The Cub’s Mistress” takes place in the last years of the Kingdom of Judah, encompassing the last part of the reign of Josiah and the reigns of Jehoiakim and Jehoichin. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) has long since disappeared at the hands of the Assyrians and its people have gone into exile. Assyria itself as been marginalized as the Babylonian Empire has extended its tentacles into the Levant. Many in Judah are foolishly looking to Egypt for protection against this threat from the East, and as a result Jerusalem has been heavily influenced by Egyptian culture. It’s in this setting where the first-person narrative of Moses, a member of the priestly class of Levites, takes place.
We follow the life of Moses from his earliest youth during the time of Josiah to his days as a young priest, as he discovers the moral and spiritual degradation that has infected the priestly class as well as Judean society in general. He wishes to remain loyal to Yahweh, but temptation comes his way in the form of Miriam, a beautiful temptress and married woman. What will happen when her husband finds out?
Targeted Age Group:: 15-100
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The book sprang from my historical Ph. D studies in Israel. As I was visiting historical sites, such as Jerusalem, I became curious about how people lived and what they thought about during those ancient days. The book takes the reader back to the declining years of Judah.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters are a mix of biblical personalities, persons I know and a degree of myself.
As I wandered along the colonnades I met a lovely woman whose robe was of fine linen so transparent that her breasts and loins might be seen through it. She was straight and slender, her lips, cheeks and eyebrows were colored, and she looked at me with shameless curiosity.
“What is your name, handsome boy?” she asked, her eyes lingering upon the white shoulder cloth that showed me to be a candidate for initiation for serving at the Temple of Solomon.
“Moses,” I answered in confusion, not daring to meet her gaze; but she was so beautiful that I hoped she would ask me to be her guide in the temple area. Such requests were often made of the novices.
“Moses,” she repeated thoughtfully, surveying me. “Then you must be unsure of yourself and fear powerful men.”
This was an allusion to the Moses of the Exodus, who was afraid to speak in front of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and it annoyed me; there had been enough of that teasing at school. I drew myself up and looked her in the eye, and her glance was so strange and clear and searching that I felt my face beginning to burn and a flame seemed to be running over my body.
“Why should I fear?” I retorted. “A priest fears only God, not men.”
“Ah,” she smiled. “The chick has begun to cheep before it has cracked the shell. But tell me; have you among your comrades a young man named Jonathan? He is the son of the King’s master builder.”
It was Jonathan who had filled the priest with wine and given him gold bracelets as gifts. I felt a cramp as I told her that I knew him and offered to fetch him. Then it struck me that she might be his sister or some other relative: this cheered me and I smiled at her boldly.
“How am I to fetch him, though, when I do not know your name and cannot tell him who has sent me?”
“He knows,” returned the woman, tapping the pavement impatiently with her jewelled sandal. I looked at the little feet, unsoiled by dust, and at the beautiful toenails lacquered bright red. “He knows who it is. Perhaps he owes me something. Perhaps my husband is on a journey, and I am waiting for Jonathan to come and console me in my grief.”
My heart sank once more at the thought that she was married, but I said briskly, “Very well, fair unknown! I will fetch him. I will say that a woman younger, more beautiful than the full moon, calls for him. He will know then who it is, for whoever has seen you once can never forget you.”
Scared at my own presumption, I turned to go, but she caught hold of me. “Why such a hurry? Wait! You and I may have something more to say to one another.”
She searched me again with her eyes until my heart melted in my breast and my stomach seemed to have slipped down to my knees. She stretched out a hand, decorated with rings and bracelets, touched my head and said kindly, “Does not that handsome hair need to be washed?” Then softly, “Were you speaking truth? Do you think I am beautiful? Look more closely.”
I looked at her; her robe was of royal linen, and in my eyes she was beautiful – more beautiful than all the women I had seen – and, in truth, she did nothing to hide her beauty. I looked at her and forgot the wound in my heart, I forgot Yahweh and his temple. Her closeness burned my body like fire.
“You do not answer,” she said sadly, “and need not. In those splendid eyes of yours, I must appear a hag. Go, then, and fetch the young candidate, Jonathan, and be rid of me.”
I could neither leave her, nor speak, though I knew she was teasing. It was dark between the huge temple pillars. Dim light from some distant stone tracery gleamed in her eyes, and there was no one to see us.
“Perhaps you need not fetch him.” She was smiling now. “Perhaps I should be content if you delight me and take your pleasure with me, for I know of no other to give me joy.”
Then I remembered what Na´amah had told me of women who entice handsome boys; I remembered it so suddenly that I started back a step.
“Did I not guess that Moses would be afraid?”
She approached me again, but I raised my hand in dismay to hold her off, saying, “I know now what kind of woman you are. Your husband is away, and your heart is a snare, and your body burns worse than fire.”
But though I spoke this way, I could not flee from her. She was taken aback, but smiled again and came close against me.
“Do you believe that?” she said gently. “But it is not true! My body does not burn at all like fire; indeed, it is said to be desirable. Feel for yourself!” She took my numb hand and carried it to her belly. I felt her beauty through the thin stuff so that I began to quake, and my cheeks burned. “You still do not believe me,” she said, pretending to be disappointed. “My dress is in the way, but stay – I will draw it aside.” She pulled away her robe and held my hand to her bare breast. It was soft and cool beneath my hand.
“Come, Moses,” she said very softly. “Come with me, and we will drink wine and take our pleasure together.”
“I… I am not allowed to leave the precincts of the temple,” I said in fright and was ashamed of my cowardice and desired her and yet feared her as I would have feared death. “I must keep myself clean in the eyes of the Lord, or I shall be driven from the temple and never again be admitted to the house of Yahweh. Have pity on me!”
I said this knowing that if she asked me once again, I must follow her. But she was a woman of the world and knew my distress. She looked about her thoughtfully. We were still alone, but people were moving to and fro nearby, and a priest was loudly reciting a prayer.
“You are a very shy young man, Moses!” she said. “The rich and great must offer gold before I call them to me. But you remain pure.”
“You would like me to call Jonathan,” I said desperately. I knew that Jonathan would never hesitate to sneak out during the night and follow her. He could do such things, for his father was the master builder of the King, but I could have killed him for it.
“Perhaps I no longer wish you to call Jonathan,” she said, looking playfully into my eyes. “Perhaps I should like us to part friends, Moses. Therefore I will tell you my name, which is Miriam, because I am thought beautiful and because one who has pronounced my name cannot resist saying it once more, and again. It is a custom also for parting friends to give one another keepsakes. Therefore I want a gift from you.”
I was once more aware of my poverty, for I had nothing to give her: not the most trifling little ornament, not the smallest cooper’s ring; if I had, I could not have offered such things to her. I was so bitterly ashamed that I bent my head, unable to speak.
“Then give me a present to refresh my heart,” she said, and she raised my chin with her fingers and brought her face quite close. When I understood what she wanted, I touched her soft lips with mine. She sighed a little. “Thank you. That was a beautiful gift, Moses. I shall not forget it. But you must be a stranger from a far country since you have not yet learned how to kiss. How else is it possible that the girls of Jerusalem have not taught you, though your beard is grown for manhood?”
She drew from her finger a ring of gold and silver in which was set a large stone without any inscription and put it on my hand.
“I give you a present also, Moses, so that you may not forget me. When you have been initiated a priest of Yahweh, you can have your seal engraved upon this stone, like men of wealth and position. But remember that is it green because my name is Miriam and because it has been said that my eyes are as green as Jadeite.”
“I cannot take your ring, Miriam,” and I repeated it – Miriam – and the repetition gave me untold joy. “But I shall not forget you.”
“Silly boy! Keep the ring because I wish it. Keep it for a whim of mine, and for the interest it will pay me some day.” She shook a slim finger in my face, and her eyes laughed as she said, “And remember to beware of women whose bodies burn worse than fire!”
She turned to go, forbidding me to follow her. Through the exit of the temple precinct, I saw her step into a carved and ornamented chair that was awaiting her in the courtyard. A runner went before and shouted to clear the way, the people standing aside, whispering and looking after her. When she had gone, I was seized with a deadly emptiness as if I had dived headfirst into a dark abyss.
Jonathan noticed the ring on my finger some days later; he gripped my hand suspiciously and stared at it. “By all the gazelles on Ein Gedi… Miriam, eh? I would never have believed it. ” He looked at me with something like respect, although the priest had set me to scrub the floors around the altar, cleaning away the blood from the floor that had dripped from sacrificial animals. I was given this task since I had not the wit to give him a present.
Then I felt such hatred of Jonathan and his words as only a youth can feel. However much I longed to ask him about Miriam, I would not condescend to it. I hid my secret in my heart, for a lie is lovelier than the truth and a dream purer than Earthly contact. I caressed the green stone upon my finger, remembering her eyes and her cool breasts, and seemed still to feel the taste of her lips. I held her, and her soft lips touched mine – in consolation, for an angel had appeared in front of me and my faith was gone.
When I thought of her, I whispered with burning cheeks, “My sister.” And the word was a caress in my ears, for from untold ages its meaning has been and will ever be, “My beloved.”
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