May 10 – Thais of Egypt; Cataldus of Taranto

Thais of Egypt (V cent.) is not the fourth century Thais of Egypt commemorated on Oct 10. Although their stories have similarities, the October Thais had an opera written about her, and ours didn’t. As for ours, she blew through her inheritance feeding the poor, and found herself penniless. Having no way to earn a living but the oldest one, she pursued that one. News of her fall came to the monks at Sketis, who said, “She helped us; time to return the favor.” So they sent John the Dwarf (who did not grumble, “Why do I always get these jobs?”). He was turned away at the door, but when he said, “Tell your mistress I have something very valuable,” he was let in. “Perhaps this random desert monk is bringing a pearl he’s found by the sea to a prostitute he’s never met,” Thais thought. (Why she thought anything like this isn’t addressed at all.) Once inside, John sat down and started weeping. “You have forsaken your bridegroom, Christ,” he sobbed. “Moreover you’re making Satan happy, which sucks.”

Thais’ soul was pierced as if by a fiery arrow (says the source). “Can Christ possibly forgive me?” she asked. “One way to find out,” said John. Of course I kid. He said, “He came to save sinners. He will accept you with love and the angels will party.” So she repented with both ventricles, and followed John into the desert, although with what destination in mind, we are not told. When night fell he made her a pillow out of sand (do not ask me how that works), and went a little farther and lay down himself. He was awakened by a bright light shining down from heaven on the place where Thais was sleeping. Looking closely he could see the angels bearing her soul to heaven, and when he walked back to the sandy pillow, he found her dead body. Immediately he fell down in prayer, asking, “She was saved, right? God? Right?” An angel came down and told him, “She repented with her whole heart and soul.” John buried her (without, so far as we know, help from any lions at all) and, singing “Heart and Soul[1],” went to tell the monks at Sketis about the woman who, like the thief on the cross, was saved in a moment by heartfelt repentance.

Job the Long-Suffering (VI cent. BC(E) or earlier) is the protagonist of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) book that bears his name. We won’t go into the arguments about whether or not he existed, or is just a made-up character in an extended parable. We do know that Job was mentioned by Ezekiel writing in the sixth century, and that the book contains so many archaisms and possibly even neologisms that it’s all but impossible to date.

The book opens and closes with a prosaic (literaturistically speaking) story of God and the Accuser (HaSatan) arguing about whether Job loves God because he’s so well off. To prove the point, Satan (with God’s permission) kills off Job’s children and livestock (leaving his wife to bicker at him) and infests poor Job with all sorts of skin conditions.

In the middle part, which takes the form of a play, his three friends (Job’s comforters, which is where that term comes from) show up and tell him in long, mellifluous poems that he must have done something bad. Job, in similar poems, protests his innocence. In the end, God himself shows up, tells off the friends, and dazzles Job with his glory. Job gets new kids, new cattle, etc., but keeps the same wife. I will not crack a joke at her expense.

WARNING: THIS NEXT BIT IS SOMEWHAT ICKY. Delightfully, in the Avot deRabbi Nathan, a book of Rabbinic wisdom dating from around the sixth century of our era, Job is portrayed as having worms in his wounds that argue with one another, presumably about who gets to eat what. Job separates them by moving them to separate sores, and tells them off: This is my flesh, who are you to argue about it?

[1] Or not.