Old Simon’s family home
“I just arrive back and the rabbi comes to see me with complaints!” Meshua grumbled to his wife when he arrived home.
There was no explanation for the long delay in his return, no greeting. Just an angry declaration as he crossed the threshold.
“And why was Timon not at my booth? There was only a young lad who says he works there! When did that happen?”
“You have been to the marketplace? Before coming home? Before telling us that you were back?” Elizabeth could not help herself. She was angry. They had all been worried about the time he had been away. He had not joined them for the Feast of Tabernacles as he had promised. He had not sent word to say he was on his way home, leaving them wondering if he had been set upon by robbers or taken ill.
“It is not your place to question me!”
“We were concerned for your safety.”
“I set off after the Eighth Day Holy Day.”
“You sent no word. The last we heard was that you would be going to Patara for the Feast of Tabernacles, and there has been no message since.”
“I was thwarted at every turn it seemed. Then when I do arrive back, someone must have seen me unloading supplies at my booth, and before I finished, the rabbi and his assistant are standing there with complaints. Fortunately, the market was closing and there were only a few stallholders to see my disgrace.”
Disgrace? Elizabeth shuddered. Then shaking her head, accepted that she had been warned and had brought it on her own head. Looking at her husband, she would take the consequences, but try to protect Rachel.
“How could you allow me to be shamed so?” Meshua demanded.
“What was the complaint?” she asked, alarmed. She was trembling and hoped he would not notice.
“You do not know?”
What did he mean? Had she been seen at that ‘fellowship’ meeting? Had one of Sara’s servants found out where she and Rachel had gone that day, and spoken of it?
“The complaint was about our daughter.”
Elizabeth had no need to ask which daughter. Thoughts spun in her head. Did it have something to do with their attendance at that meeting? Maybe someone had seen them in the street talking to the old man and his great-grandson. Her hand flew to her mouth as she remembered that while John prayed with her for baby Jacob, Rachel stood and talked with the young man. Jewish men did not talk to women in the street... especially unmarried ones.
Watching her, Meshua saw her inadvertent response. “So, Elizabeth, tell me what happened.”
“What was the complaint?” she asked nervously, then held her breath, waiting for his reply.
“A long list of Rachel’s improprieties,” Meshua responded, remembering that some of those complaints had been about him allowing his unmarried daughter to work in his shop.
Slowly, Elizabeth released her breath. Surely if Rachel had been seen, or it was known that they had attended a meeting, that would have been the first thing he said.
“One was about her working in the shop,” Meshua snapped. “I have told you about that many times. It is not suitable for an unmarried girl of her age.”
It seemed it was not her worst fear, the fear of having been seen at the old man’s meeting, but she remained tense.
“That was not the worst,” Meshua said, and enjoyed seeing her cringe before controlling her expression. “Well may you tremble, woman! You have not been doing your duty as a proper Jewish wife and mother.”
Oh, the angry retorts that ran through her mind, but she dare not voice even one of them. She waited, mentally rehearsing what she would say to protect Rachel. ‘She tried to talk me out of going,’ ‘she only came with me because…’
“My daughter was serving men in the shop, receiving money, behaving in an unseemly manner,” Meshua furiously accused her.
Elizabeth staggered back, so profound was her relief.
Misreading her action, Meshua said furiously, “Aha, I see that you recognize the truth of that!”
Elizabeth stood and allowed him to vent his feelings about her ‘faults’ as a wife and mother. Relief protected her like a shield. ‘We were not seen, we were not seen…’ ran over and over in her mind.
“…and it is past time when she should be betrothed,” Meshua said, poking her in the shoulder.
Still feeling peaceful in the face of his temper, she reminded him, “The way of women has not started with her.”
He did not want to hear. “More to the point, her conduct is unwomanly. That will more than likely put men off when considering her for their sons.”
“She is trained in household tasks... and it was you who allowed her to help in the shop,” she said gently.
Meshua did not like the reminder. “I know, I know. It suited our purposes, at the time.”
“Has anyone approached you about our daughter?”
“Hadad ben Ater did make an inquiry before I left on the buying trip. I told him I would talk to him on my return.”
“The father of Asaph!” Elizabeth squirmed, losing the sense of peace that had been protecting her. “Oh, Meshua, remember the trouble he and his friend Thomas caused both Rachel and Esther at Aminta and Chanan’s wedding.”
“Enough! I will consider any offers that are made for my daughter. Yes, I will take into account her feelings on the matter, and she will respect mine.”
“But no father would assent to betrothing their son to a wife who might be barren.”
He glared at her. This was not something he wanted to hear, why must she keep reminding him? What was wrong with the girl? Surely while he was away... He changed the subject and continued to loose his ire at her. “What has happened to you Elizabeth? I arrive home after all this time away. Three weeks my journey took from Patara, then I am accosted with news of Rachel’s improprieties and all you do is complain. Not a drink has been offered since I crossed the door. No warmed water to wash! What has happened while I have been gone?”
“I will see to that now.”
“Leave it for the moment. I went to the bathhouse before going to the market stall, and I had a skin of water and wine with me. I am pointing out that you have not even welcomed me home!”
Elizabeth bit her bottom lip. There were times when he only wanted to complain.
“Right now I want to know why you defy me like this! My daughters will marry the man I choose. But first I insist you tell me why you allowed Rachel to work in the shop, and lead to these accusations.”
Elizabeth looked at the man her father had chosen for her, remembering how he had supplanted his brother. Her father-in-law had contributed to that by sending his older son to Egypt, out of the way so that Meshua could offer for her. Lowering her eyes so that her husband could not read her feelings, she wondered how she could protect her daughters from being married to men, who although from wealthy families, had proved they were selfish. How could she appeal to her husband? Realizing the best option was to say nothing for the present, she stayed silent.
“Well? Answer me, woman!”
As she stared at the floor, she told herself the same thing that she had told herself over the years... ‘Meshua is a good man.’ She did not feel that right now, having listened to his tirade. She forced herself to think of the other parts of her litany she had repeated to herself over the years. ‘Not many men would allow their daughters to be educated as our daughters are.’ She sighed. She supposed that was another of the Rabbi’s complaints. But without that education, Rachel would not have been of any use to her father, or her grandfather. But in the recent circumstances, there had been no choice when Meshua was away.
“You make no answer at all, woman!”
“Rachel worked in the shop one day. Your father was in too much pain to help in the shop before the shop closed for the festival.”
“Where is he?” Meshua asked, finally noticing he was not in his usual spot beside the hearth. Had he died? Was he finally the owner of this prosperous shop?
“He is talking with Timon.”
Meshua hid a flicker of disappointment.
“After talking with the rabbi, I will have to make changes.”
“What other complaints did the rabbi have?”
“That she was rude to customers.”
“When?” Elizabeth asked, astonished. “I find that strange.”
“While I was away, just before the shop closed for our festival.”
“That doesn’t sound like Rachel. She is always quiet and helpful. I have checked from time to time to make sure everything is alright. I heard her deal with some of the customers. You would be proud of her, Meshua,” Elizabeth tried to appease him. “She has learned her grandfather’s methods of dealing with difficult people.”
“Well, Rabbi Jonas told me his assistant, Jonadab ben Reuben complained about her. He said she kept him waiting while ‘making donkey eyes’ as he put it, at Benjamin, helper to that heretic great-grandfather of his.”
Elizabeth gasped. She knew that Jonadab, by virtue of his position, was one of her father-in-law’s most important customers… and a very impatient man. But, she wondered, why would he say what he did?
“So, what has been going on while I have been away?” Meshua asked angrily.
“I don’t know what you mean.” While he was in this mood, she did not dare tell him that Timon had also delayed coming home because of some business with his father-in-law. He had sent a message to tell the family of the delay and a full week later he and Damaris had returned. Since then Timon had spent a great deal of time talking with his grandfather.
“So why is everything in such a state? Is my father no longer capable of running this shop?”
Preparing herself to bear his anger, she realized that she could no longer avoid telling him that Timon had not returned immediately after the festival, either.
She stalled. “My sister Sara’s servant made some liniment.” Choosing not to go into details, Elizabeth continued, “I have been using that on your father’s feet on the days he is in severe pain. It has helped.” She paused, waiting for a response. There was none. “Because he needs assistance in the shop some days and he did not want Rachel to serve customers again, your father found a young man to serve the customers in the shop. Rachel has packed the orders and kept the accounts. I am sure you will find that the records are excellent. However, both she and your father have been anxious that you return with supplies or there will be nothing left to fill the orders.”
“I have supplies. Why do you think it took me so long to return, why the journey from Patara took so long?”
He had missed the fact that Timon had not been there. Perhaps she had not made it obvious.
“That young man you mentioned that Abba hired, he can unload the supplies I brought. I will ask Timon to help me make up orders, but Rachel should be working in the home, learning to be a wife.”
“She has always helped with some of the work but since Esther stayed at the farm to help Aminta, Rachel has also been helping more with the home and cooking.”
Meshua felt his mind was addled. Forehead furrowed, he wondered what was happening in his home. Rachel had served customers in the shop instead of staying in the storeroom. She was accused of being rude and unseemly, by, of all people, the rabbi’s assistant. A young man he did not know said that he worked at his stall in the market-place, and his father had hired someone to help here. Now, what was this? His wife had said that his younger daughter, Esther, had stayed at the farm. At least that is what it sounded as if she said.
“It seems that in my absence things here have turned mad. However, first things first. I need to settle the matter of Rachel. The rabbi was quite adamant that her behavior was not suitable for a young Jewish girl.” He remembered the uncomfortable encounter with the rabbi. What he had complained of was bad enough, but he had further embarrassed him by addressing the issues at his stall. Although it was almost the end of trading, not everyone had finished closing up. Some of the adjoining stallholders, pagan Gentiles mainly, found it amusing, others were sympathetic. “The charge that she was rude to customers has to be addressed.”
“Let’s call Rachel and ask her,” Elizabeth suggested, hoping she wouldn’t inadvertently betray them.
“Rachel!” her father called. “Leave whatever you are doing and come here.”
Rachel came in from the courtyard where she had been washing some clothes. “Abba, you’re home!” she exclaimed joyfully. Then she noticed the expression on her father’s face.
“What’s wrong Abba? Did something go wrong? Are you unwell?”
“Rachel, I have received complaints about you...”
She felt her stomach churn. She darted a look at her mother, but there was no answer there. Had someone seen her at that meeting? Seen her talking with the young man? Her cheeks flared. What she had done that day was against all the training she had received as a modest Jewish girl.
Eyes narrowed angrily, Meshua stared at his older daughter and said sternly, “The complaint was from Rabbi Jonas.”
Bewildered, relieved, puzzled, Rachel replied, “I haven’t seen Rabbi Jonas since before the Feast of Tabernacles.” Like her mother, she had been fearful someone might have seen them at the meeting of the old man’s group, or seen her talking in the street to the great-grandson. “What were the complaints, Abba?”
Elizabeth watched nervously as her husband confronted their older daughter.
Drawing himself up importantly, Meshua said, “He told me that Jonadab ben Reuben had complained about you keeping him waiting. He said that you were rude to him, and you behaved inappropriately with a young man... a heretic, at that.”
Whilst Rachel was grateful it was nothing to do with the meeting she and her mother had attended, she knew the rabbi’s assistant could cause trouble for her grandfather in the Jewish community. Casting her mind back to the time that she last saw Jonadab, Rachel said, “Abba that must have been the day the shop closed for the Feast. I remember that Saba was suffering too much to work in the shop that day; Timon was working at your booth in the marketplace. Esther worked in the storeroom making up the orders, but the shop was busy. Everyone was in a hurry. I had to serve the customers in the order they came in. You know Hakham Jonadab is impatient ... so to try and calm him while he was waiting, I asked him how he was. He was not well that day and no matter what I said, he stayed irate.”
Meshua considered what his daughter had said. He knew the man was irascible, but because of his embarrassment when he had been confronted by both the rabbi and Jonadab at the market, he was unwilling to let go of his anger. Looking at his daughter he asked, “And what about the other accusation that was made? You kept him waiting because you were ‘making donkey eyes’ at the great-grandson of the heretic, John?”
Rachel’s cheeks colored with embarrassment. “Abba, that isn’t true.”
“You are calling the rabbi’s assistant a liar!”
“No, Abba, I don’t mean to. He did say that, but he was...” she paused, trying to find an acceptable response, “Hakham Jonadab was in pain, and in a hurry. The young man he spoke of came into the shop to collect his great-grandfather’s regular order, but I didn’t serve him till I had served the people before him.”
“Hakham Jonadab said he came back for something he had forgotten and you and the young heretic were alone in the shop and behaving inappropriately.”
Elizabeth sighed with relief. What would Meshua have said if it had been reported that Rachel had been talking to that ‘young heretic’ as he put it, after attending a meeting of those ‘heretics’?
“Abba, you know that Saba has trained me to work in the shop. I know how to behave properly. All I was doing that day was showing the customer where to cut papyrus rolls into sheets.”
Remembering the censure he had endured, Meshua was unwilling to accept her explanation.
“You were alone in the shop with a young man! And a heretic at that! You know how I feel about those people,” Meshua exclaimed. “Christians,” he added derisively. “Why didn’t you call your mother?”
“Father, I did not do anything to shame you. Esther was in the storeroom, and grandfather had his couch in the doorway watching all the time.”
“Jonadab knew that because I spoke to him,” ‘Old Simon’ said firmly, having hobbled through from his room, wondering what the fuss was about.
Acknowledging his father, Meshua went on, “What did Benjamin bar Samuel want, Rachel?”
Elizabeth stared at her husband. Who had he been mixing with lately that he would use the old Aramaic term, rather than the Jewish ‘ben’?
“What he always wants, Abba, supplies for his great-grandfather.” Rachel was sad that he hadn’t even listened to her explanation; she had told him this already. “He came to collect his great-grandfather’s regular order...” and she added, “Which is parchment, ink and pens.”
”I suppose that the old man is writing another of his letters to one of the groups of heretics he supports.”
Elizabeth interrupted gently, “Whatever you think of them, Meshua, that old man is one of your father’s good customers.” With this attitude, she sincerely hoped he would not find out about ‘the old man’ praying for his daughter.
Meshua sighed. His father might be feeble physically now, but his mind was sharp, and he knew his father and the elderly follower of this Yeshua had discussed the heresies John taught. He had never asked his father what his views on the old man’s teaching was. He didn’t want to know... and he didn’t want his children exposed to those heresies, and that handsome young grandson was one of the group. And that was another problem. He was a handsome young man and his daughter was an attractive young woman now. Having been away for so long, he saw her with fresh eyes, and noticed how pretty she was.
“Even if Jonadab ben Reuben was in one of his tempers, this has brought to light the fact you are too old to be in the shop. It is not a young woman’s place to serve the men who come in.”
“Father!” Rachel protested, but before she could continue her father interrupted.
“It is not good enough!”
Elizabeth tried to remind him that she had said that Rachel only worked making up the orders, but Meshua ignored her and went on.
“Now that I am home, you will not be working in the shop again. It is not seemly for you to be working in the shop as you have been doing. I will take over the running of this shop. Timon can run the booth in the market. Now go back to whatever you were doing,” he said dismissively. “We won’t discuss it again.”
“Yes, Father,” Rachel replied, tears of disappointment welling up in her eyes as she quietly left the room. He had not even listened, and she wondered if he ever would. By the way he had spoken, that was the end of the matter as far as he was concerned.
“Now that Rachel has gone, Meshua, I will point out that this is my shop,” Simon said in a controlled tone.
“I know, Abba, but it is clear you aren’t well enough to manage alone anymore and now that the rabbi has complained... well, Rachel cannot help in the shop any longer.”
“When you can calm down and are rested, perhaps you will listen to what I have to say, about my shop.”
“I will make our meal,” Elizabeth said, grateful to have a reason to escape from the tension.
“Timon has gone home,” ‘Old Simon’ told her.
“Why was my son here instead of at my market booth?”
“When you have eaten and recovered from your journey we will talk.”
“I meant what I said, Abba, Rachel can no longer help in the shop.”
“I agree. Since our return from the Feast of Tabernacles, she has only worked in the storeroom. Doran, the young man I hired, is learning from her. She has been a great help, but it is not suitable,” ‘Old Simon’ conceded. “She is of marriageable age.”
“I am glad to hear that you are listening to me.”
“Meshua! You are my son, I am your father. Remember that!”
“But you are not well and you do not seem to understand. This was a complaint from the rabbi.”
“Meshua, I have spoken with the rabbi. We were at the Feast of Tabernacles here in Ephesus, and he talked to me about the matter. Yes, he was concerned about Rachel being allowed to work in the shop, but your reaction is excessive.”
“All the same, I will come and work here in this shop in future. Timon can take over the booth.”
“No, son. You should continue to run your stall in the market. Timon can come and take over the shop in the meantime. You can hire someone to help you.”
“Abba, allow me to control my own household,” Meshua blustered. He was so irate he missed his father’s rider ‘in the meantime’.
“The shop is mine, Meshua. I have plans for this business. We will talk about them later, if you are calm enough.”
“I had thought Timon could make all the business trips in future; this recent trek around the cities has shown me I am too old.”
“Damaris might not be so pleased about that, especially now that she is going to have a child,” Elizabeth said quietly, as she came back into the room. “Rachel is finishing the meal for us.”
If either of the men heard, they paid no attention. They were still locked in their conflict over the shop.
“Well, Meshua? Will you allow me to run my own business?”
“I don’t know what Timon thinks,” Meshua prevaricated.
“But I do. Timon and I have been working on plans for the future this last week.”
Elizabeth looked at her father-in-law. She had wondered what the pair was talking so earnestly about.
“Timon doesn’t have your skill with the customers you deal so well with at the market stall. He told me that while you were away.” Wisely ‘Old Simon’ tried to soften the disagreement, while not revealing his plans just yet.
“I suppose if you put it like that, it does take a lot more experience than Timon has, to deal with the many types of customers at the market.”
Elizabeth smiled, pleased that the matter was resolving peacefully. She was also relieved that her ‘secret’ was safe.
“Timon and Damaris will join us for our Sabbath meal this week, so you need to buy extra food, ‘Old Simon’ reminded her.
“Yes, I plan to go to the market tomorrow.” Smiling at her husband, hoping to placate him, she said, “It will be good for all the family to have a meal together after all the weeks you have been away.”
“Talking about a meal... isn’t it time we ate?” he asked. “Then you can tell me what arrangements have been made while I was away. And what is this about Esther staying at the farm? And you can tell me why I wasn’t consulted.”
“I can answer that now, Meshua; you weren’t back from your trip.”
“Couldn’t it have waited until I was?”
“Aminta’s baby nearly died... he had the same fever that robbed us of our firstborn son.”
Meshua thought for a while, remembering the loss of his firstborn child before saying, “What does that have to do with Esther staying at the farm?”
“Aminta wanted her to stay a while.” Elizabeth knew she could never tell her husband about the state of mind her niece had been in. He would not understand. “Meshua, Esther is so gentle with her... Joanna asked me if she can stay for a while. Besides, Esther has always had a close relationship with my sister Joanna.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about. Esther is a child. How can she have a close relationship with a grown woman, even if she is her aunt?”
“Meshua, I don’t know why. I just know that from the time we were there for Aminta and Chanan’s marriage feast, Esther was highly regarded by Joanna.” She watched her husband to see if he had taken in the significance of what she had told him. He had not, so she added, “And my sister Joanna is not someone who is easily pleased.”
“So what age is our younger daughter?” he asked. “Time to be thinking of marriage for her, too… Still, Rachel must be married first.”
“No man will marry a girl who might possibly be barren.”
Meshua’s mind was at work, trying to work out how to get around that problem. Marrying off his older daughter would solve so many problems for him, but until she became a woman...
Elizabeth observed him surreptitiously. Would he try and deceive the father of the prospective groom? With the man he had mentioned earlier, a wealthy business man, Meshua would find himself in worse trouble than he thought he had been with the rabbi. Besides, deceiving a father about the suitability of a bride for his son would lead to a lawsuit for defrauding him.
“Abba, Aima... are you ready to eat?” Rachel asked, tentatively approaching her parents. “The meal is ready, and I made the bread as you asked me to, Aima.”
“You are a good girl,” Meshua smiled, forgetting his earlier annoyance with her. “You and your mother set it out while I wash, then we will eat.”