The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt


(Context: 2 Kings 8:10)

This prophet is weeping. He has told me joyous news, the news that I want to hear. But this prophet is weeping.

I have come here, to this tent at the edge of our city, to greet the prophet, to bring him gifts and get his blessing. But the gifts that I have been forced to bring are what is left of my legacy, the riches that were not destroyed or taken as personal booty by those who captured my father’s kingdom, who took me as a child and left me without a family, without a family name. They call me Hazael, son of Nobody. And no one dares even whisper to me my family’s original name.

And here I am, standing in this tent on this plain of dust, with the ragged, the drunken dregs of the king’s household behind me. It is a caravan of fools, sent both to greet and to silently mock this prophet.

When I asked him, as I had been ordered, if my ailing king would recover from his illness, the prophet looked down and mumbled. Did he say that the king would recover? That he would not recover? That part of the answer was murmured, unclear. But then he cleared his throat, looked up at me, and said, not loudly but unmistakably: “But he will surely die.”

And then he looked in my eyes, a long look that grew from calm to surprise to fear to anger to a mere deep sadness, and he began silently to weep.

I asked him why he wept. He said nothing. And then he raised his arms, at first pointing both arms at me and then spreading them wide, encompassing me, this room, my caravan outside, and the rest of the world that surrounded us.

Our eyes met and locked into each other’s gaze. His eyes drew me forward, from my careful position near the door, forward toward him and into his arms, into his embrace. He wrapped his arms around me as I wrapped mine around hlm.

“Why do you weep?” I whispered. He said nothing, but held me more closeiy and kissed my cheek. Compelled but not understanding, I kissed his cheek in return. His tears flowed from his face onto my lips and then, as I opened my mouth to ask again, onto my tongue.

The tears, sweet and bitter, burned my tongue. And the fire spread within me through my mouth, up to my eyes, to my brain, and down through my throat to my stomach, my blood, my heart, my lungs, my hands, my feet, to all the tortured organs of my body, of my soul.

I slid downward from this prophet’s grasp onto my knees, my hands, my side, until I lay gasping like a wounded dog at his feet. Images of horror that I knew to be visions raced behind my eyes like memories of the future: buildings set on fire, young men slashed apart with swords, women disemboweled, children dashed upon the rocks.

I cried out to this prophet, “Who will do this evil to my people?”

And this prophet answered through his tears, “This evil will be done not to your people but to mine. The one who will do it is you.”

I looked up at him as he spoke, but all that I could see were his hands, first moving with his voice, then stable, then clenched, then waving across the spectrum between belief and despair.

“How can I prevent these things?”

“You cannot prevent them,” he said, “and you must not. These evils prevent a greater evil: as you fight us, and secure our lands as your own, your own strength will grow, and you will keep from us the armies of a greater empire, who would destroy us utterly so that no one at all would survive.”

“But how can I live, knowing that I am evil, knowing that I will do these things?”

This prophet looked down at me again, and his eyes again grew gentle. “None of us are entirely evil. None are entirely free from evil. But you can be spared a life of this knowledge. Take my hand and arise.”

I reached up and took his outstretched hand, then rolled to my knees and rose to my feet.

“Bring me a cup,” he said.

I looked inside the small satchel of initial gifts that I had brought into the tent with me and pulled out a golden chalice. I gazed at it for a long moment before handing it to him.

“This cup is not just a gift from your king,” he said.

“No,” I replied. “It had belonged to my family, whoever they were, before he took them. I have been ordered to surrender all these riches to you.”

He took a flask from the table to his left, and poured wine from it into the chalice. “Drink of this, the wine of forgetfulness, tinged with the water that the Phoenecians had brought from the river Lethe, from Boeotia. The visions will quickly fade.”

I took the wine and drank. The chill inverted fire of the wine sent a shivering coldness along the paths that had been forged within me by his tears.

He took the chalice back from me. “Take the rest of your riches home with you,” he said. “I have no need of them. I will keep this chalice alone.”

And he looked deeply at me, within me. And as I stand here within the tent, as if emerging from a dream, he stares at me still, his tears abating as he steps back away from me. “Please repeat what I have told you,” he asks gently, like a teacher.

“The king may recover from his illness. But he soon will die. Did you say more? I have a sense that you had said more that I did not understand.”

“There is much that you have to do. It will happen as I have seen. You cannot know the story. But know that someday this chalice will return to you. And on that day you will understand, and the story will end.”

As I look into his eyes, I seem to remember an embrace, or perhaps just the desire for an embrace, and taste the sharp memory of a flavor on my tongue, sweet and bitter but tempered by wine. He attempts a smile, but again tears escape his eyes. He steps again away from me and turns his back on me, on the door, on the people I have brought with me, the people that my mind suddenly calls my army.

I step outside the tent and look to the west. The setting sun glints off the gold and silver that we have brought, that I know that we will hide away. And I realize that these people that I have brought hate the king as I do, and that we are well placed to destroy the leaders of the court in a single night when we return.

The memory of the sad warmth within the tent is departing. I am left with a cold joy within my heart. I cannot know what the future will bring beyond what can be done right now. But what I must do now is clear.

It no longer matter that I do not know who I was, that I do not know my family name. What matters is who I will be.

Tonight, they call me the son of Nobody.

But tomorrow they will call me king.

(Next: Hananiah, also known as Shadrach.)


May 3, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. I had no idea at all who Hazael was when I started this. He seems to drop in and out of the story in the Books of Kings, generally destroying things. But, oddly, early on, first Elijah then Elisha are sent to tell him that he will be king of his people. (There’s no mention of whether Elijah delivered the messages.) When Elisha tells him this, he also weeps and tells him what he will do. Much later, once the Judean government pays him off in riches from Jerusalem, he abruptly goes away.

    Unlike most other Biblical characters, though, there’s archaeological evidence of him, including one text in which he is derided as “the son of Nobody.” That probably just meant that he was a commoner, but the idea of his past and the story of the chalice that I used for this was generated by that information.

    Some writers also suggest that, by capturing Judea and putting it under his protection (after the usual massive killing and the like), he kept it from getting overrun by the Assyrians, who would have been even worse.

    Reading that part of the Second Book of Kings was fun, in an action-adventure kind of way. There are several movies in there waiting to be made, if anyone wants to follow up on 300.

    Comment by bookofvoices | May 5, 2007 | Reply

  2. Fascinating. The Biblical story is not in my mind so my context is my own life and human psychology. Briefly but by no means is there a judgment in that–I was most struck by the description of the initial interactions with the prophet–quite a striking description–put me in mind of Big John in The Green Mile, for some reason. That movie has become a part of my inner landscape, as in the following”

    After the dream—a poem at 4:00AM
    with a nod to Big John 1

    It is incumbent upon us to see,
    to not allow
    those jagged shards of glass
    inside our head
    to be tumbled smooth
    by the hum-drum somersaults
    of our daily doings,
    our comings and goings.

    Don’t get me wrong.
    There is something soothing
    and essential
    in routine, repetition and ritual
    but the goal is not blindness—
    which, by the way, carries
    a pain of its own.

    The goal is to see
    and to hold those shards, with care,
    to feel what’s there to feel,
    until, by grace,
    they can become
    our very own
    Rose of

    And that, I’d say,
    will take some practice.

    BD 10/31/06

    1. Big John in The Green Mile.

    I appreciate the sharing of your project. Other initial hits lead me to offer this–in the revision process, I’d tighten it up, shorten it a bit and strive for unity of purpose–but that’s coming from me–so take it for what’s it’s worth–if anything. I did enjoy the reading (and the responding). Gotta go, though.


    Comment by Bill | May 8, 2007 | Reply

  3. The collected tales recorded in the Elijah and Elisha cycles are well worthy of your meditations. Hazael is indeed a murderer and kills his master, the king of Syria, in order to sit on his throne. The prophet Elisha indeed foresees all this and weeps.

    But I really appreciate your recognition of his ‘celibacy’. Hazael, after his wont, does indeed, at one level, alter the course of his local history. Yet Elisha withholds blame, because he sees the benefits of a lesser evil in the face of what could be a worse evil.

    The relevance to President Bush’s unwitting unleashing of a greater terror under the guise of protecting us and Iraq from a lesser is clear.

    The humanity of the stories in the Hebrew canon are quite stunning and
    I shall enjoy your further meditations. shalom – fr.r.

    Comment by Fr. Richard | May 8, 2007 | Reply

  4. […] Bill Denham noted a resemblance between this story and that of Big John the The Green Mile, and posted a poem in […]

    Pingback by Hazael | The Book of Voices | October 20, 2013 | Reply

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