It all started when I heard the noise of them, clamouring not far from the road. It was an ugly sound; the crowd were clearly angry—hateful, even—and wanted blood. I turned my face away and made to continue toward Bethany. Before I could leave them to their hate, though, the image of Yitzhaq came into my head—of what he would say about the flourishing of evil, that silence was complicity. My Yitzhaq, who had loved me and cared for me, who had stayed with me even when I couldn’t bear him a child. So, with great trepidation, I left the road and joined the back of the crowd, trying to look inconspicuous and wondering what I was supposed to do.
Thirty or forty people jostled in a knot around the huddled figure of a woman. She wore a ragged and filthy tunic, and her feet were bare. I saw that many people in the crowd held stones, and the woman was hunched over, protecting her head and abdomen.
“What has she done to deserve this?” I whispered to my neighbour, a thin man with a scrawny beard.
“She has committed adultery, which is hateful in the sight of God,” he replied, and bent to pick up a lump of rock.
Someone near the front began to chant, “WHORE! WHORE! WHORE!” and soon the chant was picked up by the crowd. Passers-by pretended unconvincingly that they couldn’t see or hear what was happening.
Suddenly there was a commotion opposite me. A man was pushing his way through the crowd, not seeking to hurt anyone but with the air of one who will not be held back. His face, too, was contorted with anger, but this was not the hateful rage of the mob. It was measured, controlled. The chant died away as the people realized he was there.
“What has this woman done, that you should kill her?” the man shouted.
The crowd was silent. One or two hefted their stones and looked at the newcomer. Others looked embarrassed.
“She is an adulteress. The Law says that she must be stoned to death,” someone said.
“I see,” said the stranger. “She has sinned against the Lord. So she must die.”
“That is what it says in the Torah. All who sin must be stoned.”
“All who sin?” he asked.
“That is what it says.”
“And yet,” said the man, “which of you is any different to her? Which of you can truthfully say they have never sinned? Very truly I tell you, in the eyes of God, no-one is righteous.”
A few people looked very angry at that, but the mood of the rest was shifting. Something about this man’s voice and the way he carried himself made people listen to him.
“Let one who is without sin cast the first stone,” he said. A murmur went through the crowd. Even the belligerent ones had put down their stones by now. A few people at the edges drifted away.
“Go about your business, and pray to God to forgive you your sins,” he said. The people began to move back to the road, most of them heading back toward Jerusalem, with expressions of shame. Eventually, only the man, the woman and I remained. He laid his hands on her head and said something I couldn’t hear, and she stumbled away, looking shaken.
“I wasn’t with them,” I said to him. “I mean, I was, but—”
“You were trying to stop them,” he said. “You are a good person, but you carry a heavy burden. It will be lifted, and you will be healed.”
I wondered at his words. How could he possibly know about Yitzhaq, about the sorrow his death still caused me?
“I am Maryam bat-Levi, from Magdala,” I said. “I live at Bethany now, not far from here.”
“Pleased to meet you, Maryam bat-Levi from Magdala,” he said, a playful smile on his lips. “My name is Yeshua. I am travelling through these parts and I need somewhere to stay. May I stay the night at your house?”
I had only just met this man, but some things just instinctively make you trust someone, and I always did trust easily.
“You’ll have to share a room with my brother,” I said. “I live with him and my sister Martha.”
Yeshua nodded, gazing into the distance. We set off toward Bethany.
That was the first time Yeshua stayed at our house, but by no means the last. Over dinner I learnt that he was a travelling preacher, and that his disciples were following about a day’s journey behind him. At some point, he asked me if I would consider travelling with him. I was reluctant to leave Bethany, but Yeshua intrigued me, and his message of peace and goodwill seemed harmless enough. What, I asked myself, could possibly go wrong?