This is perhaps my most controversial story. Religion seems to always go that way. As a child I was brought up in a Baptist church and have a good knowledge of the New Testament. Re-reading the gospels and Acts as an adult I feel there is a story between the lines that we have not recognized. That gave me the idea for this story. A gospel is defined as “good news”. I have given that name to the story because it is a letter from Mary of Magdala, known in the New Testament as Mary Magdalene, to her friend Martha of Bethany containing good news. There is a non-Canonical book named the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. That one contains trappings of gnostic knowledge and animated crosses hopping about. Don’t confuse the two.
As an avid student of history, I am well versed in the time period. Nothing in the story conflicts with known historical events. If any of the characters existed (there is no proof), we have no knowledge of their actions outside of admittedly conflicting Biblical texts. Was there even an historical Jesus of Nazareth? The verdict is still out. What happened to Mary Magdalene after her Biblical scenes is unknown. There is no record of a Simon Peter. Urban legend is that he died in Rome or Jerusalem, that he was beheaded or crucified (sometimes upside down), and it occurred somewhere within a twenty year span.
I’ve always felt that Simon Peter was a bit of a con man and went with it for the story. There were rifts among the Disciples. Philip complained of Jesus’ preference for Mary Magdalene. There was ongoing animosity for Judas. Non-Canonical books reference Judas being a boyhood friend of Jesus. James, the brother of Jesus expected to be the next leader of the Jerusalem church but was immediately shoved aside by Simon Peter. The Disciples also complained of Jesus’ preference for the company of his “Beloved” which some assume to be John.
The back story of John in this work of fiction comes from an unusual comment in Mark 14:51-52. It is open to several interpretations, some of them not so savory. The Gospel according to Mark purports to be an eye-witness account. However, it says that Jesus went alone into the garden and all the Disciples fell asleep. Since Jesus was never allowed to speak to his Disciples after his arrest, how do we have the story of what Jesus did while alone? And why were they in the park in the middle of the night, anyway?
For the ease of readers I have opted to use the modern translations of characters’ names, except Jesus. His name is so heavily imbued with traditions that I have opted to use the older version – Yeshua.
Crucifixion plays a role in this story. I have read in-depth about the process and watched a number of long, frequently graphic, documentaries to make sure I understand the process. It is a particularly gruesome death.
For anyone not familiar with the Caesars, this is set during the reign of Claudius. He was the sane emperor between Caligula and Nero, two of the most infamous of Roman emperors.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
“In the VII year of Emperor Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (48 CE)
“Mary of Magdala, now in Rome unto Martha, wife of Eleazor, High Priest of Bethany in Judaea.
Peace be unto you from God our Father, my sister in the love of our Master.
Your son and I are well and have received your letter. We were saddened to hear of the loss of your brother Lazarus and sister Mary in the fever. John was nearly inconsolable, he so adored his uncle. I held him and stroked his brow as he wept like a babe. I was glad to be able to help him. He has grown into such a fine man and taken such care of all of us.”
Poor John. One more cruel blow in a life filled with such miseries. I may be impious to think this, but our Lord has burdened him more than is just. So many disappointments for one so young. We have all failed him.
“We are settled in apartments in the imperial city. I have made contacts with a local group of messianic Jews. I did not give them our true names, not knowing what Simon may have said of me. They know us as the widow Johanna and her son John. It was surprisingly easy to gain their trust once they recognized I was from Judaea. They all asked if I had met the Master and I felt it prudent to disillusion them of that. Then I began to put our plan into action.”
Yes, our Plan. Like a grain of sand in an oyster it has been burrowed in my soul for near ten years now. It was such a relief to finally get to the final act. My pearl. We are all so different from that awful time, now fifteen years gone. Confusion, terror, loss and so much misery. I’m not sure how we all pulled through.
I look across the room at John poring over a scroll. Yes, he has grown into a fine man, but it is a façade. His smooth face hides a dark, tormented heart that may never find release. I still remember him that day standing with us in the open field watching our lives be torn apart. He had his arms around Mary whom we all called Mother, holding her as if she were the child, though not yet bearded himself. She was broken and bowed as she watched her eldest child die the cruelest death the Romans could devise. John held her steadfast but his face was a mask of grief. Tears ran down his face and hoarse sobs were wrenched from his throat. I wanted to soothe him, make it somehow better but I was grieving my own losses. My Master dying, our dreams shattered and my beloved missing.
Simon was the one who brought the news to us. Judas, my beloved, the man I had loved these past two years, whom I had agreed to marry, had betrayed us and sold our Master to be executed. He had then taken his own life. How could this happen? How could I have not seen this? How could I have shared his life and bed, whispers in the dark, stolen kisses and not known the serpent that lay coiled about his heart? To lose my love and then find he was untrue. I was doubly shattered. Mother was equally devastated. She said she had lost two sons, one to the Romans and one to his own hand. We struggled to comprehend it. Judas and our Master had grown up together, best of friends, as inseparable as brothers. With Lazarus, their triumvirate had run rampant through the streets of Nazareth, driving Lazarus’ older sister Martha to distraction and younger sister Mary to tears. And how they all cried when Simeon moved his family to Bethany.
“The Romans have much more civilized attitudes about women than our countrymen. As a woman of substance I can move freely about the city. As a Roman citizen through my dear late husband Festus, I can also conduct business and be received in the finer homes. But it still helps to have a man like John at my side. He is such a comfort.
I lost no time proceeding with our plan. A few words, a few names dropped and some well-placed bribes soon put me in front of the Praetor.”
The sweetness of our plan is that we had no hand in the final act. Our hands unsullied, the legal machinery would enact our revenge fully and with a savagery only Rome could conceive.
For nearly five years after our Master’s death we had trudged through our bleak meaningless lives. Yeshua had asked John to see to Mother if anything ever happened to him. John had hung on every word the Master uttered and his slightest whim was as a command to John. Beloved. That was what our Master had called him. The others frequently mocked him and used the name to make him blush. But when Yeshua called him that, he glowed.
A beardless youth, John was in total thrall to this man who spoke so sweetly of love, so fiercely of divine vengeance and had us all striving to be as our Lord wanted us. John never returned to his mother in Bethany but quietly carried Mother back to her home in Nazareth where he oversaw her care the rest of her days. He was never quite the same since that awful time and needed someone to care for him also, especially when the night terrors came. So I also became part of the household. We three managed to support each other and muddle through.
It was Simeon and Eleazor who found out the truth. Simeon is John’s grandfather and a high priest in Jerusalem. His son in law, Eleazor, John’s father, is a priest in Bethany. When our Master was on trial for his life, Simeon was the near lone voice pleading for mercy if not justice. But his voice was as one in the wilderness, crying in vain. Although on the council, he was seen as a provincial by his peers because he came from a small town. He was usually kept on the periphery. He had tried to see the papers on Yeshua’s charges but they were missing from the records he was allowed to see. Nearly five years after the fact Simeon stumbled upon them in a secret cache in an office usually reserved for the high priest Ananias. He was devastated by what he found. He knew Yeshua’s family. Joseph had even approached him about a marriage between Yeshua and little Mary. Back before Yeshua made it clear he had no interest in women. But Mary, Martha and Lazarus were close to Yeshua so he knew that everything in the file was false. The charges were designed to push the Jews and the Romans to execution. Yeshua was set up. He also found the paper requesting release of thirty pieces of silver from the treasury for the witness. That was when his blood ran cold.
Eleazor and his mother in law, Salome, called on us, saying they had distressing news. John sat between Mother and I, holding her hands, awaiting yet another blow. Eleazor quickly explained that Simeon had found the temple request identifying the traitor. It was Simon. Simon, who now calls himself Peter, the self-proclaimed leader of the remnant of Yeshua’s followers. We were stunned into momentary speechlessness. Then Mother cried out, “He killed my boy! God curse him, he killed my boy.”
“But this means Judas was innocent. He never killed himself. That monster killed him also,” I muttered. John and Salome calmed Mother while Eleazor quietly explained to me about the false charges. I wanted to publicize Simon’s perfidy and have him in prison. Eleazor told me the papers were secret, Simeon could not remove them and any attempt to act on his part would only end his career while the papers quietly disappeared.
“I may be an old woman, but I can still use a knife. I will find him and cut out his heart,” Mother swore. She made as if to go where the knives were kept. John quickly restrained her. She fought for a moment and then collapsed into him.
Salome sent Eleazor home while she stayed. She was an old friend of Mother and held her in her arms, rocking her as if a child. Mother wept as if she had lost her son anew. She said Judas was supposed to keep him safe. She had feared he would come to no good end associating with the lower class ruffians who hung out about the docks.
“Fisherman, he called himself,” she reviled Simon. “The only thing he fished for was his next mug of ale. My Yeshua was naïve about people. Judas was the smart one. He was supposed to be the protector.”
Sadness was almost a physical presence in the room until suddenly hate bloomed bright in my heart. Simon must pay. I eventually said it out loud. Instead of denying it, they simply asked “how?”
Mother said, “The law says ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. He has taken two lives from me. He must pay with his life. I want him dead.”
Salome, Mother, John and I formed a cabal that night with the simple aim to bring Simon to justice. Simply murdering him wasn’t enough. He had to be exposed for what he was, a lying traitor who abandoned people who trusted him. He had to experience pain, fear, total misery. Salome brought Martha, Lazarus and their sister Mary into our group. Lazarus had to be physically restrained when he was told what Simon had done. We met many evenings and went around and around but gained no traction. And then King Herod Agrippa died.
Pontius Pilate had been recalled to Rome about three years after our Master died. He had been replaced by another ineffectual governor. This governor was also recalled leaving King Herod as Rome’s only representative in Judaea. When he suddenly died, his heir was elsewhere in the empire and Rome seemed in no hurry to install him nor send another governor.
Governance lurched onward, much like an insect who will keep moving forward even if you remove its head. If nothing else, Rome’s ways were efficient. Salome was the one who saw our opening. She was friendly with Princess Berenice. Although nominally Roman, Princess Berenice, King Herod’s niece was ethnically Jewish so Salome could call on her without being defiled. Salome noticed on her visits to the palace that while the administration still worked, there was little oversight and frequent confusion. On one particular visit to the palace Salome managed to secrete a copy of an edict by King Herod in her robes.
Eleazor, being the best Latin scholar among us, procured some fine parchment and drafted a bill outlining various crimes against the state with which Simon could be accused. Sedition, treason, cursing the Emperor, inciting riots, murder. He ended with a proclamation that Simon was an enemy of the state and should be extradited to Rome for trial. It was important he be tried outside of Judaea. In Judaea he had friends. Outside we could more effectively control the flow of information. Eleazor carefully copied King Herod’s elegant Roman signature. Salome carried this document for some time on her visits to the palace until she found her opportunity. In an unguarded moment, she slipped into the royal office and actually got her hands on the royal cypher. She quickly sealed the document. Now it was official. We waited patiently for an opportunity. Then we heard Simon was planning a trip to Rome to visit a cell of messianic Jews there. This was our great chance.
“Arranging the meeting with the Praetor was not difficult. Actually meeting him was another matter. I was stood up time and again. I realized I was acting like a country bumpkin. I spent a good bit bribing more people. This finally got me a hearing. My story was that as a confidante of the Princess Berenice, I was entrusted with an official message for the emperor from King Herod, one of his last acts. As I expected, the Praetor said that he handled all the official correspondence of the emperor. No matter. The important thing was to get this entered into the official machinery. He looked over our letter and said the charges seemed serious. Then I showed him the package we had put together of all the witness statements and other faked documentation of Simon’s crimes. He surprised me by saying that Rome had been watching Simon with concern for some time. He said that Simon had recently slipped out of the city and they had lost his trail. I assured him that I knew people who could locate him.”
The meeting with the Praetor was easier than I expected. I could tell by the look on his face that he immediately spotted the clumsy forgery of the letter from Herod. I removed a bracelet from my purse made of gold with fine filigree work and set with semi-precious stones. It was beautifully worked and worth more than even I, as a woman of some means could afford to purchase. I had received it as part of my late husband’s estate. I said a silent prayer to my dear Festus and immediately knew that he would approve its use to help preserve Judaism. I offered it as a token of love from Princess Berenice to the Emperor. The Praetor smiled and said the letter would further their case against Simon’s seditious activities.
“John and I began attending the meetings of Simon’s group. They seem to believe that our Master was the actual prophesied Messiah, even though he fulfilled none of the prophecies. They have chosen the Greek form of Christos so call themselves Christians. And apparently Simon has told them that the Master named him Peter, the Rock. I listened agape as they recounted stories he had told of the Messiah feeding thousands, healing lepers and walking on water. The most astounding lie was that our Master rose from the dead. Dearest sister, we saw him die upon the cross. We saw the crows picking at his entrails as his corpse decomposed at Golgotha. We witnessed the Romans disposing of his bones in the common pit for executed criminals. How can Simon spread such lies? And why is he believed?”
We found that Simon was aware of Roman scrutiny and had headed to a safe house in Naples. I dressed in my most sumptuous robes and sought out the elder of the Christians. I confided in him that I had the ear of the lady Livilla, niece of the Emperor. She was expressing interest in the new religion and wished to hear more about it. I assured him that it would bring much more security to all of us if Simon could convert a member of the imperial family to the faith. I gave him an imitation ruby ring I had purchased at the bazaar saying it was a token of faith from the lady. I knew it was an opportunity Simon would not be able to resist.
“In short order Simon was back in Rome and the Praetor and his men were waiting. Now we had the rat in the cage. As a courtesy the Praetor informed me when Simon was captured. He also graciously allowed me to visit him. He inferred from my actions that what I wanted with Simon was not to ease his final days. I saw his evil grin when he told me when I could return to ‘see the prisoner’.”
As the guard unlocked the cell door he shouted through the grill, “you have a visitor you old devil worshipper.” I stepped in and found Simon sitting on a bench in a dank stone room that smelled of a mixture of many vile things.
Simon had aged in the intervening years. I suppose we all have, but he looked far older that his years. I had not seen him since shortly after our Master’s death. He had shunned all but his inner circle and we drifted away from his group. John and I, Yeshua’s brother James and even his mother Mary were all pushed aside as if we did not exist. Those of us who knew Yeshua before Simon and knew his true teachings were inconvenient to Simon’s reconstructionist history. There had always been a sharp division among our Master’s disciples. There was much arguing over who was the best follower, who was the most favored or most important. Yeshua seemed oblivious to this and even stoked it by constantly asking young John to come sit at his right hand and petting on him as they rested in the evenings. John, Judas, James and I were from more prosperous families and were always suspect in the eyes of Simon and his thuggish companions from the lawless alleyways by the docks.
I saw the surprise in Simon’s face as he recognized me. But his face smoothed and he greeted me.
“Welcome, sister. Come to succor me in my hour of need?”
“Simon,” I said. “You are no brother of mine and I have no sympathy in my heart for the likes of you.” He sighed and dropped his fake smile.
“Still the shrew, I see. I always told Judas you were more trouble than you were worth. Always putting on airs and acting better than everyone else. Strutting about hanging on Yeshua like a harlot.”
“The Lord should strike you for even uttering the Master’s name. How can you even live with yourself? Professing love and devotion to our Master’s face and in the back alley selling him like a slave for thirty pieces of silver.”
“I see my little ruse has been discovered.”
“But why, Simon? Why would you be so evil? You murdered our Master. The Lord will not forgive murder of a holy prophet. And neither will his people.”
“He was no holy man, sister. He was a man like any other. And a rather dull one at that. Andrew would have been content to remain in that hovel and eke out our lives as fishermen for the rest of his life, but not me. I have ambition. I want greater things. Yeshua was my way out. He had a golden tongue and could charm a crowd. In the beginning he directed their anger at the Romans. The fever was hot in the land. The people were ready for revolution. With Yeshua leading the way and Andrew and I as his generals we could have swept the Romans out of Judaea and into the sea. You and Yeshua were two of a kind. Always with your heads in the clouds, seeing nothing of what’s going on around you. But he went off message. When the Pharisees and other temple buggers began circling he lost his brass. That’s when he began all that blessing of the meek shit. I tried to steer him back but he had lost his stones.” I was aghast at Simon’s simple stupidity.
“You naïve fool! Yes, enough Jews working together could sweep the standing Roman army from our shores, but you cannot beat Rome. The entire world bows to Rome. Rome IS the world. They have legions upon legions. They would pour in and massacre every Jew in the East. You’re trying to throw our world into a blood bath.” Was this his master plan?
“You’re soft in the head. Just like Yeshua,” he replied. “By my estimation we needed something to bring the situation to a head. To make the people rise. If Yeshua would not make the call, I figured on helping him. What we needed was a martyr. A good bloody martyr would unite the people like nothing else. I resisted the idea at first. I really did. I rather liked Yeshua. He was a bit dimwitted but generally likeable. I even told the others to ignore that he always had his nose up that boy’s ass like a dog in heat. My old group, Andrew, the sons of Zebedee, were easily convinced. Thomas and Philip took more work. Matthew was easy. He never forgave Yeshua for allowing Judas to hold the purse. He wanted that honor. The others fell in line or disappeared.” I became uneasy as I saw that the look in Simon’s eye was not one of sanity.
“You utter, utter fool.” I could not restrain myself. “You have destroyed the lives of so many people for what? A dream that will never happen?”
“Oh, but it is working. I have cells in nearly every important city. When we are numerous enough I will give the call and we will throw down the Empire of Satan. We will reconsecrate the temple in Jerusalem and usher in the thousand year kingdom. With me at the right hand of God.”
“And you keep your ‘cells’ loyal by feeding them a pack of lies? Miracles, resurrection?” I asked.
“I tell them what they want to hear; what they need to hear. It moves them toward the Lord. That is what is important.”
“Oh, Simon. You have lost all touch with reality. You have perverted everything Yeshua advocated.”
“I only refined it, gave it focus. Yeshua dead is a much better touchstone than Yeshua alive. People might not follow a sodomite.” He must have noticed my indignant start. “You weren’t there the night he was taken. We were in the gardens near Gethsemane. He slipped away from us. When the soldiers came he was caught practicing love thy neighbor with that lapdog boy of his. Check the Roman report. When they seized Yeshua that boy was bare assed naked as the day he was born. I had to laugh as I saw him sprint through the garden, his white ass bobbing in the moonlight. It’s better this way. With Yeshua out of the way, we can burnish his image the way we want.”
My thoughts went to John again. That poor boy. Did Yeshua assault him? Is that the turmoil that he wrestles with in the dark nights? Is that the source of his torment? I had no time to think of it at the moment.
“Well, it appears your days of burnishing are about to come to an end,” I said.
“Probably not. The Romans make a lot of noise, but I have been careful what I have said. I have kept my remarks just inside the law. They have nothing to hang me on.”
For the first time since seeing Simon I smiled. I related to him the packet of letters and affidavits I had given the Praetor attesting to his complicity in multiple felonies.
“What have you done? You bitch!” he exploded. Then more moderately. “It looks like I did Judas a favor in saving him from you.”
“I was sure you killed him,” I said.
“Actually, Andrew killed him. Broke his neck with his bare hands. Andrew has always been the strongest man I know, strongest Jew since Samson. Mathew and I strung Judas up to make it look like suicide. It worked for fifteen years. Now it’s so long ago, no one cares.”
“You’re wrong Simon. I care. Mary cares. The people who loved Yeshua care. In fact
Yeshua’s mother asked me to deliver her message to you personally.”
“Oh, and what is it?” he asked. I spit forcefully in his face.
As I gathered myself to leave I told him, “The verdict has already been handed down, Simon. You are to be executed. The Praetor is considering making you a part of one of the Emperor’s spectacles. He and I are hoping to be able to feed you to the lions. I find the image of that amusing and comforting. Farewell, Simon. May God have mercy on your soul. I surely would not.”
“Sister, it would be a lie to say that I did not taunt Simon that night in his cell. He admitted to his crimes of selling our Master to the authorities and to murdering Judas. He is totally unrepentant and appears to be insane. Master always said to minister to those of feeble minds but this time I say no. There is no other person I was so glad to see put underground.
As we predicted, Simon was convicted of crimes against the Empire and sentenced to death. Irony of ironies, the method chosen was crucifixion. Simon died a slow, painful death. And for that I am eternally thankful. I am sure the Master would urge mercy and forgiveness in our hearts. But I have neither.
Simon’s words about the night Yeshua was taken kept creeping back on my mind. Was he just toying with me or was there more than I knew? I finally went back to the Praetor’s office and found a helpful clerk. With a little gold he agreed to dig through the official records with me. I asked about capital cases in Judaea fifteen years ago. He found the box of reports. I asked if there was information about Yeshua son of Joseph being executed. He found several papers related to it. I was allowed to look over them, the arrest report making my throat tighten and tears burn my eyes. My reading of Latin is limited so I paid the clerk more to read it to me. It related that a centurion took ten men and using details provided by the informant found the group in the gardens near a wine press. The centurion said he recognized the informant in the group but did not wish to expose him.
“I asked ‘which of you is Yeshua son of Joseph?’ A man in their midst answered ‘I am Yeshua.’ Then from out of the darkness to the right we heard a call ‘Judas, no! You cannot do this.’ Then he said loudly, ‘I am Yeshua.’ I ordered the men to take both into custody. As my soldiers approached the man off to the right, a young man, nude, jumped up and ran away. A surreptitious aside from the informant revealed which man was actually Yeshua. The imposter was one Judas, son of Simon of Kerioth, a close associate of the prisoner.”
I dashed the tears from my eyes as I realized that my Judas had offered his own life in place of our Master’s. And yes, something did occur between Yeshua and John. Was this part of why John remained so moody, seeming to take no joy or satisfaction in finally bringing Simon to justice? My poor, poor boy. I don’t know how to help him.
As it turned out, the next spectacle was weeks away and the Emperor wanted to go ahead and deal with the “Christian problem”. So on a chilly spring morning, Simon and five other criminals were led out to the place of execution with a small crowd of curious onlookers following. Where were all his Christian friends? Afraid of being identified and suffering a similar fate? John and I were already there with our ideal viewing place staked out when they approached. A small group of guards in gleaming helmets and scarlet capes surrounded and goaded when necessary the six men bowed under the heavy load of the crossbeam they each carried, their wrists already affixed to it by ropes. Their bleeding backs showed they had been scourged prior to their execution. Their faces held varying degrees of pain, resignation and terror.
There were six poles planted at the place of execution, to serve as uprights for the crosses. The condemned were stopped in front of the poles. Most of them dropped to the ground, exhausted by their ordeal already. One, however made a mad dash for freedom. Some of the guards blocked his way with spears and laughing they dragged him back to the others.
The six men had been stripped of their clothes before the scourging. Now as they rested I could see them begin to shiver in the cool morning air. A couple of guards unceremoniously grabbed a prisoner and rolled him onto his back. Although his arms were already lashed to the crossbeam, the Romans, being the masters of cruelty, also used large nails to increase the pain. As another guard approached him with the iron spikes he began shouting ‘No! No! Please, no!” He screamed piteously as the first spike was driven through his hand. He alternately screamed and sobbed as the other hand was affixed. A stream of piss arced up as he wet himself during his agony. The two largest guards took hold of the crossbeam and dragged it to the first upright. Groaning at the weight of the beam and the prisoner combined, they hoisted it up. A hole in the crossbeam fit into a notch at the top of the upright. The sudden jar when it fell into the socket caused another shriek. The writhing man’s toes could just touch the ground. A guard pressed one of the prisoner’s feet against the upright a few handspans above the ground and drove a spike through the ankle and into the wood. This elicited more shrieks from the agonized man. The other foot was similarly impaled. The guards stepped back inspecting that their workmanship was correct. The poor man hung writhing and twisting his body trying to find the position of least pain. Hanging limply caused tremendous pain in his hands and torqued his shoulders. With the arms expanded he could not exhale. The only way to breathe was to press down on his feet, exacerbating the incredible pain already present. The involuntary need to breathe would keep him struggling on the cross, possibly for days, without the comfort of sleep or fainting.
Simon was second. As they grabbed him another criminal bent over and vomited on his feet. Some of the onlookers laughed. Simon struggled as hard as any of them as he was being nailed to the cross and he shrieked mightily as they raised him in place. My heart sang with glee with each ringing pound of the hammer upon the nails. His wails were music to my ears. Once he was upright I got a chance to see his face. It was a mask of agony. The eyes were haunted with a look of terror. I thought perhaps he could see the face of Satan rushing toward him to grab his soul and cast it into Sheol. I paid little attention to the process for the other four. It was similar. Some others vomited or pissed on themselves. One had greenish brown feces running down his leg as he was being nailed to his cross. But I had eyes only for Simon. The agony he would experience for the few days it took him to die paled in comparison to the fifteen years of misery that I had experienced. But it would have to do.
We left at midmorning. We found a nearby bakery, purchased some food and went to sit in the shade of a pagan temple to eat. I pondered on the scene of barbarity I had just witnessed. I had to wonder if I had lost some of my humanity in being unmoved by the horror of it all.
Once the morning mists had burned off it became a brilliant day. We returned to the place of execution in the afternoon. Some children had come and were taunting the condemned and throwing pebbles at them. The guards laughed and half heartedly shooed them away. The heat was beginning to rise and I noticed that with it came biting flies. The flies and other flying insects swarmed about the tormented men on the crosses. Most of them had stopped bleeding except when they jerked. Some continued to moan or sob. Some just stared straight ahead, slowly writhing, dully awaiting death. Simon was in the latter group. He did look toward me once. We held eye contact for a few moments. Then he looked away. After a bit I put my arm through John’s and said “take me home.”
It was cold enough that night that we could see our breath the next morning. It must have seemed brutally cold for the unfortunate men exposed on the crosses. We returned to the place of execution on the third afternoon. Simon’s groin was dark with blood, piss and feces. His head hung to the side, his mouth and nostrils black with flies seeking a place to lay their eggs. A crow perched on his shoulder was making a meal of one eye. No movement, no breath. Simon was no more. I smiled. May the demons of Sheol torment him for all eternity.
Roman custom, Simon’s remains were left on the cross until he was little more
than a skeleton. What was left was eventually tossed in a common pit reserved
for criminal remains.
“Now that Simon is dead my heart feels lighter than it has in many years. I only regret that our Master’s dear Mother did not live to see this day. I like to feel that wherever she is, her soul is no longer heavy with sadness.
John and I have decided to remain indefinitely in Rome. I have come to enjoy the conveniences of civilization. We have made some acquaintances and are trying to enjoy life for a change. An older Senator has shown an interest in me. It is time for a new page.
I had not seen any of Simon’s cell of Christians until last night. We received a furtive message that they were meeting in secret to hear the message from a new holy man, a Jew from Tarsus named Paul. I’ll not send the centurions after them, but neither will I participate. My Master’s message was clear, follow the law of our fathers and love God above all.
Peace be unto you, my sister in the Lord.
Mary of Magdala”