The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt


(This is another new Book of Voices story (probably the next to last), written as I prepare an expanded and enhanced edition of the book to be released in 2013. As with all the texts here, it is an early draft, and may change significantly by the time that it is officially published in the book.)

Obadiah was an administrator in the court of King Ahab, who took power twelve years after the death of Zimri. Ahab’s wife, Jezebel,
began to systematically wipe out the prophets of Israel’s God. The Bible says:

Obadiah, [Ahab’s] … palace administrator … was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.

(1 Kings 18:3-4 NIV)

The Bible contains a brief Book of Obadiah which contains prophecies of the fall of an oppressive Edom, though at that point in history, Edom was a vassal state to Israel.

Obadiah speaks late at night, after hiding the prophets.

The noise in here is incredible. Fifty prophets (well, they call themselves prophets, but they just sound to me like shouters) are milling about this small cave, all arguing about what is going to happen. It was hard getting them to move quietly to the cave, but we hope they will be safe here from my boss, King Ahab, and his crazy wife Jezebel. Now that there’s no need for silence (much as I might wish for it again), they’re making up for it by shouting even more loudly than before.

Everyone agrees that things are bad now and are about to get worse, but there’s no consensus as to what will happen after that. Some say that Israel and Judah are doomed. Some say that things will get better quickly, some that they will get better after a long period of troubles, and some that they will only get better at the end of time, whenever that is. But each of them is absolutely certain that God has shown the true future to him (or her — most of the women and a few of the men have gone off to the caves with Deborah, but some of the women have stayed with me) and that the ones who disagree are idiots, infiltrators, or insane.

Someone approaches from behind me as I look down over this ledge at the prophets milling below. The shuffling of small bare feet, a scent of lilacs, then a gentle hand on my shoulder — without looking, I know that Adina is here.

“How are you doing?” she asks.

“Tired,” I say, “and hoping that this works and is worth it, How are you?”

“Reasonably well,” she says. “I was able to find a chamber in which I could sit in silence for a while. It helped. I’ll have to show you where it is.”

“Thank you. So now we just wait?”

She steps beside me and also leans on the ledge. “We wait. A few days at most. Tomorrow Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal. When he wins, we’ll need to lay low for a little while, then our prophets can filter quietly back out into the populace.”

“Quietly? Can this mob ever do anything quietly?”

She smiles. “Each on his own can be quiet. Together, they just seem to get each other agitated. But I’ve found some busy work to keep them occupied. My friends have gotten some scrolls from the days of the Judges that might benefit from interpretation. They’re old enough and ambiguous enough that the crowd will likely consider them deeply important.”

“Will they keep shouting?”

“There will be some moments of quiet contemplation. But on the whole, there’s little to be done about the shouting.”

“I hate to ask, but what if Elijah doesn’t win? I mean, I know that God is on our side, but I still worry.”

“Appropriate worry is good,” she says, “as long as it doesn’t overwhelm you. But I have a backup plan.”

“You always seem to have a backup plan.”

“It’s my nature. I worry, too, but then I look for solutions.”

“And what is your solution?”

“If needed, we’ll move everybody to my sisters’ caves — quietly, very quietly, maybe only a few at a time. From there, we’ll be able to relocate them into safer places and times.”

“You make it sound simple.”

“These things are rarely simple, but they usually are possible.”

An even louder uproar rises above the general din. Two prophets have gone beyond arguing and are now punching and shoving each other. Two others, seeing the fight, run to them. Each grabs one and drags him to a fall wall. They then return to where they had been before intervening and continue their own bellowing argument.

“When you were young, did you ever imagine that you would be involved in anything like this?” Adina asks.

“Me? No, nothing like this at all. I thought I’d grow up to be a boring shepherd off in Edom, like the rest of my family. Then I followed my brother to Jerusalem, came to believe the word of God, got a job in the palace, and now here I am.”

“I wouldn’t have believed this either when I was young,” she says.

I start to laugh, then clap my hand over my mouth. “I’m sorry,” I say.

“It’s so hard to imagine that I was young?”

“It’s — well, you have always been the same age since we met decades ago, so I’ve never thought of you ever being another age. You were young once?”

“I was. Even those of us among the Sisters had to have been born sometime, and grown to our present ages. Some age more than others. For some it depends on how much time they spend out in the world, though others who never step outside age anyway. But I was, indeed, a child, a few hundred years from now, before I came to join the Sisters.”

“What was life like — or what will life be like — then? Or are you not allowed to tell me?”

“I can say that Israel still existed. We were ruled by others, but there was a Temple and we still prayed to our God. Most of us kept to ourselves, but others were involved in political struggles that I didn’t get to see much or understand. I was a young girl, after all, in a small village, and I didn’t get to see much before I went to join the Sisters.”

“It’s good to hear that we have a future. So are the shouters down there right?”

“None is entirely right. None is entirely wrong. Only God can see all of time (and frankly, I sometimes wonder if God knows how to handle the perfect information that he has). Each of us gets to see some glimpses of what will be. Some are better attuned to the information, much as some of us have better hearing or a sharper sense of smell.”

“Even me?”

“Even you,” she says. “I can tell you this: a scroll survives into the future, with prophecies written under your name.”

“Mine? I’m not a prophet.”

“What is a prophet? Just someone who has a sense of the future and communicates it to others. Most people who see what is to be are never heard because they never tell anyone. The ones who are known are those to get the word to others. We usually don’t find the quiet ones.”

I point at the crowd below. “Hence, the shouters.”

“Yes, the shouters.”

We stand for a while, quietly watching the people below. Clusters of people form and dissipate as prophets move from one argument to another. On a table along the edge of the cave farthest from the entrance, a seemingly endless supply of simple bread and water fills a basket and a pitcher, no matter how many people eat and drink.

“So,” I say, “in this scroll of mine, what do I say?”

“I honestly don’t know,” Adina says. “I was tempted to read it when I was assigned to come here to work with you, but was advised against it — not that there’s necessarily a problem with what’s in it, but things are easier when we can’t divulge too much.”


At the edges of the crowd, toward the walls of the cave, I see that some of the prophets are beginning to lie down to sleep, wrapping their robes around themselves and placing their packs as pillows under their heads. This doesn’t seem to limit the noise much, but I suppose that some people can sleep through anything.

“Somehow,” I say after a long moment, “I can’t picture myself as a prophet or imagine what I might say.”

“Don’t worry about it too much. When the time comes, you’ll know what to say. For now, you’re being far more helpful with what you’re already doing. No one else, after all, seems to be able to talk to both Ahab and Elijah.”

“Though perhaps things might be better off if they hadn’t communicated.”

“Perhaps,” she says. “but we can’t know this for sure.”

“Until after tomorrow,” I say.

“Yes, until at least after tomorrow.”

A bellowing voice suddenly bursts from the noise of the crowd. “Thus says the Lord!” One of the older prophets has leapt up onto the table. “You are all liars — a generation of liars and — Oh!” The man is falling, having stepped and slid in a puddle where the pitcher of water had spilled.

Other prophets catch him and pass them over their heads toward the south wall, where, gently but unceremoniously, they set him down. He resumes his shouting, but his voice again blends into the blur of argument.

Several armed men — friends of mine, men whom I trust — have come in from guarding the entrance to the cave. Others are wearily picking up their swords and shields and heading out to replace them. It is midnight, and too few of the prophets are tired. The shouting here may never end.

It’s going to be a long night.


January 13, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment