I saul, p.9

I, Saul, page 9

 

I, Saul
 



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  Malfees looked up sharply, and Augie grinned. “I did not find that amusing.”

  “Forgive me, sir. I’m well aware you have all the resources you need.” “And I fear that you do not, Dr. Knox. How much do you make?”

  “Sir?”

  “Don’t make me repeat myself. It’s a fair question. You come to tell me you’re in love with the most precious possession I have in the world. Surely it cannot surprise you to find me curious as to how she will be cared for.”

  Augie told him how much he made at the seminary—which was embarrassingly paltry.

  Malfees Trikoupis cleared his throat. “Would it surprise you to know I make fifty times what you do?”

  “Seriously?”

  “Easily. My daughter is used to a certain lifestyle.”

  “I know better than that, sir. You have done well to require her to live within her own means.”

  “That’s just good parenting,” the man said. “But naturally she has a safety net few enjoy.”

  So Augie’s own father had been right. A Greek millionaire would be hard pressed to let his daughter marry a pauper.

  “Would you deprive Sofia the love of her life, the desire of her heart?”

  “Of course not. But I could find a way to immediately quadruple his income while making full use of his intellect, his education, and his unique skills—particularly his knowledge of our language. Too many of our so-called experts are only guessing at what they see inscribed on ancient artifacts. Would you not find it interesting and challenging to use your skills that way?”

  “I’m all ears.”

  Augie followed Malfees Trikoupis through an Employees Only door and down a narrow hallway that opened into an office wholly unlike the rest of the cluttered back rooms. Despite that it was windowless, the room was large and pristine and as exquisitely appointed as the office of any head of state.

  A glistening hardwood floor bore a marble-top desk and a teak boardroom table surrounded by expensive guest chairs. Side tables and shelves showcased pieces that made the best artifacts in the store look like bric-a-brac. “Take a moment,” Malfees said. “Drink it in.”

  Augie wandered among the artifacts, agape.

  “Literally priceless,” Sofia’s father said. “I would not sell one of them for any amount.”

  “I thought everything in this world had a price.”

  “Not everything. Not these. Not my daughter.”

  “Mr. Trikoupis, please. I would never refer to Sofia as anything other than the treasure she is to both of us.”

  “Sit,” Malfees said, pointing to a chair.

  Malfees moved behind his massive desk and settled into his leather judge’s armchair. “I insist on total honesty on the part of every employee. No misleading. No fudging on prices. My policy is one you Americans would call zero tolerance. I consider it the only way to do business. I have been told by the government that I keep the most meticulous records of any merchant in Greece. With all the fraud and black-market sales, all the illegal trading in antiquities, I may be the only one left who is known by all to be totally aboveboard. I’m often consulted by the authorities when something goes wrong.”

  “Sofia is quite proud of you for that.”

  “In this trade, a reputation is all a man has. Greek law establishes that the state owns all antiquities found on land or in the sea. Anyone who finds something, even by accident, must report it to the authorities. And there is no exporting of such items without permission of the Antiquities Council. I have former colleagues who tested that law and wound up in prison for five years, plus having to pay a fine.”

  “But I assume you have loftier reasons for being ethical.”

  “I’ve never even been sniffed at by the Police Antiquities Squad.”

  “I’m impressed.”

  “Enough to come to work for me?”

  Malfees outlined a dream job that included being his right-hand man, leading tours, consulting with antiquities experts, and an obscene salary. In the middle of it, Malfee’s intercom buzzed. He shook his head as he pressed the button. “Busy.”

  “It’s Dimos Fokinos on the line, sir.”

  Malfees sighed. “Just tell him I’m not here but that you’ll get me the message.”

  He turned back to Augie. “That’s your competition. He is currently a grossly underpaid archaeologist, a civil servant in the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. Anywhere else, in any other economy, such a gifted specialist in artifact dating would be a wealthy man.”

  “So you’d be fortunate to land him.”

  Malfees shrugged. “That would be your misfortune. It’s only fair to tell you he’s as tall as you are, darker, Greek. And if I may say so, he looks a lot like my daughter.”

  “So he’s gorgeous.”

  Mr. Trikoupis raised a brow. “That’s what people say.”

  “So you haven’t invented this position just for me?”

  “I will hire the most qualified and the most interested. Think it over. Talk it over.”

  “Sofia and I will pray about it”

  “Well, that too. But don’t delay.”

  Attractive as the offer was, Augie knew before he got out the door that there was no way he would subject himself to it. Besides his love for his students, being beholden to her father would be toxic to their marriage.

  He did not look forward to disappointing the man.

  14

  I, Saul

  FIRST-CENTURY ROME

  Luke was struck by the neat, compact handwriting of the opening sheet of parchment and wondered how long ago Paul must have begun this project. He reached to the bottom of the stack to examine more recent entries. Sure enough, the script was larger, the characters shakier, the pages more blotched. Besides Paul’s failing eyesight, his hand was less steady and his poorly lit environments had made writing nearly impossible. Now, in total darkness, there was no way he could finish this himself.

  Fortunately, the writing at the beginning was precise enough to overcome writing so small that Luke had to hold his lamp directly over the pages. He was instantly drawn into the narrative, forgetting where he was, the time of night, his exhaustion, or his responsibilities the next day.

  I, Saul, begin the recitation of my most vivid memories by acknowledging an incident that has affected my entire life, even with all that came after it. And as you shall see, all that followed even I would deem the creation of a fanciful mind had I not myself lived it. I will describe this horrific occurrence, which took place in Jerusalem many years ago, as it falls chronologically in my narrative, but I mention it now to clarify that rather than shape me, it instead revealed the essence of the man I was. Though the memory of it is seared so deeply in my mind that I recall it as if it happened today, it was merely the first in a long line of momentous events that led to this writing.

  My account of that day—in due course—will detail my part in the death of a man, a murder which at the time I considered a legal execution, and thus just. But first I must establish who I was, what shaped the man I had become by the time that violence occurred.

  I should also clarify that I call myself Saul here as I begin my writings, not because I was once Saul and became Paul. I was also called Paul—my Greek name—even as a child. But it’s true I was more commonly called Saul then. Even after the great change in my life, when in an instant old things passed away and all things became new, I was still as frequently called Saul as Paul. Only many years later in my ministry did my Greek name become most common.

  I have established clearly in my preaching and my letters to the churches that I am the chiefest of sinners. This is anything but false humility. It would be folly for me to even pretend to justify the depth of my depravity.

  Ironically, my older sister Shoshanna bat Y’honatan— the victim of my boorishness when we were growing up in Tarsus and then Jerusalem, and who now does not even claim me as kin—would be the first to corroborate that, for whatever other faults I bore as a child (and there we
re many), I was dispassionately honest. To this day she might call me many unsavory things, but never a liar.

  Was I born truthful? I think not. But I had been taught to fear God. Relatives and neighbors came to refer to me as Judge Saul or Honest Saul. Aunts and uncles would tell my mother, “Rivka, that boy has the bearing of a leader.”

  She would smile and whisper, “A rabbi.”

  My fear of God began with a reverence for my father’s quiet depth of character. He was a respected businessman, a leatherworker, a tentmaker. But beyond that, he was both a Roman citizen and a Jew of the highest order, a Pharisee of the tribe of Benjamin. Before I knew what that even meant, the privilege and responsibility of both my citizenship and my race had been ingrained in me. I had been named after the first king of Israel, who had also come from the tribe of Benjamin. To be a Jew, I was taught, meant much more than just nationality. To my father, and thus to my family, our Jewishness was more religion than race. We weren’t just Jews; we practiced Judaism.

  I rather enjoyed having a smaller than usual family and being the only male child. I could tell Shoshanna was proud of me. I knew why. I was smart.

  Again, I say this not to boast, and again I credit my father. I cannot remember a time when I did not clearly know my place in the world, in the Empire, in the city, in my family, and in the synagogue. How did Y’honatan the tentmaker accomplish this? All I can tell you is that he educated me daily, and not just in the Scriptures. My father did not merely assign me chores, but he also performed my tasks with me. From a very young age, when I was barely old enough to understand and much too young and nowhere near strong enough to actually do the work, he taught me every step in the tent-making process. He showed me how to make short work of what appeared big jobs. But, beyond that, we took walks. And on these walks he said the same things over and over and over.

  Such repetition might have tested the patience of other boys. That was not true with me. Even when I got to where I knew what he was going to say and could have recited it with him, I felt honored to be entrusted with such truth and wisdom.

  My father impressed upon me that our very lives, our daily living, comprised a ritual meant to honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was the one true God, to whom we owed obedience and allegiance. Father told me the story from before I was born when he and my mother had been forced as Jews to flee to the magnificent city of Tarsus, and yet they retained their Roman citizenship. I was fascinated by Tarsus’ great history, architecture, shops, and the marketplace.

  Sabbath soon became my favorite day, because it meant assembling at the central meeting place, the synagogue. There I heard confirmed what my father taught me every day—that the husband and father was both the legal and the spiritual head of the house, responsible for the family. It fell to him to be certain his wife and children were protected, sheltered, and fed. I never even considered a future that did not include exercising those roles within my own house.

  I loved that we were Pharisees, set apart, devoted to God and the Scriptures. Even before I began my formal education in Judaism, my father ingrained in me that there was one and only one way to do whatever task was set before you: the right way. We were to honor God in everything. This conviction would lead to that great watershed day and my approving of the condemnation of a man known to be an enemy of God, and to my involvement in his execution. As you will see, I hesitated not in the least, believing with my whole heart that I was fulfilling one of my life’s purposes. It was not the first and would hardly be the last of many times I would feel that way. No contemplation, no questioning, my whole being engaged in doing the right thing for the right reason—harking back to my father’s counsel.

  I had been born into an unusual family, a unique circumstance. We were Jews, yet we were Roman citizens, and our culture was influenced heavily by the Hellenists—the Greeks. Greco-Roman was the term for the Empire as it was known then. I spoke Hebrew at home and in the synagogue, and I picked up Latin from the Romans. But the Empire was so influenced by Greece that I learned Greek as well. My father said that being civilized meant being Hellenistic, but he was also careful to warn me not to let Greek philosophy invade the purity of our orthodox religion. “We are Hellenists,” he said. “But we are not Hellenizers.” To me that meant that we were religious Jews in a Greco-Roman world.

  Only when I matured did I realize the advantages of being fluent in three languages. As a child this came naturally. I knew one had to be multilingual, religious, and patriotic. Being citizens brought with it privileges that few others enjoyed. Most of the people living in the Roman Empire were not citizens, and yet my father cautioned me that our first allegiance was to God, and our law was found in the Scriptures. So where most Roman citizens were philosophical in their beliefs—either Stoics or Cynics—and the Hellenists concentrated on linguistics, the arts, the sciences, and the fitness of the body, we Jews elevated the spiritual life.

  The Romans revered citizenship. I was, by birth, a citizen. The Greeks held intelligence and thinking paramount. I was taught the best their culture had to offer. And among Jews, the tribe of Benjamin—my tribe—was elite.

  Having all this in my favor could have led to arrogance and conceit, and I can’t deny I bore much of that. But believe me, I stored all this away and determined at a very young age to be the absolute best Benjaminite-Pharisee-Roman-Hellenist I could be. I could barely pronounce those words as my fifth birthday approached, but I knew what turning five meant. I would learn to read and write, and this would be based on the Scriptures.

  Though this all began as a colossal mystery to me, I somehow grasped that what my father tried to tell me every day came from the holy book. When first I began haltingly reading it, I was reminded that the Torah (the five books of Moses) was the true source of all knowledge. My religious training, my study of history, my learning of ethics would all be based on the Scripture.

  Just as I couldn’t wait for it to begin, I was unique among others my age because soon I couldn’t get enough of it. I caught on to reading quickly, memorized lengthy passages, and enjoyed the attention that brought me when I was called upon to recite them in the synagogue. Most fascinating to me were the stories of great men and women who walked and talked with God Himself. I knew no one who did that. My father was good and devout, but I did not sense he conversed with God the way the patriarchs did. When I raised the question, I was told that I should worry about doing what God wanted and expected of me, more than trying to become personal friends with Him.

  I was struck that God knew the men in the Scriptures. Perhaps if I learned all there was to know, followed every rule, honored God in everything I did, He would notice me. Know me. How I longed to walk with God as my ancestors had!

  As I neared my tenth birthday, when I would begin schooling in Jewish law, my father also taught me more about the city of my birth. He did this in the most casual way, merely talking about what an impressive place we lived in. He told me it was one of the largest cities on the Mediterranean, half a million people living in about ten square miles. It was also a port city, exporting minerals and timber from nearby mountains, and producing cilicium, a fabric woven from the hair of the black goats found in the Tarsus mountain range. Cilicium was named after our province, Cilicia, and it was the raw material my father used for the black tents he crafted. The Roman army was one of his biggest buyers.

  Tarsus was the capital of Cilicia, and while it was under Roman control, the senate gave it the standing of libera civitas, or “free city,” which meant we could govern ourselves. I was also fascinated that ours was a university town, a metropolitan center of Hellenism, though my father warned me that they taught a pagan education. He reminded me to stay on a path that taught me only the best of their culture.

  I was proud to be from the city that was the first stop on a trade route that connected the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. I wanted to stay there, grow up there, become a religious leader there. But it was not to be. Both my rabbi, Daniel
, and my father saw in me something more. By the time I was thirteen and had had my bar mitzvah, I was well along in the study of the law. I was so far ahead of other students my age that Rabbi Daniel told my father it seemed a waste for me to stay in Tarsus. A real, advanced education could be afforded me only in Jerusalem.

  Jerusalem! That was 375 miles southwest of Tarsus. I loved my hometown, my friends, my relatives, and in no way did I want to leave my family—even if it meant formal training under one of the great, noted rabbis in Jerusalem.

  “We would not send you,” my father told me. “We would go with you.”

  “With me? The whole family?”

  “Of course! I am responsible for my children. I would not abandon you to someone else’s care.”

  Naturally all this leads to the fateful day I have been foreshadowing, but allow me to take you there as I was— step by step. My father had a huge order of tents scheduled to go to Damascus in Syria, and I overheard him talking with my mother about accompanying the load.

  “You haven’t traveled with your goods for years,” she said. “And you always hated those long voyages.”

  “That’s the beauty of this,” he said. “We are taking advantage of cargo room available in a caravan carrying dry goods that will take the land route to the Syrian gates and through Antioch. It’s a long journey to Damascus, but I could then go on to Jerusalem, perhaps a hundred and sixty more miles south, and look into the two rabbinic schools for Saul.”

  Mother sat silent. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “You’ll be gone such a long time.”

  “Several weeks, but there is much to learn about Jerusalem before we relocate there.”

  “Didn’t the rabbi say only one of the schools would be suitable for Saul?”

  Father hesitated. “Both are Pharisaic, but they take decidedly different approaches. Rabbi Daniel leans toward the school founded by Rabban Shammai over the one founded by his contemporary, Rabban Hillel. Both are long dead, but their schools reflect their views of the faith.”

 
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