Man in White
Johnny Cash. The Apostle Paul. Passionate. Controversial. Fiery. Destructive. Redeemed. ^Two legendary men. Two thousand years apart-yet remarkably similar. ^Both struggled with a "thorn in the flesh." And both had powerful visions from God. ^Paul's encounter with the Man in...
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Johnny Cash. The Apostle Paul. Passionate. Controversial. Fiery. Destructive. Redeemed. ^Two legendary men. Two thousand years apart-yet remarkably similar. ^Both struggled with a "thorn in the flesh." And both had powerful visions from God. ^Paul's encounter with the Man in White knocked him to the ground and struck him blind. It also turned him into one of the most influential men in history. ^Johnny Cash's vision was of another man entirely-his recently deceased father-a vision that helped spark his imagination to write this historical novel about the amazing life of the intriguing figure with whom Cash identified so deeply-the Apostle Paul. ^See Paul as you've never seen him before--through the creative imagination of one of the greatest singer-songwriters America has ever known. Subsequently see Johnny Cash, the man in Black, as you've never seen him before--as a passionist novelist consumed with the "Man In White."
Johnny Cash (1932-2003) was an American icon and country music superstar, a professed man of faith, as well as the author of three books. Cash first sang publicly while in the air force in the early fifties. The youngest person ever chosen for the Country Music Hall of Fame, he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and awarded eleven Grammies in a career that spanned generations. Married to country legend June Carter, Cash performed everywhere from Folsom Prison to the White House, hosted his own television show, appeared in feature films, and in 1996 received the Kennedy Cente
The Vow, ad 37
Sometime just before dawn, Saul was awakened by a sound in his room. He heard nothing at first, then, again a crunch, crunch, like feet walking on straw. Then it stopped. He looked around the room in the dim light and saw that he was alone. Maybe it was my imagination, he thought and dozed off into a light sleep again. Then he heard the sound again and a light bumping noise. He looked slowly and silently around his room, first at the wall and the window, then, straining to see his door, he noted that it was still bolted. Nothing there. He looked at the back wall where the loom stood. He saw nothing unusual, yet there was the sound again. It was coming from the area of the room where the cubical stood that held his scrolls of Scripture. His eyes remained on the spot as the morning light slowly revealed the scene. The velvet covering had fallen to the floor. His scrolls were all in their place, except for one. It was pulled out a few centimeters and was being gnawed and eaten by a large rat.
A low moan started in Saul's throat, and as the sound became audible, the rat stopped eating and raised its head, turning its black eyes upon Saul. Saul got up slowly. The rat didn't move. Saul reached down to the floor and picked up one of his sandals. He raised it over his head and with a grunt threw it at the rat. The rat leaped to the floor and disappeared. The sandal knocked another one of the scrolls to the floor.
The rat was under the loom now, and Saul crept across the floor, pushed the loom over, and leaped with his bare feet down on the hard rock floor where the rat had been. He looked around the room, trying to decide where the rat had hidden. His cloak lay on the floor by the bed. He danced upon it, but the rat wasn't there. Embarrassed at himself, he turned again to survey the room. The vile rodent had to be near the basket and spindle. He slowly crept up and kicked the basket. The rat jumped out, but out with it came a mass of fibers its feet had become entangled in. The rat leaped left and right, sideways and upside down in a frenzy to free itself, but it only succeeded in entangling itself more. Saul watched it squirm as it bound itself in a web of cotton. He slipped on a sandal and pressed the rat down on the floor with his foot. The monster shrieked and clawed, trying to free itself. He looked down at his head with hatred, deciding just how to kill it.
Just as he was about to take its life, he remembered. "The filthy thing has shreds of the sacred Scriptures in its stomach," Saul said aloud to himself. He paused. It must die, he thought, but still he couldn't crush it, thinking of the precious scroll. "What a horrible visitation upon me," he whispered, standing on one foot and holding the rat down with the other. "What, O Lord, is the meaning of this?" he moaned. "I spend all my waking hours on your holy Word, and a messenger of Satan, a . . . a veritable demon of hell steals in while I sleep."
He stood thinking for a long time, then finally reached down and put his thumb and fingers firmly behind the rat's head. He picked it up and broke it and its wrapping free from the rest of the mass. He opened the door and flung the live rat, tied just as it was, far out into the street. He didn't watch to see if the rat escaped from its bondage; he just closed the door and bolted it.
The room was a shambles. First Saul picked up the scroll that had fallen to the floor and examined it in the light under the window. It was the book of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling its two rollers, he discovered that there was a bend and a small rip in the parchment where his sandal had hit it. I could have it repaired by a Torah scribe, he thought. He had copied the scrolls himself years ago, writing with a stylus on parchment. The ink he had made by mixing cypress with lamp black. If he had only remembered to use oil of wormwood in the ink mixture, the bitterness would have discouraged rodents and insects from eating the scrolls.
He examined the other damaged scroll carefully and saw that the rodent had indeed eaten a part of it. He opened up the scroll of Chronicles and laid it across the table. Even though some of the text was missing, Saul knew the passage well. The words were a thousand years old--God's promise to Solomon--"If my people which are called by my name shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
God made these promises to Israel during the Feast of Tabernacles at the dedication of the Temple Solomon had built, the first great Temple that had stood where the greater Temple now stood. Accompanying these promises was a warning: "If you observe my statutes and my judgments, I will establish the throne of your kingdom . . . But if you turn away . . . and serve other gods . . ."
The rat had done more damage than he thought as he unrolled the scroll further, gently pushing the parchment across the table. "This house which I have sanctified for my name will I cast out of my sight. And it will be a proverb and a byword among all nations . . . Because they have forsaken the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt . . ."
He moaned at the desecration of the Holy Scriptures, the horrid toothmarks on the scroll.
"The holy Temple of the Most High shall never fall," he said. "His service and his house are my life, my daily portion, my daily service."
He rolled the scroll back up and placed it carefully and lovingly back in the cubicle. It took awhile to put the loom, basket, and spindle back in order. Having done this, he went to the basin and washed himself all over, brushed his hair and his beard, and put on a clean loincloth and tunic. He faced in the direction of the Temple, where the sun rising over Mt. Nebo was beginning to bathe its pinnacles in a golden glow. Then he began his morning prayers. It was to be a long, troubled day.
Jonathan ben Annas, the high priest, looked down at the young Pharisee who stood before him. He was a small man; his hair and short curly beard were auburn, but his dark eyes under heavy black eyebrows were alive and piercing. Saul of Tarsus had brought before the Sanhedrin another prisoner charged with blasphemy. Only forty-two members of the Sanhedrin were present. Many had excused themselves, claiming other business rather than hearing the case against and deciding the fate of yet another follower of the crucified Nazarene.
Since the last days of Herod, the Temple at Jerusalem was watched over by what the Jews called "the evil eye in the sky"--the perpetual presence of Roman guards who stood watch atop the fortress Antonia at the northwest corner of the Temple complex. This fortress could barrack as many as a thousand soldiers. Adjacent to one side of the fortress were stables for the soldiers' Syrian horses. The Roman governor, Marcellus, was afforded every luxury that his office and position allowed. His hall of justice was on the main floor under the tower with business offices and chambers around it. Underneath the justice hall was the prison, a dark, musky, vile-smelling nightmare almost as large as the barracks itself. Into this dungeon were thrown the rabble of Jerusalem, the drunks, thieves, and rebels, anyone who wouldn't bow to Roman law, and captured Zealots, those awaiting trial for active organized resistance to Roman rule in Judea.
On a balcony on the side of the great hall that touched the Temple wall were two huge iron doors at which ten Roman soldiers always stood guard. Beyond these doors was a hallway through the wall, a no-man's-land forty cubits long that led to another pair of huge iron doors that opened into the Temple area. The hall through the Temple wall was cut by Herod, and the pious spat in disgust at the sound of his name. They could never forget that the holy Temple of God was defiled on the northwest corner by the presence of the hated Romans. Their tower could even be seen from a portion of the open sacrificial court. Inside the second pair of iron doors was a large balcony from which seventy wide steps descended into the Court of the People and onto the Temple complex.
On feast days and other holidays, this giant Temple rectangle accommodated enormous throngs of pilgrims. Its outside walls were eight hundred cubits long. Made of precision-cut white stone blocks, the walls were eighty cubits high and forty cubits thick. The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of worship and sacrifice, yet very few people were ever in the area of the steps that led up to the guarded doors. A Jew would consider himself unclean if he set foot on the pavement of the fortress Antonia.
The Temple building nearest to these steps was the hall Gazith, the Palace of Hewn Stone, or the council chamber of the Sanhedrin. The Jews wanted to believe that the Sanhedrin was the highest court of all, but there was no denying that Roman officials had supreme power, even over routing Jewish affairs if they chose to become involved. The installation of a high priest as head of this council was automatically approved by the Roman governor if the man elected was willing to adhere to Roman military and civil policy.
The Sanhedrin sat in session daily except on the Sabbath and holy days, governing the religious order of Jews; its decisions and pronouncements were adhered to not only by the Jews of Judea but by those dispersed throughout the empire as well. In this chamber the seventy-two members voted to, or not to, allocate funds from the Temple treasury for various projects and charities. Malefactors were judged before this body of men; suits were decided and judgment pronounced.
Behind Saul stood a man called Stephen. He was barefoot, and apparently the only garment he had on was the rough goat-hair robe he wore. He stood perfectly still, and though his beardless chin was caked with dried blood and a large blue bruise was evident on his cheek, his face was expressionless, his blue eyes staring blankly ahead. The presence of the high priest and the supreme court did not intimidate him; his mind was obviously elsewhere. His curly hair was cut short in the Greek style and framed his face like a halo. He was tall and stately, with wide shoulders; long, muscular arms; wide, full lips; and an aquiline nose. A very handsome man, he had the bearing of a man of wealth and position. He had, in fact, come from a wealthy family, but had forsaken it all to promote the cause of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jonathan wanted to be done with the whole matter of the Nazarene, because his followers had been a constant problem ever since his death. It was evident that this sect was not dying out.
"Saul of Tarsus, who is this man, and what is the charge against him?" the high priest asked solemnly.
Saul was glowing with triumph. His dark eyes, under heavy curling eyebrows, were piercing.
"His name is Stephen," Saul said. "He is a Jew from my own country of Cilicia, but unlike myself, he has the heart of a Gentile. I know his kind well, Father Jonathan. He was trained from youth to pollute the Law, and now, here in the city of God, his perverted religion has reached fruition. He teaches radical doctrine in the name of the Carpenter. He is one of the chief followers. He has publicly blasphemed Moses and the Law and vilified this very Temple. I have brought two witnesses against this man."
"Let them speak," said the high priest.
One of the two stepped forward, reluctantly. He, like the other, was unkempt, ragged, and dirty, one of the street rabble always on the lookout for a way to make a piece of silver for services rendered. He moved with a slight limp; his foot twisted outward, and he favored that side as he shuffled forward.
"Speak up," Saul whispered as he stepped up beside him. The man stammered at first, standing in great awe of this august body of judges and the high priest himself.
"My brother here and I," he began, "have heard this Stephen vilify this Temple. He said that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy it!"
A murmur arose in the Sanhedrin. "Jesus of Nazareth is dead," said the high priest.
"This man claims he is alive again and is coming back to destroy this Temple and to abolish its sacrifices," the man replied.
"Have you actually heard him say these things?" the high priest asked
He looked at his brother, then at Saul, and then, nodding to the high priest, he said, "I have."
The second man had only one eye; it stared wide to compensate for lack of the other. Shy and fawning, but ready to be a part of the action now that his brother had spoken out, he came forward and, with his head down to hide his deformity, said, "He prays to that Jesus." He paused as all eyes were upon him, then stumbled on ahead. "He perverts the worship of the foreign Jews newly come to this city. We've heard him speak to hundreds in the language of the Greeks. He gathers all those of the Synagogue of the Libertines about him, and those of the Synagogue of the Isles of the Sea, desecrating this holy Temple."
The first witness, wanting to get back into the act, piped up, "He goes about working magic, deluding the people by giving honor to that Jesus for cures that are supposedly wrought by his hand."
"What tricks and what cures does he claim?" the high priest asked.
The man became perplexed and nervous, embarrassed at the direct question. "I . . . I . . ."
"Speak up," Saul said to him sharply.
"Saul, would you please be seated until these proceedings are completed?" said Jonathan. Saul reluctantly moved to a bench nearby, turning as he sat down so that he was facing Stephen and his witnesses.
"He has no more power than the Egyptian magician who came through Jerusalem deceiving everyone," the witness began.
The high priest interrupted. "We are not to be concerned with your personal opinion of this man. He is charged with blasphemy. Were you a witness to such?"
"There was a beggar who sat at the Damascus Gate, claiming to be blind. Everyone knew he could see as well as I. But he was lazy, so he begged from strangers. I watched this Stephen as he was entering through the gate. It was very crowded, and he knew that many people would be convinced that he had miraculous powers. He stopped and laid his hands on the beggar's eyes. When he took his hands away, the beggar shouted, 'I can see! I can see!'"
The high priest stopped him again. "We are not here to examine the validity of Egyptian tricks or miracle cures. We are assembled to decide whether or not this man has committed blasphemy."
The Sanhedrin was becoming restless. One of the judges beckoned for a servant to fill his goblet with pomegranate juice and wine. Many of the judges sipped the fruit-wine drink during court.
At this point the teacher Gamaliel raised his hand to be recognized. "May I ask the witness a question, Father Jonathan?" he asked quietly. Jonathan nodded, and all eyes in the chamber were upon Gamaliel.
The stately, handsome Gamaliel was one of those people whose presence filled a room. He was tall and slim as a willow. What little hair he had left could be seen in silver gray under his Pharisee turban. His face had a kind, fatherly countenance. He took a deep breath and held his hands together in front of himself, the fingers of one hand slightly touching and tapping those of the other. His gracious manner had a calming effect on the man he addressed.
"What is your name?" Gamaliel asked.
"I am Shemei of Hebron, Master Gamaliel," he answered.
Saul sat up straight and turned toward Gamaliel. Very rarely did his old teacher and friend speak out from his seat in the Sanhedrin. Whenever he did, it was worth hearing. He was the most loved and revered teacher in Jerusalem.
"Shemei," Gamaliel began, "this council spends much of its time in session, hearing charges against the exponents of the doctrines of the Nazarene. Concerning these so-called miracle cures, we have heard enough about people claiming various powers from various sources. Now I would like to ask you something," he continued.
I know what he's going to ask, Saul thought triumphantly. Now we're going to convict this man.
"Shemei," Gamaliel asked, "did this Stephen invoke the name of a divinity when he supposedly performed this cure?"
"No, Master," said Shemei. "He did it in the name of the Nazarene, Jesus."
There was a rumble in the chamber. Someone said, "Stone him." Another said, "That's the end of that." The Temple guards lining the walls of the closed council chamber were tense. High Priest Jonathan raised his hands for silence.
Stephen stood still, his eyes still straight ahead, but he appeared to be somewhere else. Faint traces of a smile were upon his face. Many curious eyes were upon Stephen, but Gamaliel was not finished. Looking at the second man, he asked, "And your name?"
"I am Cononiah, also of Hebron, Master," he answered.
"Cononiah, were you with your brother when he heard the accused invoke the name of Jesus the Nazarene?" Gamaliel asked sternly and slowly.
"I . . . I was there, Master. I was coming through the gate just behind my brother," he said.
Gamaliel asked patiently, "Did you hear the accused speak?"
"No, Master," he replied, but added quickly, "I heard the blind man claim he had been cured by Stephen."
Gamaliel sat down with a sigh. "Thank you, Father Jonathan. No more questions," he said.
Saul anxiously stood up to be recognized by the high priest, who nodded his assent.
"Master Gamaliel," Saul said, "for many years I studied at your feet. Through you the holy Torah was opened up to me. You, Master, taught me to love the Law! You have filled my heart and mind with the oral traditions of our fathers. I treasure the years you gave me. There are three things that are important in my life: our people, our Law, and our traditions. Our Law we received directly from the Most High. I see the authority and the integrity of the Law threatened by the vile sect." Saul's voice was rising. He was waving his arms, and his eyes were blazing. As he continued talking, his hands sliced the air, chopping up imaginary victims. "I have been responsible for the arrest and trial of many of them. Fortunately, I have seen justice done in many cases. But this Stephen"--Saul was shouting, pointing at the accused--"this apostle of the so-called dead messiah, I have carefully watched, and he is a great prize. Hundreds every week are breaking the Covenant of our fathers and banding with this corruptible clan. This man is a ringleader! He must die!" Saul sat down. Sweat dripped from his face, and he was trembling. Opening and closing his fists, he stared at Stephen.
Gamaliel was of the highly respected group called Pharisees, as was Saul. The Pharisees had begun and flourished when national power and spirit were endangered by pagan influences, resulting in a necessity for men to protect the true faith of their fathers. Hence, a devout band organized in rebellion against the contamination of the Jewish spirit and called themselves Pharisees. They exerted a powerful moral and spiritual influence on people.
Another group, the Sadducees, was also represented in the Sanhedrin. Many of these men sat in the Sanhedrin because they belonged to families of wealth and power. Though they helped maintain worship in form, they were worldly and cared little for the strict rabbinical interpretations of the Law they helped enforce.
The high priest spoke up before Gamaliel could respond to Saul's tirade. "We do not have the authority to carry out the death penalty without Roman approval," he reminded Saul.
Saul forced himself to calm down before responding to the council chairman. "What the Romans do not know about will cause us no pain, Father," Saul said. "Many times they have turned their backs rather than become involved in our affairs. I personally have meted out justice to some of these insects in certain situations where I caught them in abominable acts against Israel, and I intend to do everything in my power to bring them to justice."
He was furious and ached with other things he wanted to say, but dared not. He knew that the high priest communicated closely with the Roman procurator, Marcellus. He knew also, but dared not say, that the reason the Romans looked the other way on many Jewish affairs was because of tacit agreements between Marcellus and Jonathan. The high priest controlled the people, prevented rebellions against Rome, and counseled toleration of the unfolding of the Roman standard at the games. In return, Marcellus gave Jonathan free reign in the exercise of Temple worship and religious rules, which included the trying of those accused of heresy and blasphemy. This was supposedly a secret agreement, though many, like Saul and other members of the Sanhedrin, knew of the understanding between the high priest and the governor. In order for this arrangement to continue, though, it had to be kept quiet; such subversion could never reach the ears of Tiberius Caesar, so no one appeared to know.
"Saul," the high priest said sternly, pointing a long finger at him, "You are not the Law. Justice will be determined by a vote in this Sanhedrin."
"Yes, Father," Saul replied resignedly.
Cononiah raised his hand for permission to speak once more.
"Father," began the witness, "the same day that my brother heard him use the name of Jesus when he touched the blind man, we came by later and heard this Stephen speaking in Aramaic to a crowd of people near the gate."
"What did he say?"
"He said, and . . . as he spoke, he pointed to the Temple, even the inner parts, the Holy of Holies, and he said . . ."
"What did he say?" asked the high priest calmly.
"He said that Jesus would leave the right hand of God's throne to return to destroy the Temple and abolish the sacrifices," the man stammered.
A roar went up from the Sanhedrin. Several Pharisees stood, grasped their robes at the neck with both hands, and tore them to the waist as a display of shock and disgust at hearing blasphemy. A smile of victory appeared on Saul's face. Now that both men had testified that they had heard Stephen speaking of Jesus' claim, Stephen was doomed. Many of the Sanhedrin were talking wildly, pointing to Stephen. Some were beating their own chests in protest against the blasphemous accusation. They would stop their own hearts from beating rather than hear more abominable words of sacrilege.
Saul, upon seeing that Stephen was unmoved through all this, began to seethe. The man stands in this holy place, he thought, near the very dwelling place of the Most High, and he appears to be proud of the evil things he has spoken and done. He stands smiling to himself about it all. I should not have brought him before this council, knowing for sure of his guilt. I should have killed him myself. He is wasting my time, and I need to be about the work to which I have been called. Saul's mind was raging now. He could hardly remain in his seat. How has he preached of his dead messiah? Countless generations of my people have lived and died with the glorious hope I pray for daily--the true Messiah!
Near to bursting with anger, Saul sprang to his feet. "This man stands convicted," he shouted to the high priest.
An affirming cry went up from the assembly. The high priest began banging on the table. "Silence!" he shouted again and again.
Gamaliel had remained seated during all the commotion. He knew the prophesy of Jesus concerning the Temple, that it would be destroyed, that not one stone would be left upon another. Jesus had spoken these words to his disciples shortly before his death, telling them of terrible things to come and signs of the end of the age. When the shouting stopped and all was quiet, Saul, red-faced with fury, realized that all eyes were upon him, especially the quiet eyes of Gamaliel. Saul reluctantly took his seat.
Stephen still stood unmoved, his expression unchanged. There was a strange, unearthly air about him--he seemed at peace in all this turmoil, even seemed to emanate a sort of joy.
The two witnesses now crouched near the tall double doors. The high priest gave them a stern look, and a Temple guard pushed them back into the room. The doors had been kept closed at Saul's request. Many of Stephen's companions had wanted to come into the council chamber, but Saul had kept them out and closed the hearing to them. The room became quiet, and the high priest spoke to Stephen. "You have been accused of speaking in the name of Jesus the Nazarene. Your accusers have also heard you say that this same Jesus will destroy this holy place. Are these things so?"
Stephen blinked and finally seemed to become aware of his whereabouts. He turned and looked at Saul--a look not of malice but of kindness. It was met with a hostile glare. He glanced at his accusers, who dropped their eyes, unable to meet his. He looked around at the faces of the Sanhedrin, and then he began in a surprisingly powerful, authoritative tone. "Men, brothers and fathers, hear me," he said. "The glory of God appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he moved to Canaan, and God said to Abraham, 'Leave this country and your people, and go to a land which I will show you.' He came out of the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. He was sent by God to this land where we now live."
What is this ploy? Saul wondered. What does the story of Abraham have to do with his answering the charges against him? Does he hope to prove his innocence simply by telling the story of our people? His eloquence will not nullify his blasphemous words. He looked anxiously toward the high priest, but Jonathan, seeing Saul's impatience, made a motion for Saul to remain silent.
Stephen continued. He talked for many minutes. He recounted the history of Israel from the call of Abraham, telling of how the Jews were a people set apart and chosen by God to deliver his word and his salvation of humankind. He correctly related the stories of Isaac and Jacob, of Joseph and his brothers, and of Moses. He told how Moses talked with God, how God gave him his oracles, the Ten Commandments. He spoke in articulate Hebrew, and his words filled the hall. The longer he talked, the more Saul's hatred for him burned within him.
Saul's mouth was dry. My tongue would cleave to my mouth, he thought. He snapped his fingers for a Temple servant to bring a tray of refreshments. From the silver tray, Saul took a cup of the red fruit juice and wine mixture, poured a little honey in it, and rattled the mixing stick loudly as Stephen continued. He's well schooled in oration, thought Saul. A typical Greek god himself. A polluter of the Covenant. He has no right to call himself a Jew. To remain silent while this man stands here and tells stories of our people with the high priest and the Sanhedrin for an audience after he has blasphemed the very name of Israel . . . Saul sipped his drink as Stephen related the times of David and Solomon and the building of the first Temple.
When Stephen mentioned the Temple, Saul sat alert. Will he trap himself? Would he make those claims again about his Jesus being able to destroy this sacred sanctuary?
Stephen, however, quoted the Prophets. "The Most High does not live in temples made with hands."
He's trying to impress us with his knowledge of the Scripture, thought Saul. No one will be taken in by this traitor.
"'Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool. What houses will you build me?'" Stephen continued, quoting Isaiah. "'Haven't my hands made all these things?'" Stephen paused.
Saul clutched his drink hard in both hands.
"You stubborn and jaded in heart and mind. You do not have the spirit of holiness just as your fathers did not. They killed the prophets who told of the coming of the Just One," Stephen said loudly, pointing his finger at the high priest. "You were given the Law by divine dispensation, and you have not kept it. You are betrayers and murderers."
Saul was up on his feet instantly. He flew at Stephen, bellowing a death cry. His heavy silver cup was drawn back in an upraised hand when he left his seat. It struck Stephen on the side of the head with a heavy, dull sound and sent him sprawling backwards.
The high priest shouted, "You, Saul, a master of the Law, have struck a man who still stands in judgment--an unlawful act!"
But his words went unheard as others rose to follow Saul's attack. The elders came out of their seats as one and, amid shouts, attacked Stephen. Cononiah and Shemei joined in, relieved that the hearing had gone in their favor. The high priest called for order, and finally, Saul, most of his fury spent, stood up and held the others back. "Take him out and stone him!" he said to no one in particular but to everyone present.
"Stop!" the high priest shouted. "The man has not been found guilty. Saul of Tarsus, you have no power to give an execution order!"
Saul was seething. He whipped around, eyes aflame, to face the high priest. "Call a vote!" he shouted.
Jonathan ben Annas's eyes turned from Saul to the agonized body of Stephen, who was trying to raise himself up. He felt a strange kind of pity for him. What a handsome man this Stephen is, and how different from the dozens of other ragged rabbis, some of them gathering great groups of followers, who were reinterpreting and often discovering new beauty in the Scriptures. His interpretation of the Scriptures, though, had evidently gone beyond illumination to become heresy.
Jonathan, addressing the Sanhedrin, said, "All judges who find this man guilty as charged of blasphemy stand before me with left hand raised." They all stood except Gamaliel, who was carefully meditating on Stephen's speech. Four or five Sadducees who didn't care one way or the other sat unmoved.
"This tribunal finds this man, Stephen, guilty as charged," said Jonathan ben Annas.
Suddenly, before they could lay hands on Stephen to take him out, he sat up on the floor, opened his eyes, and looked straight ahead in Saul's direction. His eyes were glazed over, and a smile played on his bloody lips; his hands were raised in a gesture of praise. The expression on his face shocked everyone into silence for a moment, and in that moment, Stephen said joyfully, "Look, I see the heavens open, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God."