Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A conversation with the apostle Paul

This scene is taken out of my long narrative poem about the Eternal Jew, The Atternen Juez Talen. I have converted the text to prose and translated it into "old English", that is, the English you're used to reading, since it seems my poetry can be hard to read.
The dialog (between Saul/Paul and the Eternal Jew) is based on a close reading of the Epistle to the Romans, along with the new analysis of Paul's position of Judaism, as presented by John Gager and others.
Here it is:

Funny how memories just pop in your head. I met that Saul on this road (Damascus Road) awhile back, maybe twenty five years before Jerusalem fell, in a mikdash*, I can’t remember where. Mumblin’ prayers like the rest of us. Wouldn’t a guessed he’d make such a name. Cranky he were with a sand paper edge, like the sugar in his tea has a bitter taste and his tallit* weighed like an iron yoke on his narrow shoulder and knobby arms. Hard to stand straight, harder to bow.
* synagogue
* tallit: prayer shawl

After kiddush* and motzi* over bread we stood talkin’ among the vines in the courtyard, lush in summer bloom, crownin’ the courtyard walls. Typical me, without no walls between my sparkin’ thoughts and my tongue. (With an oven like that you’ll burn your house down.) I says to him, “From what I hears you ain’t prayin’ with Jews no more. I’m surprised to see you here today.”
* kiddush and motzi: two prayers, the first over wine, the second over bread

He looks at me with a bit of a sneer, like, ‘Where’s your manners?’ and ‘What did I do?’
and ‘You only think you know who I am.’

I see that I hurt him. He turns to leave.
“Don’t go brother. I said that wrong. I meant to open a door for you to let you in, not to chase you out.”

“My fault too,” he say with a frown. “I make a stir wherever I goes. Some cry, ‘apostle!’ and wash my feet. Some cries, ‘apostate!’ and want me beat. I seen the inside a many a jail for nothin’ more than talkin’ of God. And I’ve tasted the dust a half the known world; shipwrecked and damn near drownded as well. The rod of the Lor driven me on.

“Truth is, I can’t hardly tell no more who is deliverin’ these bruises and welts, the Infinite One or the impotent ones, or where one ends and the other begins. But to answer the question you didn’t ask, I’m an Israelite, and I’m proud of it. What an honor to be a Jew! And so I prays whenever I have the chance to slip myself in, unnoticed, unknown, just another graybeard under his shawl.

“But just now, you spoke well, my friend. We Jews are required to open the door to these sons of Rome whose faith has failed; these orphans of gods turned ugly and cruel; no-gods whose future is no-good works; these orphans who finally face the truth – their guardian gods are failing them. They looks in our window and peeks in our door and sees a people inspired with faith by a God of justice and a Lor of love. Bring these lost and childlike souls into our brit* and up to our Lor. We must open our doors now and bring on the world!”
* brit: covenant, community

I looks around this little place. For a moment it seemin’ like Eden to me. Together, Roman, Greek, and Jew without our sharp and poison words, without our jagged-edged thoughts, just sippin’ tea and quiet talk, a moment of peace in a tohu* world.
* tohu: from Genesis 1:2, formless, chaotic

Then he pulls out an epistle writ to Rome. “Read,” he says, and gives it to me. Long it were. I squinch my eyes.
“You want to hear my thoughts on it or you just testin’ your writing craft to see if you can snag some fruit, a gift to bring to your Jesus feast.”
A wince of a smile, but he just says, ‘Read.’

We walked a ways to a shop he knows, owned by a Greek diplomat. All neat and tidy, arranged on shelves, books and scrolls and artifacts he come across servin’ the throne. He lock the shop and we leave thru a door in the rear. Eden, a garden 8 steps square. Carob and fig trees, viburnum, and palm.

I reads his letter while the 2 of them chats. Heat a the day begun to pass by the time I’m done. His eyes leap when he see me lay the papyrus down.
“So will you join me on my way?”

“Saul, your say ain’t writ to me. I’m a man of law and works, a Jew like you, well circumcised. But you cast law and works to the wind. Me, I’ll blow in the wind with them.

“But I likes your preachin’, urgin’ Greece and Rome to throw their idols down and find our Lor. And then you go and swerve away into a patch of brambly thoughts on grace and sin and God will save – as if you know how God will judge – and then you turn it all upside down, exhortin’ us to know good and do good. That’s the law and that’s our works, plain as any eye can see. I’ll let your philosophic Greeks sort their way thru that thorny stuff.

“And then you end with noble advice, bright and gentle, wise and kind – how to make their community strong with trust and love and humbleness, and callin’ all the worlds to God. Isaiah would be proud of that.

“In sum, it ain’t a work of art, and all our words will soon be lost, but still it stands as fair advice. Send it. It might do some good.”

He turns to his friend like I’m just a fly.
“There it is as I’ve said before. The law is a curse, enslavin’ the mind. Egypt it is. I’m glad to be free.”

And they walks away into the house, me standin’ there like a stump of a tree.
“No one will ever believe that stuff. He’ll turn around,”
I thinks to myself, as I makes my way back into town.

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