The Letter of King Abgarus
From Bethania, where Jesus had for some time remained in concealment, He went to the place of Baptism near Ono. The arrangements were still in good order, owing to the care of its custodians. The disciples gathered around Jesus, and crowds of people came streaming in. As Jesus was teaching before the multitude, part of whom were standing, others sitting on wooden platforms in a circle around Him, a stranger approached mounted on a camel. He was followed by six attendants, who rode on mules. They halted at the tents, some distance from the place of instruction. It was an embassy from King Abgarus, who was sick, and who had sent presents to Jesus with a letter in which he implored Him to come to Edessa to cure him. He had had an eruption that had settled in his feet
and rendered him lame. Travelers returning to their homes had told him about Jesus and His miracles, of the testimony of John, and the wrath of the Jews at the last Paschal solemnity, all which had excited in him a great longing to be cured by Jesus.
The young man commissioned to bear the king’s letter to Jesus was an artist, and he had received commands to bring back Jesus’ portrait if He would not come Himself. I saw him vainly trying to reach Jesus. He pressed sometimes here, sometimes there through the crowd, both to hear the instruction and to paint Jesus’ likeness. Then Jesus bade one of the disciples to make room for the man that was going around people unable to push his way to the front, and He pointed out a platform nearby to which he should be conducted. The disciple brought the envoy forward, and placed him and his attendants where they could see and hear. They had with them gifts of woven stuffs, thin plates of gold, and very beautiful lambs.
The envoy, overjoyed at being able at last to see Jesus, at once produced his drawing materials, rested his tablet on his knee, regarded Jesus with great admiration and attention, and set to work. The tablet before him was white as if made of wax. He began by sketching with a pencil the outlines of Jesus’ head and beard. Then it looked as if he spread over his work a layer of wax in which to receive the impression of the sketch. After that he resumed his sketching, touched again and again with his pencil, again took the impression, and so continued, but without ever perfecting his work. As often as he glanced at Jesus, he seemed lost in amazement at the countenance he beheld, and was forced to begin anew. Luke did not paint in exactly this way. He used a brush also. The picture this man was producing appeared to me to be somewhat in relief; one could trace it by the touch.
Jesus continued His discourse a while longer, and then sent the disciple to say to the envoy that he might now approach and deliver his message. The envoy came down from the platform whereon he was sitting, followed by his attendants with the presents and lambs. His doublet was short, almost like those of the Three Kings, and he wore no mantle. The picture at which he had been working was hanging by a strap on his left arm. It was like a shield in the form of a heart. In the right hand he held the king’s letter. Casting himself on his knees before Jesus, he bowed low, as did also his attendants, and said: “Thy slave is the servant of Abgarus, King of Edessa. He is sick. He sends Thee this letter, and prays Thee to accept these gifts from him.” Then the slaves approached with the presents. Jesus replied to the envoy that the good intentions of his master were pleasing to Him, and He commanded the disciples to take the gifts and distribute them among the poorest of the assembled crowd. Then He unfolded the letter and read it. I do not remember all that was in it, but only that the king referred to Jesus’ power to raise the dead, and begged Him to come and cure him. The part of the letter containing the writing was stiff; the envelope pliable, as if of some kind of stuff, either leather or silk. I saw, too, that it was bound by a string.
When Jesus had read the letter, He turned the other side of the stiff part and, drawing from His robe a coarse pencil out of which He pushed something, He wrote several words in tolerably large characters, and then folded it again. After that He called for some water, bathed His face, pressed the soft stuff in which the letter had been folded to His sacred countenance, and returned it to the envoy. The latter applied it to the picture he had vainly tried to perfect, when behold! The likeness instantly became a facsimile of the original. The artist was filled with delight. He turned the picture, which was hanging by a strap, toward the spectators, cast himself at Jesus’ feet, arose, and took leave immediately. But some of his servants remained behind and followed Jesus who, after this instruction, crossed the Jordan to the second place of Baptism which John had abandoned. There these new followers were baptized.
I saw the envoy on his way home passing a night outside a city near which were long stone buildings like brick kilns. Very early the next morning some of the workmen hurried to the spot, because they had seen there a bright light like a fire. Something remarkable then took place in connection with the picture, and a great crowd of people gathered on the spot. The artist exhibited to them his picture, as well as the cloth with which Jesus had dried His face, and which, too, had received the imprint of His features. Abgarus came some distance through his gardens to meet his envoy. He was indescribably touched at Jesus’ letter and the sight of His picture. He immediately amended his life and dismissed the numerous concubines with whom he had sinned.
I saw again that, after the death of Abgarus’ son, in the reign of a wicked successor, the portrait of Jesus, which had been publicly exposed, was concealed by a pious Bishop. He placed it in a niche, a burning lamp before it, and walled up the aperture. After a long time, the picture was discovered, and then it was found that the stone that concealed it from sight also bore its imprint.
Jesus on the Confines of Sidon and Tyre
Jesus went from Ono with the disciples to the middle place of Baptism, that above Bethabara and opposite Gilgal. There He permitted Andrew, Saturnin, Peter, and James to baptize. Immense crowds were coming and going, rousing in consequence fresh excitement among the Pharisees. They dispatched letters to the Elders of all the synagogues throughout the country, directing them to deliver over Jesus wheresoever He might be found, to take the disciples into custody, to inquire into their teachings, and inflict punishment upon them. But Jesus, accompanied by only a few disciples, left the place of Baptism, and journeyed through Samaria and Galilee on the confines of Tyre. The rest of the disciples separated and returned to their homes. About the same time, Herod ordered his soldiers to bring John to Callirrhoe, where he kept him confined for about six weeks in a vault of his castle. Then he set him free.
While Jesus, with a few of His disciples, was crossing the valley Esdrelon on His way through Samaria, Bartholomew passed. Returning home to Debbaseth from the baptism of John, he fell in with some of the disciples, and Andrew spoke to him enthusiastically of the Lord. Bartholomew listened with delight and reverence, and Andrew, whose joy it was to add intelligent men to the number of the disciples, went forward to Jesus and spoke to Him of Bartholomew, who was desirous of following Him. Just at this moment, Bartholomew passed. Andrew pointed him out to Jesus who, glancing toward Bartholomew, said to Andrew: “I know him; he will follow Me. I see good in him, and I shall call him in time.” Bartholomew dwelt in Debbaseth not far from Ptolomais. He was a writer. I saw that he met Thomas soon after, to whom in turn he spoke of Jesus and whom he inclined in His favor.
Jesus had to endure great privations on this hurried journey. Saturnin, or some other one of the disciples, had charge of a basket of bread. Several times I saw Jesus steeping the hard crust in water, in order to be able to eat it. In Tyre He put up at an inn near the gate on the land side of the city. He had come over a high mountain ridge. Tyre was a very large city. To one approaching from a distant height, it looked as if hanging from a mountain and momentarily in danger of being detached. Jesus did not enter the city. He kept along the wall on the land side where there were not so many people. The wall was very thick. In it was built the inn, and on top of it ran a road. Jesus wore a brownish robe and a white woolen mantle. He went here and there, but only to the houses of the poor built in the wall. Saturnin and one other disciple had come with Jesus to Tyre. Peter, Andrew, James the Less, Thaddeus, Nathanael Chased, and all the disciples that had been with Him at the marriage feast of Cana followed. They travelled in separate bands, and met Jesus in the Jewish meeting house, situated in another quarter of Tyre, to which led a broad canal bordered with trees. To this house, with which the school was connected, belonged a large bathing garden, which ran down even to the water that cut off this quarter of the city from the mainland. The bathing garden was surrounded by a wall, inside of which was a quickset hedge of bushes cut in figures. In the middle of the garden was an open portico containing numerous passages and little apartments, and around it was the spacious bathing cistern full of flowing water. There was in the middle of it a pillar with steps and hand supports, by means of which one could descend into the water to any depth. This place was inhabited by aged Jews, who were despised on account of their religion or origin, although they were good, pious men.
It was touching to see Jesus saluting the disciples on their arrival. He passed among them giving His hands first to one, then to another. They were full of respectful confidence, for they regarded Him as an extraordinary, supernatural Being. They were indescribably joyous at seeing Him again. He delivered to them a long instruction, after which they told Him all that had happened to them. They took a meal together consisting of bread, fruit, honey, and fish which the disciples had brought with them.
The disciples, some in Jerusalem, some in Gennabris, were called to account by the Pharisees before large assemblies on the subject of Jesus, His doctrine and designs, and their own intercourse with Him. They were molested in many ways. Once I saw Peter, Andrew, and John with their hands bound, but a slight effort burst their bonds asunder, as if by a miracle. They were then allowed to return to their homes in peace.
Jesus exhorted them to constancy and told them to begin to free themselves more and more from their avocations, and to spread, as far as they could, His doctrine among the people of their district. He added that He would soon be with them again, and that He would resume His public teaching when He should have rejoined them in Galilee.
After the departure of the disciples, Jesus held in the school of the bathing garden an instruction and exhortation before a numerous assembly of men, women, and children. He spoke of Moses, of the Prophets, and of the near coming of the Messiah. He interpreted to them the meaning of the drought that had fallen upon the country in the time of Elias, the Prophet’s prayer for rain, the uprising clouds, and the showers that fell, and He showed how all this was soon to be realized. He spoke also of water and of purification, healed many of the sick, and directed them to receive the baptism of John. He cured many boys who had been brought to Him on beds. He plunged several of them, holding them by the arms, into the water, Saturnin having poured into it from a bottle some other water that Jesus had blessed. The two disciples baptized these children. There were other boys approaching manhood, who went down into the cistern and, holding to the column, plunged themselves under the water, and in this way were baptized. I noticed here several circumstances unlike what I had generally seen on such occasions. Many of the adults had to remain standing at a distance. The ceremony went on until night closed in.
Jesus in Sichor Libnath
When Jesus left Tyre, He proceeded alone on His way. He had sent both the disciples with orders to Capharnaum, also to John the Baptist. He went from ten to eleven hours south of Tyre to the city Sichor Libnath, through which He had already passed on His journey hither. The Waters of Merom, with the two cities Adama and Seleucia, lay to the east on His left. Sichor Libnath, called also Amichores, or “City built upon the Waters,” was a couple of hours inland from Ptolomais on a small, muddy lake, one side of which was rendered inaccessible by high mountains. From this lake arose the little, sandy stream Belus, which empties into the sea near Ptolomais. The city was so large that I cannot conceive why so little is known of it. The Jewish city Misael was not far off. This is the country that Solomon bestowed upon King Hiram. Sichor was free, though with some little dependence on Tyre. There was much cattle raising going on in these parts. I saw numbers of large sheep with fine wool. They could swim over the water. Beautiful woolen goods were woven here and dyed in Tyre. I saw no tilling of fields, but only the cultivation of orchards. There grew in the water a kind of grain with very large stalks. Bread was made of the grain. I think they were not obliged to sow seed for this plant, it sprang up wild. A road led from Sichor to Syria and Arabia, but there was no highway to Galilee. Jesus had come to Tyre by an indirect route.
There were two great bridges outside of Sichor: the one, high and long to enable the inhabitants to cross when the whole country was inundated; the other lower, affording a convenient passage under the arches formed by the upper one. The houses were built high and so constructed that, when the city was submerged, the people could take refuge on the roofs under tents. Most of the inhabitants were heathens. I saw little flags waving from several buildings with pointed towers, which I took for pagan temples. I was astonished to see here so many Jews, although held in contempt by their neighbors, occupying handsome houses. I think they were exiles.
The house in which Jesus put up was outside the city and on the side by which He had come. He had, however, to cross water to reach it. There was a synagogue nearby. It seemed as if Jesus, on His journey to Tyre, had announced His return by this route, for the people of the house at which He stopped appeared to be expecting Him. They came out to meet Him and received Him with marks of reverence. They were Jews, the father an aged man, and the family large. They occupied a very beautiful house which, like a palace, had many wings, and smaller buildings around it. Through respect for Jesus, the master of the family conducted Him not into his own house, but into one of the neighboring dwellings, where he washed His feet and showed Him hospitality.
I saw a great procession of all kinds of laboring people, men, women, and lads, a mixed crowd of heathens, some brown, some black (very likely slaves of this man) coming from their work. They filed into a large open place and took their food. They had with them all kinds of shovels and carts, and carried on their shoulders little, light boats like troughs. These last were provided with a seat and rudder, and contained fishing tackle. These laborers were employed in building and repairing bridges and banks. They received food in earthen vessels, also vegetables and birds; the flesh of the latter some of them ate raw. Jesus had them brought before Him. He spoke to them kindly, and they were delighted to see such a Man.
Two old Jews came to Jesus with some rolls of the Scriptures. They took a repast with Him, and He explained to them many things that they were very desirous to know. They were instructors of youth.
The rich Jew and master of the house at which Jesus stopped was named Simeon, and was from the region of Samaria. Either he or his forefathers had interested themselves in the temple on Mount Garizim, and had associated with the Samaritans, and were on that account driven from their country. They had settled here.
Jesus taught a whole day at the house of His host in an open court surrounded by columns, over which an awning was stretched. The master of the house came and went. There were gathered in the court very many Jews, men and women of all ages. I did not see Jesus performing any cures; indeed, there were no sick nor cripples. The people here were lank and lean, but very tall. Jesus gave an instruction on Baptism, and promised to send some of His disciples hither to baptize. Accompanied by the master of the house, He went out on the road by which the slaves had returned from their work. He spoke to them, encouraged them, and explained to them a parable. There were many good people, who were very much touched. They again received food and wages. It reminded me of the parable that speaks of the lord of the vineyard paying the day laborers. The slaves dwelt in a row of huts about a quarter of an hour from Simeon’s. It was some kind of serfdom that they were discharging by their labor for Simeon.
On one of the following days, after Jesus had been preaching from early morn and the Jews had gone away, about twenty pagans came to Him. For several days they had been asking to be allowed to do so. Simeon’s was about half an hour from the city, and the heathens dared not approach beyond a certain tower or arch. But Simeon himself brought these newcomers to Jesus, whom they saluted reverently and begged Him to instruct them. He spoke for a long time with them in a hall, so long indeed that the lamps were lighted before He finished. He consoled them, told them in a parable of the holy Three Kings, and said that light would one day shine upon the heathens.
When the two disciples whom Jesus had sent to Capharnaum returned to Him at Sichor, they told Him that the four disciples whom He had summoned were coming. Jesus went a journey of from three to four hours over a mountain to meet them, and came up with them at an inn on Galilean territory. There were, besides those that He had called, seven others and among them John. Some women also had come with them, of whom I recognized Mary Marcus of Jerusalem and the maternal aunt of the bridegroom Nathanael. Those called were Peter, Andrew, James the Less, and Nathanael Chased. Although it was already dark, Jesus walked with the four and the two other disciples back to Sichor, but the seven that had not been called returned to Galilee. It was an exceedingly delightful night—the sky was clear and a delicious fragrance embalmed the air. They walked sometimes all together, sometimes before or after Jesus, who then went on alone. Once they rested in the midst of a very fertile region under trees laden with fruit, and in the neighborhood of green meadows and running brooks. As they started again, there rose up from the meadow a flock of birds and accompanied them on their way. They were almost as large as hens, had red beaks and long pointed wings like those with which angels are painted, and as they flew, they kept up the funniest twittering. The birds followed them even into the city, and there lighted among the reeds in the water. They could run on the water like waterfowl. It was a touching sight—the beautiful night, Jesus pausing from time to time to pray or to teach, and the birds settling around the little party of travelers. Thus did they climb the mountain and descend on the other side. Simeon came forward to meet them, washed the feet of all, presented them a cup to drink and a morsel to eat in the vestibule, and then conducted them into his house. The birds, or waterfowl, belonged to Simeon; they flew around like pigeons. Jesus taught here during the whole day, and in the evening they celebrated the Sabbath in Simeon’s house, which was very high. Besides Jesus and the disciples, there were present about twenty Jews. The synagogue was in a subterranean vault, and arranged in perfect order. A flight of steps led down to it. A leader sang and read in the synagogue, after which Jesus delivered a discourse. The disciples slept in the same house with Jesus.
Their sleep was only a few hours long, for the gray dawn found them again on their way. They journeyed through crooked mountain passes to a little Jewish city in the land of Chabul, where dwelt some other Jewish exiles who had frequently implored to be allowed to return to their country, but the Pharisees would not permit it. Long had they sighed for a visit from Jesus, though they deemed themselves unworthy of it, and for that reason had refrained from sending for Him. But now Jesus went of His own accord. The winding mountainous roads made it a journey of from five to six hours.
When they neared the little Jewish city, two of the disciples went on ahead to notify the Ruler of the synagogue of Jesus’ coming. Although it was the Sabbath, Jesus had undertaken this journey, for here in the country, when necessity intervened, He did not strictly observe this law. He went to the Rulers of the synagogue, who received Him with great humility. They washed His feet, also those of the disciples, and offered them a luncheon. Then Jesus had Himself taken around to all the sick, about twenty of whom He cured. Among them were people quite deformed and lame, women afflicted with a flux of blood, others blind, dropsical, and leprous, also many children.
As He went along the street, several possessed cried out after Him and He freed them from the evil spirit. Order and silence reigned throughout the city. The disciples helped their Master. Some assisted the cured to rise, some instructed the crowd that followed Jesus and gathered around the doors of the houses into which He had entered. Before curing some of the sick, Jesus exhorted them to faith and amendment of life; others who already believed, He cured at once. Raising His eyes to Heaven, He prayed over them; some He touched, over others He passed His hand. I saw, too, that He blessed water and sprinkled the people with it, directing the disciples to do the same to the house. In one of the houses He and the disciples accepted a little wine and a morsel of bread. Many of the cured, rising up, cast themselves at His feet, and then followed Him joyously, as we here follow the Blessed Sacrament, though always reverently and at a distance. But to others again, Jesus gave a command to remain in their homes.
He directed some of the cured to bathe in the water that He had blessed; these were the children and the leprous. Jesus went to a well near the synagogue and blessed it, casting in at the same time salt that He had previously blessed. This well was very deep; a flight of steps led down to it. He taught on this occasion of Eliseus, who with salt had rectified the water near Jericho; then He explained the signification of salt. He furthermore commanded that the people, when sick, should use the water of the well for bathing purposes. He always blessed in the form of a cross. While He was thus engaged, the disciples held His mantle, which He sometimes laid off, and handed Him the salt that He threw into the water. He performed all these ceremonies with great gravity and recollection.
During this vision, I saw interiorly that a similar power to heal is given to priests. Some of the sick were brought to Jesus on beds, and He cured them. He delivered a discourse in the synagogue, but He took no repast, for the whole day was spent in teaching and healing. On the evening after the Sabbath, He left the place with His disciples. On taking leave of the inhabitants, who were distressed to see Him go, He ordered them not to follow Him, and they obeyed humbly. He had blessed and purified the water for them, because it was bad and full of snakes and animals with thick heads and long tails. About two hours from this place Jesus and His disciples put up at a large inn among the mountains where they ate and slept. On their journey to the Jewish city, they had passed this inn at some distance.
The next day, crowds of people bringing their sick gathered in the mountain inn, for they knew that Jesus was come. They were people that lived in huts and caves on opposite sides of the mountain. On the west side, toward Tyre, dwelt the heathens, who also had come; and on the east side, poor Jews. Jesus gave an instruction in which He spoke of purification, of ablutions, and of penance, and cured about thirty persons.
The heathens remained at a distance, and Jesus did not teach them until the others had retired. He addressed to them a consoling instruction that lasted till after midday. These poor people had little gardens and plantations around their caves. Their principal nourishment was sheep’s milk, which they made into cheese and ate like bread. The fruits of their gardens, as also those that they gathered growing wild, they carried around the country for sale. Many of them likewise furnished the dwellers, in the little city where Jesus had on the preceding day blessed the water, with good water which they carried thither in leathern bottles. Some other places were provided by them in like manner. There were many lepers among these people, for whom Jesus blessed water in which they might bathe.
Toward evening Jesus returned to Sichor Libnath, where he again taught and announced that on the following day He would baptize. In the court of the large mansion belonging to Simeon, there was a round, shallow basin from which the water overflowed into a surrounding trench. Here, too, the water was not good; it had a bad taste. Jesus blessed it, casting into it at the same time salt in lumps like stones. In this region there was a whole mountain formed of salt.
In that basin, which had previously been drained and cleansed, the Baptism of about thirty persons took place. The master of the house with all the males of his household, some other Jews of the place, many of the heathens that had lately been with Jesus, and some of the slaves from the huts, were baptized. These last Jesus had on several different occasions instructed when returned from their work. The pagans were the last to be baptized. They had to prepare themselves for the ceremony by certain purifications. Jesus poured from a flask into the baptismal basin some of the Jordan water, which the disciples always carried with them, and then He blessed it. The trench around the basin was filled high enough for the neophytes to stand in it up to the knees in water.
Before administering Baptism, Jesus prepared the aspirants by a long instruction. These latter wore long, gray mantles with hoods over the head, something like the mantles worn in prayer. When about to step into the trench around the basin, they laid aside the mantle. Their loins were covered, as also the back and breast, while from the shoulders fell a little open mantle like a scapular. A disciple laid one hand upon the shoulder of the neophyte, the other upon his head. The baptizer, in the name of the Most High, poured over his head several times from a flat shell water dipped from the basin. First Andrew baptized, then Peter, who was afterward relieved by Saturnin. The heathens were baptized last. The ceremony, including the preparations, continued until near evening. When the people had retired, Jesus and the disciples left the place separately. They met again on the road and went eastward toward Adama on Lake Merom, resting by night in the beautiful high grass under the trees.
Jesus in Adama. Miraculous Conversion of an Obstinate Jew
Although Adama did not appear very distant, still Jesus and the disciples had to journey some hours up a river before reaching a crossing place. There was no ferryman, but only a raft of beams, something like a gridiron, which lay on the shore for the accommodation of travelers. Toward noon the little troop reached Adama, which was hemmed in on all sides by water. On the eastern side of the city lay Lake Merom. The city was surrounded by a stream, which was at five different points crossed by bridges. At the bathing gardens, the stream again united with the lake. The steep shores of the low lake were covered with thick reeds and undergrowth, and its waters were muddy except in the middle where those of the Jordan flowed. The country around was infested by wild beasts.
As Jesus, with the disciples, approached the bathing garden near the city, several distinguished men of the place came forward to meet Him. They had been awaiting His coming in the garden. They conducted Him into the city and to a large open square, in the center of which stood the governor’s palace. It had a spacious forecourt, on both sides of which and in the rear ran rows of low buildings. The court was cut off from the street by a railing of shining metal made into various colored plates. Here they washed the feet both of Jesus and the disciples, brushed and shook their mantles, and
presented them with a luncheon of small fruits and herbs. It was an old custom of the people of Adama to conduct all that visited their city to this castle, where they interrogated them. If they were pleased with them, they treated them hospitably in the hope of attracting blessings upon themselves; but if they were not favorably impressed by their guests, they did not hesitate to cast them into prison. Adama, with about twenty little districts, belonged to a province under the jurisdiction of one of the Herods. The inhabitants of the city were Samaritan Jews who, in consequence of their schism, had embraced sundry perverse notions. Still, there was no idolatry practiced among them, and heathens living here had to carry on their idol worship in secret. After that, Jesus was conducted by the men that had received Him outside the city to the synagogue, a building of three stories. There He found a great part of the Jews assembled, the women in the background. First they prayed and chanted canticles to God, that to His honor they might understand all that Jesus was about to say to them. Then Jesus began His discourse. He spoke of the Divine Promises, of their mutual dependence and their realization, and of grace which, He said, was never allowed to go to waste. If he to whom, on account of the merit of his ancestors, some grace was given, would not receive it, it was passed on to the next most deserving. He told them also of a good action performed by their ancestors in this city so long before that it was to them almost unknown, but the happy results of which they were still experiencing. Their forefathers had once harbored some strangers and exiles.
Jesus and the disciples put up at a large inn near the gate by which they had entered the city.
In the neighborhood of the bathing garden outside, though more to the south, was a place for teaching. It consisted of a green hill in the center of a large, open space in which were trees planted in rows five deep, whose dense shade afforded protection from the sun. On the hill and overshadowed by a tree, was a teacher’s chair beautifully hewn out of stone. It was a very delightful place and was known as the “Place of Grace,” because the people believed that here a great favor had once upon a time been accorded them. To the north of the city was another place of which there was a popular saying expressive of some great calamity that had come upon them.
The disciples went into the houses throughout the city, inviting the people to the “Place of Grace,” where Jesus was about to deliver a great discourse. On the evening before, a banquet was given in the public hall of the Governor’s court. About fifty citizens were present and five tables were spread. Jesus was at that of the most distinguished, and the disciples were scattered among the guests at the other tables. I think Jesus and the disciples also contributed something to the entertainment. Plants like little trees in pots adorned the table, Jesus taught during the meal, going from table to table and speaking to all the guests. When the tables were cleared of all but their ornamental foliage, and grace said, all present ranged in a half-circle before Jesus, who delivered an instruction and invited them to come next morning to the “Place of Grace,” where He would discourse to them more at length.
Next day toward nine in the morning, Jesus set out with the disciples for the place of instruction, where over one hundred distinguished men were gathered under the shade of the trees. In the outer circle were some women also. On the way thither, Jesus and the disciples arrived at the palace of the Governor who, in magnificent robes and attended by his officers, was just about setting out for the same place. But Jesus commanded him not to go in such array, but to make his appearance like the other men in a long mantle and penitential garb. The mantle was of dyed wool. They wore also a scapular of one piece in the back but open on the breast, the two held in place over the shoulders by a narrow strap. The two pieces, front and back, were black with the names of the seven capital sins wrought into them in different colors. The women were veiled. When Jesus stepped up on the teacher’s chair, the people bowed reverently. The Governor and the most distinguished men of the city stood close to the chair.
The disciples, standing in the outer circles, had each around him a group of men and women receiving instructions. Jesus first raised His eyes to Heaven and prayed aloud to His Father, from whom all graces flow, that His teaching might fall upon hearts repentant and sincere. He directed the people to repeat His words after Him, which they did. His discourse lasted without interruption from nine in the morning till about four in the afternoon. Once only there was a pause, during which they brought Him a little refreshment, a glass of wine and a morsel of bread. The listeners came and went, according as their business in the city demanded. Jesus taught of penance and Baptism, of which He here spoke principally as of a spiritual purification and cleansing. No women were baptized before Pentecost, though among the children admitted to Baptism were little girls of from five to eight years old, but no grown girls. The mysterious signification connected with this, I no longer remember. Jesus spoke also of Moses, of the broken tables of the Law, of the golden calf, and of the thunder and lightning on Sinai.
When he had made an end of speaking and the instruction was quite finished, many of the people including the Governor having returned to the city, a tall, prepossessing old Jew with a long beard stepped boldly up to the teacher’s chair and thus addressed Jesus: “Allow me now to speak with Thee. Thou hast enumerated twenty-three truths when, in reality, there are twenty-four,” and he proceeded to name them one after another and to argue with Jesus on the point. But Jesus replied: “Desiring thy conversion, I have suffered thee here. I might have sent thee away before the whole crowd, since thou didst come hither uninvited. Thou sayest that there are twenty-four truths, and that I have taught only twenty-three. But thou hast already added three to my number, for I taught twenty only.” And then Jesus counted up twenty truths according to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, although it was by the same manner of reckoning that His opponent had proved that there were twenty-four. He then descanted upon the sin and punishment of those that add something to the truth. But the old Jew would by no means acknowledge his error, and he was supported by some present who were glad to hear Jesus contradicted. But Jesus said to him: “Thou hast a beautiful garden. Bring Me some of the best and soundest of its fruits. They will rot away as a sign that thou art in the wrong! Thou hast an erect, robust body. Thou shalt grow crooked if thou art wrong, that thou mayest see how the noblest gifts are ruined and deformed as soon as additions are made to the truth! But if thou canst show forth some such prodigy, we shall admit that there are twenty-four truths.”
Thereupon the old Jew hurried with his associates to the garden but a short way off. In it was to be found all that was rare and costly in the shape of fruits, plants, and flowers. All kinds of choice animals and birds were there in cages, and in the center was a large basin in which were kept rare fish for the delight of the beholder. The old man, with the help of his friends, quickly gathered the most magnificent fruits, yellow apples, and bunches of ripe grapes, which they put into two little baskets; the small fruits they put into a cut-glass dish that looked as if made of threads of colored glass intersecting one another. Besides that, he took with him in latticed baskets various birds and rare animals of the size of a hare, or a little kitten.
All this time Jesus continued to speak of the evil of obstinacy and of the ruinous consequences attendant upon arbitrary additions to the truth.
When now the old Jew and his companions placed around Jesus’ chair the rare flowers and animals in the baskets and cages, intense excitement prevailed in the crowd. But when he proudly and obstinately maintained his first assertion, the words of Jesus were fulfilled in all that he had brought. The fruit began to stir and from all sides broke forth horrible maggots and worms that soon devoured it, so that of a magnificent apple, nothing more could be seen than a tiny piece of peel on the head of a squirming maggot. The beautiful birds and other rare animals began to grow faint and exude matter from which were formed worms that turned and gnawed their flesh, now become red and raw. The sight was so disgusting that the crowd, which had pressed forward through curiosity, began to turn away with expressions of horror, and this all the more as the old Jew, turning pale and perfectly yellow, became shrunken on one side.
At this miracle the people set up a frightful noise and clamor, and the old Jew bewailing himself acknowledged his error and implored Jesus for mercy. There was so great a tumult that the Governor of the city, who had returned home, had to be called to quell the disturbance. As for the old Jew, he loudly proclaimed his fault and confessed that he had indeed tampered with the truth.
In consideration of the man’s vehement sorrow and his entreaties to all present to pray for him that he might be cured, Jesus blessed the fruits and animals that had been brought to Him. All were immediately restored to their first state, including the man himself, who cast himself in tears at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks.
He was so truly converted that he became one of the most faithful of Jesus’ followers and the instrument of many other conversions. In a spirit of penance, he shared with the poor a great part of the magnificent fruits of his garden. This miracle made a deep impression upon all that had now returned from the city, whither they had gone to take something to eat. And indeed such a miracle was necessary here; for these people, as is often the case among nations of mixed origin, were obstinate in maintaining opinions that had been proved to them to be erroneous. They sprang from Samaritans who had entered into mixed marriages with heathens, and who had, in consequence, been banished from Samaria. They were fasting today not on account of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, but on account of their own expulsion from Samaria. They, indeed, acknowledged and lamented their having fallen into error, but at the same time they cared not to abandon it.
They had given Jesus an extraordinarily gracious reception, because many signs contained in an old tradition received by them from the heathens had been fulfilled, and in accordance with the same, they were now expecting some great favor from God to befall them.
This promise had been made at the place afterward named the “Place of Grace.” I know only this, that these heathens had once in great affliction prayed on that spot with hands raised to Heaven, and that it had been foretold to them that when new streams should flow into the lake and another into the bathing spring, when the city should have extended as far as the spring, then should the favor be received. And now all these signs had been fulfilled. There flowed at this time, I think, five new streams either all into the lake, or some into it and some into the Jordan nearby. Another sign was fulfilled in the taking place of some change in an arm of the Jordan, and a new stream of good water had begun to flow into the well at the “Place of Grace.”
It was at this place that Jesus was about to baptize and it was, very probably, to this that all the prophecies concerning the water referred. The water here, too, was bad. The city had also extended entirely on this side. The northern side lay low and black, full of exhalations arising from its marshes; only some poor heathen outcasts dwelt there in little huts. But toward the southeast of the city were many new houses, gardens, and buildings all the way to the “Place of Grace.” The place was low and the country around level. By a change in the river banks and the sudden elevation of a mountain, an arm of the Jordan had bent its course westwardly as far as the garden, where it united with a little stream, and then flowed back into its bed. This bend covered a considerable area. The waters of the Jordan flowing hither constituted one of the aforementioned signs.
As Jesus on the following day was again teaching in the synagogue, in the center of which stood a magnificent chest containing the rolls of the Law, the Jews entered barefoot. Ablutions were prohibited on that day, therefore after the instruction of the preceding eve, they had washed and bathed. Above the clothes of the day before, they wore in the synagogue a long, black mantle with a hood and train. It was open at the sides and fastened with cords. On the right arm hung two rough, black maniples, and on the left arm one. They prayed and chanted in a mournful tone, enveloped themselves for awhile in sacks, open in front, and prostrated face downward in the galleries around the synagogue. The women practiced similar penances in their homes.
The fires had been covered the day before. Not till evening did I see any meal taken, and then it was at an uncovered table in the inn where Jesus ate with His disciples alone. The others took theirs in the large hall of the court. The meal consisted entirely of cold viands brought from the Governor’s house. Jesus spoke words of instruction on the subject of eating. Many people, among them the lame and crippled, came in turn to the table upon which were some shallow dishes filled with ashes. The old Jew who had been converted gave many of the best of his magnificent fruits to the poor.
On the next day also, the Sabbath, Jesus again taught in the synagogue and after the instruction walked with His disciples and about ten Jews to the mountain north of the city. The country in that direction was wild and savage. The little party tarried awhile under the trees in front of a house and partook of some food and drink offered them by its inmates.
Jesus gave His companions all kinds of rules for their direction for, as He said, He would soon leave them to return but once again. Among other things, He exhorted them not to make so many motions when at prayer, a custom here carried to excess; and above all, not to be so severe toward sinners and heathens, to be more lenient to them. Thereupon He related the parable of the unjust steward, proposing it to them in the form of an enigma. They wondered at it, and He asked them why the conduct of the steward should be praised. It appeared to me that Jesus symbolized the synagogue by the unjust steward and the other debtors by the heathens and the various sects. The synagogue should reduce the debt of the sects and heathens while she is furnished with power and grace; viz., while she undeservedly and unjustly possesses opulence in order that, when she is herself about to be ejected, she may flee to the mediation of the kindly treated debtors.