Disclaimer: Torn is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and biblical figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
One week later. Thursday afternoon.
I entered the council chamber. My eye, still adjusting to the dim lighting, searched for Zechariah. His chair was empty. I glanced around. Most of the other council members were present. I gingerly walked to my chair and sat down. I involuntarily glanced at the back wall of the chamber. Not a trace of the secret doorway was visible. Knowing better than to attract suspicion from Caiaphas or the other council members present, I quickly withdrew my gaze and stared at the open doorway leading out to Jerusalem’s busy streets.
But I couldn’t resist another look. I turned slightly and examined the wall once again. I could now see the faintest outline of a doorway. I looked away again and directed my eyes to the ground as I pondered the previous week’s events, satisfied that they had not been a dream, as I’d begun to fear.
But now Caiaphas rose in his chair and the muted hum of scholarly discourse and suspicious gossip died down. Without raising my head, I looked up at him.
“You may be wondering why I called a council meeting only two days before Passover,” he stated crisply. “I have had certain… well, shall we say circumstances, called to my attention.” He paused and looked sharply at each one of us before continuing. “Last week, late at night, our assistant secretary (whom you know well) was returning to this very building to finish some paperwork he had forgotten.”
Cold chills crept down my spine, and my heart began to pound faster.
“To shorten a long and painful tale, he was brutally attacked, knocked senseless, and his secretary’s robe stripped from him. When he came to, he was lying in a secluded, abandoned merchant’s booth with his robe lying next to him. He rushed to the council building and was horrified to find that the crucial paperwork and evidence that he was trying to finish had been hopelessly altered.”
I shivered and glanced involuntarily at the secretary, who sat at his desk, nodding in mournful agreement, with a look of tragic resignation on his face.
“As it is, his tale is already horrifying.” Caiaphas’ suave voice never grew louder or uneven, but a latent threat and anger mounted behind his words. “Unfortunately, he can identify to a certain extent his assailant.”
The cold chills increased until I would have readily believed that I was lying on a bed of ice. I struggled to keep a somewhat neutral face.
“It pains me deeply to report this,” Caiaphas stated, “but his attacker was—believe it or not—one of you.”
A horrified murmur ran through the room. The council members straightened in their seats, glanced around at one another, and whispered in hushed undertones. I dared a glance at the secretary, who was nodding grimly.
Caiaphas raised his hand, and the whispers ceased. “Now that we know one of you has done this,” he declared, “will the guilty one please stand up and step forward.”
No one moved. I was not about to leave my seat. Caiaphas shot a furtive glance at the guards.
“Will the guilty one please stand up and step forward,” Caiaphas repeated. The violent edge in his voice lacerated my conscience and seared my heart with fear. Suppose he finds out it was me! Suppose he orders us all to be killed! I gripped my knees to keep them from knocking together.
Caiaphas turned to the secretary. “I am afraid,” he said, “that your attacker is not only violent but dishonest. He refuses to reveal himself and acknowledge his sin. You saw the man, did you not?”
“I did,” the secretary responded hoarsely. My heart skipped a beat. When it resumed, it was noticeably weaker.
The slightest shade of a grin crossed Caiaphas’ face. “Wonderful. Would you oblige me a minute?”
“Certainly,” the secretary answered cynically as a toothless smile spread from ear to ear.
“Please come to the center of the council floor.”
He rose to his feet and advanced into the lamp-lit stage.
“Now,” Caiaphas instructed, “point out your assailant.”
A shade of doubt fell on the secretary’s countenance as he scanned our ranks. “I didn’t clearly see his face, sir, as it was so dark. I do know what his build was like, though. I can probably eliminate most of these pudgy men gone fat from rich food and Roman money.”
A murmur of insulted pride rippled through the council members. On my part, I was too occupied with keeping a straight face and still knees to worry about an insensitive slur.
“Stand up, gentlemen,” the secretary ordered us with a sneer. I rose with the others.
“He wasn’t remarkably tall or short,” the secretary remarked as he motioned for a number of men to sit down. “He wasn’t fat. That eliminates you, you, you…” he pointed to a couple score of council members. Only myself and a dozen others remained standing. I did my best to look confused. The secretary chewed his lower lip as he surveyed us. “You five sit down,” he ordered some of the others, then turned to Caiaphas. “One of these is the man.” He returned to his seat with a sardonic smile.
Caiaphas nodded. “There are eight of you left, and one of you has committed the crime. Step forward now.”
His critical gaze swept over us. I glared back.
“Step. Forward. Now.” His patience was running out fast. Still I did not move. “STEP FORWARD NOW!!” He roared. I clenched my fists in my sleeves and rooted my feet to the ground.
“Guards!” Caiaphas ordered. “You see these men. If the guilty one does not step forward on my count of ten, they will all feel the tips of your spears! Every single cursed one of them!”
Eight guards advanced and stood behind the high priest. “But Zechariah…” one whispered loudly.
“I am the high priest! You will obey me!” Caiaphas snapped.
“Ten!” He began the lethal countdown. “Nine! Eight!”
Doubts rose in my mind. I knew my fellow council members were innocent. If I didn’t step forward, they would die. But then again, so would I.
“Seven! Six! Five!”
The human’s—any human’s—inherent love of life dies hard, and I struggled to move my feet.
I gritted my teeth and began to raise my right foot.
It left the ground.
I planted my foot further forward.
Death was coming. I knew it.
Suddenly, a shout rose from the open doorway. “For heaven’s sakes, Caiaphas! What madness is this?”
Caiaphas whipped around. Rabbi Micah’s frail frame stood silhouetted in the entrance. The high priest forced a smile. “Why, Rabbi Micah! Such an honor! What brings you here today?”
Micah glanced fearfully at the guards who still wielded their spears threateningly.
Caiaphas motioned to the soldiers, and they returned to their posts. “Please.” He addressed the rabbi. “Enter.”
Micah hobbled into the council chamber and leaned on Caiaphas’ sturdy arm. I realized just how broken the old man of God’s body was. I knew he couldn’t hold up much longer.
“I have come,” he declared, “to bring light to the darkness.”
Caiaphas, now seated in his chair, raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“I am not the light, but I have seen it.”
Caiaphas shifted his hand to his chin. “What is this light?”
“This is the one whom we have been waiting for,” Micah pronounced with a surprising firmness of voice.
“You speak of the Messiah, do you not?” Caiaphas demanded.
“Then deliverance from the bondage of Rome is at hand!” one of the younger Pharisees exclaimed.
Micah shook his head. “No, not deliverance from Rome. The chains of Rome bind us only for seventy or perhaps eighty years, while breath persists in our bodies. The Messiah comes to deliver us from a different bondage, one that never ends. Its chains are eternal and its penalty immeasurably severe. The Messiah comes to deliver us from the bondage of sin.”
Caiaphas’ hand, clenched into a fist, dropped from his chin, and he leaned forward to confront the aged rabbi. “We need no deliverance from sin. We keep the law of Moses and find our righteousness in it. We are the righteous ones of Israel who show the people the way to go. Sin is not our problem.”
“The Messiah has said that it is,” Rabbi Micah shot back. He closed his eyes and searched his vault of memory. “This is what he has said: ‘Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?’”
Caiaphas sprang to his feet, his face flushed livid and his lip curled in fury. “I know of whom you speak, and I utterly reject him!” He shouted. “Your ‘Messiah’ is a deceiver. You are deceived, if you are not entirely on his side!”
“I agree with Caiaphas,” a deep, familiar voice boomed. I jumped. Zechariah! He advanced into the council chamber from the doorway.
“Zechariah. You’re late,” Caiaphas criticized.
Zechariah shrugged. “It appears I’ve arrived in the nick of time. Rabbi Micah, I also know of whom you speak. Jesus of Nazareth. We need no salvation from sin!”
In a calm, unflustered voice, Micah responded, “Jesus said, ‘unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.’”
Caiaphas stepped forward with a chillingly calm fury. “Yes, Jesus said that. It is a lie. I tell you, believing that this man is the Messiah is a sin. It is not us who will die in our sins, it is you. Assistant secretary! Is this the man who attacked you?” In horror, I realized he was referring to Rabbi Micah.
Zechariah shoved a guard toward the secretary. The man shot a fearful peep at the sharp spear tip at his neck. “Y-yes,” he declared.
Zechariah nodded. “Guards! This man has attacked the defenseless secretary. His blood is on his own head!”
Instantly, nearly all of us council members leaped to our feet, shouting and gesturing wildly.
“No!” I yelled. “It was me, not him! Rabbi Micah is innocent! How could a frail eighty-year-old man defeat the secretary?” My voice was drowned in the horrified din as the guards seized Rabbi Micah and dragged him into a side room, followed by Zechariah. The door slammed shut behind them. Caiaphas frowned thoughtfully.
Dim shouting and sounds of furious struggling came from within.
Then silence. Bloodcurdling silence.
The door swung open, and Zechariah and the guards strode out. “You have seen nothing,” Zechariah expressed in a rumbling monotone. “You have witnessed nothing. Rabbi Micah was never in the council chamber. You do not know how he died.”
Bile rose in my throat. I hurried from the council chamber, covering my mouth with my hand. I could have nothing more to do with the Sanhedrin. I was finished.