Baruch stopped as they were heading for the main gate in the northern wall, the one they called the Fish Gate, turning to look up at the smoke rising from the Temple even as his nose wrinkled at the smell of the now empty fish-baskets being gathered together in the late afternoon sun by the families of fishermen preparing to return to the Galilee and the Jordan. The King had invited sculptors and architects from the Phoenician cities on the coast, paying them handsomely to leave their seaside villas and journey into the much harsher climes of Judah so they could further beautify the Temple expanded by earlier kings. While Kings Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh had expanded and fortified Jerusalem – the first two in response to Assyrian aggression in the region, and the latter facilitated by his shrewd acquiescence to their dominance – Josiah’s contribution, while still in keeping with the traditional obligations of kingship, was to make the Temple an extension of the Palace, and not only from an aesthetic point of view. Both buildings would soon boast elaborate façades echoing Phoenician tastes. And while such beauty would be welcomed by many in this desert city, still many others found the incorporation of outside styles somewhat jarring.
Jeremiah held the reins of their donkey and rested a hand on Baruch’s shoulder as they both watched the stonemasons calling an end to the days work: ‘You know they are re-writing our history as we speak?’
‘Sadly, I do,’ Baruch nodded. ‘The King’s own grandfather was a great man. Fifty-five years he reigned, and the people knew great peace and prosperity. I gather they are seeking to accredit all of this to Hezekiah, simply because the Assyrians turned from his walls.’
‘One of my predecessors was a powerful supporter of the man people will likely come to know as the Builder King. Even now, they are gathering all records and accounts of his words and deeds to help glorify a siege that ended before it began.’
‘History is what we make it, Jeremiah.’
Jeremiah sighed: ‘Indeed it is. I’m just not sure whose history we are making.’ He led the donkey on again towards the gate, Baruch taking another look back around the city. Soldiers approached them before they reached the Fish Gate, but Jeremiah dismissed them with a flick of his hand. To Baruch’s surprise, they conceded, backing away to allow their passage. ‘Even common soldiers recognise you?’ he asked the Prophet.
Jeremiah grinned. ‘They recognise the presence of Yahweh,’ he replied cryptically. ‘And these days, that is enough.’ They walked on, passing through the gate and descending towards the makeshift streets of hawkers and beggars, gradually leaving the smells of the city behind. As Baruch was looking around to take in the evening activity, he bumped into the donkey. The animal was not impressed. Jeremiah had stopped and was looking to the north, and Baruch came up to him to see the Prophet staring into the distance with a look of concern. ‘What is it?’ he asked him.
‘I…don’t know,’ Jeremiah replied, before pointing to the hills, where some faint wisps of smoke could be seen. ‘My father lives in Anathoth, not far beyond that village.’
‘Do you wish to visit him?’
Jeremiah inhaled deeply and shook his head before letting out his breath. ‘We have work to do,’ he said. ‘I will see him another time.’