Sequel on Skorpiós
by Michael Bishop
Yeshua has died, an old man with tangled nose hairs and rotten teeth. I place two of Caesar's denarii on his eyes, to blind his death-stare. Soon, in this Ionian island's fierce heat, his body will release the first odors of its corruption.
Many people believe that Yeshua died forty years ago on a cross on Skull Mount outside Jerusalem. Many others believe that two days later he rose from his tomb, not as a ghost but as a death-changed cutting of God's selfsame vine. In truth, Yeshua did not die on that cross, and so had no call to come alive again. Our plot entailed bribing two Roman soldiers and so much risk to so many others that even now I marvel that we accomplished it.
In our hovel on Skorpiós, the dead Yeshua hardly resembles the young rabbi whom the soldiers scourged that day, pressing a mock crown onto his head and scarring his back with flails. The crown's thorns and those flails dripped with an opiate I had boiled out of a wilderness lichen. This substance helped Yeshua endure the pain of crucifixion and lapse by the gradual slowing of his heart into a limpness akin to death.
One bribed soldier argued against breaking Yeshua's legs. "He's gone," he said. "Why waste more effort on him?" When another legionary crowed, "For the fun of it," our soldier, to stymie a worse assault, stabbed Yeshua under the ribs with his spear, delivering another dose of opiate. This sustained his deathlike slumber until Sunday morning.
But on Friday evening, Joseph of Arimathea came with an ox cart and several women to Skull Mount, to take Yeshua from the cross. I also came, in woman's garb, and wrestled him into the cart. Later, I carried him into the garden tomb. After I laid him out there, Mary, Mary of Magdala, and Joanna massaged his body with spices and bound him in clean linen strips.
Tonight Yeshua's aged corpse has none of his younger self's poignant beauty. (What foolishness, attempting to reform the corrupt Judean religion by shamming a death and a return!) In its fleeting slumber, his crucified body had appeared ready to soar out of itself on viewless wings. How did so lovely a man dwindle into this
In this wise:
On that long-ago Sunday, Joseph and I crept into the tomb through a hidden tunnel. When Yeshua awoke, we unwrapped his body, robed him, and led him back out to a juniper grove several hundred paces away. From there, Yeshua fled, at length reaching Nazareth in Galilee. Meanwhile, some soldiers moved the tomb's stone (for a rumour had spread, that someone would steal the body) and found nothing inside but Yeshua's discarded wrappings.
Mary and the other women appeared. They lied to Cephas and Jonah Bar-Zebedee, who told their story to the others. Soon, unlikely glimpses of the risen Yeshua occurred, recurred, and convinced. Thomas Didymus, a pious fool who did not even like to gut a haddock, claimed to have thrust his hand into Yeshua's ugly spear wound.
Later, on a Galilean mountain where the rabbi had given his most famous sermon, we feigned a resurrection event. Even more people believed. When the Romans came to investigate, Yeshua and I hiked to Tyre and boarded a Greek merchant ship, yielding the preaching of his gospel to an army of beloved dupes.
Cephas, the brothers Boanerges, the man once named Saul, and many others carried our false good tidings (believing them implicitly) to the Gentiles, to
every major city on the jagged northern shore of the Middle Sea. Soon, colonies of Christ followers pocked the coastlands, suffering the scorn of pagan neighbors but infecting many others with belief. Yeshua, whom some of these evangels would have recognized even in disguise, avoided his old comrades.
We settled in a small village on Skorpiós. I made and sold rare medicines. Yeshua carpentered or fished. He nearly undid us, though, by urging baptism on amazed pagans and casting his cryptic parables before them like pearls.
And then a fishing accident left Yeshua unable to move any body part but his eyes. If God had chosen Yeshua (as Yeshua had always said, even during our Passover ruse), why had this paralyzing injury befallen him? I could not believe that God would so cruelly humble his anointed son, but my affection for Yeshua led me to serve him
as physician and slave. I fed and cleaned him, turned him to keep him from growing pallet sores. Beyond assisting in his lie, though, what had I done to render myself this imposter's keeper?
Observing me at work, an islander asked me why I did not abandon Yeshua and return to Palestine. I recalled Yeshua's admonitions to visit the sick, to go to the prisoner, and I stayed. The plealess dignity of his gaze also spoke to me. Heal yourself, I silently begged him. Meanwhile, my ministry to him stretched into years. Often I prayed that he would die. His eyes, though, kept me from denying him food, or the solacing rubdown, or the occasional clumsy story.
Travellers to our village sometimes told me of the spread throughout Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy of a queer Judean sect trumpeting a saviour who had died but who now lived again as an emblem of eternal hope. I said nothing in contradiction, even though the saviour himself, eating and eliminating, mocked this hope every time I rubbed ointment on his sores or added fresh ticking to his pallet. My faith in the man had died long ago, even before the accident at sea.
Frequently, of course, I cursed myself for a fool.
Yeshua withers before me, I bitterly mused, and the dead do not rise.
This morning, in his seventy-third or fourth year, long after most other chronic invalids would have passed on, Yeshua in fact died. I have leisure to write. The dead do not rise. Even worse, God does not preside.
Yeshua's corpse, its aroma unbearably high, sits propped against the parapet in mute witness to God's silence. I should bury the man, but the act has no urgency for me, even in this heat. Does it matter that our lives have no follow-on, that we sleep rather than soar? Tonight, as Yeshua's corruption rises, mere oblivion seems a gift.
God forgive me, I burned him on the beach. I made an oven of stones and torched his tenantless body. The smoke climbed both sweet and foul
into the evening sky. His skull failed to burn. More disturbing to me, so did his heart.
If only in the here and now we have hope in Yeshua, we who loved him constitute the most pitiable people on earth—as I, a slave in bondage to a lie partly of my own devising, have known for years. And now
Yeshua has appeared to me. Without even opening a door, he stood before the table in my hovel cupping his unburnt heart in his hands. He
laid the heart on my table. He looked like an old man, but an old man in perfect health with a strange bronze nimbus about his face and arms. He said to me, after years of invalid muteness, "Congratulations, Lebbeus," and vanished as startlingly as he had come.
I do not know what this means. But Yeshua's heart still rests on my table, and I did not visit the beach to fetch it here. (Nor have I gone mad, like those from whom Yeshua once evicted demons.) Meanwhile, his heart smells sweet, less like braised flesh than new roses, and what I begin to know is that I must open my own to its fragrance.
© 1998 by Michael Bishop
Reprinted with permission from the author