THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 3

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

He went over to his desks and lit several oil lamps. He stared a long time at the top sheet of a stack of parchments. It was the passages of the suffering servant that he translated. Since the battle, his mind kept returning to that nagging desire for understanding ‘why the Messiah had to suffer so and die?’

The problem here is that this particular chapter seems to contradict all the other chapters that he had so far read of the Messiah in the whole book of Isaiah. The contradiction is that the Messiah is alive to usher in the new kingdom of which all of the nations will be affected. His logical mind tells him that since those chapters in bulk out weigh this one particular chapter, he should just disregard it. At most, if this is the passage that Jesus wanted him to find, then can it be that his task is to prevent it? That seems right, but yet, somehow in the deep recesses of his heart there is this lingering doubt in his logic. It was maddening.

He so wanted to speak to Jesus. On their way to Emmaus, they went through the town of Jericho. He made some inquiries on the whereabouts of Jesus. They said that he was there staying in the house of a tax collector that seem to have repented of his sins. But he and his followers left with no indication of where. Cornelius was tempted to swing by Bethany but he had to reach Emmaus by night fall. So, now, here he was unable to sleep trying to figure out an enigma.

He decided to read through the passages again.

On his third pass, one phrase seems to jump out at him.

If he would render himself as a guilt offering… [Isaiah 53:10b NASB]

He recalled that the guilt offering is an animal sacrifice for one to make himself right with God whenever that person sins. The ritual is for a person to symbolically pass his sins onto the animal by laying his hand on its head. Then the priests would slaughter it and offered its carcass on the burning altar. Cornelius knew he was forgetting something important; something about the animal. Oh yes, he remembered. The animal, whether it be a ram, an oxen or even a lamb, was to be male and with no blemish. That is the crucial condition that God required. It is written through out the Scriptures.

Cornelius realized that he may be on to something. He had to ask, what did the animals represent? And what is the connection between the sacrifice and Jesus? He went over to the corner of the large tent where the baggage was stored. He pulled out a big chest that carried his collection of books and scrolls. When he opened the lid, he rummaged through it; pulling out five big books. Cornelius had not read these books since way before he joined the Legion. They were the first books that Jacob helped him translate into Greek when he was still in his teens. It took them six years. They were the books of Moses.

That whole night, he poured through the books jumping from one story to the next, always writing down notes. He did not know when he finally fell asleep, but when he woke up and opened his eyes, he found that Jacob was there looking over some of the notes that he wrote. There was a tray of food and drink next to him.

“You have been busy, I see,” Jacob said as Cornelius was stretching his arms up. Pointing at his notes, he asked, “You have listed about twenty five references to the type of animal sacrifices from the story of Abel to the laying of Levitical ordinances^^. What do you hope to conclude from your research?”

^^ Levitical laws are found in the book of Leviticus, the 3rd book of Moses

“I have been working off a premise.”

“And that is?”

“That Jesus is offering himself as the guilt offering,” Cornelius answered. Jacob looked at him questioningly. “But I needed a better understanding of guilt offerings, hence my pulling out the Book of Moses to see where it all started. I tell you Jacob. It was like my eyes have opened up. I cannot explain it, but I began to see this book in the way it was meant to be seen.”

“What do you mean?”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 2

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

Later, in Arturos’ quarters, General Alto gave them their orders. “Tribune, your cohorts will be relieved in two weeks. They have earned some rest at Caesarea. However, Arturos, you will be stationed in Jerusalem with at least ten squads of your cohort.”

“Yes sir. Thank you.”

“Centurion, the governor wants you back at what you were doing, as soon as possible. He is giving you a squad of Equites Legati*. This is my suggestion. Tighten up your network of informants. With the light cavalrymen, you are to report more frequently, even if you have nothing to report. The governor demands it. He feels that with the biggest Jewish festival coming in a month or so that something significant is going to happen. He does not want to be caught unaware again.”

* Equites Legati were actually lightly armored cavalry men used mostly for reconnaissance and as messengers.

“Yes sir. I will leave in a couple of days.”

“Oh yes, I almost forgot. He wants you to be closer but not necessarily in Jerusalem. There is a supply outpost in Emmaus. It is only seven miles from the city. Establish yourself there within the week.”

“But, sir?”

“I know you want to closely follow this Jesus fellow, Centurion. You need not fret. He seems to have moved his operation to Judea and around the Perean Basin since last week. Apparently, this Jesus wanted you to know where he will be. One of his closest followers approached Centurion Porcius in Capernaum and gave him this note. I was at the Bethsaida fort when he reported to me. Since, we were already coming here I figured I will give it to you myself.” He handed the folded parchment to him.

“Thank you, sir.”

When he opened the note, what was written was a single Hebrew word, ‘Bethany’.

After a good nights rest, Cornelius opted to leave that day for Judea. He dispatched Nacob and Lyca, two of his best men as well as three of the light cavalrymen to Capernaum. They will hand over written orders to Porcius. The three cavalrymen will be stationed there. Nacob and Lyca will then bring whatever personal gear left there to Emmaus.

Flavius came up to him as he mounted. “Well, it looks like I will be in Jerusalem with the Tribune. I will see you there in two weeks.”

“Until then,” he said with hand raised in farewell as he led his contingent of fifteen men who rode on two wagons and the remaining four cavalrymen out the fort.

They actually did good timing. At the end of the second day, they rolled into the outpost about a mile outside of Emmaus. It was actually a small fort manned by only forty men. It was extensive mainly because the animal pens and grain storage were within. The fort’s commander was an aging veteran who lost his arm. His name was Verinius. Not wanting to quit the Legion, the only position open to him was procurement. He was jovial and quite accommodating. His men were easily billeted in the barracks. Verinius offered his quarters since Cornelius outranked him, but he declined telling him that he is not there to take command of the fort and its operation. So, they set up his campaign tent.

That night, he could not sleep. He went over to his desks and lit several oil lamps. He stared a long time at the top sheet of a stack of parchments. It was the passages of the suffering servant that he translated. Since the battle, his mind kept returning to that nagging desire for understanding ‘why the Messiah had to suffer so and die?’

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch17 – part 1

REVELATIONS – Emmaus, BethanyCG-book-cover-w

Cornelius walked into his quarters saddle soar. For a whole week, he and a contingent of twenty cavalrymen have doggedly followed the defeated army back to their mountain stronghold where the legendary city of Petra, a city built into the rock, lies. Upon returning to the fort, he was surprised to find that the Governor General was there with General Gaius Alto. He had to quickly freshen up and report to the Governor’s quarters.

As he entered the governor’s tent, he saw that Tribune Arturos, Flavius and other officers were standing relaxed listening to General Alto talk. Pilate was sitting on a plush divan with Tribune Marcianus standing behind him.

“Aretas will not be so bold as to gamble again for a long while,” Alto said, as he was finishing his assessment for the benefit of the officers. “He clearly underestimated your small force. Very well done on your first campaign, Tribune. I am sure your father will be pleased.”

“Thank you, sir.” Seeing Cornelius enter, he added, “Of course, sir, I could not have done it without my second in command, Centurion Primus Cornelius.”

“Ah yes, Centurion,” Pilate stood up and joined them. “I have read all the reports. It is most fortunate that General Alto had convinced me to allow you to rejoin your cohort for this minor campaign. I did not think that Aretas would go so far as to try to gain a toehold in the Decapolis and be a thorn at my side if he captured Gadara. It is a good thing that you were an important asset to your tribune, for I did not need anymore headaches.” Cornelius could hear in Pilate’s tone that he was not pleased with him about something.

Sensing the same thing, Arturos dismissed the other officers. As soon as they left the tent, it was Arturos who asked, “Governor, what has happened, sir?”

“What happened was? I was caught off guard because I had no intelligence to warn me three weeks ago!” Pilate angrily said.

“Allow me, governor,” Tribune Marcianus haughtily said. Pilate sat down fuming. “Three weeks ago, the governor was in Jerusalem for business. He was entertaining a delegation of senators when a loud mob formed on the Temple court and started shouting protests. As I understand it, the mob was incited by men from Galilee. Hence, the reason why the governor was not pleased with you, Centurion. You were not there to give him any warning. If he knew, he could have head off the protest.”

“Sir, may I ask what was it that they were protesting about?”

Marcianus turned to look at Pilate. “They were protesting something about the aqueduct project.”

“The aqueduct? Sir, the aqueduct was completed last year,” Arturos said. “I heard that the city turned out and celebrated. How was it that they were protesting a year later?”

“Those ingrates!” Pilate threw his goblet across the room. “I had a secret arrangement with the priesthood. The money to build it came from them.”

“From the Temple treasury, sir?”

“I assume so, but what does that matter? Annas and I had a deal! It was suppose to be a secret. Some priest must have told the Zealots. There they were, disrupting my business and they dare to call me names!”

“The governor wanted to send in the troops.” Marcianus cut in. “But I felt it was prudent to mix twenty of our men in disguise among the crowd to quietly separate the ring leaders. Well, when the signal was given, our men were somewhat zealous in their execution of the orders. I believe forty or fifty Jews were killed in the process.”

“But that is not the last thing I have heard on this!” Pilate brewed. “One of the senators informed me that the Jewish leadership was sending a delegation to Emperor Tiberius to have me ousted.”

General Alto stepped in, “Fortunately, Governor, you have this victory to report to the Senate.”

“Yes! Thank you for reminding me, Gaius. A triumph like this will gain me some support.” Pilate poured himself another goblet of wine. Then he lifted it up and toasted, “To the victory!”

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THE CENTURION’S GOSPEL – Ch16 – part 8

SPEARS AND SHIELDS – GadaraCG-book-cover-w

The battle raged on for another three hours. Though the Roman lines held, Arturos was worried on how long they can hold out until they are finally pushed back. The legionnaires were exhausted. All the reserves were used to bolster the lines and the reinforcements were an hour over due. So far, Aretas had only used the Nubians. He still had two thousand Arab forces in reserve. The last attack was almost a disaster when the Nubians broke through the shield wall of the left flank which almost resulted in a route. But a counter attack led by Arturos himself and Cornelius pushed them back.

Then Arturos ordered his cohorts to slowly advance. The Nubians withdrew about a hundred yards to regroup. In a bold move, he signaled his lines to quickly open up, then his cavalry of two hundred men quickly rode through the opening and formed up for a charge about twenty yards ahead. Then the cohorts formed up into two wings. Arturos commanded the left wing while Cornelius led the right wing.

The Nubians did not expect a charge and they panicked as walls of mounted spears were bearing down on them. The cavalry easily caught up to the retreating Nubians and carved out a wide swatch down their middle. Then they wheeled to the left effectively cutting off their left flank. In the confusion and panic the cut off flank turned and ran toward Arturos’ advancing left wing. They clashed and a pitched battle went under way. Cornelius had to halt his wing to keep them abreast to the left wing to make sure that they can support them if need be.

Then Cornelius heard multiple horns being sounded from the enemy side of the long valley. Thinking that Aretas had finally committed his reserves, Cornelius rode his horse to a nearby knoll to asses the situation. What he saw was the Arab forces withdrawing further back where they came from. Aretas’ command pavilion on the ridge was being struck and all he could see were his flags also withdrawing. The reason of which became obvious when upon hearing trumpets blaring behind him, Cornelius shifted his gaze back at the gap and saw a massive formation of cavalry. The relief force had arrived.

They have won the field.
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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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