Abi came often to visit, slipping into the house through the alley doorway after casting furtive glances up and down the lane. A nervous smile to the domestics at work in the kitchen as she skirted the pot-laden tables. Head down while she hurried across the atrium to enter Hester’s chambers. The mere thought that one of the household slaves would mention seeing her there—to another domestic at the fountains, to one of her friends at the market—set Abi trembling.

Abi came often to visit. But the fear always came with her, dogging her steps there and back, sitting beside her like an unwanted companion during the course of her stay. The fear was almost enough to keep her away.

But not quite.

At first, she convinced herself the visits were for the sake of friendship. Because of a momentary lapse of judgment, Hester lost her life-long companions. They wanted nothing to do with her now. Except for Abi, whose clandestine visits were a form of benevolence—a mercy shown to an old friend fallen on hard times. That was the reason Abi rehearsed, at any rate … the one she would offer her husband should he ever find out about her presence at Hester’s house. And there was enough truth to it that the pretense would not be difficult. She thought she could at least look her husband in the eye as she gave that excuse.

But the whole truth was something her husband would find much more disturbing. Yes, Abi visited out of friendship. But she also visited out of curiosity. She wanted to know more about this Jesus, the Nazarene. Saul was no longer welcome at the synagogue. But his words lingered long after the man himself left. Every time Abi attended the Sabbath services, she could hear echoes of the heated debates that had taken place there. She could see Saul’s bent form standing before the congregation, frail and tough at the same time. He’d been so persuasive. The story he’d told was so powerful. The Scriptures he used were unsettling … needling … convicting.

It wasn’t Saul’s words or Scriptures that troubled Abi most, however, driving her to Hester’s house time after time—and even to that one worship assembly during a period when her husband was out of town. It wasn’t Saul’s absence from the synagogue.

It was the continued absence of Hester herself … and Crispus.

She’d known the two of them all her life. She’d loved Hester like a sister for as long as she could remember. And she’d admired Crispus for his studious, sincere ways, for the tenderness he showed to everyone. The fact that the two of them would leave the Hebrew community to go with Saul, the fact that they would stay gone and devote themselves to building a new community at the house next to the synagogue, spoke more eloquently to the truth of Saul’s message than anything Saul could say.

Crispus and Hester would not have left so much behind on a whim. They would not have turned their backs on people they loved and a life-time of tradition and faith without a compelling reason. There has to be something to Saul’s story, Abi told herself.

So Abi visited Hester for friendship’s sake. But she also visited to ask questions and learn more about the prophet from Galilee. Both Hester and Crispus sat with her for hours in the study, pouring over the scrolls and explaining why they believed Jesus to be Messiah.

Over the course of time, as was happening for others—for sons and wives and families scattered throughout the Jewish Quarter, for slaves and potters and seamstresses throughout the rest of the city—the Gospel began to do its damage. Abi discovered conviction growing within her. She thought that Hester might just be right, that she might be willing to sacrifice a great deal for the sake of Saul’s story.

And that scared her most of all.

[Next Chapter]

[Beginning of the novel]