By Patrick W. Andersen
I wanted to strangle the scribe, but of course I could never do that.
I wanted to at least break his fingers so he could never commit such an atrocity again. But that would not only mean he would never use his gift to do harm, but also that he could never do good.
I wanted to expose his deception, but that might hurt the cause. I had to weigh all the factors in the balance. If I destroyed the book, the overall message might be lost. If I let it go forward, a small part of that message might be distorted for generations.
To expose the lies would cause a lengthy delay, which might permanently maim the movement. If I demanded that he or another scribe correct the written record, who knew how long it might take to copy the entire scroll over again? And I would have to look over the scribe’s shoulder every minute of that time, because who knew what other error he might intentionally insert to satisfy his own prejudices? Though this man had always supported us in The Way, he had a manic obsession with preserving certain traditions. He didn’t mind sacrificing one person to clear a path for many others.
He wanted to sacrifice Miriam.
Miriam. Our Miriam.
When the Rabbi grew frustrated because the crowds failed to understand what he told them, Miriam would silence him with a hand lightly touching his shoulder. Then she would step forward and explain the meaning of his words to the people. Often she used mostly the same exact words, but for some reason the men lost their hostility when she spoke them. They listened. And they learned.
When mobs threatened to seize the Rabbi, she silently stepped forward and halted them with nothing more than a gesture. She would hold up the palm of her hand as if to say, “Stop.” And they stopped.
When the Rabbi brought large numbers of followers together, she sorted them into smaller, manageable groups so that none would be lost, and all would have the opportunity to hear. And when food was provided, all could eat.
The Rabbi called Miriam his Migdal. Upon first hearing the nickname, many laughed. Why refer to her as the Fish Tower? Of course, they laughed at many of the other nicknames he used. For instance, why refer to Simon as Cephas, which meant the Rock? But after people learned to understand what a solid cornerstone Simon was in the movement, Cephas made sense. Or, as the Romans later translated the word, Peter. And the many fishermen who cast their nets on the Galilee knew the Migdal well. The Fish Tower on the western shore stood out like a beacon in a foggy dusk. If a steersman lost his way, he could always see the Migdal and set his course by it. And so it was with our lady. When unable to make sense of the chaos surrounding us, we could always look to Miriam.
Even the Rabbi’s closest associates acknowledged her leadership. After the Rabbi’s death, Miriam moved among many hundreds of women in the city and villages. It was she who drew them in, and they in turn brought in their husbands and families. Women swelled the ranks of those who followed The Way, not men.
And at the head of them all was Miriam the Migdal. Or, as some had poeticized her name and title, Mary the Magdalene.
Now, many years after the Rabbi’s death, it had seemed prudent to hire a scribe to record the events. Many of those who came to The Way thought the end of the world was already at hand, so no one bothered to write down what the Rabbi said or what events led to his death. Why bother? The end would come before the passing of this generation.
But now, decades later, most of our generation was gone. The new generation knew nothing, and false prophets who had never known the Rabbi roamed the countryside claiming to speak for him.
And so it became necessary to commission a scribe. He had spent months painstakingly collecting the stories. Even though I was but a wisp of a boy when the Rabbi still lived, I had heard enough in my youth to know that some of these stories exaggerated the actual events. But they still had truth at their core, so I let the exaggerations pass. Besides, with all the wild stories that the Greeks told in our day, surely everyone understood that the exaggerations were included only for dramatic effect.
But what the scribe did to Miriam—that was reprehensible!
He called her a whore! He said she had demons! He said that when she brought the good news to the Rabbi’s associates, they dismissed her as a hysterical wench!
“It is not right that a woman should be acknowledged as equal to a man,” the scribe said when I confronted him. No matter how much I argued, he stuck to his position with a manic obsession. He would not budge.
“But this is a lie!” As I said earlier, at this moment I had to fight a strong urge to wrap the fingers of both my hands around the man’s throat and squeeze, pressing my thumbs against his windpipe until he eventually stopped thrashing. But that would do more harm to the cause than good. Or at least, so it seemed in the moment.
In the end I let it pass. I could not afford to wait—I needed to send this scroll as soon as possible to Antioch to be shared with the followers of The Way in that great city, who were many. The women of Antioch had organized hundreds who met in small groups in secret, and hundreds more in the surrounding villages and nearby cities. This scroll would help the movement move out through the world.
Who knows—someday people might even study The Way in Rome itself, the very seat of the empire!
So I let it go. Surely, enough people in Antioch had already heard of Miriam’s prominence and would recognize the scribe’s libel as just that, just as they would surely chuckle at the exaggerations in the stories.
But I have a confession to make. And I pray that—just as the scribe wrote on the scroll—I pray that confession will bring forgiveness for my sins.
You see, after the messengers wrapped up the scroll and set out to take it to Antioch, I paid a visit to the scribe. And I broke his fingers.
(Previously published in Briller Magazine.)