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Ancient Testaments: Before His Manger: Chapter 22 -- The Twig

At the close of Chapter 21, Eleazar and his son Matthan, with their kinsman Addi, were at a crossroads. They could head east or west on the highway passing through the Jezreel Valley, or go north on a less-traveled path leading to the mountain to their north. They knew this to be one of those crossroads that can affect a family's journey through history. So they hoped for some prompting to guide their choice. It was then that they heard a voice, but not a very heavenly one.Chapter 22 — The TwigThe men, who moments before had been puzzled about which direction to travel, now switched to wondering who and where all the yelling was coming from."You're an idiot, that's what you are," the voice was saying, or that was the nicest thing it was saying. The voice was huge and booming, the sort of voice you could use to speak to someone way down the street without going to his house in person. "And, not only an idiot," the voice continued, "but a useless idiot!"Then came a string of foul words. Eleazar had heard language of this kind at construction sites, among the most irreligious men, or from some of the Roman soldiers who had learned to speak a few "optional" things in the language of Jews. As for Matthan and Addi, they could not remember ever hearing such words at all.Soon the owner of the voice came into view, rounding a clutch of tall brush straight ahead. He was coming from the little canyon at the base of the mountain. He trudged along with uneven, weary steps, setting a foot down extra-hard now and then, as an upset child might do, to emphasize his words.The man seemed unaccustomed to travel on foot. Eleazar could see this not only from the unsure gait, but from the tomato-like redness of his bald head. It was evident that he had spent a recent day or two in the sun, without a headdress of any kind. "Who is this fellow yelling at?" Addi asked, for the man had no visible companion, except a reluctant donkey, who followed only by frequent yanks and swats."His animal, I suppose," Matthan answered. He turned to Addi and smiled, "unless he was talking to one of us.""Well, if he meant one of us, he is wrong about being a useless idiot," Addi came back. "You are not an idiot as far as I can tell, and I am certainly not useless."It took a moment for Addi's comment to register with Eleazar. There was a need for some relief just now. The sight approaching them from the canyon, along with the suggestion that Matthan might be useless, and Addi's confession of possible idiocy, was all Eleazar needed. It was not often that this steady sire laughed long and hard, but he did so now. The sight was enough to get the two younger men laughing as well. Soon enough, the most laughable thing was the laughter itself. One would double over a little, get over it, and then look at the other two and start up again.On approaching the main road, the shouting stranger had taken a moment from his southward journey to lay a few hard swats to the donkey's north end, in rhythm with his booming insults. Then, returning his attention to the path ahead, he beheld the unexpected sight of three laughing travelers at the crossroad."I suppose you think my plight is very funny!"Eleazar straightened up at this, rubbed some moisture from his eyes, and answered as kindly as he could, "No sir. If you have any plight, we are sorry to know it. We three are a bit lost right now, and have taken some time to relax a moment before deciding which road to take. Can we help you in your plight?"The man answered without a moment's thought. "Of course you can help me. First, you can buy all these sandals I have been hauling around on this ridiculous animal."It was now that the three men studied the enormous bundles of product stacked high on the pack animal. To Addi it seemed there was enough footwear in those bundles to supply a whole village, or maybe a small nation."Second," he continued, "you can take this naughty, stupid donkey away where I'll never see it again! Buy the sandals and I'll throw the donkey in as a bonus."Eleazar, who was attending to the man's words with an occasional nod, smiled and said, "Well my friend, as you can see, we do have sandals to wear. And we have plenty of donkeys as well.""Well, those people up there," the man said, jerking his head toward the top of the tall stony bluff behind him, "they said the same thing! 'We don't need any sandals,' they said. 'We don't need them.' That's what I heard over and over. 'We don't need sandals.'"He leaned close to Eleazar, glaring, and said in a hoarse whisper, "But you want to know something? You want to know about these people who didn't want to buy a single pair of sandals ... ?""Tell me," Eleazar said, trying not to smile too broadly."I'll tell you. They don't have ... any! None! They've got no money for such fine things as a sane person's simple pair of sandals. No sir! They've got feet of iron I suppose. They walk around on the rocky places just like nothing, just like this stupid donkey does."There was a pause in the sandal man's wrath, as if he might be waiting for the sympathy that was his due."That is remarkable," Eleazar commented. "Not one customer for all your work ... ."The man was suddenly animated again. "Oh now," he said quickly, "there was one — one customer and one only. You know who it was?""Well, I can't imagine ... .""A child! A little child with no money, you see. That's all. This little girl of, I'd say three years old. Kind of limping on one of her feet, you see, so she could use a good pair of sandals. Follows me out to the edge of the town, begging to buy a pair, or if I had just one sandal extra for her 'hurty foot,' she says. And I ask if she has money and 'no,' she says. So you know what I told her?""What did you tell her?"The man laughed and looked over at his donkey, acting out the scene as if the little girl were there now. "'Go find you a cow,' I say. And she says, 'A cow?' And I say, 'Yes, you'll have to find a cow, for that's what these sandals are made of.' And that's just exactly true. If people want to have some sandals, and they don't want to buy them from me, then they can just go get leather — which is not easy to acquire these days — and make their own ... .""So, you left the village in a somewhat victorious way," Eleazar said."By all means I did," the man declared. "That child turned around and limped her way back into the village." The man paused and grinned, "that was nearly two hours ago. By now," he chuckled, "maybe she's found her cow.""May I ask, sir," Eleazar interrupted, "where are you from?""Me? From Sepphoris," he answered."Sepphoris?" his audience said, almost in unison.The man paused only a moment at the unusual interest he had aroused, and said, "That's what I said." He turned around and pointed, not directly north where "those people" with iron feet dwelled, but just to the west, or left, of that direction. "Up in those hills."Eleazar continued his questions, "So, the sandals are made in Sepphoris, and you travel around selling them ... .""No, no! I let the merchants from the big cities come to me and get them, but this time," he said, his eyes rolling, "my wife says, 'Why don't you go out and try selling them yourself for once. Take the donkey' — this useless idiot here — 'take the donkey,' she said, 'and go to some of the little villages we've heard about in these hills. Maybe you'll find new customers,' she says. Well, I tried that, and as you can see, ... ."". ... But, Sepphoris, sir," Eleazar interrupted again, "we actually have thought to go there ourselves, though we know little about it, and don't know the way. I wonder, ... ."The man looked hard at Eleazar for a moment. "On what errand?"Eleazar didn't want to say much about their quest. "What errand?" he answered. "Well, ... .""You're not in the footwear business are you?" the man broke in."No, not at all.""Never mind then," the man boomed out. "I don't care what your errand is. Go to Sepphoris if you want. It's a growing town, and with a lot of Roman influence I'm happy to say. You'll get there fastest by going west on this main road a few miles, then going north through the big canyon. You'll get there. Good road, and you don't have to go through 'The Twig,' as I call it.""The Twig?""Of course, the place I've just left behind, for good I hope. That's what I call it. The Twig — small, dried up. Doesn't live up to its real name." The man went to his donkey and picked up its lead rope and started tugging the animal from the shade it had found with the other donkeys. "By all means, avoid The Twig, whatever your errand may be." He began to make his way east on the main road."Sir, if you will wait just a moment ... ," Eleazar said quickly, and turned to speak with Matthan and Addi.As the three men from Bethlehem conferred quietly, the man asked, "Wait? For what? Have you decided to buy all my sandals after all?" he laughed. "If you do, remember, you can have the donkey. And I will personally take you to Sepphoris myself."Matthan and Addi were nodding in agreement with something Eleazar had said, though they seemed puzzled as well.Eleazar turned back around. "We cannot buy all your sandals," he said, and then added with a smile, "but we have decided to buy some. Make that a dozen pair, of children's sizes."The man showed some pleasure in this turn of things, and dared not question the intelligence of his new customer by asking why he should want to be burdened with a dozen pair of children's sandals. Once the exchange of sandals and money had been made, the man got tugging on the rope again, without bothering to bid farewell."Thank you for the fine sandals, sir," Matthan said."We hope your fortunes improve some," said Addi, who in his own mind meant these words more for the donkey than for the donkey's master.The man lifted a hand of acknowledgment without turning around.Before the departing salesman got out of hearing range, Eleazar said, "But there is one other thing, a question, if you please."The man quickly turned. "You want to buy more, perhaps?""No," Eleazar chuckled. "But the little village, The Twig as you called it. What is the real name, the name it doesn't live up to?""Ahh, for centuries the people there have called their village The Branch. But it just keeps getting smaller. Nothing there to hold people, you know. Drying up. Nothing but poor hovels built into the hillside and little farms and a terrible road and people with iron feet." The man turned around and starting walking and yanking again. "The Branch, The Twig — doesn't matter what you call it," the man muttered, "most people never heard of it anyway."That was the last they saw of the sandal man with the bright red head.

Note to Chapter 22** In the December 1989 issue of the Ensign, Elder Russell M. Nelson pointed to a significant link between the Hebrew word for branch and the name Nazareth. He first quoted from the words of Jeremiah: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper" (Jerimiah 23:5).Elder Nelson then writes: "I am intrigued with the symbolic significance of the fact that some scholars suggest that the word Nazareth is derived from the Hebrew word neser, which means 'branch.' Jesus, the divine Branch, was to be reared in the place with the name meaning 'branch.' Jeremiah further prophesied that the Lord would 'cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land' (Jeremiah 33:15)."We read in the Book of Mormon of another interesting connection between 'branch' and 'Nazareth.' Do you remember the reply after Nephi had asked the Lord the meaning of the tree of life? The Lord then revealed to him a glimpse of the city of Nazareth, where Nephi beheld in vision 'a virgin, most beautiful and fair.' She was destined to become the mother of the Son of God. (See 1 Nephi 11:8-18.) Isn't it interesting that the little town of Nazareth, which name signifies 'branch,' was shown to Nephi in vision after his inquiry about the tree of life?" (Russell M. Nelson, "Ensign," Dec 1989, 13-14.)Jewish people of Palestine in the period of our story spoke Aramaic, which was very distantly related to Hebrew. Literate Jews of the time, if they studied ancient scripture in the original language of their ancestors, would have been acquainted with both languages and could have noted such connections as this one — the significant link between the Aramaic "Nazareth" and the Hebrew "neser," meaning "branch."Read Chapter 23