Tyndale House Publishers
Silence, as heavy as doom, wraps itself around me as two guards lead me into the lower-level judgment hall. When I fold my hands, the chink of my chains disturbs the quiet.
My judge, Flavius Gemellus, senior centurion of the Cohors Secunda Italica Civum Romanorum, looks up from the rolls of parchment on his desk, his eyes narrow. I don’t blame him for being annoyed. I am not a Roman citizen, so I have no right to a trial. Besides, I have already confessed and am ready to die.
My appearance in this dimly lit stone chamber is a formality, an exercise in Roman diligence before the application of Roman justice. The centurion’s eyes flick automatically over my form, register my sober tunic and veil, then return to an unfurled parchment in his hand. “State your name for the record.”
“Mary,” I say, using the Greek form for the scribe’s benefit. “But my people call me Miryam. Miryam of Magdala.”
My judge looks up again, his eyes raking my face. “You are . . . Syrian?”
“I am a daughter of Isra’el. From a territory called Galil, or Galilee.”
He nods. “Galilee is part of the Syrian province. So detail your crime.”
“You want me to begin at the beginning?”
The surly centurion is apparently in no mood for small talk. “If I had my way, you would already be in the arena. But since the emperor insists that we record the history of every condemned prisoner, give us your story.”
I lower my gaze to collect my thoughts. The flagstone in this dank chamber is wet and streaked with mud; a rat scuttles into the shadows beneath the scribe’s table. Roman citizens undoubtedly stand trial in better surroundings, but I have no complaints. I am here of my own volition . . . and I’m ready to meet my Lord.
At the thought of entering eternity, a weary smile crosses my face.
“You have nothing to smile about.” The guard at my right brandishes a flail in my direction, but I doubt he’ll use it. I am an old woman, worn to a nub by my wearisome journey to Rome.
“I am called many things,” I say, deliberately letting my mind run backward, “but because Miryam is such a common name, most people call me the Magdalene. I grew up on the shores of Lake Kinnereth, which you know as the Sea of Galilee, where my father arranged my marriage to Yaakov, a fine man. HaShem, the Holy One, favored us with two fine sons—”
The centurion lifts his hand to catch the scribe’s attention.
“Wait—I’ve never heard of this God. Who is HaShem?”
I lower my gaze in respect, but not for the Roman. “The God of Isra’el, whose name is too holy to pronounce. HaShem means ‘the name.’ ”
“Fine. But we don’t need your life history. Speak of your crime, woman. That’s all we need to record.”
I hold his gaze without flinching. “But you cannot understand my crime unless you understand my history.”
The scribe lowers his stylus and frowns at me from beneath a fringe of graying hair. Clearly he’d rather send me to the lions than transcribe my story, but I have an important tale to tell. The apostles have been sharing their stories for years; this is my chance to bear witness to all that transpired in Eretz-Yisrael when Pilate governed Judea.
I return my attention to the centurion at the desk. His distinctive helmet sits on the edge of the table, its red-plumed crest before me like an open eye. The officer’s dark gaze studies me from shadowy circles beneath brown hair generously flecked with gray. Though I have not even begun to explain my presence in this horrid place, he glares at me like an avenging angel.
I wonder at the source of his anger—does he hate me or my people? The barrel-chested guard moves toward me. “She’s stalling. She’s afraid of what waits for her in the arena.”
“I’m not afraid of anything out there.” Again, an unbidden smile tugs at my lips. “I’m afraid for you. All of you.”
The centurion snorts with the half-strangled mirth of a man who rarely laughs. “Why would you say that? We’ve broken no law.”
“Rome—and Romans—have broken the laws of the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth. But you are not alone. I have broken them, too.”
The guard opens his mouth to protest again, but my interrogator silences him with a look. The centurion glances toward the door behind me, then crosses his arms and leans back in his chair.
“Take your stations by the door; we will let her talk. She might prove interesting.”
Grateful for this small miracle, I close my eyes. “My story begins in Magdala, a city by the sea. . . .”