # THE POLITICAL BOSS . 



THE next day was the day before the Pasch; the celebration of the 
Feast of the Unleavened Bread would begin at sundown on the fifth 
of April, A.D. 30. 



THE THIRD YEAR 211 

In strict accord with the Mosaic law, as stated in Exodus 12:18, 
the ceremonial paschal lamb must be slain on the fourteenth day of 
the first month in the evening. According to the Jewish reckoning 
of a day from 6 P.M. to 6 P.M. the actual day of the Pasch was 
reckoned from one evening until another. However, in this year of 
30 the Pasch happened to fall on Saturday. To avoid violating the 
stringent Sabbath rest, many of the Jews transferred the slaying of 
the lamb to the evening of Thursday. 

Strangely, that fateful morning when Jesus resumed His preach- 
ing in the Temple there were no spies waiting to debate with Him. 
Why had Caiphas called off his crew? Had he other plans in mind? 
As a matter of secret fact, for some days the high priest's agents 
had been paying increasing attention to the disciples rather than to 
their leader. Later one of these spies talked confidentially to the 
high priest. 

"We are almost ready," Caiphas exclaimed. "There is only one 
more big hurdle. That's my father-in-law, Annas." 

And to himself he added: "Father-in-law won't like this. He 
never likes any of my ideas. But this one cannot be allowed to fail; 
I've got to make him see it our way." 

Caiphas was very much pleased with himself. He had found one 
of the Twelve who would sell out. He had never known any man 
who did not have at least one disloyal friend. . . . 

Annas was now a very old man but he was still the political boss of 
Jerusalem. Of the sixty families in the Temple aristocracy, his was 
the richest and the most powerful. For years as far back as that 
long-before day when Joachim had pointed him out to Joseph- 
Annas had served his people as high priest. When he felt he had 
held the post long enough, he passed on the fringed blue robe and 
stately headdress to his eldest son, and then, in turn, to six of his 
other sons. Now that his own seed was used up, his son-in-law 
Caiphas got the job-he was the visible authority, under the God of 
Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, but he was also privately under the 
firm governance of Lord Father-in-Law! 

Not seven sons nor son-in-law, all ganged together, could ever be 
a match for Annas. Even now, when he was in his eighties, and 
secretly considered a dotard by his family, they stood in mortal fear 
of the slight figure with the oblong head on the lean corded neck. 
There was something awesome in the long wisp of white hair that 
dangled over the pale green glimmer of his left eye. Annas had a 



212 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

sharper brain than his relatives and he was not nearly so greedy. All 
that they possessed he had given them; even the little wisdom they 
knew he had taught them. 

In no one except himself did Annas believe. The god he worshiped 
at the Temple was a respectable and convenient bugaboo to keep 
the lower classes in check. The people must be led by an elite class, 
men of superior managerial talents. Of such men Annas was, beyond 
question, the best example in Palestine. 

His agents still sold the people the doves and lambs to burn on 
the altars of sacrifice to keep God in a congenial mood. His bank- 
ers still changed the Roman money used in ordinary commerce to 
the coinage of the Temple with a large gain in the transaction. Annas 
saw no immorality in such business. Keep the people poor and full 
of fear and they will believe. Otherwise they will start movements 
for their own improvement and no good can come from that. 

Right now there were men storming through Judea and Samaria 
and Galilee preaching revolution against the Romans. Annas took an 
annoyed view of such crackpots. Only yesterday he had ordered the 
arrest of a leader called Barabbas, who had stolen money to finance 
an insurrection to free the people. To temporize with such move- 
ments was sheer, downright nonsense. 

No man to make an enemy of, this Annas, son of Seth, whose 
name meant "Grace of Jehovah." He was the most superb intelli- 
gence among the ruling class in Judea* Calm lived in his bosom; he 
had no hatreds and no grudges, and knew neither remorse nor fear 
a dangerous personality. He had been born to money, he had 
married money, and he had cultivated money because he early 
learned its power. Annas was owner of vast property; he had no 
friends except among those who also owned property and a great 
deal of it. The Temple Sadducees were cautious men, well pleased 
with their way of life, suspicious of change; conservative men and 
proud of their ancestry they wanted no social traffic with anyone 
placed outside themselves in these important particulars. 

True, the radicals continually charged that Annas and his friends 
had betrayed the people. Some of the Pharisees joined in the accusa- 
tion. But such Pharisees were a motley crew of lower-class, over- 
pious, fanatical demagogues. Their dislike left Annas untroubled. 
He considered himself the actual king, master of the people, and 
they, in tuxn, called him "the most fortunate of the human race." He 



THE THIRD YEAR 213 

smiled, disdaining to dignify an insult, when occasionally some im- 
pudent rebel mourned aloud at a crowded bazaar: 

"Woe is me on account of the race of Annas; woe is me on ac- 
count of their serpent's hiss!" 

Fearing neither radicals nor Pharisees, Aniias had taught his sons 
and son-in-law that everybody in the world was a hypocrite and a 
liar, and could be bought at the right price. 

It was a dark spring evening. Pontius Pilate reckoned it as in the 
seven hundred and eighty-third year of Rome and the twenty-sixth 
year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. The people of Israel called it 
the fourteenth Nisan. We would call it Thursday, the seventh day 
of April, in the year of our Lord 30. 

From his window Annas could hear a distant noise; Jerusalem, 
already crammed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from 
Judea, from Samaria, from Galilee and from Perea, was still receiv- 
ing more from distant parts of the Roman empire, pouring through 
the gates. 

Windows shut against the blatant clamor, Annas was sitting loftily 
by a fire of coals. Against the high red wall opposite him in his pri- 
vate chamber stood a younger man, gorgeously attired and with an 
elaborate black beard. He was Joseph Caiphas, bending toward his 
father-in-law and fixing him with a myopic squint. As the old man 
warmed his fingers the son-in-law said: 

"I know you want to go to sleep, Lord Annas, but my business 
simply will not wait!" 

Annas sucked his last tooth. White wisp across left eye, head 
turned to one side, he seemed hardly to be listening. Actually, he 
was hankering childishly for the silly notes of the cuckoo bird; 
for in Palestine, from April until June, it is harvesttime, and that is 
when the cuckoo bird sings. More, because this was the eve of the 
Feast of the Passover, which comes following the full moon, Annas 
was remembering other such festivals of the past, when everything 
was younger and not so tiresome. Although his loins were withered, 
hands slightly palsied, the soul of Annas felt younger than ever to- 
night. He tugged at his ramlike little beard and his face was bleak 
and mystifying. 

"What kind of business then?" 

And the old man added to himself: "You popinjay! Your very 
name Caiphas means depression. And how you depress me, with 
your silken beard that reeks of perfume, and your resonant voice 



214 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

that is always just teetering on the edge of a belch. Those cowlike 
eyes and loud tones would make you a political candidate any- 
where." 

"I think the fate of this nation may hinge on what we do tonight," 
announced Caiphas with a solemn shake of his head. 

"The nation has withstood many other nights. Are we at the cross- 
roads again?" jeered Annas, who hated rhetoric. "Why tonight?" 

"Because unless we settle this fellow Jesus He will ruin us all" 

Annas sneezed, helped his nose with his fingers, and demanded: 

"How can I possibly be ruined by a wayside tramp?" 

Caiphas threw up his hands. 

"Just consider, Lord Annas, what He has been able to do in three 
short years. A Galilean mechanic-probably illegitimate, if one is 
to believe what one hears three years ago began to talk to whom- 
ever would listen to Him. Today the whole world is listening!" 

"A big audience!" 

"Our whole world here about, I tell you, is filled with lying 
reports that He is a prophet, with a great new message which pro- 
claims the dignity and importance of the individual soul, and dan- 
gerous rubbish even worse than that-and that He can perform mira- 
cles!" 

"Don't they know miracles don't happen any more?" Annas 

sniffed again. 

"They believe," pursued Caiphas, parting his beard, "that Jesus 
drives out devils, makes crooked legs straight, gives sight to blind 
eyes, and even brings the dead back to life," 

"And I still want to know why do you bother me with such non- 
sense, Joseph Caiphas?" 

"Last Sunday, the tenth Nisan, while you were away, He rode 
into Jerusalem, with twelve of his followers trailing behind Him. 
He was seated on a Babylonian ass! As if, by our traditions, He con- 
sidered himself a king, a judge, or a prophet. How do you like 
that?" 

Annas stuck out his chin and seemed to swallow something with 
difficulty. 

"Why didn't you order the man arrested then and there?" he 
asked querulously. 

"Because this is feast time, and Jerusalem is full of pilgrims two 
hundred thousand and more . . ." 

"Rabble! Just rabble and scum!" 



THE THIRD YEAR 215 

"Yes, but that is the dangerthe rabble love Him. The scum love 
Him. They might easily revolt. The poor are all for Him. The des- 
perate turn to Him. I tell you," Caiphas finished bitterly, "the whole 
world has gone after Him!" 

Annas lifted his old arms in a mock helpless gesture. 

"Joseph Caiphas," he barked, "what is it you want to do with 
this Jesus?" 

The high priest rose and strode over to the old man; he placed 
white, puffy hands on the iron shoulders. 

"I want to arrest Him and then summon the whole council!" 

"On the eve of the feast?" gasped Annas, as if his ears lied. 

"I want to arrest Him tonight, Lord Annas," Caiphas replied with 
a gaunt nearsighted look. "His influence has reached a point where 
we should not hesitate any longer," 

"Arrest Him! Summon the whole council! Nonsense! For what?" 
barked Annas, waving his hands as if to cast folly into the stove* 
"The man thinks He is the Messiah? Well, what Galilean does not? 
Messiah! I'm sick of the word. Jeremiah and Isaiah made a lot of 
trouble for us, let me tell you, when they promised us a messiah! 
Insurrections! Revolts! Zealots! That fellow Jude of Gamalia! After 
a madman like that Jude, you worry about this mild Jesus? I tell you, 
He's only another Messiah! I do hope, my boy, you are not taking 
your position as high priest too seriously." 

The old man's scorn failed to shake Caiphas. With a deep breath 
he returned to the attack. 

"I have to make you see that this is a different Messiah," he said 
sternly. "One with ideas about the rich and the poor not to my 
liking nor to yours, Lord Annas. He says the Gentiles are just as 
good as we are . . ." 

On the old man's firelit face there came and went a puckering 
twinge of malice. 

"Quite mad, no doubt! Quite mad!" But his covert satire was lost. 

"But, my dear Lord Annas, he goes further than that!" 

"I detest your rhetorical pauses. Be specific. What else?" 

"He says that family loyalty, too, is nonsense." 

"Family loyalty? Well, there may be something to his point of 
view!" 

"Because, He said, everybody who believed in Him was His 
mother and His father." 

Annas laughed in a soft humming tone. 



2l6 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"There!" he crowed. "I said so. The fellow is crazy." 

"A dangerous craziness, then. Jesus is against our entire economic 
system and intends to destroy it. He denounces the rich. He sets 
class against class. Already His teachings are affecting some of our 
own young men members of our Sadducean families actually join- 
ing his group. They are traitors to their class and they admit it and 
laugh at their fathers for telling them so." 

The wrinkles deepened on the dried-apple face of Annas. 

"He talks to the people and after He goes away they begin to 
ask questions," Caiphas continued. "Such as why the poor do not 
have the same civil and political rights as the rich. Why our Sad- 
ducean families have so much to eat and the others have so little. 
He tells them all men are equal in the sight of God. He tells our 
young men they have to choose between riches and God Almighty 
He wants them to give their inheritances to the poor and follow 
Him!" 

"Well this is news!" muttered Annas. 

"He teaches that misusing riches is the most dangerous of sins, 
because it gives one man tyranny over his brothers. He wants every 
man to love his fellow man as his own brother. He shakes His finger 
in our very faces and only the other day He said, 4 Woe unto you, 
scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses. 5 n 

"He is provoking class hatred, that is clear!" 

"Why, Lord Annas, Jesus is making it so that any man in Jeru- 
salem with two pairs of sandals begins to feel ashamed of himself 
when he passes a barefoot beggar." 

The glimmer in the old man's eye was turning into an incalescent 
gleam. 

"Why was I not told of this before?" 

"You have been away for two months. Besides, we waited until 
we were ready to lay the whole matter before you," Caiphas ex- 
plained hurriedly. "But not all the Sanhedrin has been idle. An inner 
group has had Jesus watched for two years now. We've held meet- 
ings for the last six months to find a way to deal with Him. And 
would you believe it, at the conventicle we held on the Feast of 
the Tabernacles, one of our own group actually defended Him 
there!" 

"Was it not Joseph of Arimathea?" asked Annas quickly, 

"No, Lord." 

Annas sucked his tooth again. 



THE THIRD YEAR 21 J 

"Then It must have been Nicodemus. I know my crowd. Never 
mind how I guess. Go on. When did you meet again?" 

"About six weeks ago, when there was a wild tale in circulation 
that Jesus had raised a man named Lazarus, over in Bethany raised 
him from the dead." 

"You have indeed kept this all very secret," complained Annas 
petulantly. 

"We thought it best to work in the dark," admitted Caiphas with 
satisfaction. "We did not ourselves appear in the matter. We allowed 
the scribes and the Pharisees to bicker and debate with Him, but 
we of what some insist on calling the Caiphas group were always 
on the watch to catch him." 

"In what crime?" 

"Blasphemy and, if possible, in treason." 

Annas's slow smile was shrewd and a little tragic. He understood 
the deadly strategy. The old political boss was not a bloodthirsty 
man, but he was beginning to suspect that perhaps his son-in-law 
was not alarmed without cause. 

"You have not heard what happened in the Temple," pursued 
Caiphas, ready to play his winning card. "Did you know that this 
harmless Galilean fanatic, as you called Him, entered the Temple, 
kicked over the tables of our money-changers, and drove our dealers 
out with a whip?" 

"Attacking our dealers?" Annas was instantly scandalized. 

"He said, *Make not my Father's house a place of merchandise.' ** 

"His father's home? And He scourged our changers!" 

, "Did I not say so?" 

"And people are listening to this man, you say?" 

"They greeted Him with palms last Sunday, and called hosannahs 
to Him. There is not one of the inns in Jerusalem tonight where 
they do not debate if He is or is not the Messiah, the Christ!" 

"Tell me just what happened there at the Temple!" 

"He was teaching, but all the while, out of the corner of His 
eye, He watched the people going up to change their money at the 
tables of our bankers. My spies told me everything: how His eyes 
glowed darkly and how He played with a loop of ropes in His 
hand, picked up idly in His walk. Slowly He moved through the 
throng of buyers and sellers, watching the profits made on the sale 
of sheep and pigeons. Then His hands moved swiftly. With in- 
credible dexterity He fashioned for Himself a whip out of those 



21 8 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

cords, a scourge, and suddenly He let fly with that whip. He flailed 
the backs of our money-changers, and turned over their tables so 
that the money spilled and ran tinkling over the marble floor. This 
sudden move of His so startled the crowd that they fell back and 
left Him standing, breathing heavily, face moist, strong hands lifted, 
and His voice deep as He told them in a voice full of scorn and anger: 

" *It is written: "My house shall be called the house of prayer 
to all nations," But you have made it a den of thieves. Take these 
things hence and make not my Father's house a house of traffic.' 

"No one challenged Him, no one laid a hand upon Him, He 
walked out of the Temple back to His lodgings. His disciples were 
frightened, let me tell you. They expected trouble. And they are 
going to get it, . . , Oh, and one thing more! He told the people 
there was no need for them to buy doves and lambsJehovah re- 
quired no sacrifice on the altar. He, Himself, would be the sacrifice 
for them all WabP 9 

"Wah/ 99 rumbled the echoing Annas. "When the feast is over, then 
we shall go after Him, Caiphas." 

"Lord Annas, we can't wait that longnot another day, even. The 
mobs might rise up and rescue Him." 

"We must raise our own counter-rabble!" decided Annas sud- 
denly. 

"To denounce Him?" 

"Of course! For blasphemy! And treason. The first to worry the 
poor pious fools of the Pharisees. The second to worry Pilate." 

"Lord Annas," exclaimed the high priest, with a noisy exhalation 
of his breath, "you understand at last!" 

For the first time since his son-in-law had arrived, Annas rose 
from his chair. His oblong old face, that had been so animated, was 
suddenly as unmoving as a mask, unlighted with the glow of thought; 
a lantern whose candle had blown out. 

There was in this moment an inexplicable fear in Annas. He knew 
his son-in-law to be a thoroughgoing scoundrel. Here Annas was, 
for the first time, giving up his own judgment to Caiphas. There was 
something terrifying in that simple fact. The white and wrinkled 
visage was without expression and the humming voice seemed to 
creep from the stiff lips: 

"You don't believe this Jesus has any real miraculous powers, of 
course? Any gifts our learned scholars have not yet discovered? n 

<< Why do you jest with me, Lord Annas?" 



THE THIRD YEAR 2 19 

"Something makes me hesitate to enter on this business. So hurried 
an arresta trial under conditions unorecedented in all our his- 
tory . . ." 

"But Lord " 

"Peace! My practical good sense tells me* I am justified in agree- 
ing to your plans. It is only inside of me . . ." 

"Your soul?" mocked Caiphas, white teeth shining through his 
beard. 

"If I believed in a soul, that would, no doubt, be it. Yet look at 
it this way, Caiphas! I sincerely believe that with fanatical crowds, 
commoved and unsettled, cheering on a revolutionary leader in the 
streets, the patriotic folly of our people may lead them to excess. 
It could easily happen at any time during the next few days. Pilate 
would then have to order Roman troops to take action. That would 
certainly mean resistance, riot, bloodshed, death! It might also in- 
crease the restrictions kid upon the whole people by the Romans. 
Is it not logical to act to prevent that, Caiphas? 

"Furthermore, I am anxious to show the Roman authorities how 
sincerely I want to co-operate. And so " 

"And so, Lord," urged Caiphas, "we can convince the full coun- 
cil that it is expedient for them that one man should die for the 
people and that the whole nation perish not." 

"You have made definite plans, I suppose?" 

"I don't have to tell you that the practical and legal difficulties 
were enough to discourage even a man of action like myself. Get- 
ting the court to agree to assemble in the dead of nightand to keep 
their clacking tongues quiet beforehand that in itself was no simple 
task. But they realized now there is an emergency! 

"Arranging for witnesses is not proving to be easy, either, let 
me tell you. No one seems to want to talk against Jesus. I have 
worked harder on this . . ." 

"But what about ratification?" interrupted Annas. They both 
knew perfectly well that while the Sanhedrin could pronounce the 
death sentence, before it could be carried out Pilate, the Procurator, 
had to agree to it. "Can you secure Pilate's approval of the death 
sentence in time? You must kill this man before the crowds find out 
what you are doing! If you don't . . ." 

"I know, Lord. We are doing this against the wishes of our peo- 
ple* There may be mobs rioting to save Him. The whole plan is 
carefully laid out up to the door of Pontius Pilate . . ." 



22O THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"And then?" Annas's voice, harsh and guttural, was like the croak 
of a raven. 

"And then we all draw back. We leave Pilate to you. You are the 
one man in Judea who knows how to handle him." 

The flattery was not lost. The face of the withered little man 
flushed and his quivering fingers spiraled through his scanty beard. 

"So," he sighed benignly, "you set out to save the nation and 
wind up by asking me to save you from your own folly. Very well, 
since it is necessary, I will do it. Send out and arrest Jesus!" 

The high priest lifted his large soft hands. 

"Sorry, Lord Annas. We don't know where to find Him tonight. 
He constantly eludes our spies, as if He were a sorcerer with power 
to change His shape, or disappear. But if you will permit, there is 
a man outside . . " 

"An informer?" 

"One of his own men. He will talk only to you." 

"Do we really need him?" 

"Those who could tell us where He hides for the night all seem 
to be His friends," answered Caiphas, with an exasperated air. "Only 
this one man seems to be amenable." 

"Well," sighed Annas, "it is sometimes necessary to make use of 
traitors, but they always turn the taste of a decent man's spittle. 
Send in your man." 

And Joseph Caiphas, going to the outer hall with bumptious stride, 
called softly: 

"You may come in, now Judas Iscariot." 



Chapter 54 THE UPPER ROOM 



AT SUNDOWN of that same day thirteen men met to celebrate the 
Passover in a great gray hall, an upper room in a house on Mount 
Zion, northeast corner of the height of Jerusalem. 

In the tall-roofed chamber with heavy beams holding up the ceil- 
ing the only furnishings were rattan divans and a long oaken table, 
on which tall candles were burning. The flickering flames played 
upon the sturdy figures of the Apostles and repeated them in dis- 
torted shadows against the unwindowed walls. 



THE THIRD YEAR 22 1 

During the afternoon their sacrificial lamb had been properly and 
ritually killed in the forecourt of the Temple sanctuary; soon, now, 
the roasted carcass would be eaten, when the day of the Pasch was 
legally come; with the twilight came a new day, beginning when 
the sun went down an analogy full of hope. 

Now they were all gathered here in this room as by a kind of 
miracle. They had not known where to turn or how to proceed 
when the Master called to Him Peter and John and told them to 
arrange matters. 

"But where?" mumbled Peter in his always exasperated and im- 
patient voice. 

The answer was casual, but specific: 

"Look, as you go into the city there shall meet you a man carry- 
ing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he enters. 
And you shall say to the goodman of the house: The Master saith 
to thee, where is thy guest chamber where I may eat the Pasch with 
my disciples?' And he will show you a large dining room furnished 
and there prepare." 

Every word of which came true immediately. Now here they 
were assembled in that same goodman's upper room, all twelve, with 
only the Master yet to appear. 

In spite of the warnings Jesus had given the Twelve, none of 
them realized, or was willing to believe, that this would be their 
last meal together. They were still too earthbound and too worldly 
to grasp, as they would later, the great historical realities of the 
drama in which they were actors, playing, as a group, a major role. 

At such a tragic time, while they were still a good long way from 
being saints, and while waiting for the Master to join them, they 
began arguing among themselves all over again about priority. In 
spite of previous rebukes, they argued once more which of them 
would be the greater, which would be the closest assistant to the 
Master, in the glory of the future. 

Perhaps, too, they counted on the fact that if Jesus heard about 
it, He would forgive such weaknesses in His chosen ones, because 
He really loved diem, knowing that men must be lovableif at all 
not because of the absence of defects, but because of the presence 
of merits. John once said of Him: "Jesus, having loved His own 
who were in this world, loved them until the end," 

But the Master did not permit this inexcusable bickering on such 
a solemn occasion to pass without a final admonition. 



222 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

In the very midst of their squabbling He suddenly appeared, 
wrapped in a long blue cloak, at the doorway. Their sudden silence 
was again that of back-yard children, discovered in some naughti- 
ness. This time Jesus did not admonish them in mere words, but 
in unmistakable action. 

His garments laid aside, He stood facing them with only a towel 
wrapped around Him. In the unbroken and bewildered quiet, un- 
disturbed by so much as the clearing of a throat, Jesus poured water 
from a pitcher into a basin. Then He knelt at the foot of his strong- 
est and strangest disciple. 

"Master," gasped Peter, "do you wash my feet? No! No! You 
must notr 

Jesus, on His knees, looked up at the great, heavy-handed fisher- 
man. 

"What I do, you know not now but you shall know hereafter," 

Peter's face suddenly turned a deep maroon and he shouted: 

"You shall never y never wash my feet!" 

The disciples were thunderstruck at Peter's vehemence. But the 
Master's warning voice was as calm with him as it had been with 
the storm over the Lake of Galilee, 

"If I wash you not, Peter, you shall have no part with me." 

Peter gasped and glared hopelessly around him, then bowed his 
head and groaned: 

"Lord, not only my feet but my hands and my head." 

Turning next to John, Jesus washed the calloused feet of that 
long-tramping apostle. Twenty-two feet he washed, laving, rubbing, 
and drying toes and instep and heel with the towel with which he 
had girdled himself, and at last he came to Judas. 

Some in the room had already noticed that a strange mood had 
fallen on the treasurer and keeper of the bag. Tonight the son of 
Simon Iscariot seemed afflicted with melancholy; there was in him 
none of the love-feast spirit which should dominate the meal. Pale, 
glassy-eyed he sat, limp and yet fixed; the crown of stiff red curls 
did not move, nor the hairs of the curly red beard turn even an 
inch; the brooding eyes, so intensely small and so black, had lost 
all familiar gleam and authority; it was as if Judas were looking 
upon some dire vision, visible only to him. 

Jesus got up, carried His basin, and knelt to Judas. As he me- 
thodically washed the treasurer's thin, long feet, He said: 



THE THIRD YEAR 223 

"He that is washed needs but to wash his feet but is clean wholly. 
And you are clean " 

He paused and looked up straight at Judas. 

"-but not wholly!" He added, with a sigh. He finished the busi- 
ness of the washing, threw out the water, and put on His own gar- 
ments. 

Then he sat at the table surrounded by the twelve familiar faces. 

His arms were opened, His hands lying, palms up, unmoving on 
the snowy napery. His eyes were lowered and He looked at no one. 
To his right sat the pale-faced John, his cheek almost touching the 
Master's shoulder; and farther to the right, baldheaded Peter, absent- 
mindedly sharpening a long knife against the tip of his horny thumb. 
Near him, Andrew and Zelotes. To the left were bearded Matthew, 
and Jude Thaddeus, the oldest man at the Last Supper; curly-haired, 
black-bearded Thomas, doubting churl but a loyal and faithful man 
nonetheless; James the Greater, of long and powerful physique; 
beardless Philip, almost feminine in his gentle aspect; Nathanael 
Bartholomew at the end of the table, with James the Lesserand 
finally, on the opposite side, as if set apart from all others, Judas 
Iscariot. 

"With desire," Jesus told them, "I have desired to eat this pasch 
with you before I suffer." 

He made the words as emphatic as he knew how. 

"For I am telling you that from this time I will not eat it till it 
be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God!" 

And going straight back to the argument which He had begun, 
with the washing of their feet, He asked: 

"For which is greater, he that sits at table or he that serves? 

"But I am in the midst of you as he that serves; and you are they 
who have continued with me in my temptations. And I dispose to 
you, as my Father disposed to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and 
drink at my table in my kingdom." 

After a long silence He lifted His voice in one of the psalms of 
David, which all sang feelingly. A cup was passed and blessed: 
"Blessed be Thou, O Lord, our God, Thou King of the world Who 
has created the fruit of the vine!" Each had his portion, then, of 
the bitter herbs, endive and lettuce, dipped into a compote of al- 
monds, nuts, and figs. By the color of these f raits they were reminded 
of the bricks, which their ancestors had to make without straw. 



224 raE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

With this bitter dish they again ate the bread of misery, the Mazzoth 
to remind them of the hasty flight out of Egypt. Then they ate the 
Easter Iamb, and drank a third cup, which, as good and religious 
Jews, they all knew to be the cup of blessing. 

It was then that Jesus lifted up His hands. 

"Know you what I have done to you?" He asked them. "You 
call me Master and Lord. And you say well, for so I am. If I then, 
being your lord and master, have washed your feet, you also ought 
to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that 
as I have done to you, so you do also. I say to you, the servant is not 
greater than his lord. 

"I speak not of you all when I said you are clean now. I know 
whom I have chosen, but that the Scripture may be fulfilled: 'He 
that eats bread with me shall lift up his hand to betray me,' At pres- 
ent I tell you, before it comes to pass, that one of you that eats with 
me shall betray me." 

These sudden and completely shocking words of die Master re- 
sounded frighteningly in the dining room. This was the first time 
He had ever said anything like that. The Twelve had not had the 
slightest hint of what was coming. Jesus had seemed to trust them 
all completely; showed suspicion of none, not in all their three years 
of journeying through Palestine. The charge of treachery stunned 
them. 

True, the old religious books were full of prophecies that the 
Messiah would be sold out by one of His friends. True, too, they 
believed Jesus was the Messiah. But never, never, had they actually 
brought the old prophecies home to themselves; as for the betrayal* 
even if they had remembered the predictions, they would never, 
for a moment, have believed that the forecast of treason was meant 
for one of the Twelve. 

Their faces were full of sorrow as they pointed fingers to their 
own breasts, looked imploringly at Jesus, and one after another, 
man by man, asked Him the same question: 

"Is it I?" 

"Is it I, Lord?" 

"Who is it?" shouted Peter, glaring around at them all. 

And John, who loved Jesus intensely, was even at that moment 
leaning his head on the Master's bosom; the young disciple gently 
echoed the fisherman's voice; 

"Lord, who is it?" 



THE THIRD YEAR 225 

"He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped/' Jesus answered. 
"He that dips his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me." 

They were like frozen men, unable to move, as the Master dipped 
a morsel of bread in the dish of lamb and gravy and then very quietly 
held it out toward Judas. 

The voice of the treasurer trembled as he croaked: 

"Is it I, Master?" 

"You have said it," answered Jesus. Even then He could not keep 
the pity from His eyes. "That which you do, do quickly." 

As John wrote later, Judas received the morsel of bread and 
gravy and then fled from the room; the door slammed heavily be- 
hind him. 

"And," John added, "it was night." 

Even now the disciples found it hard to take in. True, Judas, son 
of Simon, was the least popular among them, but who could believe 
he would sell his Master's life? Such a thing still seemed beyond 
belief. As they looked at the door, closing behind the escaping Judas, 
they told themselves, with the same fatuity with which good men 
always doubt the existence of abomination, that Judas must have 
been sent out on some business mission. After all, he held the purse; 
perhaps Jesus had sent him off to buy supplies for the festival day, 
or on some urgent errand to give money to the poor. 

But when Judas was gone from the candlelit refectory, Jesus 
made no further reference to him. Instead, He took the bread, and 
broke it, passing a piece to each of the eleven, as he said: 

"Take you and eat. This is my body." 

They ate. Then He filled with wine the chalice, one of the litur- 
gical cups of the paschal rite, as Melchizedek had once offered a 
sacrifice of bread and wine in the very beginning days. And now 
Jesus gave thanks and passed the chalice of wine to the eleven, say- 
ing: 

"Drink you all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament 
which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins. Do this for a 
commemoration of me." 

And they all drank of it all except Judas, who had gone, but who 
was still crouched on the stairway outside listening to the great new 
rite, the way in which a man becomes one with God and he knew 
that for him it was too late. 



226 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Chapter $5 THE PARTING 



THIS was the time of the real parting between Jesus and those who 
loved Him in this world. 

What He said to His faithful eleven, after that first communion, 
was a farewell, not merely to them, but to Mary and to His friends 
in Bethany and to all those, born and unborn, who would love Him 
and keep His ways, 

"Little children," He told them softly, "yet a little while I am 
with you. You shall seek me, and as I said to the Jews: 'Whither I 
go, you cannot come/ so I say to you now. 

"A new commandment I give unto you: that you love one an- 
otheras I have loved you, that you also love one another!" 

And, as often before, He told them they would be ashamed of 
Him, but now His forecast of this odious act was not in the inde- 
terminate futurebut tonight! 

They would be ashamed of Him within the next few hours, but 
after He was dead and buried, they would find Him waiting there 
and then he made a post-mortal appointment, a rendezvous after 
death in Galilee! 

And now He made to Peter a most extraordinary statement. Here, 
in the upper room, was bald and bearded Peter with the freckled 
nose; Peter, the rock on which Christ would build the church secure 
against the gates of hell; Peter, to whom Jesus now said: 

"Simon! Simon! Look, Satan has desired to have you that he may 
sift you as wheat, 

"But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and thou, being 
once converted, confirm thy brethren." 

Peter looked wildly insulted. That Satan desired him, he well 
knew. That the Master prayed for him was a great blessing, although 
Peter felt he could defeat the devil by his own strength, if he needed 
to. But to be told that he would someday be converted . . . 

Peter coughed and grew red in the face at the thought. 

"Lord," he said, as if he might even reprove the Master, "I am 
ready to go with thee both into prison and to death.'* 
Jesus looked at him compassionately. Prison? Aye, the Mamartine 



THE THIRD YEAR 22J 

in Rome would be one of his prisons. Death? Upside down on a 
cross, Peter, at your own humble request, because you will not feel 
worthy to be crucified head side up as was the Master. Peter! Peter! 

"I say to thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day till thou 
three times deniest that thou knowest me!" 

Peter roared a protest. So did all the other disciples. But Jesus 
held out His arms to them, even while Peter was shouting to the 
rafters: 

"Although I should die together with thee, I will not deny thee." 

A grim silence settled upon them as He turned and motioned 
them back to their divans. Once He had told them to go without 
scrip or purse and shoes; now there were to be changed conditions 
and new orders; let them carry money and weapons; a man could 
sell his coat to buy a sword. "For the things concerning me have an 
end." 

They showed Him two swords and He said they were enough. 

Speaking in a whisper, He gave them His final charge: 

"Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also 
in me." 

They sat, listening intently, yet not understanding that God him- 
self was with them there. Much must be done before the full truth 
would come to them, the mystery of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, 
all three but one divine reality. But in only a moment Jesus was to 
make a clear statement on that point. 

"In my Father's house there are many mansions. If it were not 
so, I would have told you; I go to prepare a place for you. And 
whither I go, you know, and the way you know." 

He paused because He could read their hearts. That brave, flinty 
old skeptic, Thomas, with the cast in his eye, leaned forward. 

"Lord, we do not know whither thou goest and how can we 
know the way?" 

To which came an immediate answer that men have been quoting 
ever since, for two thousand years: 

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the 
Father but by me. If you had known me, you would, without doubt, 
have known my Father also. And from henceforth you shall know 
Him, and you have seen Him." 

Did He mean what He seemed to be saying? The question burst 
from Philip: 

"Lord-show us the Father and it is enough for us." 



228 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Jesus waited a moment, as if He were looking backward three 
years into mortal time, when that Andrew, sitting there on the other 
side of the table, had brought to him a shy young friend with the 
Greek name of Philip. That thoughtful youth had been escaping 
Bethesda because of its brutal wickedness. That same Philip had 
brought Nathanael into their party. Yet listen to Philip now: 

"Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us. 7 ' 

"Have I been so long a time with you," sighed Jesus, "and have 
you aot known me? Philip, he that seeth me, seeth the Father also; 
how sayest thou, show us the Father? Do you not believe that I 
am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I speak 
to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father, who abideth in me, 
He doth the works." 

There they had it, full in the heart. He was not merely a rein- 
carnation of some old prophet, or the new messenger of the Lord; 
aot merely a messiah to lead the people into a new dream of peace 
he was in himself God, one with the Father Almighty, the Master 
of heaven and earth, 

Only now, an hour from Gethsemane, twelve hours from Calvary, 
could He tell them this. Had He said it to them before, they could 
not have lived with Him as disciple and Master; they would have 
been crushed with awe. At last they had been told the full, paralyz- 
ing truth. But much more must come before they would fully be- 
lieve. 

At that candlelit table in the upper room God sat with them now. 

"If you shall ask me anything in my name, that I will do. 

"If you love me, keep my commandments. 

"And I shall ask the Father, and He shall give you another com- 
forter. He may abide with you forever. 

"I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you . . . 

"If any one love me, he will keep my word and my Father will 
love him, and we will come to him and will make our abode with 
him. 

"But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send 
in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to 
your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you." 

Peter gave a great sigh of relief. His brain had been dizzy with 
his worries. How was he to remember all the wisdom of the Master, 
not one word of which was yet written down? Now he knew. The 
Comforter would come. The Holy Ghost from heaven would be 



THE THIRD YEAR 229 

the guardian of the church he was to found. The Holy Ghost would 
bring it all back to mind. A load was lifted from the heart of the 
tormented fisherman. He turned again to hear the Master's farewell: 

"Peace I leave with you; tny peace I give unto you; not as the 
world gives, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled nor 
let it be afraid. I am the vine, you the branches; he that abideth in 
me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit. 

"If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask 
whatsoever you will, and it shall be done unto you. This is my com- 
mandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater 
love than this hath no man, that a man lay down his life for his 
friends. 

"Arise! Let us go!" 

And one by one they followed Him to Gethsemane, 



Chapter 56 THE BARGAIN 



SALLOW-FACED Judas slouched through the door at the farther end 
of the red-walled apartment and approached the two elders with 
graceless steps. All his life, in all that he did, there was a boorish- 
ness, an awkwardness in Judas, a maladdress and a roughness that 
gave to his whole manner an uncouth swagger. He was a red-bearded 
man with tough curly hair, thick with ringlets, and his eyes chron- 
ically swollen. The movements of his body were quick and jerky, 
as if his strength lay not in muscle and sinew, but in an abundance, 
a very torrent of nervous energy. His straw sandals squeaked on 
the marble floor as he made a stiff, perfunctory bow to Annas, 

"Peace be with you," said Annas softly, and Joseph Caiphas bowed 
his head; he had retired into shadow. 

"Your name, my son?" 

"Judas, son of Simon." 

"Where do you come from?" 

"Kerioth." 

Annas scribbled on a piece of parchment with a goose-quill pen, 
and while continuing to write, pursued his examination. His next 
question was asked with the utmost casualness: 

"How long have you been a friend of this Jesus of Capernaum? " 



230 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Jesus of Nazareth, Lord~I have been his friend for three years." 

"How did it happen that you, a good man from Kerioth, took up 
with one of these wild Galileans?" 

"I believed in Jesus," replied Judas. 

"Believed what about Him?" 

"Everything." 

A flash of anger came into the old man's bright eyes; then he 
clucked his tongue and exchanged a rapid glance with his son-in-law. 

"Then why do you offer to betray Him, now, in His hiding place 
for the night?" 

"Understand me clearly," exclaimed Judas in a voice deepening 
with indignation. "I am not a common informer. What I do, I do 
and why, is my affair and I do not wish Him to come to any harm." 

Old priest and young priest remained silent 

"You do not intend any harm to Jesus, do you?" persisted Judas* 

"Do you doubt the mercy, the justice, or the wisdom of the 
judges of Israel?" demanded Caiphas. 

"No, I believe in the Sanhedrin as the true judges of the Lord." 

The eyes of Judas were filled with a flickering light as he said 
these words. 

"I believe," said Annas acidly, "that you are a revolutionist. Do 
you know that I could send you to prison?" 

"No, Lord Annas! You have no evidence against me." 

U I found evidence enough only yesterday against a conspirator 
called Barabbas! Another fellow trying to stir up trouble and bring 
us all to ruin. You have been foolish, my son, if you have harbored 
thoughts of revolution. What did you do all these three years with 
Jesus?" 

"I carried the bag; I was His treasurer; that is how much He 
trusted me." 

"Did you have much money to handle?" asked Annas. 

"A few pence at our most prosperous time. We trusted to God 
for what we ate and where we slept." 

"Are you sure Jesus didn't keep some back for Himself?" 

iC Yes, I am sure of that!" shouted Judas. "How can you " 

"Judas!" snapped Caiphas. "You forget yourself." 

Judas stopped his mouth with the palm of his hand, then bowed 
low. 

U I am truly sorry," he muttered. "Please forgive me. I must try 
to forget Him and all His works. I was under His spell that was 



THE THIRD YEAR 23! 

it and now the scales have fallen from my eyes and I see Him as 
He really is. He charms you, and the thoughts He puts into words 
sound wonderful. But these are violent times, and He talks soft 
words. If anybody slaps you on a cheek, turn your head around 
so he can slap the other one. Give in to everybody. Never resist any- 
body." 

"I think I begin to see," interrupted Annas. "You thought the 
important thing was for Him to rally our people. Well, He had his 
chance. He had it last Sunday, when He rode into this city and 
the whole multitude fell at His feet, with hosannahs and acclama- 
tions. Why, He could have done anything to that mob that He 
wanted. What did He want?" 

"Nothing. He was preaching some pacifist madness about the 
Kingdom of God. He needs to be pkced under arrest " 

"Protective arrest for His own good?" 

"Yes, Lord," agreed Judas. 

"Another question," went on Annas in a musing tone. "Did you 
ever hear your Jesus attack the priesthood?" 

"Yes, Lord." 

"The details on that, now, please." 

"You will do Him no real harm or punishment, Lord? He is at 
heart a good man." 

"We went over that before. How did He attack us?" 

"Lord, He has told more than a dozen parables that would blast 
you all out of the Temple." 

Annas sucked his tooth noisily as he turned blankly toward Cai- 
phas. "Then Jesus is a dangerous man," he grunted. "You have done 
well to come to me." 

He seized his pen. 

"Who are the principal supporters of this fellow?" 

As Judas bfegan to enumerate, Annas wrote down the names of 
sixteen persons: the eleven other Apostles and Mary, the mother of 
Jesus; Mary, the wife of Cleophas; Salome, the wife of Zebedee, 
Mary Magdalene and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, who was Herod's 
steward. These, Judas declared, together with Mary and Martha of 
Bethany and their brother Lazarus, formed what might be called 
the inner group of the followers of Jesus; they were His friends 
and confidants. 

"But does He not hobnob also with men of a much higher social 
class?" asked Annas. 



2J2 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Why not? While they have not openly avowed their member- 
ship, they are strongly sympathetic. They are Joseph of Arimathea 
and the counselor Nicodemus." 

"You were right, Lord Annas!" exclaimed Caiphas savagely. "And 
I never once suspected either of them." 

"They have a right to their opinions, son-in-law. Now, Judas, one 
thing more and we shall be finished. I believe you told the high 
priest that tonight above any other time was the best to take Jesus. 
Why was that?" 

"Because it is the only time He would let you take Him." 

"Riddles again." 

"No riddle-a simple fact, Lord Annas. Jesus could escape fron? 
your guard, disappear before your very eyes if He had a mind to. 
I saw Him do that when the mob tried to kill Him in His home 
town of Nazareth. The man is invulnerable, He is not capable of 
being wounded or seized if He does not wish to be. But He expects 
to be taken tonight." 

"And why no miracles tonight?" requested Annas with sarcasm. 

"Because He believes He must die. He keeps saying He must die 
to save the world. Take Him now while He is in that mood and 
He will not resist youso you," Judas added with heavy mockery, 
"wiU be well off." 

For a moment Annas and Caiphas talked together in low tones. 
Annas suddenly stood up. 

"Listen to these special instructions. Get for us their certain plans 
for where they will spend tonight. That is important, my son we 
must not take this man until Jerusalem is asleep, and we must be 
through with Him before Jerusalem wakes up." 

"No harm will come to Him?" reiterated Judas. . 

"Leave everything to us and hurry." 

"What I do, I must do quickly." 

As Judas lifted his head, he heard a clink of silver. Annas was 
bent over, trembling hands held up near the flame of the candle? 
Judas saw that the old man was counting out money. 

"I am not doing this for hire!" he blurted out. 

The old man glanced at him witheringly, 

"Hire? Hire a patriot? Don't be foolish, Judas. But I have had 
too much experience in life ever to take anything for nothing. To- 
morrow you will not come back to me with new demands you 
wiU be paid off now. Thirty pieces of silver!" 



THE THIRD YEAR 233 

The coins clinked in the palm of Judas. The false apostle put it 
idly in his bosom, bold eyes searching the red walls, as if he ex- 
pected to see the hand of the Lord writing there to rebuke his per- 
fidy. 

"Hurry!" said Annas. "Or you will be late." 

Judas stalked out 



Chapter 57 A VISIT TO PILATE 



THE conspirators, Annas and Caiphas, knew they had to hurry. The 
difficulties confronting them only strengthened the resolve in Annas 
to obtain the death penalty for Jesus, and to be satisfied with noth- 
ing less. 

Now that the old leader believed in the real danger of the situa- 
tion, he was far more stirred than Caiphas, although outwardly still 
calm and lordly. No one knew better than Annas what the conse- 
quences would be to him, to his family, to his class, if Jesus prevailed. 
It would mean the ultimate eclipse of the Temple aristocracy. The 
idea of a workingman, a carpenter, coming to Jerusalem with such 
a program and with power over the imagination of the people was 
infinitely more disturbing than a messiah of the kind the malcontents 
desired. A military messiah Rome would know how to answer; he 
might be disturbing for a while, but any uprising of the people 
would speedily enough be crushed, 

Jesus came preaching something else: a revolution in the heart. 
The sooner they killed that, the better. 

But Annas was resolved also that the illicit plan must be put 
through with the utmost appearance of legality. 

"Thank God, Pontius Pilate is in residence at the palace," said 
Caiphas, 

"Pah!" 

Annas spewed Pontius Pilate out of his mouth with his spittle. 

"Lord Pilate will go along with me, I dare say. You make sure 
of your witnesses, Caiphas men who will testify to the blasphemy." 

The heart of Annas was elated now; even at his extreme age he 
relished politics, intrigue, secret action. Obstacles had always hard- 



234 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

ened the resolve of Annas; in the excitement he forgot his weariness 
and felt young again. He tasted victory in advance. 

It was nightfall when Annas set forth upon his errand. Boys with 
torches went before and behind his litter as he was carried through 
the narrow, crowded streets, The old man hated the bustle and con- 
fusion of holiday times; he was glad that it was but a short way to 
the castle of Antonia, where Pontius Pilate stayed when in town. 

The crowds made way for the party as the bearers carried the 
mighty Annas past the bridge that led over the little valley of 
the cheese-masters, and higher up the Temple hill, scene of the old 
man's activities through a lifetime. Dimly he could see the great 
Temple in the deepening night: the forecourts rising, one over the 
other, like terraces, and beyond, at the northwest corner, a glimpse 
of the green stones of Pilate's castle. Threatening sign of the might 
of empire, it rose upon a steep rock, fifty cubits high. Tonight, be- 
cause of the festival, a double garrison of alerted Roman troops was 
stationed in its walls and barracks; Pilate had sworn the people 
should never riot again while he governed Jerusalem. 

Annas came to the castle with an imprecation in his heart. He, 
an aristocratic Sadducee, playing hand in glove with Pilate, actually 
hated the Empire with a passion greater than Pharisee or revolu- 
tionist. For one detail of oppression he hated it most of all. As 
a symbol of their power, the Romans kept the sacred robes of the 
high priest in the castle and would lend them back to the Jews only 
on state occasions; tomorrow Caiphas might wear them for the Pass- 
over, but then he would have to give them back again to the foreign 
master. That detail of infamy was an excruciating symbol of sub- 
jection* 

Also Annas was well aware how deeply Pilate hated all Jews, 
avoiding every possible contact with them, even while living among 
them and governing them; he would certainly not be pleased at 
this late caU by Annas. But this errand was an urgent political con- 
sideration, by which the old man knew he could justify the intru- 
sion and hold Pilate's ear long enough. 

The litter bearers were halted at the gates of the Praetorium by 
imperial guards. To a lowbred churlish guard Annas barked out his 
name and mission; the Roman gave him surly glances but pulled a 
chain which produced repeated clanging of a distant bell, and when 
another guard came, turned in his name. Presently they let him pass. 

Annas was in the castle of Antonia less than half an hour, but 
when he came out, his eyes held the gleam of a man who has won. 



THE THIRD YEAR 235 

"When the case of Jesus comes before Pilate, the Nazarene will 
die," he was thinking. "And that will be the end of it He will never 
be heard of again," 



Chapter $8 WE ARE READY 



BY THE time Annas reached home, a crowd had gathered before 
his front door. Rough-looking men stood idly talking together, like 
laborers waiting for a foreman to come and give orders. Which, 
Annas reflected with satisfaction, was exactly what they were 
laborers, hired mobmen, shouters, screamers, fist-shakers, noisy pro- 
fessional pickets who would rail against any person or any cause for 
pay. Tonight Caiphas would be their foreman. 

Caiphas had worked swiftly. Not only had he assembled these 
hirelings to give tongue at the proper time, and sound as if they 
were the voice of all Judea, howling for blood, he had also assem- 
bled a troop of Temple guards, sentinels without weapons. These 
were men of the priestly classes, very important, too, and they let 
you know it by the way they swung their shoulders as they walked 
and the scornful way in which they looked past people in trouble. 
Their duties were to guard the Temple and maintain order; they 
tad already been greatly reproached for not having prevented the 
disastrous scene in the Temple, when Jesus overturned the tables 
and whipped the money-changers. 

The priests charged that if these guards had been attending to 
their business, such a thing would never have happened. But the 
Temple militiamen replied that they had been attending to their 
business, and f aithfully-they had charge of the singing and the in- 
strumental music: the lyre, the dulcimer, the horn, and the sounding 
brasses; they had to see that the Temple was kept clean; that the 
building was kept in repair; and arrange for the buying of supplies, 
the sewing and embroidery of the priestly robes. They must also 
supervise the preparation of the vessels, the utensils, and the stuffs 
used in the ceremonies, and the endless washing and dryings and 
safeguards against defilement. So many technical points had to be 
observed that the guards spent their whole terms learning the rules 
and instructing the novices who would succeed them. 



236 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Presently they would be joined by Roman soldiers with armor and 
swords, who would give empire authority to the arrest. 

"You have acted quickly, Caiphas," said Annas, when once again 
the old man and his son-in-law stood face to face in the room with 
the red walls. 

"Better than you realize," replied Caiphas, showing teeth through 
his beard. "I have sent personal word to every single member of the 
council, telling them all that the Sanhedrin must be prepared to 
meet tonight and to stay in session until the case of this fellow is 
disposed of. They will recognize how serious the emergency is in 
the way I worded the call. Meanwhile, Judas is back." 

"Judas?" 

"Judas Iscariot, Lord the man who will take us to Jesus. He has 
learned exactly where to lead us." 

"Then are you ready?" 

"At once!" 



Chapter $9 THE DARK GARDEN 



IT WAS well after nine o'clock and quite dark when Judas, ready 
for his traitorous job, emerged through the back doorway of the 
house of Annas and descended to the alley. Loitering before the 
steps was the posse of the Temple guards; though forbidden to 
carry arms, they had picked up staves and cudgels. Standing off from 
them were the six Roman soldiers with an officer; they carried lan- 
terns and torches, clubs, and staves. 

Judas turned his back on them, stalking around a corner into a 
jagged and poisonous-smelling little street. Not a sound was heard, 
except the shuffling feet of the men, the clank of armor, and the 
lonely howl of some faraway dog. The course they followed was 
zigzag, a series of short, sharp detours; the streets were all rough 
and full of holes, so the marchers made haste slowly. Pale in the 
light of harvest stars loomed the Temple; then around a last reek- 
ing corner the men came to a passageway cut in the southeastern 
angle of the Temple wall and began the hazardous descent of a 
flight of old stone steps falling sharply from the upper city to a 
locked gate below. 



THE THIRD YEAR 237 

At this ancient portal, near to the pool of Siloam, the Roman of- 
ficer talked with the gatekeeper and made arrangements for open- 
ing up and admitting the party when they returned with their pris- 
oner. On a promise of scourging, the terrified gatekeeper agreed to 
keep his gate open and his mouth closed. 

Meanwhile the imperial soldiers, facing the wall, grumbled to 
one another. 

Why this crawling through the dark in force to catch one man? 
They had heard tales about their quarry. Report said the Nazarene 
possessed mysterious powers; He could walk on the sea, the winds 
of heaven performed His bidding, and once He had fed forty thou- 
sand hungry people with one basket of loaves and fishes and every- 
body had a bellyful. This wonder-worker and all His familiars 
were said to lie hidden in some dark garden outside the city wall. 
What might He be doing even now in that garden? Witchcraft? 
Spells, conjurations, devil praying? Why must they be sent after 
such a magician in the dark? Would not daylight have done as well? 

Judas heard them talking among themselves and quietly reproved 
them. Jesus had never harmed anyone. He was not a sorcerer. The 
disciple reassured them, coaxed them to follow him as he led the 
way through the gate and still farther down, until they reached 
the brook Kedron that flows between Jerusalem and the Mount of 
Corruption, Once, in this dark valley, the god Moloch had been 
worshiped in human sacrifice. 

Having passed beyond the mystical murmur of the brook, they 
hastened on toward the Mount of Olives. 

But the soldiers continued to grumble they were brave men, but 
who would not be anxious about a fugitive with such powers as 
chose? 

Well, Judas assured them they need not fear Him tonight. Jesus, 
he reported, was actually waiting for them to come and get Him 
in a farmyard, an oil press called by some the Garden of Gethsemane. 
It was really a series of gardens within enclosing walls a place He 
had often visited before, but never so kte. On any other night by 
this time He and His followers would be at the home of friends, 
like Mary and Martha and Lazarus; with them and their neighbors 
Jesus and His men stopped often. 

But tonight He and eleven followers were late out of their beds. 

What were they doing in the Garden? Judas did not know. It 
did not matter anyway, he expostulated, again and again, as he 



238 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

trudged beside them. The silver coins in his bag made a soft, jingling 
noise as he walked. Nonsense! Nonsense! And Judas sighed heavily 
as he led the long and mincing column of men who swung their 
hissing torches and walked like women, not to stumble over the 
stones. 

Presently Judas called softly and lifted his hand, and they halted 
at a high hedge, which served as a wall that completely enclosed 
the area. 

Now most of the party knew where they were. This was the 
farmyard with the oil press a dark patch of olive trees in a familiar 
triangle between the most-traveled footpaths over Mount Olivet and 
the highroad to Bethany. Not a native in the city but had heard the 
ribald jokes about the top of the hill where Solomon once built 
houses for his heathen wives. 

A little doorlike opening had been cut in the hedge that other- 
wise completely enclosed the olive garden. Judas waved back the 
guards while he leaned in and peered. Miraculously the darkness 
seemed to soften then, as if the stars grew brighter. With narrow- 
ing eyes Judas searched among gnarled and hunchbacked trees of 
immemorial age; his long, shrewish nose took in the soft orchard 
smell of ripening fruits and the damp sweetness of night greenery. 
And the peaked ears of Judas reported the deep sound of die wind, 
soughing and murmuring through those ancient olive boughs. 

But where were the eleven and the Master? Dimly, Judas began 
to make them out. That vast hunk of man sprawled on the grass, his 
head on a rolled-up cloak, was surely Peter, snoring. The slim form 
yonder by the pavilion platform was John, also deep in slumber. 
Other dark smudges under the trees were unrecognizable, but Judas 
counted eleven, all asleep. Their leader was invisible. 

Judas would have entered then and brought the guards with 
him, but he was stopped by the sound of a familiar voice at prayer. 
He stood listening. Somewhere off in the deeper foliage there, where 
he remembered a white boulder half buried in the earth, Jesus of 
Nazareth was on his knees. Judas could hear the suffering voice: 

"My Father! If it be possible, let this cup pass from me!" 

The nostrils of Judas twisted in disdain. 

"Afraid?" he murmured. "He is afraid! He is praying to be let 
off to escape " 

But Jesus was not done with His praying. 

"Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." 



THE THIRD YEAR 239 

Then Judas was startled because of that double wishing prayer 
to God; that ambivalence in Gethsemane. The Master wanted life, 
yet if the Father to whom he prayed insisted, knowing what was 
best, then He would obediently take death. The contradiction 
stirred a deep resentment in the listening Judas. This humbleness 
was unbecoming to a man. At the altar, from ancient times, the 
people had struck the best bargain they could. Do this for me and I 
will do that for you, O God! So the patriarchs and kings and 
prophets had tried to do business with the infinite. But Jesus did not 
seek to force his will; He sought instead, and Judas was astonished 
by it, to come to an understanding of the will of God, that he might 
obey it. 

The silence after the prayer was touched by a low swishing sound 
as by a trailing garment brushing the grass. Out of the dark and 
walking by starlight the white figure of Jesus appeared, moving to- 
ward a sleeping disciple. Judas could see him clearly now tall, 
robed, walking barefoot across the chilly field. Jesus bent over the 
snoring man. 

"Peter! What! Could you not watch one hour with me? Watch 
you and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed 
is willing but the flesh is weak . . . Sleep, now, and take rest. It is 
enough! The hour is come! Look, the Son of Man shall be betrayed 
into the hands of sinners. Rise up. Let us go. He that will destroy me 
is at hand." 

Then he reached forward his foot and with the bare toes gently 
joggled Peter's shoulder. The fisherman grunted, rolled over, and 
then sat up violently, his round face and pug nose and blinking eyes 
turned upward. 

"It is enough, Peter. The hour has come," Jesus said simply. 

Peter scrambled to his feet and bared his knife. 

Judas waited for no more. He laid a hard, damp hand on the 
wrist of the leader of the band, and whispered: 

"Now is the time. Let us go in and take Him. You will know Him 
sure He will be the one I wiH Mss!" 

The sound of rough voices and the clank of steel, the sight of 
the fires, brought all the drowsy disciples to their feet. They blinked 
at the frightening torch-lit scene, shining with the cold brilliance of 
armor and swords. 

Judas strode forward until he stood directly in front of Jesus. 

"Hail, Master!" 



240 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Jesus moved toward Judas and seized him by the shoulders. Then 
the arms of Christ drew Judas to Him and the disciple kissed the 
Master on the cheek. At the signal, the Roman soldiers came for- 
ward, weapons in hand. But Jesus did not at once let Judas go. He 
held him tightly, His cheek laid against the tough ringlets, eyes 
lifted, as if asking a favor of the invisible. Then at last he released 
him, and as Judas stood back, the prisoner brought His hands to- 
gether and held them out as He approached the Roman captain. 

That was more than the panic-stricken Peter could bear. The 
knife he had toyed with at the supper table gleamed in his hand a 
knife with a blade five inches long, for gutting fish. This uplifted, 
the stalwart Peter sprang at the officer-, there was a moment's tussle, 
a disorderly struggle, and then the ironic voice of Jesus: 

"Peter, Peter, put up your sword!" 

And Peter's fishing knife fell at his feet. 

A little soldier from the Temple scurried forward with a hand- 
ful of ropes and began to tie the wrists of Jesus. That action was like 
a warning to all the other disciples, who had been watching in 
startled dismay. 

This sudden invasion of men in armor and others armed with 
* cudgels and staves filled them with fright. The torches burned like 
small new worlds fuming in a dark universe. Voices rose in brawling 
question. Peter and all the others were overwhelmed with fear for 
their own safety. Stampeded, like wild creatures, they scampered off 
into the night. One, wrapped only in a linen cloth, was seized by a 
guard, but he tore himself free, leaving the garment in the soldier's 
hands; naked, he vanished among the trees. Leaping the hedges and 
running as fast as legs would carry them, they left Jesus, the captive, 
alone. 



Chapter 60 THE PRISONER 



As HE waited for the prisoner to be caught and brought before him, 
Annas, the most powerful man in Israel, felt depressed. Already he 
foresaw certain trouble; no matter how many "niessiahs" they ex- 
terminated, the troubles of the people continued to create the need 
for salvation. 



THE THIRD YEAR 241 

The old man glared hopelessly around his grand salon and then, 
rising from his stool, walked slowly toward the steps of his dais. 
Wearily he mounted the platform and sat in the imposing chair, as 
the door was flung open and the captain of the guard stood at at- 
tention before Annas. 

"Lord," he said, "we have done as you commanded. We have 
taken the man prisoner. Behold him at the door Jesus of Nazareth!" 

The prisoner was shoved forward so that, in a circle of light from 
the hanging candelabrum, He came in full sight of Annas. 

The political boss of Jerusalem was instantaneously jolted at his 
first sight of the captured Jesus. He blinked and looked again. No 
outer detail seemed important this tall, fettered man in the white 
robe and sandals; what was it in Him that was so jolting, like to a 
blow over the heart? It could not be the prisoner's luxuriant brown 
hair and untrimmed beard; most peasants and mechanics so wore 
their hair. It could not be the white turban wound loosely around 
the head, for that was the national headdress, and the white turban 
of Jesus fell at the side, as did most of the turbans in that place and 
at that time, down to the shoulders and over the tunic; and, as did 
His fellows, Jesus fastened His turban under the chin with a cord. 
But the sharp eyes of the old politician did notice that the blue inner 
robe of the prisoner was all of one piece and without a seam. The 
garment had been given to Jesus by one of those women along the 
way who had been grateful for His message. That night He was also 
wearing a blue tallith, a loose-flowing mantle over His shoulders; at 
its four corners were blue fringes. 

By the looks of Him He was just an ordinary man with sandals 
dusty from long tramping on the open road. Yet Annas sensed, 
nevertheless, that his prisoner was not ordinary at all, but most extra- 
ordinary. How was that? Whence that remarkable quality of sep- 
arateness and power which Annas immediately felt in Jesus? Where 
did it reside, and how did it visibly express itself? 

Was it in the bright glory of His large eyes, set so wide apart, like 
His mother's? Some inner energy of incalculable force looked out 
of those large and patient and unfailingly interested eyes, of one to 
whpm God was an overpoweringly intimate and personal experi- 
ence. They spoke of an intimate understanding of the nearness and 
goodness of the heavenly Father; a kind of unendurable ecstasy pro- 
longed through life. It was as one who knew, moment by moment, 
this deep and rich experience, that Jesus walked into the red-walled 



242 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

room of the home of Annas; as one who felt no humiliation, though 
His wrists were bound with leather cords that cut into His flesh. 

Feeling himself in the presence of a mystery, Annas promptly de- 
clined to take any stock of it and fastened his gaze approvingly on 
the bound wrists of Jesus, but even so he was already aware of an 
uneasy suspicion that you cannot tie up infinity with a string. 

The prisoner looked around calmly. AU these men, hirelings, 
hirers, judges, believed that the Lord God Almighty, the God of 
Israel, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, was really a glorified mem- 
ber of their caste; the land-owning, slave-owning, mortgage-fore- 
closing aristocrats represented here. As Jesus regarded Annas and 
Caiphas in that moment, He seemed to say: 

"Joseph Caiphas, you are the high priest of the Temple and you 
and your ancient father-in-law sanction the oppression of the poor. 
You have helped the people to forget the eighth-century prophets; 
I would call the people back to listen once more to the thunder of 
those voices." 

There was in that long glance of His from the face of Joseph 
Caiphas back to the face of Annas almost a bemused compassion 
for the political and judicial problems that confronted them in their 
conspiracy against Him. 

Annas, letting the silence stretch almost unendurably, seated him- 
self again with determined aplomb, to listen to the reports. It was 
good news that the prisoner's band of followers had deserted Him 
and fled* That promised well; the fickle popukce, too, might not 
resent His death so much as had been feared. Where were His sup- 
porters now? Annas sucked his tooth with satisfaction. He had no 
suspicion of the presence in the doorway crowd of two of those 
very Galileans. One was a stout fellow, woolen robe belted with a 
frayed old cord; beard turning white, pate turning bald; a rough 
and fusty fisherman with freckled nose and lacking in city manners. 
He was Sirnon called Peter, but Annas did not know about him. 
Close by, but ignoring Peter as if the two had never met, was also 
another fisherman, John, one of the sons of Zebedee a young man 
with anguished face. 

Annas beckoned impatiently for Judas, hovering in the rear. 

"You promised there would be no resistance," he said with some 
choler. "What happened about the soldier's ear, Judas?" 

Judas lifted weary shoulders and shrugged. 

44 That was just Peter," he groaned. "Crazy Peter who always 



THE THIRD YEAR 243 

loves to swagger and show off, no matter what happens, it was 
Peter that resisted arrest; he should be punished, too, Lord, even 
more than your prisoner here, for Peter is a very violent man." 

"Was there an ear cut off?" 

"An ear?" 

"That is what I asked you. Was there an ear cut off, or wasn't 
there? I have been just told children's tales about an ear restored 
again on a soldier's head. Will you answer?" 

All along Annas had merely been tolerating Judas, but now he had 
had enough; he was in a heat of temper. 

"I know not about the ear, Lord. There was a good deal of ex- 
citement and shouting at the time. Perhaps so! But Jesus can do more 
wonderful things than restore ears when He wishes to." 

The glance of the sharp old eyes leaped quickly to the prisoner. 
But Annas did not prolong his scrutiny. Something in has every 
glance at the captive face disturbed him. Perhaps it was the tran- 
quillity of Jesus, so composed, so at peace; the line of great decision 
on the kindly mouth was upsetting too; there was in it no imperti- 
nence and no overconfidence; nothing unfriendly or suspicious, but 
it was the reflection of a great inner serenity, a sense of grace and 
power that under the circumstances was hard to contemplate. 

Annas made a churlish clearing of his throat and clapped his hands 
together. His withered body seemed to grow taller as he resolved 
not to be outstared by his prisoner. Let the fellow realize he was 
brought first before Annas because Annas was the most important 
man in Jerusalem, the behind-the-scenes power, the uncrowned 
king of Israel and the multitude who had begun to murmur that 
their Nazarene was "King of the Jews" must soon hear of this proud, 
responsible moment; all the hardened arteries and clogged veins of 
the old man glowed with a reborn physical warmth and sense of 
power, 

"Jesus, you are called a blasphemer!" began Annas; he held his 
wrist tight against his ribs as he pointed to Jesus. "Are you a blas- 
phemer?" 

The ready smile of Jesus had in it no complaisance or appease- 
ment. He looked about Him, comprehension without mockery in 
His glance. When He spoke, His voice was calm and unshaken; 
there was in His well-mastered tones the country accent of a Naza- 
rene: 

"I have spoken openly to the world* I taught in the synagogue and 



244 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

in the Temple, where all the Jews come together-and in secret I 
spoke nothing. Why do you ask me? Ask them that have heard me!" 

A reluctant glitter of admiration came into the scornful eyes of 
Annas. This self-assured prisoner was shrewd not one to be caught 
easily in a snare. Promptly He had just taken His stand as an inno- 
cent man, squarely on His rights and privileges as a citizen, living 
under the law of Moses Annas and his crew would have to prove 
those charges by witnesses in a court of law; that was the technical, 
legal meaning of Jesus's answer. 

"I see!" murmured Annas, milking his beard. "You demand 
proof? Very well, Jesus of Nazareth, I hold you for trial. For imme- 
diate trial Blasphemy!" 

A noise ran through the mob listening at the open door, a noise 
running back through vaulted sides of the courtyard to the open 
steps that led down to the street. From Judas came a strangled cry, 
and he grabbed at the cloak of Annas. 

"Blasphemy! You would try Him for such a crime!" he protested. 
"No, you promised " 

A guard clapped a hand over the mouth of Judas. His tortured 
eyes sought the face of Jesus; but the soldiers had turned Jesus 
around and were already escorting Him out to the next stop on His 
dark journey. 



Chapter 61 DENIAL 



FROM the hands of Annas, Jesus was led directly to the home of the 
high priest which adjoined the Temple. The journey, which on foot 
took less than twenty minutes, was made in silence, commanded by 
the guards; at that hour it was like the very belly of darkness, and 
the narrow, coiling Jerusalem streets were deserted. Except for the 
hired mob, and Judas and the Roman soldiers, almost no one saw the 
dismal procession on Its way to the judgment 

Outside the priest's front door they waited for orders from Cai- 
phas the mob surging around Jesus who, wrists bound, stood erect 
between two soldiers. Not once did the luminous brown eyes turn; 
had He looked left, He might seen a stout figure wanning tough 
old hands nervously above a pan of coals. Peter! 



THE THIRD YEAR 245 

But Jesus did not see Peter then, nor did He look to the right 
where, among the moist dark faces of hired disturbers, He might 
also have seen the young and distrait face of John. 

Peter was still wanning his hands when a young woman carrying 
a bucket stopped suddenly before him. The girl's name was Huldah 
and she was one of the favorite servants of Caiphas; she studied 
Peter with slow recognition. 

"You!" she said, something spiteful in her voice. 

"I?" answered Peter in a worried tone. 

"You. You were also with Jesus, the Galilean." 

"I don't know what you are saying," stammered Peter, uneasy at 
a lie. 

"You 'were with Him," Huldah insisted, stamping her foot. 

"Woman, I know him not," said Peter, and shook his head. He 
moved off, hoping to lose himself in the crowd, but before he could 
go two steps, another maid joined Huldah, crying shrilly: 

"Surely he is one of them. He is a Galilean himself. Even the way 
he talks gives him away." 

Then Peter uttered an oath and swore: 

"I don't know this man you are talking about." 

The lying words had no more left his lips than there came a lull 
in the clamor of voices and Peter heard the shrill crowing of a cock. 
And when Peter turned he was looking into the eyes of Jesus, and 
it was the compassion in those eyes that made the fisherman weep 
bitter tears. Not reproof, but the full understanding of a loving 
heart. The sound he heard when the cock crowed no more was the 
gentle chuckle of God! 



Chapter 62 THE JUDGES 



THE prisoner was kept waiting outside the Hall of Judgment while 
the crowd inside watched the space between two monoliths at the 
entrance, where they knew He must very soon appear. 

The high vaulted basilica of the council chamber where the trial 
would be held was lit with hundreds of oil-burning torches set in 
niches cut in the walk. An enormous auditorium, built of great 



246 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

marble pieces, it was called the Hall of Hewn Stones, or Lishkath 
Haggazith, and was regarded as the national shrine of Justice. 

By eleven o'clock that Thursday night the majority of the sev- 
enty judges were in their places; Caiphas had worked busily 
enough. The roof echoed with the low drone of their voices-chat- 
ter subdued by the solemnity of a capital occasion^Turbaned, bare- 
foot, and cross-legged asquat embroidered cushions, they were 
ranged in a deep hairpin design, a living letter U. And the judges, 
rubbing finger tips, shaking heads, rolling eyeballs, spreading hands 
fan-shape, shrugging shoulders, scratching buttocks, all were whis- 
pering energetically, speculating on the suddenness of their sum- 
mons and the anxiety that must have driven Annas to sanction such 
an unprecedented move. Was it because he feared the powers of 
magic with which the prisoner was said to be endowed? 

At the bottom part of the U sat a blotch-faced old functionary 
who was called the Nassi, chief of the assembly. Like a meditative 
patriarch, he was conferring with the gorgeous and blooming Jo- 
seph Caiphas. In ceremonial garments, the high priest ^was now a 
sight to strike almost any prisoner with awe. Annas, his father-in- 
law, was not yet visible. 

At either tip of the human hairpin were stationed rows of little 
men with inkhorns, quills, and strips of parchment; they would 
record what was said and done. Beyond the scribes were three rows 
of younger men: blackbeards, but few graybeards, for these were 
only learned novices. If one of the squatting judges were to fall iU, or 
become paralyzed or die, an understudy from the row of young sub- 
stitutes would take the vacant cushion and the trial would go on. 

All of these various ranks of men made up the Sanhedrin, most 
potent ecclesiastical and secular assembly convoked now to try, un- 
der the code of Moses, one accused of being a false prophet 

They were learned scholars and of true character; among them 
were schoolmasters and lawyers; Pharisees, too, fanatics who would 
make every breath a man drew subject to some new and capricious 
twist of scriptural interpretation, but they would be equally meticu- 
lous to see to it that any prisoner got a square deal. For among them, 
Pharisee, Sadducee, all, there was not one judge who did not accept 
his responsibility, or who carried it lightly. These were counselors 
who could not be threatened or influenced by outsiders, but only 
by their own prejudices and fears. Theirs was the highest of all 
honors, a place in the Sanhedrin, and they had obtained it only by a 



THE THIRD YEAR 247 

lifetime of hard work and sacrifice. As a man is acquainted with his 
own fingers they knew the law; from memory they could cite prece- 
dents and decisions of countless judges who had gone before 
them, together with all essential passages of Scripture. They were 
schooled, too, in science medicine, chemistry, astronomy; and they 
also had to be familiar with the condemned practices of the black 
magicians, the soothsayers, and the necromancers. All spoke the 
language of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian as well as certain dialects 
of neighboring countries. They were supposed to have a spotless 
moral reputation, and many of them did. 

They were, of course, rabbinical logicians and apt in dialectics. 
Finally, not one of them had ever followed at any time in his life a 
trade, an occupation, or a profession by which he had earned an in- 
come. 

The scope of this court had no boundaries within the range of 
morals and dogma and human behavior* In its humanity, die detach- 
ment of its attitude was oddly objective; an intellectual determina- 
tion to be scrupulously just. Since from the court's verdicts there 
could be no appeal, the sacred duty lay on the conscience of every 
judge to protect the interests of those on trial. Their oaths bound 
them to be actual attorneys for a prisoner. They must interpret the 
law in his favor whenever that was possible; it was their explicit 
duty to look for extenuating circumstances. 

Since, then, the whole judicial scheme of Israel was designed to 
make it impossible to convict an innocent person, these judges, if 
they respected their oaths tonight, would have to acquit Jesus. 
Annas knew that, if Caiphas did not. 

One might be certain they would think a long time before they 
beheaded Jesus, or strangled Him, stoned Him or burned Him, or 
hung Him on a cross. In a dozen regulations their own laws stood 
between Jesus and a sentence of death especially one great and 
favorable point, that, in criminal procedure, was a final check on in- 
justice called the "antecedent warning" a safeguard for a prisoner 
unequaled in any other court of kw, before or since. Under its pro- 
visions no man accused of a capital offense could be convicted un- 
less it were also proved beyond contradiction that he had been 
warned in advance; had been told that, for what he was about to do t 
he could be put to death. Even more than that, it was required that 
die offender must have then replied that he did realize he was about 



248 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

to commit the crime, was fully aware of its penalty, and that he 
meant to do it anyhow. 

How could anyone ever be sentenced to death under such merci- 
ful latitude? How, above everyone else, could Jesus of Nazareth be 
convicted? 

Through a small door to the left popped suddenly, like a breeze 
of authority, the little figure of Annas. Promptly on the midnight 
bugles he came, the crabapple face pale in the fluttering torchlight; 
the wisp of white hair greased and pushed back. Solemnly the little 
man marched to the table where stood Caiphas, arms folded in mag- 
nificently pretended repose. Briefly Annas spoke to his son-in-law, 
then made his way to a reserved cushion and sank down upon it 
with a painful little grunt. Everyone knew that now the trial could 
go on* 

Without delay Joseph Caiphas strode forward with a grand sweep 
of arms and robes and took a commanding position. He spoke in 
serious, even gentle tones: 

"I ask for silence! I ask for attention! I ask for truth and justice!" 

In a low, responsive murmur came the chorused answer: 

"So mote it be!" 

Upon which Caiphas, turning to the great doorway, called out: 

u jesus of Nazareth, stand forth!" 



Chapter 63 ON TRIAL 



AT THE top of the great stairs the figure of the prisoner appeared be- 
tween two vast marble pillars. The guards stood back and let the 
whole assembly get at look at Him. Seeing Him this second time, 
Annas was jolted harder than before. The impregnability of that 
alert and tranquil countenance tormented him, not because the old 
one did not understand, but because he was beginning to suspect 
that he understood too well. 

The prisoner's calm humility was enough to pierce intellectual 
pride. In one straight glance Jesus seemed to survey the whole en- 
trenched and greedy power which here was marshaled against Him. 
His head slightly tilted, He might have been listening to echoes of 
the long-ignored voices of the prophets and seers of the people. 



THE THIRD YEAR 249 

The cackle and gabble of conversation dwindled as guards led 
Jesus forward. It was just a few minutes past midnight. Now, in the 
bright torchlight of the huge chamber, they sized Him up with the 
most intense curiosity, and wondered at His calm. Did not this man 
realize His peril? 

He realized everything. He knew this court, with its full and 
legal quorum assembled illegally in the night; its powers and un- 
bounded jurisdiction; its ideals and its frail humanity; and im- 
bedded in that humanity its fears. 

And now Caiphas stood up in the middle of the hollow of the U. 
On his head the high priest wore a turban of blue enwrought with 
gold, and across his chest was the brass plate of his office glittering 
with twelve precious stones. His flowing robe was also of blue, but 
his girdle was of scarlet, purple, and gold, and out of his sleeves 
fluttered the pure white linen of his sacerdotal underwear. Of the 
whole court only he wore sandals, but you could barely see them 
for the gaudy fringes of his robe embroidered with crimson pome- 
granates. 

Before the trial began Caiphas prayed with theatrical intonations 
and histrionic pauses; he should have begun by making the morn- 
ing sacrifice, but he skipped over that detail He merely lifted up 
his hands and brought palms together just below the last ringlet of 
his redolent beard, and a silence fell as the intoning voice fairly 
crooned up to Jehovah. Caiphas, addressing the God who, as a pillar 
of cloud by day and of fire by night, had led the Israelites out of the 
bondage of Egypt, now entreated this same light to shine on the 
deeds done here at this trial; that the elders, the priests, and the 
scribes might know the truth and judge justly. 

The prayer, as Nicodemus said afterward, was much too long. 
As it was finished there was the uneasy rustling of men seizing a 
little opportunity to settle themselves, clearing of throats, coughings 
behind the hand, brief whisperings, neighbor to neighbor, and fi- 
nally a full, expectant hush. 

Caiphas gave a signal and the guards shoved Jesus down the last 
two steps, into the hollow of the great U surrounded by His judges, 

"Let every man know of what this Jesus of Nazareth stands ac- 
cused," resumed Caiphas. "His crime is blasphemy. For that crime 
He is now to be tried. He is accused of having used certain words, 
of having said certain things. If these charges are true, if the wit- 
nesses agree, then He is guilty not only of sacrilege, the most abom- 



250 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

inable crime, but also of that charge which has been forbidden since 
Moses gave us the law the crime of sorcery. Let the witnesses be 
called." 

First there was brought in a tall, gaunt; hungry man with eyes 
that peered from under red lids in unaccustomed wonder at all this 
height and depth of room, this display of torches and candles, this 
splendor of wardrobe, this unaccustomed glory in the dark hour of 
morning. Caiphas caressed his beard as he asked the first question. 

"What is your name?" 

"Ben Jezrel." 

"You have promised to tell the truth. You have not forgotten 
the commandment?" 

Ben Jezrel put his hand under his right thigh in token that he had 
spoken the truth and answered: 

"I remember: 'You shall not bear false witness against your 
neighbor.' " 

Grossing his hands, the high priest began the recitation of ritual 
words required by the code: 

"Forget not, O witness, that it is one thing to give evidence in a 
trial as to money and another in a trial for Hfe, In a money suit, if 
your witness-bearing shall do wrong, money may repair that wrong. 
But in this trial for life, if you sin, the blood of the accused and the 
blood of his seed, to the end of time, shaE be imputed unto you . . . 
Therefore was Adam created one man and alone to teach us that if 
any witness shall destroy one soul out of Israel, he is held by the 
Scripture to be as if he had destroyed the world, and he who saves 
one such, it should be as if he had saved the world for a man from 
one signet ring may strike off many impressions and all of them shall 
be exactly alike, but He, the King of Kings, He the Holy and 
Blessed, has struck from His type of the first man the forms of all 
men that are living, yet so that no one human being is wholly alike 
to any other! 

"Wherefore let us think and believe that the whole world is 
created for a man such as He whose life now hangs on your words!" 

Caiphas waited for a moment and then began the formal question- 
ing: 

"Did you actually see and hear the prisoner commit the crime 
with which He is charged?" 

"Yes." 

"Did you caution the prisoner of the gravity of His offense?" 



THE THIRD YEAR 25! 

"I did." 

"And he persisted?" 

"He did/' 

"Did you warn Him of the punishment to which He would be 
liable if He were convicted of the offense?" 

"I did, sir." 

"Do you think He was aware of the serious nature of His crime?" 

"I am certain that He was." 

"Now, what were the words you heard Him say?" 

"I heard this man say these words," Ben Jezrel testified: *I will 
destroy this Temple that is made with hands and in three days I will 
build another not made with hands.' " 

A murmur ran through the elders, the priests, and the scribes. Had 
this Galilean dared to say such a thing? Would He deny it? 

Caiphas turned toward the prisoner, 

"Well, Jesus of Nazareth, what have you to say to this that you 
have heard?" 

There was no answer. 

"Do you deny the testimony of Ben Jezrel?" 

Jesus, wrists bound, face untroubled, stood mute in the great 
lighted hall. To remain silent was His legal right. 

"Do you admit that you said those words?" 

Still no answer. Caiphas turned, with a long sweeping grimace 
that encompassed the whole court. His shrug seemed to say to 
them: "You see how it is? We have a stubborn, stiff-necked prisoner 
here." But he scrupulously refrained from saying any word detri- 
mental to the accused. Instead, he dismissed Ben Jezrel with a toss 
of his hand. 

"Bring on the second witness." 

The second witness was Isaac ben Marath, a good man from King 
David Street, a poor merchant in beans and barley but one who, 
nevertheless, gave up his tithes to the Temple three times a year. 

"Well, Isaac ben Marath," began Caiphas, ^tdl us what were the 
words you heard spoken by this man?" 

And Isaac ben Marath answered: 

"I heard Jesus of Nazareth say: 'Destroy this Temple, and in 
three days I will raise it up/ " 

"You may go!" said Caiphas, turning with triumph to the whole 
court, right and left, seeming to say: "Well, judges, you have heard 
the necessary two witnesses. Does not their testimony agree?" 



252 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

As if in answer to that unspoken question, one of the most re- 
spected members of the court, Joseph of Arimathea, brought his 
knees together and stood up with an agility surprising in so elderly 
a man. 

"The witnesses do not agree!" Joseph sternly declared. "If you 
think they do, you are very much mistaken. The first witness testi- 
fied I have written down very carefully what he said that this 
prisoner, Jesus, had uttered these words: I will destroy this Temple 
that is made with hands and in three days I will build another not 
made with hands.' That is one accusation we have heard. 

"But the second witness said something entirely different; he at- 
tributes to Jesus an entirely different statement which was, accord- 
ing to him: 'Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it 
up." 5 

A new murmur ran through the court, some saying one way, 
some another. They no more agreed among themselves than had the 
witnesses. But Joseph went doggedly on. 

"In the first instance/' he argued, "Jesus is accused of announcing 
His intention of destroying the Temple and then restoring it by 
sorcery. In the second instance He is quoted as promising to restore 
the Temple if someone else destroyed it. Which, then, did He actu- 
ally say? Certainly one of these witnesses must be wrong, and our 
law says that at least two witnesses must agree!" 

Caiphas, looking imploringly toward his father-in-law, had re- 
ceived an almost imperceptible signal. He gave vent to a deep breath 
of outraged annoyance, and answered: 

"Very well; there is no need to argue the point. Let us hear from 
another witness." 

Now Jacob, the corn seller, was a man Caiphas felt he could rely 
on, and he was there to be used in an emergency. Willingly Jacob 
slapped his thigh for the oath, 'answered the ritual questions, and 
was brought promptly to the point: he had been there in the Temple 
and he had heard what Jesus said. 

"What, then, did He say?" 

"He said," replied Jacob, ruffling a somewhat tattered beard, 
"these exact words: *I am able to destroy the Temple of God and 
to build it in three days.* " 

Again Caiphas turned to the Sanhedrin with a vindicating smile. 
But now there was a deeper murmur, and Joseph of Arimathea was 
again on his feet 



THE THIRD YEAR 253 

"This," cried Joseph, "is confusion piled upon confusion. Here we 
have a third testimony and what we call a vain, useless one. This 
third witness now quotes the prisoner as saying: 'I am able to destroy 
this Temple/ This is not what the others said; not the same thing at 
all The first testified to a threat-the third to a mere boast. 

"Which is it then, threat or boast? Or was it anything at all? A 
man's life hangs on the answer. Our law requires that the witnesses 
must agree together. Three have already disagreed. Caiphas, you 
have produced no case against Jesus of Nazareth!" 

"In all three testimonies," replied the high priest, in a shrill voice, 
"the witnesses agreed in one essential point: they all say three days, 
do they not? Is not that agreeing together?" 

Joseph smiled disdainfully. 

"That is reasoning for a Roman, but not for a Jew," he replied. 
"I remind you again, Lord Caiphas, this man is on trial for His life. 
He is entitled to every protection the law affords." 

"Certainly you are very active on His behalf," observed Caiphas 
with an acid glance. 

"It is my duty and yours to be active on His behalf," Joseph re- 
turned. "No, Caiphas, as I told you before, you have not made out 
a case against this man. Furthermore, I see a witness over there 
anxious to be heard. Let us hear him." 

Caiphas turned brusquely. Standing near to the prisoner was a 
stout, pale man, eyes shining with extraordinary brilliance. 

"I asked," he faltered in a nervous voice, "that the questions be 
put to me. I have already been before the Committee." 

With patience that lacked all grace, Caiphas applied the ritual to 
the stranger. His name was Benjamin, also of King David Street. 

"Well, Benjamin, what have you to testify here?" 

Benjamin sank to his knees, picked up the dusty robe of the 
prisoner, and kissed its hem. 

"I was blind," he said. "He put some clay on my eyes after mixing 
it with His spittle and when He took the clay off, I was healed." 

Caiphas shook his finger in the face of the witness. 

"Get up!" he barked. "You are not here to tell fairy tales! What 
do you really know?" 

"One thing I know," reiterated Benjamin. "Once I was blind and 
now I can see." 

There was a hush in the trial room; something in the manner of 



254 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

this witness filled them "with belief. They turned to look at Jesus 
with new interest. Could it be possible . . . 

Caiphas lifted his well-tended hand and guards hustled the witness 
off. 

"There is no value in such an interruption," he complained an- 
grily. "No value whatsoever. We are not here to decide whether 
this accused man is a physician or is not a physician. The question is 
clear enough: is he, or is he not, a blasphemer?" 

"You have yet to prove it," said Joseph. 

A vociferous shout from the assembly reinforced the objection. 
Caiphas saw then, if he had not realized it before, that not he nor 
his great father-in-law, nor anyone else, held the ancient tribunal of 
Israel in his pocket. These judges were not to be ruled except by 
law. 

As the confusion grew, another of the judges, Nicodemus, stood 
tip from among the elders and clapped his hands for a sign that he 
wanted to be heard. 

"Mark you this, my lords," Nicodemus declared. "If you at- 
tempt to limit the blasphemy charge against this prisoner to the sub- 
ordinate charge of prophesying, how can you ever prove the man a 
false prophet? You can't possibly do it until the Temple is de- 
stroyed. If, then, Jesus of Nazareth fails to rebuild it in three days, 
then and then only is He proven to be a false prophet. That is the 
law, my Lord, and we are bound by it." 

And as Nicodemus sat down, Joseph of Arimathea rose again. 

"My lords," he said, "I propose that we dismiss Jesus of Nazareth 
here and now, and let Him go His way!" 

As Joseph of Arimathea sat down, he saw many approving head- 
shakes. As yet there was certainly no majority for conviction. Only 
momentarily disconcerted, Caiphas again lifted his ringed hand, 
Annas having just left his side. 

"My lords," began Caiphas, "it is true that under our law the 
least discord between the evidence of witnesses is held to destroy its 
value in so solemn an issue as we are now trying. However, this does 
not mean that the entire case against this prisoner can be thrown out 
on merely technical grounds. Moreover, we have more evidence to 
bring. I charge, that this man claims to be the Messiah all Jews have 
waited for, the Christ. That is His abominable crime and now He 
must answer for it." 

"Wak!" 



THE THIRD YEAR 255 

Both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were on their feet, 
clamoring to be heard. 

"You are changing the very ground of the accusation during the 
course of the trial!" shouted Nicodemus. "That is unjust. I believe 
it is illegal." 

Before Caiphas could attempt an answer, old Annas rose again 
and took over. Very straight he was, in his physical slightness, 
standing in that vast public chamber, the incarnation of the elder 
statesman, the voice of authority and experience. 

"Let us hear no talk of injustice in this honorable court," he began 
crisply. "Nor of illegality. We are here to exercise our best talents 
in trying a man accused of the worst crime we know blasphemy. 
The accusation that the prisoner pretended to be the Messiah is 
merely a further count in the indictment. It is fair. It is just. It is 
legal. Caiphas, your witnesses!" 

No one cared to challenge this opinion; Annas was thek su- 
preme, most respected, and powerful adviser. 

The new witnesses were called: Simon, the web-toed watchman 
from the Porch of David; Ezra ben Tobeth, the one with the sweet 
singing voice; and Chalis of Bethany, a neighbor of Mary and 
Martha. They slapped their thighs, or raised hands, according to 
preference, and to them were put the regulation questions. Then 
they gave their evidence. 

And more than before it became clear that something was amiss. 

For Simon testified that Jesus had called Himself the Son of God, 
but Ezra swore he had called Himself the Son of Man. And Chalis 
declared that he had once heard Jesus ask His disciples how public 
men called Him and what they said of Him; Chalis had overheard 
Him inquire if men thought He was the Christ. 

Caiphas was in the same dilemma as before; beads of angry sweat 
glistened on the cheeks of the high priest and rolled down to 
dampen the ringlets of his whiskers as he bowed to consult Annas. 

"Joseph of Arimathea is right," the old man whispered. "You 
have not been able to prove a case against Jesus. And yet, my Lord 
Caiphas, having gone this far, you have got to prove a case against 
Him." 

"And quickly too," added Caiphas, "or someone will say it is time 
to end the trial and go home." 

"Nicodemus is getting ready to do that now," said Annas. "He is 
the kind of man who likes to make a speech. He will offer some 



256 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

quillet of a technicality, because that is what he is, a quibbler on 
small points, subtleties, and nice distinctions. Hang and burn such a 
man! But let him talk! By the time he finishes and sits down, I will 
have thought of a plan." 



Chapter 64 PROVE IT! 



NICODEMUS was demanding to be heard. 

"This case," he argued, "has fallen apart; it has collapsed. Nothing 
has been proved. It is already an hour after midnight. How long, 
then, are we to be kept out of our beds? I, for one, want to go 
home!" 

There was no mistaking the approval that ran murmuringly 
through the rows of judges; they agreed with Nicodemus. 

"What should have been done here tonight," resumed Nico- 
demus, "is plain for everyone to see. This prisoner should have been 
defended much better than He has been. What if He did say He was 
the Messiah? Can we disprove it? His claim raises an issue of fact; it 
is not, of itself, in my opinion, a blasphemy. 

"Oh, my Lord Caiphas, so many questions needed to be asked to 
lay a firm foundation for the defense of this undefended Jesus. Do 
we find anywhere in our history an account of any time when God 
appeared on the earth in the form of man? If we do" and here Nic- 
odemus slowed down and repeated with emphasis "if we do, then 
how can we know that He will not do the same thing again? How 
can we know? 

"No, no, Caiphas, please I have almost finished. I insist that at 
the finish of this parade of witnesses, with tales that did not hang 
together, what, pray, is the final result? Clear as the daylight which 
will break before long Jesus remains an unconvicted man. I say that 
we should set Him free and then we can all go home to our beds 
where I, for one, at my age belong." 



THE THIRD YEAR 257 



Chapter 65 THE AFFIRMATION 



HAD the vote been taken then as Nicodemus sat down, the judges 
might have acquitted Jesus and set Him free. 

Caiphas and Annas knew that, but the long speech of Nicodemus 
had given the old politician just the time he needed to meet the situ- 
ation. Now Caiphas, schooled in whispers by his father-in-law, stood 
forth to play a new and desperate part. 

Erect in his gorgeous robes, pre-eminent in the midst of the si- 
lenced and watchful tribunal, the high priest raised his right hand, 
two fingers pointing to the ceiling. They all knew elders, priests, 
scribes, and prisoner as well that Caiphas was about to put to Jesus 
the most solemn of oaths known to the Mosaic code the adjura- 
tion, the oath of testimony. But on what point? 

Ah, here it was that Annas had perfectly discerned the true char- 
acter of his captive. Son-in-law would fail; no, he had already failed 
to prove the charge. But by a deep instinct the experienced Annas 
knew that the charge was true, nevertheless. This man did believe 
He was the Christ. Believing that sincerely, would He ever deny 
Himself? 

Why, then, they could make Him commit the abomination of 
blasphemy in the very hearing and sight of the whole court! Watch 
and see* This, Caiphas, my sweet-reeking son-in-law, is how you 
must go about it: 

"Jesus of Nazareth," cried Caiphas, in a resounding and orotund 
voice, "I adjure you, by the Living God, by the Almighty, that you 
tell us if you be the Christ, the Son of God." 

In the silence then a man might have heard the fall of snow. Every 
person knew what this question meant. Caiphas had done more than 
put to Jesus the most solemn oath known to the Hebrew constitu- 
tion; for such a question, silence itself was an offensive answer. 
Caiphas was playing his last card with this man who had not spoken 
since the trial began. As a pious and law-abiding man, Jesus now 
bad to reply* 

His answer came, clear and bold: 

"You say that I am." 

You say that I am! To the ears -of the judges there was nothing 



258 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

evasive in the answer. It was idiomatic, not equivocal. By the cus- 
tom of their speech, it meant "I would not presume to contradict 
you." 

But Caiphas was not to be satisfied by that reply. He repeated the 
challenge: 

"Jesus of Nazareth, I adjure you by Sabaoth-the unnumbered 
host of heavenly angels by the gracious and merciful God, that 
you tell us if you are the Christ." 

Again the crystal-clear voice: 

"You have said." 

Triumph rejoiced the bosom of the prosecutor; actually, the pris- 
oner had already committed Himself. "You have said" was thf 
traditional form in which a cultivated man would reply to a question. 
on a grave or sad matter; courtesy forbade at such a moment a di- 
rect "yes" or "no." 

"Jesus of Nazareth, I adjure you, by the long-suffering and com- 
passionate God, that you tell us if you be the Son of God!" 

And then Jesus answered in a voice clear and ringing: 

"7 amT 

It was as if lightning had struck in the Hall of Unhewn Stones 
Caiphas himself turned pale. Here was triumph beyond his dreams! 
Before the whole court, just as Annas had schemed, Jesus had com- 
mitted the very offense they had failed to prove against Him. 

Caiphas took full advantage of the moment. He uttered a loud 
cry and fell back as Jesus went on speaking in the same calm tones: 

"Nevertheless, I say to you, you shall see the Son of Man sitting 
on the right hand of the Power of God and coming in the clouds of 
heaven." 

Caiphas was backing away from the prisoner, he was turning like 
a dervish in long circles and tearing at his own robes as if he would 
rip them into rents and slits and tatters. So the law required any 
priest to behave when blasphemy was uttered in his hearing. He 
must rend his garments. But the high priest, being a frugal soul, did 
not tear them beyond repair. And all the while Caiphas kept crying 
MI hysterical tones: 

"He has blasphemed! He has blasphemed! What further need have 
we of witnesses? Behold, now, you have heard! He has blas- 
phemed!" 

Then suddenly, coming to a dramatic pause, he asked in a husky 
whisper of the court: 



THE THIRD YEAR 259 

"What think you?" 

And from most of the scribes and priests and elders came a shout: 

u He is guilty!" 

The faces of the judges were pale and covered with sweat They 
knew the stern duty that now lay upon them. Again they cried: 

"We ourselves have heard it from his own mouth. He is guilty of 
death!" 

Their minds were made up and their task was almost done. But 
even now the fate of Jesus was not fully decided. 

Caiphas faced the judges. 

"My lords," he said, "up until now I think I have been very pa- 
tient. Although some of these interruptions tonight have begun to 
make me a little suspicious. What is behind this business? Is it not 
possible that there is a conspiracy afoot with some designing per- 
sons, setting these men on to save Jesus for His real work, which is 
to stir up agitation against us and bring on a revolution? I keep my 
tones moderate, my lords, but only with some effort, for mine has 
nqt been an easy task. I say that now we must seize our problem, 
grapple with it, and settle it." 

From all parts of the smoky auditorium came strident voices. 

"Question, question! Let us decide! Put the question!" 

The voting began. 

The particularities of the voting were observed to the last ancient 
landmark, let it never be reported to the people that Jesus of Naza- 
reth, or anyone else, was unfairly tried. The final speech of Caiphas 
was scrupulously fair: he admonished them to render an honest ver- 
dict in the secret places of their hearts where thoughts and actions 
were clear to the Most High. 

Beginning with the youngest, a course followed only in trials for 
life, and advancing to the eldest in strict rotation, the high priest 
solemnly posed the question to which there could be but one of two 
answers: yea or nay. 

The reason for the younger men voting first in capital trials was 
that justice again demanded safeguards; if the older men voted first, 
their very acts or their words, explaining their votes, might influence 
less mature minds, men merely in their late forties. So the youngest 
voter present was the first called to vote for the acquittal or convic- 
tion of Jesus. 

His vote was for death. 

Each judge, on hearing his name called, scrambled up from his 



260 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

bright silken pillow, stood erect, and spoke his verdict. Some made 
little speeches to explain the vote; this course was followed almost 
invariably by the dissenting friends of Nicodemus and of Joseph of 
Arimathea, and by some others too. 

Caiphas did not expect a unanimous verdict; more, he did not 
want one. Opinion was against all judgments speedily or unani- 
mously voted. Such a verdict could invalidate itself. The legal 
theory was that if the accused had not a friend in the court, then the 
element of mercy was not in the hearts of his judges and so they had 
to let him go. A minority of two votes, at least, would be necessary 
before they could convict Jesus. He could even be acquitted by a 
minority of one. Such was the law. 

So the voting went on with yea, yea, yea, and for a long time no 
nays at all. But Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were not par- 
Hamentarious, and so they voted in strong, loud voices for acquittal. 

"BarbeliofNehan?" 

"Yes." 

"Andrew of Dazar?" 

"Yes." 

"Gamaliel of Bethany?" 

"Yes." 

In the very midst of the solemn voting a man came rushing down 
the great stairs, straight at Caiphas. The fingers of his left hand were 
contracted as if they would tear out the heart of the high priest; the 
right hand held up a bag. 

"Judas Iscariot!" cried Caiphas. "What do you here?" 

"I declare," cried Judas, "that this man you are condemning to 
death is innocent. You promised me otherwise than this. Here is 
your money." 

And Judas cast his bag on the floor; the string was loose, the 
mouth gaping, and pieces of silver rang sharply on the stone slabs 
and scattered gleaming like little living things in all directions one 
rolled to the very heel of Annas. 

"Judas, get gone!" cried Caiphas, advancing with a threatening 
air. "Guards!" 

"High priest," cried Judas, "I repent myself of what I have done. 
I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." 

In the silence that followed Judas turned agonized eyes on the 
calm face of Jesus, but several judges called to him. 

"What is your mistake to us?" 



THE THIRD YEAR 2<Sl 

"Look you to it!" answered another. 

From the throat of the lost apostle came a broken cry. He rushed 
up the steps and out of the Hall of Hewn Stones and the crowd 
parted to let him pass into the deepest darkness of the morning hours. 
Flying, when no man pursued him, Judas rushed into an open field 
where he would find a rope and a tree. There he hanged himself and 
dangled publicly until his body swelled up and burst . . . 

Meanwhile the balloting resumed and presently was finished. Cai- 
phas once more faced the tribunal. 

"My lords," he said, "there is a minority of two for acquittal; all 
the rest are for conviction. That settles our work for now." 



Chapter 66 PILATE'S FIREPLACE 



IN THE dark and early chill of Friday, April 7, Pilate was waiting. 
Because of what was going on in the Hall of Hewn Stones, he had 
to remain up all night in his gloomy reception hall. He must be ready 
for the official hearing he would soon be called upon to give the 
Nazarene prisoner. By now the first and second sessions of the 
Sanhedrin had been held; messengers had been keeping well in- 
formed the brusque Spanish giant, called by the people Lord Pilate; 
reports of all the legal quibbling over small points while a life hung 
in the balance; he even knew about the insults and mockery of those 
who stood in a sniggering and drunken ring around the prisoner 
during the intermission between the hearings. 

Pilate felt a persecuted man himself. The Roman governor, a war- 
rior and a most distinguished soldier, hated the mean fate that had 
sent him to rule a poor colony like Palestine. In the present turmoil 
he knew that while he was facing a local situation, it nevertheless 
had explosive political aspects, dangerous to his own interests. 

Unhappily for him, Annas and Caiphas held him actually at their 
mercy. One more complaint to Rome, one more uprising in Pales- 
tine, and he would be out of the imperial favor. His position en- 
raged him; if he could help Jesus, he would, just to frustrate Annas. 

He wanted to leave this empty chamber and go to the beautiful 
Ckudia Procula, and all the boudoiresque joys die thought of her 
instantly conjured. His wife would not likely be asleep; she suffered 



262 THE GREATEST STOKY EVER TOLD 

from insomnia and then read far into the morning hours in books that 
Pilate found to be silly bores. For example, what did Procula see in 
that man Horace-Quintus Horatius Flaccus? Yet night after night 
she had her favorite girls read from his long scrolls. And Julius Ver- 
gilius Maro she enjoyed, too, and even Publius Ovidius Naso, al- 
though it had been forbidden to read his books ever since Augustus 
banished him in the year A.D. 8. That was partly because Ovid's Ars 
Amatoria was considered a direct challenge to the imperial policy 
of moral reform. Why should Procula read such deadly dull books? 
The only volume Pilate and Procula could enjoy together was the 
eloquent history written by Titus Livius, who had been a friend of 
Procula's royal grandfather. 

Only the night before Procula had wakened from a troubled sleep 
and told Pilate of a dream. She had been dreaming of Jesus. To 
Pilate's amazement, she knew something of the doctrines taught by 
that wayside wanderer. How had she ever heard of the man? Well, 
she had once been visited by a messenger from the household of 
Herod of Galilee. She had talked with Herod's servant? Aye, Lord 
Pilate! A man? Nay, Lord Pilate, a serving maid called Joanna, who 
was a devoted follower of Jesus. Well, what had Procula dreamed 
of this Galilean? Pilate's wife capriciously, or at least suddenly, de- 
cided not to tell. She assured him he would never understand. 

That was it. There was always something where they thought he 
did not belong or fit in. Something in life slipped past him, unseized, 
like a springtime eeL He did his work, which was to fight, to gov- 
ern, to administer, to report to see that the great plain of Hauran 
sent on its vast wheat to make the Roman bread; he did everything 
practical that was to be done, yet other people found values in life 
that he missed. 

Take these natives, for instance. They all loved something invisi- 
ble; and that was a love that kept them true to one another and 
charitable, meanwhile holding a sustained and bitter aversion to all 
his attempts to win their respect. Here in Palestine, his wife was his 
only consolation, and now because of these stiff-necked people he 
must give up the idea of seeking her out; must leave his fireplace; 
must go face Annas whom he respected but distrusted, Caiphas 
whom he despised, and Jesus of whom his wife had dreamed an un- 
told dream* 

The air of the dark house before dawn was damp and cold as a 
dog's nose. Pikte shivered a little as suddenly he heard a taatara 



THE THIRD YEAR 263 

sounded on a Flemish horn; a quick succession of brassy notes, sig- 
nal that Annas and his prisoner were at the gate. 



Chapter 6 7 CLAUDIA'S DREAM 



KNOWING travelers today, when they go to Jerusalem, spend a 
thoughtful hour in the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. They turn to 
the staircase leading from its chapel and go down nineteen centuries. 
Under the foundations of the chapel are the flagstones of the old 
Roman street before the palace of Pilate, great flat slabs of lime- 
stone and granite, rutted with grooves worn by chariot wheels and 
lacquered smooth by long-stilled bare feet. 

To stand there in the dimmish light and feel the reality of those 
flagstones is like an exercise in evocation. All of the modern piled-up 
city of Jerusalem overhead fades out like an unsubstantial vision and 
in its pkce stands the gate of the Praetorium. The mob is there, the 
hired and drummed-up mob whose purchased fists are lifted and 
whose scurrilous voices snarl in the dark. They follow after the 
guards making clear the path of a majestic little man with the wisp 
of white hair over his left eye Annas, the tireless old boss of Jerusa- 
lem. 

With Annas comes his son-in-law, lifting his rent robe of blue so 
that its fringes will not trail in the dust. Behind these two, in a ring 
of soldiers, the condemned prisoner. 

They pull a long cord and a bell rings. Annas knew what would 
happen: Pilate was coming out to them instead of asking them in- 
side. In their earlier confab the procurator had agreed that he would 
hear the case out of doors, beyond the gates of the Praetorium, as a 
concession of Pilate to the religious immunities of the people. Be- 
cause this was the Passover feast, they had a ceremonial objection 
to entering the domain of a Gentile; they would have to purify them- 
selves, and there would not be time for that before the feast. To 
enter a pagan's house meant contracting impurity for seven days. 

Annas and Caiphas stood a little to one side-Annas rubbing his 
iong nose reproachfully and Caiphas playing with his beard. They 
were making room for the prisoner, who was pushed forward so 
that He stood with them before the still-closed gates. 



264 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

The prisoner had been ill-used, one could see that. One tanned 
cheek, gleaming .in the flickering torchlight, showed a red splotch 
where someone had struck Him; His left eye was bruised and the 
skin under the lower lid was turning color. Loosely around His 
throat hung a napkin knotted at the back; it had fallen there from 
His eyes; they had blindfolded Him, as loafer after loafer struck 
Him, crying: "Prophesy, now! Who is it that struck you?" 

His beautiful seamless robe was stained with phlegm where many 
had spat upon Him. Yet the open eyes were still serene; one soldier 
said to his wife later on that nothing could disturb the man's com- 
posure; they had pushed Him by the shoulders while He was blind- 
folded, buffeted Him back and forth, spun Him around, and mocked 
Him with blasphemous oaths, yet He seemed preserved by some 
inner force, some grace that rose above the buffoonery and actually 
brought it to an end. They soon gave up their sport because, with 
such a man, it wasn't fun. 

His hands held before Him, still knotted at the wrists, He kept His 
eyes on the gate, and while they were waiting, for Pilate took his 
time about it, a few yellowish streaks appeared in the eastern sky. 
As if the fragile glow were a signal, there came a rumbling of wheels 
and rusty chains, the screak of hinges, and the Praetorium gates fell 
inward. 

There was Pilate sitting in his chair of ivory and bronze on the 
high platform. 

Jesus, bound and delivered, lifted His keen face to meet His new 
judge. Pilate, well robed against the morning chill, cast Him a brief 
but appraising glance, then stopped; the official's first startled feel- 
ing was one of recognition. Where had he seen this man before? 
He had an insane impulse to lift his hand in the salute and greet Him 
as a friend. That was why he turned away so hurriedly from the 
prisoner to the villainous faces of the mob swarthy faces, bearded, 
pock-marked, scabby, with eyes diseased from their mothers' wombs 
and hands ready for anything. 

The procurator heard the low hurly-burly of their mutterings 
and then, shaking himself free of foreboding, he turned to Annas 
with a cynical expression and asked for the indictment. 

"What accusations do you bring against this man?" 

Caiphas gave a pompous, even impudent answer; he felt no need 
to truckle to Pilate. 



THE THIRD YEAR 265 

"If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him 
to you." 

But Pilate had formally demanded the facts and so Annas con- 
tinued: 

"We have found this man perverting our nation and forbidding 
to give tribute to Caesar and saying that He is Christ the King." 

This man with His wrists bound, in this soiled robe, and His 
lacerated face a king? Perdition! These people had never seen a real 
king! Thus thought Pilate, who had twice broken bread with Ti- 
berius. He chuckled to himself and leaned down toward Annas. 

"Take Him, you," he suggested, with a lenient clearing of his 
throat, "and judge Him wholly according to your own law." 

But Caiphas shouted back angrily; 

"It is not lawful for us to put any man to death. You know that*" 

Of course Pilate did know that. Their elaborate process had been 
no more than a sort of magistrates' court held to establish a prima- 
facie case; or even less than that, these elders of Jerusalem had acted 
as a grand jury and all they could do was return a true bill. 

Pilate turned to the accused and with a wry turn of his mouth, 
which showed a broken tooth, he suddenly roared: 

"Are you the King of the Jews?" 

Jesus returned his smile and answered: 

"You say it." 

Again Caiphas stepped forward and lifted his forefinger warn- 
ingly. 

"We know this man to be the son of Joseph the carpenter, born 
of Mary, but His followers say that He is the son of God and a 
king." 

Again Pilate chuckled. 

"Tell me how I, being a procurator, can try a king?" 

Caiphas, having no sense of humor, protested: 

"We do not say that He is a king, but they say that He is." 

Pilate looked down at Jesus, and this time it was a long scrutiny 
of the wavy brown hair that fell about the shoulders, the forehead 
without a line in it, the dark eyes luminous and wide apart. The 
bruises and blood gave Pilate the creeps. All his life he had missed 
something, a mystery forever eluding him. Now did he see it, like 
a bright and wonderful light, in the face of a condemned man? 
Now, if he had found it, must he kill It? 



266 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Pilate made a brusque motion; the prisoner was to go inside; 
Pilate would talk with Jesus alone. 

What did this mean? Here was a most unlikely surprise! Annas 
and Caiphas were well aware that Jesus was a charmer. The procu- 
rator might be talked out of doing his duty. He could not be 
ignorant of the doctrines of Christ, His reputed miracles and His 
much-beloved character. Pilate was showing far too much interest 
in the prisoner. 

The big, heavy-breathing official, with his clinking bracelets and 
perfumed armpits, led the way boldly inside to the same fireplace 
from which he had just been called. He kicked a second chair toward 
the hearth and with a rough, almost threatening motion of his arm, 
bade Jesus be seated, facing him. One was the judge and the other 
the condemned prisoner, and yet now the expression on Pilate's face 
was that of man to man. 

"Are you," he repeated with a gleam of amusement that empha- 
sized their privacy, "the King of the Jews?" 

Jesus, back and head erect, leaned forward, palms on knees; Pilate 
was conscious of the intense personal magnetism in the great eyeSv 
In that moment of deepening attraction a soldier appeared between 
the drapes of the farther door and gave a salute. He brought Lord 
Pilate a perfumed note from Procula. Scowling, the Roman read 
what his wife had written: 

"Have nothing to do with that righteous man; for I have suffered 
many things this day and dreamed a dream because of Him." 

That dream again. Why should she dream so powerfully of Him? 
Pilate was known as a uxorious man, foolishly and extravagantly de- 
voted to his wife. But he had not expected tonight that she would 
try to interfere in the conduct of his office, a tiling she had never 
bothered to do before in all the time they had spent together in this 
frontier outpost. She was a Caesar's granddaughter, born with an in- 
stinctive respect for the Roman law by which he must try this man. 
The moment Procuk interfered, Pilate stiffened and was chilled 
with resistance. No woman could tell him what to do. 

At once he began to think of the counts against the prisoner. He 
was said to be a seditionist. By all reports He stood for demolishing 
established social ideas; a rebellion, after which a new sovereign 
would take over, a God-anointed king with his throne in Jerusalem. 
Did Procuk expect her husband to encourage that? Now the gov- 
ernor looked at Jesus with a restive eye, while his thick fingers tore 



THE THIRD YEAR 267 

the letter. Messianism, that was what it was! And messianism meant 
anarchy and treason a terrible thing in this spot of infection in the 
empire. The heart of Pilate hardened. 

This fellow, he thought, was closer to torture than he probably 
realized, for all his composure and with that disturbing glow in his 
large eyes. Wonder if he really knew what crucifixion meant? First 
came the scourging, the flagellum. That was as terrible as the cruci- 
fixion it preceded; the whip was tipped with nails and scraps of 
bones, and it was wielded by soldiers with the arms of weight- 
throwers. Why, if Pilate were to turn this man over to the whip- 
pers with the flagellum He would probably never live to be cruci- 
fied; He would die from the stinging torture of the forty blows. 

If He did survive that horrible pain, would He have the strength 
to carry His own cross? That was the way the plan was ordered; if 
you were sentenced to be crucified, you had to carry your own cross 
through the streets, through the gates, and outside the walls to a 
hill where the capital sentence was executed. The prisoner had to 
watch all the preliminaries: the hole dug for the foundation, the 
laying down of the cross and then he was spread on it, stretched and 
wrenched to fit, nailed to its crossbars by his hands, to its center- 
piece by his feet. 

Pilate's eyelids narrowed as he thought of all this. A nasty way to 
die you were nailed up there in an unnatural position, your body 
in a fearful tension, and the slightest movement of any muscle 
brought anguish. And the thick spikes hammered through the hands 
and feet, the open wounds quickly inflaming, the overburdened and 
swollen blood vessels, the long-drawn-out agony, and the horrible 
raging thirst. 

What penalties to inflict deliberately on this gently serene man, 
with His lustrous eyes and their candent light, and the lean, strong 
hands on His knees! He was all right now, except for one bruised 
eye and the red mark on the left cheek and the spittle on his gown. 
All right now. And yet what could happen to him in a very little 
while, if Pilate so decided! That was the way Annas and Caiphas and 
their troublesome crew wanted him to decide. 

The Temple aristocrats would all like Pilate better if he con- 
demned this Nazarene straight to the cross. What the people would 
think, the people who had trudged after Jesus for three years down 
dusty roads and over weary hills; who had seen Him heal their 
lepers, give sight to their blind, and bring back their loved ones from 



268 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

the grave the poor men and women and children whom He had fed 
and whose hearts He had uplifted with hope, what they would 
think was not hard to foresee, either. 

There had been hosannas on Sunday! 

But now it was early Friday morning. All those who welcomed 
Him with waving palms were asleep. Only the hired crowd of the 
high priests stood wakeful on the paved stones beyond the pakce 
gates. 

"Are you," Pilate repeated truculently, all chuckle gone from his 
voice, "are you the King of the Jews?" 

"Say you this of yourself?" asked Jesus calmly. "Or did others 
tell it you concerning me?" 

"Am I a native?" barked Pilate. "Your own nation and the chief 
priests delivered you to me." 

He was startled at the aptitude with which Jesus had met the first 
question. The prisoner had demanded that Pilate make clear his own 
position. Was it that he was searching into the political side of this 
problem, which would be a proper position for a Roman judge? Or 
was he concerned with blasphemy, a charge of no importance to 
Rome but abominable in the eyes of Jerusalem? In effect, Jesus was 
asking Pilate: "Do you ask me this, fearing that I am an earthly pre- 
tender to an earthly crown and hence an enemy of Caesar's empire, 
or do you want to know if I claim to be the Messiah?" 

Pikte's answer was thus most explicit when he scornfully shouted: 
"Am I a native?" No, he was not; he was a Roman conqueror and 
very wary of any radical with kingly pretensions. He was there to 
stifle insurrection. 

Then Jesus replied with final explicitness: 

"My kingdom is not of this world." 

In those seven forthright words Pilate had his reply; yet it was 
hardly the answer he wanted. It would have been all right if only 
Jesus had been willing to utter a simple one-word denial. But He had 
preferred instead to speak of "my kingdom." The words irked the 
governor; a kingdom was a kingdom, and what other world was 
there, except this one? How can anyone have a kingdom without 
being a king? Hadn't Jesus already convicted Himself? 

Jesus, in His quiet voice, was expkining: 

"If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly 
strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now my king- 
dom is not from hence." 



THE THIRD YEAR 269 

Pilate's blue eyes blinked as he grated in hard repetition: 

"What I want to know isare you, then, a king?" 

To this question Jesus made an answer for the ages: 

"You say that I am a king. To this end was I born and for this 
cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. 
Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice." 

And Pilate, hearing His voice, feeling the near presence of that 
mystery that had eluded him for so long, leaned forward, swarthy 
hands seizing the arms of his chair, all mockery gone, and asked in a 
deep whisper: 

"What is truth?" 

Pilate was not jesting, but he did not stay for an answer. He read 
it in the eyes of the prisoner. He rose from his chair, bent over 
Jesus, and said pleadingly: 

"Do you not hear how great testimonies they allege against you? 
Look in how many things they accuse you. Do you answer noth- 
ing?" 

Jesus answered nothing. Pilate threw up his hands. 

"You don't answer me? Don't you know that I have power to 
crucify youas I have also power to release you?" 

Then Jesus answered: 

"You should not have any power against me, unless it were given 
to you from above. Therefore, he that has delivered rne to you has 
the greater sin." 

Pilate's eyes gleamed with the joy of a wholly irrational relief. 
This man understood. Why, He even forgave! He was reassuring 
Pilate that He really did appreciate the difficulties of his position. 
Pilate would do anything for a man like that! 

It was no longer for Procula's sake only, it was for the sake of the 
prisoner Himself that Pilate would try to free Him. Brusquely he 
ordered Him to walk before him down the long, shadowy corridors 
that echoed to the flap of his Roman sandals; Jesus's feet were bare 
and made no sound upon the floor. Past the torches of the guards 
they marched, the accused and the judge, and out again into the 
open courtyard. 



THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 



Chapter '68 THE DRUNKEN KING 



AT THE appearance of Jesus the crowd roared and laughed and made 
mewling sounds like alley cats. But at the sight of the representa- 
tive of Caesar they were instantly quiet, Jesus stood again, with 
thonged wrists, at the foot of the platform and near to His accusers, 
Annas and Caiphas. 

Pilate sat out of doors in his ivory and gilded bronze chair. This 
was a defiant moment in his life. His simple, uncomplicated brain 
was whirling with discordant arguments: what Procula dreamed and 
what Annas had already reported to the Emperor about the procura- 
tor, and the blessed light in the eyes of the condemned man. He kept 
them waiting for his decision as he groped for words. 

How would he defend himself, if he made the wrong decision 
and Rome called him on the tapis? He knew the law; had to know 
it. The statute that was operative in this case was the Lex Julia 
Majestatis, which had become the kw in 48 B.C. Anyone who offered 
a claim of being equal to the king committed treason and was open 
to a sentence of death; the Twelve Tables of Rome, originally writ- 
ten in blood, gave sanction to the most horrible punishments the 
mind of frightened rulers could conceive. If what Jesus had said 
constituted high treason, there was no greater crime known. 

Piate, by the gods, make up your mind! In your heart of hearts, 
do you really believe Him guilty? 

Well .. . 

And still the restless mob waited and still Pilate hesitated. What 
was it Jesus had answered in there? "My kingdom is not of this 
world" Then it was clear that Jesus fully recognized the temporal 
majesty of the Roman kw. It was as if He said: "Lord Pilate, if I 
said my kingdom were of this world, you would be right in con- 
demning me. But I do not say that. Mine is a kingdom of the spirit." 

WeU? 

A lawyer would probably have said that Jesus offered a confession 
and avoidance. At least Pilate reasoned it so. Then is Jesus guilty or 
not, Pikte? The minutes are slipping by. Without a gknce at Annas 
or Caiphas, nor yet at Jesus, Pikte stood up and announced: 



THE THIRD YEAR 2JI 

"I find no cause in this man!" 

They were thunderstruck! No fault in Jesus at all? That judg- 
ment can't be final! Yes, it was the finding and order of reversal of 
the case which had come to the procurator on appeal. The shrewd- 
est lawyer in the Sanhedrin would have to concede that Pilate had 
done his job. He had held a hearing and had decided that, in his 
judgment, the verdict of the trial court was not in accord with the 
law and the evidence. Therefore Jesus had been illegally convicted 
and must now be discharged from custody. The hearing on appeal 
was ended, the verdict pronounced, and it was "not guilty." 

Roman jurisprudence had done its task; it had acquitted Jesus 
Christ. 

"He stirs up the people!" gasped Caiphas, his flushed face visibly 
paling in the creeping light of dawn, while behind him the hired 
mob began obediently to rumble: "He stirs up the people, teaching 
throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee to this place . . ." 

"Galilee?" 

Pilate's hoarse voice broke in on what promised to be a harangue. 

"Did you say this prisoner came from Galilee?" 

"It is so!" 

Pilate smiled affably. Already he had seen a riot beginning in front 
of his palace. Now he experienced a vast sense of relief, for if Jesus 
came from Galilee, then He was really not Pilate's problem after 
all; it was a question of jurisdiction; it was Herod's problem, and 
Herod was even now in Jerusalem! The princeling who ruled as 
tetrarch over Galilee could take over the responsibility of deciding 
this case. What a fortunate solution! Especially as there was no love 
found or lost between Herod Antipas and Pilate; this courteous ges- 
ture in protocol might put an end to an old animosity. 

"Take him to Herod!" 

Annas grumbled and Caiphas roared, and his mob roared with him* 
but to no avail. This time Pilate stood firm. The ivory chair was car- 
ried inside, the gates of the Praetorium were closed. Pilate proceeded 
to drink two goblets full of red wine poured from a stone jug with 
a wide handle and a narrow mouth. There was nothing else to do 
but to turn about and march through the dark streets to the pakce 
of Herod. As they marched on, in grim silence, Annas and Caiphas 
did not talk. They had been outfoxed; Pilate's position was politi- 
cally sound; they could not complain, for what he did was legal. 

Of course it was nothing more than a trick by which Pilate was 



272 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

trying to extricate himself from a dilemma. The lawyers would in- 
sist that Jesus was being charged with what was called continuous 
sedition. True, the crime was first committed in Herod's Galilee, but 
it was continued in Judea, and that was where Jesus was arrested 
at the very gates of Jerusalem. The procurator was lawyer enough 
to know that he had full jurisdiction, if he cared to use it But he 
had stunned the priests with an apparent insistence on scrupulous 
observance of legal details. 

However, Herod Antipas was nobody's fool either. He, too, had 
a legal turn of mind, when it was necessary. Once before he had 
executed a prophet The name was John the Baptist, and like skunk 
spray the odium of that beheading had clung to him ever since. 
Would Herod see through Pilate's transparent trick? 

On this morning when Pilate tried to leave Jesus on his doorstep 
Herod Antipas was staying in the ancient Jerusalem castle of his 
family, the Asmodean palace on the height of the Xystas, just oppo- 
site the Temple. There at dawn sat Herod under festoons and deco- 
rative garlands, still carousing before the remains of a gluttonous, 
meal Uttering a tablecloth slopped and stained with wine. The tetrach 
was wrapped in a white robe fringed with gold. Around him a group 
of yawning, half-naked girls pretended still to be enjoying his com- 
pany; a fat one with a ring in her nose belched rhythniically every 
two minutes and with each eructation Herod Antipas, "the little 
Antipater," threw back his head and cackled. 

The girl had just belched, and frowzy Herod was again cackling, 
when suddenly they heard a noise at the outer gate. A snuffling page 
boy, ill with a head cold, bowed prostrate before the Tetrarch of 
Galilee and told him the news: a detachment of Praetorium soldiery 
was arriving outside! With them came Annas and Caiphas, leading 
a condemned prisoner. 

That, Herod told himself, was an extraordinary state of affairs. 
Who was the prisoner? Jesus! Not Jesus of Nazareth! Well, who 
could tell what would happen next? This Jesus, who had the repu- 
tation for being so gentle-spoken, so full of loving-kindness for 
everyone, had once sent a bold message to Herod Ajntipas and the 
tetrarch, who, unfortunately, had a vulpine face, had never for- 
gotten it: 

"G0 you and tell that fox, Behold I cast out devils" 

Herod, a typical Oriental, who lived f atiy and for the full pleas- 
ure of his passions, had been of several mini about Jesus. Ever since 



THE THIRD YEAR 273 

he had dallied with decency over the rampart, of the dungeon of 
John the Baptist he had been haunted by the spirituality of the 
prophet he had slain. Like Pikte, like Tiberius, like all men whose 
lives are lived for pleasure and power, Herod envied the man who 
could do without these. For a while he was afraid of the very name 
of Jesus because he believed the prophet from Nazareth was really 
John the Baptist, risen from the dead. However, his advisors had 
assured him that this was not so, and Jesus Himself had never made 
any such claim. 

Next the stories came to Herod of the miracles Jesus performed. 
The idea of any magical feats stirred Herod like a boy going to the 
circus. Could this Jesus do the Hindoo rope trick that caravan travel- 
ers reported was done in India? Could He make ivory balls disappear 
under cups, flowers bloom from a seed under a shawl? Could He 
make voices come from hidden corners where no man was? 

Besotted as he was that morning, surrounded by bottles of chol- 
agogue and purgative and sobering-up doses he had learned In 
Rome, Herod Antipas still remembered the answer he got to those 
questions. This Jesus differed from all other magicians in one im- 
portant particular: He did not give exhibitions merely to excite 
wonder and awe; His strange powers were devoted to helping others, 
and for this help He made no charge. That puzzled Herod Antipas. 
John the Baptist had been another who would take no fee. What 
kind of fellows were these prophets? 

For a long time Herod had wanted to see this wonder-worker 
perform, and now here He was, early in the morning, sent to him 
by his old antagonist, Lord Pontius Pilate. Anything could happen 
in this foolish world! As the fat girl belched and winked one bleary 
eye, dull and dimmed, Herod Antipas slapped her thigh, and, cack- 
ling with glee, bade them bring in the Master. 

But Jesus was a great disappointment to Herod Antipas. 

The debauched tetrach, looking upon this subject Galilean, im- 
mediately wanted to see thaumaturgic signs and wonders. He gave 
a ribald grunt. Show me some tricks! Come on, magician, and do 
something! Even the watching Annas and Caiphas were outraged at 
his alcoholic frivolity. Why would not a ruler behave like a ruler? 
They listened while Herod tried to joke with the prisoner, cajoling 
Him to do just one miracle. Jesus would answer nothing. 

Then the priests went to it, and had at Herod Antipas. With sav- 
age emphasis in their charges, they told the tetrarch of the three- 



274 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

fold allegations: causing sedition among the people, refusing tribute 
to Caesar, and claiming to be Messiah, King of the Jews. Their 
vehemence brought Herod to his political senses. With a lopsided 
look at the priests, he gave a vast shrug and slapped his belly. King 
of the Jews! Wabf Hail, King! 

Fat, slovenly, and uncertain in the fumes of his wine, Herod, 
squatting on his haunches, made a mock and wobbling obeisance: 

"Hail, Bang! Slaves, bring me a royal white robe! Not that one. 
Not good enough for a king like this. Hail, Wonder- Worker King! 
Where's his robe? Haven't you fetched it yet? Give me now. Wahl 
This is a royal robe all right. Look, King! That's yours! Mighty fine 
too. Put it on! What? You stand stiff and straight and look me in the 
eye and neither answer nor plead for mercy? You're like your cousin, 
then! Like John the Baptist. I cut his head off! And they put it 
on a plate! Salome danced with it. No more of that. I won't cut 
your head off, Jesus! 

"Hail, King! Ha! Ha! How goes it with you, King, old King, old 
King, old King, hey, boy! Your head stays on for me. If it comes 
off, let Pilate take it off not I. Once was enough for me. Back with 
you! Soldiers! Salute and bow to the King of the Jews, and take 
Him away. I thought He was a magician. WahF . . . 

The captive Jesus was led to the door in the white robe of mock- 
ery, when Herod Antipas, suddenly grown serious, staggered to his 
feet. 

"Wait! You remember me three years ago I wanted to kill you 
then. You called me an old fox and you said I couldn't kill you, be- 
cause a prophet must perish only in Jerusalem. How could you read 
tne future like that?" 

The door closed. The prisoner was gone. But He left Herod 
Antipas as frightened as Pilate. Indeed, the very next day Herod had 
a heart-to-heart talk with Pilate. There had not been cordial rela- 
tions between them for a long time, but after the troubled night 
they both had known because of Jesus, the Tetrarch of Galilee and 
the Procurator of Judea became friends. 



THE THIRD YEAR 275 



Chapter 6 9 CRUCIFY HIM! 



PILATE had been talking with his wife. He knew what the returning 
clamor in the outer courtyard meant. Messengers swifter than the 
tired feet of the priests raced back to the palace with word that 
Herod had not risen to the bait; he returned the prisoner with his 
compliments. Whatever the crimes of Jesus, they were committed 
in Jerusalem and therefore under Pilate's jurisdiction. The problem 
was back in the procurator's hands and it was even greater than be- 
fore; now he had talked with Claudia Procula. 

Never before had Pilate seen that sophisticated Roman lady of 
the court so much in earnest about anything. To kill Jesus of Naza- 
reth, she told him, was unthinkable. Exaggerated as such a thought 
must seem, still Pilate had got from her the feeling that if he failed 
her in this, life between him and his wife would never again be the 
same. That was a dismaying thought to Pilate. From Toledo to the 
Tigris he had never touched her like; he was a rough, uncomplicated 
man, and she was the sum of his pleasure. 

Yet what must the governor do now? He had to find a way to 
acquit Jesus and still not incur revenge from a frantic priesthood. 
Again he sat in his fancy chair and confronted the pale, bruised 
prisoner. Serene as before He was, even in the new royal robe of 
white with golden fringe which Herod had draped over Him in 
drunken mockery. The faces of Annas and Caiphas were pale and 
haggard with the long labors of this night and morning; their con- 
spiring, their illegal trial, their running from the Temple to Pilate 
and from Pilate to Herod and now back again had tried the smooth 
legs and swollen the fat ankles of Caiphas; he seemed even more 
tired than his aged father-in-law. 

Pilate rubbed his fingers over a pan of smoldering charcoal on a 
tripod beside his chair. He turned from Jesus to Annas, and then, 
hoarse voice edged more than ever with impatience, he pointed out 
to them that although the prisoner was a Galilean, nevertheless 
Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch, had refused to do anything with him. 
As for himself, he could only repeat what he had said.before: 

"I find no cause. You have presented to me this man as one that 



276 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

perverts the people, and behold, I, having examined Him before you, 
find no cause in this man in those things wherein you accuse Him. 
No, nor Herod either. For I sent you to him, and behold, nothing 
worthy of death is done to Him. I will chastise Him, therefore . . ." 

"Good!" 

He could see some of their faces now. Greek sailors with bearded 
mouths, gold bangles in their ears, and their long arms around un- 
kempt slatterns and blowzy women, drunk on blackstrap wine; 
gamblers with old blue scars on their necks, blacklegs, cheaters at 
dice, with their sluts from the town bagnios, beldams and hags. One 
old vixen kept shaking a scrawny fist while she whistled through her 
teeth. 

"And then I shall release Him!" 

Release Him! A yawp of fury came from the mob. To heal more 
blind men, raise up more supporters, preach more perversions of the 
established order release Him? Caiphas turned quickly and spoke 
two words into a dirty ear lowered to his beard. The words ran 
quickly to the very core of the mob and there rose a sudden pierc- 
ing cry: 

"Crucify Him!" 

From one, then from a dozen came the uncouth cry. Soon it was 
a rhythm and a chant "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" 

Pilate's shaggy brows went up. Had he heard aright? This prisoner 
was supposed to have enemies in the Temple but friends in the 
streets. That cry for crucifixion came from the gutter. To flog Jesus 
would be almost to murder Him. They all knew what official chas- 
tisement meant. That ought to satisfy the most bloodthirsty among 
them. To let Jesus live that would be keeping his word to Procula* 

Although he knew that blatant, noisy, blustering mob for what 
it was, nevertheless the situation was intimidating. Such hate, real or 
acted, could be contagious. A riot could easily be in the making. 
Nevertheless, Pilate was not ready to admit defeat. 

The idea in Pilate's mind to get his prisoner off was like a fear 
gnawing at his brain. He still had one untried idea. Forcing a con- 
ciliatory smile and rising, ignoring the priests, he talked for the first 
time directly to the people. 

In Jerusalem, he reminded them, they had a custom which he had 
faithfully followed: on the Feast of the Passover the procurator 
could set one prisoner free, with a full pardon. The crowds had only 
to shout the names of their favorites and he whose name got the 



THE THIRD YEAR 277 

loudest noise he would set free. Now Pilate, making a last effort to 
keep his promise to his wife, put two names before the mob this 
prisoner of Nazareth and the other, the notable revolutionary leader 
Barabbas! 

He was truly a seditionist, was Barabbas, and in his conspiracy to 
overthrow the government by violence he had already committed 
murder. 

"Will you," asked Pilate, pretending to make light of the whole 
charge, "that I release to you the King of the Jews? Whom will you 
that I release to you Jesus Barabbas or Jesus Christ?" 

Then, obedient to signals from Caiphas, the crowd screamed: 

"Away with this man! And release unto us Barabbas! " 

By this time there were honest voices as well as hired that took up 
the bellowing. Barabbas had his own friends in that crowd; the 
clamor was deafening: 

"Away with this man! Give us Barabbas!" 

Arms outstretched, Pilate strode forward and tried to plead with 
them, but they drowned out his words; they took up a rhythmic 
chant, and it swelled, as guards beat the paving stones with their spear 
handles and a drunken woman clapped a pair of cymbals. 

"Crucify Him!" 

"Crucify Him!" 

"Crucify Him!" 

Pilate raised his hand furiously in an imperial gesture and there was 
a sudden awed silence. 

"Why, what evil has He done?" he roared indignantly. "What evil 
has this man done?" 

Instantly their reviling voices bellowed again in the same final bit- 
ter reply: 

"Crucify Him!" 

"Crucify Him!" 

"Crucify Him!" 

Pilate flung himself into the ivory chair. He gave an exhausted 
growl and made a sign. The crowd screamed with joy as Jesus was 
led off to His fate. 

It was then that the guards took Jesus and beat Him within a gasp 
of His life. This was not being birched like a schoolboy, aor merely 
thrashed like an ordinary malefactor they flogged Him with a whip 
made of three leather lashes, to the flaying ends of which were 
stitched those bits of metal and bone. With forty blows they scourged 



278 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

Him, and when it was done Jesus was so weak that He had barely 
strength to stand. His body was covered with wales and stripes 
and welts; He had been drubbed within a few breaths of His life. 

But He must continue to stand, for they had still more to do to 
Him. 

Over His back, streaming from the blood opened by the counted 
lashes, they laid again His own robe. Two idle soldiers had plaited 
wild thorns that grow in scraggly hedges around the farms to keep 
out fox and wolf. On His head they pressed this crown of thorns. 

It was in the court of the governor's palace that this pain and mock- 
ery were heaped on Jesus. Pilate meanwhile had returned to Claudia 
Procula, who reclined in her bed, pale and reproachful. He told her 
brusquely what had happened; from the courtyard the jeering voices 
reached their ears: 

"Hail, King of the Jews!" 

"They give Him many blows!" wailed Procula. "Yet He makes no 
outcry! " 

"True, they strike His head, and spit upon Him-'* 

"I warned you to have nothing to do with that just man! " 

"You told me more than that," snapped Pilate. "You told me you 
had suffered many things all day because of a dream concerning 
Him." 

He bent over, but she thrust him away. He rose with an oath. 

"Very well," he snarled. "I will go out and try again." 

Once more the prisoner and His judge stood before the mob. This 
time Jesus was on the platform beside Pilate as the governor squirmed 
in his ivory chair. The face of Pilate was tired and worn, and his eyes 
had a hunted look; the face of Jesus was bloody. 

"Behold," Pilate began, trying to put a note of reasonableness and 
casual common sense into his voice; "behold, I bring Him forth unto 
you that you may know I find no cause in Him." 

The purchased gangs looked at the beaten Jesus, face and hands 
bloody, wrists knotted and stained crimson, new scars on His face, 
but with shoulders up and straight and the eyes and posture serene in 
indestructible composure. The crown of thorns gave to His face a 
dignity and not the clownish buff oonery they had expected. 

In the silence Pikte spoke, as a man speaks when he thinks he is 
clinching a deal: 

"Behold this man!" 



THE THIRD YEAR 279 

Then he lifted his powerful thumbs to his ears as the shriek and roar 
of their voices deafened him: 

"Crucify Him!" 

"Crucify Him!" 

"Crucify Him!" 

Pilate screamed back at them: 

"Take Him, you, and crucify Him, for I find no cause in Him." 

Here Annas stepped sternly forward. He was not going to let 
Pilate escape his proper responsibility. He pushed back the forelock 
wisp of gray hair from over his left eye and cleared his throat and 
spoke in crisp, authoritative tones: 

"Lord Pilate, we have a law and according to the law, He ought 
to die because He made himself the Son of God." 

And a new shout went up: 

"Crucify Him! Whoever makes himself a king, speaks against 
Caesar. If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend!" 

Over and over again the mob chanted those desperate words. 
They struck to the depths of Pilate's little soul. Yet, even so, he per- 
sisted still. He stood beside the object of all this fury and, forcing 
himself to jest, as if to ask the whole race if they were in fear of 
this bedraggled figure, Pilate roared: 

"Behold your king!" 

No, they would not join in his laugh. He could not cajole the 
hirelings, paid to be implacable. They yelled: 

"Away with Him! Away with Him! Crucify Him!" 

In a panic of forced jesting Pilate cried: 

"Shall I crucify your king?" 

"We have no king but Caesar!" 

Pilate heard that shout and lost. Beyond that phrase he could 
not go. Those words were the frontier line past which no politician 
could advance; not if he cared for his own skin. Pilate had done all 
that he felt he could do. Had he done more, he would have had a 
different name in history. 

Somewhere in his soul he knew that the beautiful mystery had 
escaped him again and now forever. That was why he called for a 
basin. A negrillo paddled forward on deformed feet, carrying a 
golden bowl in his dark, apelike arms. The lustrum, ceremony of 
purification! In front of all of them, he, a Roman, washed his hands. 
And as the waste water dribbled down, and drops of it on the bkck 



280 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

hairs of the back of his hand glistened in the faint light, he lifted 
his face sidewise to heaven and cried in a broken voice: 

"I am innocent of the blood of this just man*" 

As he motioned to the soldiers to take Jesus off to His crucifixion, 
the voices of priest and hired mob joined in one last cry: 

"His blood be upon us and upon our children." 

Here the mob, hired by scoundrels, in an excess of malice uttered 
fateful words which for untold centuries were to plague and vastly 
injure the lives of innocent people. The words they screamed in that 
awful hour were often to be misconstrued, so that generations of 
decent people were to be unjustly stigmatized. The conspirators who 
hired this mob to hunt the prisoner of Pilate had loosed a whirlwind 
of injustice and misunderstanding. 

So the long trial was over at last Barabbas, the revolutionist, was 
released to the people. Jesus was condemned to be crucified, all very 
legally, by Pilate, who made no further objections to the wishes 
of Annas and his son-in-law, Jesus was started again on the trek to 
Calvary, and Jesus Barabbas, gray-haired, dazed, strode off with his 
supporters, his bewildered inkberry eyes not noting the woman in 
the dark blue doak who stood in the shadow of the wall weeping 
and remembering Samuel, her husband's friend. 

Mary had seen him. She had seen it all. 



Chapter 70 THE DOLOROUS WAY 



THERE was a yellowish creep in the east that slowly took the place 
of the pale rose of dawn. 

The start of His journey home after His incarnation, perfectly 
lived was at the barracks where they had beaten Him, the guard- 
room of the castle of Antonia. There Pilate had turned Him over, 
and from there He descended the broad stairs in the unfamiliar yel- 
low light of a strange dawn. He came down the steps almost un- 
noticed, while the crowd turned in an ecstasy of welcome for the 
revolutionist that Pilate had just set free Barabbas, striding, cocky, 
curly head twisted to one side, laughing with an I-told-you-so smug- 
ness, accepting the raucous welcome as a tribute no more than his 
due. In the jaundiced aurora Barabbas took the center of the stage* 



THE THIRD YEAR 28 1 

while Jesus, going on down, came to the second station of His jour- 
neyto a place at the bottom of the steps where the cross was wait- 
ing. 

It was a crude thing of wood, blackened and smelling of creosote 
and tar, the centerpiece rounded and large as the mast of a small 
ship, and the horizontal bar of a long beam split in half and fixed 
firmly with two bolted iron clamps not much of a carpentry job; 
the workman from Nazareth could have made a better one than 
that. There was a huddle of men there, not soldiers, but servants 
and artisans who had fetched the cross, dragging it by a chain. One 
who gave the orders and acted like a gang boss came up to the two 
soldiers who guarded the bleeding and beaten prisoner and said what 
must be done. The fellow must kneel in the street A part of the 
crossbar would be hooked over His shoulder. Then He must stand 
up again with the weight of the cross on His back and He must 
put one foot in front of the other, dragging it alone, down the stink- 
ing, festering streets, scarcely pausing at the narrow turns, and never 
to pause, never to wait, never to catch His breath. This was a slave's 
punishment two thieves shared His fate, carrying their crosses in 
the same procession. 

No greater humiliation could be inflicted on a man. He must carry 
His own cross to the place of execution; drag His stake and cross- 
piece, emblems of guilt, of pain, of ignominy. 

At that part of the narrow street where today there is a broken 
column set in the stone wall Jesus tottered, swayed, and fell, but 
they yanked Him to His feet again and pushed Him on. A child 
rushed by, trundling a hoop, belaboring it with a pointed stick and 
never noticing what was passing by. Only a few minutes later Jesus 
saw in the crowd that lined the street the face of His mother; Mary 
was watching there, by a blind alley that was filled "with dirty, neg-* 
lected, and wretched children holding to her skirts. 

How she had got there, all the way up from Galilee, what impulse 
urged her, no one knew. But Mary, who could not get into the trial, 
stood in the street and watched, as, bent and breathing hard, He 
pulled His cross along. 

Their eyes met, and all the years were in their glances. Then she 
was lost to His sight as the howling tatterdemalion mob clotted 
around Him. Once more there came a dizziness; He was about to 
fall again. A murmur of chagrin ran through the gang that followed* 
It began to look as if that beating had been too severe. Hereafter 



282 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

the soldiers should be warned about such excesses. They had beaten 
more than half the life out of Him; if the guards were not careful, 
He would die right here, collapsing under the cross at the busiest 
crossing in Jerusalem. Then there would be no crucifixion; no long- 
drawn-out death on the cross to watch intently; the people would 
be angry if cheated of the most interesting part of the whole show. 
Was this what they had stayed up all night for? 

The guards felt that they knew what the public wanted. 

They would not ran any further risk of killing Him prematurely; 
when they saw how little strength was left in Him, they drafted a 
man from the onlookers to help out. The chosen man's name was 
Simon, a pilgrim with his two small sons, Rufus and Alexander, 
from the beautiful city of Gyrene, in upper Libya, where a Jew was 
a man as good as anybody else among the Gentiles; where he held 
equal citizenship with the Greeks who founded the town and the 
synagogue stood side by side on terms of equality with temples 
of pagan gods. One minute before he was drafted Simon was an un- 
known molecule swimming in the vast bloodstream of the human 
race. Suddenly a guard pointed a finger, snarled an order, and the 
burly Cyrenian, seething with his bad luck, ceased to be a gawping 
spectator from a distant city and became immortal. Simon the un- 
known Cyrenian bent to help Jesus carry His cross, his two little 
boys following him in tears. When he straightened up he had be- 
come a figure in history. 

He had done no crime; his pleasure was spoiled; it was an aching 
nuisance to take such a load and the way to the hill of Golgotha 
was still a long one but because of that half hour's unpaid toil Simon 
won immortal fame, 

Now, as he moved onward with Jesus, the noise of the crowd took 
on a different note. The riffraff and the hirelings were no longer 
alone. Word was going through the awakening city; news of what 
the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate had done together flew from door- 
step to upper window and along the domed rooftops; the women 
heard of it first, and they came running out to see if it were true. 
There is a legend that as Jesus and His unwilling helper Simon came 
by the house of a girl named Veronica, she rushed from her door- 
way and wept at the sight of Him; she bathed His sweating face 
with her veil and the tradition seems deathless that an image of 
His face was imprinted on the silken meshes of her scarf. 

Through the gate called Porta Judiciaria by the Romans He passed 



THE THIRD YEAR 283 

outside the wall of the city, into the open country and within sight 
of a gloomy hill. There the women of Jerusalem surged into the 
road, elbowing aside tramps and drunkards, pickpockets, thieves and 
cutthroats, and all the savage crew that followed the cross. Un- 
afraid of them, or of the priests who hired them, these housewives, 
daughters, and widows fought their way to the Master's side, be- 
wailing and lamenting Him. 

The countenance of the Master cleared, and His eyes took on new 
strength as He cried to these decent women: 

"Daughters of Jerusalem! Weep not over me, but weep for your- 
selves and for your children. For behold the day shall come when 
they shall say, Blessed are the barren and the wombs that have not 
borne and the paps that have not given suck. Then shall they begin 
to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us. 
For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done 
in the dry?" 

In the woeful day of destruction before long to dawn on Jeru- 
salem many were to remember those sorrowful words. 

Even with the strength of Simon the Cyrenian who suddenly 
found himself taking a mysterious liking to this convict and carried 
the cross with an inner and utterly inexplicable satisfaction Jesus 
felt His knees buckle under, and for the third time He fell down. 
But His tormentors were not so worried now. Here was their des- 
tination; He had only to lug the cross up that final stretch of steep 
hill and there He would be! 

Calvary! 

Golgotha, the natives called it, meaning the place of the skull 
See, two other felons, also soaked with sweat and blood after their 
flogging, come dragging their crosses, too, from around the turn 
of the outer wall. Two thieves also going up today. It promised to 
be a really interesting exhibition. 



Chapter 77 FINISHED! 



IT WAS high noon as workmen arranged th'e crosses on the ground. 

The three condemned prisoners stood together Dysmas and Ges- 

tas and Jesus, while the soldiers shoved back the crowd and the 



284 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

common workmen disposed the crosses on the ground near the holes 
and heaps of fresh earth. 

High noon, and the sun brightly shining on bay trees and laurel 
over yonder, but on -the four edges of the world clouds were gather- 
ing. In spring is it not unusual for clouds to begin gathering on the 
four horizons all at once? Few noticed the dark ring around the 
lower part of the sky. They had other things to look at: the three 
crosstrees kid out now and ladders being bolted and braced, and 
men with hammers and spikes and other men with spears goading 
each prisoner to lie down on his cross. 

It was a quick business; the three victims were tired out, inert, 
incapable of resistance. They stretched Jesus out on the prostrate 
device, fingers in His armpits and palms forcing down His thighs and 
holding His head in the middle of the crosspiece, and they held 
Him so while they hammered huge pointed spikes through His palms 
then nailed His feet to the main piece. Up now, hoist high, and 
dump the foot of the cross in the open hole. 

So, there, and at last, the will of Annas and Caiphas was fully done. 
Jesus was crucified between two thieves, the three gaunt crosses 
with their suffering human beings uplifted upon them making sharp, 
bleak silhouettes against the paling sky* 

One would have thought, then, that with this finality malice would 
wither, but it was not like that. 

At mocking Pilate's orders strange commands of a strange man 
who meant the priests to be confronted with a reminder a sign 
was nailed up on the cross over the head of Jesus, an inscription in 
three languages: Latin, Greek, and Aramaic: 

"Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews!" 

When he heard that this was being done, Caiphas was uncontrol- 
lable. In spite of the pleadings of Annas, who wanted now only to 
get to his bed, Caiphas had himself carried in a litter back to the 
pakce where Pikte was having a meal that was both breakfast and 
lunch. 

Caiphas came storming into the small blue-walled room with the 
firepkce, where Pilate received his visitors. 

"Why do you do such a thing as this to us? Don't write 'King 
of the Jews'; if you must write anything, write, 'He said, I am the 
Kong of the Jews.' " 

Pikte snorted at Caiphas and a leer twisted his thick, loose-formed 
mouth. He was through yielding to this popinjay. 



THE THIKD YEAR 285 

"What I have written I have written," said Pilate, and stalked 
back to his wife. 

"I feel like a vaticide!" he was reported to tell his wife. "I have 
killed a prophet." 

"Perhaps," lamented his wife, "you are a deicide perhaps you 
have killed a god." 

"But who," cried Pilate, the born interrogator, "can possibly kill 
a god?" 

"That," his wife answered, "is your only hope!" 

On the hill of Calvary the crowd of watchers was growing con- 
stantly, in a vast half-moon of concentrated attention before the 
figure on the central cross. 

Jesus, turning from the tapestry of faces, murmured to the sky: 

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." 

Forgive them? All? Where were His friends? Where are you, 
Peter? The rock on which I shall found my church and the gates 
of hell shall not prevail against it. Is that you, back there? Peter! 
Ah, bold, baldheaded fisherman, with your human nature you suffer 
for me so; the full price must be paid now. 

But is that you, Peter? Where is John? John, the well-beloved; 
John, who, at our Last Supper, laid his head on my breast and wept? 
Where is John now? And Judas! Judas not here to see what his 
treachery has brought us all to? Judas is in the potter's field, after 
hanging from a tree. Is that what is to be seen, so far, far off on the 
road to Bethlehem, where Mary's son was born? 

And all the others, where are they? The nine other Apostles. 
"You ran away! Why did you run away, James and Thomas and 
Bartholomew and all the rest of you? For your lives you ran, scam- 
pering off in the dark rows of olive trees in the Garden of Geth- 
semane; scattering down the deep slopes of Olivet to the grand high- 
way and off to the road that leads back to Galilee back home. 

Why did you nine forsake? That is so clear to see now. You never 
completely believed in Jesus. You wanted to believe; you persuaded 
yourselves that you had accepted the idea fully and with no reser- 
vations, but in your heart of hearts you never, for a moment, be- 
lieved that I and the Father are one. The soldiers came and took me. 
Why did I not release Myself as I had done before? 

Because you feared that you would share this fate of mine, up 
here on the cross, crucified. You, too, might bleed and die. But the 



286 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

day is almost here when you will have such faith that fear will no 
longer matter. 

"I thirst," said Jesus. 

So the rnonstrous-conscienced guards prepared for Him a cup of 
wine mixed with myrrh and gall and bile. He would not drink it. 
His last cup on this earth was the chalice of the communion at the 
Last Supper. The leering fools who had mixed up the filthy mess 
could not force it down His throat, so there was nothing left for 
them to do but to spill all of it on the ground. 

Calmly He hung there, suspended, as the guards who had nailed 
Him up threw dice for His robe which was without seam, woven 
from the top throughout They had taken all His garments and 
divided them into four parts one for each soldier. But when they 
looked at that beautiful seamless robe one of them proposed: "Let's 
not tear it. Let's cast lots for it, whose it shall be." 

It was while the soldiers were throwing the dice that Jesus looked 
down and saw that He was not alone. Moving slowly forward 
through the crowd, coming ever closer to the cross, were three 
women three Marys close at hand. Mary, His mother, stood at the 
foot of the cross. And Mary, the wife of Cleophas, His mother's 
sister, knelt beside her; Mary of Magdalen, out of whom he had cast 
seven devils, was prostrate on the earth. 

And who standing beside His blessed mother? John! Yes, it was 
John! John, the well-beloved disciple. This was why you hovered 
on the far outside of the crowd; you were waiting to bring Mother 
here.. 

With a sudden access of strength Jesus called out in the premature 
gloaming that was creeping in: 

"Woman, behold your son!" 

With infinite tenderness He had called to her; and then, turning 
to John, the drops of sweat glistening on His neck and forehead 
and cheeks, He summed up all the concern and compassion in His 
heart in these words to His dear follower: 

"Behold your mother!" And from that day on John would be 
like another son to Mary. But his devotion was a symbol of a greater 
service, for Jesus had spoken to mankind, had showed all living the 
symbol of motherhood. 

The slowly darkening indigo sky was losing its deep violet blue 
and turning to black. The agony of the gentle prisoner, the memory 



THE THIRD YEAR 287 

of His good works, the wailing of the women all helped to change 
the mood of the watchers. Twice He had spoken from the cross: 
once to pray for the soldiers even at the very moment they were 
enforcing the tent pegs through His hands; and again when He 
spoke to His mother. The compassion of the suffering man moved 
the people to a dangerous sympathy, so back came the priests with 
their troupe and they began to jape: 

"He saved others; let Him save Himself if He be Christ, the elect 
of God." 

They waggled their hands and fleered and blasphemed, 

"Wah!" they cried with oriental frenzy. "You that destroy the 
Temple of God and in three days build it up again. Wah! Save your- 
self! Come down from the cross!" 

And even Caiphas, standing with the silent Annas and some of 
their cronies of the Temple priesthood, spoke out of the side of 
his mouth: 

"Others He saved; Himself He cannot save." 

One of the scribes answered: 

"If He be the King of Israel let Him now come down from the 
cross and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him now de- 
liver Him, if He will have Him." 

But there were some who noticed that as the darkness deepened a 
small light shone behind His head, and that it grew more luminous 
as death came ever nearer. 

So the priests talked away among themselves, feeling yery safe, 
as the soldiers offered Jesus a sponge soaked in vinegar, because 
He had said He thirsted; while the soldiers tormented Him, the mob 
railed, and the women of Jerusalem mourned and the blood flowed 
slowly, trickling down from pierced hands and feet 

One of the robbers, Gestas, took up the cry from the onlookers- 
and spat it out with blood and foam at his mouth: 

"If you be the Christ, save yourself and us!" 

But Dysmas, on the right-hand cross, called back to him: 

"Neither do you fear God, seeing that you are under the same 
condemnation. And we, indeed, justly because we receive the due 
reward of our deeds. But this man has done no evil." 

Then, turning his head toward the Master, he said with pleading 
sweetness, amazing in so rough a voice; 

"Lord, remember me when you shall come into your kingdom." 



288 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

The eyelids of Jesus flew up, the eyeballs rolled back, and He 
smiled. It was a smile of blood and sweat, but He called out boldly^ 
in His old clear, strong voice: 

"So be it, I say to youthis day you shall be with me in Paradise."" 

The storm was gathering its darkness now; the air of the black 
sirocco was getting murkier by the minute with a wrack of clouds 
and dark floating vapor scudding across the sky. There was a low, 
rolling sound of thunder, a rumble swelling to roar and crash over 
the heads of the people. As the rain came, many scattered, but others 
remained, to miss nothing. Even the most vociferous of the paid 
mob began to feel a germ of fear. The sun was lost behind the thick- 
ening nimbus overhead and there was a low and constant murmur- 
ing among the people. Tumult and panic were ready to break out 
into mob madness. This, they began to fear, was no ordinary storm; 
this was not the familiar black sirocco which came to Jerusalem 
each year at the beginning of April. This was a brooding, deepening, 
lightless storm *of sinister intensity. 

It was close upon three o'clock in the afternoon, when, for the 
fourth time, they heard Jesus speak: 

"Eloi, Eloi, Ldmma sabacthani!" 

Had they heard clearly? That strange mixture, that sentence, a 
compound of Hebrew and Aramaic Chaldee? Some, far in the back, 
thought that in delirium He was calling on the prophet Elias. And 
some of the mockers again brought the vinegar sponge and stuck 
it on a long reed, and thrust it up at Him, while they cried; 

"Let be! Let us see whether Elias will come to deliver Him!" 

But Jesus had not called upon Elias. His mother knew and under- 
stood. So did all good and pious people gathered there, and even 
the hypocrites, if they remembered their Scriptures. 

What Jesus had said was: 

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 

Standing near the foot of the cross, Caiphas, hearing those words, 
gave a hoarse chuckle of delight. Seizing his old father-in-law's 
withered wrist, he rejoiced: 

"Hear that, Lord Annas? His followers will never be able to live 
down those words. First He says He is God, then He asks Himself 
why He has forsaken Himself. Pretty comic, don't you think?" 

There was a terrible peal of thunder. But presently Caiphas heard 
the voice of Annas, despondent and disheartened: 

"Yon complete and utter ninny and fool!" 



THE THIRD YEAR 289 

"Lord Annas, did I hear you . . ." 

"You did. You are high priest, Caiphas, but you do not even 
remember your Scriptures. Especially the Twenty-second Psalm, 
which begins: 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' 
and goes on to prophesy perhaps what happened here today even 
to the parting of his garments." 

"Father-in-law, you're not going " 

"I am going home," sighed Annas, and turned his back on his son- 
in-law. 

And Annas might also have reminded Caiphas that the very next 
Psalm declared the Lord as the Good Shepherd: "Even though I 
walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side!" 

With an unearthly smile down upon His mother and His other 
loved ones, Jesus had spoken the words as King David anciently 
predicted; without further protest He let the vinegar from the 
sponge pour down into His parched throat and He spoke the sixth 
time from the cross: 

"It is consummated." 

Caiphas then knew what that meant. The whole body of prophe- 
cies of the old prophets had been fulfilled; his own prophecies as 
well. They had said that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, 
the city of David. There Jesus had been bom, and in a stable, as 
also prophesied all the long story was full of milestones, verifica- 
tions, credentials, from the old prophets that He, Jesus, now in His 
pain and humiliation, was the promised Messiah. 

"It is consummated!" 

Having said that He took a deep breath and spoke out sofdy, 
spoke as Mary remembered He would often speak when He was a 
boy, falling off to sleep, on His bed in Nazareth softly and with a 
tone of surrender and relief: 

"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" 

And bowing His head, He gave up the ghost 

Thus it was that Jesus of Nazareth died, about four o'clock in 
the murky air of Good Friday afternoon, April 7, AJX 30. 

Men told strange stories afterward: tales of how the veil of the 
Temple was torn into two pieces the rainbow veil that hung at the 
Holy of Holies and hid the innermost altar from the eyes of all ex- 
cept priests, rent and ripped, from top to bottom, although no 
man's hand had touched it Tales of a trembling of the earth and 
rocks crashing from hillsides; graves ripped open, their white domes 



THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

splitting wide. All this was talk behind the hand, because the priests 
would retaliate on any of their own who had a sympathetic 01 
significant word to say about this execution. 

Those at the cross who loved Him beat their breasts and sobbed. 
The Roman officer who had given all the orders for the execution 
of the death sentence turned his back on the women and gagged. 
Perhaps it was the earthquake that weighed the man down, or per- 
haps the darkness. Or it may have been the face of Mary. Then, 
cleaning his mouth with an oblong of silk, he turned to one of his 
lieutenants and gasped: 

"Indeed this man was the Son of God." 



Chapter 72 WHY DO THEY NOT CARE? 



THE old man Annas sat in his great room and fanned himself. A 
small lamp on the table at his right hand raised a flickering light to 
his little goadike face and the wisp of tired white hair hanging over 
his left eye. On the divan sat his son-in-law Caiphas with the volup- 
tuous perfumed beard, a bulk of shadow against the lesser darkness 
of an open window. 

"It is hot tonight," complained Annas. "We are going to have a 
torrid summer. I know the signs." 

"Did you not understand me just now when I told you this town 
was in an uproar?" asked the high priest of Jerusalem primly. 

"You know very well it is the Feast of Weeks, Caiphas. The city 
is simply crowded again, full of visitors." 

"Full of Christians," reported his son-in-law bitterly. "I cannot 
seem to make you realize. You are getting more obstinate all the 
time. Seven weeks ago I had all I could do to make you act against 
that impostor, Jesus of Nazareth. And now " 

"And now," Annas broke in with his humming voice, "the follow- 
ers of your executed impostor are back in town and only this week 
they made three thousand converts!" 

"Five thousand!" 

"They seem very confident of their faith." 

"The danger of revolution is even greater with Jesus dead than 
alive," complained the priest. 



THE THIRD YEAR 291 

"Are you sure that He is dead?" asked Annas lightly. 

"You saw Him die." 

"No, I did not wait. But, Caiphas, what do you suppose happened 
to His body?" 

"It was buried. And there's a pretty story too. Do you know 
where they laid that cadaver? In the tomb that Joseph had built for 
himself!" 

"Joseph? Of Arimathea?" 

"Exactly. One of our own kind, but a traitor to his class. He went 
to Pilate and asked permission and got it. He worked fast, and was 
able to observe the ceremonial law before sunset, and he had help 
help from another traitor." 

"Nicodemus, no doubt," chuckled Annas, with an obscene roll of 
his pale blue eyes. 

"Yes, it was Nicodemus. Two substantial men like that extend- 
ing charnel hospitality to the remains of a felon, winding the body 
in the traditional cerements, eight feet long; anointing the body with 
embalming spices, as our ancestors learned from the Egyptians. They 
had women with them, too, silly women who believed in Jesus. 
Wahr 

Annas lowered his fan, folded his arms, and gave a toothless grin, 
barely visible in the dark. 

"Is the scoundrel's body still in the tomb?" he asked softly. 

"No!" 

"No?" 

"No!" 

"It is not?" 

"No, I said." 

"It is gone?" 

"Yes!" 

"But where, Caiphas? You have suddenly become quite mono- 
syllabic." 

"It was stolen." 

"I see. Why did not Joseph and Nicodemus see to it that the 
golal, the great stone, was placed securely against the tomb?" 

"That was done, but . . ." 

"And weren't there guards?" 

"I believe so." 

"You know so. Ypu yourself specifically asked Pikte to put them 
there. Then how could anyone have stolen the body?" 



292 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

"Wah! I don't know," groaned Caiphas. "I wish I did." 

"Caiphas," Annas advised, u calm yourself. Have another drink 
of cool and sweetened water and listen to me. I have not been so 
Indifferent as you think in this business. I selected my own repre- 
sentatives to investigate. It is a fact that the tomb of Jesus now has 
no corpse in it" 

"Those scheming disciples . * ." 

"Stole it? No. They might well have tried to, but no! They had 
no opportunity. But suppose they had done so. Where have they 
hidden the remains? I employed the smartest spies in Judea, expe- 
rienced in espionage. They mingled with these apostles pretending 
to be true believers. We got nowhere. It is still a fact that the re- 
mains of a criminal, who was put to death, have disappeared under 
your very nose. Now you tell me the body has been stolen. What 
eke could you say?" 

"You begin to talk like one of them," murmured Caiphas. 

"No* I am merely trying to be factual and objective, as always. 
There are several possible reasons for that tomb being empty. Sup- 
pose, for example, the body was never put in there at all. Suppose 
that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus did not trust you. I hap- 
pen to know they never have. They may have feared that you would 
send vandals after that body, for fear the faithful followers of this 
man would continue to visit the tomb and make it a shrine. They 
may even have been afraid that you would use His body for dog 
meat, Caiphas. So Joseph and Nicodemus may have removed the 
body to another, more obscure, secret tomb." 

"I shall face them." 

"You need not trouble. I have already talked to them. They did 
nothing of the kind. They were too scared!" 

"Pilate, then?" 

"What should the Procurator of Judea care about a convict's 
corpse? He did his best for Jesus as long as he could." 

"Then where can it be, Father-in-law?" 

The laugh of Annas was low and chuckling. 

"Don't you know? The Christians say He has risen from the dead, 
in three days, on schedule, as promised! And it is supposed to prom- 
ise a similar grace to all His followersa palingenesis, a rebirth into 
a higher life." 

"Do you think you have to remind me of what the Christians 
say!" exclaimed Caiphas, with a tremble in his voice. "Peter the fish- 



THE THIRD YEAR 293 

erman, ana James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and the whole 
crew of them are standing on our street corners, preaching these 
insane lies c Jesus is Christy the son of the Living God! He rose from 
the dead! We have all seen Him! We have all talked with Him! 
Here, ask Thomas Didymushe was the skeptic, he saw the wounds 
of the nails in His hands and feet and put his own hand into the 
wound in His side!' 

"That is the sort of talk they are blabbering all over town. They 
even call to me, as I stand listening at a little distance off, and ask 
me if I have gone to the tomb to see for myself; and why don't I 
call the gardener and ask him what he knows about it." 

"Well," snapped Annas, "why don't you?" 

The fact was that Annas had done just what he now advised his 
son-in-law to do. He had talked with the gardener, and with the 
Roman soldiers, and even with Christian witnesses. Out of the minor 
disagreements, the divergencies in detail, even the apparently irrec- 
oncilable differences, there emerged in all essential substance ac- 
counts that were impressively the same. 

Annas had not wanted to believe any of them, yet these witnesses 
were not liars; he could see that. 

They reminded the old politician that Jesus was crucified on 
Friday, which was the parasceve, the eve of preparation of the Sab- 
tath, and, more than that, on this occasion also, the night before 
the Feast of the Passover. It would be an affront to the people, both 
in their Sabbath devotions and their celebration of the Pasch, to 
leave meanwhile the three bodies beginning to putrefy on their 
crosses. So even the priests had gone to Pilate that day only a short 
while behind Joseph of Arimathea to ask that the legs of the corpses 
be ceremonially broken and the bodies pulled down and taken away. 
To this request Pilate also gave consent, and sent soldiers to finish 
the job. 

These guards broke the legs of the two thieves but they did not 
touch the legs of Jesus. But one of the soldiers Longinus was his 
name opened up His side with a thrust of his spear, and testified 
that blood and water flowed from the open wound. Many of the fol- 
lowers of Jesus also believed that the spear pierced His heart 

When their work was done, Joseph of Arimathea showed the 
guards his writ from Pikte, by which they must relinquish to him 
the remains of Jesus. There was no difficulty about it; the two thieves 
were tossed into a common burial pit, but the body of the Nazarene 



294 THE GR E ATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

was given to the two daring aristocrats who risked the condemnation 
of all their friends to do this service. 

Joseph and Nicodemus freely admitted to Annas just what they 
had done. The garden in which Joseph had made for himself a sepul- 
cher hewed in stone was quite close to the hill of the crucifixion. 
There the two rich men carried the body and Nicodemus opened 
a bag and took out a hundred pounds of an ointment made of myrrh 
and aloes. Joseph had brought fine linen and so, while the two Marys 
helped, they laid Him away. 

"It is queer," continued Annas in his humming voice as he re- 
viewed the testimony; "the guards say there was an earthquake. 
Some talk about an angel with shining face coming down and the 
soldiers falling unconscious with fear. Anyway, a woman came into 
the garden. Her name was Mary, she came from Magdala, and she 
used to have a dubious reputation. Before dawn her grief for this 
Jesus was poignant quite evidently she came to the tomb with more 
spiced ointments for the corpse. It was still dark at that hour, but 
she could see well enough to be both astonished and terrified. She 
ran back into town to tell this new leader of theirs-^IVe talked with 
him; a fiery fellow who won't back down Peter of Capernaum. 
She told Peter that she feared robbers had stolen the body of their 
Lord!" 

"Rubbish!" grumbled Caiphas. 

"Most mysterious rubbish! Pretty soon there were two other 
women called Mary in the garden. One was His mother, from up in 
Nazareth, and the other His aunt, the wife of Cleophas. They, too, 
were astonished when they found the stone gone. Now, Caiphas, 
as one man tells the story, they found two angels in the tomb. I do 
not know what an angel looks like, so I find it hard to visualize." 

"Why try? Isn't this whole conversation a waste of time?" 

"That," said Annas, "depends entirely on how much of it you 
are going to be able to grasp. I hear, too, that they found a young 
man sitting on the right side of the tomb, as one enters the place. 
The young man, who was wearing a white robe, told them not to 
be frightened; I think I have the testimony of what he said here." 

Annas picked up a thin scroll lying on the Athenian stand at his 
left hand. He flipped it open, clucked his lips twice, and then read: 

a 'You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is risen! He 
is not here! Behold the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His 



THE THIRD YEAR 295 

disciples and Peter that He goes before you into Galilee; there you 
should see Him; as He told you.' " 

"And I suppose," said Caiphas with a leer, "you sent agents into 
Galilee!" 

"I am sorry to say I did not I did not believe, when I first heard 
these stories, that there could be anything to them." 

"Lord Annas!" 

Caiphas stood up and assumed a dramatic pose. 

"Do you mean to sit there and give me to believe that you do 
put any belief in them now? Are you going to tell me Jesus of 
Nazareth did rise from the dead?" 

"I don't know," grinned Annas uncomfortably. "I wish I did, but 
I don't. I don't know." 

"You know that such a notion is mad," Caiphas retorted coldly. 

The old man tugged at his dangling wisp of white hair and his 
smile became glacial 

"Hear it all and judge for yourself. If nothing else, It will have 
the interest of a curious tale. The women went back and told Peter, 
whom I mentioned, and another, younger disciple a decent enough 
young man called John. I heard them tell the story to me and I 
cross-questioned them severely. No, I could not make a breach in 
either man's testimony. Both men ran to the tomb after hearing the 
story from the women. Hard as they found it to believe in fact, 
they didn't believe it at first any more than you or I did " 

"Do," corrected Caiphas. 

"Nevertheless, they ran to the Porta Judiciaria as fast as they 
could. John peered into the tomb and saw the linen cloths and the 
face napkin lying loosely on the shelf where the body had been. 
Then he waited for Peter. He was not ready to tell me why, but I 
think he was just plain scared, as any man might well be. These 
disciples think their Jesus was a God, but they themselves are very 
ordinary fellows, beHeve me. Then along came Peter, puffing from 
the run." 

"Never mind the descriptive passages," pleaded Caiphas sourly. "I 
know you are a frustrated poet That is what made you such a suc- 
cessful politician. Have I much more to hear?" 

"Peter," repeated Annas implacably, "was puffing heavily. He 
did not loiter at the door; not Peter. He plunged right on into the 
sepulcher; he, too, saw the loose grave clothes and the napkin that 



296 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

had been about the head of Jesus wrapped tip and put carefully in 
a separate place." 

"So what is the point of all this miracle story, Lord Annas?" 

A warmer light came into the bleak eyes of the old man. 

"The point I make to you is a point in logic, a point in sheer 
reason, my son-in-law. Let us overlook or, if you prefer, dismiss all 
the arguments and look only to the salient facts. They say that Jesus 
appeared visibly to Mary Magdalen. We need not discuss that I 
am also told that you tried to bribe the soldiers " 

"I?" 

Caiphas picked up his skirts and again stood dramatically erect 

"You, yes! Sit down. You have bribed before, as we both know. 

"Caiphas, you tried to bribe the soldiers to say that robbers took 
the body, and that the robbers were His disciples. Silly that you 
should expect soldiers of the Roman legion to report to Pilate such 
a self-incriminating tale as that the body was stolen right under their 
eyes. They took your money, of course and I know you interceded 
for them at the palace but the story, Caiphas, is against good sense. 
Never mind! 

"There is a little village called Emmaus, about seven miles from 
Jerusalem, and there is a repeated report that Jesus appeared and 
ate with a family there." 

"What rubbish, rubbish, rubbish " 

"It is not so easy to jump on the next report. That is when He 
is said suddenly to have appeared in the midst of His friends, right 
here in Jerusalem. He nearly scared them into sickness. Have you 
read the account of what they all testify He said to them? Listen: 

" Teace be to you! It is I! Fear not! Why are you so troubled 
and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, 
that it is I myself; handle and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, 
as you see me to have. 5 

"He showed them the wound in His side," Annas went on. "He 
ate with them. He bestowed on them some mystical blessing of the 
Holy Ghost, whatever that may be; the whole business is beyond 
my comprehension. But it did have something to do, Caiphas, with 
the forgiveness of sin." 

"That," said Caiphas, *Vas blasphemy again.*" 

Annas chortled. 

"He seems to go right on committing that sin," he mused in his 
humming voice while Caiphas swore humorlessly. 



THE THIRD YEAR 297 

"But there was one remarkable circumstance which we must never 
forget," the old man continued. "One of their members Thomas 
Didymus by name was absent at this visitation. The others told him 
all about it but doubting Thomas shook his head. He refused to be- 
lieve any of it." 

"The first Christian with a grain of sense," said Caiphas. 

"The first true scientist, perhaps. Anyway, Jesus returned to con- 
front Thomas, the skeptic, with His hands the apostle saw the holes 
in the palms left by die tent pegs and the wounds in His feet; he 
put his own hand into the open wound in Jesus's side, where the 
spear of Longinus had pierced it." 

"And what did Thomas say then?" asked Caiphas, beguiled in 
spite of himself. 

"He said, 'My Lord and my God' and then Jesus said, 'Because 
you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed. Blessed are they that 
have not seen and have believed/ " 

"But that," cried Caiphas, "denies rationalism!" 

"Exactly I" said Annas, and laughed to himself, long and silently, 
like a very foolish or a very wiseold man. "And I, for one, am 
glad of that much I never like those pessimistic ideas." 

Both knew that it was not necessary for Annas to complete the 
story; each had tried to sift it down to its realities. They had heard 
the reports of the appearance of Jesus to His disciples by the Sea 
of Tiberius; and of how He had appeared to others on a mountain 
in Galilee. More, they had heard over and over again the story, in- 
credible to them both, of how Jesus had gathered all His loved ones 
around Him on the top of Mount Olivet, had promised them "Lo, I 
am with you always, even until the consummation of the world" 
and then had visibly departed heavenward until He was hidden 
and lost in clouds. 

Now, in the moist warmth of the torrid night, Annas and Caiphas 
sat together in the dark, remembering so much of this man whom 
they had ordered killed yet who still could plague their peace of 
mind. 

"The reason I came here tonight," explained Caiphas, "is that we 
shall have to agree on a strong policy." 

"You still want action? More action?" 

"Yes." 

Annas clucked his tongue and lips together. 

4< But I thought you had already started on this sort of thing with- 



298 THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD 

out bothering to consult me. Haven't I heard that you had a young 
man named Stephen brought up on charges? Wasn't he a follower 
of Jesus? Did you have a lot of trouble with him?" 

"We condemned him, too." 

"Yes, and you stoned him to death, and the followers of Jesus now 
declare that he is a martyr the first from among themselves." 

"Perhaps he will not be the last." 

"But has it occurred to you, Caiphas, that this brave death con- 
tradicts all that you had to say earlier this evening? Would any man 
be willing to die in a heroic, glorious martyrdom like this- for some 
conjurer's trick involving the stealing of a corpse in a hoax, a sham? 
No! He was one of the men present when they say Jesus showed 
them hands, feet, and the wound in His side." 

"I still don't see " 

"Probably you never will But I shall try to give you a gleam of 
light On the night we killed Him, you remember that two of His 
disciples followed Him into Jerusalem but one of them denied Him 
three times and both kept themselves hidden. What happened to 
the other nine? They couldn't get away fast enough. They went 
back to Galilee where they came from, and glad enough to get 
there. Why? Because they were afraid. They had pretended all 
along to themselves that they believed He was the Messiah and 
maybe they did-but when they came to face danger they lost faith 
and ran.'* 

"Cowards as well as fools!" fleered Caiphas. 

"But what makes them brave now?" asked Annas sternly. "How 
is it a man can die so willingly? All the others, preaching today on 
the streets of Jerusalem, know that their ultimate fate is violent death* 
They know what they stand for and what you stand for, Caiphas, 
and they know this world will always be a place of fear, of want, 
of war, of all kinds of suffering, as long as those two conflicting 
points of view exist The world will be a better place, Caiphas, only 
when their side wins. And they will win. We can only kill them; 
but they can conquer us. 

"Why do they no longer care whether they live or die? Because 
they have seen their leader rise from the dead; they expect to do 
the same; to them, now, life and death are mere words for tempo- 
rary things and do not really matter* Since the resurrection, that is 
what it means to be a Christian." 

Again there was silence except for the droning of the insects. 



THE THIRD YEAR 299 

Sobered Caiphas was thinking of that tmcompromisable conflict. 

"Lord Annas," said Caiphas, "the tales of rising from the dead are 
comical. The views taught by the followers of this man are not 
comical they are subversive. I propose to stamp these people out so 
that they will never be heard of again; there won't be a Christian 
left in the world!" 

Old Annas sucked on his noisy tooth. 

"Very well," he said. "Do as you will do anyhow. -But Caiphas, 
these roots are deep and spreading. Before you get through God 
only knows I I have a horrible feeling that we have blundered. His- 
tory may blarne us. Worse, history may blame all our nation, all 
Israel, for the guilt that belongs so much to you and me and our rich 
and powerful friends who were afraid of the truth." 

"What is truth?" Caiphas was sarcastic. "Pilate asked Him that. Do 
you know the answer?" 

"No. But now I believe it is truth itself that we nailed to the 
cross and then buried and truth, as usual, rose again." 

Annas chuckled softly. 

"I am old and sleepy," he muttered. "Good-night, Caiphas." He 
moved toward his bedroom. 



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