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CHAPTER VII



Let us take our stand by the gate, just out of the edge of the
currents--one flowing in, the other out--and use our eyes and
ears awhile.

In good time! Here come two men of a most noteworthy class.

"Gods! How cold it is!" says one of them, a powerful figure in armor;
on his head a brazen helmet, on his body a shining breastplate and
skirts of mail. "How cold it is! Dost thou remember, my Caius,
that vault in the Comitium at home which the flamens say is the
entrance to the lower world? By Pluto! I could stand there this
morning, long enough at least to get warm again!"

The party addressed drops the hood of his military cloak, leaving
bare his head and face, and replies, with an ironic smile, "The
helmets of the legions which conquered Mark Antony were full of
Gallic snow; but thou--ah, my poor friend!--thou hast just come
from Egypt, bringing its summer in thy blood."

And with the last word they disappear through the entrance.
Though they had been silent, the armor and the sturdy step
would have published them Roman soldiers.

From the throng a Jew comes next, meager of frame, round-shouldered,
and wearing a coarse brown robe; over his eyes and face, and down
his back, hangs a mat of long, uncombed hair. He is alone. Those who
meet him laugh, if they do not worse; for he is a Nazarite, one of
a despised sect which rejects the books of Moses, devotes itself to
abhorred vows, and goes unshorn while the vows endure.

As we watch his retiring figure, suddenly there is a commotion in
the crowd, a parting quickly to the right and left, with exclamations
sharp and decisive. Then the cause comes--a man, Hebrew in feature
and dress. The mantle of snow-white linen, held to his head by
cords of yellow silk, flows free over his shoulders; his robe
is richly embroidered, a red sash with fringes of gold wraps his
waist several times. His demeanor is calm; he even smiles upon
those who, with such rude haste, make room for him. A leper? No,
he is only a Samaritan. The shrinking crowd, if asked, would say
he is a mongrel--an Assyrian--whose touch of the robe is pollution;
from whom, consequently, an Israelite, though dying, might not
accept life. In fact, the feud is not of blood. When David set
his throne here on Mount Zion, with only Judah to support him,
the ten tribes betook themselves to Shechem, a city much older,
and, at that date, infinitely richer in holy memories. The final
union of the tribes did not settle the dispute thus begun.
The Samaritans clung to their tabernacle on Gerizim, and,
while maintaining its superior sanctity, laughed at the irate
doctors in Jerusalem. Time brought no assuagement of the hate.
Under Herod, conversion to the faith was open to all the world
except the Samaritans; they alone were absolutely and forever
shut out from communion with Jews.

As the Samaritan goes in under the arch of the gate, out come three
men so unlike all whom we have yet seen that they fix our gaze,
whether we will or not. They are of unusual stature and immense
brawn; their eyes are blue, and so fair is their complexion that
the blood shines through the skin like blue pencilling; their hair is
light and short; their heads, small and round, rest squarely upon necks
columnar as the trunks of trees. Woollen tunics, open at the breast,
sleeveless and loosely girt, drape their bodies, leaving bare arms
and legs of such development that they at once suggest the arena;
and when thereto we add their careless, confident, insolent manner,
we cease to wonder that the people give them way, and stop after they
have passed to look at them again. They are gladiators--wrestlers,
runners, boxers, swordsmen; professionals unknown in Judea before
the coming of the Roman; fellows who, what time they are not
in training, may be seen strolling through the king's gardens
or sitting with the guards at the palace gates; or possibly they
are visitors from Caesarea, Sebaste, or Jericho; in which Herod,
more Greek than Jew, and with all a Roman's love of games and
bloody spectacles, has built vast theaters, and now keeps schools
of fighting-men, drawn, as is the custom, from the Gallic provinces
or the Slavic tribes on the Danube.

"By Bacchus!" says one of them, drawing his clenched hand to
his shoulder, "their skulls are not thicker than eggshells."

The brutal look which goes with the gesture disgusts us, and we
turn happily to something more pleasant.

Opposite us is a fruit-stand. The proprietor has a bald head,
a long face, and a nose like the beak of a hawk. He sits
upon a carpet spread upon the dust; the wall is at his back;
overhead hangs a scant curtain, around him, within hand's reach
and arranged upon little stools, lie osier boxes full of almonds,
grapes, figs, and pomegranates. To him now comes one at whom we
cannot help looking, though for another reason than that which
fixed our eyes upon the gladiators; he is really beautiful--a
beautiful Greek. Around his temples, holding the waving hair,
is a crown of myrtle, to which still cling the pale flowers and
half ripe berries. His tunic, scarlet in color, is of the softest
woollen fabric; below the girdle of buff leather, which is clasped
in front by a fantastic device of shining gold, the skirt drops to
the knee in folds heavy with embroidery of the same royal metal;
a scarf, also woollen, and of mixed white and yellow, crosses
his throat and falls trailing at his back; his arms and legs,
where exposed, are white as ivory, and of the polish impossible
except by perfect treatment with bath, oil, brushes, and pincers.

The dealer, keeping his seat, bends forward, and throws his hands
up until they meet in front of him, palm downwards and fingers
extended.

"What hast thou, this morning, O son of Paphos?" says the young
Greek, looking at the boxes rather than at the Cypriote. "I am
hungry. What hast thou for breakfast?"

"Fruits from the Pedius--genuine--such as the singers of Antioch
take of mornings to restore the waste of their voices," the dealer
answers, in a querulous nasal tone.

"A fig, but not one of thy best, for the singers of Antioch!" says
the Greek. "Thou art a worshiper of Aphrodite, and so am I, as the
myrtle I wear proves; therefore I tell thee their voices have the
chill of a Caspian wind. Seest thou this girdle?--a gift of the
mighty Salome--"

"The king's sister!" exclaims the Cypriote, with another salaam.

"And of royal taste and divine judgment. And why not? She is more
Greek than the king. But--my breakfast! Here is thy money--red
coppers of Cyprus. Give me grapes, and--"

"Wilt thou not take the dates also?"

"No, I am not an Arab."

"Nor figs?"

"That would be to make me a Jew. No, nothing but the grapes.
Never waters mixed so sweetly as the blood of the Greek and
the blood of the grape."

The singer in the grimed and seething market, with all his airs
of the court, is a vision not easily shut out of mind by such
as see him; as if for the purpose, however, a person follows
him challenging all our wonder. He comes up the road slowly,
his face towards the ground; at intervals he stops, crosses his
hands upon his breast, lengthens his countenance, and turns his
eyes towards heaven, as if about to break into prayer. Nowhere,
except in Jerusalem, can such a character be found. On his forehead,
attached to the band which keeps the mantle in place, projects a
leathern case, square in form; another similar case is tied by
a thong to the left arm; the borders of his robe are decorated
with deep fringe; and by such signs--the phylacteries, the enlarged
borders of the garment, and the savor of intense holiness pervading
the whole man--we know him to be a Pharisee, one of an organization
(in religion a sect, in politics a party) whose bigotry and power
will shortly bring the world to grief.

The densest of the throng outside the gate covers the road leading
off to Joppa. Turning from the Pharisee, we are attracted by some
parties who, as subjects of study, opportunely separate themselves from
the motley crowd. First among them a man of very noble appearance--clear,
healthful complexion; bright black eyes; beard long and flowing, and rich
with unguents; apparel well-fitting, costly, and suitable for the season.
He carries a staff, and wears, suspended by a cord from his neck, a large
golden seal. Several servants attend him, some of them with short swords
stuck through their sashes; when they address him, it is with the
utmost deference. The rest of the party consists of two Arabs of
the pure desert stock; thin, wiry men, deeply bronzed, and with
hollow cheeks, and eyes of almost evil brightness; on their heads
red tarbooshes; over their abas, and wrapping the left shoulder
and the body so as to leave the right arm free, brown woollen
haicks, or blankets. There is loud chaffering, for the Arabs are
leading horses and trying to sell them; and, in their eagerness,
they speak in high, shrill voices. The courtly person leaves the
talking mostly to his servants; occasionally he answers with
much dignity; directly, seeing the Cypriote, he stops and buys
some figs. And when the whole party has passed the portal, close
after the Pharisee, if we betake ourselves to the dealer in fruits,
he will tell, with a wonderful salaam, that the stranger is a Jew,
one of the princes of the city, who has travelled, and learned the
difference between the common grapes of Syria and those of Cyprus,
so surpassingly rich with the dews of the sea.

And so, till towards noon, sometimes later, the steady currents of
business habitually flow in and out of the Joppa Gate, carrying with
them every variety of character; including representatives of all
the tribes of Israel, all the sects among whom the ancient faith
has been parcelled and refined away, all the religious and social
divisions, all the adventurous rabble who, as children of art and
ministers of pleasure, riot in the prodigalities of Herod, and all
the peoples of note at any time compassed by the Caesars and their
predecessors, especially those dwelling within the circuit of the
Mediterranean.

In other words, Jerusalem, rich in sacred history, richer in
connection with sacred prophecies--the Jerusalem of Solomon,
in which silver was as stones, and cedars as the sycamores of
the vale--had come to be but a copy of Rome, a center of unholy
practises, a seat of pagan power. A Jewish king one day put on
priestly garments, and went into the Holy of Holies of the first
temple to offer incense, and he came out a leper; but in the time
of which we are reading, Pompey entered Herod's temple and the
same Holy of Holies, and came out without harm, finding but an
empty chamber, and of God not a sign.





Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Category:
General Fiction
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