The man descends into the story told by this ancient book. According to the translator, the tales it contains occurred before the birth of Jesus Christ. The stories are the firsthand accounts of five scribes who witnessed a temple servant whose life was anything but sinless. The servant's name was Tor.
Many days of Tor's life existed within the space of the temple's Holy of Holies, where he kept watch over the altars and idols. Tor had his doubts, however-some of the same doubts we have today. Who is God? What does He want from us, and why are we here? It takes a long journey, filled with strife, for Tor to discover his own answers, in a story that proves that, no matter how devout he may be, no man is perfect.
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Priest of SinAn Ancient Tale of Mortal Sin
By Mohammed Y. Burhan
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Mohammed Y. Burhan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Testimony of Hermes, the Sage
I am Hermes, the sage, the faithful servant of Ra. I witness that I saw, I witness that I heard, and I witness that the falseness in my speech comes from the many confusing aspects and the confused memory, but surely not from mine heart, as there, deep inside myself, nothing but the truth dwells.
What happened had happened. I never can change it, as I am not the one to make destiny happen, but in this testimony I am telling what exactly happened. I am confessing everything that I know without keeping to myself what might protect me from being punished when the subjective hands could reach these papers.
My story with Tor is my story with the village of Sakhibo itself.
One day, in the month of Hatour, the terrible phoenixlike wind blew the routes away with its sandy wings, making a continuous whooping that sounded like wailing. The sky was overcast, and the clouds veiled the roofs of the houses. That afternoon, a horrible storm blew for three hours. It was a bad omen, I thought, as not one drop of rain fell down the squeezing whirls.
I arrived in Sakhibo. The village was on bended knees, praying for some rain—rain that might save her from a night so gloomy that the deity alone would know how vicious it was.
Darkness started swallowing the last lights of the day, and the gloomy people retired to their houses, watchfully waiting for what might happen.
I was the only one down the route walking in haste, seeking the palace of the village master. I was carrying the piles of my sacred books over my shoulders—those were the fruit of my long journeys on my way to the deity. I was full of hope that this place would be home to my eternal comfort.
I thought, It is yours now, Sage, to have some rest. God himself gets tired and looks for a settee under the shadows of the sacred trees to catch his breath. As for you, Sage, you never have been tired over the past forty years. You never have moaned or complained while extending your wisdom to every corner of the world. From south to north, from east to west, you have been to tens of cities and villages. Hundreds of followers and students have gathered around you. They learned from you, and you learned something from each land you visited until not one question could find a way to your heart.
It is high time, Sage, to have some rest.
My steps became heavier as the storm pushed me back. I managed to resist till I came across a rock that I thought would protect me from the crazy phoenix. I stopped to shake off the sands in the folds of my worn-out linen dress and in my long beard.
That was where I met him for the first time.
At first, I heard a heavy crash down to the earth. Someone was swearing at god Thoth under his breath and blaming him for that heavy burden.
I looked behind the rock where the sound came from, to see the well-built and dark-skinned man struggling to repack a big bundle of papyrus reeds that had fallen off his back and scattered on the ground before him. He didn't expect to see someone there, so his face paled and he swallowed his tongue as he tried to say something.
I began. "Why, son, are you swearing at Thoth? Don't you know that he is the great god of writing and that he is the god who taught us wisdom?"
He hesitated but said, "That is why I swear at him. He always makes me suffer!"
I knew then that this poor man panting before me was one of the servants of the temple whom the House of Life overburdened with work.
Collecting the reeds of papyrus is very hard work, but a very important one for the House of Life. From these reeds, they make the papyrus paper to record the statements of the crops and the storehouses, and on them the priests of the temple pen their teachings as well.
To be responsible for preparing the stuff for the others to use for a great work, in which you will not be mentioned, is the essence of injustice. No one would ever ask about the one who collected and piled up the reeds of the papyrus and made them into paper, but those who penned over the ready-made paper will surely be spoken highly of and their writings will be overexaggerated.
Issues like these must have embittered this man's life, as he was one of the many people who devoted themselves and offered their hard work and sweat to the temple, to eventually achieve a work signed by the others and to have their efforts come to nothing. Their monthly salary was a handful of grain, eggs, fruits, and many blaming looks from the high priests for the tiniest misdeed. These looks often turned into a jail sentence in the dark room.
I looked at Tor in a pitiful eye as we sat behind the rock. I wanted him to feel this pity in order to taste forgiveness. I asked him to repeat after me: "Oh, God, when you sail far there in the sky and disappear in the horizon of eternity, don't consider my evil deed. It was thrown on my tongue by the devil of Seth. I didn't say my heart. Thoth, the sacred master of speech, you write down my scroll in the Day of the Scale. Let unwritten be my unintended errors. Intercede with Osiris on my behalf, as you are the best to intercede."
The servant echoed my words and my sublime voice.
I asked, "What is your name, son?"
"Come on, Tor. Do something good to compensate for your evil speech and take me to the palace of the master, the ruler of this village."
Tor repacked the papyrus reeds and hung the knife and the scythe down them and looked up at the stormy way that was starting to fold the drizzle in the dusk.
We walked in haste to avoid the dark routes, as we had no torch to have our way enlightened. And for a little while I, the one walking on the footsteps of the exhausted servant, imagined that the very far end of the route was so branchy like a labyrinth.
Our feet sank lower and lower in the mud, and with every step I felt the drops of rain over my face. The rain had a light, rosy color, and its consistency was as heavy and sticky as blood. Was it really blood, or was it just my prophecy?
I know now that I will see Tor in my mind's eye every year in Hatour when Sakhibo has to face these armies of the savage winds. I will recall that contented hermit who realized his own prophecy and was satisfied to have had a curse from the deity that he considered to be a blessing. How can I forget his determined question the night he fled from Sakhibo, when he came to me like a thief, threw his question, and left? "Father, when will this curse be over and I be done with everything?"
I lied that night. I told him it was a test that would be over once Ra knew how much sincerity he had in his heart.
He drew a wry smile that looked the same as Patrissa's. Oh, how could that foreign woman give him her face? And how could she control his heart to be her obedient servant? I asked him, "Is she Patrissa? Tell me, son, and I will protect you both from the tyranny of the god by my intercession."
But he became sorrowfully silent, as if my question had disappointed him. He kissed my hands and went on to what he knew and I did.
Why was he disappointed at my question? I was sure it was Patrissa, but I wanted to go back to the old rituals of confession. I wanted him to say it himself, to be unburdened, as he had previously been, with his sin. I wanted him to get his sincere soul back so that he could sail in tranquility. But things seemed to have changed a lot, and the curse had had its bad influence on him to the extent that a priest like me was not enough to free him from that evil power.
Yes, I knew well it was Patrissa, and I could smell her in him. It was the same smell as when she came to Sakhibo.
In Kamat, women are not given as gifts to the temples unless there is a declared reason to be known by everyone. The gifted woman is either the daughter of a priest or one of the unfortunate women who is prescribed to be a widow or orphan in her early life.
Such women seek shelter in the temple to be protected from homelessness and poverty. They devote themselves to the temple to serve the god who protects them from the austerity of the unknown.
This, however, does not apply to Patrissa and her sister Sani, as no one in Sakhibo hitherto knows why they have come to the temple. All we know about them is that their father gave them as a gift to be servants of the glorified Ra, and that he sent them to us in the boats of the Putlandis as a generous offer. This pleased Rahbo, the high priest.
The day when the Putlandis' river caravans arrive, with the unusual and wonderful goods onboard, is considered to be a festival day in Sakhibo. Therefore, before long, men, women, and children rush to the river bank when they get the news about their landing. People carry as much as they can of bread, fruit, and plates of food to barter for some goods.
Those caravans used to come from the extreme south. They went through all Kamat, crossing Ethroah River to the far north in order to cross the sea afterward to the land of the Greeks or to that of the Canaanites.
During their journey in Kamat, the river caravans landed in the cities and towns to buy some supplies. People used barter food for some goods, and the caravans allocated part of what they carried to Parahu as a gift so that he blessed their crossing in his land and ensured them protection from every theft. The king also coerced them to give some gifts to some temples that he chose and nominated himself.
About a year ago, the temple of Sakhibo, unusually, started to receive some considerable gifts like the other temples of the glorified Ra, which confused the temples in the neighboring villages because, to them, Sakhibo was a humble village even though it was a little bit big. Moreover, the temple there was relatively new and was previously forgotten and neglected. Only two years ago the king gave his orders to renovate and increase the allocations of the temple.
On that memorable day, Tor and a couple of servant priests, led by the temple's treasurer, set off to the west of the village after the river observer had informed them that the Putlandis' caravan had arrived and that it was close to the borders of the village, where they had to collect the gifts and transport them to the temple's stores.
In the morning, I was sitting on the rock of wisdom, practicing my usual hydro-contemplation by the river.
It was charming scenery: a series of large ships close behind each other, like a pendant of many kinds of pieces. Some of the ships were loaded with colorful barbarian cloths, ostrich plumes, and different kinds of makeup, while others had gold, copper, ivory, and gems made from turquoise and aquamarine, and the remaining ships carried high cages with giraffes, cheetahs, monkeys, and many kinds of birds.
The owners of those caravans were the black Putlandis who could rarely find words to communicate with their hosts. Therefore, you would always see them moving their hands in all directions. They exerted themselves to make of their gestures and their shouts a good means for bargaining.
As soon as the first ship landed on the anchorage of the river, which was paved with stones, the villagers noisily and happily welcomed the arrivals and waved to them with bread and fruit.
Some servant priests were taken by the noisy reception, and they started some similar shouts that were soon rebuked by the looks of the temple's treasurer. They have to be calmer and graver than the others, as they are the representatives of the house of the deity, not only before the people of the village but also before the strangers.
The treasurer walked toward the chief of the caravan, who had jumped on the first ship and was looking for the man he was supposed to deal with. Soon, when his eyes caught the treasurer whom he recognized because of his priestly appearance and because of the servants who followed him, the chief flashed a wide smile.
On a swift sign from the chief's hand, the porters started unloading a large cargo of cloths and jewels, some ivory and clay pots, as well as a big cage with many kinds of birds inside. The porters threw these between the two, for them to start the process of giving and receiving that was usually done in a ceremonial way with the mutual respect granted.
Among all the crowds, Phino, the idiot, was the only one, as usual, to dare to jump from one deck to another, holding his darling plume in hand and uttering some joking words that sounded vaguer in the times of great joy.
Phino's rattling voice, which sounded like wailing, filled the air of Sakhibo almost the whole day long and most of the night, to the extent that it was evidence of life in the village. It was worrisome enough to the people of Sakhibo to stop hearing his voice even for a few hours. It was even evidence for the leniency and care of the deity.
All over Sakhibo, no one can tell a reasonable story about Phino and his life. Is he from the village? Who are his parents? When was he first seen around? No one remembers. However, there are two big, astonishing things. First, Phino never gets old, as years never mark his face. His age is unknown, as if he were eternal like the stones of the temple or the spirit of the deity.
Second, he has a distinctive plume. It is a colorful one of a strange bird that he always moves between his fingers. No one has ever seen him without it. They are inseparable.
Crazy, crazy, idiot, idiot. Those were the words that Phino always said to every man, bird, or animal he came by.
In that morning, on board the Putlandis' ships, Phino swallowed his voice and words, so all the looks turned toward where he jumped. Everyone on board started watching his amazement while he was going down the ladder of the ship to make way for the two girls to get down.
They were two tall girls who soon started finding their way to the hearts of the people around. Sakhibo had never known two girls like them before, not only for their beauty but also for their overwhelming femininity, which evoked a tender breeze in the air that caressed everyone's face in a magic touch: Patrissa and Sani.
All over Sakhibo, the temple was the only stone building standing so loftily and confidently. Apart from a few silent movements round about, the temple was so calm that for the onlooker it looked like a deserted castle haunted by ghosts. As for the rest of the houses of the village, some were built from red clay and others from adobe and mud. They were the houses of the evanescent life, which was why they were not carefully built, for they were destined to be utterly destroyed. And the secret lay in eternity, in the temples, and in the tombs: the palaces of eternity. This was what priests used to say.
The constant, precise rituals by which the temple uses up its priests make everything go swiftly and in the right order with no instructions issued—except for the reminding of the timing of offerings in the Holy of Holies, which is done by the priest of time of the ivory horn and the clay bench. The priest of mirrors lights the lanes and the dark corners of the temple by moving on the roof and directing the mirrors to reflect the light of the sun to the inside of the temple. And in the early evenings, the priest of mirrors provides the torches that are hung on the walls, like icons of the god, with fire that keeps them glowing until midnight.
The temple was chosen to be built on a far corner in the village, away from the living houses, maybe to preserve its vagueness and venerable image. The House of Life is the only place responsible for copying chapters and amulets and for administrating the writing affairs. In addition, some extra stables and warehouses were the only few buildings to be built around the temple—although they were still vague and of a venerable image.
The temple was surrounded by a low stone fence. On its gate were two long obelisks that were sent, years ago, by the chief of the priests of Ra in Heliopolis as a present to support Rahbo, the high priest of Sakhibo, after occupying the new post.
The two long obelisks and the dense palm trees that surrounded the temple made it difficult for the people of the village to know what was going on inside the fence, especially since no one was allowed to enter unless he performed some strict ceremonies, after which he could only get to certain parts of the temple.
I stood outside the southern gate of the temple, waiting for Rahbo, whom I had asked to meet to talk to him about Tor.
I don't know what offense Tor, the poor servant, had done to be so severely punished. One of his friends told me that he was imprisoned in the dark room, having accompanied Patrissa and Sani out to the river.
Excerpted from Priest of Sin by Mohammed Y. Burhan Copyright © 2012 by Mohammed Y. Burhan. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Testimony of Hermes, the Sage....................11
The Testimony of Patrissa, the Temple's Cantatrice....................47
The Testimony of the Manetho Boat Builder....................84
The Testimony of Hilkiah, the Temple's Amur....................124
The Second Testimony of Hermes, the Sage....................176