THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 8

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius knew all too well what was really at stake. Herod Antipas have friends in Tiberius Caesar’s court. Pilate, though still supported by the emperor, received communication from him of his displeasure regarding the aqueduct project in Jerusalem. Apparently, Pilate plans to bring water into the city using Roman engineering as a way to better the relationship between Rome and the Jews had an opposite effect. Pilate had used the Temple tax revenue to finance it. The Jewish leadership was in an uproar. Herod saw his opportunity to try to regain the governorship of Judea. With his help, the Jewish leadership sent communique through those in court that were no friends of Pilate. This incident opened up Pandora’s box for Pontus Pilate. The Jews have gained a political advantage over him which is causing him to tread lightly.

“I have decided to grant you a leave of absence. I am in agreement of your assessments in regards to this other preacher and miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth. His large followings cannot be ignored. Though, as you have reported, he has no political ambitions, yet his activities do provide tremendous political advantage for those who would exploit it. Centurion, I do not want to be caught unaware. You, at least, are already known to him. You will follow him closely. If there is any indication that this preacher will be used to bolster a revolt, you will report back to me. Tribune Arturos will fill in the other details. Now, before your misplaced sense of fairness gets the better of you, Centurion, I think it best that you leave here now. Dismissed!”

Cornelius snapped to attention, saluted and made a sharp about face. As he and the tribune were about to walk out, two household guards entered. One was carrying a tray with a covered bundle and trailing behind him were droplets of blood. Cornelius need not stare for he knew what it was. His professionalism maintained a passive appearance as they marched out of the ballroom. But in his mind, he voiced to the heavens, ‘I am sorry, my friend.’

“Cornelius, the governor will be going down to the coastal city of Caesarea to oversee the final phase of the construction of our military port. Flavius and the whole cohort will be garrisoned there sometime this month. In two months from now, the governor will be in Jerusalem for this big Jewish celebration… Passover, I think… Security is going to be very tight for us, there. I hear that the whole country will be congregating there for at least two weeks.” Arturos motioned to stop just under the big palace doors. “You will be on your own. You better keep some men with you.”

“Cestus and six others is all I will need. I will also still use the Capernaum house as my base of operation.”

“Then, it is settled,” Arturos smiled. “I was worried back there for a moment, Centurion. I would hate to lose such an able loyal soldier as yourself and… a good mentor and friend.”

Both men laughed and grasped each other’s right forearms. Then Cornelius descended the short flight of stairs and was about to mount his steed when a woman’s voice called out to him. He turned to see Pheobe run past an amused Arturos. He met her at the bottom of the stone steps.

“The Lady Procula sent me to give you this!” She hands over a small but heavy bag of coins. Pheobe leans close to whisper, “She says to use this in any way you feel fit to help the Nazarene. For myself, I hope to see you again soon.” She places her hand on his arm. “Please take care!” Then she turns and walks back up the steps and stood by an already beaming Arturos.

When Cornelius mounted his horse, Flavius hands the reins over to him with a mirthful smile. As Cornelius rode out into the night, followed by Cestus and six others, Cornelius could not help but smile in the darkness.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 7

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

Reluctantly, Pilate addressed Herod about this matter. “My lord Antipas, may I have a word with you?”

“Certainly, my dear governor,” Herod said as he lead Pilate to a quieter alcove for a private talk.

Cornelius and Tribune Arturos took their position not far from the governor.

“My dear Antipas, I was hoping to broach this subject of the Baptist with you. Would it not be prudent for you to hand him over to us? There are some among my… ahem… officials that are quite interested in interrogating this John the Baptist further.”

“Alas. It is out of my hands,” responded Herod. “I have given my vow that she may have anything in my power to give. It is regrettable but culture and tradition dictates that I must fulfill my vow.”

When Pilate returned to his divan, shaking his head negatively, Procula coldly stood and left the party followed by Pheobe and a number of ladies. Pheobe looked back to Cornelius with a wave.

Cornelius seethe with the thought that a righteous man… a prophet of God… and a friend would lose his life needlessly. With no plan formed in his mind, he started moving purposely toward the exit with his hand tightly grasping his sheathed sword.

“Centurion!” Cornelius halted and turned to find that it was the governor who called him. “Come! Attend to me.”

“Sir!” Cornelius snapped to attention. Then he followed the governor and the tribune out to the same balcony where he talked with Pheobe.

“I think it best that you stay standing at attention, Centurion.”

“Sir!”

Pilate circled him with amusement.

“I wonder, Centurion, how you would have fared against Herod’s hired guards if you did manage to stop the execution in time?” Pilate then sat at a bench looking at him up and down. “Yes. I think you would do well, for a time by yourself. I would even venture to speculate that the men you commanded outside would not think twice to mutiny and come to your aid. But then, what would that have left me? Mmmm…? A renegade cohort… outlawed… hiring yourselves out as mercenaries… No, Centurion. I cannot spare you. At ease, Centurion.”

Cornelius relaxed his posture but kept looking forward.

“Besides, how would I explain this to your father?” Cornelius questioningly gazed down at Pilate. “Oh, yes. I know your father. He wrote me sometime back that you were with the Italian contingent. He as well as your commander had appraised me on your strong sense of fair play. This has served you well, so far. But I have to rein you in, this time. As much as you would like to save the life of that desert preacher,” Pilate raised his hand for silence as Cornelius was about to object. “I am sure he is innocent, but I have to consider the bigger picture. This region is too volatile. Herod and I, at least, must have the appearance of a unified front.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 6

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

They both went back to the festivities and noticed that the party was focused to a lone dancer performing mostly in front of Herod Antipas and his party. Cornelius guided Pheobe back to where the Lady Procula lounged with the rest of Pilate’s entourage.

The dancer was weaving on the dance floor in fluid seductive movement keeping in rhythm with the thumping pounding of several drummers. With her hand still on his arm, she asks, “Who is she?” noticing that the dancer was no ordinary performer.

Cornelius saw that the dancer resembled Herodius, Herod’s wife. “She must be Salome, Herodius’ daughter from her first marriage,” he whispered back.

By the increase of pitch and tempo of the instrumentalists and the dancer’s undulating movements, the performance was reaching its climax. Then the dancer positioned herself in front of the obviously leering and drunk Herod gyrating ecstatically until the music stopped abruptly with her collapsing into a bowed position. There was a moment of silence when Herod applauded her excitedly.

Obviously drunk with pleasure, he stood and declared, “Ask me of anything you like and I will give it to you. Upon my head and before my court, I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!” Then he collapsed in joyous laughter with the court joining in with the mirth.

Salome goes to her mother, Herodias, and they whisper excitedly to each other. Then Salome gracefully returns before Herod who looks upon her attentively.

“I want the head of The Baptist, right now, here on a silver tray.”

Herod quickly lost his mirthful look. What seemed like a long time, Herod sighed and then gestured to the head of his household guards. Herod whispered his instructions to him then the guard left. Meanwhile, Procula was herself furiously whispering to the Governor to take action. Cornelius prayed under his breath that she would succeed.
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 069

DEMACLI THE LEGION DEMONIAC
33 AD – The Last Supper – Jerusalem, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

“Demacli, look!” Elpida relunctantly disturbed him. When he stood, she pointed toward the western gate. “Those two men walking to the gate. I recognize one of them.”

Demacli easily spotted the two men she was pointing at. They were struggling against the flow of people coming through the western gate. He recognized both of them to be members of the chosen Twelve. One of them was named Philip.

Demacli and the other Greeks headed toward the western gates. With the crowd impeding their progress, it took some minutes to reach the gates, but by that time, the two disciples had already gone down the western stairs. They pursued after them. When they reached the bottom of the Temple Mount, they came upon a wide plaza. Demacli looked left and right but could not see them. The left was the city perimeter wall, a dead end. To the right, across a deep gully was an entire city of tightly clustered houses against a steep slope.

Demacli was not liking the idea of getting lost in there. He then looked straight ahead and saw another part of the city that was closer. His wife told him that it was named the City of David. The structures were grander there than those houses at the east. He decided to take the chance and headed toward it.

As they entered the city’s porticos, his choice to come this way was rewarded when he saw Philip talking to another before a three story structure. He approached the disciple by himself.

“Sir,” Demacli said bowing to him, “we… that is, we are Greeks from the free cities, would like to see Jesus.”

Philip looked at him curiously.

“You do not recognize me, do you, sir?”

“Of course! Now, I recall,” Philip said.

“A group of us from Hippus have come in search of him.”

Philip looked up at the building then smiled and said, “Well, your timing is not fortuitous. For this is the time of the Passover Meal. You wait down here while I go up and ask.”

Demacli watched Philip disappear into the house. Several minutes had past when Philip reappeared at the double doors of the house and happily gestured for all of them to enter.
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FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS – Part 068

DEMACLI THE LEGION DEMONIAC
33 AD – The Last Supper – Jerusalem, Judeafaithful-encounters-cover-w

This was his first time in Jerusalem. The city was larger than any in the Decapolis. Demacli and his newlywed bride, Elpida were captivated by this sprawling metropolis. He, Elpida and four others traveled here from their own city of Hippus, southeast of the Sea of Galilee. It took them three days to cross the great lake, traverse through Galilee, the Samaritan territory, the northern escarpments of the Judean highlands until eventually they crested over a hill and there was Jerusalem. They came to find Jesus of Nazareth. But they were strangers in the city and knew not where to find him.

“I did not expect this many people,” Demacli said. “How will we find him in this bustling city?”

“It is their most important holy feasts,” Elpida explained. “I have been here before. Every year, Hebrews from all over come here to congregate up there.” She pointed up to the Temple Mount which towered over the city. “If we are to find the Son of David, we surely will find him there.”

After they settled in a house of a Greek trader, an associate of Demacli’s father, they went up to the Temple Mount. They went in through the western gates. If Demacli was impressed about the size of the city, he was even more impressed when they entered the Temple court.

“This is the Court of Nations,” Elpida said.

“And you said we are only allowed here?” asked one of their companions.

“Yes,” she acknowledged. Then she pointed to the tall gleaming structure at the center of the vast courtyard. “That is the Temple where the sacrifices are offered. Only Jews are allowed in.”

“What is this Passover celebration all about?” asked Demacli.

“It’s in their history, back when they were under the enslavement of Egypt,” Elpida said. “It was more than a thousand years ago. According to what I heard, their God sent a man named Moses to go to Pharaoh and demanded their freedom. When the Pharaoh refused, God sent ten plagues to change his mind. The tenth plague was so devastating, that Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go.”

“But why is it called the Passover?”

“Well, you see, the tenth plague was that death will come upon all the first born of Egypt. But to protect the first born of Israel, God commanded that every family kill a male lamb and put its blood on the door frame.”

“Why?”

“So that, when the Angel of Death came upon Egypt and found a door smeared with the blood of a lamb, he passed over that house, sparing the first born of that house. The Angel of Death took a great toll of Egypt that distant night and only Israel was saved. To commemorate it, God commanded the people to celebrate annually the Passover Feast.”

“You know wife, your stories of the history of these people are opening my eyes even more. What I always appreciate more is how much you know about them,” Demacli said to his wife who smiled back warmly.

Looking at her fondly, he considered himself quite lucky… no, he corrected himself… since he met Jesus, he stopped believing in luck. The word that came to mind is ‘blessed’… yes, that is the right word. Marrying Elpida was a gift that he knew he truly did not deserve. He faced the Temple, went down on his knees and bowed his head to the ground whispering, “Thank you, Lord God.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 5

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

After the lavish food was served, the guest clustered themselves to their own private fellowship either in whispered conversations or laughing out loud merriments; at the same time, being entertained by two pairs of half naked black skin Nubians wildly dancing to rhythmic drum beats. Cornelius retreated to the open balcony where he continued to formulate his arguments to convince the governor.

“Ah! There you be, Centurion.”

Cornelius turned to find the Lady Procula approaching with that pretty young woman in tow.

“My Lady, how may I be of service to you?”

“Oh, no Centurion, it is I who is to be of service to you.” Turning to the young woman at her side, she exclaimed in mirth, “this lovely child had boldly requested to be reacquainted with yourself in regards to a marriage proposal promised her by you.”

Both women laughed mirthfully at the confused expression of Cornelius’ face.

“Be at peace, Centurion, for I am in jest… though I fear that there may be some truth in this marriage proposal. I will let this child explain. Mmmm?” She walks away chuckling.

Still confused and somewhat perplexed, Cornelius and young woman stood there watching each other. Uncomfortably, Cornelius broke the silence.

“I am afraid I am in a disadvantage, my lady. You seem to know me but I…”

“Ah, Cornelius, since you seem to have forgotten me, then I should not rely on you remembering your promise to marry me either, now that we are older!”

Amused by Cornelius’ confusion, she goes on teasingly, “Maybe, this will help… in a garden, under an old willow tree at my father’s estate in Athens.”

Recognition lit up Cornelius’ eyes, as he grasped her hand, “Pheobe!? Is it really you? You must forgive an old friend for not recognizing you immediately when my last memory of you was that of a mischievous little girl who helped me steal sweets from the kitchen.”

“So you remember me after all,” laughed Pheobe.

“How is your father?” asked Cornelius.

“He is well. And your father?”

“He, too, is in good health, thank the… the Lord. He still keeps up with news in the Senate, despite having retired from being magistrate. How do you come to be here in Palestine?”

“My father is a distant cousin of the Lady Procula, and he thought it would be a good idea for me to learn the basics of managing a household from her. So I accompanied her and her husband here as a companion,” replied Pheobe. “Congratulations on your various victories abroad. I… that is, my father has followed your career as best he could,” she said shyly. “Is Jacob still with you? I remember he had the most wonderful stories about his god,” asked Pheobe.

“Yes, he is still with me, especially now that he has a chance to come back to his homeland after all these years,” answered Cornelius.

Their conversation went on about family and the past. Then they were interrupted by a sudden loud cheering in the main room.

“The entertainment seems to have livened up,” murmured Cornelius. “Shall we go in to watch?”
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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch9 – part 4

SALOME’S DANCE – Machaerus, PereaCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius rushed back up two levels and when he reached the gate yard, he took his place by Tribune Arturos. He saw that Herod Antipas and his court waiting somewhat impatiently at the top of the stairs before the large palace doors. Then the trumpets on the gate towers blared out again just as the governor rode in on a majestic white steed in full regalia. Cornelius noted that instead of wearing the traditional helmet with its golden feathered plumes, Pontus Pilate wore golden laurels like that of the Greeks. He suspects that this was meant to remind Herod of who were the conquerors. And by the look of Herod’s face, he got the message. But he quickly put a smile on his face and went down the steps as Pontus Pilate was dismounting.

“Hail, Pontus Pilate! You honor my house.”

“Hail, Tetrarch! It is I who is honored by your invitation to this celebration of your birth. Ah, here is my wife.” Pilate walked over to one of the covered carriages that followed the entourage in. A servant opened the door revealing a tall woman elegantly waiting for Pilate to help her down. “My wife, Procula,” he introduced as he helped her down.

The pleasantries continued as Herod lead them up to where the rest of his court awaited. But Cornelius paid no more attention to them for his gaze fell upon a young woman who alighted from the carriage just after the governor’s wife. Her hair was auburn which flowed down to her shoulders. Her face was elfin with deep brown eyes and rosy cheeks. She briefly gazed his way and ever so slightly awarded him with a knowing smile. He felt that he should know her but could not recall where or when. As the whole entourage entered the palace, Arturos had to nudge Cornelius to follow him in.

They entered through the palace doors following the entourage through the grand foyer into the great hall where the rest of Herod’s guests awaited them. Cornelius noted that except for some of Herod’s court, there were few Jews among the guests. Herod led Pilate and his wife to the head table. Cornelius and Arturos moved to one of the open porticoes that led to a balcony overlooking the city. After they were served drinks, Cornelius told him his plan to approach Pilate to request for the Baptist’s release.

“Now, that is interesting,” mused Arturos, “for the Lady Procula had also shown interest in his release. She, like yourself, is very much interested in the mysticism of the Jewish religion. As I heard, the governor general was not too pleased on her request to have him seek a favor of the Tetrarch. It may not be a wise thing to ask him of this at this time.”

“Tribune, I have to try.”

Arturos sighed dramatically, “How is it that I knew you were going to insist? I hope you can provide the governor with a legitimate and profitable reason to ask for this boon.”

“Well, I was going to convince him that the release of the Baptist would greatly benefit the governor’s standing to the populace. Also because I have developed a rapport with the Baptist, he would be a valuable intelligence asset to a tight group of Jewish fanatics who habituate the Dead Sea wilderness region. They are the ones that call themselves the Essenes. These religious fanatics has a clear mandate that when the right spiritual leader rises, they will be the tinder that light up the brand of all out revolution.”

“We will have to see.”

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