Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Assar and Mirjam
By Meïr Aaron Goldschmidt (1819–1887)
From ‘Love Stories from Many Countries’: Translation of Olga Flinch

ASSAR, son of Juda, a valiant and jealous youth, came walking toward Modin, when from one of the hills he saw a great sight on the plain. Here warriors rode a chariot race in a great circle; many people stood about, calling loudly to the drivers and the spirited horses. Yonder were horsemen in golden armor, trying to catch rings on their spears; and drums were beaten in honor of the winner. On the outskirts of the plain was a little grove of olive-trees; it was not dense. In the grove stood a nude woman hewn in marble; her hair was of gold and her eyes were black, and young girls danced around her with garlands of flowers.  1
  Then Assar said:—“Woe unto us! These are Jewish maidens dancing around the idol, and these are Greek men carrying arms on our holy ground and playing at games as if they were in their home! and no Jewish man makes the game dangerous for them!”  2
  He went down the hill and came to a thicket reaching down to a little brook. On the other side of the brook stood a Greek centurion, a young man, and he was talking to a girl, who stood on this side of the brook on the edge of the thicket.  3
  The warrior said:—“Thou sayest that thy God forbids thee to go over into the grove. What a dark and unfriendly God they have given thee, beautiful child of Juda! He hates thy youth, and the joy of life, and the roses which ought to crown thy black hair. My gods are of a friendlier mind toward mortals. Every morning Apollo drives his glorious span over the arch of the heavens and lights warriors to their deeds; Selene’s milder torch glows at night for lovers, and to those who have worshiped her in this life beautiful Aphrodite gives eternal life on her blessed isle. It is her statue standing in the grove. When thou givest thyself under her protection she gives thee in return a hero for thy faithful lover, and later on, graceful daughter of Juda, some god will set thee with thy radiant eyes among the stars, to be a light to mortals and a witness of the beauty of earthly love.”  4
  The young girl might have answered; but at this moment Assar was near her, and she knew him, and he saw that it was Mirjam, Rabbi Mattathew’s daughter,—the woman he loved, and who was his promised bride. She turned and followed him; but the warrior on the other side of the brook called out, “What right hast thou to lead this maiden away?”  5
  Assar replied, “I have no right.”  6
  “Then why dost thou go with him, sweet daughter of Juda?” cried the warrior.  7
  Mirjam did not answer, but Assar said, “Because she has not yet given up serving her Master.”  8
  “Who is her master?” asked the warrior. “I can buy thee freedom, my beautiful child!”  9
  Assar replied, “I wish thou may’st see him.” 1  10
  The warrior, who could not cross the brook at this place, or anywhere near it, called as they went away, “Tell me thy master’s name!”  11
  Assar turned and answered, “I will beg him come to thee.”  12
  A hill hid them from the eyes of the warrior, and Mirjam said, “Assar!”  13
  Assar replied, “Mirjam! I have never loved thee as dearly as I do to-day—I do not know if it is a curse or a blessing which is in my veins. Thou hast listened to the words of the heathen.”  14
  “I listened to them because he spoke kindly; but I have not betrayed the Lord nor thee.”  15
  “Thou hast permitted his words to reach thy ear and thy soul.”  16
  “What could I do, Assar? He spoke kindly.”  17
  Assar stood still, and said to himself, “Yes, he spoke kindly. They do speak kindly. And they spoke kind words to the poor girls who danced around the idol in the grove. Had they spoken harsh and threatening words, they would not have danced.”  18
  Again he stood still, and said to himself, “If they came using force, the rabbi would kill her and then himself, or she would throw herself from a rock of her own free will. But who can set a guard to watch over kind words?”  19
  The third time he stood still, and said, “O Israel, thou canst not bear kind words!”  20
  Mirjam thought that he suspected her; and she stood still and said, “I am a rabbi’s daughter!”  21
  Assar replied, “O Mirjam, I am Assar, and I will be the son of my own actions.”  22
  “For God’s sake,” exclaimed Mirjam, “do not seek that warrior, and do not enter into a quarrel with him! He will kill thee or have thee put into prison. There is misery enough in Israel! The strangers have entered our towns. Let us bend our heads and await the will of God, but not challenge! Assar, I should die if anything happened to thee!”  23
  “And what would I do if anything happened to thee! My head swims! Whither should I flee? Would thy father and thy brothers flee to the wilds of the mountains?”  24
  “They have spoken of that. But there is no place to flee to and not much to flee from; for although the heathen have taken gold and goods, yet they are kind this time.”  25
  Assar replied, “Oh yes, they are kind; I had almost forgotten it. Mirjam, if I go away wilt thou believe, and go on believing, that I go on God’s errand?”  26
  “Assar, a dark look from thee is dearer to me than the kindest from any heathen, and a word of thine is more to me than many witnesses. But do not leave me! Stay and protect me!”  27
  “I go to protect thee! I go to the heights and to the depths to call forth the God of Israel. Await his coming!”…  28
  Assar went to the King, Antiochus Epiphanes, bent low before him, and said, “May the Master of the world guide thy steps!”  29
  The King looked at him well pleased, and asked his name; whereupon Assar answered that he was a man of the tribe of Juda.  30
  The King said, “Few of thy countrymen come to serve me!”  31
  Assar replied, “If thou wilt permit thy servant a bold word, King, the fault is thine.”  32
  And when the King, astonished, asked how this might be, Assar answered, “Because thou art too kind, lord.”  33
  The King turned to his adviser, and said laughingly, “When we took the treasures of the temple in Jerusalem, they found it hard enough.”  34
  “O King,” said Assar, “silver and gold and precious stones can be regained, and the Israelites know this; but thou lettest them keep that which cannot be regained when once it is lost.”  35
  The King answered quickly, “What is that?” and Assar replied:—“The Israelites have a God, who is very powerful but also very jealous. He has always helped them in the time of need if they held near to him and did not worship strange gods; for this his jealousy will not bear. When they do this he forsakes them. But thou, O King, hast taken their silver and gold and jewels, but hast let them keep the God who gives it all back to them. They know this; and so they smile at thee, and await that thou shalt be thrown into the dust by him, and they will arise his avengers, and persecute thy men.”  36
  The King paled; he remembered his loss in Egypt, and he feared that if the enemy pursued him he should find help in Israel; and he said, “What ought we to do?”  37
  Assar replied: “If thou wilt permit thy servant to utter his humble advice, thou shouldst use severity and forbid their praying to the God they call Jehovah, and order them to pray to thy gods.”  38
  The King’s adviser looked at Assar and asked, “Hast thou offered up sacrifice to our gods?”  39
  Assar replied, “I am ready.”  40
  They led him to the altar, and on the way thither Assar said:—“Lord, all-powerful God! Thou who seest the heart and not alone the deeds of the hand, be my witness! It is written: ‘And it shall happen in that same hour that I shall wipe out the name of idols out of the land, and they shall be remembered no more, and the unclean spirit shall I cause to depart from the country.’ Do thou according to thy word, O Lord! Amen!”  41
  When the sacrifice was brought, Assar was dressed in festive robes on the word of the King, and a place was given him among the King’s friends, and orders were sent out throughout the country, according to what he had said.  42
  And to Modin too came the King’s messenger; and when the rabbi heard of it, he went with his five sons to the large prayer-house, and read maledictions over those who worshiped idols and blessings over those who were faithful to Jehovah. And those who were present noticed that the rabbi’s eldest son, Judas Maccabæus, carried a sword under his mantle.  43
  And when they came out of the prayer-house they saw that a heathen altar had been built, and there was a Jew making his sacrifice; and when Rabbi Mattathew saw this, he hastened to the spot and seized the knife of sacrifice and thrust it into the Jew’s breast. The centurion who stood by, and who was the same that had previously talked to Mirjam the rabbi’s daughter at the brook, would kill the rabbi; but Judas Maccabæus drew his sword quickly, and struck the centurion in the throat and killed him. Then the King’s men gathered; but the street was narrow, and Judas Maccabæus went last and shielded all, until the night came and they had got their women together and could flee to the mountains. And then began the fight of the men of Juda against the Macedonians, the Greeks, and the Assyrians, and they killed those of the King’s men who pursued them into the mountains.  44
  Then King Antiochus the temple-robber said to Assar, “This is thy advice!” to which Assar replied: “No, King; this is the advice of thy warriors, since they allow the rebels to escape and do not treat them without mercy. For this know, O King, that so long as thou art merciful to this people there is no hope.”  45
  Then there were issued strict orders to torture and kill all who refused to obey the King’s command; and all those in Israel in whom Jehovah was still living rose to fight with Mattathew and his sons, and men and women, yea, children even, were moved to suffer death for the Lord and his law.  46
  But at this time it happened that King Antiochus the temple-destroyer was visited by his shameful disease, and he sent messengers with rich gifts to all oracles and temples to seek help; but they could find none.  47
  Then he said to Assar, “Thou saidst once that the God of Israel was a mighty God; could not he cure me of my disease?”  48
  Assar replied: “I have indeed heard from my childhood that the God of Israel is a mighty God; but O King, thou wilt not give in to that hard people and make peace with their God?”  49
  The King answered, “I must live! How can he be pacified?”  50
  Assar said, “It is too heavy a sacrifice for so great a king as thee. Their wise men assert that God has given them the country for a possession, and it would be necessary for thee not only to allow them to worship their God, but also to call back thy men and make a covenant with them so that they should merely pay a tribute to thee. But this is more than I can advise.”  51
  The King answered, “Much does a man give for his life. Dost thou believe that he is a great God?”  52
  “I have seen a great proof of it, lord.”  53
  “What is that?”  54
  “This: that even a greatness like thine was as nothing to his.”  55
  “It is not a dishonor to be smaller than the Immortals. Go and prepare all, according to what we have spoken.”  56
  Then Assar prepared all and had the King’s men called back, and promised the inhabitants peace and led the King on his way to Jerusalem; and they passed by Modin.  57
  And the King’s sufferings being very great, he had himself carried into the house of prayers, before the holy, and he prayed to the God of Israel. And the men of Juda stood around him; they stood high and he lay low, and they had saved their souls.  58
  But when the King was carried out, one of the Maccabæan warriors recognized Assar and cried out, “Thou hast offered up sacrifices to idols, and from thee have come the evil counsels which have cost precious blood! Thou shalt be wiped off the earth!”  59
  He drew his sword and aimed at him, but Mirjam, who had come up, threw herself between them with the cry, “He called forth Israel’s God!” And the steel which was meant for him pierced her.  60
Note 1. “Whoever sees God must die.” [back]

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