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Mary Magdalene, Monday October 9, AD 29

I came home to Magdala alone on my donkey, which Tom had kindly fed and watered while we were away in Bethany.  I left Jesus behind to continue mourning with his family.  Today is the last day of Booths, but I don’t suppose Jesus will be thinking about the rain prayers at the moment.

It was such a joy to see my house and farm again.  Most of the campers had moved away, and someone had done a pretty good job of clearing up the site.  There weren’t even any apostles around the place, or evidence of them staying in the courtyard, so perhaps they had gone back to their families or were already out preaching again.

I felt sore and dirty after so long away, and after dark I slipped out alone and indulged myself in the luxury of a swim in the cool sea, free of clothing, free of weight, free of company and free of care for a few minutes.

Tomorrow I’m going to have a good look round and think about what needs doing to get the farm sorted out, and then I’m going to join in doing the work myself.  And I’m going to stop writing this diary for a while before it becomes an obsession.

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Mary Magdalene, Sunday October 8, AD 29

After breakfast I decided to visit Jesus.  I heard the wailing from some way off.  Joseph had died in the night.  The good thing was that Jesus had seen him and they had had a good long talk during the evening.  Maybe Joseph had been holding on for Jesus’ return before he would give in to death’s call.

We spent the day organising the funeral, and suddenly Mary and I were working together on the arrangements as if we had always been close friends.  Joseph’s body had already been laid out, washed and dressed by the time I arrived.  The important thing was to get him buried the same day, before he started to decompose too badly.  Sometimes families lay bodies in stone tombs, partly to avoid accidentally burying someone who isn’t actually dead, like poor Lazarus, and partly so that when they have decomposed completely after a year, the bones can be gathered up and put somewhere safe in an ossuary to await the final judgement, if you believe in the new ideas that there is more to the afterlife than an eternity in the darkness of Sheol.  But as Joseph was very clearly dead and his flesh was on the turn, and Mary didn’t believe in bone boxes, it was a simple earth burial outside the village.

Once the crowd of family and friends had fully gathered, Jesus and his brothers, reunited by this sad but unsurprising event, carried the body, wrapped in a simple cloth shroud, to the burial ground outside the village.  We only had a couple of professional mourners but the rest of us joined in to give the old man a good wailing send-off.  After we had all thrown some earth onto the body and the grave had been filled in, we came back and started preparing the funeral meal.  Mary and I managed to pool sufficient money to buy food and wine for all the guests, and it went off very well.

Now there are days of mourning to arrange, and ritual cleansing for those who have touched the corpse, but the worst of it is over now, and Joseph is at last free of his aches and pains.

Hannah was a great help today too, and it was good to see Tom talking to Jesus and comforting him.

Mary Magdalene, Saturday October 7, 29 CE

Jesus wanted to remain longer in Bethany, but Cyrus woke us early yesterday morning and announced that we were leaving.  Jesus asked if we couldn’t at least stay for the special rain prayers at the end of Booths on Monday, but Cyrus wasn’t in the mood for discussion.  From what I’ve heard via Tom, I think Jesus must have a bit of a hang-up about rain prayers, and perhaps he wanted to see how they did it in Jerusalem.

With Jesus and me squashed together in the seat on the camel’s hump, and Cyrus doing his best not to look uncomfortable, we waved goodbye to Mary and headed north.  We were in Shiloh by early afternoon and stopped at the gatehouse of Cyrus’s house for food and water and to stretch our aching legs and backs.  We managed to reach a place called Geba before sunset, where Cyrus booked us into an inn.  He knew the people in charge there too.  We had a pleasant evening and a good night’s sleep, and were up early again in the morning.  Jesus protested that it was still the Sabbath but Cyrus said that as he was doing all the work and was a Samaritan, it would be OK.

We soon reached Nazareth and I thought Cyrus might continue all the way to Magdala, but to my surprise he said he had things to do and would leave us here.  He probably thought we would want to spend time with friends and family, and I know he gets uncomfortable as someone else’s guest, so I let him go.  I was so grateful for all he had done for us over the past week and told him so.  He hugged me with those big hairy arms and kissed me, which I have to confess gave me an unexpected thrill.  Jesus didn’t react.  I guessed he was distracted by thoughts of what to do while we were here.

I didn’t particularly want to see his family, and he obviously wasn’t ready to meet Tom again yet, so we split up and went to stay in separate houses.  Tom and Hannah were really kind to me, and they and the children seemed so happy together.  We had a lovely evening, but when I fell asleep for a third time during the conversation, Hannah said I should have an early night to recover from my travels.  Tom laughed when he saw me getting my diary out and said he hadn’t written his, or missed doing so, since before Yom Kippur.

Mary Magdalene, Thursday October 5, AD 29

We went to the Temple again today, and to my horror Jesus stood up to preach again.  But even as he was breathing in to speak, another man burst in, barging through the crowds, flailing his arms and declaiming in a booming voice that any preacher would have envied:

“A voice from the East! A voice from the West! A voice from the Four Winds!  A voice against Jerusalem and the Holy House!  A voice against the Bridegrooms and the Brides!  A voice against this whole People!”

The man’s clothes were filthy, torn and ragged.  His hair and beard were worse.  His face was wild.  He stank.  He didn’t even have anything else to say.  But he was the centre of attention.

“A voice from the East!  A voice from the West!  A voice from the Four Winds…” he went on, repeating the same rant again and again.  No one was exactly sure what he was on about, but any voice against Jerusalem or the Temple or the People was unwelcome and potentially dangerous at a time like this.

The crowds soon began to tire of him and shouted him down.  He started to shuffle out, but then the spirit seemed to possess him again and his arms flailed, his eyes lit up, his lungs filled up and the same mysterious message boomed out again.

This time some of the people decided to use force to shut him up and there was a scuffle, but the man, who some identified as a local self-styled prophet called Jesus son of Ananias, broke free and continued shouting, only even louder than before.

The soldiers had no choice but to intervene.  They looked desperate for some action anyway and didn’t need encouraging.  The same four who had gone after my Jesus yesterday charged in to grab the man, the crowd scattering to let them through.  They grabbed him roughly and dragged him off, beating him with relish at any hint of resistance.  He would be flogged half to death, if he was lucky.  The Romans have executed troublemakers for less than this.

After a while everything settled again and my thoughts turned back to finding Jesus, to let him know we were here and persuade him to get out before he became the soldiers’ next victim.   When I finally saw him, his eyes had that distant gaze as if he was preparing himself to preach.  Surely not, after what had just happened.

Unfortunately I was right.   He launched into a denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees at full volume.  The power of his voice and his ability to annoy the crowd were no match for the other Jesus, but his message was clear enough, and his attack on powerful groups who had no sense of humour or humility verged on the suicidal.

Many of the ordinary people in the crowd seemed to agree with Jesus, which just made the reaction of his targets worse.  They were cursing and pushing through to get at him.  The soldiers would be next.

We had by now managed to edge much closer.  Cyrus made a grab for him, bundling him out of the way before anyone else could join in.  Jesus struggled but then realised who it was and stopped fighting back.  Some of the insults Cyrus was hissing were almost as bad as the things the Scribes and Pharisees were saying, but Jesus somehow took it from him.

We kept moving till we reached Bethany, where Mary was pleased to see Jesus again. He was ravenous and can hardly have eaten since he arrived in Jerusalem.

Mary Magdalene, Wednesday October 4, 29 CE

I don’t know how we expected to find Jesus in a place the size of Jerusalem, with its population swollen by thousands of extra visitors.   With Booths following so soon after New Year and Yom Kippur it must be a very busy few weeks for the city, and I expect the authorities really look forward to getting back to normal.

I couldn’t believe how big and busy Jerusalem is.  I had been before, unlike Jesus, but not during a festival.  I had forgotten the awesome scale of the temple, which dominates the city and can be seen from miles away.  Its walls are as smooth as skin and unbelievably high, and it covers an area as big as a village.

The thing I really noticed was the number of Roman soldiers around.  In Galilee we hardly see a single one from one year to the next, but here they were everywhere and looking very alert, ready to react to the slightest hint of trouble.  I suppose if anyone is going to start a rebellion, they are likely to do it at feast times when big crowds gather and the Jews become more conscious of their glorious past and their current subjugation.  I hoped Jesus had managed to keep a low profile and not get himself arrested by stirring up the crowds with his controversial ideas.

Cyrus wanted to see inside the temple so we ventured into its outer areas.  It was like a street market, with many stalls selling special birds and animals for sacrifice, and others offering to exchange our everyday currency for Temple money, because only pure Temple money can be used to buy the flawless sacrificial animals.  I felt we should perhaps buy a pigeon to have burned on our behalf, but Cyrus turned his nose up and asked what kind of all-powerful world-creating God would need to receive paltry burnt offerings in rituals that differed little from those dedicated to pagan statue-gods.  He had a point.

Then I saw Jesus, some way off in the crowds.  I resisted the urge to go over and greet him and instead observed him from a distance.  Far from the imposing presence he was in Galilee, he looked insignificant and withdrawn here.  He was looking at the tables of the sellers and money-changers with what might have been distaste, and I could imagine a small-town man like him being overwhelmed by the crowds, the noise and the utter vastness and commerciality of it all.

I watched for some time and half expected him to spot me, but he was too absorbed in what was going on around him or inside his head.  I caught Cyrus’s eye, who nodded to show he had also noticed him.

After a while Jesus walked towards a wall and started breathing more deeply, perhaps from anxiety caused by the crowds.  Then I noticed he was carrying a small stool in his hand.  When he reached the wall, he put the stool down and stood up on it.  Oh no! We had arrived just in time to see him start preaching, here in the house of God where the most sophisticated Jewish religious leaders worked and Roman thugs stood around looking for trouble.

I have to admit he did it well, once he overcame his early jitters and the people around him quietened down and began to listen.  Having preached so much in synagogues before, he knew exactly how to say what he wanted to say.  He started safely enough, discoursing on the scriptures with great authority, using all his learning and experience.  People recognised his Galilean accent and I heard murmurs of surprise that such a hick could exhibit such insight.

But then he veered off onto the subject of how the priests and scribes were wrong in their interpretation of the law, turning heads with his provocative talk.  Hitting his stride, he progressed to his main theme, warning the increasingly attentive crowd that the end of the age was near and we must all prepare for the arrival of the Son of Man, who would overthrow the world’s leaders and rule in their place.  I could see soldiers’ knuckles whitening as they gripped their spears, and the eyes of priests pointed at him like daggers.

To make things worse he criticised the Pharisees too, and some of them started moving his way.  One near to me was telling a neighbour he had heard a lot about Jesus, which I thought might be helpful until he revealed that what he had heard was tales of healing on the Sabbath.  Pharisees are the sort of people who might argue about whether picking your nose or scratching your backside on the Sabbath constitutes work, so healing is a no-no.

Anyway, after a long and heated argument that attracted even more attention, one of them challenged Jesus to say where his authority to say all these things came from.  After all, to them he was just a semi-literate Galilean labourer.  Never one for subtlety, he told them straight up that his authority came direct from God, adding blasphemy to his crimes.

There wasn’t exactly a riot, but there was certainly a lot of yelling and scuffling, and it was a relief to see that  Jesus’ self-preservation instinct seemed to be working for once.  As soon as he sensed real danger he stepped down from his stool, ducked into the crowds and disappeared.

He was only just in time, because a group of four soldiers was already pushing towards where he had been, knocking people over in their path.  Their aggressive behaviour may have helped Jesus because any outrage at his words was immediately outweighed by loathing of the armed bullies.  Men bravely stood together and risked being beaten or cut down, but during the moments while the soldiers hesitated, unsure how to respond, the atmosphere calmed appreciably.  The soldiers looked at one another, shrugged and abandoned their pursuit of a very minor troublemaker.

I didn’t argue when Cyrus suggested we get out.  On our return to Bethany, Mary insisted we stay the night again, but Cyrus said only on condition that he would buy the food and help cook it.  I didn’t know he was so domesticated.  We had a whole leg of lamb roasted in chunks with herbs and a selection of fresh and dried fruit, as well as some very tasty wine.

“Chateau Magdala,” he announced to me, laughing.  “Honest, this is the wine from your wonderful vineyards Mary.  I brought some with me but we couldn’t try it last night as it needed to settle after the journey.  Not bad, is it?”

Not bad at all.  And fortunately it’s made me feel nice and sleepy after an over-stimulating day.

Mary Magdalene, Tuesday October 3

We stayed in Bethany all day, me helping Mary to get the house in order and Cyrus gathering up her husband’s documents, which he offered to deal with and return to her.  He said he had a new employee who would do it all for him.  She was extremely grateful as she couldn’t read more than a few words and didn’t trust the local scribes to treat a lone widow fairly.

Mary Magdalene, Monday October 2

I was awoken early by loud voices outside.  My fears of being robbed, or worse, by hostile Samaritans returned, and I huddled up in my blanket.  One of the voices sounded vaguely familiar, but it had a harsh Samaritan accent and couldn’t be anyone I knew.

“Hey, Mary!  You up there?  Are you all right hon?”

Hon???  I quickly recognised the voice as coming from my good friend Cyrus, which was an enormous and very welcome surprise, but he had never spoken to me in such a familiar way before.  I quickly ran my fingers through my hair to make sure I didn’t look a complete mess, and struggled to the small opening in the wall of my room that overlooked the courtyard.  He saw me straight away and beamed his biggest smile.  I couldn’t help grinning back like a twenty-years-younger version of myself.

“Get yourself ready and have something to eat, then come and find me outside,” he said.  “You’re travelling with me today.  And if you’ve any complaints about the service round here, let me know and I’ll deal with it.”

He winked at the landlord as he said this and punched him manfully on the shoulder.  I felt completely relaxed and safe again, as well as strangely elated at being tracked down by my good friend and business partner in this strange land.

Tom was just finishing breakfast when I got down.  He had already met Cyrus and was headed back to Nazareth with my donkey in tow, which he said he would take care of till I next passed their way.  He hadn’t particularly wanted to follow Jesus to Jerusalem and was pleased to be able to return to Hannah so soon.  He went to pay our bills but discovered that Cyrus had settled up already.

When I went outside with my small bag I was greeted by Cyrus standing by the side of the smart new camel he had acquired just prior to leaving Magdala.  He helped me up into the grand-looking seat which had been moved towards the back of the hump, then clambered up and sat on a blanket in front of me.  I was about to ask if he was all right sitting there when he shouted ‘hold tight’ to me and ‘yallah’ to the camel, whereupon we took off at great speed.  I have never experienced a faster or smoother mode of transport.  It was breathtaking.  We passed the time catching up on events.

Cyrus turned out to be a brother of the innkeeper, who had worked out who we were and had sent word to the town of Shiloh where Cyrus lived.  We went through Shiloh on our journey and saw his house, but didn’t stop at all.  Cyrus said he had been planning to travel up to Magdala very soon, having allowed a few days for everyone to get over the world not having ended, to help get my farm and the surrounding land back into order and encourage the followers to give up and go home.  Our arrival near his home had been a complete surprise, but he was excited by the prospect of an unplanned trip and being able to see me and Jesus.

We soon arrived in Bethany, a village just outside Jerusalem where Lazarus and his family had lived before they moved to Galilee.  While his younger sister Martha had moved north with him and the family, his older sister Mary had stayed behind to get married, and I had only met her once before, at our wedding.  Cyrus was fine about stopping to drop in on her, but became embarrassed and impatient when I started asking locals for directions, even though we had no address or map.  When we found the house, Mary was outside, dressed in black.

Cyrus helped me down and, after I had reminded her who I was, Mary and I kissed in greeting.   Then she invited us indoors to get out of the sun and invited us to have dinner and stay the night.  Cyrus wanted to find an inn so he could leave us to talk alone, or more likely so he could drink and share stories with other men, but Mary said she had a spare room he could use and insisted he stayed.

We chatted for hours but the main news was that her husband had died a few weeks ago from a heart attack while working outside.  She had the house and some savings so she wouldn’t become destitute, but it had still been a huge shock.  I felt guilty that I hadn’t gone to the funeral or been around to help her, but Mary said it was her fault for not getting in touch.   She’d had so much to do and Galilee was so far away that the funeral would have been over anyway before we received news of it.  I promised I would let Martha and Lazarus know as soon as I got back.

The other news was that after not having seen any of us for years, she had met Jesus only an hour or so earlier.  Our high speed camel had almost caught him up.  Mary said Jesus seemed concerned about having missed the beginning of the Booths celebrations and wanted to get to Jerusalem before he missed any more, otherwise he would have stayed longer.  He obviously wasn’t aware that I had followed him.

We ate outside where Mary had constructed an awning of greenery for the festivities.  It wasn’t a full scale wooden booth with a roof of greenery that you could actually live in, like some people make, to commemorate the booths the Israelites built in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, but it was a nice touch.  When bed time came round, Cyrus said he would like to sleep outside under the awning, as it was a lovely cool night.  Mary and I retreated indoors where we continued chatting until she fell asleep.  I’m getting as bad as Tom, scratching away into the night with my quill, but some impulse is driving me to record what is happening in these eventful times, and I don’t suppose Tom will be bothering any more.