Sarah wanted Thor to herself. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy the company of the others; she was coming to love them. They were like him in a way - rascals. They were bright, funny, and opinionated souls, filled to overflowing with an exuberance for life. In short, they were Israelis.
But Sarah wanted some time alone with her man. What she wanted to show him was personal. Catching a cab, they drove the short distance to the Garden of Gethsemane, a walled grove of ancient and gnarled olive trees on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. Sarah walked with Thor among the ancient trees. "Some of these, they say, may have been saplings when Jesus visited this place. If only they could share what they witnessed on that chilly spring night."
Wandering between the trees, touching them as if his spirit might still linger, Sarah smiled. "Thor, last night we talked about how Islam was based on the Bible, and how Muhammad, being illiterate, goofed everything up. Naturally, those who knew better, Christians and Jews, ridiculed him." She sighed. "That in turn caused the thin-skinned Prophet to overreact, to hate the ‘People of the Book’ as he calls us."
"Strong words, Sarah. I trust there’s substance behind them."
"I’m confident that between the Knesset meeting tomorrow afternoon, and the one scheduled with our guys the following morning, you’re going to have more irrefutable evidence than you can handle. However, facts alone aren’t sufficient. The Qur’an can’t be understood apart from the Bible. And the Bible can’t be understood apart from Jesus. But put it all together and you’ll see Muhammad for the fraud he was and you’ll understand why we’re being terrorized by his followers."
"We’re here to connect the dots, Sarah. And in dot to dot, if you want a clear picture, you have to go by the numbers. I’ve read enough to know that the first dot is Abraham; the second is Moses. The third, I suspect, is Jesus. The forth is clearly Muhammad himself, and if my radar is locked on, the final dot in this matrix is Muhammad’s legacy - terror."
Sarah nodded. "With that in mind, I want to share what I know about the last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life."
She found a comfortable spot. "Prior to his triumphant entry into the city in front of us, Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen. He said, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, where I will be betrayed. The religious leaders will condemn me to death and will hand me over to the Romans, who will kill me.’"
"Sounds like fun."
"Yeah. But in the same breath he told them, ‘Three days later I will rise from the dead.’ That all led to the last supper and later that evening to this place, the Garden of Gethsemane." Sarah walked around one of the older trees, brushing her hand against it.
The soldier smiled, intrigued. He was always fascinated by how great men handled adversity. He knew that this, above all else, provided the ultimate window into their souls, revealing their true character. He was also curious: having heard so many troubling things about Muhammad, he wondered if Jesus was any different.
"At the conclusion of the last supper, Jesus announced, ‘A new commandment I give to you: Love one another as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.’ Then he said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’"
"Not through Allah’s Messenger?"
"Nope. Sorry," Sarah said softly. "It just isn’t rational to claim, as the ‘Prophet’ did, that Jesus is a source of divine revelation but not the gateway to God. Not after what Jesus said. One of them is lying."
She shared, "Muhammad’s claim that Jesus was a prophet, a great moral teacher just like him - but not the Son of God - isn’t possible. Jesus was either God, or he was a liar - a miracle-working lunatic who only claimed to be God. He left us with no other choices. On this one premise alone," Sarah told Thor, "Muhammad destroyed the credibility of Islam."
"Something just dawned on me. If the Bible is inspired by a real God, then Islam is a fraud because everything’s different. But if the Bible is not inspired, then Islam is a fraud because Allah says it is. Either way, they lose." Thor clenched his fist.
"Lose, lose," Sarah repeated before refocusing on the account. "Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the father and that will be enough.’" She alternated voices between characters to make them come alive. "Jesus answered, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the father. Believe me when I say I am God; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.’"
"‘I will ask the Father to give you the spirit of truth.’ Remember, he said he was the truth. So now he’s saying that his spirit was going to live within them. That’s what makes Christianity a relationship, not a religion. There are no real rituals. Anytime you see them in the practice of Christianity - or any religion - run. You’re looking at a scheme someone has concocted to manipulate people."
"What about that communion thing?"
"All Jesus said during the last supper was, ‘When you eat bread and drink wine, remember my sacrifice. Where’s the ritual in that?"
Sarah smiled. "Jesus said, ‘Because I live, you will live also. My Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?"
"I think so," he nodded.
"Well, this is clear. Jesus’ life had a bigger impact on the world than anybody’s, so by getting to know him better you’ll understand the world better, including Islam." Sarah smiled. "And who knows? You might even figure me out."
They sat on a white stone bench near one of the oldest trees. From their vantage point they could see the Eastern Gate of the old city, the Temple Mount, and the Muslim Dome defiling it. Sarah returned to the story. "‘My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Don’t be troubled, and don’t be afraid.’ Comforting words, aren’t they?"
"Amazing words from a guy who knows he’s about to be crucified."
"Jesus was thinking of that when he told his disciples, ‘I am going away.’ That’s a nice way of saying, ‘tomorrow they’re going to beat me to a bloody pulp and hang me from a tree,’" Sarah paraphrased. "‘But I will come back to you,’ he said. ‘I am telling you this now, before it happens, so when it comes to pass you will understand and believe. I will not speak with you much longer, for the ruler of this world is coming.’"
"He’s speaking of Lucifer, Satan, the Prince of Darkness." She faced Thor. "Jesus told his disciples, ‘I have shared these things to make your joy complete. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ You know something about that don’t you, soldier boy?"
"Yes. We do it for one another."
"Precisely. But then Christ gave his disciples the bad news: ‘If they hate and persecute me, they will hate and persecute you also. They will treat you this way because of my name,’ Christian, ‘for they do not know God.’ Now catch this. He said, ‘I have told you all of this so that you won’t go astray. A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.’ Sound familiar?"
Thor looked stunned. "That’s scary. The Muslims are doing exactly what he said would happen. The Qur’an is full of surahs that order them to kill Christians on behalf of Allah."
"Yep. Jesus told his followers to expect this. Muslims think they’re doing God a service by killing us. It’s one of the Qur’an’s most dominant themes."
A warm breeze made its way up the valley, caressing them. She read from John’s Gospel. "Then Jesus prayed, saying, ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah, whom you have sent.’ Then he said, ‘My prayer isn’t that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one,’ Satan. ‘And my prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.’ He prayed for you, Thor Adams."
"Yes." For Adams, this was timely. He was on a mission. He had come to the unshakable conclusion that he was on the verge of discovering something important.
Sarah stood and leaned against a tree. She touched its leaves, felt its bark. "When he had finished praying, Jesus and his disciples crossed the Kidron Valley, right there, in front of us. They went into this olive grove.
"Jesus asked his disciples to sit here while he prayed. Then he took Peter, John, and James aside. These were the same three guys he had revealed himself to in his transfigured, or heavenly form. On that day, God the Father spoke directly to them, personally telling the disciples, ‘This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him.’"
"That would’ve gotten my attention."
With one hand resting on his shoulder, Sarah explained, "On the last night of Jesus’ earthly life he knew what was going to happen. He knew he was going to be mocked by the High Priests and imprisoned in a dungeon. And that was the good part. The following morning he could look forward to flagellation, a whipping that ripped the skin from his body, followed by his coronation - with a crown of needle-sharp thorns. Then, just for fun, in the afternoon he got to attend his own crucifixion."
Standing behind him, she rested her arms on his shoulders. "And he could have willed it all away. He was God. He had the power to do that. Yet in order to demonstrate how much he loved us, he ignored every insult, felt every lash, endured every nail, and bore the agony of a suffocating death."
Thor reached up and grasped her slender wrists in his huge hands. He recalled all the anguish he had endured and witnessed during his life as a soldier. It paled in comparison.
"Jesus was grieved," Sarah explained. "Ultimately, the worst thing he had to suffer in order to make us right with God was to experience the pain of separation. And that process started in this place."
She looked at him. "Jesus said to his disciples. ‘Arise! I am being betrayed into the hands of sinners.’" Sarah narrated the encounter. "‘Who do you want?’ he asked. "‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ ‘I am he.’
"Peter, the impetuous fisherman, pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of one of the High Priest’s slaves. Personally, I think he was goin’ for his head. Jesus calmly picked it up and put it back on, healing him. He even scolded Peter: "If I needed help, I would have twelve legions of angels at my disposal." But bound to duty, those who came to seize Jesus simply tied him up and brought him to the High Priest.
The streets were deserted as they headed down the valley, south along the eastern wall of the old city. The cab veered right, then left, up the hill past some ruins. They arrived at a twentieth century Catholic church, one covering the site of what many believe to have been the house of Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest.
With virtually no tourists, the cab driver was more than happy to wait. Making their way down from the parking lot, Thor and Sarah looked out at the remains of the City of David. The priest responsible for the church joined them. They were the first visitors he had seen in some time.
"Why did these Arabs built their homes right on top of the ruins?"
"Oh, there’s no lack of archeological sites here. It’s no big deal."
Adams was taken aback by the priest’s callous remark. "I think the Jews might disagree. David was their greatest King."
"There are plenty of other places, that’s all."
The priest turned and started to walk away. "Don’t you want to see inside?" he asked. "If so, you’d better follow me."
The priest stopped in front of the church’s bronze doors. He delivered a prolonged dissertation about who built them, ending by saying, "Do you know why Jesus is depicted on our door holding up three fingers?"
"No," Sarah said hesitantly.
Boy Scout salute? Thor thought but had the good sense not to say it.
"It’s because peoples of three different faiths, Muslims, Jews, and Catholics, had a hand in building these doors. It is our hope that we can all come together as one."
Sarah looked at Thor and whispered, "In essence, he just told us it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you believe in something."
Inside, the priest bubbled happily about the stained glass and fancy mosaics. Sarah began to pace. When she couldn’t take it any longer, she interrupted the priest by complimenting him. "The depiction of Jesus on this wall standing near Caiaphas is interesting - it shows him to be a tall man. If the Shroud of Turin is his actual burial cloth, and I think it is, then Jesus was five-foot-ten or eleven, a good five or six inches taller than the average Jew of his age."
The Priest’s smile was short lived. Sarah said, "But your crucifixion scene is wrong. You depict him being nailed through the palm, not the wrist. That’s not possible."
Allergic to constructive criticism, the young priest abruptly turned and walked away. Mission accomplished, Sarah took Thor down to the dungeon. It was enormous, carved out of solid rock. Secured behind bars, well under ground, prisoners would have been condemned to suffer in darkness, breathing stale air. Eyelets were cut into the stone where men had been suspended by their arms and legs, then beaten with whips.
"Want to hear something awful? The reason they know this was the house of the High Priest is because of the dungeon. Is that sick, or what?" Sarah had been here before. "Jesus was imprisoned in solitary confinement, lowered down this narrow hole into a ten-by-ten foot cell."
To accommodate modern-day pilgrims, the Church had constructed a set of stairs down into the limestone pit. "It was always night in this hole; there were no windows or doors," Sarah said. They noticed that the lower three feet of chiseled stone was badly stained. "The floor of this hellish place was covered with rotting straw, ripe with the urine and feces of prisoners who had enjoyed Caiaphas’ hospitality during previous stays." Another dark stain, the silhouette of a man’s upper body and head, was unmistakable in the southwest corner.
Thor rubbed his hand along the spot, feeling the texture of the chisel marks. He slumped down, his back leaning against the rough-hewn wall. On the other side of the dungeon, six or eight feet away, Sarah’s graceful body stood in harsh contrast to the roughness of the cold stone that surrounded them on all sides.
"They took Jesus here," she said. "The Pharisees joined Caiaphas. They were of a single mind. Jesus had denounced them, and his rising popularity among the Jewish populace was an immediate threat to their tremendous power and wealth. They would do anything to stop him. For the better part of a year, these religious leaders had sent out emissaries to trap Jesus, provoking him to say something incriminating that they could use against him. But they had failed."
Sarah laughed, though it seemed sacrilegious in this dreadful place. "Remember when they challenged him about paying taxes to Caesar?"
"No. I never...."
"Yeah, I know; you never went to Sunday School." Sarah turned back a few pages and found the story. "The Pharisees were keeping a close watch on Jesus, sending spies who pretended to be earnest searchers. They hoped to catch him in something he said so that they could hand him over to the Romans. ‘Teacher, we know that you speak and teach truthfully,’ they began. ‘Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar?’
"Jesus saw through their duplicity. If he said no, Rome would crucify him for reasons beneath his mission. But if he said yes, he would be tacitly endorsing emperor worship. Jesus said, ‘Show me a denarius.’ That’s a coin. ‘Whose portrait and inscription are on it?’
"‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
"‘Then give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.’"
"Ouch!" Thor laughed. "Busted their chops with that one, didn’t he?"
"That’s what it says here: ‘They were unable to trap him.’ Come time for the trial, they just made stuff up."
"Lacking real evidence," Thor said, "they manufactured it. That’s a story as old as time. How To Be a Hypocrite 101. I could swear I’ve heard this story before."
"The Chief Priest and his cronies were looking for evidence against Jesus so they could put him to death. But they couldn’t find any. Two tried to testify against him, but they contradicted themselves and each other. Somebody even asked him, ‘Are you going to answer these charges?’ But Jesus remained silent, fulfilling one of the Messianic prophecies. Then the High Priest asked the question du jour. ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.’
"‘Yes, I am,’ Jesus said."
Thor smiled. "‘Okay, thank you very much. That’s all I wanted to know. Please don’t zap me on your way out the door. And, oh, ah, have a nice life, sir.’ Please - tell me that’s what Caiaphas said."
"Not hardly. He wasn’t that perceptive. He said, ‘He has blasphemed and deserves to die.’"
"These clowns were so lost, so full of themselves, they didn’t realize that they were in the presence of God?"
"’Fraid so. But don’t be too hard on them. Folks are every bit as blind today. Including a certain Navy SEAL I once knew."
Thor got the point.
"Do you know what Jesus had to say about these people, the clergy, lawyers, politicians, and especially the religious leaders?"
"I’d guess that he wasn’t real pleased with them. I know I’m not."
"He hated their behavior," Sarah said. "God knew - knows - that there are few things more vile than wickedness done in his name, especially when it’s preached by politically motivated religious zealots."
"We’re seeing that today in the Islamic states, aren’t we, Sarah?"
"Yep. Religion preached by a politicized clergy is the damnation of the world." Sarah, in a single sentence, had explained much of mankind’s pain - past, present, and future. "This very thing is what’s fueling Islamic terror. So I think Jesus’ view on the matter might be of significance. And from what I can tell, he wasn’t terribly impressed with religious leaders. As I read what he had to say, think about all the holy robe wearers you’ve seen along life’s way."
Sarah tried to find a comfortable place to lean in the dungeon. It wasn’t easy. "By way of background, the Jewish government at the time was like the Islamic states today, or Europe in the Dark Ages. The clergy ran things and enforced religious laws. Those who didn’t conform were condemned in the name of God.
"The Jews’ supreme court," the agent explained, "was called the Sanhedrin. And like the Muslim nations today, it was a two-party system. In Islam you have Shiites and Sunnis. The Jews had liberal politicos, who didn’t really believe in God - the Sadducees. They were the secular humanists of their day. And then there were, in today’s parlance, the ultra-orthodox fundamentalist whacko types - the Pharisees. The closest thing to a Pharisee now is a Black Hat. The Sunnis are Islam’s fundamentalists."
Sarah slipped down onto the cold floor. "As I read this, you’ll understand why God allowed his Temple to be destroyed by the Romans and why he allowed the Jews to be dispersed for two millennia. But as you hear what Jesus said this day, two days before he was crucified, I want you to think about the Catholic Church with their priests, bishops, cardinals, and pope, especially during the sixth to sixteenth centuries. And then fast forward to today’s Muslim clerics. The shoe fits them all. It even fits the Communist dictators as they, through grand parades, ostentatious statues, and long-winded speeches, seek to be worshiped as well."
Thor shifted, placing less weight on his still-aching right side. Getting comfortable would be important, because when it came to self-serving religious leaders, Jesus had a lot to say.
The intelligence officer opened her little Bible to Matthew, the twenty-third chapter. "Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to his disciples, saying: ‘The Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses,’ just like Muhammad tried to do. ‘Don’t do what they do, for they don’t practice what they preach. They bind heavy burdens and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger.’ Seen any imams, sheiks, or politicos doing suicide bombings lately?"
The Admiral shook his head.
She read on. Jesus was just getting warmed up. "‘Everything they do is done for men to see. They enlarge the ceremonial borders and tassels on their robes. They covet the place of honor at banquets, the most important seats in the synagogues. They love to be greeted reverently in the marketplaces, and to have men call them, rabbi, rabbi,’ your eminence, your eminence, imam, imam, mullah, mullah."
Thor loved her improvisation.
"‘But I say that the greatest among you shall be a servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted. But woe to you.’ Woe is not a good thing, Thor, and it doesn’t mean stop. ‘Woe unto you Pharisees,’ politicians, power-grubbing thugs," she paraphrased. "‘You are hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces,’ with false religion and demonic doctrines. ‘Your pretentious prayers and long speeches are worthless. Woe to you,’ men pretending to be godly and good."
"Power-grubbing thugs?" Thor asked, grinning.
"Yeah," she smiled sheepishly. "I threw that in. No extra charge."
"Insightful. Our Muslim friends need to hear this. After all, they claim that Jesus was one of their prophets."
"He certainly had a lot to say about them. ‘Woe to you blind guides!’ There’s a world of them today. ‘You blind fools,’ priests, mullahs, and lawyers, ‘you’re hypocrites! For you have neglected the most important matters: justice, mercy, and faith. You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!’"
Sarah smiled. "Yeah. Jesus knew that there’s nothing like a little exaggeration to put things into perspective. ‘Woe to you,’ preachers of damned doctrines, false prophets, you’re scumbags!" Some of this was admittedly coming from the revised Sarah Nottingly World Experience translation.
"Catch this, sweetie, ‘For you clean the outside of the cup, but inside it is full of extortion, greed, robbery, and self-indulgence. Woe to you, for you are full of everything unclean. You appear to people as righteous men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy, lawlessness, and wickedness.’"
"Jesus is speaking to us, isn’t he, Sarah? Right here in this dungeon. He’s telling us to expose evil, to condemn false doctrines, no matter the consequence."
"Yes. Some will malign our motives as they did his, and others will crucify our character as they did his body - but it’s our duty."
"Why is a God I don’t even know asking us to deliver this message? Why would he do that? Why can’t he find someone better?"
"I think he likes rascals. John and Peter were rascals. So were Abraham, Moses, and David. Saul, who became Paul, was chief in charge of killing Christians when God chose him. Rascals only know full speed ahead - and God loves that. They’re equal parts head and heart, courageous to a fault. So long as rascals know their weaknesses, God’s greatness is revealed through them."
Thor put his hand to his mouth as if he was afraid of what might come out. "So God uses rascals because self-righteous religious leaders and politicians are so full of themselves, they’re useless to him. They’re..."
"Wicked, lawless hypocrites," she finished his sentence. "I told you Jesus didn’t like them very much. ‘Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves,’ Christ said. ‘You snakes, you brood of vipers! I send you prophets, wise men, and teachers. Some of them you kill and crucify, and some you scourge. You pursue them and persecute them. And so I will stain your souls with all the righteous blood that has and will be shed on earth, from Abel to Zechariah.’"
"Where is this guy?" Thor asked. "Jesus had these guys nailed - ah, let me rephrase that - he understood what made them tick. The world needs to hear this speech. It’s as correct as it is politically incorrect."
"Yes it is. And yes, he understands them because he made them. But the good news is that Jesus is right here in this dungeon, in my heart - and knocking at yours."
She looked at him lovingly. "I think he wants you to speak these words - use them to confront the modern-day hypocrites, the clerics and the politicians. Someone needs to hold them accountable for the terrible things they’ve done. Jesus’ words explain the root cause of Holy War. It’s your mission. I’ve known it for some time now."
Thor sighed. He sensed it too.
"Are you ready to go?" Sarah asked as she stood.
"Sure." He reached up for her hand, hoping for a lift. But trying to pull him up, she fell into his lap, laughing. Thor turned her around, hugging her. "How does a guy like me get a girl like you to take the relationship to the next level?"
"Physically, emotionally, legally? Or just back upstairs? What did you have in mind?"
"All of the above."
"Are you proposing?"
"What, here in this dungeon?" he asked, looking around. He could just imagine Sarah telling their telling their children, "Your daddy proposed to me in prison."
"You already know the answer. It’s a two for one deal. But you’ve got to do it for the right reasons. It’s about spending your life in heaven, not about spending the night with me."
"And I thought they were one and the same." He squeezed both her arms and winked so she wouldn’t slap him.
"Very funny, sailor. If it wasn’t for that cute little dimple, I’d sock you."
He gave her a peck on the cheek as he helped her to her feet. They walked out of the dungeon hand in hand, into the light of a fine spring day.
Back in their cab, they headed to the archeological dig just below the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. They could have walked there, as Jesus had done his final morning; but with so many crazies on the loose, it was safer to ride.
The driver had been listening to the radio in their absence. He glanced over his right shoulder as they climbed back into his cab. "Two Arabs were just arrested for planning a chemical attack on a kibbutz. When confronted, they said they’d received an explosive device containing chemical agents and nails from a Fatah terrorist. They even said that they were paid twenty thousand shekels, about five thousand U.S. dollars, to plant it in the middle of a Jewish crowd. Be careful, friends. It ain’t safe out there."
"The Fatah is just another name for the PLO, right?" Sarah asked.
"Sad but true," the driver replied. "They also use the name al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, but a thorn by any other name still pricks as deep."
By the time the story was done, they had arrived. Nottingly took the Admiral’s hand and walked him down to what had once been the entrance to the Temple Mount. There were five giant gates, each of which had been sealed shut by Muslim marauders in centuries past. Yet the giant steps under their feet, those cut into the stone face of Mount Moriah, were clearly evident, as were the Herodian stones that comprised the frame around each ancient arched passage. The two thousand-year-old stones Herod had quarried from this hillside were unmistakable. They all had beveled perimeters about three inches wide. It was his signature.
What wasn’t as certain was which stones belonged where, especially those piled in giant heaps along the southwestern corner of the most important site in the Judeo-Christian world. Many could have been part of the magnificent Temple itself, one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was certain, however, that they were all still here, some in piles, some still buried, and others hidden under the city itself.
From this vantage point, Thor could see the Wailing Wall. The Black Hats were bobbing at its base, clustered in groups of ten. Sarah pointed out that they didn’t pray unless they had a quorum, a group they called a minion. When the Israelis recaptured Jerusalem during the Six Day War, this place, the western foundation of the Temple Mount, became accessible to the Jewish faithful for the first time in almost twenty centuries.
But the same could not be said for the Mount itself. IDF General Moshe Dayan felt badly for his defeated foe. An atheist himself, he decided to soothe the Arabs by allowing them access to the Mount - all thirty acres of it. But they returned the favor by banning all infidels, Jews and Christians alike, from the historical cornerstone of their faiths. So much for the "we-all-worship-the-same-God" and "we’re tolerant" theories.
Directly above Sarah and Thor stood the al Aqsa mosque. It, too, had its history. Aligning himself with the Arabs against the Jews, Mussolini, the Italian despot who fought alongside the Nazis, had donated the mosque’s marble columns. The ceiling was the gift of Egyptian dictator/King Farouk, Israel’s most frequent enemy. It was here, in the doorway to the mosque, that an enraged Palestinian had assassinated Jordan’s King Abdullah in front of his grandson, the future King Hussein. Had the young Hussein not been gilded with all manner of ceremonial garb and decoration, he too would have been slain in this spot. The incident explained the late King’s distrust for Palestinians.
As he looked down the long southern wall of the Temple Mount, Adams could see a conspicuous bulge in the stonework. Another mosque was being built, and it was clearly playing havoc with the site. The old stones looked like they were ready to topple.
"We cannot go up on top, infidel," Nottingly told her companion, "so why don’t we sit here for a moment. I’ll read what happened on Friday, April 3rd, 33 A.D. But before I do, let me share the most amazing of all of the Messianic prophecies."
"You’re telling me I’m going to have to revise my he-just-got-lucky number up from one chance in ten to the fifty-sixth power?"
"’Fraid so. Just a tad." They were sitting on cool limestone steps that had been carved into Mount Moriah a hundred generations before them. Facing south, they were bathed in the warmth of the afternoon sun.
"The angel Gabriel, the same angel who brought the announcement of Jesus’ imminent virgin birth to Mary, gave the prophet Daniel a timeline to the Messiah. Gabe tells Dan, ‘Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Messiah comes, there will be seven sevens plus sixty-two sevens.’ A ‘seven’ is a seven-year period. ‘The city will be rebuilt. Then there will be times of trouble. The Messiah will be cut off. The city and the sanctuary will be destroyed.’ It’s all recorded in Daniel 9."
This was exciting if you were into 2,500-year-old news. "Daniel’s vision of the sixty-nine seven-year periods begins with a decree which was made on March 4, 444 B.C., in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes’ reign. The event is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1."
She opened her Bible to the place. "‘In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, I, Nehemiah, was sad. The King asked me why, and I told him it was because the city of my fathers, Jerusalem, was in ruins. I told him that I’d like to return to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried, so I could rebuild it.’ Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah’s request, announcing his decree publicly."
She set down the Bible. "To be fair, some say that the decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem was in 445 B.C. You see, Xerxes’ death, that’s Art’s pop, was in 465 B.C. Adding twenty years takes you to 445. However, these folks fail to account for a rather interesting drama that took place following the death, murder actually, of Xerxes.
"An ambitious fellow named Artabanus killed Xerxes while he was sleeping. Knowing that the crown would pass to Xerxes’ son, Darius, Artabanus killed him as well. This left Artaxerxes, a teenager at the time. He must have thought he could manipulate the boy. But this little arrangement only lasted seven months. Artabanus decided to kill Artaxerxes, too. Only it didn’t work out quite like he planned. In a scuffle the knife pierced Artabanus the Bad.
"Meanwhile back in Camelot, another son of Xerxes, Hustaspis, who’d been gallivanting in some exotic spot out of town I suppose, scurried back to claim his throne. But he should have stayed on vacation, ’cause the teenager killed him too. As a result, Art wasn’t able to claim the throne of Persia for himself until 464 B.C. Thus the twentieth year of this charming lad’s reign, and the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, was 444 B.C."
Thor looked at Sarah with wide-eyed admiration. "Have I ever told you you’re really smart?" he asked.
"No," she replied curtly. "You called me retarded, remember?"
"Alright, smart guy, here it is. Sixty-nine times seven years equals 483 years, or 173,880 days using the 360-day prophetic calendar. That was how long after the decree that the Messiah would come. To get the arrival date on today’s Julian calendar, you’d start with March 4th, 444 B.C., the day of the decree, and add 173,880 days. That works out to 476 years and twenty-five days. So, what do you get?"
"Well, since there is no year zero, it has to be sometime in the spring of A.D. 33, right?"
That’s right. March 29th is the date Daniel was told that the Messiah would come. What do you suppose happened right here on that day?"
"I have a funny feeling you’re about to tell me."
She read, "‘The next day a great crowd had gathered, for they had heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm fronds and went out to meet him where the road comes down from the Mount of Olives. They shouted praises to God,’ it says, ‘in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.’"
"That’s counter to what the anti-Semites have been preaching," Thor noted. "If the Jewish people were singing his praises, then only the establishment was threatened by him."
"To be fair, the common folks may have been more interested in the miracles, the free wine, fish, and bread. You know, dinner and a show." Sarah explained before continuing. "‘Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.’ Jealous, the Pharisees snarled, saying, ‘Look how the whole world has gone after him.’"
Sarah’s legs dangled out two steps below. "Doing what bureaucrats do best, the Sadducees and the Pharisees called a meeting. They grumbled, ‘This Jesus fellow is performing so many miraculous signs, if we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him. Then the Romans will come and take away our positions.’ Anything but that."
The Admiral shook his head. "Those bozos were no brighter than the Muslims buried outside the Eastern Gate. ‘I’ve got an idea! Let’s kill the guy performing all the really cool miracles. Since we can’t perform any ourselves, that’ll make us even.’"
"Truth isn’t always pretty." Sarah recounted what happened. "So Jesus, on the day upon which it was prophesized, rides triumphantly into the troubled city of Jerusalem. Four days later, the 14th of Nisan 33 A.D., that’s Friday, April 3rd on the Julian calendar, he was crucified, cut off, in Daniel’s words."
Looking over at him, she said, "This April 3rd crucifixion date is confirmed, I’m told, by a document in the British Museum in London. The Governor, Pontius Pilate, sent a letter to the Roman Emperor explaining the reason for crucifying Jesus, dating it two days after the event."
"The odds of predicting the exact day Jesus would enter Jerusalem claiming to be the Messiah, is better than...well, 2,600 years since it was made times 365 days - a million to one. But it’s more than that. He predicted when his people, who were slaves at the time, would be freed. Daniel said Jerusalem would be rebuilt, the Messiah would be ‘cut off’, and ‘the city and temple would be destroyed’. That increases the odds considerably, say a thousand to one." He did the math. "Ten to the sixty-fifth power." He rolled his eyes skyward. "Only a fool...."
Thor rubbed his chin. "You wanted me to have a comparison, didn’t you, Sarah? Based upon what you and the guys have told me about Muhammad, he was a scoundrel. If I was only exposed to him I’d probably have gone from agnostic to atheist."
"Yes, that was one of many reasons. Another pertains directly to the Daniel prophecy. A surprising number of Jews stayed in Babylon; many others migrated no farther than the Arabian Peninsula."
"Thor figured it out. "So that’s how Muhammad got access to the stories he usurped from the Hebrew Bible."
"And why he grew to hate Jews. They took their scriptures seriously. Muhammad’s revisionist liberties were heinous crimes to them. Crimes worthy of condemnation."
"Being insecure, the Messenger Boy couldn’t handle the criticism, and we have Jihad today as a result. It’s all tied together."
"Just connecting the dots, my dear."
"This is the most amazing story I’ve ever heard. So tell me, Sarah, what happened next? How black was Friday April 3rd, 33 A.D?"
"They led Jesus from Caiaphas’ posh dungeon to the Praetorium, Pontius Pilate’s hangout when he was in town. To keep the Romans happy, Herod had built the Governor a palace of sorts. It was so massive, it towered over everything else, including the Temple he’d enlarged to appease the Jews."
"Some things never change."
"Anyway, with Jesus in tow, the priests and their pals in the Pharisee party made their way to the Governor’s pad, but they didn’t dare set foot inside, or they’d defile themselves. You see, pious Jews thought we Gentiles were unclean and that their souls would be stained if they touched us or even set foot in one of our homes. Kinda like the Muslim belief today that we infidels are defiling their holy lands by our presence."
Thor noted the similarity.
"The Roman Governor, Pilate, went out to the entourage and said, ‘What accusation do you bring against this man?’ To which they answered, ‘We found him undermining our nation and refusing to pay your taxes. If he were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered him to you.’ Loosely translated, ‘Trust me.’"
"Oh, sure." Adams knew better. So did Pontius Pilate.
"‘Then you take him and judge him according to your law.’
"‘We would if we could but with you in charge, we don’t have the authority to put him to death.’ Poor babies, Pilate must have thought as he began the first round of shuttle diplomacy. He marched back inside and asked Jesus, ‘Are you really King of the Jews?’
"‘Yes, I am. But my kingdom is not of this world. If it was, my servants would prevent all of this from happening.’
"‘So you are a king then?’
"‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who knows the truth hears my voice.’
"‘What is truth?’ Pilate asked, obviously not knowing. He rushed back out to the Jewish ruling elite and said, ‘I find no basis for any charge.’
"But all the clerics could say was, ‘Crucify him.’ So Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. He had his soldiers use special leather whips embedded with bone and metal to rip the skin off of his back. Then, ever the clever ones, the Romans twisted a crown of thorns and put it on his head. Just for fun they covered his now-mutilated back with a purple robe and taunted him. They even punched him in the face."
Thor took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Kahn Haqqani’s performance had been civil in comparison.
"Pilate said, ‘Behold, I find him not guilty.’ Although just for giggles I’ve beaten him to a pulp. He didn’t say that but I’ve often wondered what he was thinking.
"Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. But the hypocrites’ vocabulary had shrunk to match their character. They cried out, ‘Crucify him!’
"Pilate said, ‘You take him and crucify him, for I find him innocent.’
"The Jewish religious elite answered, ‘We don’t have the authority, but we do have a law that says he ought to die, as do you, for he called himself the Son of God.’"
Sarah frowned. "That was a bit of a problem for ol’ Pontius. You see, the Roman Caesars claimed that they were gods, and anyone else asserting similar status had to be, well, eliminated. This put Pontius Pilate in a pickle. He went back inside and asked, ‘Where did you say you were from again?’ Jesus just shook his head. Men.
"‘Why aren’t you answering me?’ the pompous Roman Governor asked. ‘Don’t you know I have the power to crucify you and the authority to release you?’
"‘You would have no power or authority at all over me unless it had been given to you from above.’ Meanwhile, the Jewish bigwigs pranced outside. Wrapped in their elegant robes, full of themselves, and steadfast in their desire to maintain their lofty positions, they shouted, ‘If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king opposes Caesar.’
"‘I was afraid of that,’" Sarah read between the lines. "‘So Pilate brought Jesus out and sat him down in the judgment seat.’ Looking at his beaten body, he just gave up, ignominiously etching his name in history."
"And let me guess," Thor interrupted, "ever in character, the politicized clergy cried out, ‘Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar!’ In the choice of faith versus politics, they had just voted. Then Pontius washed his hands of the whole bloody affair. Rather than standing up to evil, Pilate turned his back and walked away. He had the right, he had the might, but like so many before him and since, he failed to act and the Romans and Jews paid a horrible price."
"It wasn’t Rome’s finest hour."
"Nor the Jews’. In less than forty years, Jerusalem was toast, and the Jews were banished from this land for nineteen centuries. Then, for good measure, mighty Rome was brought to her knees," Sarah shared. "God doesn’t forget."
"So the moral of the story is: don’t mock, imprison, hit, whip, reject, or crucify the son of God." Thor was just guessing.
"Or fail to stand up to evil when destiny calls." Sarah did some guessing of her own. "Actually the moral of this story isn’t about retribution - it’s about salvation. This story has a happy ending. While there are no more Romans, there are Jews, and God loves ’em."
With that she stood up, grabbed Thor by the hand, and pulled him toward her. Closer than they had been since their encounter in the dungeon, they just stared into each other’s eyes. Time seemed to slow. Thor didn’t know if he should hug her, kiss her, thank her, or propose.
He closed his eyes, then slowly opened them again, staring straight into her sapphire blues. "I love you, Sarah Nottingly." Then he looked up as if to God. "Thank you, sir."
Sarah didn’t know if she should hug him, kiss him, or just fall apart right there in front of, well, there was no one around. Muhammad’s legacy had managed to kill tourism along with a significant portion of the Israeli populace. So standing on the rocky steps of Mount Moriah, she simply enjoyed a warm embrace.
"Come with me. I want to take you to the Damascus Gate, and then on to Golgotha," Sarah said at last.
"I’m with you, but what’s a Golgotha?"
"The place of the skull. It’s where they used to kill people around here."
"Swell. Maybe I should plan our next date."
It wasn’t very far, maybe a quarter mile. The Cardo, a narrow alleyway dissecting the old city, passed back through time and cultures as they walked north. First, the Jewish Quarter, so elegant, yet deserted. Then what’s known as the Christian Quarter. In these troubled times it was quiet; the shops were all closed. But as they reached the Arab quarter, the place was abuzz with activity: unemployed men kibitzing, busy women shopping, laughing children playing, cheap merchandise everywhere, strange-looking food, and exotic smells. As they progressed, Thor grasped Sarah’s hand more firmly. The Americans were out of place here, and the glances they received were hostile. He felt uncomfortable.
"Just a little farther," she promised as they threaded their way between the shops, across the uneven stones, and through the anthill of humanity. Emerging from the Cardo, they turned left. There it was, looming above them: the Damascus Gate. Climbing the stone stairs as Jesus had done two thousand years ago, Sarah said, "Over this way." She steered him off to the right.
"You know this isn’t safe," he observed. "We’re surrounded."
"You’re with me," she said calmly. "Nothing is going to happen to us. I want to show you something." She headed across the street. Thor hobbled along, struggling to keep up.
"I don’t know if you’re packing, but even if you are, it isn’t enough. We’re outgunned. Just look at these people. They’d kill us both for a cup of coffee. Actually, I think they’d kill us just for the fun of it."
"Oh, stop it." Sarah was unfazed. She was on God’s errand. Up the hill about a hundred yards or so, just past the city’s main bus terminal, she stopped abruptly. "What do you see?"
"Um, a crappy old bus station and an asphalt parking lot - oh, and a whole lot of angry-looking Arabs."
"No, silly. Past all that, on the cliff."
"It looks like a pair of eyes, a nose, and maybe a mouth. Why?"
"Golgotha, the Place of the Skull," Sarah smiled. "Let’s go."
Why are you smiling? he thought, but said, "Are you sure about this? Look around. There are no Americans, no Jews. Only Palestinians. I’ve already seen my quota of crucifixions."
"You’re such a baby. It’s not our time to go. God’s got some unfinished business." With a reluctant Thor in tow, Sarah scampered to the face of the cliff, behind the bus depot. It was three o’clock in the afternoon.
"Like I said, this is called the Place of the Skull - Golgotha - where everything changed. The sacrifice was made right here on this spot." Sarah bent down and picked up a small white stone that had fallen from the bluff. She slid it into her purse.
"One gun and one rock still aren’t enough." Thor tried to stare down the angry crowd of Palestinians that had gathered at the entrance to the open-air station, less than fifty paces away.
Sarah winked, reaching into her purse again.
Adams flinched. She’s going for her gun? No, thank God! He breathed a sigh of relief.
Sarah pulled out something she found more powerful: her Bible. Calmly, she explained, "‘And he, bearing his cross, went out to the Place of The Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. A great multitude followed him, mourning and lamenting. But Jesus turned to them and said, "Jerusalem, stop weeping for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children."’
"Here," she glanced down, "they forced him onto his now shredded back, aligned his arms on the patibulum, and drove crude spikes through his wrists." Sarah faced the white limestone bluff. Its haunting eyes returned her gaze. "The Roman executioners raised the beam with Jesus attached and pounded nails into his feet. As they crucified him, Jesus said, "Forgive them for they know not what they do."’"
"I thought it was on a hill. That’s what you see in all the pictures."
"I know. Somebody wrote it in a hymn. An artist painted it that way, and one thing led to another. Now everybody thinks he was crucified on a lonely hill far away. But the Romans didn’t do things that way. They crucified their victims along major roadways, like the one in front of us. This was the road to Damascus. They wanted as many people to witness their cruelty as possible. It increased the deterrent value and made the punishment that much more humiliating. There were maybe a million people in Jerusalem for Passover. This would have been the ultimate spectacle."
"Nothing’s changed. Look around you. Now we’re the spectacle."
Sarah ignored them. "Hard to believe Allah was foolish enough to say Jesus wasn’t crucified."
"Or just as foolish, to say Abraham went to Mecca to sacrifice Ishmael rather to this place with Isaac. Like you pointed out, it was a dress rehearsal for this very moment."
All too aware they were being stalked, Sarah was eager to complete the story of the passion that had played out in front of the skull-like orifices. "‘And the people passing by looked on, hurling abuses at him, shaking their heads. The rulers sneered at Jesus, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself." Even the Roman soldiers mocked him."’
"But Jesus neither engaged them in debate nor condemned them; he simply forgave them. After all, he was hanging there for all mankind, including those who were torturing him.
"‘It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the land until the ninth hour, the sun being obscured.’ Fulfilling prophecy and experiencing the pain of separation, Jesus said, ‘"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "It is finished!" he said, and breathed his last breath.’"
Facing the cliff of crumbling white stone, the impression of a human skull was striking. The sun’s lengthening rays cast dark shadows into the recesses that formed the eyes, nose, and mouth. With their backs turned to the old city, the Damascus Gate, and the gathering horde, Sarah read, "Now, because it was an hour before the start of Passover, dying men could not be allowed to remain on their crosses. So the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken of those being crucified with Jesus so that they might be taken away."
"Pretty sick." Thor projected himself into their thoughts. ‘Let’s kill God quick so we’re not distracted. We’ve got a religious holiday to celebrate.’"
Sarah pondered what he’d said. "Passover - they were unable to connect the dots. The religious hypocrites were about to thank God for using the blood of a lamb to spare their first-born sons, while they killed his."
"It’s clear to us but for some, dots are still just clutter."
Sarah continued to connect them. "‘Roman soldiers came and broke the legs of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. But when they came to him and saw that he was already dead, they didn’t break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water oozed out.’ Then John says, ‘He who has seen this has borne witness, so you also may believe.’"
"The ultimate eyewitness," Thor mumbled. He was staring at the bluff, imagining the scene on that day. It was all so real. He could hear the crowd behind him; taunting him, as they had Jesus. He could see their eyes crying out, "Die." He felt Christ’s pain as few in this world could. He saw it all happening, in this very place, almost two millennia ago. For a moment, it was as if he were there. He heard the hammering, the tormenting, the forgiving. Thor shuddered as he looked upon his face. His eyes called to him.
Sarah spoke softly. "‘After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jewish establishment, gathered up the courage to walk back into town and asked Pilate if he could take the body of Jesus down from the cross and bury him.’ He had to ask permission because the body of a crucified man was the property of the Roman Government. Fortunately, Pilate was more than willing. So Joseph came back here, along with Nicodemus, another secret disciple of Jesus and also a member of the Sanhedrin.
"On their return, John says, ‘They brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes’ - things they would need to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. With the help of the Roman soldiers they pulled the nails from his feet, raised the cross upon which his wrists were affixed, and lowered his body to the ground." Sarah looked at the very place. She fell to her knees, as the Romans must have done. "The soldiers pried the nails from his wrists and, working together with Nicodemus and Joseph, they carried his battered corpse to a rock tomb less than a hundred paces from here."
Thor looked around. "Where?"
"Up there," Sarah stood and pointed to her left. "We need to go around the corner. His tomb is on the other side."
"I didn’t think he had a tomb," he said. "But if we don’t get out of here, we’re gonna need one." The scene had grown very tense.
As they made their way through the crowd of Palestinians and around the corner, Sarah told Thor the story of how Joseph of Arimathea broke the news to his wife: "I know our tomb was built for our family. But not to worry, dear. I have it on good authority, he’s only going to need it for the weekend."
Thor laughed in spite of his apprehension. They were being followed. Glancing over his shoulder, he asked, "How much farther?"
"We’re almost there. Come on, gimpy. You’re so slow," she chided him. "It’s just inside that green metal gate."
As the barrier closed behind them, the atmosphere changed immediately. They were now in an old olive garden, a working garden in its day. A cistern and olive press were clearly visible. Sarah kept walking, more slowly now, along the gravel path. She knew right where she was going.
They soon found themselves standing at the top of a series of curved stone steps. These led down to a cliff about ten meters high. An opening had been carved near the base.
One last time, she pulled out her favorite book. "‘Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb cut into the rock, in which no one had yet been laid. They took the body of Jesus and bound it in strips of linen with spices, as was the custom of the day.’ Finished, they closed the tomb by rolling a stone across the doorway. They only had forty-five minutes to complete the burial, because it was a crime to work on the Sabbath, particularly this Sabbath, Passover. And Passover began at sunset."
Sarah encouraged Thor to walk with her, down the steps to the doorway of the rock-hewn tomb. He was reluctant. She didn’t know why.
He did. The only life he had ever known was about to end. He was about to trade it in for a new one. He was certain, yet hesitant. Clearly, there was a God. And certainly Jesus was much more than merely the greatest teacher who ever lived - he was God come in the flesh. He didn’t understand how that could be, but the prophecies proved it. So did his words. Thor now knew that he had died for him. And he knew that he still lived, for he could see him in her, feel his presence as she spoke his words. Yet he was uncertain as to what his new life would bring. The old one hadn’t been perfect, but it hadn’t been so bad, either.
Nottingly gave him a tug. "The story doesn’t end here. Come on," she said, pointing at the tomb. "Please."
He walked to the opening, bowed down and followed her inside. He had never seen anything so empty. It was as empty as he felt.
The burial section of the tomb was against the far wall. It was a little over six feet long. A wedge of stone at one end formed a pillow. There was a recess for the feet at the far side. There were several places to sit, all chiseled into the white Jerusalem limestone.
As Thor knew she would do, Sarah opened her Bible. In the dim, lingering light, she said, "‘Now it was the first day of the week, Sunday. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark. She saw that the stone had been rolled away. She ran to Peter and John, shouting, "They have taken away the Lord. He’s not in the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him."’
"‘Peter and John went to the tomb together, running all the way. But John outran Peter,’ or so it says in John’s Gospel," she chuckled, "‘and got there first. Stooping down’ as we had to do, ‘and looking inside, he saw the linen cloths lying there,’" Sarah pointed to her left.
"Peter, the more impulsive of the two, went right into the tomb. ‘And he beheld the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth that had been around his head, not lying with the linen, but folded in a place by itself.’ Y’know something, Thor? As impressed as these guys were by the burial linen, I’ll bet you dollars to bagels they didn’t just leave it lying there."
"You’re talking about the Shroud of Turin, aren’t you? You mentioned it when we were in the Catholic Church, the one over Caiaphas’ dungeon."
"Yeah. It’s either real or it’s a magnificent hoax. It shows the image of a crucified man, but like a photographic negative, not in the positive. The image wasn’t painted or stained. There are no traces of any natural pigments. It’s like the image was radiated onto the surface of the linen. It’s even three dimensional. Moreover, contrary to every painting of the day, the bloodstains from the nails were in this man’s wrists, not palms."
At the mention of pierced wrists, Thor involuntarily shivered.
"His arms were elongated, as were your men’s, as would be any crucified man’s, about five inches. Not only was there a puncture wound in his side, but the blood flow was correctly shown coming down his back and pooling under his spine, not as it often is, pictured dripping down his abs. The man whose image was mysteriously left on this burial shroud had been beaten unmercifully with a Roman flagram. The places where it ripped his skin were clearly evident. There were over seventy contusions on this crucified man’s back, buttocks, and upper legs. They nearly killed him before they killed him."
"I thought they carbon dated the Shroud and determined that it was made in the eleventh or twelfth century."
"Actually, it now appears that the date was for the mold that grew on the Shroud. Linen is a natural fiber. Over time stuff grows on it. The carbon 14 dating machines can’t differentiate between the linen strands and the molds or fungi growing on them. Besides, there are other problems with the twelfth-century date. For one, the Shroud has a history going back to the second century. And it’s covered with pollen from flowers and spices indigenous only to this region, some of which no longer existed by the time it was alleged to have been forged in medieval Europe. Even the soil particles found around the crucified man’s feet were from the Jerusalem area, not Europe."
"That’s one clever forger if he was smart enough to place pollen from another continent and another millennium on the shroud before science even knew things like that existed."
"No kidding. And there’s more to it, Thor. There’s blood evidence that this man wore a crown of thorns."
"So you think the Shroud’s authenticity is important?" Thor asked.
"No, I don’t. But if it’s the real deal, then we know what he looked like. Viewed in the negative, his face and body take form, like a picture - the world’s first photograph. He was five foot ten or eleven, fit and muscular, about a hundred and sixty-five or seventy pounds."
"Interesting, but unimportant. My faith is based upon his promises, his sacrifice, resurrection, and most importantly, his still being alive and living in me." She let that soak in.
She completed her story. "As for John and Peter, Mary and Mary, and the rest of the disciples, they still didn’t know he’d risen." She read, "‘All of the disciples scattered, going away to their own homes.’ Just as Jesus and the prophets before him had predicted. The boys were frightened, but not Mary. Women are tougher than men," she editorialized. "‘She came to the tomb, looked in, and saw two angels.’"
Thor could see the carved recesses where the angels had sat.
"Just then Jesus appeared outside. She didn’t recognize him, in his resurrected body. Can you imagine how different he would have looked from the ghastly, dead, bloodied pulp of a man that had been removed from that cross a few days before?"
Sarah and Thor were still sitting against the back wall of the garden tomb. The sun was beginning to set, but there was still enough light to make this place the most magnificent on earth. She painted the scene for Thor. "Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ at which point she must have reached out and hugged him for all she was worth.
"‘Please do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my father and your father, and to my God and your God.’
"Mary ran to the disciples and told them that ‘she had seen the risen Lord, and that he had spoken these things.’ Poor boys. Imagine living in a man’s world and being told by a woman that Jesus had risen. It was the zenith of his ministry, the act they would all spend the rest of their lives proclaiming, for which they would all suffer, even unto death. Yet Jesus humbled the guys, letting a woman be the messenger."
"He hasn’t finished using women as messengers. I’m sitting in a tomb with one."
With goose bumps making their way up her body, Sarah stayed the course. "Later that evening, with the doors shut, the disciples assembled nervously, agonizing over what the Sanhedrin was preparing to do to them. It was then that Jesus came and stood among them, saying, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he showed them his hands and his side."
Thor smiled. "And there was much joy in Rockville."
"Then Jesus said, ‘As the Father has sent me, I send you.’"
"Not the most fun set of orders ever issued."
"No, I don’t suppose. Every one of the eleven was martyred as he proclaimed the simple truth that Jesus was God, that he had died for our sins, and then had risen." She smiled. "‘And when he had said this, he breathed on them, "Receive the Holy Spirit."’
"‘Now Thomas was not with them when Jesus revealed himself. So John told him, "We have seen the Lord."’ But you know men," Sarah said, "ever the stubborn ones. The doubting Thomas said, ‘"Unless I see the print of the nails and put my finger in them I will not believe.’" ‘So Jesus returned, stood in their midst, and said, "Peace to you."’"
"He didn’t say, ‘Jihad on those infidels? Look what my critics did to me? I want revenge! A fatwah upon them,’ perhaps?"
"No," Sarah laughed. "Muhammad and Jesus have absolutely nothing in common." She could see a dimple forming in Thor’s left cheek as he thought about how awesomely different they were. "‘Jesus said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at my hands. Do not be unbelieving, but believing."’"
"I suppose standing among them after having been bludgeoned, crucified, and buried, would qualify as a miracle."
"It sure got the boy’s attention."
"That’s what he told you to do with me, isn’t it Sarah? Show Adams the facts. Get his attention, and give him reasons to believe."
"Yes." Sarah didn’t miss a beat. "‘And Thomas answered, "My Lord and my God!" "Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."’
"John finished by saying, ‘Jesus did so many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book, that if they were, the world itself would not be big enough to contain them. But these things I have written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.’"
Alone with Thor in the garden tomb, she asked, "Who do you say he is?"
He looked down, inside really, closing his eyes. His face tensed. He breathed deeply. Then he relaxed. "He’s God. I know that."
"Do you want to know him as I know him?"
"Yes." The tomb was aglow with the reddish hues of the setting sun.
"The Bible says, ‘We are sinners, having gratified our cravings. And so it is by grace that we are saved, through faith, not as a result of our works; it’s a gift from God, so no one can brag.’ Do you want to receive this gift?"
"Yeah, I do."
"Then you may want to tell him."
"Talk to God? You can do that?"
"Sure. I know him. Would you like an introduction?"
"Well, I umm, ah, I mean....yeah!"
Sarah tried valiantly to suppress a grin. "God, this is Thor. He wants to know you."
"Umm, h-hi, God."
"That’s a good start. You’re doing fine. So, now that you’ve got his attention, what do you want to tell him?"
"How ’bout, ‘Thanks for loving me.’"
"You might want to tell him that you’ve sinned a time or two. Y’know, your life hasn’t measured up."
"A time or two?"
"Okay three. I’ve seen your file, remember?"
"Yeah, and so has he," Thor added sheepishly.
"Then since he already knows it’s been at least four, you could accept his charity. He’s already paid your fine."
"Good thing, ’cause that’s exactly what I want to do."
"Then tell him. And while you’re at it, tell him you want him to be your Commander-in-Chief. He’ll probably get a kick out of that."
"Alright." Thor looked at the place Jesus’ body had once laid. "God, thanks for being the first to love me. I haven’t known much of that." Adams swallowed hard. "I haven’t done much to deserve it. I’m sorry."
He looked out the door. "I’m sure grateful for your gift." He collected his thoughts. "And I’ll do my level best to follow your orders, sir."
Thor smiled. "Now, about this first mission...."