A dream to launch a dream career

It was some time in the summer of the year when Midian was taken by the Seirites – or about twelve years after my father decamped from the broken up House of Laban in order to lay the foundation of a haphazard career and a family in the country of Moab; when he was one day getting our dinner with me sitting behind him at a table observing his lame attempts at frying quarters of fowl. The place had never been gay. Now, lived in only by the two of us it took on a forsaken, dingy decay. The stone floor had grown sticky and damp. The kitchen walls were lacquered with grease. The lamp hanging by its chain from the rafters cast a yellow circle over me. A good fire  in the hearth was all the proper light. The once brilliant pewter pots hung upon the chimney were tarnished and dusty. Weekly scourging by Orpah had kept the dirt down, and after her departure I had swept the floor and wiped here and there, and left the kitchen none the cleaner.

A father and son living alone will be always on the verge of fighting, as well I know. We saw too much of each other and not enough of anyone else. The clipped words we exchanged, though civil, dripped with malice and were fraught with peril.

“How’d the woman keep it clean the way she did?” Beor asked me. “Can’t we get it the same?”

Respectfully – “The dirt settles down, father. A bucket of lime, another of boiling water and scrubbing wire should remove it.”

“So – give it a try why don’t you.”

I nod, pursing my chapped lips (I have grown not just slovenly but none too careful with hygiene.) My father grimly – “I ought to look around for someone. Even if I’m no bargain there’s women could do worse than this place.”

“No word from Orpah?” I ask, knowing there had been none, but keeping away from another squabble caused by the housekeeper departing one morning; with a bundle on a pole, to sell at the market, so we thought. Beor grumbled his feelings about this.

“Father — run away, ill or dead: until we take steps to track her down we’ll never know.”

He moved like a caged leopard in front of the pan. “Fates like that take everyone – what’s it to me?” He shovelled the overcooked, crisped quarters onto plates.

“You don’t miss her?” I said close to condemnation. “Have you made a plan for someone to look after yout?” – Contempt welled in me when I looked at the palsied wobbling of plates.  “I hope you’ll hink about it.”

“Hand me the iron.” He knocked ashes out of a fiery log and settled the plates on them to warm. Then he broke four eggs into the hot grease. The eggs spluttered and fluttered their edges before settling down.

I went to the open doorway and stared out. It had never been a pretty place. Scraps of wood and tin lay scattered on the ground. The door of the outhouse hung on its hinges. The iron lean-to for storing the marrows and melons growing wild behind the stalls, doubled as a woodlot. Our rundown, unkempt place which Beor thought would attract  women was built for cooking and for shelter. By now we had given up using linen and slept between blankets. Our slovenly ways got us up when the sun was halfway up the sky. Only on the nights we went tavern crawling did we bathe and put on clean clothes. It was a place and a life unloved and unloving, and Beor remembered, quite fancifully, the time before his young boy died as the happy time, and he wanted it back.

What a chapter of chances, I thought at the end of the day, do events lay open to us. What a lucky chapter of chances this day turned out; for Israel never would have known the power of my blessing and cursing; and the story of that blessed and cursed nation would 1not be the story I made for it.  We were despatching the bad dinner when the door was knocked at and opened one after the other, to admit the landlord of a tavern we visited more than its rivals. He had come for help with a difficult patron who’d had a bad dream.

“I think he is of the army,” the landlord said. “He took to bed in my upstairs room three days since and has never got up, after a dream which apparently upset his balance of mind.”

It is not my role to dip my quill in the landlord’s opinion – much could be written on both sides of it. In my history, all that concerns me is to relay matters of fact and let readers decide.

Beor wanted to know how the devil could he know anything about dreams…which by the  by, begged a different question: what could make a dream so particular for a landlord to make a visit in the middle of the day when he could’ve waited to ask Beor that night in the barroom?

“Sire,” said the landlord, deaf to these insults, “I am prepared to pay for your son if he could help the raving gent occupying my room. His wandering words make me think of the safety of my family.”

“Balaam?” said my father with a new interest.

“I believe,” the landlord added, “the poor fellow might rally were his dream interpreted. I’m thinking it might set his mind at rest. I entertain, mister Beor, a high opinion of your lad. I felt there was something more than common in Balaam when I overheard him discoursing at the bar one night. He was explaining Philistine behaviour – how they plugged up the wells they relied on just out of hate for your family ancestor.”

“ Abraham!” Beor exclaimed.

“Sire – favour me by letting your son come now – do, sir. If Balaam can help my lodger with his dream, I’ll make it worth his while – to get the lunatic out of my house.  Patrons are keeping away.”

“Sir, your cause is worthy. We’ll drink the poor fellow’s health in your barroom. Allow us to get dressed, and you may expect us in no time.”

“Son,” Beor said after the landlord had shut the door, “Bind up your unruly hair, get on a clean robe, and we’ll pay a visit.”

On the way to the tavern I asked, “How shall I manage it I wonder? What if the dream is quite as raving as the dreamer? If I can’t get the meaning, what then? If we’d only asked the landlord to tell us the dream –”

“Son, leave it.” My father tapped his forehead. “You got a power up there. Under that dirty mop lie talents, my boy, faculties bursting to be put to good use. My bones tell me that our visitor will be a godsend.”

Not since that day have I encountered fear and disbelief in myself. When we arrived at the tavern it was, I admit, with a faint heart. What if, after hearing the description of the dream, no vision came into my head? What if I could not enter a man’s demented head? My discomposure grew on being admitted into the room by the landlord, wherein a ghastly countenance met us. The occupant clutched the bedclothes and our entry made him draw them up to his wide-open eyes. The landlord drew up two chairs to the bedside before he bowed out, taking us and, by the looks of it, the dreamer by surprise.

Trembling, the bewildered fellow stuck a hand from under the bedclothes in a half-greeting. As the horror passed from his face it gave way to a pall of shame. Beor encouraged him to take a drink from a flask on a bedside table. Whatever it contained, he gathered enough wit to recount the dream which had immobilized him for three days.

‘A mild coming we had two days out from Nineveh. It was the best time of year for journeying. The road was dry and the weather mild. Summer palaces sparkled from slopes. A free and easy time we had of it. At noon on the third day our camels ascended to a cliff looking down on a valley. We had looked forward to this part of the journey, to friendly villages and familiar taverns. The camel drivers had got themselves up. They were scrubbed and dressed and ready for their liquor and their women. Such were the expectations we had. Then…”

His troubled eyes moved to the window. His hands dropped and he fell silent. Before my father could speak harshly I leaned out and touched the poor fellow’s arm. He turned his head back to me.

“Oh dear, I thought I was at home,” he sighed. My brain’s confused.”
I made an understanding nod.

“So,” he continued, “we looked down on a beautiful valley. Then – before our eyes it changed to – to a commotion. The devil’s work!” he moaned, wringing his hands. I don’t know the words to tell what we were looking at. Baal can be my witness: one moment our road down there ran through a peaceful, verdant valley; the next moment it changed to the netherworld. That carpeting in the valley could be nothing else. Well, what was there to do? There was no way else to journey. On getting to the bottom our road along the valley turned into a writhing heaving mass. There are some sights that the brain refuses to  transmit to the eye. It was a good while before we understood what was there. Blindness then would’ve been a rich blessing. The valley bottom was a sea of crows – birds of black and red. And in every spare space four-legged scavengers were running in and out of the commotion of birds. On the air we caught such a flapping and a yapping there never was. All the while, the prospect undulated and heaved. The devil, we thought, had cursed the earth with pestilence.”

I cast a glance at Beor seated beside me. He was white and staring. By now the distraught man in bed had exhausted himself.  He blew his lips like a sea urchin which the surf washes up.

“Friend, take more of this,” I said, offering him the flask on the table. He dispatched the contents in a gulp. He dabbed his forehead with a sleeve, and prepared to martyr himself again.

“You can imagine, our beasts were as reluctant as we,” he said. What could we do? We had to journey on. There was no skirting that furious feasting through the length and breadth of the valley. I could do no more than trust that the feasters and scavengers would give way to our caravan. They did – dropping away right and left. ‘Gag!’I cried wildly to my riders behind me. I reigned my horse as if the stench was a wall in front of me. It was. I felt the impact. ‘Gag, gag!’ I dismounted to get a robe out of my baggage I wrapped my head around up to the eyes. A right foolish thing to try. I might as well have waved a palm frond at the putrefying human remains. A thick wet rag to the mouth and nose would not have kept that  stench at bay. One inhalation could fell a man like an axe.” He fell back on the pillow, his mouth open, breathing in quick gasps. Beor mumbled into my ear, “Bit his tongue I vouch.”

I put a finger to my lips. The patient summoned the will to go on.

“I tell you, misters, our trials got worse. When the sun dipped behind the mountain darkness came quickly. Half the night we traversed that valley of death. The gore was impossible to avoid. Our animals had to be coaxed over pieces of torso or lengths of intestine or mangled limbs and what else I don’t know. I – I dread falling asleep. I fear the dream will continue. It won’t stop tormenting me.”

“Mister, a sound sleep would do you good,” said Beor tapping my arm, I suppose to start me on working out the meaning.

I despaired of being able to give the demented fellow some intelligence that would bring him rest. This much the landlord had told us on the steps. His guest was in the King’s army; he had arrived at the tavern on a borrowed horse – which too ill to proceed, (to join, I suppose the regiment) he had dismissed the morning after the dream. It presented no problem for me to divine that the dream had to do with a conflict, past or to come. I whispered this to Beor.

“You’re right to think of that, son,” he said; upon which he left the room and stepped down, I guessed, to fill time in the barroom.

I sat on, with not a word good or bad, to comfort the stricken man. Then reflecting on the ways of Uncle Abraham, the one true prophet before my time, I understood that clarity was the reward of contemplation. Only when the mind has been prepared to allow the light of pure intellect to enter, can a man think with clarity – prophetic faculty, some call it. If I was to interpret a dream of such evil I would need prophecy – a vision, a union of the human and the divine intellect. Dismaying my client, I asked to borrow the bedclothes. I spread them on the floorboards and sat with the body posture I had heard was used by the mystics of my day. Shutting my eyes to all sights and sounds, I exercised the lungs and commenced a rhythmic breathing. After a passage of time I felt as if bolts had been shot back and seals taken off. A door opened inside my head to let in sheer light. The vision began, the symbolic value of the dream. I babbled, not to the fraught man in bed, but to no one and everyone in that room. I heard him shift his weight.

“What are you talking?” I heard him ask. “That is magic talk; what’s it to do with me?”

Born and raised in a family with visions (grandfather Laban, chasing after runaway cousin Jacob, had a visitation from God) I found myself telling the bed-confined man what his dream meant. “This is the interpretation of it. The three days on your journey mean three moons in time. After three moons Babylon will storm Canaan and wage war. The valley of human remains stands for the unprecedented extent of fighting. The birds of prey gorging on cadavers mean that Babylon will render Canaan desolate. Hyenas and jackals running in and out of the feast stand for the victorious soldiers taking spoil, sparing not a man, woman, child and beast on the defeated side.”

Beguiled and comforted by the interpretation I offered, the captain burst from his bed and took my hand before I had time to come back from the vision, and pumped it with both his hands while I stared up, bewildered, from the floor. “Mister, who are you! Where’ve you hid yourself! All the fake seers are not your equal. You have saved our king and country! Long live the Moab people.”

To have actually saved my king!.But from what! Whom…? Well, who was I to argue. Gold was better than getting visions, for now.

“Is that him?” Beor asked, as bleary eyed as I remained. “Coming down the steps? He looks better.” My father forgot to ask what happened. He only breathed on me and turned back to his companions propping up the bar. The breath nearly felled me; it was a distillery in one.

I never got the chance to ask him for my promised gold.

I staggered home and into my stale blankets. I woke with the sun, and with appetite for a wholesome meal to celebrate my achievement. The house was quiet. I peered into my father’s dank room. He wasn’t in his cot; there weren’t the clothes he’d worn the night before, strewn about the floor. Perchance he was outdoors, I looked. In the storeroom there was the same  pile of wood, sacks of meal, and implements, But something was different: on the shelf stood the square cage which housed Beor’s specimen stingers. Normally he kept it in the shed by the stalls. For some reason he had moved it here. And the aperture gaped open – there were no creatures to keep in. The cage was empty.

This vexed me greatly. Were the scorpions loose indoors? I waited till midday for the tavern to open, and went to ask the landlord. The man was entirely different from our visitor the day previous. I found him supervising a servant in the barroom, cleaning up from the night previous.

“You want your father, mister!”  He sizzled – turning on me with lips like a rabid dog.

Taken aback I mumbled an apology. “You see, he didn’t come home. I came –”

“Does he treat you the way he treated my establishment? I try to keep an orderly place. Beor’s riding for a fall mister interpreter of dreams. What do you know about the events here last evening? One incident? Two maybe?”

Before I could ask his meaning – “What gives your family the right to use my house, that’s been good enough for people of higher standing than you, for twenty years – what gives Beor the right to make bedlam, up there (he jerked a thumb) and down here?”

I turned my back on him to look at the furniture and floor – by way of commiserating with him. “I can’t see of what you speak; and, sire, I’m sorry but your anger, doubtless from good cause, doesn’t mean I have to be its target.”

My appeal to victimhood, in the way it usually works, pacified my adversary somewhat; his colour toned down from livid scarlet to washed pink; and he began to explain his ire. As a landlord of long standing he knew two ways of looking at a quiet drinker: either the drinker was a wise man or he was a dangerous one. In Beor’s case he picked the second type. The way Beor’s hand had kept creeping to a pouch on his belt, hidden by his coat, caught the landlord’s eye more than once. “You see, mister Balaam, I got a room up there for patrons if it’s more than drink and talk they’re wanting. Regulars know I get damn fine girls, very young, very clean; not like other taverns – unhealthy places with dirty girls, sick girls. Also no rough business in my house, you understand.”

I did; but when would he come to the whereabouts of my father? I started to remind him.

“Mister, mister…listen to me. Your father, God bless him, took the five pieces I paid for your kind and professional help with that pitiful lodger; he bought time with the fair creature doing duty last night.”

It was my turn to go livid scarlet. I formed words my lips refused to utter. My dumbness allowed the landlord to come to the point sooner than he would perhaps have done.

“I showed him up and took his order – for late hours my patrons like a basin of mulled wine.’ The landlord, being one, would also have his patrons like a basin of mulled wine for early hours.

“Well, going out with another request, a Hubble-Bubble pipe, I went back down. Being a very busy night for my servants, I was not surprised when your father came down after an hour, yelling at me for his order. Before I could apologize he told me to go to blazes, and he stormed out.”

“Yes, okay!” I intervened, finally out of patience, and also ashamed to hear of Beor’s behavior. “But, you see, he never came home. Sire, look, I came sire, to enquire of Beor’s whereabouts.”

To my consternation the landlord searched my face closely. I asked what he thought he was doing. God – I should not have spurred him on!

“Sorry that you have to hear this mister Balaam. Not quarter of an hour after Beor left my place, this room echoed to a stampede down those steps. A demented shrieking followed. A body tumbled to the bottom of the steps. I ran there; at my feet the girl was clutching and tearing at her head, moaning softly.

‘Hallo, you,’ I heard men around me shout, “what in thunder’s going on?”

What black art did he play on the girl?” I said, half to myself. Men wanted to know who I meant. The poor thing lay on the floor, writhing and clutching her hair. To look for some scalp wound I knelt down to part her tangled locks. My fingers touched something hard. With a yell of horror I snatched my hand away. A braver man took it upon himself to search the  thicket of hair. When he got to the scalp there it was – a large grey scorpion, In dumb terror, I watched him take a piece of cloth from his pocket and dislodged the critter. A new commotion surrounding the girl brought everyone there. The demented girl tore at her hair as though she would yank it out by the roots.

‘God spare ye, girl” I heard, “Oh, let God spare ye.” People stood on tables to get a better sight. “Where’s the devil who did this?” men were screaming. “Gone out not ten minutes ago,” I told them.

“Who is he and what’s he look like?” they demanded. Mister Balaam, I described your father. Some rushed out to look for him in the roads. Well, lad, we got the girl into a chair and someone with a pocket knife cut her hair all around to expose her scalp. I saw it was very red and swollen. Someone came up with the idea of rubbing spirit onto the spot. It seemed to add to her pain. How the girl screamed! I got her to swallow some brandy. When the shock of it wore off a little we carried her up. She fell asleep on the bed. There she is now, quiet and perhaps better. You’re not to go up, though. Let her be. And that’s been my painful duty to tell you, mister Balaam.”

I make no comment. Beor was found the next day in a side alley off the market. His head was crushed in. I needed the strength of an ox to remember and put this all down.

 

 

 

 

Eye for an eye

And there was – all of that, and more; though not everything that day was for Baal-Peor worship. Caught up in the wonderment of boyhood’s first taste of abandonment, Akai allowed himself to be pulled inside a public tent where the fragmented multitude unite to carry the current of ecstasy onward and upward. “Let him be,” I thought, “who cares?” Thing was, I had my secret fetish. Sheba, cropping grass and buttercups in the stockade where the animals of worshippers were confined for the day, had a devoted master in me. Writing of this, confined to my womanless cot by a lapse of health, I feel the two currents carrying me along: desire on the one hand – reckless desire after the surprise wore off that a man could find fulfilment in bonding with a quadruped – and something close to self-contempt on the other hand. Correction! On Mount Peor that day, aroused by the brute of an assault on the gentle creature, a wave of tenderness displaced my degraded conscience.

Correct, ever since that day on the mount, I have put my head down at night in Sheba’s homey barn, ever heedful of an explanation that will liberate me from a fantasy and a fixation. For a normal attitude in love, reflection tells me, two parallel feelings ought to come together: tender affection and sensuous feeling. Sad to think – the marriage of the two is an all too rare occurrence. When we love we have no desire, and when we desire we cannot love. Am I to consider myself the average torn and tortured man? Plain and simple, are my sensuous yearnings fixated to my debauched fantasies? I think about it often. What explains my pre-occupation with a browsing beast? And please don’t tell me I ask for trouble by bowing to idols. I Balaam, a son of the world-first God-fearer and his lot, have dedicated, do you really think, my growing up to believing in blocks of wood and metal! ‘A pagan!’ you ridicule, ‘A primitive merely!’

I do see that defecating with primitive pagans before a handmade figure is indeed an incriminating act. Yet I do it for God. You are amazed; but then I am not, you see, one of your scared to hell landowners at the mercy of the elements, or your shaky king fearing for his throne. I’m a God-fearer who grasps that everything is in the Creator and He is in everything. The Divine energy is in that Baal idol just as it is in my cot and in my donkey. Right now my body is lying on God (whom I love because I fear Him) and through God I love my Sheba snorting in her sleep in our quarters. Why would I take her for a wife unless I felt that confluence of different currents when we are together? I know Sheba feels it as well! In her own way she told me so.

What did it for me was that day I took brother Akai to the mount of worship and left him in the tent where homage to Baal-Peor is paid with sexual abandon. If the girls in our family (Rebecca and Rachel were striplings when they began married life) were ready, physically and emotionally, to explore the facts of life, well – so did my brother of eight years. Meanwhile I strolled over to the paddock to check on our two animals; in time to catch the dirty bony Midianite who earned tips from caring for the transports, tormenting three donkeys with his whip. Their sin, it looked, was to have strayed into some lush area he had reserved for the steeds and ponies of worshippers of means. As the cutting throngs of the whip landed about the necks and heads of the hapless creatures, they brayed in distress even as they tried to back out of the way of the cruel throngs brandished with obvious  relish which only grew with every cut that landed on target. For a moment I could do nothing but stare. Then one animal – God! It was my Sheba! – opened its mouth in supplication for the wounding to stop. The next crack of the whip curled throngs into and around her open jaw.

I thought I knew what I would do. I meant to grab the weapon and whip its wielder and push him to the ground and whip him, and land kicks on the prone pain-lover, and so on until he had learnt a lesson. I would lead off my Sheba and Akai’s Seth, fetch my brother, and ride off home.  The first thing I did was to hail as loud as I could. It brought a sudden halt to the game. A smile filled with good teeth marked my unhurried approach. It was not a bothered smile.

“Is the young lord going off now?” asked the bold fellow, smiling like a toothy wolf.         “Yes – and I’ll take this!” I panted, jerking the whip out of his hand. I knew what I meant to do, but I didn’t know about myself, because in all my life I had never protected anybody, nor been loved unconditionally. I thought I only meant to punish the scoundrel.

After two lashes the whip was not enough. I dropped it to the ground and used my fists on the cowering bent form. My breathing came out in squealing whines. The coward did his best not to fall. He tried to duck my threshing fists, or at least make them ineffective; but then fear overcame him and he tried to run. I leapt on him and brought him down, and by then my fists were not enough. My frantic hand found a stone on the ground, and a roaring red wave burst through my reserve.

Later I looked down on the beaten face. I bent to listen for a heartbeat, but heard nothing over the thumping of my own. Two separate thoughts ran through my head. One said, “Have to bury him. Have to dig a hole and put him in it.” And the other cried like a child, “I can’t stand it. I couldn’t touch him.” Then the sickness that follows rage overwhelmed me.  I ran from the place, leaving the whip, leaving Sheba and Seth. I blundered away up the hill, wondering where I could hide my sickness for a while.

No question was ever asked of me. For days on my supposed sickbed I continued to act like an invalid. Dear Orpah, who sat dutifully beside me when not cleaning and cooking, made me drink cups of hot limewater with honey. Beor in a voice like a broken vow told me, “So, you have told the woman you want to die. Very well, good; then do it and stop bugging me and everyone.” And Akai rushing in with cloudy eyes, “Never mind, big brother, you’re going to be just fine and better than ever, just come back inside your head.” And later on, “Never – never PLEASE! not tell our father about the grownup’s tent I went into!”

So it was not long before I went back to being tutored and tested by Zaidoc and tormented by Beor to think lighting fast on my feet. Never more did I let temper come near me. Anyone who can’t learn from experience is a fool, I told myself. Ever afterwards I felt a kind of self-respect. I had never known that the impulse to kill was in me. I told Akai nothing, blaming a thorn bush for the cuts around Sheba’s neck and head. Under Zaidoc the healer’s supervision we applied aloe nectar to her wounds, and the harmless affectionate creature healed within a week.

But I cannot half tell what a dismal house we shortly had. My sprite of a brother caught a cough (from intimacy in that infernal tent I let him enter?). Zadoc ran fingers over the tortuous breast heaving like a frightened bird. “Damn unlucky, but let me get some boiled roots into the little man,” he said. In the passageway I overheard him tell Beor, “No doubt of it, the lad’s got spoilt lungs.”

“By heaven and hell!”father cried out. “What dark angel has dropped, sir, upon my house?” I dragged myself out of my guilt and pressed cold cloths to brother’s forehead. Orpah hummed spells and spooned broth into her darling’s mouth. He looked at her with a wan wistful face, “Don’t fret, mother, indeed I am quite happy!”

But the day came when Zadoc stepped up to my father and croaked, “My friend, your woman bore you a beautiful gift. Now, I must tell you, the pulse is nearly gone. This night will probably finish him. Don’t make yourself mad. It’s the will of powers beyond our ken.” The poor soul; till an hour before my brother expired, the gentle mien and happy heart never failed him.

From then on, father let me fall wholly into the hands of the tutor. Provided he saw me being taught and never idle, Beor was contented, as far as he thought of me. For himself he grew more morose by the day. It was black sorrow of the kind that will not lament. He neither cursed nor prayed. It was clear enough that he was defying God and man to do their worst. He had plenty of wickedness to prove; it seemed, and gave himself up to reckless dissipation. Orpah had to bear his tyrannical conduct, for she had not the heart to leave me alone. Beor’s bad ways drew bad companions. Rarely did they enter our door; mostly they joined company in a popular tavern. These were desperate men who worked the trade road from Tyre to Ramses and drove their caravans through our city market.

Beor once gave me the honour of meeting some of his companions. On a dreary night as I kept Orpah company in the kitchen, with our supper pots bubbling over a peat fire, heating us into a semi coma, the door banged open, admitting Beor with a pelt of cold air and stinging rain. He hadn’t the mind to shut the door after him; she got up to do it.

“Agreeable entertainment!” – stamping boots dry but letting his cape drop puddles on the stone. No time for removing it, he displayed a wild beast’s fondness by jerking me up by the arm.

“You can warm yeself at the inn. Time you mixed with men, and I want you should hear what’s being talked of.”

I avoided Orpah’s look, those great hollow eyes fixed on me in terror, her mouth trembling and her hand wandering to her throat. Yet I let myself be bullied – except to throw an oilcloth over my coat and step into lined boots, of which Beor tried to deprive me.

They were a strange assortment gathered in the tavern, grouped around a scruffy Hittite in the bar room. They straddled the stools and sprawled and leant against the wall, or slouched beside a table; and one or two, of heads or stomachs weaker than the rest, lay full length in vomit on the floor. Behind the smoky drifts they were phantom figures having no place in the day-to-day world with their ragged shrouds for clothes and their heads of matted hair. What with the stale drink smell and the reek of tobacco and the air of crowded unwashed bodies, I felt a disgust rising in my throat; I felt it would come out and pass my lips shortly. After the first hilarious outburst, the first stare, the shrug of a shoulder and a faint chuckle, Beor introduced me. Luckily, given a chair on his far side, I avoided sniffing the worst of the toxic chemistry.

Beor slapped down pieces on the counter; the barman, wordless as well, poured toddies all round. ‘Drink it as hot as you can stand it,’ the barman told me. ‘That’ll take the chill out of a man-midwife.’

To your health, young sir!’ a grizzled Chaldean saluted me. I felt a nudge from Beor.

“He came way down, son – Alexandria,” he said to my ear. Then in my ear in a lower voice –  “I been there – on King of Midian business; watched army movements.”

“A city on the make,” said a sunken-eyed Hittite. You can hear a Babel of tongues in Alexandria.”

“Surely, sir, not Hebrew?”Beor said in the thrall of his hot obsession. “Heaven and hell, you didn’t hear that spoken! Not Jacob’s family up there?” Always Jacob; all the Jacobs, and nothing but the Jacobs kept father going. In his quest for unattainable vengeance he would bring Israel into the remotest topic – like now, to the raucous amusement of his companions. Over the din I heard the fellow who had seemed occupied with his own circle, shout to Beor, “Come on mister; leave the Israelites and make happy like the rest of us fellows.” Beor confronted the idea; then he boomed above the din, “No dammit, go to the devil and leave me to my game!” Others, who had never met such singleness of purpose, clapped at his vinegary temper.

“There’s the man you must ask about that,” said the Chaldean, pointing at a man who regarded him with a glint in the eye. “He’ll tell you tales that’ll redden your ears more than they are now. A terrible liar, a really bad type, so don’t let him talk too long. He’ll make your head spin with scurrilous accounts.”

Yisro (I learnt the name later) had a mop of silver hair and a nose like a hornbill. He looked as if he might be someone, and so it turned out: he was the High Priest of Midian.  He came up to Beor.

“Mister, so you want to know what the Israelites do in Egypt? Well, I can tell you; they are getting close in numbers to the Egyptians born and bred. When Jacob came with his family of seventy, he settled in Goshen. Three generations have gone by. Pharaoh wanted to know what he could see by looking. He ordered a census to be taken. What do you think the Israelite population is today? Go on – make a guess at the number.”

I saw that it did not need the medium of a number, or a guess at it, to make Beor sick. The statements were quite enough to make his ears burn and his face to go deadly pale. Overcome by anguish he hazarded a number. “Seventy times seventy hundred?”

The hornbill nose scoffed, “Take a breath of air, mister. Forget your hundreds; the census counted a thousand times a thousand thrice. On top of that number the Israelite women grow it by ten to fourteen each time they give birth.”

Beor’s ashen look and stunned muteness emboldened the informant to fire up my father with an exorbitant summation. “It’s war by numbers, sir, you mark my words.  They’ve got Egypt in their sights.”

I was to meet Yisro again – in Egypt this time. And with one other – a wealthy Israelite by the name of Job – we met in the palace, the heart of Pharaoh’s seat of power, and he, the God of Egypt, sought our council: what should he do about the Israelite problem. It was left to me to give his idea the thumbs up; I was all for dealing with Egypt’s peril by means of enslavement.

But I race ahead. Events must be recounted in their proper place, and at their proper time. Because how I got to be advising Pharaoh the mighty, post-dates the ugly, but to think of it, the poetic death of my unloved, tortured father.

Donkey love, Baal worship

So from the beginning my education bred taut feelings in the barn. The endurance of unrelenting peril warped us – Beor, Zadoc and me – in different ways.  My father made enormous demands on the tutor’s accommodating good nature.  He would make Zadoc sit up till midnight developing a new test for me while he ranted about the injustices meted out to our family. They were now very thick; but the healer hated my father and, to say the truth, I did the same. I had matured enough to catch him out; to understand that Beor was not super wise; that his judgements could be faulty, his thinking selfish, his dedication to me not the expression of paternal love. With the fall of my god went all safety.

One thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall little by little. They topple and shatter. To build them up again is the devil of a job, and gods anyway never shine the way they did before they crashed. A boy’s world is never whole again, and he grows into an adult aching and angry. What I endured made Zadoc furious. He cursed my father for persecuting a harmless boy, as he called me. At my young brother’s death, which happened at the end of my programming, I had learnt to regard Beor as an oppressor rather than a father, and had contracted a gutful of injured feelings.

Contrary to his crude ways and rapid judgements, Beor, enigmatically, could surmise connections more shrewdly than anyone I know. I remember the instance when he set me, through a protesting Zadoc, a problem more teasing than any so far. We were in the barn, in our usual habitat and positions, when Zadoc, after giving my father a dirty look, addressed me:

“Boy, you be careful. Attend closely. See if you can take your mind off that – that thing on you. Ready your mind for a problem close to your father’s heart.”

I half gleaned what it was going to be – the fundament of Beor’s collected gripes about the brotherhood of Abraham snubbing its nose at the men folk of our family We were only good enough, my father understood, when Abraham’s lackey and Isaac’s brat came looking for wives. Beor’s grandfather Besuel and his father Laban were there to produce daughters for the Hebrews to marry. I told myself I’d have to counter this impertinence to win the right to be left alone, to be unfettered from the tortuous threat of being stung to death. Through a fog of apprehension I heard Zadoc put the problem to me.

“Your family’s always been there for the Abrahams’ – you agree?”

“I agree, Sire, I agree.” Sweating, I could’ve murdered the one man who loved me. Zadoc looked affirmatively at his accomplice. My father nodded sombrely.

“Well, then Balaam,” resumed Zadoc, “Listen now. Isaac, the chosen son of Sarah and Abraham, was matched with Rebecca, a daughter of Besuel, your great grandfather. Correct?”

I pursed my lips and nodded impolitely.

“So, in other words, Isaac did not marry a born Hebrew?”

“No. Clearly not, Sire.”

“Then tell us, boy – how did Rebecca come to be a Hebrew. When and how did it happen? What conversion rite did the lady have to go through, as a male must go through, to join the house of Abraham?

Zadoc swam before my eyes. My father, out of sight at my left shoulder, bore my degradation pretty well, according to the low chuckle I caught.

My faint, quivering voice: “Rebecca? I don’t believe she got circumcised.”

My father, breaking down with a guffaw, took the unwitting jest well. As for Zadoc I saw his spare frame fold as if to express, ‘Lad, you sail too close to the wind!’

“So Rebecca did not convert,” pursued my interrogator. “Well, lad – then what did she do?  How was it that Rebecca, a daughter of your family, got accepted into the house of Abraham?”

I fought not to yield to a fiendish temptation to glance back and glean whatever clue might be written on Beor’s face. I stammered, “Sire –

“Well?”

“Nothing.  Sire, Rebecca didn’t do a damn thing, if I’m right. Abraham believed his daughter-in-law was selected in heaven for Isaac. Abraham and Sarah considered that no rite of passage was needful,”

A deadly quiet fell in that chilled barn. Time hung for an eternity. I imagined the scorpion, a tail length from my drop earlobe (a legacy from my family) waiting on Beor as keenly as I waited. There was Zadoc, eyes sunk more than ever; it gave me a start to be looked at by eyes hidden from me. At my back a porky hand jerked me so that I stumbled forward.

“Hey, clever young fellow! What you don’t know! My word – who taught the boy wicked truths like those? God be with you, son!” My father close up with leering scorching eyes, blocked my squinting vision. It took a few moments before I observed the critter clutched in his leather mitt – my reward for the daredevil answer. Imagine, if you can, my sudden joy. Imagine with what speed the nightmare fled from my thoughts, as I bathed in the extraordinary way I had acquitted myself.

And Beor, close to loving me, let Zadoc decide. “Sir, what do you think? We let the prodigy tell us more truths without the help of this thing?”

Zadoc put on his hat. Without a word he made for the door.

“Hi!” Beor, distraught,  Zadoc, hand pushing open the barn door, looked back long and hard. Beor – “Where you going in a hurry?

Zadoc, vinegary – “Death doesn’t like being played with too much. Enough’s enough.”

Beor: “Enough? What is?”

I crying out: “No – Come back; Sire. Do. Not cruel… It made me see things. No harm done. Thoughts are luminous to me now. Don’t stop. Give more questions.”

This brave outrageous claim was, in fact borne out by immediate events, because Zadoc resumed his role of interrogator, and I, giving way to a devilry which had been lurking inside of me, spoke more truths about the brotherhood of Abraham, which set me on a road at which end there’d be a confrontation with the Lord Himself.

So back on his box Zadoc got me to divine the ultimate truth dear to my father’s heart – if he knew it. Rebecca was no Hebrew – so much was clear. But what did it mean for Jacob, born from her? Completely, stunningly free from imminent agony, I applied myself to the question like a runaway carthorse.

“Sire, from mother to son. How could Jacob be one of Abraham’s when his mother carried the despised blood of our family?”

Beor with intensity not healthy for the abused vital organs in his body, prod me on. “And?” –   Coaxing me with hands atremble.  “Tell boy!  What follows from it? Don’t get shy now.”

You may ask: you an eleven year-old?  Yes, but. You say: can a wet behind the ears lad unravel  the genealogy of a family that criss-crosses boundaries and even nations? Even allowing for the truth of your supposed miraculous mind, can we believe that an urchin spoke like a sage with a beard? I say, maybe not so wet behind the ears, considering what my father did to spur my thoughts – the way he afflicted me. Anyway, not all children in our family were children.  Beor’s great aunt Rebecca was less than half my eleven years when she hit on the idea of Isaac for a mate. The precocious skittish Rebecca divined that her cousin was her match made in heaven. So certainly – I do fall within the realm of possibility. Maybe the words poured out of me from a terror-purified sub-conscience. Maybe this is what did it for me.

“Jacob’s four wives?” I said to Beor’s ferocious injunction.

“Ay, ay – they have to mean something further. Boy, don’t stop till the finish, boy. ”

I knew Beor knew the meaning as well as I. His overwrought mind I could tell, wanted me to know, and to speak the meaning which, to placate my father, I did.  All of Jacob’s four wives, I reminded both men, came from the house of my grandfather. Not one of them came from Hebrew stock. Rachel, Leah and their handmaidens, Bilpah and Zilpah – none entered the brotherhood of Abraham through any rite of passage. So what of the twelve sons they bore Jacob, himself from half and half blood stock? And here, I’m sorry to say, I revelled in my wisdom. Jacob, I concluded boastfully, bequeathed all Israel the blood of his detested uncle Laban.

The son of Laban – my disturbed father – who had been tramping to and fro like an endangered hen, stopped in his tracks. His cry of, “Israel!” startled Zadoc who was pulling on his riding boots now that the proceedings, as he thought, were over.

“What now, Beor?” he said with pique. “What’s Israel done to bother you?’

“What – I tell you what. Israel’s busy, if you hadn’t heard, making Egypt its own. God confound the nation. Seventy times seven times Jacob’s plague has multiplied at the cost of the host Egyptians. Like father like son. As Jacob paid back my father who gave him shelter and a new life, so the children of Jacob are paying back Pharaoh.”

From this fanatical drift in our damp smelly barn, I skip a moon to preparations and a journey to serve Baal-peor, our diarrhoeic idol. The summer shone in full prime; it was a morning to make the city of Ar into polished brass, and the stone point on distant Mount Peor to stand up clear against the west. There was a glow on the land, and red wall flowers burned the air around them. Ponies rolled in green pastures and fowls made a dreadful gay racket. It was so magic a day that Beor, who took pride in his ugly mood before noon, greeted the servant in the kitchen. For his two boys it was the day of truth and, since my brother Akai and I were to bear the brunt of it, Orpah cooked us a hot breakfast.

Rarest and most improbable prize of all, Beor sat me down for a blessing. Making me stare into the crotch of his brown stained breeches, he laid unwashed hands on top of my dark curls.

“Balaam – you, all my family living and dead shall acknowledge.  Your hand will be at your enemies’ nape; kings will prostrate themselves before you.”

Oh, we were contented brothers, Akai and me. Though the blessing left us bemused it was a favour and eminence we could hardly bear. But my poor Akai – I must tell you that there are certain things in which he did not believe, against all possible evidence to the contrary. One was in a good father, another was in his blessing me. The fact that he had seen both did not make him believe them one bit more. His soul must have crawled with horror, for how can you believe in something that does not exist? For a punishment our father sending us to Mount Peor for the new moon rituals would have been cruel; but as a prize, a gift it was an honour. We felt more solemn and golden than at a good funeral. .

Our pilgrimage started by the pony stalls; it should have ended there but did not. All in good time though….On this perfect morning we are pampering and harnessing Akai’s piebald pony Seth and my coquettish donkey Sheba to a state of readiness. I made the farmhand rub the harnesses and polish the brass till they reflected the sun. With a tender touch I braided a red ribbon into Sheba’s mane, and made a red bow for her tail. I helped my brother do likewise with his pony. It may be that we bestowed on the animals the loving care our father never gave us. Rather than out and about here, Beor, not a man patient of his injuries, real or imagined, skulked about the dank house thinking and doing God alone knew.

How different Seth and Sheba were! Of peaceful, placid natures with not a jarring element, our pets had scarce heart to retaliate upon a fly. “Go!” I said to an overgrown one buzzing about her nose. I was eleven at this time. Whether my action was in unison to happy feelings at an age of pity, or to some unknown harmony in tune with mercy, I know not. The lessons of goodwill to animals I learnt from Sheba never wore out till the day I played games with Almighty God. I could bear most cruelties, but the mere thought of a donkey in distress speared me through the heart.

We had stitched conical leather hats together. Orpah stuffed into our saddlebags lumps of cheese and strips of salted pork, and bunches of beets and fig rolls with walnuts, telling me what she wanted us to complain to Baal on her account. I had described to young Akai the spectacle ahead of us. It had been a time of plenty for farmers, their flocks and their herds, so no child sacrifices would be burnt on the altar. We could look forward to nothing but sensuous and amusing rites. It would be my second ceremony on the mount. While we trotted along I made Akai picture the cursing and swearing in the name of Baal;, opening the bowels in front of the idol, offerings of beet-reddened excrement; wild, mixed togetherness of strangers. Baal, I warned him, selected pilgrims for blessings with no apparent logic or consistency. Some who had served Baal month in and month out, afterwards died horribly, whilst others attended upon him once after a record of utter neglect, yet went away to live long, bountiful lives.

We were by no means early arrivals. Pilgrims from distant parts had been gathering on the heights since the day before. A part of the melee was munching on beet; others, having eaten this obligatory red root, were spread out on their haunches before the temple, robes above hips, defecating in divine and sacred duty to the golden idol on its mahogany dais, his arm stretched upward. We covered our noses; the reek had a way of offending you and making you wretch .Worshippers by the hundreds attended nature’s calls in rows of gullies, mingling in a congregation of dark red waste. And flies! Clouds of excited buzzing flies over steaming heaps, pests along with pilgrims celebrating with freely-given offerings to the God of Opening.

There was the din of ribald chatter which non-believers wrongly construe as irreverence. Outside of their tents celebrants had set up tables laden with cheeses, jars of wine, melons, roasted fowl, meat pasties, shared around smoking fires with neighbors. Groups of laughing girls strolled about, arm in arm, smiling sideways at potential partners, and boys, pretending to ignore them, stood about in knots, gesticulating and waving their drinks. `Priests swarmed together, discussing points of worship with immense gravitas, their grey beards augmenting the patriarchal effect of gold chains and flapping white robes.

But in truth the scenes of merriment, indignity and ecclesiastical debate were a disguise for the anxiety of everyone there who anticipated, who feared, to witness the inexplicable – the trepidation of mortals waiting to witness the breaking of the veil between this world and the next. The nervousness swelled into a tightening of the chest and a susceptibility to tears when a bell tolled for a quorum of ten priests to chant the communal dirges. But then – a rude disruption. A hefty swinging fellow broke away from a group of obvious-looking Israelites. Before the priests standing behind the idol understood what was happening, the fellow had leaped onto the dais, turned around, raised his rear end to the idol, and lifting his robe high, wiped himself on Baal’s thick nose.

A deathly hush, caught from those nearest the temple, spread out and behind. The silent shock wave reached Akai and me on the fringe of the crowd. We heard the roughness of tongues, of whispers rising in rebuke. Whereupon the Israelite, emboldened by the outrage he had caused, turned on the mass and denigrated its beliefs. Fists were shaken, cussing broke forth. A quiet fury may acquire more power than a loud one. The quiet forced the gathering onto the gesticulating offender, who stood between ten priests, idol and murmuring horde. Hands reached out towards his legs to yank him off the dais. This was the story that reached me, trying to balance my brother on my shoulders, to give him a view of the eye of the storm. “Do you know what gives? Hey, brother, what’s going on?” – I shake with the struggle to stabilize Akai’s dangling legs. But now the gathering applied itself to pulling the Israelite down by the legs; but a hand he stuck out had managed to grab hold of the idol, and would not be detached. The god rocked on its base. Baal seemed about to topple. In the hot afternoon seized by a demonic muteness an improbable, spontaneous cheering erupted. My brother, shouting down at my head, informed me that a circle of priests had the offender in their midst and were chanting while they skipped around him. Then the cheering broke into a roar.

“And now?” I shouted up at Akai. He laughed and laughed. “Tell me or I let go!” I screamed.

“Balaam – a priest’s wiping himself on Baal’s nose. Like the man did. God almighty – a line’s forming for the chance to do it!”

My eyes, standing halfway out of my head, had salty sweat dripping into them, Given the circumstances, I saw that a carnival of singing, praying, excreting and fornication would be natural and inevitable.

 

Stick and carrot

As Beor stared into the cage with two grown, lively specimens his ideas took form. With a prodder of wire wrapped in a wad of wool he poked the male to rage until it attacked and killed its mate. He moved the survivor in his mitt to a bust of hardboard and positioned it on the collarbone within reach of the ear. He agitated the bust little by little. The critter stirred. Beor stooped to look. His tongue played with a plug of hemp as though whirling his pent up fury and memories and hopes around and up and down in his mouth. He waited an interval before agitating the bust again and then again, imperceptibly harder each time. He noted the growing intensity of movement. Suddenly  there was a flash of tail. A grayish drop slid from the earlobe of the bust, and Beor rubbed his hands. “It works,” he said aloud. “Now for a tutor. Then …” He gripped the scorpion in  the mitt and caged it.

Beor took a night and a day to come up with the person. He had looked forward to this moment. Bringing the project to life would cure his irascible conduct with people. He pressed his hands to his eyes until specks of colored light drove to his head. Then he got up and went to visit Zadoc in his cave dwelling a league or so from Ar.

The herbalist received him on his lookout of rock halfway up a cliff face which overhung  this hollowed out platform. The lockout gave Zadoc protection from all weathers. He had carpeted the rock floor with animal hides. A small fire burnt, and on a hearth of flat stones blackened pots steamed. The cave mouth at the back was shallow. This was Zadoc’s living quarter, and inside hung a perpetual dusk. The floor was covered with sheepskin rugs. Zadoc’s bed against the stone wall was an affair of sacking filled with dried moss.

“Figured I’d get a visit from you, though you’ve surprised me,” he greeted Beor.

Throwing off his shoulder bag, Beor said, “Brought a leg of venison for you,” He shook out the wrapped leg. “My boys dropped a buck on the hoof the other day. The oldest one’s coming on fine,” – alluding to what had brought him here.

Zadoc understood what Beor did not: the giver of gifts is more indebted to the receiver than the other way round. He had a brace of guinea fowl on the boil. “Interesting,” Zadoc said, as he put the meat out of reach of prying eyes and noses. He chuckled quietly at catching Beor sniffing a thin steam of broth drifting his way.

“Don’t want to keep it too long.” Beor jutted s his head at the venison in the cave. “Mighty warm walk it had on my back.”

Zadoc said, “No fear of that. It’s a while since I eat fresh-killed animal.” He went to the fire and ladled broth into calabash bowls. Beor blew over his while he plucked up courage. Fennel and something tart intrigued him.

“I never eat soup like it,” Beor observed. “Ever try stewing locusts?’

“Time when there was a plague of them I did. Kind of peppery.”

Zadoc, Beor saw, had enough of his beating around the bush. “I don’t like to disturb your peace and quiet or anything,” he said.

“What is it you need, brother?” Zadoc said. “Say, thanks for the outing. I was just sorry you got  no specimens for the trouble.”

“What did you think of my boy?”

“Oh – the older one,” Zadoc said. “Different, isn’t he? Can’t see him following in his father’s footsteps.”

Beor leaned forward excitedly: “Nor I. Balaam’s not one who’ll follow in anyone’s footsteps.”

“So,” Zadoc said, “Here you are on account of that.”

“Well – it’s like this….”

“No.”

Beor, “No? What’s no? Why no? You see…”

Zadoc interrupted, “I will not subject any boy to such a thing.”

“Hang on my friend, it’s not what you think. I’m not here to ask you to do  – that. I want you to fill the boy’s head with knowledge. Nature, genealogy, spells – things like that. Nothing dangerous, you understand.”

“I don’t think I do. Genealogy? Spells? Well – maybe spells.” He tapped his long brown forehead “My brother, nothing in here except plants and cures. Can’t see how it’ll  help the lad. You need to get him learning a whole lot of things.”

Beor aimed a finger.“Just so, brother; just so. He’d get that from the two of us. From you, nature, rituals, spells, God, the family story. .”

“Wait a minute!” Zadoc cried.  “God and your family?”

Beor said, “Don’t worry – you’ll get knowledge of that from me. How’d you think I came to advise kings and what not?

Both knew they were avoiding one subject, talking of minor subjects to avoid the major one. And Zadoc, dying for his late noon nap, “I don’t think I entirely follow. Where do you fit in?”

Beor, with the effulgence of a boiling geyser: “My dear man, knowledge and instinct, instinct and knowledge. The eternal conflict, not so? You give him the knowledge; I give him the instinct.”

“Right. And the purpose?”

“Why, to bring out the powers troubling the boy’s guts. I can tell what’s inside Balaam as clearly as you can tell a storm brewing inside dark clouds. You know God spoke to my father?”

“Who – Laban?”

“Before my father caught up with the runaway Jacob, God came to Laban. Warned him not to lay a hand on the scoundrel. Father told me and brother Chazzer. What did God have in mind, I always wondered? You know, that was the last occasion the Almighty appeared to a non-Israelite. After my father, it never happened again. Not a cross word or a vision to anyone since that time. God’s stopped speaking to our people.”

Zadoc grunted and went to the overhang of rock to relieve himself. Beor resumed. “It’ll happen again one day soon. I feel it in my bones. The nations need a prophet.  They’re panting to have their prophet.”

Zadoc asked, “You don’t think there’re enough prophets from your family? I’d kind of thought the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are full of prophets blessing and cursing till their souls can’t take more.”

Beor jumped up as though burnt by the rock under him. He combed his scrappy beard through with his fingers. “Exactly! Only Israel can produce prophets. I’ve heard say their scholars claim Israel’s exclusive right to receive divine visitation. The yichus must come from Abraham, they say. You got to be a descendant and you got to be circumcised. Friend, they tell us you got to be born into the family to have prophecy.”

Zadoc listened calmly. Like most people he knew about the brotherhood of Abraham. And he  chuckled caustically. “I can see a wife’s finger in that muddy pie.”

“What do you mean?”

“Abraham’s concubines, remember. Their offspring got circumcised. And are they part of the brotherhood?  Not. There’s Ishmael who got circumcised by Abraham. The family didn’t admit him to the brotherhood. And all the children of his concubine Keturah? Not circumcised, but Abraham’s seed? Sarah was known to be a jealous wife. Could’ve been her that dictated who’s in or out the brotherhood. ”

“Oh,” Beor said, “No doubt of it. Sarah hated Abraham putting himself out for his nephew. My forefather Lot was no favorite in her household. The clan’s devilish adept at understanding God’s mind to suit them. Well, let’s see them complain when the nations get Balaam for a prophet. I want to see the Israelites then, my god!”

“Beor – Beor. Your family had no one circumcised. And what did God tell Abraham? ‘From Isaac will your seed be called.’ Jacob was Isaac’s seed. Israel come from Jacob’s seed, which you’ll admit, your family do not.”

Beor looked out at the hillside, and a jagged vindictiveness speared him through and made him feel better than he remembered feeling. “Never keep the story straight, do they? Always make it so they come out on the right side of God, he said. Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, Rachel – they twisted meanings to come out as God’s own. Always they doing God’s will. I was right there when Jacob, doing God’s will of course, played my father dirtier than he got played. ”

Zadoc wondered when his uninvited guest would leave him to his retreat. “Anyway,” he said,  “hatred never does anyone any good.”

“Putting wrong to right and seeking justice aren’t hatred.”

“And revenge?”

“Nor that. We’ll raise a prophet in their face. Zadoc, don’t miss the boat. Our Balaam’s the chance of a lifetime – of lifetimes without end.”

“Our? I tell you what, every instinct tells me to stay out of this. Other hand, every impulse drags me to get into your dreamings.”

What made the herbal healer agree to dream a venereal wracked sadist’s dream? Why, little by little, did the vision of me trampling on the Chosen People capture Zadoc as surely as it captured my lip foaming father? Why, in the following months did Zadoc dedicate himself to the fantasy of all disappointed men – of making their offspring take the burden?

Perhaps Zadoc feared what Beor would do without his moderating influence. Perhaps the legendary golden touch of Abraham’s clan aroused even temperate Zadoc to envy? Or maybe it was Beor’s flattery – “Your wisdom and my rigor, Zadoc; a great combination for bringing out the talents of a boy. You teach, I motivate.” But what difference could it make to me, the subject of their wild folly to make genius look average?

A live peril on your shoulder is a wonderful thing to fire the brain. You want a quick head on you, not a grave head. Zadoc my interrogator and Beor my tormentor between them made me as quick as a lightning bolt. A scorpion skulking near enough to tickle my ear lobe added to the fruits of their labors.  I took the burden of stick and carrot. The effect, I need hardly tell, was electrifying. The barn rang with my furious attempts at difficult questions. Some indeed had no right or wrong answers, only good or bad ones. My father decided whether good or bad. Employing an actual rod in a schoolroom is hurtful and insulting to master and scholar alike. A beating makes for mutual hatred. Fear, to be effective, must unite teacher and learner, not drive them apart. Thanks to a full grown stinger sensitive to movement of my head or body, three of us went through torment together, sweated like pigs in unison, learnt together, and rejoiced together after mornings without mishap.

How the system worked: The purpose was partly to instruct their protégé and partly, by torture, to quicken his mind. The learning was helped by torture, and the torture helped the learning. The two intermingled and made the whole greater. All credit to my father. Beor recognized that reward, one half of the cycle, must be commensurate to penalty, to complete the cycle. Where the penalty is terrible the reward must be wondrous. It was a system meant to condition me to reward and punishment. These were the counterparts, and Beor understood them as well as he envisaged the end product. Four weekly sessions over ten moons equipped me with an army of knowledge: geography, nature , rituals and pagan gods, origin of the Hebrews, encounters with God and, best of all, the pot luck generations on whose bent shoulders I climbed into the world to fulfill some yet unknown though great purpose .

It all happened in the barn shed beside the pig pen on one side and the mule and pony stalls on the other. For a school it was a damp barn. And you could hear skittering life going on beneath the piles of soggy straw. The way I acquitted myself, though, with neck in dire proximity to a lethal threat, made my two coaches proud. I developed the habit of thinking on my feet at an age when friends were still pants-wetting pups. Before long I could turn a bellicose mind to anything, and do it at heartbeat speed from the peril of hell.

Pain fills my head, obliterating  thoughts of  gratitude, when I recall Beor and Zadoc putting me through my paces. I sit like a block of wood on a hard chair. Beor, gloved, stands at my elbow; Zadoc, in a frightened scraped voice puts the questions from a pumpkin crate acting for a dais. My father, eyes narrowing in anticipation, calls me to order. “”If you learnt what you had to,” he says. “Balaam, look at me!”

My eyes had squinted to my left shoulder. I look Beor in the face.

“If you learnt what you had to,” he says, “if you attend carefully to Zadoc and got the answer to  mind, say it loud, say it quick. Don’t let that something near your neck scare your mind empty. Don’t fidget more than you have to.  Balaam – curse if you will. If it helps, curse loud and ugly. Your father wants to remove that thing you hate and fear. So give Zadoc good quick answers.”

Zadoc had listened to this advice with a turned up face sharp with guilt at the cold, hard  obsession he was aiding and abetting.

“How Moab got its homeland,” he announces.

“Ready!” I shout.

Zadoc forlornly peers at me and warns, “Careful, son.” Then tugging his robe back onto his thin shoulders, begins: “Balaam, who dwelt in our land (Moab) afore our nation took it over?”

My hand nearly shooting up – “Emim! The Emim, sire.” The dour face tells me I must try again. I wrack the mind for an answer for the sake of Zadoc. Silent seconds go by. In the cold damp, sweat trickles by my right eye. Zadoc prompts, “But what name were the Emim known by?

“Oh – giants! The Refa’im, sire.” Zadoc’s shoulders lift. I take a sweet breath. Through a thin robe I’m aware of the scorpion on my collarbone. Zadoc nods at Beor as if to say, “See. You see what we’ve got here!”

Zadoc goes on. “The Refa’im had previously dwelt in the land of Ammon. What name did Ammon give these giants?”

This one I remember well. “Zamzumim! Og who survived the Flood outside of Noah’s Ark was the chief of the giants.”

My interrogator swallows a great gulp of water. It’s possible to observe his damp hairline; to watch the unsteady hand on the water bottle. I felt I was through the confidence-building part. Sitting on my right, Beor breathes warm winey breaths onto my head.

“Balaam, Abraham was promised whose lands? And which people came from Kaftor to take the lands from them?”

“Sire, again the Refa’im. God promised Abraham all their lands. Then the Avim conquered those lands, Sire, and then came the Kaftorim and took the lands from the Avim.”

Zadoc snaps up straight as a victor does after landing the fatal blow. Confidently now – “And, Balaam,  you know that Abraham made an oath to Avimelech. Abraham promised that his family would never take the land of Avimelech’s Philistines?”

“Sire, I do know.”

“Well then – listen boy. How will it change Abraham’s oath now that the Kaftorim have taken the land from Avimelech? Is the oath in force? Balaam?”

“”I’m thinking, I’m thinking!” Agitated I sway a little. Then it came to me – a good answer. At the same moment I remember what I’ve got on my collar bone. My eye had caught a movement down there. Zadoc’s eye caught my terror, and my father caught Zadoc’s frozen silent language. His mitted hand was poised by my ear. With the deftness of a striking adder Beor had the scorpion clamped in his mitt.  He hurried it through the cage door.

“Well, boy!” Zadoc’s voice was heavy with love. “Your answer, if you please.”

“Sire, it would annul the oath. Abraham’s descendants can take the land because a different people live on it.”

Thus we entered a state of affairs which was nothing less than evolutionary. Its effect on mankind would be damn startling.

The Progressive Passover

A people liberated from slavery. No wonder Passover is a time when advocates for a State of Palestine feel drawn to play a Progressive Moses. ‘Let the people go!’

Passover, many think, comes around for a melodramatic appeal to the conscience of Israel. Have pity. Remember – your people were enslaved in Egypt and so howled in torment it made the Almighty act .Hear oh Israel the cry of people in bondage. Let the Palestinians go. Let them make unto themselves a nation.

This, in one form or another, is the cry and substance of the Progressive appeal. Well-intentioned and calculating people make it, none more than devotees of human rights who make a career from their devotion. Listen to them. In what they say and in what they believe lie the fatal flaws of the type. Today Moses gets up in a human rights T-shirt.

Uri Zaki is a modern Moses. The ex director of Israeli human rights outfit, B’Tselem (in the image of), Zaki thought he’d stir up American Jews with an impassioned Passover appeal. Let the Pals go. What Zaki actually said was, “Israeli settlements in the West Bank make it practically impossible for the Palestinians to realize their right to self-determination in an independent and viable state of their own.” https://blogs.timesofisrael.

The fatal flaw in Zaki’s browned-off appeal lies where? Look for the duty of one party to give and the right of the other party to receive. In an egg shell Progressives comprehend human rights in those terms. They award rights to one party and impose obligations on the other. To make their allocation of rights and burdens sacred they like to borrow from the bible, believing parts of it or none. Progressives are adept at making theology their handmaiden. Concepts in Judaism or Christianity in their clever hands meld seamlessly with leftwing dogma. Bible-borrowing Christian leftists borrow Jesus, not to beat swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks; they bring him on for mundane acts you or I can do. They tell Jesus to walk through a military checkpoint in the West Bank, and to report how the Son of God coped with the cruelty of Israeli border control. https://wordpress.com/post/enemiesofzion.wordpress.com/144

Jewish Progressives don’t have a Messiah; they fetch their catch-all tool from Judaism – the concept of tikun olam or making the world a better place. Do-gooders in droves are drawn by tikun olam like moths to electric light. They boil a multitude of meanings down to the right of Palestinians to want things and Israel’s duty to supply them. Pals are owed and “Benjamins’ owe. That’s the goo boiled down from a deep principal with more meanings than the octopus has tentacles.

And the benefits – they go to whom and to what? The lives of a clutch of millionaire kleptomaniacs are made comfy and effortless. From their silk-covered divans the heads of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas table demands; then they sit back, leaving it to Progressives of capricious conscience to tell Israel to meet the demands more than half way. Pal leaders are exempt from adulthood. Given victim status no criticism, never mind criminal penalty, may touch them.

It’s the old story of the spoilt kid, and it brings to mind a quip made by the famous Israeli ambassador, Abba Eban. I think it would be the first war in history that on the morrow the victors sued for peace and the vanquished called for unconditional surrender.” http://www.blog.standforisrael.org/featured-articles/seven-great-quotes-from-israeli-and-jewish-leaders  A bittersweet joke! The Six-Day war had ended in a stunning victory for Israel and world leaders lined up to force bitter medicine down the victor’s throat: the remedy of land for peace. Today more than five decades later the formula (or mantra) keeps Israel trying to keep Washington and Brussels keep the wolf at bay – the wolf in boycotting garb.

One thing has changed since Israel made the error of vanquishing the Arabs in 1967: the stakes have been upped. Today world leaders demand that Israel gives more than land for peace. Another failed Sharia state and nothing less is on the table – unless Israel wants Brussels to stop trying to keep the wolf at bay.

Give Pals the West Bank, hot dammit! Never mind they lost wars they started. Like the spoilt kid, Palestinian tyrants want everything and they want it on their own terms, unconditionally. Possession of land may be nine-tenths of the law, and ‘Benjamin” may have the possession, but who holds victim losers to law? Victims are defined by rights. Other claimants for a state to call their own (the Kurds for one) must drool at the mouth looking at the pampered Pals. And whose rights have to make room for the Chosen Victims? None but the Un-Chosen People making do with an already slip of hostile homeland. But hey – who cares! White and Jewish makes a combo for the biggest villain of them all. When human rights are dished out, ‘dark’ victims, especially when under the bondage of Benjamin, get it all.

That was fatal flaw one. Flaw number two, Moses in a Human Rights T-shirt forgets the other side to the equation. The right to self-determination involves a big supposition – that of lawful ownership. By all means let people make unto themselves a nation, but where shall they do that? On what land? On whose land? Except for the Kingdom of Jordan, no land west of the Jordan River was ever held by a people recently named ‘The Palestinians.’ Israel took this bit of real estate in a defensive war when such a claimant still had to be conceived. Well – could Jordan not ask for the West Bank back? No it could not because it was never Jordan’s to have and to hold. At the time Israel snapped up the territory Jordan had no right to be there. Not even the Arab league makes a case for the West Bank to go back to Jordan.

So the Progressive Moses looks to Israel. At Passover time thoughts on bondage and liberation run riot. We must allow Palestinians to enjoy the same basic rights to self-government and independence that we, the Jewish State, have been privileged to enjoy since 1948.” David Newman, a professor at Ben Gurion University, goes on to write of “fundamental Jewish religious values” as recounted at Passover. (Handy tikun olam pops up again). It is incumbent on the Jews of today, Newman believes, to ensure that other peoples are not oppressed, even more when they are under “our own control and for whose wellbeing we have direct responsibility.” https://www.jpost.com/Author/David-Newman April 14, 2014

After marrying rights to responsibilities, Newman divorces them. Israel gets the responsibility and the Palestinian settlers get the rights. Your Progressive Moses can be clever but not wise. He knows of no such a thing as reciprocity. Jews must part with their promised land and leave enemies at liberty to rain down rockets on the metropolitan hub of Israel. The ‘fundamental Jewish values’ espoused by the professor come with that sting in the tail.

Diplomacy, having no truck with the bible, comes with a sting of its own. Looking back on American brokered peace talks before the Trump era, it is easy to forget the generic players on the game board – landowner and supplicant. Obama’s negotiator John Kerry hammered Israel for dangling carrots which the other player did not find terribly juicy. Not even negotiators acting for Israel stopped to recall natural law. The owner of real estate needs do nothing until a person who would like to have it brings an offer. Should the latter be unwilling to meet the owner’s terms, the owner carries on with his life.

Cornered, Zaki the Priest and Newman the Dean would have to admit that no laws or treaties give the Big Victim the right to “self-determination in a viable state of its own.” There are only Accords made in Oslo, and they’ve been trashed time without end. But even when the Accords were in mint condition they conferred no rights to self-determination. The Progressive Moses ignores principles of law while he scatters rights and obligations like confetti. Odder yet, our Moses is often the first to insist that Israel abides by the law.

Unpacking the biblical thunder in ‘Let the Pals go free!’ one discovers a fake product. Obligations come without rights and rights without obligations. The demand of the modern Moses comes down to, ‘Give Pals what they want, hot dammit!’

Well – why not, if only to satisfy some quirky view of fair play. The Jews got their state, why deprive the neighbors? It might even help Israel’s own security. So say do-gooders toying with real baddies. But look at the way they put their case. Don’t put a spanner in the wheel by telling Palestinian leaders to recognize a Jewish state. Obama’s man Kerry, only thinking of Israel of course, scolds it for putting the spoilt kid out of temper by insisting that a Jewish state, a paid up member of the UN, exists. Other come-and-go hopeful negotiators throw up their hands with Kerry. Stop the tantrums. Give the kid what it damn well wants for heaven sake!

Problem is, no one can fathom what the kid wants. And here’s fatal flaw number three. How many times did Israel offer what everyone told Israel the kid wanted? Again and again Palestinian leaders were invited to establish a home they could call their own. Arafat then Abbas were offered land on which to make a home. After tearing the RSVP’s to shreds, they launched Intifadas and threw the bits of paper at Benjamin’s pale face.

Then there’s Gaza. Were not The Victims in bondage in Gaza before they got it, lock stock and barrel? For nothing? All they had to do in Gaza was make unto themselves a nation. You’d think Moses the Progressive would be happy. Think again. “In 2005 Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip, which increased Palestinians’ control over their lives…However, Israel continues to hold decisive control over major aspects of people’s lives.” .” https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/four-questions-about-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict/

Here was Zaki the Priest prodding Pharaoh to let the people go, after Pharaoh had already done that. What did unelected leaders do with the gift which came with no strings attached ? They warred and they jawed. But then it’s not for Gaza’s elect to uplift the lives of their subjects, to build a nation. It’s for Israel to do that for them.

Zaki the Priest and Newman the Dean, like all Moses prophets in Human Rights T-shirt, go about with blinkers. They fail to see the bottom line of giving land away. Let Palestinians have the Temple Mount, half of Jerusalem and Judea-Samaria – all the parts in dispute. Where will this leave the Benjamins? It will leave them looking suspiciously like colonial usurpers. After all what historical connections do the Benjamins have to Tel Aviv?

‘Let the people go’ is all well and good. But at Passover time Jews ought to have their own people in mind. This could involve treating foes with a strong hand and an outstretched arm so that never again will they be a footloose and powerless people begging other nations, not to let them go, but to let them in.

Signs and portends

When I turned five there were prodigies and portends all winter, but I never took notice until afterwards. Below Mount Horeb a bush burst into flame which couldn’t be doused or smothered. A scarlet calf was born in the Valley of Aijalon. In Padam Aharayim a donkey bellyached in Aramaic about its feed. A cloud drifting in over Moab formed the Hebrew letters C-H, alluding to curses. Mushrooms grew out of an altar on which priests burnt sacrifices to Baal-Zebub. Fish in their blue millions teemed down the Jordan from Galilee and were cast up on the shores of the Salt Sea, belly up. Bullfrogs croaked in King Arioch’s bathwater. Perhaps it all meant nothing. You never pay attention to such things until afterwards, and by then it’s too late. Anyway, open miracles were the least of my concerns when a scheme to make me great was being hatched.

Looking back you can often find the day of birth of a new era, whereas at the time it was one day hooked on to the tail of another. Tail is right – it was the day Beor took us along to collect new specimens for his whip-tail hobby. The event pitched me (brother Tahash had two benign years ahead) over the start line of crazy adulthood. I’d got through childhood not badly, in fact quite the envy of gnat-bitten striplings in our palace compound. I had a mother who couldn’t do enough for her little stepson. Now schooling loomed and grimaced at me in nightmares. I thought my trepidation came from within. Not: my father was being bitten by the fever from the other end. The product of his loins was ready for the long awaited experiment. I was to be educated like no boy had ever been.

…Meanwhile on donkey back we climbed a steep eroded trail into the hills. I couldn’t stop myself taking backward glances at Beor, only to recoil: the look I’d learnt to fear was on him. There was a singleness of purpose in that good eye. Picture Abraham entering into a covenant with his Maker, and that would be the look I mean…Or Abraham the time he raised a knife to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Turned out I was not the only one who looked askance on my father. Alongside him rode Zadoc the herbalist who’d taken a shine to Beor’s scorpion science. He regarded him with something akin to an interest which feeds on the unknown and unknowable. Perhaps cruelty was exotic to Zadoc. Beor attracted him because he couldn’t understand him. He felt there was something amiss, though what it was he couldn’t figure out.

We stopped under a clump of cypress trees on high ground. While my brother helped me tether the donkeys, the men went and urinated. Zadoc engrossed with his own puddle, “Back there you had the look of a man who needs a fight.”

“I can give you the courtesy of my fist anytime,” said Beor.

“I don’t mean that,” Zadoc said firmly. “What you want to fight is nothing alive and breathing.”

Beor chuckled – not a happy sound. Passing water had become a struggle and a torment. It burnt him when he sprayed the ground like intermittent rain. He shook himself off. “Do I now?” he said. “And I thought I got out of the fighting habit.”

“Beor, you never got into it. But I tell you what – causes do need fighting. A man may keep busy enough on them to forget his anger.”

Beor regarded the words benevolently. Fighting a cause had given him gratifying times. He still lived to get revenge on Jacob for spiriting away the family estate. Revenge would come, he felt, if only he let it play on his mind. “Well, why don’t me and you think on that,” he said.

Zadoc scratched his head. When trouble came to wild men Zadoc wanted none of it. He was a self contained kind of person. There was nothing he could not do because, other than find cures from growing herbs, there was nothing Zadoc wanted to do very much. “Me! I’m no thinker,” he said to Beor on the walk back. “Somebody always gets hurt when I think.”

Beor dealt with the rebuff in the ancient way. He came up and gave a long leisurely tug at my cumbersome family nose…. And to my brother Tahash transfixed: “Enjoying it little one? Don’t be sad. We’ll have a good spread by and by.”

My brother all his cut-short life never smiled. He grinned. His lips were full and his mouth wide, and when he grinned his eyes crinkled and something warm and scary came out of him. Our father’s last born was not a good risk for Beor.

“Not bad boys the ogre’s raised,” I could see Zadoc thinking by his look.

Beor let me dole out the food on tin plates. Orpah, bless her, had packed a basket of cold collations, flat bread, pickles, a red and black berry pie and something Beor lit upon – a small keg of an alcoholic tonsil teaser. Caraway had spiced the mixture in the keg and added something old fashioned. Beor chomped, he tore and he slurped and when he felt bloated he rated his impression from both ends. For now he was the sober consultant who advised imperiled kings and threatened generals how to win battles. He lay back and let the trunk of the cypress take the weight of his mountainous lethargy…Murmuring, “Explore later…”

The herbalist, giving up on Beor, started off to scour the hillside for arrowroot and hemp.

“Come back,” Beor patted the ground. “Sit a while. I’m trapped in a cage like my scorpions. I want to run something by you while the brats are scampering about.”

Zadoc in a temper rocked back on his heels, thinking, “I always get them. If there’s a bugbear within a hundred leagues he’s drawn to me.” Stone-faced he sat next to Beor in the shade under the boughs and hugged his knees. From the ragged sleeves of a vest, brown wrists like gnarled grapevines protruded.

“Have you consulted a seer?” Zadoc asked.

“Don’t care who or what. Hot damnit, I need thinking help.”

Zadoc looked from an angle into the inflammation of Beor’s face. “Okay, let’s hear it,” he said resignedly.

Beor – “I’ve seen visions. Anyone would in my shoes.”

“And you believe them?” Zadoc asked spitefully

“I don’t find it a matter for believing or not,” Beor said. “When you see a red sun flatten as it goes into the sea do you tell yourself every time that you’re seeing a trick of distance? Or do you just admire the vision? Eh?”

“Okay…”

The valley, between the ranges and below the foothills, basked in a gold autumn sunshine. Stalks of willow herb and goose-foot and thistle raised their heads above the yellowing grass. If Beor let serenity calm him I never saw it. The way I picture him, his head is slunk forward, .the default posture of a hunted man not a hunter. I can’t see Beor stooping to a meadow of poppies or scanning a blue mountain or tut-tutting at a graceful gazelle. Today he had a mulling, chewing-over-something disposition. It went so far to prompt him to turn his head and spit to the side of the tree. He might have been marking a space for truth and trust just as a fox will mark territory.

He said, “You know, cypress trees kind of take me back to Charan and to people… ”

Zadoc let his head fall back against the tree.

“You sleeping?”

“No….”

“I was about to say, there was a shepherd who’d gone to a wedding outside of Charan. On the way back, his belly full of food and drink, he thought he’d take a nap. He found a shady spot beneath a tree –a cypress just like this one. While he slept on his coat a scorpion came and wriggled into his ear. There it stayed until he startled it by waking up. Horrible to say, it stung him right inside the ear.”

The herbalist shifted. He was a man of iron simplicity who had no time for horror tales. “Beor, where you going with this?” he said.

Beor tried to find a quick, rough answer. He pulled the bung and took a swig from his jug. and wiped his mouth. When his mind dug into something it would not let go. “I’m coming to that,” he said. “Be patient. Anyway, it stung him – phut! Like that. Poor fellow must’ve flung about in agony. He must’ve run screaming through the trees, tearing at his head..There was no one to hear his cries. He ran for a nearby village, but he never reached it. Fell dead, not far from the road. A shepherd came upon him the next morning. Lordy lord – what a sight! You don’t want never to see such a thing. From the sting his head had swelled up as if his brains were pregnant.” Beor tapped the ground. “To this day I won’t ever sleep on the ground.”

Zadoc dropped his eyes and watched a black ant try to climb an avalanche of dry leaves. He helped it by moving the leaves away with a twig. Then bitingly, “And now you study the critters, eh?”

“So I’m a brute with mad designs? Is that it?” Beor shouted.

“I’ve known people do strange things.”

Beor stiffened. “Meaning my scorpion practice? You don’t like my business, huh?”

“What does it matter what I like. There it is. But it does seem to me your interest has an end in mind.”

Zadoc saw his words go home. The silence, unbroken for a minute or two, ended when Zadoc asked, “Did you ever drink yerba tea?”

“No.”

It’s aromatic with a mild physic. Can you drink from my jug?”

“I don’t know why not.”

Zadoc fetched the jug from the basket. “Careful!  Here – wrap a cloth around to get a hold.”

After a while – “Beor, what was that story for? Something aching you? Can you stop circling around and tell me straight.”

“I would if I knew what it was. As a matter of fact I do know.”

“So – you have a mind to do something. Well?”

Had I not been down the hill with my brother catching rock rabbits I could’ve told the herbalist straight. You see, I knew what Beor had a mind to do. It wasn’t that he told me straight. I caught the meaning from a harsh and bitter voice when he extolled the use of lightning quick thought and reaction while we watched two scorpions in a cage fighting to the death. I saw my father’s eye and jaw locked with an angst which could not be spoken, and I connected fight with fantasy. It made me want to run from there and never come back. In a desperate bid for meaning my father was going to follow the way of Abraham. Beor planned to sacrifice a protégé son on the altar in order to write history. He planned to test a son just as God tested Abraham, who made the son he was going to sacrifice build the altar.

Take your son, your only one whom you love – Balaam.

Beor (by what distorted play acting we don’t know) convinced himself that he had a son gifted with prophecy. He and Abraham, I and Isaac…And, despite (or because of) Beor’s madness, he converted intention into deed, and proved his method. ..Except I hadn’t Isaac’s gifts and Isaac had not mine. Different yet similar: God and Abraham the faithful, God and Beor the beast. Take your son….

What a craziness my father had cooked up. Or genius – I don’t know. There it was, gnawing at the mind’s separation of fantasy and reality. I was to be tested and perfected on no harmless altar of timber. My altar would be a living, deadly contraption. And the prize if I came through the test? Immortality! Sought-after by all, earned by an elect few – the curse of being immortal!

…A destiny which is seldom positive in the lives of the elect. By the time lasting fame – or infamy – comes to them they are most of them dead. For any who are alive it becomes a question of whether a man is blessed or cursed by knowing what his eternal fate will be. What if you knew your character or deeds would be poured over time without end? What man can stand the thought of being public property for all time? Heroic deed, maybe: knowing your fate could be bearable. But for a monumental failure you can’t be forgotten soon enough. Who could live with the knowledge that a momentous disaster or acute embarrassment or personal setback would amuse or edify one generation after another, at his expense? Trouble is, we have no say in the matter. A man cannot pick and choose how he’ll be remembered. History – the will of the Almighty, deals this card. For heroic deeds or crass it makes no difference – a man has immortality thrust upon him. Over time his deeds will be enlarged, decorated, tidied up to form a tale worth telling. Over what will make his reputation, man has no control.

Zadoc naturally recoiled at the idea: schooling by a scorpion tickling a lad’s bare neck! Beor disclosed the demented scheme: penalty and torment, reward and relief. What made the idea original: the stick and carrot method is nothing new. Fear and reward drive the whole world. Creation works on the duality of stick and carrot. Do what is bad for healthy development and pain will come. Do what is good for development and be rewarded. Beor understood this perfectly. But he adapted stick and carrot to lift the stakes to a whole new height. And in this he was clever: he used a born killer in two roles – to impart the fear and to dangle the prize.

Zadoc uncomprehending – “You must be joking!” Then Beor, making sense of it:

“You don’t understand. I could’ve had class. I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bruiser which is what I am.”

He was gathered to his people, five years later, before he knew the good sleep of work well done.

Victim Politics – the game of loser takes all

The players of victim politics speak clearer than mere allegations can do.

  • When Ace Magashule, a career henchman who helped make South Africa fail, says, “We have been building the white people’s roads‚ their houses‚ working their farms, now it’s time for a black person to own land and farm,” – that’s victim politics.
  • When a Palestinian delegate calls on the UN “to hold Israelis accountable for violations and crimes in the Palestinian Territories” – that’s victim politics.
  • When Hilary Clinton blasts misogynist homophobic Islamaphobic xenophobic racist America – that’s victim politics.
  • When black actor Jussie Smollett pays for staging a white hate crime on him – that’s opportunistic victim politics
  • When a flyer at the University of Illinois declares, “Ending white privilege starts with ending Jewish privilege” – that’s victim and Jew-hating politics combined.

When life is good there are people who seek out others to make it worse, to level inequalities. It is hard to get the mind around this, but they do. Victim manufacturers put a group, be it black or Muslim or gay or transgender or feminist, in the most secure place a human can be: victims deserving to be protected from all criticism. Protected how? Not always by law but more effectively by social mores with the constraining power of law.

In the West you daren’t criticize Muslims or Islam from fear: the fear of being painted Islamophobic or, as ten dead workers at Charlie Hebdo taught, from fear of one’s life. Arab Christians are burned bombed beheaded to near extinction, yet the Pope utters hardly a peep. Britain’s Union of Students won’t condemn Islamic State because that would be Islamophobic.

Social mores making us tiptoe around different cultures are strict but uneven. For people of one culture mores are ultra lax. If Muslims are off limits and sacrosanct, you’re allowed to say what you like about Jews, provided you call them Israelis, or better, Zionists. Where  Muslims are treated with kid gloves, people have no qualms about laying into the Jews. The student body that won’t condemn ISIS votes to condemn Israel, and to boycott it. In the court of phobias, Judaeophobia does not rank with Islamophobia on the scales of justice.

Without a villain you can’t have a victim, and they are demarcated by two factors: (1) Colour of skin and (2) Gender. White plus male is a villain by default. Black plus gender-free is a victim by default. White and Christian (even when non-white) is never victim material. Dark-skinned anti-Christian can never be villain. Julie Burchill  “Everyone is ignoring the danger to Christians in Muslim countries,” bewails Manor Rumalshah the Bishop of Peshawar. “Europeans don’t give a damn about us.” Damn right they don’t because the perpetrators are (a) Muslim and (b) supposedly of darker hue.

Jews, different as they must be, fall into distinct categories. The six million ‘white’ Jews living at home can only be villains. Their darker adversaries, from stone throwers to kite fliers to human bombs, are not just victims but victims above and beyond every other on planet earth, and in Paradise above where lush meadows with 72 virgins await a Palestinian martyr who dies in the act of killing the Jew villain.

White Jews residing in the West have an option Israelis don’t. They may aspire to victim status. There’s a term and condition to the privilege. Jewish victims must be handy for activists fighting on behalf of dark refugees who are victims by default. The claim that Anne Frank is a Syrian girl is to make a one-on-one comparison with the Holocaust. This is where Jewish victim status begins and ends. Should the descendants of Holocaust victims cry anti-Semitism they are painted as extremists or Zionists trying to close down critics of Israel. There’s also the colour barrier. Linda Sarsour says that Jews can’t be victims of hatred because they’re white, and there aint no such thing as anti-white racism.

Victims are the flavour of our time. It doesn’t mean they walk away scot free. It is all well and good to be paraded in the media as washed up on beaches or occupied by Jewish settlers, or despised for being transgender or black or female while the levers of power and privilege are controlled by white males who want to keep it that way. That’s where victims come in handy. Whom the gods love they drive crazy with utopian visions of fundamental change.

An angry refugee or angry LGBT or angry Me TOO makes a handy battering ram. The good fortunes of comfortable visionaries depend on angry hurting cannon fodder. When Democrat public servants protest for open borders for Central Americans they consider their own careers. Refugees create a demand for social workers and educators. In time refugees will vote Democrat – for the party which acts on their behalf. As the refugee population grows so their voting power grows. Somali Congresswoman Omar won in Somali-dense Minnesota. Black and Latino voters will vote Democrat as long as the Democrats and CNN’s s cry loud and long enough for them to believe they are objects of white hatred.

Palestinians make the best battering ram. They must remain stateless or hundreds of NGO’s like B’Tselem will be made redundant and the owners will lose free money from the EU or the Ford Foundation, or become bereft of moneybags George Soros. And what will happen to all the UN agencies dependent on keeping the Palestinians in their 70-year condition of angry stateless victims?  God forbid they should ever lose value. A peace deal is in the interest of no one with a fat regular pay cheque.

The bottom line is that victims are economic and political assets. The comfortable win the game and the losers take all.