"But when your father dies, your mother could marry someone shorter than you, and he would be your father. You would have to do what he says."
"My father will never die. He is eternal."
"So you say. But I think that when I'm a man, and your father dies, I will take your mother as my wife."
Joshua made a face now as if he had bitten into an unripe fig. "Don't say that, Biff."
"I don't mind that she's mad. I like her blue cloak. And her smile. I'll be a good father, I'll teach you how to be a stonemason, and I'll only beat you when you are a snot."
"I would rather play with lepers than listen to this." Joshua began to walk away.
"Wait. Be nice to your father Joshua bar Biff" -- my own father used my full name like this when be was trying to make a point -- "Is it not the word of Moses that you must honor me?"
Litle Joshua spun on his heel. "My name is not Joshua bar Biff, and it is not Joshua bar Joseph either. It's Joshua bar Jehovah!"
I looked around, hoping that no one had heard him. I didn't want my only son (I planned to sell Judah and James into slavery) to be stoned to death for uttering the name of God in vain. "Don't say that again, Josh. I won't marry your mother."
"No, you won't."
"I forgive you."
"She will make an excellent concubine."
Don't let anyone tell you that the Prince of Peace never struck anyone. In those early days, before he had become who he would be, Joshua smote me in the nose more than once. That was the first time.
Mary would stay my one true love until I saw the Magdalene.
If the people of Nazareth thought Joshua's mother was mad, there was little said of it out of respect for her husband, Joseph. He was wise in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, and there were few wives in Nazareth who didn't serve supper in one of his smooth olive-wood bowls. He was fair, strong, and wise. People said that he had once been an Essene, one of the dour, ascetic Jews who kept to themselves and never married or cut their hair, but he did not congregate with them, and unlike them, he still had the ability to smile.
In those early years, I saw him very little, as he was always in Sepphoris, building structures for the Romans and the Greeks and the landed Jews of that city, but every year, as the Feast of Firsts approached, Joseph would stop his work in the fortress city and stay home carving bowls and spoons to give to the Temple. During the Feast of Firsts, it was the tradition to give first lambs, first grain, and first fruits to the priests of the Temple. Even first sons born during the year were dedicated to the Temple, either by promising them for labor when they were older, or by a gift of money. Craftsmen like my father and Joseph could give things that they made, and in some years my father fashioned mortars and pestles or grinding stones for the tribute, while in others he gave tithes of coin. Some people made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for this feast, but since it fell only seven weeks after Passover, many families could not afford to make the pilgrimage, and the gifts went to our simple village synagogue.
During the weeks leading up to the feast, Joseph sat outside of his house in the shade of an awning he had made, worrying the gnarled olive wood with adze and chisel, while Joshua and I played at his feet. He wore the single-piece tunic that we all wore, a rectangle of fabric with neck hole in the middle, belted with a sash so that the sleeves fell to the elbows and the hem fell to the knees.
"Perhaps this year I should give the Temple my first son, eh, Joshua? Wouldn't you like to clean the altar after the sacrifices?" He grinned to himself without looking up from his work. "I owe them a first son, you know. We were in Egypt at the Firsts Feast when you were born."
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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