April 33 : Alexandria
After two days and two nights at sea I awoke to see the lighthouse, Pharos, towering above the water some 400 hundred feet high! Constructed in granite and limestone blocks faced with white marble, it had taken twelve years to build and was a sight to behold! No wonder it was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world!
We entered via the Great Harbour. The Palace buildings and Caesarium were the next feast for our eyes – white marble glistening majestically in the sunlight.
Our captain lowered the mainsail to reduce our speed and one of the crew peered over the bow to look for rocks and coral. Joseph said many a ship had been wrecked on the shores of Pharos and been easy pickings for the inhabitants of Port of Pirates.
It was a fine sunny morning and the seafront was just as I remembered it – vibrant, colourful, bustling, noisy – everyone in great haste.
We disembarked at the quayside and made our way to the great synagogue in the Jewish quarter in the north east of the city. This was known as the Delta quarter. The synagogue was vast, a kind of basilica mentioned in the Talmud as ‘Israel’s glory’.
Worship and study were not the only things to take place at the synagogue. Along the colonnaded sides of the huge central hall, craftsmen did business and socialized. This is where Joseph enquired about lodgings. We were introduced to an Alexandrian Jew called Benjamin, who was widowed and in his fifties. He had kind eyes set in a lined brown face and looked older than his years. He said he would be grateful of the company and extra income.
Shaped like a Macedonian soldier’s cloak, the city was walled and occupied an area of about four square miles – its length from east to west was nearly four miles; its breadth from north to south nearly a mile. Lake Mareotis lay to the south, just beyond the city walls.
Like Jerusalem, the Jewish district, or Delta, had walls and gates of its own which at times were highly necessary for security. Frequent hostilities raged between the Alexandrian Greeks and Jews, inflamed both by political jealousy and religious hatred.
Great sophistication and palatial homes stood alongside slavery and despair.
The agora itself was an exciting but potentially dangerous place. Roman officials might come sweeping through in their chariots without warning, and the crowds would have to clear a pathway for them as they went by. Beasts of burden also carried their loads through the agora on their way to the market stalls. Apart from the danger of being trampled underfoot, there was always the risk of an unprovoked personal assault. Fights were commonplace. The pent-up anger of people living in poverty and overcrowding led to frequent outbreaks of violence, with stoning being the most common outlet for rage in Alexandria and other cities of the ancient world.
That night I dreamt I lived in a small community on the shores of Lake Mareotis. When I awoke I knew this was where I wanted to live…I needed to speak to Joseph! It had to be simple. Yeshua had taught me how to live simply. My days of expensive clothes and jewellery were a distant memory….
I went directly to Joseph and he said we had better start looking immediately; find out what land was available and what was affordable. Lazarus would be arriving from Bethany soon and we would have ample funds for the land purchase, materials and labour.
Lake Mareotis: June 33
The entrance to Lake Mareotis was a finger of the lake which actually breached the southern wall, just a 30 minute walk from our lodgings. The lake was vast – around 100 square miles in area with eight islands, all inhabited.
We exited the city via the Moon Gate, and headed south west. Here were the summer estates of wealthy Alexandrians. The air was an admirable temperature from the continual breezes which came from the lake and fell into the sea. This region was famous for its wine produced here.
The larger estates gradually died out and we had been walking for two to three hours when we found the perfect spot on a low hill! A 30 metre high ridge to the north provided a backdrop and sloped gently down to the shores of the lake.
And there was a spring at the foot of the hill, fresh water gurgling gently out of the ground through reeds and plants, flowing down a channel to the lake. Papyrus plants grew abundantly in the marshy borders beside the lake – papyrus was one of Alexandria’s main products. Palm trees swayed gently in the breeze – they would afford welcome shade in the heat of the day.
Joseph staked out an area of five acres or so; he said we would need to be fenced in – there were reports of bandits in the area and he would not be happy leaving me to the mercy of wild dogs and bandits!
We returned to Alexandria and I sketched a plan of what I wanted. A cluster of twenty cabins with an adjoining courtyard, cooking area, eatery and meeting hall. As our numbers swelled, we could add more cabins! Joseph went to the authorities to d arrange the purchase.
When I wasn’t inspecting the building of our little community, I busied myself by preaching in the Agora. The two Marys were always with me, my guardian angels! This is what Yeshua had asked us to do – teach the Way of the Heart. And yet we saw some terrible sights which would make me weep.
Alexandria was a wonderful city, if you were wealthy… slaves could be bought or claimed in war. Sometimes their fortunes changed and they were able to buy their liberty, some of them would even buy their own slaves, but then something would go wrong – an unpaid debt, or medical bill, and they would have to return to life as a slave. Life expectancy for these people rarely exceeded forty. At least the slaves of the wealthy lived in habitable conditions, whereas the poor were left to live like sewer rats in insect infested detritus.
We moved to Lake Mareotis in July 33 .
Our way of living at the community had to be simple. Falsehood is the foundation of pride, whereas truth is the origin of simplicity.
All the wooden cabins were for sole occupancy; they were identical in size measuring 15 feet by 15 feet, with a private courtyard. They were plain in style giving shelter against the heat of the sun and the cold night air. They were far enough apart to give each occupant privacy, but near enough to be of assistance if there was an unwelcome intrusion. We all studied the laws and sacred oracles of God enunciated by the holy prophets, composed our own writings and wrote songs and hymns.
We attracted wealthy men and women from Alexandria who happily gave up their property to relatives to join our community and live a strict ascetic life. We did not drink alcohol or eat meat and for six days a week, meditated upon God in solitary confinement.
We had community prayers at dawn and sunset, with every hour in between devoted to studying and writing. Our staple diet was salted bread cooked in the outside oven and spring water. So we ate only as far as not to be hungry, and drank enough to escape from thirst, avoiding satiety, as an enemy of both body and soul.
The semi-fasting heightened my meditative state. I wrote all day every day, six days a week. The words flowed with no effort, not from the mind, but from the heart. These were important words from Yeshua. We didn’t have Yeshua with us in the flesh, but his teachings continued…
The Sabbath was the occasion for an assembly in the great hall. The hall was lined with benches, and we filed onto these according to age, and in silence, keeping our hands inside our garments, with our right hand on our chest and the left hand by our side.
Our clothing was restricted to two garments to protect us from extreme cold and heat. A cloak of shaggy hide for the winter, and a thin mantle or linen shawl for the summer. We also had a white gown kept for festivals and special ceremonies.
We celebrated Jewish festivals, but the most important one was Pentecost when we would dress in our ceremonial robes. One of the older members, a man or woman, was appointed president before the ceremony began. We would start with an opening prayer, with our faces and hands in the prayer position raised towards heaven. Then we reclined in order of seniority, oldest first, women on one side and men on the other, on the papyrus couches we had made from planks nailed together and covered with papyrus reeds.
After what I had witnessed in the agora I was opposed to slavery on all grounds, so our attendants were younger members of the community.
Before the meal there was a programme directed by the president – a discussion of questions arising from the scriptures or tractates, either ancient ones or those I had written or transmitted. The ‘president’ repeated the questions slowly so everyone could understand, speaking with great powers of reasoning and prudence, explaining with minute accuracy the precise meaning of the laws, which penetrated through our hearing into our souls. Everyone listened in rapt silence, showing our assent or understanding by nods of the head, or the eager look of eyes. The end of the homily was greeted with rapt applause! Following this, we sang hymns, both well known or of our own composition, and the whole assembly joined in the choruses. The meal of bread and water followed. The spring water was warmed for the older members, to ease the digestion of the salted bread which was sometimes seasoned with hyssop.
After the meal the men and women would form two choruses. Spontaneous dancing ensued and the choirs melded into one. Singing and dancing would continue into dawn, the choristers ecstatic in sober drunkenness. We would spin around the floor, faster and faster, weaving in and out of one another, but never clashing, like planets orbiting around the sun. We were outside of time. Spinning frees the soul, where there is no mind. Everything is energy, and the mind likes to block the energy because it likes to be in control and stops us remembering who we are. When the soul is free, the third eye can open and enables inner vision.
As the sun rose, we turned to the east and stretched our hands towards the heavens in prayer, just as the day had begun.
The festival ended, and we returned to our cabins to resume our studies living in the soul alone.
This was the first Christian community. I felt Yeshua would be proud of us…