About Rosemary Hannah

Historian, writer and cleaner. Don't be too impressed - it is cleaning puts food on the table.


Jesus rolled over and propped himself up on his elbows. He looked steadily at Judas. ‘You want it clean?’ he said, ‘You want it super squeaky clean? I am not sure you will like it better that way. But here goes.
‘There was a bloke. A trader – a specialist. He dealt in pearls. Always seeking the most beautiful, perfect pearls for his customers. And he never minded selling. There was no risk. Each pear he sold gave him more money to buy new pearls. And he never needed to cheat, as such, Judas, because he would buy with just the usual haggling, and then sell at a premium price to the super rich, because they respected his expertise and his knowledge.
‘Then it happened. He found the super pearl. Huge. Its lustre unbroken. A perfect sphere. A wonderful colour, white, pure. He knew at once he would never see another pearl like it. The trouble was, it was in the hands of another merchant.
They haggled. It was good humoured, but ruthless. The price was agreed. The pearl merchant, our honest, shining example of a pearl merchant, sold everything. He sold all his pearls, every one. He sold his house. He sold his donkey. Everything he could realise, he did. The lot. Then he handed over the money and came away with the pearl.’
Judas nodded, shining approval.
Jesus sighed. ‘Yes but look at the dilemma. He now has the perfect pearl. What is he going to do? Do you imagine he can sell it? That he can let go the one thing he has been searching for all his life?’
Jesus had this power with his stories. He sucked you in. You lived them. We were all looking horrified, and none more than Judas. No, we all knew what obsessives were like. No real person in this position could let go of that pearl.
‘He has nothing but the pearl,; said Jesus quietly, ‘and he will need to start from the bottom again if he wants to rebuild his business. Maybe he can. Maybe he has enough credit with others to borrow enough to buy little inexpensive pearls. But will his customers really want them? It is a disaster, that is what it is. Once you have the most valuable thing, you give up everything for it, and it may not be the shining easy thing to do you all seem to think.’
Then he wrapped his cloak around him, as though he was cold, and sat staring into the distance as if he was seeing something we could not see.

Treasure to cheat for

The plough jolted, stopped. The oxen strained for a brief moment, then subsided into relaxation. At that distance, there was no making out the words the ploughman spoke, but we could make a very good guess. He heaved up his arms, flapped. He went to the front of the plough, backed up the oxen, and after some grubbing around and kneeling, scrabbling, tossed out a middle sized stone. With some difficulty he shoved and heaved it to the edge of the field and left it there. He flapped over the stone again, gave it a kick, then straightened himself, and loped back to the plough.
‘Supposing it had not been a stone.’ said Jesus, lazily, ‘suppose it had been treasure?’
‘Oooh, tricky one!’ said John.
‘Suppose it was a little box of treasure. I think – I think he would bury it again. I bet that bloke ploughing does not own the land.’
A small snort came from Matthew, ‘I bet he does not either. He is the son of my cousin’s first wife’s brother. He is a hired hand.’
‘Always a little behind hand with the world?’ asked Jesus, sympathetically.
‘If it was treasure,’ said Jesus, ‘he would bury it. Carefully. Then he would go and convince his wife to sell up. That would take a lot of time, that would. She would bend his ear something terrible. But he would not tell her it was treasure, would he? For utter terror she let something slip. She would be furious, but he would somehow convince her, or just do it, her ringing a peal in his ears. Sell up. But he is only half way there. He still has to get the land owner to sell, and not just some land, just that piece of land. My word, the worry that somebody would find the treasure before he convinced the land owner to sell. The arguments he would have with the farmer as to why that field. Why such a crazy scheme. He would never make a living from one field.
Then going back, knowing if the treasure had gone he had lost everything. Oh think of that.Imagine if he had not hidden it well enough. Then putting the plough in the same furrow, and yes, yes, the treasure. Opening the box. Seeing the riches. Knowing he was a made man. Oh think of the joy.’
Judas sat up, and took the grass stem he was sucking out of his mouth. ‘He ought to have checked to see if it could be identified first,’ he said, always so horribly correct, ‘He ought to have seen if it had somebody’s name in it. You know that is the law.’
‘He ought,’ said Jesus, ‘but I do not think he would. Oh, being that poor, and suddenly having riches offered you? Could you really do it? No, I think he would just buy the field – break the law,’ Jesus twinkled at Judas, ‘I do not think the law would be observed. Because the treasure would so, so transform his life – he would cheerfully cheat a bit to get all that… and that is what the Kingdom is like. Something you would cheerful lie, cheat and steal to get a hold of.’
Poor Judas looked aghast.

Hide and seek

The women had worked all day with tight smiles, put on for an illustrious guest, and eyes averted from the stranger. Of course Jesus knew better than to engage other men’s wives directly, and he sat in the courtyard, watching quietly behind lazy lids.
It was Passover – no, not THAT Passover, but the first one that we were together. He sat, relaxed, in the shade, watching, half smiling. In the end, and a little later than the women had wanted, the hard work staggered to a conclusion. It is always like that, Passover. It is exhausting for the women, because it falls to them to ensure the house is cleaned up, spotless, and, especially, any hint of leaven is removed.
Leaven? Sour dough, I understand you call it. A fermentation which makes bread rise. Without it, you get biscuits, or crisp cakes, or maybe a soggy mess, depending on the skill of the cook. It is extraordinarily tenacious of life, leaven. So the house is swept and cleaned and polished so that before the Passover is made, there is none left.
The last ritual is for the children to search the house looking for anything unclean, and, to encourage them, the lady of the house hides a little, little piece of bread, normal bread, risen bread. When the girls find the bread, the search is over. Hiding that bread is the last act of the great clean-up, and then there is a pause before the great cook-up starts.
Jesus watched the little girls pelt around, looking under and over and around, until at last Miriam (my sister’s eldest) called out: ‘Got it!’ and came running in, laughing, with a fragment of crust carefully wrapped in a piece of linen by my wife, just in case it spilled a crumb anywhere and started all the work again.
Then there was a brief pause in the work. Water all round, and a short rest. At that point, Jesus began to teach. We, us lot, the disciples, were all sat at his feet. First he repeated a couple of his usual teachings. We half listened, and the women sat quiet, but not really listening.
Then I saw him look kind of sideways at the women. But it was to the child that he spoke. ‘Tell me, how easy is it to hide the leaven?’
Perhaps a little startled at being spoken directly to, what with her being just a kid, and a girl, Miriam threw up her head suddenly and said: ‘Hiding it is easy, Rabbi, but hiding it well is hard.’
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘yes, I see. Tell me, if you hid your bit of leaven in a barrel of flour, would you find it easily?’
‘That would make it hard, Rabbi,’ said Miriam, ‘sifting through the flour to find something so like itself.’
‘I wonder why I have never seen it hidden there?’ mused Jesus. Miriam looked at him trying to decide if he was half-witted or not. ‘Nobody wouldn’t never hide it there, sir,’ she said.
‘Why not?’ asked Jesus.
The kid was looking directly at him now and so were all the women. Everybody was trying to make up their minds why he was acting so stupid.
‘Well, sir, if you done that, all the flour would turn – it would all turn into leaven in a little.’
‘Ah, and that would matter?’ he asked.
Miriam was a bossy kind of a girl, and she told him straight, while many of the women hid amused smiles or concerned glances at her outspokenness. ‘Sir, we are trying to get all the leaven OUT of the house. Leaven is unclean, sir. We must have it all done away with for the Passover, to be pure.’
‘And if you put it in a barrel of flour it would turn all the flour?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Two barrels?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Sir, give it a little time, and leaven turns everything into itself. It would make three whole barrels dirty like itself.’
‘Yes sir.’
‘But I kind-of like ordinary bread, especially hot and spongy as it comes from off the oven.’
‘We all love it, sir,’ Miriam assured him.
‘We ALL do?’
‘Oh yes, sir.’
‘So, only dirty in some ways.’ Silence.
‘Then that is what the Kingdom is like,’ said Jesus, ‘It is something which you may be told is really a bit dirty, but it is powerful. Put a bit of it, that you can hardly see, into this big big world, and before you can blink, you will see it work its way through it all. In the end, it will make it all delicious. Like hot spongy bread.’
That night, some of the wives, gathered there, decided they too would follow Jesus. That made some stir I can tell you. It was only afterwards I saw how cleverly he done it. Drawing them in, and not scaring them too much. Not coming over like a mad man, but speaking direct words which made sense to them.

Oh yes, you long for it.

Jesus was in cracking form that day. He was bouncing with energy, sparkling with wit and with laughter. Towards evening we came near to a little village. In the fields outside we stopped to rest. At the field edge he sat down and at last fell silent.

It was getting near harvest, and we rubbed a little grain between our hands, nibbling on the seeds as they came clear of the husks, hard enough to be dislodged but still with a little damp sweetness in the core. The cool of the day was stealing on and we did not need shade to sit and relax. Anyway, the only shade here was a mustard bush, full of little Blackcap birds, searching for insects in the plant. Andrew wandered over, and helped himself to a couple of the pods, setting the seed free and crunching a mouthful of sweet corn and hot mustard.

’Cor, no wonder it is grown at the field’s edge and not in gardens,’ he commented, looking down. ‘There’s a forest of seedlings shooting up! A bit wilted-looking though. Suppose the drought will get them soon.’
‘Don’t believe it,’ said Matthew, who came from solid farming stock. ‘They will suck up the dew and be good as new in morning. They will grow and grow and only determined efforts to plough them will ever control them. As for stopping them, er, no. You can’t’ He gestured. There must have been a dozen full-grown bushes along the edge of the field, many showing determined efforts had been made to cut them back.

‘Delicious, though,’ hinted Jesus. Andrew tipped a selection of wheat and mustard seed into the Rabbi’s hand.
Jesus chewed some of it. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘You plant one big wheat seed and what do you get? How many seeds grow in the head? You would be lucky to get fifty, I would think. Perhaps one bird would perch on a stem of wheat, a little finch, maybe.

‘And look at the mustard seed. Not half the size, not a quarter. And it shoots up and you cannot stop it. Cut it back and it just bushes out more. And look, the birds! Little birds dancing through it, picking a living in it. How many seeds to the plant? Hundreds, maybe thousands. You don’t need to sow it, it does that for itself. You dare not put it in a garden, or in a couple of years your garden is all mustard.

‘It is, everybody knows, an utter pest. Yet we all kind of love it. Here is Andrew offering it to me as a little fiery treat. It makes my mouth water. It is an almost painful pleasure. But oh, yes, you long for it.’

He looked at us, and he was suddenly extra solemn, deadly grave. We all sobered up. ‘This Kingdom I tell you of? Heaven? The world where things are done as they should be?’

We were silent, nodding. We were waiting for him to tell us there would be no mustard in this kingdom, no half-dirty, half-painful pleasures. No weeds which bring us pleasure. Heaven would be a very serious, very clean business.

‘That Kingdom,’ he said, ‘That Kingdom is JUST like the mustard.’ We looked at him and if I looked as silly as Andrew, sitting there, jaw dropping, no wonder Jesus laughed out loud, tipping back his head, roaring. Once again he had sprung a trick on us. Ruefully, we began to laugh too. He sprang up, and picked himself some mustard seeds, and scattered them. We were still laughing as we reached the village.

Balthazar does not go home

I know where I was when I heard. I can still picture in minute detail the goblet of wine, and its two unbroken bubbles. I can see the crack in the table top and I can feel the cold sense of horror  filling me, and, even as it did, the thought ‘that may have been a sensible thing to do, politically’ ran through my mind, and, a second after, ‘that can never be justified.’

There was a terrible sorrow that something so marvellous as the birth of that Child was at once marked by death, and loss and deep tragedy. I could see their happy faces, because I had met some of those tiny boys, while I was searching for the Child. I could not but picture the fear that must have replaced it, and the shattering grief of their fathers and mothers.

I wondered about the men-at-arms who did it. Some would have been sickened – those old enough to be fathers, seeing their own children as they, as … They would have been cool, efficient, swift. But I knew for some there would be actual satisfaction in giving hurt, when anger filled the mind, and when one paid off old scores against the weak. I knew the faces of men who were doing such things. How they wound themselves up into acts others would later shudder at. The savage delight taken in anger against the wholly helpless, because their helplessness reminded the brute of his past helplessness, and so became an offence. I knew some had been turned monster by the need to keep obeying, and to stay alive, and by things they had seen which twisted in them.

Afterwards, there would have been much drinking, to celebrate, and to forget, and to wind down, so that they could go home to barracks and comrades or to trollop or wife as sots and buffoons, and not as torturers. I knew they had found some way to make a divide between their sisters and mothers and the poor broken women they left behind; a divide based on lies.

I knew these things, and I wished I did not. I wished I had the luxury of a simple recoil in horror, the thought ‘How could such a thing happen?’

And it was all a stupid waste, even politically, because my source assured me the Child had left within hours of our visit, and the massacre of those innocents was a week or more later.

But what filled me with the greatest horror was that my first conscious thought had been to weigh the act politically. That I could see why Herod had ordered such a thing. I remembered the words of the Mother; heated words against power.

Then, I also knew I could never go home. I was not Herod, but if I could even begin to imagine ordering the slaughter of tiny peasant children, it was time to turn my back on power

I have thought of myself as a courageous man, but it took all my strength to make that decision: to give up all chance of ever returning to what I had carefully wrought in my own kingdom, and, yes, my wives and my children. Yet in the moment I made that decision, as I turned to start a new life in a strange place, I found in myself an astonishing lightness of heart. A new life, a new mind, as I think the Greek has it.

Karima and Melchior arrive home

We said good bye at a caravanserai. We how had become so deeply friends parted knowing we would never meet again.  It was strange, that. But we knew that travelling alone we would attract less attention. Each of us had had troubling dreams. Yet I went on with a light heart. The whole journey had changed me – seeing the Child, and the words of the Mother about my rightness … the Mother of such a Child must hold great wisdom. Her Greek was not that good,  but her words about rightness that been very clear to me.

I arrived home on the hired camel, tired, happy. I strode into the reception room, as the household gathered, and saw my lover at once. I grabbed him in my arms, for the first time kissing him in public, although he was an equal and a grown man. I would have no more shame and guilt. I heard the Mother’s voice in her stilted Greek again, and looking defiantly at the court saw only mild surprise. I realised that all I had done was to move a secret everybody knew, everybody spoke of and tittered over, into the open.


What had changed? My husband, my lover from childhood, was still dead. The terrible loss was still there. Somewhere over the desert, I had made terms with the pain, and had travelled on with hope, that most painful of afflictions. Hope is something to be dashed, and although I had seen the child, I had come away knowing I could not do what I had longed to do, to share some of my learning with the Child.  The danger of the place, the language barrier, made all that impossible. I should have been even sadder, for I had lost my sense of purpose. Yet I was not. Irrationally, the journey back felt full of excitement. I felt as though there was a purpose, though it was hidden from me. When I got back to the palace, my daughter-in-law came at once to greet me, her little daughter clinging to her hand. I was still travel-stained, had been away for so long, especially to a child, yet the little one flew into my arms. I knew then that I would take all the time I could to teach her the best ways of life, and to do that, I would learn to live again.

Gifts are given

They were a different kind of strangeness. Nothing at all supernatural, just completely out of place, weird. I could see at once by their  dress they were rich, important. They had arrived in the little town the day before, and I had not really associated them with – with my son. Not the right kind of strange.

But they found us. I had not really taken on board that there was still TALK though not as bad as at Nazareth, or at least, in the main part different talk. Less about my honour. They came through the doorway, filling the room with, with…

I was, I was out of my depth. Of course I was older, rising seventeen, but still. One, the woman, had a pair of servants stood behind her, watchful. She laid down embalming spices at my son’s feet. I wish my Greek was better, not just a matter of formal sentences useful for speaking to the Occupying Force. She spoke to me of death, his death, and I tried to say to her that he was healthy, and that people should try hard to be healthy and happy while they are alive, not sad and guilty. At least, that is what I thought she said, and is what I think I tried to say. I have never believed in guilt.

The next was a Persian. His Greek was very good, very good indeed. He spoke of God’s favour being on my son, of him being appointed by God. This made some kind of sense, and somehow I managed to find words back, about his being right. I tried to speak of his being right and of his understanding of the world. He gave him incense. I hope I understood him to say that this was to be used in worship, though we are not a priestly family. It would never be right to worship a human being, surely.

The last was a huge Ethiopian. He laid glittering gold at my son’s feet. I struggled to decode his words, through the accent. I thought he spoke of kings. I thought he spoke of danger, and the need to escape. I know he spoke of Herod. The word chilled me. I think I spoke of the dangers of kings and power – well I guess I would, that sounds like me.

I hope what I said to them was enough, I hope what they found had made some kind of recompense for what … but I wished they had not spoken of Herod.They left a king’s ransom around my feet. Joseph came home and we talked in growing unease.