"LET us hurry to the walls," said Abel-Phittim to Buzi-Ben-Levi and
Simeon the Pharisee, on the tenth day of the month Thammuz, in the
year of the world three thousand nine hundred and forty-one--"let us
hasten to the ramparts adjoining the gate of Benjamin, which is in the
city of David, and overlooking the camp of the uncircumcised; for it
is the last hour of the fourth watch, being sunrise; and the
idolaters, in fulfillment of the promise of Pompey, should be
awaiting us with the lambs for the sacrifices."
Simeon, Abel-Phittim, and Buzi-Ben-Levi, were the Gizbarim, or
sub-collectors of the offering, in the holy city of Jerusalem.
"Verily," replied the Pharisee, "let us hasten: for this
generosity in the heathen is unwonted; and fickle-mindedness has
ever been an attribute of the worshippers of Baal."
"That they are fickle-minded and treacherous is as true as the
Pentateuch," said Buzi-Ben-Levi, "but that is only towards the
people of Adonai. When was it ever known that the Ammonites proved
wanting to their own interests? Methinks it is no great stretch of
generosity to allow us lambs for the altar of the Lord, receiving in
lieu thereof thirty silver shekels per head!"
"Thou forgettest, however, Ben-Levi," replied Abel-Phittim, "that
the Roman Pompey, who is now impiously besieging the city of the Most
High, has no assurity that we apply not the lambs thus purchased for
the altar, to the sustenance of the body, rather than of the spirit."
"Now, by the five corners of my beard!" shouted the Pharisee, who
belonged to the sect called The Dashers (that little knot of saints
whose manner of dashing and lacerating the feet against the pavement
was long a thorn and a reproach to less zealous devotees--a
stumbling-block to less gifted perambulators)--"by the five corners
of that beard which, as a priest, I am forbidden to shave!--have we
lived to see the day when a blaspheming and idolatrous upstart of Rome
shall accuse us of appropriating to the appetites of the flesh the
most holy and consecrated elements? Have we lived to see the day
"Let us not question the motives of the Philistine," interrupted
Abel-Phittim, "for to-day we profit for the first time by his
avarice or by his generosity; but rather let us hurry to the ramparts,
lest offerings should be wanting for that altar whose fire the rains
of heaven cannot extinguish, and whose pillars of smoke no tempest can
That part of the city to which our worthy Gizbarim now hastened, and
which bore the name of its architect, King David, was esteemed the
most strongly fortified district of Jerusalem; being situated upon the
steep and lofty hill of Zion. Here a broad, deep, circumvallatory
trench, hewn from the solid rock, was defended by a wall of great
strength erected upon its inner edge. This wall was adorned, at
regular interspaces, by square towers of white marble; the lowest
sixty, and the highest one hundred and twenty cubits in height. But,
in the vicinity of the gate of Benjamin, the wall arose by no means
from the margin of the fosse. On the contrary, between the level of
the ditch and the basement of the rampart, sprang up a perpendicular
cliff of two hundred and fifty cubits, forming part of the precipitous
Mount Moriah. So that when Simeon and his associates arrived on the
summit of the tower called Adoni-Bezek--the loftiest of all the
turrets around about Jerusalem, and the usual place of conference with
the besieging army--they looked down upon the camp of the enemy from
an eminence excelling by many feet that of the Pyramid of Cheops, and,
by several, that of the temple of Belus.
"Verily," sighed the Pharisee, as he peered dizzily over the
precipice, "the uncircumcised are as the sands by the seashore--as
the locusts in the wilderness! The valley of The King hath become
the valley of Adommin."
"And yet," added Ben-Levi, "thou canst not point me out a
Philistine--no, not one--from Aleph to Tau--from the wilderness to
the battlements--who seemeth any bigger than the letter Jod!"
"Lower away the basket with the shekels of silver!" here shouted a
Roman soldier in a hoarse, rough voice, which appeared to issue from
the regions of Pluto--"lower away the basket with the accursed coin
which it has broken the jaw of a noble Roman to pronounce! Is it
thus you evince your gratitude to our master Pompeius, who, in his
condescension, has thought fit to listen to your idolatrous
importunities? The god Phoebus, who is a true god, has been
charioted for an hour--and were you not to be on the ramparts by
sunrise? Aedepol! do you think that we, the conquerors of the world,
have nothing better to do than stand waiting by the walls of every
kennel, to traffic with the dogs of the earth? Lower away! I say--and
see that your trumpery be bright in color and just in weight!"
"El Elohim!" ejaculated the Pharisee, as the discordant tones of the
centurion rattled up the crags of the precipice, and fainted away
against the temple--"El Elohim!--who is the God Phoebus?--whom doth
the blasphemer invoke? Thou, Buzi-Ben-Levi! who art read in the laws
of the Gentiles, and hast sojourned among them who dabble with the
Teraphim!--is it Nergal of whom the idolater speaketh?--or
Ashimah?--or Nibhaz?--or Tartak?--or Adramalech?--or Anamalech?--or
Succoth-Benith?--or Dagon?--or Belial?--or Baal-Perith?--or
"Verily it is neither--but beware how thou lettest the rope slip
too rapidly through thy fingers; for should the wicker-work chance
to hang on the projection of yonder crag, there will be a woful
outpouring of the holy things of the sanctuary."
By the assistance of some rudely constructed machinery, the
heavily laden basket was now carefully lowered down among the
multitude; and, from the giddy pinnacle, the Romans were seen
gathering confusedly round it; but owing to the vast height and the
prevalence of a fog, no distinct view of their operations could be
Half an hour had already elapsed.
"We shall be too late!" sighed the Pharisee, as at the expiration of
this period, he looked over into the abyss--"we shall be too late! we
shall be turned out of office by the Katholim."
"No more," responded Abel-Phittim--"no more shall we feast upon
the fat of the land--no longer shall our beards be odorous with
frankincense--our loins girded up with fine linen from the Temple."
"Raca!" swore Ben-Levi, "Raca! do they mean to defraud us of the
purchase money? or, Holy Moses! are they weighing the shekels of the
"They have given the signal at last!" cried the Pharisee--"they
have given the signal at last!--pull away, Abel-Phittim!--and thou,
Buzi-Ben-Levi, pull away!--for verily the Philistines have either
still hold upon the basket, or the Lord hath softened their hearts to
place therein a beast of good weight!" And the Gizbarim pulled away,
while their burthen swung heavily upwards through the still increasing
* * *
"Booshoh he!"--as, at the conclusion of an hour, some object at the
extremity of the rope became indistinctly visible--"Booshoh he!" was
the exclamation which burst from the lips of Ben-Levi. "Booshoh he!--for shame!--it
is a ram from the thickets of Engedi,
and as rugged as the valley of Jehosaphat!"
"It is a firstling of the flock," said Abel-Phittim, "I know him
by the bleating of his lips, and the innocent folding of his limbs.
His eyes are more beautiful than the jewels of the Pectoral, and his
flesh is like the honey of Hebron."
"It is a fatted calf from the pastures of Bashan," said the
Pharisee, "the heathen have dealt wonderfully with us!--let us raise
up our voices in a psalm!--let us give thanks on the shawm and on the
psaltery--on the harp and on the huggab--on the cythern and on the
It was not until the basket had arrived within a few feet of the
Gizbarim, that a low grunt betrayed to their perception a hog of no
"Now El Emanu!" slowly, and with upturned eyes, ejaculated the
trio, as, letting go their hold, the emancipated porker tumbled
headlong among the Philistines. "El Emanu! God be with us--it is the
1. The tale is a parody of a popular novel from 1828, Zillah, a Tale of
Jerusalem, by Horace Smith (1777-1849). Poe incorporated whole phrases and sentences
Smith's story: "Poe's story is more than a parody; it is literally a collage of snatches of the
cut out and pasted together in a new order. Read immediately after Zillah, it is very
Read without Zillah it is merely a puzzling and even offensive anecdote" (Levine 352). See
edition for notes on specific instances of Poe's use of the earlier work.
2. A more literal translation would be, "He suffered his grey beard to ascend
severe face." The lines are from Lucan's Pharsalia. The passage refers to Marcus
Cato. "Porcius" means, literally, "pertaining to pigs" -- thus leading to the bristle/beard and
puns which have meaning for both Smith's Zillah and Poe's story.
3. Katholim: overseers of the treasury.