The Caravanserai near Ephesus
“We have brought the rain with us,” Basilus, the caravan master said when they arrived in the caravanserai.
“I have been glad of this thick cloak. It has kept me dry underneath,” Giannis replied as he dismounted from the camel, and hitched his robe into his sash to keep it off the wet ground.
“Are there any slaves to help us?” queried one of the other men who had traveled in the caravan.
Pointing him towards the master of the caravanserai, Basilus turned and signaled to his own slaves. “Be quick. We need the commercial goods unloaded quickly and stored safely.”
“You said you would arrange for me to rent space here for my goods,” Giannis reminded him.
“And so I shall, so I shall,” Basilus beamed, thinking of the generous commission he would receive from the master of the caravanserai. “Come with me,” then turning to his slaves he urged them, “Hurry, we need all these goods unloaded and stored out of this weather. Then I will pay you. If you are quick, and there is time, you can go into the city and buy what you want for the celebrations.”
Leading the camel carrying his own goods, Giannis followed the man who had chattered on and on about the Roman festival of Saturnalia for the last few hours. He returned to the subject.
“Oh, to be in Rome for this festival,” Basilus lamented. “Now that’s the place to be. Gambling is allowed, we slaves rule the master, then there is gift giving, pranks that are played and celebrations. Instead, I will be in a village outside Ephesus and I’ll be the master because the owner of the caravan is based in Rome.”
Giannis looked at him with some surprise. He had not realized the caravan master was a slave also.
Basilus grinned. It did not do to let the customers know he was a slave. “Paulus! I have brought you a new customer. He wants to rent space.”
Paulus hurried out, “How much space do you need and for how long?”
“As for how much I need, you would be better asking Basilus here, he loaded my goods. For how long I will need the goods stored, I do not know. It may be weeks or it may be longer.”
The three of them stood under the shelter of an extension of one of the buildings while Paulus and Basilus haggled over space and prices. Giannis watched with interest. Then fearing this friendly bartering would go on too long, Giannis intervened. “I will not be able to arrange anything during the time of Saturnalia and its aftermath, so I will pay for four weeks storage of my goods.”
“That is a wise decision,” Basilus congratulated him.
Giannis counted out the coins to pay for the space in advance and Basilus called his men, “Unload this man’s goods carefully, and put them in the shelter there,” he pointed.
The men’s bare backs glistened with the moisture from the rain as they hurried to unload all the supplies.
“Come on! I want to buy some gifts for our Saturnalia festival.”
There was laughing and joking among his own men. They knew one of them would be the ‘master’ during this time.
Giannis was familiar with the festival as it was kept in the larger towns in Cyprus where Roman influence had spread.
“Have you come far?” Paulus asked him, as he passed him a record of his payment.
“Far enough to be pleased to have finally arrived in Ephesus,” he replied, carefully checking the record matched what had been agreed.
“The record is correct?”
“Yes, thank you. I will be back to either pay you more, or collect my goods,” Giannis said with a smile. He needed to settle in and start working as soon as possible, then, God willing, prove that he would be able to support a wife. His face softened, his eyes glistened with hope, and a little smile twitched at the corner of his lips as he thought of Lois. He was here, back in Ephesus, and sooner than he had hoped... because of one determined ship’s captain desiring to go home to Attalia.
“You are joining friends for the festival?” Paulus asked seeing the pleasure on Giannis’ face.
“No, I am making my home here.” This was as much as he wanted to say. He would like to marry before the Feast of Tabernacles. Although it was only nine months away, God had blessed him, and his business had sold quickly… and for a better price than he had expected. This meant that he was able to buy a home, provided it had a workshop space. All his large stock had either been sold or was bought with the business, as his work was rapidly gaining popularity. He had been surprised at the demand for it when he returned to Cyprus.
Basilus returned to tell him that the goods he had purchased in Patara were safely stored until he wanted them. He said ‘farewell’ to Giannis, and pocketing the generous reward for bringing a new customer, he hurried to the markets. He had gifts to buy for his family, and for the slaves – the pileus. This funny, conical, felt cap was usually only worn by freemen, but during Saturnalia everybody wore one.
Picking up the goat hair bag containing his extra clothing Giannis made sure, as best he could, that it was protected from the weather. Then pulling the loose part of his damp robe over his head and dodging puddles, he also made his way to the market. But he was seeking friends, not gifts.
Samuel’s stall in the marketplace
When he found the brethren, they were too busy to talk. Samuel’s shop was crowded with people anxious to buy oil for the festival so that they could burn lights to keep the darkness at bay. It was a superstitious practice but one that made this a profitable time of year for Samuel. Many of the regular customers also knew that Samuel’s shop would be closed for the days of the festival. In the past, the pranks and mischief of these festivities had made the shop owners wary, preferring to lose sales rather than have their property damaged. Samuel was one of those.
“Samuel,” Giannis greeted him when he was able to enter the shop. Noticing a large amphora of oil, he pointed to it and asked if it was for sale.
“Yes, customers with workrooms need larger supplies than the jars we sell for households.”
Another customer approached clutching a large jar of oil, but Alexander, who was briefly free, stepped forward to serve him.
“Then I would like to buy it, Samuel. I will need one for my future workroom.” Giannis asked the price and took the coins to pay for it from his money pouch before it was sold to someone else. “I have never seen a shop so busy. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Can you fill a jar?” Samuel asked. When Giannis nodded, Samuel pointed to the door to the workroom. “Benjamin would appreciate your help then... and forgive my omission, welcome back,” he smiled and turned to the next customer waiting.
“I will take my purchase later,” Giannis called back as he headed in the direction Samuel had pointed.
“Greetings, Giannis, sorry I can’t talk at the moment,” Benjamin said.
“I am here to help, your father said you would appreciate it.”
Benjamin’s face broke into a relieved grin. He handed Giannis a dipper, and pointed to the supply jar and the row of various size pottery jars waiting to be filled.
After watching what Benjamin was doing, Giannis saw that what was required was not so different from filling his lamps in the workshop at home, and joined in with the work.
When there was a short lull in the demand for oil, Giannis gasped, “How long will it keep up like this?”
Benjamin grinned, and they used the time to fill a few jars in advance at a less frenetic pace. “The shop is only open today and tomorrow. Then we close for the duration of Saturnalia.”
“I am surprised there are so many people keeping the Roman festival.”
“It isn’t all for their festival. This year the Jews’ celebration of the Festival of Dedication is close to it. They burn lights at this time too,” Benjamin explained. “This year, with the two festivals near each other, the shop is busier than even I have seen it before.”
“I know about the Feast of Dedication, and the Roman festival. However, I have never thought about it making so much work for your business.”
“It is a good time for business,” Benjamin responded, then added, “By the way, congratulations on your speed in picking up the skill of filling the narrow-necked jars.”
“I filled my own for the workshop at home. It was easier to do it myself than try and transport many small jars.”
“Less costly too, I would imagine,” Benjamin smiled, then they went back to filling up the jars.
“We are low on empty jars,” Giannis observed.
“Jason is out buying more.”
“He is Alexander’s young brother. You will meet him soon, I hope. You are right, there are not many empty jars left. Thankfully there are not too many years when the Jewish festival and the Roman are this near to each other.”
Curious, Giannis asked, “Did Jesus recognize the Festival of Dedication?”
“Saba told me that He attended the temple to teach during the celebration, although it isn’t one of God’s Feasts. It celebrates the reconsecration of the temple and the altar, and the miracle of one day’s amount of oil lasting eight days until the new oil could be pressed and made ready.”
“I have heard of this festival. The Jews in my homeland also celebrate it. I just wondered if Jesus observed it.”
Jason came back with an enormous basket of jars from the pottery supplier loaded onto his back.
Alexander followed him, and helped him to take the basket off in the storage area attached to the workroom. “At the rate we are selling oil, these will not be here long,” he smiled at his young brother.
With the jars stored away, Jason went back to the workroom with Alexander. “Help fill jars please, Jason, I will be needed back in the shop.”
Jason nodded, and could not help staring at the stranger who was working with Benjamin.
Following his look, Alexander said, “That’s Giannis, whom you have heard about. When we are not so busy I will introduce you.” Taking some of the full jars, he went back into the shop.
Samuel hurried into the workroom to request some lamps.
Jason efficiently found the ones Samuel wanted.
“Will Matthew be as busy today?” Giannis wondered aloud.
“He will be,” Samuel said. “Although we do not approve of the behavior of some of the people during Saturnalia, we sell more at this time of year. We cannot ask every customer why he is buying the oil, or in Matthew’s case, the wine.”
Benjamin regarded his father, wondering.
Samuel, reading the look, said, “I can guess what you are thinking. But I know the ones who try to buy for temple worship, and although I am busy, I do not sell to them. Alexander knows them also. I am sure that Matthew has his rules, too.”
“Sorry, Abba, I didn’t intend to criticize, I mentioned to Giannis earlier that we make more sales at times like this. But when you said that you cannot ask every customer why he wants to buy the oil, I wondered if this was a way the temple worshippers could take advantage. When it is so busy, how would we know? And they could obtain the supplies they want.”
Giannis watched, unsure of what was happening, but interested.
“One of the ways I would recognize their purpose, other than the people I know who attempt to buy oil, is the amount that is asked for. People who want oil for temple worship, and hope to take advantage of the busy times, will request large supplies, much more than for family use. Both Alexander and I recognize such requests and don’t fill them.”
Giannis wondered if this would be something he needed to learn about.
Samuel heard voices in the shop, and as he hurried to the door from the workroom said, “Jason, it would be better if you come with me. You will not need to serve the customers, but it will be very helpful if you serve as a messenger between the shop and the workroom. It will enable Alexander and me to continue to serve people.”
With the reassurance that he would not have to serve people, Jason followed Samuel back into the shop.
As he worked, Benjamin thought of what his father had said. Again, he was aware of how little he knew about the running of the shop, but he was no longer threatened by his lack. Alexander was a partner in the business now... and he had earned that position. As for himself, he was happy to be helping his great-grandfather. But at busy times like this, it was good for him to help in the shop. Part of him was fascinated by the bustle of the market, although today was more than he had experienced before, even more than the rush before Holy Days. With the combination of a pagan festival and a Jewish one, both requiring lights, the number of customers astonished him.
“I wonder how the people in the booths have fared in this rain,” Samuel wondered, during another brief pause in the rush. He was thinking of old Eli, the basket seller who used to be his neighbor in the other section of the market.
Guessing his concern, Alexander remarked, “I passed by Eli’s stall earlier when I went to buy food from the Jewish food seller. He has a large leather awning protecting his booth. It is fine so long as you aren’t near the edge where it tilts down to let the rain run off,” he laughed, and turned to see more customers pushing through the doorway.
“Can you supply me with three jars of perfumed oil and a hanging lamp?”
“A large jar of good grade oil.”
“Two household lamps and a jar of oil.”
“Six of the decorated lamps...”
Samuel and Alexander were kept busy with customer requests, taking the money and sending Jason back and forward between the shop and the workroom for oil and lamps.
“Our supplies of the decorated lamps are low,” Jason whispered to Samuel as he brought some through from the workroom to put on the shelves.
“We will be closing soon,” Samuel replied, and looking up to see how many customers there were waiting, he noticed Simonides outside the door talking to a younger man. Nudging Alexander, he indicated the pair, then served the next customer.
Alexander intimated he had noticed. He was ready when the man Simonides had talked to came into the shop and looked around the shelves, waiting till he was free.
Pointing to the large amphora of oil that Giannis had bought, he asked if it was the best quality oil or the ordinary grade.
“Sorry, that amphora is already sold.”
“Then I would like to order one, similar to that, with the best quality oil. When can I collect it?”
“We do not sell oil for temple worship,” Alexander told him.
The man glanced quickly out of the shop door, seeking guidance from Simonides, who shrugged and hurried away. The customer sighed and left the shop.
“They don’t realize how they give themselves away,” murmured Samuel, exchanging an incredulous glance with Alexander.
The takings for the shop were much more than normal, so when they closed, Samuel suggested they each take a share to carry to Matthew.
“Matthew?” asked Giannis.
“He is taking over as the quaestor, the person who holds the money for the group.”
Since John had been warned about his goods being seized, they had made arrangements to keep their funds elsewhere.
While Samuel, Alexander and Benjamin divided up the money, Giannis stayed in the workroom with Jason. “How many more lamps and jars do we need to fill?” Giannis asked.
“We keep going till all these are full. Tomorrow I will have to see if there are more jars ready,” Jason told him.
As they worked, Giannis told him “I am a potter; I will be looking for a workshop when these busy days are over.”
“I make lamps,” Jason disclosed. “Usually this is my workroom. But today we are selling oil and lamps so fast, I have been helping fill the jars, and running between the shop and the workroom here.”
Giannis looked around the room. It was large. Two walls were lined with shelves, now filled with the pottery jars of oil. Along a third wall was the long bench they were working on to fill the remaining jars and lamps. Beneath the bench was a stack of the metal the lamps were made from and a box in the corner held tools. “There isn’t room for you to make any lamps today,” Giannis smiled.
Jason smiled back. Giannis seemed a friendly person.
“Let’s lock up here and leave,” Samuel called.
Retrieving his bag, Giannis said, “I need to go to Matthew and see if he is still able to give me lodgings till I find a home to buy.”
“You are in a position to purchase a home already?” Surprised, Samuel turned and looked at him.
“Yes, God blessed me with an excellent price for my business and all my stock.”
“Excellent. Now come with us and we will take you to Matthew. He has been expecting you. I told him you would soon be arriving after we received your letter.”
“What about my oil?”
“Sorry, it had slipped my mind.” Then Samuel chuckled, “A temple worshiper wanted to buy it.”
“So it is better if we take it now when there are so many of us,” Benjamin added.
Giannis looked puzzled.
“They have been known to smash jars...” Benjamin told him.
Benjamin, Alexander and Samuel all remembered the incident when Samuel was beaten and a supply jar of oil smashed.
“If we stay together as a group,” Alexander suggested, “we won’t be an easy target.”
It was still raining when they left so they all pulled part of their robes over their heads. Alexander and Benjamin, who were both tall, carried the amphora, each holding one of the handles. They hurried through the market and arrived without incident at Matthew’s wine shop and warehouse.
Matthew’s wine shop
“Matthew,” Samuel called, “We’ve brought your guest,” as they all entered the shop.
“I see you brought the rain with you,” Matthew greeted Giannis, “Good to see you back.” Clasping his arm, he patted his shoulder in welcome.
Benjamin and Alexander put down the amphora in a corner with a sigh of relief.
As Matthew locked up, Samuel turned to Giannis, “Poor man, we haven’t properly welcomed you. I am pleased to see you.” Looking at the others he added, “We all are.” Then addressing Matthew, he said, “We put him to work as soon as he set foot through the shop door. What a welcome!”
“It was a good welcome. It felt like I belonged. I was happy to be able to help.”
“Matthew and I have some business to do, we will leave you and Jason for a few minutes.”
“There’s some wine over there. It’s for customers to sample,” Matthew pointed out. “Please have some while you are waiting. There is a jug of water beside it.”
“Thank you,” Giannis said, and he and Jason made their way over to the area set aside for customers to sample the wine.
Giannis poured them both a goblet of wine, adding water from the jug. Recognizing that Jason was shy, Giannis cast around in his mind for something to say. “You work for Samuel, obviously.”
“Yes, Alexander is my brother and I share his bedchamber in Samuel’s home.”
“Then you are very blessed. When Benjamin was away, I stayed in his room for about a week. Alexander wasn’t there then.”
“No, he would have been at home with us. Our mother died on your Feast of Trumpets.”
“I am sorry for your loss,” Giannis said, at the same time recognizing that he wasn’t a member of the fellowship by his description of when his mother had died.
“I like it with my brother. And I like working with Samuel. I used be my uncle’s apprentice. That’s where I learned about lamp making, but my cousins were jealous. They did the fancy work. I would like to experiment a little and make some of the more elaborate lamps like the ones my uncle made, but I have nowhere to do it.”
“How much space do you need?”
Jason launched enthusiastically into a description of the comparatively small space he would need for a workbench and storage area as well as what tools he would need.
Samuel, who had finished the business with Matthew, heard Jason talking and held his hand up to restrain the others from walking through the doorway just yet.
“Did you know about that?” he asked, turning to look at Alexander.
Alexander shook his head.
Both were surprised that Jason was confiding in a stranger, and how enthusiastic he sounded.
Clearing his throat and speaking loudly to announce their return, Samuel, followed by Benjamin and Alexander, made his way into the room.
“Jason,” Giannis said quietly, “when I find a workshop, if it is big enough, you can have a space in it to make lamps.”
Samuel said, “We had better be off home; Naomi will worry if we are late. Giannis, if you are free tomorrow, then you are welcome to help me again, unless Matthew needs your help.”
“I have not been as busy as you have Samuel, and I am sure you will be busy again tomorrow, so Giannis can assist you if he wants.”
“See you tomorrow then, God willing,” Samuel said as they left, pulling the folds of material over their heads.
Giannis felt amazed again at the support the brethren here gave each other. Perhaps because he was from a small town with few brethren, he hadn’t experienced this before... or maybe it was because he was in Ephesus with the family of John.
“Are you ready?” Matthew asked.
“Is there somewhere I can leave this amphora of oil safely?” Giannis asked, pointing to the amphora in the corner.
Going over to pick it up, Matthew urged, “Give me a hand with it and we’ll put it in the storeroom.”
With the amphora put away safely, Matthew said, “Right, let’s go. In this weather, Ednah’s broth is worth waiting all day for.”
Giannis remembered Matthew’s wife from the fellowship meetings. In her mid-forties, his memory of her was that she was always smiling. “I am looking forward to seeing her again.” Picking up his bag he added, “I hope my extra clothing has survived the drenching of this weather.”
Matthew looked at the bag and grinned “Well, the goats do. The water runs off their coats; let’s assume that since that is goat hair, your bag is as resistant to the rain as they are.”
Locking up his shop, he chuckled and, eyes twinkling, said, “It is still raining. Thankfully I don’t live far from here.”