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Antiheroes In Palestine

ANTIHEROES IN PALESTINE

 

Joshua Revisited

 

Mel C. Thompson

 

Copyright © 2012

 

Mel C. Thompson Publishing Company

3559 Mount Diablo Boulevard, #112

Lafayette, CA 94549

[email protected]

 

Table of Contents

 

1. The Unknown Tirthankara

 

2. A Prostitute And A Naked Lunatic

 

3. Where’s The Ark of The Covenant?

 

4. The Five Unclean Ones

 

5. The Wilderness Had Been Hard

 

6. The Queen of Earthly Pleasure

 

7. Baking All Day And Night

 

8. A Raging Storm of Arrows

 

9. All Sorts of Alien Idols

 

10. Impaled Heads

 

11. A Master of Intimidation

 

12. The Authorization of Canonical Works

 

13. They Are Called Renunciants

 

14. Something Is Wrong With My Omniscience

 

15. An Armed Coalition Sent By Thirty-One Kings

 

16. Intercepted By The Rabbi

 

17. Crown Prince of All The People

 

18. Some Extremely Nubile Woman

 

19. What Is This Thing — Tel Aviv?

 

20. The Promised Lands Collective Defense Authority

 

21. All Administrative Powers

 

22. A Sky Clad Monk

 

23. He Arranged For A Pillar of Fire

 

24. The Ordinary Goods of Life

 

1. The Unknown Tirthankara

 

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Sensei had this queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He’d already intervened too much in history, and the excessive time-travel was really a violation of his precept to not indulge in the supernatural. But, as things stood, he was nosy, and abused his semi-omniscience by inquiring into too many problems that were not his own. In short, he was guilty of straying from the path. But, upon further thought, with a smirk, he wondered if this meddling was any worse than his womanizing, his boozing and his scathing speech. There was no doubt about it, he was just not much of a Buddhist, but a Buddhist he would remain, nominally, anyhow.

 

Here he was, some three thousand years ago, give or take a few hundred, with a naked man lying beside him in some patch of rocky dirt near a cliff overlooking the Jordan River. The man, some sixty-billion years old, would be furious when he woke up. The man was the unknown Tirthankara, truly the first Jainist. A few singularities had come and gone, and a few universes had gone completely out of existence due to entropy, vast cosmic fire or complete implosion, since this fellow had been mortal. The Jains never knew his name, and only the gods and a few saints were even aware of him. Sensei, with his practice being beneath mediocre, had no right to be entrusted with such secrets, but, for inexplicable reasons, he was.

 

Sensei looked over at the unconscious, nude man, almost with a sneer, knowing again, that he was already in over his head, and that this job, once begun, would have to be seen through to the finish. As always, he would end up on the cosmic shit-list for a few billion lifetimes; but this didn’t really matter, since he could meditate his way through millions of lifetimes in half an hour, without even trying. That was the unfair part about his spiritual life, how he never really had to suffer for his realizations like the other monks did. He was flippant to the point of meanness, and he knew it, and sometimes it disgusted him to think that he was beyond caring about his moral lapses.

 

The man had been lying there, with Sensei by his side, for about twenty thousand years. Sensei liked to check out his mission sites in great detail before beginning any project. Since Sensei was exempt from the rules of the universe until his interventions began, and since Tirthankaras exist beyond all time and space, neither was affected, for the moment, by this indulgence. Sensei was not missed at his home temple, since all of this could be condensed into a single night of dreaming at his bed, (unless someone woke him up in the middle of the night, which sometimes caused real complications in the space-time fabric).

 

This Tirthankara’s name, unknown to almost every entity in the universe, but a select few, was Sweet Innocence. This was really his nickname. His full title was “He Whose Innocence Is Complete To The Point of Utter Self-Abnegation.” But that was rather an ungainly mouthful, and so for those few in the know, and for the Tirthankara himself, “Sweet Innocence” was well enough.

 

As the Tirthankara began to breathe more deeply and rapidly, slightly stirring here and there, Sensei thought to himself, “You see! This is what your fiddling around gets you!” But the moment the Tirthankara’s eyes flickered open, Sensei forgot all his doubt and hesitation at once and rushed over to look down at his face.

 

“Sweet Innocence!” cried Sensei with joy.

 

“Sensei!” exclaimed Sweet Innocence with both friendliness and annoyance. “What are we doing here? And what am I doing in a my old mortal body? Don’t you know it’s been billions of years since I’ve stooped to occupy these filthy things called bodies? What sort of funny business have you gotten us into?”

 

“The general Joshua is about to cross over this river here with his army to reoccupy his ancestral homelands, and I’m fixing to alter his plans a little,” replied Sensei.

 

“These are ancient worldly matters which are none of your business and far outside the work of attaining final liberation,” declared Sweet Innocence.

 

“Ah, but you seem to have forgotten the Mahayana Sutras which enjoin us to save all living beings, past, present and future,” responded Sensei with a righteous tone, now deciding to defend his misadventures.

 

“You seem to forget that I never subscribed to the teachings of Buddha,” countered Sweet Innocence. “All that ‘middle way’ business seemed like too much of a sell-out to the worldly people. Besides, they are born with the knowledge of The Way in their hearts. Let them choose to follow it when they are ready. Your interventionism strikes me as just another ego trip, frankly.”

 

“Ego trip or not,” snapped Sensei, “I got the gods to go along with this, so you can’t go back to being beyond all time and space and form until our job here is done!”

 

“You’ve kidnapped and conscripted a holy Tirthankara!” scolded Sweet Innocence. “You’ll have a lot of karmic debt to pay on this little charade!”

 

“Now look who’s on an ego trip,” said Sensei with a smile. “Stop pouting and put on this robe I brought you.”

 

“Robe!”

 

“Yes, just put it on.”

 

“In case you forgot, I am Sky Clad, clothed in nothing more than the skin on my body. You may hold me hostage for a million years, but I’ll never consent to pollute my body with clothing.”

 

“Do you realize how this army down there is going to react to a naked foreign man suddenly appearing among them?”

 

“My friend, Tirthankaras do not worry themselves over the reactions of others. Our path is Timeless. The reactions of others are less than mere trifles.”

 

Sensei, wearily collapsed down upon the rock he had been sitting on previously and put his hand on his forehead and groaned, “I never, ever learn. Oh Lord Shiva, help us.”

 

“A Buddhist praying polytheistic prayers?” Sweet Innocence said with an arched brow and pursed lips. “Good Heavens! Do you keep even a single precept of your faith?”

 

2. A Prostitute And A Naked Lunatic

 

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As they began to make their way downhill toward the massive encampment below, a couple of men came toward them from one direction, seemingly in a great hurry, while, from the opposite direction a lone woman made her way toward them at a more leisurely pace.

 

Sensei said with a knowing, cynical smile, “Ah, trouble comes to us from all sides, and we’ve not even made it a quarter of the way to the army itself.”

 

The men, as they made their way in great haste, wore gravely serious expressions, the sort that seem to say, “We are not expecting any mercy, and we certainly will be having no mercy.” All about them broadcast earnestness, boldness and implacability.

 

From a distance, one could already see the woman was overdressed for such a landscape, and the way she plodded along, taking in the scenery, radiated a kind of feminine defiance, as though she hadn’t a care in the world, but at the same time would hold her own against any who dared challenge her.

 

The men were crossing their path presently and Sensei hailed them. “Hello there, good men. May I ask what drives you forward at such a frantic pace? And to what odious duty do you owe your hideously-serious expressions?”

 

“We are on a secret mission,” said the elder of the two, “about which we are forbidden from speaking to anyone, including impertinent, foreign-looking heathen such as yourself. Know only this: Were we not in such a hurry, we should pull out our swords and disembowel you this instant. For one of you dares expose his nakedness before Heaven and the other speaks like a mocker. You’ll have no part in the kingdom we are to establish and shall soon enough meet a rightfully-painful death.”

 

“Hmm,” mused Sensei, “going to spy on Jericho then?”

 

“Are you of a mind to try to stop us?” asked the younger one. “For any who stand in our way or try to delay our undertaking shall be slaughtered.”

 

“I sense,” said Sweet Innocence with a concerned, but artless tone, “that the purpose of your espionage is connected with preparations being made for war. As such, it constitutes an act of war itself and is therefore a form of violence. And this sort of thing I must admonish you against undertaking.”

 

The elder of the two spies furrowed his brow and declared, “We are foot-soldiers in the service of Joshua, and are under orders to complete our mission. Were we to turn back and disobey our orders, we would be subject immediately to execution. Thus the words of this unclothed philosopher cannot dissuade us. Now, if you gentlemen insist on detaining us further, prepare to go to the house of the dead.”

 

Suddenly the eyes of the younger one sprung open as the woman stepped right into the circle of men before they dispersed. She was lovely, voluptuous, but not overweight. She was dressed provocatively, like a prostitute, which she turned out to be. Her breasts were large and her waist thin. The younger one who had never known sexual relations with a woman was awe struck. The elder looked upon her with a mixture of revulsion and suppressed lust, which he did a poor job of hiding.

 

“Hey boss, is that a real-life prostitute?” said the younger one. “Oh my! She is so pretty. Let us take her as a slave. Perhaps one of us shall be allowed to take her as a wife.”

 

“I wouldn’t try that,” said the prostitute who suddenly produced from the thick folds of her dress a sharp weapon of her own. “Many a customer of mine has had the same idea and ended up dead on the floor of my brothel.”

 

Sensei, pulled out a large knife and added, “So, you see, we have you outnumbered; and we say that it’s not time for you to breach the perimeter of that city.”

 

Sweet Innocence turned to Sensei with outrage and said, “A man of the saffron robe is never, ever to bear a weapon, but rather vows to die before harming another human being!”

 

They all stared at him, and Sensei replied. “The precepts were never my speciality. I should have never been ordained, but I was. That’s that. I’m not going to suffer the pains of death on this over-rated patch of dirt in Palestine.”

 

The prostitute then gazed more closely at Sweet Innocence and said in a sultry voice as she batted her eye lids, “After I’m done killing these sad excuses for soldiers, I think I’m going to treat myself to your perfect, nude body back at my place.”

 

Sweet Innocence said primly, “A Tirthankara is beyond sexual temptation. My nakedness is not a device with which I tempt others, but rather evidence that I have no worldly needs. That is why they called me Sky Clad.”

 

Sensei, in an effort to stop a fight from breaking out right then, interjected, “If you men were to die right here, your duty would not be carried out and Joshua would not have his wish. At least delay your mission for an hour and take us back to your camp. We will meet with the general and your high priests and resolve all these matters at once.

 

The elder of the two men became angry and despondent and pulled out his sword as if kill himself on the spot. The younger one, alarmed, tried desperately to pull the weapon from his hands as he shouted, “Boss, what are you doing? Stop this! Don’t! Don’t!”

 

The elder proclaimed, “I am always meeting with humiliation in all my affairs. I shall not come back to camp in shame, having failed in my duty, accompanied by a heathen priest, a prostitute and a naked lunatic!”

 

By then Sensei had also descended upon the elder and, with the aid of the younger one, had knocked the man to the ground and relived him of possession of his sword.

 

“Thank you, sir,” said the younger one gratefully. “My boss is not a temperate man.”

 

“That’s alright, son,” replied Sensei as he held the elder to the ground. I’m just going to put these on his wrists so he can’t do anything stupid until we get back to your camp.

 

Sensei produced modern hand-cuffs from the pocket of his robe. And put them on the wrist of the despondent soldier.

 

The younger one said in amazement, “Those are the most efficient shackles I’ve ever seen. From what kingdom do they come?”

 

“They’re from a place called Los Angeles, but that’s a place you would never want to know about, so it’s best not to ask any further questions about it.”

 

Sensei looked up at all of them and said, “Would you all do me the honor of accompanying me to the encampment?”

 

And so down the hill they went, Sensei leading the suicidal elder in hand-cuffs, the young man and the prostitute arm-in-arm, and Sweet Innocence trailing warily behind, toward the most hostile military base on earth where the general Joshua sat, contemplating, among other things, the details of the kind of genocide he was in the mood to carry out.

 

3. Where’s The Ark of The Covenant?

 

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When they arrived at the Jordan River, the army was already crossing over it. The affair was a complete mess. Since the river was at flood stage, some of the men and horses were being swept away and drowned. Crude ferries had been constructed, which were pulled across by heavy ropes. Unfortunately, the ropes snapped from time to time, leaving the horrified occupants to watch themselves being whisked off by a strong current. Still, after an intense struggle, using every imaginable contrivance, most of the army, their supplies, animals and weapons made it across the river.

 

The job was mostly done by the time the hapless party of five approached Joshua, who was in a murderous rage due to the awkwardness of the whole affair. Sensei pleaded for a spot on the next rope-driven ferry so that he and his small band might cross the Jordan right as the last divisions of the army were doing so.

 

Sensei began, as he usually did, by insulting the very person he was going to plead for mercy from, a flaw no amount of meditation could cure him of.

 

“So, Joshua, is this the part where your priests part the Jordan? Is that what you’re going to have written in the Bible? Not only is this intellectually dishonest, but this parting-the-waters theme is getting old. Anyhow, where’s The Ark of the Covenant? I’ve always wanted to peek inside that thing.”

 

Joshua, without uttering a word, surveyed the group, and seeing several crimes punishable by death already evident among them, drew his sword and moved straight ahead, eyes riveted on them, to begin slicing them to ribbons himself. Whatever one may have thought of Joshua, no one believed he was passive-aggressive or indirect.

 

The people around the general were shouting things like, “How dare that foreigner expose his nakedness before strangers? Why have these men deserted their mission and allowed themselves to be captured? And how is it that one of our own returns seeking to wed one of the race of idolators?”

 

The combination of Joshua’s advance and the calls of those around him left no doubt why the intruders must die, just in case there had been any doubt beforehand. The group of sinners also advanced toward Joshua as though there were nothing to fear, which added confusion, as well as additional rage, to the small crowd of onlookers.

 

As soon as Joshua was face to face with Sensei, his sword was already drawn back to strike the fatal blow, however, suddenly, he could not pull his hand forward. Sweet Innocence had angled in behind him with lightening speed and grabbed hold of his arm. Doubly-furious, Joshua turned to kill this nude alien who sought to defy his wrath. But the alien had superhuman strength, in spite of the fact that he was slender and feminine-looking and hairless. And thus Joshua struggled mightily, only to find the sword eventually taken from him and thrown into the Jordan river.

Joshua stamped his feet on the ground and ordered another sword be brought to him. The onlookers were tempted to rush in and kill the intruders, but felt that it would dishonor Joshua not to let him carry out the execution himself. Their sheer numbers dictated that they would have their way soon enough anyhow, so they decided to hold back and observe the proceedings. A timid foot-soldier rushed up with another long sword and curtseyed slightly before handing Joshua the lethal weapon.

 

“Now!” shouted Joshua, “before I send you to the land of the dead, speak your business, so I should know, before watching you writhe in your death-throes, what silliness has goaded you on to your own death today? How dare you disgrace our sacred encampment in this way!”

 

“Give us safe passage across the Jordan river!” shouted the prostitute, as she again produced her own impressive sword from the folds of her dress. “I dare you, in front of all these manly men of God, to best me, a woman in a dress, in a sword fight, one-on-one, (unless it should be the case that you cowards require several men to overcome one woman barely more than half the weight of a single one of you).”

 

Joshua roared with fury toward her, and suddenly they were locked in an exhaustingly-long sword fight. The men stared in shock. They had never seen a woman fight the mightiest of men in such a contest and remain alive for even a moment. As things stood, the fight went on far too long and was hopelessly deadlocked. The thing was becoming humiliating. And even though laughing at the utterly humorless Joshua, and his utterly humorless priests, was immediately punishable by death, some men, though their lives hung in the balance, could not stop themselves from laughing. And, it seemed, the more they tried to suppress their own laughter, the more the laughter got the best of them and went completely out of control.

 

Other men, who had not even thought of laughing, were caught in the contagion and soon the thing got out of control. Men were weeping with tears of laughter and their chests were heaving with cries of laughter. Others let out massive sighs of laughter, and still others were doubled-over with stomachs aching from the radical convulsions of laughter they were undergoing.

 

It seemed that all was lost, but suddenly the prostitute said, “Let us stop!” Then she let her arm go down to her side and faced the crowd of men and said, “Let none, in this small crowd who remain on this side of the river, spread word of this to any of the main army on the other side of the Jordan. If any of you utters a word about what you’ve seen today, I swear an oath to heaven that I shall slit your throats as you sleep. And you,” she continued, now facing Joshua, “must give us your word of honor, your sacred oath before these men that you will give us safe passage. If you do not, then I shall keep fighting you until one of your men is forced to save you from me, a thing which would destroy your legacy for all of time.”

 

Joshua, the priests, and the men, all looked at each other in silence, as the laughter was now stopped. No one said a word of agreement or disagreement, but rather each put their heads down and walked away to finish their duties and to cross the Jordan. Joshua, now nauseated, simply waved them onto the next ferry, the one by which he himself would cross the Jordan river.

The band of five began to ride across with Joshua and the priests, none of them speaking a word of blessing or curse, at first. In truth, for reasons no one understood, not one of them was angry.

Joshua, being a man of intuition, had already guessed the next step, and had no wish to contest the matter forthcoming. And so he turned to one of his priests and said, “Marry the young one and the idolator prostitute, now! So that their sex tonight might not be fornication. Do it as we are crossing. I want this over with!”

 

The priest’s eyes bulged out and he said, “Your Excellency, you know that the Law forbids me to do any such thing.”

 

Joshua looked down, his eyelids raised in annoyance, but not fury, and said in a most composed manner, “My friend, I understand you believe this to be a Theocracy. And it almost is, except that I happen to rank above you right now, and I am a general first, and a man of God second. So, you see, if you do not do as I say, whether the Divine Law forbids it or not, your body shall be floating along in the center of this river and the fish shall be eating the entrails of your drowned body within the hour. Do I make myself clear, good reverend, sir?”

 

And indeed, this priest, who only just moments ago had thought that the Law transcended death, and that the Law was something he was willing to give his life for at a moment’s notice, suddenly found that postponing his own death was somehow a supreme law unto itself. And thus was he gently disabused of the notion that any government can remain a Theocracy for long, since, in the end, often at the most unexpected moment, the priestly class is notified that their army of holy warriors has defected to whatever philosophy is currently held by the warlord of the day. And thus, that day, did another Theocracy fall to another warlord whom the priestly class had thought it controlled. All armies are happy to use God for a time, until, at some point, their patience wears thin and the truth of the finality of Secular rule over all things rears its unholy, but oh-so-practical head.

 

When they reached the other side of the Jordan, the massive army greeted Joshua, the priests, and the odd band of eccentrics. The priests hung their heads down and quickly made haste to their tents. Joshua and the five stood there staring at the crowd defiantly. The whole portable nation, taking in this scene, did not need anything further explained to them. Of course they suspected such a thing would eventually happen, but they’d hoped the “real world” might be delayed just a while longer. But the real world is impatient, and it had come upon them when it pleased, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. They each forlornly went to their tents to rest and take care of their own personal affairs.

 

4. The Five Unclean Ones

 

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The next day Joshua called the gang-of-five into his tent along with several of the high-ranking priests and a handful of those who helped administer the mobile bureaucracy that had already formed.

 

Just because a nation is unsettled does not mean it has no paperwork to do and no politics to iron out. Babies are born en-route, deaths are common-place along the way, marriages are arranged on an ad-hoc basis, business agreements are entered into on-the-fly. It all has to be recorded somewhere. The endless wheel of family promises, breaches of contract, judicial spats, sacred ceremonies and record-keeping never ends.

 

Now that they had crossed the Jordan, there was to be hours and hours of endless wrangling about who should serve as high-councilors and who should be relegated to the hackish duties of functionaries. They believed they were on the verge of inhabiting a land and settling it. The hard-core haggling had to be seen to on-the-double.

 

Toward the end of what was turning out to be a twelve-hour work day, the “Five Unclean Ones,” as they had come to be known, were dreadfully bored. They were not “real-worlders” and had little to contribute to these kinds of office-politics. But, for some odd reason, Joshua had insisted on their presence. Perhaps their mere existence had started to amuse him, and it spiced up his life to have these unorthodox characters milling about the edges of everything, adding a bit of court-humor to each detail of governing, simply by being who they were. Whenever he himself was becoming irritated with the tedium of it all, he would turn and look at what he regarded as the comical faces of his new friends, (not that he had yet contemplated bestowing upon them such a status), and smirked, ever so slightly.

 

The meeting seemed to have reached a kind of natural completion. Most of the major matters had not been solved in any permanent way, but assorted lose frameworks and general roadmaps to governmental stability had been agreed upon by most of the major parties concerned. A kind of shadow-cabinet-in-waiting had already formed and they, in turn, had formed tentative agreements with all those whom they wished to serve beneath them. People had begun to pack their bags and were already conversing casually with one another under the assumption that the night’s work had ended. Many had already gotten up from their seats, a few were headed toward the exits of the large tent, and others were already telling jokes and making plans for the next day.

 

But Joshua, who had been seated on a large wooden chair covered with several luxurious layers of animal skin, cleared his throat very loudly and said, “Excuse me! I don’t recall telling you all that the meeting was over and you could go home!”

 

The room fell silent and everyone stared at Joshua in a fearful manner, their faces each silently asking, “What then?”

 

“You are all to take your former places. We must have iron-clad agreement on one final matter before any of you leaves the room. What we agree on here today in this room, stays in this room. The first person caught speaking to anyone else about the next matter I am going to bring up shall find themselves skinned alive, tied spread-eagle to stakes in the ground and picked apart by birds of prey and carrion feeders. If anyone thinks he might have a problem keeping secrets, he had better leave the room now; but, if you leave before helping me iron out this matter, consider your employment in our new government over. You shall have to find some other work, probably of the menial and degrading kind; and you shall likely find yourself the laughingstock of your families and an object of pity for all your neighbors to snicker at.”

 

They all nodded in agreement, not one of them daring to either leave the room or risk the grisly deaths they would face if they dared defy Joshua on this matter, whatever it was.

Joshua then turned to Sweet Innocence and said in a commanding voice, “You are to step forward and describe the events of yesterday in the most general, concise and honest terms you can.”

 

Sweet Innocence stepped forward inclined his head slightly to Joshua and said reverently, “Sir, it is a prime item in my creed never to speak anything offensive to another, except at such times as the saving of lives might be involved. For me to do as you ask, would involve me saying things that could be perceived by others as impertinent or insulting. I sincerely request that you ask another to carry out this task.”

 

“Sweet Innocence, I vow to you now that I will not be offended or insulted in any way by what you tell us here today. I really must insist you state in the most simple and direct way how we spent our time yesterday. And you must speak up so that all in the tent may hear you,” insisted Joshua. And then he turned to those in attendance and said, “And now hear from lips of a naked fool, the true state of our condition.”

 

Sweet Innocence, folded his hands in a most respectful way, raised his eyes to the group and said, “Yesterday, the main task before this army, and this nation, was to cross the Jordan river in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. Sadly, this vast project was grossly mishandled at every turn, resulting in a most humiliating loss of life, property and personal dignity for a great many people.”

 

Joshua then said to Sweet Innocence, “Thank you, odd one, you have spoken well the truth of the matter. How refreshing it is to have one in my presence who, even under pain of death, could not utter a false word. I know you must one day leave us for whatever country you come from, but know this, upon your leaving I will sob heavy tears, and it will take several days of grieving to mourn the loss. You may return to your side of the tent and take your seat.”

 

Annoyed at being part of a captive audience all day and night, the prostitute finally mumbled just loud enough for others to hear, “I’m waiting for that naked guy to get a hard-on at some point.”

There were a smattering of female administrators on hand who would serve lesser roles in the future government, and all of them covered their mouths to suppress their laughter, but more than a little chuckling escaped their lips. One of them also quipped, “He looks pretty well-hung as it is. I imagine it’s a pretty impressive package to see when he’s turned on.”

 

As the men broke into laughter at this remark, Joshua smiled and said, “Sorry ladies, but from the little I understand of this man, you’ll not have a chance for any such thrill. He’s as sexless as desert dust.”

 

Sweet Innocence again bowed his head slightly, and from his corner of the tent replied, “You have spoken truly, sir. I gave up sexual relations many eons before this current world was even formed.”

 

Joshua nodded thoughtfully and said, “That’s quite a dry spell. I’m pretty sure most of our men just wouldn’t have the discipline. But again, thanks for your faithful rendering of yesterday’s events. They lead into my next topic, which concerns our legacy, especially mine, which I will not have tarnished.”

 

He then turned to Sweet Innocence again and added, “The first time you spoke on this matter, it did not offend me nor insult me. However, from this time forward, if you speak on this subject, my feelings will be deeply hurt. Do you understand me?”

 

“Yes, sir,” softly replied Sweet Innocence, “from this moment onward, no human, demon or god could, even under threat of prolonged torture, make me speak of yesterday’s events again.”

 

Joshua inhaled deeply and let out a sigh, “God, do I like that guy.! Yet I have the sinking feeling that we won’t see another like him for many generations, if ever. Now, onto the last item on our agenda today. Letter of The Law, you are to come to the front of the room.”

 

Letter of The Law came forward from the midst of those assembled. He gazed respectfully and sternly at Joshua as he stood before him. His beard was massive and white. His robes were multi-layered and spotlessly gleaming. Assorted waistbands, head-wrappings and other finery were all about him. He seemed like a demigod or an angel. Sensei was stunned at the holiness and earnestness of this man’s aspect, his every movement slow, thoughtful and indicative of great sincerity and alertness. In some sense, he thought, that man might have had some of the grit and grace it would take to be the kind of Zen master he never was.

 

However, much to everyone’s surprise, Joshua was not so knocked-out by the glowing brilliance of this man’s appearance.

 

Letter of The Law then said in a serious, yet non-obsequious way, “And how may I serve you today, your excellency?”

 

“Well, you see, my friend,” began Joshua. “We’ve got a little problem here. As I said earlier, we must conclude this meeting in such a way that ensures our legacy is elevated to the level of heroic myth. Call me an egotist if you like, but I am dogmatic on this point. Our crossing of the Jordan River yesterday must be remembered as nothing short of miraculous and divine, replete with supernatural feats and heavenly daring.”

 

Letter of The Law said, “I am not sure how I can help you with that, good sir. For, as the naked foreigner has stated, yesterday was a thoroughgoing farcical disaster, if you will also excuse me for being so candid.”

 

“Um,” said Joshua with his hand now planted firmly on his cheek in an almost uncharacteristically feminine way, “you could try lying through your teeth, you know, fibbing like crazy — that sort of thing?”

“Are you saying, Joshua, that I am to be the chosen scribe to record yesterday’s events, and that I am to spread falsehoods for future generations to believe?” inquired the priest, his head tilted and his face strained in pained disbelief at what was being asked of him.

 

Joshua nodded slowly, with a kind of juvenile smugness and said, “That would be exactly it. Yes, indeed those are my precise orders to you. And so, I’m afraid, for now, you’ll have to forego your widely-known priestly virtues and often-heralded moral perfections.”

 

The scribe shook his head doubtfully and replied, “Please forgive me, my great leader, but I must excuse myself from this duty. I, like that unclothed priest over there, could never, even at the cost of my life, compromise my professional ethics, even for the leader of my own people. I very much regret any disappointment this may cause you. But I must insist you recruit another scribe, perhaps one who would be lured by a fine payment in gold coins, or some such thing, in order to carry out this task for you.”

 

“Ah, my good friend, Letter of The Law — how well I know you. You see, I had anticipated just such an objection on your part. But I am guessing that you are not made of the same stuff that our Sky Clad guest is. He has told me privately that he has died many millions of deaths, and many hundreds of those deaths were at the hands of the most skilled torturers in the world. You may claim to have such bravado, but I shall put that claim to the test presently. Men!”

 

At his call, the front tent flaps flew open and in walked eight men bearing a huge urn on poles that ran through large rings on the sides of the giant vessel. The urn was filled with water. Inside the gargantuan urn were many piranha fish who had been deliberately made to go hungry for quite some time. No one understood the point of this exercise and just stared on, waiting to see what would happen, each looking at each other in confusion. But soon two of the urn-bearers led in a plump calf whose eyes bulged in terror as it called out in horror, sensing that a most dreadful form of death was about to overtake it.

 

The men stopped short of the urn and looked at Joshua, as if to say, “Are you sure?”

 

“Do it!” Joshua ordered.

 

Then two more urn bearers came forward, and the four of them tossed the calf in the urn. The most wild screeches ever heard came from the poor calf as it was eaten alive at an incomprehensible pace. In a couple of moments the urn bearers fished out the calf’s bones with long nets and plopped them down in front of Letter of The Law who turned white with horror.

 

“You see,” explained Joshua, “the other scribes are all good enough for recording ordinary events and routine speeches. But you’re the most inspired writer we have. I use the term ‘inspired’ here in a conditional way. I’m trying to say that you’ve got a style of writing like no one else I know. So it’s going to have to be you that edits and crafts this story so that it really has a ring to it. This part of our legend just has to come off sharp.”

 

“Sensei,” continued Joshua. “When we met yesterday, you seemed to already know the story I had planned to tell future generations. Clearly you are a man with the gift of prophecy.”

 

“Uh, yeah,” stammered Sensei. “I’m more like a guy who cheats on a test by looking at the score sheet in advance.”

 

“Hmm,” mused Joshua, “be that as it may. Since you somehow knew the story I would tell, why don’t you be the one to give the scribe the general outline of the thing. You don’t have to say it in any fancy way. The scribe will take the general outline you give him and spice it up to the point where it will be world-class literature, the kind of thing people won’t stop talking about for a few thousand years.”

 

“Um,” said Sensei, “well, I guess the basic idea is that the crossing of the Jordan can’t just be any old river crossing. And, of course, you can’t put in all the stuff about the horses drowning, and dead bodies being carried away by the current, and whole households of possessions falling in and being whisked away. I guess you have to leave all that out and write up a kind of duplicate of the Red Sea story — the wondrous parting of the waters thing. So, the thing has to end with everyone getting over safe and dry as they stand in awe of the glorious acts of God — something like that. Oh, and definitely don’t include anything about that hooker over there fighting Joshua to a draw. That would look read bad.”

 

Joshua had clapped his hand to his forehead and squinted his eyes by then, and said, “Okay, okay, I think the scribe gets the idea.”

 

Sensei stood back and shut his mouth. The scribe looked forlornly at the ghastly urn filled with murderously-hungry fish and decided that wisdom was the better part of valor. He had been forced to reevaluate his own limits and decided that he was indeed no Tirthankara. He would help write the book of Joshua in exactly the manner Joshua told him to, for now. He’d have to dress down a bit from now on, since no one in the room would take him quite so seriously, knowing what he’d been forced to do. But, in the end, he decided he could live with the loss of status, especially since he, like everyone else in the room, would be sworn to secrecy anyhow.

Joshua summoned the urn bearers again and said, “Now clear these bones and this urn out of here!”

 

The urn bearers rushed in with a sack and tossed the calf bones in hastily and then hustled the urn out of the room just as quickly.

 

“Okay,” Joshua concluded. “So here’s the rules: You are all to read the scribe’s version of the river-crossing story. Then you are to tell your wives and children this story. They may try to protest that they were there and saw the events unfold in a less-than-glorious way. Nonetheless you are to have all the fathers of every family memorize this story and tell it over and over again to their families. Should any wife or child contradict the father of any family regarding this magnificent tale, he shall warn them once not to relate any other version of the river-crossing story. If they persist in contradicting him, he shall stab them to death on the spot. We are to repeat this story over and over again: The waters parted on that day when we crossed the River Jordan. After several years of treating the memory of those events in this way, this version of the story will become entrenched in tradition, and the valiant nature of our legacy shall be a settled matter.”

 

As it turned out, not much force had to be used to convince people to remember history this way. To Joshua’s surprise, even the children readily embraced this flattering rendition of this newly-formed part of their heritage. A few rebellious folks had to be skewered to death for insisting repeatedly on the telling of the truth of what really happened that day. But those cases were rare. Indeed, none could dispute that Joshua’s gamble had paid off. The thing was so popular that the scribe who penned the final version was proud enough to wear his grandiose finery again. He grew his beard out like before and paraded about like a celebrity.

 

Late into that night, and well into the pre-dawn hours, the elder spy and Sensei drank wine. Finally, as the sun hit the horizon, they passed out from sheer intoxication and slept until the sun was directly overhead. The younger spy and the prostitute carried on with their lively love life, and few who inhabited the tents around them couldn’t get much sleep that night.

 

The Tirthankara stayed up until Sensei and the elder spy passed out. Then he too shut his eyes and curled up naked in the dirt, not affected by the cool nights nor the hot days, not needing a pillow, nor a blanket, nor any worldly comforts at all. And in his sleep, he saw through to the core of all beings, transcended all pains and sufferings, attained the abode of the great homelessness. He was a paragon of unspeakable bliss and freedom. He was, perhaps, the happiest entity in the universe. And most of all, he was sweet, innocent, and without even an ounce of hatred in him. Never had a clearer conscience inhabited a human body.

 

Joshua laid awake most of the night, feeling joy from head to toe. He was too excited to sleep. He even uttered a prayer of thanksgiving, on the off-chance there really was a God. He mused with perverse pleasure over how he loved his new friends. And he especially reflected on, with a fiery ecstasy in his chest, how he so loved his people. He thought to himself, and perhaps rightly so, “There has never been, on the face of this earth, a people like my people.”

 

5. The Wilderness Had Been Hard

 

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Joshua and all the high priests had commanded that all of the men of Israel should circumcise themselves before entering into battles in the Holy Land. The elder spy, now frankly a disbeliever who felt only a cultural tie to his people, but no religious convictions about the religious doctrines they taught, insisted on being excused from the circumcision rights. Joshua was about to order him to comply when the prostitute burst into the room with her husband, the younger spy.

 

“No one’s cutting off any private parts of my men!”

 

“Men?” inquired Joshua. “Are you saying that you’re committing adultery by sleeping with more than one man?”

 

“Um, I’m a hooker, you know. I sleep with a lot of guys. That’s the whole point, I believe.”

 

“I could have you all stoned to death for this,” replied Joshua, slipping into his orthodox frame of mind.

 

“Actually, you couldn’t, because all twelve of your favorite generals are clients of hers,” countered Sensei. “In any case, we got one of the priests high on hashish last week, and he solemnized a kind of threesome marriage between them.”

 

“Polyandry?” said Joshua, tilting his head in disbelief. “Even among the most filthy of the heathen tribes, such a thing is rarely practiced. I’ll have the whole thing annulled this instant.”

 

“Too late,” said the elder spy, now the second husband of the prostitute. “It’s already recorded by the official clerk. It would take a public trial to reverse the process, a mere executive order won’t do, unless you want to further antagonize your priestly class, which, by the way, is already contemplating assassinating you. You always mess things up when they’re trying to be holy and always call them on their hypocrisy when they’re trying to sin privately. If you go tearing up one of their wedding certificates, that might be the last straw.”

 

Joshua turned toward a heavy tent post and leaned his head against it and groaned in frustration.

“All right! You don’t have to circumcise yourselves if you don’t want to. Just get the hell out of my tent for a while!”

 

“Uh, yeah,” added Sensei, “but just one other thing.” While all the other guys are taking a week off for their private parts to heal, the five of us have come to ask for a leave of absence, a little vacation of sorts. We’d do a little spying for you too. These two guys didn’t get too far on their last outing, and they’d frankly like to feel what it’s like to slip into an enemy city, for once, you know, like real spies do.”

 

“Yes, fine! Go then! I need a week off from you people anyway. It’s been fun having you around, but, I think, just now, I could use a break from all this novelty. It might be nice to do things the old fashioned way for a week.”

 

He walked towards his bed without facing them, and with one hand he waved them out of there. They felt badly about annoying their friend and were reluctant to leave, but Joshua’s guards hustled them out of the main tent.

 

Sensei was glad that the elder spy had somehow been procuring major stashes of hash, because his next plan would be delicate. It would require the ruler of Jericho to engage in an odd type of logic he’d never hear of. In the United States of the 1960s, it might be called “hippie thinking.” However one phrased it, this sales pitch would require a lot persuasion, charm, drugs, sex, music and cosmic consciousness.

 

After they left, Joshua called his favorite generals and high priests together for a meeting without the five unclean ones to muck things up. But before he began the proceedings, he asked them all one question.

 

“Before we begin, I’d just like to know, is there anyone here who can honestly tell me that they aren’t a customer of the harlot and her hash-dealing, brothel-running husbands?”

 

All of the priests and generals stared at the ground with their lips pressed tightly together, their faces blushed in shame. No one would look up or speak a word.

 

“Okay! Never mind!” he exclaimed. “Now let’s get down to some fun. I’ve been ruminating on some real harsh war tactics, not just killing soldiers and stuff, but I mean genocide. From now on, when we go into a town, I want everyone and everything in that town dead. I mean to break some records here. So, from now on, don’t just kill the soldiers. Kill the civilians too, and I mean the women, children, cows, goats, pigs, chickens — anything that moves. And then when we’re done, I want all the trees and bushes burnt down too.”

 

A few of the generals and priests objected, saying that this was merely gratuitous killing and that enough of that sort of thing had already gone on. But Joshua would hear none of these humanitarian pleas for mercy; and besides, many of the priests and generals had been feeling a lot of frustration lately, and murdering ten or twenty thousand people in a single day might relieve their pent up tension. Traveling around the wilderness had been hard, and someone should be made to pay for all of the hardships they’d been through. Hence, although a few reasonable objections had been made, the plan for genocide carried the day.

 

Joshua sat in his tent after the meeting and thought to himself, “I like those five heathens sometimes, but I’m glad they’re on vacation this week. If they had been here, I’m sure they would have found a way to foil my battle plans. If I am to take over this country, I’m going to need some solid victories here. After all, my story is being made into a holy book. If we don’t kick some ass soon, who will believe it was the power of the Lord that brought me my fame?”

 

Meanwhile, the five unclean ones were heading straight to Jericho, ostensibly to begin their spy mission. Little did Joshua imagine that, far from spying on the enemy, his friends would be colluding with the enemy completely. The reason for this collusion was not to betray Joshua, but to save his people.

 

Sensei had already stopped through Jericho one afternoon while claiming to be out in the desert gathering fire wood. What he failed to tell Joshua was that on his visit to Jericho, he could see the cowardly rulers of Jericho, while feckless fighters themselves, were not prepared to passively accept their own deaths. They had money, and a lot of it; and that meant they could hire a foreign army with the best equipment known to that era. Sensei came into town posing as a courier for a distant king, telling the guards at the gates that he was only passing through for a meal and some drinks before heading out to parts unknown to deliver an urgent message. It only took an hour or two of walking through the streets to see that this army, wherever it was from, was so well trained and so heavily-armed that they would wipe out Joshua’s people within hours. This had to be prevented, but it would take a major theatrical production to prevent a real war from taking place. He would have to befriend the rulers of the city quickly, and his friends would have to beguile them with whatever tools they had at their disposal; and Joshua’s ego would have to spared at all costs.

 

One thing Sensei loved about Joshua, even if he was, at heart, a mass-murderer, was that he never pretended to be egoless, never faked like he was enlightened. Sensei had grown so tired of everyone around him “working on being selfless” that he found Joshua’s plain-spoken egotism refreshing.

 

6. The Queen of Earthly Pleasure

 

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When the unclean ones reached the gates of Jericho, as one might expect, they encountered some very hostile guards at the gates.

 

The heavily-armed men in full military regalia angrily said to the prostitute, whom they knew well, “Why have you brought these hideous-looking foreigners here? And are not two of them the very Israelites who have vowed to destroy us?”

 

“Yes,” replied the prostitute, they are indeed Jews. I have married them both, and we must go everywhere together. The other one is from a far-away land you would have never heard of. The naked one is barely human. Some regard him as something like a god while others say he is a mentally-ill homeless joker. As for me, I can’t say what he is. I only regret that I cannot seduce him. The man’s vows of absolute chastity are unshakable.”

 

The leader of the gate guards came up to the wall, leaned forward and said, “Our Queen of Earthly Pleasure,” (for that was the name all the men of the city called her by), “you can’t possibly expect me to let these people in. To the casual observer, they have the air of spies.”

“Right you are, sir,” she said with a confessional smile, “they are spies. Only today, for a short time, they are changing sides and working for us and against their own general.”

 

Sensei politely objected, “But you let me in last week when I passed through seeking food and drink before heading on my way to conclude some business many miles away.”

 

“We can’t have any of this foolishness, today,” replied the leader of the guards to the prostitute, “so send your friends off and come on inside. The city will be under siege within the week.”

 

“Go ask the City Council first, before I send these men away,” replied the The Queen of Earthly Pleasure. “Let them know that I’m waiting here with two informants from within Joshua’s inner-most circles. Then see what they command you to do.”

 

The leader of the guard rolled his eyes with exasperation and said, “Okay, have it your way. I shall go and ask them what to do, but,” he said harshly as he turned to carry out what he thought was a fool’s errand, “if they order me to kill you all where you stand, so help me, I will do it and not lose a moment’s sleep tonight.”

 

After what seemed like the better part of an hour, the leader of the guards returned with his head hanging down. He would not look at the five petitioners before him, nor would he speak to them. Instead he turned to several men around them and said, “You are to escort these traitors to the Council Chambers. Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll be asked to chop them to bits and feed them to the dogs after they’re through trifling with our mighty leaders.”

 

“Mighty leaders?” quipped the prostitute. “A group of more deeply cowardly souls is hardly to be found in all the world.”

 

Ignoring this additional insult to their city, the leader of the guards waved the escorts on and left to attend to some unfinished administrative work at his offices.

 

  • * *

 

The Queen of Earthly Pleasure barely recognized her own city. Indeed, it lacked its typically wealth-induced indolence and smug passivity. Everywhere there was energetic activity. All the shops were full of people buying supplies to stock up for a prolonged siege. The streets were full of thousands and thousands of extremely powerful-looking men wearing heavier armer, and bearing more daunting-looking weapons, than she had ever seen. She was a bit perplexed. It seems the prosperous and self-indulgent populace had most decisively concluded, during her absence, that their way of life was worth defending; and if they lacked the bravado to defend it, they would purchase the services of those who didn’t. And it looked to her as though their purchase was more than sufficient. She was confused, nearly speechless.

 

Sensei tugged on her sleeve and said, “I would have told you earlier that I was aware of all of this, but I assumed you wouldn’t believe me.”

 

The two spies were overwhelmed at the spectacle. The younger one attempted to stammer out some exclamation, but each time he did, he found he could not complete his sentence and finally settled for looking around with his eyes bulging in disbelief. The elder spy turned to Sensei and said gravely, “My God, this is going to be the end of my people. We were told that all the kings before us were paralyzed with fear and practically awaiting their own deaths in trembling, agonized anxiety. Why did word never reach us that powerful forces beyond the reach of our understanding waited to erase our names from the earth?”

 

“A better intelligence service might have helped,” replied Sensei, looking straight ahead with a wicked grin.

 

The elder spy then looked at the ground as he walked, his face blushing with shame.

 

Sensei patted his friend on the back and replied, “Just joking with you, comrade. Of course there would have been nothing Joshua could do to prevent this. His small, underpaid bands of scouts could never have been able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. You were up against a world-class operation. I’m afraid your people’s faith-based methods of military planning had no way of working out in long-run. You had a lot of lucky breaks along the way; but the people here had a lot of warning you were coming. You didn’t think they would just crumble at the sight of you once you got here, did you?”

 

“I guess I really did,” admitted the elder spy. “I suppose I’m guilty of magical thinking.”

 

“Don’t trouble yourself with feelings of inadequacy,” said Sensei. “Greater men than any of us have blindly believed they were invincible in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary. And anyway, suppose you had discovered these sights today for yourself, and suppose you had gone back and told Joshua he and his people were doomed. Do you suppose he would have let you live? He’d have killed the messenger rather than accept the truth.”

 

The group and their escorts continued through the streets of the city in silence after this. What was there to say? Their escorts nervously tried to joke with one another, but none of their humor seemed to fly. Everyone felt uneasy.

 

When they arrived at the entrance of a rather palatial city hall, the guards opened the doors hesitantly, looking at the escort guards with some trepidation. No words passed between any of them. And these even-more-serious palace guards whisked the party along impatiently and humorlessly through several ornate hallways and finely-furnished antechambers until they arrived at the command center of the city, the Council Chambers.

 

Seated in rather plush chairs behind heavy desks placed in a semi-circle, awaited the five City Councilors. Four of them looked on the newcomers with some combination of suspicion, confusion and provincial unfriendliness. The spies felt a mixture of self-loathing and true danger. The Chief Councilor seated at the center desk, in the most elegant and throne-like of the chairs differed in his affect. His head was tilted slightly, and his face radiated a kind of all-embracing tolerance of the sort that seemed to communicate, “I could give you a sack of gold bars or torture you to death, depending on what might amuse me at the moment.” Indeed, unlike the others who were not pleased to see Sensei’s little band of infiltrators, the Chief Councilor seemed to welcome the diversion from what was otherwise an excessively-serious day of planning and strategizing.

 

  • * *

 

“Ah,” said the Chief Councilor and he rose and bowed in feigned, exaggerated respect, “and to what do I owe the pleasure of yet another chance to meet The Queen of Earthly Pleasure?”

 

The prostitute, used to her leader’s grandiose and puffed-up mannerisms, smiled comfortably and said, “Hey look, sorry to bug you today. I know you’re busy. But, you see, the five of us met near the river Jordan just days ago, and somehow we can’t get enough of each other. I married these two Jewish fellows and I intend on keeping them, traveling with them wherever they go. Eventually I hope to talk them into settling down here. I’ve got extra rooms at the brothel to keep them in, and, well, frankly there are some female customers who might pay good money to sleep with a healthy, Israelite man. I thought they’d fit in pretty well here. They still have some wandering around to do, but, after a while, they’ll have to stay somewhere.”

 

The Chief councilor winked in an overly-flirty manner and said, “If that’s all you’re worried about, my dear, feel free to keep them here any time. It doesn’t matter to me if they spy on us. There’s nothing about our plan that involves anything complex. We plan to stay here in the city with our massive army of mercenaries, (which, if you ask me, appear to be the finest collection of killing machines ever available for hire), and then when Joshua’s army arrives, these mercenaries, accompanied by a large contingent of our timid soldiers, will simply erase the name of Joshua and his army from the face of the earth. Given that this approach has nothing esoteric about it, I’m not at all intimidated by the presence of these two spies, who, if they are the best spies the Israelites can muster, appear to be a sure sign of the lopsided slaughter that is to come.”

 

“Thank you, Noble Councilor,” replied The Queen of Earthly Pleasure, who, in her own mocking way, curtsied in gratitude. “And may I also introduce you to Sensei. He is a rather unsightly foreigner who appeared on the scene, but he is nonetheless the leader of our escapades. I hope you will be so munificent as to allow his presence here.”

 

“Yes, surely,” said the Chief Councilor, now with a more earnest look on his face. “I saw this man in a very expensive restaurant not many days ago and inquired as to what his business here might be. They told me he was a merely a messenger for some other dignitary in another land, just passing through for a meal and some rest. But I had my doubts, as the kinds of food and drinks he was indulging in are far beyond the pay grade of a mere courier. Of course now I see he too was spying on us. Of course he is deserving of death, but on your account, my darling, I shall forgive this transgression. Certainly he too is a friend of Joshua’s. Very well, then, let him remain here with us and have a front-row seat while he watches the people he has been serving returned to the dust.”

 

Matching the Chief Councilor’s more serious tone, the prostitute gravely replied, “Thank you again, sir, for your generosity.”

 

“Sensei,” then said the Chief Councilor, turning toward him and forcing a jovial expression back onto his face, “my own spies followed you after you left. And so, it is we, you ought to know, who have a real intelligence agency. But there is one mystery we have yet to make sense of. Why on earth are you followed about most of the time by a naked man, and why have you brought him here?”

 

Sensei was at a loss for words, and grappled for an explanation. As he stumbled about for words, the younger spy blurted out, “Your honor, the naked one is not really human, or, he used to be human, but he is something else now. If you ask me, I believe he comes from the ancient past, at least he says he does. He is like a god in our presence, only he doesn’t like to reveal the extent of his powers, but prefers to act like a mere mortal.”

 

The rest of his friends looked angrily at him, as though he’d revealed too much, or made them look foolish. The elder spy quickly responded, “Your Honor, please excuse my younger colleague. He is, as you see, rather young and not experienced in the ways of the world, prone to believe in any wild tale that comes to him. Such is the exuberance of youth. We beg your pardon, sir.”

 

“No, no,” replied the Chief Councilor, “there is no need to apologize for the words of your young one. He spoke his mind plainly. Whether deluded or not, I appreciate his enthusiasm.”

 

After saying this, the Chief Councilor rose from his chair with some difficulty, as the sheer number of layers of scarves, turbans, robes and decorative items that hung from him made movement a bit cumbersome. But once on his feet, he was agile enough. He walked straight toward the five guests who parted before his approach to allow him access to the Tirthankara who was standing humbly behind them in silence.

 

When he got to within inches of the Tirthankara’s face, he stared deeply into his luminous, limpid eyes for a moment longer than seemed proper and said, “Tell me truthfully, sir, who are you?”

 

The Tirthankara, not breaking eye contact with the Chief Councilor said, “I am to refrain from boasting, Your Honor, as my code of conduct calls for humility in all things. And boasting is the cause for much offense. I must refrain from offending anyone, if it is possible to do so.”

 

“Then,” insisted the Chief Councilor, “you must boast now. For if you don’t boast, it is that which will offend me the most. So if you have glories you would hide from me, I order you now to speak them in the most forthright manner, withholding nothing.”

 

“Sir,” replied the Tirthankara, “I have existed beyond time, beyond space, and without a mortal body, since before your universe, and everything in it, existed. And I was victorious over all fleshly temptation and triumphant over all pains and sufferings, since before many cycles of creation before this one. I am older than your gods. My knowledge extends to all beings, conscious and unconscious. I am not bound by kings, gods, prophets, possessions, nor any human conditioning. I am a Tirthankara, an eternally-liberated one.”

 

“And yet,” noted the Chief Councilor to all in the room as he turned back toward his desk, “he is apparently bound by a low-ranking messenger and part-time spy?”

 

The Tirthankara looked to the ground humbly and admitted, “Yes, apparently, for some time, I am bound in that way.”

 

The Chief Councilor leaned back in his throne-like chair and let out a short, modest laugh and looked at the ceiling for a moment, then looked around the room.

 

“This holy being shall forever have the keys to this city. Let every soldier know to let this naked creature pass any way he likes at any time he likes.

 

“Now, as for me, I am tired from this long and toilsome day. And really, what need is there for more planning and elaborate preparations? The coming battle is over before it has begun. You are all dismissed.

 

“Let us all get some rest and meet here tomorrow. I can tell by the look of your so-called leader’s face, that more will be asked of me than I care to hear about just yet.”

 

  • * *

 

Joshua woke up feeling badly. And there was a reason for this. Like all of the greatest generals, he was born with a sixth sense, a kind of radar and intuition that the rest of us could only dream of having.

 

They, like the great corporate leaders of centuries later, were not exactly the monsters they were made out to be. It’s true they would kill anyone and anything that stood in their way, but they were more complicated than mere brutes. There was in them, and always would be, a delicate and refined sense for predicting which way the cultural, emotional and situational winds would blow. Their decisiveness does not come from their overblown confidence only, but also from accessing a kind of knowledge most of us don’t bother much with. They are the ones who knew from a young age to tune into a certain radio station of the mind and heart which we skip over in our hurry for mundane acceptance and mediocre love.

 

And all of Joshua’s empathic barometers were giving him bad readings. Yet, like anyone could be, he was caught by timing, by his former words, and by the current and momentum of events. He knew he had to move his army forward to Jericho, but he didn’t like it. Something didn’t feel right.

 

  • * *

 

The army moved forward, each of the soldiers too caught up in his own duties and family affairs to see the wider picture. It was a magnificent sight, so many people and so much equipment flowing over the arid terrain. Even so, Joshua hung back, preferring, strangely, to follow along on foot, not even wishing to mount one of his fine Arab chargers on what was supposed to be his big day. People kept approaching him with logistical questions and seeking out his opinions as the city-sized procession moved along. But his responses were all evasive.

 

“Go ask your tribe leader.” “Speak to the treasurer about that.” “I’m not in the mood for all these little questions now.” “You’re a leader. Makes some decisions on your own.” “Just handle it and stop bothering me so much.”

 

The journey was not long, and so by evening they had easily encircled the walls of Jericho and had set up camp, all eager for a major victory. While the humiliating crossing of the River Jordan had been officially suppressed, and while many had consciously convinced themselves the events of that day were miraculous, there was still a deep-seated need for something more, some kind of triumph that would look real in the eyes of the world. Joshua, knowing this, had inexplicable and profound reservations he could not give voice to.

 

Another thing that bothered him was the fact that the five unclean ones, as annoying as they could be, had not been around for days, and he missed them, regarding their absence as a bad omen. Nonetheless, his plan had to be carried out. He’d gotten too many people involved to call it off, so he would just have to go ahead, misgivings and all.

 

They circled the walls for days, blowing their trumpets loudly in a show of force, hoping to frighten the residents inside. However, days of this monotonous circling of the city while blowing trumpets was getting old and the soldiers were becoming restless. As for Joshua, he was rather surprised that no one on the other side had looked over the walls or sent a message suing for peace. No delegation of negotiators had come forth. From time to time one heard singing and laughing and the occasional squeal produced by a really hard orgasm; but beyond that, the folks on the other side of the wall seemed decidedly unimpressed and had no response other than to leave their heavy gates locked.

 

The priests, many of whom still believed in real miracles, had been badgering Joshua for some time into letting them attempt an experiment. News of the experiment had easily leaked out to Sensei who, in his current activities, was seeking to implement his own plans regarding the experiment. Those very plans were the reason he was residing within the walls of Jericho at that moment.

 

The essence of the priestly plan was this: Just before they were to attempt to scale the walls of Jericho, all the soldiers were to gather at the front wall and shout as loud as they could. This would, according to the priestly leaders, invoke the power of God who would, as a tribute to their devotion, send the walls crashing to earth. They also believed this was militarily advisable as scaling high walls is often tantamount to a suicide mission. “Why not,” they mused, “have God do the hard part?”

 

Just to placate them, Joshua ordered the majority of his men to come to the front of the main wall where the heavy gates were. At the priests’ command, then men all let out a prolonged howl, filled with murderous excitement and optimism.

 

The first blast produced no results, so they gave the men a moment to rest their throats and then they all yelled as loudly as they could, adding into the mix the pounding of drums and another blast of the trumpets. They tried various experiments with mass noise-making, which, in addition to the yelling, was accompanied by foot stomping, hand clapping and the rattling of sabers. They got so desperate that they finally brought the women up to the front lines to join in the screaming in hopes that a more full-spectrum noise-assault might do the trick. But it was all to no avail.

The priests kept urging the men and women on, but they were losing their voices and their throats ached. Their arms were exhausted from trumpeting, drumming, clapping and saber rattling. They were simply out of gas and that was that. One by one, they began to peel away from the wall and go back to their tents for some rest. Any invasion would have to be postponed til the next day.

 

  • * *

 

The next morning found the priests up bright and early. Everyone had again assembled before the wall and were going to give the noise-assault theory one last try. Much to their surprise, the top few layers of the wall did indeed come crumbling down. Furthermore a tiny section of the wall had crumbled in such a way that soldiers could get through, albeit only one man at a time.

Joshua was stunned at even this seemingly mild divine intervention and ordered one of his bravest men to approach the breach and look inside.

 

The man turned around and reported to everyone, “They’ve all died. Their soldiers are all slain, laying in the dust, laid low by the power of the Living God of Israel.”

 

“Really?” thought Joshua as he came to the breach to peek in himself. The spectacle before him was uncanny, all of the soldiers of Jericho lay there motionless on the ground, apparently dead, but not wounded.

 

As Joshua went to step through the breach, his way was blocked by Sweet Innocence, who said, “You may not transgress the holy land of the dead. This city is their tomb. They have all died, as you can see. Only a few remain alive here, and after we are done sealing up this necropolis wall, we too shall be on our way.”

 

Joshua replied, “I’m sorry my friend, but if you don’t get out of my way, I’ll have to dispatch you presently so that I can examine these soldiers myself, to see if they are really dead or just playing dead.”

 

The general, having had enough of playing around, went to draw his sword. But again the powerful Tirthankara had grabbed his arm so firmly that the sword could not be brought forward. This time, having no pride about the matter, Joshua ordered a dozen of his most loyal soldiers forward and said, “All of you, slay this man at once and remove him from the breach in the wall so we can take possession of the city.”

 

The men rushed forward and looked at each other solemnly. They looked forward at the Tirthankara. They looked over at Joshua who stared back impatiently. They looked back at the Tirthankara, and their faces sank.

 

The senior member of the twelve cleared his throat and said, “Your excellency, my men cannot kill a naked, unarmed holy man.”

 

Joshua, enraged, ordered the rest of the army to kill the disobedient soldiers, but the soldiers shifted about uneasily, muttering to themselves. It was clear enough they were not about to kill their favorite comrades.

 

Looking around him and seeing nothing but treason, Joshua said in a cold and unemotional tone, “Fine then, you can get someone else to lead you through this boring country. Frankly, it’s not all that beautiful anyway. The whole ‘milk and honey’ thing doesn’t wash with me anymore.”

 

Then Joshua took off all of his clothes and stood before them naked and declared, “Since I have been defeated by a naked man, I shall go to my tent in shame as a naked man. Elect yourselves a new leader.”

 

And with that, Joshua stormed off to his tent to sulk angrily. As he made his way past the crowd, Sensei, The Queen of Earthly Pleasure and the two spies came through the breach. The crowd stared at them incredulously. No one knew what to say.

 

“Sweet Innocence will see to the repair of the breach in the wall and the replacement of the top layers of stone that have fallen down. I have hired some laborers who are just now coming to take care of the matter of sealing up this city as a memorial tomb which is not to be desecrated by the presence of soldiers. Since none of you can get past the Tirthankara, you must respect his wishes in this matter and let the dead soldiers within rest peacefully.”

 

After the five unclean ones had stepped through the breach, two wagons full of construction workers pulled up with heavy stones and mortar and began making quick business of repairing the breach. As soon as the soldiers inside saw that the wall was filled in, they gradually, very quietly, rose from where they had been laying on the ground playing dead and tip-toed off to their quarters to sleep for the evening. No one within the city made a sound for two days, (except for the occasional scream caused by additional powerful climaxes). But regarding these, it was said by those outside the walls, “Those are the sounds of the ghosts of the dead slain by the Lord.”

 

7. Baking All Day And Night

 

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There had been a rash of thieving throughout the camps, and several men were about to be put to death. But each time they attempted to stone the men to death, the Tirthankara would show up and counsel them against taking revenge. Hence, those who formerly would have been executed were forced to make restitution to the people of Israel by returning the stolen things and by agreeing to pay extra tithes to the fund to support poor widows.

 

No one dared approach Joshua’s tent with reports of these doings as it was obvious that their leader was suicidally depressed and could not bear any more unorthodox news. So, while the Tirthankara went about seeing that crime and disobedience was dealt with compassionately, it fell to the remaining four unclean ones to try figure out how to reason with Joshua.

 

The nation needed a leader, and there was no one else they were prepared to rally around. They would have to be breaking camp soon and heading on. Joshua would have to be coaxed out of his angst. But first, most regrettably, he would have to be told the truth, and then, as per usual, a far more glorious story would have to be expertly fabricated by Joshua’s favorite scribes.

 

The two spies were not about to go to Joshua’s tent first, since they felt the most guilty about appearing disloyal, having been with the general long before the three foreigners arrived. However, they did give their shared wife permission to use “any persuasive powers at her disposal” in order to bring the general around.

 

Sensei waited outside the tent, pacing back and forth nervously. Inside, one heard The Queen of Earthly Pleasure cajoling and imploring Joshua. The words were not distinct, but one sensed that a great effort was being made to bring their general back to his senses.

 

Since Joshua was still naked, the prostitute could see he was becoming aroused at her presence, even as he argued with her. Soon her clothes slipped off and she was on top of Joshua, and the previously-sharp tones of their conversation became much more soothing to the ear.

 

After about forty-five minutes of intimacies, the prostitute called out, “Sensei! You can come in now. We’re both dressed.”

 

Sensei ducked in with an uncharacteristically-humble look on his face. He glanced at them with a questioning look.

 

“It’s okay,” Joshua said gracefully, sit down on a cushion and tell me the real story of your doings over the last several days.

 

“Well,” it goes like this, “recounted Sensei,” now recovering his composure. “I spied out Jericho a week ago and found out that they, while generally the cowards they are reported to be, had quietly procured a mercenary army, the likes of which has never been seen anywhere in these lands. The men were hulking beasts with rippled muscles and heavy armor of a sort unknown to your people. The weapons they possessed were of such caliber that each one of those mercenaries could have taken out ten of your men, very easily.”

 

“When I looked through the wall,” replied Joshua, “I saw only the typical soldiers of Jericho, utterly unimpressive men in every respect. Where was this mercenary army you speak of?”

 

“They were hiding inside all of the houses,” answered Sensei. “Should any of your men have made a serious move to go through the breach, they would have stormed out and begun to go about their brutal business, and there would be no Israelites left, sir.”

 

“The breach itself,” inquired Joshua, “how was it carried out? And how did they know we would try to bring the wall down with a shout?”

 

“That was easy enough,” Sensei said. “For months, while you were wandering through the wilderness, the story leaked out to many peoples in this region that when your army got to Jericho, they’d try to bring the walls down by merely shouting at them. The story was supposed to be secret, as you know, but it was a matter of time before I easily caught wind of it.”

 

“But tell me, Sensei,” continued Joshua, “why on earth didn’t they just send their mercenary army out to kill us? What on earth would motivate them to weaken the mortar in parts of their own wall to simulate a miracle? And then why would their regular soldiers agree to play dead for us when we looked through the breach?”

 

“Well, you could say that we changed their entire consciousness in such a way that such a prank would be preferable to them over mass murder,” mused Sensei wistfully.

 

“I’m still not following you. What persuasive tools would the five of you have at your disposal to bring about such a tremendous change in their culture?” asked Joshua, blinking with incredulity.

 

Sensei turned to The Queen of Earthly Pleasure and said, “We’ll have to call your elder husband in to clear this up.”

 

But before she could rise to go fetch him, the elder spy threw open the flap of the tent, tore off the lid of a very large can and presented the contents within for all to see.

 

“The answer to your question, your excellency,” proclaimed the elder spy, “is hash! They had never been exposed to it. And when we turned them on to it, they were baking all day and night with me and the younger one. Before long they were total pranksters, willing to go along with anything, as long as no one got hurt. Sensei wouldn’t touch the stuff, which is weird because he’s blasted on sake half the time.”

 

“What is sake,” asked Joshua.

 

“It’s some wine from very far away. Sensei seems to always have a flask of it in his robe,” replied the elder spy.

 

“So then,” said Joshua with a squint, “you’ve been dealing drugs among my troops the entire time we’ve been together?”

 

“More or less, you know. I guess, pretty much constantly,” he confessed.

 

“How did you establish the contacts to import this substance in order to keep your customers supplied?” wondered Joshua.

 

“Well, you know, I’m a spy. That was the one secret operation I ever engaged in that went right,” concluded the elder spy.

 

Joshua thought over the situation and reflected, “Still, I cannot be leader of my people, having been put to shame by an unarmed naked man at what was to be the commencement of a major battle.”

 

Just then the tent flap flew open again. The younger spy entered with Sweet Innocence. Sweet innocence was now wearing the full tribal gear of Joshua’s people.

 

“I told the people,” announced the Tirthankara, “that you had inspired me to cover my nakedness. I sat and listened to all of the teachings of all your priests until I had memorized every word of it, then I let them circumcise me.”

 

“You are a Jew now?” sneered Joshua. “That’s impossible.”

 

“Well, yes, what you say is true,” admitted Sweet Innocence. “I did not actually accept the doctrines the priests taught, since they are all composed of limited concepts bound by things like time, space, circumstances, culture, religion, tradition, and other such things. But they were so impressed with how attentively I listened to them, and how thoroughly I learned what they taught, that they gave me an honorary circumcision and new robes to wear.”

 

Joshua could not understand why this strange sequence of actions by the Tirthankara seemed to soothe his ego, but nonetheless it somehow did. And thus he rose, clenched his fist and declared to the five unclean ones, “Then onward to the next stage of our immortal sojourn.”

 

8. A Raging Storm of Arrows

 

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The King of Ai was well aware that the Joshua’s army was on it’s way to lay waste to his city. Of course his fighting force, though minuscule compared to Joshua’s, was much better trained and far more fierce and decisive. His spies had told him well in advance that Joshua was planning a complex ambush wherein he would try to lure Ai’s soldiers from the city, then burn the city while butchering all of Ai’s army in the field. (This was really only Joshua’s back-up plan, in case Joshua’s smaller elite strike force failed to make what seemed, from the outside, a minor conquest in short order.)

 

The King of Ai was a paradoxical man, and also a man with troubles. His little town had failed to really boom, and thus he was presiding as “King” over what was more or less a glorified village. He’d tried many ways to expand the local economy and to attract residents and businessmen, but all was for naught. And although he knew Joshua’s people had planned to, more or less, murder everyone in his small district, he took a wider, less personal view of the matter and reasoned this way: Rather than being annexed by the Israelites, he himself would absorb many of them, and with that, revitalize his local economy and bring his fading village back to life.

 

  • * *

 

Joshua was not a new dog and could not be taught new tricks easily. After all he had been through with his illustrious foreign friends and their anti-war philosophies, he still hankered for some refreshingly simple “mass stabbings,” and “glorious impalings” and that peculiar kind of joy certain people get from torturing their rivals to death.

 

To achieve his ends without interference, and to minimize the upset that such things might cause his new friends, he did what employers many centuries later would do with employees who were temporarily difficult to deal with. He forced his friends to take a vacation.

 

His plan for pulling off this ruse was quite clever. He knew that the people of Jericho loved the five unclean ones and would receive them at any time. So he summoned his new friends to his tent and said the following:

 

“The City Council at Jericho has informed me that you are to attend a grand banquet to celebrate the birthday of the Chief Councilor. In the excitement of the last weeks, they had forgotten to make sure you were invited. They invited me too, but since I am busy trying to run an army just now, and since I have many conquests to see to, they accepted my regrets and said that as long as you five could make it, their celebration would be complete.”

 

Sensei tried to protest, but to no avail. He knew he was being deceived, but there was little he could do. Joshua had mustered an armed escort who were to drag them, kicking and screaming if necessary, to Jericho where they would, like it or not, be visiting their friends in the City Council for many fine meals, lots of wine, and, additionally, many evenings of devoted hash smoking.

 

Joshua reasoned this way: At some point an army needs a real victory. A general needs to score some wins. Mere survival and half-acceptable compromises would not be enough, and that’s all that seemed to come about whenever the five unclean ones were around. And thus did Sensei and his crew sadly plod from the city on the backs of donkeys all the way back to Jericho where they would be received with much happiness by their hosts. Sensei, for his part, would be miserable, not only because Joshua’s subterfuge would make it harder for him to manipulate events to his liking, but also because he could not be at the center of the action, which was where his ego dictated he should always be.

 

And so, for several days, their hosts at Jericho, who were surprised to see them, since they had not really invited them back, toasted their return in grand style. Sensei, initially in a foul mood, was won over by the charms of the people of the city and was seduced into happiness by the wonderful wines they treated him to. The prostitute had a chance to check with the interim manager of her brothel to make sure things were running smoothly and profitably, which they were. And the Tirthankara got a chance to withdraw into the small temples spread about the city where he could get some quiet and go into deep meditative states in which none of the events of the world around him could matter at all. The two spies spent their days just wandering the town, smoking hash, socializing with hospitable strangers and sexually experimenting with the various ladies under the employ of their wife at the brothel. All-and-all, it was a fine vacation. For once, Joshua had simply gotten the better of his amusing, but annoyingly-meddlesome friends.

 

  • * *

 

It was the consensus of all the major generals of the Israelite army that it would be a waste of time and resources to send a huge contingent to take over the town of Ai. Ai’s army, if one could even call it that, was pitifully small and had no record of any military greatness. Surely a force of a few thousand could take that sparsely-populated place in an afternoon. They had their elaborate backup plan in place, but no one figured it would really have to be employed.

 

A medium-sized division was assembled and sent to Ai to route the fighting force there, if the men of Ai even had the will to try to resist such a hearty band of invaders.

 

Joshua himself did not even bother going to lead the attack, but spent the afternoon planning larger immanent battles. His mind was on big conquests he figured on making just days from then. He didn’t anticipate his advance guard having any problems that day, but retained the option of employing his well-known back-up plan in case his whole army was needed. That back-up plan was considered by most to be highly theoretical, nonetheless it was fully known of by the King of Ai’s spies, who had more than one mole inside the Israelite army. Those moles also knew full well that Joshua’s small contingent of first-wave invaders would fail to “liberate the city for God’s chosen people.”

 

As Joshua and his generals bandied about various scenarios of battles to come, the shadows grew long. Suddenly, as if woken from a dream, one of the generals said, “Sir, it has just occurred to me that the hour is getting late! Why have no reports come back from Ai yet?”

 

Joshua looked up and realized that he too did not know where the time had gone and replied, let’s get on our horses and head that way and see what’s going on. You’re right, our men are delayed. This might not be good.”

 

Five or six of the most important military leaders in Joshua’s army mounted fast horses and headed in the direction of Ai to see what might have been the matter. But before they got too far, they were met by the bulk of the men they had sent who were riding back to camp.

 

The reports were bad. When the advance guard reached the outskirts of the town of Ai, they were set upon by an unprecedented shower of deadly arrows. And though Joshua’s division greatly outnumbered the forces of Ai, the arrows the enemy was raining down on them had killed or disabled hundreds of men within minutes, causing the whole contingent to flee for their lives.

Clearly the tiny size of Ai’s defense force was offset by a technological advancement, the likes of which had never been heard of in those parts, allowing each soldier to use some kind of device to send a dozen arrows at a time into the air at once. This meant that the defense forces at Ai were required to have little in the way of aim, and nothing in the way of courage, since none but the largest army could even get near them; and getting near them would require the sustaining of very heavy losses. True, a large invading army would eventually overtake them, but not before losing thousands of men, and thus leaving itself greatly weakened for any future battles.

 

Upon hearing this most unwelcome news, Joshua resolved to use his backup plan, one he was sure would work, (his certainty being based on the errant belief that several of the men around him would never act as double agents, a certainty that has led to the demise of countless military leaders throughout history).

 

  • * *

 

Immediately employing their backup plan, the armies of the Israelites sent a large contingent behind the city to set fire to it as soon as the main army had lured out the fighting men of Ai by pretending to flee again in panic.

 

The main army approached the town of Ai, at which point they were again met with a raging storm of arrows. Joshua regretted losing a few hundred more men this way, “But,” he reasoned, suddenly in one of his sporadic religious moods, “at times the Kingdom of God requires the ultimate sacrifice.”

 

After the first few hundred men perished in the hail of projectiles, Joshua called for the main army to flee in feigned panic. As they fled, they supposed that the fighting men of Ai would seek to finish them off by chasing them out into the open battlefield, at which point Joshua’s far-larger army would turn around and overwhelm the fighting men of Ai with their sheer numbers.

However, the soldiers of Ai did not give chase. And, unfortunately for Joshua and his people, the contingent force coming in from the rear of the city, to set it on fire so the soldiers of Ai would have no town to retreat to, moved ahead, presuming the city would be left relatively unguarded. They too were met with an incomprehensible blizzard of sharp and deadly arrows which mowed them down by the hundreds. They too fled, but not as part of any strategy, but rather as a result of real panic.

 

Over a thousand of Joshua’s soldiers had died in three separate approaches to this small town. His mid-level officers were becoming rebellious, and this was a dangerous situation. A leader can face open rebellion in his upper ranks, since the upper ranks are few and their conspiracies can be easily tracked. It is often wide-spread discontent on the part of the mid-level officers that dooms a regime. Their numbers are too great, and their schemes often too numerous, for anyone to keep track of. Knowing he could easily be assassinated if he pushed the matter much further, Joshua stopped all the attacks and called for a day of truce, (far outside the range of those confounded arrow-launchers inside the town of Ai).

 

  • * *

 

Sensei and his group had finally tracked down Joshua’s camp and met with him to see if they might be of some assistance.

 

Joshua snapped at them and said, “Nothing but bad luck has followed me since you people showed up!”

 

“To the contrary,” said Sweet Innocence softly, “not a single person has died while we remained encamped with you. It was only before we arrived that you suffered many losses crossing the River Jordan and only after we left you to visit Jericho that you suffered major casualties in war. Our presence has meant safety to you and your people. Our absence seems to be the token of bad luck.”

 

“Enough of your heathen reasoning,” quipped Joshua. “Could you all just leave me alone for a while!”

 

“Fine,” said Sensei, “we will leave you to grieve the soldiers you have lost since we last saw you. As for me, I’m going into Ai right now to find out if some accommodation can be made between your peoples.”

 

“You have no right to act as an ambassador for me,” called out Joshua as Sensei plodded off into the night. “Get back here or I’ll have you cut down on the road!”

 

But Sensei paid no attention to Joshua and continued until he reached the gates of Ai where he was greeted by a cheerful and friendly group of town administrators and military men. Sweet Innocence followed after Sensei some time later, after Joshua had gone to sleep.

 

  • * *

 

The next morning, just after sunrise, Joshua’s huge encampment was stirring to life. It was, as of yet, undecided as to whether the mid-level officers would stage a coup right then and there or if Joshua wold be given another chance to govern. One thing was for sure, no more mass casualties were going to be tolerated.

 

Thus, Joshua was paralyzed. He could not move his troops forward into Ai, since everyone had lost faith in any attempt to take the city by brute force, even though they certainly would prevail if they would accept more heavy losses. On the other hand, if he ordered the Israelites to move on to the next town, he would be exposed as a complete failure and his loss of credibility would also invite his overthrow.

 

Just then Sensei appeared at Joshua’s tent with the Tirthankara and the King of Ai.

 

Startled, Joshua moved back several steps and said, “Have I been overthrown already?”

 

“No,” said Sensei flatly. “Your soldiers won’t kill the Tirthankara, and so I used him as a human shield to get the King of Ai in here to see you. The king of Ai, by the way, is a very trusting man. For all he knew, we were leading him into a death trap under the guise of peace talks.”

 

“Nonsense,” proclaimed the King of Ai. “I am a flawless judge of character, and my heart told me that these men knew the way to peace and prosperity for both of our peoples. My life, as such, is not of so much value, and neither is yours, but rather, it is the life of the masses I care about.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” replied Joshua cynically, “that’s a pretty speech. But tell me what you’ve really come here for.”

 

The King of Ai looked at Sensei.

 

Sensei took this as his cue to lay out the deal he had worked out with the King of Ai.

 

“Here’s the way we see it,” said Sensei. “You’ve probably got a lot of really pissed off mid-level officers right now, the kind who might kill you by mid-afternoon unless they’re offered something nice, really nice. And too, you’ve got to start settling your people on this land before this endless wandering wears everyone out.”

 

Joshua furrowed his brow indignantly, “What then are you proposing? Do not toy with me! What are your terms?”

 

Sensei looked over at the King of Ai.

 

“Well,” the King of Ai started, “I’ve got some problems too. My city is a bit underpopulated, as you know. And I’d like to be King of more than a middling town. I want a real city to rule over. So what I’ve done is to start to build a really nice temple for your people, following all the rules laid down in your law. And I’ve set aside a very generous tract of uninhabited land just across from our small downtown area where a few thousand of your people could set up their own neighborhood.”

 

“My people would never consent to settle in a town full of idolators and polytheists!” replied Joshua, outraged by such a suggestion.

 

“Of course we thought of that,” countered the King of Ai, “and that’s why we gave them a whole separate district, so they could be among their own kind while at home or when worshipping. They would naturally mix with my people during the day when they came downtown to do business, but they could retreat to their own area at night and practice their religion among their own kind. This would work out well for me, since it would nearly double my population and thus ensure my town eventually becomes a real city, one that would enhance my reputation throughout the region, a reputation which, by the way, has been flagging on account of my inability to attract businessmen and residents.”

 

“But we know,” protested Joshua, “that the eventual outcome would be intermarriage, religious pluralism and finally the ultimate triumph of idolatry and all manner of unclean relationships.”

 

“Hey look,” quipped the King of Ai, “I’m not the one who travels around with a prostitute in tow.”

 

Joshua did not respond to this mockery, but only glared back with hatred and whispered angrily, “My mid-level officers may betray me, but they would never betray our people in such a filthy way. The thought of such a thing nauseates me.”

 

“Um,” Sensei said with his head hanging down slightly, “I’m afraid they already did agree to it. The most rebellious of the officers, and their families, a couple thousand people in all, are already packing their things and preparing to occupy the neighborhood the King of Ai has set aside for them. You’d do well to let those officers and their families leave, since then you’d have a majority of the remaining leadership still on your side, or at least, if not exactly on your side, not openly plotting to kill you within days.”

 

“So then, King of Ai,” concluded Joshua, “you’ve not come here to negotiate, but rather to dictate the terms of our peace.”

 

“Don’t try to make me out to be the bad guy, Joshua,” said the King of Ai sarcastically. “After all, did you not plan to run me through with a spear and then hoist my dead body up some tree for all the world to see? If you ask me, I say, between the two of us, I’m the more godly one, since I never held such a murderous grudge against you.”

 

And thus did the Jews begin to inhabit the Promised Land, living along side the idolatrous polytheists who, in the end, they found quite tolerable, so tolerable, in fact, that they did, as Joshua predicted, intermarry with them, creating all manner of theological chaos.

 

9. All Sorts of Alien Idols

 

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After the disasters of the recent days, Joshua again turned nostalgic for the good old days of Moses, when the Law was the Law, and that was that. Given that the most dangerous elements within his ranks were now settled in Ai, (except for those that did not take to Ai and preferred to drift back to live in Jericho), Joshua felt he again had control of most of his people, and thus did he order them all to assemble to hear a grand reading of the Law.

 

He had initially set out to read all of the Law of Moses to the people, but he lost his voice in the middle of the recitation and had to have a high-ranking priest take over from there. The people had heard all of these admonitions before and had become quite bored, but not wanting to infuriate Joshua further, they stood at attention, suppressing yawns and ordering their restless children to be quiet.

 

In addition to the Law of Moses, the people were treated to the latest updates in scripture, new segments of the emerging Book of Joshua, which was to be part of the canon. The decision to include this evolving book in the canon was made this way: Joshua approached a large convocation of priests and said, “You will include a book of my exploits in the cannon of scripture or I will kill you.” It was a simple enough command, and left little room for doubt as to what to do; and thus the ongoing work of The Book of Joshua was begun.

 

The Book of Joshua now included, as previously mentioned, the glorious parting of the River Jordan and the massacre of the populous at Jericho and Ai. The audience very much applauded these new additions to scripture, since it meant that they themselves were to be remembered throughout history as valiant, brave and mighty. As one old, wise priest put it, “I’d rather be remembered as being brave than actually be brave. Being truly brave could get you killed, but being remembered as brave, being memorialized in scripture for one’s bravery, and being lauded in scripture for countless generations — what could be more glorious than that?”

 

And thus did the remaining people of Joshua agree that the stories of their heroism should continue to be recorded for all the world to recall and retell. And should heroism and victory be lacking, it was just as well that the priests should use their divinely-guided imaginations to write inspirational fiction suitable for champions. The truth itself could serve no purpose other than to demoralize an otherwise hopeful people. In this way, regarding the manner in which scripture should be thenceforth produced, they mostly came around to Joshua’s way of thinking.

 

  • * *

 

At one point, a giant encampment of non-Israelites, about a quarter of the size of the whole mobile nation of the Israelites, had formed about a third of a mile behind Joshua’s army. This mass of migrants followed Joshua’s people around, always keeping a symbolic distance between themselves and the main camp. The scripture writers went on to say that they were the “captured servants and slaves” over whom Joshua “boldly achieved victory.” In fact, they were assorted low-life merchants from dozens of villages and towns, members of innumerable small, polytheistic sects. They were outcast suppliers and subcontractors who had gone under in their home towns and were seeking a second chance at building some kind of business.

 

Word had gone out through all the land that many of the best businessmen-soldiers had left to settle in Ai and later in Jericho. It was obvious to everyone that Joshua’s people could not carry on without a small city of dealers, suppliers, middle-men, brothel owners, and purveyors of contraband following them about. And so, uninvited, they starting pitching up tents and rolling in with wagons loaded down with wares, women, clothing, non-kosher foods, chariot parts and other speciality items.

 

Joshua was aware that nature abhors a vacuum and that it was inevitable that “less-desirable elements” would trail behind them, ensuring their own ongoing viability and making the survival of Joshua’s traveling circus possible. And hence, more or less without comment from anyone, a city-sized, mobile, semi-industrial slum moved about the Promised Land, slithering grubbily behind that noble people.

 

Much to Joshua’s surprise, the elder spy more or less quit the army, a crime formerly punishable by death, and moved his drug-dealing operations to the satellite camp. He then changed his name to The Hashish Lord of The Promised Land. Further paining Joshua, the prostitute and the younger spy opened up a traveling brothel and quickly had amassed the funds to erect and host a dozen tents which operated twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, even on the Sabbath. By then it had to be admitted that the Sabbath laws were slipping into almost complete disuse, and to try and enforce them in the Satellite camp when the main camp could barely be called compliant, was just too awkward.

 

Sensei and the Tirthankara shared a tent in the main camp and were at Joshua’s side whenever his mood permitted it. They had nothing to sell or buy, and no peculiar needs or fetishes to tend to, and so they remained loyal residents of the main camp, hardly ever going to the Satellite camp, except just to pay an occasional visit to their friends.

 

The traffic between the two camps was extremely heavy, and wherever they were, one could be sure that in short order well-trodden corridors formed in both directions, resembling something like a modern highway. The whole spectacle was deeply embarrassing for the priests and Joshua, at first, but they soon got used to it and paid it no mind. Plus, too many priests did business over there anyway, so their indignation could only run so deep.

 

One day, when Joshua went to pay a friendly visit to the The The Hashish Lord of The Promised Land, he noticed all sorts of alien idols and “cursed graven images” standing about the area. When he grilled the former spy about this, his friend gave him a tour of the idol grounds and explained the significance of each god in the pantheons that were present. Among them one found idols from places as far flung as Greece, Rome, India and Egypt.

 

Joshua listened patiently to the myths and doctrines that surrounded each of them. After the presentation he said, “So are you no longer a part of the Chosen People?”

 

The The Hashish Lord said, “Culturally, I shall always consider myself Jewish. The Jews are my own people. I am of their blood and bone. It’s true that the doctrines I grew up with are no longer relevant to the way I think now, because, as you might have guessed, I’m a Pantheist and believe the God of our Fathers revealed himself to every nation and tribe differently. Actually, you’d see what I’m saying a lot more easily if you’d smoke hash with me a little more often.”

 

“I already drink too much,” replied Joshua. “The last thing my people need is a leader who’s intoxicated all the time. No thanks, old friend. You just be sure and keep these images of the devil out of the main compound or someone will chop off your hands.”

 

“No worries, boss,” said The Hashish Lord with a good-natured smile, in spite of the threats. These large ones will always stay here with us, well outside of the main camp. Of course about a fourth of your priests keep pocket-sized ones in their tents or in their robes, just for good luck, you know. They’re not really worshipping them or anything, not yet anyway, not so far as I know, I suppose.”

 

The thought that idolatry was seeping in through every pore of every level of his society, and that this had all been hid from him by everyone till now caused his chest to sink. Seeing that Joshua looked a bit woozy, The Hashish Lord quickly grabbed a chair and put it behind him and gently guided him down into it.

 

Suddenly Sensei made a rare appearance in the satellite camp. He’d gotten lonely after the Tirthankara went out for a long, solitary walk, so he went seeking out the former spies and the prostitute to see how they were doing.

 

“Sensei!” said The Hashish Lord, “a pleasure to see you. Joshua just stopped by to say hello. I was giving him a Comparative World Religions lesson when he seemed to get a bit queasy and needed to take a seat for a while. Can I get you a chair?”

 

A couple of servants, seeing the three were resting, rushed up and presented them each with a small pitcher of water. The Hashish Lord lit up a pipe and Joshua contented himself with water. Sensei produced his flask of Sake. And the three of them watched the sun set through the dirty, dusty air as young hookers, peddlers of idols, and salesmen of every sort bustled around them.

 

“I wish,” said Sensei, in a a rather serene and resigned way, “you both could have seen Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in the 1990s. It had just this kind of feel, almost on the edge of social chaos, but still infused with ambition, innovation, life.”

 

His two friends turned to look at him, not knowing what on earth he was talking about.

 

“Never mind me,” concluded Sensei. “I’m just thinking out loud. In any case, in your future lives, you’ll see it all.”

 

Joshua wearily exclaimed, “There are no other lives, you silly man.”

 

“Hmph?” replied Sensei, taking in the rich smell of hash smoke, the odors of sexual fluids from nearby brothel tents and the odd mixtures of incense being offered to too many gods to count, “you don’t know how often I’ve wished you were right.”

 

10. Impaled Heads

 

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A mid-level priest whom Joshua knew well interrupted his nap and stuck his head in the tent and said, “Joshua, sorry to wake you, but we have a problem.”

 

“A problem!” said Joshua, waking up rather startled.

 

“Sir, I know you hate it when your naps are interrupted. And if it were only our own army that were being attacked, we might well just decimate the attackers while you slept and report the details later. But now we have something more serious on our hands, and the matter is rather ambiguous, and only you can decide what can be done.”

 

“Well then, what is it?” replied the now grumpy and annoyed Joshua.

 

“Your excellency,” said the priest, now looking down bashfully and clutching his hands together nervously, “It appears that five Amorite Kings have begun to attack the satellite camp. And although, technically-speaking, our own people and our own territories are not under assault, there remains the matter of our dependency on these suppliers for our daily survival. On the one hand, we have no business protecting idolators and polyamorous sex fiends, but, on the other hand, there is the matter of us having no practical way to live without the services they provide, to which, I’m afraid, we’ve become quite accustomed.”

 

Joshua uttered a string of curses which caused the priest to wince repeatedly and then, after pulling his jumbled thoughts together, he said, “Okay! Dammit! Blow the battle trumpets, then! Get my division leaders in here this second! Whoever those bastards are who think they can screw with our suppliers — they are going to be really sorry they ever came near here!”

 

The priest dashed from the tent and told the leaders waiting outside to hurry in. The conference was short and sweet.

 

Joshua said, “Now this time there is to be no piddling around! You’re trained in what you have to do. Attack them from the right and left flanks simultaneously. Send another division around the back and kill them in droves as they try to flee. And don’t bother to be merciful for fear of what I might think. Those idiots woke me from a very, very nice dream I was having!”

 

And thus did Joshua’s army enter into its first full-fledged armed conflict on this side of the Jordan. It took a while for folks to figure out why the Amorites would do this, but finally it was concluded that they felt that the satellite camp was becoming a rival power to the Amorites, at first only attracting the outcasts of Amorite societies, but later seducing away many of their finest entrepreneurs. In essence, the satellite camp was creating a drain of talent and resources and wealth from all of the micro-nations surrounding it; and many regional leaders, not just the five Amorite kings, were starting to resent it.

 

Sensei had not foreseen this, even though he enjoyed what some thought was a limited form of omniscience, (some suggesting that the main limit to his semi-omniscience being his inability to pull his spiritual life into any kind of credible shape). The Tirthankara, though, in theory, also all-knowing, had never done real time travel before; and this adventure, one he was brought into involuntarily, showed that in some situations he too could lack predictive powers. Sensei, who had actually met with the gods, had heard them also, on many occasions, admit their limitations in predicting the future, especially when it came to human behavior. And thus, neither Sensei nor Sweet Innocence were in a position to prevent bloodshed on that day, as they had done in Jericho completely, and in Ai to a lesser degree.

 

Sensei was saddened, but not overwhelmed. He knew he could not really save all living beings in all worlds at all times, though he gave it a mighty good shot, now and then. The Tirthankara, however, took it a bit harder. Once he saw that, in the dusty distance, men were being mowed down, and once he heard the cries of the dying and the wounded, he began to weep a little.

 

Sensei said, “Sweet Innocence, I’m so sorry you ended up seeing this kind of thing. Don’t take it too personally. We’ve been doing our best. It’s not wise for you to keep watching this. Let’s go behind that hill over there, where there’s a barrier to these sights and sounds; and let’s spend the afternoon meditating. We’ll get through this thing.”

 

The Israelites pulled off a brilliant pincer maneuver that frightened the Amorite soldiers out of their wits. One of their generals saw another Israelite division heading off around the hills behind them and knew the battle was over already. Thus, in treasonous defiance of his Amorite kings, he ordered everyone to rush back home before they were cut off from behind. Hence, only small segments of the armies of the Amorites were successfully cut off and killed or captured. He felt his disobedience to the orders of the kings, those orders being to “fight to the death rather than flee,” would surely earn him the death penalty. What he did not know was that there would be no Amorite kings to punish him when he got home.

 

It was this prudent move that allowed most of the Amorite armies to escape alive and unharmed, facing only the humiliation of having had to flee for their lives with a blood-lusting army at their heels.

 

As fate would have it, the Amorites who were successfully cut-off and captured happened to include the five kings who ordered the invasion. They were so confident of a quick and easy victory that they had not stayed far enough back to evade the devastating effects of the pincer maneuver. It was their eagerness to stare at, close up, what they assumed would be a delightfully-bloody triumph, that sealed their doom.

 

Ironically, in the confusion caused by the pincer movement, the kings were driven straight into the hands of the able-bodied fighting men that existed within the satellite camp, many of whom were former soldiers themselves. Knowing full well that the Amorite kings were after their blood and were taking a personal vendetta out on them, the “less civilized” men of the satellite camp did not wait for the official pronouncements of priests nor generals. Rather, they took the law into their own hands, irrespective of what Joshua may or may not think.

 

By the time Joshua arrived to inspect the front lines of the satellite camp, he saw five heads without bodies, the heads of the five Amorite kings, impaled upon the tops of spears. No one even knew where the bodies were. But everyone knew there were lots of hungry dogs around the satellite camp, so it was surely too late to bother searching for them, had one been so inclined to give them a respectful burial. In the distance one could see the vultures already making quick business out of the Amorite fallen. It was often Joshua’s inclination to attempt to clean up after messes like this, but, on second thought, the satellite camp was already so polluted and messy and unclean that it would border on sanctimonious to attempt to force a sense of cleanliness into this alien mini-nation that followed his nation around through the Promised Land.

 

“Um, okay,” Joshua said, “in an ironic tone, “this is, um, sharp, really sharp, five heads on spears. Okay, let’s go with it. We’ll just leave these impaled heads here, and all afternoon, and into the early evening, we’ll make the Amorite prisoners sit in front of these things. I’ll assign a couple of men to keep the vultures away. Then, after we’ve given those prisoners a while to meditate on what happens to people who test us, let them all go back to tell their people of the horrors they have witnessed here today. That’ll make them think twice, more than twice. That’s for sure. We’ve already stripped them of their weapons and of their valuables, and those should be a handsome addition to our armory and our treasury. Gentlemen, that is all for today. Go about your business, of whatever filthy type it may be.”

 

Sensei and Sweet Innocence were ordered to dine at the celebratory feast with Joshua that night, along with all the high command and numerous noteworthy priests.

 

And, much to the chagrin of Sensei and the Tirthankara, throughout the dinner, at random times, Joshua would look up from his plate between healthy heapings of food and say to all the guests, with a chuckle, “Impaled the heads. Good going! Those heathens in the satellite camp sure did well on that account. Yes, impaled heads! I’d not thought of that one, but it was nice enough. And no bothersome trials, testimonies, investigations, and no lengthy deliberations over The Law — just mortified eyes bulging out, and foaming mouths gaping open — on the the tops of spears, no less. Not bad, if you ask me.”

 

And after each such utterance, Joshua would return to his meal with a smile and eat silently for a while.

 

It was not recorded in the official scriptural account of events that the priests were compiling, but another large table was set out and a couple dozen of the more prominent polytheists from the satellite camp were granted an evening pass inside the Israelite camp. The ones who admitted to impaling the heads were given seats of honor at the heathen table. The people at the two tables did not mingle or speak much to each other. But everyone felt that the invitation spoke for itself and that further conversation on the matter was unnecessary.

 

11. A Master of Intimidation

 

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After a while the heads on the poles went unguarded, and eventually the rats had found their way up and picked the skulls clean of any flesh. Even so. No one bothered to take the poles down and they became a kind of emblem for the satellite camp. During the day, one saw children combing the wilderness for skulls. After some months the entire satellite camp was bordered on all sides with the impaled skulls of the dead. The older children made such a hobby of this that they would bring home the skulls of dead goats, dead cows; and some went as far as to dig up old graves to enhance the collection. This was officially frowned upon, even by the elders of the heathen, but they were too busy making money to be monitoring their children’s activities all day; and, in the end, no one really saw much harm in it. Little did they know that this odd fixation would have an interesting diplomatic effect.

 

Several other kings, enraged by what had happened to the Amorite kings had sent emissaries with stern warnings to Joshua, insisting that he and his people leave the area and stop creating problems for the local inhabitants. Knowing that such diplomats would be arriving on a regular basis, Joshua insisted that they meet him in a special diplomatic tent which he had set up within the satellite camp, leaving the officials of every local nation no alternative but to pass by thousands and thousands of impaled skulls before reaching Joshua to issue their demands. Joshua, for his part, knowing the horror that this display instilled in others, would always greet them with a half-crazed grin, treating them hospitably all the while, but still making a point of talking like a bit of a lunatic.

 

All of this had the intended effect of scaring the living daylights out of all the surrounding kings who had presumed that Joshua’s army would be most delighted at the prospect of turning the entire countryside into a mass graveyard. While the scribes writing the official scriptures told of many conquests and massacres Joshua allegedly carried out in the tiny nation-states that surrounded their camp, the real truth was that Joshua had become a brilliant psychological warrior, a master of intimidation. Certainly there were battles from time to time, but most of them amounted to rather futile skirmishes with limited casualties on every side. The irony was that this stage of Joshua’s career was marked mostly by continual diplomacy and the signing of countless peace treaties.

 

The horrified kings in that part of the Promised Land had signed agreements based on the model set up by the King of Ai wherein the groups of Joshua’s people who tired of wandering with him, from camp to camp, were allotted a neighborhood in each town, along with a temple, financed by each town, so that the children of Israel might worship in their way, have the security of living in a district full of their own kind, and where they might, in the end, integrate with the surrounding population, opting half of the time to switch over to some kind of polytheism or idol worship.

This being said, the traveling army and traveling tribes that Joshua presided over did not grow any smaller. This was because many people in the satellite camp were converting to Judaism. Officially speaking, the Jews considered themselves a separate people, even a separate race; and thus evangelism, as such, was frowned upon; and this is still believed widely to this day. As a practical matter, evangelism was going on in subtle ways at all times, whether through hints, cultural displays, announcements of great achievements, or through good old-fashioned preaching. Thus the religion that discouraged conversion was, in reality, rife with converts, and the descendants of converts.

 

Those who left the satellite camp to become Jews were replaced by incoming polytheists and idolators who occupied the satellite camp in search of business opportunities. And thus did the original followers of Joshua filter into every city and town they passed by. The scriptures themselves described genocide as the main method of the reoccupation of the Promised Land; and indeed the original plan was to commit genocide on a massive scale, but since the plan proved impractical and frankly mad, Joshua decided to keep his enterprise going in other ways. His seeming rigidity proved to be an illusion. Really, no one was more flexible and adaptable than he.

 

And in all these little kingdoms, for every Israelite that fell away to worship idols, some idol worshipper quietly inquired of the local priest how he might come to know the religion of the Chosen People. And thus Joshua held in his heart the joy of knowing that he’d found a home for his original followers and that new followers were always coming along, making his enterprise a dynamic, living, breathing thing.

 

And, every so often, just to keep his troops battle-ready, and to keep all the nations around him from doubting his resolve to be the most significant power broker in the region, he’d sanction some old-time plundering raids of mid-sized villages with minuscule defense forces who would flee at the very sight of “those soldiers who live next to the city of skulls.” The influx of booty kept his treasury swollen and his mobile kingdom well-financed. Since most everyone fled at the very sight of his marauders, there was very little killing going on in these land-piracies. Even so, the scribes dutifully recorded each outing as a wholesale butchery wherein no mercy was ever shown.

 

For his part, Joshua decided not object to the gratitude of those who thought him to be kind, generous and loving, nor did he currently object to the mythologers who painted him as the cruelest of tyrants. Any and all interpretations of him now amused him, and at that point he was doing little to control anything that was said about him. He let things take on a life of their own.

 

12. The Authorization of Canonical Works

 

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A kind of malaise fell over Joshua’s life. There were no great battles looming, and he had lost a little bit of his appetite for war. Some days he wasn’t even sure what he was doing leading this amorphous nation from place to place followed by it’s even more amorphous satellite. Frankly, he was floundering about a bit, not really ready to issue some bold orders regarding any clear objective, nor was he quite ready to dissolve the whole enterprise and retire peacefully.

 

By late afternoon he found himself drifting over to the ever-growing compound of tents that housed the scribes, scholars and theologians. There was one tent, located not far from the center of the compound where the work never seemed to stop. The other encampments of theorists, legal nit-pickers and priestly philosophers seemed to put out their candles at a reasonable hour, but this particular tent seemed to run like a factory, in shifts; and if one arose from a dream at three in the morning and walked by there, the candles were still burning brightly and whispering and gentle disputes could be heard from a distance.

 

He knew what they were doing in there, and he knew he could never stop their enterprise, although he often wanted to, though it was he who ordered its inception. No leader is all powerful; and there are some activities that go on in spite of the threat of imprisonment, torture or execution. Human nature is resilient at certain points, and certain human games never stop under any level of oppression. It was all so ironic. It was he who, after issuing death threats, got the process going, and yet now he knew he hadn’t the willpower to stop it. All he could do is pick on the denizens inside, harangue them a little and brow-beat them occasionally. But, in the end, he knew his own legacy was now firmly out of his control.

 

A scholar he recognized well was scribbling furiously on parchment paper, solid Egyptian stock stolen from nearby towns in raids organized by the priests. Of course launching independent military expeditions was also a form or treason, and he could have had any or all of the conspirators whipped, stoned or burnt. But even if he did, a new class of priests would quickly arise to take their place, and they would need high-quality paper. If their stock ran low, it was guaranteed they would get soldiers to dash into a well-supplied town and steal as much as necessary. These were now the facts of life. The clerical and military classes would persist, like yin and yang, forever alternating in power and assertiveness, in endless cycles of the type Sensei always preached about.

 

Joshua plopped himself down in a chair in front of the desk of the scholar, his powerful body a bit bedraggled by depression. He leaned back like an exhausted adolescent and stared defiantly at this hybrid lawyer-propagandist. The scholar did not look up from his work, his way of indicating that their world had changed again, and that no single person controlled anything of any size, at least not for long. Under the influence of Sensei, Joshua had since decided not to take such impudence personally, but rather with a kind of blustering, sophomoric amusement.

 

He tilted his head and said, “Hey!”

 

The scholar looked up, pokerfaced, his writing instrument temporarily stopped, his eyes unblinking, his facial muscles betraying a slight annoyance and impatience, his whole expression asking, “What?”

 

Joshua answered this unvoiced question by saying, “So what kind of tall tales are pouring from that ink-splashing device of yours tonight?”

 

The scholar replied, “Sir, I am writing a very long list of the kings, generals, cities, fortresses, villages and administrative centers you have captured. As the story goes, you did not leave one living thing in all the land you conquered. If there were men, women, children or animals, you slew them in cold blood without hesitation. If there were trees, bushes, flowers, grasses or buildings, you burnt them all to a cinder, cleansing the land utterly of polytheistic, idolatrous filth such that God’s Chosen People could settle here in perfect holiness, unmixed with any polluting influences.”

 

Joshua’s eyebrows raised up and he leaned forward, “But that’s utter nonsense. You don’t believe a word of that, and neither do I, and neither will anyone who reads it.”

 

Setting his writing device down, the priest raised up an index finger and leaned his face forward toward Joshua’s. You are right on the first two counts, neither you nor I will believe anything I’m setting to paper now. But I promise you this: On the third count you are wrong. The readers will believe it. At first only a few will accept it, but as time goes on, the number of believers in what I write here today will be, to use an old saw of your friend Sensei, “as numerous as the grains of sand in the Ganges River.”

 

Joshua sat up straight and said, “Supposed I ordered you to stop this silliness now?”

 

The scholar, picking up his writing device, looking back down toward his desk and splashing ink about the page, replied, “I would refer you to the Central Planning Committee for The Authorization of Canonical Works.”

 

As Joshua stood up, he wearily said, “Oh, never mind,” and turned to stalk out of the tent.

The scholar did not even look up or acknowledge the departure of the leader of his people, but kept on writing. And, to this very day, throughout all the world, such interpersonal dynamics are the hallmark of all great institutions.

 

13. They Are Called Renunciants

 

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The Queen of Earthly Pleasure and the Hashish Lord of The Promised Land had become multi-millionaires and had franchises throughout the region. However, like Joshua, they got a kick out of keeping their headquarters mobile. And they had been with the people of the satellite camp so long that it felt like home to them. And too, there was still something very magical about being, at all times, only a third of a mile or so from Joshua’s great army and all his people.

 

Time was passing and Joshua was getting on in years. The Queen of Earthly Pleasure and the Hashish Lord of The Promised Land had decided to throw him a blowout party in the Satellite camp, one that no one would forget for a long time. They spared no expense, and no amount of money spent would make more than a dent in their fortunes anyway.

 

They gave Joshua a wonderful feast, and he enjoyed the food and the music greatly. It warmed his heart to see so many old and new friends, many of whom had formerly traveled with him and had come from the cities all over the area to remember old times. He was genuinely gratified, although people noticed that he’d not seemed to eat like a ravenous wolf, as had been his habit in years past. As for alcohol, he had two glasses of wine and contented himself with that.

 

Since they were in the satellite camp, no one was offended or surprised when the erotic dancers and strippers came out amidst the rocking rhythms of hoards of sweat-drenched drummers clad in loin cloths. Exotic animals had been imported, and thus were rare tigers and colorful leopards paraded about, along with twenty-foot-long snakes and other creatures Joshua had never even seen. The show would be thought of in modern times as a true Las-Vegas-style extravaganza.

Joshua did not object to the sinners indulging themselves in this outlandish manner, since it was a special day, his 50th birthday. However, he did not stay up all night, as he previously might have. Instead, at a reasonable hour, around midnight, he gently excused himself after warmly hugging all his wonderful old comrades and his generous hosts.

 

The Tirthankara had noticed all of this, and a puzzle began to compete itself in his head. He did not refuse to attend the event, though such things held no thrill for him, however, he stood at the margins and studied Joshua all night and came to a startling conclusion.

 

As Joshua left the satellite camp and was making his way toward his own tent to get some rest, he found himself suddenly joined by the Tirthankara. Sweet Innocence stared at him furtively and was unusually talkative.

 

“What’s gotten into you, Sweet Innocence?” asked Joshua. “You’re prattling on like a mortal, not that I mind it at all, but this is not like you, to be so friendly and jovial.”

 

“That’s quite true,” acknowledged the Tirthankara. “When we get to your tent, might I have just a short chat with you about something that’s been on my mind?”

 

“Of course, by all means,” agreed Joshua.

 

Some moments later they had arrived at Joshua’s tent. A servant had left a few candles burning and had placed some tasteful rugs and cushions about the place, making it quite comfortable and casual.

 

After Joshua took some water, he sat on the floor and leaned back against a pile of beautiful pillows with coverings of many fine materials from around the world. Such things were not the sort he would go looking for, but his old friends were in the habit of sending unnecessary gifts. It would not have occurred to him to offend anyone by refusing them.

 

“So, what’s on your mind today, Sweet Innocence?” asked Joshua in a truly curious and friendly manner.

 

“Sir, I hope you will not be offended by this intrusion, but I have made a few observations that have been pressing in on my mind,” admitted the Tirthankara.

 

“Okay, tell it to me straight. What do you see?” inquired Joshua.

 

“Sir, I could not help but notice that you are getting on in years, and yet you have no wife, no children. You seem extremely uninterested in material possessions for a man of stature. Furthermore, I note that you never take the hashish that is sent to you, nor do you avail yourselves of the many gorgeous women that come around to your tent to seduce you.”

 

“Hmm,” mused Joshua, “I’d never really focused on those things. I suppose you’re right. I guess I mostly just do my job here and can’t seem to devote myself to all that other stuff. I like to keep a clear head. Well, you know, maybe the only thing I was addicted to was the idea of war, but even that, as you see, has faded considerably too. Of course I’d kill if I had to, but I can’t say I’d take the joy in it now that I once would have.”

 

“Then,” added Sweet Innocence in a rather excited tone, “do you not know what such people are called in the part of the world the Jains are from? They are called renunciants. Sensei calls them followers of the middle way, arhats, celibate monks. And even the way you keep avoiding setting up a stationary home — don’t you see that, deep down, you prefer to be homeless?”

 

Joshua felt very confused by all of these observations. He’d known that people had felt he was “weird” or a “bit of a loner” or had become sort of a “tea drinker,” and such things. But since monasticism, as practiced in the Far East, was never delineated as a distinct lifestyle in the Middle East, and since it was not thought of as a thing deliberately chosen in that part of the world, he did not know what to make of the Tirthankara’s analysis of his way of living.

 

Before the Tirthankara left, he looked Joshua in the eye and said, “It has somehow only just dawned on me that you are to one day be a Tirthankara, one who shall rise above the sufferings and pains of all living beings. Your destiny in the lives to come will be the highest destiny. You will see all of what I see, countless billions of entities and worlds and eons stretching in all directions through all times. Your only limitation might be that, since you know Sensei, you may get dragged into worldly events from time to time. But that will be as nothing, since your enlightenment will outlast even the very universe that you were created in. You will be there to see the end of whole multiverses and be there at the birth of whole new cycles of existence. I cannot express how overjoyed I am at this prospect. So few have the gift.”

 

Joshua looked on incredulously, but not in a dismissive way. And Sweet Innocence rose from his cushion and bowed to Joshua, a gesture that would formerly have offended him, but now merely amused him. He left quickly and did not engage Joshua in more conversation that night.

 

As the Trithankara left the tent, he saw Sensei waiting to come in and smiled.

 

“Ha! I knew my little secret would be sensed by you and that I could barely have a moment’s privacy with it before you’d come lurking around just to get in on the action,” teased Sweet Innocence with a tone that sounded almost like Sensei’s.

 

Sensei, furrowed his brow a bit, then nodded to the Tirthankara with respect and replied, “And you know what I’m going to say to him?”

 

“I do,” said Sweet Innocence, “and I also know what you will ask me. So let me answer you now. No. No I am not leaving Joshua just because I can now. I could sense when you and the gods had loosened the binds keeping me here, but I am staying, staying till the very end.”

 

“I’m jealous,” said Sensei dejectedly. “I wish I could. But now that we know what Joshua is to become, I don’t really have any more purpose here. The things he will be learning — you can teach him those things far better than I can. And anyway, as you know, I need to do a couple thousand years of meditating to get my hands clean, so to speak.”

 

“Goodbye, Sensei,” said the Tirthankara. “You know I can never approve of your lifestyle, but still I do not discount the gifts you have given me here. I remain in your debt. I shall miss you, even though such a sentiment is alien to my general nature. My friend, it shall be many thousands of years till we meet again. So I shall give you a final embrace.”

 

The two hugged. Sensei turned his face away, embarrassed that he was straining so hard not to cry. The Tirthankara turned away also and walked off into the night to be alone.

 

Tonight he had no sorrow whatsoever, not even his moments of human sentiment caused him sorrow. When he got far away from the camp, he tossed off his robes for the night, just to, for a short while, be Sky Clad again. The next day he would put his robes back on, but the discovery of a new Tirthankara-in-the-making was cause enough to be Sky Clad and homeless for a night. And after he tossed his robes on the ground and lay there with not a possession in the world, he thought to himself, “How hard it must be for the rest of them, burdened down with possessions.”

 

Joshua took the news of Sensei’s departure rather hard. He never really knew why Sensei had appeared in the first place, and now he could not figure out why he had to go.

 

“I don’t understand,” Joshua said, more than once, “tell me exactly where you intend to go?”

 

“I’m going off to meditate, to work off some bad karma, going to meditate by the sea, not far from here. But don’t come looking for me,” said Sensei, “because you won’t see me. I’ll be here, but in a future body that you’ll have no way of perceiving.”

 

“These things you are saying are stranger than ever, but again I ask, what is the name of the city you intend to retreat to?”

 

“Tel Aviv,” replied Sensei. “It will be the biggest city that ever existed in the Promised Land, but you won’t be able to see it for thousands of years.”

 

Joshua gave up and concluded, “Well, dear friend, wherever it is you must go, I shall grieve for you for a very long time.”

 

This frank emotional admission was too much for Sensei, and he got up quickly, also bowing like Sweet Innocence did, and then hastened from the tent. He grabbed his bags and began following the stars which guided him to the sea.

 

Sensei always hated these parts of his adventures and usually said to himself, “Never again! I need to just do my job in Los Angeles and stop playing around with time and space. I’m always getting my feelings hurt!”

 

Within a couple of days Sensei had made his way to the sea. There was just a small village of people there at the time, none of whom noticed him.

 

He took a seat at the shore of the Mediterranean and sat in Za Zen posture. He began counting his breaths and letting all of his delusions and attachments and emotions pass before his mind’s eye like clouds moving past a mountain. He meditated there for well over two-thousand years. By the time he came out of his Meditation, it was 2012, and the bustling modern metropolis of Tel Aviv had formed all around him.

 

Sensei got up from his meditation and went straight to the airport. His passport was current, and so he simply bought a plane ticket with a credit card he’d brought along and flew back to Los Angeles.

 

The flight landed in the pre-dawn hours. Sensei took a taxi home and laid down on his own bed. He liked to end his adventures this way because waking up an hour or two later in the same place he’d laid down at the night before felt very natural.

 

Soon the early morning meditation bell rang. Usually Sensei spurned the temple rules and slept through the first meditation period. But today he needed to get centered, so he got up and acted like a real Buddhist leader.

 

The structure of monastic life did him good when he overdid his explorations. It felt nice to follow the rules he was supposed to be enforcing, for a time. After a couple of weeks, he would be his old self again, drinking sake to excess, womanizing, blaspheming the gods of other religions and causing little scandals in the Zen hierarchy.

 

Sometimes he could feel the Tirthankaras looking down at him as their vision penetrated all of existence, and, from time to time, he could feel them thinking, “This one, Sensei, he might be the very last one to be enlightened.”

 

When this happened, a student might come up and say, “Sensei, you’re scowling. Why?”

 

And Sensei would curtly answer, “Trust me, you don’t want to know. If you knew, you wouldn’t like it.”

 

But the student might press harder and say, “Why won’t you be intimate with us. We care about you?”

 

At such moments Sensei might put down his shovel or rake and say, “You want to know why I feel like shit? Okay, I’ll tell you. I’m not any kind of teacher you can be proud of, that’s why. I wish I could behave morally, but I just can’t. So you all just have to live with the fact that your teacher is an old-fashioned no-good. I can’t even stop molesting the women students in the guest cottages. I just can’t stand myself sometimes, alright!”

 

Oddly, such confessions seemed to have no impact on the reverence and love his students felt for him; and no amount of scandal seemed to result in his expulsion from his sect. No one, not even Sensei, understood why.

 

14. Something Is Wrong With My Omniscience

 

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Sweet Innocence was sitting peacefully in Joshua’s tent, waiting for him to appear for his first meditation instruction appointment. As he sat in a half-lotus posture contemplating his own state of complete, oceanic serenity, the tent flap few open with a rude snap, causing the Tirthankara’s eyes to fly open.

 

In stepped a fellow whose appearance did not please the Tirthankara at all. The man was dressed finely and had a polite-enough expression on his face, but there was something officious and excessively-worldly about him that made Sweet Innocence uncomfortable.

 

“Where is Joshua?” blurted the Tirthankara, in an uncharacteristically agitated manner?”

 

“He’s very busy now. He sent me to tell you that your meeting with him must be postponed. Instead, you must come with me immediately.”

 

Sweet Innocence replied, “Something is wrong with my omniscience. I didn’t see you coming. I scan the universe of sentient beings, and I don’t see you anywhere. What are you doing here?”

 

“Ah yes, so Sensei used to tell us, even the gods, when they assume mortal bodies, can never predict the future perfectly, and are always losing knowledge unaccountably. I remember Joshua repeating that many times to us. In any event, we must make haste. There is little time to be lost.”

 

“No!” protested, Sweet Innocence, “I want to talk to Joshua. Where is Joshua? And who are you, anyway?”

 

“You don’t know? How could you not know? Sir, your powers are failing you badly. I am a Senior Advisor on the Council of Future Judges. We are a political faction created by Joshua. Our sole role is to plan to assume power when Joshua retires, becomes disabled or passes away. He had decided he will not stand for a military government, nor a priestly government. And so he has been forming a collection of priests, military men and businessmen to share the power in a balanced way after he is unable to lead. He intends on being the last autocratic ruler of his people. He believes the proper future lay in a thing called power-sharing. We are of like mind, and so we have joined him.”

 

The Tirthankara scanned his mind. He could see neither the forming of this faction nor the imminent events surrounding the present convocation of this Council. He looked up at the Senior Advisor with alarm.

 

“All the same, I’m not going with you. I shall wait till Joshua has finished his work for the day, and then I shall meet with him myself,” insisted Sweet Innocence.

 

The Senior Advisor bowed slightly as a token of respect, as Joshua had advised him to do, and then announced, “I am so sorry, your Holiness, but we were all afraid you would react this way.”

 

Then ten men, each clad in heavy armor, crowded into the tent. A wagon pulled up in front of the tent. The Senior Advisor turned to the men and nodded. With that signal Sweet Innocence was seized, his superhuman physical powers, like his psychic powers, somehow also failed, and, for the first time in his life, he was violent. He kicked and threw punches and shouted, but to no avail. He was dragged into the awaiting wagon and taken miles from the camp. The Senior Advisor sat in back with the Tirthankara the entire way.

 

Finally overcoming his anger, a feeling he hadn’t experienced in billions of years, Sweet Innocence asked, “Why am I removed from the Chosen People?”

 

“Joshua says you’re too holy to be in the presence of what will be happening over the next several days?”

 

“What then? Is there to be a war? Are invaders coming to assail the camps?”

 

“Ah,” sighed the Senior Advisor, “if only that were so, my friend. But,” he added, putting his large hand on the Tirthankara’s shoulder, “it’s a far, far more horrible war than that.”

 

Sweet Innocence turned his head toward the Senior Advisor and looked into his face in dismay and said, “Not civil war?”

 

The Senior Advisor turned his face away and stared into the distance where the sun had begun to set over the high hills and said, “Yes, civil war. It’s just too awful for you to see. Joshua won’t have you there until it’s over.”

 

Sweet Innocence looked skyward and said, “Since I seem to know next to nothing anymore, you must tell me the whole story of why this must be.”

 

The Senior Advisor, who had been slouched back against the wall of the wagon, sat up more straightly now and explained.

 

“The priests started it. They kept on insisting that Joshua begin to groom a successor, preferably a young priest, to take over should Joshua become unwilling or unable to lead the people, but Joshua kept delaying the issue.

 

“At the same time, the mid-level officers had firmly decided they would not be ruled over by priests, whom they regard as effeminate, unrealistic and incompetent in matters of finance and organizational structure. They too began to press Joshua very persistently to name a successor, or make a plan for a line of succession that would be clear enough for everyone to understand.

 

“But, as you know, in these huge camps, especially since the advent of the satellite camp, there have arisen many powerful businessmen who, while traveling along with Joshua, have franchises of their own all over the country now. They have not been frittering away the years in prayer, but have been about the business of getting and maintaining wealth. And they were not keen on being ruled by either priests nor generals.

 

“When Joshua announced that the future leadership would not be exclusively religious nor military nor oligarchic, outrage spread among all the communities. In the face of all this furor, Joshua used his charisma and prestige to recruit supporters from all classes of people. And they formed the Council of Future Judges, the planning commission from whose ranks shall be selected the coalition of Judges who shall rule after Joshua.

 

“Certain large segments of the priestly classes and the military men are in open rebellion. The businesspeople are mostly siding with Joshua, and have already recruited many of those same mercenaries who were hiding inside the walls of Jericho. In essence, there are now three armies and many mercenaries about to converge on each other within the camps. The next two days will be ones of unimaginable carnage. We had no choice but to pull you out of there, not just because of your holiness, but for your own safety.

 

“When I came to Joshua’s tent to get you, the Meeting of the Senior Advisors of the Council of Future Judges had just convened. Joshua said he preferred not to speak to you or see you at this time. He will see you again in some days, after the bodies are cleared away from the camps and the dead have received proper burial, as proper as resources and time will allow.”

 

  • * *

 

The carnage that followed was horrendous. The Senior Advisors of the Council of Future Judges had no doubt that Joshua would prevail, but what disturbed everyone was the cost of that victory. No one knew the minds of Joshua’s opponents like he did, and so he predicted their every move and cut them off at every turn. Even so, many thousands died. Just because the opposition was outmaneuvered didn’t mean it surrendered without a fight, and thousands of men on both sides died, and thousands of women and children and animals died in the crossfire. The property damage and loss of fortune was extensive.

 

After Joshua’s forces subdued their opponents, they immediately embarked upon negotiations. Joshua was not about to hold half his nation as prisoners, and even if he were of a mind to do so, the expense would be unbearable. So terms of peace were worked out with all his enemies, and many who had sought to kill him were given amnesty and even promoted back to their previous positions.

 

Everyone was forced to participate in the clean up operations. The priests were to bury the dead, the businessmen were to reopen their businesses, and the servant-class workers from the satellite camp were to enter the main camp and clean it and rebuild it as quickly as possible.

 

Joshua wanted the camps to be returned to as close to normal conditions as possible, as soon as possible. His main two motivations were these: He wanted the Tirthankara to experience as little trauma as possible upon his return, and also, he had heard, a large delegation of kings from practically all of the surrounding nations were on their way to see him. Coming along with the contingent of kings were former camp dwellers who were now prominent in each of the micro-kingdoms. He did not know why such a convention was to take place, but he would find out soon enough.

 

The prominent Israelites who had successfully started communities of their own within the kingdoms of the heathen, and the leaders of the heathen communities themselves, were not happy with the news of the short civil war that had broken out in the main camp. They came, presenting a united front; and they had quickly and unanimously decided on their agenda.

This floating nation and its floating satellite camp were starting to be perceived as a threat to the stability of the region. And neither the former camp inhabitants, now part of the established classes in every community they settled in, nor the leaders of those wider, more diverse communities, would tolerate anything that appeared too much like anarchy in their vicinity. They all had come to the same conclusion rapidly: The camps must be broken up and the people within those camps absorbed back into the cities and towns and hamlets.

 

The Israelites would be a dispersed nation within the nations, and they would be given a small, symbolic capital where the legal issues among their own people could be decided. A compound several blocks long, and several blocks wide, had already been chosen. It had been generously donated by the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Of course most of Jerusalem would continue to be run by, and occupied by, polytheists and idolators of every kind. But they, desiring to please all of the kings around them, and wanting to help insure that chaos did not prevail in the land, were already constructing a palace wall around the small neighborhood and placing the foundations for the sprawling complex of buildings that would surely rise up there.

 

Given that the full construction project would take a few years, the inhabitants of Jerusalem concentrated on having the foundations ready quickly. On top of these foundations they would throw up a few hundred huts to serve as temporary housing, until the proper stone work could be completed on the permanent structures. Each Israelite community had already sent dozens of it’s own members there, so that eight or nine hundred Israelite construction workers were already on their way to aid in the project.

 

The surrounding nations, for obvious reasons, had always felt uneasy about the camps, but once word of the civil war within them spread like wildfire to the ears of all of the leaders of the cities, a consensus was reached that the time had come for Joshua and his people to settle down. Joshua did not know that these orders were coming from his own people outside the camps and from the other inhabitants of the land. But these orders would be final.

 

Joshua would no longer be permitted to dwell in a tent. He would dwell in a capital. The Council of Future Judges would dwell there too, along with the scribes who would continue their work of inventing scripture. The Ark of The Covenant, however, would not make the journey with them. In the short civil war that engulfed the camps, The Ark, and it’s contents, were either lost, stolen or destroyed.

 

Sensei, now thousands of years in the future, felt a pang of heart-breaking loss at the moment this news was announced to Joshua. He was gardening at the time, raking leaves into piles. He stopped his work, looked out at the koi pond and silently mourned for a few moments.

 

“Such are the fates of all compounded things,” he muttered to himself as he slowly resumed his work with a bitter frown on his face.

 

15. An Armed Coalition Sent By Thirty-One Kings

 

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Before the delegation of kings and/or their representatives arrived to greet Joshua, their workers began constructing yet another camp about a third of a mile from the satellite camp. But this camp was not composed of a series of tents and thrown-together vending stations, rather it was a row of wooden buildings, seemingly raised from the dust within hours. Joshua sent his own diplomats in an effort to see what this additional facility was to be used for and who would inhabit it, but each time Joshua’s people were sent away without a word.

 

All that was left for them to do was to stare in wonder as wagon after wagon arrived with building supplies. As each wagon pulled up, it was set upon by strong and speedy workers who emptied it of its contents within moments. These contents were immediately taken by hefty-looking craftsmen who seemed to turn them into walls and roofs within hours.

 

What Joshua and his people were not yet allowed to know was that this previously-unknown form of prefabricated construction methodology would have an ambitious and ultimately successful purpose. It was all being done to set up an administrative complex large enough to process thousands and thousands of internal immigrants within a matter of days. The kings of this region, when not at war with each other, knew how to cooperate well when the security of the entire region was at stake. This kind of joint operation had been done before and the workers were well-rehearsed at playing their parts. The administrative personnel who would follow them would be even better at their jobs.

 

In the space of three days, a brand new set of government buildings stood proudly in the wilderness, as if dropped there from a city by a crazed magician. Only after this work was completed, did a small group from the large coalition of kings come forward through the satellite camp and then right to Joshua’s tent in the main camp.

 

Joshua heard them coming and stepped out to greet the leader of the delegation, saying, “And what is the meaning of your constructing a third camp next to us without first consulting us?”

 

As Joshua said this, his face sunk, because he recognized the leader of the delegation as his old nemesis, the Chief Councilor of Jericho, who said, “Hail! And so we meet again, my friend. Hopefully this time you will not attempt to make my head join the ranks of the impaled heads of the other kings with which you’ve had disagreements. Of course you would regret such a move as I am backed by an armed coalition sent by thirty-one kings. Should you cross us, your people would cease to exist on the face of the earth.”

 

Joshua, pretending not to be shaken to the core, curtly replied, “Then state your business quickly, as I have many tasks to see to today and cannot be tied up in diplomatic meetings all afternoon.”

 

“Hmm,” replied the Chief Councilor, “but I’m afraid you’ll have few other duties before you for the remainder of your life but to attend meetings.”

 

Joshua began to raise his voice, but was stopped before he’d gotten two words out when the Chief Councilor raised one hand to silence him with a grave and calm certainty, saying, “You have no cards left to play, my friend. Be thankful they sent me to lead this delegation, as I am the most forgiving and most affable of the leaders around these lands. You would find my other allies to be less accommodating, which is to say that had they led this delegation, you would already be bound and shackled and on your way to the compound we are building for you in Jerusalem. Fortunately for you, I would prefer not to see any leader of a people treated that way. But be clear, it is you that will do the listening and I who will do the talking.”

 

  • * *

 

As news spread throughout the main camp, there was wailing and grieving and many tears were shed. There was to be no more traveling about the wilderness, no more mobile city, no portable kingdom, no more nomadic way of life, a way of life that many present had been born into, a style of living which was the only one many had ever known.

 

All of the inhabitants of both camps were to be sent to the processing center, group by group. The administrators at the processing center were to send each family to neighborhoods already set aside for them in virtually every city, town and village within the domain. These special neighborhoods would each have a ready-made temple for use by the new settlers, and, over time, housing would be constructed so as to put an end to the business of their living in tents.

 

Major disputes between the Israelites themselves would be resolved by the judges that would be appointed by Joshua; and disputants in major cases would be forced to go to the main compound now being built in Jerusalem. The people of Israel would be settled throughout the land, but would form cohesive communities within each larger community they would settle in. Petty disputes between them would be resolves by local rabbis. The separate set of rules they would live under would continue to evolve out of their mini-capital within those several square blocks allotted to Joshua, his judges, the priests who followed him around writing scripture and however many clerical workers and security personnel it would take to make the operation sustainable.

 

Joshua had not intended to have the judges take control of legal matters till he was out of power, however, the delegation of kings, and their extremely competent spy network were aware of the plans of Joshua’s faction and decided to modify them a bit. They’d decided to remove all practical matters from Joshua’s hands. He would lead his people as the symbolic monarchs would later do in modern times. His job would be to attend ceremonies at all of the cities in the realm and stand as the sentimental and semi-royal head of his people, delivering noble speeches and appearing before them to give vague guidance and utter wise platitudes.

 

The scripture-writing class did not like this circumvention and, as they wrote the Book of Joshua, they did not include anything about the Judges assuming effective control of the daily affairs of the now-dispersed Israelites. In fact, they did not even mention that Judges were appointed. All of that would be saved for later books, long after Joshua had gone.

 

Within a matter of weeks, the processing center had done its work, and just as quickly as it had appeared, the processing center was rapidly and methodically dismantled, it’s administrators having successfully assigned all the groups of Joshua’s people to their own enclaves throughout the land, sending them onward with a small stipend to survive on until they could locate work or restart their businesses.

 

While some force was required to break up the satellite camp, most of the inhabitants willingly went back to the villages from which they had come. In any case, many had already become extremely wealthy and could care for themselves quite easily. One bit of sadness on their part was that, although many of them, by that time, could have afforded palaces, they had become addicted to life on the road and would be rather dejected about living in ordinary cities again.

 

Joshua, not keen on giving up the only life he’d known, was given special permission to walk slowly to his compound in Jerusalem. He was followed there by the Tirthankara and the Hashish Lord of the Chosen People, along with the younger spy and The Queen of Earthly Pleasure. They did not like the idea of Joshua being forced into this new city and wanted to show their loyalty and friendship by purchasing large buildings adjacent to Joshua’s compound in Jerusalem where they would continue running their businesses on an even larger scale than before. A sizable contingent of priests followed distantly behind Joshua’s entourage, which also included numerous judges who would be doing the day to day work of really managing Joshua’s people.

 

The Tirthankara put his arm around Joshua’s shoulder and walked with him, doing the best thing a best friend could do, being silently present for a friend as he grieved the loss of his way of life.

The Israelites themselves had no problem whatsoever thriving in these new circumstances; and it had to be admitted by all around that they were the most adaptable and hearty-souled people imaginable. Within days of their arrival in their respective enclaves, many had already occupied their primitive huts, set up small shops and organized their worship services. Soon the temporary infrastructures set up for them by the locals of each town were supplanted by excellently-constructed homes and commercial buildings. Each community within those communities began their lives anew with vigor, hardly looking back.

 

And, to be sure, converts were being made left and right, expanding the ranks of the Chosen People. This evangelical aspect of the faith was also completely omitted from scripture by the priests who kept writing about the world in ways that were not accurate, in hopes that if they kept writing about the world in a certain way, the sheer force of their conviction would make it that way.

 

16. Intercepted By The Rabbi

 

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Sensei was often not around the Zen temple on Saturdays, but instead was wandering about Los Angeles by bus on his own. If anyone tried to bother him about the fact that he was the one who was supposed to lead the Saturday morning services for newcomers, he become hostile and defensive. Eventually a high-ranking student was assigned to lead this service until such time as Sensei regained his reason and agreed to assume the full duties of his post. His lack of diligence in this matter had not gone unnoticed among the leaders of the sect, but they had tried confronting Sensei on other such derelictions of duty and breaches of ethics before, but all to no avail. Short of fully defrocking him, which they could not bring themselves to do, there was not much action they could take. Sensei was nearly impossible. You either accepted him or you didn’t.

 

Finally, at some point, a couple of monks got into street clothes and decided to do some good, old-fashioned spying on Sensei, to see where he went on Saturdays. This too was a breach of ethics, but having not fallen far from the tree, such a violation of Sensei’s privacy was not hard for them to carry out. Neither Sensei nor his students wrestled very much with guilt for too long.

They found that some weekends he was to be seen wandering the central parts of the San Fernando Valley, slipping into little storefront synagogues and-or massive temples. His habit had been to watch part of the services and then slip away about mid-way through. At many points, perceiving he was not a believer and had no intention of becoming one, attempts were made to deny him entry into these holy places. But Sensei appeared to be all too willing to cause a scene if denied anything he wished to have, and so, not wanting to tempt fate, the congregants allowed him to sit through portions of services. Each time he left, his students, watching from across the street, would notice a markedly dissatisfied look on his face. They wondered what on earth he could be looking for on these outings.

 

One day this madness finally stopped. Sensei had wandered into a more liberal synagogue and sat in a pew virtually unnoticed. He saw that various people of all races were seated around him, many of whom were clearly not Jewish by birth. At last it dawned on him that this congregation was of the new ultra-liberal sort that had become big news in San Francisco. Interestingly, the more liberal the congregation, the more evangelical they seemed to be.

 

As a result, before the service began, rather than being stand-offish, several of the congregants came over to shake his hand and warmly welcome him, making sure he knew he was invited back to many other services and seminars that were held throughout the week. That kind of attention made him uncomfortable, but he tolerated it in order to not offend anyone and enjoy the service, if he could.

 

Also slipping in unnoticed were his students, who were now consumed with curiosity about this odd phase of Sensei’s life. As fate would have it, the topic of the day was, “The Book of Joshua, A Mystical Interpretation.” Sensei’s eyes popped open. He was riveted.

 

The rabbi read assorted passages from what was understood to be, by many outsiders, a very violent and intolerant book. The rabbi was of the classic liberal stock who take any passage, however murderous, and turn it into the most beautiful and multi-layered poetry, complete with Jungian archetypal references and Freudian psychoanalytic concepts. Sensei did not really believe in this style of interpretation, believing largely that these books said what they really meant, nor did he accept the rationalizations of, “Those passages were taken out of context,” or, “There was an error in translation,” and all the other ruses that religious folks use to cover up for the embarrassing nature of their ancient texts.

 

Sensei was alone among his Buddhist contemporaries in this way. Not many Westerners had accepted the fact that the Buddhist sutras could be almost as hideous as the Near Eastern scriptures. Western students mostly concentrated on books written by teachers sent to America specifically because the authorities of those sects believed those teachers had unique characteristics which Westerners would identify with. Hence, most American Buddhism students had no idea of the horrors within the sutras. And when they did see horrific things in the sutras, they, like their Theistic counterparts, rationalized them away.

 

Sensei, on the other hand, pointed out, “These passages are simply wrong,” and, “The ideas they propound are simply bad ideas,” and, “These particular passages should be rejected out-of-hand.” Such interpretations of holy writings very much limited his popularity, especially among ecumenical sorts who always wanted to believe that everything is okay, and that all religions are fine, and that the essence of them all is the same, “peace and love.” Of course no evidence within the scriptures of any major religion would really lead to such a conclusion, but this 100% lack of evidence has not stopped them from embracing these ideas with the utmost enthusiasm.

 

All of these considerations fell by the wayside when the rabbi began quoting from the book of Joshua:

 

“So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there, under an oak, that was by the Sanctuary of the Lord.”

 

At conclusion of this passage Sensei began weeping and was unable to conceal his tears. Being very confused by this, and not wanting to face any awkward moments later, the students who had been spying on him slipped out the back doors before the service ended.

 

After the service was over and Sensei began to leave, he was intercepted by the rabbi who asked him if he might like to step into his office, since it seemed clear to him that Sensei had some personal matter he needed to deal with.

 

“Sir,” the rabbi inquired, “would you like to step into my office and talk for a bit? I couldn’t help but notice you seemed to be struggling with an emotional issue, and I wondered if I might be of some assistance?”

 

“No thank you,” replied Sensei respectfully, “but I believe your service today did me a lot of good. If you noticed me being a bit emotional, it was because I once knew someone named Joshua, someone I miss very much. He’s been gone a long time now, but his memory lives on.”

 

“I see,” said the rabbi with a concerned look, “and how long has it been since your friend passed?”

 

“Oh,” mused Sensei, “it was a very, very long time ago. You could almost say that it seems like centuries.”

 

The Rabbi, now convinced the guest was in fine shape, put his arm on Sensei’s shoulder and said, “There’s no accounting for where the time goes. They say a thousand years is as a day to the Lord.”

 

Sensei raised an eyebrow and concluded, “You could not possibly imagine how true that is for me,” as he turned to leave.

 

17. Crown Prince of All The People

 

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Throughout the regions stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River area, and all those regions stretching from Gaza to Lebanon, there were a hundred different religions, thousands of gods, dozens of kings and other assorted rulers and myriad forms of government, a countless number of autonomous tribes and assorted nomadic leaders. What was lacking for the people and the petty kings was a unifying public figure, one on whom they could lavish royal attentions, but not one who would assert any real authority over them. The land, as whole, was sentimental, and they longed to have something in common with all the peoples that surrounded them, although they wished to keep all of their own laws and customs.

 

And too, since much larger nations surrounded them, nations who, from time to time, raided them with impunity and threatened to annex them completely, there needed to be formed a kind of commonwealth of mini-states, one that would exercise no local authority, but would facilitate trade and the organizing of unified military defenses against other regional powers. The same group of rulers that broke up the traveling camps were the same ones who had thought long and hard over these trading issues and foreign policy issues, and had been, until Joshua showed up, casting about for some unifying person who would serve them in this capacity. Someone who would, on the one hand, be amenable to having no daily power, but who would, on the other hand, be inspiring enough to rally around and serve as a focal point. He would need to be something like The King of Norway or The Queen of Spain in the 21st Century.

 

The regional rulers who set Joshua up in his palaces and compounds in Jerusalem did not inform him of the job he was to take for quite some time. They thought it best to first get him settled into his role as ceremonial leader of his people, and to the get the Judges established in the management of the practical governing of the Israelites. Then, after a certain number of months had passed, his old nemesis from Jericho dropped in, this time alone, with no entourage. It was time for the two men to have another talk.

 

The herald flung open the doors to Joshua’s main living room and shouted out, “His Excellency, The Chief Councilor of Jericho!”

 

When the leader of Jericho stepped into the room, Joshua and the Tirthankara had been in a deep meditative trance, practicing the basic entryways into deeper consciousness. Joshua was grumpy about being disturbed, as he had just begin to transcend the hamster wheel of human thinking when this worldly interruption occurred.

 

He turned and yelled at the herald, “I thought I told you to check with me before letting anyone in here!”

 

“Sorry, boss, but I just assumed that with such a high-profile visitor, that the arrangements had already been made.”

 

“Did you see anyone’s name on the guest log for this afternoon?”

 

“No, sir,” replied the herald, his head hanging down in shame.

 

The Tirthankara looked at Joshua reproachfully.

 

“Oh, never mind. Go ahead and go back to your post,” concluded Joshua.

 

The embarrassed herald quickly pulled the doors shut as he bowed out of the room.

 

“Joshua,” said the Councilor, “it’s time you and I became friends. There should be no more of this chilly cooperation between us. We ought to drink wine together, smoke a pipe, enjoy some good dancing girls. Enough of this over-formality.”

 

Joshua stood up and said, “Look, what do you want from me? You humiliated me at Jericho, then you forced me out of the wilderness and into this gaudy palace, and now you want to be buddies?”

 

The Chief Councilor looked about him and said, “The average person should be so lucky to have a small city to himself, rent-free, mind you.”

 

The Tirthankara turned to Joshua and said, “You do know that, at some point in our incarnations, we must forgive all living beings of all their crimes and offenses, however great or small. Why not begin here and now? He has offered his hand in friendship. He has spared your life twice. The man cares about you. It is a sin to refuse his offering.”

 

Turning away from them both and walking to a nearby oak table, Joshua slammed his fist against it and complained, “Will no one ever take my side! Is there not a single soul loyal to me?”

 

The Councilor and the Tirthankara practically ignored this outburst and were already moving toward a large dining table. Before entering the compound the Councilor had already sent an order ahead to have a luxurious feast-like dinner made. And thus the abashed herald had returned with a staff of servants who were already filling the table with exotic and expensive foods. Four instrumental musicians had already set up in the corner and were playing traditional instrumental music quietly in the background.

 

Joshua looked at the table and at the musicians and servants and knew nothing agreeable would be coming from any of this. He inhaled a deep breath and plopped down in a chair across from his intruding host and his spiritual teacher.

 

“Okay, out with it. What is it?” said Joshua, now leaning back, looking both cynical and annoyed.

 

“Still not much of a one for small talk, eh?” quipped the Councilor. “Alright, since you insist on foregoing the smalltalk, here’s how it goes. In the next hour this room will be full of diplomats and other sorts whom you despise. What will we be celebrating? Quite simply your accession to the post of His Majesty, Crown Prince of The Federated States of The Holy Land.”

 

“If am to be the Prince, who will be the king?” snapped Joshua sarcastically and unenthusiastically.

 

“That’s the tricky part. Me, and the kings in our delegation, will still be the real rulers, and we will ultimately be in charge, but nominally, you will be our leader, our figurehead, our symbolic unifier. So, in a technical sense, you will be a Prince who rules over kings, your position, theoretically speaking, being the highest position in all the lands around us.”

 

“Theoretically speaking?” snarled Joshua.

 

“Correct,” replied the Chief Councilor politely, with a slight bow. “As a practical matter, you will have no authority, but we are all to pretend that you are the international head of these dozens of states that surround you. This is why, in public, I will bow slightly to you, and refer to you as ‘Your Majesty,’ and you will refer to me as just one of your subjects.”

 

Alarmed, Joshua turned to the Tirthankara and said with a chuckle, “Has this guy lost his head? This is crazy stuff he’s saying here.”

 

The Tirthankara did not return his look reassuringly, but rather gravely.

 

Staring at the Tirthankara for a moment, who still said nothing, Joshua then cried, “You’re kidding! You mean I really have to do this?”

 

As Joshua looked back at the Chief Councilor, who also stared gravely, but would say no more, the doors slowly opened and the room began to quietly and gradually fill with over-dressed people of high rank from every part of the region. The three sat in silence for a while, until the chatter of the others began to overtake them.

 

At last the Chief Councilor stood up and said, “It’s rather ironic that I have to go now, since I’m the one who is usually the deciding vote on such matters, but I must go and attend mountains of work back home. The stack of treaties it took to make this happen have to be organized, and I’m stuck with all that grunt work. So, Your Majesty, I give you a departing bow and take my leave. Next time we meet, I insist we get drunk together.”

 

Joshua stood up as the Chief Council left, not saying anything, but watching as he headed to the door.

 

Just before the heralds closed the door behind him, the Chief Councilor turned and said, “You must visit every village in the Principality once a year. That will make the people happy, not just the Israelites, but all the townsfolk in all of our kingdoms. You are the Crown Prince of all the people, not just your own. Remember that. We will be expecting you to visit us, all of us, soon.”

 

The doors shut with a slight thud and the Chief Councilor was gone. Joshua stared at a room full of people he had regarded as aliens, foreigners, idolaters, polytheists, harlots, unclean ones, drug addicts and drunkards. They were now his people. He was, in essence, ordered to adopt them as his own children.

 

The Chief Councilor had been kind enough to throw an accession party without an accession ceremony, as he knew that would be far too revolting for Joshua to handle.

 

The celebrants, figuring the deal had been done, did not pay so much attention to Joshua, confining themselves to rushing up to him, here and there, and shaking his hand and saying, “Thank you, thank you, Your Majesty.”

 

Joshua did not know what they were to be thankful for and did not inquire into the matter. And, at the earliest possible moment, he slipped out of the room and past the guards and walked a few blocks away into Jerusalem. What he saw stunned him.

 

Of course his own people, and the people of numerous nations, had never stopped building and adding on to his complex. The entire time this had been going on, so it seemed, Joshua had lived inside of his own head and had barely looked about him. Now, from a distance, he could see that his compound was indeed a city, and that the towers that had been erected were several stories tall and lit up with lanterns that would be visible for miles. The Judges, who were now numerous, and their advisory councils, seemingly numberless, had been erecting all manner of grandiose civic structures around him. Where had the time gone? How had so much changed without his grasping the enormity of it?

 

This nominal capital, this symbolic seat of government, was, in fact, more efficient and more effective, and larger, than many so-called “real governments.” Joshua shook his head in wonder and dismay. He felt lost within himself, at first. But he realized that there was somewhere he could turn to for solace, all of the people who loved him. True, they were people who he’d once saw as nothing but future victims of the blade of his sword, but love is not rational. Where it comes from and where it goes to has never been something that any human could know.

 

18. Some Extremely Nubile Woman

 

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One day, years later, the Tirthankara showed up at Joshua’s palace with a hot-looking woman on his arm. Joshua was speechless. He let them both in and offered some food and beverages. He was also stunned by the fact that Sweet Innocence was now wearing an extremely fancy turban and lots of gold chains and expensive, festive clothing.

 

When Joshua inquired about these sudden changes, Sweet Innocence said, “I’ve decided that since I’m in this incarnation, voluntarily or not, I might as well go all the way with it. No one here ever understood my being Sky Clad, nor did they really relate to my being celibate and unmarried. If I am to reach people with my message of compassion and love, I figure I might as well make some adjustments that will make them more comfortable with me.”

 

Joshua was slow to respond. Even as late as the previous week, they had been doing meditations together in which they were working hard on letting go of all worldly attachments. The Tirthankara saw his confusion and explained further.

 

“You and I are both in this situation, in part, because of the machinations of Sensei, who, by the way, is now thousands of years in the future and is apparently going to keep his word about not coming back. Anyway, his belief is that of Mahayana Buddhism, the doctrine of the Bodhisattva vow. The details of this teaching sometimes become very difficult for worldly people and regular ascetics to understand. The gist of it is that, although we could attain enlightenment and total liberation and have no dealings with the dregs of humanity ever again, the Bodhisattva forgoes this and voluntarily returns to the world of delusion, even going so far as to become delusional again, in a limited way, in order to fit in with those around him and to make his teaching accessible to them.”

 

“So a Bodhisattva can get married, earn money, join the army and even experience lust and attachment?” inquired Joshua, wrinkling his brow.

 

“Exactly,” chimed the Tirthankara. “In fact, he could even become needy and acquisitive. But here’s the difference: He only engages in neediness and lust as an act of compassion for others. It’s a kind of lust and a kind of neediness he could give up much more easily than a worldly person, but he uses these things as tools to blend in with the environment. If his wife needs him to be lustful, he’ll cultivate that lust, for that limited reason, but not for the sake of the lust itself.”

 

All of this was a bit much for Joshua to absorb at the moment, as he was still reeling from the transformation Sweet Innocence had undergone, so rather than resist any of these ideas, he stood up and tossed his hands into the air and said, “Well, then, let’s celebrate your marriage now. I would have thrown a big wedding for you, but it seems you felt it best to elope. But no matter, I shall call the servants in at once.”

 

The room filled with servants quickly, and they were soon chattering about the complex. Before long various Judges and their administrators were poking their heads in the door and inviting themselves to the impromptu reception. A great time was had by all. Joshua was affable enough, but he kept staring warily over at Sweet Innocence who was apparently drinking more than a fair share of wine.

 

Finally, toward the end of the night, as things were winding down and the Tirthankara and his wife were heading toward the door, Joshua pulled Sweet Innocence aside and said, “But you never touch alcohol, so what is it with you getting rather sloshed tonight?”

 

“Oh yeah,” replied Sweet Innocence, “you know, around here, if a man doesn’t drink, people get the creeps and can’t really get past that. In the end, they can hardly hear what he’s saying, because the whole time they’re feeling insulted that their hospitality has been refused. Turning down offerings of wine and mead just doesn’t cut it in this part of the world. I’ve got a mission to save all living beings, and I’m not going to let my old monkish codes get in the way of things. I guess, for this part of this incarnation anyway, Sensei had some kind of effect on me. In our next incarnation we can go to India and be Sky Clad monks, as pure as the snow on the Himalayas. I miss that way of living. Maybe we’ll do that together, but for now, we’re just men of the world, you and me, who happen to carry in our hearts the ultimate truth.”

 

  • * *

 

The next week, unannounced, the Tirthankara showed up again with his wife. This time the Chief Councilor of Jericho and some extremely nubile woman showed up too, one Joshua had never met before. He had assumed, upon inviting them all in, that this young lady, who just exuded sex and devotion and femininity from every pore of her body, was a lover of the Chief Councilor. This was not the case at all, as he would soon find out.

 

Feeling even more awkward than the week before, Joshua said, “To what do I owe the pleasure of this odd intrusion?”

 

The Tirthankara waved his index finger back and forth and said, “Now you know better than that. Unquestioning hospitality is the rule in this part of the world. We’ll have none of this attitude.”

 

“Hey,” snapped Joshua, “what’s with all this partying? You haven’t shown up to give me any more meditation lessons in a long time. Are you going to come here and get trashed again? And why are you showing up with this power broker from Jericho. This is all rather unseemly for a holy man.”

 

Sweet Innocence did not reply to this line of questioning, but smugly took a seat, along with his hot-looking wife, on a luxurious sofa and motioned for the servant to bring wine at once. Joshua was not pleased with guests ordering his servants around and was about to lodge a further objection. But before he could say anything, the Chief Councilor and his guest took a seat in the chairs directly beside Joshua.

 

The Chief Councilor started his prologue, “Joshua. The people in all the lands around here love you. And I’ve come here, along with your friends, and our guest, to thank you for tirelessly gracing the villages, towns, cities and hamlets with your presence. Your bearing and your speech are of such grace that they leave everyone feeling inspired, like they’re a part of something bigger than just some self-absorbed little micro-kingdom. The kings are real pleased too. They never worry that you would usurp their power, and yet your visits motivate and inspire the people. Frankly, you, just being yourself, and visiting the people, is good for the economy, good for trade, and the outside world is less likely to be aggressive against such a prosperous and happy federation of states.”

 

“Certainly I’m glad you approve of my job performance,” quipped Joshua, a bit sarcastically, “but I can hardly believe you’ve come here just to bolster my ego. You always have an agenda. So let’s get to it.”

 

“Fair enough,” conceded the Chief Councilor, leaning back in his chair with a self-satisfied air.

 

At this point Sweet Innocence added, “Joshua, we exist to serve the people. We no longer exist for ourselves. That’s why I have a wife. That’s why I dress and eat and drink like the ordinary people.”

 

About this time Joshua began to notice that this shapely and earnest woman in their midst was blushing, as though suppressing some erotic arousal. And he also noticed that she must have been staring at him rather single-mindedly the whole time.

 

“Oh no! I see where this is leading,” said Joshua, standing up and beginning to back out of the room.

 

However, before he could get to the back door, the Tirthankara had already blocked it and said, “I’m sorry, friend, but could you please join us a moment longer?”

 

Joshua hung his head and dolefully took his seat again next to the others.

 

“So you see,” resumed the Chief Councilor, “the people love you very much, but also they are anxious. Being exposed, as they now are, to all the glories of a majestic Crown Prince, they are pining away for . . . a Crown Princess.”

 

Joshua had put one hand on his forehead and continued to listen without responding. They all looked at him for a moment; and for a moment, no one said anything. They all looked at each other uncertainly for an instant. But then it was clear that the Councilor should keep speaking.

 

“And although we know you have never been much for romance . . . or any of that kind of thing, we were hoping you might see your way clear . . . if you could . . . so that . . .

 

It was a rare thing, but the Chief Councilor was having a hard time really putting the thing to Joshua, as he could see that the situation was not only more awkward than usual, but that that Joshua seemed more tormented by this request than any of the others that had been put to him, up to this point.

 

But, as it so happened, the Councilor did not have to find the proper words because the guest, who up till then had been silent, chirped out intrepidly, “Sir, Mr. Crown Prince, Joshua, oh please, would you marry me? I am in love with you, and have been since the day I first saw you meeting with the crowds in my village. Please don’t send me away. I should be broken-hearted if you should reject me. And, kind sir, Your Majesty, I know you have never been much for the prolonged company of little children, sir, but I so want a child. I won’t be of marrying age much longer.”

 

Joshua looked imploringly at the Tirthankara, but Sweet Innocence looked back sternly, unblinkingly and would apparently entertain no compromise on the matter.

 

Joshua turned to the Chief Councilor and asked, “So then you’re ordering me to get married and have a child?”

 

But before the Councilor could open his mouth, the impertinent guest blurted out, “Oh, please, Your Majesty, please don’t speak of it that way. We love you. I am heart-sick with infatuation for you. I’ve put on my finest clothes. My father spent a month’s salary on them. If you would only give me a chance, perhaps you would love me. I would do my very best to please you in every way.”

 

Joshua stood up again to leave, but before turning from them, he looked at the Councilor and said, “Would you please do me the favor of making all the arrangements so that I don’t have to spend my days dealing with the endless details of wedding planning. Such a task would drive me to madness. You will need a month to set all the preparations in place. Schedule the wedding for one month from now, and tell all the leaders of all the nations around us to be there.”

 

Turning to the gorgeous, young woman who had been so forthright and artless in her speech, he said in a very kind and tolerant tone, “Of course you are a wonderful young lady and will certainly make an excellent Princess. I only ask that you give me a couple of weeks to myself to adjust to the . . . unusual nature of this evening. My heralds shall be coming for you in fourteen days, to bring you inside the compound; and some separate quarters will be set up for you until such time as we are able . . . until the arrangements, that is . . . are all . . . um.”

 

He did not finish his sentence, but all in attendance were satisfied with what had been said and toasted many rounds to the future Crown Princess.

 

As for our hero, Joshua, he practically fled from the room and did not join in the celebratory drinking. Instead, he went into a far-off resting room at the other end of the compound and threw himself down onto a day bed to take a nap in order to recover from the shock of all these life-changing events. His head was spinning. He was already an older man, and yet he was nearly a virgin, having only had one “therapeutic” session with The Queen of Earthly Pleasure. Now he was to be a father and a husband. This was all too much. He slept for the better part of two days.

 

19. What Is This Thing — Tel Aviv?

 

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When Sensei woke up with a hangover and a headache, having, as usual, missed the morning meditation session, his eyes were blurry. And too, as a child he’d had psychotic hallucinations, so he’d learned not to trust anything he saw until he’d been awake a while and had gulped down a cup of black tea, doused with a little brandy to bolster his wavering self-confidence.

 

With much difficulty, due to the mounting depression that was slowly overcoming his mind and body over the years, he propped himself up in bed, then took a second look at the one chair in his monk’s cell that sat across from his single bed. He wiped his eyes again, took a few very deep breaths and then looked at the chair a third time.

 

The person in the chair said, “Have you heard of an entity named Brahmá?” the roughly-clad figure said.

 

“Yes, yes. Of course I have,” said Sensei, now stretching and yawning and now seated at the edge of his bed, his eyes finally starting to clear up.

 

“I thought so,” said the visitor with a grin.

 

“Oh God,” it’s you, said Sensei. “Brahmá sent you here?”

 

“He had to. Otherwise he’d have had to teach me how to do time travel like you do, and, from what I hear, due to the office politics of this universe, only a few souls are allowed such a privilege. By the way, knowing you as I do, you can imagine my perplexity at learning that you are one of those few beings allowed that privilege.”

 

“Right, I know, because I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve to be an Abbot either. What I deserve is to be a panhandler on 6th Street. The world is unfair that way,” concluded Sensei.

 

“Well?” said Joshua.

 

“Well what?” replied Sensei.

 

“He’s only giving me a week before he zaps me back into the past; and I want to see Los Angeles the right way, with the ultimate tour guide. And, you know, it might be nice to check up on my people, and see how they’re doing, if they remember me, those sorts of things.”

 

“I am to be your tour guide for a week?” said Sensei.

 

“Unless you want to piss Brahmá off and lose your time travel privileges for a few thousand years,” concluded Joshua.

 

  • * *

 

Since Los Angeles ranks third in the world in terms of the number of Jews living there, Joshua was amazed. There were more Jewish temples there than he could comprehend. He did not understand how the number of Jews in the United States could exceed the number of Jews that lived in the Federation he was now the nominal leader of. That the worldwide population of Jews was now over thirteen million was mind-boggling to him. It was further mystifying how this huge number now left it classified as a tiny religion compared to many other religions in the world that dwarfed it. When it was explained that there were over one-and-half billion Muslims and two billion Christians, (religions he’d never had a chance to hear of), he was dumb-founded.

 

Strangely, Joshua, with his logical faculties, had no trouble grasping the advances of technology, even though thousands of years had passed. While the demographics of the future were beyond his comprehension, the machinery and electronics were not. Within days he was making telephone calls and riding around in Taxis and adapting to everything, and frankly doing a better job of his than some people who’d lived their whole lives in Los Angeles.

 

Sensei spent a few days taking Joshua to various synagogues of all shapes and sizes and nationalities. They scoured the San Fernando Valley and Central and West Los Angeles, sampling the vast variety of Judaism as it is now practiced. And Joshua was surprised to find that the elaborate animal sacrifices that had been the center of his people’s faith had been discontinued. Sensei tried to explain how impractical such a thing would be in this day and age, but Joshua was reluctant to accept these explanations.

 

Then Sensei did what he always did in a pinch, raided the temple treasury for travel money. This was because Joshua had been repeatedly asking Sensei about this place he went to meditate before leaving his ancient homeland.

 

“What is this thing, Tel Aviv, you spoke of? You say that it is the true heart of my homeland, and not Jerusalem?”

 

  • * *

 

They had just enough time to fly to Tel Aviv, walk around downtown, then make a mad dash to the center of Jerusalem and then turn around and head home. The only way such a crazy trip through so many times zones was possible, in such a short period of time, was through the use of heavy sedatives. And thus did Joshua learn what Valium was. And so the two of them slept through most of the flights there and back and arrived home in fine spirits.

 

Tel Aviv, unlike Los Angeles, was almost too much for Joshua to handle. He could not believe that the towns he knew along the water-front would one day turn into something so psychedelically huge and busy and sprawling and diverse.

 

Jerusalem, where he usually stayed, was transformed in ways he could not understand. He was overwhelmed when seeing the remains of the temple used by King David and King Solomon. First it had to be explained to him who David and Solomon were. They were simply the most celebrated kings in the legends of his people.

 

  • * *

 

Sensei had been having such a good time that he lost track of time and forgot that Joshua was due home. Joshua, wishing to avoid a sentimental goodbye, and filled with joy at seeing the complex and odd fate of his people, decided not to remind Sensei he would soon be gone. The one great sadness he experienced while visiting the future was learning about the holocaust. But, unlike the other people he met, he was thrilled to see that his people had somehow survived for thousands of years and not only lived in their homeland, but in communities large and small throughout the United States.

 

Sensei, rather buzzed on sake, had fallen asleep, forgetting to check the calendar. When he awoke the next morning, Joshua was gone. Only a note remained.

 

“Farewell, my good friend. Thanks you for taking care of me and my people. I will remember you all of my days. By the way, the Tirthankara says hello. I’m afraid you might be disturbed by the changes in him, but I have no time to describe them now as I am to return to my own era in just moments. I was warned that when Brahmá makes an appointment, he keeps it, and he is not of the temperament to tolerate delays.”

 

20. The Promised Lands Collective Defense Authority

 

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If you are the wife of a police officer, you don’ t want to look out your window and see a solemn-looking police sergeant coming to your door unannounced. And also, if you are the mother of a young man who has joined the army, you don’ t want to open your door and find two men in uniform with their hats in their hands looking downward. If you were Joshua, there were three men you hoped you would never see in your reception room, the three Co-Directors of the PLCDA, or the “Promised Lands Collective Defense Authority”. There was only one reason they would show up without notice: War.

 

When they came through the door, they stood silently together without approaching Joshua. Joshua did not address them immediately, but looked at his own wife, and the Tirthankara and his spouse, and said, “You are going on vacation for a few weeks, effective immediately. A comfortable wagon will be carrying you to Jericho within the hour. I refuse to have you to be at the capital until certain matters are resolved.”

 

Each of them looked as though they were about to object, but Joshua very seriously held up his hand to indicate that they were not permitted to speak, but rather to leave the room at once and pack their things. They were very angry, and also surprised that Joshua, who had seemingly caved in on so many key matters, could suddenly assume his old personality and take charge. The sudden personality change was disturbing and a bit disorienting.

 

As they left, they glanced defiantly and angrily at the three men standing silently by the door, realizing that, whoever they were, they must have had something to do with their ruined afternoon and their three-week exile.

 

  • * *

 

Joshua waved the men over to sit on the couches nearest to him, and, after they seated themselves, he got straight to the point: “Is it Egypt?”

 

“Yes, Your Excellency,” said the first Co-Director.

 

“But they wouldn’t come from the south without facing a terrible fight. Our border there is heavily fortified,” said Joshua.

 

“They’re not coming from the South,” replied the second Co-Director.

 

“But an attack from the north or the east would be too laborious. It just doesn’t make sense,” asserted Joshua.

 

“Right,” said the first Co-Director. “That’s what makes this situation so ominous. They’re coming from the sea. Our central coast is weakly defended, and we had no idea how huge the Egyptian navy had gotten.”

 

Joshua turned to the third Co-Director and scolded him: “You’re supposed to oversee the Intelligence Committee! How did your people not know Egypt was amassing a huge naval fleet, and how did that fleet set sail and get half way to our coast before you were aware of it?”

 

He hung his head and mumbled, “I’m very sorry, Your Excellency, but we were totally caught off guard.”

 

Joshua knew what he had to do, and it would be the first and last time he would do it. He would have to use emergency powers, powers that were meant to be largely symbolic. At this point there was no choice, and no one believed he should do otherwise. If he didn’t assert true authority, control and leadership now, the federation would fall into chaos and Egypt would overrun them immediately. Joshua knew already that they might lose everything, including their lives, quite quickly.

 

He didn’t even bother to officially declare a state of emergency or announce his assumption of command. If most of the major players in the federation had not already assumed Joshua would be exercising military control over the whole region, they would not have sent the Co-Directors to him. From that moment, until the bloody conclusion of the short and monumental war, Joshua would be the Crown Prince in fact, ruling, however temporarily, over all the kings that he reported to.

 

  • * *

 

No one goes to war for the reasons the masses assume they do. And it remains true that the conventional wisdom, on all sides — those for the war and those against it, those initiating the conflict and those being attacked — is almost always wrong. All of the common people on both sides of the border had assumed there was only one plausible reason for the attack: Egypt was still furious about the military defeats they suffered when the Jews left their country. And, such reasoning would be most logical and understandable. It just so happened that this reasoning was not true. Most falsehoods have stacks of evidence in their favor and lots of well-developed and defensible arguments. The only thing these evidences and arguments lack is any relation to the actual truth of the matter.

 

The real reason the Egyptians attacked was because they were invited in by three of the smaller kingdoms within the federation who wanted out and preferred to live under Egyptian rule than deal with the continual haggling and logistics of the federation of kingdoms nominally under Joshua’s control. They felt they dared not tip their hand and simply admit their desire to leave the federation, as they believed they would not be allowed to leave. Furthermore, they felt certain that the other kings would simply conquer them and divide up their lands if they confessed to wanting to back out of all the agreements they had signed with all of the small nations around them that formed the federation. They had admired much about the Egyptian way of life and decided the safest bet would be to entice the Egyptians into invading the whole country, which, they hoped, would be seen as motivated by the old grudges and not by a new conspiracy.

 

Unfortunately for them, the intelligence services was eventually tipped off to this bit of treason, and the Co-Directors reported this immediately to Joshua who simply ordered that the treasonous kings be assassinated immediately. He was quite glad that neither his wife nor the Tirthankara were around to watch him issue that order. They would find out soon enough about it, and it would be uncomfortable, but he was glad that he could conduct this war without having to be excessively conscientious and spiritual-looking when probable death was heading to all of them soon in the form of a massive navy. And that navy was probably only miles off the coast, waiting for the choppy seas to settle down a bit, before launching many thousands of soldiers onto a shore that was lying practically defenseless. It was likely that they would push inland largely unopposed. Perhaps the walls of his capital compound would soon be the front line of the battle.

 

  • * *

 

In fact the Egyptian forces did make it to the walls of Joshua’s compound. But the compound was heavily fortified and almost impregnable. They made the mistake of putting too many resources and too many fighting men into trying to take what was, after all, a little less than one square mile of territory. This egotistical blunder gave the federation forces time to rally and march into the capital from all sides. Joshua again used his famous pincer movement, and again the opposing forces barely escaped being annihilated. Most of the Egyptian army made it out alive, but there were thousands of casualties and deaths on both sides.

 

The Egyptians sailed back to their homeland, again humiliated by the Jews and their allies. Joshua was hailed as a hero. His wife and the Tirthankara, along with his spouse, returned after the battle to find the capital not much worse for the wear. Sweet Innocence knew to avoid Joshua for some time, as Joshua would feel funny in his presence, in spite of the Tirthankara’s new-found worldliness, as it was not every day that Joshua presided over the assassinations of three kings and the killings of thousands of foot-soldiers. Like any great leader in such a situation, he had a lot of blood on his hands, and it would take a while for those around him to absorb the trauma of it all and get comfortable with their friend and leader again.

 

21. All Administrative Powers

 

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All things are subject to the law of impermanence. That’s was Sensei’s old saw, and everyone was sick of hearing it back when he was wandering about with Joshua and the Tirthankara. And as all forms of government are compounded things, they too are subject to that same law of impermanence. And thus, after the very big, but brief war concluded, the Judges brought about changes in the loose constitution that held the federation together.

 

Actually the so-called law of impermanence, like all alleged laws, was apparently only ninety-nine percent true. The following dialogue, or something like it, went down a number of times throughout Sensei’s tenure in the Promised Land:

 

Sensei would say, after any great tragedy struck, “Alas, all things are subject to the law of impermanence,” to which the Tirthankara would reply, “Not all things, since I, and the other Tirthankaras are eternal.”

 

Sensei would then reply something like, “My, but aren’t you smug today, Mr. Eternity?”

The Tirthankara would shoot back, “I am only saying that I existed before this universe, and I will still exist after this universe and everything in it is long gone, including you. That’s just a fact.”

 

Joshua would then look over at Sensei and smirk.

 

Flustered, Sensei would conclude, “You know what? I don’t need this today. I’m going to lunch. Please excuse me.”

 

“Fine,” the Tirthankara would reply, “but you’re a fine one to be calling other people smug.”

 

  • * *

 

Now after the “Little Prince” was born, everyone in the land was delighted, or shall we way, almost everyone. The Judges were not so thrilled. For one thing, they did not like the fact that their practical powers had been usurped by Joshua’s emergency powers, and they were determined, in any future war, to have real power over those affairs too.

 

Joshua was too beloved about the region to remove him from his post. But given that the Judges had become so useful and their competence and thoroughness had brought about so much peace and prosperity, their demands had to be listened to. Hence, the kings all agreed that the Little Prince would not have emergency powers or war-making powers as his father Joshua, but would strictly be limited to ceremonial duties. And these were only preserved because all of the kingdoms around were euphoric about the Little Prince and had fallen head-over-heals in love with him. But, after his passing, it was concluded, there would be no more princes of any kind, and all administrative powers of the federation would go to the Judges.

 

At first Joshua felt a bit wounded by these changes, but he got over it quickly, especially since, during his life, he could retain his current powers if he liked, and his son, while not having any real powers, would live the happy life of a wealthy and care-free prince.

 

After embracing the constitutional changes, Joshua thought that both he and the Judges would enjoy a change of venue for him. And indeed they readily funded the building of a lavish palace for he and his wife and son outside of the Jerusalem administrative compound. Frankly, when the new palace was complete, Joshua felt a bit of relief to long longer live behind those high walls with all those busybody Judges and administrators buzzing about him. Life in the new palace was easy, carefree and luxurious; and since people were used to bringing annoying problems to the administrative compound, they often omitted their usual stop by Joshua’s new office to discuss governmental affairs with him, forming the habit of going straight to the Judges with any matter of real significance.

 

22. A Sky Clad Monk

 

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It wasn’t long after Joshua settled in his new palace that the Tirthankara’s wife suddenly left him. As it turned out, he was unable to sire a child with her. His body, while capable of engaging in the most ecstatic tantric sex, was not equipped with sperm. In any case, it was no longer necessary for him to live as normal people did, and so he no longer felt the need to maintain a wife and a household. He had only taken on the role of an ordinary citizen because he was conspicuously known as Joshua’s best friend, and he felt that being a Sky Clad monk who abstained from almost all ordinary activities and indulgences might reflect badly on Joshua. Now that Joshua’s role in society was rapidly fading into a kind of outdated irrelevance, no one paid much attention to the details of his life or the Tirthankara’s life.

 

Joshua and his family were surprised at how rapidly the society around them was changing and how their own stature had been reduced to that of antiquated nobles. On one level, Joshua had gone willingly enough into this quasi-obscurity and voiced hardly any objection to it, but once the number of visitors rapidly declined and calls for him to appear in public became few and far-between, he did feel some loss for a time.

 

The Tirthankara, sensing that a return to his fully-liberated state was close at hand, one day tossed off his clothes and wandered the land again as a Sky Clad monk. By that time it was not such an odd thing to see naked men in public as African traders and workers had begun filtering into the prosperous federation, and many of them dressed according to their own traditions, which is to say they hardly dressed at all. And too, Hindu holy men from India had begun making their way into this wildly-pluralistic society, and many of them strolled about as nude as the day they were born. And thus did our Sweet Innocence again attain to the lofty state of homelessness, crisscrossing the land, sleeping in the dirt, utterly-carefree and without obligation. He did not carry a single item with him at any time and ate and drank whatever was served to him. Sometimes only meat and alcohol were available from the donors who approached him, and these he took without reluctance or attachment.

 

  • * *

 

One day, after Joshua was well settled into his new lifestyle, which was practically no lifestyle, the Tirthankara stopped by to see him. Joshua greeted him warmly and agreed to go for a stroll in the twilight to discuss spiritual matters together. At the conclusion of the evening, Sweet Innocence asked Joshua if he might ask his wife’s permission to go on a holiday for a few weeks. She voiced no objection to this as her calendar, unlike Joshua’s was quite full, and she thought she might use what little time alone Joshua’s vacation would afford her to catch up on the dozens of details involved in running a small palace.

 

The Jordan river was running at about mid-level, not swollen as before, but running at a solid clip. The Tirthankara had selected a wonderful bluff overlooking the river where the two of them could meditate most of the day and night for the whole three weeks. They would take some food and drink each day, but not much. It was the Tirthankara’s goal to teach Joshua a plethora spiritual techniques that would prepare him for his multi-lifetime journey as a Tirthankara-in-training. And indeed, Joshua made amazing progress, which greatly pleased Sweet Innocence.

As evidence of the success of the project, Lao Tsu “happened to wander by” while “stumbling his way through all of time and space.” The old rascal always affected an accidental air, and liked to project the notion that everything he did was almost random and purely a matter of chance. In fact, he was very calculating and had picked up subtle vibrations in the space-time continuum which alerted him to the birthing of a Tirthankara-in-training, and he was intent on spying out the situation for himself.

 

He tottered into the tiny encampment as if staggering from too much wine and said, “Ah, so what have we here, a couple of real holy men, hmm?”

 

The Tirthankara, not fooled for a moment laughed and said, “Sit down you old joker, and the three of us will sit in silence for a few days just listening to the song of the universe, unless it is the case that you are too restless for such a thing.”

 

Having been outwitted by Sweet Innocence, the old cosmic joker plopped himself down on a log and joined them in silent contemplation. They listened to the sound of the Jordan River flowing for three days straight without eating or sleeping. After which, Lao Tsu politely excused himself.

 

“Well, gentlemen,” said Lao Tsu with a slight bow, “it’s been a pleasure to wander beyond the clouds with you and to soar above all worldly concerns, however, I must be on my way.”

 

Sweet Innocence, deciding to get out a parting shot, said, “Yes, you must get going because, just like your buddy Sensei, you’re going to go sticking your nose in everyone’s business and sticking your finger into every pie in all of creation.”

 

“Fair enough,” chuckled Lao Tsu. “And so it must be.”

 

Having concluded his meeting with them, Lao Tsu simply stepped off the high bluff above the Jordan River and onto a fog bank that had rolled in. When the fog bank had finished rolling by, Lao Tsu was not to be seen.

 

Turning to Joshua, Sweet Innocence said, “In your many incarnations, you’ll be seeing that fellow a lot. Remember never to take him seriously, but just enjoy his sense of humor. That’s his strongest suit.”

 

  • * *

 

One day, as they were going for another one of their evening strolls, Joshua turned to the Tirthankara and asked him point-blank, “Is the religion of my people true, or is it all just an illusion?”

 

That question, replied the Tirthankara has no answer, or, at least, no answer that you can understand in this lifetime. One thing is for sure, the religion of your people is beyond human evaluation. The legends, myths and exploits of your people will never be forgotten, not as long as there are human beings walking the earth. And, since one day you yourself will become a Tirthankara and will remember all things, then, even after the dissolution of this entire universe, their memory will reside with you. So their existence, their stories and struggles will never be forgotten.”

 

This was not exactly the kind of answer Joshua was looking for, but it calmed his nerves and seemed to bring him a kind of peace which lasted for the rest of his life on earth.

 

23. He Arranged For A Pillar of Fire

 

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Joshua was becoming very old as decades of peace followed one another. Although the constitution had been rewritten, there were still grave concerns about a future succession battle between elements in the population who loved the Little Prince and those who favored the rule of the Judges and the abolition of anything that smacked of monarchy. As Joshua aged, more and more discussions arose about the power struggle that lay ahead. But, fortunately, the problem was solved one day in a surprising way.

 

The Little Prince fell head-over-heels for the teachings of one of the Indian holy men who passed through the capital one afternoon. The holy man was only staying in the area temporarily to visit some old friends who had immigrated to Jerusalem. It would take him months to get back home by land, but this is what he planned to do. To everyones surprise, the Little Prince renounced his future vocation and announced that he would be traveling back to India with his new guru, only coming home every few years to visit friends and family.

 

Since Joshua’s wife had passed menopause, there was no chance of another successor. Hence the future rule of the Judges was secure and the federation was spared a potentially-chaotic power struggle.

 

  • * *

 

It was apparent to everyone, including Joshua, that he was becoming more frail and would not be around much longer. He was soon to go, as they said back then, “the way of all the earth,” (as fine a euphemism for death as has ever been coined). Like most people, Joshua was afraid of the pain, discomfort and suffering his death would cause both himself and those around him. One day, on another one of their walks, (walks which were now much slower and more labored than before), Joshua confessed to the Sweet Innocence that he feared a protracted decline, followed by an excruciating death.

 

“It’s true what you say,” said the Tirthankara, “most people will undergo unspeakable agonies regarding what the Buddhists call ‘old age, sickness and death.’ But you will not have to undergo those rigors in this incarnation. As I told Sensei, I am staying here till the very end of your life; and one of my reasons for doing so is to use my spiritual powers to make sure that your passing is virtually pain-free and glorious. In my tradition, we are masters of death, and we choose the time and manner of our leaving this body, some of us choose to die standing, or seated in meditation. Others simply stop taking food and drink and leave the body consciously, not even experiencing a discreet ending of one world and the discreet beginning of the next. The process can be made to be seamless.

 

“But that takes lifetimes of training,” said Sensei to Sweet Innocence, who still looked thirty-five, “and I don’t have that kind of time.”

 

“I understand your concerns,” replied Sweet Innocence, “and I am here to alleviate them. I have already chosen to leave this body on the same day that you do. At the moment we are about to depart this body, we will lie in beds beside each other. At that time, you will clasp my hand and I will take you directly to the next plane of existence. The loss of your physical body will be no more traumatic than changing from one robe into another. But first, make one last tour of the countryside and say goodbye to your people. Oh yes, and since they have always hankered after miracles, but never got much in the way of supernatural wonders, I shall give them some real fireworks at the end.”

 

  • * *

 

Joshua took a couple of months to visit as many towns and cities as he could. His farewell tour renewed a wave of sentiment in his favor; and everywhere he went, he was greeted by large crowds of affectionate admirers who cheered his appearance and applauded his speeches. It was a glorious conclusion to a complicated and ambiguous life. While everyone knew Joshua was weakening and did not have a long time left to live, they had no idea how short his time really was.

 

After he concluded his farewell tour, a small room was set up with two single beds in it, in which Joshua and the Tirthankara were to lay side by side. One sunny spring day, Joshua called his wife and his loyal servants to his room. He said the following:

 

“My dear wife, my loyal servants, the time has come for me to resume my travels. I have been settled here in this city for quite some time, and I miss the days in which me and those of my generation used to sojourn, living in tents, with practically no possessions. But there are only so many journeys to be had in this world, and so now I kindly ask that you to wish me well as I go to pilgrimage to worlds far beyond this one, where things more amazing than the human mind can comprehend are waiting to be seen and heard. Sweet Innocence will be leaving with me. And so, my darling wife, embrace me one last time before I depart.”

 

She did not understand that he meant he was leaving his physical body at that very moment, and imagined that these words were some poetic way of asking to be excused for another, perhaps even longer, vacation than before. In any case, she accommodated him by kissing him and embracing him. They exchanged proclamations of love.

 

At last the Tirthankara reached his hand over from his bed. Joshua reached out his hand from his bed. When their hands met, Joshua’s eyes closed for good. He was already in the next dimension before people realized what was going on. Upon the instant of Joshua’s passing, the body of the Tirthankara simply vanished into thin air.

 

And although the Tirthankara generally opposed the egotistical use of magic and occult powers, as a favor to Joshua’s people, at the moment they put the last patch of dirt over Joshua’s grave, he arranged for a pillar of fire a hundred feet high to burn over Joshua’s resting place. It burned there for three days and nights as Joshua’s people looked on in wonder. After those three days and nights, the pillar of fire dispersed and the people turned away, going home to resume their worldly duties.

 

24. The Ordinary Goods of Life

 

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Transitions from one form of government to another usually go badly, in spite of the dreams of those assuming power from the previous regime. The Judges failed to inspire much loyalty, which might not be a problem, since they were such competent administrators. But their lack of unifying power would soon prove to be a fatal flaw.

 

Upon hearing of the passing of Joshua, the leaders of kingdoms outside the federation wisely surmised that the Judges and the loose federation of kings would have not have a convincing principle to rally around, and so, without much delay, they began to again amass great forces to lay siege to the Promised Land. But this time it was not merely one army that they faced, but several. And these were not coming from only one direction, but from every direction.

The next generation would be a time of chaos, near anarchy. Joshua’s people were most assiduously persecuted and scattered, living in conditions of slavery, servitude and poverty, while yet others fled for the wilderness and were reduced to living in caves or ad-hoc encampments. It would be many years before the Israelites would figure out a way to band together and form a cohesive community.

 

All of this would have broken Joshua’s heart, except that he now saw all of human history, and that the fate of his people befell all other peoples at one time or another. And he trusted that his people would find their own way to enlightenment and happiness. He could only protect and lead them for a finite amount of time. No one can guarantee the safety of another forever.

 

  • * *

 

Sensei, for three nights straight, slept restlessly, waking up several times a night, finding himself the victim of a series of dreams in which a pillar of fire appeared above a grave. These dreams left him feeling lonelier than usual. But within the space of a week, he was back to his old self. And he was not one to let depression keep him down for too long; and he was not above going to a psychiatrist to get antidepressants if he found himself spiraling downward.

 

His thoughts drifted back to Joshua and the Tirthankara from time to time, and here and there he was given to bouts of sentimental melancholy in regards to their absence. But soon enough he’d find himself walking the streets of Los Angeles, and before long he’d spot a young woman wearing black, form-fitting tights, and soon his mood would be bolstered by the rich fantasy life he lived. And anyway, it was not all fantasy. He’d never taken seriously the concept of monastic celibacy, and, when invited, he happily went home with any those women.

 

Why he spent his time in such ways was confusing to him. He had seen so much of human history, traveled to so many dimensions, and had met personally with the gods. And yet, still, for the life of him, he could not figure out what the universe was all about. To himself he seemed like nothing more than a child in an oversized candy store. How he ended up in the business of spirituality was even more of a mystery to himself and those that knew him.

 

Brahmá, not at all thrilled with the way Sensei had abused his time-travel privileges had suspended them for a while, leaving Sensei with a few years of having to content himself with the ordinary goods of life: meditation, chanting, chores, womanizing, excessive drinking and defiance of all social conventions. It was not a very deep life, he had to admit, but after looking around at everyone else’s occupations, he’d decided his job description was the lesser of evils. How on earth he was to eventually reach nirvana, he hadn’t a clue.


Antiheroes In Palestine

A naked Jain holy man is brought back from the ancient past, and a half-discredited Los Angeles Zen monk is transported from the future. They arrive at Joshua's military encampment just before he is to cross the Jordan and conquer the Holy Land. However, since no such destructive invasion, such as the one described in the Book of Joshua, ever historically happened, our myth has it that Joshua is lovingly foiled at every turn, but still ends up quite a celebrity living in the lap of luxury. In this win-win scenario, most everyone, regardless of religion or nationality, comes out human, in spite of some occasionally skulduggery. Of course there are times when things take an ugly turn and some horrific things happen, but overall, the goal of the book, to create an alternative mythology that humanizes everyone concerned, is achieved. But lest any worry that the thing should become too boring, there are enough drug dealers and hookers and bloodthirsty deeds to keep the thing from every quite being sanitized or politically correct.

  • Author: Mel Thompson
  • Published: 2017-07-31 12:20:12
  • Words: 39924
Antiheroes In Palestine Antiheroes In Palestine