My Martyrdom: Solomon Molcho (d. 1532)
By David Hartley Mark
I woke in utter darkness. How long have I been sleeping, O God of Abraham? Not just this terrible, sleep of pain, brought on by the Inquisitors—curse them, O God of Vengeance!—but asleep to my true heritage and Your Covenant, a member of the House of Israel. Dios Mio, how my head aches….
It was not always thus. Once, I dressed in cloth-of-gold and sat at the king’s table; yea, King John himself, monarch of Portugal. I had mounted to the highest office any New Christian could hope for—and I was, truth to tell, no New Christian; I was born a Christian, if you please. My parents baptized me at birth, to keep me safe from the Inquisition—the Portuguese office of this same nest of leeches that has sucked me dry.
I see I am not alone (Calls across the cell). What is your crime, Friend? Heresy? Mine, too. What sort? Anabaptist? Good luck go with you.
And my—heresy, dare we call it? I am a Jew; I am a prophet; I may even be Messiah. You laugh? You think it strange, humorous even, to see the Son of God, God’s Chosen, here in rags and covered with filth and blood and offal, in a cell of the God-Police?
It was not always so. No—as I said, I was an officer. No, not military; better! An officer of the king; indeed, I was Royal Secretary in the High Court of Justice of the Royal House of Portugal, subject only to His Majesty’s Pleasure. I ate and drank and worked and whored like any royal toady; my future was safe and secure. That is—until He came.
Who? Why, Reubeni. David Reubeni. The envoy. From where? Beyond the mystical River. Tigris and Euphrates? Where and what are they? This is the Sambatyon, a mighty stream whose waters break rocks and overflow its banks—except on the Sabbath, when it calms and turns into a mirror-lake. Believe me, Friend: so it is written, so it is handed down.
Reubeni convinced me that I was meant to return—to Palestine? No: to my faith. Not easy, Friend. I circumcised myself—yes, and you may well grit your teeth! I almost died, from loss of blood, but in my sickness, I had visions—of doves, and warriors, and trees they wished to cut down, but failed. I wrote it all down.
I did journey to the Holy Land, and found it all laid waste.
Never mind, I told myself, all in Heaven’s Time.
I met there a young rabbi—Joseph Karo. Nice fellow, I remember, but a trifle dull.
O well, I remember thinking; every dog has his day; this one may turn out to be a brighter light than he appears to me.
But I was impatient—David cautioned me to be patient; we Jews had no more power. But I disagreed: my visions, my dreams showed me a people eager to return, to hasten Messiah’s Coming for all, to bring an New Age of Peace and Hope and Gold for all. I even had a year: 1540—it seemed so perfect!
One, for the One True God;
Five, for the Torah’s number of Books;
Forty, for the number of Perfection and Completion—days of Moses on the Mountaintop; days of Noah’s Ark at sea; even—if the Christians needed a bit of a push—the numbers of days their messiah spent in the wilderness, withstanding Satan’s temptation.
It seemed to go well. I met with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, but he first imprisoned me, refusing to arm my people—that is, the Conversos, the New Christians.
Which made sense, from his point of view, I suppose: can’t have a bunch of God-maddened half-Jew-half-Christians bandying about, carrying swords and bucklers. Charles had enough troubles on his plate. We spent some time in his prison, in the end—and he handed us over to the Inquisition, which started the whole entire thing unraveling pretty quickly.
Ah, well. I was prepared to meet my fate. Reubeni? No, not he. He was exiled—to Turkey, I believe. We fell out of touch—never saw him again. Alive or dead? Who knows? I will see him in that bourne that has no name….
The Pope, Clement VII, took my side, but he was worse than useless, in the end—just a Medici, you see, and illegitimate; couldn’t be trusted. Oh, you may call him Holy Father, but he’s a politician, through and through. Even I could see that the Church was riddled, top-to-toe, with corruption. He had to put his own house in order, and couldn’t be bothered, saving the life of a Jew claiming to be Messiah—though I am, truly, you see. There, now: there’s two of us, believing in Me.
And now, tomorrow, I’m to be martyred. I go in peace. I am content. I have lit a candle in this land—for justice, freedom, the right to think—what?
Why, what one wishes.
And one day, freedom of thought will come. And my people?
They, too, will be free.
It’s all in my Prophecy.
So let me die, content.