The following was written for Christian Flash Weekly Event #22 – please click through to see the winning submission, judge’s comments and this week’s challenge.
On the contrary, we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory.
– 1 Corinthians 2:7
“Thank you for coming at such short notice Jay . . . It’s good to see you too, Eli.”
“You knew your message would intrigue me Douglas, but to be honest I didn’t need much of an excuse to get away from the university and come – you also know full well that this place has been on my bucket list for a long time.”
Douglas’s message had been short:
KADNEG. PET TREE. COME ASAP, BRING E. – D –
Douglas always had a talent for easily grabbing my attention, ever since we were freshmen. A petrified tree turning up at his Kadesh dig deep in the Negev desert? He also knew better than to waste my time, so asking me to bring along my research assistant Elijah proved that what he wanted me to see was worth paying for two airfares.
“I won’t waste time with the usual pleasantries,” he began. “We unearthed this lone petrified tree trunk amid the ruins of the city – it seemed to occupy a position at the centre of what we assume to be a market square fronting the temple.” He looked agitated, anxious even.
“Okay,” I said, “So this is big, but what made you send such a cryptic message? No denying it’s a great and unusual find, but . . .”
Douglas cut right across me mid-sentence, “Yeah, ok – ‘unusual’ . . . Jay, this is way beyond my team, and the paeleo-biology specialist used by BGU. The tree doesn’t look native. When we began to take samples from the trunk, there was no obvious evidence of insect damage, and it appeared to have no rings whatsoever in the cross-section. None . . .”
Hence Douglas’s need for a palaeo-botanist he knew and trusted: me.
“Even the heaviest degradation would leave some internal structure intact . . .”, I began to muse. Another thing Douglas knew about me from old was my irrepressibly impatient need to begin processing problems immediately.
“That’s what the BGU guys said, so, I sent a section back home for analysis.”
“Why not direct to me to begin with?” I asked, with mild indignation.
“I had to try my own staff first – it’s university policy to keep one institution’s name on the press release if it can be helped. My guys thought it was a fake which I had sent them as a practical joke. But, either because they thought it was such a very good fake that they had to be sure, or because I insisted so vehemently that it was genuine . . . they decided to break policy and send it on to the STEHM microscopy team at the University of Victoria in Canada, to get a more detailed image. They got very excited when the Canadians produced this.” He opened a file sleeve and handed over a photo.
“What resolution is this?” I asked, my pulse beginning to race.
“They refused to confirm – claimed commercial privilege, so you know it’s got to be higher than they officially admit to in their blurb.”
I was astounded. “The rings are so tightly packed that they are barely distinguishable – this tree must have grown incredibly slowly, and lived for – I don’t know – tens of thousands of years! This is incredible! This is Nobel prize stuff!”
Douglas smiled a nervous smile. “No, Jay. This is what is incredible, and I need to know how on Earth it can be possible before we share it. This is from the base of the trunk, and we took this image with a regular digital camera. Only my most trusted core team members here have seen this.”
He handed over another photo, and to my surprise, this time gave it direct to Elijah.
Eli’s jaw dropped, and so did the sheet. As it glided to rest on Douglas’s desk, I saw what were unmistakably words, but in a language I did not recognise; burned, engraved (I still don’t know how to properly describe it):
אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
“Ehyeh ašer ehyeh.” Eli read.
“This is why I asked you to bring Eli – because I trust you, you trust him, and because he can read ancient Hebrew.”
“What does it mean Eli?”
“Literally, it means, ‘I will be what I will be’ . . . but your Bible translates it as ‘I Am who I Am’.” It’s what God said to Moses at the burning bush.
Below the first phase was a second, longer one:
בטרם היות אברהם אני הייתי
“Beterm heyot avraham ani hayiti”, Eli slowly continued, “It means, ‘Before Abraham, I was’ . . . That isn’t in the Torah.”
“Indeed.” a voice behind us calmly agreed, “It is not.”