The Adulteress

By Jeannette DiLouie

Religion & spirituality, Historical fiction

Paperback, eBook

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219
4 mins

 

Chapter I

“Death to Rome and death to the Romans!”
The shout was loud, even in the busy marketplace with all its natural chaos. It rose above the sounds of chickens squawking as they were manhandled out of wooden crates, and the cries of vendors straining to be heard over the competition.
How the voice of a single foolish zealot carried over all that, Keziah didn’t know. But it did nonetheless, and she swiveled her head for a curious glance his way. She could see him just as clearly as she could hear him, since he was standing several heads above everyone else. It was obvious he’d found something to climb on top of, though she couldn’t see exactly what that something was when she was still so many yards away.
“It’s either their death or ours,” the beardless boy continued, his arms outstretched, his eyes passionate. “Are we really going to stand by and let them overrun us with their heathen customs and barbarous reign? Or are we going to show them once and for all what Jews are really made of?”
Keziah shook her head and kept walking. She might only be fifteen years old, probably about the same age as the plainly dressed zealot. But she still knew the proper answer to his hotheaded questions. As God’s Chosen, her people were far superior to the Romans in religion and manner; but Caesar had the definite upper hand when it came to military might. There was no use denying it and even less point resisting it. So why bother?
The Messiah would come soon enough anyway, she was sure, and then Israel would be free from all oppression forever. Until that happened though, there was little use fighting their unwanted occupiers. Besides, the Roman soldiers were more a symbolic nuisance than anything else, since they did little more than march through the city a few times a day. It was their way of reminding Jews like her to keep the peace, a warning she personally had little problem obeying.
Apparently, some others disagreed.
“How long are we going to let them treat us like a conquered people?” The young man demanded. “How much more of their oppressive presence can we tolerate?”
Like most of the crowd, Keziah gave him a wide berth when she made her way past. There were a few people, mostly men, who were standing around the zealot, listening with dark scowls and angry gestures of agreement. But they were the exception. While most Jews didn’t exactly appreciate the Roman presence in their land, they valued their daily lives too much to make a fuss about it. Just as long as Rome didn’t interfere very heavily with their everyday commerce and religious practices, it could be tolerated.
Barely, but still tolerated.
It was either that or risk some Roman form of death, which wasn’t a pleasant thought. The zealot so publically airing his grievances might think his treasonous words worthwhile in the marketplace. But he’d probably change his mind quickly enough if he found himself rotting in a Roman dungeon or hanging miserably from a cross.
Even if his message was worthwhile, Keziah still wouldn’t have stopped to listen. She had an errand to run, the same exact one she had run the morning before and the morning before that and the morning before that: delivering her father’s lunch at the Temple.
He had never been absentminded before, as far as she could remember. But for the last two weeks, it seemed he’d forgotten to pack a meal every single day. So every single day, her mother would wrap up a hunk of bread with a handful of dried dates and a thick slice of cheese, fill up a small flagon of wine and send Keziah off to find him.
Keziah wasn’t allowed into the area where her father actually worked, but she knew her limited access wouldn’t restrict her ability to find him. There were plenty of places she could go inside the enormous Temple grounds, including its main enclosure. Called the Courtyard of Gentiles, it encircled everything else like the outer peel of a huge, rectangular onion.
From the outside, set up at the city’s highest point, that first enclosure was mainly made of blindingly white limestone bricks built up like a fortress. Walking toward it, Keziah could see other structures jutting out from behind the closest wall. There was the Courtyard of Men, which took up a mere fraction of the larger Temple. And then above even that was the towering magnificence of the Holy of Holies, the sacred place inside the Temple where El Echad, the One God, came to visit when he saw fit. That final building stood significantly higher than everything else around it, drawing attention from both inside Jerusalem and outside: a beacon to weary travelers still miles away.
The whole enormous structure was breathtakingly beautiful, especially when the sun hit its golden accents. Keziah always found her chin lift a little higher whenever she passed it by, much less when she went inside. So she could feel it rise again when she slowly climbed the spotless white steps, moving upward until she could see right through the rows of bright white colonnades into the Courtyard of the Gentiles beyond.
It was something to be monumentally proud of, despite the half-dozen Roman soldiers she could also spot mingling there.
They were in full uniform, with their polished bronze breastplates and their equally shiny helmets that covered most of their heads and necks, and much of their cheeks and foreheads. They stood in perfectly aligned intervals, watching over everyone inside to make sure that nobody preached any words of sedition against Caesar. Not that their presence did much good in that regard. The Jews had their ways of saying what they wanted to say, even if it was for no better purpose than to complain.
Passing through the colonnades and beneath the exquisite cedar roofing, Keziah’s eyes wandered over the massive open space in front of her. At that hour, with the sun so directly overhead, there weren’t many people milling about; even the Roman soldiers had carefully tucked themselves into shady places. Across the courtyard, past the steps leading into the Court of Women and beyond, she could hear the faint sounds of cows lowing from the Temple market. But she ignored the noise, setting out instead toward the middle ground. It was an area where she was allowed to enter and the silent soldiers could not. Ever.
It was hard not to smile, if only internally, at that distinction.
There was a low wall of sorts that marked the division between the two areas. Every so many yards, it featured signs etched into solid stone and painted over with bright red dye, each one warning non-Jews to keep out on penalty of death. The men and women who were allowed past could choose between milling about in the open or walking further in, up a short set of stairs and through another doorway into a much more private spot. There wasn’t any real roof to cover the towering walls there, just permanent awnings, but it was still completely hidden from Gentile eyes. To ensure that, Temple guards regularly patrolled the area with full authority to dispatch anyone who dared to disobey.
Keziah wasn’t afraid of them when she crossed the threshold and climbed the steps though. She had the right to be there. She was someone. A Jew. An Israelite. A descendant of Abraham.
Yes, she knew very well that she was only a female descendant, whose greatest calling in life was to honor her parents and whomever they chose to be her husband. But even with that decidedly low position, Keziah was still aware that she was valuable. She still mattered. She was Chosen.
The Court of Women she stepped into was a far smaller area inside those walls, where Jewish men could mingle freely and Jewish women could go to pray. But its size just made it more intimate, if a space that could easily hold a few thousand people could be called any such thing.
It was always in there that she found her father waiting for her, under the cedar awnings in the corner furthest away from where she entered and closest to the Court of Men. It was almost like he purposely forgot his lunch just so she could bring it to him. And just as suspicious was how his cousin, Shelah bin Judah, always happened to be there too.
They were the same age, her father and Shelah, or very nearly so. Technically Keziah had never asked how old the other man was. She merely assumed they were both in their late thirties since both their beards were more gray than black, and their faces were similarly lined around their eyes. The only thing that seemed to suggest otherwise was the deference her father always gave his cousin, almost to the point of reverence. But she knew that had nothing to do with the respect due an elder.
Shelah had something her father didn’t...



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