At length the man was accosted.
“Are you not Joseph of Nazareth?”
The speaker was standing close by.
“I am so called,” answered Joseph, turning gravely around. “And you- ah, peace be unto you! my friend, Rabbi Samuel!”
“The same give I back to you.” The Rabbi paused, looking at the woman, then added, “To you, and unto your house and all your helpers, be peace.”
With the last word, he placed one hand upon his breast, and inclined his head to the woman, who, to see him, had by this time withdrawn the wimple enough to show the face of one but a short time out of girlhood. Thereupon the acquaintances grasped right hands, as if to carry them to their lips; at the last moment, however, the clasp was let go, and each kissed his own hand, then put its palm upon his forehead.
“There is so little dust upon your garments,” the Rabbi said, familiarly, “that I infer you passed the night in this city of our fathers.”
“No,” Joseph replied, “as we could only make Bethany before the night came, we stayed in the khan there, and took the road again at daybreak.”
“The journey before you is long, then- not to Joppa, I hope.”
“Only to Bethlehem.”
The countenance of the Rabbi, theretofore open and friendly, became lowering and sinister, and he cleared his throat with a growl instead of a cough.
“Yes, yes- I see,” he said. “You were born in Bethlehem and wend thither now, with your daughter, to be counted for taxation, as ordered by Caesar. The children of Jacob are as the tribes in Egypt were- only they have neither a Moses nor a Joshua. How are the mighty fallen!”
Joseph answered, without change of posture or countenance- “The woman is not my daughter.”
But the Rabbi clung to the political idea; and he went on, without noticing the explanation, “What are the Zealots doing down in Galilee?”
“I am a carpenter, and Nazareth is a village,” said Joseph, cautiously. “The street on which my bench stands is not a road leading to any city. Hewing wood and sawing plank leave me no time to take part in the disputes of parties.”
“But you are a Jew,” said the Rabbi earnestly. “You. are a Jew, and of the line of David. It is not possible you can find pleasure in the payment of any tax except the shekel given by ancient custom to Jehovah.”
Joseph held his peace.
“I do not complain,” his friend continued, “of the amount of the tax- a denarius is a trifle. Oh, no! The imposition of the tax is the offence. And, besides, what is paying it but submission to tyranny? Tell me, is it true that Judas claims to be the Messiah? You live in the midst of his followers.”
“I have heard his followers say he was the Messiah,” Joseph replied.