Time on My Hands Chapter 11 - 202-203 CE: Adventures in Alexandria

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Time on My Hands
Chapter 11: 200-203 CE: Adventures in Alexandria

As Fiach traveled south she paused by the Sea of Galilee to watch the boats cast their nets to catch fish. She could almost picture Jesus calling Peter to be his disciple. From there she traveled to Nazareth visiting the town where Jesus grew into adulthood. From there she traveled east to Beit She'arim to meet Rabbi Judah HaNasi known as Judah the Prince where he also established a seat of learning. Judah spoke Greek enabling him to become the Jews' intermediary with the Romans being greatly revered in Rome and had a close friendship with Caracalla who would consult Judah on various worldly and spiritual matters. He favored Greek as the language of the country over Jewish Palestinian Aramaic. In his house only Hebrew was spoken. He was the leading expert on what the Christians called the old testament.

For centuries, the Torah appeared only as a written text transmitted in parallel with the oral tradition. After the end of the Second Temple period following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 the earthly physical home of God was destroyed. Fearing that the oral traditions might be forgotten, Judah undertook the mission of consolidating the various oral traditions and opinions into one body of law which became known as the Mishnah completing a project which had been mostly clarified and organized by his father and Nathan the Babylonian.

The reason Fiach was interested in him was he was an expert on Hekhalot literature she had read in the Corvus Scriptorium. They are accounts of mystical ascents into heaven, divine visions, and the summoning and control of angels, usually for the purpose of gaining insight into Torah based upon the biblical accounts of the Chariot vision of Ezekiel and the Temple vision of Isaiah. The idea of making a journey to the heavenly hekhal {Temple} was a kind of spiritualization of the pilgrimages to the now destroyed earthly hekhal. It is a form of Jewish mysticism that teaches both of the possibility of making a sublime journey to God and of the ability of man to draw down divine powers to earth.

Although initially reluctant to discuss spiritual issues with a young woman, Fiach convinced Judah’s subordinates she was a worthy scholar, especially when she proved she could speak and write Hebrew. After speaking about the Corvus Scriptorium and how they could copy and spread current Jewish writings like the Mishnah to the jews of the Diaspora she addressed her main reason for talking to him.

After briefly explaining the Celtic/Germanic gods she explained her Curse going as far as cutting her hand to allow him to watch her heal. Then she explained the Curse originated when the soldier stabbed Jesus with the spear.

“That is unsettling,” Judah sighed. “I will admit Jesus was a great teacher and a healer. But being equal with YHWH as the Christians write, his being the Christ, that is simply too much to accept.”

“I have difficulty with that too,” Fiach agreed. “However it gets even more bizarre.” With that she explained her encounter with the Celtic god Ianuaria, the healer after getting the Curse. “In manuscripts of the Mishnah I read according to Jewish tradition, Raphael is identified as one of the three angels that appeared to Abraham in the oak grove of Mamre. Michael, as the greatest, walked in the middle, with Gabriel to his right and Raphael to his left. All three angels were commanded to carry out a specific mission. Raphael's mission was to heal Abraham and save Lot. Does that not make him the angel who heals?”

“Indeed it does,” Judah nodded.

Fiach nodded. “So is it possible the god of healing I know as Ianuaria is really an aspect of the angel Raphael? Appearing in that form because my people had no knowledge of YHWH?”

That required a great deal of deep thought and discussion. Judah could not give a definitive answer, neither yes nor no. However, based on his vast knowledge of Hebrew Theology, he did say it was a possibility. He agreed to give the issue more thought and would communicate with Fiach or her husband Raben.

From there Fiach stopped in the ancient city of Megiddo. The town was on a small hill that overlooked the main route through the mountains of the Carmel Ridge as it opened into the fertile Jezreel Valley. First inhabited about 7000 BCE, the site has been a major crossroad between Egypt and Mesopotamia. There were numerous battles fought there, two significant ones were in the 15th century BCE fought between the armies of the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III and a large Canaanite coalition led by the rulers of Megiddo and Kadesh. The other was in 609 BCE fought between Egyptian pharaoh Necho II and the Kingdom of Judah, in which King Josiah fell. Christians believed it would be the site of the final battle between Jesus Christ and Satan, as outlined in the Book of Revelation, the Battle of Armageddon. Fiach understood the location was vital and pivotal in history.

From there she continued south to Aelia Capitolina. It was a city still in transition. Formerly the city of Jerusalem, the Jewish Second Temple and most of the city had been razed by the victorious Romans when they quelled the First Jewish Rebellion in 70 CE. The Bar Kokhba revolt, the second and last Jewish revolt, had been brutally squashed 135 CE. As punishment, Hadrian exiled most Jews, sold them into slavery, turned Jerusalem it into a Roman pagan city and forbade the Jews from living there. Judea and Samaria were renamed by Hadrian to Syria Palaestina, after the Assyrians and Philistines respectively, both as an insult to the Jews and as a means of erasing the land's Jewish identity and resulting in what became known as the Jewish Diaspora.

From there she moved on to Bethlehem. Since Christianity was in it’s infancy there were no ‘designated’ sites to visit. Often when she asked questions of the locals they knew little of Jesus. Fiach could understand their lack of knowledge. Jesus died somewhere between 30 and 33 CE. The writings that eventually would form the New Testament began appearing about 50 CE, prior to that it was oral tradition. With the two Jewish rebellions and with the heavy Roman hand on their backs, the locals wisely avoided drawing attention to their past.

After leaving Bethlehem they traveled west following the local roads until they reached the city of Ashkelon on the Mediterranean. The Via Maris, one of two main trading routes connecting Egypt to Mesopotamia, followed the Mediterranean Coast. After spending the night in Ashkelon, they headed south on the Via Maris. The trip across the Sinai took seven days. Fortunately the heat of the desert was moderated by the gentle breeze off the sea. They were dusty and weary when they reached the Egyptian city of Tanis in the Nile delta.

It took two days to travel on the roads through fields of canal watered crops until they reached the eastern most channel of the Nile. The mighty river split into seven branches by the time it reached the sea in addition to numerous canals upon entering the flat delta. There were no bridges so at each crossing they had to be ferried across the waterways. It took another four days until they finally reached Alexandria on October 30, 200. With all the stops she made her trip took thirty days longer than expected.

After resting a full day, Fiach rented a small house setting up a household with her three slaves. For the next few days she explored the city. The Mediterranean seaport of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great around 330 BCE. Alexander's general took Egypt and made Alexandria his capital in 320 BCE. Formerly a small fishing village on the Nile delta for about 2000 years, Alexandria became the seat of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt and developed into a great intellectual and cultural centre, perhaps the greatest city in the ancient world. The massive Pharos lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was quite impressive.

While the lighthouse was incredible the main for Fiach draw was the legendary Library of Alexandria. While impressive with the world’s largest collection of scrolls, the great Library, while still present, was slowly rebuilding. The Ptolemaic Dynasty built the Library and established Alexandria as the world’s foremost center of learning. In 48 BCE Julius Caesar was pursuing his political rival Pompey. In Egypt, Pompey was murdered. Caesar then executed those who had killed Pompey. One of those was the boy Ptolemaic Pharaoh. This created a civil war between the boy king and his regent sister Cleopatra. Caesar sided with Cleopatra. During the fighting Cleopatra, Caesar and their armies were trapped inside Alexandria. To end the blockade they set fire to the opposing fleet occupying the harbor. To save themselves the sailors sailed the burning fleet to the docks to abandon ship. In turn that set fire to the docks and the part of the city containing the main library. All that survived was a secondary collection in the Temple of Serapeum dedicated to the god Serapis, the protector of Alexandrea. Years later the Ptolemaic Dynasty ended with the death of Cleopatra. Egypt then became a Roman province. With the loss of Ptolemaic/government financial support, attempting to rebuild the surviving collection was limited by the library’s reduced cash flow.

Fiach spent a great deal of time working with the staff and librarians of the Alexandrian Library. They were impressed by her knowledge and the fact her husband had established a thriving scriptorium in Rome. In fact they already had several texts from Corvus Scriptorium. During the ensuing weeks Fiach taught the three slaves to read and write Latin and Greek as well as their native tongue. Then for six months she apprenticed them to the library to learn how to be scribes copying texts.

While working with the library was an avocation, Fiach was still a physician. Her skills and experience as well as her bedside manner quickly created a high demand for her services. The wealthy paid her handsomely with coin. As had become her practice she charged what her clients could afford thus bringing a lot of poor and downtrodden to her door. Most traded food items but a few began bringing her bits of treasure. When questioned they revealed they were plundering graves.

Those poor who showed wit and intelligence she offered jobs in the Alexandrian office of Corvus Scriptorium. These peasants were also taught to read and write Latin, Greek, and their native tongue then set them up with six month apprenticeships with the library.

The library was delighted to assist Fiach in training her people knowing that tomes copied by the Corvus Scriptorium would be of high quality. Part of the staff copied new material while part copied existing texts in the library. The texts copied from the Alexandrian Library had six copies made. The original and one copy went back to the library, one copy went into a Corvus Scriptorium Archive in Alexandria, one was to be sold. The remaining three copies of every manuscript were sent to Corvus Scriptorium in Rome, one for the archive at Mazbar, one for the archive at Barmaz and one to be sold or if the demand was high to be copied there and the copies sold. For new texts, the same procedure was followed with two Copies going to the Alexandrian Library.

Fiach shipped the copied documents to Rome by Sea. However she shipped the three copies on separate vessels including a letter with an inventory of the scrolls and the names of the vessels carrying the documents. This way if a shipment was lost, the contents could be easily replaced.

By September of 201 Fiach had grown wealthy from her medical practice. The Corvus Scriptorium also turned a nice profit. As the number of scribes increased, Fiach realized she needed to find a permanent home for the Corvus Scriptorium. Looking about she realized there was little land available. Alexandria was built on a narrow Isthmus with the Mediterranean on the north and a combination of salt mashes and lakes to the south. The marshes and lakes were fed fresh water via canals from the Nile. Salt water from the sea effected the marches even though the tides only changed sea level by 8 inches but weather related surges could change sea level by 39 inches. Lake Mariout, due south of the main city, was the largest inland body of water. The main canal flowed through the lake to the Sea so the lake was partly fresh water but salt marsh on the periphery.

After consulting with a local engineer Fiach decided to construct a round artificial island 300 feet in diameter she named Zamrab, another variation on Barmaz. Choosing a site that was 2000 feet from both the northern and eastern shores. {GM 41.835841, 12.442964} To construct the island she had piles driven deep into the mud of the shallow lake to form an island. It wasn’t difficult to fill the piling enclosed area with rocks and other solid debris until it was raised 7 feet above the normal surface which would ensure that the Nile, when in flood, would not encroach nor would sea surges. The exterior of the pilings were covered with dumped rocks to help protect the water logged pilings. Building right up to the edge of the pilings she had a sturdy four story mud brick building constructed. Since arid areas like Alexandria, which only received an average of 3/4 inch of rain a year, mud brick was a durable building material. It only required periodic mud plastering on the external walls to replace crumbling and wind erosion. The first floor served as the scriptorium. The second floor was the library. The 3rd and 4th floors were living quarters. It took three months to build the site. A small pier was built for the artificial island with a corresponding pier on the shore.
The island provided security and privacy. Once the Corvus Scriptorium was relocated there in December 201, it prospered since the scribes had few distractions. The many windows allowed the steady breezes easy access to keep the building relatively cool. The normal noise, dirt and disease of city life was kept at bay.

Fiach also cultivated her contacts with those who paid for her medical services with antiquities. By the time the Zamrab was ready for occupation she began making treks down the Nile to see the sites of the ancient Pharaohs. While she didn’t sponsor grave robbing, she did let it be known she’d accept rescued treasures as payment for her medical services. She also bought some outright. The underground antiquities retrieval and resulting antiquities market was already in existence. She simply let it be known she was a buyer who paid a fair price. All antiquities she purchased were packed up and sent to Mazbar in Rome where it was easily sold for several times what she paid. A few finer or interesting pieces were sent to Barmaz.

While on a trip up the Nile to visit the Pyramids an unusual event occurred. As Fiach was clambering the side of the Great Pyramid she paused for a drink. As she did so she saw a puff of smoke or sand in the distance. The people she was with had not seen anything but she scrambled down, mounted the camels they’d been using, and led the people towards the spot she’d seen the puff. As they neared where she thought it had occurred she spread the party out in a line fifty feet apart to look for something that could have created the puff. Quite naturally the natives thought she was crazy but since she was paying them they cooperated.

It took nearly four hours before one man signaled he’d found something. When Fiach arrived they found a hole 3 feet in diameter punched into the flat sand with a scattering of sand spread out 10 feet from the hole. The natives realized maybe she wasn’t crazy. They dug down into the hole and uncovered a shiny burned rock. It weighed about forty pounds. Her companions packed it up and she returned to Zamrab. After checking it out she crated the rock and shipped it to Rome.

As she did in nearly every city she visited, Fiach sought out the local Christian community. Alexandria was one of the most prominent sites for intellectual and theological debate about all aspects of Christianity. The Catechetical School of Alexandria was a school of Christian theologians and priests. The teachers and students of the school were influential in many of the early theological controversies of the Christian church. Along with Antioch it was one of the two major centers of the study of biblical exegesis and theology. Clement of Alexandria was the current head of the school.

Clement was an interesting person who had some beliefs that would later be labeled heretical. A lot of what he had to say struck a chord with Fiach. Yet despite being the head of the school, there were many who decried his stance on several issues. The disagreements only reinforced her concerns about Christianity. For the most part she agreed with the philosophy of love and redemption. What was problematic was Jesus. Was he part of a triune Godhead of Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Spirit? Was Jesus equal with God or was he subordinate? Was he human or divine? The nitpicking and disputes over small details instead of concentrating on salvation alienated the inquisitive Fiach. While unwilling to join the faith she remained Christian friendly.

Alexandria had a large Jewish colony even before the diaspora following the crushing of the second Jewish Revolt. It became a nearby sanctuary for the educated Jews. The schism between Jew and Christian had grown steadily since the beginning of Christianity. In the confines of Alexandria the two sides couldn’t avoid each other causing tensions and oft times violence.

Emperor Severus didn’t order persecution of Jews or Christians but at the same time did nothing to prevent or even discourage persecution. It was totally left in the hands of the local governor. By 202 the governor of Alexandria had enough of the Jewish/Christian bickering. It was expensive using troops to keep the peace. However, since the Jews had a significant presence in the city for nearly 500 years, the onus fell on the Christians. Many speculated if the wealthier Jews paid off the troops to turn a blind eye as the Jews organized mobs to attack the Christians. The troops normally arrived just after a mob overwhelmed a Christian compound, home or business appropriating a great deal of the ‘liberated’ Christian property. Those Christians who could do so gathered their wealth and left the city. The oppression lasted into 203 CE before calm once more reigned.

Fiach did her best to stay out of the repression. That didn’t prevent her from putting her medical skills to heavy use which enabled her to create a large cash reserve for maintaining Zamrab. Several times she was accosted by roving bands of troublemakers as she traveled the streets of Alexandria. Since she was known to many in the city as a skilled and in demand healer, she was able to talk her way out of most confrontations. But there were a few times she had to get physical.

One day she received a summons from the compound of a wealthy Christian family. She arrived to find the gates closed with armed men defending the walls. A crowd was massing preparing to storm the gates. The majority of the attackers were peasants and slaves surrounding a small core of experienced fighters. There were dead and wounded lying in the areas outside the walls, many with arrow wounds. That the attackers were also using bows was evident from the arrows stuck in the walls and gates.

“I am a physician,” she announced to the besiegers. “I was summoned to treat those inside the compound.”

“Leave now or die,” the swaggering leader of the attackers ordered the petite girl.

“I told you I’m a physician.,” Fiach calmly replied. “It is my calling to assist those in need inside and outside that compound. Let me approach the gate and ask for a truce so you can evacuate the dead and wounded. I’ll treat your wounded then do the same inside the compound.”

As she spoke six of the fighters moved positioning themselves behind her while the leader and five others moved to her front as the earth bound fighters moved on the mounted girl. “You should have left, bitch,” the leader sneered as they began closing in from all sides.

‘Very well, fools, you leave me no choice but to defend myself,” Fiach snarled. “Oh, just so you know, in my homeland I’m known as the Demon Killer.” With that she whipped out her sling and began firing stones. She dropped three of the attackers before any could close on her.

The startled attackers hesitated which was all Fiach needed. Stuffing the sling back in it’s pocket she pulled her short sword while spurring the horse. With well aimed swings she dropped three more as she guided the horse between and amongst them while breaking out of their attempted encirclement.

The leader was furious that the upstart woman had taken out half his men. “Everyone, attack her!” He bellowed to the ragtag mass he’d gathered.

The inexperienced masses were already shook up about the losses they’d suffered attacking the compound. They’d been told it would be an easily plucked fruit but that had proved false. Quite a few recognized and knew Fiach and her willingness to treat any who needed medical care. Now the loud mouthed leader wanted them to attack the physician who had offered to treat their wounded.
But he’d already lost half his men to her defensive attacks. If skilled fighters were so easily taken out, what hope did they have? They exchanged nervous looks and hesitated.

“You sorry assed dimwits,” the leader raged. “I’ll see that you’re...”

“The only thing you’ll see is your death,” Fiach said as she slipped from her steed. “Come on, you’re a big man! Let’s go one on one. I’m not afraid. Are You?”

The mob watched with baited breath. The five surviving fighters were spooked by the calm yet deadly girl. It was clear to them she wasn’t intimidated nor scared. By challenging their leader they understood she was not the least bit afraid. Her body language bespoke of deadly experience. Wisely they began stepping back from the looming confrontation. The walls of the besieged compound were filled as the defenders watched.

Fiach let out a loud belly laugh the spoke derisively. “Some brave leader you are! Afraid of a little girl! Go on... run away like the coward you are.”

The furious yet humiliated leader realized all eyes were on him. Even his men backed off leaving him to face the she devil alone. With a snarl he drew his sword and faced off against the smirking girl. “Bitch! After I disarm you I’ll rape you then give you to the mob!”

“The only one who is going to be raped is you,” Fiach smiled evilly as she and the leader circled each other looking for an opening. “I’ll stick your own sword up your ass!”

Those watching gasped at the smiling girl’s insulting words. Even though the man was nearly twice her size, the spunky girl didn’t show a smidgen of fear much less any intimidation. Her words had the desired effect upon the man she correctly assumed was hypersensitive about his masculinity. With a bellow of rage he charged.

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Comments

Good

This story seems to have a solid foundation in known literature. I’ve been all over Israel and remember Megiddo very well.
As to the Jews, I have known very nice ones, and I have known those who loved to yell at others and brag about their rigid observances.
I’m no longer very taken with Christians, though I’d admit to being an Abrahamic Religionist.
Nice episode
Khadijah Gwen

This is going too smoothly.

Beoca's picture

How is the Corvus Scriptorium escaping the public eye? Everything she's doing, and she's avoiding bureaucratic nonsense? Amazing.

Amazing Story

Christina H's picture

This story is not only good to read but enthralling; the amount of research Jennifer Sue must have done is amazing
I can only think that this period in history is special to her.

A well written account of the times and my theory as to how the scriptorium remains unknown is simple as in those
days they didn't have 'instant news' everything took months if not years to circulate and much was lost in the retelling
making things seem like a folk story.

Please keep up the excellent work.

We Know How That'll End

joannebarbarella's picture

Never pick a fight that you can't win.

Such an interesting time in history.

Weird Place to Stop...

...unless something other than the usual quick dispatch of the enemy leader is going to occur. Hardly a cliffhanger since we know Fiach can't die or even stay injured for long.

And this particular enemy doesn't seem to have much going for him: he's just a mob leader that our author hasn't bothered to name, who needs to be taunted into single combat when he can't muster the authority to keep his minions fighting his losing battle. I suppose if he can hang in there long enough, the city troops may come and rescue him, though I'm not sure why they'd bother.

Eric

Really enjoyable story!

I seem to have missed the first installment, so I started back at the beginning and I am happy that I did!

I followed the journey, from Germany to Egypt, using the coordinates with Google Earth to find everything. (but either I messed up something or some of the coordinates are duplicated).

Thank you for sharing your story!

Jeri Elaine

Homonyms, synonyms, heterographs, contractions, slang, colloquialisms, clichés, spoonerisms, and plain old misspellings are the bane of writers, but the art and magic of the story is in the telling not in the spelling.