NB. The lay-out here is an internet facsimile of the first chapter of The Hidden Passion, and does not accurately reproduce the lay-out of the published novel. In particular, all references that appear here in curved brackets () appear in small print in the margins of the novel.
      All passages marked with dented brackets < > are citations from Gnostic texts.


      "<The world was made by mistake!>" (Gs Phil 75:3) cried the lone voice above the clamour of the marketplace.
      Prostitutes strolled among the merchant's stalls, their eyes exquisitely lined with bewitching kohl. At their feet, the poor of the Kidron Valley crouched, their withered palms outstretched.
      "<For this world is the work of beasts!>" (Int Kn 11:23) came the cry above the hawkers' din. "It is the flawed creation of a counterfeit God!"
      An elderly monk, clutching a manuscript close to his heart, pushed his way past mendicants and spice merchants. His heart afire, Melchizedek hoped to catch a glimpse of the holy prophet. His watchful eyes, learned and wise, scanned the Temple's forecourt.
      A procession of water-carriers passed, shouldering their loads from Solomon's Pool.
      With his long crook, the pious monk violently parted the crowd and laid his eyes upon the source of the voice: a ragged man with matted hair, clad in rough camel-hide.
      "<I am the Voice who cries from the wasteland," came the frightful words from cracked white lips. "Prepare the path and make it straight! Prepare the way to your Lord!>" (Jn 1:23)
      Melchizedek recognized at once the deep-sunken eyes and desiccated lips of John, the young ascetic known to be the Baptizer from the Jordan. In fear and wonder, the sons of Israel had pronounced him 'the Last Prophet'.


      His youthful face was hard as flint, and sharply chiselled by the desert winds. Under a fierce tangle of hair, John's fiery eyes blazed with dark fanaticism.
      "Three cataclysms foretell the coming of the Lord!" John thundered, "<– the Flood, and the Conflagration, and the Judgement everlasting! These are the three parousias...>" (Gs Egypt 63:4)
      On the Temple Mount of Jerusalem, the merchants and the money-changers ceased their shouting. From their midst appeared the venerable Annas, former High Priest of the Temple.
      His long grey beard, woven in the Chaldean style, fell squarely over the white and gold of his embroidered robe. The Sadducee Elder stood before John, fixing his eyes upon the arch-ascetic with bitter spite; Annas wanted to hear with his own ears the Nazarite's profanations.
      "The Deluge!" cried John, turning to Annas and his scribes, "which you, the sons of Shem, should have marked well in your memory! <For the rain-showers of the Almighty poured forth and destroyed all the flesh of the land, and swept away the corruptible seeds of men. From that great cleansing, Noah kept apart a portion of the imperishable seeds. And they became four hundred thousand men...>" (Ap Adam 69:2)
      From the Street of the Spice-grinders came a rickety cart, laden with baskets of aromatic herbs and expensively-scented oils. As it creaked past, the oxen kicked up clouds of dust, blinding the pilgrims who had gathered in the shadow of the Royal Porch.
      Still they stood, clutching one another, hoping to catch a glimpse of the madman whom Caiaphas would surely condemn for blasphemy, and Herod burn alive for treason.
        "But you? Who are you?" John now roared at the crowd. His gaunt frame, tall and rugged, towered over them. "Are you the descendants of Noah or the offspring of the serpent?" Shaking his head, he decried: "Men are beasts, born of beasts and carried in the ark like beasts through the first parousia."
      Ferociously, his wild eyes scanned the Temple's forecourt, where asses and camels stood side by side with merchants and scribes. "Indeed, <in this world, there are many animals in human form...>" (Gs Phil 81:7)
      Some among the scribes began to laugh, but the desert ascetic quickly silenced them.
      "<Children of the serpent!>" (Mt 3:7) he chided them. "<It were better you had never lived, than lived such an animal life!> (Silv 105:6) Your souls have <become dwelling-places for vipers and your bodies a refuge for basilisks!>" (Silv 105:27)
     In response to these words, drawn swords cut a path through the crowd for the Vizier Chuza, Herod Antipas' chief steward. He was accompanied by his wife Joanna and, hiding in her shadow, the young Salome, granddaughter of Herod the Great.
      Clutching his sword, Chuza nodded for the Baptist to continue. Annas smiled; Melchizedek frowned. All the marketplace now was silent.
      "The Flood has passed over you, but the second parousia awaits. Just as the fields are burned before new seeds are sown, so shall the Conflagration come. <For fire and sulphur and asphalt will be cast upon you, their flames and blinding fumes will come over you, and your eyes will be darkened!> (Ap Adam 75:10) <You cannot flee the coming wrath.> (Mt 3:7) <For even now the axe is bearing down, ready to sever you



from your root; every one of you, therefore, not bearing good fruit will be cut down and, like barren branches, thrown into the fire!>" (Mt 3:10)
      John's disciples, dispersed among the throng, instinctively moved their hands to their hearts. The crowd grew uneasy, fearing the words of the prophet, fearing that he was indeed the last prophet.
      "Only those worthy of repentance," he cried out in a loud voice, "will be gathered in, for they bear good fruit! Only those baptized will be spared."
      From the frightened mob, Annas stepped forth and hissed at the Baptist. Irony and anger mingled in his words.
      "The priests, Levites and scribes, indeed the entire congregation bathe themselves in the mikvoth before entering the Temple. We baptize ourselves!"
      John turned and gazed at the former High Priest. His temples were throbbing and the veins of his neck bulged.
      "<Why, Annas, would you drink stale water, when sweet water is offered to you?> (Silv 88:32) I baptize with the waters of the Jordan!" he cried wildly, "<– with the water which flows from above! – with the water of life!>" (Oxyr 2:7-9)
      He fixed a piercing gaze on the Sadducee Elder. "<But your people wash in Solomon's Pool! – in stagnant ponds that pollute and defile! – in corruptible water where dogs and pigs wallow day and night! Like prostitutes crawling with scorpions, they wash and scrub, but remain impure!>" (Oxyr 2:7-9)
      A fearful silence redounded from John's words. He would surely burn for this. But the desert dweller's voice would not be silenced.
      "Tell me, Annas," John now demanded, "why a golden
eagle once stood atop the Great Porch of the Temple? (Jos. 17.6.2) Why did Pilate's shields buckle the walls of the fortress, with their images of a wolf suckling two children? (Jos. 18.3.1)Why do your priests still sacrifice two bulls each day in remembrance of the emperor Augustus?"
      Now Chuza stepped forward. As Herod's steward, he spoke for the Tetrarchy of Galilee, and for the protectorate of Rome.
      "Caesar Augustus was filius dei," he cried, "the Son of God! From the heavens, the eagle of Rome flew down and crowned him with those laurels. And now, in Tiberius Caesar, you have the continuance of divine rule. Like Remus and Romulus, who suckled at the Lupa Romana, the Caesars Augustus and Tiberius are Rome's divine twins. The priests of the temple sacrifice two bulls to them, because they are this world's god-appointed rulers."
      "Beasts!" John screamed. "A world of beasts ruled by beasts! You erect eagles, cast brazen wolves, and slaughter sacred bulls – why? <Because in animals you worship the image of your gods!> (Gs Phil 71:26) Your filius dei extends his throne to the ends of the earth, and says 'I am god of this world'. But he is the bastard Son of God! <He performs signs and wonders, so that many go astray, and turn away from the true Son of glory.>" (Gr Pow 45:8)
      Chuza went for his sword, but immediately pulled back his hand, alarmed. On its iron hilt was Salome's slender hand.
      "Wait," she commanded him. Her eyes were fixed upon the Baptist, entranced by his fiery hair, his fierce aspect, his burning black eyes.
      The anchorite opened his mouth once more.
      "Since you have fallen into bestiality, I will speak in a



manner you may understand. There are three phoenixes which will fly into the coming fire. <The first is immortal, and will be reborn from the ashes. The second will rise up, again and again, for up to one thousand years. But the third, as it is written in the Sacred Book, will be consumed and perish irrevocably.>" (Orig Wld 122:10)
      John raised his hand over the multitude standing before him.
      "<So are there three races of men: the spirit-endowed for all eternity, and the soul-endowed for a limited time, and the earthly,> (Orig Wld 122:6) who indeed are already dead. Which are you? How will we recognize you? The time will come, during the harvest and the threshing, when only the fruit-bearing seeds will be stored up. Three times, the harvest! Three times, the parousias will pass. <And three, indeed are the number of baptisms. One, by water! One, by fire! And one, the final one, of the spirit!>" (Orig Wld 122:13)
      With this last pronouncement, John's voice gave out. His speech was reduced to a whisper. But in the ensuing silence, even the animals remained still. In a strangulated voice, he announced:
      "<I baptize you with water. But the one who is coming after me is greater than I. Not even his sandals am I worthy to touch. He..." John cried, "will baptize you with the spirit and with fire!>" (Mt 3:11)
      Melchizedek's heart rose to his throat. John's disciples, hearing this for the first time, gripped one another in fear. Even Annas was taken aback by this prophecy. The Messiah?
      "<Behold him who speaks..." John presented himself, defenceless, before the crowd: his hands were at his sides, their palms turned outward. He then raised his right hand in a
mysterious gesture, as if pointing into the distance "...and seek him who is silent.>" (2Ap Jas 59:17)
      The oracle blazed through Melchizedek's brain like a flash of heavenly fire. The Messiah, though silent, was amongst them. He only needed to be found...
      "<I am the Voice," John cried aloud once more. "But he – he is the Word!> (Tri Prot 37:4) <He is the face of the Father, the image of the Invisible, the word of the Unutterable.> (Tri Tr 66:13) And from his mouth will come words of forgiveness, but also the promise of judgement! <For the Lord is coming with a winnowing fork in his hand, and he will clear the threshing floor.> (Mt 3:12) The wheat, <with its imperishable seeds,> (Mars 26:12) he will gather into the granary. <For pure seeds are kept apart in the storehouse, and are made safe.> (Auth T 25:24) <But the chaff he will take and burn with unquenchable fire!>" (Mt 3:12)
      Powerless, many people fell to their knees. The words of the last prophet had finally severed <their stubborn attachment to worldly affairs, their pre-occupation with life's toil and its on-going distractions.> (Hyp Arch 91:7) In the silences between his speech, their neglected spirits were calling to them, demanding remembrance.
      "In your hearts, make straight the way of the Lord! For he is <a way for those who have gone astray, a discovery for those who are searching, a support for those who are wavering, and a knowledge for those unknowing!>" (Gs Tru 31:28)
      John walked through the crowd, raising up those who had fallen to their knees, and gathering together his disciples. For a moment, Salome felt that he would approach her, stroke her chin and raise up her blushing face which would then be veiled with tears.



      "Jerusalem!" the Baptist cried, "– whether Pharisee or Sadducee; Essene or Zealot – depart for the desert! Cross to the far side of the Jordan, and sink yourselves in its clear, ever-flowing water! Receive the seal of repentance, so that you may be recognized.
      "When <the three angels come – Abrasax and Sablo and Gamaliel – they will descend and bring the baptized out of the fire.> (Ap Adam 75:22) The waters of the Jordan will seal you and protect you, and the second parousia will pass you over."
      As John prepared to depart, he turned suddenly with his hands raised, remembering his final command.
      "Then you will be prepared and made clean for the third parousia, <when the Illuminator of Knowledge will pass by in great glory, to gather in all the fruit-bearing trees. And he will redeem your souls from death. He will speak in parables, and perform great signs and wonders, in order to scorn the powers and rulers that be.>" (Ap Adam 76:9 + Gr Pow 40:30)
      As if clearly seeing the future, he cast a forlorn glance at Annas and at Chuza. Images of High Priest Caiaphas and the Tetrarch Herod Antipas passed before his eyes. Each of these rulers would covet the Messiah's power.
      "<But he will arouse a great wrath against himself. They will punish the flesh of the man upon whom the spirit came. And so he will withdraw, and dwell in the Houses of the Holy for a time, so that the powers will not see him. But he will return to raise the dead, destroy its dominion, and put to shame the ruler of Hades.> (Ap Adam 77:4 + Gr Pow 40:30) And then..."
      John paused. His anger and his wrath had finally subsided. He felt drained, dizzy, ready to collapse. But there remained his final intimation of gladness.
      "And when all of this is accomplished," he said at last, "then the saviour <will proclaim the great Aeon to come, and the Gates of the Heavens will be opened by his word.>" (Gr Pow 40:30)
      The desert ascetic stood still, looking directly at Melchizedek, who nodded. He seemed to be the only one in the crowd who understood these words.
      The Baptist's disciples began to form a tight circle around him, while armed guards approached from all sides. The throng grew uneasy.
      "How will we recognize him?" came a voice, as urgent and as frightening as the prophet's own.
      Ordered forward to seize the Baptist, Chuza's men froze. This thunder in their midst had erupted from the bowels of the old monk Melchizedek.
      The forerunner feared his moment had come. Would the Voice be silenced before the Word had been spoken?
      "<I tell you a mystery, unutterable and ineffable, not to be divulged by any mouth,>" (Tri Prot 41:2) he began haltingly. "But to comprehend it, you must first <become sober, and shake off your drunkeness.> (Silv 94:20) <Let your mind awaken!> (Ap Paul 19:10) The Illuminator of Knowledge will appear, and you will recognize him because he will come bearing Five Seals."
      The faces of the people were amazed. Even the priests, the scribes, and Annas himself were bewildered. Nowhere was it written in the Holy Book that the Messiah would carry five sacred seals. Was this a new prophecy?
      "<Whoever possesses the Five Seals," John announced, "will strip off his garment of ignorance, and put on the shining robe of Light.> (Tri Prot 49:28) <He will become a light in



Light!> (Tri Prot 48:29) For the saviour is coming <to illumine those who dwell in the darkness.> (Tri Prot 48:31) <All that was unknown will become known to you.> (Tri Prot 37:9) All that was hidden will be revealed to you. <And you will know that you are from God. Indeed, that you yourself are God, and you will see him, who is God within you.> (Unt MS)
      "<Anointed with the Five Seals, you will become holy, and exalted above all powers. You will become a reflection of his light. Clothe yourself in the light and enter the Bridal Chamber!> (Dial Sav 138:19) For within, <you will partake in the mystery of knowledge,> (Tri Prot 48:29) and find eternal <rest in his rest.>" (Gr Pow 47:22)
      For a few moments, silence reigned. Then there erupted screams of battle and cries of bloodshed. Chuza's armed guards attempted to seize the prophet, but his crazed disciples and even the people revolted. Daggers were drawn from under cloaks, and blood flowed upon leather and iron.
      An alarm was sounded to quell the uprising. In an impulsive act, Annas threw himself at the Baptist, but was met by Melchizedek, who seized the counterfeit priest and threw him down, trampling over his deceitful robes.
      Amid the frenzy, Chuza saw his chance to fell the Baptist with one decisive stroke of his sword. He raised his weapon to strike when, in the scuffle, the emaciated flesh was swathed and obscured by a diaphanous form shrouded in veils and silken robes.
      Covering his body with her own, embracing the ascetic with ardent desire, Herod's beloved daughter Salome brought the Baptist to his knees and smothered his burning mouth with her tearful kisses.


       The setting sun pierced the darkened heavens, taking on the aspect of a fiery blackened sphere. Melchizedek goaded his camel onward, past the smoke and flames that blinded him on every side. Dried for months by drought, the fields of Galilee were fast afire.
      The monk wrapped his face in the folds of his cloak and raced toward the lake of Gennesaret. Bundled in his lap and shielded from the flames was the sacred book which he was charged to bring back from Jerusalem.
       Melchizedek passed between the two cypress trees which flanked the monastery gate – now blazing like human torches. In his twenty years at these cloisters, he never dreamt he would see the day when their cedar roofs would lick the heavens with flames.
      Drawing water from the lake, the monks were scrambling to extinguish the conflagration. Billowing smoke filled the elder's eyes with tears.
      The hunchbacked porter took charge of his mount, and apprised him of the situation. Alarmed, Melchizedek reported immediately to Allogenes, the Father of the monastery. The Great Teacher lay stretched out in his cell, having collapsed from exertions while combating the fire.
      Though his face was blackened by smoke, Allogenes' eyes were alert and discerning as always.
      "My brother Melchizedek," he said in a cracked voice, "come sit by me..."
      Balancing on the edge of the low wooden bed,



Melchizedek unwrapped the manuscript which he had guarded safely from the flames.
      The bearded elder smiled as he took the codex in hand. "So you found it, at last..."
      "A copy, transcribed by an Egyptian priest."
      Allogenes turned the book over in his hands, then read the first page. "<Once, when thought came to me of the things that are, and my thinking soared on high...> (CH I.1) Ah yes, those words, their tone rings familiar to my ears."
      Then he turned, a worried look etched into his aged features. "You're sure none of the Temple scribes recognized you?"
      Melchizedek shook his long white locks.
      "If the High Priest got word of this manuscript, it would spell out the end for all of us..." Allogenes warned.
      Remembering the Sadducee Elder trampled into the mud, Melchizedek imparted with a faint smile: "Under Solomon's Porch, I saw Annas briefly – but that is all..."
      "Annas – that impostor?" Allogenes pushed a laugh from his blackened lungs. "Our father Aaron, the first High Priest, bequeathed his robes to Zadok his son, and to all of Zadok's sons. But Annas and Caiaphas are usurpers of the Holy Office. Like the Hasmonean priests before them, they disguise themselves in priestly robes, celebrating the feasts on false days. They desecrate, by their very presence, the Temple's holiness..."
      Melchizedek's long moustache and beard barely hid his bemused smile. The old monk, like the Essenes of the desert, knew that Annas, Caiaphas and all their lot were indeed harlots beloved of Rome.
      Those events from Hebrew history remained engraved in
the monastery's memory. The Zadokite line of succession came to a close two centuries ago when, at the end of the Maccabeen revolt, the Hasmonean rulers seized Kingship and the High Priesthood for themselves. But the Hasmoneans abused their power, and were ultimately displaced by the Herodians.
      This transfer of power played well into Annas' hands, since Herod advised Rome to appoint High Priests from the family of Annas. That was why Caiaphas, the present High Priest, had been re-appointed year after year for the last fourteen years. He was son, by marriage, to Annas.
      Allogenes placed his hand, weakened and shaking with age, on the hand of Melchizedek.
      "Now listen to me, my companion of so many years. In your absence I have announced that you are to succeed me as Father of the monastery. Have no fear – the fire has only destroyed the stables. The synagogue, the cells, and the library with its scriptorium... all will survive intact. The rest you can rebuild. You must lead the monks and apprentices according to the voice of Wisdom within you."
      Melchizedek bowed his head, not wishing to acknowledge the departure of his master.
      "We have already seen the signs that were predicted..."
      The monk nodded in remembrance, but Allogenes recalled aloud the words that burned in his memory, so that they both could bear witness to the prophecy.
      "<All the powers of the sea will tremble and dry up," he said, his voice rising above a whisper, "And the firmament will not pour down dew. The springs will cease. The rivers will not flow down to their springs. And the waters of the springs of the earth will cease. Then the depths will be laid bare and they will open.> (Gr Pow 45:31) For months, we have suffered these



droughts throughout Galilee, even onto Samaria and Judea. And now, as predicted, the fires have begun..."
       Again, the Great Teacher recited the prophecy with the voice of ages.
      "<Then the darkness together with Hades will take fire.> (Gr Pow 37:29) <The earth will tremble, the cities be troubled,> (Gr Pow 44:4) <and the flames consume all the dwellings, so that even the shepherd will perish. When it does not find anything else to burn, the fire will turn against itself and destroy even itself.>" (Gr Pow 40:10)
      Melchizedek nodded gravely, but Allogenes smiled, knowing that these signs were not without hope or redemption. He completed the prophecy.
      "<It is the change of the Aeon. The sun will set during the day, and the day become dark. The evil spirits will be troubled. And after these things, he will appear. The sign of the Aeon to come will appear.>" (Gr Pow 42:15)
      Allogenes rest his head, closing his eyes momentarily to imagine the face of the one who would appear. The Messiah's hour was drawing near.
      "There is something I must impart to you, which I have confided to no other. It is a secret I have borne with me for three long years..."
      The Great Teacher opened his eyes and engaged his successor with a gaze imploring comprehension. Melchizedek silently acknowledged the confidence entrusted to him.
      "After the deaths of Judah ben Sariphai and Matthias ben Margaloth," Allogenes said, mustering his strength, "I founded this monastery, as Wisdom had instructed me. That same year, three hermits arrived and installed themselves in the Cave of Darkness. We've left them bread and water at the entrance, as
instructed, for almost thirty years now. They dispute with each other; they ask for parchment, oil lamps and books; they read the night sky from the entrance – this much I know. But never have they let fall a word to the world until three years ago..."
      Allogenes wiped the blood from his lips, having coughed from the smoke. Maintaining his grip on Melchizedek's hand, he continued.
      "Then they sent me a note, impressed three times with their seals. I read it, took cognisance of its contents, and fastened it with my own seal. No one else must know of this, my friend. Here: take it, read it in confidence, then close it securely with your signet."
      He handed over the scroll covered with strange markings impressed in black wax.
      Breaking Allogenes' seal of a cock with serpentine feet, he read the brief message inscribed three times in different hands: once in Greek capitals, once in Hebrew letters, and once in a Persian script. It read:


      "I die," Allogenes confided, "knowing that the truth will soon be revealed to the world. <And those who would know these things will become blessed, since they will come to know the truth. They will reveal them, and they will become blessed. And then, they may find rest.>" (Gr Pow 42:24)
      Allogenes' sight began to cloud over, but his eyes remained wide with the vision of his last hour. He turned to his former disciple, who had since become his brother, his companion, and now his successor.
      "I go to my rest, knowing our eyes will be opened to the



truth. Find him, Melchizedek, here among the students and the rabbis. The codex will help you..."
      He placed the Egyptian text once more in the hands of his beloved companion.
      "Use it. The Poimandres carries in it a knowledge of the beginning – hidden knowledge! Forbidden knowledge! But truth can not be revealed in any other way."
      "And if I find him?" Melchizedek wondered, his heart beating alternately between terror and joy.
      Allogenes remained silent a moment. Though night had fallen, the cell was still illuminated by the fires that blazed outside the small window. Lights danced along the walls, forming a shadow play for the Great Teacher, who narrated all that he now saw.
      "<Then he will anoint you with the unction of life eternal. You will be freed from blind thought; you will trample death underfoot, and ascend into the limitless light where the sown truly belong...>" (Hyp Arch 97:2)
      The elderly monk trembled, understanding the import of the Great Teacher's words. The Baptist had said the Word would soon be spoken. He was moving among them here, in this monastery – but silently. Now the moment had come for him to manifest himself. The Messiah of the Five Seals would proclaim the end of this Aeon, and the beginning of the one to come.
      Allogenes lay motionless, exhausted. But still, the joy passed from his lips.
      "You shall be present at the harvest! <The truth, my friend, has existed since the beginning, and it is sown everywhere. There are many indeed who have seen it being sown. But few are those who will see it being reaped!>" (Gs Phil 55:19)
      Ecstatic, the moribund Allogenes ignored the paralysis which had overtaken his limbs.
      "But you, my master?" Melchizedek pleaded, seeking some vision in the other's vision, and wisdom in his wisdom.
      "I am a stranger to this world," Allogenes replied. "I wear this body as a garment, nothing more. <Once I have been released from the flesh,> (Test Tr 65:31) I shall don the garment of light, and return to the One from whence I came. <Through an unknowing knowledge,> (Allog 55:19) I shall purify myself in the Bridal Chamber <– consuming matter within myself like so much fire – and darkness, by light – and death, by life! From multiplicity – to Unity..! It is in Oneness... that I will finally attain... to myself.>" (Gs Tru 25:10)
      The Great Teacher's face froze with a smile.
      Melchizedek remained silent, knowing it was improper to protest the death of his master, or even to mourn his passing. Deep in thought, he held his master's hand throughout the night, keeping vigil until the first signs of dawn appeared.
      Then, taking the codex in hand, he called his brothers for the rite of interment.


      Darkness, like a blinding mist, descended over Jerusalem.
      As Annas stepped onto the roof of the Temple, he was met by Annonas, his youngest son, who embraced his father by burying his head in the white and gold of his father's robes.
      The boy with the searching eyes was barely thirteen, but he wished to learn from his elderly father all there was to know about the priesthood. For, like his father and his four elder



brothers, one day he too would bear 'the robe of the Ephod', which Caiaphas now bore as his brother by marriage.
      Within an open-roofed chapel, the great bull of a man Caiaphas was consulting a map of the heavens, surrounded by his scribes, astronomers and fire-senders.
      The High Priest was a large man, bilious and swarthy. Tight black curls embroidered his brow and his long braided beard. Caiaphas wore the blue tunic of his office, with its woven pattern of pomegranates and bells on the fringe. On top of this came 'the robe of the Ephod', which reflected the four colours of the sanctuary in its stripes of purple, scarlet and blue, all interwoven with gold. (Exod 28:31)
      Uneasily, he fingered the braids of his beard, displeased with the recent turn of events. It was the end of 'Elul, the sixth month of the sacred calendar. But shepherds from as far as Galilee, sending fire-signals via the hilltop towers of Samaria, had still not reported the rising of the new moon.
      The problem lay in the darkened heavens. Withered by drought, the dried stalks in the devastated fields had caught fire and were burning out of control. For more than a week, the skies of Israel had been blotted out by smoke.
      Without God's sign from the heavens, the first day of Tíshri could not be announced. Tíshri – the seventh month, the Feast of Tabernacles – to be proclaimed by the High Priest only when the new moon shone in the heavens. (Num 10:1) Without this omen, the two silver trumpets of the chatsotserah could not announce the new year's feast. (Num 10:10)
      "Another moonless night?" Annas demanded. This portent did not bode well for the coming sacrifices.
      Caiaphas raised his shoulders in a gesture of silent resignation.
      The Elder's hand, posed on Annanos' shoulder, dug its long fingers into the boy's skin.
      Though enormously wealthy, Annas worried each year over the spoils of the feast. From the Mount of Olives, his family controlled the entire flow of oil and wine, sheep and doves, into the Temple precinct, where incoming pilgrims purchased them as offerings and libations.
      "And your astronomers?" Annas pursued. "What do they report?"
      Still silent, Caiaphas motioned for his chief stargazer to reply.
      "The hosts of heaven," came the response, "move in their proper courses, but the white moon of Lebhanah remains unpredictable." The astronomer pointed to an image of Leviathan on the star map, whose serpentine body circumnavigated the polar star. Around it were arranged the animal figures of the Zodiac with six wandering planets in their midst. The moon alone was unmarked.
      "<The ordinances of the moon and stars," Caiaphas said at last, turning to young Annanos, "make up a covenant between the Lord and his people.> (Jer 33:25) He gives us the day and the night as a sign of his faithfulness. He measures the day from dusk to dusk, and sends us the new moon to mark the beginning of the month."
      "But uncle, why is the moon's circuit not marked like the others?" The precocious child, noting his father's deep displeasure, thought they might measure the days of the month by number.
      "We do not presume to scan the deep and predict the ways of the Lord," came Caiaphas' response. Though he liked the boy, he relished his superiority over him, knowing that the day



would come when this childling, as a man, would displace him.
      "Then why have you trained your priests," Annas now intervened, "in the ways of the Greeks and Babylonians – reading the sky like a holy book? The Law of Moses forbids it."
      "As do the Prophets," Caiaphas replied, citing Jeremiah: "<Thus saith the Lord, do not learn the way of the nations, or be dismayed at the signs of heaven.> (Jer 10:2) But our enemies' knowledge, in our own hands, may still do us good if we use it wisely."
      Caiaphas motioned for the child to come closer.
      "Do you see the menorah which lights our darkened chapel with its seven candles? Each of these is like a light in the heavens. There are seven darkened heavens in all, seven spheres within spheres, and each flame is like a point of light visible on the invisible sphere – a narrow doorway to the outermost empyrean of our Lord, where YHWH and his host of angels blaze in a white blinding light."
      Caiaphas pointed to the first candle on the right.
      "The planet closest to us is <Lebhanah, the lesser Light, who rules the night.> (Gen 1:16 + Isaiah 24:23) He is the errant and unpredictable moon, who governs all increase and decrease. The farmers and fishermen are at his mercy, for he governs all growth, but haphazardly.
      "Next to him is Nabu or, as the Romans say, Mercury, the crafty and quick-witted magus whom scribes and merchants obey. Through avarice and greed, he governs the movement of money, sums and letters.
      "Closer to the centre is Ishtar or Venus, the harlot star, <a light-bearer> (Isaiah 14:12) beloved of prostitutes. She governs men through envy, longing and desire."
      His finger moved to the middle candle on the seven-branched candelabra.
      "And here, at the centre, is Shemesh the sun, <the greater Light-giver,> (Gen 1:16 + Isaiah 24:23) who rules the day with arrogance, ferocity, insolence and pride.
      "After, comes Nergal or Mars, the reckless warrior, who incites bloody battles through wrath and enmity.
      "Here, the sixth, is Marduk or Jupiter, the old king, who clings to wealth and power through injustice.
      "And last of all, the seventh, is the lame Ninurta or Saturn, the oldest of kings, the artificer who binds us all in his web of deceit." (CH I:24)
      Annas frowned at this conceited display of knowledge. Despite what Caiaphas thought, the Greek and Babylonian idols held no sway under YHWH's rule, not even in the lower heavens.
      Still, this High Priest with his mystic inclinations and rash speculations was necessary to him. As long as he could be influenced, dominated and manipulated, Caiaphas would remain Annas' chosen son and successor.
      The Elder of Jerusalem placed a cold hand on Caiaphas' broad shoulder. "Do you believe this – that the lights in the heavens hold sway over us?"
      "The Greeks call them Archons – 'the planetary rulers'. Each has his palace, and guards its gate in the heavens. In one palace a host of the greedy make feast; in another, the lustful have orgies. Here below, we also have our palaces where our rulers gather to whore and to feast."
      "You speak of our good friend Herod Antipas?"
      "More so, his father Herod the Great. The Basileus lusted, feasted and ruled like a tyrant," Caiaphas recalled. "And yet,



even he heeded three Magi who came to him three decades ago, seeking a confluence of stars in our skies."
      "I remember it well," Annas bitterly recalled. "As the High Priest, I advised him to eliminate them immediately..."

      "But he refused," Herod Antipas replied.
      The Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, reclining his head in the torch-lit chambers of his father's palace, called to mind Herod the Great's great mistake.
      "Instead, he gave leave to the Magi to seek out the child born under the stars, so his steward could follow them and put the babe to the sword. It wasn't a bad plan," remarked Herod's heir and lesser namesake.
      Reclining on his right was his wife Herodias, with her daughter Salome comfortably ensconced between them. Chuza, his vizier, stood opposite, pacing back and forth like a caged lion.
      "The Magi evaded his steward, never to return!" Chuza shouted. "Your father went wild. He slaughtered all the new-borns in Bethlehem – a wild and insane gesture. But he perceived a serious threat to his kingdom. What if everything this Baptist says is true? What if that child survived, and is coming now, a man fully grown, to claim his rule as the Messiah?"
      "We've had rebels and messiahs rise against us before," Herod Antipas replied, "– Simon of Perea, Athronges the shepherd, Judas the Galilean... Each time we suppressed them with Roman justice – the Messiah was fixed to a cross or burnt alive like a human torch." Herod rolled his eyes. "It makes no difference in the end. The mothers of Israel name their new-borns after these martyrs, and another Simon or Judas appears
to be crucified anew."
      "But not John!" Salome pleaded. "I've heard say that John himself is the new Messiah."
      She reclined against her uncle's breast and closed her eyes in remembrance of his burning lips, his fiery gaze.
      Herodias was alarmed.
      "Herod, you should pursue the prophet John and punish him. Kill him before it's too late." She disliked the ascetic intensely.
      "He's crossing the Jordan into Perea this night," Chuza pursued. "He is in your territory! My troops can cut him down by morning."
      "Perea? A barren wilderness – useless to me. You know how much I drain in taxes each year from Galilee, just to cleanse those barren rocks of highway robbers and thieves? Now you want me to hunt down prophets and messiahs?"
      Herod Antipas recalled the circumstances of his strange inheritance, after Herod the Great had expired, a stinking mass of gangrene and disease. To one son, Archelaus, went Judea, the most important of the three kingdoms, where the Royal Palace stood in the upper city of Jerusalem. This kingdom included the large territory of Samaria to the north, where the Jordan flowed on its eastern flank, and the port of Caesarea opened to the Mediterranean on its west.
      To his next son – Herod Antipas himself – went Galilee, the smallest of the kingdoms, which bordered Samaria to the north. It touched the land of the Phoenicians on its west, and the lake of Gennesaret on its east. Around the shores of the lake, his capital Tiberias stood newly built in the Roman style. And nearby, the fishing villages of Capernaum and Magdala glistened in the morning sun. From the green rolling hills of



Galilee rose Mount Tabor and the farming villages of Cana and Nazareth. Herod Antipas also received Perea, the barren land east of Samaria on the far side of the Jordan, bordered by deserts and the Dead Sea.
      The last of the kingdoms went to Philip, who gained Auranitis, Trachonitis and Batanea – the large empty territories east of Lake Gennesaret. These were inhabited by nomadic tribes, and his half-brother soon stylized himself as a sheikh with camels and his court in an entourage of caravans.
      These three sons were the fortunate ones. Educated in Rome, they remained at a distance from the poisoned schemings that passed between all of Herod's ten grasping wives. Each promoted their chosen son as heir, and their plottings soon brought them dismissal, divorce or – in the case of his Hasmonean wife Mariamme – death. To eliminate them from succession, Mariamme's son Aristobulus and his half-brother Antipater were also executed by their father – just days before he expired.
      The beautiful Herodias, his wife now of seven years, never forgot those murders, since she was daughter of the executed Aristobulus, and was married before to another of his half-brothers – also named Herod; also disinherited.
      The Tetrarch glanced at Herodias, his niece by blood, his sister-in-law by her first marriage, and now his wife. She was beautiful but dangerous. Hasmonean blood ran in her veins, and the Herodians had always been at war with the Hasmoneans. Herod Antipas kept her by his side only because she, like him, had learned how to survive in the war of succession.
      Archelaus, unfortunately, had not. His brother, after ruling Judea for ten years as the most powerful of the Herodians, was removed by Rome and replaced by a Roman prefect. From the huge Antonia fortress overlooking the Temple, Pontius Pilate now ruled according to the ius gladii – 'the law of the sword'.



As Tiberius' envoy, he closely watched over his subjects and reported their every move to Rome.
      Whenever in Jerusalem, Herod Antipas and his family resided in the Royal Palace. These pleasant, airy, and incensed rooms, hung with golden tapestries and warmed by the braziers' fire, lurked with servants, traitors and spies. Herod Antipas had to watch his every step. He had learned from his father to style himself as philokaisar – 'the emperor's friend'. Though Jewish in origin – descended from the deserts of Idumea – Herod co-operated with Rome in each new scheme devised by Tiberius.
      "Eliminating the Baptist does not play into our hands," Herod announced. Salome nestled herself into her uncle's murex robes, staring at Chuza like a cat.
      "But he called the Emperor a bastard and the Romans beasts!" the vizier cried. "I would have cut him down if it were not for..." he stopped, staring at Salome, who blinked at him with her eyebrows raised, daring him to continue.
      He resumed pacing back and forth, feeling trapped once more. If he betrayed Salome now, he would pay for it with his life later on. She had the comely face of her mother, and the tyrannical blood of her grandfather coursing through her veins.
      "He insulted Annas and the High Priest, calling them impure!" Chuza continued, venting his anger.
      At this, Herod laughed, joined by Herodias and Salome.
      "For years those Sadducaic priests have smeared themselves in blood and oil, profiting from the sacrifices." Herod's great belly heaved with mirth. "John spoke like a true prophet!"
      Chuza stopped pacing and stood resignedly at the centre of the darkened chamber. He realized he would not be able to eliminate the Baptist.
      "Then let us at least observe him! We must watch over his movements," the vizier demanded of his king. "The prophet will lead us to the one he predicts is the Messiah."
      "Go!" Herod yelled with a wave of his hand. "Follow him, fall at his feet, confess your sins, if you wish... But his blood will not baptize your sword!"
      "I will leave for Perea this evening, my Tetrarch..."
      Herod turned his head to look at his vizier, a man he respected very much. But there was something stinging this warrior like a gadfly.
      "Why is it that you want the Baptist killed?" Herod asked at last.
      For the first time, the vizier felt that he had the king's ear.
      "If you heard him speak, my Lord, you would understand the threat he poses to your rule."
      "Did he speak against Herod?" Herodias asked.
      "He said nothing against you!" Salome interjected, placing her hand on Herod's hand with its many rings and jewels.
      "Then why this threat to my rule?" Herod demanded of Chuza. He cupped Salome's hand in his own.

      "Because of the Messiah!" cried Annas, turning to Caiaphas. "John speaks like the prophets of old, calling for floods and conflagrations! He also calls for the Messiah. And never in my long life have I believed in the coming of the Messiah – until today..."
      The High Priest stood up, alarmed. He waved away his scribes, astronomers, and fire-senders so as to consult with Annas in private. The young Annanos remained by his father's side.
      "...Another messiah?" Caiaphas whispered.



      His mind reeled. Would he, as High Priest, have to bloody his hands with messiahs – as Annas had done when he wore the robe of the Ephod? To eliminate Athronges the shepherd, Annas had to rally the Sanhedrin, beg Herod the Great, even petition Rome...
      "There are so many prophecies in the scriptures. How will we recognize him?" Caiaphas called out in desperation.
      Annas froze. Those same words had broke from the lips of the crazed monk in the crowd. Did the Messiah come only when called – when the same burning question alighted from the lips of all his people?
      Caiaphas began pacing back and forth, summoning all his powers of concentration.
      "Will he come as a warrior? A wise man? A prophet? Or even as the High Priest?" Caiaphas was striking his temples with his fists.
      Annas remained strangely taciturn, trying to recall the Baptist's prophecies.
      Frightened by this silence, Annanos reminded his elders, "The prophets called him 'the Son', a descendant from the kingly line of David. But he will also come as a Malakh, one of God's angels or messengers... he is the Son of Man... and the Son of God!" Annanos became frightened by his own words.
      "The Word..." Annas said, lost in thought. "John called him 'the Illuminator of Knowledge'... saying he himself was the Voice, but the Messiah would come as the Word."
      "The prophecy of Bileam!" Caiaphas bellowed, raising his hands to the heavens. "There, in the Book of Numbers: <I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star shall come out of Jacob and a sceptre will rise out of Israel.> (Num 24:17) The star was the great sign in the heavens, which the Magi
followed at his birth three decades ago. And now John has been given the next sign – the Messiah is coming, fully-grown, with a sceptre in his hand!"
      Annas cried aloud, as if giving birth to a basilisk in his brain: "The Five Seals!"
      The night was silent. On the rooftop of the Temple, three trembling figures gazed at one another in the flickering light of the menorah. Around them, all was blackness.
      "You will recognize him because he will come bearing Five Seals," the Elder recalled at last. "That is what the Baptist prophesied."
      "But what are they?" Caiaphas asked, trembling.
      "They are power!" Annas announced. "The Five Seals grant power to their bearer – immeasurable power, sacred power, the power to rule as Messiah."
      Each of them stared wide-eyed at each other, the blacks of their eyes illuminated by the menorah's flames. Each was imagining, beside the robe of the Ephod, the sceptre with Five Seals.
      "You wear the robes of the High Priest," Annas said to Caiaphas, who nodded gravely. "You alone are deemed sufficiently pure to enter the Holy of Holies once a year, on the Feast of Atonement, and speak the unpronounceable name of YHWH. I too have entered that sacred enclosure and whispered the sacred tetragrammaton. But I ask you now, before my youngest son and the last of my line... tell me Caiaphas, with your mystical ways of seeing – what do you see that moment?"
      "Beyond the veil?" Caiaphas shuddered.
      "Yes, in the Holy of Holies."
      Caiaphas bowed his head, silent and ashamed. Tears came



to his eyes; his large face reddened. He could not speak.
      "You see nothing..." Annas announced.
      "Nothing..." Caiaphas whispered, his voice broken.
      "I too could find nothing within – neither see nor feel the holy Presence. The Holy of Holies is empty."
      "Is it because we are impure, as this Baptist says?" Caiaphas wondered, tears running down his face. "Have we lost the secret name – lost it like the Ark of the Covenant – because we are not the true Sons of Zadok?"
      Annas embraced Caiaphas, his chosen son, stroking the black curls on his head. Annanos felt all that they felt, his eyes burning with tears.
      "Our power is there..." Annas pronounced, "beyond the veil, within the Holy of Holies – but we cannot see it! We cannot seize it! For you Caiaphas, and for you Annanos my youngest, I swear to you, we shall obtain the Five Seals. So that, with their power, the rule of the ancient priesthood will fall to us..."
      A tacit oath bound all three of them that moment, born from the blood they shared in their veins, and the inheritance that blinded their priestly vision.
      "Then we must send out our priests," Caiaphas decided, "dressed in commoner's clothes, to join the Baptist's disciples and follow him."
      "– to lead us to the Messiah..."

      "Yes. And when the Messiah comes," Chuza announced to Herod, "we will cut him down, as your father tried to do on the day of his birth. It is your destiny."
      "I have no destiny!" Herod bellowed in anger. "My fate is not ruled by any confluence of stars in the heavens! I rule, here
on earth, and my kingdom follows my every command."
      "You speak of power, my lord," Chuza said, leading him on. "But a wise king anticipates all threats to his rule. The Messiah is not a teacher, a prophet or High Priest – he is a warrior and a conqueror, heir to the throne of David. The Messiah comes to usurp your rule!"
      "With what? A handful of followers, whipping up rebellion through speeches and prophecies?"
      "No!" Chuza cried, his anger still rising. "The confluence of stars in the heavens was the first sign. The Baptist has given us the second..." The darkened chamber was spinning round him.
      "The Five Seals..." came the voice, soft and sweet, like the rustle of doves' feathers. The child, Salome, had spoken.
      Chuza turned and stared at the child, amazed. He could see she was trembling with fear.
      "The Five Seals," came Salome's voice again, breaking with tears. "John said that the one who comes after him would bring five seals. I became frightened, because I knew he spoke the truth. It will be terrible for all of us..."
      Herodias took the crying child in her arms, beseeching her husband, "What are they, that they frighten her so much?"
      For the first time, Herod rose from his couch and walked about the chamber. He stopped by the window and looked out. The night was black, without any moon.
      "They are power," Herod announced, "earthly power! The power to unleash armies, chariots and swords to rule the land. My father, for all his greed and madness, was no fool. He followed the Magi and their stars, because he knew the Messiah would come like a warrior, holding in his hand the one weapon that could defeat him."



      Herod continued to stare into the blackened night. Faced with the unknown, each of them imagined what this weapon might be. Alliance with another kingdom? A new type of weapon? Drought? A plague?
      "Chuza!" Herod commanded. "You will send soldiers in disguise, to mingle with the Baptist's converts and disciples. I will not have you go, for fear that he will recognize you. When a new sign of the saviour is given, we will be notified immediately."
      With his fist on his heart, Chuza bowed his head. "My Lord."
      "And when the Messiah comes," Herod concluded, "we will have his Five Seals for ourselves, even if it means his death."


      The corpse had been anointed with sweet-smelling nard and swathed in funereal bands, then laid out with its head to the east. A slender tallow, clutched in rigid hands, illuminated all that remained of Allogenes' earthly existence.
      As morning came, the eldest of the monks filed into his narrow cell. Standing near the lectern, Melchizedek observed this odd procession, recognizing each of his brothers in turn. The withered ascetics and wizened rabbis nodded to Allogenes, as if, to a passing stranger.
      There followed the scribes and copyists, hunched over, squinting, with dark rings around their eyes. Their tunics were torn and dirt fell from their hair as they ritually beat their breasts in mourning for Allogenes. To them, he was the great
librarian, who alone had amassed their treasure house of manuscripts.
      While the members of the monastery, from the highest to the lowest, filed into Allogenes' narrow chamber – who among them, Melchizedek wondered, was the one?
      Finally came the students and apprentices. Some were rabbis in training, others were craftsmen learning one of the many trades that flourished in the monastery: stonecarving, woodworking, herbs and medicine.
      'Here, among the young...' Melchizedek thought in his heart. The youths passed, bowing their heads in sadness and incomprehension. Their eyes burning, their faces black from the fire, some still had tears to shed for their Great Teacher.
      Most of them, Melchizedek noticed, responded in the usual way when confronted by death: they were overcome by pain and a feeling of powerlessness. Only three reacted differently – the one named Simon, whom they all called Cephas. And the two they called the twins – Jesus and Judas.
      Melchizedek observed Cephas as he paid his last respects to the dead. A well-built youth with curly hair, his ruddy cheeks rose above a full red beard. He was the most enthusiastic of the future rabbis, a man fired by passion and conviction.
      With a furrowed brow, Cephas was gazing at Allogenes' stilled aspect, trying to comprehend the expression on his face and what it portrayed – that strange, placid smile...
      Then came Judas. He and Jesus, the inseparables, resembled each other so much that they nicknamed him Tauma, 'the twin'. Only his grey eyes distinguished him from his double.
      This unfortunate youth, abandoned by his parents in Kerioth, had begged to be admitted to the cloister in Galilee.



Though he became a gifted apprentice, working equally well in wood and stone, the Iscariot also manifest a remarkable intelligence, marred only by brooding fits of melancholy.
      Now, silent and watchful as always, Judas alone, of all the apprentices, accepted the old man's death. Showing neither sadness nor denial, he acknowledged Allogenes' demise with an austere and stoic fortitude.
      After him came the fiery youth with the restless heart. Of slender build, tall and dark, this son of Nazareth always spoke with passion and conviction. His voice was soft and melodious, his slender hands made the most remarkable gestures, and his immense black eyes were illuminated always by invisible fires dancing within.
      Although Jesus was an avid student of the Torah and a skilful apprentice in woodworking, he seemed always to be seeking, never finding. And even now, faced with Allogenes' stiffened corpse, he was alert and alive, confronted by the mysteries it awakened.
      'Which one?' Melchizedek wondered in his heart.
      Outside the window, the rising sun was soon obscured by billowing smoke.
      At last, the entire congregation had crowded into Allogenes' cell, and Melchizedek raised his hands to address them.
      "I have come back from Jerusalem, having heard the true voice of prophecy!" His powerful voice shook. "John, the Immerser from the Jordan, has given us a name for the events breaking round us. We have seen the fields dry up and the harvest consumed by fire – he has called this the second of the great parousias.
      "The first parousia was recorded by Moses, where he says
in Genesis that the earth was cleansed by water, and the survivors of that mighty Deluge were few indeed. Now the reckoning is by fire! At the behest of Allogenes, I have brought back with me a sacred book which prophesies these events. It recounts the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things..."
      Melchizedek raised up the book for all to see. The scribes and copyists trembled at the presence of this new manuscript.
      "<Before the consummation of the age, the whole place will shake with great thundering," Melchizedek cried, his voice resounding like the prophet's. "The sun will become dark, and the moon will cause its light to cease!>" (Orig Wld 125:32)
      Everyone in the room called to mind the last seven nights: moonless nights delaying the new year – making time stand still.
      "<The stars of the sky will cancel their circuits," their Father continued. "And a great clap of thunder will rent the heavens. One upon the next, the heavens will fall and the earth be consumed by fire. They will fall into the abyss, and the abyss will be overturned!>" (Orig Wld 126:12)
      Melchizedek paused. He lowered his voice, and spoke to them as one who shared a great secret: "<Then a light will pierce the darkness and obliterate it. It will be like something that has never been...>" (Orig Wld 126:35)
      Melchizedek scanned the congregation, and his eyes fell once more on the three youths.
      "Come here, Cephas!" he commanded. "Take up the book. Open it to any page near the end – and read from it."
      Hesitantly, Cephas took the precious manuscript from the elder, and unfolded it. Peering into the book as if into the depths of time, he read its prophecy.
      "<Darkness will be preferred to light, and death will be



preferred to life.> (NH Ascl 72:17) <And he who is dead will not be mourned as much as he who is alive...>" (NH Ascl 71:22) Cephas stopped, and looked down at the dead body that was laid out before them. He trembled. Is that why the Great Teacher was smiling?
       "Take the book, Jesus," Melchizedek commanded. "Read!"
      Cephas handed the codex to the Nazarene, relieved to be freed from its burden of truth.
      The son of Nazareth opened the book anew and read another prophecy, his voice rising and falling in waves. "<No one will gaze into heaven. The good man will be punished like a criminal; the pious man will be counted as insane. And the sacred voice, speaking the word of God, will be silenced...>" (NH Ascl 72:19) His eyes glistening in their blackness, the Nazarene stared mysteriously at Melchizedek.
      "Give the book to Judas," the elder cried. "Read!"
      Judas took up the book. He tried to remain unaffected by all he said, but still his voice broke with emotion. "<All of Mankind will wail and scream at their deaths. Then the age will begin, when kings become intoxicated with the fiery sword, and wage wars against each other. The earth will be poisoned with bloodshed.> (Orig Wld 126:3) <The rivers will flow with more blood than water. And the dead bodies will be stacked higher than their banks.>" (NH Ascl 71:15)
      "In this manner," Melchizedek announced, "<the heavens and the earth will be rolled up in your presence.> (Gs Thom 51:6) The second parousia is upon us. What is the way through?"
      The venerable Father looked at his monks, one after the other, who trembled with fear. The silence was prolonged by
their unwillingness to respond. At last, his eyes came to rest upon Judas.
      The young apprentice shuddered. He knew there was no way to escape the Conflagration. But a voice from within responded otherwise.
      "The Messiah..." Judas whispered.
      The room was absolutely still. Only thin ethereal clouds of incense moved through shafts of light from the round transit. The spirit of Allogenes hovered over the chamber, like the swirling film of frankincense from the censer near his bundled corpse.
      "In Jerusalem," the elder said, his low voice barely rising above a whisper, "John has spoken that awaited prophecy. And Allogenes, our Great Teacher, confirmed it to me last night before he died. This is the beginning of the end. The saviour is coming <to illuminate those who dwell in darkness> (Tri Prot 46:31) – so has the Baptist said."
      "But how will we recognize him?" Cephas cried. His broad shoulders were shaking, as if, from the weight of that question.
      Melchizedek shivered, recognizing the words which he himself had cried in Jerusalem, and which now broke from the lips of this innocent youth.
      "<The Illuminator of Knowledge> (Ap Adam 76:9) will come bearing Five Seals – that is the Baptist's prophecy," he announced.
      Everyone in the room turned to one another in awe. Judas raised a questioning eyebrow at Jesus. But Melchizedek silenced them all.
      "The Messiah is among us," he intoned gravely, "– like a Word that will finally break the silence. <He will provide an end for what has begun, and a beginning to the end.>" (2Ap Jas 58:10)



      "Then... have you laid bare the beginning?" came an impassioned cry from behind him.
      Melchizedek turned, surprised to hear so many emotions mingling in a single voice. He encountered the beseeching features of Jesus. The youth was burning with desire to know.
      "<Have you laid bare the beginning?" the Nazarene repeated. "So that, now, you seek the end?>" (Gs Thom 36:11)
      "The Baptist has prophesied the end," Melchizedek answered. "Why would you search out the beginning?"
      "<Because the end will be where the beginning is,>" (Gs Thom 36:11) Jesus replied mysteriously.
      Melchizedek was struck by wonder into silence. Was this the voice of Wisdom, speaking through the youth in so many riddles? Was this the sign which they had been awaiting?
      "If it is knowledge of the beginning you seek," the old man countered, "then you must turn to the sacred book..."
      Jesus looked down at the codex which Judas was still holding in his hands.
      "The first book of The Torah," Melchizedek continued, "where Genesis gives us knowledge of the beginning and the fall."
      "But master," Judas now said, in one mind with his twin, "did you not say that this book recounts the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things?"
      The elder tore the manuscript from Judas' grasp and held it aloft. "This is The Poimandres – the Egyptian book of revelation!"
      Having heard its timely prophecies, they all marvelled at the manuscript.
      Calmly, the Father of the monastery reminded them: "In this cloistered place we pursue Wisdom's teachings, as our
Great Teacher Allogenes first advised us when he founded this institution. Among us are former Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes – all living and teaching side by side. Nor do we refrain from learning Greek or studying the pagan philosophers..."
      Then his voice rose: "But the story of the beginning, as revealed in this book, is forbidden to you!"
      They all turned to one another in confusion, even the eldest among them. Never had they seen their venerable teacher speak like this. He seemed to be a different man. Melchizedek scanned the congregation, his piercing grey eyes afire.
      "It is forbidden fruit! As the Lord warned Adam in Genesis <– you shall not touch it, nor shall you lay your eyes upon it – lest your eyes be opened, and you become like God.>" (Gen 3:2 - 5)
      The new Father of the monastery paused, awaiting their respect and obeisance. All bowed their heads in supplication.
      After he had calmed himself, the elder began again:
      "Let us now pray in remembrance of our Great Teacher, who went to his rest knowing that Wisdom's Word would be spoken, and her prophecy fulfilled."
      Melchizedek held out his arms and bowed his head.
      "<Holy are you, Holy are you, Holy are you, O Father of the All, who truly exists.> (Melch 16:15) <Do not let the days of this world be prolonged for me. Deliver me from this place of sojourn! Save me from an evil death and bring me from the tomb alive, out of your grace. Love is alive in me to accomplish your work of fullness! Because you are the Life of life! Forgive me all my debts from the days of my life. Because I am alive in you, and your grace is alive in me. For now is the time and the hour of our salvation, and the coming of the light. Amen>" (2Ap Jas 62:16)



      As one, the congregation repeated, "Amen." Melchizedek held his hands over Allogenes' body.
      "Bless your servant Allogenes. May his soul be <made holy through the light of that Power who is exalted above all others – the all-encompassing One.> (Gr Pow 47:9) <Protect him, clothe him in the holy garment, which neither darkness can touch nor fire burn.> (Gr Pow 46:14) Grant him <knowledge of the Great Power, to become invisible through it, so the flames will not consume him, but only purge him of his possessions.> (Gr Pow 36:3) <Give back the body to those who gave it to him.> (Auth T 32:16) <Let neither flesh nor desire drag him down, so he may enter the immeasurable light.> (Gr Pow 46:8) <Let him enter the aeon of beauty, ready in wisdom, giving glory to the incomprehensible Oneness. And so he will shine, as a reflection in its light, finding rest in its rest. Amen.>" (Gr Pow 47:15)
      While the hunchbacked porter prepared the body for burial, the congregation filed out of Allogenes' cell in silence.
      Taking up the book in hand, Melchizedek paused to remember his former master. He noted the lines of sagacity etched into the elder's visage – the beguiling smile of wisdom.
      Departing from the chamber, Melchizedek struggled to express neither sadness nor joy as a gentle rain began to fall.


      That night, Jesus lay in his bed, unable to sleep. His heart beat like the rain on the cedar roof. From the bed opposite came a steady breathing, its shallow rise and fall a sign that Judas must be sleeping. Except for these gentle rhythms, the whitewashed cell where the two apprentices slept was utterly dark and silent.
      Where did those words come from? he asked himself frightfully, alone in the darkness. Why did I speak them? 'The end will be where the beginning is'. What could that possibly mean..?
      Ever since he was a child, he had heard an inner voice. The heavenly words came to his lips, unbidden, and he had to clench his teeth for fear they would tumble unchecked from his mouth. Whose voice? It came, soft and caressing, like the muted tones of his mother, whispering her lullabies in his ear. Was it the voice of Wisdom? But at times, it thundered, cold and commanding, like the cry of heavenly eagles or angels. Was it the Messiah? Did he hear the call of the Anointed One echoing in his own breast? Did he want to stand, like John, before a crowd and open his mouth with neither forethought nor reflection to deliver God's word?
      The Nazarene cowered in his bed, clutching the covers over his mouth. Still, the rain beat incessantly on the cedar roof.
      He knew he could never be an instrument of God – he was a coward, a frightened lamb hiding in the eagle's shadow...
      Slowly, the rain subsided and his mind drifted to an earlier time, when he had acted without fear. When still a child, he lived one summer in Magdala, playing with Mary his cousin: she was, to him, the sister he never had. They stood on the rocks high above Lake Gennesaret, their tunics wet from swimming. Her skin was dark like his, and her hair – black as the bottom of the sea – fell in long tight curls. Looking down at the watery expanse, she dared him to jump. Jutting out from the shore were sharp limestones. His fear was overwhelming.
      His cousin squeezed his hand, then flung herself from the cliff. He watched, amazed, as she fell, turning helplessly, until she was swallowed by the waves below. Fear gave way to ecstasy as, a moment later, he too jumped, turning like her, then hitting the sea and descending into watery darkness. When he



surfaced Miri was beside him, embracing him and laughing wildly with childish joy.
      He called her 'Miri' in their native Aramaic. To him she was 'my sister, my bride', the lily and the rose in the Song of Songs. They loved each other from the time that they were children. Years would pass, they would meet again, now older, and their love would still be there. As he became a man and she a woman, they knew they could never live as husband and wife. But their love for each other remained unchanged.
      That summer in Magdala they slept together on the roof. Under the stars, his nine year old cousin dared him to fling away his tunic. Again, he was afraid and, again, she led the way. Miri removed her linen vestment, showing him her nakedness in the moonlight. He responded in turn, unafraid, unashamed. Then they slept, two children embracing under the morning sky.
      <Now a garden locked is my sister, my bride...> (Songs 4:12)
      Was it the fault of their grandparents, Adam and Eve? After Eve had led Adam to the tree, and they had consumed its forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened, and they saw that they were two – a man and a woman. They had been one in the beginning, for she was flesh of his flesh. But now, they could see, nakedly and in shame, that they were different. Even after he had known her as his wife, re-uniting with her in the flesh, Adam remained separate from Eve, apart, alone. They had fallen, and were accursed by God.
      Was that the beginning? the youth wondered in the darkness. He felt the terrible tragedy of his grandparents' unknowing error.
      "Kings become intoxicated with... the Messiah..." Judas
mumbled, then turned over in his bed. He was talking in his sleep – fragments from the day that returned to him and re-assembled in the night.
      'The end will be where the beginning is,' Jesus called to mind once more. To know how the end will come, he decided, you must know what truly happened in the beginning. That was the sense of his mysterious utterance...
      The youth rose from his bed and stepped softly to the window. The rain had given way to a gentle mist that silhouetted all forms in the moonlight. There was, he noticed, a moon tonight – full, almost red. I must know...
      He wrapped a woollen cloak over his linen tunic, and gathered up a few things: a clay lamp, some flints, his sandals... Then, lifting the latch as quietly as possible, he slipped barefoot out the door.
      Seconds later, Judas rose from his bed. He too gathered a few necessary things and then followed silently. Knowing the other's mind, he had no doubt as to where he was headed.
      Though the full moon hung low in the heavens, there was little light in the shadow of the cloisters. With lamps unlit, each penetrated blindly into the darkness, neither seeing nor hearing the other.
      Slipping his feet into his sandals, Jesus tread softly over the muddy earth near the stables. Frightened by sounds in the darkness, a heifer dropped its head to its chest and lowed; a gelding pawed the earth and snorted. Silently as possible, the Nazarene turned his steps toward the scriptorium.
      Judas went by way of the refectory, padding over its hard flagstones in bare feet. By circling round the courtyard, his movements were obscured by the colonnade, and he could observe the interior of the scriptorium unseen. Stepping round



one of the columns, he was met by Melchizedek.
      The tall monk towered over him, a stern and expectant look in his eyes.
      "Tauma," he said to Judas, "I was rather expecting your twin, or at least the two of you together. But you – alone..?"
      "I knew you would be waiting here," Judas replied, "so I came to you directly..."

      Jesus scratched a flint and lit a twisted fragment of papyrus, setting it into the mouth of the clay oil lamp. Its dull flame illuminated the scriptorium walls, lined with books and scrolls. He quickly found the forbidden manuscript, bound in soft leather. It had been sealed shut, but otherwise there was no pretence of hiding it or locking it away.
      Installing himself with a scribe's kit and papyrus, he pried open the seal, then unfolded the book to its beginning. Scanning the first page, his eyes fell upon the words: "<In an instant everything was immediately open to me. I saw an endless vision in which everything became light...>" (CH I.4)
      The story of the beginning passed silently over his lips, unfolding before him in a manner utterly unlike the account in Genesis. He saw the beginning of the world, as in a vision. He saw the darkness separate from light and descend into the depths, coiling sinuously like a serpent. He saw the light rise, and from it came a clear and holy Word, luminous and glowing. Then the serpent in the darkness roared like a lion, releasing a senseless cry, all unordered and unmeaning.
      All of this was a vision recorded by an Egyptian sage. And a voice said to the sage: "<In your mind, you have seen the archetypal form, the preprinciple that exists before a beginning without end.>" (CH I.8)
      Furiously, the Nazarene began transcribing those words, without even understanding their sense. But his eyes raced ahead in the text, and his sight was blinded by the next moment in creation.
      He saw the source of all light and life, the supreme God who engendered all luminous and living beings. And this supreme God was neither male, nor female, but both: an
androgyne. And those beings in the upper heavens whom he engendered were also bisexual, as two-in-one.
      The Nazarene's vision expanded, and he saw the heavens being formed in seven concentric circles, with a governor over each of the spheres. But the creator of the heavens was a craftsman called the Demiurge. This craftsman even created a Man like himself, the First Man or Anthropos, and planted in him a knowledge of the seven spheres. But from the upper heavens, the Anthropos turned his gaze downwards.
      In the darkness below, the elements of earth, air, fire and water mixed with one another, forming Nature. And when the First Man looked at himself in her watery abyss, he saw his own reflection in Nature's pool. And Nature herself smiled back at him, loving all that she saw. <When the Man saw in the water the form like himself in Nature, he loved it... Nature took hold of her beloved, hugged him all about and embraced him, for they were lovers.> (CH I.14) As the heavenly Anthropos and earthly Nature united, they became one being, masculine and feminine, in spirit and in flesh – an androgyne...
      The youth recorded this passage, his reed furiously bleeding its ink into the papyrus. Then he paused, trying to understand all he had transcribed.
      This man – the First Man, like Adam – had fallen in love with Nature, his Eve, since he found in her his own watery reflection. From heaven, his spirit had plunged into her earthen body, and from those austere heights he had surrendered himself into her loving embrace. There was no shame in their falleness; no nakedness, no curse upon their union. The fall came about through love...
      "<This is the mystery that has been kept hidden until this very day...>" (CH I.16)
      Jesus paused, repeating to himself the hidden and forbidden truth about the beginning: the fall came about through love...