THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch1 – part 4

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Tyre

“Tyre ahead”, a shout came from above.

Cornelius scanned the distant horizon. The city was still some distance away and he could not distinguished any visible structures yet. But there were signs of commerce coming and going. The sea lanes were busy with boats of all types and from different countries. He recognized Phoenician merchant ships with their colorful sails. Their deep water brigs have been known to navigate the whole of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Some have even ventured to the cold shores of Britannia. He watched a pair of Egyptian boats going north probably plying their wares to the coastal cities of Asia Minor. A small Greek coaster following the Egyptians sped away to avoid getting closer to the Roman fleet. He surmised that it was one of those Aegean pirates that frequently preyed on unsuspecting merchantmen. A fishing fleet of Arabian Dhows of different sizes were racing home bringing their catch for market.

Then Cornelius heard running bare feet coming behind him. He didn’t need to turn around to see who it was. It was Trax. A boy in his early teens came to the railings next to him in excitement. He was pointing, clapping and waving to passing boats. In his excitement, he made no vocal sounds at all. He was a mute. He could hear and he does have a tongue, but he can only make clicking and mouth sounds. No words come out. Most of society would label Trax as a simpleton. However, Cornelius sees a lot more in this boy. So much so, that he developed a close affection for the lad that he made him part of his household. But from society’s point of view, Trax is still a slave. That was what he was when Cornelius purchased him.

Some years back, in a battle skirmish, Cornelius found himself fighting a very burly Trajan mercenary who was so intent on cleaving his head in half with his battle ax. He would have succeeded if it were not for a sprightly young slave boy – a muleskinner – who tackled the mercenary from behind. And when the mercenary turned to strike, instead of running away, the boy faced him crouched in a fighting stance with only a skinner’s knife in his hand. The mercenary was so enraged and distracted that he did not see Cornelius throw a deadly javelin that killed him. Cornelius had no idea why the boy, Trax, who was so named by his master – the head mule driver – risked his life to save him. Trax’s master wanted to beat him for abandoning the mule train which had scattered. But Cornelius intervened and gave the mule driver a bag of silver without counting it and Trax belonged to him. Cornelius kept him as a personal servant but he wore no slave collar.

“There you are, boy!” Jacob came puffing and huffing, “no sooner than I turn around to pack our things, you disappeared on me.”

Trax starts pointing towards the city and starts clapping his hands.

“The lad is just excited,” smiled Cornelius.

“Ah… The ancient city of the Sidonians, Tyre.” Looking slyly at Cornelius, he asks, “In the book of Kings, what Queen came from that city and brought havoc to the northern kingdom of Israel?”

“I knew you were going to asked that,” He responded with a knowing smile. “It was Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians. King Ahab married her during the time of the Prophet Elijah and brought her to the city of Jezreel when the kingdom Israel was already divided into two nations. It was she who brought the worship of Baal into the North Kingdom. This eventually lead to the one God allowing the kingdom to be conquered by the Assyrians and exiled.”

“Excellent!” Jacob said proudly “You are truly my prized student. Your brother and sisters may have enjoyed the stories of my people but it was only you that was inquisitive… always asking questions. Good questions. I remembered when I approached your father for permission to teach you the Scriptures. I was hesitant and feeling some trepidation that your father might upright and sell me.”

“I remembered. Father came to me that night and asked me if I wanted to taught by you. I said yes. Then he just looked at me for a longtime without a word spoken. Then he nodded his head and whispered into my ear saying, ‘Don’t let the old goat turn you into a Jew!’

Jacob started to chuckle. “Your father is a brave and wise man and he loved you enough to allow you to explore new things. Did I not tell you one time that you were the reason why I became a bond servant to your father for life? When your father as magistrate saved me from the debtor’s prison, I was to work off my debts to your father for seven years and then I would be free.” Jacob’s eyes was tearing as he placed his hand on Cornelius shoulder. “But then your education was progressing wonderfully. I had no sons of my own… Well, I went to your father and by the traditions of my people I chose bond servant hood. Now, I am your bond servant since your father signed me over to you.”

“Look, Jacob,” Cornelius gestured to the land. “Your homeland at last.”

“Aye,” sighed Jacob “It’s been about 30 years since I left my family for Greece. Herod was still king of all Judea, Perea, Galilee and Samaria. It was what he did that I chose to leave Judea.”

“For all the years that I have known you, you have yet to tell me why you left.” Cornelius saw that Jacob was staring out with a blank stare. “Jacob!”

“Ah!? … Ahem… Oh yes… Well, I shall tell you one day… I promise. Come Trax,” Jacob turned to walk back below. “We must prepare to disembark.”

 

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The story continues on in my next post a week from now.

If you are interested in reading the entire ebook, you can find my ebook in Amazon.com for only $1.99. Just click the link below.

Thank you

Johann Q

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch1 – part 3

 

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Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Palestine

The fleet sailed a southerly course hugging the coastline on their left for better half of a day. Cornelius returned to the bow and watched the sparse land slowly passing by. The land revealed mostly high sandy dunes going down to the water. There were also clusters of short gnarly trees breaking the monotony of sand and rocks.

Cornelius heard heavy steps approach behind him. “The master of the ship says that we have another hour or so before we spot our destination.” The one who spoke was another Centurion.

“How are the men, Flavius?”

“Only two or three are still wrenching from the rough seas we went through yesterday. Most of the men are fairing well but everyone are eager to reach land after three weeks in this bucket.”

“Get the men ready.”

“Yes, sir.”

Cornelius cast his eyes out at the passing barren coast again then lost himself in thought. He was always deep in thought contemplating on the things of life. Even as a child, he would often go off by himself to just think instead of playing. Lately, he had been wrestling with questions of meaning. The search for meaning started when Cornelius was a survivor of his Roman unit that was almost slaughtered by barbarians in the mountains of Spain.

He was an officer under a commander who had no military experience and only attained his office because of his family’s wealth. He was leading about 150 men in search of a brigand tribe that have been harassing Roman villages in Spain. The commander had heard that the marauders eluded him into a canyon. Elated, he ordered his whole unit to quickly march in after them. Cornelius pleaded with him to send in scouting parties first but the commander wanted a surprise attack and a quick victory. But it ended up being a disastrous trap. More than two thirds of the unit were slaughtered including the inept commander. Cornelius then rallied the survivors and fought their way back out of the canyon. He lead them to a nearby mountain lake where a small rocky knoll jutted out on a finger of land onto the water. He saw that the knoll can be defended because there was only one narrow entrance with water and rocky shelf on both sides. But out of the forty men left, only fifteen were still able to bear arms. The rest were wounded with only a few who can shoot arrows. So, he ordered the wounded to the top of the knoll. Cornelius and the remaining men barricaded the narrow track with a couple of big drift wood trunks and some boulders that were easy to roll. They used the extra shields of the wounded and embedded them in a line to form a crude shield wall. By the time of the first attack, they were ready. The barbarians rushed the narrow track but only six to seven can hit the improvised shield wall at a time. Some tried to attack through the water but were hindered by mud and deadly arrow shots. For two days the attacks were repelled and dead bodies were so piled up high that the attackers had to climb over their dead comrades to get to the defenders who fought back ferociously. But Cornelius and the remaining ten soldiers that were still able were exhausted. When he saw the barbarians form again, he knew they were all as good as dead. But no attack came, instead the leader came to shouting distance and called to Cornelius. The leader spoke. Though Cornelius could not understand the language, the intent of the leader was clear when he saluted Cornelius with his weapon. Then he and his marauders disappeared into the dense forest. When reinforcement finally arrived, Cornelius moved among the dead barbarians and his men. He looked at their calm but dead faces and saw that there were no real differences between his men and theirs. So, he asked himself why? Why do men have to die like this? Why did this have to happen? All sorts of why questions raced through his mind but one kept coming back to him even unto this day, ‘why am I still alive?’

When he returned to his home in Italy after four more years in Spain, he confided with his tutor and mentor, Jacob.

“You are not alone in your search,” Jacob said. “I am afraid the gods of Rome will provide you with no answers that will satisfy your desire for the kind of enlightenment you seek.” Cornelius saw a twinkle in his old teacher’s eye and knew what was coming next. “However, the One true God may provide you the answer.”

Cornelius, of course, had decided to study more what the Scriptures had to say.

“Since you were a boy, you have studied and even mastered the books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Ruth and the collected histories of the Kings of Israel. The love of history was always your strongest suit. Of course, keeping you awake in the study of the Psalms and the books of Wisdom was always trying. I have to admit that as a boy, I too struggled with the songs, but I persevered and gained a closeness with my God especially when I sing the songs in prayer. You should try it. However, I know you are more into the intellectual and not much into the spiritual. But it is in the spiritual that you’ll gain your answers. The writings of the Prophets is where you and I must venture.”

“You?” Cornelius asked quizzically.

“Of course, my boy,” Jacob said delightedly. “Besides, it had been ages that I closely studied the Prophets. We can journey together.”

“Tyre ahead”, a shout came from above.

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The story continues in my next post a week from now.

If you are interested in reading the entire ebook, you can find my ebook in Amazon.com for only $1.99. Just click the link below.

Thank you

Johann Q

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch1 – part 2

Chapter 1 – Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Palestine

“My inquiries have come back from the Senate,” he spoke in a conspirator voice. “The governor general position of Syria and Palestine had been given to Pontus Pilate.”

“I don’t know him,” Cornelius said.

“I met him once in Rome. He is a career politician who is also trying to impress Tiberius and the Senate. The talk is that with the volatility of that region… with its increasing insurgent problems and foreign intervergence, the eastern trade supply had been steadily strangled. For Pilate, this governorship may be a career maker or breaker. He is taking a real risk.”

“Father, what have you heard about my sudden promotion? I don’t think I am senior enough in the roster to merit the Primus Pilus position.”

“All I know is that a General Gaius had put in the request. I remember meeting him many many years ago. He was a Tribune then but quite popular among the public masses because he also rose through the ranks.”

“General Gaius is in command of my division. I don’t remember ever meeting him in Spain nor in Rome,” Cornelius sat down on a marble bench. “So, why would he petition for my promotion especially a rank usually reserved for men in their fifties.”

“Ah remember… this rank is also awarded to those who have special skills. I believe you have been chosen for a task that is unique only to you. This assignment may advance you or break you. Be wary.”

“Be wary,” Cornelius repeated to himself as he stared from the bow of the ship blankly looking out into a foggy sea.

 

“The wind!” A voice shouted from the stern which brought Cornelius out of his deep thoughts to the present. He looks around as several commands were shouted unseen from the stern and he watched the sailors run to their stations; a number of them climbed the rigging like monkeys. Then they would precariously crawl out to the ends of the yard arm with both ends extending out about thirty feet from the center. The massive sail unfurled which slowly expanded and fluttered in the wind. Things became clearer as the fog swirled away and steadily dissipated. Cornelius could now just make the other ships in the fleet. The galley started to roll on increasing swells. Another unseen command was given and sailors as well as loitering legionaries from his own command were mustered roughly into two line on opposite sides of the ship. One line faced the stern with each man grasping a thick rope. The other line was facing the bow also grasping a rope.

The command was given. “Heave!”

The two lines started to move in the respective direction with every hand pulling and grunting. Cornelius looked up as the yard arm ponderously pivoted to the port side in a more or less 45 degree angle allowing the fluttering sail to suddenly balloon as it caught the wind. Another command was given and the ropes were secured. Cornelius felt his balance shift as the ship picked up speed. The other sail smaller than the first was also set until it too billowed into the wind.

Cornelius turned again and looked out into a hazy horizon. He knew there is land there and sure enough a voice from above, a look-out on the crow’s nest, on top of main mast hailing, “Land ho!”

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The story continues in my next post a week from now.

If you are interested in reading the entire ebook, you can find my ebook in Amazon.com for only $1.99. Just click the link below.

Thank you

Johann Q

 

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch1 – part 1

Chapter 1 – Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Palestine

There was no wind and the fog was thick upon a calm sea. Then from the midst of the fog, a ship emerges like a ghostly apparition. The ship was a Roman galley, a long warship propelled by three rows of oars along the length of its beaten up hull. It had two masts but the sails were furled because of the lack of wind. Protruding from the bow just inches above the waterline is a bronze-sheathed battering ram. The ship was silent except for the usual background sounds made by almost 200 rowers and the vibrating taut ropes that holds the masts up. Then from the stern, a loud horn sounded with two short burst and a long steady blow until it faded down. From a distance another horn blew, then another even farther, several more but fainter. There were other ships out there in the fog communicating their location. As the sun rose higher, the dense fog dissipated and more ships became visible. It was a fleet of twenty ships of varied sizes three of which were of the heavy trireme galley warships.

On the prow of the first galley, stood a man in his late thirties. He was clearly a military man. His armor with its chain-link suit and six intricate molded circlets embedded on his leather-strap vest indicates that he was not a low ranked legionary but an officer. Point of fact, his helmet with its white horse-hair plume arcing left to right says that he is a Centurion of senior standing which elevates him to be in command of three cohorts which makes up of 900 men. In the Roman Legion, a regular Centurion whose helmet would have either a red horse-hair plume or red feathers would only command of about 100 men. To this soldier, it also means his elevated rank points to a special assignment. And it is to this special assignment that he was focused on, deep in thought… in the past.

It was 2 months ago, in the garden of his father’s estate some 30 miles south of Rome overlooking the sea, that a modest ceremony is being held for him.

“It has been bequeath to Centurion Cornelius Metellus the advance rank of Primus Pilus for his successful and long service with the 9th Legion who vanquished the Basque marauders in northern Spain,” his father read the scroll with his chest puffed up high in pride. “No father can be so proud.” He held up the scroll again and sighed.

As the family and relatives retreated back into the coolness of the house, his father led Cornelius to a corner of the pavilion next to a babbling fountain.

“Well, my son, you have gotten your wish after all.” Cornelius’ father said quietly. “Palestine!” He said regretfully.

“Originally, father, it is called Judea. Palestine which means the land of the Philistines was the name originally given by the early Roman conquerors to mock the Judeans some forty years ago.”

“You sound like Jacob your ol’ tutor,” his father chuckled quietly. “Speaking of which…” His father then turns towards a large column engulfed with clinging vines. “You can come out now, Jacob, from behind that pillar where I know you were hiding.”

A short gray-haired bearded man dressed in a long brown homespun tunic gingerly stepped away from the ivy covered pillar and slowly approached them then bowed before them. “Forgive me, master, but I felt that I should be close by…”

“Yes, yes Jacob,” his father said, laughing out loud. “I was about to tell him.”

“Cornelius? It was strongly suggested to me…”, he gestured to Jacob whose head is still bowed on the ground. “…that you must not journey to the most eastern edge of our vast empire lacking knowledge of what you’ll need to be successful in your venture there. Your esteem teacher of many years felt that since he is a Jew after all that you would need his vast…,” he gestured with hands spread far apart rolling his eyes up. “…wisdom.”

“Frankly, Cornelius, If I were you…”, winking at him. “I wouldn’t take him at all!”

“Oh Master!” Jumps up on his feet.

His father laughed out teasingly, “It’s true. When I first rescued you from the debtor’s prison in Athens some 30 odd years ago, even after I paid for your debts, you had the audacity to ask if I would also purchase back all your books as well. You were not a very good slave. To this day, I still wonder if I invested wrong.”

Jacob’s face had that dramatic expression of dejection. Of course, Cornelius heard this same story repeated so many times.

“It was your good fortune that you were classically trained in Greek. For if it were not so, I would never have kept you and trusted you to the education of all my children.”

Cornelius remembered too well how Jacob would teach them Greek history, literature and the language itself, but he would also regaled them with fantastic stories of his people and their relationship with their one God. Though his siblings were entertained by his stories, it was Cornelius who wanted to learn more. So, after gaining his father’s permission, Jacob started to teach him first Hebrew so that he can delve into very same books that his father had purchased back from the debtors. The books were actually a cherished and revered collection of holy script of the Israelites that dated back thousands of years. These Scriptures were usually restricted to the priesthood. When Cornelius asked him, how was it that Jacob had a copy for himself. Jacob told him that the he was once a scribe, a member of the priesthood charged with the copying of the Scriptures. Since there was no more Synagogue in Athens back then, he kept them.

His father placed his hand on Jacob’s frail shoulder. “I will truly miss you around here.” He then turns to his son. “Cornelius. The paperwork is complete. Jacob, as requested, is now legally your bond servant.”

“Father… thank you”, Cornelius was not altogether surprised. He and Jacob often spoke of it. When Cornelius found out about 2 Legions being formed to bolster the already exhausted and dwindled 12th Legion at the region of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. He put in his papers to join them. Jacob, on the other hand, wheedled and cajoled his father to accompany him back to his homeland.

“Come now, Jacob. Leave us alone for awhile. We have much to discuss.”

Jacob smiled and bowed. Then he shuffled back to the house.

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Author’s Note:

Every week, I will post short segments of my ebook, The Centurion’s Gospel, in sequel. If you are interested in reading the entire ebook, you can find my ebook in Amazon.com for only $1.99. Just click the link below.

Thank you

Johann Q