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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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.”


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

It took them two days of hard riding to reach Herod’s fortress city in Perea. From Capernaum they followed the western shore of the great lake until they reached where the Jordan River again flowed south. They forded the river at the headlands just above the swampy delta of the Jordan. They then rode up to top of a ridge plateau and followed a caravan road for another fifteen miles before they made a short night camp over. Just as the morning sky started to pale, they broke camp. The caravan road went south skirting the rough ridges of the Perean highlands always looking down the winding Jordan River. The road was busy with slow Jewish traffic on their way to Jerusalem. The road finally descended unto a valley where if you wanted to continue on to Jerusalem, you ride west and ford the Jordan. But their destination is south.

The Tribune halted the unit just before they descended the ridge. From their vantage point, Cornelius can see where the Jordan spilled into what he surmised can only be the sunken salt lake. They say that this salten body of water is way lower than the Mediterranean and that the salt content is so high that a grown man in full armor will float and not sink. East of the elongated salten lake is another series of mountain ranges going all the way down to the Red Sea. Cornelius noted two high mountain peaks. The tallest must be Nebu where God allowed Moses to cast his eyes upon the Promised Land. The other peak must be Pisgah where, according to legend, the angels buried the body of Moses and as of today no one has still been able to find. Their route is to skirt the western sides of those peaks and follow a winding road with the salten lake on their right. They were suppose to ride another fifteen miles until they reach a small walled city below a fortress on a high ridge.

Some hours later, Arturos and Cornelius rode through the gates of Herod’s palace stronghold. The first thing he noticed was that Flavius was there with forty men of their unit standing at attention with their newly shined helmets and armor.

Cornelius handed the reins of his horse to Cestus who also took the Tribune’s. As they greetingly grasped their forearms, Flavius said, “You arrival is most fortuitous. For the governor and his entourage is only forty five minutes away.”

“Good! That gives me some time.” Cornelius turns to Arturos, “Tribune? With your permission, I have to attend to something.”

“Very well, but do not take too long.”

After gaining permission from Herod’s chamberlain, the brought Cornelius down to the dungeons. Upon entering the level where the Baptist is held, he saw that the same two disciples were there. But instead of being wary of him, they greeted him. The prison guard opened the cell door and Cornelius found John as before calmly waiting for him.

“Peace be with you, Cornelius. It is good to see you again.”

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32 AD – The Messiah’s Proof – Sepphoris, Galileefaithful-encounters-cover-w

“Chuza, I am going,” Joanna exasperatedly said.

“Joanna, did you not understand what I said? The king is seeking him. If they find him, they will arrest anyone who is with him. And if they take you, the king will wonder how is it that the wife of his household’s chamberlain is among a man he has been trying to track down since he had served the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter to the Lady Salome?”

“Let’s get this right, Chuza,” she said pointing at him. “He is no king!”

“Yes, yes! I know that. The whole court knows that, but none of us don’t want to end up nailed to a cross, so we bow down to him.”

“Oh, why did you take the post as his chamberlain? We could have been back home in Gath-hepher.”

“Because I did not want to spend the rest of my days pressing cheap wine. I wanted something better for us! Besides, it was your own father that arranged it with the king’s head steward. The king is so rich and he reward those of his household.”

“Yes. And at times, he is like his father, the old king.”

“No, he is just half like him… like that mad king. I was just a lad when the old king ordered the senseless slaughter of all those infants in the Bethlehem District. That was about thirty years ago. I really thought Antipas was not like his father until what happened to the Baptist. But then, he does fear some kind of divine reprisal. After the slaughter of those children, the old Herod suddenly died a very painful death. Antipas is rightly convinced that it was divine retribution. Yet, I think he does not fear the Lord enough. I just don’t know anymore. I’m afraid for you, Joanna.”

“I know you are, my sweet. But I am still going.”

“Joanna, what is it about this carpenter’s son that makes you traipse around the district following him?”

“I have seen such wonders, Chuza. For months, I have followed him visiting one village after another throughout the countryside. Wherever he went, the lame walks, the blind sees, the lepers are cleansed and the possessed are freed. Even my own cousin from Magdala, Mary, was set freed of seven demons that tormented her. But it is not just the miracles. It’s his teachings!. He gave a lesson that he taught a number of times about a wedding feast and ten virgins.

“He started with ‘the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.’ The five who were foolish did not take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight they were roused by the shout that the bridegroom is coming. The bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the five foolish ones’ oil had ran out . They asked the others to share some of their extra oil. The wise ones refused because there were not enough oil for them. So, the foolish ones went off to buy all. Unfortunately for them, while they were off buying oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’ But he called back said, ‘Believe me, I do not know you!’

“Then the rabbi finished his lesson with these words, ‘So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.’ ” [Matthew 25:1-13]

Greeting friends…

I hope you are enjoying the 32nd segment of my ebook, FAITHFUL ENCOUNTERS.

Feel free to leave your comments below. I look forward to read your comments and constructive inputs that will help me direct my creative thoughts.

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Until the next post.

Johann Q.

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City of Tiberius, GalileeCG-book-cover-w

“Ah Centurion, welcome my Roman friends,” he said grandiosely in Latin with both hands raised high.

Cornelius saluted and said formally, “Hail Tetrarch! We bring greetings from Governor Pontus Pilate. He sends his warmest regards.”

“I am sure he did,” he said a little too sweetly. “I have received a dispatch that your unit will be policing my region of Galilee. I am so gratified to hear this. This region is crawling with Zealots determined to uproot my good relations with Rome and my good friend Caesar Tiberius. They are ever a thorn at my side. Why, just last week, they attempted to despoil the statue I erected of our beloved emperor. My own name is besmirched by these wild brigands among my people.”

“May I ask, Tetrarch? Who are these zealots?” asked Cornelius.

“I am sorry to say that I don’t know. I have no specific names to provide.” Cornelius noted some reluctance in his voice. “I have reports of wild religious fanatics rousing the countryside that a king from among them will lead them to freedom. In the jurisdiction of Jerusalem, there is a highwayman, a self-proclaimed man named of Barabbas, said he was a Zealot and had made a reputation of himself by robbing your tax collectors even in daylight and eluding your pursuits. These zealots are everywhere.”

As Herod drone on with his prattle, Cornelius so wanted to meet the prophet before Herod takes him down south. “Ah, Tetrarch?” he asks. “I have heard that you are holding a dissenter here. I have orders to question all insurgents.”

“Oh… How did you… Ah well… He is not an insurgent. He is just a desert teacher. He is harmless.”

“Why is he your prisoner?”

“He is not! He is a guest but under guard… for his protection, of course. He will not reveal anything because he does not know anything.”

“Nevertheless, Tetrarch,” He brings out his baton. “I must see this man!”

“Very well, Centurion, I will arrange a translator.”

“No need, Tetrarch,” Cornelius said in fluid Aramaic.


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City of Tiberius by the Sea of GalileeCG-book-cover-w

Tiberius was somewhat a surprise to Cornelius and his mounted men. As soon as they rode through the northern gate, it was like they entered into a Roman city in Italy. From the gate, they followed the traffic of wagons and a lot of pedestrians on a wide boulevard of cobblestone, lined with tall palm trees and in interval, statues of Greek gods in their divine poses. The city sat on a graded slope from a high rocky mount all the way to the shoreline of the lake. It was lined with a fortified wall with battlements with two main gates, north and south. On the lip of the mount, overlooking the city, is an amphitheater, the size of which can be seen from any part of the city. The population of it is close to eighty thousand people the majority of which… obviously observed by the Centurion… seem to be made up of non-Jews.

“It’s almost like home, sir,” commented Cestus who rode next to him. He and the cavalrymen had grins on their faces and were looking around everywhere.

Asking direction from the city guard, Herod’s palace was about midway down the wide boulevard, then turned left on another avenue which would take them close to the waterfront. Riding in two columns, they entered through the gates into a fairly impressive palace complex. They were greeted by Herod’s chamberlain. Cornelius and Cestus were led to an antechamber to wait on Herod who was having a heated discussion in the next chamber. His discussion were with two other men and a woman whom Cornelius surmised was Herodias, his wife. Originally, he stole her from his brother. The story goes that Herod Antipas divorced his Nabataean wife, the daughter of Aretas IV, king of the desert kingdom adjoining his own, to marry Herodias, formerly the wife of his half brother. The marriage, of course, offended his former father-in-law and alienated many Jewish subjects.

The discussion was loud and agitated, but Herod was probably not worried about the Romans overhearing their conversation because they were talking in the common tongue. However, Cornelius understood what was said for he grew up learning Aramaic. Jacob taught him the languages of the land. Hebrew is the exclusive language of the Jews; Greek is the trade language used among the foreigners; and then Aramaic, the most used language in the entire region.

“Why did you have to bring him with us? “You should have left him at Machaerus,” wailed the woman.

“Herodias, my dear,” Herod spoke melodiously, “He is a prophet like of old. The words that come out of his mouth are the very words of God himself.”

Cornelius picked up on it quickly. His ears were burning.

“Do you not hear what he says about us? …about ME?!” She was screeching.

“He cannot help saying it. He is the mouth of God after all.”

“I do not care! I want him DEAD!”

“NO!” He lifts his voice angrily. After a moment of silence, he goes to her sweetly and said, “I cannot kill him, my dear. He is the very messenger of God. If I had him killed, I’d hate what would happen to you. …to me. My father was a great king, but when he crossed God… he died a terrible death. Do not pout, my love. I promise you… as long as he is locked up, he cannot say another word against us.”

“You do not fool me, Antipas,” she said. “I know you send for him to your private chamber at night. I know you listen to him. You are a fool. He is even more dangerous now. This is not over.” She walked away still angry.

“My king, there is another matter that we must discuss.,” said one of the men with him. “There is another fanatic out there. We thought it was one of the Baptist’s followers but they seem to have dwindled and gone to this new one.”

“Who is he?”

“We don’t know. He seems to move from one place or another preaching. And the people are protecting him.”

“Is he arousing the populace?” He gave Cornelius a quick glance.

Cornelius had to maintain a straight face but his mind was racing. He has to talk to what he hope is a genuine prophet. He also have to investigate this elusive teacher and magician who may potentially move the people to revolt.

“He seem to only limit himself here in Galilee. Also, there are some reports of miraculous healings but nothing substantiating.”

“Really?! I must know more.” Herod glanced toward the Roman. “Are we set to leave for Perea tomorrow.”

“Yes, your majesty.”

“Make sure the Baptist travels with my caravan. Now, leave me while I meet with our guests.”

The two men bowed and left, while Herod gestured for Cornelius and Cestus to join him.


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Johann Q