Category Archives: Pinhas

Warrior Prophets – Chapter 29: Prenuptial Warfare

Warrior Prophets Chapter 29

Prenuptial Warfare

Raskul rode his donkey cautiously on the road to Bethlehem. He passed the city of Hebron uneventfully and tried to enjoy the view of the rolling vineyards and olive groves of the Judean Mountains. The cool summer breeze dissipated the heat of the afternoon sun. Nonetheless, he was anxious about the coming encounter. In the distance he could make out the walled city of Bethlehem surrounded by acres and acres of wheat fields.

A rider on a chestnut horse approached Raskul from behind. He was a tall man with a flaming red and white beard and a broad grin.

“Greetings, traveler,” the man called out as he matched Raskul’s pace.

“Greetings, my lord,” Raskul nodded to the princely man.

“My name is Caleb. Who are you?” The man inquired.

“I am Raskul of the Kenites,” he said, adding quickly, “no enemy of the Israelites.”

“Welcome, Raskul. What brings you to the tribe of Judah?”

“A wedding.”

“You’re an acquaintance of Boaz, then?” Caleb asked jovially.

“A f-friend,” Raskul stuttered.

“I’m his uncle and am also traveling to Bethlehem. Let us ride together to the city.”

Neither of them noticed a hunchback figure in a long cloak riding behind them. From the folds of the cloak a hairy tail peeked out.

“Why do we need to be on duty today?” Eran complained to Yashen.

“Someone needs to.” Yashen yawned.

The two of them stood on the eastern tower of the city gate. The gate of Bethlehem was a large stone arch with two swinging heavy oak doors. The gate faced north, towards nearby Jerusalem. They could barely make out the walls of Jerusalem through the summer haze.

“It’s a waste of time, I say,” Eran continued. “We should be down there mingling with all the guests.”

Yashen looked at the stonework city plaza within the gates where a growing number of people gathered. Long tables with freshly baked cakes stood next to the stone homes that surrounded the plaza.

“The whole Nachshon clan makes it look like a meeting of redheads,” Yashen commented. “I’d be interested in a Benjaminite brunette myself.”

“I think Naomi is the prettiest girl in town,” Eran sighed. “But looks like Elimelech has already made his move.” He pointed at the two redheads standing close to each other.

“Good day, men,” a commanding voice called to them from the gate.

Eran and Yashen turned around to see an old man with a long flowing white beard. Next to him was a middle-aged bearded man, with bright eyes. Both rode gray donkeys.

“Our Master, Joshua. High Priest Pinhas. Welcome,” Eran blurted.

“Thank you, young man. What is your name?” Joshua, the old leader ofIsrael, asked.

“Eran son of Haser.”

“Eran,” Joshua instructed. “Though I know you would much rather be down at the celebration, I would advise you to take your duty seriously. We have been blessed with years of peace here, in no small part thanks also to the recent efforts of our groom. Nonetheless, we must remain vigilant.”

“Yes, Joshua,” Eran said. “Though I hear rumors of a new warrior leading the militia together with Amitai.”

“Ehud of Benjamin. I have met him. Cunning and sharp. But I’ve also heard rumors of the Moabites regaining their strength and for some reason I have an ominous feeling today. Keep your eyes open.”

“Yes, sir!” Eran and Yashen responded.

“Good. Carry on.” Joshua commanded and rode off with a smiling Pinhas. 

“Hello, Boaz,” Raskul said nervously.

Boaz turned around from talking with his uncle Ploni.

“Raskul?” Boaz said, surprised.

“Yes, I thought I’d join you on this day of celebration.”

“Why, thank y-. Wait. Someone give me a sword! I vowed to kill you on sight, you backstabbing, traitorous wretch. How dare you come here on this day? Ploni, fetch me a sword.”

“Now, now, now, Boaz.” Raskul raised his hands. “Let’s not be so hasty. I swear, I won’t swear by any of the gods, which I know annoys you so much. You are a forgiving people. A gracious people. Is this how you would treat an old journey-mate?”

“What’s the matter, Boaz? What did he do? He seems like a pleasant enough fellow,” Caleb asked.

“He tried to sell me and Amitai into slavery. He is a snake that should be killed without hesitation. Ploni, what are you waiting for? Run into my father’s house and get me my sword.”

“On your wedding day you will kill a defenseless man?” Ploni asked.

“Perhaps you’re right. Get some rope and let’s bind him and I can kill him tomorrow.”

“One moment, Boaz,” Caleb interceded. “I realize this man has done you great wrong, and had terrible intentions, which in the end did not materialize. He has come to you on your wedding day, knowing your anger towards him, in order to make amends. I think that in the spirit of this day you should forgive him.”

“Fine. Ploni, please bring me my sword in any case. I don’t trust this uncircumcised lout for a moment. His coming is a bad omen. The sword will be a good reminder to keep him from wagging his idolatrous tongue. I will slice it off, Raskul, if you so much as think the wrong way.”

“You are kind as always,” Raskul mock bowed. “Where is your mate Amitai? He was always the better spoken one of you two.”

“Amitai is at the front leading the militia. If it weren’t for criminals like you, he might have been here to celebrate with me.”

“You are too harsh, Boaz. I never actively harmed someone. Perhaps I tried to make some silver off the misfortunes of others, but I never lifted a finger against someone in anger.”

“No, just out of greed. You are incorrigible, Raskul, and I will be happy once you leave.”

“May I stay to see you successfully married?”

“Yes. But one wrong word and you will regret having ventured toBethlehem.”

“Enough, Boaz,” Caleb interjected. “I’ll keep an eye on your friend. I see Joshua and Pinhas have arrived and the guests look ready. Let’s get started.”

Eran and Yashen looked dutifully to the east, across the Jordan River from where the Moabites would logically approach, while keeping half an eye on the northern road from Jerusalem. The eastern front was quiet as the sun started its slow descent to the west. A group of twenty cloaked horsemen trotted leisurely towards the gate. Eran was the first to notice them approaching the gate.

“More friends of Boaz?” Eran pointed out to Yashen.

“Must be. They are heavily armed. Either some militiamen or some former captains of hundreds or thousands. But why are they so covered up in this heat?”

“Something is not right. They are wearing heavy armor under their cloaks. Where is that trumpet. Pass me the trumpet, Yashen.” Eran said urgently. Yashen reached for the trumpet in the corner of the tower and handed it to Eran.

Suddenly, from amongst the riders, a giant of a man, completely covered in armor, with a metal helmet that enveloped his head, galloped at breakneck speed towards the gate. He aimed his right arm at the two watchmen. An arrow shot out of the man’s arm and hit Eran in the shoulder before he could blow the trumpet. The trumpet clattered to the floor as Eran fell, writhing in agony. Yashen reached for the trumpet, but was pierced by an arrow to the abdomen before he could touch the bright metal rolling on the floor. The last thing he saw was an army of thousands approaching Bethlehem from the west with scaling ladders and a large battering ram.

The other horsemen raced after their leader towards the open gate of Bethlehem.

Boaz stood under the wedding canopy that was erected close to the gate of the city. Vered walked around him slowly seven times, smiling shyly. They were both in white. Boaz wore a new long white tunic and Vered was in a flowing dress of white cotton, with gentle white lilies adorning her flaming red hair. Boaz and Vered’s parents stood under the canopy together with Pinhas, who was officiating. The canopy was constructed of a large white shawl supported by four long wooden poles. Joshua and Caleb held the front poles and Elimelech and Ploni held the back ones. A large assembly filled the town square.

“Do you have the ring?” Pinhas asked.

“Elimelech?” Boaz asked his uncle.

“Of course, of course. Here it is.” Elimelech retrieved an unadorned gold ring from his pouch. As he handed the ring to Boaz, they were distracted by the sound of loud galloping. The ring dropped and Boaz bent down to pick it up. An arrow whizzed by where he had been standing and struck an elderly man beyond the canopy. It hit the man in the leg. The man immediately fell to the ground, where he convulsed and then stopped breathing.

“Take cover!” Joshua commanded as he lowered the canopy to cover the wedding party. “We’re under attack!” Several more arrows punctured the canopy. One hit a woman’s arm. In seconds she was on the floor, dead.

“Poison!” Caleb yelled, as he looked at the victims.

They all saw the twenty horsemen approach the gates with a metal giant in the lead.

“Caleb,” Joshua ordered, stepping naturally into the role of command. “The gates. Pinhas. The walls. Elimelech. Ploni. Organize the men. Boaz, with me. The rest of you, into the houses.”

Caleb moved like a blur to the gate. He closed one door before the invaders arrived. As he was closing the second one, he saw the metal giant would make it in. He was surprised to see an older, familiar-looking attacker motion with his hands for the rest of the riders to slow down. The intruder made it past the swinging door. Caleb shut and bolted the gate shut. The metal giant kept galloping towards the wedding party and the fallen canopy. Caleb raced after the rider and launched himself at him, knocking him off the horse. The rider clanged heavily on the plaza stonework, cursing as he stood himself up. Caleb rolled as he fell and was on his feet in a moment facing the invader.

“I’m not interested in you, old man,” the intruder with the metal face said. Only two slits for the eyes and one for the mouth revealed darkness within. “But I’ll kill you just as well.” He pointed his arm at Caleb, turned a dial on it with his left hand and a metal dart shot out. Caleb ducked and the dart struck a young boy who had been running for cover. The boy fell, convulsed, and was still.

Caleb launched himself at the intruder and tackled him to the floor. Caleb struck a series of blows at the metal clad warrior to no effect. The intruder tried hammering at Caleb with his metallic arm, but Caleb was faster.

“Out of my way! It is Boaz I want!” the intruder bellowed.

“Akavish, isn’t it? Caleb breathed heavily as the metallic arm missed him by a hairsbreadth. “And that was Krafus with you.”

“Yes. I am King Akavish of Ashkelon and soon I will rule your people as well.”

Akavish grabbed Caleb with his massive healthy arm and tried to stab him with his metallic claw. Caleb wriggled and punched, avoiding the claw, but unable to escape Akavish’s grasp. Frustrated, Akavish threw Caleb above him into the air and then shot three darts in rapid succession at Caleb’s falling body. Caleb managed to contort his body and avoid all the darts, but as he fell he struck his head on the side of Akavish’s metallic arm, falling to the floor, unconscious.

Pinhas, the High Priest, closed his eyes for a moment as he stood behind the wedding canopy and then quickly levitated. He flew towards the gate tower, as he watched Caleb reach the doors. He saw two dead watchmen at the eastern tower, where he landed. On the western side thousands of Philistine troops ran towards the walls ofBethlehem. Pinhas spotted the tall scaling ladders and the massive, metal-tipped battering ram. Elimelech and Ploni approached the stairs to the eastern tower.

“Elimelech,” Pinhas called down. “Assemble your men at the western wall. The first wave of attackers will be there in moments. Ploni. You will need to get men to reinforce the gate. The Philistines have a gargantuan battering ram and your oak gates will not last long under their onslaught. Go! I’ll see what I can do from the air.”

Pinhas took to the air as the first ladder abutted the wall. Half a dozen men were on the ladder and one reached the top of the wall before Pinhas reached them. Pinhas flew feet first into the Philistine on the rampart and knocked him over the two-story wall. He then grabbed the top of the ladder, and with all the Philistines on it, pushed it backwards. Ladder and soldiers fell on the troops below. Pinhas flew and knocked over ladder after ladder, weaving in and out of a rain of arrows from below, until Elimelech reached the rampart, followed by a few dozen defenders.

“There are thousands!” Elimelech stood gaping at the hordes massing under the walls.

“You’re just in time,” Pinhas landed, exhausted. “I need a rest. Keep the ladders off as long as you can. I see they are massing on the eastern wall. I will hold them off until we can get reinforcements on that side. God be with you.” Pinhas flew to the eastern wall of the city as half a dozen new ladders landed simultaneously on the western wall, followed by a barrage of arrows.

Joshua calmly observed the maelstrom of metal jousting with Caleb. He noted the dead victims of the poisoned arrows and darts. He closed his eyes and sensed the thousands of Philistines crashing against Bethlehem like stormy waves upon the shore.

“Looks like your childhood nemesis has returned with some friends,” Joshua said to Boaz and Vered, all hiding behind the pockmarked wedding canopy.

“Akavish with Philistines? That metal monster is Akavish?” Boaz asked, incredulous.

“He has an amusing way of celebrating your wedding. We need to stop them, but we’re going to need some help. I’m going to pray. Guard me while I focus my attention. Salvation will come from the sky.”

Without further word, Joshua stood up, closed his eyes and turned his head heavenward. Boaz stood up, with sword in hand, watching for any arrows that might threaten Joshua as he concentrated on his communion with God.    

“You know this attacker?” Vered pointed at Akavish struggling with Caleb.

“He has wanted me dead since I was a kid. Last I heard he was king ofAshkelon.”

“Was he upset you didn’t invite him to the wedding? I told you to double-check your list.”

“Not funny, Vered. People are dying because of this madman.”

“Well, I’m sorry, my hero, but if I don’t make light of the situation, I will panic out of sheer terror. What’s Joshua going to do?”

“He said salvation will come from the sky. I don’t see anything. Stopping the sun won’t help us this time.”

“I see clouds forming,” Vered pointed at a dark cloud moving in from the north. “Perhaps he’ll make it dark.”

“No! Caleb has fallen. I must help him. I must hold off Akavish. Watch Joshua, my love.”

“Boaz, wait! How am I supposed to protect him?” Vered called to Boaz. But he had already jumped over the canopy and was speeding towards Akavish. He knocked the tip of Akavish’s claw away from Caleb’s prone body.

“Your timing was always miserable, Akavish,” Boaz stated as he smashed his sword against Akavish’s helmet.

“I think I might have gotten it right this time,” Akavish responded as he swung his claw at Boaz. “Great audience. All your nobles, princes and leaders ripe for the picking. Tell me, can I congratulate you on the wedding or was I too early? Can I kiss the bride?”

“You sick man. You stopped the wedding.” Boaz’s sword clanged off Akavish’s armor. “Are you causing all this bloodshed on a mere vendetta? You’ve dragged your people into this as well?”

“My people are mine to do with as I will. Your wedding was merely a good opportunity to attack.” Akavish kicked Boaz away from him, aimed his arm, and shot a barrage of darts, arrows and stars of death.

Boaz’s sword moved faster than the eye could follow, picking each deadly object out of the air.

“You have become faster,” Akavish said. “But you will not find a way to harm me. It is just a matter of time until you fall.” Akavish shot a second barrage of weaponry at Boaz. They all clattered to the ground, repelled by Boaz’s blade.

The sound of steel against oak resonated throughout the city as the battering of the gates began.

“My people shall be here soon and then it will indeed be a celebration. Where is that bride of yours? I would have you watch her die in agony before I end your miserable life.” Akavish turned away from Boaz and walked calmly towards the downed wedding canopy.

Vered grabbed one of the poles of the canopy and looked around frantically for signs of attack. She kept an eye on the duel between Boaz and Akavish.

“Can I be of assistance?” a leathery voice addressed Vered from behind. “We’ve never been properly introduced. I’m Raskul, an old friend of Boaz.”

“I’ve heard of you,” Vered pointed the pole at the older man, grateful for a manageable threat. “Stay away from me, or I swear I’ll knock you on the head.”

“So violent! A fitting bride for Boaz. And one who swears. A woman after my own heart. But you misunderstand me. I am just here to help. And it looks like you can use help.”

“Boaz said you were a greedy old man, capable of great mischief.”

“He would, and I am.” Raskul edged closer.

“Stay away, Raskul.” Vered backed away, noticing for the first time the long knife at Raskul’s side.

Ploni didn’t mind battle. He had fought in one successful battle after another with Joshua, soundly defeating the kings ofCanaan. But this was different. He had never been in a siege before. Never had to wait for an enemy to breach his last physical defense. This is what it must have felt like to be on the receiving end, he thought.

“Hold the doors!” Ploni called out, as together with a dozen men they held the crumbling oak doors against the Philistine battering.

“They’re breaking!” someone yelled. “The next hit will break through!”

“HOLD!” Ploni yelled, as he pressed his body against the door.

The metal of the battering ram crushed wood and bone as it smashed through the doors ofBethlehem. Ploni and the men around him were thrown from the gate like rag dolls. Ploni lost consciousness as hundreds of Philistines poured into Bethlehem.

Akavish smiled behind his helmet as he heard his troops at his back and aimed his metallic claw at the redheaded girl in the white dress.

* * * * * *

Warrior Prophets: Chapter 18 – Boaz the Coward

Warrior Prophets Chapter 18

Boaz the Coward

“You said what to her?” Amitai, his childhood companion, asked, as he and Boaz rode northwards on their donkeys along with the large procession. At twenty three years old, Amitai was still a bit chubby, with ruddy cheeks, unruly brown curls and an easy smile.

“I told Taliya I wasn’t ready,” Boaz murmured. At twenty four years old, Boaz was a tall and powerful figure. His red hair had lost none of its luster and his well-formed muscles could be discerned under his tunic. A short fuzzy beard adorned his square jaw.

They were at the front of the contingent from Judah. They rode with the morning sun along the Jordan River. The hot summer days had reduced the power of the River which flowed strongest in the spring. Pinhas the Priest and ten princes led the tribes from the west side of the Jordan to find the apparently recalcitrant tribes from the east.

“On the day she was expecting you to ask for her hand?” Amitai pushed.

“Yes,” Boaz nodded.

“That’s bad.”

“Really bad,” Boaz agreed. “I was told one of Taliya’s brothers was furious at the insult and would chase me and force me to marry her.”

“Good thing you were asked to join this expedition.”

“Yes. Hopefully, he won’t find me amongst the hundreds of soldiers here.”

“So the Coward deigns to accompany us,” Ploni, Boaz’s cousin, caught up with Boaz and Amitai. His voice was loud enough for the rest of the mounted Judean representatives to hear.

Ploni was ten years Boaz’s senior. His arms and neck were heavily scarred from old battle wounds.

“You say nothing, little cousin?” Ploni continued. “You crawl out of your hole now that trouble has passed, for a mere diplomatic meeting?”

“A meeting?” Boaz answered in a deep base. “You call an assembly of hundreds of our best warriors a meeting? We go to fight the other tribes who have betrayed our God.”

“Ah, little scholar,” Ploni sneered. “How little of the world you know. If you had fought beside those men, if you had seen the leadership, the bravery of Gedel and the others, you would know the eastern tribes would never rebel against God. But you are just a studious little coward who believes the first accusation he hears against good and honorable men.”

“I follow orders.” Boaz picked his chin up. “We go to investigate the building of a pagan altar by our brothers. They had better have a good explanation, lest we bring down God’s very wrath upon them.”

“You besmirch the honor of all warriors by riding with us. But you were always Caleb’s pet.”

“Have you nothing better to do Ploni, than to fan the flames of old imagined grievances?” Boaz raised his voice. “Caleb requested that I join the mission. Why you are bitter that I stopped fighting, I still don’t understand.”

“Bitter? I’m not bitter, young pacifist. I’m betrayed, I’m embarrassed. I’m hurt that the most promising warrior of our people, our tribe, our family, became a coward. We used to retell your adventures with great pride. We looked forward to fighting by your side, to be associated with your glory. But ever since you returned from that mine in Timna, you proved yourself a weakling. To have such talent as yours and not use it in our struggle is nothing less than cowardice. I think Caleb himself was deeply disappointed.”

“You know nothing of Caleb’s feelings,” Boaz responded hotly.

“Ah, our young firebrand has some flame left in him after all. If only you had used it against our enemies, perhaps there would not be so much land unconquered. I have heard that Joshua himself was saddened by our lack of progress and most likely looked to you as the cause.”

“Leave me alone, Ploni, You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You are alone, Boaz. Cowards always are.”

Boaz stopped his donkey and let the Judean soldiers trot ahead.

Pinhas positioned the archers in the front of the procession as they approached the river crossing. He and the princes rode behind them, followed by the tribe of Judah, including Boaz and Ploni. In the distance they saw thousands of soldiers massed on the eastern bank of the river. A long row of archers with their arrows notched stood behind a line of spearmen with raised shields.

“A meeting?” Boaz murmured to Ploni.

“Gedel is no fool,” Ploni answered. “He is ready for a fight if we bring it to him, but he is blameless.”

“Blameless men don’t need an army to explain their innocence.”

Judeans around Boaz murmured their agreement.

“This formation is proof of his guilt,” Boaz continued. “We should attack right away.” Boaz removed his sword from its sheath. Other Judeans followed suit. Archers on the other side of the river noticed the movement and aimed their arrows at Boaz and the other Judeans, but did not shoot.

Ploni grabbed Boaz’s arm and forced him to re-sheath his sword.

“Stop it, you hothead! If men were to rely on others to uphold their innocence, innocent men would quickly cease to be. People may listen to the truth, but they listen better when there is some steel behind it. Put your sword away before you hurt yourself and wait for instruction from your betters.”

A tall grey-haired man appeared in the middle of the formation.

“Hail Gedel, Prince of Reuven!” Pinhas called across the narrow river, flanked by archers and with several hundred soldiers at his back. Gedel was a large muscular man with bristly grey hair and a long grey beard. He held a sharp battle ax against his shoulder.

“Hail Pinhas, son of Elazar, son of Aaron!” Gedel responded to Pinhas in his priestly robe. Several thousand soldiers stood by Gedel’s side on the eastern bank of the Jordan.

“What treachery is this that you have committed against the God of Israel, to build an altar, and to rebel this day against God?” Pinhas pointed accusingly at the stone altar across the river, on the eastern side of the Jordan. “Was the plague we received for worshipping Peor so insignificant? If you rebel against God today, tomorrow the whole congregation of Israel shall feel His fury. If your land is unclean, then come back over to the land of the possession of God, where God’s Tabernacle rests, and inherit amongst us,” Pinhas spread out his arms to encompass the men behind him, “but do not rebel against God or us by building an altar besides the altar of God. Did not Achan son of Zerah also trespass against holy matters and punishment fall upon all Israel?”

“God, Almighty, Lord!” Gedel shouted heavenward. “God, Almighty, Lord! If we have rebelled or been treacherous against God, do not save us today. If we have built an altar to turn away from following the Lord, or to make offerings or sacrifices upon it, let the Lord Himself exact retribution.”

“Rather out of fear we have done this thing.” Gedel looked across the river into Pinhas’ eyes. “Fear that in days to come, your children will say to our children: ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? He has made the Jordan a border between us and you, and you, the children of Reuven and Gad, you have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children will cause our children to cease fearing the Lord.”

“Therefore we said, let us build an altar, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice,” Gedel pointed at the stone altar by his side, “but it shall be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we may do the service of the Lord. That your children may not say to our children: ‘You have no portion in the Lord.’ Rather our children shall say: ‘Behold the pattern of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt-offering, nor for sacrifice; but it is a witness between us and you.’ Far be it from us,” Gedel motioned to the thousands beside him on the eastern riverbank, “that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn away this day from following the Lord, to build an altar for burnt-offering, for meal-offering, or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the Lord our God that is before His Tabernacle.”

The western bank of the Jordan River erupted in cheers. The soldiers of the ten tribes waved their fists and saluted Gedel.

“This day we know that God is in our midst,” Pinhas pronounced, “because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord. You have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the Lord.”

Pinhas walked into the shallow waters of the lightly flowing Jordan. His long flowing white robe billowed in the water, yet somehow did not get wet. The water flowed around Pinhas as he crossed to the eastern bank, yet he emerged dry. Both the eastern and western soldiers looked at Pinhas in wonder as he embraced Gedel firmly.

“Brother,” Pinhas said, as he let go his embrace. “We were quite concerned. Concerned enough to fight you for what on the surface was a grave affront and treachery.”

“I know,” Gedel whispered. “It was a great gamble. But we were already feeling the distance from our brothers. Do you not refer to us as ‘western’ versus ‘eastern’ tribes? Is not the land to the west of the river consecrated? We needed to do something bold, something noteworthy, to keep our kinship, our connection, in Israel’s memory.”

“How long do you think it will last?” Pinhas asked quietly.

“At the very least, for our lifetimes; perhaps another generation. It is not like in the desert or at camp where we were all together and united against a common enemy. Now every man is concerned for his personal land and his crops and his cattle. The people will not come regularly to the Tabernacle. We shall do what we can to stay true, to feel united, but I fear this new era will present greater challenges.”

“It is painful to hear,” Pinhas said. “But we shall persevere. Do not forget that the Priests and the Levites shall be amongst each tribe. They can be a uniting force. They will visit the Tabernacle regularly and keep the connection alive.”

“I hope so. A war of brothers would be terrible.”

“You think it could happen? After our successful conquest?”

“The war is not over, even if we have stopped fighting,” Gedel looked at both sides of the Jordan. “Were you not the one who killed the prince of Simeon in the desert? How much fighting and contention did we have when we were united under Moses? We shall have more fighting here, more against our real enemies, and I hope less against ourselves, but fighting we shall have. We shall not stop training our children how to wield a sword, though we would all rather wield the plowshare.”

“I shall not leave you on a somber note. Push your people to come to the Tabernacle. When we are united we are strong and God is pleased.”

“Agreed. I shall make the effort. But you and the other princes should visit us as well. And next time, don’t come with an army.”

“You see, Coward,” Ploni smirked at Boaz. “Your magical powers did not help you read the situation. You were very quick to lift your sword against your brother. If we had followed you, it would have led to horrible bloodshed. You are Caleb’s protégé?”

“I was wrong, gravely wrong.” Boaz’s head hung down. “And I apparently needed you of all people to teach me. How could I have been so wrong?”

“You’ve been stuck in your tent too long, afraid of your own shadow. You’ve lost whatever judgment you might have once had. You are a coward and until you face whatever childhood fears you carry, you are dangerous and a liability for all of us. I shall report to Caleb of your near-fiasco and let him figure it out.” Ploni trotted away, following the procession back south.

Amitai edged his donkey next to Boaz’s.

“Are you alright?” Amitai asked.

“No. I am a coward and a fool and it took Ploni to make me see it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m ashamed to go back, but what else can I do? Perhaps that is part of facing my fears, perhaps I should marry Taliya?”

Pinhas approached the two from behind.

“I couldn’t help overhearing,” Pinhas cleared his throat. “And I saw your impetuous move before, which was truly dangerous. If Gedel had not had good control of his archers, you could have started a war of brothers right here and now.”

“What should I do?”

“I think you should avoid the camp for a bit. It is a cocoon that has sheltered you too much.”

“Where should I go? I need guidance. Caleb has always been my guide.”

“I think you have reached the limits of what you can learn now from mentors. You need to engage with people as an adult. I believe you are frozen with some childhood trauma.”

Boaz hugged his sides and swayed back and forth on his donkey, holding back tears.

“Pinhas, please. I’m confused. I don’t know who I am anymore. Help me.”

Pinhas looked for long moments at Boaz. He looked to the eastern bank of the Jordan. He looked at the mountain range across that had once belonged to the people of Moav, before Moses and the Israelites had conquered it fourteen years earlier.

“I know,” Pinhas concluded, looking back at Boaz and at Amitai next to him. “Seek the tomb of Moses.”

“What? The tomb of Moses? Why? Will he give me guidance?”

“He gives us guidance every day, through the law that he handed us. However, I think you might benefit more by seeking his resting place. I think if Amitai here would be willing to accompany you, it would be even better.”

“I don’t have any love-struck women chasing me, or their angry brothers,” Amitai smiled. “I’m ready.”

“Excellent.” Pinhas clapped his hands. “Get to know the tribes on the eastern side better – the ones you were ready to kill. That may be a worthwhile exercise as well.”

“And then what?” Boaz asked.

“I suspect the answers will present themselves along the road.”

Pinhas turned around and trotted off southward following the back of the retreating western soldiers.

Boaz looked at Amitai. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Sounds like a great idea. You’re not up to it?” Amitai asked.

“What about Taliya?”

“She’ll have to work much harder to find you.”

“At least it will keep her brother off my back.”

“Come, let’s go find Moses’ tomb. Do you know where it is?”

“No. Let’s cross the river and ask someone on the other side.”

* * * * * *

Biblical Sources:

Joshua Chapter 22

Warrior Prophets: Chapter 3 The Capture of Ashkelon

Biblical Fiction

Warrior Prophets: Chapter 3

The Capture of Ashkelon

The Aegus glided ahead of the rest of the fleet. The sleek wooden war boat rode the eastern wind, leaving behind its dozen sister ships, their sails wrapped up tightly for the night. The sailors on the sister ships drank and danced loudly around their fires. Big Larus had given the orders for revelry. In contrast, the Aegus cut through the water, dark and silent.

Akavish son of Larus blessed the moonless sky. He combed back his dark slick hair with his hands. Risto, his spider monkey, clutched Akavish’s shoulder as always. The light mist over the Mediterranean concealed their approach to the Ashkelon coast. Akavish had seen the Ashkelon walls miles from the shore. He was impressed. In his twelve years of life, he had never seen a city so fortified. Risto nodded his agreement, reading Akavish’s thoughts. The walls were thirty feet high, ten feet thick at the top and twenty feet thick at the bottom. It was impenetrable by conventional means. Constant torchlight patrols paced the top of the walls.

The Aegus steered towards a cove south of the city. A hill blocked the view of the cove from the Ashkelon sentries. The first mate quietly slithered the anchor down, where it nestled in the sandy bottom. Larus ordered the crew to sleep for a few hours, before the planned attack.

“You will stay on the ship, my son,” Larus whispered to Akavish.

“I am ready to fight,” Akavish whispered back. His voice pitched higher than he liked.

Larus punched Akavish in the stomach with a beefy fist. Risto hissed, feeling the pain. “The fighting will be short and brutal. If we succeed, it will save us a long and hard siege. Argue with me again and I’ll punch your pretty face next.”

Larus turned around without another word and headed fore towards the first mate.

Akavish limped aft and found a secluded spot on the long wooden deck.

“I will not be left behind,” Akavish told Risto. “I’m always left behind. Every raid, every ship, every council, father always leaves me behind. We have finally come to a new land, a new beginning and I will not be treated as a mere child. I will show him. I have not trained with Krafus for nothing.”

Akavish looked around. Nearby crew were snoring gently. His father was busy talking heatedly with the first mate, gesturing with thick fingers towards Ashkelon behind the hill.

“Hold on tight,” Akavish needlessly told Risto still on his shoulder. Akavish climbed over the side of the ship. He thought of using a rope, but that might alert someone as to his departure. His small fingers found impossible cracks on the side of the ship. He slowly climbed down the sloping side, his body upside down as he neared the bottom, until he reached the dark waters. He quietly sloshed into the cold waves. He looked up. Silence. No one had noticed his exit. His father would not think to look for him. Akavish swam thirty feet to shore. Risto dug his nails into Akavish’s skin. Risto despised getting wet.

At shore, Risto jumped off Akavish’s shoulder and shook violently, spraying water over the soft sand. His small teeth chattered.

“I know. The water is cold. But if we’re dead it won’t matter. Come on,” Akavish beckoned, “let’s take the city.”

In one jump, Risto latched himself back on Akavish’s right shoulder. The monkey’s head rested against the back of Akavish’s neck and his tail curved around Akavish’s right arm.

Akavish trotted lightly on the dark sand. His young eyes adjusted to night as he traveled silently to the walls of Ashkelon.

He knew other tribes had conquered Canaanite cities to the north. The tribes were like his. From the Aegean Islands, seeking a new home, leaving the growing anarchy of their crumbling empire.  He heard the Canaanites called his people Philistines. City after city had fallen to Philistine war boats. Few could compete with Philistine weapons or tactics. These were mere farmers and merchants, mostly vassals to the Egyptian Pharaoh far south.

Canaanite sentries stood at the top of the wall looking nervously to the west at the firelight of the Philistine ships. Akavish could hear the revelry that carried across the miles of waves. Akavish hiked to the eastern side of the city wall. He noticed fewer sentries and their attention was to the west.

Akavish picked up several smooth stones and put them in a satchel on his left side. He patted his jagged knife on his side. He used it to gut and clean fish. Now he wondered about using it on humans. He gritted his teeth and started climbing the wall of Ashkelon. His thin frame moved easily up the rocks, finding hand and foot holds where most adults would not manage. He held himself lightly at awkward angles, his wiry muscles supporting the little mass he had. Risto was as if grafted to Akavish, an additional limb.

“I’m more concerned about the Israelites.” A nearby voice rumbled. Akavish held tightly to the wall.

“I don’t believe those stories.” A second, higher voice answered. “Just by yelling the walls of Jericho fell down? Supernatural powers? I think the stories grew by the telling.”

“My brother-in-law heard from his cousin, I tell you. He was one of the few that were allowed to leave Jericho. He was related to some Israelite spy. They massacred everyone. Women, children. They leveled the city. He spoke about men with superhuman speed. He fled to Egypt. He said they aim to capture all of Canaan and they will.”

“Well the Philistines are at our doorstep and they’re taking over the coast. Mark my words. They will yet challenge the Egyptians.”

“But it was the Israelites who trounced the Egyptians forty years ago. They have never recovered from that blow. The Israelites are strong, crafty and merciless. They are not interested in being in charge. They want to kill everyone. Did you hear what they did to Ai?”

“Another tale?”

“No. This was less magical, but equally vicious. They baited the troops to chase them and abandon the city. The Israelites then sent a second force and burned the defenseless city to the ground, killing everyone in it. They don’t want our wealth or our cities. They don’t even want us as slaves. They want us dead. Dead, dead, dead. At least the Philistines are reasonable. They kill the leaders, some of the troops, take over the palaces, and then it’s back to business as usual. I can live with that.”

“You forget that we are some of the troops.”

Akavish had heard enough. Enough to know these Israelites were also invading Canaan and were fighting for the same land. He grabbed a stone and gave it to Risto. Risto, understanding, dashed silently across the wall and tossed the stone down into the city. It rattled as it landed on an empty cart. A nearby donkey brayed loudly at the noise. The sentries left their post to check the disturbance. Risto joined Akavish and together climbed over the wall and down the inside of the wall. Akavish landed lightly on his feet next to an animal shed.

Akavish stroked Risto’s fur. Risto was a part of him. His father had captured the baby monkey together with the plunder of some fat merchant years ago. The merchant had claimed the monkey came from south of Egypt and was extremely valuable. Larus was more interested in the gold and weapons and tossed the little monkey to Akavish. Since then, the two of them had been inseparable. Risto ate what he ate, slept when he slept, saw what he saw.

The city gate must be north, Akavish thought to Risto. That is the only side of the city I haven’t seen. Akavish skulked like a wraith deep in the Ashkelon night. The only light were the torches of the sentries on the wall. They were all looking outward. Akavish passed squat stone houses with thick thatched roofs. Sheds held goats, cows and mules all sleeping. Large stones paved the narrow paths in-between homes.

Akavish reached a plaza in front of the gate. There were two dozen archers at various states of alertness on an inner wall around the perimeter of the plaza. A killing ground, Akavish thought. If the Philistine raiders should somehow breach the gate, they will be easy pickings once they reach the plaza. From the shadows Akavish examined the gate.

It’s open, Akavish thought in excitement, seeing torchlight blazing from the opening in the thick outer wall. Then he realized it was a tunnel. The tunnel was at least twenty feet long, eight feet wide and slopped downwards with a torch in the wall every four feet. The tunnel ended with two solid oak doors reinforced with copper brackets, and three copper beams across the doors. This needs to be an inside job. How did father expect to capture this city?

Still in the shadows Akavish crawled closer to the gate.

“This Joshua is fearsome.” Two sentries passed inches in front of Akavish. He held his breath.

“I hear that Caleb is an unbelievable swordsman.” His companion replied.

“And they say that Pinchas can fly in the air like a bird. How can anyone stand up to them?”

“They are all ancient though. Perhaps they’ll die before they get here.”

“No. I heard there is a kid also. A ten year old who can predict an opponent’s move before he makes it.”

“If the Philistines don’t get us first, the Israelites certainly will. What’s the kid’s name?”

“Boaz. A redhead firebrand that will kill you just by looking at you. If you meet a Boaz, run the other way.”

“I think it’s time to move to Egypt. I’d rather be a slave in Egypt than butchered here.”

The sentries moved out of Akavish’s earshot. He let out the breath he forgot he was holding. So the enemy has a name, Akavish thought. Boaz.

Akavish noticed metal pulleys at the entrance to the tunnel. There were chains that ran from the pulley the length of the tunnel and were connected to the doors. The doors could only be opened from the entrance to the tunnel. Smart, Akavish thought. It removed any defender from outside danger. The pulleys were on either side of the tunnel entrance. It would take two people to open the gate. The left pulley raised the copper beams, and the right pulley opened the heavy oak doors. Risto was not strong enough to pull either lever, so he couldn’t count on him.

Akavish reached the corner of a house on the outskirt of the plaza. He peered down the dark narrow alley. There was no one in sight. He crossed the alley and was suddenly grabbed across his chest. A hand clamped his mouth and dragged him into the alley. Risto jumped to the roof of the house.

“Tell your little monkey to come back,” an ancient voice whispered and let go of his mouth.

“Grandpa!” Akavish whispered at the thin muscular man. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve told you repeatedly, stop calling me grandpa. I was amorous with your grandmother, but I don’t know that I’m responsible for your family.”

“Yes, Krafus.” Akavish nodded. Risto jumped back to his perch on Akavish’s shoulder.

“Larus will be furious that you’re here. But let’s do some work. We have much to accomplish and Larus will be at the gate before dawn.”

“I don’t understand. What is the plan?”

“Simple. Kill the guards and open the gate.”

“And you were going to do this yourself?” Akavish looked incredulous.

“Their defense is better than I thought and I hadn’t figured out how to pull both levers, but now that you’re here, that’s solved.”

“What do I need to do?”

“First, send that intelligent pet of yours to fetch the torches from the tunnel. After that, follow my lead.”

“Won’t they shoot him?”

“Probably. They will also look for intruders and raise an alarm.”

“Are you sure you’re on our side?”

Krafus smiled. “We will know how to respond based on how they react. And unless they are especially gifted archers, your monkey will be too hard a target to hit.”

Akavish nodded and whispered a few words to Risto, pointing at the tunnel and the torches.

Risto shot towards the tunnel, invisible in the dark.

The torchlight in the tunnel moved and guards yelled.

Risto ran out of the tunnel towards the alleyway with four torches, two in each of his thin hairy arms. Krafus grabbed the torches and launched them at the soldiers standing on the inner wall. Three caught on fire and ran into their fellow soldiers. Two soldiers ran out of the tunnel.

“We’re under attack! Sound the alarm!”

A horn blast played counterpoint to the pandemonium of the Canaanite soldiers.

“Scale the wall and take out the soldiers on the left,” Krafus commanded. “I’ll do the right. Meet me at the tunnel entrance in five minutes. Your father will be waiting at the gate.”

“Kill them, you mean?”

“Use your knife. Cut throats. Most efficient.” Krafus ran across the dark plaza.

Akavish gulped and with Risto back on his shoulder scaled the wall. Miraculously, he was still undetected. The flames on the burning soldiers had been put out and the remainder looked around wildly for the intruders.

“The lights of the ship are gone!” a sentry yelled. “I can’t see the Philistine ships. Have they left?”

“You fool. They are probably approaching in the dark. Archers! Ready on the outer wall!” the Canaanite captain commanded. “Inner wall sentries, aim at the plaza and the tunnel, there are…” his windpipe was cut off mid-sentence as Krafus weaved his way through the soldiers.

Akavish trembled as he faced the back of a large soldier. Swallowing hard, he jumps on the large man’s back. Akavish tightened his grip on his knife, not wanting to kill his adversary. The soldier spun around and tried to cut at the body on his back. With moistness in his eyes Akavish sliced the man’s throat. He was off the man before the fresh corpse fell to the ground. Another soldier faced him, with sword drawn. Risto launched himself at the soldier’s face forcing him to drop his sword. Akavish cut the man’s throat as he tried tearing Risto off his face. Akavish grabbed Risto off the dying man’s face and put him back on his shoulder. One by one, Akavish weaved his way through each soldier on the inner wall, until all he saw were dead bodies. Part of him wanted to retch, but another part exulted in the power. The power of life and death. The power of a child over an adult. The power of agility and dexterity over a trained soldier’s strength and experience.

He scaled down the wall and ran towards the tunnel.

“They’re at the shore!” a sentry shouted. “They’re at the shore!”

Akavish looked up at the sky as a faint touch of pink announced the arrival of dawn.

“Hold your arrows!” a soldier yelled. “Wait until they’re close enough!”

Akavish reached the tunnel. From out of the tunnel, a long hand grabbed Risto violently. A short soldier put a sword to Akavish’s neck.

“What is the plan?” the short soldier demanded. “How are you taking the city?”

“I, I don’t know,” Akavish mumbled.

“Then you are no use to us.”

The short soldier fell down with a knife in his back. Akavish stabbed the taller soldier holding Risto and stepped back. Krafus dropped from the ceiling of the tunnel, retrieved his knife from the short soldier’s back and mortally stabbed the taller soldier Akavish had wounded.

“What took you so long?” Krafus asked.

“I’m new at this.” Akavish replied.

“Pull the lever. Your father’s timing is perfect. Having the fleet beach at dawn is the perfect distraction.”

Krafus and Akavish pulled on the levers simultaneously. The chains drew the copper bars up and opened the heavy oak doors. Two dozen men entered the dark tunnel with swords, spears and bows. In front was Big Larus, long steel sword in hand.

“Well met, Krafus,” Larus bowed to the thin man.

“Well met, Larus,” Krafus bowed back. “Your son was most helpful in this operation. It would have been difficult to complete it without him. Thank you for sending him.”

Larus looked at Akavish strangely. “I’m glad he was helpful.” Then he slapped Akavish across the face. “But I did not send him. If he implied otherwise, he is a liar and no son of mine. Come, we have a city to conquer. You,” he pointed at Akavish, “back to the ship.”

Larus marched into the city followed by his two dozen men. Akavish gave Krafus a pleading look, but Krafus merely shrugged his shoulders and followed Larus.

“I don’t need this,” Akavish grumbled to Risto as he walked down the tunnel. “I don’t deserve to be treated this way. I did not lie. I gave my father the city, killed for him and this is how he treats me? I will not go back to the ship. I’m a fighter, a killer. I will go where I’m appreciated.”

As he exited the tunnel, he saw the rest of his tribe’s fleet on the beach. A red dawn greeted them. The raiders walked up the pristine sand uncontested. The defenders were most likely occupied with his father’s force. The Philistines would rule Ashkelon as well.

The morning sun glinted on something in the wall. Akavish climbed the wall and found a small silver statuette of a calf nestled in a large crevice.

“This must be the Canaanite god,” Akavish said. “Didn’t do them any good and they won’t be needing it anymore.” Akavish grabbed the silver statue and climbed back down.

“This will fetch me a handsome price, I’m sure. I don’t need my father anymore. I need to follow my own path, Risto. That path lies east. If I am to make my own mark, it will be against the Israelites. The Israelites and their young hero, Boaz.”

* * * * * *


Joshua was not the only one to attack Canaan during his invasion. While the Children of Israel attacked from the east, shiploads of Aegean refugees attacked from the west, from the Mediterranean Sea. The people who would be called the Philistines conquered cities all along the Canaanite coast as far north as current day Lebanon. They become a force to challenge the weakened Egyptian empire (who had been the nominal rulers of Canaan at the time). The entire order of the ancient near east was changing, with the old empires crumbling.

Upgraded remains of gate to ancient Ashkelon

The description of the city walls and gate more or less follow the existing remains of that ancient city. There is also a nook in the outer wall near the gate where archeologists have suggested a silver statue of a calf once stood.


Akavish is Hebrew for spider.

Risto is a diminutive of Aristotle.

Krafus and Larus had a nice Aegean ring to it.

The Determined Executioner

[The story first appeared at]

Numbers Fiction: Matot

The Determined Executioner

“And Moses sent them, a thousand of every tribe, to the war, them and Pinhas the son of Elazar the priest, with the holy vessels and the trumpets. And they warred against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew every male. And they slew the kings of Midian: Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian; Bilaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.” Numbers, Chapter 31:6-8

“When the wicked Bilaam saw Pinhas the priest pursuing him, Bilaam cast a spell and flew in the air. Immediately Pinhas pronounced the Great and Holy Name and flew after him…” Targum Yonatan, Numbers 31:8

Pinhas the priest stood in a puddle of blood. He disliked the stickiness of the liquid between the toes of his sandaled feet. It had a different texture than the blood of animal sacrifices. Three Midianite foot-soldiers jumped at him from behind the piled corpses of their brethren. In one fluid motion Pinhas cut the neck of two assailants and stabbed the third in the stomach. Pinhas was mindful not to get blood on the Holy Ark five feet away.

“Have we found them?” Pinhas called to Caleb across the carcass-strewn battlefield. He was thankful that all the victims were Midianite.

“Yes. All five kings have been found and executed,” Caleb called back. His sword dripped blood over his red-stained robe. His grim smile grew wider as he impaled a Midianite sneaking behind him.

“What about Bilaam? He is the most dangerous. He cannot be allowed to escape,” Pinhas said.

“There are reports of an old black-robed sorcerer skulking around. I have heard nothing further.”

“The kings are dead. The kings are dead,” the remaining Midianites repeated throughout the battlefield. The few surviving Midianites fled. Freed from combat Pinhas scanned the horizon for signs of Bilaam. Low lying grey clouds absorbed the rays of the afternoon sun.

In the distance he saw a shadowy figure jumping from corpse to corpse avoiding contact with Israelite soldiers. Pinhas ran, sword in hand, jumping over the dead Midianites to intercept the man. The man was Bilaam. Bilaam froze, sensing the priest’s approach.

Pinhas ran faster, leaping over mounds of dead. The satchel slung over his shoulder bounced lightly against his right hip. A scabbard bounced on his left. Pinhas looked at Bilaam’s face. Bilaam looked back with one eye. The other eye was covered with a golden patch. Bilaam held a tall staff in one hand. A sword was strapped to his back. Bilaam muttered a few words and levitated ten feet above the corpses.

“Your sword is not long enough, Priest,” Bilaam called down to Pinhas. “My reach is much longer.” Bilaam pointed his staff at Pinhas.

“I don’t need a sword to kill you, cursed one.” Pinhas grabbed a fist-size stone and hurled it at Bilaam. The stone hit Bilaam squarely on the forehead. Bilaam twirled backwards in the air. After a full revolution he faced Pinhas again, unmarked.

“It will take much more than an earthly force to hurt me, little priest. I will not be as easy to dispatch as the Midianites. They were useful puppets, but I shall find other nations to do my bidding and then destroy you Hebrews.”

“All your plans will come to nothing, evil one,” Pinhas shouted. “I will put an end to them today.”

“You are a pitiful, laughable creature, Pinhas. You do not realize who you are up against.”

“So why are you afraid?” Pinhas closed his eyes, clenched his fists and intoned a few words with a powerful tune. He rose ten feet into the air and reached Bilaam’s level, just two sword lengths away. Bilaam’s eyes and mouth opened wide. Bilaam turned his back and flew higher. Pinhas pursued.

Bilaam reached a low lying grey cloud and disappeared from sight. Pinhas backed away from the cloud to get a wider view.

“You cannot reach what you cannot see, Hebrew,” Bilaam’s dissipated voice emerged from the cloud. “Give up the chase. Do you know what power you are opposing?”

“You villains always think you are more powerful,” Pinhas spoke to the cloud. “You are only more destructive. You delude yourself with dreams of power but in the end it is ephemeral, like a cloud.”

Pinhas blew lightly. The cloud moved away and then disintegrated. There was no one there.

“Young fool,” Bilaam laughed from a different cloud. “You have some talent, but you don’t have my centuries of experience. Join me. I can teach you a thing or two.”

“What could you teach me?”

“I possess the secrets of eternal life, of indestructibility, of divination. I’m still working on turning lead to gold, but I’m close. Just a few more decades and I think I’ll get it. Does your Moses know any of these? Leave that charlatan and join the real men of power. His days are numbered anyway.”

“One day with Moses is more valuable than a lifetime of whatever you might teach,” Pinhas spoke to the clouds.

“Perhaps. But from up here I have a wonderful view of all his people. I think this may be a propitious time. I should be able to get all of them with one curse.”

Pinhas inserted his sword into the scabbard, took out a gold-plated headband from his satchel and tied it to his forehead. God’s name was inscribed on the golden headband. The rays from the setting sun reflected off the golden headband and lit up the surrounding clouds. The clouds burst outward.

“Ahhhhhh,” Bilaam yelled as he fell from the sky.

Pinhas flew quickly behind him. Bilaam crashed into the ground forming a man-sized crater. Dust flew up around him. Pinhas landed softly at the edge of the crater.

Bilaam jumped high out of the crater and kicked Pinhas in the face, knocking Pinhas to the ground. The golden headband clattered off his forehead. Bilaam reached for the headband. As he wrapped his hand over the headband his skin sizzled and smoked. Bilaam let go of the headband, his palm charred, with a broad band of burnt skin.

“Not so indestructible after all,” Pinhas noted as he got back on his feet, picking up the headband and retying it to his forehead. “Holiness doesn’t agree with you.”

Bilaam spat on the ground. “I think we have different definitions of holiness.”

“All the more reason for you to die,” Pinhas said.

“You will have to try much harder,” said Bilaam as he raised both hands, palms towards Pinhas.

Pinhas rolled past Bilaam, and turned around behind him. He took a long swath of cloth from his satchel and wrapped it around Bilaam’s throat.

“You are wise not to touch me,” Bilaam rasped. Pinhas pulled tightly on the cloth. Bilaam’s eye bulged. He clawed at his neck until he collapsed, breathless, face down on the ground.

Pinhas kicked the body until it rolled over. He unwrapped the cloth from Bilaam’s neck. A ring of dark red covered Bilaam’s neck. Pinhas took a coil of rope out of his satchel and bound Bilaam. He then removed a large bronze ladle from his satchel. It was filled with lead. Pinhas gestured at the lead. Slowly, it heated up until the molten metal glowed in the ladle.

Suddenly Bilaam coughed, opened his eyes and said: “I told you I wouldn’t be so easy to…”

Pinhas poured the molten lead down Bilaam’s throat.

“AAAAAGGHH!” he screamed, clutching his neck.

Bilaam writhed and coughed up pieces of solid lead. “No gold?” Pinhas asked.

Pinhas lifted several boulders and dropped them on the bound Bilaam until only his neck and head were uncovered.

“I cannot be killed,” Bilaam wheezed. “I am immortal, indestructible.”

“You said that already.” Pinhas removed his sword and sharpened the edge with a whetstone. “You are still a man though. There must still be some human element in you.”

Pinhas placed his foot on Bilaam’s neck. “I know you are an extremely powerful sorcerer and there are probably much of the dark arts you could teach, if you were so inclined. Let me tell you about my expertise. I am very good at slaughtering.”

Pinhas held the sword with both hands, locked his elbows and placed the tip of his sword on Bilaam neck. He swung it up and down lightly, confirming the arc of the sword.

“You are wasting your time,” Bilaam rasped. “Why don’t you just pray to God to strike me down? Why are you resorting to the crude sword?”

“You are not worthy of God’s attention. I will kill you as I would an animal.”

“You will fail.”

“Since I was a young man, I’ve been slaughtering animals. I have learned to slaughter them quickly, efficiently and with minimal fuss. True, you are more difficult, but now I have worked on the inside and the outside of your neck. Perhaps now we will succeed.”

Pinhas raised his sword and brought it down with a mighty stroke.

“Ugh,” Bilaam groaned. A thin sliver of red on Bilaam’s neck was all Pinhas got for his effort.

“See,” Bilaam spluttered, spitting blood. “Not so easy.”

“Amazing,” Pinhas muttered. “Very impressive. What makes you such an ornery fellow?”

“A healthy dose of nastiness, mean-spiritedness and frugality go a long way. I make sure to indulge all my vices and I have so much hate in my heart that I refuse to die.”

“Is that it? That is your secret to immortality?”

“Someone has to keep up the hate, and I have filled the role exceptionally well. Now come closer so I can at least lay a curse on you.”

Pinhas took a step back. He removed his satchel and placed it over Bilaam’s head.

“I knew something was missing from your head gear. You look much better this way. Now let’s think together how to end your miserable existence.”

“Waste of time,” was Bilaam’s muffled response.

“You cannot be too comfortable right now,” Pinhas said. “You must be in some pain. You cannot move. Cannot indulge those vices of yours. Cannot do anything in fact. What sort of existence is that?”

“Someone will come for me.”

“We can prevent that. No one will know you are here. You will have disappeared from the world with no trace and no memory. It will be as if you died, but you will suffer eternal anguish, pain and misery thanks to your immortality. That is actually a fitting punishment. I shall make the arrangements.”

Pinhas walked away.

“You are cruel,” Bilaam called from under the satchel. “You accuse me of evil, yet this punishment is most horrific. How can you bury me alive? How can you leave me to eternal suffering? Don’t you preach morality and goodness? Aren’t you a priest, the grandson of the great Aaron? How can you do such a thing? I would rather die.”

Pinhas ran back to Bilaam, sword still outstretched and stood above Bilaam. He brought it down vigorously onto Bilaam’s neck. Bilaam’s head rolled away and fell into a ditch.

“Your wish is granted,” Pinhas replied.


* * * * * *

Notes: Ever since I read the Midrash of Bilaam flying and Pinhas flying after him I wanted to write a story about it

The key sources I quoted in the beginning to give the background.

Secondary Sources:

Moses said to Pinhas and the men of the army, “I know that the wicked Bilaam is there. Set a trap for him. If you see that he is performing sorcery and flying in the air, show him the headband of the High Priest, on which the words ‘Sanctified to God’ are inscribed, and he will fall.” Bamidbar Rabbah 22:5

Pinhas flew after him. Pinhas grabbed his head, lowered him to the earth, drew his sword and killed him. Bilaam entreated Pinhas…. Pinhas answered, ‘I cannot let you live any longer’. Targum Yonatan, Bamidbar 31:8

They carried out the four death sentences against him: stoning, burning, slaying by sword, and choking. Tractate Sanhedrin 106b