LET US take our stand by the gate, just out of the edge of the currents—one flowing in, the other out—and use our eyes and ears awhile.
In good time! Here come two men of a most noteworthy class.
“Gods! How cold it is!” says one of them, a powerful figure in armor; on his head a brazen helmet, on his body a shining breastplate and skirts of mail. “How cold it is! Dost thou remember, my Caius, that vault in the Comitium at home which the flamens say is the entrance to the lower world? By Pluto! I could stand there this morning, long enough at least to get warm again!”
The party addressed drops the hood of his military cloak, leaving bare his head and face, and replies, with an ironic smile, “The helmets of the legions which conquered Mark Antony were full of Gallic snow; but thou—ah, my poor friend!—thou hast just come from Egypt, bringing its summer in thy blood.”
And with the last word they disappear through the entrance. Though they had been silent, the armor and the sturdy step would have published them Roman soldiers.
From the throng a Jew comes next, meager of frame, round-shouldered, and wearing a coarse brown robe; over his eyes and face, and down his back, hangs a mat of long, uncombed hair. He is alone. Those who meet him laugh, if they do not worse; for he is a Nazarite, one of a despised sect which rejects the books of Moses, devotes itself to abhorred vows, and goes unshorn while the vows endure.
As we watch his retiring figure, suddenly there is a commotion in the crowd, a parting quickly to the right and left, with exclamations sharp and decisive. Then the cause comes—a man, Hebrew in feature and dress. The mantle of snow-white linen, held to his head by cords of yellow silk, flows free over his shoulders; his robe is richly embroidered, a red sash with fringes of gold wraps his waist several times. His demeanor is calm; he even smiles upon those who, with such rude haste, make room for him. A leper? No, he is only a Samaritan. The shrinking crowd, if asked, would say he is a mongrel—an Assyrian—whose touch of the robe is pollution; from whom, consequently, an Israelite, though dying, might not accept life. In fact, the feud is not of blood. When David set his throne here on Mount Zion, with only Judah to support him, the ten tribes betook themselves to Shechem, a city much older, and, at that date, infinitely richer in holy memories. The final union of the tribes did not settle the dispute thus begun. The Samaritans clung to their tabernacle on Gerizim, and, while maintaining its superior sanctity, laughed at the irate doctors in Jerusalem. Time brought no assuagement of the hate. Under Herod, conversion to the faith was open to all the world except the Samaritans; they alone were absolutely and forever shut out from communion with Jews.
As the Samaritan goes in under the arch of the gate, out come three men so unlike all whom we have yet seen that they fix our gaze, whether we will or not. They are of unusual stature and immense brawn; their eyes are blue, and so fair is their complexion that the blood shines through the skin like blue pencilling; their hair is light and short; their heads, small and round, rest squarely upon necks columnar as the trunks of trees. Woollen tunics, open at the breast, sleeveless and loosely girt, drape their bodies, leaving bare arms and legs of such development that they at once suggest the arena; and when thereto we add their careless, confident, insolent manner, we cease to wonder that the people give them way, and stop after they have passed to look at them again. They are gladiators—wrestlers, runners, boxers, swordsmen; professionals unknown in Judea before the coming of the Roman; fellows who, what time they are not in training, may be seen strolling through the king’s gardens or sitting with the guards at the palace gates; or possibly they are visitors from Cæsarea, Sebaste, or Jericho; in which Herod, more Greek than Jew, and with all a Roman’s love of games and bloody spectacles, has built vast theaters, and now keeps schools of fighting-men, drawn, as is the custom, from the Gallic provinces or the Slavic tribes on the Danube.
“By Bacchus!” says one of them, drawing his clenched hand to his shoulder, “their skulls are not thicker than eggshells.”
The brutal look which goes with the gesture disgusts us, and we turn happily to something more pleasant.
Opposite us is a fruit-stand. The proprietor has a bald head, a long face, and a nose like the beak of a hawk. He sits upon a carpet spread upon the dust; the wall is at his back; overhead hangs a scant curtain, around him, within hand’s reach and arranged upon little stools, lie osier boxes full of almonds, grapes, figs, and pomegranates. To him now comes one at whom we cannot help looking, though for another reason than that which fixed our eyes upon the gladiators; he is really beautiful—a beautiful Greek. Around his temples, holding the waving hair, is a crown of myrtle, to which still cling the pale flowers and half ripe berries. His tunic, scarlet in color, is of the softest woollen fabric; below the girdle of buff leather, which is clasped in front by a fantastic device of shining gold, the skirt drops to the knee in folds heavy with embroidery of the same royal metal; a scarf, also woollen, and of mixed white and yellow, crosses his throat and falls trailing at his back; his arms and legs, where exposed, are white as ivory, and of the polish impossible except by perfect treatment with bath, oil, brushes, and pincers.
The dealer, keeping his seat, bends forward, and throws his hands up until they meet in front of him, palm downwards and fingers extended.
“What hast thou, this morning, O son of Paphos?” says the young Greek, looking at the boxes rather than at the Cypriote. “I am hungry. What hast thou for breakfast?”
“Fruits from the Pedius—genuine—such as the singers of Antioch take of mornings to restore the waste of their voices,” the dealer answers, in a querulous nasal tone.
“A fig, but not one of thy best, for the singers of Antioch!” says the Greek. “Thou art a worshiper of Aphrodite, and so am I, as the myrtle I wear proves; therefore I tell thee their voices have the chill of a Caspian wind. Seest thou this girdle?—a gift of the mighty Salome—”
“The king’s sister!” exclaims the Cypriote, with another salaam.
“And of royal taste and divine judgment. And why not? She is more Greek than the king. But—my breakfast! Here is thy money—red coppers of Cyprus. Give me grapes, and—”
“Wilt thou not take the dates also?”
“No, I am not an Arab.”
“That would be to make me a Jew. No, nothing but the grapes. Never waters mixed so sweetly as the blood of the Greek and the blood of the grape.”
The singer in the grimed and seething market, with all his airs of the court, is a vision not easily shut out of mind by such as see him; as if for the purpose, however, a person follows him challenging all our wonder. He comes up the road slowly, his face towards the ground; at intervals he stops, crosses his hands upon his breast, lengthens his countenance, and turns his eyes towards heaven, as if about to break into prayer. Nowhere, except in Jerusalem, can such a character be found. On his forehead, attached to the band which keeps the mantle in place, projects a leathern case, square in form; another similar case is tied by a thong to the left arm; the borders of his robe are decorated with deep fringe; and by such signs—the phylacteries, the enlarged borders of the garment, and the savor of intense holiness pervading the whole man—we know him to be a Pharisee, one of an organization (in religion a sect, in politics a party) whose bigotry and power will shortly bring the world to grief.
The densest of the throng outside the gate covers the road leading off to Joppa. Turning from the Pharisee, we are attracted by some parties who, as subjects of study, opportunely separate themselves from the motley crowd. First among them a man of very noble appearance—clear, healthful complexion; bright black eyes; beard long and flowing, and rich with unguents; apparel well-fitting, costly, and suitable for the season. He carries a staff, and wears, suspended by a cord from his neck, a large golden seal. Several servants attend him, some of them with short swords stuck through their sashes; when they address him, it is with the utmost deference. The rest of the party consists of two Arabs of the pure desert stock; thin, wiry men, deeply bronzed, and with hollow cheeks, and eyes of almost evil brightness; on their heads red tarbooshes; over their abas, and wrapping the left shoulder and the body so as to leave the right arm free, brown woollen haicks, or blankets. There is loud chaffering, for the Arabs are leading horses and trying to sell them; and, in their eagerness, they speak in high, shrill voices. The courtly person leaves the talking mostly to his servants; occasionally he answers with much dignity; directly, seeing the Cypriote, he stops and buys some figs. And when the whole party has passed the portal, close after the Pharisee, if we betake ourselves to the dealer in fruits, he will tell, with a wonderful salaam, that the stranger is a Jew, one of the princes of the city, who has travelled, and learned the difference between the common grapes of Syria and those of Cyprus, so surpassingly rich with the dews of the sea.
And so, till towards noon, sometimes later, the steady currents of business habitually flow in and out of the Joppa Gate, carrying with them every variety of character; including representatives of all the tribes of Israel, all the sects among whom the ancient faith has been parcelled and refined away, all the religious and social divisions, all the adventurous rabble who, as children of art and ministers of pleasure, riot in the prodigalities of Herod, and all the peoples of note at any time compassed by the Cæsars and their predecessors, especially those dwelling within the circuit of the Mediterranean.
In other words, Jerusalem, rich in sacred history, richer in connection with sacred prophecies—the Jerusalem of Solomon, in which silver was as stones, and cedars as the sycamores of the vale—had come to be but a copy of Rome, a center of unholy practises, a seat of pagan power. A Jewish king one day put on priestly garments, and went into the Holy of Holies of the first temple to offer incense, and he came out a leper; but in the time of which we are reading, Pompey entered Herod’s temple and the same Holy of Holies, and came out without harm, finding but an empty chamber, and of God not a sign.