Keturah drank strong thistle tea to keep from conceiving, although part of her longed to be reckless and let Javan father a child on her. Certainly it wouldn’t be a sickly son like the one his skinny wife had borne, the only child she had allowed her splendid husband. No, if Keturah and Javan had been allowed to marry , Keturah would have given him two or three fat, healthy children by now.
Keturah bathed and dressed in the linen tunic that had come all the way from Egypt, the one that had belonged to Hadassah, Keturah’s mother. It was white and soft and entirely inappropriate for a shepherd’s daughter, but it fired Javan’s passion every time he saw her in it. The fine fabric snagged on his hands when he pulled the garment over her head, but, for Keturah, painstakingly repairing each snag was a small price to pay for having Javan’s hands on her body. It was the only time Keturah felt truly alive.
She sprinkled her bath water on the floor to settle the dust. She placed a bowl of dates on the table. She cleaned her teeth with stick of siwak and darkened around her eyes with a bit of charcoal crushed into tallow from the lamp. She stained her lips with the wine she’d placed on the table. Keturah did not need to look at herself to know she would please Javan. She’d always pleased him, from the time they were two small children playing with stones until they grew into two very different beings, a pretty maiden with a merry laugh and tumbling chestnut hair and a young man with a form and a face out of a dream. Javan’s mother and Hadassah had begun talking of marriage between the two while Javan and Keturah were small.
But one black day when they were grown old enough to marry, Javan had come to Keturah with tears in his eyes to tell her he had contracted to marry Mara, daughter of a perfume maker.
“But—why?” Keturah said. The day before she’d stood at the edge of a cliff glorying in the vista of her future, but now she felt the edge crumbling to bits.
“It was not my doing,” Javan cried. “I told my father I did not want her, I wanted you. But my mother makes bread from borrowed flour. My brothers and sisters are hungry. And so my father hopes to strengthen my family’s position by joining our family to Mara’s.”
“But the bride price is fifty shekels,” Keturah said. “If you and your father cannot feed your family, where will you find that much money?”
“Father had ten and borrowed forty more.”
“So you are worse off than you were before you contracted to marry her!”
Javan took her hands. “No, Keturah. Mara’s father is taking me into his shop. I am to be his heir, with Mara. He is teaching me how to make perfume.”
“You, make perfume?” Keturah had noticed when Javan began wearing scent, but she’d thought he did it to please her, that it meant his family was prospering. Now she had a terrible suspicion. She forced herself to say out loud, “You already are working with Mara’s father, aren’t you.” Javan nodded, miserably. Keturah pulled her hands away. “You’ve already contracted to marry her. How long have you known?”
“We were betrothed just after Passover.”
Keturah’s jaw dropped. Javan had been legally wed to Mara for half a year! “You said nothing! All this time, you let me believe you loved me.”
Javan hung his head. “I didn’t know how to tell you.”
Keturah pressed her heart against the knife of Javan’s betrayal. “Why are you telling me now?”
“Our chuppah is in two days.” Keturah gasped. At their chuppah, Javan and Mara would consummate their marriage, and Javan would belong to Mara. Forever. The thought of it made Keturah’s head spin. Her throat clamped shut as though she were being choked.
Keturah had no words for her agony. Tears were too poor a thing to express her pain. All she could do was look at Javan, drink him in, fill herself with him so she would have him, always, even when he belonged to another woman.
Keturah took several breaths before she could force out her next words. They were hateful to say, but she raised her chin and said them anyway in a voice that shook, “She is a good woman. May you both be happy.” She stepped back. Now Javan would go, and Keturah could die in peace.
But, suddenly, Javan knelt at her feet and said, “No, Keturah. I can’t do it.” He wrapped his arms around her legs and pulled her close. “Oh, Keturah,” he breathed in her scent. “I thought I could come and tell you, and we would part and go on with our lives. But being near you, touching you, hearing your voice—I can’t go through with it. I can’t be with Mara. I will pay for a get. I will be a shepherd again, and take you instead.” He buried his face in her robe.
His hands warmed her buttocks, and his touch gave her strength to speak even though her knees felt weak. Keturah slid her hand into Javan’s hair. His curls curved around her fingers like the tails of monkeys. She said, softly, “Javan the money. The fifty shekels. Your brothers and sisters. Your mother and father.”
“I am a grown man,” his muffled voice rumbled along her belly. “They are my father’s concern.”
“You are a good son,” she said, “and you cannot abandon them. Not even for me.” She pushed back his head to look into his dear face. “And this is the chance of a lifetime, to live near the temple. To craft ointments. To make incense for the priests to burn. To sleep at night in a house in a bed, not on the hard ground beside a fire with sheep milling around you. Javan, if you learn to make incense for the Temple, you could be respected in all Jerusalem and all your family with you. With me, you would be just another shepherd.” She lifted her hands, watching each curl slip from her fingers. She tugged Javan’s hands from her backside and gave them back.
Keturah called on her last bit of strength to force a cheery note into her voice as she walked to the door. She said, “Perhaps you will make so much money that you can take a second wife, like Jacob of old.” She opened the door, surprised to see the sun was still shining. “Go now, Javan, and get ready for your bride.” Javan, eyes burning, reached for Keturah, but she evaded him and turned her back so he couldn’t see her face. “Javan, please go.”
She heard him breathing behind her, then she heard him whisper, “Goodbye, Keturah.” When the door closed, Keturah wanted more than she wanted to take her next breath to open it again and pull Javan back inside. Instead, she waited until he knew he was gone, then collapsed to her knees and let the tears rush out in torrents. This was a nightmare. She would wake up.
But she did not awaken the next day, nor did she wake during the hours she knew Javan and Mara were consummating their marriage. Her nightmare went on and on, and Keturah was certain the grief would kill her.
But it did not. Keturah went on living. She said “no” to every single man who expressed interest in marrying her, until her father became angry and her mother became ill with the stress of it. When Hadassah died eleven months after Javan and Mara became one flesh, Keturah’s father abruptly stopped pressing Keturah to marry, for now he needed a woman to keep his house. Javan came to visit Seth and Keturah after Hadassah’s funeral, along with his wife and their baby son, but although Javan carried the babe, he stood apart from Mara. He did not touch her or look down at her. He did not reach out a hand to brush his fingers over his wife’s hair. He did not smile.
When Javan and Mara bid farewell to Keturah and her father, Javan said, “May God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem," traditional words, and his eyes were wells of anguish, but the way Javan held her gaze, Keturah wondered if his anguish was entirely for her mother’s passing. Keturah discovered that a tiny spark of hope still lived in her heart.
Two days later, Javan came to their house when Keturah’s father was gone out with the sheep. Keturah stood quietly while Javan wandered from the hearth to the table to the window, picking up this bowl or that tool and setting them down again. Finally he turned to her, and she saw the tears in his eyes. “Keturah, forgive me for leaving you,” he said, “I am the loneliest man in the world.”
Keturah could no more ignore his anguish than she could ignore her own heartbeat. She went to Javan and enfolded him in her arms while he wept. When his storm of weeping was passed, and Keturah knew she should step back, she held on. She brushed away his tears with a hand that trembled. And when Javan’s mouth dropped to hers, Keturah felt the spark in her heart burst into flame. Javan loved her still. No more words were said, no more words were needed when Javan led her to her pallet on the floor.
Afterward, they lay dazed and delighted, and Javan said, “She is cold, Keturah, cold as stone. After Uri was born, she turned me away. ‘No more children,’ she said. I asked what I was to do for a wife, and she said her father had found release elsewhere, and I could do the same.”
Keturah’s eyes widened. What kind of woman would refuse her husband the comfort of their marriage bed, especially a man such as Javan? What kind of woman would invite her husband to seek out other women? A small voice in her mind mocked her: what kind of woman would break the commandment against adultery, as she had just done?
Yet, as Javan made regular visits and the lonely misery of the last two years began to melt in the joy they stole, Keturah worried less about right and wrong. She remembered, instead, the great injustice that had been perpetrated on them both. She clung to the thought that Javan had loved her first, that he loved her still. Soon, it began to seem to Keturah that Javan’s marriage was the greater wrong. And so, Keturah made herself ready on days she expected Javan. She drank her thistle tea. She donned her linen shift. She accepted Javan’s small gifts and hid them from her father. She especially treasured an alabaster vial of perfume Javan said was of his own creation. He said he chose the scents in the blend because each one reminded him of Keturah. She wore the perfume every time Javan came but took care to wash it off so her father wouldn’t smell it and question her.
So great was their delight in one another that neither Keturah nor Javan stopped to think that someone had discovered their secret.
* * *
Along the streets leading to the Temple, scribes and dovekeepers and sellers of perfume conducted a brisk trade with the residents and visitors who had not paused for midday prayers. When his own prayers were completed, Elon the Pharisee walked to a shop where half a dozen scribes usually spent their days taking dictation, but where, today, only Mattan’s voice quietly echoed the words of his client while his reed scratched on parchment. Elon waited until Mattan saw him, and then waited a bit longer while Mattan finished with his customer. As soon as the man left, Mattan stood, stretched, and came to Elon.
“Where are the other scribes?” Elon asked.
“Not yet back from prayers.”
“And why did you not attend prayers?” Elon asked.
Matton sighed. It was ever thus with the Pharisees, even with his friend, Elon: no matter what circumstances a man found himself in, the Law must be obeyed to the letter. “Someone had to watch the shop,” Matton said. “It was my turn today. I can pray here, you know. I don’t have to go to the Temple. God is everywhere, is He not? And if He is everywhere, He can hear me no matter if I sit with all the others or sit in the middle of the desert, is it not so?”
“Do not speak lightly of prayer,” Elon said, “lest God punish you.”
“My friend,” Matton said, “I will not be drawn into another debate with you. Save that for your brother Pharisees, who seem to enjoy argument for its own sake. Now, tell me what brings you here.”
“Jesus of Nazareth is at the Temple.”
Matton’s smile faded. “Again?” Matton was not especially bothered by Jesus or by any of the other rabbis who spoke on the Temple steps, but Elon and the other Pharisees harbored a fanatical hatred of the Nazarene.
“He must be stopped,” Elon said.
“What can be done?” Matton shrugged. “The people love him.”
Angry voices sounded outside the shop. Through the entry stormed another scribe, Hirah, and the perfume-maker, Jabez. “He brings shame to my house,” Jabez hissed.
“Do they want a divorce? Shall we have a scribe write out a get?” Hirah asked.
“And take her back into my own house? No! Besides, she told him to find someone else to enjoy!”
Hirah’s jaw dropped. “Your daughter told her husband to find a mistress? Is she mad?”
“She is selfish and thoughtless. My grandson’s birth was hard, and she fears another pregnancy. Let me ask you, Hirah: In a case where a wife turns away her husband from their marriage bed, whose fault is the divorce? What happens to the bride price if the marriage is dissolved on those grounds?”
Elon stepped in. “If I may?”
Jabez spun around and paled when he realized he’d been overheard. In contrast, Hirah’s anxious expression relaxed. Hirah said to Jabez, “This is Elon, a great master of the law. He can answer.”
“I would not trouble you with my petty problems, master,” Jabez said, his thoughts whirling. If he accused his son-in-law of adultery, Javan might be put to death—and what was the penalty for a wife who gave her husband permission to stray? Was she guilty of his adultery? Jabez said, carefully, “My son-in-law, Javan, whom I took into my shop and have taught my art, has—strayed—from his marriage vows.”
“At your daughter’s request, I hear?” Elon said.
Jabez stammered, “S-somewhat.”
Elon said, “It is a thorny question.”
“Adulterers must be punished!” Hirah said hotly. “I am sorry, Jabez, but it is the law. Elon, we must bring this matter before the priests. ”
“B-but adulterers are stoned,” Jabez said. “If Javan dies, Mara would be a widow. She would have no husband, no protector—she would live the rest of her days in my house. And what happens when I die? Who will provide for her and my grandson?”
“The harlot’s husband—what does he say?”
“She has no husband,” Jabez said.
Elon tut-tutted. He said, “Hirah, you know one of the accusers in a matter like adultery must be a spouse. But this woman has no spouse. The son-in-law’s wife—your daughter, Jabez—cannot bring a complaint against a man when it was she herself who urged him to sin. No, Hirah, we cannot bring this matter before the priests.”
“But, Elon, they sin,” Hirah whined. “We cannot ignore it.”
Elon smiled and said, “We won’t ignore it, but perhaps we can consult a rabbi other than a Temple priest. One who might provide guidance as we seek the best way to handle this matter.”
“Who?” Matton asked.
Instead of answering Matton, Elon said to Jabez, “lf I could find a solution that would end your shame without ending your son-in-law, what would you say to that?”
“I would bless you all the days of my life,” Jabez said, impulsively reaching out to clasp Elon’s hands.
Elon gently disengaged his hands, saying humbly, “I do not seek the blessings of men, only that God’s will be done.”
“What is your plan, Elon?” Matton asked.
Elon said to Jabez, “When does your son-in-law customarily visit his harlot?”
“He is gone from the shop now,” Jabez said. “He combed his hair and left the shop stinking of myrrh an hour ago.”
“And where does the harlot live?”
“Not far from the Mount of Olives. Her father is a shepherd.”
“Not a powerful family, then,” Elon said. “Even better. Come with me, Jabez, and you as well, Hirah. We shall watch for Javan’s exit and take the harlot before Jesus of Nazareth, who even now speaks to a crowd from the Temple steps. If Jesus condemns the harlot, then all will see that he lies when he says love and compassion are above the Law. If Jesus forgives the harlot, then all will see his disdain for the Law. Either way, Jesus damns himself in the eyes of the sheep who hang on his every word.”
Matton said, “But, think, Elon: Jesus has outwitted many others who try to trap him. He has made them look like fools.” Matton laid a hand on Elon’s arm. “My friend, I would not wish to see you lose face.”
Elon shrugged off the hand. “First of all, Matton, I am disappointed that you think so little of my ability to outwit the witless.” Matton opened his mouth, but Elon raised his hand. “Secondly, Matton, this has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the Law. And, I might ask why you know so much about the ‘many wise men’ who had interactions with Jesus of Nazareth—if I didn’t know better, I might assume you, too, had been beguiled by Jesus’ lies.”
Matton’s face hardened. He said, “I listen when my customers tell me things. More than one has told me over business that this Jesus does things no mortal man should be able to do.” Matton seated himself at his table and picked up a knife to sharpen the point on his reed. “Go and do as you must, all three of you, but if Jesus truly is the Son of God, you tread on dangerous ground when you seek to discredit him.”
“Son of God?” Elon sneered. “He is the son of a carpenter! He is no more divine than I am! His every word is blasphemy. He needs to be stopped before he brings down God’s wrath on all of us for harboring a false prophet.” Elon swirled his robes around him and said to Jabez and Hirah, “Come, you two. We shall gather others who also detest the Father of Lies. We shall go to the home of the harlot and take her as soon as Javan departs.” He wrinkled his nose in distaste. “We shall take her to Jesus and ask him to judge. And then all shall fall out as it should.”
The three men dashed out like three wolves on the trail of a gazelle. Matton watched them go, then set down his knife and his pen. “Do as you will, Elon,” he murmured, “but beware lest judgment fall on your own head.”
* * *
Elon, Jabez, Hirah, and three other men hurried through the streets of Jerusalem toward the Mount of Olives. Elon could hardly contain his excitement. At last, at long last, he had the means to back Jesus into a corner. There would be no escape this time, and Elon would be a hero for showing the people that Jesus was an enemy of the Law and therefore posed a danger to their eternal souls. Elon imagined the praise, the accolades, the glory that would accrue to his name once Jesus was forced to reveal his true nature.
Elon held his head high as he walked toward the house of the shepherd, Seth, and his whoring daughter, Keturah, and the other five hurried after his flowing headdress. All six men garnered attention as they strode along. Stragglers began to trail after the six, sensing some drama about to unfold. A few houses down from their destination, Elon raised his hands for quiet. “People of Jerusalem,” he said, “mighty is our God.”
“Mighty in all things,” the people recited.
“Great and glorious are his ways,” Elon proclaimed.
“In all things, we praise Him,” the people chanted.
“Blessed are they who keep his commandments, and blessed are they who help their brothers to righteousness,” Elon said.
“Blessed are the keepers of the truth,” the people intoned.
Elon lowered his hands and said, “We go to take for judgment a shamed woman who denies the command of her God to keep herself pure.” Some of the people looked at one another. Two men in the back of the crowd turned to go. “You there!” Elon barked at them. “Do you not want to see God’s will fulfilled?” The two men turned back. They hung their heads. “Good,” Elon said, “I am glad to know the men of Jerusalem demand justice.”
“There,” whispered Jabez, “there is Javan.”
The crowd craned their necks and saw a handsome youth standing in the open doorway of a humble house, apparently taking his leave. A slender hand reached out and caressed Javan’s face. Javan turned his face to the palm and kissed it, then the hand clasped his neck, and Javan pulled into his arms Keturah, Seth’s daughter, whom many of them had known from birth. Elon watched their passionate kiss with joy in his heart because everyone who stood nearby had seen it.
“They sin in front of witnesses,” Hirah hissed in Elon’s ear, “we should take them both now.”
“No, for Mara’s sake, no!” Jabez said.
Elon put out a hand to stop Hirah. “There is no need, Hirah,” he said.
“But both are guilty,” Hirah insisted.
“Their guilt is not the issue,” Elon said. “This is about Jesus of Nazareth.”
“But the Law—” Hirah said.
“—will be served,” Elon snapped. At last, Javan pulled himself from Keturah’s arms and hurried away, and Keturah shut the door. Elon turned back to the crowd. The two men who had tried to leave were gone. No matter—Elon had enough witnesses without them.
“Now,” Elon said to Jabez, “we will take the harlot.” Elon led the crowd forward. He pounded on the door.
“Javan?” Keturah called joyfully and then opened the door. Her smile disappeared. She stared at Elon’s face, then recoiled when her eyes dropped to the tassels of twisted cords on his outer garment. She tried to shut the door, but Hirah stepped forward and held it open. Hirah said, “Keturah, daughter of Seth, we accuse you of adultery in front of these witnesses. This man”—he indicated Jabez—“will bear witness that you have tempted his son-in-law to sin.”
“No, no,” Keturah cried, and ran into her house. Elon nodded at two of his men, and they dragged her out, one on each arm. Her linen shift was rumpled but so sheer that every person in the crowd could clearly see her shape through the thin fabric.
“She needs a robe,” a woman said.
“Leave her as she is,” Elon said. “It proves her wantonness.”
Keturah said, “I am no wanton.”
Hirah said, “Woman, we saw you in the arms of a man who is not your husband. What say you to that?”
Keturah said nothing.
Elon continued, “We all saw him kiss you. Jabez, was the man who kissed this woman your son-in-law?” Jabez nodded. “And is this woman your daughter?” Jabez shook his head. Elon turned back to Keturah. “Well?”
Keturah swallowed. She said, “Sir, let me tell you a story: Once there was a young man of great beauty who loved a shepherd’s daughter. He couldn’t ask for her hand until he had scraped together her bride price. He knew he would work many long years before he could ask for her hand, but he was willing to wait, for his love was as deep as the ocean.” She looked at Jabez, and her voice hardened. “Then, one day, an older man promised the beautiful young man wealth and position if he married the older man’s daughter instead of the shepherd girl. For the sake of his starving family, the beautiful young man accepted the offer, but he cried bitterly for the loss of his true love.”
“It was his choice!” Jabez stormed.
Keturah kept talking. “But the young man’s new wife was not pleased with the bargain her father had made for her, and once they were wed, she told her new husband to seek his pleasure in another woman’s bed, for she wanted nothing to do with him.”
“Be quiet!” Jabez said.
“And so,” Keturah’s voice carried to the very edge of the crowd, “the young man went back and wept out his pain in the arms of the shepherd’s daughter, she who had loved him from the start. And although neither the man nor the maid nor the wife was happy with the situation, all three were glad to have crumbs instead of nothing at all.”
“This tale is not fit for the ears of decent people,” Elon said. “It is further proof of the state of your soul. Bring her.”
In triumph, Elon led the harlot and the crowd back toward the Temple. More than one man they passed watched the parade and especially the star attraction, the scantily clad beautiful girl with chestnut hair flowing down her back, tears in her eyes, and a stubborn tilt to her chin.
When Elon saw a crowd larger than his own at the Temple steps listening to the preaching of Jesus, he felt his heart twist into an even harder knot. Then he calmed himself: all of them would turn their backs on Jesus soon enough. The day of reckoning had come. With great difficulty, Elon kept himself from grinning. At long last, Jesus would be crushed. Elon took a breath to order Jesus’ listeners to move.
But before Elon could say a word, Jesus waved his hand gently over the heads of his listeners. Like the Red Sea of old, they parted, making a path for Elon and his followers. The two who gripped Keturah’s arms dragged her forward and dropped her into the dust at Jesus’ feet. Jesus looked up from the woman into Elon’s face.
Never before had Elon been so close to his enemy. He had listened to the rumors and fed his resentment until it was a living, clawing thing in his heart. Now, Elon faced the beast himself, but the eyes Elon stared into were not full of guile or guilt. Not brimming with false compassion. The eyes of Jesus were piercing, like a sword to the heart. For the first time in many, many years, Elon’s self-confidence wavered.
“What is the trouble?” Jesus asked.
Elon planted his feet and said, “This woman was taken in adultery. The Law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
Jesus looked at Keturah, then he looked into the eyes of Elon, Hirah, Jabez, and at some others in the crowd.
Then Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.
This was not what Elon had expected. He frowned at Hirah and Jabez. Then he said, loud enough to be heard to the limits of the plaza, “Well? Judge, rabbi. Shall this adulteress be stoned?”
Hirah said in Elon’s ear, “What is he doing? He won’t give an answer!” Hirah shoved forward to read what Jesus had written. When he saw the lines in the dust, Hirah stumbled back. He muttered, “This was a mistake,” and he pushed through the crowd, away from Elon! The people began to mutter.
“Where is he going?” Jabez asked.
Elon covered his own confusion by saying loudly, “I suspect Hirah has gone to notify the priests that Jesus is about to make a judgment.” Elon raised his hand to quiet the crowd and demanded of Jesus, “Well, rabbi? What is your answer?”
Jesus wrote again in the dust. Elon’s hands twitched. He wanted to take Jesus by the throat and shake an answer out of him. But that would be unseemly. Elon said, “It seems the rabbi has run out of words. Perhaps we can make sense of what he scrawls in the dirt.” Some people near him laughed, but many of those who had been listening to Jesus stood quietly, expectantly, awaiting whatever came next. They were sheep who deserved to be crushed along with Jesus, Elon thought, but he said, “I shall attempt to read for one and all whatever Jesus of Nazareth has written in the dirt, no doubt his best judgment on the serious matter of adultery, which our Law says must be punished with death.”
Jesus stood and said, “Let he who is without guilt cast the first stone.”
Elon’s heart stuttered. What did Jesus mean by that? Whose guilt was he referring to? A small voice in Elon’s head buzzed a warning, but he couldn’t stop now. Everyone was watching. He had to see this through to the end. Elon stepped over the whore, shaking dust from his sandal to her shift. Everyone who had followed Elon held their breath. Those who had been listening to Jesus waited.
Elon stood over the word Jesus had written, and he gasped when he saw the letters writhing in the dirt like snakes, the letters of a name: Sarai! Sarai, Elon’s mistress for the last ten years. Now Elon knew who Jesus meant when he asked about guilt: he was talking about Elon himself.
Elon paled. The lion’s heart in him shrank to a nugget of nothing. Nobody in all Jerusalem knew about Sarai.
Jesus knew. Those sharp eyes pierced Elon’s very soul and held him struggling and helpless. Jabez hissed, “Elon, what is wrong with you? Carry on. The people are waiting and listening.”
Elon heard as through many layers the muffled words of one of his followers, “What does it say, Elon?”
Another asked, “What is written there?”
From the back, Elon heard someone call, “Master, what is it?”
Elon’s eyes burned. His ears were stopped up. His throat clamped shut. Elon feared that if he spoke Sarai’s name aloud, saying that one word would burst his throat. If he read out something else, others would step forward to corroborate the judgment and see that Elon had lied, and he would be ruined. Elon brought his foot down on Sarai’s name. He looked up into the eyes of Jesus and saw his own face reflected there with flames consuming his beard and shooting out of his mouth.
Horror and fear swamped Elon’s soul, and he ran through the crowd after Hirah.
Jesus looked at Keturah’s other accusers, especially at the three scribes who had come along to support Elon and Hirah. All quailed before that gaze. The crowd that had followed the Pharisees expecting a show began to dissipate. They melted away, and the path that had opened to let in Keturah and her accusers closed up again.
Jesus stood. He held out a hand to Keturah and helped her to her feet. The moment Keturah touched the rabbi’s hand, she felt as though she touched a waterfall that channeled along her arm and through her body. She felt clear-headed and clean.
“Who accuses you?” Jesus said.
She looked into the rabbi’s face, which seemed at that moment even more beautiful than Javan’s. “No one, Lord,” she said.
“Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.”
Keturah bowed her head. “Master, I obey,” she said, and the followers of Jesus parted once again to let her pass. A woman draped her outer robe over Keturah’s shoulders . Keturah turned for one last look at Jesus. The crowd had merged again. Before he began speaking again, Jesus looked up once more at Keturah. She heard his voice in her mind: Go and sin no more.
When Keturah got home, she thanked the woman and sent her on her way. Keturah poured water into a basin. She washed every inch of her body. She washed her hair and put on a fresh robe. Then she took her fine linen shift and wrapped it around the alabaster vial of perfume Javan had given to her. Keturah placed a coal from the fire on a pottery shard and carried her bundle and the coal to an open place at the foot of the Mount of Olives. She lit a fire.
Keturah prayed as she burned the shift and the perfume. The smoke from her offering rose thick and sweet and pleasing to the Father, for it was the smoke of true repentance.