A harlot’s way: 1 Bethlehem

They still call me a harlot. I got used to it a long time ago. It ceased to bother me a long time ago, and this memoir is to explain the hows and the whys of a story with no ending (yet).
Elsewhere I have written of an encounter which, though I did not know it then, changed my life in two very different ways. That night in Bethlehem when I helped Salome the doula at a birth which would intersect with my life and change it in ways no man could have predicted, took me in a direction which seemed to go in a direction which condemned me, in the eyes of my fellow Jews, to the Pit.

I served at my uncle and aunt’s inn. My mother had died giving birth to me, and my father had no use for a young daughter and asked his sister to care for me. She came to Magdala one hot morning and took me back with her. As I grew towards womanhood it was clear that men found me attractive, and like many young women, I found that intoxicating.

But I was not, even then, a silly woman. I knew well the dangers of men. Salome, the doula who helped that fateful night in Bethlehem, was a wise counselor. She told me much about the way of a man with a woman and more about how to avoid becoming with child. I didn’t like the sound of some of the alternative ways to keep men happy, but saw the wisdom of her counsel – at least they would not kill me like birthing me had killed my mother. Did that leave me with a fear of giving birth – yes, of course, how could it not?

That night when I met Miriam and Joseph, I had been waiting for three sages from the East. A man of business had come to our inn asking whether there were rooms that could be booked for his masters. My uncle told me to deal with him, as he was busy. The great census meant good business, and he did not have time to deal with foreigners. I did the necessary, booking three rooms, collecting thereby three deposits which went into my running away fund. I had no intention of staying in Bethlehem all my life, and even less of being married off to old Aaron, the local landowner who wanted a young wife to keep him warm at nights, and with whom my uncle had been talking.

I missed the three men, but they caught up with me at the birth.

I was impressed. Their wealth was plain from the way they dressed and from the retinue which accompanied them. As I was drinking a cup of wine following the birth, their man of business said he wanted a word with me. “My master likes you and wonders if you would come back to Babylon with us. He will make it worth your while.”

Salome cocked an eyebrow and I asked him if I could give an answer in a moment; he assented. I asked what she thought. She asked me what I wanted. I remember my words to this day: “A better life than this.” I recall her words too: “If you can profit from what other women give away for free, then you need to be aware you will pay a price as well.” I looked at her. “Tell my aunt and uncle thank you. I just need to go to my room and collect a few things.” By that, I meant my gold. I was no fool. I had no idea what would await me in Babylon, but the possession of some means of escape would make my life easier. I told the man of business I would be back, and I was within the hour.

As they left the stable, I embraced Salome and said goodbye to Joseph and Miriam – and the baby. That, I thought, as the caravanserai wended its way out of Judea, was the end of them and that; I have seldom been so wrong.


About JessicaHoff
Church of England. Survivor. Grateful. Rabid feminist lefty, according to some, wishy-washy liberal according to me.

7 Responses to A harlot’s way: 1 Bethlehem

  1. Neo says:

    This is excellent, dearest friend. It is hard to make a substantive comment on though since it merely sets the stage.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    Reading. Looking forward to sequels to Rowan I and Harlot I. As to comments, everybody busy making ready for Thanksgiving with nobody coming. HA! Reporting in to NSA with finger cots so as there’ll be no finger prints on my keyboard about it. 🙂


  3. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 11.25.20 : The Other McCain

  4. Pingback: Advent Book Club | All Along the Watchtower

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