The door flew open. A policeman came in, flapped on the...
Knox tried to speak, but his mouth wouldnâ€™t work, he could manage only a plaintive croak. A trickle of spittle ran down his cheek. The nurse wiped it sympathetically away. He checked Knoxâ€™s pulse, raised an eyebrow. â€˜Panic, yes?â€™ he said. â€˜Is normal. You have a bad crash, you know. But youâ€™re safe now. This is hospital. Nothing bad can happen here. All you need is rest. Thatâ€™s all any of us need.â€™ He picked the pillow up from the floor, plumped it and replaced it beneath Knoxâ€™s head. Then he nodded in satisfaction, went back to the door, turned off the lights and left Knox at the mercy of this stranger who wanted to kill him.
The Nile car ferry was little more than a motorized metal raft. Gaille leaned against the rail and watched the fishermen paddle their sky-blue boats with their flat slats of oars, the floating mats of vegetable matter passing serenely by. A Coptic monk muttered as he ran his finger across the small print of his Bible. Kids dangled their feet over the side, watching for the sudden pale flash of fish. Four young farmers kept looking at Stafford then howling with laughter. But even that couldnâ€™t put him out of the cheerful mood heâ€™d been in since heâ€™d bagged his sunrise footage.
They bumped against the east bank, drove up a short hill through a dusty village. Youngsters stared wide-eyed at them, as though theyâ€™d never seen tourists before. A shopkeeper polished with spit and cloth his tired display of lemons and mangoes. They passed a cemetery, drove along an empty road to the Amarna ticket office. The shutters were closed, though two tourist policemen were sitting beneath a sunshade by a cabin, sharing a cigarette. One stood, wandered across. â€˜Youâ€™re here early,â€™ he grunted.
â€˜Weâ€™re filming,â€™ Gaille told him. â€˜Arenâ€™t you expecting us?â€™
Gaille shrugged. It was ever thus in Egypt. You got clearance from the Supreme Council, the army, the security services, the police, a hundred different bodies; but no one ever bothered to alert the people on the ground. She beckoned Lily across with her fat file of documentation, offered it to him. He looked blankly at a page or two, shook his head. â€˜I call my boss,â€™ he said, heading inside the cabin. â€˜Wait here.â€™
Gailidthhey…le returned to the Discovery, opened her glove compartment. It was second nature now to carry a selection of goodies for such occasions. She took a bar of chocolate over to the second tourist policeman, peeled back the silver foil, offered him a chunk, took one herself. They smiled companionably at the sweet flavour, the way it melted in their mouths. Gaille handed him the rest of the bar, motioned for him to share it with his comrade. He nodded and grinned happily.
â€˜Chocolate-bar diplomacy, huh?â€™ murmured Lily.
â€˜It can be a life-saver, believe me.â€™
The first policeman finished his phone call, made a gesture to indicate that his boss was on his way. They stood around smiling and eating the chocolate as they waited.
â€˜Whatâ€™s going on?â€™ grumbled Stafford. â€˜Is there a problem?â€™
â€˜Just Egypt,â€™ Gaille assured him. At last, a truck trundled into view, trailing a cloud of dust. A man jumped down, looking for all the world like an army officer in his beautifully pressed military-green uniform with polished black leather belt and holster. His complexion was unusually soft and pink for Egypt, his hair razor-cut, his moustache silky. Yet there was a hardness beneath the surface vanity. â€˜I am Captain Khaled Osman,â€™ he declared. â€˜Whatâ€™s this I hear about filming?â€™ He held out his hand for Lilyâ€™s file, leafed through it, his frown growing. â€˜No one tells me about this,â€™ he complained. â€˜Why does no one tell me?â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s all in order,â€™ said Gaille.
â€˜Wait here.â€™ He marched inside the guardhouse, made a phone call of his own that rapidly became heated. He came back out, beckoned to Gaille. â€˜Where exactly you want to film?â€™ he asked.
Gaille took back the file, flipped through for the shooting schedule. It listed every major site in Amarna, including the boundary stele, the workmenâ€™s village, the Northern Palace, the Southern Tombs and the Royal Tomb. â€˜You really expect to film all these in one day?â€™ she murmured to Lily.
Lily shook her head. â€˜We started getting permissions before Charles had finished his script. We applied for everything, just in case. All we actually need is the boundary stele, the Northern Palace and the Royal Tomb.â€™
â€˜Where in the Royal Tomb?â€™ demanded Captain Khaled.
â€˜Just the mouth and the burial chamber.â€™
He squinted unhappily, but seemed to accept it. â€˜You will need an escort,â€™ he declared, thrusting the file back at her. â€˜Nasser and I will come with you.â€™
Gaille and Lily shared a glance. The last thing they wanted was this man treading on their heels all day. â€˜Thatâ€™s very kind,â€™ said Gaille, â€˜but Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll beâ€”â€™
â€˜We come with you,â€™ said Khaled.
Gaille forced a smile. â€˜Thatâ€™s very kind,â€™ she said.
Knox lay petrified in his hospital bed, waiting for the intruder to reappear, grab his pillow, finish what heâ€™d started. But the seconds ticked by and nothing happened. He must have left already. It was a limited comfort, however. Someone wanted him dead, and they knew where to find him too. He needed to get away.
The adrenaline burst had given him a little strength. He moved his right leg to the edge of his bed, let it drop heavie of anop heavily over the side. He waited till he was stable, moved his left leg to join it. It dragged his thighs with it, his backside, then his whole body went crashing to the floor, ripping his catheter free, the IV stand wobbling but remaining upright. He lay there winded, half-expecting the door to fly open. But no one came in. His clothes were on the chest of drawers. He crawled laboriously over, grabbed them down, torn and stained with soot and oil, yet still less conspicuous than a hospital gown. He pulled on his jeans, his shirt, his black jersey. Using the iron bed-frame, he hauled himself to his feet. A dizzying rush of blood, he had to fight past the urge to faint. He let go of the bed-frame, staggered across the room to the door. A moment to compose himself. A deep breath. He opened the door. Morning sun blurred on the facing window. He used the wall to hold himself up as he went out.
Knox glanced left. The policeman was smoking by an open window. He flicked the cigarette away, folded his arms, assumed a stern expression, evidently expecting that to be enough to bring Knox to heel. But Knox turned the other way instead, stumbled through swing doors into a stairwell, clutching the banister tight as he staggered down a flight.
â€˜Hey!â€™ cried the policeman, from the swing doors. â€˜Come back!â€™
Knox lurched out onto an identical corridor, a porter leaning against the wall, warming his hands around a glass of chai. He heard the policeman shouting, set down his glass, began striding towards Knox. A door to Knoxâ€™s left. Locked. Across the corridor to the windows, opened them, looked out. A cement mixer below, a pyramid of sand. He hauled himself onto the windowsill, tipped himself out, just as the policeman grabbed his ankle. Gravity ripped him free, he turned his shoulder, hitting the side of the sand heap, bouncing out onto the driveway, a car swerving around him, the driver shouting and shaking her fist.
He picked himself up, hobbled out past the deserted guard-post onto the road. A lorry forced him back against the wall. A taxi-driver tooted. Knox waved him over, pulled open the rear door, collapsed inside, just as the policeman ran out onto the road.
â€˜You have money?â€™ asked the driver.
Knoxâ€™s tongue felt as huge and clumsy as a balloon in his mouth. He couldnâ€™t form the words. He searched his pockets instead, found his wallet, produced two tattered banknotes from it. The driver nodded and pulled away, leaving the policeman shouting vainly in their wake. â€˜Where?â€™ he asked.
The question took Knox by surprise. His only concern had been getting away. But he had questions that needed urgent answers: about this mysterious crash that had put him in hospital, the stranger whoâ€™d tried to kill him. His last clear memory was meeting his French friend Augustin for a coffee. Maybe heâ€™d know something. He mumbled his address to the driver, then collapsed exhausted across the rear seats.
â€˜Do you have to stand there?â€™ complained Stafford. â€˜Youâ€™re in my eye-line.â€™
Gaille looked helplessly around. Lily had already taken her footage of the boundary stele itself, and now Stafford was setting up the camera to film himself against the desert backdrop, leaving her a choice of standing in his eye-line or actually in shot.
â€˜Come with me,â€™ said Lily, gesturing at a thin track that led up the slope. â€˜Iâ€™ve done my bit.â€™
The steep path was n="j byath was treacherous with loose shale, but they soon emerged onto a hilltop plateau with a magnificent view over the bleak sandstone plain to the thin ribbon of vegetation that shielded the Nile.
â€˜Christ!â€™ muttered Lily. â€˜Imagine living here.â€™
â€˜Wait till midday,â€™ agreed Gaille. â€˜Or come back during summer. You wouldnâ€™t build a prison here.â€™
â€˜So why did Akhenaten choose it? I mean there must have been more to it than this sun rising between the cliffs business.â€™
â€˜Amarna was virgin soil,â€™ said Gaille. â€˜Never consecrated to any other god. Maybe that was important. And you must remember that Egypt was originally a fusion of two lands, Upper and Lower Egypt, always vying for the ascendancy. This is effectively the border between the two, so maybe Akhenaten thought it a pragmatic place to rule from. Though there are other theories too.â€™
Gaille pointed north, to where the crescent of cliffs rejoined the Nile. â€˜Thatâ€™s where Akhenaten built his own palace. Itâ€™s got plenty of natural shade, yet itâ€™s also close enough to the Nile to have beautiful gardens and pools. And whenever he had business in the main part of Amarna, he rode in on his chariot with soldiers running alongside to shade him from the sun.â€™
â€˜All right for some.â€™
â€˜Quite. There were hundreds and hundreds of offering tables in the main Aten temple. Each one would have been piled high with meat and fruit and vegetables during ceremonies. Yet the human remains in the cemeteries here show clear signs of anaemia and malnutrition. And then thereâ€™s a famous letter from an Assyrian king called Ashuruballit. â€œWhy do you keep my messengers standing in the open sun? Theyâ€™ll die in the open sun. If the king enjoys standing in the open sun, then let him do so by all means. But, really, why should my people suffer? They will be killed.â€�â€™
Lily frowned. â€˜You think he was a sadist?â€™
â€˜I think itâ€™s possible. I mean, imagine your boss is right, that Akhenaten suffered from some dreadful disease. It isnâ€™t hard to see him taking pleasure in the suffering of others, is it?â€™
â€˜But the thing is, I donâ€™t know, not for sure. No one does. Not me, not Fatima, not your boss. We simply donâ€™t have enough evidence. You should try to find some way to make your viewers understand that. Everything in your programme will be best guesses, not fact. Everything.â€™
Lily squinted shrewdly. â€˜Is this about what Fatima told us last night?â€™
â€˜What do you mean?â€™
â€˜Those talatat showing Akhenaten without genitalia. Youâ€™re not comfortable about them, are you? Thatâ€™s why you went to bed.â€™
Gaille could feel herself blushing. â€˜I just think itâ€™s too early to be sure one way or the other.â€™
â€˜Then why did she tell us?â€™
â€˜This is a wonderful part of Egypt. The people are enchanting, the history is magical, but hardly anyone ever comes here. Fatima wants to change that.â€™
â€˜And weâ€™re the bait?â€™
â€˜I wouldnâ€™t put it quite that bluntly.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s fine,â€™ grinned Lily. â€˜Actually, Iâ€™m glad. Lilot ™m glad. Iâ€™d like the programme to do something good.â€™
Lily nodded. â€˜Can I ask you a really stupid question? Itâ€™s been bugging me ever since we got down here, but I havenâ€™t dared ask.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s about pronunciation. I mean, the Ancient Egyptian alphabet didnâ€™t have vowels, right? So how do you know how all these names like Akhenaten and Nefertiti were pronounced?â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s anything but stupid,â€™ smiled Gaille. â€˜The truth is, we donâ€™t, not for sure. But we do have some good clues from other languages, particularly Coptic.â€™
â€˜Coptic?â€™ frowned Lily. â€˜I thought Coptic was a church?â€™
â€˜It is,â€™ agreed Gaille. â€˜It all goes back to Alexander the Greatâ€™s conquest of Egypt. He introduced Greek as the language of administration, but all the people still spoke Egyptian, of course, so the scribes gradually developed the habit of writing down Egyptian speech phonetically with the Greek alphabet, which did have vowels. That eventually became Coptic, which in turn became the language of early Christianity here, and the name stuck. So whenever we find an Egyptian word written in Coptic, we get a very good idea of its original pronunciation. Not perfect, of course, particularly for the Amarna era, which finished over a thousand years before Alexander. Our best guesses for that actually come from Akkadian cuneiform rather than Coptic; and Akkadian is a bastard, believe me. Thatâ€™s why Akhenatenâ€™s name has been transcribed in so many different ways over the years. The Victorians actually knew him as Khu-en-aten or Ken-hu-aten, but recently weâ€™ve â€¦â€™ She broke off, put her palm flat upon her belly, her breath suddenly coming hot and fast.
â€˜What is it?â€™ asked Lily anxiously.
â€˜Nothing. Just a little turn, thatâ€™s all.â€™
â€˜This wretched sun.â€™
â€˜Yes.â€™ She gathered herself, found a smile. â€˜Would you mind terribly if I went back to the car, sat down for a bit?â€™
â€˜Of course not. You want me to come with you?â€™
â€˜Thanks, but Iâ€™ll be fine.â€™ Her legs were unsteady as she made her way down the path to where the Discovery was parked. The tourist policemen were dozing in the front of their truck. She took Staffordâ€™s book from the dashboard, sat sideways on the driverâ€™s seat, the dark synthetic fabric feeling gluey from the sun. She flipped through the pages, found what she was looking for.
Yes. Just as she remembered.
But it couldnâ€™t be. It couldnâ€™t be. Could it?
The moment the IV stand had crashed to the floor, Peterson had known his opportunity was gone: the best he could hope for was to get out unseen. Heâ€™d hidden behind the door as the policeman had looked in, had slipped out when heâ€™d gone hunting for a nurse, through the swing doors at the end of the corridor, down two floors and out through a fire exit. Then heâ€™d sat in his Toyota, taking a few moments to gather himself, think things through.
He prided himself on his strength of character, Peterson. On his ability to hold his nerve. But he undeniably felt the pressure right now. Knox was sure to blab about the intruder in his room. Even if he didnâ€™t remember yesterdayâ€™s events, heâ€>
A window on the first floor opened at that moment. He looked up in time to see Knox hauling himself out, tumbling onto the sand pile beneath, then scrambling to his feet and staggering out onto the road.
A huge shiver ran through Peterson. He felt overwhelmed by...
He put the Toyota into gear, followed Knox out onto the road, watched him collapse into a taxi. He followed the taxi east across Alexandria until it pulled up outside a tall grey block of flats. Knox climbed unsteadily out, vanished inside. Peterson found a place to park then went to check the names on the buzzers. An Augustin Pascal lived on the sixth floor. A man of that name was Alexandriaâ€™s most celebrated underwater archaeologist. Surely it was him Knox had gone to see. The lift doors opened. Two women emerged chattering into the lobby. Peterson couldnâ€™t afford to be seen. He ducked his head and hurried back to his Toyota to await the opportunity he was certain his Lord would provide.
Lily watched curiously as Gaille walked down to the Discovery. The way she grabbed Staffordâ€™s book from the dashboard and flipped avidly through it reminded her that Gaille had also pestered Stafford with questions about the Copper Scroll.
Something was up, she was sure of it.
She made her own way down, approaching quietly from behind, drawing to within a few paces before Gaille heard her, snapping Staffordâ€™s book closed, holding it down low as she turned, clumsily trying to hide it. â€˜Christ!â€™ she said, putting a hand over her heart. â€˜You gave me a fright.â€™
â€˜Sorry,â€™ said Lily. â€˜I didnâ€™t mean to.â€™ She put her hand on Gailleâ€™s shoulder. â€˜Are you quite sure youâ€™re okay?â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m fine. Please donâ€™t worry.â€™
â€˜How can I not? After all youâ€™ve done for us.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s nothing. Really.â€™
Lily allowed herself a mischievous smile. â€˜Itâ€™s the Copper Scroll, isnâ€™t it?â€™
Gailleâ€™s eyes went wide. â€˜How did you know?â€™
â€˜Really, Gaille. We need to play some poker before I leave. Come on. Spill.â€™
Gailleâ€™s eyes flickered anxiously up to Stafford, but the need to confide was evidently too strong. â€˜You wonâ€™t tell anyone?â€™ she asked. â€˜Not until Iâ€™ve had a chance to think through what it means, at least.â€™
â€˜You have my word,â€™ nodded Lily.
Gaille opened the book, showed her the clusters of Greek letters from the Copper Scroll. â€˜See these?â€™ she said. â€˜These first three would have been pronounced something like Ken-Hagh-En.â€™
â€˜Kenhaghen?â€™ frowned Lily. â€˜You donâ€™t mean â€¦ as in Akhenaten?â€™
â€˜Yes. I think I do.â€™
â€˜But that makes no sense.â€™
â€˜Tell me about it.â€™ Gaille gave a mirthless laugh. â€˜But the Copper Scroll is a Jewish document, remember, and youâ€™re the ones here doing a programme on Akhenaten as Moses.â€™
â€˜Jesus!â€™ muttered Lily. She looked up at Stafford. â€˜Iâ€™m sorry, Gaille,â€™ she said. â€˜Youâ€™ve got to let me tell him.â€™
She shook her head vigorously. â€˜He wonâ€™t thank you.â€™
â€˜Are you kidding? This is dynamite.â€™
Gaille held up Staffordâ€™s book. â€˜Havenâ€™t you read this? He made his money and his reputation on the back of it, claiming that the Copper Scroll treasures came from the Temple of Solomon. You want to tell him heâ€™s got it all wrong, that they really came from here?â€™
â€˜If this really is Akhenatenâ€™s name,â€™ nodded Gaille, â€˜that has to be the implication.â€™
â€˜But the Copper Scroll was in Hebrew,â€™ protested Lily.
â€˜Yes, but copied from another, older document. Maybe the Essenes translated it when they copied it. After all, if youâ€™re right about Akhenaten being Moses, the Essenes would be by far his most likely true heirs.â€™
â€˜How do you mean?â€™
â€˜Have you read Akhenatenâ€™s poem, the Hymn of the Aten? It outlines his way of thinking. Basically, he divided everything into sunlight and darkness, good and evil. That was exactly how the Essenes viewed the world. They called themselves the Sons of Light and they saw themselves as engaged in a life-or-death struggle against the Sons of Darkness. They practised a form of sun-worship too. They thought of God as the â€œperfect lightâ€� and they prayed to the east every morning, beseeching the sun to rise. They even carried trowels with them to bury their faeces so they wouldnâ€™t offend the sun. They used a solar calendar, just like they did here. And Amarna faces twenty degrees south of due east, you know, and Qumran is on exactly the same axis.â€™
â€˜Jesus!â€™ muttered Lily.
â€˜Essene ritual linen was Egyptian, as were their dyes. Their burials were Egyptian. Archaeologists even found an ankh inscribed on a headstone at Qumran, and the ankh was Akhenatenâ€™s symbol of life, as you know. They marked up their scrolls with red ink too, a practice only otherwise found in Egypt. Then thereâ€™s the Copper Scroll itself. Ancient Egyptians sometimes inscribed important documents on copper. No one else did â€“ not as far as I know, at least. And the other Dead Sea Scrolls are absolutely packed with references to the Essenesâ€™ spiritual leader, a Messiah-like figure known only as the â€œTeacher of Righteousnessâ€�. Thatâ€™s precisely how Akhenaten was known here in Amarna.â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s true then. It has to be.â€™
â€˜Not necessarily. Over a thousand years passed between Amarna and Qumran, remember. And everything I just said is circumstantial. No oneâ€™s ever found a smoking gun.â€™
â€˜The Copper Scroll isnâ€™t circumstantial,â€™ pointed out Lily.
A few momentsâ€™ silence. â€˜No,â€™ admitted Gaille. â€˜It isnâ€™t.â€™
The decorators had been out of Augustin Pascalâ€™s flat for nearly a week now, but theyâ€™d left their distinctive smell behind then al behind, that sour cocktail of paint and solvent. It was most noticeable at this time of the morning, with the unwelcome intrusion of another dawn, the way it combined with his low-wattage acid hangover and the mocking empty space on the mattress beside him. Two weeks heâ€™d had this damned bed, and still untested. Something had gone seriously wrong in his life.
A pounding on his front door. His bastard neighbours were always complaining. He turned onto his side, muffled his ear with his pillow, waited for them to fuck off. God, but he felt tired. His expensive new bed and mattress, his fine linen, his duck-down pillows. He couldnâ€™t remember ever sleeping so badly or feeling such relentless fatigue.
The pounding continued. With a cry of exasperation, he pushed himself to his feet, pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt, went to open his door. â€˜What the fuck â€¦ ?â€™ he scowled when he saw Knox. But then he noticed his friendâ€™s cuts and bruises. â€˜Jesus! What the hell happened?â€™
â€˜Car crash,â€™ slurred Knox. â€˜Canâ€™t remember.â€™
Augustin looked at him in horror, turned and strode into his bedroom for his jacket. â€˜Iâ€™m taking you to hospital.â€™
â€˜No,â€™ said Knox. â€˜Not safe. A man. He put a pillow over my face.â€™
â€˜Donâ€™t know. Too dark.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m calling the police.â€™
â€˜No! No police. No doctors. Please. Find out whatâ€™s going on.â€™
Augustin shrugged and helped Knox to his sofa, then went to his kitchen, poured them each a glass of water, swallowed his own in one. â€˜Okay,â€™ he said, wiping his mouth. â€˜From the beginning. A car crash. Where?â€™
Knox shook his head. â€˜Canâ€™t remember. Last thing I remember was coffee with you.â€™
â€˜But that was the day before yesterday!â€™ protested Augustin. â€˜Do you have any receipts? Any way to work out your movements?â€™
â€˜How about your mobile? See who youâ€™ve called.â€™
Knox patted his pockets expressively. â€˜Lost.â€™
â€˜Email, then.â€™ He helped Knox to his breakfast table, set up his laptop, dialled up a connection. Knox logged into his account, found incoming from Gaille.
Hi Daniel, Iâ€™ve attached your Therapeutae photos, the ones I could make anything of, at least. The others were too badly lit or blurred for the short time I had, but Iâ€™ll keep working. Where did you take them? Are you up to no good again? Iâ€™m dying to hear. Iâ€™m on taxi-duty in Amarna today but Iâ€™ll call tonight. I miss you too. All my love, Gaille.
Augustinâ€™s heart thumped as he read the message; he felt the blood draining from his face. â€˜Everything okay?â€™ asked Knox, looking curiously at him.
â€˜Therapeutae photos?â€™ said Augustin. â€˜Where the hell did you take Therapeutae photos?â€™
â€˜How should I know?â€™ retorted Knox. â€˜Concussion, remember?â€™
Augustin “2emfy”ugustin nodded. â€˜Then download these damned photos, will you? This is getting interesting.â€™
The appendices of Staffordâ€™s book included full transcriptions and translations of the Copper Scroll. Gaille and Lily read the translation together. â€˜How much did a talent weigh, exactly?â€™ asked Lily.
â€˜It varied from place to place,â€™ replied Gaille. â€˜Anywhere from twenty to forty kilos.â€™
â€˜But hereâ€™s a cache of nine hundred talents,â€™ protested Lily. â€˜That would be eighteen thousand kilos of gold. Thatâ€™s not possible, surely.â€™
Gaille frowned. Lily was right. The quantities were simply unbelievable. She checked the transcription of the original Hebrew. â€˜Look,â€™ she said. â€˜The weights are designated by the letter â€œkâ€�. Thatâ€™s been translated as talents, because talents were used by the Jews and in the Bible. But if this was Akhenaten, and the treasure came from Egypt, it would surely have been designated in Eighteenth Dynasty units of weight, and they didnâ€™t use talents, not then, not for gold. They used something called a kite, which was denominated by the letter â€œkâ€�. And a kite was just a fraction of a talent, only about ten or twelve grams.â€™
â€˜So these numbers would make more sense?â€™
â€˜Much more. I mean, it would still make for a huge amount of gold, but plausible, you know. And look at this numbering system. These slashes, this figure ten. Thatâ€™s classic Eighteenth Dynasty.â€™
Lily took a step back, shook her head. â€˜But why would Akhenatenâ€™s followers bury their gold? Why not take it with them?â€™
â€˜Because they couldnâ€™t,â€™ said Gaille. â€˜There was a massive reaction after Akhenatenâ€™s death, remember. The traditionalists took back over, and they stamped down hard. Most Atenists recanted and moved to Thebes, but not all of them. If youâ€™re right about them being the Jews, Exodus says they did a moonlight flit. And you canâ€™t take this much bullion with you on a moonlight flit, it would slow you down too much.â€™
â€˜So they buried it,â€™ said Lily. â€˜And wrote down the hiding places on a copper scroll.â€™
â€˜They wouldnâ€™t have been too worried,â€™ nodded Gaille. â€˜After all, this was the One True Godâ€™s home on earth, and they were fervent believers. It followed that theyâ€™d soon be back, triumphant. But of course it didnâ€™t happen that way. They fled Egypt altogether, settled in Canaan, convinced themselves that was their Promised Land. And when their original Copper Scroll was in danger from oxidation, or perhaps when they couldnâ€™t read Egyptian any more, they made a copy, only in Hebrew this time. And maybe another copy after that. And somehow it ended up in Qumran.â€™ She frowned at a thought. â€˜Youâ€™ve heard about the End of Days, right? The great battle at Meggido?â€™
â€˜Armageddon,â€™ said Lily.
â€˜Exactly. Afterwards, God is supposed to reign from a New Jerusalem, a city described in Ezekiel and the Book of Revelations. They found a different â€œNew Jerusalemâ€� scroll at Qumran. Six copies of it, in fact, which suggests it meant a lot to the Essenes. The cityâ€™s layout is given in precise detail. Size, orientation, roads, houses, temples, water, everything. And it maps onto one particular ancient city with quite startling accuracy.â€™
â€˜Which city?â€™ asked Lily, though she must have suspected the answer.
â“ a�llestify”>â€˜This one,â€™ replied Gaille, spreading her hands. â€˜Amarna.â€™
Knox clicked through Gailleâ€™s photographs in stunned silence. A half-excavated grave, a statuette of Harpocrates, catacombs, mummified human remains, a box of severed human ears. â€˜Good Christ!â€™ he muttered, when he brought up the mosaic.
Augustin tapped the screen. â€˜You know what this reminds me of?â€™
â€˜Ever heard of Eliphas LÃ©vi? A French occultist, like Aleister Crowley, only earlier. He created a famous image of an obscure Templar deity called Baphomet that became the model for modern iconography of the Devil. It showed him in this same posture, legs crossed, right hand pointing up. And he had the same look too. That long chin, those stretched eyes, those accentuated cheekbones. See what Iâ€™m saying?â€™
â€˜Slow down a bit,â€™ said Knox, gesturing at his banged-up forehead.
â€˜No oneâ€™s quite sure where Baphomet came from,â€™ nodded Augustin. â€˜Some claim his name was a corruption of Mahomet. Others that it came from the Greek Baphe Meti, baptism of wisdom. But thereâ€™s another theory, based on the Atbash cipher, a Jewish transliteration code that swaps A for Z, B for Y and so on.â€™
â€˜I know it,â€™ said Knox. â€˜The Essenes used it.â€™
â€˜Exactly. Which makes sense if this place belonged to the Therapeutae. Anyway, if you put Baphomet through the Atbash, you get Sophia, Greek goddess of wisdom, firstborn of God. Sophia was female, of course, but LÃ©vi made Baphomet a hermaphrodite with breasts, rather like the figure in the mosaic.â€™
Knox peered closer. He hadnâ€™t picked it up before, but Augustin was right. The figure in the mosaic looked masculine, yet was clearly depicted with breasts.
â€˜Hermaphrodites were sacred back then,â€™ said Augustin. â€˜The Greeks considered them theoeides, divine of form. The Orphics believed that the universe began when Eros hatched as an hermaphrodite from an egg. After all, itâ€™s easier to imagine that one thing came out of the void, rather than multiple things. And when everything starts from one thing, that one thing must be both male and female.â€™
â€˜Like Atum,â€™ said Knox. In Egyptian mythology, Atum had arisen from the primordial soup, created only by himself. Feeling lonely, heâ€™d masturbated into his hand, a representation of the female reproductive organs, giving birth to Shu and Tefnut, beginning the cascade of life.
â€˜Precisely. In fact, thatâ€™s almost certainly where the Orphics got the idea from, though divine hermaphrodites crop up everywhere. Hebraic angels were hermaphroditic, did you know? And Qabbala souls are just like that famous wheel in Plato, hermaphrodites divided into their male and female aspects before entering the world, fated to search the earth for their other half. Even Adam was an hermaphrodite, according to some traditions. â€œMale and female He created them, and He called their name Adam.â€� That was what Jesus was talking about when he said: â€œTherefore now are they not two, but one flesh.â€� And Gnosticism is full of it. Itâ€™s even in the Sophia itself, now that I think of it.â€™
â€˜How do you know all this stuff?â€™
â€˜I wrote a piece for one of the papers a couple of years back. They lap up this kind of shit. I got most of it from Kostas.â€™
Knox nodded. Kostas was an elderly Greek friend of theirs, a font of knowledge on the Gnostics and Alexandriaâ€™s church fathers. â€˜Maybe we should give him a call.â€™
â€˜Letâ€™s see what else we have first.â€™ He took control of the mouse, clicked through the remaining photographs. Heavenly bodies on the ceiling, young men and women kneeling on dust sheets cleaning walls. A mural of a figure in blue kneeling before two men at the mouth of a cave, the Greek subscript just about legible. Augustin zoomed in then squinted at the screen. â€˜â€œSon of David, have mercy on meâ€�,â€™ he translated. â€˜Mean anything to you?â€™
â€˜No.â€™ Knox sat back. â€˜Have you seen any of this before?â€™