Illuminated by the recently recovered Matthias Scroll, this novel provides the first-ever document-based account of Jesus’ life and death. When the disciples glorified Jesus’ crucifixion, Matthias swore their Gospels would not bury his friend beneath the cornerstone of their new religion. As Jesus’ companion for that last, fateful year (Acts I:21), he could not celebrate his death as a model of salvation. Instead, he would write a scroll telling what actually happened.
Formatted as a suspenseful novel, The Matthias Scroll reveals hitherto unknown events leading to his arrest, crucifixion, and fully illuminating what happened during and after his interment. Exposed by fresh translations, recovered pearls of verifiable history are strung together, leading to a portrait of Jesus never before suspected. Against a background enlivened by sights and sounds of the Galilee, as well as Temple festivities in Jerusalem, the reader will meet many colorful New Testament characters, joining Jesus and the disciples in the epic drama.
“Shaped with a deep sense of the history, this controversial but fascinating work offers a vivid portrayal of Jesus as a respected teacher of his generation, at the moment when Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were born.”—Dr. Michael Berenbaum
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.92(d)|
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The Matthias Scroll
A Lost Testament Unearths The Secrets Of History's Most Notorious Injustice
By Abram Epstein
iUniverseCopyright © 2014 Abram Epstein
All rights reserved.
After nearly two hours, the peaceful jostling of James' horse-drawn cart should have calmed his disquieting premonition. But it did not. If his warning carried no more weight with Matthias than it did with the disciples under Simon's sway, the future of the Jerusalem Center would be bleak.
Of the several who liked him, even they mostly sought some semblance to Jesus in what he said and did. Always they introduced him as "the brother of the Lord," rendering any other identity incidental. Their hope, it seemed, was to return to the days when his brother was with them, as if his own voice or manner might evoke a measure of that past, enabling them to again bask in his light. Naturally, they believed Simon when he claimed Jesus was speaking to him from heaven.
Matthias was different. If anybody was disturbed by the idea that God had planned the death of his brother, it should have been him.
James had been to his home in Ephraim only once. Nearly a year had passed since then, but the gate to his small enclave and the houses to either side of the road were familiar. His brother had come here and sometimes stayed for several weeks or even longer. No doubt these were yards and gardens he knew. As he guided the horse, making a turn toward Matthias' street, James felt oddly responsible for noticing the details of the surroundings, standing in for his brother who could not.
Not too far from the end of the pebbled road, he pulled back on the reins and called out, "Matthias?"
"So you remembered," came a reply from behind the cart. "I was just getting some water."
"It's the fourth of Sivan, isn't it?"
"Go inside. I have a few things to take."
Moments later, when Matthias followed James in, carrying the flask, he asked how James was doing as "praesidere" of the Center.
"Fine. I am doing fine," James answered.
"Then take off your sandals."
Surprised he had forgotten so simple a courtesy, James quickly removed and placed his sandals alongside those of Matthias, just outside the door.
"It doesn't take a priest to see you're not so fine. Here, hold this."
Obediently, James held open the large sack for provisions as Matthias put in packages of cheese and almonds.
"These should do us some good. And you smell the bread?"
James stood watching as Matthias took several hot, nearly flat pittot loaves from the clay oven under the side window. "Smells delicious. Things are changing, Matthias."
"As things usually do."
With his neck prickling slightly from sweat, a familiar reaction to his own embarrassment, James searched for words he had been rehearsing on the road from Nazareth. He intended to tell Matthias about Simon and in his mind, this scribe who had befriended Jesus would immediately concur. "You're right. Something has to be done about Simon," James imagined Matthias agreeing.
"Some are saying Jesus' death was ordained by God," James finally managed.
"But you must have influence, no?" Matthias asked, shutting the door as they departed the house. "They should show you respect."
Climbing aboard the cart without immediately answering, James turned to give Matthias a hand. "You will see that Simon is more the one who presides than I," he said.
"It's hard to believe it's already two years," Matthias reflected. "And Mary? How is she?"
"She may come with Jude to Jerusalem for the holiday. Perhaps you will see her."
Positioning himself next to James, as the cart lurched forward, Matthias inhaled deeply. "I always miss the aroma of freshly harvested barley. When the wheat comes up, it's all but gone."
Exiting Ephraim's town gate, James guided the horse past patches of grass so it wouldn't stop to eat. Nearly a mile farther on, as they reached the main road, he gave a short wave to the legionnaire standing guard as the cart passed an outpost. "We're on our way to Jerusalem," he called out.
"And it's like nothing has changed," Matthias mused. "The Romans are everywhere."
"Meanwhile, Simon tells everybody God caused Jesus to die for some special purpose," James persisted. "It wouldn't surprise me if ..." He stopped midsentence, seeing Matthias' attention was drawn to the corner of a nearby field, where an elderly woman shook a sheaf of standing barley to fill her belted sack. "These fields must have a lot of memories for you," James said.
"Your brother and the disciples ate barley left in the corner of one much like this. Some young Pietists said they were stealing grain ... but I'm sure you know a man who is hungry may eat what isn't harvested from the corner of a field."
"Simon will tell you he was above Torah laws," James answered, waiting for Matthias to show at least a measure of concern, but his gaze was still on the woman.
As the horse stepped on branches of a fallen juniper, stumbling slightly and nearly jerking the reins from his hand, James could not hide his aggravation. "You will see for yourself, Matthias," he muttered under his breath, annoyed that what he had been saying made no impression, and for the next hour they traveled with few words.
Finally, the Valley of Cheesemakers was just ahead. Jerusalem's goats had been milked in the early morning and full clay cauldrons on glowing naptha embers simmered, sending sweet-smelling steam into the air. "Can you imagine?" James asked, slowing the cart so he might finish saying what had been on his mind. "If Simon tells them he died for some divine reason, next they will be celebrating my brother's execution as a cause for joy. And you are part of his plan."
"Oh? Is there something I should know?"
"You'll see," James replied, satisfied to have cracked Matthias' veneer of seeming indifference. "He wants you to be their scribe, the twelfth disciple taking Iscariot's place."
"Me? Are you sure?" Matthias responded, squinting into the sun.
Not choosing to elaborate, James blared, "Sa!" commanding the horse to climb the hill to the Center.
The two-story stone building was larger inside than it appeared from the street, its upper triclinium windows wide enough for the disciples to contemplate Jesus' teaching in the comfort of Jerusalem's late afternoon breezes—and view the terraced hills adorned by olive and fig trees, their leaves shimmering.
Unobserved, watching from that vantage point, Simon waited for James to tether the horse to a post, considering only briefly the remote possibility that Matthias might decline their impending offer.
Below, Matthias' advice that James not worry was barely audible over Simon's boisterous welcome, "Baruch haba-eem!"
"Shalom to you," Matthias responded cheerfully, as he permitted James to help him down from the cart's iron step.
Hearing their voices, Simon's brother Andrew appeared. "Shalom, Matthias. But you look fine. We were wondering what became of you."
"Now you can relax," Matthias said, handing Andrew his sandals. "But it is pleasant in here."
The first-story space was divided into a small triclinium, alongside a cooking chamber with a closet for pots and amphorae. Sleeping rooms, small but each adequate for several pallets, were behind doors off to the sides.
"It's good to see you too, James. It is always good to see our master's brother. I know everybody will be pleased you're here."
"John should be back," Simon said. "He went to buy fruit. Andrew, go to the cistern and bring some water. But let's sit together. You've had a long trip."
James found a familiar place on the straw floor covering, leaning his elbow on a large pillow.
"But tell us, Simon, where are the others?" Matthias inquired, lowering himself next to James.
"We'll see them soon," he answered, and then, with a slight smile, added, "Peter. No matter. If you call me Simon, I'll know you mean me."
"A man has the right to call himself whatever he wishes," James scoffed.
"Of course that's true," Simon replied. "But James, I'm still stunned that Jesus chose me to be our spiritual leader and gave me the name."
"As you should be," Andrew's voice rang out, entering with a red clay pitcher of water. "Maybe he should have called you something more fitting."
Kneeling down, Andrew took a cloth, soaked it in water from the pitcher, and began wiping Matthias' feet.
"Peter, do you remember what you said when Jesus did this to you?" he asked, wringing out the cloth. "That you wished he would wash all your body from head to toe so you might be completely cleansed by him. And he told you he was sure you didn't need a bath."
"These are different times," Simon observed, ignoring the joke, just as the older Zebedee, holding a sack of dates and his brother by the sleeve, entered. "Look who I found," he chortled.
"Just in time to serve our guests," Simon suggested.
"Shalom, James!" John said. "But you are hardly a guest!"
"And Matthias," his brother added, eagerly bringing a plate for the dates. "It is wonderful you have time to stop by."
Turning his back to James, Simon changed the subject. "I think you will be interested to hear we have something special planned for tomorrow."
"Shavuot is the festival when they read the Ten Commandments. But you must know that," John the Zebedee said to Matthias. "He told us they were to be sacred forever."
"Of course he knows!" his brother scolded. "Why do you think he's in Jerusalem? Go ahead, Peter, tell them what you're planning."
"Or would you prefer to be surprised?" Simon asked.
"He must tell us," John joked. "Look at him, just bubbling over."
Acquiescing, Simon announced, "Our prayers tomorrow will not be in Hebrew! So we don't need to know any of the old words. We have a different, superior language."
Sneering at whatever Simon planned, James could not help noticing Matthias was listening intently.
Freeing a date from the cluster, taking a bite, and chewing slowly, he continued, "The new time is beginning. It's true. You think Jesus likes to hear the old words? Words that make us feel like insects because we can't even pronounce them? There was a time long ago ..."
As Andrew and the Zebedees listened in rapt awe, or so it seemed to James, Simon raised a hand toward the ceiling.
"You all know the story about a tower people were building to reach the heavens," he intoned dramatically. "Punished for trying to become gods, their intention was torn asunder, their words scrambled, so they had to stop laying bricks."
"And they began speaking different languages," Andrew interrupted.
"Like Hebrew," Simon said, his voice suddenly dropping, a habit borrowed from Jesus. "A language of separation and punishment ... for trying to reach the heavens and become gods."
Pausing to give his small audience a chance to fully fathom the profound insight he was about to offer and then suddenly looking upward and raising his voice, he declared, "And we will see that for us—we who were his disciples—and for those who know he is still alive, all sin is forgiven, and we may pray in that first language, telling him we depend on his heavenly guidance!"
"And you have chosen Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, for this?" Matthias asked.
"Tomorrow! Then we will receive his teaching from heaven and again speak one language. So Matthias, what do you say?"
"I think we may speak in different tongues, but when we pray to God, we are all speaking one language."
"Of course you are right. But you believe what I am saying, don't you? A new time is at hand!"
"I am not the one to ask, Simon. A scribe's work is only to record what others say. But will I be pleased to see a change for the better? Most certainly." As Matthias stood up with effort, he said, "These old legs don't like to stay in one place too long. James, I need your assistance in the market."
Promising to return before sunset, Matthias leaned on James' arm, and they were soon pressing their way through the clusters of shop patrons along the narrow streets.
Made slightly hoarse from inhaling the pungent cumin spread in vendors' trays, James cleared his throat, "You were there two years ago, in Caesaria Philipi," he proffered, as if arguing a point that had not yet been resolved.
"Yes, I was. And?"
"He's lying. Jesus never chose Simon. You must know that."
"I don't like to say such things about others."
"Did you hear my brother say his name should be Peter?"
"People hear what they want to hear."
"And what about you, Matthias?"
"Your brother was fond of Simon. And you should understand something. These disciples were regarded as outcasts. Only your brother saw they were worth his effort."
"Half of them don't know how to pray. The Zebedees and Thomas still babble, not even knowing when to stand or sit! Illiterates! Isn't that why he gave them a simple prayer to practice in private? He hoped they wouldn't show their ignorance in public. Now Simon spits on our ancestors. His Galilean dialect scrapes in my ears."
"What greater revenge on his killers could we hope for than a Center to study his teachings?" Matthias replied. "Anyway, I hope when I die, people will exaggerate about me—the good things, that is. Maybe they will even recall something I said that they go on to think about."
"So what about being their twelfth when they ask you?"
"I have other obligations," Matthias said. "And it makes no sense. I was not Jesus' disciple; I was his friend."
"Simon is ecstatic at the idea he will have his own episcopus," James whispered, attaching importance to Matthias' official capacity as a Sanhedrin scribe. "If your tract records his interpretations, coded messages to him from on high, Simon imagines it will eventually be added to the Torah."
"And the others? Is that what they think?"
"Several of them are upset with Simon. Bartholomew, the one whose left eye sometimes goes off on its own; Simon C'nani, James bar Alpheus—"
"The one with stubby teeth."
"Yes. Several may be wavering in their loyalty to him. Back at the Center, you will meet a friend of mine who has won a reputation as a recent apostle. A wealthy Levite named Joseph, who also calls himself Barnabas. I can rely on him."
As if this were his first time in Jerusalem, Matthias made no reply but was intently observing the surroundings, especially the women who stopped at a stall featuring colorful Greek pleated skirts and blouses.
"Almost always in pairs, so their husbands won't harbor suspicion about their companionship," he remarked, showing no apparent interest in what James had been saying.
Conspiring to make James feel altogether unimportant, or so it seemed, a familiar clopping sound of a burdened donkey, carrying sacks of debris from a fallen pediment, suddenly became a din. Forced to the side of the cobbled street, Matthias had stepped into the open gutter trough, which was full of dirty water coursing its way down to the city limits. As he leaned away from the donkey, James could see from his place of refuge under the shaded awning of the produce stall that Matthias' feet were wet.
"Shall I find you a rag to wipe them off?" he asked politely, concealing a mild measure of satisfaction at the sight of his discomfort.
"I don't know him," Matthias said, surprising James with his response to his earlier mention of Barnabas. "Oh well, they needed a good washing anyway."
"My instruction to Barnabas is to keep an eye on Saul of Tarsus," James persisted.
"The one who works for the authorities?"
"He claims to have seen Jesus or heard his voice while going to Damascus," James confided quietly, as if exposing an absurd matter best kept secret. "According to Simon, he is to spread word that my brother isn't dead. Simon promises he will be forgiven and saved."
Stopping at a stall with grains and spices, Matthias handed the vendor a Roman denarius and took several bronze leptons in change, along with a sack of finely ground barley. "You're on your way to your aunt Elizabeth's," he said, handing it to James, "so tell her it's from me. And convey my wish for a good festival and peace."
"Of course," James replied, "but what will you tell them?"
Turning away, Matthias raised his hand over his head in a farewell gesture, as if catching a mosquito. With the perfunctory wave, he turned his back to James, indicating their conversation would be continued later, and stepped into the bright sunlight. Alone in the shade of the awning over the produce stand, James felt Matthias had little respect for him. "I never claimed to be like Jesus," he protested under his breath.
Excerpted from The Matthias Scroll by Abram Epstein. Copyright © 2014 Abram Epstein. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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