Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Man of Red Clay: A Novel of Adam" by Jonathan Hooper, Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen

In the days that followed, Seth saw that the spirit was leaving his father. He was confined to his blankets, and seemed to have given up all thought of climbing the mountain. The change had been startling at first. Having crossed the desert, why abandon the purpose now, this close to God?

One morning, Seth went to see Yered, who was out tending the growing lambs. Without his own flock to care for, Yered lavished attention on Horeb's; he had frequent discussions with the women, who, in the men's place, tended the sheep, and seemed, despite Adam's decline, to be content.

Seth called to him as he climbed the steep meadow, scattering the sheep as he came. "You tend them as if they were your own," he told him, lowering himself down in the grass and taking a loaf of bread out of his cloak. Sharing the bread, the two men said nothing, watching the sheep graze.

"How long have we been here?" Seth asked after the bread was finished. "A few days? I've grown attached to this flock. The sheep do not care about prophets. They do not care about God's mountain. I am like them."

Seth gave a faint smile. Then, with a heavy heart, he said, "Adam was even weaker this morning. That is why I came to talk. He has no will to climb the mountain, or is too frail to do so. Perhaps he has decided that he will not find God on Horeb, or, now that the end has come, he would rather not know His will. He lets the women care for him, and lies there, unspeaking, when Lemekh comes to talk to him about visions and prophecies. Talk of God used to lift his spirits: now it seems to hasten his decline. I would rather Lemekh left him in peace.

"I don't know what has changed him so much, why the will has gone out of him. You remember his fervour to climb Horeb, his belief that he would receive some final revelation here. Now he trembles from the pain, and calls death down upon him. It would have been better if I had resisted his will, and kept him close to his kin, instead of taking this journey.

"He has ceased to goad me to climb the mountain, and I have no wish to go there by myself. I was not made for such things, Yered: I grew up on the land, and, though it pains me that we suffer, I do not wish God to reveal His purpose to me alone, so that I can relate it to others. I believe in our father's God, but if I have love, it is for people, for all our sons."

"And I for the shepherd's life. For me, it is enough to be humble, to live a good life. In my own way, I lift my heart to God when I am here amongst the flock. When I am out on the hillside, I have the strength to empty my mind of self-reflection, to forget my own concerns. Only the flock - I cannot forget them. If I must, I will follow the will of those who do converse with God, and leave it for others to lead."

The sheep were around them now, and Yered stood up in the bright glare of the sun. What he said surprised Seth, because he had expected Yered, with his fear of prophecy, to simply echo his own thoughts. "Perhaps you should ask him. If he is too weak to take this final journey, he might want you to take it for him. He is the shepherd, and would a shepherd lead his flock to a place where there wasn't sufficient grazing, or into the clutches of wolves? If he is dying, and you love him, allow him this."

Seth did not answer. He sat next to Yered, lost in contemplation. With love, I would serve him unconditionally, he thought. If he wanted me to go to the mountaintop, I would go, but it seems to me that he has ceased to look for God there. I wish now that we were next to the Jordan, amongst our kin, and far from this unforgiving place.

After a time, Seth took his leave of Yered, and went to check on Adam. Whilst he was with him, the women brought them food and water, as they did every day, dutifully, though Adam now refused to eat.

Yered watched the sun burning the bare slopes of the mountain. He was trying to banish the memory of Ruth, his wife. Often, as he wandered the meadow, he would fancy he heard somebody behind him. Turning around, his eyes caught a fleeting glimpse of a woman's form, but then there was nothing - it had been his imagination after all. When he looked up to the barren summit, he thought he heard Ruth's voice in his ear, saying, "Why do you look there, husband? - your life is with the sheep. A shepherd shouldn't have desires to be a prophet."

“I don't,” he answered. But still his eyes would stray to the summit and the voice would assail him again. Was it his fault if, in moments of weakness, he desired to know what was to come? He had kept this from Seth and from Adam, but it troubled him some times.

She never listened to my ideas, he thought now, as a breeze shook the cypress trees. She never accepted my mastery: she told me that I should stick to the sheep and leave her to manage things. But this is the life that makes me happy: I have no desire to be a leader of men.

In their days at the mountain, Seth was aware of the unrest that Lemekh caused amongst the villagers, their fervour for knowledge turning to dread. His talk was full of portents for the days ahead: he proclaimed terrible visions, teaching them that God's punishment was only just beginning. In the days to come, there would be plagues, famines, and floods, with no mention of God's mercy. According to Lemekh, Yahweh was a wrathful God.

One morning, Seth saw signs of this general despair: the villagers, gathered in the elder's hut, were discussing Adam, whose identity was still hidden to them. In their view, he had brought the curse upon mankind. It was his first, terrible sin that incurred the wrath to which they were subject. They wanted to know what to do to purge themselves of the sin of Adam.; Lemekh, however, provided no guidance.

"Why must we endure so much?" one of the assembly asked him. "You have told us what is coming. Locust plagues, floods, diseases carried by the air and breathed from the mouth of devils. And yet all the time we climb Horeb, we pray that God will have mercy on us, but He does not answer."

"God is wrathful. We are being punished because we were born with the taint of our father."

"Are we to blame? We are not a sinful people: we are not the people of Enoch. Adam has condemned us. We should go to the Jordan, to Adam, and ask him why we must inherit his punishment. How old is Adam now? He should give up his life to God; impeach him that his children do not suffer with him."

Seth knew that Lemekh sought to cause discord before Adam's eyes. The shepherds of Horeb, who would be prophets, climbed the peak and were denied answers to their prayers. At first, they had relished the prophetic gift; now, it seemed, these endless visions of punishment were beginning to terrify them. They had understood, at last, that God had no plan other than to punish mankind. All the while, Adam said nothing: he did not reveal himself. He suffered an audience with Lemekh each night, who doubtless confronted the patriarch with the same complaints.

Enosh had had his own experience of Lemekh. Lemekh had come to talk to him too, whilst he lingered by the well, drawing his eyes to Horeb.

"Your father does not think you worthy of visions?" Lemekh had asked him. "Perhaps he doesn't recognise a man with a great soul, a man who would snatch fire from the gods. You would convert men with fire, Lemekh. You could be, in these coming times, a vessel of God's wrath. The time will come when we will have to convert men with the sword. Patience is for shepherds - you should rise up against your father, challenge him. He favours Seth, wants Seth to lead the tribes after he is gone. But Seth is afraid to climb the peak of the mountain, afraid of what he will find there. If Seth's heart is not sufficient, why doesn't he choose you instead? If you are wise, you will confront Seth too: ask him to relinquish his rights to Adam's tribe. Tell him to hand over his lands to you, once Adam is gone."

Enosh had been tempted by his words, but he held back from receiving Lemekh again: he did not wish to rise up against his father. Still, though he felt that Lemekh was goading him to rise up against his brothers, he could not banish the sense that Lemekh was right: that Seth's soul wasn't up to the task, and that more fervent hearts should take his place. And why had Adam, at the last, submitted to his flesh? Why did he, after crossing the desert, not find the will to see him to the mountaintop, and banish the doubts of these shepherds? If Lemekh's visions brought promise of nothing except punishment, perhaps God had something else to disclose to Adam, something that would appease Enosh himself, who still mourned for the death of his children.

Sometimes, Enosh had taken to staying with Adam during the days, and was startled by his willingness to die. Had God already revealed some new fate to him, something that, thus far, Adam had chosen not to share? Adam, unsurprisingly, would not answer him.

As for Seth, he kept his distance from Lemekh. He resented that Lemekh paid so frequent visits to Adam's hut. Still, the mountain beckoned, and he was afraid. One night, when Seth stood at the edge of the desert, he thought he heard a voice speaking to him in the wail of the wind. Seth thought it some creation of his imagination, but the words were clear. "You are not for visions, Seth," it said. "You are a builder, not a prophet. Go back to the Jordan; take Adam with you. His voice cannot be heard by God, because, for all his prophet's zeal, he is too attached to the earth. For this is precisely what he would not tell you all this time: though he speaks of the unfallen world, and says that he waits for God, he is like you: he cannot stand to leave it. He curses nature but, in truth, it is his god. He does not want to leave his sons. Go back to the Jordan with him; let him die there."

Seth was weakening in his heart: The voice, he thought, might be the echo of his own worries, and no spirit of the desert at all. God no longer spoke to Adam; perhaps Adam had become too much a man of clay. But the days seemed to be moving by swifter. Even if they did return to the desert once more, he was sure that Adam would not survive the crossing.

As he was standing there, he saw Anna, one of the shepherd's daughters, coming down the slope of the hill. Her face was full of panic. "Seth, you must come at once!" she called. "It is time. Your father wishes to speak with you before he dies."

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