…but in me was he contained that I might recover the
strength of the female. – The Gospel of Bartholomew
Father James McPherson knew he was being followed and under no circumstances could he let himself be caught. What he carried was too valuable to fall into the wrong hands. McPherson was trapped in a section of Jerusalem’s old city between the Church of the Redeemer and Mount Moriah just north of the Wailing Wall, the Jewish holy site.
Moriah rose above him directly to the east with the Golden Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque above. The Mount of Olives, dotted with gnarly fir trees, sat one hundred meters further east rising above the site of the ancient Temple Mount on Moriah. Ten minutes before, McPherson had met with a Palestinian Arab in the old city. The meeting was set up by none other than Hieronymus, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
The Patriarch was also of Palestinian ancestry, and he had many contacts in the West Bank and Arab quarters of Jerusalem. Two weeks ago, an Arab had come to him purporting to have a fragment of a certain ancient document. He refused to say where he had obtained it, and he refused to show the document unless he was paid a large sun of money.
All he told Hieronymus were two words, a person’s name, written in Greek, at the head of the purported text. It was enough. Hieronymus quietly passed the news along to the Keeper of the Texts in Rome. The Keeper had dispatched Father McPherson, with the money, to rendezvous with the man and make the exchange.
McPherson was dressed like an Arab, his kaffiyah head piece wrapped around to conceal his face; so sensitive was this meeting, so great the need for caution. The Arab had handed him the document, a single page that would alter history in the right hands. McPherson recalled his shock at seeing the first two words of the text written in
Greek—Μαρια Мηγδαληνη—Mary Magdalene. Excerpts from the letter flashed across his mind – Mary Magdalene…by my hand is this written… the two shall become one again…the hidden shall be revealed…the secret Church shall become visible… I shall return…the three Alphas of God in my name…The First Souls…and the god of this world shall be overthrown…
The Keeper had told him what to look for and by those phrases McPherson knew the text was genuine without needing to have it analyzed or dated. He handed the Arab a small fortune then sealed the parchment in a tube which he placed in his briefcase. The Keeper had warned him to be vigilant and he was, pausing periodically to peer around corners, eyes darting from side to side as he made his way to the main street.
That was how he noticed the two men following him. Both were dressed in western clothes, definitely not Arabs. McPherson could not be caught with the document. That would unravel everything. The streets in this part of the city were narrow so taxis were seldom seen. He had hoped to make it to the main boulevard to find a cab and head straight for the Tel Aviv airport. He needed to reach Rome, but his pursuers had blocked his passage to the west. He realized they were now looking him straight in the eye.
That was bad. They were not just following him any more; they were readying to capture him. McPherson was in his forties and still able to run. He retreated back toward the old city in a quick trot trying to use the narrow, winding streets to lose the men. He had no idea where he was going, but he dodged in and out of alleys and side streets.
Still hearing their running footsteps behind him, he redoubled his efforts. He came upon a merchant bazaar of street stalls and slowed his pace. Rows of cheap antique vase replicas lined the area in front of the stalls. No one was in the immediate area so he took the tube out of his briefcase, slipped it into a vase depicting Jesus at the Last Supper, and marked its position in his mind. He glanced at the sign on the storefront behind the open stall. It said, Ali Wafa. McPherson resumed running, tossing his briefcase into an alley along the way.
Darkness was falling and he hoped the shadows would help him, but to his dismay he rounded a corner to face a wide open area. He saw Mount Zion to his right, so that meant southwest. He must be at the southern edge of the old city, probably heading straight for the Dung Gate. There were no buildings ahead for cover, just an open expanse with crumbled ruins along the ancient Herodian street at the southern base of the Temple Mount.
His pursuers were coming at him from the north. The south and west posed more open space where they could run him down. He had one chance. If he made a sharp turn to the east, he might be able to gain the stone ramparts beneath the Al Aqsa mosque where the lower wall of the old city bisected the higher wall of the Temple Mount plateau above.
He had a chance if he could reach the mosque. He was dressed as an Arab while his pursuers looked like westerners or Israelis, and the locals wouldn’t take kindly to Israelis chasing one of their own. McPherson put on an extra burst of speed. He looked back as he ran, and the two men were still keeping pace with him. After fifteen minutes of running uphill, he was spent. He managed to reach the surviving wall of an ancient stone building in the flats below the high ramparts of the intersecting city and Temple Mount walls.
He had to rest. He was temporarily out of view of his hunters. Multiple nooks and crannies overgrown with grass pockmarked the high walls. He spotted a deep, arch-shaped niche carved into the stone edifice. Whatever purpose it served originally, it was now a storage area for barrels and crates. Heavy iron bars covered the opening but luck was with him. The rusty grille stood open and he barely squeezed through. He closed the gate so it would appear locked, and he hid behind some barrels. If they searched inside he was trapped, but he had to rest. Hopefully his trackers would run past his location.
Seconds later he heard footsteps and they paused close enough for him to hear the men talking. “Over that way,” a voice said in Spanish. Thank God, it appeared they had passed him by. He waited for what seemed an eternity, then slowly crept forward and peered through the heavy metal grating. It looked clear. While he had time, he pulled a pen and paper from his pocket and scribbled a short note. He placed the paper back in his pocket then pushed against the iron gate as slowly and quietly as he could, opening it just enough to wiggle back outside.
Which way to go? It was a dicey decision. Backtracking would be the quickest route to the city, but his pursuers might catch him out in the open again. He looked around. About a hundred feet away and six feet above the level where he stood, a metal stairway led to a landing between the end of the encircling old city wall and the face of the Temple Mount wall. The parapet of the Mount wall stood about twenty feet above the landing, normally an insurmountable barrier but once again fortune was with him.
Temporary scaffolding covered the face of the wall connecting the landing to the parapet. Thank God the walls were in need of constant maintenance. If he gained the parapet, he would be on the lower Temple Mount plateau less than fifty yards from the mosque. He could then cut across the great square by the Dome of the Rock and descend down the western slope of Moriah.
He ran toward the stairs but momentarily froze when he heard a shout behind him. The men had emerged from the cover of a half-crumbled column some distance to the east. They must have been waiting to flush him out. The old stone blocks that formed the lower base of the stairs made perfect stepping stones so McPherson scrambled up, jumped the metal railing then turned east and ran up the rampart leading up to the landing. His pursuers were younger and faster, however. He could hear their footsteps gaining ground on him.
He was gasping for air as he reached the landing, and was only halfway up the scaffolding when the men arrived. McPherson climbed for his life, not pausing to look down, for a moment’s lapse would be fatal. Things started coming to him now in slow motion. Arm slid over arm to grasp the metal bars with the languid reach of a swimmer doing the front crawl against the resistance of water. He clawed his way upward for an eternity.
His vision and his awareness of all things around him collapsed and focused on the crenellated openings of the parapet above. He rose ever so slowly until suddenly a new world came into view. His head was at eye level with the concrete plaza on the plateau above. He could see people walking in the distance, people and safety from the danger in the abyss below him. He was going to make it, going to complete his mission, he –
Then he felt it, felt a hand grasp his ankle. He was vaguely aware of kicking to get free. He looked down to see one man’s hand on his ankle and the second man reaching to grab his other leg. The downward drag grew heavier. His eyes tracked back to the plateau. He clutched the parapet, inches from a plane of existence that meant freedom and life.
He glanced to the nearby southwest corner of the Temple Mount, the very place where Jesus was said to have rejected Satan after being offered the world. He looked one more time at the safe and unaware people in the short distance beyond, and he remembered the words of the Keeper—“Nothing in this world is as it seems.” And reminding himself of that, he realized his safety did not lie on that Mount or in those people. His safety lay in something beyond. With both hands, McPherson thrust his body backward off the parapet.
As he fell, he thanked God that he dispelled himself of his illusions and did not carry them with him in the hour of his death. He let out one final scream of God’s name in Arabic before he hit the rocks below in a crunching crack of oblivion.
“You fool, you pulled too hard,” one of the assailants said to the other.
“No, the bastard pushed off. He killed himself!” the other replied.
They descended then examined McPherson’s body. They were searching for his briefcase or large documents, so they overlooked the small note in his pocket. Soon the onlookers above drawn over by McPherson’s scream started shouting at them in angry voices. They fled. Now they were scared, not of the crowd, but of going back to Rome empty handed.