Jesus in Thanath-Silo and Antipatris
During the feast in Machaerus and the beheading of the Baptist, Jesus was in Thanath-Silo. There He heard from those that had returned from Jerusalem the catastrophe which had just occurred in the Holy City. A crowd of laborers lately engaged on a great building near the mount upon which stood the Temple, along with eighteen master workmen sent thither by Herod, had been buried under the falling walls. Jesus expressed compassion for the innocent sufferers, but said that the sin of the master workmen was not greater than that of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and all those that labored against the Kingdom of God. These latter would likewise be one day buried under their own treacherous structures.
The aqueduct that had cost the lives of so many was probably a quarter of an hour in length. It was intended to conduct the water flowing from the Pool of Bethsaida up to the mount on which the Temple stood, thus to wash down from the court to the lower ravine the blood of the slaughtered animals. Higher up on the mountain was the Pool of Bethsaida, which discharged the waters received from its source, the Gehon. Three vaulted aqueducts ran far in under the Temple mount, and long arcades extended northward across the valley and up to the mount. Nearby stood a high tower in which, by means of wheelwork machinery, water was raised in great leathern vessels from the reservoir far below. The work had long been in progress. Being now in want of good building stone and master workmen, Pilate, acting on the advice of a member of the Sanhedrin, a Herodian in secret, had sought help from Herod. The master workmen sent by the latter were likewise Herodians. At Herod’s instigation, they designedly carried on the building in such a way that the whole structure would necessarily fall at once. By this catastrophe, they intended to embitter the Jews still more against Pilate. The foundation was broad, but hollow, and the structure arose tapering, but heavy. When the disaster happened, the eighteen Herodians were standing upon a terrace opposite the building. They had commanded the wooden scaffolding over which it had been arched to be drawn out, for that now all was solid. The poor laborers were crowded on all parts of the high arches busily working. Suddenly all split asunder, the huge walls came toppling down, and cries went up on all sides. Crash after crash was heard, and clouds of dust swept over the whole region. Many little dwellings were crushed by the falling stones, as well as a number of laborers and others at the foot of the mount. The place on which the eighteen traitors were standing, loosened by the shock, slid down with the rest, and they too were buried in the ruins. This took place shortly before the festivities at Machaerus, consequently no Roman officer or civil functionary made his appearance at the feast. Pilate became very much enraged against Herod, and thought only of revenging himself. The building was an immense undertaking, and the loss very great. Enmity arose between Pilate and Herod on account of this affair; but by the death of Jesus, that is, by the demolition of the true Temple, they again became friends. The destruction of the first edifice buried the wily authors of it along with their innocent victims; that of the second brought judgment upon the whole nation.
The outlet of the Pool of Bethsaida was now entirely choked up, for the whole ravine was full of debris; in consequence of this, another pool was soon formed by the retarded waters.
When Pilate, greatly exasperated by what had taken place, sent some of his officers to Herod in Machaerus, the latter excused himself as absent from home.
Jesus restored sight to several blind persons in Thanath. After that He went with Peter and John through Sichem to Antipatris. Both of the Apostles inquired more than once on the way whether or not He intended to stop at Aruma and other places on their route. But Jesus answered that the people of those places would not receive Him, and He proceeded in the direction to Antipatris. During their journey, Jesus instructed His Apostles on prayer. He made use of the similitude of a man knocking at his friend’s door during the night and begging the loan of three loaves. Toward evening Jesus and His companions reached the woody region outside Antipatris, and there took lodgings at an inn.
Antipatris was situated near a little river. It was a very beautiful city recently built by Herod in honor of his father, Antipater, on the site of a little place named Kaphar-Saba. During the war with the Machabees, General Lysias encamped at Kaphar-Saba, which even at that time was fortified with towers and walls. Being defeated by Judas Machabeus, he came to terms with him here, warded off from Judea the attacks of other nations, and gave large presents for the restoration of the Temple. Antipatris was six hours from the sea. It was Paul’s halting place when being led a prisoner to Caesarea. The city was surrounded by uncommonly large trees, while throughout its interior were scattered gardens and magnificent walks. The whole city appeared to be clothed in verdure. The architecture was of pagan style; colonnades, under which one could walk, ran the entire length of the streets.
When Jesus with Peter and John left the inn and entered the city, He went to the house of the chief magistrate, who was named Ozias. It was principally on account of this man that He had come hither, for his trouble was well known to Jesus. Ozias had sent a messenger out to the inn to invite Jesus to visit him, for his daughter was very sick, and Jesus returned word that He would go that very day. Ozias received Him and the two Apostles very reverently, washed their feet, and wanted to offer refreshments. But Jesus went straight to the invalid, while the two Apostles proceeded through the city to announce the instruction about to be given in the synagogue. Ozias was a man of about forty years. His daughter was called Michol, and she may have been about fourteen. She lay stretched upon her couch, pale, wasted, and so paralyzed as to be unable to move any of her members. She could not raise or turn her head; her attendants had even to move her hands from one place to another. The mother was present and veiled. She bowed humbly before Jesus as He drew near to the maiden’s couch, at one side of which she generally remained seated on a cushion in order to render assistance to her daughter. But when Jesus knelt down by the couch, for it was very low, the mother stood reverently on the opposite side, the father at the foot.
Jesus spoke with the invalid, prayed, breathed into her face, and motioned to the mother to kneel down opposite Him. She obeyed. Then Jesus poured some oil that He carried with Him upon the palm of His hand and, with the first two fingers of His right hand, anointed the sick maiden’s forehead and temples, then the joints of both hands, allowing His own hand to rest for one moment upon them. Then He directed the mother to open Michol’s long garment over the region of the stomach, which too He anointed with the oil. After that the mother raised the edge of the coverlet from her daughter’s feet, and they also received the unction. Then Jesus said: “Michol, give Me thy right hand and thy mother thy left!” At this command, the maiden, for the first time, raised both hands and stretched them out. Jesus continued: “Stand up, Michol!” and the pale, haggard child arose to a sitting posture and then to her feet, tottering in the unaccustomed position. Jesus and the mother led her into the open arms of the father. The mother also embraced her. They wept for joy, and all three fell at Jesus’ feet. And now came in the servant-men and maids of the house, praising the Lord in accents of joy. Jesus ordered bread and grapes to be brought, and the juice of the latter to be squeezed out. He blessed both, and commanded the maiden to eat and drink a little at a time. When Michol lay upon her couch, she was clothed in a long gown of fine white wool. The piece that covered the breast was fastened upon the shoulders so that it could easily be opened. Her arms were wrapped with broad strips of the same stuff which fastened to the back. Under this gown was a covering on the back and breast like a scapular. As she arose to stand, her mother threw around her a very large, light veil.
Michol’s steps were at first tottering and uncertain. She was like one who had forgotten how to walk and stand upright, and she soon lay down again even while eating. But when her young friends and playmates came in, full of shy curiosity, to see with their own eyes the cure that was now noised about, Michol arose and, trembling with emotion, tottered to meet them. Her mother led her like a child. The girls were glad and joyous. They embraced Michol and led her around. Ozias asked Jesus whether his child’s malady had come upon her on account of some sin of her parents. Jesus replied: “It came through a dispensation of God.” Michol’s young companions also thanked Jesus, who then proceeded to the forecourt of the house where He found numbers of people waiting for Him with their sick. Here too were Peter and John.
Jesus cured the sick of all kinds of maladies and, followed by a crowd, went to the synagogue where the Pharisees and a great multitude were awaiting His coming. He related the parable of the shepherd. He said that He was seeking the lost sheep, that He had sent His servants also to seek them, and that He would die for His sheep. He told them likewise that He had a flock upon His mountain, that they were more secure than some others, and that if the wolf devoured anyone of them, it would be owing to its own imprudence. Speaking of His mission, He related another parable. He began: “My Father has a vineyard.” At these words, the Pharisees smiled derisively and looked at one another. When He had finished the whole parable, in which He described the ill-treatment the servants of His Father had received from the wicked vinedressers, and said that His Father had now sent His Son whom they would cast out and murder, they laughed in scorn and asked one another: “Who is He? What is He about? Where has His Father that vineyard? He has lost His wits! He is a fool, that’s plain to be seen!” And so they went on jeering and laughing. Jesus left the synagogue with Peter and John. The Pharisees continued their insults behind His back, ascribing His miracles to sorcery and the devil.
Jesus returned with Ozias to his house, and again cured many people who were waiting in the forecourt. He took a slight repast, and accepted some bread and balsam for the journey.
Jesus cured in various ways, each one having its own signification. I cannot now, however, repeat them as I saw them. Each had reference to the meaning and the secret cause of the malady, also to the spiritual needs of the invalid. In the anointing with oil, for instance, there was a certain spiritual strength and energy denoted by the signification of the oil itself. No one of these actions was without its own peculiar meaning. With these forms, Jesus instituted all those ceremonies that the saints and priests who exercised their healing power would afterward make use of in His Name. They either received them from tradition, or were used in the Name of Jesus through an inspiration of the Holy Ghost. As the Son of God, in order to become man, chose the body of a most pure creature, thus to correspond to the requirements of man’s nature, so did He frequently use in effecting His cures pure and simple creatures that had been blessed by His Spirit, as, for instance, oil. He afterward gave to the cured bread to eat with some juice of the grape. At other times He headed by a mere command uttered at a distance, for He had come upon earth to cure the most varied ills and that in the most varied ways. He had come to satisfy, for all that believed in Him, by His own great Sacrifice upon the Cross, in which Sacrifice were contained all pains and sorrows, all penances and satisfactions. With the various keys of His charity, He first opened the fetters and bonds of temporal misery and chastisement, instructed the ignorant in all things necessary for them to know, healed all kinds of maladies, and aided the needy in every way; then with that chief key of His love, the key of the Cross, He opened Heaven’s expiatory door as well as the door of Limbo.
Michol, Ozias’ daughter, had been paralyzed from her early years, and it was a special grace that she had for so long a time been unable to move. She had been chained down by sickness during the most perilous years of her childhood, years full of danger to innocence; and in consequence of the same, her parents had an opportunity for the exercise of charity and patience. Had she been well from infancy, what would perhaps have become of both her and her parents? Had the latter not sighed after Jesus, Michol never would have been so blessed. Had they not believed in Him, their daughter would never have been cured and anointed, which anointing had imparted wonderful strength and energy both to body and soul. Her sickness was a trial, a consequence of inherited sinfulness, but at the same time a loving discipline, a means of spiritual progress for Michol’s soul, as well as for her parents. The patience and resignation of the parents resulted from their cooperation with grace. It brought to them the crown, the recompense of the struggle decreed for them by God, namely, the cure through Jesus of soul and body. What a grace! To be bound down by sufferings, and yet to have the spirit free for good until the Lord comes to deliver both body and soul!
Jesus conversed with Ozias, who told Him about the fall of the tower of Silo and of the unfortunate people buried under its ruins. He spoke with horror of Herod, whom some suspected of being at the bottom of the affair. Jesus remarked that greater calamities would overtake the traitors and false architects than that which had fallen upon the poor workmen. “If,” He continued, “Jerusalem does not embrace the salvation offered her, the destruction of the Temple will follow that of the tower.” Ozias referred also to John’s baptism, and expressed the hope that Herod would set him at liberty on the occasion of his birthday festival. Jesus replied that John would be freed when his time came. The Pharisees said to Jesus in the synagogue that He should be on His guard, lest Herod would imprison Him with John if He went on as He was then doing. To this Jesus deigned no reply.
About five o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus left Antipatris with Peter and John and went southward to Ozensara, from four to five hours distant. A Roman garrison was stationed in Antipatris, and there were many large trunks of trees brought hither for transportation to the lake, where ship building was carried on. On their way to Ozensara they encountered many such loads of timber drawn by huge oxen and accompanied by Roman soldiers. The trees of this region also were felled and hewed for the same purpose. Jesus instructed several workmen thus employed. It was late when they reached Ozensara, a town divided into two sections by a little river. Jesus put up here with some people whom He knew. He instructed and admonished a crowd that had collected near the inn. He had been here once before on His way to baptism. He cured and blessed the sick children.
Jesus in Bethoron and Bethania
It was about six hours from Ozensara to Bethoron. At some distance from the latter place, John and Peter went on ahead, leaving Jesus to follow alone. The Egyptian disciples, along with the son of Johanna Chusa, came to meet Jesus here. They brought news that the holy women were celebrating the Sabbath in Machmas, which was situated in a narrow defile four hours to the north of this place. Machmas was the place at which Jesus in His twelfth year withdrew from His parents and returned to the Temple. Here it was that Mary missed Him and thought that He had gone on to Gophna. Not finding Him at this latter place, she was filled with anxious solicitude, and made her way back to Jerusalem.
There was in Bethoron a Levitical school, with whose teacher the Holy Family was acquainted. Anne and Joachim had lodged with him on the occasion of their taking Mary to the Temple; and when returning to Nazareth as Joseph’s bride, Mary had again stopped at his house. Several of the disciples from Jerusalem had come hither with Joseph of Arimathea’s nephews at the time of Jesus’ arrival. Jesus went to the synagogue where, amid the contradictions and objections of the Pharisees, He explained the Scripture appointed for that Sabbath. The instruction over, He cured the sick at the inn, among them several women afflicted with an issue of blood, and blessed some sick children. The Pharisees had invited Him to a dinner, and when they found Him so tardy in coming, they went to call Him. All things, they said, had their time and so had these cures. The Sabbath belonged to God, and He had now done enough. Jesus responded: “I have no other time and no other measure than the will of the Heavenly Father.” When He had finished curing, He accompanied the disciples to the dinner.
During the meal, the Pharisees addressed to Him all kinds of reproaches; among others they alleged that He allowed women of bad repute to follow Him about. These men had heard of the conversion of Magdalen, of Mary Suphan, and of the Samaritan. Jesus replied: “If ye knew Me, ye would speak differently. I am come to have pity on sinners.” He contrasted external ulcers, which carry off poisonous humors and are easily healed, with internal ones which, though full of loathsome matter, do not affect the appearance of the individual so afflicted. The Pharisees further alleged that His disciples had neglected to wash before the meal, which gave Jesus an opportunity for a timely and energetic protest against the hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness of the Pharisees themselves. When they spoke of the women of ill repute, Jesus related a parable. He asked which was the more praiseworthy, the debtor, who having a great debt, humbly implored indulgence until he could faithfully discharge it little by little; or another who, though deeply in debt, spent all he could lay his hands on in rioting and, far from thinking of paying what he owed, mocked at the conscientious debtor. Jesus related likewise the parables of the good shepherd and the vineyard, as He had done at Antipatris, but His hearers were indifferent; they did not seize the application.
Jesus and the disciples put up at the Levitical school. Upper-Bethoron was so elevated that it could be descried from Jerusalem, but Lower-Bethoron lay at the foot of the mountain.
From Bethoron, which was six hours distant from Jerusalem, Jesus went straight on to Bethania, stopping at no place on the way excepting Athanot. Lazarus had already returned to Bethania from Magdalum, where he had put everything in order and engaged a steward for the castle and other property. To the man who had lived with Magdalen, he had assigned a dwelling situated on the heights near Ginnim and sufficient means for his support. The gift was gladly accepted.
As soon as she arrived in Bethania, Magdalen went straight to the dwelling of her deceased sister, Mary the Silent, by whom she had been very much beloved, and spent the whole night in tears. When Martha went to her in the morning, she found her weeping on the grave of her sister, her hair unbound and flowing around her.
The women of Jerusalem also had returned to their homes, all making the journey on foot. Magdalen, though exhausted by her malady and the shocks she had received, and wholly unaccustomed to such travelling, insisted upon walking like the others. Her feet bled more than once. The holy women who, since her conversion, showed her unspeakable affection, were often obliged to come to her assistance. She was pale and exhausted from weeping. She could not resist her desire to express her gratitude to Jesus, so she went over an hour’s journey to meet Him, threw herself at His feet, and bedewed them with repentant and grateful tears. Jesus extended His hand to her, raised her, and addressed to her words of kindness. He spoke of her deceased sister, Mary the Silent. He said that she should tread in her footsteps and do penance as she had done, although she had never sinned. Magdalen then returned home with her maid by another way.
Jesus went with Peter and John into Lazarus’ garden. Lazarus came out to meet Him, conducted Him to the house and offered Him in the hall the customary attentions, namely, washing of feet and refreshments. Nicodemus was not there, but Joseph of Arimathea was present. Jesus stayed in the house and spoke with no one excepting the members of the family and the holy women. Only with Mary did He speak of John’s death, for she knew of it by interior revelation. Jesus told her to return to Galilee within a week in order to escape the annoyances of a crowded road, for Herod’s guests from that part of the country would a little later be going from Machaerus to their homes.
The disciples that were going to Judea at the same time as Jesus, though not with Him, stopped at the different places on the road, went into the huts on the wayside and to the shepherds in the fields, asking: “Are there any sick here whom we may cure in the Name of our Master, that we may freely give to them what He has freely given to us?” Then anointing the sick with oil, they were cured.
Jesus left Bethania the next morning. He crossed the Mount of Olives to teach and heal in a neigh-boring place where some masons and other mechanics were encamped. It was the camping ground of the day laborers and masons engaged on the interminable buildings of the Temple mount. There were some kitchens around the place in which poor women cooked the workmen’s food for a trifle. There were many Galileans among the workmen, also some people who had been attracted thither by Jesus’ teaching and miracles, some even whom He had cured. Some too were from Giskala, from Zorobabel the Centurion’s estate, and many others from a little place near Tiberias on the northern height of the valley of Magdalum. Jesus cured many sick among these people. They bemoaned to Him the great misfortune that had happened about fourteen days before in the falling of that huge building, and begged Him to visit several of the wounded who had barely escaped with their lives. Ninety-three people, besides the eighteen treacherous architects, had been killed. Jesus went to the wounded, whom He consoled and healed. He healed several of contusions on the head by anointing the head with oil and pressing it between His hands; and crushed hands on which splinters of bones were projecting, He healed by fixing the pieces together, anointing them, and holding them in His own hands. Broken arms bound up in bandages Jesus anointed, then held the fractures in His hands, and they were made whole, so that the bandages could be removed and the arms used. The wounds of lost limbs, He closed.
I heard Jesus saying to the assembled multitude that they would have greater evils to bemoan when the sword would strike Galilee. He advised them to pay all taxes to the Emperor without murmuring, and if they had not the means to do so, they should apply to Lazarus in His name, and he would furnish what was necessary. Jesus spoke with touching kindness to these poor people. I heard them complaining that once they were able to obtain help at the Pool of Bethsaida, but now poor people could no longer look there for assistance—they had to languish unaided. For a long time past, they had heard of no cure at the pool.
Jesus wept as He crossed the Mount of Olives. He said, “If the city” “does not accept salvation, its Temple will be destroyed like this building that has tumbled down. A great number will be buried in the ruins.” He called the catastrophe of the aqueduct an example that should serve to the people as a warning.
Jesus went afterward to the house outside the Bethlehem gate of Jerusalem at which Mary and Joseph had lodged with Him, a Babe of forty days, when they were going to present Him in the Temple. Anne also had spent a night here when journeying to the Crib, and Jesus had done the same when, in His twelfth year, He had at Machmas left His parents who were returning home and gone back to the Temple. This little inn was in the hands of very devout, simple-hearted people, and it was there that the Essenians and other pious souls took lodgings. The present proprietors were the children of those that had lived there thirty years before, and there was one old man who remembered perfectly all the circumstances of those visits. They did not, however, recognize Jesus, for He had not been there for a long time. They thought perhaps He was John the Baptist, of whom even here the report was current, that he had been set at liberty.
They showed Jesus in one corner of the house a doll in swaddling bands, clothed exactly as He Himself had been when Mary bore Him to the Temple. It was lying in a crib like His own, and around it burned lights and lamps that appeared to rise out of paper horns. They said to Jesus: “Jesus of Nazareth, the great Prophet, was born in Bethlehem three and thirty years ago, and was brought here by His Mother. What comes from God, one may honor, and why should we not celebrate His birthday for six weeks if similar honors are paid to Herod, who is no prophet?”
These people, through their intercourse with Anne and other intimate friends of the Holy Family, as well as through the accounts of the shepherds who put up at their inn when they visited Jerusalem, were reverential believers in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. When Jesus now made Himself known to them their joy was beyond expression. They showed Him every place in the house and garden hallowed by the presence of Mary, Joseph, and Anne. Jesus instructed and consoled them, and they exchanged gifts. Jesus directed one of the disciples to give them some coins while at the same time He accepted from them some bread, fruit, and honey for His journey.
They accompanied Him quite a distance when, with the disciples, He left the inn and started for Hebron.
Jesus in Juttah. He Makes Known The Death of John the Baptist
Jesus went with His companions to Juttah, the Baptist’s birthplace. It was five hours’ distance from the inn outside Jerusalem and one hour from Hebron. Mary, Veronica, Susanna, Johanna Chusa, Johanna Marcus, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and several of the disciples from Jerusalem were there awaiting Jesus. They had travelled in small parties and, having come by a shorter route from Jerusalem, had reached their destination several hours before Him.
Zachary’s house was situated on a hill outside of Juttah. Both it and its surroundings, consisting of vineyards, were the inheritance of the Baptist. The son of his father’s brother, likewise named Zachary, occupied the house at this time and managed affairs. He was a Levite and an intimate friend of Luke, by whom not long before he had been visited in Jerusalem, and had then heard many particulars of the Holy Family. He was younger than the Baptist, of the age of the Apostle John. From his early years he had been like an own child in Elizabeth’s house. He belonged to that class of Levites who were most like the Essenians and who, having received from their ancestors the knowledge of certain mysteries, waited with earnest devotion for the coming of the Messiah. Zachary was enlightened and unmarried. He received Jesus and His companions with the customary marks of respect, washing of feet and refreshments. After that Jesus repaired to the synagogue in Hebron.
It was a fast day, and on that evening began a local celebration in Juttah and Hebron. It was in memory of David’s victory over Absalom who had in Hebron, as being his birthplace, first raised the standard of revolt. Numerous lamps were lighted during this feast even in the daytime, both in the synagogue and private dwellings. The people gave thanks for the interior light which had at that time led their ancestors to choose the right, and implored a continuance of that heavenly illumination, to enable them always to make choice of the same. Jesus delivered an instruction to a very large audience. The Levites showed Him great esteem and affection, and He took a meal with them.
As Mary was making the journey with the women to this part of the country, she related to them many particulars connected with her former journey thither with Joseph on the occasion of her visit to Elizabeth. She showed them the spot on which Joseph had bade her farewell on his departure for home, and told them how uneasy she felt when she reflected upon what Joseph’s thought would certainly be when on his return he would notice her changed condition. She visited likewise with the holy women all the places where mysteries connected with her Visitation and the birth of John had occurred. She told of John’s leaping for joy in his mother’s womb, of Elizabeth’s salutation, and of the Magnificent which she had herself uttered under the inspiration of God, and which she afterward recited every evening with Elizabeth. She told of Zachary’s being struck dumb and of God’s restoring his speech at the moment in which he pronounced the name of John. All these mysteries, until now unknown to them, Mary, with tears started by tender recollections, related to the holy women. They too wept at the different places, but their tears were more joyful than those of Mary, who was at the same time mourning John’s death, still unknown to them. She showed them also the fountain which at her prayer had sprung up near the house, and from it they all drank.
At the family meal Jesus taught. The women were seated apart. After the meal, the Blessed Virgin went with Jesus, Peter, John, and the Baptist’s three disciples, James, Heliacim, and Sadoc (the sons of her eldest sister Mary Heli) into the room in which John was born. They spread out a large rug, or carpet, on the floor and all knelt or sat around it. Jesus, however, remained standing. He spoke to them of John’s holiness and of his career. Then the Blessed Virgin related to them the circumstances under which that rug had been made. At the time of her visit, she said, Elizabeth and herself had made it and on it John was born. It was Elizabeth’s couch at the time of his birth. It was made of yellow wool, quilted and ornamented with flowers. On the upper border were embroidered in large letters passages from Elizabeth’s salutation and the Magnificat. In the middle was fastened a kind of cover or pouch, into which the woman about to become a mother could have her feet buttoned up as in a sack. The upper part of this pouch formed a kind of hooded mantle that could be thrown around her. It was of yellow wool, with brown flowers, and was something like a dressing gown, the lower half being fastened to a quilted rug. I saw Mary raising the upper border before her while she read and explained the passages and prophecies embroidered on it. She told them also that she had prophesied to Elizabeth that John would see Jesus face to face only three times, and how this was verified: first, as a child in the desert when on their flight into Egypt, Jesus, Joseph, and herself had passed him, though at some distance; the second time, at Jesus’ baptism; and the third, when at the Jordan he saw Jesus passing and bore witness to Him.
And now Jesus disclosed to them the fact that John had been put to death by Herod. Deep grief seized upon them all. They watered the rug with their tears, especially John, who threw himself weeping on the floor. It was heartrending to behold them prostrate on the floor, sobbing and lamenting, their faces pressed upon the rug. Jesus and Mary alone were standing, one at each end. Jesus consoled them with earnest words and prepared them for still more cruel blows. He commanded silence on the matter since, with the exception of themselves, it was at present known only to its authors.
Southward from Hebron was the grove of Mambre and the Cave of Machpelah, where Abraham and the other Patriarchs were buried. Jesus gave an instruction and cured some sick peasants who there lived isolated. The forest of Mambre was a valley full of oaks, beeches, and nut trees, that stood far apart. At the edge of the forest was the vast Cave Machpelah, in which Abraham, Sara, Jacob, Isaac, and others of the Patriarchs were entombed. The cave was a double one like two cellars. Some of the tombs were hewn out in the projecting rocks, while others were formed in the rocky wall. This grotto is still held in great veneration. A flower garden and place for instruction guard its entrance. The rock was thickly clothed with vines, and higher up grain was raised. Jesus entered the grotto with the disciples, and several of the tombs were opened. Some of the skeletons were fallen to dust, but that of Abraham lay on its couch in a state of preservation. From it they unrolled a brown cover woven of camel’s-hair cords thick as a man’s finger. Jesus taught here. He spoke of Abraham, of the Promise and its fulfillment. Some of the sick whom Jesus cured were paralyzed, others consumptive, others dropsical. I saw here no possessed, though there were some simpletons and lunatics. The country around was very fertile, and the remarkably beautiful grain was already quite yellow. The bread of these parts was excellent, and almost everyone had his own vine. The mountains terminated in plateaus upon which grain was cultivated; their sides were covered with vineyards, and in them extended wonderful caves.
When Jesus and the disciples went into the Cave Machpelah, they put off their shoes outside the entrance, walked in barefoot, and stood in reverential silence around Abraham’s tomb. Jesus alone spoke. From there He went an hour southeast of Hebron into the little Levitical city of Bethain, which was reached by a very steep ascent. He wrought some cures and gave an instruction in which He spoke of the Ark of the Covenant and of David, for at Bethain, the Ark had once rested for fifteen days. David, on God’s command, had caused the Ark to be secretly removed by night from the house of Obededon and brought hither, he himself preceding it barefoot. When he took it away again, the people were so exasperated that they almost stoned him.
There was up here near Bethain a very deep spring, from which the water was drawn in leathern bags, or bottles. The rocky soil of the roads was white, also the little pebbles on it.
Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Lazarus, the women of Jerusalem, and Mary started on their homeward journey, Lazarus going to Jerusalem, where he had to discharge a seven days’ service in the Temple.
Mary did not return to Bethania, but went straight to Galilee by way of Machmas, where she celebrated the Sabbath at the schoolmaster’s house. She had Anna Cleophas and one of Elizabeth’s relatives from Sapha with her. Sapha was the birthplace of James and John. Mary had brought Elizabeth’s rug with her. A servant carried it rolled up in a basket.
When speaking in Juttah to those to whom the Blessed Virgin was showing the rug, Jesus referred to John’s eager desire to see Himself. But John had, He said, overcome himself and longed for nothing beyond the fulfillment of his mission, which was that of precursor and preparer, not that of constant companion and fellow laborer. When a little boy he had indeed seen Him. When His parents were journeying with Him through the desert on their flight into Egypt, their road led past the spot where John was, about the distance of an arrow shot. John was running along a brook among the high bushes. He held in his hand a little stick upon which was fastened a pennon of bark, which he waved to them as he skipped and danced for joy along the brook, until they had crossed it and were out of sight. His parents, Mary and Joseph, Jesus continued, held Him up with the words: “See, John in the desert!” It was thus the Holy Spirit had led the boy to salute his Master whom he had already saluted in his mother’s womb. While Jesus was relating the above, the disciples were shedding tears at the thought of John’s death, and I saw again the indescribably touching scene to which He was referring. John was naked with ‘the exception of the skin that he wore crossed over one shoulder and girded around his waist. He felt that his Saviour was near and that He was athirst. Then the boy prayed, drove his little stick into the earth, and a gushing spring spouted up. John ran on some distance ahead and waited, dancing and waving his little standard at them, to see Jesus and His parents as they journeyed past the little current. Then I beheld him hurrying back to a kind of dell where a great overhanging rock formed a cave. A stream from that spring found its way into a little cavity in the dell, which John turned into a well for his own use. He remained in that cave a long time. The way of the Holy Family on that journey led across a portion of Mount Olivet. One half hour east of
Bethlehem they halted to rest, and then pursued their way, the Dead Sea to their left, seven hours to the south of the city and two hours beyond Hebron, where they entered the desert in which was the boy John. I saw them stepping across the new rivulet, pausing to rest in a pleasant spot near it, and refreshing themselves with its waters. On the return journey of the Holy Family from Egypt, John again saw Jesus in spirit. He sprang forward exultingly in the direction of his Lord, but he did not then see Him face to face, as they were separated by a distance of two hours. Jesus spoke also of John’s great self-command. Even when baptizing Him, he had restrained himself within the bounds exacted by the solemn occasion, although his heart was well nigh broken by intense love and desire. After the ceremony, he was more intent upon humbling himself before Him than upon gratifying his love by looking at Him.
Jesus taught in the synagogue of Hebron on the occasion of a festival celebrated in memory of the expulsion from the Sanhedrin of the Sadducees who, under Alexander Jannaeus, had been the domineering party. There were three triumphal arches erected around the synagogue, and to them vine leaves, ears of corn, and all kinds of floral wreaths were brought. The people formed a procession through the streets, which were strewn with flowers, for it was likewise the beginning of the Feast of the New Moon, that of the sap’s rising, and lastly that of the purification of the four-year-old trees. It was on this account that so many arches of leaves and flowers were erected. This Feast of the Expulsion of the Sadducees (who denied the resurrection) coincided very appropriately with that upon which was celebrated the return of the trees to new life.
In His discourse in the synagogue Jesus spoke very forcibly against the Sadducees and of the resurrection of the dead. Some Pharisees from Jerusalem had come hither for the feast. They did not dispute with Jesus, but behaved most courteously. He indeed experienced no contradiction here, for the people were upright and very well-disposed. He performed some cures both in the houses and before the synagogue, the cured being mostly of the working class. There were cripples, consumptives, paralytics, and simpletons, also others disturbed by certain temptations.
Juttah and Hebron were connected. Juttah was a kind of suburb joined to Hebron by a row of houses. Formerly they must have been entirely separated, for a turreted wall in ruins, as well as a little valley, ran between the two places. Zachary’s house comprised the school of Juttah. It was about a quarter of an hour from the city and was situated on a hill. Around it lay lovely gardens and vineyards, and not far off were other luxuriant vineyards in the midst of which stood a little dwelling. These vineyards likewise belonged to Zachary. The school was adjoining the room in which John was born, I saw all that while Jesus, Mary, and the disciples were examining the rug.
The next time that Jesus taught in the synagogue of Hebron the sacred edifice was thrown open on all sides, and near the entrance, placed in an elevated position, was a teacher’s chair by which He stood. All the inhabitants of the city and numbers from the surrounding places were assembled, the sick lying on little beds or sitting on mats around the teacher’s chair. The whole place was crowded. The festal arches were still standing and the scene was truly touching. The multitude seemed impressed and edified, and above all not a word of contradiction was heard. After the instruction Jesus cured the sick.
Jesus’ discourse on this occasion was full of deep significance. The lessons from Scripture were those referring to the Egyptian darkness, the institution of the Paschal lamb, and the redeeming of the firstborn; there was also something from Jeremias. Jesus gave a marvelously profound explanation of the ransom of the firstborn. I remember that He said: “When sun and moon are darkened, the mother brings the child to the Temple to be redeemed.” More than once He made use of the expression, “The obscuring of the sun and of the moon.” He referred to conception, birth, circumcision, and presentation in the Temple as connected with darkness and light. The departure from Egypt, so full of mystery, was applied to the birth of mankind. He spoke of circumcision as an external sign which, like the obligation to ransom the firstborn, would one day be abolished. No one gainsaid Jesus; all His hearers were very quiet and attentive. He spoke likewise of Hebron and of Abraham, and came at last to Zachary and John. He alluded to John’s high dignity in terms more detailed and intelligible than ever before, namely, his birth, his life in the desert, his preaching of penance, his baptism, his faithful discharge of his mission as precursor, and lastly of his imprisonment. Then He alluded to the fate of the Prophets and the High Priest Zachary, who had been murdered between the altar and the sanctuary, also the sufferings of Jeremias in the dungeon at Jerusalem, and the persecutions endured by the others. When Jesus spoke of the murder of the first Zachary between the Temple and the altar, the relatives present thought of the sad fate of the Baptist’s father, whom Herod had decoyed to Jerusalem and then caused to be put to death in a neighboring house. Jesus nevertheless had made no mention of this last fact. Zachary was buried in a vault near his own house outside of Juttah.
As Jesus was thus speaking in an impressive and very significant manner of John and the death of the Prophets, the silence throughout the synagogue grew more profound. All were deeply affected, many were shedding tears, and even the Pharisees were very much moved. Several of John’s relatives and friends at this moment received an interior illumination by which they understood that the Baptist himself was dead, and they fainted away from grief. This gave rise to some excitement in the synagogue. Jesus quieted the disturbance by directing the bystanders to support those that had fainted, as they would soon revive; so they lay a few moments in the arms of their friends, while Jesus went on with His discourse.
To me there was something significant in the words, “Between the Temple and the altar,” as recorded of the murder of that first Zachary. They might well be applied to John the Baptist’s death since, in the life of Jesus, it also stood between the Temple and the altar, for John died between the Birth of Jesus and His Sacrifice upon the Altar of the Cross. But this signification of the words did not present itself to Jesus’ hearers. At the close of the instruction they who had fainted were conducted to their homes. Besides Zachary, John’s cousin, Elizabeth had a niece, her sister’s daughter, married here in Hebron. She had a family of twelve children, of whom some were daughters already grown. It was these and some others who had been so deeply affected. On leaving the synagogue Jesus went with young Zachary and the disciples to the house of Elizabeth’s niece, where He had not yet been. The holy women, however, had visited her several times before their departure. Jesus had engaged to sup with her this day, but it was a very sad meal.
Jesus was in a room with Peter, John, James Cleophas, Heliacim, Sadoch, Zachary, Elizabeth’s niece and her husband. John’s relatives asked Jesus in a trembling voice: “Lord, shall we see John again?” They were in a retired room, the door locked, so that no one could disturb them. Jesus answered with tears: “No!” and spoke most feelingly, but in consoling terms, of John’s death. When they sadly expressed their fear that the body would be ill-treated, Jesus reassured them. He told them no, that the corpse was lying untouched, though the head had been abused and thrown into a sewer; but that too would be preserved and would one day come to light. He told them likewise that in some days Herod would leave Machaerus and the news of John’s death would spread abroad; then they could take away the body. Jesus wept with His sorrowful listeners. They afterward partook of a repast which, on account of the retired situation of the apartment, the silence, the gravity, the great ardor and emotion of Jesus, made me think of the Last Supper.
I had on this occasion a vision of Mary’s coming to present Jesus in the Temple, which presentation took place on the forty-third day after His birth. The Holy Family, on account of a feast of three days, had to remain with the good people of the little inn outside the Bethlehem gate. Besides the usual offering of doves, Mary brought five little triangular plates of gold, gifts of the Three Kings, and several pieces of fine embroidered stuff as a present for the Temple. The ass that he had pawned to one of his relatives, Joseph now sold to him. I am under the impression that the ass used by Jesus on Palm Sunday sprang from it.
Jesus taught in Juttah also and, accompanied by about ten Levites, went to the houses in the neighborhood, in which He restored many sick to health. Neither lepers, nor raging possessed, nor great sinners male or female, appeared before Him in these parts. That evening He took with the Levites a frugal meal consisting of birds, bread, honey, and fruit.
Joseph of Arimathea and several disciples were come hither in order to invite Jesus to Jerusalem, where numbers of sick were longing for Him. He could, they said, come now without fear of molestation, since Pilate and Herod were in conflict with each other on the subject of the ruined aqueduct, and the Jewish magistrates likewise had their attention fixed upon the point at issue. But Jesus would not go right away, though He promised to do so before His return to Galilee.
John’s female relatives celebrated the Sabbath at their own home. They clothed themselves in mourning garments and sat on the ground, a stand full of lights, or lamps, being placed in the center of the apartment.
The Essenians who dwelt near Abraham’s tomb came two by two to Jesus. They lived around a mountain in cells cut out of the rock. Upon the mountain was a garden which they owned.
All around Zachary’s house were very lovely gardens and remarkably high, thick rosebushes. Coming hither from Jerusalem, one could see it on the hill; about a quarter of an hour farther on and to the right rose a higher hill upon which were his vineyards, and at its foot gushed the spring that Mary had discovered. The Hebron of Abraham was not identical with that in which Jesus now was. The former lay to the south in ruins, separated from the latter by a vale. In Abraham’s time when it was still in existence it had broad streets and houses partly hewn out of the rock. Not far from Zachary’s house was a place called Jether. I saw Mary and Elizabeth there several times.
The people of Juttah began to suspect from the words of Jesus and the mourning of the Baptist’s relatives that John was no longer among the living, and soon the report of his death was whispered around.
Before His departure from Juttah, Jesus visited Zachary’s tomb in company with His disciples and the nephews of the murdered man. It was not like ordinary tombs. It was more like the catacombs, consisting of a vault supported on pillars. It was a most honorable burial place for priests and Prophets. It had been determined that John’s body should be brought from Machaerus and here buried, therefore the vault was arranged and a funeral couch erected. It was very touching to see Jesus helping to prepare a resting place for His friend. He rendered honor to the remains of Zachary also.
Elizabeth was not buried here, but on a high mountain, in that cave in which John had sojourned when a boy in the desert.
On Jesus’ departure from Juttah, He was followed by an escort of men and women. The latter, after accompanying Him the distance of an hour, took leave, but not till they had knelt and received His blessing. They wanted to kiss His feet, but Jesus would not allow it. Jesus and His disciples were now journeying toward Libna, outside of which they stopped at an inn. The men of the escort now set out for home. Saturnin, Judas Barsabas, and two other disciples who had gone from Galilee to Machaerus, then to Juttah, and lastly had come hither in quest of Jesus, arrived today. With many expressions of grief they related the murder of the Baptist. When Herod and his family, with a numerous escort of soldiers, removed from Machaerus to Hesebon, the news of John’s beheading was spread by some deserters. Some of the Centurion Zorobabel’s servants who had been wounded at the late disaster in Jerusalem, returning to Capharnaum had also brought the news. Zorobabel had immediately imparted the frightful occurrence to Judas Barsabas, who was in the neighborhood—upon which he, with Saturnin and two other disciples, hastened into the region of Machaerus, where they everywhere received the same account. From Machaerus they had hurried to John’s native place in order to take steps for the removal of the body. But hearing that Jesus was at the inn, they had come hither to meet Him. Soon after, accompanied by the sons of Mary Heli, Joseph of Arimathea’s nephews, those of Zachary, and the sons of Johanna Chusa and Veronica, they set out for Machaerus, taking Juttah on their route. They took with them an ass laden with all that was necessary for carrying out their design. Machaerus now, with the exception of a few soldiers, was quite deserted.
Jesus tarried awhile in these parts in order not to meet Pilate who, with his wife and a retinue of fifteen persons, was on his way from Jerusalem to Appolonia. He passed through Bethzur and Antipatris. From Appolonia he embarked for Rome, to lodge a complaint against Herod.
Before his departure from Jerusalem, Pilate had held a conference with his officers upon Jesus the Galilean who performed so great miracles and who was then in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Pilate asked: “Is He followed by a crowd? Are they armed?” “No,” was the answer. “He goes about with only a few disciples and people of no account whatever, people from the very lowest classes, and sometimes He goes alone. He teaches on the mountains and in the synagogues, cures the sick and gives alms. To hear His instructions, people gather from all quarters, often to the number of several thousands!” “Does He not speak against the Emperor?” asked Pilate. “No. His teachings are all on the improvement of morals. He inculcates the practice of mercy, and impresses upon His hearers to render to the Emperor that which belongs to him, and to God that which is His. But He often makes mention of a Kingdom that He calls His own, and says that it is near at hand.” Thereupon Pilate replied: “So long as He does not go around working His miracles with soldiers or an armed crowd, there is nothing to be feared from Him. As soon as He leaves a place in which He has performed miracles and goes to another, He will be forgotten and calumniated. Indeed I hear that the Jewish priests themselves are against Him. No danger is to be apprehended from Him. But if He is once seen going about with armed followers, His roving must come to an end!”
Pilate had already had several encounters with the Jews, who detested him. Once he had ordered the Roman standards to be brought into the city, whereupon the Jews raised a sedition. Another time, on the occasion of a certain feast upon which the Jews were not allowed to bear arms nor to touch money, I saw Pilate’s soldiers go into the Temple, break open the box in which were the offerings, and carry off the contents. That was when John was still baptizing at the Jordan near On, and Jesus came out from the desert.
From Libna Jesus went to Bethzur, about ten hours to the north and two hours’ distance from Jerusalem. Bethzur was a fortified place. It had citadels, ramparts and moats, which had, however, somewhat fallen to ruin, though not so much as those of Bethulia. Bethzur was certainly as large as Bethoron. The side by which Jesus entered was not steep, while between it and Jerusalem lay a beautiful valley. From the high points of either city, the other could be seen. On the opposite side the ascent was steep and the city built with a view to ward off enemies. The Ark of the Covenant was once at Bethzur for a long time, as was publicly known.
Jesus was very well received at Bethzur. Lazarus and some others of His friends from Jerusalem were already there. The Bethzurites washed Jesus’ feet, as also those of the disciples, and with sincere affection offered them an abundant supply of whatever they needed. Jesus lodged at an inn near the synagogue.
The Three Kings, when journeying from Jerusalem to the Crib, passed near Bethzur, took some refreshments at a caravansary, and once more saw the star in this region. Bethzur must not be confounded with a certain Bethsoron that lay between Bethlehem and Hebron, and near which Philip baptized the servant of Queen Candace. Sometimes this place, namely, Bethsoron, is improperly called Bethzur.
In some houses of Bethzur, Jesus cured without disturbance several old people that were very sick, some of them dropsical. The inhabitants were very well-disposed, and the Elders of the synagogue themselves conducted Jesus to the different houses. He taught also in the school, and I saw Him blessing a great number of children, first the boys and then the girls. He greatly interested Himself with them and performed some cures among them.
St. John’s Remains Taken From Machaerus and Buried at Juttah
When Saturnin, with the disciples, reached Machaerus, they climbed the mountain on which stood Herod’s castle. They carried under their arms three strong wooden bars, about a hand in breadth, a leathern cover in two parts, leathern bottles, boxes in the form of bags, rolls of linen cloths, sponges, and other similar things. The disciples best known at the castle asked the guards to be allowed to enter, but on being refused, they retraced their steps, went around the rampart and climbed upon one another’s shoulders over three ramparts and two moats to the vicinity of John’s prison. It looked as if God helped them, so quickly did they enter, and without disturbance. After that they descended from a round opening above the interior of the dungeons. When the two soldiers on guard at the entrance to John’s cell perceived them and drew near with their torches, the disciples went boldly on to meet them, and said: “We are the disciples of the Baptist. We are going to take away the body of our master, whom Herod put to death.” The soldiers offered no opposition, but opened the prison door. They were exasperated against Herod on account of John’s murder, and were glad to have a share in this good work. Several of their comrades had taken flight during the last few days.
As they entered the prison the torches went out, and I saw the whole place filled with light. I do not know whether all present saw it, but I am inclined to think that they did, since they went about everything as quickly and as dexterously as if it were clear daylight. The disciples first hastened to John’s body and prostrated before it in tears. Besides them, I saw in the prison the apparition of a tall, shining lady. She looked very much like the Mother of God at the time of her death. I found out later that it was St. Elizabeth. At first she seemed to me so natural as I watched her rendering all kinds of assistance that more than once I wondered who she could be and how she had gotten in with the disciples.
The corpse was still lying covered with the hairy garment. The disciples quickly set about making the funeral preparations. They spread out cloths upon which they laid the body, and then proceeded to wash it. They had brought with them for that purpose water in leathern bottles, and the soldiers supplied them with basins of a brownish hue. Judas Barsabas, James, and Heliacim took charge of the principal part of these last kind offices to the dead, the others handing what was needed and helping when necessary. I saw the apparition taking part in everything; indeed, she appeared to be the moving spirit of all, uncovering, covering, putting here, turning there, wrapping the winding-sheets—in a word, supplying each one with whatever was wanted at the moment. Her presence seemed to facilitate dispatch and order in an incredible manner. I saw them opening the body and removing the intestines, which they put into a leathern pouch. Then they placed all kinds of aromatic herbs and spices around the corpse, and bound it firmly in linen bands. It was amazingly thin, and appeared to be quite dried up.
Meanwhile, some of the other disciples gathered up a quantity of blood that had flowed on the spot upon which the head had fallen, as well as that upon which the body had lain, and put it into the empty bags that had held the herbs and spices. They then laid the body wrapped in its winding-sheet upon the leathern covers, which they fastened on top by means of a rod made for that purpose. The two light wooden bars were run into the leathern straps of the covers, which now formed a kind of box. The bars, though thin and light, showed no signs of bending under their load. The skin that John used to wear was thrown over the whole, and two of the disciples bore away the sacred remains. The others followed with the blood in the leathern bottle and the intestines in the pouch. The two soldiers left Machaerus with them. They guided the disciples through narrow passages back of the ramparts and out through that subterranean way by which John had been brought into the prison. All was done rapidly and with recollection so touching that no words can describe it.
I saw them at first with rapid steps descending the mountain in the dark. Soon, however, I saw them with a torch; two walked between the poles carrying the body on their shoulders, and the others followed. I cannot say how impressive was the sight of this procession proceeding so silently and swiftly through the darkness by the glare of their one torch. They appeared to float on the surface of the ground. How they wept when at the dawn of day they ferried across the Jordan to the place where John had first baptized and they had become his followers. They went around close to the shores of the Dead Sea, always choosing lonely paths and those that led through the desert, until they reached the valley of the shepherds near Bethlehem. Here with the remains they lay concealed in a cave until night, when they journeyed on to Juttah. Before daybreak they reached the neighborhood of Abraham’s tomb. They deposited John’s body in a cave near the cells of the Essenians, who guarded the precious remains all day.
Toward evening, about the hour when Our Lord also was anointed and laid in the tomb (it being likewise a Friday), I saw the body brought by the Essenians to the vault wherein Zachary and many of the Prophets were reposing, and which Jesus had recently caused to be prepared for its reception.
The Baptist’s relatives, male and female, were assembled in the vault with the disciples and the two soldiers who had come with the latter from Machaerus. Several of the Essenians also were present, among them some very aged people in long, white garments. These latter had provided John with the means of subsistence during his first sojourn in the desert. The women were clothed in white, in long mantles and veils. The men wore black mourning mantles, and around their necks hung narrow scarves fringed at the ends. Many lamps were burning in the vault. The body was extended on a carpet, the winding-sheet removed, and, amid many tears, anointed and embalmed with myrrh and sweet spices. The headless trunk was, for all present, a heartrending sight. They deeply regretted not being able to look upon John’s features. The ardent longings of their soul evoked him to their mental gaze such as he had appeared in the past. Each one present contributed a bundle of myrrh or other aromatic herbs. Then the disciples, having reswathed the body, laid it in the compartment hewn out for it above that of his father. The bones of the latter they had rearranged and wrapped in fresh linens.
The Essenians afterward held a kind of religious service in which they honored John not only as one of their own, but as one of the Prophets promised to them. A portable altar something like a little table was placed between the two rows that they formed on either side, and one of them, with the aid of two assistants, prepared it for the ceremony. All laid little loaves on the altar, in the center of which lay a representation of a Paschal lamb, over which they scattered all kinds of herbs and tiny branches. The altar was covered with a red under cloth and a white upper one. The figure of the lamb shone alternately with a red and white light, perhaps from lamps concealed under it whose glare, passing first through the red and then through the white cover, produced that effect. The priest read from rolls of writing, burned incense, blessed, and sprinkled with water. All sang as in choir. John’s disciples and relatives stood around in rows and joined in the singing. The eldest delivered a speech upon the fulfillment of the Prophecies, upon the signification of John’s career, and made several allusions touching upon Christ. I remember that he spoke of the death of the Prophets as well as that of the High Priest Zachary, who had been murdered between the Temple and the altar. He said that Zachary, the father of John, had likewise been murdered between the Temple and the altar. His death signified something still higher than that of the ancient High Priest, but John was the true witness in blood between the Temple and the altar. By these last words, he alluded to Christ’s life and death.
The ceremony of the lamb had reference to a prophetic vision that John, while still in the desert, had communicated to one of the Essenians. The vision itself referred to the Paschal Lamb, the Lamb of God, to Jesus, the Last Supper, to the Passion, and the consummation of the Sacrifice upon the Cross. I do not think that they perfectly understood all this. They performed the ceremonies in a prophetic, symbolical spirit, as if they had among them at that time many endowed with the gift of prophecy.
When all was over, he who conducted the service distributed among the disciples the little loaves that had lain on the altar, and to each gave one of the little branches that had been stuck on the lamb. The other relatives likewise received branches, but not from those on the lamb. The Essenians ate the bread, after which the tomb was closed.
The holy souls among the Essenians were possessed of great knowledge and prophetic insight upon the coming of the Messiah, also of the interior signification and the reference to Him of the various customs of Judaism. Four generations before the birth of the Blessed Virgin, they had ceased to offer bloody sacrifices, since they knew that the coming of the Lamb of God was near. Chastity and continence were among them a species of worship celebrated to honor the future Redeemer. In humanity they saw His temple to which He was coming, and they wished to do all in their power to preserve it pure and unsullied. They knew how often the Saviour’s coming had been retarded by the sins of mankind, and they sought by their own purity and chastity to satisfy for the sins of others.
All this had in some mysterious way been infused into their Order by some of the Prophets, without their having, however, in Jesus’ time, a perfectly clear consciousness of it. They were, as to what concerned their customs and religious observances, the precursors of the future Church. They had contributed much toward the spiritual training and guidance of Mary’s ancestors and other holy patriarchs. The education of John in his youth was their last great work.
Some of the most enlightened among them in Jesus’ time joined the disciples. Others later on entered the Community, in which, by their own long practice, they gave new impetus to the spirit of renunciation and a well-ordered life and laid the foundation for the Christian life, both eremitical and cloistered. But a great many among them who belonged not to the fruits of the tree, but to the dry wood, isolated themselves in their observances and degenerated into a sect. This sect was afterward imbued with all kinds of heathenish subtleties, and became the mother of many heresies in the early days of the Church.
Jesus had no particular communication with the Essenians, although there was some similarity between His customs and theirs. With a great many of them He had no more to do than with other pious and kindly disposed people. He was intimate with several of the married Essenians who were friends of the Holy Family. As this sect never disputed with Jesus, He never had cause to speak against them, and they are not mentioned in the Gospels, because He had nothing wherewith to censure them as He had in others. He was silent also on the great good found among them since, if He had touched upon it, the Pharisees would have immediately declared that He Himself belonged to that sect.
As it had become known at Machaerus, through the domestics of Herodias, where John’s head had been thrown, Johanna Chusa, Veronica, and one of the Baptist’s relatives journeyed thither in order to make search for it. But until the vaulted sewer could be opened and drained, the head, which was resting on a stone projecting from the wall, could not be reached. Two months flowed by, and then many of the outbuildings and movables belonging to Herod’s court at Machaerus were removed, and the whole castle was fitted up for a garrison and fortified for defense. The sewers were cleaned out and repaired, and new fortifications added to the old. During this work, I saw something very strange. Pits were dug, filled with inflammable matter, and then covered, trees being planted over them to prevent their discovery. They could be set on fire, and their explosion would kill men, overturn and scatter all things far and near like so much sand. Such pits as these were dug to quite a distance all around the walls.
There were many people engaged in carrying away the rubbish, and others gathered up the mud and slime from the sewers to enrich their fields. Among the latter were some women from Juttah and Jerusalem with their servants. They were waiting until the deep, steep sewer in which was the Baptist’s holy head, should be cleaned. They prayed by night, fasted by day, and sent up ardent prayers to God that they might be enabled to find that for which they were seeking. The bottom of this sewer, on account of its being dug under the mountain, was very inclined. The whole of the lower end was already emptied and purified. To reach the upper part into which the bones from the kitchen were thrown and where the holy head was lying, the workmen had to clamber up by the stones projecting from either side. A great heap of bones obstructed this part, which was at a considerable distance from the outer entrance.
While the workmen went to take their meal, people who had been paid to do so, introduced the women into the sewer which, as I have said, was cleaned out as far as that heap of bones. They prayed as they advanced that God would allow them to find the holy head, and they climbed the ascent with difficulty. Soon they perceived the head sitting upright on the neck upon one of the projecting stones, as if looking toward them, and near it shone a luster like two flames. Were it not for this light, they might easily have made a mistake, for there were other human heads in the sewer. The head was pitiful to behold: the dark-skinned face was smeared with blood; the tongue, which Herodias had pierced, was protruding from the open mouth; and the yellow hair, by which the executioner and Herodias had seized it, was standing stiff upon it. The women wrapped it in a linen cloth and bore it away with hurried steps.
Scarcely had they accomplished a part of the way when a company of Herod’s soldiery, to the number of a thousand, came marching up toward the castle. They had come to replace the couple of hundreds already there on guard. The women concealed themselves in a cave. The danger past, they again set out on their journey through the mountains. On their way they came across a soldier who, having by a fall received a severe wound on the knee, was lying on the road unconscious. Here too they came up with Zachary’s nephew and two of the Essenians who had come to meet them. They laid the holy head upon the wounded soldier, who instantly recovered consciousness, arose, and spoke, saying that he had just seen the Baptist, and he had helped him. All were very much touched. They bathed his wounds in oil and wine and took him to an inn, without, however, saying anything to him about John’s head. They continued their journey, always choosing the most unfrequented routes, just as had been done when John’s body was conveyed to Juttah. The head was delivered to the Essenians near Hebron, and some of their sick, having been touched with it, were cured. It was then washed, embalmed with precious ointments, and with solemn ceremonies laid with the body in the tomb.