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Ishmael by August Strindberg

 

After the death of Gregory the Great, Christianity seemed to have conquered all Europe which was known at the time, and also Byzantium, Palestine, Egypt, and the north coast of Africa. The conqueror was about to betake himself to rest, when a quite new and unexpected event happened which threatened Christendom with destruction and heralded the arrival of a new race upon the scene. Ishmael's descendants, Abraham's illegitimate sons, who had wandered in the deserts, seeming to continue the Israelites' wandering in the wilderness, began to collect in troops and seek a Promised Land.

Six years after Gregory's death, the Prophet Muhammed, then forty years old, was “awakened.” His armies spread like a conflagration, and a hundred years later, Christian Europe thought the last day had come. The countries first conquered by Christianity—Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, Egypt, and North Africa—had fallen away and done homage to the new Antichrist. Byzantium was threatened; Sicily and Sardinia had been taken, and Italy was in danger.

From the southernmost point of Spain one could see in clear weather the coast of Africa, where the Saracens dwelt. Spain was a country which, somewhat remote from Rome, had grown and developed into one of the richest provinces, after Phoenicians and Carthaginians had laid the foundations of her civilisation. But when Rome fell into decay, Barbarians from the Baltic sea belonging to the new German races, whose advent had been foretold by Tacitus, poured into Spain, founded a kingdom or two, and now at the beginning of the eighth century, possessed the important cities Toledo and Seville.

       * * * * *

In Seville, on the Guadalquivir, in the beautiful province of Andalusia, the old Jew Eleazar sat in the shop where he sold weapons, and counted his day's takings.

“Many weapons are sold in these days,” was the sudden remark of a stranger who had stepped up to the counter.

Eleazar looked up, liked the appearance of the well-dressed stranger, and answered cautiously, “Yes, certainly, many are sold.”

“Are you expecting war?”

“There is always war here—especially verbal warfare.”

“You refer to the twenty Church Councils which have been held here. The Christians are never united.”

Eleazar did not answer.

“Excuse me,” continued the stranger, “but I forgot who you are, and that you would rather forget the last Council.”

“No, not at all! why should I?”

“It was directed against your people.”

“And my only son, who was about to marry a Christian maiden, had to give her up, since marriages with Jews were forbidden....”

“Well! and what was the end of it?”

“He could not survive it, but laid hands on himself, and, as she followed him in death, the blame was laid on us, and we lost our property and freedom.”

“Eleazar!” exclaimed the stranger. “Don't you know me?”

“No.”

“But when I tell you my name, you will know who I am. Julius—Count Julius....”

“Are you—Count Julius?”

“I am he, whose daughter Florinda was brought up in Toledo, and fell into the hands of King Roderick, the robber and lecher. Can I see you in your chamber? We have much to say to each other!”

Eleazar hesitated, although both, as injured fathers of lost children, had much in common. He was afraid of the Christians, who had begun to persecute the Jews. The Count understood that, but did not withdraw his proposal, for he seemed to have a special object in his visit.

“Let me into your chamber, and I will tell you, in three words, a secret that concerns us both.”

Eleazar did not yield, but began to parley.

“Say one word, a single word to convince me,” he asked.

“Oppas! there is one for you.”

Eleazar opened his eyes, but asked for yet another one.

“Zijad's son.” “Still better!” said Eleazar, “but now the last!”

“Bar-coch-ba.”

Eleazar reached him his hand. “Come under my roof, eat of my bread, and drink of the sacred wine.” In a moment the shop was closed, and the two elderly men sat at supper in the room behind it. They conversed eagerly.

“There are some hundreds of thousands of us Hebrews here in Spain, for when the Emperor Hadrian had destroyed Jerusalem for the last time, he sent some fifty thousand Hebrews here. That is six hundred years ago, and we have naturally increased—yes, to such a number, that ninety thousand of us could be compulsorily baptized. I, too, have been baptized, but, though they poured water on me, I have held fast the faith of my fathers, and how could I do otherwise? The Christians have not one faith, but many. The Synod held in Toledo in 589 A.D. taught, for example, that the Holy Spirit did not only proceed from the Father, but from the Son also. But the Synod of 675 A.D. declared that the Son was not only sent by the Father but by the Holy Spirit. That is nonsense, and therefore they fall away from their own doctrine.

“But instead of falling back on the Old Testament, which is the mother of the New, they plunge into unbelief and heathenism. That is the case with Archbishop Oppas himself in Toledo, who calls himself a hater of Christ, and would rather acknowledge Islam than Catholicism.”

“Do you know Oppas?”

“He is our man.” “You mentioned Islam; what do you think of its teaching?”

“It is our own holy faith; a single God, the Only and True One. And the Prophet is Abraham's seed, who has inherited the promise. It is true Ishmael was the son of a bond-woman, but still he was Abraham's seed!”

“But Muhammed expelled the Jews from Arabia.”

“Yes, he did that; he was not perfect; but things have altered for the better. Muhammed received his first impressions from his cousin Waraka, who was of Jewish descent. At first he was friendly towards Israel; he told his followers to turn in prayer not towards the Kaaba, but towards Jerusalem. There is also a tradition that the prophet was a Jew, which may mean that he was an Arab or Ishmaelite, which is the same thing.”

“You would, then, rather serve under the Half-Moon than under the Cross?”

“Certainly.”

“And Simon, whom you call Bar-coch-ba, is negotiating with the Archbishop Oppas in order to overthrow Roderick?”

“That is true.”

“Good! Then I am one with you. But listen carefully to what I say: —Since our common aim is the overthrow of the West Gothic King, I have, as Governor of Ceuta on the African coast, inquired of Emir Mussa al Nazir and his principal officer, Tarik, the son of Zijad, whether they will perhaps help us in case of a claim for damages made by Ceuta and its neighbourhood. Do you think we can let the storm loose?”

Eleazar gnawed his beard. “Is it not already loose?” he asked drily.

“Have you gone further than I know?”

“What do you know?”

“You are so far as that, then? Well! It is all over with my beautiful Spain!”

“Nothing comes to an end; it only changes when its time is over. Spain had its time when it gave Emperors to Rome—Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius, Marcus Aurelius, Theodosius, who may just as likely have been Iberians and Phoenicians. Spain gave Rome learned men and poets, Seneca, Lucan, Martial, Quintilian, Pomponius, Mela, Columella. That is now five hundred years ago, and now we have had barbarism introduced by the Christian Norsemen from the Baltic. Now we might use something Oriental!”

“Do you believe on the future of Islam?”

“Yes, certainly. Mussa has sworn that he will march by Hannibal's route through Gaul and Germany to Rome, in order to turn the 'heathen and women-worshippers' to the one true God.”

“You know that! Then there is no turning back.”

“No! It is too late. On the 19th of July the half-moon rises over Spain, and it will continue to wax through its phases to the full moon. What follows then we know not, and have nothing to do with, for One rules—the Lord Zebaoth.”

       * * * * *

On the 17th of July, 711 A.D., when it had become dark, fire was kindled on the southernmost point of Spain, Punta de Europa. On the African coast, two miles distant, this was answered by a similar signal. A west wind blew from the Atlantic, and brought across the fleet of the Saracens, with five thousand men and horses.

On the Punta de Europa, afterwards called Gibraltar, high above the precipitous cliff stood long-bearded citizens, and fanned the fire and threw fuel on it. In the morning the first troops landed at the foot of the cliff, and the conquest of Spain by the Moors began. Mussa ibn Nazir came on the following day with the chief body. The King of the West Goths assembled as rapidly as possible a hundred thousand men, and, believing himself invincible, marched thither to view the victory. Clothed in silk and gold, like a Byzantine Emperor, he lay in a chariot of ivory drawn by two white mules, and followed by his attendants and the women of his harem.

For three days all went well, but on the fourth day, something unexpected happened.

Shut in between the mountains and rivers of Andalusia, his troops could hardly move, and the King had encamped on the bank of the Guadalete.

Then he saw his people pouring down like a stream from the heights —one division under Archbishop Oppas, the other under Count Julius.

Roderick, who believed that they were fleeing from the enemy, broke up his camp. He could not, however, turn round, but was forced into the stream. He tried to reach the other side by swimming, but there he was met by archers. An Amazon came galloping along the bank on a red roan, and directed her bow against the drowning man in the middle of the stream. On the one bank he saw his troops, who had halted, signal with white flags as a sign of peace to the enemy on the opposite bank. When he saw that he was betrayed, he sank, and with him the whole kingdom of the West Goths. Mussa marched at once to Toledo, before a new king could be chosen. Thereby Islam became domiciled in Spain, and remained there till 1492. The Jews, who had especially helped the Moors, were at once emancipated, and in every town of Spain a Jew was appointed governor.

 
 
 

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