Sunday, 5 June 2011

Mary's Boys


(Introduction & notes are at the end of this piece. Please read the story first to avoid prejudging it.)

Jude sat by the small fire at the edge of the encampment, laughing with his companions. The three of them, Jude, his cousin Simeon and his friend John often spent time together, probably because they were the three youngest in the movement.

He listened with interest and amusement as John told yet another of his tales. John had a way with words; he had a particular knack for telling stories. Jude noticed the way that Simeon regarded John; it seemed to Jude that it was almost like hero worship, but he understood that. It was all part of John's talent: like most people Simeon would likely take every word John spoke as being the truth....

Simeon was the oldest of this small gathering, though only by a couple of years over Jude, but despite the family relationship with Jude, despite the fact that it was Jude and Simeon's family who led the movement, both of them saw John as the natural leader of the three of them.

Jude looked around the encampment. Over by the big fire most of the rest of the family were sitting and talking: deep in discussion as usual. Of all the family, except for himself and Simeon, only Elisabeth and Joshua were sitting apart. They were by the river. It was a cold night and anyone with any sense would be warming themselves by one of the fires or tucked up in their tents, but Joshua was playing in the water, with his friend Mary and Jude of Kerioth, while Elisabeth looked on.

Elisabeth and Mary were the only women in the camp, and they spent most of their spare time with Joshua, probably it was their maternal instincts that made them feel responsible for him. Though Joshua was in his late twenties and a number of years older than Jude, his manner was that of a child, and he was only here with them because he was family.

Jude looked over to the other fire again. It was too dark and too far away to see facial features and the light from the big fire made the whole group appear as little more than silhouettes, but was that his uncle Jude he saw? People often asked if he'd been named for his uncle Jude, but he always explained that wasn't the case. Jude was only 10 years older than him and it was hardly likely that James would have named his only son after one of his baby brothers.

It was Uncle Jude. He recognised him more by his stature and demeanour than by anything else. "Simeon," he said, "Uncle Jude has returned."

Simeon looked toward the main fire with a mixture of worry and anticipation showing on his face. "Oh I hope it isn't bad news. I bet it will be bad news. I should have gone with him. I knew I should."

Simeon was standing now, as they noticed a figure breaking away from the family group and walking toward them. It wasn't Uncle Jude though; it was Simon, their other uncle. Simeon started to walk to meet him, but he continued toward them until he arrived at the smaller fire.

"Simeon, Thaddeus," he said, and nodded toward them in turn. The rest of the family often called Jude 'Thaddeus' to distinguish him from his uncle. It meant 'little friend' or 'younger brother' and had started out as a nickname and a joke as Jude was an only child living among his uncles, but by now, many of their colleagues used it as though it were his real name. "You need to join the family. Jude has returned with grave news." He placed his hand on Simeon's shoulder and squeezed it affectionately, then turned away and walked toward the river. Jude and Simeon followed him.

"Jude has returned," he said to Elisabeth when he arrived, "We have family business to discuss, sister. Will you join us by the fire please?"

"Didymus?" said Joshua as he stopped playing his game with Mary, "Didymus is back?" Jude Kerioth helped Joshua out of the stream as Mary fetched a towel for him.

"You can stay here Joshua," said Simon, "We have things to discuss, and bad news to relay; there is no need for you to join us. Didymus and our sister will explain everything later."

"Is Joshua not our brother too Simon?" asked Elisabeth. "Should he not be involved in our family discussions?"

Simon lowered his voice to a whisper. "Sister, you know that he is with us as part of our family not due to our cause. He contributes nothing to the movement, and is here by the insistence of our brothers and of Thomas in particular. How useful is he truly to the movement?"

"He's your brother Simon, and mine too. If this is merely family business then we should include him; if it also concerns the movement, then what harm can it do? Whatever we discuss will mean nothing to him and you know you can trust him with whatever he does happen to understand."

"It doesn't matter Elisabeth," said Joshua, "I think I know what the bad news is anyway. As for the cause Simon, I want to help. You know I do. I'll do anything for the family, anything the rest of you ask me to."

"Then stay here with your friends, my brother. Everything will become clear soon."

Joshua looked toward Elisabeth who had her eyes lowered. She sensed her brother's eyes upon her and looked up. She gave him a half smile and nodded. The group turned and walked toward the big fire as Mary and Jude Kerioth comforted Joshua.

Joshua was the youngest of Thaddeus' uncles and aunts, though he was the same age as Uncle Jude who was probably the most intelligent and determined of the brothers; in contrast Joshua was a little slow, and didn't have the drive and determination of the others. He did however, have great insight and could even tell how the others were feeling, even when they tried to keep it to themselves. His loyalty too was beyond question. Even though he didn't fully understand what the movement was about, he was as devoted to it as the rest of his family were, because to Joshua, family was everything.

They gathered around the fire. Thaddeus' father James looked around to ensure that everyone was present, and then turned to Jude and said "Everyone's here Thomas. Do you want to relay your sad news or shall I?" 'Thomas' was another nickname. There were so many Judes in camp that to avoid confusion, each of them was given another name. Thaddeus as the youngest among brothers, Jude of Kerioth was often called 'Iscariot' meaning 'man of Kerioth' and Uncle Jude, being the older of twins was also known by 'Thomas', the Aramaic for 'twin'; sometimes others, particularly Joshua, would call him 'Didymus' which meant the same in Greek.

Thomas went to stand by Simeon, and spoke gently in his ear. Simeon's eyes closed and his shoulders dropped. Thomas put an arm around him then turned to face the others.

"As you all know," he began, "I have just returned from a trip to Galilee to visit our sister Mary. Her husband, Simeon's father, our brother and our uncle, Clopas has been gravely ill these past weeks, and I regret to inform you that some four days ago, our Uncle Clopas died. Simeon will leave tonight to be with his mother, to comfort her in her grief. Please show him your support. The rest of us have lost an uncle and a brother, but Simeon has lost his father. Remember how you felt when we lost our own father Joseph, some years back, and offer your brotherly love to Simeon."

It was a blow for all of them, though due to Clopas' age it was hardly a surprise. Clopas was Thaddeus' great uncle, being the brother of his late grandfather Joseph, but was also Thaddeus' uncle by marriage to his aunt Mary, the eldest of his father's siblings. It wasn't common for a girl to marry a brother of her father in Galilee but it happened at times, so Clopas had been a patriarch of their family for a long time, both before Joseph's death and since.

There were offerings of condolence from all present and various hands reached out to touch and comfort Simeon. After a short time, he thanked them all, and left the gathering to start his journey. He tried to show an appearance of strength, but Thaddeus could see that he was clearly upset.

When he'd gone, James spoke: "I know it's late, but I would like you all to remain here for a while longer. We have other things to discuss. Simon, will you summon Peter, Andrew and the other James to join us?"

'The other James' was John's older brother. There were a number of years between the two of them, but as brothers they still looked remarkably alike. Some people said they couldn't tell them apart, so John had started referring to his brother as 'James, the greater'. A number of their colleagues had adopted James the greater as his name, though this didn't please Thaddeus' father very much, because in jest, many had started referring to him (though not to his face,) as 'James the lesser' which was obviously not a welcome label for the leader of the movement. James had heard about it, and as a result he made certain to always refer to his namesake as simply 'James' or 'the other James'

"Judas, my son," James continued. Thaddeus didn't respond right away; people had been calling him Thaddeus for so long. Only his father regularly referred to him as Jude, and hardly ever used the longer form.

"Judas!" his father called. This time Thaddeus responded. "A visitor arrived with Thomas. I sent him to stand over by the river until we were ready for him. Will you summon him to join us now? His name is Levi, son of Alpheus.

Thaddeus wandered back to the river. Joshua was sitting on the bank, and Mary was helping wash the mud off his feet. A man still wearing his travelling clothes was standing nearby, observing him. Thaddeus walked over to him. The stranger turned to him as he approached.

"A remarkable resemblance," he remarked, "That boy and Thomas, I mean. They must be brothers, twin brothers even?"

"Yes they are," Thaddeus replied, "They're twins."

"Strange that I'm comfortable referring to him as a boy," he turned again toward Joshua, "I would never consider his brother a boy, and yet they are of the same age and look almost identical, but that one there has an innocence that Thomas doesn't possess. They are like light and dark: two aspects of the same person."

"Are you Levi ben Alpheus?" asked Thaddeus.

"Yes," the man replied as he turned to face Thaddeus again, "Though I prefer to be called Matthew now. I once worked for Herod Antipas, collecting taxes, an occupation I regret and that I hope to put behind me. The name of Levi is well known to some from those times, and I wish to put that behind me too."

"My father James calls you. Will you follow me please?"

The man picked up a bag full of scrolls and other documents and they walked back toward the fire. This Matthew was clearly a well educated man.

When they arrived, James and Thomas were standing awaiting them; the others were sitting in a row at the fire's edge. Thaddeus glanced to see who else was present: Uncle Joseph (known as Joses), Uncle Simon, Aunt Elisabeth, the brothers Simon (known as Peter) and Andrew, and James the greater.

As they approached, Thaddeus heard Thomas saying to James: "So with the passing of Clopas, you're now the head of the family as well as head of the movement."

James replied: "Head of the movement perhaps, though you know I value the guidance of all of you, but be honest brother: when was Uncle Clopas ever leader of our family?"

Thomas nodded, gravely, but still with a half smile on his face.

"Though he should have become such when father died all those years ago, but if truth be told even before Joseph died, there was only one true head of our family. We have always been Mary's boys."

Thaddeus sat down, joining the others. His father began to introduce their visitor. "This is Levi, also called Matthew, son of Alpheus. I hope you will welcome him as one of our movement. He joined us back in Galilee a number of weeks ago, but I requested that he remain there for a time and join us later. I set Matthew a task, and tonight he brings us the evidence of his toils.

"As you all know, our movement is doing well; as we travel from town to town we gather more and more followers to our cause, but the ultimate aim of driving the Romans from our land, or more realistically of persuading them to leave, is a long way off. Our first aim must be to depose Antipas and replace him with a ruler who is both sympathetic to our cause, and acceptable by both the Romans and the people.

"It is in the Romans' best interest to accept a leader chosen by the people, since they see the position of King of Galilee as merely a puppet to keep the people in line, and a popular king therefore would be an advantage to them in their eyes. But a king of Galilee seen by the people as a true descendant of David could easily become a King of all Israel, Israel as it once was. That would be the first step toward overcoming this Roman rule. Matthew, would you like to explain?"

Matthew walked toward the edge of the fire. "James asked me to research your family line, your ancestry, to verify his belief that you are all descended from King David. I have done that, and not only can I confirm the theory, but I am pleased to tell you that your descent from David is by two different lines."

Thaddeus looked around; most present were looking puzzled. Matthew continued.

"Your late father Joseph was a direct descendant of David, through Solomon and down through the line of Kings, but Heli, the father of your own mother Mary, was also descended from David, through his son Nathan. I would say that your family have more than a claim to be of the royal line of Israel."

"There must be many who can claim as much," said Thomas, "Over hundreds of years, I wouldn't be surprised if almost everyone in Galilee and Judea could trace themselves back to David."

"But unlike us, not everybody has done, Thomas," replied James, "and the people will accept our claim, if we are the first to claim it. Whatever Antipas and his followers do, however they dispute it, they cannot disprove our claim."

"I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of using mother's line," said Joses, "The scriptures tell us that the female line isn't relevant."

"The entire line from Nathan down to Heli is via the male line though," Matthew pointed out, and Heli had no sons, only daughters. You are grandsons of Heli and that would be acceptable to the people."

"I fear however, that our father's line would not be." It was Thomas who spoke up now. "If we are descended through our father from Solomon, then are we not forgetting Jeremiah's curse?"

There were mutterings around the campfire. Thaddeus wracked his brains to remember his scriptures. He'd heard of Jeremiah's curse, but couldn't quite remember what it was about. He was relieved when his uncle Thomas continued. "The prophet Jeremiah cursed the ungodly king Jeconiah and the entire line of Solomon with him. He said that no descendant of Jeconiah would ever again reign on the throne of Israel. That curse has held true from that day to this. Don't you think Antipas would use that against us?"

"So we keep quiet about Joseph's line then," said James, "We show ourselves to the people as true descendants of David through Nathan. That way we are immune to the curse of the Solomonic line."

"And what if our enemies should discover our father's line?" argued Thomas, "Do we deny our father? Do we claim that our mother lay with another? Do we sully our own mother's name for political gain?"

"We do whatever has to be done for our cause," shouted James.

"You said yourself, but moments ago: 'we are all Mary's boys' Are we not all Joseph's boys also? Are you suggesting our father had no part to play in the conception of any of us, or are you proposing that our dear mother had only one indiscretion and gave birth to only one of us without Joseph's help?"

"It would be a way...," began James, but Thomas interrupted him.

"And who do you propose as a candidate James? Yourself? Would you be King of Israel so much that you'd disown your whole family, save for a mother whose name you would disgrace? And if not you, would you call for volunteers amongst us? Or will you order one of us to betray our mother and our true father too?"

There was silence for a while. Elisabeth calmed Thomas down and forced him to be seated. Thaddeus could see that his father was angry too, but also that he'd been upset by the argument with his brother. Thaddeus arose and went to comfort James. He looked around and noticed that the others in the encampment had wandered over. John, Bartholomew and Philip stood to one side of the fire while Judas and Mary stood to the side by the river, and standing between them was Joshua.

Joses spoke. "As you know, I have studied the scriptures more than most of you, and it's correct what Thomas says: Joseph's descent from Solomon could be used against us, as much as our mother's descent from Nathan could be used in our favour. However, we all know of the scriptures telling of the coming of a messiah to lead us, and that he will be born of the line of David. Now that alone should be enough to get the people on our side as the messiah is promised by God himself. But what if we were to extend that teaching for our own purposes? What if we were to twist the story a little and perhaps add to it? Surely if the messiah is sent from God, then it shouldn't be too much for them to believe that the messiah is born of God himself, that he is indeed God's own son."

James stared in bewilderment. "Are you mad? Who in the world would believe such nonsense?"

"Wait though," said Matthew, "Truth is only what people believe, and once enough of them believe it, it will become the truth. But how could God's son be born of a mortal woman?"

"Exactly," said Thomas, "The whole idea is preposterous."

"People will believe anything if the persuasion for them to believe is strong enough," said Joses. "We have here young John and Matthew. What they write, people will believe; yes, some will dispute the truth of it, but there will be just as many who will receive it as a gospel. The people will read John and Matthew's stories and believe them."

Matthew went on: "There would have to be no possible suggestion that a mortal man could be the true father. The woman chosen by God would have to be a virgin." It sounded to Thaddeus as though Matthew had not only accepted the plan already, but had started to believe it himself.

Thomas laughed out loud. "How could our mother be a virgin? She has given birth to seven of us. Even if the first of us had been born of God, It is our sister Mary who is the eldest, and can you really see her as a queen of Israel, as the leader of our people?"

James spoke up again "It would be preferable to us darkening our mother's name," he said almost to himself, as though deep in thought, "Yes, that would work."

Thomas stood and approached his brother. He lowered his voice and spoke privately to him: "What do you have in mind, brother?"

As quietly as they spoke, Thaddeus still heard them from his place beside his father.

"It would mean almost every one of us denying our mother AND our father," James replied, "but before you rage at me again, we only need to keep our own parentage secret, or assume a false identity and with it a false parentage. Only one of us remains loyal to our mother, as her only issue, as the child of a virgin birth designed by God himself."

"And that one becomes the leader of our movement? The messiah promised to the people?"

"Yes, or at least the figurehead of our movement. The real leadership wouldn't have to change; the true power would always stay with the ones best qualified to lead us."

James didn't have to say as much in words for Thaddeus to know that James was speaking of himself and Thomas.

"It might work," said Thomas, "It's the best chance we have anyway, though our movement will have to appear to be a little more spiritual and less military than it is now."

"It can be as spiritual as you like," answered James, "Providing it serves our purpose."

Thaddeus looked up as Joshua appeared beside them all. "Didymus," he said, "Why were you and James fighting?"

Thomas looked up. "We weren't fighting Joshua," he said, "It was just a disagreement, an exchange of ideas. Everything is fine now."

James turned to face the others. "We have much to think about," he said, "and things we should each consider privately for now. Retire to your sleep, and we shall talk again in the morning"

Thomas put his arm around Joshua's shoulders and said "Come Joshua, let Thaddeus and I walk you to your tent."

Thaddeus and Thomas escorted Joshua away from the fire. Judas Iscariot shared a tent with Joshua so he walked with them.

"Didymus," Joshua asked, "When you were shouting at James, you said something about him wanting volunteers. Is it something I could do, something I could volunteer for?"

Thomas laughed, "I don't think so Joshua," he said, "Don't worry about it."

"But if there's anything I can ever do for you, you know I will don't you?" said Joshua. "You know I'd do anything for the family."

"I know Joshua," said Thomas.

Suddenly, Joshua started chuckling. "Look," he said, "I have my three Judases around me. Judas my friend, Judas my Didymus and Judas my little brother."

"I've often wondered," said Thaddeus, "You always call Iscariot 'Judas' and you sometimes refer to me as Jude or Judas too, but you always call Uncle Jude 'Didymus', never Jude, never Judas. Why is that?"

"Because he is my Didymus, my twin." Joshua replied, "I can't understand why everyone else calls him 'Thomas'."

"It means 'twin' the same as 'Didymus'," Thomas explained, "Only it's Aramaic. Everyone else calls me by my Aramaic name, but you call me by my Greek name."

"I'd like to be called by my Greek name," said Joshua, "Is there a Greek version of Joshua? If there is, I want you to call me that." 

Thomas, Judas, and Thaddeus all chuckled. "All right," Thomas said, "From now on we'll all make sure we call you 'Jesus'." 

I'd normally include this introduction and these notes at the beginning of a post, but I've tucked them away, here at the end so as not to spoil the story. Their inclusion is necessary, since they explain the point behind this particular story, and also provide some backup so that you know that what you've just read isn't just a result of my wild and out of control imagination, (well not entirely, anyway.)

Having just read a review of Philip Pullman's controversial book 'The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ' it sparked memories of many theories I'd read a long time ago, of the possible siblings of Jesus Christ, and in particular about references in the bible that imply that Jesus had a twin brother.

I remember putting together my own theory when I'd read all that stuff. I'm no theologian, but it struck me as being an interesting, entertaining and thought provoking story even then, so what I came up with was never meant to be anything other than fictional, though it was also meant to be possible, practicable and believable. So today, I decided to dig out my notes and put my own little tale down on paper, or on my blog at least, before I've read the Pullman book and before everyone starts talking about it. After all I don't want to be accused of plagiarism.

The story itself is fictional, as are each of the characterisations, but all the references to characters and relationships within my story are supported by biblical records or accepted interpretations of passages from the bible, with the exception of:
  • The existence of Jesus' sisters: They are never named, though I thought that Mary after their mother, and Elisabeth after her mother's cousin, were reasonable ideas.
  • The marriage of the elder of the sisters to her own uncle, Clopas, Joseph's brother. I have no evidence of this, though the practice wasn't unheard of at the time, and it gave a meaning for Simeon of Jerusalem, son of Clopas to be referred to in the bible as 'Brother of the Lord'
References to names and to characters having multiple names may appear confusing, but these are all borne out in passages from the various books of the new testament:
  • 'Thaddeus' is known to be a nickname meaning 'close friend' or 'little brother' and it is mentioned in the bible as an alternative name for Jude the apostle, son of James
  • 'Didymus' is Greek for 'twin' as 'Thomas' is Aramaic with the same meaning. Both were names given to Thomas the apostle, who was elsewhere referred to in the bible as 'Judas, who is also called Thomas'
  • 'Joses' or Joseph is referred to in the bible in Mark 6.3: 'Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?'
  • Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, was the ruler of Galilee and Perea in the 1st century. His nickname was 'Antipas'.
  • The Hebrew name 'Joshua' (Aramaic 'Yesua') meaning 'God Delivers' or 'God Rescues' has a Greek equivalent 'Iesous' which, through transliteration via Latin becomes 'Jesus'