Chapter One

To some it was a slum that could better feed its dogs than its own people; to others it was a house of idolatry and a den of blasphemers that invited weary foreigners in for a crust of bread and drank strong drink long into the night with them, all the while uttering imprecations unto the Lord. To some its relatively low profile among the other larger and more developed towns of the Galilean region made it a sanctuary of rebels and bastards; and to others yet it served as nothing if not a sorrowful example of the dangers of placing your village in a place where it would be destroyed year upon year during the season of the rains. But to the tight-knit population of Nazareth, it was home.

The settlement was not any time-honored city, actually—only organized proper, or rather haphazardly slapped together of mud and clay, in the last days of the Idumean, whose son Herod had been granted the region from his ailing father and went on to be named ‘the king of the Jews’ purely by the might of Rome, on whose lap the so-called basileus iudaeorum proudly sat. In truth, most Jews had hated him while Herod yet breathed, and the Nazarenes were no different. And even now, as Herod’s son Antipas was tetrarch of the region did the sons of Israel despise the kings set over them. They were a poor people; mostly struggling farmers and a handful of craftsmen who hired themselves out to other towns for work. But for the house of Israel it was on this day, just as it was on so few other days of the year, that the men of Nazareth might forget their poverty and rejoice.

It so happened that tonight was the night before the fifteenth of Tishri, that is, the day marking the beginning of the harvest festival Sukkot, and spirits were high. The day before, every Nazarene had rushed through his daily tasks and finished the last of whatever harvesting needed to be done in order to prepare for this day: it was a day of resting, in which no physical labor or long-distance travel was allowed. In anticipation for the feast and the holy pilgrimage that came with it, all of Nazareth’s residents slept soundly in their beds. All save one.

In his tiny hut near that of his father, the man they called Jesus thrashed around in an uneasy sleep that had lasted for little more than twenty minutes. He hadn’t been able to sleep most of the night; and when he had closed his eyes, what he saw instead were nightmares. Fire engulfing the village and the surrounding countryside, a nearby river drying up before the people’s very eyes, men taking the fire and setting fields ablaze, asps darting through the grass and striking everyone they could see, and as he stood there watching it all, he could hear someone desperately yelling to him, Awake! Awake! Put on strength! Awake, as you have done in days long past! Did you not cut confusion to pieces? Did you not wound a great beast?

He threw himself up from his mat, his elbows and knees shaking. He could hear the rain pouring down on the branch roof of the hut and see droplets seeping through the cracked clay and running down the walls. There was no fire, no snakes, no voice. It was only a nightmare.

Lightning flashed on the hills, and the great din of thunder soon followed. It shook the stone hut and even surprised Jesus, who flinched and kicked a leg out on his mat. He heard some stirring on the mat across from him and saw a figure rise up a little from it. It was his younger brother James.

“It was thunder, James.” Jesus said, laying back down. James grunted a little and flopped back down on his stomach.

James had started spending the nights with Jesus in his hut once he turned seventeen, at which point their father would not permit a ‘son of Israel with a trade of his own’ to sleep next to his younger brothers and sisters, who were crushing one another in their little mats as is. The hut that Jesus had lived in since he was sixteen was still his father’s property, due to its having been built entirely using his father’s tools and resources, but the small plot of soil that it was situated on proved to be Jesus’s with little contest at Joseph’s passing. His uncle Ananiah and his sons came to live with them not too long after that, at which point James basically made permanent residence in this cramped hut. Jesus didn’t really mind his brother’s being there; he enjoyed the company of another soul, and not be so estranged from the family as Ananiah seemed intent on making him. While Jesus didn’t necessarily approve of his mother’s marriage to Ananiah, or ‘Nani’ as he was affectionately called by his younger siblings, he found it futile to get involved in his mother’s affairs, should he inadvertently kindle her wrath and be unable to even speak to her.

He slid himself down to the end of his mat until he could feel one of his feet stick out and closed his eyes in an attempt to fall asleep again. His thoughts went to his friends: John, the potter’s son, whose sense of humor aged like wine; James called Aqabishaq, ‘the spider-leg;’ mighty Asahel of Japhia, who was always prepared to fight for his friends if need be. Jesus had known them for so many years, and in that time so many memories had been made. He recalled the time when the four of them were learning the scrolls of Moses in the house of assembly, and Asahel accidentally misread malakeka as ha’morekha while reciting a selection from the book of the desert; which caused the teacher to burst into laughter when he heard Asahel’s reading of Balaam being dismissed by the Moabites on account of his asses’ testimonies against him. Jesus had laughed then, although at the time Asahel had turned so red that he nearly began crying for embarrassment.