The Prince of the House of David





Letter VIII.

My Dear Father:

The very kind manner in which you have received my communications respecting the extraordinary prophet now drawing all Judea after him into the wilderness, and the assurance that I can obtain from your wisdom, learning, and piety, a solution to all difficulties, and a true guide to the truth, prompt me to continue freely, and in detail, the relation of events that have passed under my experience. I shall, in my accounts of the marvelous occurrences that I have witnessed, and may yet witness, not only convey to you the impressions made upon my own mind, but upon the minds of many others, of the wise and learned, and great, who also have heard and seen these things. Thus you will have the weight of many testimonies, which you will doubtless hold in respect in proportion to the dignity, and wisdom, and rank of the persons. My last letter ended with an account of the Roman escort, under the authority of the young Roman Centurion, who, as I have before written to you, with so much courtesy proffered its protection to our little party. The day was yet early, the sun not having got more than an hour and a half high above the mountains of Moab, and the air was of that buoyant elasticity so agreeable to breathe, and which strikes me as one of the peculiar blessings of this holy land of our fathers. In Egypt there is a want of life in the torrid air at this season, that we do not here experience; and as I rode along, I felt as if I would gladly mount the Arabian of the desert, and fly across the sandy seas of Edom, with the fleetness which amazes me whenever I see the children of the desert rids; for a band of thirty came boldly near us from a gorge as we approached Bethany, and after watching us a few moments, scoured away into the recesses of the hills, like the wind, as a detachment of a score of our Roman escort was ordered to gallop towards them. Upon this Rabbi Amos said that we were fortunate in having such strong protection, for this party of the children of Esau would otherwise have attacked and plundered us, as they are wont to do every party of Israelites they fall in with; and the recent concourse of so many people to Jordan, has drawn them, with great boldness, close to the walls of Jerusalem, says the Roman Centurion, in great numbers, to lay in wait for, and rob them. Thus, the hostility which began between the patriarch Jacob and the patriarch Esau, has never yet been healed, but rankles in the bosoms of their descendants even to this day; and still, "Esau hateth Jacob, because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him." The Romans greatly admired the horsemanship of these children of Esau; and, upon their heavy horses, armed with their iron armor, it would have been vain to have followed them to their retreats. We soon afterwards reached the summit of the ridge above Bethany, from which eminence, before going down into the village, we had a gorgeous view of the Holy City of god, with its lofty Temple glittering in the sunbeams, like a mountain of architectural silver. The tower of Antonio darkly contrasted with its splendor, and the citadel of David frowned over the walls with a warlike majesty that deeply impressed me. Ah, how could I gaze upon the scene, my dear father, without emotions of awe, wonder, adoration, and gratitude! I drew rein, and entreated Rabbi Amos to delay a few moments while I surveyed Jerusalem, which, familiar as it might be to him from this point, and to all the rest of our cavalcade, was new to me; but he was too far ahead to hear me, for I had already been lingering for some seconds; and the Centurion riding up to my side, stopped respectfully with a portion of his command, and said he would await my leisure. I could not but thank him for his civility, and then turning towards the city, I was soon lost to all else but the awful contemplation of it. Irresistibly, as I gazed, I went back, in memory, to the time when our father Abraham was met before its gates by Melchisedek, its king, who received regal homage from him. I saw again, David coming forth from its lofty portals, at the head of armies, to conquer the surrounding nation. I beheld the splendid trains of oriental monarchs, of the kings of the South, and the kings of the North, and of Sheba, the queen of happy Arabia, winding through its pleasant valley, and entering in to prostrate themselves before Solomon, the prince of wisdom, glory, and power, the fame of whose wisdom and greatness filled the whole earth. Alas! the whole earth is now filled with the story of the shame and bondage of Israel! But the day cometh, dear father, when she shall lift up her face from the dust, and put on regal garments, and God shall place a crown upon her head, and her glory and dominion shall be without end. This certainty quenched the tears that burst into my eyes, as I contrasted the present with the past. In memory, as I continued to gaze, I say the armies of the Assyrians, and the armies of the Chaldeans, the armies of Egypt, and of Persia, and of Greece, all, each in its turn, encompassing the Holy City, and conquering it even though God dwelt therein, in the mysterious fire of the Shechinah. But the presence of Jehovah in a city or in a heart, will not save it form its foes, if the city or the heart be not with Cod; and we know from the Prophets that the hearts of our fathers were far from God; and therefore were they delivered up to their enemies to be scourged. Oh, my dear father, that our people of to-day would learn the fearful lesson that the past teaches them! "You should see Rome," said the Centurion, who had watched my emotion evidently with surprise. "It is a city of grandeur unequaled. It covers six times more space than this city, and it

contains three hundred and sixty-five temples, while Jerusalem contains but one!" "There is no God but ONE," I answered, impressively. "We believe that there is one God, who is the author of a great multitude of lesser gods, and to each we erect a temple," he said firmly, yet respectfully. Upon this, touched with pity that one so noble in mind and person should be so ignorant of the truth, I began to show him from the Prophets that God was ONE, and that all things were made by Him. But he, plucking a blossom from a tree which was within reach, said: "It is beneath the dignity of the Father of the gods, the great Jove, to descend to make a flower like this; or shape a crystal; or color the ruby; or create that golden-dyed humming-bird which flutters among those fragrant blossoms. He made the sun, and moon, and stars, and earth, but left the lesser works to inferior deities. Talk to me of the One God, and prove to me, maiden, that He made all things, and is ONE, and thy God shall be my God." It was then no time for me to endeavor to combat this error, but I have reserved to myself the first convenient opportunity to instruct him in the truth as it is revealed from Heaven to our favored people. He has already manifested an inquiring spirit into our holy faith, and Rabbi Amos has taught him many things from the Books of Moses, but sufficient only to lead him to desire to know more, but not to eradicate from his heart his pagan superstitions. The gentleness of his nature, his sound judgment, the frankness of his character, the ingenuous temper of the whole man, inspire me with great confidence that he will ultimately convinced of his errors, and embrace the faith of Israel. We now rode forward through the street of Bethany, and soon came to the house of your former friend, Rabbi Abel, who died many years ago at Alexandria, when he went there with merchandise, and after the welfare of whose children you desire me to make inquiries. They are now; as you are aware, grown to the full estate of manhood and womanhood, and still dwell at Bethany. Being friends of my cousin Mary, it was decided that we should stop there to rest half an hour before proceeding on our way. It was a plain and humble dwelling, before which Rabbi Amos assisted me to alight; but there was an air of neatness and sweet domestic repose about it that at once came home to my heart, and made me love the place even before I had seen the inmates, who had come out to receive, and gone in with my cousin; but on hearing also of my arrival, there came our a fair young girl of twenty-two, with the most amiable expression of affectionate welcome; and, approaching me with mingled respect and love, she embraced me, while Rabbi Amos pronounced our names to each other. I felt immediately as if I were in a sister’s arms, and that I should love her always. Next came forth a young man of about thirty years of age, with a countenance of an exceedingly interesting expression, full of intellect and good will. He was pale and habitually thoughtful, but a fine friendly light beamed in his dark, handsome eyes, as he extended his hand to welcome me. You have already had a full description of him, and of his character, in one of my former letters, and need not be told that it was Lazarus, the son of your friend. At the threshold, Martha, the eldest sister, met me, but with more ceremony, and made an apology for receiving into so lowly a dwelling the rich heiress of Alexandria, as she termed me; but I embraced her so affectionately, that this feeling passed away instantly. Each member of it possessed attractions of a peculiar kind; and in all three I seemed to have found two sisters and a brother. Martha busied herself at once to prepare refreshments for us, and soon set before us a frugal but agreeable repast; more than we desired, for we all insisted that we needed nothing, as we had not been long in the saddle. Mary, in the meanwhile, and Lazarus, sat on either side of me, and asked me many questions about Alexandria, and particularly if I had ever seen their father’s tomb. And when I told them that at my father’s request I had kept the flowers fresh about it, they both pressed my hands, and thanked me so gratefully, that the tears in my own eyes answered to the emotion in theirs. How shall I describe to you the loveliness of the person of Mary, and yet not so much the perfection of feature as the soul which animates them, and lends them a charm that I cannot adequately convey to you? Her eyes are of that remarkable color so seldom seen among our people, and when it is, is of a richer and more cerulean tome than is found in the azure-eyed natives of the north. They are as blue as the skies of Judea, and yet possess all the starry, torrid splendor of the eyes of Hebrew maidens. Her hair, which is a soft, golden brown color, is worn knotted in wavy masses about her superbly moulded neck. Her air is serene and confiding, and she has so little art that she lets you read all the secrets of her pure soul in the summer heaven of the sweet eyes I have spoken of. There is an indescribable pensiveness about her that is most touching, and at the same time pleasing. Martha, the oldest, is of a more lively disposition, yet more commanding in her aspect, being taller, and almost queenly in her mien. Her eyes and her hair are jet black; the former mild, and beaming with intelligence, like those of her brother Lazarus, whom she resembles. She has a winning voice, and a manner that leads you to feel strong confidence in her friendship. She seemed to take the whole management of our entertainment upon herself, which the quieter Mary left to her, as if a matter of course, preferring rather to talk with me about the land of Egypt, where our fathers were so long in bondage, and about which all our young people in Judea have such awful ideas. Mary asked me if I was not afraid to dwell there; if I ever saw the tomb of the Pharaohs; and if the seventy pyramids of the Niles were the work of our forefathers, or had withstood the flood, like the everlasting hills. Lazarus conversed chiefly with Rabbi Amos, who questioned him with much interest about the prophet John of the wilderness, to whom, you will remember, I wrote you Lazarus had paid a visit. After our repast, Martha showed me three beautiful bands of embroidery, which she was working for the new veil of the Temple to be put up next year; for the sisters live by working needle-work for the Temple, and Lazarus makes copies of the Law and Psalms for the priests. He showed me his copying-table, and the rolls of parchment upon it, some partly inscribed in beautiful characters, some quite complete. He also showed me a copy of the Book of Isaiah, which he had just finished, and which had occupied him one hundred and seven days. It was exquisitely executed. Another incomplete copy was thrown aside, and was destined to be burned, because he had made a mistake in forming one letter; for if an iota be added too much, the work is condemned by the priests and burned, so strict are they that perfect and immaculate copies of the Law, and none others, shall exist. Mary, also, showed me a beautifully embroidered foot-tablet, which the wife of Pilate, when she was last from Cesarea, ordered for herself. "I shall not receive coin for it," said Mary, "but present it to her, for she has ever been very kind to us; and when, last year, she and the Procurator Pilate, her lord, came up from Cesarea to Jerusalem, about the time of the Passover, she sent her own household physician to heal Lazarus, who was taken sick from over-much confinement to his tasks. She knew us only by inquiring who it was who worked the embroidery of the altar mantles, which she had somewhere seen before they were placed in the Temple, and much admired." Seeing upon the table a richly worked book-cover of silk and velvet, with the letters "I. N." embroidered in olive leaves upon it, I asked her if that, it being so elegant, was not for the High Priest. "No," answered Martha, with brightening eyes, speaking before her sister could reply, "that is for our friend, and the friend and brother of Lazarus." "What is his name?" I asked. "Jesus, of Nazareth." "I have heard John speak of this person," said my cousin Mary, with animation, and appealing to me, reminded me how John had repeated what Lazarus had spoken to him of his friend from Nazareth, which I have written to you. "I should feel happy," added my cousin, "to know him also." "And from what I have heard of him," said I, "it would indeed be a pleasure to see him." The two sisters listened to us with visible interest, and Martha said: "If you had been here a few days ago, you would have seen him. He left us, after being with us three weeks, to return to Nazareth. But he requested to meet Lazarus at Bethabara, on the third day from this, for some important reason; and my brother will go, for he loves him so that he would cross the seas to meet him." "Then," said Rabbi Amos to Lazarus, "if you are to journey so soon towards Jordan to meet your friend, you had best join our company and share our escort." To this Lazarus, after some consultation with his sisters, consented. What happy family, thought I, is this! The sisters happy in each other’s love, the brother happy in theirs, all three united as one in the purest affection, and yet a fourth is added to the circle, whose love for the three is equal to theirs for him! Humble in station, poor, and dependent upon the labor of their hands for their daily bread, yet their household is one that kings might envy, and which nor gold nor jewels, could purchase. I left this blessed abode of fraternal friendship with regret, and felt that I should be perfectly happy if I could be admitted as a fifth link in the wreath of their mutual love. Even the Roman Centurion had been struck with the air of peaceful repose reigning there, and spoke of it to me with enthusiasm as we rode away. About noon we stopped at a caravanserai, half the way to Jericho from Bethany. Here we overtook a friend of Rabbi Amos, the venerable and learned scholar and lawyer, Gamaliel. He was, he confessed, also riding to Jordan, to have an interview with the prophet, being persuaded to seek it on account of an extraordinary dream he had, which he repeated to his friend Rabbi Amos, but not in our hearing; but the effect upon my uncle excited a good deal of curiosity to know what it was, but he has been studiously silent upon the subject. Accompanying the lawyer, Gamaliel, was a young man who was his disciple, and who went with him as a companion by the way. His name is Saul; and I noticed him particularly, because I overheard the venerable lawyer say that he was the most remarkable young man who had ever sat at his feet to learn the mysteries of the law. This young law-disciple and Lazarus rode together, and talked long and earnestly by the way, the former thinking that nothing but mischief would come of the new prophet’s preaching, while the latter warmly defended him and his mission as divine. To their conversation the Roman Centurion listened with the closest attention, for Saul was learned in the Prophets, and drew richly from its stores to prove that the true Messias can never be heralded by so mean a messenger as this preacher of repentance in the wilderness. Saul eloquently drew a gorgeous picture of Messias’ coming, and the splendor of his reign, and added, that angels and heavenly signs, and not a wild man of the wilderness, with water baptism, should prepare the way before him. At length, as the day closed, we came in sight of the walls and towers of Jericho; but we succeeded in reaching the gates only after they were closed. The presence of the young Centurion caused them to be immediately re-opened, and we were admitted, with some hundreds, who having begged, and received, permission to enter in our company. The next day we proceeded to Gilgal alone, the road being perfectly safe, the courteous Roman having early the same morning issued from the gates, in haste to pursue the famous Barabbas, who had the last night attacked a caravan within four leagues of Jordan, and taken much booty, as well as slain many men. "I now write to thee beneath the roof of the country residence of Rabbi Amos. To morrow early," says a passage which I copy from my journal, written there, "we are going to Bethabara, a little village beyond Jordan, but situated on its banks, near which we learn John is now baptizing, he being no longer at the ford of Jordan, where my cousin Mary’s betrothed, John, found him, and was baptized of him a few weeks ago. Lazarus has gone on with Saul and the learned Gamaliel, with many lawyers and doctors in company, who desire to see and hear this prophet of the wilderness." Indeed, dear father, the advent of a prophet is of so rare an occurrence among us, that the bare idea that John the Baptizer may be a true prophet of God, has moved the great heart of Israel, and stirred up curiosity, hope, and marvel, in the highest degree ever known in the land. There seems to be but one subject, and but one thought. Every man says to his neighbor: "Have you seen or heard the new prophet? Is he Messias, or is he Elias?" My next letter will give you a narration, my dear father, of what I witnessed at Bethabara, and will, perhaps, more deeply interest you than anything I have yet written. That the hope of Israel may not be long deferred, and that we may receive the Messias, when he cometh, in humble faith, in honor, and in love, is the prayer of Your affectionate daughter,