THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch5 – part 1

A MOTHER’S TALE – Nazareth, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius had again seen the zealot a number of times at the synagogue mostly during the Sabbath worship. He had assigned Nacob to track his movements. Nacob had established his cover very well. Within the city, he is a smelly street beggar. Out in the countryside, he poses as an Arab shepherd. He had successfully followed the Zealot to a villa belonging to a rich merchant from Jerusalem. Though, this Simon is from Cana, a town west from here, up into the Galilean highlands, he frequently visits this villa. Nacob had also reported that this villa is frequently visited by numerous well-to-do young men some of which had recently arrived from Jerusalem. This interested Cornelius greatly. He had suspected that many of those in the Zealot faction came from there. He had arranged for them to be discreetly followed back to Jerusalem. At the same time, establish his network of spies there.

Meanwhile, his real interest is in the whereabouts of Jesus of Nazareth. He has not been in Capernaum since Cornelius acquired his house. When he heard that a tax official called Levi and six other soldiers were going to Nazareth to collect the taxes, he went with them in the hopes that this Jesus would be there. He brought Jacob along to ride with Levi in the wagon.

Nazareth is located in the heart of a valley surrounded by the highlands. It is a small farming village situated on the foot of a hill near what is known as the old King’s road which was built by an ancient Babylonian king.

When they got there, Jesus and his followers were not there. But he did find out that Jesus stirred up the men in the local Synagogue. He heard that they wanted to cast him off a cliff on the hill. Cornelius wondered what he would have said that stirred them like that. Jacob, after speaking with the synagogue leader, told him that Jesus was invited to read from the Scriptures.

“He read from the scroll of Isaiah.”

Cornelius was curiously interested.

“The passage he read went like this, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’ What stirred the men was what he said after. He said, ‘Today, this has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ ” [Luke 4:18-21 NASB]

“Is he declaring himself openly, Jacob.”

“Yes, I believe he is… and it is incredible.”

“You said that he has family here. Let us find out where his house is.”

Jacob got directions from the rabbi. The house that they sought was at the bottom of the hill near the southern edge. It was not hard to find the house. Since they knew that Jesus was a carpenter, they followed the sound of sawing and hammering. At first, Cornelius thought the bearded man sawing on a large plank of wood was Jesus, but it turned out to be his brother, James. Two other brothers were working on some furniture just inside their workshop and a young woman, a sister maybe, was meticulously picking pebbles out of a basket filled with grain. It was she who saw Cornelius and Jacob approaching and then called the attention of the working men. They stopped their work. James put down his saw and walked over to them at the gate.

“Shalom,” Jacob greeted.

“Shalom,” James greeted back with a slight nod. “How may we be of service, masters?”

“Is this the house of Joseph the carpenter?” asked Cornelius offhandedly.

“This is the house of Joseph, but he has long been dead for some years. My brothers and myself run the business now.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch4 – part 6

SPYING IN A TREE – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

That night, wearing nondescript clothing, Cornelius and Cestus went back into the city. Cornelius recalled that Elan’s house was located near the western edge of the Jewish sector of the city. As soon as they reached the Jewish sector, they became even more careful traversing the almost empty streets and alleys. As much as possible they walked within the dark shadows. It took them forty minutes when they finally reached the house. The house was in a corner of a block of houses. From the shadows across the street, they quietly watched a few men entering through the gate leaving two guards outside. Cornelius and Cestus went back down the alley they were on, careful to stay always in the shadows. They had to circle three blocks before they finally arrived at the back side of Elan’s house. Fortunately, it was not guarded. Cestus tiptoed to the corner and took a peak at the guards who were content to stay by the gate. The wall was about the height of two tall men, but Cornelius saw that a big branch of a tree from inside the courtyard broke through the wall a quarter of a way down from the top. Cornelius motioned Cestus to give him a lift up so he can stand on his shoulders which was just good enough for him to get a hand hold on the thick branch. He pulled himself up into the tree and got his first view of the courtyard. Through the branches of the tree, he could just make out about forty or so men gathered around a blazing fire in the middle of the courtyard. They seem to be finishing up a meal that would be traditionally served before they conducted this meeting. Knowing that all these men would lose their night vision because of the fire, Cornelius confidently climbed down to the lower branches so he would be able to listen to the meeting.

The meeting started with the old rabbi from this afternoon offering a prayer, then Elan stepped forward to speak about some synagogue business. The older men were content to listen to all that Elan was reading. But Cornelius noticed a group of ten young men grumbling among themselves.

“Elan! Stop with this babble!” Stood one of the young men. “We are here to demand why you allowed this foreigner… This Roman oppressor into our holy place.”

The old rabbi stood up and calmly said, “Simon, son of Nissim of Cana. Have you forgotten about Antonitus, a proselyte from Greece who joined us last year? This man Cornelius is no different.” Many of the old men were nodding.

“But this one is a Roman!”

Another older man stood up. Cornelius recognized him as Jacob’s cousin. “This man is different. He is well versed in the Torah as well as the prophets. He had learned this under the tutelage of my cousin, Jacob, who has returned from a distant land. And he has a love for our people. It was he that rebuilt the synagogue in Bethsaida after it was torn down by the soldiers. And he was punished for it. I was there! I saw this!”

Another man stood up and joined in, “Let us not forget that he has shown generosity among us as well.” More of the older men also gave their support. Cornelius could not help feeling a little touched, but he also felt guilt. The young men including Simon of Cana started to argue with the older men. It was not long that they started to cast insults as well. Then Elan raised his voice.

“Enough! This matter had been settled by the council. This man is welcomed in our community as is written in laws of our father.” Then he pointed at the group of young men. “I know your ways, Zealots! You will in no way harm him.”

Grumbling among themselves, the men made their way out to leave. Cornelius quickly climbed back up the tree till he came to the wall. He had to wait a moment for his night sight to return. Then he saw Cestus coming out of the shadows, cross the narrow street to the wall and helped Cornelius down. They both rushed to the corner in time to see the group of young men walking their way. The group paused and called out, “Who’s there?”

They quickly retreated back into the narrow street and ran. Hearing running footsteps behind them, Cornelius could just make out the glow of torches behind him. Fortunately, they already traversed this part of the city and were confident they would not be cornered. After running down several streets and always in the shadows, he finally motioned a halt.

“How far back do you think they are?” Cornelius asked.

“Not too far.” Cestus back tracked a little ways and peered down a street that they turned left from. When he came back, he said, “I can hear some dogs barking about two blocks down but I saw no lights.”

“Very well,” commented Cornelius. “Let us go home.”

Cornelius was hoping to follow the zealots back to their lair. But he was satisfied that he has a name to go with a face. Simon the Zealot.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch4 – part 5

SPYING IN A TREE – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

The winter was mild and spring came early in the Galilean hillsides. Capernaum was again busy with commerce. Five large caravans arrived laden with spices and other exotic food stuff from Persia, India and even from the fabled lands of the Far East. The fishermen were out on the lake in force taking advantage of the calm waters and had returned with a rich bounty. Though there was still a chill in the air, the market square was busy with merchants. Cornelius and Porcius went from one stall to the other haggling with the merchants; though Porcius did most of the haggling. When they neared the Jewish sector of the city, Cornelius separated from Porcius and headed down a side alley toward where he knew where the synagogue was located. Though Cornelius was dressed like the locals, he could not hide that he was a foreigner. This fact was not lost on him as he passed some people who were obviously wary of him. But yet, many knew him. During the winter months, Jacob had petitioned the head of the synagogue to allow Cornelius to enter as a proselyte. At first, the synagogue leader and members of the council were doubtful because Cornelius is a Roman soldier. But when they were eventually told of his demotion and the reason, they relented and allowed him access. Many were surprised to find that Cornelius was well versed in the books of Moses and the prophets. This and occasional contributions to the synagogue’s coffers helped ease the tension considerably.

As he turned a corner, he saw Jacob talking to one of the rabbi. So, he held his position, not wanting to intrude, but Jacob beckoned him to approach. When he came close, he bowed to the rabbi and offered the traditional greeting. The rabbi returned the greeting and then whispered something in Jacob’s ear. Then he went into the synagogue. Cornelius sensed something wrong.

“Why are we not entering?” He asked.

“A number of young men arrived from Jerusalem. They are questioning your admission into the synagogue because you are Roman!” Jacob answered angrily. “They are zealots! …fanatics! They hate everything that is foreign, especially the Romans! I am afraid that we will not be able to join the brethren this evening. But the rabbi and the council will meet with a few of these young noblemen tonight at the house of Elan, the synagogue leader, on your behalf.”

Jacob continued on another subject but Cornelius had not heard what he was talking about. His mind was on the fact that zealots can be found in the synagogue leader’s house tonight. He debated in his mind if a squad of legionnaires should surround the house and set a trap for them. But he threw that idea out. He needed information. He needed names! A plan was forming in his mind.

“Cornelius?” He shook himself back to awareness and looked at a concerned Jacob. “You were not listening. Are you disappointed?”

Shaking his head, he said, “It is of no consequence.” Not wanting to explain further, he asks, “Where is Trax?”

“The boy is sick again. I told him to stay in bed.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch4 – part 3

SPYING IN A TREE – Capernaum, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius was awakened by the baying of many of sheep under his window. Upon opening the window, he received a gust of chilled air. A mild winter had set in and he can just make out flecks of snow on the distant hillsides. Below, the courtyard was wall to wall filled with fleece. Trax was gleefully trying to ride a ram while Cestus was working his way to the house entrance.

“Cestus! What is going on here?”

Cestus looked up helplessly, “Sir, Kepto, the Arab merchant, delivered two flocks of sheep.”

“I can see that! He was instructed to deliver them to the fort tomorrow!” All Cestus could do was shrug but then was knock down by the bucking ram with Trax holding on tight. Trying not to laugh, Cornelius ordered, “Have Porcius report to me in an hour!”

An hour and half later, Cornelius was going over his intelligence report when Porcius entered without knocking. Porcius was portly and bald. Though he also held the rank of centurion, he was no soldier. His job was to supply the eight Roman forts of this region. When Cornelius arrived two weeks earlier, he kept Porcius and his twelve men on to continue to do what they were doing. With Jacob and Trax, he also brought Cestus and five others.

“You are late again, Porcius!”

“Well, you had to get the farthest house on the outskirts of Capernaum. I’m not as young and fit as I used to be when I first came out here eight years ago.”

“What are these sheep doing in my place?”

“Ah, yes! Kepto’s shepherds are Jews! They arrived a day earlier and would not be able to move the sheep until after this ridiculous Sabbath ritual. And since you have this nice large courtyard, I figured that many of the sheep will survive the evening.”

“Very well. Ask me the next time.”

“As you wish.”

“Now, the Governor General will be going to Jerusalem this early spring. That is about two months from now. Tribune Atesca will be sending his wagons prior to the Governor’s travel. He has sent a list of his provisions.” He handed him the list.

“Ah,” Porcius shook his head in disgust, “Does he not know that it is winter here too? He wants to take our stored grain that was supposed to last until harvest. Our men at the forts will have meager meals, I’m afraid.”

“And I am sure your pockets will be as light, as well?”

“Ah, yes! There is that too!” he chuckled as he exited.

Cornelius set the reports to the side and went up to his upper room. On a table stacked with scrolls and books, he had the Isaiah manuscript opened. His eyes locked on the same particular passage which he kept rereading.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the Lord Almighty will guarantee this! [Isaiah 9:6 NASB]

Cornelius was not sure how to take in the implication of the Messiah’s title. ‘Mighty God?’ He thought. ‘Everlasting Father?’ This passage is implying that the Messiah and the God of all creation are One!

Cornelius reeled at the thought of this and yet he can accept this concept. After all, the kings of Egypt and even Caesar himself were considered gods. There were tales of Greek gods, though I do not really believe in their existence, were known to walk the earth as men. But then, he recalled when he first saw Jesus of Nazareth, it was inconceivable that this simple looking man can be the God of eternity. However, there are still those stories of the sick being healed when he touches them or men able to see again after being blind for years. There was even one story that he changed water into wine. The skeptic in him told him that he has not witnessed to any of that. He needs to watch this man closer but he was not seen in Capernaum at all since he moved here.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch3 – part 4

THE PLAN – Roman Fort 2 miles east of Bethsaida
                     – Sea of Galilee shoreline, BethsaidaCG-book-cover-w

“But because he is from Nazareth, you do not believe that this young rabbi is him.”

“Well, I’m not so sure. I have been hearing incredible stories of him transforming water into wine, healing of a demon possessed woman, and of a boy who was lame but can now walk. Then, my brother told me of a commotion he caused in the Temple last Passover.” Jacob chuckled and said, “Apparently, he was not very pleased with the corrupt practices of the money changers of the Temple.”

“Money changers?”

“Oh, of course, you don’t know of their scrupulous practices of cheating Temple worshipers who come to purchase animals for sacrifice but find out that their money have to be exchanged for Temple coinage. Added to the exchange rates and the cost of the sacrificial animals is the questionable Temple taxes. So, my brother said that this Jesus came and turned over their tables almost causing a riot. But it is what he said is what caught my attention. He said, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. Take these things away. Stop making My Father’s house into a den of thieves.’ He spoke with such authority and zeal, I had to wonder. So, it is clear to me that you and I need to get closer to him. Fortunately for us, the young rabbi will be at Bethsaida tomorrow morning.”
Early the next day, Cestus knocks on Cornelius’ door. He was dressed like a local.

“Sir? Do we take horses?” he asked.

“No. We’ll walk.” Cornelius said. He too was dressed in nondescript clothing. “How about Trax?”

“No problem, sir. I’ve got him on stable duty. That should keep him busy until we return. Jacob is down below waiting.”

“Cestus, make sure you cover your face when we get there. Your clean shaven face is a dead give away. You’ll have to grow your beard. I’m thinking we’ll be doing more of these excursions.”

“Ay sir,” Cestus said as he left the room. Cornelius heard him mumbling as he walked the hallway to the stairs. “But them things will just make my chin itch for weeks.”

As the three of them left the fort, Cornelius decided not to go down the road but instead followed a goat track that led to the lake. When they reached the shoreline, they saw a lot of people on the beach heading for the fishing village part of Bethsaida. They discretely tagged along with a family group with children. It was not long until they approached the crude shacks of the fishing folk about a mile or so outside Bethsaida’s walls. They were built in loose clusters about a hundred feet from the lake shoreline. There was one solid structure built right on the waterline. Jacob said that was where the fish mongers would inspect the fisherman’s catch and deals are made. A fair size crowd had already gathered in and around the building. Nearby, four long boats were beached and the fishermen busy doing a variety of chores.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch3 – part 2

THE PLAN – Roman Fort 2 miles east of BethsaidaCG-book-cover-w

For the next three weeks, Cornelius and Jacob poured over the Scriptures. As agreed upon, Cornelius would breakdown the scroll of Isaiah into chapters and sub-sections as he meticulously read through it. When he identified a section of the Isaiah scroll as a chapter, he would carefully tag the margins of the Isaiah scroll by pasting a small piece of parchment paper written with the sequential chapter number. Then, with the help of Jacob, he’d write in the codex the chapter number with the appropriate chapter title and any commentary notes. He especially noted any scriptures that identified any messianic references. So far, they both collated thirteen chapters with more than three quarters of the large scroll to go.

Meanwhile, through the information that Jacob gleaned from family and friends, he found out about a young rabbi roaming the Galilee district, preaching in the villages and gaining popularity. Cornelius asked him to find out more about him and see if he was the one that he overheard Herod talking about. Jacob left two days ago to interview someone in the nearby city of Capernaum about a strange story he heard that is related to this wandering rabbi.

As to his special assignment, he is finding it difficult to organizing a network of local spies while he is based at the fort. He was hoping for friendlier relations with the local Jews since he provided funds to rebuild their demolished synagogue. But because he resided in the fort, no Jew, with the exception of Jacob, will ever step on what they consider is unclean soil. Cestus, on the other hand, who always manage to anticipate his needs, brought to him, two Legionaries who can pass as locals. One of them, Nacob, was of Syrian descent. His brown skin, short stature and short beard made him look like the Asiatics of this region. The other, Lyca, is Cypran. He can easily pass as the many Eastern Europeans trading between the free Greek cities and Galilee. He gave them extensive instructions to reconnoiter the Jewish sector of Capernaum and gather information on the leadership structure. They especially were to report on any leads to any hidden members of the Zealots. At the same time, they are to keep their eyes open for any criminal elements that he can turn into informants. Unfortunately, all they could do was still observe from the outside. Except for business, the Jews are fairly tight knit people. He needs someone inside. He thought of Jacob but knew he would make a bad spy.

Cornelius put down the report he was reading and went up the stairs to top level of his building to get some air. It was late in the afternoon and the clashing sounds around the fort had lessened significantly. As he got onto the third level of his building, he walked over to the western side and leaned onto the railings to casually check out what was happening around the fort. Soldiers were meandering back to their tents after a full day of drills. A group of them wearing just their red tunics and leggings were laughing and joking among themselves as they eagerly walked towards the north gate which would lead them to the camp-followers’ camp who were about half a mile north. He then looks up and beyond the walls and see a few field-workers among a nearby field of wheat. On the road that led to Bethsaida, he noticed an old man walking as fast as he could towards the fort. Though he could not see a face, he knew it was Jacob rushing back with news.
By the time Jacob returned, Cornelius was back at his desk writing his reports for the governor and the general.

“I have news,” his old tutor said tiredly.

“Jacob, sit down and rest.” Cornelius poured him a drink.

“Ah, thank you.” Jacob gulped down the whole glass. “I did walk a long way but anyway, I said I had news about the young rabbi. At first, I did not think he was the Messiah.”

“Why do you say that?”

“His name is Jesus, son of Joseph. He is from… Nazareth!”

“Nazareth? I’m not sure I get you. Where is Nazareth?”

Jacob pulled out the map from under a pile of scrolls and laid it out. He pointed on a spot west of the Sea of Galilee. Cornelius then realized what he meant.

“Ah good, by the way you look, you remember where the Messiah is supposed to be born.”

“Yes… according to the Prophet Micah, the Messiah is supposed to be born in Bethlehem.”

“No, not suppose,” Jacob said quietly. “Now, I know that the Messiah is truly walking amongst us. Some thirty years or so ago, I was a young scribe when from the East came a caravan of Persian magi to the palace of the old Herod. They sought the newly born, King of the Jews. Herod called for my master. I was there when he told them of Micah’s prophecy. Three days later, I heard from the other scribes and priests of the senseless slaughter of all male infants of the Bethlehem and the surrounding district. I was so disillusioned then, that I took an assignment to bring a complete copy set of Scriptures to the Synagogue leader of Athens and left Judea for good. Of course, my faith, at that time, was very low. I thought the Messiah was killed but I should have known that nothing can thwart the will of the Almighty God.”

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

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Johann Q

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch3 – part 1

THE PLAN – Roman Fort 2 miles east of Bethsaida, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

The fort is busy with activity. At the stables, horses were being brushed down, saddles being rubbed down with oil, and horse’s hooves being shod by the troop’s farriers. Outside the walls, squads of troops are being drilled by boisterous optios marching them in full armor and heavy shield. In the fort, every available space is being used by soldiers practicing with swords. Just outside the commander’s quarters, a large group of soldiers were cheering and egging a young lad wearing armor one size larger than him, a padded helmet, a heavy rectangular shield and clumsily wielding a practice sword. Circling opposite him was Cornelius crouched low in just a sweaty red tunic, round shield and practice sword.

“Now, Trax. Keep your shield facing him. Tuck your sword arm in more. Do not let your sword slacken. Always be ready to hit,” instructed Cestus. “Come on boyo, I have 10 coppers on you. Don’t fail me, lad.”

Cornelius raised his sword high as if to strike. As he saw Trax raise his shield to fend it off, Cornelius then used his shield to knock Trax’s heavier shield on the side edge causing Trax to swing around exposing his back. He then used the flat side of his sword to aptly spank his bottom. Trax yelped and the audience broke out in laughter and jeers.

“Oh no, Trax! Don’t over reach yourself and keep your balance always.”

Trax, embarrassed by the laughter, snarled like a cat and went on the offensive and came at Cornelius swinging his sword aggressively. The men cheered as he would not relent his attack forcing him back against the wall. Laughing out loud, Cornelius raised both arms up in surrender shouting out, “I yield… the field is yours!”

The men cheered and gathered around a heaving but smiling Trax, patting his back in congratulation. Cestus was satisfied collecting coins from those who lost the wager. Cornelius came forward smiling.

“Good attack, lad. You came at me like a wild cat.”

“Wild cat!” A number of the men were calling it out with approval.

“He’ll make a good Legionary one day, sir.”

“Not just yet he won’t,” Cestus said as he came up behind Trax. “Our wild cat here still needs work on his sword play. Come on, lad. Let’s go to the practice course.”

Cornelius fondly watched them walk around the corner. Wiping the sweat from his brows, he went up to his quarters. Casting aside his shield and sword, he changed into a fresher tunic and went over to his work table. The table was literally covered with piles of scrolls and sheets of parchment papers. A leather bound codex was open at the end of the table. Cornelius went to it and leafed back a couple of pages and reviewed his notes of yesterday. He glanced at the open scroll of Isaiah which was about a quarter of the way unrolled. He glanced back at the codex he started some two weeks back. That was when Cornelius returned to the fort from his meeting with the Baptist. The first thing he did was sought out Jacob but he was still at the village with Trax. He sent a runner to seek him out. When Jacob finally walked into his quarters after a couple of hours, he found Cornelius already had the scroll of Isaiah opened and a had a blank codex next to it.

“I thought you were coming back tomorrow?”

“I would have but I met someone that might interest you,” Cornelius said. He then told him about his late night encounter with the Baptist. Jacob was flabbergasted. When he was told that the Messiah was already walking the hills of Galilee, his eyes went wide open and he was trembling. It took a while for him to calm down from the shock of the revelation. Cornelius brought him some water.

“Did he give you a name?”

“He called him the Lamb of God!”

“The Lamb of God?” Jacob asked in confusion. “I’m not sure I understand. Why the lamb? But it does sound right somehow. I just can’t put my finger on it. How are we to find him? …recognize him? Who is he? What is his purpose? And what will he ask us to do when we do find him?”

“I asked him those same questions. He told me to seek him out through the book of Isaiah and the other prophets.”

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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