My brother and I tentatively approached the doorway. Sir? I called out.
From within the dim room, a mans voice responded, Whos there?
Melchi and Amos, the sons of Eliezer, I replied. You sent for us?
Ah, yes, come in, come in, said the smiling man who appeared in the doorway. Im Yeshua, the son of Joseph. Its a pleasure to meet you both.
Were glad to meet you, too, sir, I said. Weve heard many good things about you.
Is that so? he asked. Come in! Have a seat! My brother and I settled uneasily onto a bench built into the wall. Now please, tell me what you've heard.
Well, I ventured, there are stories going around of your preaching. All about the Kingdom of God.
Yes, yes, Yeshua answered. And do they talk about the signs?
Signs? Well, yes, there are stories about sick people youve healed, and other miracles of that sort. I heard that you magically turned water into wine. And supposedly you turned five loaves of bread into five thousand loaves. Its said that you must be a prophet. You remind people of Elijah and the other mighty prophets of old.
My brother found the nerve to speak up. Perhaps, some people say, you actually are Elijah, sir. Come back to life.
Yeshua seemed to scoff at this. Do you believe in reincarnation, my son?
No, I dont, but some people do. Some even say that youre the second coming of John the Baptist.
Highly unlikely, Yeshua laughed. I am plainly more than two years old, am I not? And it was only two years ago that John was put to death, poor man. In fact, John and I were about the same age. I met him once, when I went down to the river Jordan and let him baptize me.
So then, I ventured, who are you, really?
I am not at liberty to say, Yeshua replied enigmatically. He saw our blank stares. But I already gave you my name, didnt I? Im Yeshua, son of Joseph, from Nazareth. Some people call me Jesus, the Greek form of Yeshua. Im merely a preacher, a son of God. I'm also a son of man; that's what I call myself, the Son of Man. I travel around Galilee and tell of Gods Kingdom.
And you have summoned us here to Caesarea Philippi, to meet you in this house.
That I have.
May we ask why?
Yeshua sighed. The precepts I preach are merely words. The signs I perform are merely marvels. I feel that something is missing, something that would inspire people on an emotional level. I want to give people a glimpse of heaven! I want to let them see, however briefly, the true glory of the Kingdom! As Isaiah wrote, The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I want to fulfill that scripture!
I was puzzled, and my brother scratched his head. Yeshua looked at him. You are Amos, are you not? He nodded. You are a musician in the service of the Temple at Jerusalem. He nodded again. How does your music affect the worshipers?
It inspires them, he answered with a quiet pride. When our instruments and voices make a joyful sound, the people feel Gods joy in their hearts. When we perform a mournful tune, they sob silently with the cantor. More than once has someone declared that in listening to our music, he can almost imagine that he is hearing the very voice of God.
Thats what Im talking about, said Yeshua. Thats the sort of thing I want. Then he turned to me. Now, Melchi, Im told that you have acquired certain secrets from the Greek oracles.
I was shocked. Who had told him that? Nevertheless, it was true. Through my associates, I had obtained the recipes for hallucinogenic drugs used by Greek priestesses to put themselves into a divine trance and foretell the future. In particular, theres a sacred drink, used for centuries by the cults of Demeter in Eleusis, called kykeon. I cant give you the particulars, but its a bitter-tasting acid prepared from ergot and wild rue, sweetened with honeydew.
I fear Ive revealed too much. At any rate, I admitted to Yeshua that I did know some secrets of the Greeks.
And among those secrets, he asked, is there a potion that produces hallucinations?
Um, yes, there is.
How does it work?
I felt I had to answer. It works in two ways. Do you know how, at night, the pupils of your eyes open wide to let in the light, so that even by the feeble glow of the stars you can see?
And by day, those same pupils contract to tiny dots, keeping out most of the light so that your eyes are not overpowered by the brightness of the sun?
Well, this potion causes your pupils to open, even in the daytime. Much more light than usual enters your eyes, and you are dazzled by its brilliance.
A brilliance much like the glory of God.
And what is the second way in which the potion performs its wonders?
It heightens all your senses. Colors are more colorful, tastes and smells are stronger. You hear words that are never spoken and feel objects that are not even there. Its a totally overwhelming experience.
I can imagine it would be, Yeshua said. All right, its time to make my proposal. For a price, could you acquire some of this potion by the end of the week?
I suppose that could be arranged. There was a Demeter cult in the city of Sepphoris, not far away.
How much of it?
I beg your pardon?
To how many people at once could you administer the potion, so that they see bright lights and hear voices?
Well, its very hard to obtain in any quantity. Normally only the priestess drinks kykeon, and only on special occasions. I could bring you maybe two or three doses.
That might be sufficient. Heres my plan. Next week, Ill take my closest disciples up to the top of Mount Tabor to pray. You and your brother will come along to carry our provisions, including the potion. When the disciples drink it, well find out what happens. Perhaps it will open their eyes, so to speak. Perhaps they will see the glory of the kingdom of God shine round about me.
My eyes widened at this plan. So did my brothers. While its not uncommon for traveling preachers to use magic tricks to convince onlookers of their special powers, this traveling preacher wanted to go a step further and actually drug his audience. But he was willing to pay a good price for our services, so we agreed.
Outside the House
Yeshua went outdoors to speak to his followers, and we tagged along. We noticed that there were considerably more than three disciples in the courtyard.
Who am I? he asked them.
They were perplexed. Uh, you are Yeshua of Nazareth, are you not?
That is true, but there are those who suspect that I might be something more. What have you heard? Who do people say that I am, really?
Some say youre John the Baptist, one disciple offered. Or Elijah, another added. Or Jeremiah.
How about you? he asked, pointing at a disciple named Peter. Who do you say I am?
Peter didnt hold back. You are the Messiah, he answered.
And Peter, you are a rock, Yeshua replied. Listen to me. Listen to me, all of you! Im not going to deny that I am the Messiah, but none of you is to repeat that. Let me be perfectly clear. You are strictly forbidden to identify me as the Messiah to anyone outside this group.
He went on to explain the secrecy. Let me tell you about the Son of Man. Im going to have to go to Jerusalem in a few weeks. There I will have to endure great sufferings.
Not you, Master! Peter interjected.
Listen to me, Yeshua continued. In Jerusalem I will have to suffer rejection by the scribes and the elders and the chief priests. I will be put to death. But I shall be raised again on the third day.
Amos and I gasped at this astonishing prophecy. The disciples didnt seem to accept it, either.
Listen to me! Yeshua cried again. Truly I tell you: There are some of you standing here he looked at Peter directly who will not taste death before they have seen the dazzling glory of the kingdom of God. And then he turned and winked at me!
To the Mountaintop
Six days later, Yeshua headed out in the morning for an overnight prayer retreat. He took with him Peter and two other disciples, John and James. Amos and I accompanied their party, carrying the food and water and blankets. And among the supplies, I had hidden three doses of kykeon.
We reached the top of Mount Tabor that afternoon and ate lunch. Yeshua said he wanted to sit in the sun, but the three disciples found a shady spot nearby. As planned, I spiked their drinks with the hallucinogen. It soon began to take effect.
Whats going on? James asked no one in particular.
The sun is very bright up here today, John noted.
What was that? James asked.
I certainly do, said Peter. Then he looked over at Yeshua and gasped. Look at that!
Huh? said John, blinking.
Look at the Masters face! Its practically glowing.
And his robe, too, added James. Ive never seen a robe that white. You cant get a robe that white, no matter how much bleach you use. Its radiant.
His face is as luminous as the sun, said Peter, gazing transfixed. It is good that we are here to see this. It is good that we are here. It is good.
The ground is moving, said James.
It is? asked John. I dont feel anything. I heard a noise.
Weve got to get back to the boat! James exclaimed, trying to struggle to his feet.
No, said John. I do feel something. Im not sure what, but I feel something, like snakes are crawling all over me.
Master! Master! Would you like me to make three shelters here? One for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah? He clearly didnt know what he was saying. Yeshua simply looked at him calmly.
A cloud came over the mountaintop, and the bizarre scene was now shrouded in fog. Where are you, Master? Peter wailed. There was a distant roll of thunder. James and John screamed and fell to the ground. Peter joined them, saying I will, Lord. I will.
Eventually the cloud lifted, and the wild-eyed disciples started to recover from their hallucinations. They were shaking and terrified at first, but Amos and I managed to talk them down from their trip. Yeshua came over, touched them, and said, Stand up. Dont be afraid.
They looked up, and there was no one standing there but Yeshua.
Where did the others go? Peter asked him, trembling.
Moses and Elijah. They were standing right beside you.
Is that what you saw?
I saw three people, James confirmed. And all of you were effulgent, beaming like the sun.
Is that so?
But, James asked Peter, the other two men how did you know they were Moses and Elijah?
Moses had horns, Peter explained, gesturing with his forefingers. And Elijah I mean, who else could it have been?
I didnt see anybody, John said. But it was very bright. And I heard the voice.
A voice like thunder. It came out of the cloud. I think it said, I am the Lord thy God.
Peter had heard it differently. It was, This is my beloved Son.
James agreed, I think I heard that too. This is my beloved Son.
And afterwards, added John, it said Listen to me.
To him, Peter corrected. Listen to him.
James put it all together, with embellishment. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him. They all nodded in agreement. Soon they all nodded off to sleep.
The next day, as we were coming down the mountain, Yeshua made us all promise not to tell anyone about these visions until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
The Risen Lord
Well, that was several years ago. Yeshua was put to death as he predicted, and according to his disciples, he has been raised from the dead.
The followers of the late Yeshua now openly proclaim that he was the Messiah or to use the Greek words, the followers of the late Jesus now openly proclaim that he was the Christ. Those followers are now known as Christians. Since this alleged resurrection, no one I know has ever actually seen Jesus walking around, but Christians insist that he magically appeared to a few of them and then retreated back into heaven, where he reigns on a throne at God's right hand.
This tall tale didnt convince everyone. Among the disbelievers was a young man named Saul. To him, it was an insult to the one and only God to claim that Jesus, or any other human, was also a god.
Saul started a personal crusade to round up and arrest as many of these blasphemous Christians as he could find. One Christian had somehow learned of my part in the events on Mount Tabor, and he hired me to help Saul see the light.
One day around noon, Saul had almost completed a journey from Jerusalem to Damascus when he drank the psychedelic potion Id hidden in his saddlebags. When it took effect, the bright midday sky became unbearably bright. Saul saw the light from the sky flashing all around him. He fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice asking, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? He carried on a conversation with the voice, which identified itself as Jesus and told him to proceed into the city. When Saul got up, he was temporarily blind. Based solely on this one dramatic experience and his subsequent studies, he converted to Christianity, changed his name to Paul, and became a missionary to the Gentiles.
My friend Luke, who is compiling a history of the Acts of the Apostles, has recorded slightly different versions of this story. In his Chapter 9, Sauls traveling companions heard the voice but saw no one. In Chapter 22, they didnt hear the voice but they did see the light.
At any rate, like Peters vision, the vision of the risen Messiah that my potion produced was an internal one an abnormal episode in Sauls brain. However, like Peter, Paul was convinced. He will never change his mind. He knows it truly happened, because he experienced it personally.
In the second epistle attributed to him, Peter writes: It was not on tales, however cleverly concocted, that we relied when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming. Rather, with our own eyes we had witnessed his majesty. He was invested with honor and glory by God the Father, and there came to him from the sublime Presence a voice which said: This is my Son, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests. We ourselves heard this voice when it came from heaven, for we were with him on the sacred mountain.
And on this rock of delusion, on this acid trip of false perception, they have built his church.
retelling of Matthew
16:13 - 17:9,
Pharmacological speculations have been adapted from Visions and the Origins of Christianity by retired professor Mary K. Matossian in the August/September 2009 edition of Free Inquiry, volume 29, number 5.
Click here for other Bible stories I've retold in the first person.