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At this, the priests began to talk in low tones among themselves. Eleazar addressed Jacob, saying that it had always been understood that the Messiah would be a son of David, not of a carpenter; and that he would confirm the law, whereas this Nazarene attacked it. Furthermore, as a still stronger argument against the pretender, it had been promised that the Messiah should be preceded by Elias.
"But Elias has come!" Jacob answered.
"Elias! Elias!" was repeated from one end of the banqueting-hall to the other.
In imagination, all fancied that they could see an old man, a flight of ravens above his head, standing before an altar, which a flash of lightning illumined, revealing the idolatrous priests that were thrown into the torrent; and the women, sitting in the galleries, thought of the widow of Sarepta.
Jacob then declared that he knew Elias; that he had seen him, and that many of the guests there assembled had seen him!
"His name!" was the cry from all lips.
Antipas fell back in his chair as if a heavy blow had struck him on the breast. The Sadducees rose from their seats and rushed towards Jacob. Eleazar raised his voice to a shout in order to make himself heard. When order was finally restored, he draped his mantle about his shoulders, and, with the air of a judge, proceeded to put questions to Jacob.
"Since the prophet is dead--" he began.
Murmurs interrupted him. Many persons believed that Elias was not dead, but had only disappeared.
Eleazar rebuked those who had interrupted him; and continuing, asked:
"And dost thou believe that he has indeed come to life again?"
"Why should I not believe it?" Jacob replied.
The Sadducees shrugged their shoulders. Jonathas, opening wide his little eyes, gave a forced, buffoon-like laugh. Nothing could be more absurd, said he, than the idea that a human body could have eternal life; and he declaimed, for the benefit of the proconsul, this line from a contemporaneous poet:
Nec crescit, nec post mortem durare videtur.
By this time Aulus was leaning over the side of the pavilion, with pale face, a perspiring brow, and both hands outspread on his stomach.
The Sadducees pretended to be deeply moved at the sight of his suffering, thinking that perhaps the next day the offices of sacrificers would be theirs. Antipas appeared to be in despair at his guest's agony. Vitellius preserved a calm demeanour, although he felt some anxiety, for the loss of his son would mean the loss of his fortune.
But Aulus, quickly recovering after he had relieved his over-burdened stomach, was as eager to eat as before.
"Let some one bring me marble-dust," he commanded, "or clay of Naxos, sea-water--anything! Perhaps it would do me good to bathe."
He swallowed a quantity of snow; then hesitated between a ragout and a dish of blackbirds; and finally decided in favour of gourds served in honey. The little Asiatic gazed at his master in astonishment and admiration; to him this exhibition of gluttony denoted a wonderful being belonging to a superior race.
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