Akeldama: The First Potter's Field
Some say Judas the sicarius was the first buried here – more covered with shovelfuls of clay heaped on his carcass. He had fallen, his body exploded in an excremental heap. The leather pouch next to him, the silver coins spilling out. Nobody would take them, not the thieves passing, not the lepers on their way to beg, not even the priests – worst scavengers of all.
Some say it was theirs to begin with, given him for betrayal, blood money, thirty pieces. Enough to get away - start his life over, to make a feast of bread and fish for the poor, or enough to make a burnt offering - an ox - if the priests would have allowed it. But what good is money to a man who has turned his back on all that he has loved, on all that he might have been?
They say he did it when the man he loved spurned him, chose a woman – a simple girl run off from Magdalene – but loving. She pampered that one – washed his feet and anointed him with oil; and he became enamored. Until then it had been a boys’ club, a teacher and his disciples – a motley crew making believe he was their teacher. Was he truly godly or was he more the harem master? Either way, the would-be assassin and rebel was his most beloved – that is until the girl.
So the sicarius betrayed with a kiss, received his reward, and died – all in the one night, all before the cock crowed thrice. The money left spilled on the potters’ field. So the priests bought it. The Greek who owned it was happy enough. Back to Athens and let them turn it to a burial ground. Not for people of consequence. Not for anyone with a name. For the nameless, the foreigner, the forgotten, the beggar, even the criminal: fitting company for his betraying putrification.
The first was a woman stoned, an adulteress. Her body left unmourned in a shallow grave. Her young son told to walk off nose high as if she had been an offense. Only the young widow, gleaning near, stopped to speak a word to the dead.
“I do not pity you,” she said; “rather envy, for you at least are dead. I have lost my husband, my true love, and am reduced by law to living with his brother and his brother’s wife. She is a harridan, a monster wearing human disguise. I would take your place rather then be under his rule and her thumb.”
As the woman lamented, a messenger arrived to tell her that her brother-in-law had succumbed to the same illness that had taken her husband, her true love. She was in the moment free of obligation, but at what a price. Now, with no home, no claim on any, reduced to begging. Poorest sufferer, even without a mite to offer at the Temple gate.
The boy they buried was from some far-off place. His father, a trader in furs and stones, had brought the youth to learn the world. Instead he had met death’s sting far from home. Strangers of an even stranger faith, the cemeteries closed their gates and sent the father, rich though he might be, to this potters’ field to dig a grave. And here the child lay.
Another man, watching the father grieve, made a prayer that his own wife, pregnant once again, might this time bring forth a son.
“Girls are fine,” he prayed, “but I would have a son to carry on my land and name.”
That night the boy was delivered. Poor, miserable creature not destined to live in this world. Sickly from the moment of creation, feeble crying through the night. One day of life and gone – a memory to mourn, no more.
I had come to Jerusalem to study at the temple. My father had insisted. I would have preferred to remain with him and my kin in Jericho. He said I should learn the law and the ways of the Sanhedrin.
As I passed that field of clay and death, I, too, saw a burial and prayed. “You, leper being laid to rest, at last you are free of this city and its laws. I would shake its dust from my cloak as well.”
Three days later the city fell. The Romans were among us, killing, laying waste, and taking slaves. I do not know where my new master will take me. I only know that I shall never see Jerusalem again.
I would warn those who pass Akeldama, beware of your prayers. Here resides a cruel god who punishes at every twist and turn.