Saturday, April 08, 2006

Miracle at Jabneel

Excerpt (pp. 16-31) taken from the Time of Miracles, English translation by Lovett F. Edwards; copyright © 1976 by Hartcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. Northwestern University Press, 1994. Originally published in Serbian –Vreme čuda, © 1965 by Borislav Pekić.

(…) In New Jabneel lived the leper woman Egla, married to Uriah of the tribe of Zebulon, an unclean washer of the dead, and we mention Old Jabneel because her former, clean husband Jeroboam, a newcomer or a refugee from Sidon, held the office of town crier there.

Egla had never forgotten the golden-tongued Jeroboam, though she got on well with the strong, simple giant Uriah, partly because the Lord had separated them both from his chosen community and thus directed them to one another, and partly because advanced leprosy, like any chronic illness, had perverted the hitherto unawakened body of the plowman’s son and had forced his newborn lustful fantasies, concentrated and unexpectedly abundant and not divided among many wives and concubines, on the only available.

Egla found enjoyment in Uriah even when, during the summer pestilence, he would crawl exhausted out of the mortuary and caress her with movements – similar to those he used in rubbing corpses – which he enlivened by ribald remarks about clients whose families were bad risks. (…)

(…) Her spiritual passion yearned for Jeroboam’s baritone, for that voice deep and clear as the sound of the ram’s horn by which the caravans understood one another – a voice that no longer served to arouse her sexual desires, or to issue household commands or chant the psalms of David on the days of the feast of Passover, but rather to anger the people of Old Jabneel with fresh obligations to the Roman bloodsuckers and their heavenly protector.

That voice, which Jeroboam released like a sweet bird at dusk, lured Egla out of Uriah’s house without fear of scandal, for her husband was busily washing and combing the corpses: it drew her to the Jabtel ravine where, cowering in the hot weeds like a driven beast, she waited to catch the golden Falcon of Jeroboam’s words, which grew louder or weaker, advanced or retreated, soared or sank deep down, depending at which crossroads he was shouting the instructions of his masters.

Naturally she was unable to see him, still less to touch him. The Law forbade them to even talk to each other. But to her fettered spirit his bodiless voice was a sufficient password, just as the incomprehensible Thundering of God’s speech are sufficient for the true believer to interpret with eager heart those words of the supreme will which have not been uttered. However, these words were uttered. They were words addressed to her only. (…)

“To all citizens of Jabneel, of both the upper and the lower town, of the four suburbs and of the commune of Jabneel greeting from the Most Gracious King of Galilee and Peraea, Herod Antipas the Tetrarch. Let it be known that we are concerned and in fatherly anger that the tithe due to Caesar is being paid sluggishly, that the state taxes are being evaded by subterfuges unworthy of true believer, that those who are under an obligation to provide labor are avoiding their responsibilities.

We have also noticed that our subjects do not obey the Testament of Our Father; that priests are bribed not to expel the unclean from among them, that they look trough their fingers at the incestuous and those who waste their seed, and not only benevolently protect adulterers but lead them to whoredom by their own example; and that the very people do not show us respect but call us “Edomite vagabond,’ ‘palace toady’ and other highly treasonable insults which encourage them to revolt against the Lord’s anointed and shed the blood of the faithful.

But desiring that Israel remain the favorite of He Who Is, who has consecrated it to himself and his aims, Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, gives order that he who does not pay to the people what belongs to the people shall be scourged and then crucified, and his property be forfeit; he who does not pay to God what is God’s, in blasphemy and lawlessness, let his tongue be torn out, let him be castrated, let him be quartered and his filthy entrails scattered to the four winds, except the east; he who does not pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s let him suffer all those punishments hereafter written – let his property be forfeit, let his skin be shaven from him with a razor, his tongue torn out, his eyes burned out in daylight, his ears cut off in the midst of the market place and ground on a block, his limbs crushed and broken by mallets, and then let him be castrated, quartered and his entrails thrown anywhere except to the east, and let all those who escape this punishment be crucified for three days, and that you, my dear one, are like a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots, you cheeks comely with rows of jewels, your neck with chains of gold, and your hair like a flock of goats which pasture on the hills of Gilead; your lips are as a thread of scarlet, your neck is like the tower of David built for an armory where a thousand bucklers hang, your two breasts are like two young roes which feed among the lilies, your lips drip as the honeycomb, my bride, honey and milk are under your tongue and the smell of your garments are like the smell of Lebanon; you are a closed garden, my sister, my bride, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed, my little dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the heights, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your face is divine and your voice sweet, and this also your king orders to the people of Old Jabneel: we have heard a report of a crafty troublemaker, a schismatic and apostate, Jesus of Nazareth who, declaring himself to be the Son of God and King of the Jews, has laid greedy hands on God’s inheritance, absolving the lawless, cleaning the lepers, raisin the dead, making whole the maimed and therefore binding those who are loosed in heaven and loosed those who are bound in heaven, blaspheming, seducing, luring and desecrating (for who dares to raise up again one whom Adonai’s will has numbered and set aside and my club has struck on the neck), therefore we proclaim to any who may know him that it is Caesar’s will that this usurper in the interest of the public order and security be denounced to the nearest guard post, and whoever remains deaf to this instruction let him be slain as an accomplice, for you are as lovely, my dear one, as Tersa, and not as your sister Asya who, still unbetrothed, was seduced by a certain deserter from the Gabriel legion who was chased, unsuccessfully however, to the seacoast of Syria – you are comely Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners, your navel is like a round goblet with liquor, your belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies, your neck is like a tower of ivory, your eyes like fishpools in Heshbon by the gate of Bath-rabbim, your nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looks toward Damascus, how fair and how pleasant, O love, for delights, O sister of Jaira, who, the filthy scoundrel, is now in the town jail for stealing my goats, your stature is like a palm tree and your breasts are clusters of grapes, and for its part the Municipal Council advises that you bring for taxes: five punnets of figs out of a basket for every male person, but not rotten or wormy; a log of oil for every person, male or female, from a pitcher, not rancid; a sack of wheat from the threshing floor for every male child among the Jabneel families, but not as in the last collection mixed with cockles, dung and sand; an omer of wine from the barrel for every numbered person, but not as sour as vinegar; and one young heifer from the fold for every family, but with its legs not maimed, and not barren or covered with mange in place of hair, my little dove in the crannies of the rock, in the secret place of the heights, for your voice is sweet and your face more than divine!”

Three times repeated, the long-drawn wail of the ram’s horn signified that the crier had ended his duty. (…)

When Jeroboam ended, Egla remained standing with her face turned towards the southern ramparts of Jabneel. (…)

No comments: