by Jason Hart
I always just called her Scab. I didn't know where she had come from, or who she was. She just showed up one day, purveying her goods as if she'd hustled the streets for years. Although she was, to me, the first embodiment of it - it wasn't as if Scab brought the occupation of prostitution to my awareness. I mean, I knew that men paid women for sex. But I liked to think that such infidelities always happened somewhere else. On the east side of town, in the slums, several blocks away, over there. Well outside the purview of us sophisticates. But now, here was this love charlatan working my street corner.
My own money-collecting business was of a more legitimate, although not necessarily more socially acceptable, nature. My name is Levi, and I had been collecting taxes for Rome for nearly eight years when Scab wormed her way into my turf. Certainly, Scab didn't collect any taxes per se. (she didn't pay any either for that matter) But, when a travel-wearied male, their good sense stunted by a long journey, stumbled into Jerusalem, where do you think his spare coins ended up? It was as if some knew it intuitively. Most, whether preoccupied with an agenda, a faithful lover, or pure naivety could fly under the radar of her spell. But others...you could see it in their eyes - they'd caught her scent. Her distinctly wily attire and excessive makeup, coupled with her lingering looks, and loose body language beckoned them to indulge in the forbidden. But what they didn't know, but should have, was that hers was a path that broke through the gates of Hell itself and into an abyss from which there was no escape. I'd seen how she could break a man, and once he'd tasted strange flesh, he could never be trusted. She promised youthful delights, but, once baited, yanked a hook through his soul, dragging him through the sludge of the underworld. While her indiscretions agitated me, the potential for financial upturn alone was enough to drive me forward in my quest to dispose of Scab.
The idea hit me one day at lunch. It occurred to me that Scab wasn't the only disturber of the peace in our town. There was an itinerant teacher I had learned about in my dealings with an over zealous Jewish sect known as Pharisees. I didn't care much for the Pharisees, but their propensity to take themselves very seriously, annoying as it was, could end up working in my favor. Not to mention, I could use a group as powerful as the Pharisees on my side. As I've already alluded to, my line of work doesn't exactly endear me to my fellow citizens. But, if I could use this as a springboard to ally myself with the religious elite, it could pay dividends in the end.
Anyway, this teacher's name was Jesus, and the Pharisees hated him. I found it ironic that a preacher of righteousness could cause such consternation among a group of pious do-gooders. But that was just it. The Pharisees prided themselves on being the golden standard when it came to religious matters, and it was like with Jesus, there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Jesus taught with authority. Only he thought his was different. On a plateau the Pharisees had only dreamed of. Once the idea came to me, it was just too delicious to pass up. I knew that if I played my cards right, I could get away with murder.
So, my plan. It was simple really. I'm not what my Pharisaical friends would call, a "God-fearer". But, my parents were devoutly religious - and wealthy. When I was younger, they hired a Rabbi to teach me the Jewish law. Call me perverse, but one of the few things I remembered from my education was that the law stated that a woman caught in the act of adultery must be stoned to death. Morbid, I know. But when you consider the deaths of a different kind that Scab had caused - it seemed fitting. According to tradition, this particular law had come from Moses - somewhat of a legend among the Jewish community. His status as a savior of the Jewish people, rescuing them from centuries of Egyptian slavery, solidified this law as a must-follow. Not being an expert in the detailed nuances of the Torah, I wasn't sure of the implications added by the caveat that our "woman caught in adultery" was actually a prostitute. Nor was I sure if the second part of the law, that the man must too be killed, would have to be followed to the letter. But, all things considered, the scenario remained, for me, low-risk and high-reward. I was willing to take my chances.
As you can imagine, the logistics of conducting a stoning were well outside the ability of a lowly, despised tax collector. I couldn't very well just drag Scab into the street and start pummeling her with rocks. A stoning was essentially an execution, and executions had to be carried out by those in authority. Authority like that held by the Pharisees. The Pharisees possessed just the type of clout needed to carry out such a condemnatory act. But, even the Pharisees weren't immune to the impact of public opinion. And, in the eyes of the Jewish community, a violent, bloody stoning which resulted in a stone-crushed - and in this case, female - corpse wasn't exactly in vogue. Nevertheless, the clarity of the law was undeniable. Usually, this type of sticky conundrum was simply avoided by never putting two and two together. We left adulterers safely behind closed doors, and swept these type of less amiable Torah passages under a rug of theological obscurity.
But, and here's the great part - Jesus carried himself with such an air of God-ordained self-importance, that he could carry out such a stoning. Presumably, his concern for public opinion might also prevent him from such a deed - unless a group powerful enough to challenge him could force his hand. Enter the Pharisees. All that was needed was a woman caught in adultery. Enter me, Scab, and my devious plan. If I were to march up to Jesus, hand over Scab, and bring up the whole Moses' law thing - I'd be swatted away like a fly. Jesus had enough of the crowd in his corner, that he'd never be intimidated by someone like me. The Pharisees however, were another story entirely. Here was a group powerful enough, fearful enough, religious enough to confront Jesus. And they could use Scab as a trap. If they waited for just the right moment, they could thrust an obviously adulterated Scab in front of Jesus and a few of his groupies, forcing him to choose between denying the law of messiah Moses or condoning a brutal mob killing.
It was a solid plan, and one I only had to present once to Jude, the feisty leader of the Pharisees. Jude was a wiry stump of a man who didn't need much motivation to go on a manhunt. After a few after-hour meetings, we had our plan in place. Finally, the day of reckoning arrived. We knew that Jesus liked to teach in the temple on the third day of the week, and as for Scab, hers was a daily affair. No pun intended. From my tax-collecting post, I could easily see Scab snag her next client. We easily followed her and the sheep she was leading to the slaughter to the place they would carry out the deed. We waited until we figured we would find Scab half covered in some type of incriminating negligee and burst into their lair. When I saw her, I stopped mid-stride, stunned. I was shocked at the unattractiveness of her emaciated body. Suffice it to say, my imagination had been quite good to her. I suddenly realized how much I truly hated Scab. In an unsettlingly jealous sense, an unexpected indignation overtook me as I crossed the room to a now-standing Scab cowering in the corner. I raised my arm and backhanded her hard across the face.
"Filthy whore!" I sputtered, spitting at her.
The Pharisees wouldn't be so easily deterred from their mission as two of them proceeded to grab her, one on each arm, and escort her out of the house. I gathered myself, somewhat embarrassed at my outburst, and followed the entourage to the temple. Her bed partner, completely ignored by all involved parties must have, no doubt, felt gloriously left out.
There she stood. Just like we'd planned. Encircled by a crowd of witnesses, the Pharisees, and Jesus. Fortunately, Jude took the lead.
"Jesus..." he began, triumphantly, "this woman, this scab of society, was just caught in the act of adultery!" There was no questioning his statement really, the shame on her face spoke volumes above her scant clothing and smeared lipstick. Jude continued,
"According to the law of Moses, this type of woman..." he paused, glancing around for effect, "....must....be.....STONED!!" His voice rose to a shriek by this point, and the other Pharisees chimed in their agreement. Having previously adopted my moniker, a few of them mocked her, repeating the word "Scab" like a broken record, loud enough for all to hear.
Their unity was clear. As was their plot. They intended to oust Jesus, once and for all. They'd finally succeeded in pinning him against a rock and hard place. The rock in this case being a whore, and the hard place being the Jewish law.
"Well, Jesus," another Pharisee jeered, dragging out his name in disgust, "what do you say?"
Immediately, all eyes turned on Jesus. It was the first time I'd seen him this close. I was struck by the emotion in his face. His compassion, so evidently etched onto his face, was only rivaled by the shame etched on Scab's. Jesus took a deep breath. Just as I was smugly concluding, "We've got him.", waiting for him to start stammering and stuttering, he did something that infuriated the Pharisees. He stooped down and began writing something with his finger in the dirt.
"Enough of this nonsense!" a Pharisee shouted, "What say you? Does she not deserve to die?"
When he spoke, I heard it. The authority. The force of his voice caused me to take a step back. He wasn't shouting - he was speaking. Speaking as though he already knew what he was going to say. Even before we'd hatched this plan. Even before I'd ever seen Scab standing on that corner. When he spoke, his voice was full of passion, resolve, and agitation - in that order.
"If you have never sinned, go ahead. Cast the first stone."
His words hit hard, not only because of what they were, but because of who was saying them. They had an inexplicable power all their own - a power that cut to my soul. Jesus was writing in the dirt again. This time, he wasn't interrupted and was able to finish. If the words he spoke had placed my anger in a coffin, the words he wrote nailed it shut. They were words that, at once, dignified the accused, and shamed the accuser. It was obvious that I wasn't the only one struck by their truth, as those around me began shuffling away, their faces now carrying the shame that once covered the face of another. I saw a few of the Pharisees shaking their heads, shocked at how quickly he'd turned the tables. We'd fallen into the net that had been laid for him.
As I slithered away, I overheard Jesus talking to the woman, who was now alone with him in the temple.
"Where did everyone go?" Jesus asked, clearly pleased, "Does no one condemn you?"
Without looking up, she replied "No one, sir."
Jesus gently lifted her chin with his hand, looking her in the eye, "Then neither do I. Now, get going - and don't sin anymore."
Every day, I think of that little exchange. As for what he wrote, it forever changed the way I think.
The ground read, "Her name, is Leah."
You can read some of my other stories, here.