A Tale of Jerusalem
Intensos rigidam in frontem ascendere canos
— LUCAN DE CATONE.
A bristly bore.
“Let us hurry to the walls,” said Abel-Shittim to Buzi-Ben-Levi and Simeon the Pharisee, on the tenth day of the month Thammuz, in the year of the world Three Thousand Nine Hundred and Forty-one — “let us hasten to the ramparts adjoining the gate of Benjamin, which is in the city of David, and overlooking the camp of the uncircumcised, for it is the last hour of the fourth watch, being sunrise, and the idolaters, in fulfilment of the promise of Pompey, should be waiting for us with the lambs for the sacrifices.”
Simeon, Abel-Shittim, and Buzi-Ben-Levi were the Gizbarim, or sub-collectors of the offering in the holy city of Jerusalem — more correctly Jeruschalaim, which signifies, being interpreted, “the possession of the inheritance of peace.”
“Verily,” replied the Pharisee, “let us hasten — for this generosity in the heathen is unwonted, and fickle-mindedness has ever been an attribute of the worshippers of Baal.”
“That they are fickle-minded, and treacherous is as true as the Pentateuch,” said Buzi-Ben-Levi; “but that is only towards the people of Adonai. When was it ever known that the Ammonites proved wanting to their own interest? Methinks it is no great stretch of generosity to allow us lambs for the altar of the Lord, receiving in lieu thereof thirty silver shekels per head.”
“Thou forgettest, however, Ben-Levi,” said Abel-Shittim, “that the Roman Pompey, who is now impiously besieging the city of the Most High, has no assurance that we apply not the lambs thus purchased for the altar to the sustenance of the body rather than of the spirit.”
“By the five corners of my beard!” shouted the Pharisee, who belonged to the sect called “the Dashers,” (that little knot of saints whose manner of dashing, and lacerating the feet upon the pavement was long a thorn and a reproach to less zealous devotees — a stumbling block to less gifted perambulators,) “By the five corners of that beard which, as a priest, I am forbidden to shave! Have we lived to see the day when a blaspheming and idolatrous Roman upstart shall accuse us of appropriating to the appetites of the flesh the most holy and consecrated elements? Have we ——”
“Let us not question the motives of the Philistine,” interrupted Abel-Shittim, “for to-day we profit for the first time by his avarice or his generosity: but rather let us hurry to the ramparts, lest offerings should be wanting for that altar, whose fire the rain cannot put out, and whose pillar of smoke the winds cannot turn aside.”
That part of the city to which our worthy Gizbarim now hastened, and which bore the name of its architect, king David, was esteemed the most strongly fortified district of Jerusalem, being situated on the steep and lofty hill of Zion. Here a broad, deep circumvallatory trench, hewn from the solid rock, was defended by a wall of great strength erected upon its inner edge. This wall was beautified at regular interspaces, by square towers of white marble — the lowest sixty, and the highest one hundred and twenty cubits in height. But in the vicinity of the gate of Benjamin, the wall arose by no means immediately from the margin of the fosse; on the contrary, between the level of the ditch and the basement of the rampart arose a perpendicular cliff of two hundred and fifty cubits, forming part of the precipitous Mount Moriah. So that when Simeon and his associates arrived on the summit of the tower called Adoni-Bezek, the highest of all the turrets round about Jerusalem, and the usual place of conference with the besieging army, they looked down upon the camp of the enemy from an eminence excelling by many feet that of the pyramid of Cheops, and by several, that of the Temple of Belus.
“Verily,” sighed the Pharisee, as he peered dizzily over the precipice, “the uncircumcised are as the sands by the sea-shore, as the locusts in the wilderness: and the valley of the king hath become the valley of Adommin.”
“And yet,” added Ben-Levi, “thou can’st not point me out a Philistine — no, not from the forest to the battlements — from Aleph to Tau, who seemeth any bigger than the letter Jod.”
“Lower away the basket with the shekels of silver!” shouted a Roman soldier in a hoarse, rough voice, which seemed to issue from the regions of Pluto; “lower away the basket with that accursed coin which hath broken the jaw of a noble Roman to pronounce! Is it thus you evince your gratitude to our master Pompeius, who, in his condescension, has thought proper to listen to your idolatrous importunities? The god Phœbus, who is a true god, and no barbarian, has been charioted for an hour — and were you not to have been on the walls by sunrise? Ædepol! do you think that we, the conquerors of the world, have nothing better to do than to stand waiting by the walls of every kennel to traffic with the dogs of the earth? Lower away, I say! and see that your trumpery be just in weight, and bright in colour.”
“El Elohim!” ejaculated the Pharisee, as the discordant tones of the centurion rattled up the crags of the precipice, and fainted away against the temple — “El Elohim! Who is the god Phœbus? Whom doth the blasphemer invoke? Thou, Buzi-Ben-Levi, who art read in the laws of the Gentiles, and hast sojourned among those who dabble with the Teraphim, is it Nergal of whom the idolater speaketh? — or Ashimah? — or Nibhaz? — or Tartak? — or Adramalech? — or Anamalech? — or Succoth-Benoth? — or Dagon? — or Belial? — or Baal-Perith? — or Baal-Peor? — or Baal-Zebub?”
“Verily it is neither — but beware how thou lettest the rope slip too rapidly through thy fingers; for should the wicker-work chance to hang on the projection of yonder crag, there will be a woful outpouring of the holy things of the sanctuary.”
By the assistance of some rudely-constructed machinery, the heavily-laden basket was now lowered carefully down among the multitude; and from the giddy pinnacle the Romans were seen crowding confusedly around it. But owing to the vast height and the prevalence of a fog, (which is unusual at Jerusalem,) no distinct view of their operations could be obtained.
A half hour had already elapsed.
“We shall be too late,” sighed the pharisee, as at the expiration of this period he looked over into the abyss — “We shall be too late — we shall be turned out of office by the Katholim.”
“No more,” responded Abel-Shittim, “shall we feast upon the fat of the land — no longer shall our beards be odorous with frankincense — our loins girded up with fine linen from the temple.”
“Raca!” swore Ben-Levi, — “Raca! — do they mean to defraud us of the purchase money! — or, Holy Moses! are they weighing the shekels of the tabernacle?”
“They have given the signal at last,” roared the pharisee. “Pull away, Abel-Shittim! — and thou, Buzi-Ben-Levi, pull away! for verily, the Philistines have still hold of the basket, or the Lord hath softened their hearts to place therein a beast of good weight!”
And the Gizbarim pulled away, while their burthen swung heavily upwards through the still increasing mist.
“Booshoh he!” said Ben-Levi, as at the conclusion of an hour some object became indistinctly visible at the extremity of the rope — “Vah! Climah he! for shame? — it is a ram from the thickets of Engedi, and as rugged as the valley of Jehoshaphat.”
“It is a firstling of the flock,” said Abel-Shittim; “I know him by the bleating of his lips, and the innocent folding of his limbs. His eyes are more beautiful than the jewels of the pectoral, and his flesh is like the honey of hebron.”
“It is a fatted calf from the pastures of Bashan,” said the Pharisee; “the heathen have dealt wonderfully with us. Let us raise up our voices in a psalm — let us give thanks on the shawm and on the psaltery — on the harp and the huggab — on the cythern, and on the sackbut.”
It was not until the basket had arrived within a few feet of the Gizbarim, that a low grunt betrayed to their perception a hog of no common size.
“Now El Emanu!” slowly, and with upturned eyes ejaculated the trio, as releasing their hold, the emancipated porker fell headlong among the Philistines. “El Emanu! God be with us! it is the unutterable flesh!”
“Let me no longer” — said the Pharisee, “let me no longer be called Simeon, which signifieth ‘he who hastens,’ but Boanerges, ‘the son of thunder.’ ”
Edgar Allan Poe
Originally Published in 1832
The story was published as a parody of “Zillah – Tale of the Holy City” by Horace Smith