Raziel has been looking at my writing and is insisting that I stop whining and get on with the story. Easy for him to say, he didn't just spend the last two thousand years buried in the dirt. Nevertheless, he won't let me order pizza until I finish a section, so here goes ...
I was born in Galilee, the town of Nazareth, in the time of Herod the Great. My father, Alphaeus, was a stonemason and my mother, Naomi, was plagued by demons, or at least that's what I told everyone. Joshua seemed to think she was just difficult. My proper name, Levi, comes from the brother of Moses, the progenitor of the tribe of priests; my nickname, Biff, comes from our slang word for a smack upside the head, something that my mother said I required at least daily from an early age.
I grew up under Roman rule, although I didn't see many Romans until I was ten. The Romans mostly stayed in the fortress city of Sepphoris, an hour's walk north of Nazareth. That's where Joshua and I saw a Roman soldier murdered, but I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, assume that the soldier is safe and sound and happy wearing a broom on his head.
Most of the people of Nazareth were farmers, growing grapes and olives on the rocky hills outside of town and barley and wheat in the valleys below. There were also herders of goats and sheep whose families lived in town while the men and older boys tended the flocks in the highlands. Our houses were all made of stone, and ours had a stone floor, although many had floors of hardpacked dirt.
I was the oldest of three sons, so even at an the age of six I was being prepared to learn my father's trade. My mother taught my spoken lessons, the Law and stories from the Torah in Hebrew, and my father took me to die synagogue to hear the elders read the Bible. Aramaic was my first language, but by the time I was ten I could speak and read Hebrew as well as most of the men.
My ability to learn Hebrew and the Torah was spurred on by my friendship with Joshua, for while the other boys would be playing a round of tease the sheep or kick the Canaanite, Joshua and I played at being rabbis, and he insisted that we stick to the authentic Hebrew for our ceremonies. It was more fun than it sounds, or at least it was until my mother caught us trying to circumcise my little brother Shem with a sharp rock. What a fit she threw. And my argument that Shem needed to renew his covenant with the Lord didn't seem to convince her. She beat me to stripes with an olive switch and forbade me to play with Joshua for a month. Did I mention she was besought with demons?
Overall, I think it was good for little Shem. He was the only kid I ever knew who could pee around corners. You can make a pretty good living as a beggar with that kind of talent. And he never even thanked me.
Children see magic because they look for it.
When I first met Joshua, I didn't know he was the Savior, and neither did he, for that matter. What I knew was that he wasn't afraid. Amid a race of conquered warriors, a people who tried to find pride while cowering before God and Rome, he shone like a bloom in the desert. But maybe only I saw it, because I was looking for it. To everyone else he seemed like just another child: the same needs and the same chance to die before he was grown.
When I told my mother of Joshua's trick with the lizard she checked me for fever and sent me to my sleeping mat with only a bowl of broth for supper.
"I've heard stories about that boy's mother," she said to my father. "She claims to have spoken to an angel of the Lord. She told Esther that she had borne the Son of God:'
"And what did you say to Esther?"
"That she should be careful that the Pharisees not hear her ravings or we'd be picking stones for her punishment:'
Copyright Christopher Moore 2002. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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