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Excerpt from "The Holy Conspiracy"

Chapter One: Capernaum, Galilee, AD 30

by Kristi Saare Duarte


The executioner slammed a nail into Yeshua’s wrist. Streams of scarlet blood drove rivers down his arms and dripped onto his punctured feet. All around him, women wailed, called out for mercy, and pleaded for God to save the innocent from their brutal punishments, while the temple priest nodded for the executioners to continue. And they did, as if merely completing another mundane task before returning home to their wives and a hot meal, celebrating the onset of Pesach at dusk. When the soldiers raised the cross, Yeshua’s body slumped forward, forever pinned to its prison of injustice.

Yakov steadied his hands on the workbench and jerked his head to chase the memory away. Strands of his tousled brown hair got caught in his mouth, and with a sigh of frustration, he swept them back. Six new moons had come and gone since his brother’s execution, but fear still consumed him like a droning mosquito, refusing to give in.

He blinked to regain focus in the soft light of sunset that filtered through the open window and painted his carpentry workshop with strokes of gold: the bench littered with tools, the half-finished doors leaning against a wall, the stack of wooden planks piled up in the back. Even the rusted metal parts of the saw and the plane glistened when caught in the amber rays.

His mother had thrown herself at the executioners’ feet, begging them to release her son. But they had kicked her away.

A shiver snaked up his spine. He mustn’t think about the past. What good would it do? Instead, he returned his focus to the chisel in his hand and pressed the tool into the grain of the oak plank that formed the back of a chair.

But how could he ever forget? He could still hear Yeshua’s voice asking Yahweh to forgive them all before his chin had dropped to his chest, he had closed his eyes, and just like that, he was gone.

Yakov’s cheeks stung with shame. Here he was, safe and sound—and, most importantly, alive!—while his brother’s corpse lay rotting in a rock-cut tomb in the hills of Jerusalem. He should have protected his brother, fought off the soldiers when they came to arrest him. Instead, Yakov and the other disciples had scattered like frightened salamanders, running for their lives. But what could he have done? His fists wouldn’t even have left a dent on the Romans’ shields. They all would have ended up dead.

Despite the weight in his chest, a ray of pride warmed Yakov’s heart when he stepped back to look at his work. The carved flowers that formed the backrest of the chair were exquisite. A work inspired by God. His customer, the Roman prefect, would not be disappointed. And his wife, Michal, would gleam with appreciation when he presented her with a leather purse heavy with denarii.

A knock on the door interrupted his musings.

Yakov stared at the door, heart thumping. Who would visit his workshop at this hour? He quickly blew out the flame of the oil lamp and slumped against the back wall. Panic rose in his throat. Had Herod’s men finally found him? But what could he have done to arouse their suspicions? He hadn’t spoken of Yeshua. Hadn’t met with the other disciples. How had they found him? Had they finally arrived in Galilee to finish them all off?

Another knock, this time more demanding.

Yakov buried his face in his hands and wished they would go away.

“Come on, open up. I know you’re there.”

Yakov peeked at the door through his fingers. He knew that voice: Kephas, one of Yeshua’s disciples. Heart still pounding, he rose from his seat and approached the door. But then he stopped short, yanked back by the memory of the last time he had seen his friend.

“We’ve got to talk,” Kephas said through the door.

No. They didn’t need to talk. What was in the past was in the past. No need to dig up old issues, tear open wounds that had already scarred. Place themselves in the path of danger.

“Stop pretending. I heard you.”

“Go away,” Yakov whispered. “My hands are full…”

“Just open the door. I will claim only a moment of your time.”

Resigned, Yakov unbolted the door and pulled it open. Outside, the red-cheeked Kephas leaned one hand against the wall. He tugged at his ginger beard with his calloused fingers. “Yakov, be good. We can’t keep pretending nothing happened.”

Yakov couldn’t even look at him. He shouldn’t have opened the door. “Nothing happened.” He paused. “I mean, I can’t…”

“We’re all meeting at my house tonight, after supper.”

“We? Who are we? I’m sorry, I’m busy. I have to finish this chair, a table. Tomorrow a customer is coming to collect a door, and I…”

“All of us. Andreas, Bar-Tôlmay, Phillipos, Levi…”

This can’t be happening.

“… Tau’ma, Barzebedee, Shimon.” Kephas listed the names of one disciple after another. “Taddai, too.”

Yakov’s hands twitched. Panic pulsed through his body. “Not Taddai. You can’t have my son.”

“Taddai’s a grown man. He will do as he pleases.”

“And Yudah?” Yakov asked. He stared provocatively at his friend. “Have you called upon him, too?”

“No.”

All of us means Yudah, too. If he’s not there—”

Kephas’s smile dwindled. “No, my friend, not Yudah. We don’t know, we still haven’t… Nobody’s heard a word.”

Yakov looked at his hands and saw they were shaking. He grabbed on to the edges of the workbench to still them.

That fateful day, he had dragged the bruised and bleeding Yudah away from the other disciples, who were kicking him senseless. In the moment of terror and despair, they had forgotten that Yeshua had beseeched them to forgive the man who would betray him. Yudah had loved Yeshua more than life. He would never have betrayed Yeshua of his own accord. He was only doing Yeshua’s will. But where was Yudah now? Yakov hadn’t seen him since he’d left him to the care of an innkeeper in Bethania. When Yakov returned a few days later to collect him, Yudah had disappeared.

“So you will come?” Kephas said.

Yakov shook his head. Nothing good could come from this.

Kephas placed his hand on Yakov’s shoulder, as if to transmit some comfort that Yakov didn’t need. Didn’t want.

“You’ll come, Yakov. Yeshua chose you.”

“Ha, you know my brother: he was full of antics, and…” Yakov swallowed to keep the bile down that was threatening to erupt. “Look, he spoke out of jest. I could never…”

Kephas didn’t seem to hear him. “After supper. My house. Be there.”

As soon as Kephas disappeared around the corner, Yakov’s knees buckled and he sank to the floor.

They were going to trap him.


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