The doubts that tormented him coiled like serpents out of the dungeon walls. Sitting alone in the dank darkness, he seemed to feel them creep out of the crevices of the rocks, raise their heads, and strike at him with horrible hissing.

For almost ten months he had been waiting in the dungeon of Marchaerus, Herod’s fortress-prison overlooking the Dead Sea, waiting for the kingdom that did not come. Chained in darkness, he had waited—was it twice as long?—yes, almost twice as long as the five months of his brief ministry, those five consuming months when he had preached in the wilderness with all the conviction and fire of his soul: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!”

Was it all to end in this—those more than thirty years in which he had been prepared for the task to which he felt called by divine compulsion … his mysterious birth … the Voice that called him as a youth to live in the wilderness … the solitary years of communing with God in which he observed the Nazarite vows of self-denial and dedication … and then the bursting cry that seized him: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah”? So brief a ministry—and now.…

Slowly he turned his gaze to the iron gate. He could tell by the deepening gloom in the corridor that the day was ending. Silence here, like the silence of a tomb. Not the free, vibrant silence of the sun-filled desert with birdsongs and the eternal blue overhead. Silence like death.

Would the gate never open?

Yes, the guard came through twice a day to bring him his scanty meal, or sometimes to take him to the palace when Herod stopped at Marchaerus on his trips to Mesopotamia. His faithful disciples came ...

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