An Excerpt from The Patmos Enigma: Quest of The Wandering Jew

The Patmos Enigma
Quest of the Wandering Jew
Religious Mystery Thriller / Christian Fiction

Judea, A.D.100

DEATH DESCENDED UPON him fast. Its blood lust grasped out to seize his lifeforce.

His heart hammered in his chest as he forced his exhausted body across an unforgiving terrain. He prayed for the courage to accept the kiss of his nemesis, and that its embrace would be short, sharp, and quick.

They were right behind him, gaining fast. He could hear their steel swords clashing. 

Pushing himself forward, he gasped in pain. But … he must keep running. To stop would surely seal his fate. One swift blow and his head would be a gift to the sand beneath his feet. His sandals slipped and turned with every agonising stride across rocks and spiky shrubs. There was nowhere to go but upwards, and there could be no return. 

His obedience to his mentors, the Guardians, had transformed him from law-abiding husband and father, into a man condemned. But he must obey his vows … must fulfill his purpose.

Behind, an elite troop of armed Roman legionnaires were in pursuit. One mounted soldier astride a white Arab stallion urged his panting steed to a faster gallop, and began closing in on him like a cheetah pursuing a deer. From the way he pointed his javelin at Koury’s sweat-stained back, his intent was clear. “Ya! Ya!”  The soldier spurred his excited mount onwards. 

Koury bit his lip and subjected his twenty-two-year-old body into extremes it had never experienced before. Zigzagging, staggering, and reeling across the stone strewn earth, he crashed through the thorny shrubs, ignoring the ripping of his flesh. He knew what they were after. He gripped the bag slung across his back closer to his body. Even he, Adil Koury, had scant knowledge of its contents. 

He stumbled.  

The stallion and the soldier brandishing his lance closed in on him.

Earlier that morning, before the sun’s light consumed a stubborn moon, he had been at the Temple, preparing food for the community. The Guardians had recognised him as a loyal and devoted member, and had summoned him to their presence in secret. 

He had sensed from the urgent and hushed tones of his Master that a cancerous fear had penetrated the sacred walls where God’s altar stood. Like a reptile’s unctuous tongue looking for food, foulness had seeped and wrapped itself into the holy place. It adhered to the walls like glue from gutted goats. It was in the air … a smell of dread had leached into the Temple. 

In front of a small altar, lit by the oil of two small lamps, its aroma moving skyward to blend in with burning frankincense, stood his Master. The years had worn him down. A man who had seen too many of life’s horrors. He wore a black linen robe, and around his neck hung the symbol of a fish. Watery eyes and a wrinkled skin enhanced his grave and perturbed expression. He handed Koury a small stone box. It had been sealed with great care, with a long hessian strap attached to it. The top was engraved with a winged crown. 

He was to ask no questions, inform nobody, and bury the artefact in the underground caves, hidden from view in the distant hills. These were known only to a few, and Adil Koury was one of them. When accomplished, he was to report back. 

His Master whispered in hushed and reverential tones, “In what you carry, hangs the future of mankind as prescribed by God Almighty, and the instrument from which Christ will return to deliver His promise to humanity. It is but a part, yet the most vital. We have concealed the others elsewhere. That is all you need to know. It is of the utmost sanctity and significance.” 

The importance and the honour he had been given was not lost on Koury. He swore in secret to himself that he would die in defence and execution of the Guardians’ trust in him.  As Christians, they had been persecuted by Rome, and for three years, he had followed and obeyed every doctrine and regulation the Guardians had given him. 

He bent low in his acceptance of the task, and kissed the feet of his Master. As he arose, he heard an enormous commotion from below, in the courtyard.

“Romans!” the Master shouted in a panic. “We have been betrayed and they’re after our secret. There’s a Judas in our midst!” He gave Koury a massive push. “Run, and do not stop! It must not fall into the hands of others. Take it to the place that only you know of and drop it into the eternal darkness. Do not fail! For the love of Christ … run like the wind!”

Even before he had finished speaking, Koury heard a heavy thump and a cracking noise. A Roman javelin had penetrated deep into his Master’s back, protruding completely from the front of his chest, along with his bloody ribs, in a lung spluttering slurp.

The clatter of armour approaching from the bottom of the stairs grew closer.  Koury needed no second bidding. He leapt from the window, down into the busy street, and began to run. Of what befell his Master, he had little doubt. 

His own escape had not gone unnoticed, and a chase ensued. 

For the first time in his life, Adil Koury experienced real fear. But he had become a courier of God, and the sanctity of his mission would give him the strength he needed to see it through. 

The horse soldier closed in on him. He could hear and feel the rumble of the animal’s hooves through the ground.

There it is… get up, get up! … only a few more yards. Please God, let me make it for your sake!

The fissure, narrow and indistinct, beckoned him. He turned sideways and squeezed himself into the gap. The mighty sound of Roman steel smashed into the rock inches from his head, again and again. But, he had made it. Behind him, twenty Roman soldiers were struggling to fit themselves into the narrow opening. Koury knew that no fully armoured soldier would be able to follow him inside. He was safe for now. 

Half crawling, half slithering, he pushed further into the damp shoulder-width passageway leading into the subterranean maze of twisting tunnels and dark entrances. The shouts of the soldiers lessened as he moved along.

It had not been long since the Temple of Jerusalem, as prophesied, had suffered its second destruction. He surmised that what he carried was in some way connected to that event. Many writings, parchments and manuscripts, had been saved from the Roman pagans. He was certain that what hung from his back was similar, but more important than the rest, for The Guardians to protect it with their lives. The Master had entrusted him with this task because of his knowledge of the cave system. 

He paused and gathered his breath. From above, light streamed in from countless splits and crevices in the overhead rocks.  He knew where he was headed, and he braced himself for the perilous path ahead. 

For a moment, Koury thought of his wife and children. If captured, he would never see them again. If he wasn’t careful, he might never come out of this cave. The corridors were riddled with endless labyrinths and rocky mazes. Skeletons testified to those who had perished in the subterranean darkness, unable to find a way out. It had been rumoured that riches were buried here, but Koury cared not. What he carried was priceless beyond the wealth of men. 

He walked on, uttering a silent prayer for himself and his family.

The wall and rocks were chalky, slippery, and tight. So cramped he had to flip upside down in order to continue. 

When he reached his destination, Koury went down on his knees, giving his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness. Then, raising his face to the stalactites pointing down at him, he gave thanks to God. 
In a vast expanse stretching out to a great depth below him was a columbarium, now disused and forgotten even by the elders of his village, carved out when the Israelites had settled in the land as Moses had predicted. In the dim light filtering from above, he could not see the bottom. The light barely penetrated the blackness. He gazed down into the infinite expanse, and was suffused with the dark magnificence of it all. He, Adil Koury, had been entrusted with a mission from God. Unbelievable. He was unworthy, no better than a pile of pig excrement. I am not fit for this task. 

Turning, his eyes increasingly adjusting to the sepulchral gloom, Koury paused, listening. There were no soldiers following. Only the odd drip of water disturbed the deafening silence. 

Out of nowhere, a message filled his head. Persistent and urgent, he was being told what to do. Without thought, he retrieved a sharp flint from the ground, and began to scratch on the hard wall, writing what played repeatedly in his mind. When finished, he read it aloud and was pleased. He had done as he had been told. 

Next, he took out the box from his bag and held it aloft. Where it was going, there would be no need for digging. Its mystery would be safe. Great Christ be praised!

He had underestimated the slipperiness of the rocks. As he lifted the box to drop it into the black abyss, his feet skidded on the damp moistness of the edge. 

Without a sound, he fell … plunging into the deep and tarry darkness. Still, Koury held the box with a grip of steel. 

No sound came from him. 

He plummeted, the rush of air propelling him downwards into the depths, and out of sight. 

Koury had accomplished his sacred mission, and for his courage and faith, he would be rewarded. To transcend death and guard the seal until the time comes for it to be opened.

His body would never touch the ground. 

Chapter 1

Tel Aviv University
Institute of Archaeology
The Present Day

THE DEPUTY ARCHAEOLOGY Director barged into Professor Simon Rockwell’s study and slapped a roll of papers across his desk. “I think we’re on to something.”

Rockwell raised an eyebrow. “What might that be, Julian?” 

Dr. Julian Gallo had not been blessed with height. He was a chunky, well-rounded man with prominent, unkempt black eyebrows, brown eyes, and a fleshy mouth. His skin had an oily sheen. 
Rockwell grabbed the roll and spread it across his desk. It appeared to be a map of their team’s excavation sites. He stood and bent closer to look. Towering over Gallo by several inches, he was thin, with an athletic physique. A stark contrast to his deputy. Streaks of silver can be seen in his dark hair as he focused on the map, his dark blue eyes scanning the paper.

“It’s a blueprint of our dig,” Gallo said.

“I can see that. So, what’s new about it?”

Gallo’s stubby finger poked at the most northerly point on the chart. “Just eighty kilometres south from here are the hills and terrain of Beit-Guvrin. As you know, much of our excavation has been concentrated or near the amphitheatre, right here at this point.” He stabbed at the location. “We know from our previous digs that a temple, albeit a small one, existed there until it was razed to the ground, like the Temple of Jerusalem and many others in the same time period.”

“Your point being?” Rockwell growled. As Professor of Ancient and Religious History and in charge of all things archaeological, he didn’t need lessons.

“My point is, I had a phone call earlier this morning from Joshua. He has discovered a mass of bones, and an item he got excited about. He needs us to go there and examine them.” 

“You should have told me earlier. What are we waiting for? Let’s go.”

“I tried to, but you didn’t answer your phone.”

“Never mind that.” He shouted into the next room, “Rachael, I’m off for a while. You can come along, if you want.”

Dr. Rachael Carver, Rockwell’s Assistant Director, had grown used to his sudden and unscheduled activities. “Hold on a moment please, Simon!” She stepped into his study. She was a pretty and petite, thirty something brunette, dressed in khaki shirt and army-style trousers. She bustled with energy. 

“How long are you going to be?” Even as she asked, she realised the question wouldn’t be answered. 

“How long, I’ve no idea. But we’re going down to Beit-Guvrin now. C’mon, be quick.” He gave her a grin, like a naughty boy being caught doing something he shouldn’t and darted out of the room.

“I’m coming.” She raised her eyes skyward and emitted an exasperated sigh. She liked him, and if pressed, would have admitted to more than that. 

The Jeep, driven by Gallo, barrelled its way at speed down the main highway. 

“Why’s Josh getting excited over a pile of bones and a few religious bits? He must have seen enough in his time, Julian?”

“No idea, but boy, he sounded excited. All he said was this find was different from the usual.”

“We’ve had plenty of false alarms before. I hope this isn’t one of them.”

The conversation came to a natural break and they sped on in silence. Rockwell was the acknowledged authority in his chosen field. At thirty-seven years old, his dazzling talents of observation and intuitive accuracy were legendary, and all at such a young age. His biggest discovery was a sealed urn found behind an ancient wall. Perfectly preserved, he had deciphered the manuscript inside, and it is now accepted by some as The Gospel of Ephraim, Son of Mary Magdalene. If speculation was correct, and Jesus did indeed marry Mary Magdalene, Ephraim would have been his son. That discovery, and its implications, had stirred scholars and the religious world into fervour. Of course, the Vatican and all other Christian denominations, barring a few fringe groups, rejected it. Not that Rockwell cared. He delivered what he found, and avoided subjective arguments.

An hour had passed before the Jeep finally rolled into the site’s parking area. The three leapt out and were greeted by an excited looking Joshua Agar, the site and excavation supervisor. Joshua stood at around six feet, and had a Mediterranean appearance; with his tanned olive skin, dark wavy hair, and surprisingly green eyes. He shook hands with vigour, and began to explain the nature of the discovery.

“This way, please.” He led them through rough paths and over low stone walls that were being excavated, revealing themselves after more than two thousand years of neglect. 

Joshua stopped at a broad tented area, shielded from the blazing sun by an array of massive canopies. Inside, a dozen trestle tables were scattered, on which were displayed various packed, photographed, and labelled artefacts dug up from the site. On one table, conspicuous by its solitary position, sat a stone item that looked like an ossuary of some kind. Several photographs and bones of varying sizes surrounded it.

Rockwell’s attention was captured. “Where did you find this?” 

“In an area where there was an altar of some sort, wedged under a solid flat stone slab. My guess is that it has remained that way for two thousand years or so. It looked undisturbed and must have been there since the time it was placed.” 

Rockwell picked up the ossuary, and at once, he saw letters or figures etched into the stone. He produced a lens and peered at the markings long and hard. For a fraction of time, the hairs on his arms bristled. He gave a long, low whistle.

Gallo remained expressionless. “What do you think it is?” 

“It’s a mixture of words and symbols; some Coptic, others Aramaic. I’ll tell you quickly, offhand, and without real investigation, what it says and suggests, before we open it. This is it…

Blessed John, the leader of us Guardians, spoken to and delivered by Yeshua, tells you that the key is almost in your hands …

“The rest had been defaced or has worn away, and is unreadable. Who the hell the Guardians were, I’ve no idea. We all know the name Yeshua means Jesus, a common enough name at the time.  Let’s see if we can open this thing. Joshua, please …” He held his hand out for a scalpel. He gripped the instrument placed in his hand, hovering above the ossuary. “Someone start taking pictures, please … NOW!” 

With a strange expression on his face, Gallo dug out his Lumix and focused in close on Rockwell’s hands and scalpel, as the man probed around the ancient seal with utmost care. 

Rockwell inched the blade along, and sensed the seal giving way. He couldn’t help but marvel that someone had sealed it centuries ago, and here he was, opening it for the first time. He stood back and looked around.

“This really scares me, this sort of stuff.” 

By now, the word had spread, and a hoard of archaeology students had gathered round to witness the event. Gallo kept the camera poised and ready as Rockwell began to lift the lid, and minute pieces of debris said farewell to their ancient resting place. 

The lid opened. 

Inside were what looked like several metal plates held together by small clasps. 

At that moment, the air changed, and for a minute, a blast of coldness blew with such force through the tent, it sent tables and chairs flying. Paper and anything on them were hurled across and out of the tents, threatening their stability. The observers looked astonished as they crouched and held on to anything they could grab on. In moments, it had gone as soon as it had arrived, and everything went still.

“What the hell was that?” Rockwell’s brow was furrowed, his arm still around the ossuary to keep it from breaking. “Was I imagining it or what?” He looked around.

Joshua spoke, “No, it was real enough. I think we’ve upset someone, somewhere.”

“Rubbish, Joshua. Anyway, it’s gone, forget it. Let’s see what this is. Don’t anyone touch it, please!” He peered hard at the plates through his lens. “I would say, whatever this is, it’s remained untouched from the day it was sealed. What it is and why it’s been so carefully preserved, I can’t say for now. If I’m not mistaken, that top plate looks as if it has a depiction of a crucifixion painted on it. What do you think?” He handed Gallo the lens.

Gallo was white-faced and grim, but his eyes held an excited gleam. “Astonishing! Good God, there’re six clasps, and each with seven plates attached. They’re not much bigger than a credit card. You’re right. It’s a crucifixion, without a doubt.”

“Look,” Rachael interrupted as she pointed at what looked like fabric of some sort, “there are strips of cloth here. They must be as old as the whole damn thing.” 

“This find could be of major importance, Julian.” Rockwell quivered. This could be the dream find all archaeologists aspire for. He turned to Joshua. “Joshua, prepare this now. We are taking it back to the lab for testing and analysis.

Or maybe... some things are better left buried.