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By Bodie Thoene Brock Thoene
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Bodie and Brock Thoene
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAbigail made yet another circuit of her windowless prison. One slender hand traced the rough outline of the stone wall. Her fingertips were torn and bloodied. The other palm rested lightly on her distended, pregnant belly. She had been walking continuously, ever since being confined here the night before. There was no place to lie down, but her fearful thoughts would never have permitted sleep anyway.
The punishment for adultery was death ... death by stoning.
Abigail was so far advanced with this, her first pregnancy, that the child was almost ready to live outside her womb. With stabs of pain, Abigail sensed what it would be like when fist-sized rocks struck her. Instinctively she wove her hands together in front of her stomach.
Of course, her baby would die as well.
Even if it lived, would anyone care for it? Abigail tried to walk carefully. The animal pen in which she was confined, beneath Rabbi Tabor's house, was shin deep in dried manure. Any uncautious step further added to the cloud of acrid dust already filling the stagnant air. It was scarcely possible to breathe. To raise up fully was to snag her hair in the beams of the low ceiling.
There was no actual prison in Sychar. Minor infractions, like public drunkenness, were punished with floggings in the town square. After such a beating, the prisoner was released.
A greater threat than whipping was betrayal to the Roman authorities in Sebaste. The local centurion's preference was for crucifixion, so only murderers and habitual thieves were ever delivered there.
But outside the town, between Sychar and Jacob's Well, was the sunken stone ring of a winepress. Abigail had no doubt it was there she would be stoned. Once, as a young girl, she had witnessed such a punishment. She was not supposed to be present but, being a headstrong child, had hidden in the vineyard atop the hill to watch.
The sights and sounds sickened her dreams ever after. They forced themselves on her again now: the prisoner's screams of protest, his upraised hands pleading for mercy, the scarlet gashes in his scalp and face as his life poured out....
Abigail could not close her eyes and so escape the vision, but neither did opening them drive it away. In the gloom of her cell it hovered ever before her, as if drawn on the gritty fog that hung in the air.
"Oh, baby, baby," she crooned, rubbing her stomach in desperate, circular motions, "will you fly away with me to olam haba? If not, who will take care of you? Who will love you if I am gone? Will he? Will he claim you? But no, then he would die as well. Dear one. Sweet one! I'm so sorry ... so very sorry!"
When she reached the stout, barred oak panel that marked the only exit from her imprisonment, she paused. Was that a tiny fragment of light around the edges? Where there had been only darkness before, was there now a glimpse of dawn?
Abigail shuddered. The coming of the sun might bring light but would also bring death. No escape from imagined horrors with this sunrise. Fearful night was poised to become terrifying day.
She began another stumbling circle of grief, fear, and shame. The baby within her, responding to the violent emotional chafing, kicked vigorously. Always before, Abigail had replied to her child's inquiries by crooning a lullaby, a love song, or a hymn of heroic deeds, like Miriam's or Deborah's.
But not now. No words would come; no tune could pass her teeth, chattering with apprehension and not cold.
By the time three more circuits of the cell had been completed, the truth of dawn's birth was undeniable. Gray light penetrated the recesses of the stable. A swath of wall, chest high, had been completely scoured of dirt by Abigail's questing fingers. In place of the dust were streaks of blood. The same bloody fingerprints also lovingly marked the shelf of homespun fabric above her baby.
Footsteps approached. Voices—hostile, self-righteous voices—neared.
Unconsciously, Abigail withdrew from the door, shrinking back to the other side of the chamber as if to hide herself. Was this room really so small? In the darkness it had seemed vast enough to get lost in. Now it seemed too small to hide an orphan lamb.
Could she flee? What if she burst out and ran toward Mount Gerazim? Could Abigail lose herself in the hills of Samaria? Perhaps she could escape to Galilee?
Perhaps her lover had a rescue planned. Maybe even now he was waiting to jump between her and her jailers, to free her and escape with her!
The outside bolt securing the door jerked backward with a snap that startled her. She clasped her arms across her belly and hunched her shoulders into the rocks.
The gate flew open, allowing light to stab her eyes.
"Come out!" Rabbi Tabor's voice demanded.
Abigail emerged into the day. Three men stood before her—a solid rank of accusers. To the left was the town's richest man, Jerash the Merchant. He was tall and lean, with long arms and long legs that enabled him to look down his equally long nose, which he did continuously.
To the right was Abel the Cloth Dyer. He was younger than the other two. His hands and arms were permanently stained dark brown from his work, his arms and shoulders brawny from stirring the vats. His eyes, narrowed to slits, regarded Abigail with a truly evil mixture of spite and scorn.
But Abigail read the most hatred and loathing on the face of Rabbi Tabor, in the center of the trio of judges. His broad face was framed by a dirty white beard below and a swath of forehead above that continued into a balding dome. The fringe of hair around his skull stood out as if every bit of the rabbi vibrated with hostility and condemnation.
"Woman," the rabbi intoned, "you have had all night to reflect. Now we repeat our demand: Name the one who shares your guilt."
Abigail, chin downward, shook her head.
"If you are obstinate," Jerash said in his reedy voice, "we will have no mercy."
What mercy had they shown her before this? What hope had she of mercy now? These three men had no mercy in them to offer.
Again, without speaking, she refused to give in to their demands.
"Then you leave us no choice," Abel said.
Roughly they tied her hands together, then dropped a loop of cord about her neck.
She was to be led to slaughter like an animal!
The lane from the rabbi's house led down a slope toward the village. At the bottom of the small hill was the main road through town. To the left was the market square.
To the right lay the outskirts of town, the road to Shiloh, and the Jordan River.
And the winepress ... the place of stoning.
Neighbors already lined the street. Old men looked troubled at the sight of her; old women, sad.
Young men glanced away furtively or stared openly.
Married women glared at her. Each of their glances was full of venom, like the strike of an adder.
Abigail kept her eyes down. Surely her lover would step forward soon. She had seen him on the edge of the crowd.
At the bottom of the hill the procession of shame halted. The judges conferred among themselves. An argument was in progress, though Abigail could not follow the cause of it.
Only once did Abigail venture to peer up, trying to catch the eye of one man among the onlookers—just one.
He no longer stood where she had seen him. He had disappeared. Was he readying the rescue even now?
"Woman," the rabbi said sternly, "once more we order that you reveal the father of your child. Otherwise we will have no choice but to beat it out of you."
Abigail's repeated refusal to cooperate caused a delay in her thoughts. Beat? They were going to beat her, but not kill her?
The rope around her throat tightened as Jerash tugged on it, pulling her toward the market square ... and away from death by stoning.
* * *
The town square of Sychar was its marketplace. On market days purveyors of dried fish from Joppa or dates from Jericho competed for customers with dealers in honey, or cheese, or sacks of lentils, or pomegranates brought all the way from Syria.
But not today.
Though the square was ringed many ranks deep with spectators, the only merchandise on offer was misery; the only hunger to be satisfied was vengeance.
On every side Abigail saw hatred. The menfolk might behold and turn away, but the women's eyes challenged her. There was no pity there, no sympathy.
There must be one on whose face concern glowed. After all, there was one in the crowd who truly did share her guilt. Where was he? Why did he not intervene?
The tall post rooted in the center of the square bore a pair of iron rings near its top. Abigail was marched to the very focus of the plaza and forced to stand beside the tree of punishment.
"This woman," Rabbi Tabor bellowed, "stands visibly guilty of adultery. Her lawful husband, Zakane of this city, is an honorable, upright man."
Honorable, yes. Zakane had taken in Abigail when no one else would, becoming the last of her five husbands.
It seemed ages, but had only been a handful of years, since Abigail was a cheerful young woman, beautiful in face and form, with many suitors. When her first husband was killed in the rock quarry in an accident, there had been no shortage of those vying for the widow's hand.
Even after husband number two died of a fever their first winter together, no blame attached to the sorrowing young woman.
But when Abigail's third husband was drowned at sea, all the pent-up superstition and need to fix blame crashed in on her. All those men had been good men, too. All had relatives to mourn them—parents, brothers, cousins, uncles in some part of Samaria. Either Abigail was a sorceress or she brought a curse with her to the marriage bed.
When Reen married her, becoming husband number four, Abigail did not know if it was during one of his sober moments or in his usual drunken state. Within a month, the distinction did not matter. He was never sober, and he beat her every night.
Then he had divorced her and left. It was the only kind thing Reen had ever done for her.
"Zakane ben Adam," the rabbi bawled, "has been away for more than a year. The evidence of this woman's sin is clearly written. She cannot deny it. We, his neighbors, are duty bound to uphold his honor and the integrity of our city."
Unspoken in the midst of this recital of Zakane's honorable qualities was the fact that he was forty-five years her elder ... and incapable of giving her a child.
"Once more we adjure you: Name your accomplice in this crime."
If she named him, they would both be killed. If she kept silent, she would be beaten, but there would still be a chance to run away together. Abigail's resolve to protect her lover was stronger than ever. She shook her head.
At a gesture from the rabbi Abigail was jerked about so her nose pressed against the post. Her hands were untied, only to be yanked above her head and fastened there so she was forced to stand on her toes.
The baby! She must at all costs protect the child. Let them cut her back to shreds; she would keep her baby safe.
Jerash and Abel walked past her, deliberately showing her the birch canes with which she would be flogged. As they held them in front of her, the rabbi said, "Even now we are prepared to show mercy. Name him! Name the man!"
Abigail lowered her head and closed her eyes.
Her collar was yanked backwards. A knife blade hissed, splitting her robe and exposing her back from neck to waist.
The first rod whistled through the air, landing across Abigail's shoulders. She screamed with the pain of it. It burned like a hot iron. She squirmed aside, remembering only at the last second that she must not expose the baby to a blow coming from the other direction.
The second strike landed, splitting the skin over her backbone with the ferocity of the swipe.
"What is his name?" the rabbi demanded.
The third blow drew a scream from Abigail with the agony that started in her toes and emerged from the top of her head.
The fourth stripe drove the cries completely away, to be replaced with a panting, whimpering attempt to merely get another breath.
Jerash and Abel were vying to see who could strike harder or make the edge cut deeper. In some pain-dulled part of her mind, Abigail heard the backstroke of the cane before the fifth slash of the rod.
"Stop this instant!" a commanding voice bellowed.
The expected blow landed, but it had no force behind it.
"I said, stop! And I'll crucify any man who disobeys. Cut that woman down."
When the knife hacked through Abigail's bonds, no one tried to catch her as she fell.
"Centurion Romulus," Rabbi Tabor said, "this is a religious matter. We have authority—"
"I don't care if your religion demands that you cut your own throat," the centurion responded angrily. "You'll not flog a pregnant woman."
"She is a transgressor of our law," the rabbi argued. "An adulteress."
"And she was not guilty of this crime alone. Where is the other party?"
"That's what we are going to determine."
"Not this way," the Roman officer ordered. "Let her go!"
* * *
An elderly man, limping heavily on a crutch, arrived on the edge of Sychar's market square just after the centurion delivered his command to stop the beating. Shorter in stature than most of the other onlookers, the newcomer approached the scene unable to determine the cause of the gathering.
"Pardon me, sir," he said in a hoarse voice, plucking at a witness's elbow. "But what is happening here?"
"Nothing, as it turns out," growled the other over his shoulder. Lowering his voice, he explained, "Lousy, interfering Romans."
"Interfering with what?"
The wife of the man leaned toward her husband and spoke without turning. "Giving a harlot her due, that's what. A proper flogging—that's what was called for. And we'd have had the name of the father of her whelp, were it not for the Roman."
"So she betrayed her husband?"
"Out to here," responded the woman with a snort and a pat of her own ample waist. "And him such a fine, old gentleman too."
"How was he not aware of the infidelity? Blind?"
"Gone on a journey and her cavorting in the master's bed. Poor, old Zakane."
"Who?" the late arrival demanded with an indignant croak.
"Zakane," the man repeated, pivoting on his heel. "Zakane," the man said again, the light of recognition altering his speech. "Look, Wife: Zakane has returned from his travels."
The stoop-shouldered, rail-thin man pushed his way through the crowd, which parted for him as if the murmurs of his name were a magic spell. By the time he stood in the forefront of the crowd, they had backed up, making Zakane a player in the drama instead of an onlooker.
The Roman centurion had departed.
Hand over hand, using the whipping post for support, Abigail struggled to her feet. No one helped her.
When she reached an approximation of upright, Abigail crossed one arm protectively over the baby. With the other she held up the shredded remnants of her robe.
A hawk wheeled high overhead, soaring on the winds and screaming defiance.
A dust devil swirled down Sychar's main street.
Abigail and Zakane confronted each other.
"Husband," Abigail said in a weak, quavering voice. "I—"
"Silence," Zakane returned. Two spots of high color glowed over his cheekbones, while the rest of his face was deathly pale. "Silence," he said again, stalking in a circle. He stabbed the ground with his cane like a stilted wading bird, seeking prey to strike.
"Please." Abigail staggered, then leaned heavily on the post.
Rabbi Tabor moved to Zakane's side at once. "Honored Zakane, let me help you." Dropping their rods in the dirt, Jerash and Abel joined them. "Let us assist you to your home."
Zakane shook his head violently, his entire upper body swaying with emotion. "Not until I do something here. Help me," he demanded. "Support me."
Aided by the trio of Abigail's judges, Zakane released his crutch and bent to unlace his sandal.
In the entire crowd no one moved. All were transfixed by what they were witnessing.
Shoe in hand, Zakane slapped the ground violently. "I divorce thee," he said, striking. His voice rising in both inflection and volume, he repeated, "I divorce thee! I divorce thee! I utterly cast thee out!"
His faltering energy completely spent by his outburst, Zakane sagged into the arms of his friends.
"Come, sir," the rabbi said. "Let us help you home now. The rest of you, disperse. Leave her. She is dead ... the same as dead."
* * *
In a daze, Abigail stood at the center of the square as the crowd dispersed. Some townspeople departed with downcast faces. Others, especially a solid phalanx of married women, displayed satisfaction and scorn.
Excerpted from Twelfth Prophecy by Bodie Thoene Brock Thoene Copyright © 2011 by Bodie and Brock Thoene. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another wonderful story written by my favorite authors Bodie and Brock Thoene.
Loved this book! It's a great look at the Samaritan woman at the well from a fiction perspective. The book is well written and sucks you in. Can't wait to read some more from this author!
For an AD Chronicles fan I have to say that this book read a bit different than the rest. That is not a bad thing at all but just unique for this series. Abigail is despised yet desired for her outward appearance and unfaithfulness to her husband. The brutality of ones that hate is quite an ugly thing, cruel and heartless. She endured quite a bit at the hands of the law. Makes me wonder what the world would be like today if those laws still applied, so much different I would think. The introduction of new characters by the authors in this sequel is both refreshing and needed. That is one of the things I love about this series, getting to know new people yet visiting with familiar ones. The authors have the ability in their writing style to transport the reader to the time they write about as if you are witnessing the unfolding of the lives around you. I won't give any other details away you have to read them for yourself. This book does read well and like the others does have an extensive study guide that follows.