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Adiva of the Salt Sea

      My time is almost to an end. I know it. I accept it as the Divine Will of The Almighty. As happened to my own Tribe of Simeon, so shall happen to me.
      My dear brother, who has been with me every step of this journey has already gone on to be with our fathers of old. Without him, we are not the same. But now is the time for me to commit the story of what we have done here to writing, even if another is doing the writing, and send it out into the world. A world that is about to change forever. But that is the end of this story, and now, I am considering the beginning.

      So I begin as a girl in the village of Molathi, in the area that had been our tribal land, south west of Jerusalem in the ancient realm of Simeon.

1. Reading.
      It was over sixty years ago when my brother, Samuel, was in Hebrew school in our village.
      Even though I was two years younger than him, I could read and write both the Greek of the infidels and our own Hebrew better than him, and I helped him as much as I could. We were fortunate in that our grandfather had spent some time copying a partial scroll of the Torah and one of the Prophets. So I could help my brother with his reading and writing. And in doing so, I learned the material to the letter.
      And when the official school was not in session, the master allowed me to read the scrolls he had there, and sometimes he would have one from the Synagogue, and I would read it.
      During the boy's classes in the courtyard of the master's house, my older brother would sit with the other boys and listen and practice on clay tablets. I would sit in the entry way, sometimes with another girl or two, and we could listen to the master read, and practice writing in the sand as he instructed the boys on whatever passage they were working on that day.
      Then later, I would help Samuel with his lesson.

      From time to time the master would receive a document written in Greek, and sometimes, he had trouble reading it. He would wait until the boys were distracted and motion for me to come up to him. Then, just out of sight of the students, he would have me read the letter and then tell him what it said. He would say that he could read the foreign letters, but once in awhile he didn't recognize some of the words they used.
      The master would always tell me that it wasn't seemly for a young girl to learn too much, but that since I was helping Samuel, and occasionally him, it would be permitted.
      And so it went for several years. Until the years when Samuel began working during the season in the fields with our father and Simon, my younger brother, began his schooling.

      Then later I think that my status of being an unmarried widow made him take pity on me. The young man I had been betrothed to by my father had gone to fight with the rebellion in the north. We never heard from him again. Nobody knew if he had been killed or captured or had fled. After a year of mourning, my father had lifted that from me. But he made no further attempt to marry me off. Instead he encouraged my studies.
      Simon, in contrast to Samuel, was an excellent student, and instead of my helping him learn, we often studied together and discussed what we were reading.

      "Adiva, tell me," Master Tersola said one time.
      "Of course."
      "Are you committing the scriptures to heart as you read them?"
      "Yes, master. As much as I can. It helps to read them several times. Then when I get home, I write them as I recite them."
      "That is good, Adiva. But how do you have material to write on?"
      "I write them in the sand, master, or on a scrap of skin with a charcoal stick. Whatever we have. It is the writing that helps me remember them."
      "Did your brother Samuel read your writing?"
      "Sometimes, master."
      "I see." He sat in silence for a long moment and looked at me with those deep dark eyes of his that at times looked more like the eyes of one of the animals of the wild that would stare out from the shadows along the edge of the sheep pen. Then he spoke again. "Adiva, I will tell you. I am sorry that my own master in Jerusalem will not allow girls to learn more than they need to serve the household. Or you would be my lead student."
      I bowed my head and thanked him, then I said "but master, I do not understand some of what I have read."
      "Tell me an example, my child."
      Now I was the one that sat in silence, then I caught a glimpse of one of the oldest and most worn scrolls that were no longer in use in the Synagogue, but was now studied in our school. "There, master." I nodded to the aged parchment still on the table where we had read a section of it. "Some of the passages in the Book of Twelve are obscure to me."
      The master laughed for a time. "Adiva. Adiva." He shook his head and his beard wagged at me. "Some rabbis claim they understand the prophets, and some rabbis are honest and admit that we may never understand everything in that Book."
      "But, master. The prophecies were written to be read and understood."
      "Yes, they were. But they were meant to be understood not in our time, but in Our Lord's time," he glanced up.
      "You mean, master, when the fulfillment comes?"
      He nodded slowly, "Yes. Also," he looked around then leaned forward, "As you are my best student in spite of the word from Jerusalem, I will tell you an old secret that my own master told me. Although he told me much later in my studies than I am telling you."
      I sat attentively and expected a deep spiritual insight to be revealed.
      "Adiva, I was told, and it has proven true. There are parts of the Twelve that are more understandable in this world after one has a bit of wine." He sat for a minute, then smiled broadly, "sometimes, more than a bit."
      I knew he was using humor to make a serious point. I do remember exactly what I did after he said that. I sat and nodded slowly while still looking at the old scroll of the Twelve Prophets, and did not say anything. Instead, I remembered a part of one that said the grain was for the young men and the new wine for the young women. Perhaps that was what the prophet meant.

      It was some time later that master Tersola had made a journey to Jerusalem for a Sabbath he returned with a new scroll. A freshly copied scroll of the Third and Fourth Book of the Kings.
      I'd never seen those books before.
      After the boys were in class and he read to them from it for a time, then he announced a stoppage of the class for a time, and all the boys went out. I got to go into the courtyard and read the section he was on for myself from the scroll. I was still reading when the boys came back in. But I didn't notice.
      I had been reading out loud to myself.
      "Adiva, my throat is painful. Please, continue reading from where you were. Students listen to her read the Book of the Kings. Listen to it being read as if I am reading it."
      I read for a very long time. And for their part, the boys sat and listened to me. Simon even smiled at me when I looked up to take a breath.
      The boys were getting restless, and when I reached the end of Book Three, the master called for an end to the class that day.

      "You did very well, Adiva. I enjoyed listening to you read." Simon said to me as I stood and simply stared at the rows of neat Hebrew letters on the new parchment.
      "Indeed," the master said, "and I asked Jacob Ben-Selbal if I could use a reader and he said was acceptable. I asked if it was still acceptable if the reader were female." He paused, then nodded at me, "He said 'yes, as long as she is not in her monthly uncleanness'."
      It was a better answer than I expected, "As that is the statement, I will abide by it and tell you when that happens."
      "That is what I hoped for, Adiva. Please, come back tomorrow and read before the writing lesson."
      "Thank you, master."
      Simon was still smiling, "Yes, master, you have brought honor to our family."

      I read for several more years. Only taking a few days off every month. And not only did I read, I would participate in the discussions. Even when a visiting Rabbi would sit in on our classes, I would read for the master, and a few times, I was permitted to ask the Rabbi a question,

2. Transitions.
      This was when the school closed because the new powers in Jerusalem saw it as a source of hardline Jewish resistance to the new Gentile power that ruled us. Master Tersola had retreated to Eltholad. The morning he left he handed me a large skin bag without saying a word. Then he looked into my eyes, turned and began the walk to his new home.
      The good news was that he gave me first choice of any scrolls or parchments that I wanted. Then he was gone and the courtyard was being used by a neighbor to house donkeys.

      Molathi had been effectively part of Judah since the time of the Judges. But we were part of a group of villages that still considered ourselves of the Tribe of Simeon.
      Even when I was a young girl and we lived through the Parthian invasion that removed the other heathen power for a time, we were left alone, and the only issues we had was with the Hasmonean priests who thought they were more important to the people's daily lives than they really were.
      Our father wanted no part of the mandate of some of the priests that everybody was to observe the purity laws for service in the Temple in the outside world. Then our father gave to me the greatest honor he had ever bestowed on me.

      On a Feast Day, in front of his own younger brother and his family, as well as our entire immediate family he asked me, "My daughter, as a student of the Law and the Prophets, no matter what some of the priests may say, do you see any Scripture in the Torah that states that the common people must adhere to the code for the Temple. All the time."
      I was sitting on the floor about halfway down from him, with his brother on the other end. Samuel was across the table from me with his new wife. Our cousins and others were around the table, and other family members were at a smaller table on the other side of the room.
      And now they were all looking at me.
      I had recently had this discussion several times with my father and my own brothers who were being pressured by an old friend of the family to adopt the restrictions and rituals of the Pharisees.
      "No, Papa. The Levitical laws only apply to the work in the Temple. The other laws, food restrictions, not touching the dead, other things, those apply to the common people."
      My aunt snorted, "such is the opinion of a girl."
      My brother simply asked me a question, "Adiva, how many times have you read the Torah?"
      "I do not know. I did read the entire thing again to the class just before it closed."
      Then our father turned to his sister in law, "How many times have you read it?" She didn't answer, so he said, "Adiva has an entire copy of the Moses if you would like to read it for yourself." Her scowl left no doubt about her reading ability, and still she did not answer.
      I tried to rescue her, "The Moses is an old school copy, but it is still almost complete. I've even read the Halakha notes that they have at the school in Eltholad. Their master let me read theirs as long as they weren't using them."
      Samuel laughed, "It took her two nights to do it, their house matron was upset that she used so much lamp oil."
      "They are not easy to read. Small individual scrolls, and notes on bits of parchment sewn together and stacked up. It's not one book like Moses or the Kings."
      "Or the Twelve," Simon added from the table of younger people.
      I agreed, "But I did find the part on Leviticus. And some on the Fifth Book of Moses. And read it."
      Our uncle asked me a question, "So, Adiva, tell me. Is the restrictions of the Pharisees based on Torah?"
      "No, uncle. It is their own words that they are pushing onto the people to make themselves more important."
      He pursed his lips, then he turned toward his wife, "I believe that is what you said after Josiah left our home that one time."
      "Yes. But you didn't believe me. Adiva, you believe."
      "You are both wise women. You know people, she knows the Scripture. And you both agree on it. That is enough for me. And you brother, what say you?"
      "I have suspected they are full of, manure, all along. But, what can you do? They have a lot of power in Jerusalem."
      We sat in silence for a time, then our cousin Philista from the table with the younger children came over to my uncle and whispered to him for a moment.
      "Ask your cousin. It would be her decision. But I suspect I already know the answer."
      Philista was only seven years old, but she turned and stood with a confidence that reminded me of myself at that age. "Cousin Adiva. Could you teach me to read the way you do?"
      I smiled broadly and bowed my head toward her for a moment, "It would be a delight and an honor to do so."
      Samuel spoke up, "Adiva already has something of a school. She has been teaching some of the other girls, and a few younger boys when they have time to come and sit for lessons."
      "Excellent," Philista's father said and put both of his hands flat on the table, "that is better news than what I have to say before we finish tonight."
      "You're going to tell us about the Parthians. I have heard the same news," my father said.
      "Do you think they will come back?"
      "Oh, they will come. It is only a matter of when. If they think we cannot defend ourselves, or that the Romans are unable to resist, then they will come."
      "In the mean time, Adiva will teach Philista, and I will send Ben Jacob as well, he isn't learning in our school. He spends more time talking about food than reading."
      My uncle's youngest son protested for a moment, but then he fell silent at a glance from his mother, "It would do you good to read so well," she said to him.
      Simon was enthusiastic about his older cousin joining us, "She is a good teacher, you'll enjoy it."
      My own mother ended the discussion by stating that if we were done with the meal that we could all help her clean up.

      Within the next year everything changed, and within two years, I had changed.

      Philista and Ben Jacob moved in with us and joined the few local children that I was teaching in my informal school.
      Which was how I began to be accepted as, at first, a teacher of young children, and slowly, older children. And even a few adults that wished to know more about the ancient books and what they said about our faith.

      Samuel's entire life collapsed around him when his wife was with child.
      As the babe grew within her, she began to wither. She became sickly and pale. Then she got weaker and weaker. None of the treatments by the older women in the village worked, and then far too early she began to give birth.
      Neither she nor the newborn survived.
      Samuel became dark and distant and all he seemed to want to do was sit in the shadows near the market and be left alone.

      Now things were changing in Judah, and, like it or not, our village and the others nearby were part of Judah.

      When our master closed the school and moved to Eltholad my school was the only option for teaching outside the home in our village. And when the children, boys and girls, were not busy with their chores, they were sitting behind our house, learning. And some of the girls from the countryside stayed with us during that time.
      But then the Pharisees noticed what I was doing and began to cluck their tongues at my mother in the market and would lecture my father about how it was improper.

      I had heard of how some of the Essenes had had their fill of both the Pharisees and the Saducees and moved out to the desert near the Salt Sea.
      While there was almost nothing the Essenes said that I agreed with, I could see their point. To carry on their faith as they wished, they needed to be away from the two larger, and even more opinionated, and self-righteous, groups.
      It was my younger brother that had mentioned that perhaps I needed to move my school out to the desert to give our parents some peace.
      When a friend of our uncle's came through with one of the caravans I asked him if he knew of someplace that would be suitable. Josachiah bowed deeply and said that my consulting him on something so serious was a deep honor.
      "If you were going to just stay in and study, Adiva, you could do that here. But if you wish to be left alone to teach as well, you need to get away from the villages and cities where those that would have you do as they say are. Which, in your case, would be to stay in the courtyard and bake bread instead of read Greek." He nodded at me. "And have babies."
      I looked at the page of the scroll I had been studying, one of the Greek copies of our own scriptures. "Yes, I agree. Do you know of such a place."
      "Let me tell you a story Adiva." He glanced at Simon and the group of students that were just gathering around our table. "I was a much younger man back then..."

      Josachiah began telling us of his first few years working with his own grandfather's caravans. They had made several trips to the east, going one time as far as an Akkadian city on the eastern sea far below where the Euphrates runs into the eastern sea.
      On another trip, one of his grandfather's men noticed that they were being followed by a group of robbers. So one night when they made camp, they made a false camp and then during the night left the fire burning and had a couple of men stay behind and make camp noises while the caravan slipped away, then, in the morning, their men hurried to join them. Except the robbers had already sent word to their partners about the coming caravan.
      Josachiah's grandfather got word from another caravan master of a group that appeared to be preparing an ambush near a rocky ridge where the King's Road narrowed. So he turned off the path and his group proceeded due south across a great dry basin for several days, then they turned west again.
      "We were running low on water but my Grandfather was not concerned. He said he knew of a safe valley with a spring where we could rest before resuming our journey. The valley is east of the Salt Sea. The stream runs from a spring that he said never dries up completely, but will diminish in high summer, then the stream runs into the rocks and vanishes to the eye near the sea, so most people never know it is there."
      They stayed in the valley for a week, then they had to resume their trip, eventually arriving in Jericho instead of Jerusalem, but they made it with their cargo and lives intact.

      The group had fallen silent, and now everybody was looking at me. "Tell me, do you know where your grandfather's safe valley is?" I asked him.
      "Yes. I used it several years ago when a scoundrel had accused me of stealing something which he himself stole. I stayed there until the truth came to light. I used the very tent site my grandfather used. Five steps from the spring. You fall asleep to gurgling water."
      Simon asked a question, "Why didn't you go to a City of Refuge?"
      "I didn't want to take a chance with them. I am not a Jew. I believe in and honor the God of Israel, but I am not a Jew. He has been my family's God since the time of the Crossing of the Jordan, but I am not a Jew."
      "So you can lead us to the valley?"
      "It would be my honor and pleasure dear Adiva. But, it is three days good walking from here. Maybe four if you are carrying a burden."
      "Then we will leave after the Sabbath. That gives me time to pack, the scrolls." I thought about somebody that might want to help me, "And I need to talk to Samuel."

3. Eastward.
      We didn't tell everybody that I was leaving. But word spread nonetheless. Some of my students were coming with me, some were not.
      Word even spread to Eltholad, the afternoon before the Sabbath one of their students arrived with a large bundle of documents.
      "The school is closing there as well. They are going to go to Egypt to get away from the Pharisees. Rabbi Tersola said he may even go to Ethiopia. He wanted you to have these," the young man said.
      "Where are you going?"
      "Galilee. My family is up there. I will either fish or farm." His face got sad for a moment, "I just hope there are no problems crossing the border. I haven't been home in a few years."
      "Thank you for this. And the Lord be with you," I said to him as I accepted the bundle.
      Between my other packing and making ready for my last Sabbath at home with my parents for I dared not think of how long, I didn't even get to look in the bundle of parchment sheets with a few scrolls tucked inside. All I could see was a hand written cover in the master's wandering letters that said he hoped this was a blessing to me. I closed my eyes briefly and said it already was.

      At first, I wasn't even certain that my brother Samuel had heard what I said to him.
      But then he looked at me, "Adiva, you said this valley is east of the Jordan?"
      "Yes. But I do not know how far."
      "That is far enough. I will come with you. And I may stay there even if you do not."

      My mother was torn between supporting the plan, and wanting us to stay here with them.
      We made an agreement. I'd go see the valley, and if it was suitable for the school, and if we could survive on what we could grow and forage, and what I was assured would be donated and brought to us about once a month by one of our kinsmen.
      My mother said that Philista and Simon were too young to be of much help getting settled, but Ben Jacob was coming with us. If the plan was workable, they would join us with the first supply delivery.
      "And if it is not workable, I promise, we will pack up and come home."

      Two days later we were walking toward Jerusalem.
      I was carrying everything I was taking for my use, and a number of scrolls and manuscripts. As were the others that were going with me. The only exception was Samuel, who besides what he had on his back, he was leading two she goats who were pulling a fairly loaded cart while also carrying small packs on their back.

      Just approaching the Holy City was something that before would make my heart sing, but now, I saw it as an alien city, even a threat to everything I was and believed.
      We spent the night in a guest house and were on the road the next morning before anybody asked any questions. Even if they had, Josachiah was well known in the city as a traveling merchant and that was our cover story.
      While travel was not being restricted by the authorities, it was being discouraged.
      Then we were walking more downhill than uphill as we neared Jericho.
      There we spent another night in a slightly less agreeable guest house.
      "I am certain I smell sheep and goats in here," Samuel said.
      "When we're not here, there will be sheep and goats in here." Josachiah said.

      The next morning I saw the Salt Sea for the first time.
      We arose early and thanked the keeper for the morning meal that they made available. Then as the sun rose we left the city and continued south for some distance to a lower crossing of the river.
      The sea was the largest body of water I'd ever seen. My father had been to the Great Sea, but I had not. I asked Josachiah how far it went, and he did not know.
      "There are some that will take a boat to the south end, but the water is so strong it will destroy the boat, and they have to walk back."

      While we often talk about the Jordan River, and the wondrous crossing of the River of old, it was now late summer, the river was nearly at its lowest, and when we crossed at the ford, it only got to my knees. My own Crossing of the Jordan was almost a disappointment.
      "In the spring," Josachiah was saying, "you don't cross unless you hire a raft. If you try, a sudden rush of current can carry you out into the Sea before you know it."
      We all helped Samuel get the load from the cart across so that everything was still dry, but I told him the goats were his problem.
      "No problem at all," he said and went back across to them. He took their leads and waded back into the river and they followed while Josachiah and Ben Jacob were behind to keep the cart from floating away.
      I hadn't known that goats could swim.

      We rested for a short time on the eastern bank and watched a caravan cross. One of the camels stopped at the water's edge and refused to move. Finally one of the drivers walked it around a long slow circle, and then brought it up behind another loaded beast. This time it hesitated, but followed its travel partner into the water and crossed without making any more disagreeable noises.
      "They are not accustomed to moving water," Josachiah said.
      Then we hoisted our loads and went on.
      There was a small village not far from where the river entered the sea. We stopped at their tiny marketplace and I bought some supplies, then we turned east, walking along a path along bluffs above the sea.

      The sun was sinking into the mountains behind us as we turned south along the eastern side of the valley that ran along either side of the sea.
      The path got rougher and began to climb slightly. Then Josachiah stopped and turned around and looked at me. "Tell me, do you see a stream flowing into the sea?"
      I looked around, as did Samuel and the others, "No."
      "Good. This way, follow me." He stepped off the track and walked down a slight slope that was soon climbing into a narrow steep valley.
      We had walked a good way up the valley before we first heard water running. A short distance later Josachiah stopped and looked down with a smile.
      "It vanishes here, but it appears up there," he pointed up the valley. "Come on."

      The steep walled valley was narrow, but the bottom along the creek was passable, and then it opened to a wider area. On the far side of the stream was an old stone enclosure with several terraced areas above it. This side was lower and green with grasses and small bushes. There were even a few full grown fig trees that looked out of place this far from a settlement.
      Josachiah was smiling at the memories he had of the place. "When the entire caravan was here, some of the men had to camp down the valley, and the camels were lined up on this side. But we were all in here and safe from the robbers. My grandfather put our tent in there," he pointed at the old stone walls, "And we all recovered from being in the desert traveling as fast as we could for so long. Follow me."
      There was a way across the stream via a set of stepping stones, and a set of rough stairs set into the loose gravel that made up the bank.
      "See, plenty of room," he gestured to the inside of the enclosure.
      "I see that," I answered and then I listened, "and I hear the water. I didn't hear it so well on the other side."
      "When it is totally quiet you can, but it is louder here."
      Samuel joined us, "the goats are happy. They like the grass." He looked around, then looked up and climbed what was more ladder than stairway up to the first terrace. "There's even a cave here."
      Josachiah nodded, "my grandfather said those were carved by people of old when they were hiding here. Some of them go far into the cliffs. I crawled into some of them, but I'm not an explorer."
      "I am," Samuel said, "but perhaps later. If we're staying, I'll have plenty of time for that."
      Ben Jacob was already halfway into the cave, "It gets bigger," he said, "but I can't see anything." Then he backed out of it.
      Then they both looked down at me and the other students that had come with us.
      I knew they were waiting to see what I had decided.

      I walked out of the stone enclosure and looked down the valley where the setting sun was gleaming off the cliffs that led out to the Salt Sea while I listened to the water.
      I thought about it and tried to be practical. We were three days of quick walking from home. But more importantly we were two full days from the troublemakers in Jerusalem. And we had the settlement in Qumran between us and them. Which I felt was worth something as well.
      I turned and faced those that had followed me to this forgotten hole in the desert.
      "We'll stay for now and see how we do."
      "What should we do first?"
      I didn't hesitate, "We wash down at the pool, then have evening prayer, and then a meal." I turned to look at them, "And in the morning, we will consider everything and see what would be best."

4. From a camp to a home.
      After a prayer of gratitude, I prepared a meal for everybody while Samuel and Josachiah made camp for the night.
      I slept on one side of the enclosure with only a blanket for shelter. Samuel and Josachiah were nearby, and most of the students spent the night not far from the enclosure as well.

      I have never heard such quiet in my life, the only sound was the endless trickle of water. During the night I woke up and had trouble going back to sleep, so I got up gently and with only the light of the moon and stars walked out of the enclosure.
      Ben Jacob was awake and sitting by the stream.
      "I didn't know anybody was up," I said to him.
      "Samuel and I thought it best if somebody kept watch for our first night here. It will be his turn soon."
      "That was a good idea. I will finish your turn, you can go get some sleep. I'll wake him up later."
      "Thank you, Cousin Adiva." he turned, then stopped, "Do you think we can make this into a camp?"
      I could barely see him. If I did not know who he was, I could not have identified him. I could hear nothing but the water. But I could see the outline of the cliffs above highlighted with the sky above them. It was a dazzlingly beautiful sight.
      "Look up," I said to him. He did. "I think we can make a home here."

      When I was eighteen years old everybody had always told me that I seemed much older. Perhaps it was the mourning shawl I still wore when around other people. With it around my head and draped over my shoulders, people, and especially other women who would inevitably gossip about me otherwise, left me alone.
      I had worn the shawl again during our journey. But then, as I made my bed, I took it off and rolled it up as a pillow. I told myself the next time I wore it would be to go back to Molathi.
      After sitting for some time listening to the water and staring at the stars I heard somebody moving. I looked around and tried to see in the dark.
      "It's me," Samuel said.
      We sat together for a long time and talked about what we could do to the place to make the place not only livable, but pleasant to live in as well. Then with Samuel's ideas about building tents over the cave entrances still spinning in my head I went back to sleep.

      When I woke up in the morning Josachiah, Samuel, and Ben Jacob were already gone. A couple of the students were still asleep, the other was tending to the goats.
      "They went to get poles for the tents, mistress," the goat tender said.
      "That is good."
      I milked the goats and set about making a meal out of what we had.

      Soon enough they came back with several branches about as long as Ben Jacob was tall. Then they began lashing them together and anchoring them with rocks.
      We had mentioned having a male section and a female section to try to maintain some sort of decorum. There was no way to have totally separate facilities, but we could at least sleep in different tents from now on.
      But then Samuel and Josachiah began evaluating another terrace that was just up and to the right of the compound.
      "Why do we need that? We'll have our lessons right here by the stream."
      They both smiled, but Samuel finally answered, "We were told not to tell you. But it is good news."
      I looked from one to the other, then Josachiah said something that made me smile, "Since you think this will make a good wilderness school, your mother agreed to recommend that the other families send any of their children that they wish to keep away from the Pharisees, then they too will send goods out here to you."
      Samuel laughed, "And Josachiah will earn his living taking that and visitors back and forth."
      "There is nothing wrong with that."

      After the next Sabbath, Josachiah went back to Molathi with a letter from me to our father that included a somewhat rough drawing of our compound. I highlighted the sleeping quarters for the girls and boys, and pointed out that Samuel and Ben Jacob were clearing out two of the old caves that had been used as living quarters for our library.
      The caves were dry and secure, and there was no sign of the vermin that liked to chew on my scrolls that I had to put up with at home. Father had tried various herbs and potions to keep them away, some worked better than others, but none worked for very long. Here we had a natural barrier to them, solid stone.
      There was a larger terrace with a shallow cave behind it on the far side of the stream that Josachiah said they had used to hold their cargo but he didn't know anything else about it.
      I decided that that would be our community area. That way all the food and drink would be kept well away from the scrolls and manuscripts.

      Let me tell you of a disaster a few years ago.
      I had just read a parchment for the school, it was a Greek version of several of the Psalms of David, when one of the younger boys came up to the dais where I read, and tripped, and spilled goat milk all over the parchment.
      Master Tersola scolded him while I ran to the basin to dab at the milk with a damp cloth, then I waved the parchment in the air to dry it. Fortunately it could still be read, even though some of the lettering was smudged. Later, I noticed that that set of the Psalms smelled like sour milk.
      I didn't want that to happen again. Especially out here.

      One of the things I really enjoyed about my private study time was seeing the Scriptures as an overall story. I could go back and look at my own notes and then find the passages and see how our God was moving in this way or that way throughout our history. And then I could sit and think about the situation in this Land of God and feel deep in my soul that everything was even now working toward some great purpose.
      I daren't mention it to any of the others, save my younger brother Simon, who had instantly jumped to the conclusion that the Messiah would be arriving soon. But I shook my head.
      "No, brother, one will come before the Messiah."
      "Yes. You are right. The one that will make his way straight." Then he grew quiet for a moment, but I could see him thinking. "Perhaps the one is here," he looked out at the evening beyond our valley, "perhaps."

      One evening after the men had been out in the land above gathering fuel for our fires they thought they saw a band of thieves. We had discussed the matter before, but we really didn't have anything to steal at the time. Now we did.
      Samuel and Josachiah put their heads together and hatched a devious plan to keep them out. It took them several days to construct their device, but then it was done.
      All they did was make a large sign and write several gentile words on it, then they carried it down and mounted it near the end of our path to the Sea.
      "But teacher," one of the students said, "those words mean we have leprosy. We do not."
      "No, but the bandits do not know that, and they can read the gentile words."

5. "in God's time, not ours".
      And so it went. Somebody would make the journey from our village with a group of students, and they would stay for some time, and then they'd go back. Usually to work the harvest, or for one of the festivals. And then some would come back.
      I always had more girls than boys, and two sisters who had lost both parents moved in and stayed for nearly three years until the young man one of them was betrothed to could come and take her and her sister to his farm in a village close to Aenda just south of our home.

      The first summer in the valley was the worst, but we learned everything we needed to know to not only survive there, but to do fairly well.
      The first winter got surprisingly cold, even to the point where the edges of our stream froze at night. But, by carefully rationing the fuel for our fire, and learning how to arrange our clothing we stayed warm enough to continue our lessions.

      Every year I'd go home for at least one of the major festivals. And I'd try to go to Jerusalem for Passover, but sometimes the road between Jericho and Jerusalem wasn't safe to travel.
      Usually when I was home there would be a steady stream of visitors. And one year there were two Pharisees who came to our home several times and asked me a series of questions about why I had continued to teach students when they had clearly stated their objection to a woman teaching.
      I answered them from Scripture, citing female judges and prophets, but that made no impression on them. They not only objected to a woman teaching, they didn't want one to be able to read. And I got the impression that they really disliked the fact that I could unroll one of the scrolls I had left at home for safe keeping and read a passage from the Torah to them better than they could read it for themselves.
      Finally when their argument against my teaching degenerated into little more than their reciting their opinions once again, I said, "Forgive my being insolent, but perhaps you should bring you own master with you next year, and he can explain it to me from the Moses why I should not teach children."
      They sat and scowled, then one answered, "That would not do, as he agrees with you."
      We never saw them again.

      Two years turned into five.
      Samuel married one of the girls that had been coming to our school for several years and whose own betrothed spouse had died of an illness some time ago.
      After that they would come out for the winter and sometimes in the summer between crops, and I got to know their children that way.
      Simon got to where he was only coming in the winter, then he too married. But his wife was from a merchant family, so he began working with them. And after a time, I seldom saw him.

      And then it was another year of some students in the summer and others in the winter.
      I made the trip to Jerusalem for Passover, with a short stay in Molathi before I went back to the valley with several new students.
      And then it was another year.

      I was now a woman well into her thirties, with no husband, no children. My own father had gone to be with our God, and my mother was no longer able to travel, but she insisted that I maintain the school and teach the younger generation, her grandchildren, and soon to be great grandchildren, the Scriptures in the true way that I did.
      "Not that abomination from those in Jerusalem," she said without regard to who might be around listening. "You say what it says. What Moses and the Prophets said, not what you want them to have said."
      So I continued teaching. Which allowed me to continue studying, and discussing the idea that we were watching things being put into place that would bring a great change to the entire world.

      We had a festival when my mother mentioned that I had been in the desert for twenty years. She even traveled to the valley to see it again.
      We all knew it would be her last visit, so we made it as special as we could. We had a feast, and music, and to make my mother happy, I gave a community lesson about how our God has never forgotten His People, even though some of them have abused their own faith.

      Then there was the year that the ground shook.
      Now, here, not far from the Salt Sea, we are used to hearing rumbles from the earth itself, and once in awhile we can feel it. Especially at night when we are still and near sleep in our beds.
      And sometimes during one of those our spring will either stop or suddenly increase its flow. But then all returns to normal. This trembler lasted longer than the previous ones, and I couldn't help but think about the quaking mentioned in Prophet Samuel's book, and in the Psalms about the earth shaking before Our God.
      Not every shaking of the ground was a message from Our Creator. But some of them were, and we had to figure out what it meant.

      Then one year after harvest a young boy arrived who know nothing of our scriptures, but he had opinions about everything. He was more interested in talking about how terrible it was that we had finally come fully under the dominion and authority of the Romans.
      This student was named Simon, which always made me smile as he was the total opposite of my brother Simon both when in class and out. My brother Simon hated doing the chores with the animals and in our small fields. The only thing we did that my brother seemed to enjoy at all was to maintain the small dams that made the pools in the stream where we washed items and bathed ourselves. The Younger Simon would rather be tending the animals or scrounging up above in the wildlands for firewood or dried dung for fuel.
      If any other student were to go out for wood, and then not be back at dark, I would be so worried that I'd be having others go out in groups to find them. With Young Simon, it was Simon. In fact, I would be more worried about the welfare any wild animals that came across him than I would be for his safety as he had been known to come back with a rack of wood on his back, and carrying a skin that he would tan into something for use here.

      In fact, the pad I am sitting on as I write this is made from one of the skins he worked, then one of the other students sewed it into multiple layers and stuffed it with some of the lessor quality wool from our sheep. It is now well worn and the edges have been patched many times, but as I tell everybody, the more it is repaired, the more comfortable it becomes.

      But this is about Young Simon as a student.
      His father, and his father's father, as well as other family members had been with those that had rebelled against first the Greeks, then the Romans, as well as the Egyptians, and the Assyrians, and even for a time against those who they felt should not have been made the High Priest.
      When we would talk about it, he would tell me opinions that were not his own, but what he had been told. He would say that the throne belonged to Judah, and the High Priest should be from a particular family of Levites. I would remind him that I knew all that, and could show him the words of old that confirmed it, but that the Ways of God were not our ways, and that His time is not our time, and while we should not approve of Gentiles controlling our land, we do not have to let the Gentiles control our faith.
      "Our God has a reason for them to be here. Or they would not be here."

      It took five years, but after a time, he became less the Zealot and more the student. At least when he was here.
      After what seemed like many years, he became a young man and was only here for the winter, and then he was gone.

      I was just shy of fifty years of age, but I had spent most of my life right here, in this valley. It had been a good life, but it had been hard on me, and I looked older than I was. My feet hurt a lot of the time, I had problems with my teeth, and there were days that my back wouldn't let me sit on the ground to conduct the lessons.
      During our fall festival when some of my relatives from Molathi came to visit my younger brother's daughter in law asked me how long did I think I could continue to do this. They had noticed that I was no longer myself, but my brother didn't want to say anything to me.

      It was the first time anybody had ever openly asked me about my future commitment to the school.
      "My dear Filistea, it is not up to me. This is devoted to the study of the Word of Our God, it is up to Him how long I continue."
      "Of course Aunt Diva. But if you need assistance, I can send Parhodda to stay with you."
      "Thank you my dear child. But I can manage for now. Perhaps in a year or two I will need her."
      I was hoping she accepted the statement at face value. I like her younger sister Parhodda just fine. But I felt, and I was not alone in the thought, that she was more trouble than she was worth. Her own family had tried to marry her off, and was still trying to marry her off.

      I remember that year distinctly, I had fewer students than I had had in years. So few in fact that there were times when all of the daily chores did not get accomplished.
      But, we endured, and in some ways, it was the most successful year we had.

6. The End and The Beginning.
      It was the following year when those that would come visit us would tell me about a wild man who everybody thought was a prophet. He was the son of one of the priests, but didn't speak like any priest they had ever heard.
      I wanted to go hear him, but such a journey up the river to where he preached and baptized people was not possible. I was then in my thirty-third year of running the school in the valley.
      But I heard full reports from my students who could travel quickly and easily, and they reported back to me that this John of the Wilderness was "preparing the way" for another.

      My heart was thrilled. That meant that the long promised Messiah would be coming soon. Maybe he was already here. But then I had to calm myself, the one that was coming would come in Our God's time. Even so, I encouraged my older students to go listen to him speak.

      Then about a year later Young Simon came back to the valley. He was still full of anger at the Romans and was certain that the coming Son of David would raise an army to drive the invaders out, but he was also willing to sit and listen to me when I said that that may not be God's plan and I would quote the lines of the Twelve that talked of peace.
      Finally, Simon asked the question he had come to ask me.
      "Teacher. Should I leave my work and follow this John?"
      I put my hand out and gently held his, "No, my dear Simon, no, do not follow the man. Follow Our God. You must stay true to Him." I pointed up with my other hand. "And if, John, says that the one he is preparing us for has arrived, then, go listen that one, he will lead you to our God."
      Simon sat in silence for a while, then he nodded, "but there is still a chance that the one that is coming will force the gentiles out."
      I didn't sigh, because I forced it back down, "there is that chance. But when the Messiah comes, you will have to accept his purpose and mission in this world."
      Simon's jaw was firm when he answered, "When the Messiah says it, I will believe it."
      I smiled broadly, "I pray that you have the chance to hear him say that."
      Simon nodded, "If he tells me, I will come tell you."

      The next morning Simon left to follow the river back north.
      Several months later one of my students reported that they saw Simon sitting on the ground around John while he spoke to the crowd about what true repentance was.

      But the years had not been kind to me.
      It had become harder and harder for me to focus my eyes on the scrolls and manuscripts when I was teaching. I could no longer read in my cave as I had for so many years. And even in the full light of day I had trouble recognizing somebody walking up the path to us where the stream turned not far from our compound.
      I was also having trouble walking along that same path and had stumbled several times when my feet refused to stay on the ground.
      There was also an issue with my stomach. Apparently my insides no longer enjoyed our primary foods. Most days, all I could consume was some boiled barley and meat.
      Finally, when everyone was there for a festival, I agreed with Filistea, that it was time for me to move back to Molathi.
      "That is wonderful, Parhodda will be delighted to help you."
      I suspect my ability to keep certain emotions from reaching my face had also been compromised by the years because I heard my brother say, "She is speaking an untruth Adiva. Parhodda married a vine dresser and lives down in the Nemus valley."
      I laughed, "Oh, well, good for her."

      Later back in my village, nearly blind, and unable to walk further than the fire pit in the courtyard, I still taught. Only others now read for me, as I had read for my own teacher long ago.
      I could recognize certain students just by the sound of their breathing, or how they fidgeted during a lesson, so some of them claimed I was a prophetess and had an angel whispering in my ear about how they acted. To which I would only smile and nod.
      I could also no longer write, which is why my story had been written by another. I have told her what to write, and she has been a loyal scribe and even corrected my own bad phrasing. (Adiva is most kind and generous with praise. I have only written what she told me to write.)

      It was winter again, and Adiva could not leave her sleeping room.
      Young Simon, who was no longer young, but a mature man, came to visit.
      We heard his voice in the courtyard and she tried to rise to meet him, but I could only help her sit up. Even then she gasped at the pain in her legs.
      "Adiva. Adiva." He said from the door, "I have been trying to find you for months."
      "They brought me home to die, Simon. The time in the valley took the life out of me." She answered.
      "No, Adiva, it gave you life. And it gave me life. This life. As I promised you, when I found the Messiah, I would come tell you."
      She sat up even further, "You have found him? He is here?"
      "He is in still in Galilee, I left for a time to come to you, I am going back to follow him wherever he goes. He speaks the truth with authority, he heals the sick, he has even cast out demons."
      She nodded and relaxed back onto her bed, "Then he is the one. Tell me, what is he like?"
      Simon was so silent I thought he wasn't going to answer, but then he took a very deep breath. "Adiva. He is like no other man I've ever met. Not any Hebrew, not any Roman, I've never heard of anybody like him. Except maybe John the Prophet of the Jordan. He is like him in some ways."
      "Then the hand of God is upon him." She answered.
      "No, Adiva. He is the Hand of God."
      Adiva had tears streaming down her face as she reached for Simon. "Then it was all worth it. It was all worth it. Thank you Simon. Bless you." She clung to his arm.
      "I will tell you this, and it is his words. From him, to you, through me."
      "Yes? What did he say?" She said, and I could see her hands trembling as she spoke.
      "My Lord told me to tell you, 'be at peace, daughter of Israel. Be at peace.'"

      Simon took the noon meal with her by her bedside. He told us about John, and then about the one. And then he left to hurry back to Galilee.
      Adiva was still smiling as she went to sleep that evening.

      Teacher Adiva of the Salt Sea went to be with her God last night.
      All of us who spent her last hours with her saw the same thing.
      She had a perfect peace on her face, and I thought her countenance was glowing like they say Moses was after he spoke with our God.
      May we all find the words of the Messiah so comforting.

End, Adiva of the Salt Sea

[NOTE: No Rabbis or goats, were harmed in the writing of this story. All characters are FICTIONAL. Overall this Piece Is A FICTIONAL STORY, enjoy it as such.
Thank You the Author. ]

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