THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch16 – part 7

SPEARS AND SHIELDS – GadaraCG-book-cover-w

Then Cornelius heard his name called from below. It was Jacob clambering up the path to their ledge supported by Cestus who saw him ride in. The old man was frantic when he got to the top of the ledge.

“It is Trax! He is not anywhere in the fort. According to a guard, he saw him marching out with the twelfth auxiliary unit.”

“Sir, the twelfth auxiliary is on the south slope,” said Cestus.

Cornelius quickly scanned the south slope and saw that the defensive units are holding their positions. But the Nubians are gaining ground. Then he saw fresh forces scaling the south slope and he feared that they will eventually be swamped. He quickly went over to Arturos and asked permission to get the reserves up. Arturos knowing the situation told to him to go.

“Cestus, bring up the eighteenth and the twenty first unit to join me at the south slope. Move!”

Telling Jacob to stay on the ledge, he quickly went down to the valley floor and raced to the other side. Trumpets were blaring. Cornelius was quickly joined by Cestus followed by about a hundred or so men up a winding trail that went up to the top of the south ridge. When they got to the ridge they were above the defensive positions. Sure enough the defensive line was breached. The archers had retreat to regroup higher up. The auxiliary units were being pushed back leaving small clusters of soldiers surrounded by enraged black warriors. A group of twenty was bravely making a stand forming a shell fighting off about sixty Nubians.

Cornelius sounded the advance. The re-grouped auxiliary units that fell back joined his advancing line of steel sweeping down toward the original line. The Nubians that broke through were the first to be overwhelmed. Cornelius saw that the surrounded cluster of men was now down to fifteen. They were now desperately beating off the Nubians as they stood with their backs against a rock wall. That was when he saw Trax in the midst of that cluster.

Cornelius took Cestus and twenty others and started to push and fight their way to the beleaguered group. When they were ten yards away, the attacking Nubians started to back away. To his surprise, Trax lead the remainder group and lunged forward to press a counter attack on the retreating Nubians. Hearing encouraging shouts from Cestus and a number of the men who knew the lad, Trax tackled two big Nubians who went to face him. Ducking under a clumsy swing, he drove his javelin into the abdomen of one of them. Then, with his shield deflecting the other warrior’s thrust, he jabbed forward with his short sword and cut a wound on the warrior’s shield arm. The Nubian was wary, thinking that Trax was an easy kill because of his small frame. He did not expect Trax’s determination. As they swung and parried, Trax manage to push him to the edge of a steep drop. The warrior made a desperate lunge which Trax quickly parried. Then he jabbed the bottom edge of his shield and caught the Nubian on the forehead. With a despairing cry, he fell backward unto the jagged rocks below.

Cestus and the other men cheered for the lad while Cornelius looked upon him with pride. The lad stood there bruised and with a slight bandaged cut around his arm breathing heavy. And as the adrenaline drained away, the boy started to shake. Then he bowled over, wrenched and threw up. But it did not matter for the men as they laughed their approval. The lad straightened up with a shameful smile of embarrassment. Then he saw Cornelius and approached like a puppy who knew he did wrong.

“Are you angry with me? Sir?”

Cornelius could not help but laugh out loud and placed his hand on the lad’s shoulder. “Yes lad? I am angry. But I am also proud of you, son! Extremely proud.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch16 – part 6

SPEARS AND SHIELDS – GadaraCG-book-cover-w

The attack started. Cornelius noted that Aretas was committing his Nubian mercenaries and holding back his Arab contingent. The Nubian warriors were known for their ferociousness. He had seen captured warriors fight in the arena. Their attacks are fast and relentless. Even when badly wounded, they would press on. Nubians are lightly armored, preferring leather than bronze. Speed and agility are their advantage. Their shields are light, covered with a thick hide but not good enough to stop an iron tipped arrow. Their primary weapon is a short spear that is really two weapons in one. It is not a throwing spear. It has a ten inch long leaf shaped blade, able to be used like a sword. At the other end of the shaft is a round ball made of solid bone able to crush heads even with helmets on. They also carried two long throwing spears.

Before the Nubians moved forward, they sang a rhythmic eerie song and beat their weapons against their shields. After about twenty minutes, they all shouted in a high pitch scream and surged forward at a dead run. There was no formation. They intend to use their numbers to quickly overwhelm the defenders. When they were about a hundred yards, several whistles sounded, signaling the first line to quickly retreat. At the same time, the archers let loose their deadly rain. Hundreds fell. But Cornelius saw not enough mainly because they only had two hundred archers. It was too bad that they did not have time to set up even one of the three balistras that were still back at the fort. One could launch a thousand arrows a shot.

At twenty yards, the front elements threw their first spears. The legionnaires training and discipline kicked in. The shields of the front line faced forward forming a tight wall while all the lines behind lifted and locked their shields to form an impenetrable shell. Most of the spears bounced off harmlessly, but a few found its mark as Cornelius noted a few screams within the ranks.

The Nubian front lines sped up. Their tactics against the Roman shell were for the first elements to bodily throw themselves to collapse the shield wall in the initial hit allowing the other rushing ranks to swarm through the breach. This was an effective tactic used against the Legions in the past. This day, however, Arturos’ cohorts have a weapon borrowed from the Greeks a suggestion offered by Cornelius during the planning stages some months back. The front howling ranks of Nubians incredibly leaped the dug trench but were surprised to find hundreds of stout twenty foot long spears jutting out through the tightly pact shields. Though a few missed the spears, most were pinioned on them screaming in agony. The shield wall held.

As the next ranks had to contend with jumping into and trying to fight their way out of the ditch, a loud signal was sounded then together the shell opened up and hundreds of deadly javelins were thrown from the cohort’s second to the fifth ranks. From his high vantage point, Cornelius saw the forward momentum pause as the next ranks of hundred of men fell back by the javelin onslaught. It was like a giant scythe swept right through them.

During this respite, another signal was given and the tired first and second ranks retreated to the rear as a fresh new shield wall were formed by the rested third and fourth lines. By then, the whole length of the ditch was filled to the brim with dead and dying of both sides but mostly of theirs. This time, the Nubians came forward slowly in line formation. They had to walk on their dead and dying comrades and hit the shield wall again. Cornelius noted the rear ranks break off left and right to scale the sloped sides. Several times they were repulsed by the archers and the auxiliary units who threw stones and boulders down on them but yet they still came.

Then Cornelius heard his name called from below.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch16 – part 5

SPEARS AND SHIELDS – GadaraCG-book-cover-w

Then the trumpets were sounded. It was the call for assembly. Cornelius jumped out of his seat and Jacob helped him with his armor. As he put on his furred cloak against the cold, he told Jacob to get the boy and stay in their quarters. Cornelius quickly went out of his tent and ran into Flavius. They both rushed to the assembly area.

The legionnaires stood at their respective formation facing a raised wooden platform. Cornelius joined Tribune Arturos as he and two other officers were mounting the platform.

“Legionnaires!” Arturos called all of them to attention. “Our eastern patrol had returned and they reported that the enemy is on the march. They are marching toward us.” The men cheered with enthusiasm. Cornelius knew the men were eager for a fight after four boring months of tedious training and patrols. “We shall meet this force and we shall prevail!” The men cheered even louder.

Arturos went back into his command tent with Cornelius and the other officers in tow. “Gentlemen, our scouts counted over seven thousand men; five thousand of which are the Nubians. We have over fifteen hundred plus three hundred cavalry. We have another five hundred from the city garrison which we will use as reserves. I have sent fast riders to Gerasa which is two hours away by horse. We can expect their cavalry of one thousand to reach us in four. Their infantry will not arrive in time. Aretas will know this. So, he will hit us and try to overwhelm us before reinforcement arrives. If he succeeds, it would not matter if our forces arrive later, because by then he would fortify Gadara.”

Going over to a map stretched out on an easel, it showed a detailed rendering of the terrain east of the Hellenic city of Gadara. Arturos pointed right at some markings that he earlier made. That part of the map showed a long valley flanked by two high ridges.

“We will meet them here at this narrow gap! This valley is the shortest route for them to get to Gadara. They will have no choice but to attack our positions there. We have to hold until reinforcements.”

Two hours later, the two cohorts were in battle formation in the narrowest part of the valley. Rising left and right of the gap were sheer sloped terrain. Though the sloped terrain was not impossible to climb, it would take too long and it would be costly, for Arturos positioned his archers supported by auxiliary units from the city garrison on both slopes. Cornelius saw that the gap between the two slopes was narrow enough for only four hundred men to stand a breast of each other. This was perfect for a defensive position. Though the enemy greatly out numbered them by almost three to one, they can only commit several hundreds at a time. And to add more chaos into the mix, the legionnaires quickly dug up a four foot wide and three foot deep ditch that stretch from one slope to the other. To hide the ditch from the enemy a single line of soldiers will stand before it. The plan was that on the initial attack, the first line will be signaled to withdraw down into the ditch and back up into the main body. Fortunately, they finished the ditch as the enemy came into sight at the other end of the valley.

Arturos and Cornelius were standing on a level ledge half way up the North slope watching Aretas’ army form up in attack formation. They could just make out their counterparts putting up a pavilion on a small ridge behind their units.

“By the gods, Cornelius,” Arturos quietly said nervously. “I have to tell you my mouth is dry and my insides are shaking! I am afraid.”

“I would be even more concerned if you were not.”

Arturos looked at him. “Are you afraid? You do not look it.”

“Of course? Every good soldier would be, even veterans. We just do not show it.”

“Well, Centurion? I am only too glad that you are here with me today.”

The attack started.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch16 – part 4

SPEARS AND SHIELDS – GadaraCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius was relieved that he was finally alone. He hoped that there will be no distractions for the rest of the day. He sat on his chair and opened up the big book. The night before, he completed translating a prophetical discourse of the Messiah’s message of encouragement to Israel. Whether it is to the Israel of today or the next generation is still up in question. The next passages he was reading had the beginnings of a new chapter designation. This chapter piqued his interest for it had a different ring to it than any of the preceding chapters. The Prophet Isaiah seems to be describing on what is to happen to the Messiah and it describes him suffering greatly even unto death.

On a separate parchment sheet, he translated the fifteen Hebrew verses into Greek. After reading it three times, he had to wonder if Isaiah was describing a literal happening or something that was figurative. He hoped it was the latter.

When Jacob returned, he beckoned that he sits next to him. “Jacob, look at these passages!” He slid the big book to him and pointed at the desired passages. “Let me read out loud my translation to you and you follow by reading the Hebrew. Tell me if I have gotten it right.”

“Behold, my servant will prosper;
He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.

“Just as many were astonished at you, My people,
So His appearance was marred more than any man
And His form more than the sons of men.

“Thus He will sprinkle many nations,
Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him;
For what had not been told them they will see,
And what they had not heard they will understand. [Isaiah 52:13-15 NASB]

“Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

“For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

“He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.

“By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?

“His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

“But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

“As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.

“Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.” [Isaiah 53 NASB]

“Cornelius, this is going to be strange to hear,” Jacob quietly said as he lifted his eyes. “But you have come upon a passage that I am strangely unfamiliar with. Though I have read this prophet many times, I do not honestly recall these particular words. Of course, I do tend to mostly focus on prophetic promises. I am ashamed to admit that this selfishness had blinded me to miss out on what should be a profound revelation to my God’s character.”

Jacob went silent. Cornelius could see that he was lost in his thoughts and did not want to intrude. He reached for another sheet of parchment which had his notes of the preceding chapters including many chapters that he jumped ahead right after this one. On his notes, he reviewed the list of the works of the Messiah. It is quite clear that the Messiah will fulfill everything that God had promise to not only to Israel but to the world. But this chapter which describes what happens to the Messiah stands out from the rest. He could not make it fit.

“This chapter is an enigma!” Cornelius said, breaking the silence.

“How so?”

“This indicated that Messiah is to be killed and that God allowed it. How is this futuristic kingdom to be ushered in if the Messiah is killed?”

“There lies the mystery. As a young scribe, I tried to make sense of much of prophecy. The problem is that we are reading of things that are yet to happen. Understanding comes when they are finally fulfilled. Look at what we uncovered so far that convinced us that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. When I first came upon the prophecy of the sign of the virgin birth, I did not think it was literal. Then we hear Mariam’s account of Jesus’ birth. Then there are those things that he had done which again fit. But his story is not yet over. There is only one absolute truth that we can count on. If God says that it is going to happen, then IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN!”

“But why such suffering and then death?”

Before Jacob could answer, multiple whistle sounds can be heard through out the fort. Then the trumpets were sounded.

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch16 – part 3

SPEARS AND SHIELDS – GadaraCG-book-cover-w

The winter was harsh out here in the wilderness east of Gadara. Four cold months had past. The fort was built on top of a table top plateau. The plateau had only one way in; a wide naturally sloped ramp that descended into a valley. The other three sides were sheer drops to the bottom of a deep canyon. This made it an ideal defensive location for the Romans. Because wood was scarce, the engineers dug a deep trench spanning the entrance of the plateau leaving a bridge in the center wide enough for wagons. Then they used the dug up material to build up a fifteen foot high earthen works leaving a gap in the center for a gate. Finding a ready supply of shingle rocks, they also manage to build up six foot tall walls with battlements on the earthen works.

On one particularly cold morning, Cornelius and Flavius were inspecting the high fortified earthen works in the trench. An unseasonable squall came in from the west and it brought chilling rain off and on instead of snow for the past two days.

“Well, there are no signs of erosion,” Flavius shouted from one end of the trench. “The rain did not even pool up in bottom of the trench.”

“Good thing too,” Cornelius called back. “That last squall last night brought in a lot of rain. But it looks like the engineers did their job well. Come, Flavius! Let us go back in out of the cold.”

Cestus was on the top of the trench holding a length of rope waiting to pull them out. When they finally climbed out, they went back into the fort through the stout gates. To avoid walking in the chilled wind, they walked in between the rows upon rows of large campaign tents. Occasionally, they would stop to warm their hands with a group of legionnaires huddled around a brazier. When they finally reached Cornelius’ tent, Jacob was there with hot spiced wine waiting for them.

Looking around, Flavius asked, “Where is the lad?”

“Cestus had him doing punishment duty,” Cornelius and Jacob were chuckling. “He is standing watch near the latrines at the far end of the camp.”

Flavius was laughing. “You have to admit that his practical joke on the fifth squad was inspiring. When I saw that ram dressed up in Optio Gallino’s armor butting its head against those men, I was laughing out of my skin. They should not have teased him so much.”

“Yes, it was amusing, until that same ram went into Tribune Arturos’ tent and almost burnt it down when it knocked down a brazier. The lad was lucky that he was not punished harshly. But he did get an earful from the Tribune.”

“Oh yes, we could hear him way in the other side of the camp. Do not fret, you know the Tribune is as fond of the boy as we all are.”

Flavius walked over to the table where Cornelius had all his books open and loose parchment papers were strewn over them. “Are you still studying this manuscript of?” he peered closely at the translated title, “I s a y a h? I thought you would be finished with it by now.”

“Cornelius is not as adept in reading old Hebrew as he is to speaking it.” Jacob said off hand. “But he is persistent.”

“Besides which that I have been busy with the Tribune and looking over your shoddy work as well.”

“I see. I see. I know when I am no longer welcomed. I will leave you to your scholarly work.” He left the tent laughing.

Jacob was also wrapping his cloak around him. “I will bring this hot food to the boy. I shall return soon.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch16 – part 2

SPEARS AND SHIELDS – GadaraCG-book-cover-w

Alto pointed at an area east of the sunken salt sea, “This is the region of Perea. With Herod as tetrarch of this region, the area had been experiencing frequent excursions by Aretas’ forces. Lately, these excursions were mostly raiding parties by tribal Bedouins loyal to him. Aretas had managed to annex three small outlying villages that were already allied to him. The Decapolis and Trachonitis regions up north have, so far, not been touched. But he does have his eyes on them.

“We have recently received some intelligence that he had acquired a mercenary force of five thousand Nubians. This can only mean he is planning something major. Our task is to offer a show of force along the eastern frontier of both Trachonitis and the Decapolis. However, if Aretas sends his mercenary force into our territory, we will respond with deadly force. Herod’s forces will handle the Perean region. The garrison at Caesarea Philippi will secure Trachonitis. For us, I have tasked our engineers supported by two cavalry units to build two forts; one – east of Gadara; the other east of Gerasa. They should be completed by week’s end.”

The rest of the meeting was mostly on logistics. When the meeting was finally concluded, Cornelius heard that Arturos’ two cohort units was to garrison the fort at Gadara. When he heard this, he sought out General Gaius Alto.

“Sir! I would like to go along with Tribune Arturos on this campaign.”

“Why?”

“Sir, two reasons – One, this will be Tribune Arturos first campaign. I would like to be there and help him out. Two, the man Jesus is hold up in Capernaum for the winter. He has no plans of going anywhere until Spring. Centurion Porcius knows all of my informants and they know him well enough. They can report to him and if need be he can send for me.”

“Very well, I will inform the Governor General.”
In two days, Arturos’ two cohorts, made up of fifteen hundred men, marched out of Caesarea heading east. Cornelius rode north back to Capernaum to organize his men and to bring extra supplies. He also wanted to talk to Jesus.

Upon arriving at Capernaum that night, he had set Cestus to get everything ready for the morning. Then, he went to Peter’s house to find that Jesus was expecting him.

“Lord, I have to join my cohort somewhere out east. I may be gone all winter.”

“Cornelius, I sense that you are still concerned,” Jesus said knowingly.

“Yes, Lord. You have told me that my task is tied to your task. At first, I thought I knew what I was supposed to do, but these past months I am not sure.”

“Cornelius, continue to seek the answer in the words of the Prophet Isaiah. But keep this in mind, as I only seek to do the will of my Father, you too must do the same. A choice you must make. This choice may change countless destinies.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch16 – part 1

SPEARS AND SHIELDS – Gadara, Region of PereaCG-book-cover-w

Two months have past since the confrontation at the Temple. Jesus wanted an expedient route back to Galilee, so, to the quiet displeasure of Simon, Judas Iscariot and a few of the others, they journeyed back through Samaritan country. One of the villages they visited, Sychar, greeted them with open arms. Cornelius was later told by Andrew, Peter’s brother that Jesus and a few of them then, came through Sychar only to purchase food for the trip back to Capernaum. They ended up spending almost four days with Jesus preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven and that salvation was nearby. And according to Andrew it all started when Jesus talked to a woman by the well. The villagers wanted to stay longer but Jesus told them that they had to go. Other villages they went through, some were welcoming some were not. In fact, there was one particular Samaritan village that ejected them that on a hill overlooking that village, James and John plucked up their chest and requested of Jesus that they may ask God to righteously rain fire upon that sinful village.

At first everyone was quiet. The fire that came from heaven, as Cornelius recalled only occurred in the stories of the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah, when Elijah asked God to send fire down to first burn up his oxen sacrifice against four hundred Baal priests and then when he was being arrested fire consumed the soldiers sent three times. Cornelius, who have seen much death, cringed at the thought of such power that can destroy an entire city being unleashed upon that village or onto anyone. Jesus turned and rebuked them. Both brothers bowed their heads in shame. Andrew, the jester among the group whispered a little too loudly, “Sons of thunder.” Laughter broke out among the men, so much so, that even Jesus was laughing when he went to the brother and embraced them both.

An early winter seem to have set in. Large patches of snow dotted the hillsides around Capernaum. Jesus had mainly focused most of his time in teaching his closest disciples. Twice Cornelius was ordered to report to Pilate at his winter residence in the port city of Caesarea where the Mediterranean climate was more to his liking. The first meeting was on Zealot activities in the south which was deemed insignificant enough for any action to be taken at this time. The second meeting was an alert tactical meeting for all officers. The meeting was made up of five Tribunes and fifteen Senior Centurions including Cornelius.

He was quietly talking with Arturos and Flavius when Pilate entered the room followed by General Gaius Alto, his second in command, and Tribune Marcianus. Everyone there snapped to attention.

“At ease, gentlemen,” Pilate said. “The Emperor saw fit to intervene between the conflict between the Arab king, Aretas IV of the Nabataeans, and our friend, ahem… Herod Antipas.”

The men chuckled knowing what Pilate really thought of Herod.

“I need not remind you the reason behind this conflict.^ This region is volatile enough. The Emperor had tasked me to commit our forces. Understand this, gentlemen, we are not at war with Aretas. We are only there as a reminder of Roman interests in the region.” Turning to Gaius Alto, “General Alto, the floor is yours.” The room again came to attention as Pilate left the room followed by Marcianus.

[^ The cause of the conflict between these two kings started when Herod Antipas divorced his wife Phasaelis who was the daughter of Aretas IV and had shamefully sent her away.]

Alto gestured for all of them to gather around a large table with several large maps on it. The map of Palestine, which was intricately drawn in great detail on a tanned hide was on top.

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