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In the ninth century B.C., the Phoenician princess Jezebel orders the execution of all the prophets who refuse to worship the pagan god Baal. Commanded by an angel of God to flee Israel, Elijah seeks safety in the land of Zarephath, where he unexpectedly finds true love with a young widow.
But this newfound rapture is to be cut short, and Elijah sees all of his hopes and dreams irrevocably erased as he is swept into a whirlwind of events that threatens his very existence.
Written with the same masterful prose and clarity of vision that made The Alchemist an international phenomenon, The Fifth Mountain is a quietly moving account of a man touched by the hand of God who must triumph over his frustrations in a soul-shattering trial of faith.
I have served a Lord who now abandons me into the hands of my enemies," said Elijah.
"God is God," the Levite replied. "He did not tell Moseswhether He was good or evil; He simply said: I am. He is everything thatexists under the sun—the lightning bolt that destroys a house, and thehand of man that rebuilds it."
Talking was the only way to ward off fear; at any moment, soldiers wouldopen the door to the stable where they were hiding, discover them both,and offer the only choice possible: worship Baal, the Phoenician god, orbe executed. They were searching house by house, converting the prophetsor executing them.
Perhaps the Levite would convert and escape death. But for Elijah therewas no choice: everything was happening through his own fault, and Jezebelwanted his head under all circumstances.
"It was an angel of the Lord who obliged me to speak to King Ahab andwarn him that it would not rain so long as Baal was worshiped in Israel,"he said, almost in a plea for absolution for having heeded what the angelhad told him. "But God acts slowly; when the drought begins to takehold, Princess Jezebel will already have destroyed all who remain loyalto the Lord."
The Levite said nothing. He was reflecting on whether he should convertto Baal or die in the name of the Lord.
"Who is God?" Elijah continued. "Is it He who holds the swordof the soldier, the sword that executes those who will not betray the faithof our patriarchs? Was it He who placed a foreign princess on our country'sthrone, so that all this misfortune could befall our generation? Does Godkill the faithful, the innocent, those who follow the law of Moses?"
The Levite made his decision: he preferred to die. Then he began to laugh,for the idea of death frightened him no longer. He turned to the young prophetbeside him and attempted to calm him. "Ask God, since you doubt Hisdecisions," he said. "I have accepted my fate."
"The Lord cannot wish us to be massacred without mercy," insistedElijah.
"God is all-powerful. If He limited Himself to doing only that whichwe call good, we could not call Him the Almighty; he would command onlyone part of the universe, and there would exist someone more powerful thanHe, watching and judging His acts. In that case, I would worship that morepowerful someone."
"If He is all-powerful, why doesn't He spare the suffering of thosewho love Him? Why doesn't He save them, instead of giving might and gloryto His enemies?"
"I don't know," said the Levite. "But a reason exists, andI hope to learn it soon."
"You have no answer to this question."
The two men fell silent. Elijah felt a cold sweat.
"You are terrified, but I have already accepted my fate," theLevite said. "I am going out, to bring an end to this agony. Each timeI hear a scream out there, I suffer, imagining how it will be when my timecomes. Since we've been locked in here, I have died a hundredfold, whileI could have died just once. If I am to be beheaded, let it be as quicklyas possible."
He was right. Elijah had heard the same screams, and he had suffered beyondhis ability to withstand.
"I'm going with you. I weary of fighting for a few more hours of life."
He rose and opened the stable door, allowing the sun to enter and exposethe two men hiding there.
The Levite took him by the arm, and they began to walk. If not for one thenanother scream, it would have seemed a normal day in a city like any other—asun that barely tingled the skin, the breeze coming from a distant oceanto moderate the temperature, the dusty streets, the houses built of a mixtureof clay and straw.
"Our souls are prisoners of the terror of death, and the day is beautiful,"said the Levite. "Many times before, when I felt at peace with Godand the world, the temperature was horrible, the desert wind filled my eyeswith sand and did not permit me to see a hand's span before me. Not alwaysdoes His plan agree with what we are or what we feel, but be assured thatHe has a reason for all of this."
"I admire your faith."
The Levite looked at the sky, as if reflecting briefly. Then he turned toElijah. "Do not admire, and do not believe so much; it was a wagerI made with myself. I wagered that God exists."
"You're a prophet," answered Elijah. "You too hear voicesand know that there is a world beyond this world."
"It could be my imagination."
"You have seen God's signs," Elijah insisted, beginning to feelanxiety at his companion's words.
"It could be my imagination," was again the answer. "In actuality,the only concrete thing I have is my wager: I have told myself that everythingcomes from the Most High."
The street was deserted. Inside their houses, the people waited for Ahab'ssoldiers to complete the task that the foreign princess had demanded: executingthe prophets of Israel. Elijah walked beside the Levite, feeling that behindeach door and window was someone watching him—and blaming him for whathad happened.
"I did not ask to be a prophet. Perhaps everything is merely the fruitof my own imagination," thought Elijah.
But, after what had occurred in the carpenter's shop, he knew it was not.
The Fifth Mountain
A Novel. Copyright © by Paulo Coelho. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from The Fifth Mountain by Paulo Coelho
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