Thursday, April 9, 2009

Part VI: For Thirty Silver Coins

Late Thursday Night

[Based on Matthew 27:47-56; Luke 22:47-53; Mark 14:43-51; John 18:1-11]

A man came running breathless to the entrance of Fortress Antonia. The guards standing watch drew their weapons, but Mamercus quickly intervened. He knew who this was. He had been there when Judas came a few nights earlier and offered to betray his teacher and friend, Jesus of Nazareth.

Mamercus noted that Judas seemed very emotionally distraught this night. He also noted that it was a little odd for a Jewish man to be running around outside when most would be participating in the Passover Meal right about now.

“They are headed out of the city. Now is your chance to get him while he is away from the crowd! I can take you to them. But hurry, we’ve got to move fast.”

Mamercus sprang into action; plans had been made for how to proceed once Judas came to them. He would command a detachment of 20 soldiers. In a matter of minutes, they were joined by a number of mid-level priests and Pharisees, including a man named Malchus, who was Caiphas’ most trusted servant.

“Alert the High Priest. Tell him things are going according to plan. Hopefully, we’ll have Jesus in custody soon,” said Malchus to one of the other guards. “And let Governor Pilate know the Jesus threat will hopefully soon be resolved. And if I may say, not a moment too soon.”

“You are doing the right thing Judas. You and I both know that your teacher is stirring up trouble and must be stopped. I commend you for your action.”

“If it’s so right… Then why do I feel like I’m the dirtiest garbage in Gehenna right now?!”

“This should make you feel better.” Malchus handed Judas a purse. “Per our agreement, thirty coins of silver… and the knowledge that you are helping protect the peace of the city…”

“And the peace of Caesar,” added Mamercus.

“Ironic. Considering I feel no peace whatsoever at this moment. My friends think I am buying supplies for the Passover Meal or giving alms to the poor. They have no idea I am about to betray them all.”

Judas closed his eyes tightly for a moment, as if resigning himself to what he was about to do. “Look! Let’s just get on with this before I lose my nerve.”

“Fine with me. Just one more thing, though? How will we know which one to arrest?” Mamercus thought many Jews looked similar so, and he had only seen Jesus from a distance once a couple of days ago.

“I don’t know.” Judas thought for a second. “I’ll give him a kiss. It’s the way we often greet each other. But that way, you’ll know he’s the one you should arrest.”

“Sounds reasonable.” Mamercus replied.

As they headed away from the walls of city and out across the rugged Kidron Valley toward the Mount of Olives, Mamercus could tell this was really hard for Judas. There were several occasions where it appeared Judas was on the verge of tears. Mamercus couldn’t imagine ever betraying one of his superiors. For one thing, if anyone ever found out, he would pay with his life. But not just that; he had tremendous admiration and respect for his commanders. Judas must have felt the same way about Jesus, to have spent the last couple years of his life traveling with him, living alongside him, and learning from him. He wondered what had happened to make Judas come to the point where he was willing to betray Jesus? Was there really some disagreement between them as Caiaphas had suggested or maybe between Judas and some of the other disciples? I guess the reason really didn’t matter in the end. Mamercus had a job to accomplish and Judas was helping them with that.

Judas led them to a rather secluded olive grove. It was the kind of place that you probably wouldn’t find by accident, the kind of place where Jesus and his followers could have some privacy. But of course, Judas was an one of the “twelve”… he knew exactly where to go to find Jesus. The flickering torchlight was the only source of illumination, which made it all the more important that they had already arranged a signal to know which one to arrest.

“Greetings.” Despite years of training, Mamercus nearly jumped out of skin when he heard the voice in the darkness. He hadn’t seen the man approaching them in the darkness and now standing just on the edge of the grove. That was probably because he wasn’t using any light source, or at least none that was obvious, which seemed a bit odd to Mamercus. How could he see in total darkness? When they shined the light in his direction they saw an average looking man standing before them. “This is a bit far off the beat and path for a detachment of soldiers? If you came all this way out here from Jerusalem, you must be looking for someone.”

“Actually,” Mamercus said, regaining his composure, “We are looking for Jesus of Nazareth.”

“Well you have found him. I am he.”

At this point Jesus looked over and saw Judas. The two men’s eyes met and then Judas came forward, gave Jesus as kiss and said his voice trembling, “Rabbi! I’m so…”

Jesus didn’t let Judas finish. “So it comes to this… the Son of Man betrayed with a kiss.” Jesus sighed deeply. “I suppose this is how Scripture said it would be… Friends do what you came to do.” A couple of the soldiers started to move forward.

“Not so fast!” Just then several other men came rushing out of the secluded olive grove to where the soldiers were standing. They were carrying torches and wielding weapons. One of them shouted drawing out his sword. He caught Malchus off guard and landed a blow that chopped a piece of his ear.

“Peter! Put your sword away. No more of this nonsense! Don’t you understand after three years together? We don’t fight with those kinds of weapons?! I have to drink the cup that the Father has given me to drink. If we strike them down with our swords, we are no better than them.”

Jesus walked over to where Malchus was standing, blood pouring from the place where his ear had been cut. He stooped over and picked something up off the ground (Mamercus assumed it might be the piece of ear) and touched it to the side of Malchus’ head, and in an instant the bleeding stopped, and he seemed to be healed.”

Malchus stood in stunned amazement feeling where his injury had been. “Th… thank you Sir. Praise God!” Several of the local soldiers fell to their knees at this sight.

Jesus turned and addressed the priests and Pharisees. "Am I leading a rebellion, that you felt the need to come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”

“So be it,” said Mamercus, “Our orders are to place you under arrest. And that is what we’re here to do.”

The soldiers moved in and arrested Jesus and as before he put up little if any resistance. Meanwhile, his “loyal” followers, every single one of them, went running off into the night. One of them was so panicked that he lost the garment he was wearing and was last seen running naked through the olive grove. Mamercus also realized at that moment that Judas had disappeared during the chaos. Nearby they found some silver coins spilled on the ground.

“What a pathetic scene,” Mamercus thought to himself, “These are the ‘loyal’ followers of Jesus? Abandoning their leader at the first sign of trouble. What kind of loyalty is that?!” No Roman soldier would ever abandon his fellow-soldiers so easily. They would fight to the death, even if the odds were impossible.

Part V: Responding to "The Jesus Threat"

Tuesday Night

[Based on Matthew 26:1-5, 14-15; Mark 14: 10-11; Luke 22:1-5]

Mamercus went with Caiaphas to a secret meeting at his home in the city. Since he was now part of the Temple Police he was present for this obviously private conversation between the High Priest and several other prominent members of the Scribes and Pharisees. He would quietly be Rome’s eyes and ears for the discussion, reporting back to his superiors with anything of note. Another older man, whom Mamercus did not recognize at first, was also present. Mamercus soon realized that this was Annas, who had previously been High Priest, and while he no longer had the formal title, he was obviously shown deference. The topic of conversation this night, not surprisingly, was Jesus.

It was clear that this was not a new topic of conversation for this group. The “Jesus threat” had clearly been discussed on numerous occasions before tonight. But tonight’s discussion was particularly heated and intense, given the events of the last couple of days. Of course there was the grand entrance that Jesus had made on Sunday, but that was nothing compared to the stir he caused yesterday in the Temple Courts when he and his followers drove the merchants and moneychangers out of Court of the Gentiles [This is described in Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 12:15-19; Luke 19:45-46.]

It didn’t take long for Mamercus to realize that there was a clear division of opinion on how to best deal with Jesus. Annas, and others, seemed to favor taking immediate action, but a group loyal to Caiaphas, who as High Priest had the final say, seemed reluctant to move too quickly.

“We can’t just ignore this any longer! He’s turning the world upside down! Pilate is already on edge. He’s losing faith in our ability to handle this on our own.” Annas motioned over in the direction of Mamercus who was standing watch near the entrance and lowered his voice a bit. “I’ve never seen so many Roman soldiers in the city. If we don’t take action to neutralize this threat soon, Pilate may take matters into his own hands and have the soldiers seize control. And I for one don’t want Rome cracking down on us anymore than they already have.”

“I agree with you, but we also don’t want to act too rashly…” Caiaphas said. “Remember, he hasn’t really violated any of our laws. And even so, consider the people’s reaction if I do in fact have him arrested immediately. If you think they are on edge now… just try putting their self-proclaimed hero in prison. Then he becomes a martyr for the people… and we don’t want that, do we?”

One of the other leaders, a Pharisee named Cleophus, spoke up. “No of course not. But didn’t you yourself say recently that it might be better for one man to be sacrificed if it will keep peace with Rome? Let’s not forget, he is speaking blasphemy … making this absurd claim that he is the Son of God. And did you hear all that business he was spewing out today about the temple being destroyed?! [See Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6.] Is that not enough grounds to have him arrested?! I would think Pilate would back us up?”

A Scribe named Bartimaeus exclaimed. “Cleophas is right! We can’t let such treasonous claims stand without responding. Jesus has to be stopped… and soon. Things are getting out of hand. We should have done something before now… we can’t afford to wait much longer.”

Caiaphas replied, “I agree with all of you; Jesus does need to be stopped. But we have to wait for the right moment… This man is smart… and we have to me smart too. He picked the perfect time to make his grand entrance. He did it at a time when he knew that thousands of people would be on their way to Jerusalem for Passover. People were lining the road all the way from the Mount of Olives. The whole world is going crazy over this Jesus of Nazareth; we have to be careful in how we respond.”

“So what would you have us do in the meantime?!” Annas shot back angrily. “Do we just sit back and wait for Jesus to make his next move?! With all due respect, it seems to me that this policy is precisely why things have gotten out of hand in the first place. Did you see the scene he made in the Temple courts yesterday?! He disrupted everything and got away with it! We did nothing but sit there watching it all unfold, huddling away in the shadows, afraid to act for fear of upsetting the people! I can’t imagine Governor Pilate was too happy with that little scene.”

Mamercus knew for a fact that he wasn’t, but the Temple was clearly Caiaphas’ domain and Pilate was reluctant to get involved… at least not yet. As long as the rest of the city remains relatively calm, Pilate would like the Jews to settle their own internal dispute.

“And if that’s not enough he has the audacity to go right back to the Temple today and start spewing out more of his crazy teachings about his the so-called kingdom… And again no one did anything to stop him! It’s like we don’t know what to do. Meanwhile, he’s gathering throngs of people around him to listen to him speak; bigger and bigger crowds each day it seems. They are so desperate to believe Jesus is the liberating king they have waited for that they hang on every word he speaks, and worship the ground he walks on.

While Annas was speaking Caiaphas rose from the table and walked across the room. He gazed out an open window across the darkened city clasping his bony thin hands together. While his back was turned just the slightest hint of a smile formed. “My dear Annas, you should know me better than by now. I by no means have been ‘sitting idly by and doing nothing.’ In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Please don’t mistake my reluctance to rush into a confrontation as ‘doing nothing.’ I am every bit as concerned about this Jesus threat as you are.”

The tension in the room had built to a head... Caiaphas paused for a long moment before he continued. “It becomes clear to me that Jesus isn’t here to start the glorious revolution the people hoped for… He’s just another in a long line that have gotten the people all riled up only to disappoint them… and soon, the people will figure that out. He isn’t the kind of king they wanted. They want war and revenge, but he keeps preaching peace and justice for all. He still attracts crowds but I sense they also grow apprehensive and impatient. People are fickle…. Public opinion can turn quickly… sometimes very quickly… especially if they are given a push… And I intend to provide that push.”

“Wait a minute… You sly fox… I should have known! You have something in the works already don’t you?! You have for a while… that’s why you’ve been so calm in recent days…” The question was mostly rhetorical; Annas already knew the answer. “Come on Caiaphas, out with it; tell us what you’re up to?”

Caiaphas slowly turned away from the window and walked back towards the table. “What would you say to me if I told you that late last evening, we received a visitor to Fortress Antonia who has a rather intimate connection to this Jesus of Nazareth?”

“A visitor?” Annas was a bit puzzled. “Who was it?”

“A man by the name of Judas Iscariot. He is apparently treasurer for Jesus’ band of itinerant followers, I guess one might call them his disciples.” Caiaphas clearly said the last word with a good deal of disdain. “Anyhow, it seems that this Judas is likewise concerned about the direction Jesus is headed, and came to us wondering if he could help us in dealing with the threat he posed?”

Even after years of dealing with this shrewd leader who happened to be his son-in-law too, Annas was still sometimes surprised at his masterful manipulations. “How in the world did you do it? We’ve been trying to penetrate their ranks for at least a year!”

“Dear Annas, you’d be surprised what a little strategic inquiry and a lot of patience can produce. It seems there are some divisions among the followers of Jesus. They are not as unified as they might like us to believe. There are disagreements among them over how to proceed with their mission, arguments among them over who is second in command, those sorts of things. These disagreements can be exploited to our advantage. We simply made a few overtures to some of at opportune moments… At first they were not successful, but we persevered, and in time we made several contacts in Jesus’ circle of close followers. This Judas just happened to be the first one to bear fruit.”

“So are you telling us that this Judas is willing to betray Jesus?”

“Betrayal is such a nasty word, Bartamaeus. Why don’t we just say he is prudent enough to know that this new way of living, this alleged kingdom of God that Jesus keeps preaching all over Judea is just a fantasy that can never become reality. Perhaps he came to his senses and is looking for a way out. He probably has come to realize that it is in the best interest of everyone if the Jesus Movement fails.”

“But can we trust this Iscariot character?”

“Well, considering he took quite a risk to come to us in the first place and was willing to reveal his identity, I think so Cleophas… and if that’s not enough, well, let’s just say we made it worth his while.”

“So you bribed him?”

“Again, Bartamaeus, best not to get too bogged down in terminology. But suffice it to say I think we’ve given him proper incentive to help us when the time is right. You see, Judas has intimate knowledge of Jesus and his followers and that will be very helpful to us as we plan our response. I think Judas is the key to bringing down Jesus…”

Even though Mamercus was privy to the earlier conversation and knew what was coming, he still impressed by the mastery of Caiaphas’ staging. (Apparently Jesus was not the only one in Jerusalem who knew how to manipulate events.) Perhaps he needed to reassess the shrewdness of the man he was assigned to protect. What he lacked in brawn he just might make up for with brains, and that made him extremely dangerous.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Part IV: A Face in the Crowd

Late Sunday Afternoon

[Based on Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-38; John 12:12-19]

The formal arrival and review now complete, Mamercus and his century settled into their quarters at Fortress Antonia. The soldiers were given some down time to rest after their journey before assuming their assigned duties. After a short respite, Mamercus decided to take a walk and soon found himself strolling along Solomon's Portico, a broad avenue along the outermost eastern wall of the Temple complex.

King Herod had rebuilt the Jewish Temple, embarking on a massive construction project that had lasted 40 years! The sight was truly immense in scope covering 45 acres. Mamercus doubted even the original Temple that once stood here could match the splendor of this place. (The original temple had been built by Solomon, and destroyed during the Babylonian invasion. It had been rebuilt when the Jewish people returned from exile, but was not nearly as magnificent as the original Temple.) Truly Roman engineering was remarkable!

The "new" Temple dominated the landscape and was visible virtually anywhere in the city. The Temple's massive white marble walls gleamed in the late afternoon sun and gave it an almost otherworldly glory. Even the three great towers near Herod's palace seemed small in comparison.

Having ascended a three-story staircase to enter the Temple complex, Mamercus was now atop the Temple Mount and walking in the so-called Court of the Gentiles—the outermost area of the temple in which everyone, including Gentiles were allowed. The area was buzzing with activity. Hundreds, if not thousands, of pilgrims making their way to the city for the Passover observance were mulling around, some of them looking a bit confused and overwhelmed, others looking tired after a long journey. In addition to the normal brisk commerce that took place in this outer court every day, dozens of additional impromptu merchant stalls had been set up along the portico for the convenience of the incoming travelers.

Vendors were here selling virtually anything a pilgrim could possibly need for the Passover ceremony—and even some stuff they probably didn't. It just wasn't practical for pilgrims to bring what they needed with them, so they tended to purchase what they needed once they arrived in Jerusalem. It was really a win-win for everyone. The pilgrims got what they needed for the Passover observance, and the Temple made a handsome profit.

Moneychangers were also on hand to convert Roman coinage to Jewish currency, always for a small additional fee. And of course, men wearing the tell-tale regalia of lower ranking Temple officials—white linen robes and funny-looking hats—were sprinkled throughout the crowd to help the pilgrims figure out where they needed to go and what sacrifices were required once they were ready to enter the temple—for a small fee of course. Jewish males could even arrange for a tour of the temple if they wanted—again for a price.

Mamercus took all this in with hardly a second thought. It was just what went on in Jerusalem during the Passover and it was of little consequence to him. He worked his way through the crowds and made his was just starting to walk back down the portico toward the exit when there arose a clamor near the eastern entrance—the one that led out toward the village of Bethany and the Mount of Olives.

Someone in the crowd shouted: "Make way for Jesus!… All hail the liberating king!!"

Mamercus' mind instantly flashed back to the conversation he had earlier about the so-called Jesus threat. Clearly, this "Jesus" had to be the same Jesus that he had been warned about. He wasn't sure how seriously he should take the report at the time but obviously the intelligence reports were true. Jesus was in fact on his way to Jerusalem (again, not all that surprising given the occasion) but the response of the crowd surprised him just a little. His pulse quickened just slightly and almost without thinking he reached for his sword to make sure it was in place should he need it.

But, almost as quickly, he relaxed… Entering the gate at that moment was a lone figure riding on the back of a donkey. A rather haphazard looking line of followers straggled in behind him, some mounted others trailing behind on foot. This was the total opposite of the crisp military formation that he had been part of this morning and, frankly, Mamercus thought the display looked a little pathetic. He couldn't understand why everyone was getting so worked up? The man certainly didn't look like a king; he looked more like a common peasant.

Some of the people in the crowd started spreading their cloaks before him on the road; others spread palm branches along the road; still others tried to run up and touch Jesus and his entourage. Mamercus noted that if anyone had tried that this morning they would have been summarily killed, but this Jesus character didn't seem to mind mixing with the crowd.

Someone standing nearby shouted: "Hosanna!"—which means, "Lord save us!" Others repeated the accolade.

"With what," Mamercus chuckled to himself, "His charm and good looks?" He hardly thought this guy could save himself in a fight, much less anyone else, and certainly not a whole "nation" of people. He certainly didn't fit the profile of a military hero. Where was his armor? Where was his sword? What weapons would he fight with if it came down to it?

One of the white-robed-clerics Mamercus had seen earlier was standing nearby and said: "Behold Israel. As the scriptures foretold, your king comes to you riding on a donkey!"

Mamercus was a bit confused. Standing in the midst of this mass of humanity erupting in spontaneous celebration, cheering and waving their branches, he suddenly felt a little out of place. At least for a brief moment, he wished he was back at the palace. He sensed an almost palpable excitement seemingly growing by the moment among the Jewish people gathered in the Court of the Gentiles, as they cheered the arrival of this relatively unknown Nazarene. Mamercus found himself thinking again, "Who in the world is this guy and why is this nobody causing such an uproar?"

Maybe Pilate’s concerns were not totally off base. It is clear that this crowd seems desperate to have someone, anyone, to believe in. His earlier thoughts not withstanding, even this brief encounter gave Mamercus the distinct sense that this man did in fact possess a certain charisma. For some unknown reason, the Jewish people seem to want to follow Jesus and put their hopes and dreams for the future in him. And while he doesn’t seem to come seeking their accolades, he is not exactly discouraging what they say either… which is troubling. Some of what they are saying could be construed as blasphemy against Caesar.

Mamercus would definitely need to find out more about this Jesus of Nazareth and reassess the threat he posed to Rome. He would also need to alert the primus pilus of these new developments. If the Jews did break out into a full-scale revolt, it could quickly spread into the countryside, and other groups might follow suit. Mamercus was not about to let that happen if he could help it.

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Part III: The Triumphal Entry

Sunday Morning

The cohort approached the city from the northeast and entered Jerusalem through the Sheep Gate on the first day of the week, just as the Sun was rising over the city. A crowd of onlookers gathered to witness the arrival. Many stood in wide-eyed amazement as rank upon rank of soldiers passed before them, marching through the narrow entryway and into the city. Even the guards standing watch on the wall seemed taken aback. Most of the soldiers serving Caesar in Jerusalem were local recruits, not career soldiers like Mamercus and his legionaires, and no doubt they had never in their lives seen such military strength concentrated in one place. The timing of their arrival was no accident either. The primus pilus intentionally chose to arrive at a time when the morning sun would reflect off the soldier's weapons and armor. This would only enhance the shock and awe factor for the local populace. It was intended to send a clear message to everyone that Rome was firmly in control of the city and would protect the peace at all cost.

Although he was a seasoned soldier, Mamercus still enjoyed the pageantry of military exhibitions and took pride in having his century march with practiced precision. Governor Pilate and his entourage viewed the procession from a balcony at the nearby Fortress Antonia. (Built by Herod and named after his friend Marc Antony, the fortress stood adjacent to the Temple complex and was one of Pilate's residences when he was in Jerusalem.) Standing behind Pilate just on the edge of the shadows was a tall, gaunt looking fellow who Mamercus did not recognize right away. His attire was that of a high-ranking Jewish priest, and Mamercus soon realized that this was most likely Caiaphas the High Priest. The soldier studied the "holy" man with some interest as the procession slowly filed by the stand; it's always good to get a good look at the person you are assigned to protect. It was hard to form much of an impression from a distance, but it looked like Caiaphas wasn't much of a warrior and could use all the help he could get. He found himself thinking, "This is the most influential man in Jerusalem?!"

To allow for maximum flexibility, the primus pilus (cohort commander) had decided that once the cohort arrived in Jerusalem, each century would operate with relative autonomy. Each centurion would be assigned to the command of the local authorities. (The locals were more familiar with the situation in the city, so this arrangement seemed to make sense.) So for the duration of their assignment here, Mamercus' century would be under the authority of Caiaphas the High Priest. They would be stationed at Fortress Antonia, which in addition to being a residence for the Roman Governor, also served as a base for the so-called Temple Police—a garrison of Roman Soldiers assigned to protect the High Priest and the Temple.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Part II: The "Jesus Threat"

Mamercus was initially surprised when he learned an entire cohort was being dispatched to Jerusalem; it seemed to him that a century or two of soldiers would certainly have sufficed. But he understands now…

Shortly before they left Raphana, the legate took the rather unusual step of summoning not only the primus pilus (the lead centurion for the entire cohort—the ranking officer if you will) but also the other five centurions assigned to this tour of duty to a special, and confidential, meeting. The legion commander wanted to share with them some troubling reports that have reached Raphana from Jerusalem in recent weeks about a certain Jew called Jesus of Nazareth.

This Jesus character is apparently making some extraordinary claims about himself. One report said that he was calling himself the savior… Lord… King of the Jews… and maybe most troubling of all… Messiah or liberating king. (Of course Mamercus and his friends find such claims patently ridiculous. Caesar is undisputed savior, and Lord, and king of the world, not some self-proclaimed itinerant prophet from Nazareth.) Other reports claim that he has performed "miracles," healing the sick and, according to one unverified source, even raising the dead to life. Not surprisingly, Jesus has been gaining quite a following in the region of Galilee. He's also stirred up quite a furor among the Jewish priests and scribes lately; they seem quite threatened by Jesus. Given Passover is coming, it stands to reason that he and his band of rag-tad followers might be headed for Jerusalem—as is seemingly every other Jewish person in the Empire.

The bottom line is that Jesus is making some rather incendiary claims, and they have now drawn the attention and raised the ire of some powerful people in Jerusalem. Reports indicate that this man seems to try very hard not to draw attention to his activities, but nevertheless seems to stir up the Jewish people wherever he goes. (Either they love Jesus and worship him as Lord or they hate him and want to see him dead, not much in between.)

To date the so-called Jesus-threat has been dismissed as overreaction by somewhat paranoid political and religious leaders in Jerusalem, but now there seems to be a growing consensus, even beyond Jerusalem, that the threat posed by Jesus may be more substantial. This is the other less publicized reason for an unprecedented show of force by Rome during a Jewish religious festival. While it seems unlikely that Jesus and his followers would be foolish enough to try something during the Passover, Pilate does not want to take any chances. The Jews are always emotionally charged during their high holidays so it wouldn't take much for someone to stir up the locals—especially the already militaristic zealots—right now. Someone like this Jesus character could be the catalyst for the full-scale revolt that Pilate has long feared might happen. The legate simply wants all the centurions leading the "peacekeeping" force to Jerusalem to be fully aware of what they may be walking into in Jerusalem.

As the cohort of soldiers approaches the walls of the city of the Jews the clash of armor creates an audible rumbling in the surrounding countryside, and the crisp formation leaves a cloud of dust in its wake. As he looks around at the impressive display of military power surrounding him, Mamercus is confident that the Jesus-threat is nothing compared to the power of Rome's Ironclad Sixth! Should his cohort fail, and Mamercus can't imagine how this could possibly happen, he knows that there are eight more like it that could be sent to subjugate the city of Jerusalem within days. No one can realistically oppose the power of Caesar and live… and Mamercus has come to believe that this Imperial military dominance is the key to assuring that "peace" will ultimately prevail not only in Jerusalem but throughout the Empire. While he has every intention of surviving, Mamercus is willing to give his life away to protect the peace.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Part I: On the March to Jerusalem

Mamercus Helividius Hypsaeus serves as a centurion in Caesar’s army in 33 AD. (Each centurion is a commander of a century of 80 men.) He is a member of the Sixth Roman Legion, which has a long and proud history that dates back to the days of Gaius Julius Caesar. The so-called Ironclad Sixth has served in various military campaigns throughout the past half-century and it now serves as a garrison in the region of Judea. The legion has earned a reputation over the years for being loyal and steadfast in service to the Republic… and now the Empire. Mamercus is proud to be included among their ranks and bear the crest of Romulus and Remus (the legendary founders of Rome) on his shield.

The Sixth Legion is based in Raphana—located in modern-day Jordan, Raphana is one of ten cities in the region of the Decapolis. Today, however, Mamercus and his soldiers are on the move. They are part of a larger cohort of soldiers (this would be 6 centuries, or 480 soldiers) being dispatched to Jerusalem to reinforce the century of soldiers (mostly composed of local recruits) already stationed there. His Excellency Pontius Pilate, Prefate of the Roman province of Judea, has requested the extra soldiers come to help “keep the peace” during the Jewish Passover celebration and the legate (the legion’s commander) has obliged. Jewish people from all over the region of Judea and beyond will be journeying to Jerusalem over the next few days and Pilate wants to make sure that peace is maintained at all cost.

Now Mamercus has done a tour of duty in Jerusalem before, and he doesn’t particularly look forward to returning. He’s lived in this region of the Empire for a while and he knows that Jews are always so unpredictable, especially when they gather together in larger numbers during their religious festivals—like Passover. They’ve been a thorn in the side of the Empire, and for other ruling powers, for years if not centuries. They just seem to have a stubborn will as a people and refuse to be subjugated. They have a tenacious spirit and insist upon worshipping their own god in their own unique way; they have no interest in the “gods” of the Empire, no desire to “convert.”

Mamercus is not alone in his relative disdain for Jerusalem; nobody in the legion particularly likes it when it’s their turn to do a “tour of duty” in the city of the Jews. More than any other group in the Empire, the Jews seem to give the Roman soldiers stationed there to “keep the peace” no end of trouble. Certain groups, like the zealots, are particularly bothersome, always fomenting revolution and pinning their hopes on the latest would-be Messiah who they believe will ride in as a conquering military hero and liberate them once and for all from oppression. Though they may be foolish idealists, Mamercus has to confess a certain admiration for their dedication to a cause they believe in, even though it diametrically opposes the cause to which he has devoted his life.

To try and keep relative tranquility, Rome has allowed the Jews to continue to worship their god in their temple in Jerusalem and practice their quaint religion. The Jewish leaders, however, are under no illusion that they operate with total autonomy—the Empire is always watching their actions closely. The leaders walk a tightrope and lead something of the dual life. On the outside they “perform” as good Jews doing all the proper rituals and practices, but they must secretly (and sometimes not-so secretly) collaborate with the Roman occupiers to keep their high status secure. Pilate hopes that the strong military presence in Jerusalem this week will serve as yet another reminder to the local populace of where the true power and authority rests—namely with Caesar. He hopes that fear of swift retribution from Rome will help keep the locals “in line,” and their festival will go off without incident. The last thing Pilate wants right now is a bunch of over-zealous Jews making trouble in the streets of Jerusalem. Rome takes pride in maintaining peace throughout the Empire and so he certainly wouldn’t want news of his inability to keep the peace to make it back to Rome. (After all he aspires to someday be more than the Governor of a backwater province.) Mamercus is determined to do his part and not let things get out of hand on his watch.