Contents Chap­ter Thir­ty-​Eight The southern shore of Lake Mariut, ad 415

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He squinted at Knox, as though he suspected himself the...


As­si­ut Rail­way Sta­tion, Mid­dle Egypt

Gaille Bon­nard was be­gin­ning to re­gret com­ing in­side the sta­tion to meet Charles Stafford and his par­ty. She usu­al­ly en­joyed crowds, the clam­our and ca­ma­raderie, es­pe­cial­ly here in Mid­dle Egypt, with its ef­fu­sive­ly friend­ly peo­ple, not yet soured by over­ex­po­sure to tourists. But ten­sions had grown pal­pa­bly over re­cent weeks. A protest march was even tak­ing place that af­ter­noon else­where in the city, which pre­sum­ably ex­plained why she could see on­ly three men from the Cen­tral Se­cu­ri­ty Forces on the plat­form, as op­posed to the usu­al flood of uni­forms. To make mat­ters worse, an ear­li­er train had bro­ken down, so twice the usu­al num­ber of pas­sen­gers were wait­ing to board, all gird­ing them­selves for the in­evitable squab­bles over seats.

The tracks start­ed to rat­tle. Ver­min scur­ried. Peo­ple ma­noeu­vred for po­si­tion. The an­cient train rolled in, win­dows al­ready be­ing low­ered, doors crash­ing open, pas­sen­gers spilling out, laden with be­long­ings, fight­ing through the scrum. Hawk­ers walked along the line of win­dows of­fer­ing translu­cent bags of bal­adi bread, pa­per cones packed with seeds, sesame bars, sweets and drinks.

Away down the plat­form, a strik­ing­ly good-​look­ing thir­ty-​some­thing man emerged from the first-​class car­riage. Charles Stafford. De­spite his two-​day stub­ble, she rec­og­nized him at once from the jack­et pho­tographs on the books Fa­ti­ma had lent her the night be­fore. She’d skimmed through them out of cour­tesy, though they were the kind of pop­ulist his­to­ry she de­plored – wild spec­ula­tion backed by out­ra­geous­ly se­lec­tive wild speuse of the ev­idence. Con­spir­acies ev­ery­where, se­cret so­ci­eties, lost trea­sures wait­ing be­neath ev­ery mound; and nev­er a dis­sent­ing voice to be heard, un­less it could be ridiculed and dis­missed.

Stafford paused to put on a pair of mir­ror shades, then hoist­ed a black leather lap­top case to his shoul­der and de­scend­ed on­to the plat­form. A stumpy young wom­an in a navy-​blue suit came af­ter him, tuck­ing wil­ful strands of bright-​red hair back be­neath her flo­ral head­scarf. And an Egyp­tian porter fol­lowed be­hind, strug­gling be­neath mounds of match­ing brown-​leather lug­gage.

An el­der­ly wom­an stum­bled against Stafford as he pushed his way through the crowd. His lap­top swung and clipped a young boy around the ear. The boy saw in­stant­ly how wealthy Stafford looked and prompt­ly start­ed bawl­ing. A man in dirty-​brown robes said some­thing curt to Stafford, who waved him ar­ro­gant­ly away. The boy bawled even more loud­ly. Stafford sighed heav­ily and glanced around at the red­head, ev­ident­ly ex­pect­ing her to sort it out. She stooped, ex­am­ined the boy’s ear, clucked sym­pa­thet­ical­ly, slipped him a ban­knote. He could­n’t sup­press his grin as he danced off. But the man in the brown robes was still feel­ing stung from Stafford’s dis­missal, and the trans­ac­tion on­ly ir­ri­tat­ed him fur­ther. He de­clared loud­ly that for­eign­ers ev­ident­ly now thought they could bat­ter Egyp­tian chil­dren at will, then pay their way out of it.

The red­head gave an un­cer­tain smile and tried to back away, but the man’s words struck a chord with the crowd, and a cor­don formed, trap­ping them in­side, the at­mo­sphere turn­ing ug­ly. Stafford tried to barge his way out, but some­one jolt­ed him hard enough that his shades came off. He grabbed for them but they fell to the ground. A mo­ment lat­er Gaille heard the crunch of glass as they went un­der­foot. A scorn­ful laugh rang out.

Gaille glanced anx­ious­ly over at the three CSF men, but they were walk­ing away in­to the tick­et hall, heads ducked, want­ing noth­ing to do with this. Fear flared hot in her chest as she de­bat­ed what to do. This was­n’t her prob­lem. No one even knew she was here. Her 4x4 was parked di­rect­ly out­side. She hes­itat­ed just a mo­ment longer, then turned and hur­ried out.


‘But it’s just a lid,’ protest­ed Omar, as he hur­ried down the SCA’s front steps af­ter Knox. ‘There must have been thou­sands like it. How can you be so cer­tain it came from Qum­ran?’

Knox un­locked his Jeep, climbed in. ‘Be­cause it’s the on­ly place Dead Sea Scroll jars have ev­er been found,’ he told Omar. ‘At least, there was one oth­er found in Jeri­cho, just a few miles north, and maybe an­oth­er at Masa­da, al­so close by. Oth­er than that …’

‘But it looked per­fect­ly or­di­nary.’

‘It may have looked it,’ replied Knox, wait­ing for a van to pass be­fore pulling out. ‘But you have to un­der­stand some­thing. Two thou­sand years ago, jars were used ei­ther for trans­port­ing goods or for stor­ing them. Trans­porta­tion jars were typ­ical­ly am­phorae, with big han­dles to make them eas­ier to heft about, and ro­bust, be­cause they had to with­stand a lot of knocks, and cylin­dri­cal, be­cause that made them more ef­fi­cient to stack.’ He turned right at the end of the street, then sharp left. ‘But once the goods reached their fi­nal des­ti­na­tion, they were de­cant­ed in­to stor­age jars with round­ed bot­toms that bed­ded in­to sandy floors and were easy to tip when­ev­er peo­ple need­ed to pour out their con­tents. They al­so had long necks and nar­row mouths so that they could be corked and their con­tents kept fresh. But the Dead Sea Scroll jars weren’t like that. They had flat bot­toms and stub­by necks t like­by and fat mouths, and there was a very good rea­son for that.’

‘Which was?’

His brakes sang as he slowed for a tram clank­ing across the junc­tion ahead. ‘How much do you know about Qum­ran?’ he asked.

‘It was oc­cu­pied by the Es­senes, was­n’t it?’ said Omar. ‘That Jew­ish sect. Though haven’t I heard peo­ple claim that it was a vil­la or a fort or some­thing?’

‘They’ve sug­gest­ed it,’ agreed Knox, who’d been fas­ci­nat­ed by the place since a fam­ily hol­iday there as a child. ‘I think they’re wrong, though. I mean, Pliny said that the Es­senes lived on the north­west of the Dead Sea. If not Qum­ran it­self, then very close to it, and no one has found a con­vinc­ing al­ter­na­tive. One ex­pert put it very suc­cinct­ly: Ei­ther Qum­ran and the scrolls were both Es­sene, or we have a quite as­ton­ish­ing co­in­ci­dence: Two ma­jor re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing al­most on top of each oth­er, shar­ing sim­ilar views and rit­uals, one of which was de­scribed by an­cient au­thors yet left no phys­ical traces; while the oth­er was some­how ig­nored by all our sources but left ex­ten­sive ru­ins and doc­uments.’

‘So Qum­ran was oc­cu­pied by the Es­senes,’ agreed Omar. ‘That does­n’t ex­plain why their jars are unique.’

‘The Es­senes were fa­nat­ical about rit­ual pu­ri­ty,’ said Knox. ‘The slight­est thing could ren­der a pure re­cep­ta­cle im­pure. A drop of rain, a tum­bling in­sect, an in­ap­pro­pri­ate spillage. And if it did, it was a ma­jor headache. I mean, if a re­cep­ta­cle be­came taint­ed, then ob­vi­ous­ly any­thing in it was im­me­di­ate­ly taint­ed too, and had to be chucked. But that was­n’t the worst of it. Liq­uids and grain are poured in a stream, you see, so the re­al is­sue was whether the im­pu­ri­ty climbed back up that stream and in­fect­ed the stor­age jar too. The Phar­isees and oth­er Jew­ish sects took a re­laxed view, but the Es­senes be­lieved that ev­ery­thing would be con­tam­inat­ed, so they could­n’t risk pour­ing out con­tents in a stream. In­stead, they’d lift the lid a lit­tle, dip in a mea­sur­ing cup and trans­fer it that way. And be­cause they no longer had to tip their stor­age jars, they could have flat bot­toms, which made them much more sta­ble; and short necks and fat mouths, too, to make them eas­ier to dip in­to.’

‘And jars with fat mouths need bowls for lids,’ grinned Omar.

‘Ex­act­ly,’ nod­ded Knox. They were near­ing the Desert Road Junc­tion. He hun­kered down in his seat to scan the road-​signs. A quick re­view of the records in Omar’s of­fice had shown just four for­eign-​run sites in the vicin­ity of Lake Mar­iut, but there was noth­ing cur­rent­ly hap­pen­ing at Philox­inite, Taposiris Magna or Abu Mi­na; which left on­ly one worth­while can­di­date: a group called the Texas So­ci­ety of Bib­li­cal Ar­chae­ol­ogy ex­ca­vat­ing out near Borg el-​Arab.

‘So what would the lid be do­ing here?’ asked Omar, once Knox had nav­igat­ed them on­to the right road.

‘It may well have come cen­turies ago,’ shrugged Knox. ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls were known about in an­tiq­ui­ty. We have re­ports from the sec­ond, third and fourth cen­turies of texts be­ing found in Qum­ran caves. Ori­gen even used them to write his Hexapla.’

‘His what?’

‘The Bible writ­ten out six times in par­al­lel columns. The first in He­brew, the sec­ond in Greek, and then a se­ries of edit­ed ver­sions. It helped oth­er schol­ars com­pare and con­trast the var­ious ver­sions. But the point is, he re­lied heav­ily on Dead Sea Scrolls.’

‘And you think they might have been brought here in this jau thinn tr of yours?’

‘It’s got to be a pos­si­bil­ity.’

Omar swal­lowed au­di­bly. ‘You don’t think we might ac­tu­al­ly find … scrolls, do you?’

Knox laughed. ‘Don’t get your hopes up. One of the scrolls was in­scribed on cop­per – a trea­sure map, would you be­lieve? But all the rest were on parch­ment or pa­pyrus. Alexan­dri­a’s cli­mate would have chewed those up cen­turies ago. Be­sides, there’s an­oth­er ex­pla­na­tion. A more in­trigu­ing one. To me, at least.’

‘Go on.’

‘We’re pret­ty sure the Es­senes did­n’t live on­ly in Qum­ran,’ said Knox. ‘Jose­phus men­tions an Es­sene Gate in Jerusalem, for ex­am­ple, and sev­er­al scrolls laid down rules for how Es­senes should live out­side Qum­ran. Be­sides, we know there were sev­er­al thou­sand Es­senes, where­as Qum­ran could on­ly hold a few hun­dred. So ob­vi­ous­ly there were oth­er com­mu­ni­ties.’

‘You mean here? In Alexan­dria?’

Knox grinned. ‘Have you ev­er heard of the Ther­apeu­tae?’ he asked.


The Rev­erend Ernest Pe­ter­son sur­rep­ti­tious­ly dabbed his brow. He did­n’t like be­ing seen to sweat. He did­n’t like show­ing any sign of weak­ness. Fifty-​two years old, ram­rod straight, griz­zled hair, fierce eyes, a hawk’s nose. Nev­er with­out his copy of the King James Ver­sion. Nev­er with­out his preacher’s liv­ery. A man proud to show through his own un­yield­ing pur­pose a faint glim­mer of the ir­re­sistible strength of God. Yet the sweat kept com­ing. It was­n’t just the hu­mid­ity in this cramped, dark un­der­ground labyrinth. It was the ver­tig­inous sense of what he was on the verge of achiev­ing.

Thir­ty-​odd years be­fore, Pe­ter­son had been a punk – a pet­ty thief, al­ways in trou­ble with the law. Un­der ar­rest one night, doz­ing on a po­lice bench, glanc­ing up at a Hein­rich Hof­mann print of Christ hang­ing high up on the wall, his heart sud­den­ly start­ing to race crazi­ly, like the most vi­olent pan­ic at­tack, but which sud­den­ly dis­solved in­to the most in­tense and serene vi­sion of his life, a blind­ing white light, an epiphany. He’d stum­bled from the bench af­ter it was done, search­ing for a re­flec­tive sur­face in which to see what im­print it had left up­on him: bleached hair, charred skin, al­bi­no iris­es. To his as­ton­ish­ment, there’d been no phys­ical change what­so­ev­er. Yet it had changed him, all right. It had trans­formed him from with­in. For no man could look up­on the face of Christ and re­main un­touched.

He dabbed his fore­head once more, turned to Grif­fin. ‘Ready?’ he asked.


‘Then do it.’

He stood back as Grif­fin and Michael heaved a first block of stone from the false wall to re­veal the open space be­hind that had been in­di­cat­ed by their probes. Grif­fin reached in his torch, twist­ed it this way and that, il­lu­mi­nat­ing a large cham­ber that flick­ered with shad­ow and colour, pro­vok­ing mur­murs and gasps from his young stu­dents. But Pe­ter­son on­ly nod­ded at Nathan and Michael to con­tin­ue dis­man­tling the wall.

It said in the Good Book: The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh up­on out­ward ap­pear­ance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. The Lord had looked up­on his heart that night in cus­tody. The Lord had seen some­thing in him that even he had­n’t re­al­ized was there.

A suf­fi­cient gap had been cre­at­ed for Grif­fin to step through, but Pe­ter­son p cre­ate­teut a hand on his shoul­der. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m go­ing first.’

‘It should be an ar­chae­ol­ogist.’

‘I’m go­ing first,’ re­peat­ed Pe­ter­son. He rest­ed his palm on the rough crum­bled mor­tar, stepped through in­to the new cham­ber.

He’d not mere­ly been trans­formed that night; he’d been giv­en pur­pose. Of all God’s gifts, per­haps the great­est. It had­n’t been easy. He’d wast­ed years on the me­dieval make-​be­lieve of the Turin Shroud and the Veil of Veron­ica. Yet he’d nev­er once doubt­ed or con­tem­plat­ed giv­ing in. The Lord did­n’t hand out such mis­sions on a whim. And fi­nal­ly he’d found the right lead, had fol­lowed it re­lent­less­ly, was now with­in touch­ing dis­tance. He felt it. He knew it. The time of the light was com­ing, cer­tain as sun­rise.

He shone his torch around the cham­ber. Thir­ty paces long, ten wide. Ev­ery­thing cov­ered in dust. A deep bath em­bed­ded in the floor, a wide flight of steps lead­ing down in­to it, di­vid­ed by a low stone wall, so that com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers could de­scend un­clean down one side and emerge pu­ri­fied from the oth­er. Walls plas­tered and paint­ed in an­tiq­ui­ty; pig­ments dulled by ne­glect, cob­webs, dirt and worm­casts. He brushed an area with his hand, shone his torch oblique­ly at the re­vealed scene. A wom­an in blue with a child on her lap. He had to blink away tears.

‘Rev­erend! Look!’

He glanced around to see Mar­cia shin­ing her torch up at the domed ceil­ing, paint­ed to rep­re­sent the sky, a glow­ing or­ange sun near its apex, con­stel­la­tions of yel­low stars, a creamy full moon, red coals of plan­ets. Day and night to­geth­er. Joy ef­fer­vesced in his heart as Pe­ter­son stared up. He fell to his knees in grat­itude and ado­ra­tion. ‘Let us give thanks,’ he said. He gazed around un­til all his young stu­dents had fall­en to their knees. And then even Grif­fin had to fol­low, com­pelled by the pow­er of the group.

‘I know that my re­deemer liveth,’ cried Pe­ter­son, his voice re­ver­ber­at­ing loud­ly around the cham­ber. ‘And that He shall stand at the lat­ter day up­on the earth: And though worms de­stroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.’

Yes, he ex­ult­ed. In my flesh shall I see God.


Naguib Hus­sein was on his way back to the Mallawi po­lice sta­tion to make his re­port when he de­cid­ed it might be as well to make a de­tour to Amar­na, ask the peo­ple there if they’d heard any­thing about a miss­ing young girl, if on­ly to take the op­por­tu­ni­ty of in­tro­duc­ing him­self.

A tourist po­lice­man was fool­ing around on his mo­tor­bike, gun­ning his en­gine, brak­ing sharply, spray­ing huge arcs of dust and sand with his back wheel: en­ter­tain­ment for his of­fi­cer and two com­rades drink­ing chai on wood­en bench­es be­neath a makeshift sun­shade. Naguib braced him­self. Re­la­tions be­tween the ser­vices were strained around here, each look­ing down on the oth­er. He wait­ed for the of­fi­cer to ac­knowl­edge his ar­rival, but he con­tin­ued to ig­nore him un­til Naguib’s cheeks grew warm. He scowled and walked across the of­fi­cer’s line of sight, giv­ing him no choice but to no­tice him, though he still did­n’t get up. ‘Yes?’ he asked.

Naguib nod­ded at the east­ern cres­cent of hills. ‘I’ve just come from the desert,’ he said.

‘If they’ll pay you for it.’

‘One of the guides took some tourists out last night. They found a girl.’

‘A girl?’ frowned t width­fro­he of­fi­cer. ‘How do you mean?’

‘I mean they found her body. Wrapped in tarpaulin.’

The of­fi­cer set down his glass, stood up. A tall man, beau­ti­ful­ly pre­sent­ed, ra­zor-​cut hair, man­icured nails, a silken mous­tache, mak­ing the most of his uni­form. ‘I had­n’t heard,’ he said, sud­den­ly earnest, of­fer­ing his hand. ‘Cap­tain Khaled Os­man, at your ser­vice.’

‘In­spec­tor Naguib Hus­sein.’

‘Are you new here, In­spec­tor? I don’t re­call see­ing you be­fore.’

‘Six weeks,’ ad­mit­ted Naguib. ‘I was in Minya be­fore.’

‘You must have done some­thing pret­ty bad to get post­ed here.’

Naguib gave a wry grunt. He’d been in­ves­ti­gat­ing mil­itary equip­ment on the black mar­ket, had­n’t dropped it even when the trail had led him to the top, not even af­ter he’d been warned off. He hat­ed Egyp­t’s cul­ture of cor­rup­tion. ‘They told me it was a pro­mo­tion,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ agreed Khaled. ‘They told me that, too.’ He glanced around. ‘You’ll join us for some chai?’

Naguib shook his head. ‘I need to get back to the sta­tion. I just thought I’d ask if you’d heard any­thing.’

Khaled shook his head. ‘I’m sor­ry. I’ll ask around, if you like. Keep an ear to the ground.’

‘Thank you,’ said Naguib. ‘I’d be most grateful.’...


Gaille un­locked the Dis­cov­ery and climbed in­side. She sat there for a mo­ment, breath­ing hard, study­ing her­self in the rear-​view. Her tan, head­scarf and lo­cal clothes gave her anonymi­ty if she want­ed it. She could drive away and no one would ev­er know. On­ly that was­n’t quite true. She’d know.

She grabbed her cam­era from the glove com­part­ment, hur­ried out and back through the tick­et hall where the po­lice were still hid­ing, her heart pound­ing, chills flut­ter­ing across her skin. Stafford and his com­pan­ions were still hemmed in on the plat­form, wrestling for their lug­gage with two youths. She stepped up on­to a bench, wield­ed her cam­era like a weapon. ‘CNN!’ she cried out. ‘Al Jazeera!’ At­ten­tion shift­ed in­stant­ly to her, a wave of hos­til­ity, quick­ly re­placed by fear, peo­ple in­stinc­tive­ly duck­ing their faces, not want­ing to be cap­tured on film. She panned around to the men from the Cen­tral Se­cu­ri­ty Forces. The of­fi­cer scowled and snapped out or­ders. His men hur­ried out, opened a pre­car­ious cor­ri­dor with their ba­tons that Stafford, the red­head and Gaille all hur­ried down, out to the Dis­cov­ery.

‘What are you wait­ing for?’ yelled Stafford, slam­ming the pas­sen­ger door be­hind him. ‘Get us out of here.’

‘What about your porter?’

‘Fuck him,’ snapped Stafford. ‘Just get us out of here, will you?’


‘He’s one of them, is­n’t he? He can look af­ter him­self.’

The CSF men were wav­ing them away, as though they could­n’t guarere wav­inan­tee them pro­tec­tion much longer. Gaille thrust the Dis­cov­ery in­to gear, surged away. Traf­fic was grid­locked the way she want­ed to go; she turned left in­stead. The streets quick­ly nar­rowed, aged, turned in­to a bazaar, forc­ing her to slow right down, wend her way be­tween ir­ri­tat­ed shop­pers. With all the twists and turns, she quick­ly be­came dis­ori­ent­ed. She leaned for­wards in her seat, scan­ning the sky­line for a fa­mil­iar land­mark by which to nav­igate.


Cap­tain Khaled Os­man kept his smile fixed to his lips as he waved off the po­lice in­spec­tor. But it van­ished when he turned to his men. ‘Time for a pa­trol, I think,’ he said. ‘Faisal. Nass­er. Ab­dul­lah. Come with me, please.’

Khaled sat stiffly in the pas­sen­ger seat as Nass­er drove and Ab­dul­lah and Faisal cow­ered in the back. There was si­lence apart from the blast of the en­gine. The si­lence of anger. The si­lence of fear. They reached the North­ern Tombs. Khaled climbed out; his men fol­lowed, form­ing a desul­to­ry line, sag­ging like sacks of rice. He’d done his best to in­stil some pride of uni­form in these men since be­ing forcibly trans­ferred in­to the tourist po­lice out of the army, but it was fu­tile, they were worth­less, all they cared about was goug­ing bak­sheesh from the tourists. He walked back and forth in front of them, their heads bowed in shame like the mis­er­able pups they were. ‘One job I give you!’ he spat. ‘One damned job! And you can’t even do that!’

‘But we did ex­act­ly what you—’

Khaled slapped Faisal across the cheek, the crack echo­ing off the cliff walls be­hind. ‘How could you have done?’ he yelled, sali­va spray­ing over Faisal’s face. ‘They found her, did­n’t they?’

A smile tweaked Ab­dul­lah’s lips, ev­ident­ly re­lieved that Faisal was tak­ing the brunt. Khaled grabbed his col­lar and clutched it so tight­ly that his face turned red and he start­ed strug­gling for breath. ‘If this goes wrong …’ vowed Khaled. ‘If this goes wrong …’

‘We nev­er want­ed any part of this, sir,’ protest­ed Faisal. ‘It was all your idea. Now look!’

‘Shut up!’ snarled Khaled, let­ting go of Ab­dul­lah, who gasped for breath, mas­saged his raw throat. ‘You want to spend your whole life poor? Is that what you want? This is our chance to be rich.’

‘Rich!’ scoffed Faisal.

‘Yes, rich.’

‘There’s noth­ing there, sir! Haven’t you re­al­ized that yet?’

‘You’re wrong,’ in­sist­ed Khaled. ‘It’s in there. I can smell it. One more week and it’ll be ours.’ He wagged a fin­ger at them. ‘But no more mis­takes. Un­der­stand? No more mis­takes.’


Knox drove west out along the new Desert Road in­to a palette of ex­traor­di­nary colours, the ice-​packs of the salt farms daz­zling white to his right, the chem­ical sheen of Lake Mar­iut glow­ing al­most pur­ple to his left, and, up above, the wisps of late-​af­ter­noon cloud mak­ing for a Jack­son Pol­lock sky.

‘The Ther­apeu­tae?’ frowned Omar. ‘Weren’t they ear­ly Chris­tians?’

Knox shook his head. ‘They had Chris­tian at­ti­tudes and prac­tices, and they were claimed as Chris­tians by cer­tain ear­ly church fa­thers, and it’s even pos­si­ble they be­came Chris­tians. But they can’t have start­ed out as Chris­tians, not least be­cause they were liv­ing in and around Alexnot leounan­dria be­fore Christ start­ed preach­ing. No, they were Jews, all right. Phi­lo ad­mired them so much he al­most joined them, af­ter all, and he was cer­tain­ly Jew­ish. What’s more, he im­plied a very strong con­nec­tion be­tween them and the Es­senes. The Ther­apeu­tae were his ide­al of the con­tem­pla­tive life, the Es­senes of the ac­tive life. But their be­liefs and prac­tices were oth­er­wise vir­tu­al­ly in­dis­tin­guish­able.’

‘In what ways?’

‘Both were ex­treme­ly as­cetic,’ said Knox, scratch­ing the resinous scab of a mosquito bite on his fore­arm. ‘It’s com­mon­place now, but no one used to think there was much virtue in pover­ty be­fore the Es­senes. Their ini­ti­ates had to hand over most of their world­ly be­long­ings when they joined, as did new Ther­apeu­tae. Both re­ject­ed slav­ery and con­sid­ered it an hon­our to serve oth­ers. Both held their el­ders in great es­teem. Both were veg­etar­ian and dis­ap­proved of an­imal sac­ri­fice, per­haps be­cause both be­lieved in rein­car­na­tion. Both dressed in white linen. Both were renowned for their med­ical skill. Some ar­gue that the words Es­sene and Ther­apeu­tae ac­tu­al­ly de­rived from Ara­ma­ic and Greek for heal­ers, though it’s more prob­able they both meant “ser­vants of Godâ€�.’ He turned south on­to the low cause­way across Lake Mar­iut, where a few fish­er­men were idling away their day on the rocky verges. ‘Pu­rifi­ca­tion rit­uals mat­tered huge­ly to both. Both were large­ly or com­plete­ly celi­bate, sus­tain­ing their num­bers through re­cruit­ment rather than pro­cre­ation. Both sang an­tiphonal chants. In fact, some Passover hymns found at Qum­ran might well have been com­posed by the Ther­apeu­tae. Both used a so­lar cal­en­dar, as op­posed to the usu­al Jew­ish lu­nar cal­en­dar. And both had a rit­ual three hun­dred and six­ty four days to their year, even though they knew the re­al fig­ure.’

They ar­rived south of the lake, a bar­ren land­scape of Bedouin farms, vast in­dus­tri­al com­plex­es, ex­pen­sive ver­dant vil­las and large stretch­es of rocky waste-​ground that no one had yet found a use for. Knox pulled in­to the side to con­sult their map. A grey heron looked quizzi­cal­ly at him from a reed-​bed. He winked at it and it flapped leisure­ly away.

‘The Es­senes and the Ther­apeu­tae,’ prompt­ed Omar.

‘Yes,’ nod­ded Knox, pulling away again, turn­ing west, the map open on his lap, keep­ing as close to the lake as the roads al­lowed. ‘Both were keen­ly in­ter­est­ed in the hid­den mean­ings of the scrip­tures. Both knew se­crets they could­n’t di­vulge to out­siders, such as the names of an­gels. Ge­om­etry, nu­merol­ogy, ana­grams and word-​plays held spe­cial mean­ing to both, as did ju­bilees. The Ther­apeu­tae held a feast ev­ery sev­en days, a more im­por­tant one ev­ery fifty days. Fifty was a very spe­cial num­ber, you see, be­cause it was the sum of three squared plus four squared plus five squared; and any tri­an­gle with the lengths of its sides in the ra­tio of three, four, five is a right-​an­gled tri­an­gle, which they held to be the build­ing-​block of the uni­verse.’

‘Right-​an­gled tri­an­gles? Is­n’t that more Greek than Jew­ish?’

‘Ab­so­lute­ly,’ agreed Knox, turn­ing left down a nar­row lane, flat tilled fields to their right, bare lime­stone bedrock to their left. ‘They had an amaz­ing amount in com­mon with the Pythagore­ans. Di­et, cal­en­dar, rit­uals, be­liefs. All the things I just men­tioned. And clear traces of sun-​wor­ship too. An­cient Alexan­dri­ans ac­tu­al­ly claimed that Pythago­ras de­rived all his knowl­edge from Moses, that his re­li­gion was es­sen­tial­ly Egyp­tian. He did spend twen­ty years here, af­ter all. So maybe he got it all from the same place as the Ther­apeu­tae.’

An ir­ri­ga­tion canal ran along the left-​hand side of the road, its banks grazed by goats. This whole area whe roale as a lat­tice of chan­nels dis­tribut­ing fresh wa­ter from the Nile. By his reck­on­ing, the ex­ca­va­tion should be some­where the oth­er side. He kept go­ing un­til he saw an earth­en bridge ahead, guard­ed by two men in uni­form play­ing backgam­mon on a wood­en tres­tle ta­ble. He turned left over the bridge, pulled to a stop be­side them. ‘Is this the Texas So­ci­ety dig?’ he asked.

‘What do you want?’ asked the el­der of the guards.

‘To talk to the chief ar­chae­ol­ogist.’

‘You mean Mis­ter Grif­fin?’

‘If that’s his name.’

‘You have an ap­point­ment?’

‘This is Mr Taw­fiq,’ said Knox, nod­ding at Omar. ‘He’s head of the Supreme Coun­cil in Alexan­dria, and he wants to speak to the chief ar­chae­ol­ogist. I sug­gest you let him know we’re here.’

The guard held Knox’s eye, but when Knox did­n’t look away, he stood, turned his back, held a mut­tered con­ver­sa­tion on his walkie-​talkie. ‘Very well,’ he said gruffly, once he was done. ‘Fol­low this track to the end. Wait by the cab­in. Mis­ter Grif­fin will meet you there.’

‘So?’ asked Omar. ‘Do we know where these Ther­apeu­tae of yours lived?’

‘Not ex­act­ly,’ ad­mit­ted Knox. ‘Phi­lo did give us some clues, though. For ex­am­ple, he said that their set­tle­ment was on a slight­ly raised plain with­in reach of the sea breezes. And that they were close enough to­geth­er to de­fend each oth­er from at­tack, yet far enough apart to be alone with their thoughts. Oh, yes, and he told us one oth­er thing.’

‘Which was?’

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