Source: Thomas, Monday 24 April, 29 AD
I need to write this before the sun finishes setting, then try to get some sleep. Last night seemed very long with no lamps and no one to talk to, but I suppose I’ll get used to it. I promised Tom I’d keep a diary of my experiences out here. Normally I’m no good at that sort of thing, not like he is, but it’s something to do. As well as being very long, the night here is very dark and incredibly noisy. People say it’s the Devil and his demons making all those deathly noises as they roam around in the dark. Tom says it’s all animals and birds really, but I’d like to hear him say that after being out here completely alone for a few nights. In fact I’d like to see him right now anyway, no matter what he had to say. I haven’t seen a single person, not even anyone else testing himself like I’m doing. I wonder what meeting the Devil is like. Would God protect me against him?
It’s already getting cold, and I’m so hungry. I haven’t so much as seen a locust, so at least I haven’t had to try to catch one or work out how to eat it. The trouble with locusts is they tend to come in swarms, or plagues if things are really bad, so you get none for ages and then thousands come along all at once. I wonder if there will be a plague any time soon. You only really hear about plagues when they come to devastate your crops, and if there were any crops around here I’d be able to eat them instead of the locusts, so it looks like no plague. I can’t even find any wild grass with seeds on it to eat.
Moses had manna, whatever that is. Something miraculous. But then Moses was a genuine holy man. Knowing me, if I had some manna a plague of locusts would descend and devour it, then fly off before I could catch any of them. I’m thirsty too. I found some stagnant water in a hole and made myself drink some of it, but I’d give anything for a well or a nice cool spring. It’s getting too dark to write now. I hope this stone makes a more comfortable pillow than the one I had last night. What was that noise? Sounds like wild dogs. I hope they don’t find me and attack me in the night.
Just a quick entry at lunchtime as I can’t write after the Sabbath begins at sunset. We hardly noticed the long walk back in the hot sun yesterday and we were all still buzzing when we arrived home. Jesus’ brothers and their families joined us and everyone crammed into Joseph and Mary’s house and started sharing stories and drinking wine. Only Mary seemed untouched by the general excitement, as you can be when people descend and start going on about something you weren’t involved in.
My aim now is to get Jesus on the road as soon as possible while there’s such a strong vibe going round. Some of the stories from the Jordan seemed to have arrived before we did, and people were looking and pointing in our direction.
Haven’t camped out under the stars like this since I was a boy. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people here, all having walked miles like we did, ready to catch John the Baptist when he starts preaching in the morning. I need to get some sleep now. I eventually managed to negotiate a half day off work, though I will have to make it up. We Ruth and Sam with Mary and walked here with Jesus. Joseph came along too and brought his doves in their little cage. Mary encouraged him to go so she didn’t have to look after him as well as the kids, and I wanted him along anyway. My feet are a bit sore and dusty but otherwise I’m fine, and Hannah is more excited than I’ve seen her in years. I hadn’t quite realised what an effect a good speaker can have on people. Dad was supposed to be coming along to join us but I haven’t seen him yet. I hope he’s all right.
Thomas, Tuesday April 25
Went to see Jesus again after work, hoping he would have recovered some composure. My wife Hannah was there with Ruth and Sam, our two kids, and Jesus’ mum Mary invited us to stay for dinner. Jesus and I went up on the roof for a quiet drink while they got things ready.
You should have seen his face when it started to rain. He glared up at the sky and did his gritted teeth and narrowed eyes look, but then he thought better of it and knelt to give thanks. He must have decided it’s not a good idea to get on the wrong side of God, even if he’s made you look stupid. I went inside to keep dry and left him to it. It may have been the end of a dry spell but it wasn’t like the end of a summer drought when you just want to dance around in it and get drenched.
Dinner was a real treat. Joseph, his father, had been given half a goat by a grateful patron, and Mary had made a delicious stew with it. Something like that makes a change from bread all the time with the odd bit of fish or fruit. Most of Jesus’ younger brothers and sisters still live at home, and James came round with his family, so it was quite an occasion, though Jesus looked a bit out of it. Maybe he was still thinking about the rain. The sarcastic comments from his brothers can’t have helped. Joseph didn’t say much either, but he never has done. He’s the kind of man who’s never happier than when absorbed in making something in his workshop, or when he’s looking after his doves. He talks to them more than he talks to people.
He’s a lovely man though, not like my father. I don’t know if it’s the drink or old age, but Dad is definitely losing the plot and can be a real embarrassment at times. Some say he’s been touched by God, but I doubt it. Start to lose your mind round here and they have you marked down as a prophet.
Mary just ignored them both and chatted to the others. By the time we’d finished dinner the rain had stopped. Jesus walked with us back to our house, and he and I sat outside and chatted.
“It’s so much quieter here,” he said. “I can’t hear myself think at home sometimes. How do you keep your kids so well behaved?”
“It’s all Hannah’s doing. She’s devoted to them. I don’t know how your mum puts up with you all still living at home or dropping in all the time with your families. She must be a saint. Anyway, if you went back to your wife you could have all the peace and quiet you wanted, and no children to get under your feet either.”
“Thank you Tom.” He didn’t mean it. I never quite knew why the two of them separated. It would have been easy enough to get a divorce but neither of them seemed to want to sever the link completely, so they carry on in a kind of limbo. I think in a way they are still very much in love, but somehow when they’re together they don’t quite connect. The lack of kids never seemed to bother him but I know it got to her eventually, and that put a strain on things. He once told me how they used to pray that she would conceive. He took it badly when that didn’t work, and he told her it might have done if she’d had more faith. She took that badly.
She’s got money too, and a nice piece of farmland and a house with a beach frontage leading down to the Sea of Galilee. He used to enjoy working the crops and rounding up the sheep that she kept in the hills beyond. He spent all night searching when one of the lambs went missing once. I think he missed his family here in Nazareth, even if they don’t seem to care that much for him. His mum in particular can be a bit frosty towards him at times. Not like his poor wife, sitting there all alone in Magdala. She was never frosty. I changed the subject.
“Have you decided whether to take the credit for tonight’s rain then?”
“The credit for the rain goes to God, not the person who prayed for it,” he said in that holier-than-thou manner of his. “Anyway, one hour’s light rain, two days late isn’t that impressive. Add to that the fact that young David son of Jonathan was making a big show of rainmaking in the town square this afternoon…No, I’ll let him claim it. I’m sure God has greater things in store for me.”
We sat in silence for a bit.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said.
“Don’t tell me, you’re quitting as a rainmaker but you’re going to give this game one last shot and build up a following ready to greet God when he arrives to create his new kingdom on…”
“How on earth?”
“Well, apart from the fact we’ve been best mates since we were kids and I can read you like a scroll, there’s the fact that you drop heavy hints about it all the time and you’re in your mid-thirties and your life isn’t going anywhere. Most blokes in your situation would take up fishing, if they weren’t actually fishermen already, or go out and get hold of that ass they had been coveting for years, but you’re not like most blokes. So, when are you going to start then?”
“I didn’t think you were interested.”
“If you mean I have serious doubts about whether the world as we know it is about to come to an end, or that everything in it is ordained by God, who has for some reason allowed his chosen people to suffer at the hands of oppressors for hundreds of years but has a grand plan to come to earth and put things right, then yes, I’m not that interested,” I said. “And I never understood why a God who created all life on earth and the sun and the stars should only be interested in the fate of a few tribes from northern Palestine. Or why such an all-powerful God would allow bad gods and demons to cause so much suffering and need to plan a special rescue mission to put things right.
“But thousands of smarter people than me say it’s true, so maybe there is something in it. And anyway, if we do need to find a leader who will win us favour with God, I’d rather it was you than someone else. And I can help give you an edge.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, for a start you’ll need a campaign manager, someone to help you work on your message to make sure it stands out and people find it attractive, someone to arrange and publicise your meetings,” I said. “I can write. I have lots of good ideas all the time but any show of flair gets stamped on at work, and Hannah never takes any notice.”
I was hurt to see he was laughing at me.
“I’m sorry Tom, but I think you may have drunk too much wine. One minute you’re doubting obvious truths about the world, the next you want to be at my side helping to round people up ready for God’s return. And what’s all this talk about campaign managers, working on a message and publicity? I’m not trying to raise an army or win a seat in the Senate.”
“But you are, in a way. You said yourself you want to lead your people and win a place in God’s new kingdom. You haven’t got money to pay soldiers or buy favours with the powerful, but you don’t need it for this. It’s all about persuasion. There are any number of men out there preaching, some even doing exorcism as well, so you need to find something to make you stand out, something to make you that little bit unique.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m grateful for the offer, but even if I did need some sort of manager, I’m still not sure I’d choose someone who didn’t believe in what he was campaigning for.”
We were both getting tired and agreed to leave it there for now.
Dropped round to see Jesus after work. He was inconsolable.
“I’m finished as a rainmaker, Tom,” he said. “Totally, completely and utterly finished. I’ll never hold my head high in Nazareth again.”
I tried to reassure him but I was clearly only there as an audience, so I listened.
“For two whole days I stood there in the village square, calling on God to answer my prayers and bring rain. Nothing. Not a shower. Not a drop. Not even a small cloud. I tried raising my arms to Heaven…”
“I tried kneeling…”
“I tried grovelling…Shut up Tom.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“No, but you were about to. I even drew a circle and stood in it and refused to move until God made it rain. It worked for Honi the Circle Drawer when he did it. It must have done, or he would be called Honi the Something Else.”
“Well, it didn’t work for me. God called my bluff. I tried silent prayer. I tried shouting, singing, praising, demanding, imploring, beseeching. In the end they started laughing at me. Don’t say a thing Tom. I can’t believe it didn’t rain. It’s the driest spring we’ve had for years and it always rains by now. It’s almost as if God has forgotten us. I wasn’t trying for anything particularly miraculous, but I just thought he might need a reminder.”
“Maybe he’s been busy with other things,” I said. “Maybe he needs reassuring how much we appreciate him. Perhaps you should have tried a sacrifice. It’s about the only thing you didn’t try.”
“Well, he didn’t take any notice of all the things I did try.”
“I thought my luck was in this morning. The sky was a bit hazy and I thought some clouds might develop, but you saw what it was like Tom. By about eleven it was completely clear and the sun was beating down. That was when I wondered if God was mocking me. That bunch of people who’d been watching me certainly were. The hardest part was trying to walk away as if I didn’t care. There was nowhere to hide. I can still hear the laughter inside my head.”
Anything I said at this point would have been wrong. I had crept out of work this morning to watch from a distance, and it hadn’t been pleasant.
“They won’t laugh when this age comes to a violent end and God arrives in power and glory to create his new kingdom on earth. I’ll be there, ready and waiting, with all my followers, to join the chosen ones while the wicked are cast out into the darkness. Then, later, at the end of the kingdom on earth, God will take the faithful up to heaven to be with him forever. The faithless will say, ‘why didn’t you give us a sign?’ but true believers need no sign. That must be why God didn’t make it rain today.”
“What followers? What kingdom? What are you on about? I thought you were only trying to make it rain,” I said, but he wasn’t listening. I put my arm around his shoulders and gave him a hug. Told him I’d come to see him tomorrow and talk about it some more. Went home to the sanity of my family.