The late Rowan Ayers, a former BBC producer who lived in Australia, wrote and narrated the TV documentary, The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which introduced the research of Barbara Thiering to the public. The subject of the research inspired him to write this fine poem.





An old man, coiled in shadow

Flecked with the dust of caves,

Hands crippled and locked,

Listens once more to the cries of dogs

And the clatter of spears

In the streets above.


More of his friends are taken,

Dragged by arms and legs

Like carcasses already stripped

Of flesh, bleeding a living death.


For him, he knows, they die;

Tossed in the air for lions,

Or hung on poles and torched,

Each one a new defiant

Light of the world.


This is Rome, the city of fear

For all who followed the old man

And his word. The city of easy death

And violent life, and the sharp

Hatred for those who brought

New meaning to a vision of eternity.


Under the city,

Catacombed and dark, the remnants

Of his following talk solemnly

With resignation. Their end is near.

They do not grudge their deaths,

Only the manner of their dying.


The old man cries

To see the tragedy they play,

Out of their love

For what he never was

A son of God, a miracle Messsiah man.


For this is Jesus, bent and feeble,

Dying his final death long after

The crown of thorns

And the wailing women;

Long after the early dawn

At Golgotha, with the soldiers sleeping,

And the steep slopes fretted

With wheeling birds

As he was laid, still living,

In the burial tomb,

To rise from sickness,

And return, not as a ghost

Or in imagination,

But wet, and smelling foul,

Bleeding from hands,

And faint from heat.


It wasn't over. Hadn't yet begun.

There was no death. No resurrection.

No magic miracle

At which the world rejoiced

Or fell upon its knees.

Only a sick man

Saved from untimely dying

To live and walk the earth again

And build his new Jerusalem

Out of the lessons of the past.


That's how he came among us,

Looking for sensibility

Among the passions

Of his own religion,

Wanting to feed the needs

Of those who searched

For meaning, and beyond,

To share their rich humanity

With friend and enemy.


This is his story.

In the beginning there was no word.

The word came later, after the birth

And the life I began

Under my father and my mother,

Struggling to find my place

As heir apparent in the dynasty of David,

The old randy King who set us up

To rule the world, a thousand years before;

Who sired a thousand children,

With their children's children,

Waiting for their Kingdom come,

And someone from his stretched out

Family to resume the throne.


I was small, a weak boy,

Learning to play with words,

Watching the magicians trick us

With their sleight of hand, and growing to suspect

The trickery in everyone.


Under the cliffs of Sekhakha,

By the salt-thick sea,

I watched my parents talk

And taunt the Roman charioteers,

Lords of our country,

Strong and alien and swift to act;

But my father feared them not,

''You should be Jewish. Give up your gods

Who have no substance.

Give up your superstitions

And your fables,

Worship our God, the one and only,

Learn our ways and wisdom.''


How much they understood,

Hot in their heavy armour,

Sweating to keep the peace,

I never knew.


''Silly old goat'', they'd say, and drive away

Drowning in dust and laughter.


My mother taught me languages and love;

How to reveal myself in words,

And how to laugh.

Skeins of magic she'd weave

Under the violet sky,

Bringing the stars to earth,

Revealing the stretch

Of her imagination, and mine.


I believed her,

As I believed in everything I saw

In all the games we played,

In all the fancies conjured

Out of the empty air.

Stories of miracles,

Of men who soared through space,

Who healed the dead;

Of demons, angels

Touching our momentary lives

And turning them to rubbish

Or to gold.


I grew with my mind

Full of unbounded poetry,

Unlike the hard strict rules

And stipulations of my teachers,

Bending my will to grasp

The do's and don'ts of how to live

According to their laws.

Love wasn't in them.

Nor could they find it easy to forgive.


I was manoeuvred,

Like a puppet, under their savage

Unacceptable directions


''These are the laws, you will obey.

These are the enemy, they will be hated.

These are your duties, you will perform.''


One day, they told me, I'd be king.

An accident of birth, an incidental time,

And well constructed arguments

Would make it so.


King of what kingdom?

Where will I sit?

What will I wear?

Who are my subjects?


Small boy, lost in raptures,

Wandering through

A catalogue of questions, told to behave, to live

As ordered.


A brother came. An alternative king.

I was of doubtful origin,

My mother having not fulfilled

Her trilogy of vows,

My father having grown impatient,

Took her to his bed,

And broke the holy rules.


Some said I wasn't born at all,

Only became from nothing,

Having not passed the Jewish test

That built our dynasty.


I could have been a freak,

A left-outsider while brother James,

The meek and mild, a slave to manners,

Took on the role of king instead.


Both of us, pushed like pieces in a game,

Moved to and fro across a board

Of party lines and circles,

Waited for the mighty Priests

To fix our futures, while I watched

And wondered.


Was this the world I wanted?

The kingdom of the wise?

The sum of all our learning?


Let me explain the way we were,

The way we thought,

The challenge to the heart

And intellect.


Here was a tiny spot on earth,

Seething with passion, wanting a God

To put it all together and reveal a plan.

Here was a child, a future king

With all the right credentials,

(Barring one, of course:

Born on the wrong side of the sheets)

Who could not play the Priest,

But keep the people of his tribe

Ever in hope of final coronation

And the bursting from the heavens

Of a searing fire to blast the enemies

And recompense the just.


I lurked in the shadows of this fantasy,

Walking the shore, playing my games,

Looking for metaphors among the stones,

To bring some meaning to a whirl of words.


Could no one see the sadness

And the irony of preaching love

Through fear and retribution?

Could no one see the cruelty

Of giving hope to those who paid the price,

And nothing but damnation if they failed?


I am a Jew, I said. I understand

The loyalty I have to feel.

I am a Jew, I said. I can't accept

That others are less blessed....


Had I been alone

A solitary figure, free from history

I would have turned my back;

Left the prating and the pride

Of priesthood with its slit-eyed

Introspection, and its menacing conceits.


But I was a swimmer in the moving flood,

Caught in the mood and method

Of a messianic zeal

To justify the prophecies

That never would come true....


I'll paint the picture.


Cliffs with stony jaws, caves like eye-sockets,

Staring from bony skulls across the soup-thick sea.

Everything dancing in a haze of heat;

And white robes drifting like ghosts

Into the private cells of prayer.


That was Sekhakha,

Home of the sect that turned it

Into their Jerusalem. Their own new city.


That was Sekhakha, called Qumran,

Where priests as strict and fearless

As the tamers of lions, fashioned our futures

Out of loveless obedience.


Here we learnt scripture, took our vows,

Saw Abraham as father, Moses as our Judge,

No touch of warm flowers of women.

No look or lust or longing:

Not even laughter.


This was our sterile city and our citadel

Against the force of living,

And the feel of love.


And then came Simon, tall as a tree,

With arms like branches, hands like leaves.

Could snatch a bird from the air and make it sing

Or stop a camel in its tracks

And make it talk.


Magician, doctor, woman-lover,

Battle-hungry zealot, jester, friend;

A man of dreams and ruses,

Tricks and fancies.


We made them stare in anger,

Those darkened priestly faces

With our play on words,

Our mix of puns and poetry,

Our parables, pretences

Prophecies and prayers.


We made them laugh,

Those beauteous sallow maidens,

Down by the shore,

Heady like us with summer sun,

And dizzy with zest for life.


There was his Helena, wild and lovely as a tiger;

And my Magdalene, once married and divorced,

Drawn first to my eye then to my arms.

She was the magic Simon brought to me,

My Magdalene, my Mary....


Across the way,

High on an overhang

Stood John, arms spread,

Coarse shirt, leather belted,

Fiery tongued, the heir of Zadok

Promising the death of enemies,

Through the intervention of a mighty God.


''And the forces of darkness

Shall be overcome.''


God understood the calendar.

He would be ready when we called.

The year was known,

The place was chosen,

The new King was waiting.


There were others,

Like Simon, like Judas,

Like Barabbas the warrior,

Stocking up arms against the day

Which only armies could decide.

Zealots, eager to fight and die

For their country and beliefs,

And their positions.


Against the legions

Sprawling across the land,

They would make no sense.

But gathering in dark corners of the city,

They swooped in sudden violence,

Curved knives slitting the throats

And tearing out the bowels

Of unsuspecting Romans

Waiting for the call to go home

Out of our hot and alien land.


I could see such splitting

Of our lives and ambitions

Would lead to death.

Death of our dream, already fading fast

From prophecies unfulfilled.


For John, the ranting priest,

Baptiser of men; the prophet of salvation

That never came, the forces were against him.

He died in a cell, his head-band, not his head,

Carried before the tetrarch

As a token of his death....


I was a Jew

Yet not a Jew.

A danger to myself

And to their cause.


Neither a Zealot, hiding in caves,

And piercing the skin

Of Roman occupation, (as if

Such stings would bring about

The death of an Empire

Already ruling half the world we knew).


And yet, I was both;

Without the passion

And commitment.

The Romans sought the rebels,

And the High Priests

Sought their power.

In the midst of both these missions,

I was impelled against my will

To answer for my deeds and my beliefs

To pay for my dissension

And irreverence.


And to admit my loyalty

To Simon and the fighters

When they were trapped at last

And brought before the Roman court,

The court of Pontius Pilate,

Looking for an easy way

To win the plaudits

Of his Emperor in Rome.


Three brigand leaders,

Captured and put on the cross.

An easy solution to the problem.

But not as easy as it seemed.

For me.


''Take this man, too'', they said;

My priests and mentors.

''He is disrupting our religion;

He will cause dissent in the land,

And Caesar will not be pleased.

Take him instead of the old warrior,

And you will free us all

Of our anxieties.''


I see his face still,

The Roman ruler, wondering why

These Jews should seek my death

When I was one of them,

And harmless enough by the look of me.

Small, not strong, known to be friendly

Even to our enemies. And yet they were

Calling for my death,

My death by crucifixion.

So let it be.


''One man more, or less; it doesn't matter.

These Jews are unpredictable.

Always playing politics.

Let them have what they want,

And as they can't kill for themselves,

We'll gladly do it for them.''...


Great limbs of armour

Cold and steely hard

Broke open my flesh

As I was dragged away,

Under the mocking laughter

Of I don't know who.

Friend or enemy,

It mattered nothing. Animal colossi,


Holes of morning sky

Between the shoulders and the arms

Of my destroyers

Showed me that I was not yet dead,

But on the way to sacrifice,

To suffer the cruel

Extended death pinned to a cross,

While the blood and nerves

The skin and muscle

And the bones and sinews

Turned to dross.


I didn't ask what I had done,

Or what they thought I'd done,

Or why they'd chosen me

With Simon, and the devious Judas,

To appease their god.

I knew only the shock and pain

As they laid me on the wood,

Kneeling to keep my arms outstretched,

Smiling as they bound my wrists

With thongs, tight till they tore

Like teeth, almost a children's game.


And then the nails;

The mallet poised, the metal

Tipping the palm and

With a tap, dividing it.


''There you are, my son;

You'll look good up there

In your kingdom

Of twigs and thorns.

Watch out for the birds.

They could take a fancy to your eyes.''


Up on that lofty plain,

Close to the view of the valley,

They swung us high

Into the morning air.

Three strange effigies,

Caught in the sun,

Bleeding from hands and arms

As the women wept;

Their cries like dying souls,

Rising and floating solemnly away.


The pain was in my head,

Then downwards through my body,

Stretching under my weight,

(even my weight!),

Pulling me without moving,

As each small portion of me

Suffered its own peculiar agony.


The blue haze of the sky

Was turning grey.

My eyes, blistering under the sun,

Could barely see the ground,

Or the shadows moving,

As slow as prayers.


My tongue curled upwards

Seeking some trace of moisture,

In the sand-dry, burnt-lip

Desert mouth that still sucked air but swallowed nothing.


So this was to be my end,

A poor scarecrow of a thing,

Who once had thought

To be a sort

Of king.


Almost too limp to breathe,

I felt a swab of sharp and bitter

Liquid swill along my lips,

Stinging my mouth, demanding

Of my tongue to let it pass,

Downwards, along the dried out passage;

A momentary flood of life, licked into empty cavities,

Swallowed, without taste, and left to burn its way

Through my resistance.


It was still Friday.

The day of crucifixion.

A few hours had passed

Out there on the plateau

And we were taken down.

The laws did not permit

Our bodies to be hanging there

For holy sabbath.


In those few hours,

They'd fed me poison,

Enough to let me pass for dead.


Now it was over.

In the dungeon cave Simon and Judas,

Legs broken to prevent escape.


Death, I had believed,

Would have no pain.

Would have no smell,

No sound, no heat or chill.

And yet, as I was

Now in its thrall,

My stomach heaving

And my mouth disgorging,

My bowels excreting,

My body shivering,

My head a cauldron

Of thunder,

Could this be death?


Beside me, working,

Simon the Magician

Pressed my muscles

Forced me to eject

The remnants of my stomach,

Spilling in an ugly poison pool

Around the rock beneath my head.

This wasn't death.

Nor was it still

The agony of the cross.

I was alive, a pulsing lump of pain,

But seeing now, and feeling now,

And touching now,

Watching the face above me

Smile at my opened eyes,

''Alive'' he said, ''alive''.


My mentor, weak with hauling

Me back to life, called to the guards.

''A miracle'', he cried, ''A miracle.

This man has come alive,

This man is truly something

Of another world, immortal, son of God,

The true Messiah.''


I lay there hurt, bewildered and remote,

This new assumption, barely heard,

The role he'd given barely understood.

In the slowly lightening cave,

I stood, white and wraithlike,

Faint and weary, hands left brown

And dried with blood.

A ghost of a figure to confront the watchers,

Rubbing their eyes awake.


Beyond the cave, the sad night's vigil

Broke and stared.

Who was I? Who was this figure

Stooping towards the light,

An image of a man

They'd watched gasping for breath,

And writhing into death?


Mary, my Magdalene, was there,

Large with our unborn child,

Reaching to touch me, testing my reality.

I moved aside.

My body foul and moist with sweat

Was not for her soft hands.

''Not yet'', I said.

''Not yet my Magdalena.''


Huddled by friends,

I drifted, barely knowing,

To the house along the Dead Sea shore.

Women were crying as they washed my wounds,

Tender as babies, as they eased the pain.

And deep sleep, swooping in like a whirlwind

Carried me out of reach.....


In those dark years,

Weeping with heat

And battles for survival,

Strewn across countries

From Syria to Rome,

We brought together records

And pronouncements,

Parables and plans,

To give a text and context

For a different creed,


This was to be our Testament,

Our covenant with the world.

This was to be

Our new philosophy

And book of rules.

Slowly it was carried from city to city,

The myth and mystery,

The metaphors for life

Everlasting in the heart

And in the mind.


My birth, my death,

My name, my image

Spreading like seeds

Before a feverish wind,

Taking within its powers

The wanting and the dispossessed.


I was an old man,

Tired and torn with pain,

By the time the Revelation

Of our history was unsealed,

And blessed by those around us,

Carried like treasure into the darkness

Of old temples, tombs, and catacombs.

This was the word, and the beginning,

As I saw the martyrs die for me,

And knew their deaths

Would not, like mine,

Be circumscribed.


This was the end and the beginning.

Take what you will,

From what I tell you.

Take what you need to fill

The empty spaces of your soul,

And let me leave you what I can,

A child, a man, the champion

Of a broken cause that came again

Inspiringly to life.


This was my story,

Adapted to whatever race

Required my image

To present a likely

Recognisable divine,

All hidden in the poetry

And symbols of an age

That needed to extend itself.



As a parent deceives its child

Until it can see for itself.

Or friends are protected

From a painful truth.

Look not to the means but seek the ends,

And listen to your voice within.


For you are your God,

You are your life,

And all you do or say

Is yours to shape and fashion

As you wish.

I have just clothed the obvious

And given it a name to hide behind.


That is my gospel,

According to me.

Do not feel alarmed to hear it.

I ask for nothing, merely tell

What you, perhaps, could never know,

Or never want to know.


The rest,

You might perceive,

Is just the history

Of suffering,

and human exploitation.



(Printed copies of ''I Jesus'' may be purchased from Post Pressed, 31 Allara St Flaxton Qld Australia 4560. Email Website )