"I knew his voice right away, but it was only when he spoke my name, ‘Mary’, that I was sure."
“SHE WILL SEE you now. Follow me.”
There could be no doubting the Hebrew origin of the middle-aged woman who led me into the central courtyard of the villa. Her dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin were the common inheritance of all the peoples living around the Middle Sea, but her curiously accented Latin was unmistakable. To hear its like I had merely to open my own mouth. Clearly, the graceful figure in front of me was one of my own stiff-necked race.
And there weren’t many Hebrews in this part of Rome’s empire. Southern Gaul is a long way from Palestine, and the city of Massalia isn’t the least bit like Jerusalem. But, here she dwells: a thousand leagues from her homeland; Mary, the companion of Yeshua Ben Joseph; the man Rome crucified 40 years ago but who stubbornly refuses to die. The man called Jesus by his growing band of Roman followers. The god-man about whom the Emperor Vespasian wishes to know more – much more.
“Titus Flavius Josephus – you are as far away from Judea as I am. Or, do you now call Rome your home?”
No, Lady, I was born a Jew – and will die one. I am prepared to admit, however, that Rome is now a good deal safer than Jerusalem for people like ourselves.”
“Oh Jerusalem, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
The old woman’s voice had taken on a different timbre; her eyes were fixed on things I could not see. Shaking-off her reverie, she turned towards me and smiled.
“That’s what he said. About the fate of the Temple. He foresaw its utter destruction.”
“You are speaking of your friend? The rabbi, Yeshua Ben Joseph?
“Yes, Josephus, I am.”
“I have been told, Lady, that you were among the last people to see him alive.”
“That is true, Josephus. Although, you could also say that I was the first person to see him dead.”
Sixty years and more she may have lived upon this earth, but her eyes could still twinkle mischievously. She knew why I had come.
“Tell me about that encounter, Lady. For the events of that day, the third after his crucifixion, are spoken of – by the members of the religious sect I have been tasked with explaining to the Emperor – with a mixture of reverence and awe.”
“And rightly so.” It was the first time the younger woman had spoken. “It is the heart of the mystery. The whole point of the story.”
“Resurrection? The whole point of the Orpheus myth – and the myth of Osiris. He that was dead shall live again.”
“Did you know Orpheus personally? Were you acquainted with Osiris before his unfortunate demise?”
The older woman was teasing me.
“Yeshua Ben Joseph was not a character from a fireside tale, or a temple play, Josephus. He was a carpenter from Nazareth. A flesh and blood man, with callouses on his hands and the word of God on his lips. Your friends, the Romans, nailed him up on a cross for the unforgiveable crime of speaking to large numbers of people in a way that made them want to listen. Oh, how that man could talk! The stories that he told. Small and homely they were: filled with all sorts of everyday things; and yet, somehow, also containing the whole of God’s wisdom – and his purpose.”
“Are you hungry, Titus Flavius Josephus?” The younger woman set down a platter of bread and a jug of wine.
“Thank you, not yet. Tell me about that morning in the garden.
“He was there. What more can I say?”
“He spoke to you?”
“It was as well that he did, for until he spoke I wasn’t certain it was him.”
“What did he say?”
“He said: ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ I knew his voice right away, but it was only when he spoke my name, ‘Mary’, that I was sure.”
The two women sat in silence, their dark eyes upon me. Only then did it strike me that I was looking at a mother and her daughter. As I broke the bread and poured the wine, I couldn’t help wondering who the father might be.
This short story was written for publication during Easter 2018.