Getting stoned in the past had a whole different meaning than it has today. In the First Century, if you got stoned, you lost your life. There is so much confusion about this period, as I think that the Gospels leave us with more questions than they provide answers. This is probably the main reason why I wrote my second book, yes it is still unpublished, but the Ancient Book Of Eli contains my ideas about how things went down. It is a story book, that tells you who got married at the wedding of Cana and it reveals other events that seem to have missing pieces. It gives some insight to Saint Stephen and although these are only my opinions, they were worked out logically.
Stephen accused the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leaders who had the power back in the day of being responsible for the murder of Jesus and he was stoned to death for this. Not much is known about Stephen except that the Apostles trusted him enough to ordain him as one of the first seven deacons, where he was responsible for distributing alms to take care of the temporal relief of the poorer members. Saint Stephen was said to be a man of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. After Jesus was crucified a number of His disciples and others not yet to be referred to as Christians, (at this time they referred to themselves as The Way), were in an upper room in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended upon them, as Jesus said would happen to strengthen their faith. In my book I made this upper room part of Stephen’s house where the Apostles hid out from those who were chasing them, because this makes sense to me.
A conflict broke out when some religious leaders accused Stephen of blasphemy and he was dragged before the Sanhedrin and his accusers twisted his words. Stephen looked up toward heaven and told the judges, that were made up of his foes, that he was able to see Jesus standing on the right hand of God. This defiance pissed them off and they took him outside of the city to stone him to death. As the crowd heaved stones at him, he asked God that they could be forgiven and the blood that they shed was the first seed of a new religion that would soon cover the world. My book does not answer every question and neither does the Grateful Dead song ‘St. Stephen’.
There is a line in this song that says, “Wherever he goes the people all complain” and I think that because Stephen was in charge of distributing alms, which might include money, food, or other donations given to the poor or needy, that he probably met a lot of people that squabbled because they felt like they got less than some others and did not get their fair shake. St. Stephen also spoke what was on his mind and I guess that he ruffled some feathers of the local religious authorities wherever he went. Another line in this song says, “Stephen would answer if he only knew how”, and this most likely pertains to when Stephen was seized by the authorities, he did not answer the questions asked by his inquisitors, but rather told them what he wanted them to hear. “Did he doubt or did he try?” The answer to this question is an emphatic “No”, as Stephen remained steadfast in his faith till the moment of his death. “Saint Stephen will remain All he lost he shall regain.” St. Stephen believed in resurrection.
The Grateful Dead may have written a sacred song that is all about Saint Stephen, but it seems like more than that to me, it is filled with beauty and the imagery has power, and the music transcends the story that is being told. Robert C. Hunter wrote the lyrics and Jerome J. Garcia and Philip Lesh wrote the music and this song is sacred to me because it is a fun song that I always enjoy listening to. Hunter took a short trip to New Mexico where he wrote ‘St. Stephen’ in 1967 before he became their primary lyricist. He sent three songs to Jerry ‘Saint Stephen’, ‘China Cat Sunflower’ and ‘Alligator’ and Garcia told him that they were going to use all of them.
As I already mentioned, the New Testament leaves us with many questions and this song is full of nothing but questions. Answers aplenty in the bye and bye, but for now, it’s questions all the way down that well. Did it matter? Does it now? Can you answer? Yes, I can, but what would be the answer to the answer man? I tend to view that last question as more of a statement, even though it ends with a question mark. That makes it an easy question to answer, as it tells you that ‘what’ is the answer that you need to use for your response to the answer man. It is like asking a question to someone that asks you a question and it goes on and on like this.
The William Tell Bridge (highlighted in blue) at the end of ‘Saint Stephen’ was omitted from the version on the Dead’s third studio album Aoxomoxoa and dropped by the Dead in versions after 1969. It was only played in live versions when ‘St. Stephen’ segued into ‘The Eleven’, a song that I have already written about.
Saint Stephen with a rose
In and out of the garden he goes
Country garden in the wind and the rain
Wherever he goes the people all complain
Stephen prospered in his time
Well, he may and he may decline
Did it matter, does it now?
Stephen would answer if he only knew how
Wishing well with a golden bell
Bucket hangin’ clear to Hell
Hell halfway twixt now and then
Stephen fill it up and lower down and lower down again
Lady finger, dipped in moonlight
Writing, “What for?”, across the morning sky
Sunlight splatters, dawn with answer
Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye
Speeding arrow, sharp and narrow
What a lot of fleeting matters you have spurned
Several seasons with their treasons
Wrap the babe in scarlet colors, call it your own
Did he doubt or did he try?
Answers aplenty in the bye and bye
Talk about your plenty and talk about your ills
One man gathers what another man spills
Saint Stephen will remain
All he lost he shall regain
Seashore washed by the suds and foam
Been here so long, he’s got to callin’ it home
Fortune comes a crawlin’, calliope woman
Spinnin’ that curious sense of your own
Can you answer? Yes, I can
What would be the answer to the answer man?
High green chilly winds and windy
Vines and loops around the twining
Shafts of lavender, they’re crawling to the sun
Wonder who will water all the children of the garden
When they sigh about the barren lack of rain and troop so hungry ‘neath the sky, ay
Underfoot the ground is patched
With climbing arms of ivy wrapped around
The Manzanita, dark and shiny in the breeze
William Tell has stretched the bow
Till it won’t stretch no furthermore
And all that they require in change
That hasn’t gone before
Written for 10/21/18 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “lost”.