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.

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