Menahem’s Dagger-hand

If you have just strolled in here, I would suggest you start by reading about The Ministry of Vivification. It will help you connect the dots.

On the morning I went there, Menahem hunkered on the floor of his chamber staring at his right fist which had just turned into a dagger. Or a sica, as the Romans liked to call it. Of course, as on that day, they were yet to learn about Menahem or his dagger-hand. The Sicarii were nothing more than a myth yet.

The dingy smell inside his chamber in the hut was quite unmistakable. The door creaked as I pushed it open to get inside. Menahem, who sat with his back towards the door, turned around hearing the sound. The empty room with no visitors stared back at him, the door slightly open. He assigned the mischief to the Zephyr – a wild wind of dark gloom blowing outside. That gloom was further intensified by the echo of a group of women wailing outside. All of it made him stare more intensely at his dagger-hand.

“Pray Father, say, is this deed akin to the words of God?” he muttered to himself.

He remembered the last night – the night of the festival. Of lights and sounds. Of dances and revelry. Of crowds that moved like a giant beast. He had planted himself inside the beast’s womb. Moving along with the crowd. Taking directions that it took. Until they reached the High Priest Jonathan. And as this beast of a crowd devoured the High Priest in its merrymaking, it was time for him to carry out “the words of God”. He drove his dagger-hand right through the High Priest’s neck.

I traced back the timeline of that night with the records available within The Ministry of Vivification (MoVi). It had to be a day somewhere in the mid-first century of the common era – close to the year 6 CE. Quite a few years later, during the opening stages of the First Roman-Jewish War (66 – 73 CE), a man named Yosef Ben Matityahu who, after he had acquired the Roman citizenship, would be known as Flavius Josephus, shall be describing the modus operandi of the Sicarii as –

[They] committed murders in broad daylight in the heart of the city. The festivals were their special seasons, when they would mingle with the crowd, carrying short daggers under their clothing, with which they stabbed their enemies. Then, when [the victim] fell, the murderers joined in the cries of indignation and, through this plausible behavior, were never discovered.

Yet hiding in the shadows that morning, watching Menahem question his own propensity to act, I wondered what could have caused the dilemma in his mind. I had to return later to the infinite libraries of the MoVi to find a viable answer to the question. And even then, it posed more questions for each one that it answered.

In the Southern Levant, in the Roman province of Judaea was born a child name Menahem ben Yahuda. Those were the beginnings of a tumultuous time. After of years of foreign rule and atrocities of different forms and degrees by the Roman, certain radical groups were mushrooming to take a stand against the Roman rule. These radical groups were more commonly known as the Zealots. Leading them was a man much revered as a teacher with the community, Judas of Galilee – father of baby Menahem. His philosophical doctrine had the following tenets –

  1. God alone is to be served.
  2. God alone is the ruler, neither Rome nor Herod are legitimate authorities.
  3. Taxes are to be paid only to God.
  4. All foreign rule over the Jews is unscriptural. Serving Rome, whether in worship, slavery, or paying taxes, is a sin against God.

As he grew up, Menahem became more and more influenced by the fourth philosophy, so much so that he prayed to the gods to come to his aid to help his people get rid of the Romans. So true and vigorous were his prayers that one day he found that his right-hand palm had turned into a dagger. He knew then that the time had finally come to carry out his sacred task.

The assassination of the Hight Priest Jonathan was to be the first of the murders to be carried out by a group that Menahem was to bring into being – The Sicarii (named so by the Romans). The Sicarii, however, never assassinated the Romans; they killed their own people. Jews of Judaea holding high posts, ones they thought to be involved with the Romans.

What attracted me to visit Menahem during my research at MoVi was the two-pronged strategy followed by him and the Sicarii to this end. The killing of Jews in their community not only sent a message of terror to the community itself but also weakened the communication points of the Roman within the city. Menahem knew that without the information channels, the Romans were weak. This did indeed help in isolating the Roman forces. Essentially a form of advanced terrorism before terrorism came into being.

However, before any of those were to transpire, standing inside his hut the morning after his very first kill, I heard him question whether his actions were indeed the words of God. Sitting in front of me was a man who had always lived by his father’s philosophy, even vehemently prayed for the dagger in his hand.

Can a man who follows you blindly question your footsteps too without having lost faith in your guidance?

Perhaps, the answer is yes.

Sitting inside his hut that morning, Menahem could visualise the tyrant he was meant to himself become as the days passed. There was no turning back now. The path of an assassin always has an upward elevation. To move forward, you must climb higher. And the higher you go, the smaller the people down below seem.

Sitting right there Menahem could prophesize, in the height of his tyrannical rule, in 66 CE, he was to kill the Hight Priest Ananias, and it would lead to the other rebel groups to rebel against his ways. They would, thereby murder him in this instance, for by then, while trying to live up to one part of his father’s philosophy in which he had to oppose all things Roman, he had contradicted another tenet of the same philosophical thread – “God alone is the ruler”.

On the evening he was to be assassinated, Menahem saw his dead father approaching towards him, tears in one corner of his old eyes, his tongue replaced by a dagger.

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