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ERB’S BIBLE BLUES:
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
ERB calls this chapter, “The Crucifixion,” hinting at some sort of religious sacrifice. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ involved him dying for the sins of the world. But that was only sealed by his dying on the cross. And since we immediately return to Lake Chinnereth, Lady Barbara Collis’ dunk is probably in the mind of ERB. Unless it is something else. Let’s see.
Chapter Eleven: The Crucifixion
As the waters of Chinnereth closed over the head of Lady Barbara, the golden haired Jezebel sprang to her feet and ran swiftly forward among the men congregated upon the great flat lava rock from which the victim of their cruel fanaticism had been hurled to her doom. She pushed apostles roughly aside as she made her way toward the brink, tears streaming from her eyes and sobs choking her throat.
Abraham, the son of Abraham, standing directly in her path, was the first to guess her purpose to throw herself into the lake and share the fate of her loved mistress. Impelled by no humanitarian urge, but rather by a selfish determination to save the girl for another fate which he had already chosen for her, the Prophet seized her as she was about to leap into the water.
Turning upon the old man like a tigress, Jezebel scratched, bit, and kicked in an effort to free herself, which she would have succeeded in doing had not the Prophet called the six executioners to his aid. Two of them seized her; and seeing that her efforts were futile, the girl desisted; but now she turned the flood gates of her wrath upon Abraham, the son of Abraham.
All in favor of Abraham, the son of Abraham, dying a horrible, gruesome death, raise your hands. Good, it’s unanimous.
“Murderer!” she cried. “Son of Satan! May Jehovah strike thee dead for this. Curses be upon thy head and upon those of all thy kin. Damned be they and thee for the foul crime thou hast committed here this day.”
“Silence, blasphemer!” screamed Abraham, the son of Abraham. “Make thy peace with Jehovah, for tonight thou shalt be judged by fire. Take her back to the village,” he directed the two who held her, “and make her secure in a cave. Seest thou, too, that she escapeth not.”
“Fire or water, it be all be the same to me,” cried the girl as they dragged her away, “just so it takes me away forever from this accursed land of Midian and the mad beast who poseth as the prophet of Jehovah.”
As Jezebell moved off toward the village between her two guards the villagers fell in behind them, the women calling her foul names and otherwise reviling her, and in the rear of all came the Prophet and the Apostles, leaving a score of their fellows still lying upon the ground, where they writhed, unnoticed, in the throes of epilepsy.
The impact with the surface of the water had almost stunned Lady Barbara, but she had managed to retain her senses and control of her mental and physical powers, so that, although dazed, she was able to put into the effect the plan that she had nursed from the moment that she was aware of the fate to which the Prophet had condemned her.
Being an excellent swimmer and diver the thought of being immersed below the surface of Chinnereth for a few minutes had not, in itself, caused her any great mental perturbation. Her one fear had lain in the very considerable possibility that she might be so badly injured by the impact with the water, or stunned, as to be helpless to effect her own release from the net. Her relief was great, therefore, when she discovered that she was far from helpless, nor did she delay an instant in bringing her small pocket knife to play upon the fibre strands of the net that enmeshed her.
Slashing rapidly, but yet, at the same time, in accordance with a practical plan, she severed strand after strand in a straight line, as the rock dragged her downward toward the bottom. Constantly through her ran a single admonition – “Keep cool! Keep cool!” Should she permit herself to give away to hysteria, even for an instant, she knew that she must be lost. The lake seemed bottomless, the strands innumerable, while the knife grew constantly duller, and her strength appeared to be rapidly ebbing.
“Keep cool! Keep cool!” Her lungs were bursting. “Just a moment more! Keep cool!” She felt unconsciousness creeping upon her. She struggled to drag herself through the opening she had made in the net – her senses reeled dizzily – she was almost unconscious as she shot rapidly toward the surface.
As her head rose above the surface those standing upon the rock above her had their attention riveted upon Jezebel who was engaged at that moment in kicking the prophet of Paul, the son of Jehovah, on the shins. Lady Barbara was ignorant of all this; but it was fortunate for her, perhaps, because it prevented any of the Midians from noticing her resurrection from the deep and permitted her to swim, unseen, beneath the shelter of the overhanging rock above from which she had been precipitated into the lake.
She was very weak, and it was with a prayer of thanksgiving that she discovered a narrow ledge of beach at the water’s edge beneath the great lava rock that loomed above her. As she dragged herself wearily out upon it she heard the voices of those upon the rock overhead – the voice of Jezebel cursing the Prophet and the old man’s threat against the girl.
A thrill of pride in the courage of Jezebel warmed the heart of Lady Barbara, as did the knowledge that she had won a friend so loyal and devoted that she would put her own life in jeopardy merely for the sake of openly accusing the murderer of her friend. How magnificent she was in the primitive savagery of her denunciation! Lady Barbara could almost see her standing there defying the greatest power that her world knew, her golden hair framing her oval face, her eyes flashing, her lips curling in scorn, her lithe young body tense with emotion.
And what she had heard, and the thought of the helplessness of the young girl against the power of the vile old man, changed Lady Barbara’s plans completely. She had thought to remain in hiding until night and then seek to escape this hideous valley and its mad denizens. There would be no pursuit, for they would think her dead at the bottom of Chinnereth; and thus she might seek to find her way to the outer world with no danger of interference by the people of the land of Midian.
She and Jezebel had often speculated upon the likelihood of the existence of a possible avenue of ascent of the crater wall; and from the entrance of their cave they had chosen a spot about midway of the western face of the crater, where the rim had fallen inward, as offering the best chance of escape. Tumbled masses of rock rose here from the bottom of the valley almost to the summit of the crater, and here Lady Barbara had decided to make her first bid for freedom.
But now all was changed. She could not desert Jezebel, whose life was now definitely jeopardized because of her friendship and loyalty. But what was she to do? How could she be of assistance to the girl? She did not know. Of only one thing was she certain – she must try.
She had witnessed enough horrors in the village of the South Midians to know that whatever Abraham, the son of Abraham, planned for Jezebel would doubtless be consummated after dark, the time he chose, by preference, for all the more horrible of his so-called religious rites. Only those which took them to a distance from the village, such as immersions in the waters of Chinnereth, were performed by daylight.
With these facts in mind, Lady Barbara decided that she might with safety, wait until after dark before approaching the village. To do so earlier might only result in her own recapture, an event that would render helpless in effecting the succor of Jezebel, while giving the Prophet two victims instead of one.
The sound of voices above her had ceased. She had heard the vituperations of the women diminishing in the distance, and by this she had known that the party had returned to the village. It was cold beneath the shadow of the rock, with her wet clothing clinging to her tired body; and so she slipped back into the water and swam along the shore a few yards until she found a spot where she could crawl out and lie in the pleasant warmth of the sun.
Here she rested again for a few minutes, and then cautiously ascended the bank until her eyes were on a level with the ground. At a little distance she saw a woman lying prone, who was trying to raise herself to a sitting position. She was evidently weak and dazed, and Lady Barbara realized that she was recovering from one of those horrid seizures to which nearly all of the inhabitants of the village were subject. Near her were others, some lying quietly, some struggling; and in the direction of the village she saw several who had recovered sufficiently to attempt the homeward journey.
Lying very still, her forehead concealed behind a low shrub, Lady Barbara watched and waited for half an hour, until the last of the unfortunate band had regained consciousness and self control sufficiently to permit them to depart in the direction of their squalid habitations.
She was alone now with little or no likelihood of discovery. Her clothes were still wet and exceedingly uncomfortable; so she quickly removed them and spread them in the hot sun to dry, while she luxuriated in the soothing comfort of a sun bath, alternated with an occasional dip in the waters of the lake.
We thank ERB for that slow strip tease and skinny dip. It was only a matter of time before he gave his readers the kind of cheap thrill that they so desired.
Before the sun dropped to the western rim of the crater her clothing had dried; and now she sat, fully dressed again waiting for darkness to fall. Below her lay the waters of the lake and beyond its farther shore she could dimly see the outlines of the village of the North Midians, where dwelt the mysterious “beautiful men” of Jezebel’s day dreams.
Doubtless, thought Lady Barbara, the prince charming of the golden one’s imagination would prove to be a whiskered Adonis with a knotted club; but, even so, it were difficult to imagine more degraded or repulsive males than those of her own village. Almost anything – even a gorilla – might seem preferable to them.
As night approached, the girl saw the little lights commence to twinkle in the northern village – the cooking fires, doubtless – and then she rose and turned her face toward the village of Abraham, the son of Abraham, of Jobab and Timothy and Jezebel, toward certain danger and possible death.
As she walked along the now familiar path toward the village, the mind of Lady Barbara Collis was vexed by the seemingly hopeless problem that confronted her, while hovering upon the verge of her consciousness was that fear of the loneliness and the darkness of an unfamiliar and inhospitable country that is inherent in most of us. Jezebel had told her that dangerous beasts were almost unknown in the land of Midian, yet her imagination conjured slinking forms in the darkness and the sound of padded feet upon the trail behind her and the breathing of savage lungs. Yet ahead of her lay a real menace more terrible, perhaps, than swiftly striking talons and powerful jaws.
She recalled that she had heard that men who had been mauled by lions, and lived to narrate their experiences, had all testified uniformly to the fact that there had been no pain and little terror during the swift moments of the experience; and she knew that there was a theory propounded by certain students of animal life that the killing of the carnivores was always swift, painless, and merciful. Why was it, she wondered, that of all created things only man was wantonly cruel and only man, and the beasts that were trained by man, killed for pleasure?
But now she was nearing the village and passing from the possibility of attack by merciful beasts to the assurance of attack by merciless men, should she be apprehended by them. To reduce this risk she skirted the village at a little distance and came to the foot of the cliff where the caves were located and where she hoped to find Jezebel and, perhaps, discover a means of liberating her.
She glanced up the face of the cliff, which seemed to be deserted, most of the villagers being congregated about a group of small cooking fires near the few huts at the foot of the cliff. They often cooked thus together gossiping and praying and narrating experiences and revelations – they all received revelations from Jehovah when they “walked” with Him, which was their explanation of their epileptic seizures.
The more imaginative members of the community were the recipients of the most remarkable revelations; but, as all of them were stupid, Jehovah had not, at least during Lady Barbara’s sojourn among them, revealed anything of a particularly remarkable or inspiring nature. Their gossip, like their “experiences,” was mean and narrow and sordid. Each sought constantly to discover or invent some scandal or heresy in the lives of his fellows, and if the finger pointed at one not in the good graces of the Prophet or the Apostles the victim was quite likely to make a Roman holiday.
Seeing the villagers congregated about their fires, Lady Barbara commenced the ascent of the steep path that zigzagged up the face of the cliff. She moved slowly and cautiously, stopping often to look about her, both above and below; but, notwithstanding her fears and doubts she finally reached the mouth of the cave that she and Jezebel had occupied. If she hoped to find the golden one there she was disappointed; but at least, if Jezebel were not there, it was a relief to find that no one else was; and with a sense of greater security than she had felt since the dawn of this eventful day she crawled into the interior and threw herself down upon the straw pallet that the girls had shared.
Hmmm, is there a suggestion here that the girls slept together on the same pallet? Yes, I know, only someone with a dirty mind would think that, but I have a dirty mind.
Home! This rough lair, no better than that which housed the beasts of the wilds, was home now to Lady Barbara Collis whose life had been spent within the marble halls of the Earl of Whimsey. Permeating it were memories of the strange friendship and affection that had gradually united these two girls whose origins and backgrounds could scarcely have been more dissimilar. Here each had learned the language of the other, here they had laughed and sung together, here they had exchanged confidences, and here they had planned together a future in which they would not be separated. The cold walls seemed warmer because of the love and loyalty to which they had been silent witnesses.
But now Lady Barbara was here alone. Where was Jezebel? It was the answer to that question that the English girl must find. She recalled the Prophet’s threat – “for tonight thou shalt be judged by fire.” She must hasten, then, if she were to save Jezebel. But how was she to accomplish it in the face of all the seemingly insurmountable obstacles which confronted her? – her ignorance of where Jezebel was being held, the numbers of her enemies, her lack of knowledge of the country through which they would be forced to flee should she be so fortunate as to affect the girl’s escape from the village.
She roused herself. Lying there upon her pallet would accomplish nothing. She rose and looked down toward the village; and instantly she was all alertness again, for there was Jezebel. She was standing between guards, surrounded by many villagers who maintained an open space about her. Presently the spectators separated and men appeared carrying a burden. What was it? They laid it in the center of the open space, in front of Jezebel; and the Lady Barbara saw what it was – a large wooden cross.
A man was digging a hole in the center of the circular space that had been left around the prisoner; others were bringing brush and faggots. Now the men who guarded Jezebel seized her and bore her to the ground. They laid her upon the cross and stretched her arms out upon the wooden cross arm,
Lady Barbara was horror stricken. Were they going to perpetrate the horrible atrocity of nailing her to the cross? Abraham, the son of Abraham, stood at the head of the cross, his hands in the attitude of prayer, a personification of pious hypocrisy. The girl knew that no cruelty, however atrocious, was beyond him. She knew, too, that she was powerless to prevent the consummation of this foul deed, yet she cast discretion and self interest to the winds, as, with a warning cry that shattered the silence of the night, she sped swiftly down the steep pathway toward the village – a self-sacrifice offered willingly upon the altar of friendship.
Startled by her scream, every eye was turned upward toward her. In the darkness they did not recognize her, but their stupid minds were filled with questioning and with terror as they saw something speeding down the cliff face toward them. Even before she reached the circle of firelight where they stood many had collapsed in paroxysms of epilepsy induced by the nervous shock of this unexpected visitation.
When she came closer, and was recognized, others succumbed, for now indeed it appeared that a miracle had been worked and that the dead had been raised again, even as they had seen the dead girl resurrected the previous day.
Pushing aside those who did not quickly enough make way for her, Lady Barbara hastened to the center of the circle. As his eyes fell upon her, Abraham, the son of Abraham, paled and stepped back. For a moment he seemed upon the verge of a stroke.
“Who are you?” he cried. “What are you doing here?”
“You know who I am,” replied Lady Barbara. “Why do you tremble, if you do not know that I am the messenger of Jehovah whom you reviled and sought to destroy? I am here to save the girl Jezebel from death. Later Jehovah will send his wrath upon Abraham, the son of Abraham, and upon all the people of the land of Midian for their cruelties and their sins.”
“I did not know,” cried the Prophet. “Tell Jehovah that I did not know. Intercede for me, that Jehovah may forgive me; and anything within my power to grant shall be yours.”
So great was her surprise at the turn events had taken that Lady Barbara, who had expected only opposition and attack, was stunned for the moment. Here was an outcome so foreign to any that she had imagined that she had no response ready. She almost laughed aloud as she recalled the fears that had constantly harassed her since she had determined to attempt Jezebel’s escape. And now it was all so easy.
“Liberate the girl, Jezebel,” she commanded, “and then make food ready for her and for me.”
“Quick!” cried the Prophet. “Raise the girl and set her free.”
“Wait!” exclaimed a thin, querulous voice behind him. “I have walked with Jehovah.” All turned in the direction of the speaker. He was Jobab the Apostle.
“Quick! Release her!” demanded Lady Barbara, who, in this interruption and in the manner and voice of the speaker, whom she knew as one of the most fanatically intolerant of the religious bigots of Midian, saw the first spark that might grow into a flame of resistance to the will of the Prophet; for she knew these people well enough to be sure that they would grasp at any excuse to thwart the abandonment of their cruel pleasure.
“Wait!” shrieked Jobab. “I have walked with Jehovah, and He hath spoken unto me, saying: ‘Behold, Jobab the Apostle, a seeming miracle shall be wrought out of Chinnereth, but be not deceived, for I say unto ye that it shall be the work of Satan; and whosoever believeth in it shall perish.’”
“Hallelujah!” shrieked a woman, and the cry was taken up by the others. To right and left the excited villagers were being stricken by their Nemesis. A score of writhing bodies jerked and struggled upon the ground in the throes of convulsions, the horrible choking, the frothing at the mouth, adding to the horror of the scene.
For a moment, Abraham, the son of Abraham, stood silent in thought. A cunning light flickered suddenly in his crafty eyes, and then he spoke. “Amen!” he said. “Let the will of Jehovah be done as revealed to the Apostle Jobab. Let Jobab speak the word of Jehovah, and upon Jobab’s head be the reward.”
“Another cross!” screamed Jobab; “bring another cross. Let two beacon fires light the path of Jehovah in the heavens, and if either of these be His children He will not let them be consumed,” and so, as Abraham, the son of Abraham, had passed the buck to Jobab, Jobab passed it along to Jehovah, who has been the recipient of more than His share through the ages.
Futile were the threats and arguments of Lady Barbara against the blood lust of the Midians. A second cross was brought, a second hole dug, and presently both she and Jezebel were lashed to the symbols of love and raised to an upright position. The bottoms of the crosses were sunk in the holes prepared for them and earth tamped around them to hold them upright. Then willing hands brought faggots and brushwood and piled them about the bases of the two pyres.
Lady Barbara watched these preparations in silence. She looked upon the weak, degenerate faces of this degraded people; and she could not, even in the extremity of her danger, find it in her heart to condemn them too severely for doing what supposedly far more enlightened people had done, within the memory of man, in the name of religion.
She glanced at Jezebel and found the girl’s eyes upon her. “You should not have come back,” said the girl. “You might have escaped.” Lady Barbara shook her head. “You did it for me,” continued Jezebel. “May Jehovah reward you, for I may only thank you.”
“You would have done the same for me at Chinnereth,” replied Lady Barbara. “I heard you defy the Prophet there.”
Jezebel smiled. “You are the only creature I have ever loved,” she said; “the one who I ever thought loved me. Of course I would die for you.”
Abraham, the son of Abraham, was praying. Young men stood ready with flaming torches, the flickering light from which danced grotesquely upon the hideous features of the audience, upon the two great crosses, and upon the beautiful faces of the victims.
“Good bye, Jezebel,” whispered Lady Barbara.
“Good bye,” replied the golden one.
Wow, what a place to leave off! How in the hell does ERB expect to save these two brave women? Again, we will just have to wait and see. At least we discovered that ERB was really talking about a real crucifixion and not making an analogy.
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