Read an Excerpt
The Jerusalem Diamond
By Noah Gordon
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1979 Lise Gordon, Michael Seay Gordon and The Jamie Gordon Trust
All rights reserved.
Baruch awoke each morning expecting arrest.
The blank scroll was good copper that had been beaten thin and smooth as a skin. They put it in a sack and carried it secretively, like the thieves they were, to a small lair on the edge of a deserted stubble field. Inside the cave it was dark despite the hard blue sky beyond the opening, and he filled and lighted the lamp and set it on the flat rock.
Three of the younger conspirators sat outside with watchful eyes and a skin of shekar and pretended to be drunk. The older man scarcely heard them. The pain was in his chest again and his hands trembled as he forced himself to take up the mallet and the awl.
The words of Baruch, the son of Neriah ben Maasiah of the priests that were in Anatoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the commandment to put away the treasures of the Lord has come through Jeremiah the son of Hilkiahu the Kohen, in the days of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, in the ninth year of his reign.
That was all Baruch enscribed on the first day. When the document was finished, these opening words would be a confession that would mean his death if the scroll was discovered before the invaders came.
But he felt impelled to record that they were not ordinary criminals.
Jeremiah had told him what the Lord had instructed them to do. At length, Baruch had realized his friend was saying that they would steal from the Temple, consecrated things from the sacred place. "Nebuchadnezzar is toying with Pharoah-necoh. When his hordes finish sacking Egypt they will be here. The temple will be burned and the objects will be carried off or destroyed. The Lord has commanded us to hide the holy things against the time when they can be used again in His worship."
"Tell the priests."
"I have. When does the house of Bukki listen to the Lord?"
Baruch limped away as fast as his bad leg would allow.
He was dying, but that made even more precious the days he had left. The risks filled him with terror.
He managed to shove them from his mind until a day when half-savage nomads, who ordinarily traveled a wide path around the city, came to the gates and begged protection. A few hours later, the roads to Jerusalem were choked with refugees running from the world's most terrible army.
Jeremiah found him. Baruch saw the light in the seer's eyes that some said was madness and others said was the illumination of the Lord. "I hear His voice now. All the time."
"Is there no place to hide?"
"I have tried. It seeks me out."
Baruch reached out and touched the other's beard, as white as his own, and felt his heart break. "What does He want me to do?" he asked.
Others had been recruited. When they met, their number was twice seven and therefore perhaps doubly lucky, but Baruch was afraid it was too many. One informer could destroy them.
He was astonished at some of his fellow conspirators against the house of Bukki, the priestly family that controlled the Temple. Shimor the Levite, head of the house of Adijah, was storekeeper over the treasury. Hilak, his son, maintained the inventory and preservation of the hallowed things. Hezekiah controlled the Temple guards, Zecheraia commanded the doorkeepers and Haggai managed the herds of pack animals. Others had been brought in by Jeremiah because they were young, for strength and muscle.
They were able to agree at once on a few things to be selected for hiding:
The tablets of law.
The ark and its cover.
The golden cherubim.
But after that, they argued bitterly.
Some of the best would have to be abandoned. Massive objects were doomed. The Menorah. The Altar of sacrifice. The Molten Sea with its marvelous brass bulls, and the brazen pillars ornamented with brass lilies and pomegranates.
They agreed to hide the Tabernacle. It had been made to be transported, and it was stored broken down and ready to be moved.
And the Tabernacle's latches and pegs, made all of gold nine hundred years before by the Lord's artisan, Bezalel ben Uri.
The Breastplate of the High Priest, set with twelve gems, one donated by each of the tribes.
Gold trumpets that had summoned the Israelites.
The ancient tapestry, wondrously fashioned, that covered the Sun Gate.
A pair of harps made and played by David.
Tithe vessels and sprinkling basins of silver.
Gold sacrificial bowls and libation vessels of beaten gold.
Talents of silver and gold, accrued from the annual half-shekel poll tax paid by each Jew.
"Let us leave the talents and hide a greater number of holy objects," Hilak said.
"We must include unsanctified treasures," Jeremiah said. "Some day they may pay for a new house of the Lord."
"There are gold bars worth many talents," Hilak said, glancing at his father, the keeper of the treasury.
"What is the most precious of the unsanctified?"
"An enormous gem," Shimor said at once.
Hilak nodded. "A great yellow diamond."
"Include it," Jeremiah said.
They sat and looked at one another bleakly, aware of all they could not hope to include.
Three nights in a row, midway between evening and morning, Hezekiah withdrew the Temple guards from the New Gate.
The main entrance of the Holy of Holies was used only by the High Priest, who entered it on Yom Hakippurim to intercede with the Almighty in behalf of the people. But there was an obscure entrance reached from the Temple's upper floor. From time to time priestly workers were lowered to clean and refurbish the sacred place.
That was how the fourteen stole the Holy Ark and what it contained, the tablets of laws that on Sinai the Lord had given to Mosheh.
A young priest named Berechia was lowered at the end of a rope.
Baruch stood well away from the Holy of Holies. He was of a priestly family but he had been born with one leg shorter than the other, which made him a haya nega, a mistake of the Lord. He was not allowed to touch the sacred, an honor reserved for the unblemished.
But Berechia's fear could not outweigh his own as the others paid out rope and the youth, spinning slowly, settled like a great spider into the shadowy fastness of the holy place.
Dim light fell beyond the dangling man and was caught in a gleam of wings. Berechia sent up the cherubim first and Baruch averted his eyes, for the Unutterable Himself sat between these figures on the Most Solemn Day to hear the pleadings of the High Priest.
Then the Ark cover. Solid gold, hard to raise.
Finally the Ark. Containing the Tablets!
They raised Berechia, white and trembling. "I recall Uzzah," he gasped.
Baruch knew the story. When King David had sought to move the Ark to Jerusalem, one of the oxen bearing it had stumbled. Uzzah, walking nearby, had grasped the sacred chest lest it fall, and the Lord had become angered and struck him down.
"Uzzah did not die because he touched the Ark, but because he doubted the Lord's ability to protect it," Jeremiah said.
"Isn't that what we do when we hide it?"
"Yahweh protects it. We but act as His servants," Jeremiah said sharply to the youth. "Come. This work has just begun."
Shimor and Hilak led them directly to the treasures and holy things they had decided upon.
It was Baruch who saw the copper scroll and suggested that it be taken for the listing of the hiding places. Copper would last better than parchment and could be cleansed easily if it became ritually impure.
A camel carried the chest and the Testimony away from Solomon's Temple, and an ass bore the lid. Looking like errant sticks in a load of faggots, the wings of the cherubim tented their rough cloth cover.
Baruch had been recruited because he was a scribe. Now Jeremiah told him to engrave the location of every hiding on the copper scroll, and he met individually with the thirteen men, doling out the objects and sending the men off to hide them. No man knew a hiding place, a genizah site, save that to which he had been assigned. Only Baruch knew all the sites and what they contained.
Why was he alone so trusted?
The answer came to him during a swift siege of his illness, when the pain froze his breath in his chest and he saw his hands become bloodless blue claws.
Jeremiah had seen Malakh ha-Mavet, the dark angel, hovering above him like a promise. His coming death was part of his responsibility.
The Bukki priests still refused to admit that their world could change, but everyone else smelled war. Wood was stockpiled on the wall for fires, along with oil to be boiled and poured on those who would attack. Jerusalem's springs were good but there wasn't enough food. All the grain in the city was gathered and stored in guarded places and every flock was confiscated against the horror ahead.
It was those who would live through the siege who should be pitied; therefore Baruch wasted no pity on himself, though finally the pain left him so weak he could no longer hold the awl or lift the hammer.
Someone else would have to finish the work.
Of the other thirteen men, Abiathar the Levite was best equipped as a scribe, but Baruch had begun to think like Jeremiah and he chose Hezekiah. The soldier was no master at writing and found the task burdensome, but he led swordsmen and doubtless would die on the wall, and the secrets would die with him.
On the morning after the gates were barricaded, Baruch was helped to the wall and he saw that in the night the enemy had come and his tents were raised, like chips in a mosaic that reached the horizon.
He and Hezekiah returned to the cave and managed the final passage:
In the pit under the Sakhra north of the Great Drain, in a pipe opening northward, this document with an explanation and an inventory of each and every thing.
Baruch waited until Hezekiah had hammered the last letter and had rolled the instrument. Outside the wall, foreigners with small beards and high pointed hats were already galloping their shaggy ponies around David's city.
"Now hide the scroll," he said.CHAPTER 2
THE DIAMOND MAN
From Harry Hopeman's office high above the floor a two-way mirror allowed him to look down on the quiet opulence that was Alfred Hopeman & Son, Inc. The walls, the rugs and the furniture were soft black or rich gray, the illumination a fine white light that caused the Hopeman Collection to glitter without competition, as though the entire shop were a velvet-lined box.
His visitor was an Englishman named Sawyer. Harry knew he had been buying American corporate bonds for members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It was also general knowledge that purchasing was only part of Sawyer's job; he helped maintain the OPEC blacklist of North American firms doing business with Israel.
"I have clients interested in buying a diamond," Sawyer said.
Eight months before, a necklace had been ordered from Hopeman & Son by a customer in Kuwait, and then the order had been cancelled abruptly. Since then, nothing had been sold to anyone in the Arab countries. "I'll be happy to have someone show you what we have," he said, bemused.
"No, no. They desire a particular diamond, offered for sale in the Holy Land."
Sawyer raised a hand. "In Israel. They wish you to go there to buy it for them."
"It is nice to be needed."
Sawyer shrugged. "You are Harry Hopeman."
"Who are 'they'?"
"I am not at liberty. You understand."
"I am not interested," Harry said.
"Mr. Hopeman. It will be a brief trip that will open important doors and bring you such a lot of money. We are businessmen. Please do not allow politics—"
"Mr. Sawyer. If your employers want me to work for them, they must ask me themselves."
His visitor sighed. "Good day, Mr. Hopeman."
"Goodbye, Mr. Sawyer."
But the man turned back. "If you will perhaps recommend someone with expertise similar to your own?"
"Would my company then be removed from the list of boycotted firms?"
"What list?" Sawyer said craftily. But he was programmed to scent a deal; a smile flowered.
Harry smiled, too. "I'm afraid I am unique," he said.
Satisfaction with the encounter didn't carry him through the afternoon.
On his desk were inventories, sales reports, the paperwork he hated.
The man who managed the gem-cutting plant on West Forty-seventh Street and the woman who managed Alfred Hopeman & Son's elegant retail shop on Fifth Avenue were trained not to need him. This freed him for estate work and for dealing with the small list of personal clients—the very rich who bought rare jewels, the curators of museums that collected gems with religious or historic significance. These were the areas that brought highest profits, but such transactions were not made every week. Inevitably, there were days such as this one.
Dead air spaces.
He bypassed his secretary and dialed the number.
"Hello. Shall I come over there for a while?"
Did she hesitate before agreeing?
"Fine," he said.
When he was sprawled with his cheek heavy on the edge of the mattress, the woman lay with the long hair fanned across her pillow and told him she was moving.
"Smaller place. My own place."
"This is your place."
"I don't want it anymore. No more checks, Harry." She had to raise her voice to make herself heard above the television, which she insisted on playing whenever they made love because the walls of her apartment were thin though expensive. But there was no anger.
"Now, what the hell."
"I've been reading about deer. Do you know about deer, Harry?"
"Not a damn thing."
"They don't screw around. Not at all, except when they go into rut. Then the buck jumps any doe and as soon as he's finished, he runs away from her."
"Very hard to keep a buck."
She didn't smile. "You don't detect a certain ... similarity?"
"Am I crashing off into the underbrush?"
"Harry Hopeman isn't an animal, he's a businessman. He makes sure the thing is taken care of, so he can use it again. Then he goes away."
"I'm not a thing, Harry."
He raised his head. "If you feel so ... used, will you explain the past two months?"
"I was attracted to you," she said calmly. She looked at him. "Your hair, that bronze color with little bits of red. And your complexion is the kind most women would like to have."
"They'd have to shave twice a day."
She wasn't smiling. "Teeth like an animal's. Even your football hero's nose."
He shook his head. "A guy hit me. A long time ago."
Now she laughed. "That fits. For you, life's little tragedies become assets." With her fingertip she touched the dark hairs on his wrist. "Just looking at your hands used to make me ... you have the most perfect hands. So controlled. I always stopped working to watch you hold up a pearl or a stone." She smiled. "I was ready for you long before you knew it. I thought I could land you. So young for all that money. So beautiful in your homely way. I knew your wife must have lost her mind or her appeal to have moved out of your house."
He looked at her.
"I was going to wait until exactly the right moment to pick up the whole prize."
"It's not such a prize," he said. "I never realized you wanted to pick it up".
The fingers that once had typed his letters now touched his cheek. "The moment will never be right. Do you need me, Harry? Or really want me?"
He felt remorse. "Listen," he said, "do you have to do this to us?"
She nodded. Only her eyes gave her away.
"Get dressed and say goodbye, Harry," she said, almost gently.
Forty-seventh Street between Fifth and Sixth had drawn him and given him comfort since he was a young man running as hard as all the other young men who were learning the diamond trade. The richest block in the world was a shabby collection of dingy storefronts and old buildings that reminded him of a tattered recluse who kept bags full of money under the bed. There were a few anomalies—a famous old bookstore, a stationer's. The rest was diamond industry, talking louder than it did uptown, one of the several disparate places in which Harry Hopeman felt at home.
Excerpted from The Jerusalem Diamond by Noah Gordon. Copyright © 1979 Lise Gordon, Michael Seay Gordon and The Jamie Gordon Trust. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.