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 4

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

Then Jacob tiredly walked in. “I think I have found another part of the puzzle concerning the Nazarene.”

Cornelius noticed that Jacob was breathing heavy and streams of sweat were rolling down into his beard. He was also massaging his right shoulder down to his arm. “What is wrong? Do you feel ill?”

“No! It is just the heat.” He wearily lowered himself into a chair. “I’ll be fine.”

“Do you want to rest? We can certainly talk later on.”

“No, no. I just exerted myself a little to rush back here to tell you what I discovered.” After Cornelius gave him a drink, he continued, “Do you recall how I questioned that this young rabbi could not be the promised one because according to the Scriptures that the messiah was to come from Bethlehem not from Nazareth? Well, I met with a woman who is a second cousin to the Nazarene’s mother. This Jesus was not born in Nazareth. Though his family was a permanent resident there, his parents, Joseph and Mary, went to Bethlehem in compliance with an edict by the Emperor Augustus to return to the town of their ancestry for the census. I remembered that census. That was about thirty years ago, just before I left for Athens where I eventually worked for your father. Anyway, a few months later, this Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”

Cornelius picked up a sheet from the notes that he was compiling and pointed at it. “This complies with Micah’s prophecy that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. But then there must have been other infants born in that town that same year.”

“Yes but then, the old Herod ordered the slaughter of all male infants up to the age of two in Bethlehem and its surrounding villages.”

“There were already rumors of a promised Messiah going around in Herod’s kingdom. Herod was afraid that another king will take his place. Then came a group of magi from the East and it was from them that he discovered that the awaited king and descendant of King David was an infant. Herod probably tasked the magicians to reveal who the infant was. But when they didn’t return, he couldn’t take the chance and had them all slaughtered.”

“Except that if this Jesus was born there, his parents obviously escaped the carnage,”whispered Cornelius.

“Yes, Cornelius! You have it right, I think. For the woman said that months after Herod’s death, they showed up in Nazareth; Joseph, Mary and a four year old Jesus, her son.”

Cornelius picked up his pen and started writing down more notes.

“There is something else.”

Cornelius heard something in his voice enough to pause. He put his pen down.

“Do you recall when we discussed about the sign of a virgin birth? How we both surmised that it may be figurative?”

Cornelius nodded in agreement.

“I now believe that God intended that passage to be literal. It was the way that she worded ‘Jesus, her son’ was what peaked my curiosity. Why not ‘their son’? I asked myself. So I pressed this woman for more information. Apparently, this Jesus may not be of Joseph’s seed.”

“What do you mean?”

“His true father may be another! She, apparently over heard her parents say that Joseph wanted to divorce Mary quietly. In our tradition, there is only one reason why a man would do this. If she had been unfaithful! After which Mary went to some relatives in Judea. But then he later changed his mind, followed her and married her.”

“I know what you’re thinking Jacob,” exclaimed Cornelius. “This Jesus could just be the son of another man. It is not uncommon.”

“True. But then my cousin told me later that there was a rumor that a young woman in Nazareth was visited by an angel of the Lord. And that she claimed that it was the Holy Spirit who caused her to be pregnant. Rumor or not, it is too much of a coincidence. I believe that the prophecy of the coming Messiah is at hand and so far it points to the man from Nazareth!”

Cornelius contemplated what Jacob claimed. “I have to see this man again. Do you know where he is?”

“I hear that he is somewhere in the up-lands near Cana moving from one village to another.”

“Well, we can’t traipse around the highlands blindly. So, we wait until he returns to Capernaum.”

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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 – Ch4 – part 2

SPYING IN A TREE – Roman fort 2 miles east of BethsaidaCG-book-cover-w

As they neared the fort, Cornelius noticed a different signus over the gate. It was the signus of Tribune Arturos.

“The Tribune is a day early,” exclaimed Flavius.

Upon entering the fort, Cornelius was summoned to the Tribune immediately.

As Cornelius and Flavius enter his office, Arturos turns to them and says, “The General has approved your plan! I myself do not like it. But I have to admit that to do your task, you have to get closer to the people. Very well! Flavius! You take command here. Let us get this over with. Assemble the cohort!”

“Is there no other way?” pleaded Flavius. “This may get you killed with a knife on your back!”

“I will be fine.” Turning to the Tribune, “Sir, I suggest we do this outside the west gate where the camp followers and those out working in the fields can better witness this.”

Trumpets blared throughout the fort. As the legionnaires assembled in formation, a crowd of field workers, some fishermen, a number of Arab traders and the camp followers gathered wondering what the commotion was. Some wondered if they were leaving for battle. Then the assembly stood at attention as Arturos rode slowly to the center followed by Cornelius and Flavius. Cornelius saw that Jacob and Trax were peering down from the fortress wall. The tribune then handed a scroll to Flavius to be read out loud. Showing a little reluctance, Flavius read out the reprimand and demotion orders. Cornelius heard Jacob’s gasp up in the wall. He expected that. But what he did not expect were the mutterings and disgruntled look on the assembly. Cornelius took a step forward and starting left to right he scanned the faces of the men with a disapproval glare written on his face. Slowly, the men’s muttering quieted down as Flavius finished reading the order. Then Arturos ordered Cornelius to surrender his helmet to him. Cornelius took off his helmet and presented to the tribune. Arturos then took out his dagger and stripped the white horse-hair plumes from the helmet. Then he dropped it on the ground making Cornelius pick up his plume less helmet. Cornelius placed his helmet back on and ceremoniously saluted him then marched back into the fort.

As Cornelius entered his quarters, Jacob and a teary eyed Trax were waiting. “How could they do this? The money came from your own strong box!” Exclaimed Jacob.

“What is done… is done,” smiled Cornelius. “Now, let us pack up and move my baggage to a room below. These quarters belong to Flavius now. Tomorrow, we go to Capernaum.”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch4 – part 1

SPYING IN A TREE – Roman fort 2 miles east of BethsaidaCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius can finally see the garrison about three miles away through the trees. He called a halt to the column of thirty tired soldiers he was leading. They have been on patrol for two hours with no incident and he didn’t like it. As the men rested under the cover of the trees, he goes to the edge of the tree line and climbed a tree with low hanging branches. He scanned his route to the fort but didn’t like that they were going to be in open country. He looked towards the shoreline which was only about a mile away. It would be a longer detour to the safety of the fort, but if the lake was on their left they only have to defend their right flank. When he returned to the men, he ordered them to form up into columns of four. At the edge of the tree line, looking around one last time, he ordered them into a quick march. A quick march meant that they have to jog without breaking formation. The men simultaneously hoisted their shields on their backs and grasped their swords on their sides to keep it from swinging between their legs when they jog.

They were about halfway to the lake when Cornelius heard one of the soldiers call out ‘cavalry!’ Cornelius was not too surprised to see a horse unit of twenty riding out from under the trees about a mile and half away from them. They quickly formed a charging line, then in a trot with lances pointing down they moved forward. Then, with a shouted command from the cavalry officer, they charged at full gallop screaming and shouting. Cornelius shouted to pick up the pace. But instead of chasing his unit down, they suddenly stopped in a single line facing them about a hundred yards from them. He thought they were going to make it to the shoreline until he looked forward and shouted an abrupt halt. Suddenly his route to the lake shore was blocked by a phalanx formation of forty men. It was like they magically sprang up from the ground. But originally, they were hiding behind a seven foot deep gully.

The Phalanx was a classic Greek battle formation where six lines are formed. Every man in the phalanx brandished long spears three times the length of a man. The front three lines of the formation would hold their eighteen foot long spears forward. Any enemy confronting this formation will have to contend first with the deadly spears before they reach the line. The effectiveness of this formation was successfully used by Alexander the Great with deadly results when he confronted a Persian army three times his size.

Blocked on two fronts, Cornelius quickly commanded, “Form the square!”

Cornelius knew this was a senseless command for he only had thirty men. They quickly formed a rough square with only four men per side and with the rest of the men forming the second layer. Cornelius retreated into center. If only he brought another twenty men then they could have fought their way to safety.

As the cavalry unit and the phalanx came closer for the kill, Cornelius knew it was over. So, he pulled out his whistle and blew it three times consenting defeat and the exercise over. The attacking force cheered.

Flavius emerged from within the phalanx sporting a wide grin.

“How did you know I would head to the shoreline first?” asked Cornelius.

“Sir… You were my teacher in Spain.”

“Well, when I saw that old Greek formation spring out of the grass, I have to admit I was a little surprised. I take it that was for my benefit?”

“Knowing how you loved the Classics, I figured you’d appreciate it.”

“Flavius, you definitely deserved your promotion. I’m only too glad that Tribune Arturos does not arrive until tomorrow or else he would have seen this exercise and I would be relieved of my command.” They both laughed again as they head back to the fort.

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Johann Q

THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch3 – part 7

THE PLAN – Sea of Galilee shoreline, BethsaidaCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius slowed his pace, a little. After listening to Jacob explaining things to Cestus, he now felt that the urgency to return to the fort to send dispatches seem less urgent. When he heard the rabbi’s last parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat, he had an ominous feeling that the weeds were the Romans who will be uprooted and cast into the fires. But then Jacob did say that the rabbi’s true intent may be more spiritual than worldly. So, he had to rethink about what that parable really meant. He and Jacob will have to discuss this some time. For the meantime, he can slow down. Deep down, he would hate to think that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, as some kind of enemy. If this is the one that John the Baptist wanted him to seek out, then he may be the Savior of not just the Jews but all mankind. At that instance, he somehow realized that the parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat may be a spiritual description of the ultimate time of Judgment. Inside himself, he was elated that he may have figured out the parable. But then, how about others like the Zealots. There were probably a few of them among the crowd. What if they interpret his teachings as an opportunity to move the people into rebellion against Rome? They would do that.

His mind started racing again. He has to find a way to be even closer to him. He felt he needs protection not just from the schemes of men like the Zealots who won’t think twice of exploiting him but also from Rome, who would not consider his innocence if captured for being an unwitting figurehead of an insurrection. A plan started to develop in his mind. He again picked up his pace to get back to the fort. He had dispatches to write.
It was late in the evening. Cornelius had a long day of planning and doing the other duties of his command. He thought about his command. He is really going to miss it. But shaking his head, he sat at this desk, pulled in a blank parchment and started to write.

To General Gaius. Greetings and salutations.

Today, I am happy to report that I had personally sighted that wandering teacher that I have been tracking for the following week. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. I have observed him by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There was a gathering of about three hundred people mostly peasantry. It was a peaceful gathering and his preaching was that of religious nature with no hint of rebellious talk. Since I have started my investigation of this man when I have first learned of him from Herod Antipas, he has gained in popularity. My estimation is that his increasing popularity would already attract the attention of insurgent groups like the Zealots.

Sir, I am requesting that you would approve a plan of my design that will enable me to embed myself deeper into the populace’s closed-in society and maybe even in this Jesus of Narareth’s circle of followers. I already have a good relationship with the villagers of Bethsaida because of my aid in the rebuild of their Synagogue. However, I cannot continue to effectively execute my assignment in my present situation as the active commander of this garrison. I believe I would do better being situated at a separate and private villa just outside the north end side of Capernaum. My agents there have found a trader deep in debt and is ready to depart from his estate. It is an ideal location to be my center of operation.

But changing of location is part of the plan. To the Jews, I must seem more than a Roman sympathizer. To them I must be a disgraced officer and a gentile who is willing to partake in a Jewish process of being an proselyte. It is the accepted practice for gentiles to become Jewish disciples. As a proselyte, I will have inside access into their Synagogues where I am sure I can learn the identities of the insurgents.

So, sir, I have to be publicly demoted and disgraced as soon as possible. I think being re-assigned to procurement and provisions will make an excellent cover for what I need to do.

I shall eagerly await your reply.

Cornelius Metellus
Cornelius poured some red wax on the bottom of the sheet then he pressed his seal on it. He folded the letter and again used his waxed seal to seal it. He put this letter with the other dispatches. In the morning, a rider will bring it north. He could not sleep. So, he climbed to the top floor. The guard there quickly stood to attention. He told him to be at ease and stepped over to the north-side. He could just make out the shaded outline of the highlands. Everything was dark except for a distant pinpoint of light high on the hillsides. It was probably a campfire. He wondered if maybe Jesus of Nazareth is sitting around that campfire with his followers.

“Are you the one?” He whispered to the distant light. “I will know soon.”
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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.

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Johann Q