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Duplicity, Politics & Betrayal: A Centurion in Jerusalem

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This is the final part of my Holy Week prequel for my series on Longinus the Centurion. It deals with the night that Christians now refer to as Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday. 

Longinus continued to think about the various intrigues that he saw in Jerusalem but he could not imagine what he was soon to learn about. The morning had started normally until the corpulent and corrupt Herod Antipas, the appointed “Jewish” ruler of Galilee and son of Herod the Great arrived in Jerusalem with his entourage.

Longinus knew that there was no love lost between Pilate and Herod, nor between the Pharisees and Herod. Herod chafed knowing that he only ruled a portion of the land his father had ruled especially that he did not rule in Jerusalem. His father had rebuilt and restored the Temple after it was desecrated by the Seleucids, something that the Pharisees and the Priestly class in the city seemed to not give his father enough credit for doing. The fact that Herod was coming to observe the Passover in the city could only add to the tensions that were simmering.

Pilate called Longinus and the other senior officers, including the Centurion Flavius to his headquarters to be part of his official greeting party. Pilate may have despised Herod, but he was the representative of the Empire and Herod, like any proxy ruler needed Pilate’s support.

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The meeting at the court referred to as “the Pavement” was filled with ceremonial pleasantries as Pilate, Herod and their staff members and court followers conducted the business of the day. Nothing of much importance was discussed, Pilate decided not to bring up anything about the Galilean preacher despite the uproar of Sunday that accompanied his arrival. Pilate thought it amusing that a poor preach from Herod’s own province would be greeted as a king while the population hardly acknowledged Herod, apart from the rathe sullen looks that greeted his arrival.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

As he changed his second in command, Decius knocked on the door.

“Come.” Longinus said and his subordinate entered. Decius came to attention and saluted.

“Be at ease my friend, what news do you bring?”

“Centurion I have some rather interesting news from our Jewish spy regarding this Jesus fellow.”

“Is that so?” Longinus inquired.

“Yes sir. He said that one of Jesus’s own men, one of his 12 closest followers went to the ruling elders this morning and offered to betray him.” The words coming from his subordinate were stunning.

“Tell me more.” Longinus said, his voice now full of curiosity.

“Sir, our man said that a man named Judas Iscariot, who is trusted by Jesus enough that he carries the money bag and pays whatever expenses that Jesus and his men incur.” Decius paused while Longinus pondered this unexpected turn of events.

After a few moments of silence Longinus asked his Tesserarius, Quentin to fetch Flavius and asked Decius to sit at his desk. Flavius arrived within a couple of minutes and joined Longinus and Decius at the desk.”

Longinus began the discussion.

“Flavius, we have news about your friend the Galilean preacher, it seems that one of his merry band is a traitor.”

If Longinus’s reaction to the news was surprise and maybe even amusement with the duplicity of these Jews the reaction of Flavius was one of stunned disbelief and horror.

“You can’t be serious?” He stammered.

“Well that is what Decius says my Jewish insider at the Sanhedrin has reported just a little while ago.” He looked at Flavius as Flavius asked “do you know which one of his men has done this.”

“A certain Judas Iscariot. That is the correct name isn’t it Decius.”

“Yes Centurion, Judas Iscariot.”

Flavius looked at Decius and Longinus and said “Iscariot.”

“You know of him.” Inquired Longinus.

“Yes I do know of him. Before he joined with Jesus he was reported to be linked to a group of assassins called the sicarii.”

“The sicarii?” Longinus asked , hardly believing what Flavius said. The sicarii were a particularly violent group, known to kill Romans and people that they suspected of being collaborators. They armed themselves with a particularly nasty dagger that they carried beneath their tunics. If this was true it could be a particularly disturbing turn of events.

“Yes my friend. You see many people followed this Jesus not because of his goodness or any thought of benevolence, but because they believed that he would overthrow the Jewish regime and drive us out of this land.”

“I had no idea. I thought they were all a bunch of do gooders. In fact until Jesus took a whip to all the merchants in the Temple the other day I didn’t think that he had a violent bone in his body.”

He looked at Decius and asked “What does our spy say about this Judas fellows motive?”

The younger officer replied “our man said that He overheard Judas talking before he went into the chambers of the Sanhedrin with some Priests sympathetic with the Zealot party of the Jews.”

“Continue.”

“What he said is that evidently Judas told these men that he was disappointed by the fact that Jesus did not appear to be seeking to overthrow us.”

“That would not be surprising for a member of the sicarii.” Added Flavius, his expression changing from disbelief to anger and after a moment’s reflection he slammed his fist down on the table and added “I could kill that miserable bugger myself…the man Jesus has done nothing wrong.” As Flavius spoke his voice rose in intensity. Longinus knew his friend was upset.

“Flavius, I can understand, this seems a vile thing but there are even larger issues than your friendship with this man and what he did for your servant.” Longinus hoped that his outward calm and acknowledgment of his friend’s feelings would help calm the anger.

“Longinus my friend, I know how you feel about these people and I hoped for better, I wanted to believe that they were a cut above us with their One God, but I see that even a people as devout as the Jews are as capable of evil as the worst Greek, Egyptian, Cretin or Arab.” He paused. “Do you have wine? I could use a drink about now.”

“Of course, my friend. Decius, please pour each of us each a cup of wine.”

As the younger officer got the wine Longinus looked at his angry and downcast friend. He felt a certain amount of sympathy for Flavius, but he had long ago learned not to let the sufferings of occupied people touch him deeply. He had built a fortress at impregnable as Fortress Antonia around his own heart years ago. It was the only way to survive. The being said he recognized a certain amount of humanity in his friend that was absent from so many of his comrades. In a way he envied Flavius. As he thought these things he realized that he needed to move the subject from Flavius’s emotional response to this situation to the practical consequences of this development. About that time Decius brought the wine and placing three cups on the table poured the wine.

“Thank you my friend.” Flavius said as he lifted the cup to his lips.

Both men raised their cups and took a drink. As he set his cup down Longinus continued. “I know that you hoped for better from these people, but you know I have found that some of the most religious people are also the most violent and intolerant.”

Flavius looked at his friend who continued “it seems to me that when someone, you know true believers, know that they have any deity at their disposal they are inclined to be less tolerant of others.” He paused and took a sip of wine. “I think that it is a testament to the Empire that we have so many religions and that in the name of law and order that violent ones are suppressed. That is why throughout most of the Empire we have peace.”

Flavius interrupted his friend. “But we enforce the religion of Caesar, a man, who we claim as God on our citizens.”

“True, but none of us really believe he is a real God anyway, it is a way to keep order. The state makes a religion of itself, it keeps the really dangerous types at bay. So long as people put Caesar first, even if it means burning a bit of incense to a man that they do not believe is God it serves a purpose doesn’t it?”

Flavius looked at his friend and quietly replied “I guess until I met this Jesus fellow I would have agreed completely, but now I don’t know.”

Longinus listened to his friend and could see the sincerity in his face. He continued saying softly “I really believe my friend that the second that any religion that proclaims something different arises and gains control of the Empire you can be assured that the peace that we know will be gone.”

“But that is no substitute for belief in a real God.” Answered Flavius.

“That may be so my friend but it helps keep the peace and is why we don’t have problems throughout the Empire like those that beset us here.”
A curious silence descended in the room as the two friends pondered the situation. Finally Flavius broke the silence. “I just hope that what this man has done stays a Jewish problem for their leaders. I would hate for us Romans to have to become involved in it.”

“As do I my friend, I can drink to that.”

The three men sat silently continuing to drink their wine as they pondered the position that they found themselves…. It was nearly sunset.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Centurion Meets a Terrorist

barabbas

This is the third chapter of a prequel to my series on Longinus the Centurion, who according to tradition was the Centurion in charge of the execution of Jesus. Today is how I imagine that the Centurion would deal with receiving orders to prepare for the execution of a condemned terrorist.

The next morning a messenger knocked on the door to Longinus’s quarters in Fortress Antonia. He told Longinus that Pilate wanted to speak to him and to report as soon as possible to Pilate’s headquarters in the fortress.

Longinus, who had been discussing the day with Decius in order to ensure his soldiers were ready for any contingency but also conduct some training was bothered by the request. He had discussed the situation in the city and about Jesus in particular the previous afternoon with Pilate and figured that unless there was some sort of incident that he would meet again later in the day to discuss the latest events.

Instead Longinus, was being ordered to report to Pilate again and it was interfering with his conduct of military business. Longinus hated dealing with politicians and diplomats and though he respected Pilate who he felt to be as decent of man as any politically appointed diplomat as any Pilate was still not a military man. He did not always understand military matters.

Longinus looked at the messenger and asked: “Tell me. what would the Governor need of me at this hour?”

“Centurion,” the messenger replied. I was only told to have you report as soon as possible.”

Bothered by the lack of detail Longinus told the messenger to go and tell Pilate that he would be there shortly. He then looked at Decius, and shook his head. “My friend, I am afraid that I will be delayed. Take care to conduct today’s training and be ready in case any trouble arises.” With that he put on his armored breastplate and cape and left the room.

When he arrived at Pilate’s headquarters the Governor greeted him cheerfully. “Centurion, it is good to see you.”

“Likewise sir…” Pilate stopped him before he could continue.

“I don’t suppose that you know why I called you here do you?” Pilate asked, irritating Longinus who feeling even more irritated by Pilate’s levity kept his feelings to his self and simple replied: “No my Lord, your messenger only told me to report here, he did not give me a reason.”

Pilate smiled. “It was with good reason, had he done so I am sure that you, like any other Centurion in the province would have found some “pressing military duty,” isn’t that what you call it? to avoid coming here.”  He paused for just a moment and before Longinus could respond continued: “Of course I know the answer, you need not say anything and I suppose if I was in your position that I would feel the same way.”

Longinus knew this was the case and had no answer to Pilate who continued.

“Centurion, this week will unfortunately be a week where we must conduct some rather unpleasant business, less than soldierly business but necessary.” Pilate paused again and motioned for Longinus to take a seat at his desk and Longinus did so, looking about the room and noticing Pilate’s civilian staff and several soldiers assigned as his personal bodyguard.

Longinus, decided to hasten the length of the visit and asked: “My Lord, may I ask why I am here? After all I do have pressing military business to attend to.”

Pilate immediately caught the sarcasm in Longinus’s words and smiled. “Centurion, you amuse me, because I know how you military types think. You see I may not have served with a Legion, but I have served with enough officers to know that you would rather be fighting the enemies of the Empire than doing police work, but we are in Palestine, not the Teutonic Forrest.”

Longinus stared back at Pilate and said nothing.

“Centurion, this week we will dispense justice to three Jewish prisoners. Men of your unit will conduct the crucifixions this Friday.”

“Yes my Lord.” Longinus’s muted response spoke more than any protest could.

Pilate continued. “Centurion, I want you to see the prisoners and in doing so know in your heart why this must be done. These men are violent criminals, and one of them is the infamous Bar-Abbas.”  Longinus looked at Pilate, and asked “the insurgent who has attacked and killed our soldiers and officials?”

Pilate nodded and replied “so you know why this is important, in an environment as volatile as Judea we cannot let a man like this remain unpunished, it would only encourage more men to rise up like him.” Pilate smiled and continued. “We cannot forget how the Jews rose up and overthrew the Seleucid rulers underestimated these Jews when that Judas Maccabee fellow led that bloody revolt.”

Longinus replied “No we could not let that happen on our watch.”

Pilate nodded in agreement and continued. “So you understand Centurion, it is an unpleasant duty, but mind you history will thank us for it, as will any God that you believe in.” Pilate finished by telling Longinus to visit the prison for himself and begin to choose his soldiers for the crucifixion detail with care.

Longinus rose and saluted Pilate, turned and left the room without another word. He was not happy but proceeded to the dungeon where he met the Jailer of the Fortress, a rather obese and dirty looking man named Alexander, a Roman citizen of Greek origin hailing from Antioch.

When Longinus reached the dungeon he immediately noticed the stench and again realized why he was a Legionnaire and not a policeman. The prison was dark, and by Palestinian standards dank and moist smelling of human excrement and body odor.

“Well Centurion, welcome to my kingdom” said Alexander, a smile pressing through his grimy face.

“Thank you Alexander, where are the condemned?” asked Longinus icily.

They are in the cells to your left. Bar-Abbas is in the first and the other two, neither as notorious as he are in the next cell.”

“What are their names?”

“Dismas and Gestas, they are violent criminals of their own accord, but they were only out for personal gain. I think that one feels some remorse, but the other seems to be a rather hardened and unrepentant man.” The words came effortlessly to the unkempt jailer

“Thank you warden, I will see them now” said Longinus as he turned to look over these men as quickly as possible so he could return to his unit.

He walked past Bar-Abbas without making eye contact and went to the second cell. The two prisoners could not appear more different. One, seemed to accept his fate while the other looked at Longinus without remorse. After about a minute Longinus asked their names. The remorseful looking one answered, “I am Dismas, I stand condemned for robbery and murder. I accept my fate Centurion.” The other prisoner glared at his mate and with hatred in his voice and eyes said to Longinus “I am Gestas, and I am not sorry for anything that I did you Roman swine.”

Longinus stared back saying nothing, his continued lack of respect for such people seemed vindicated. He turned to the other cell and looked at the burly prisoner in it. “So you are Bar-Abbas?”

The prisoner snarled “So what is it to you Roman?”

Longinus began to feel better about his mission. “Well, Bar-Abbas, it seems that you have killed one too many of my comrades and it is I who will get to exact justice on you.”

Bar-Abbas smiled an evil smile and said, “The Roman that can kill me has not been born.” He laughed at Longinus who stood silently for a moment. Then, quietly Longinus replied, “We’ll see about that.” With that Longinus motioned to Alexander the Jailer to let him out. The jailer unlocked the door and Longinus walked up the steps and into the courtyard of the fortress where his unit was practicing battle drills.

Calling Decius to his side, he said. “We have a second mission this week, the mission of executing some dangerous prisoners, including Bar-Abbas the insurgent.”

“Bar-Abbas sir?” replied the junior officer.

“The same, but we have to wait until Friday. It seems that our governor wants to make a show if his generosity to the people here. If it was up to me I would have killed them in the dungeon and been done with it, we could have said that they died of the plague.” Longinus looked at his assistant and then continued “Of course that is not how we Romans do things, they will be executed in public to show these Jews that they cannot engage in such conduct, but it will only build more resentment.”

“Sir, are you saying that our methods are wrong?” asked Decius.

“Young man, look around you. You know the history of these people. They will continue to rise up until they regain their independence or we kill them all.” He paused. “That is their history and they can do no other. After all, if they were occupying our homes, establishing their God in cities and forcing our people to serve them how would we respond?”

Decius nodded his understanding and looked at the Legionnaires practicing close combat tactics that might be necessary in a pitched battle if the city was to erupt in revolt.

Longinus continued “Decius, choose a squad of men as the execution team and another as the escort. The rest of the Century is to be trained to maintain a secure perimeter and ensure that no Jews attempt to interfere with our mission.

“Sir, where is the execution to take place?” asked Decius.

Longinus motioned to a hill visible just outside the city walls. “Over there, that barren hill. The locals call it Golgotha.” He paused. “Fitting name, the place of the Skull. I perfect place to kill people that don’t want us here wouldn’t you say?” He chuckled and continued, “don’t answer, it is a rhetorical question.”

His assistant nodded and Longinus gave the order “Carry on with training, let me know which men you think should be on the execution team later tonight.”

Longinus turned and walked away wondering what else might happen, after all, the best laid plans of men sometimes don’t work out. He silently cursed under his breath the day that he was assigned to this place, which despite its history and splendor seemed forsaken by the Gods.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Duplicity, Politics and Betrayal: A Centurion’s Thursday Evening in Jerusalem

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This is the final part of my Holy Week prequel for my series on Longinus the Centurion. I should have published it last night but forgot.

Longinus continued to think about the various intrigues that he saw in Jerusalem but he could not imagine what he was soon to learn about. The morning had started normally until the corpulent and corrupt Herod Antipas, the appointed “Jewish” ruler of Galilee and son of Herod the Great arrived in Jerusalem with his entourage.

Longinus knew that there was no love lost between Pilate and Herod, nor between the Pharisees and Herod. Herod chafed knowing that he only ruled a portion of the land his father had ruled especially that he did not rule in Jerusalem. His father had rebuilt and restored the Temple after it was desecrated by the Seleucids, something that the Pharisees and the Priestly class in the city seemed to not give his father enough credit for doing. The fact that Herod was coming to observe the Passover in the city could only add to the tensions that were simmering.

Pilate called Longinus and the other senior officers, including the Centurion Flavius to his headquarters to be part of his official greeting party. Pilate may have despised Herod, but he was the representative of the Empire and Herod, like any proxy ruler needed Pilate’s support.

friedrich-overbeck-pilate-and-herod-resolve-their-differences-and-pilate-hands-jesus-over-to-herod-s-jurisdiction

The meeting at the court referred to as “the Pavement” was filled with ceremonial pleasantries as Pilate, Herod and their staff members and court followers conducted the business of the day. Nothing of much importance was discussed, Pilate decided not to bring up anything about the Galilean preacher despite the uproar of Sunday that accompanied his arrival. Pilate thought it amusing that a poor preach from Herod’s own province would be greeted as a king while the population hardly acknowledged Herod, apart from the rathe sullen looks that greeted his arrival.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

As he changed his second in command, Decius knocked on the door.

“Come.” Longinus said and his subordinate entered. Decius came to attention and saluted.

“Be at ease my friend, what news do you bring?”

“Centurion I have some rather interesting news from our Jewish spy regarding this Jesus fellow.”

“Is that so?” Longinus inquired.

“Yes sir. He said that one of Jesus’s own men, one of his 12 closest followers went to the ruling elders this morning and offered to betray him.” The words coming from his subordinate were stunning.

“Tell me more.” Longinus said, his voice now full of curiosity.

“Sir, our man said that a man named Judas Iscariot, who is trusted by Jesus enough that he carries the money bag and pays whatever expenses that Jesus and his men incur.” Decius paused while Longinus pondered this unexpected turn of events.

After a few moments of silence Longinus asked his Tesserarius, Quentin to fetch Flavius and asked Decius to sit at his desk. Flavius arrived within a couple of minutes and joined Longinus and Decius at the desk.”

Longinus began the discussion.

“Flavius, we have news about your friend the Galilean preacher, it seems that one of his merry band is a traitor.”

If Longinus’s reaction to the news was surprise and maybe even amusement with the duplicity of these Jews the reaction of Flavius was one of stunned disbelief and horror.

“You can’t be serious?” He stammered.

“Well that is what Decius says my Jewish insider at the Sanhedrin has reported just a little while ago.” He looked at Flavius as Flavius asked “do you know which one of his men has done this.”

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“A certain Judas Iscariot. That is the correct name isn’t it Decius.”

“Yes Centurion, Judas Iscariot.”

Flavius looked at Decius and Longinus and said “Iscariot.”

“You know of him.” Inquired Longinus.

“Yes I do know of him. Before he joined with Jesus he was reported to be linked to a group of assassins called the sicarii.”

“The sicarii?” Longinus asked , hardly believing what Flavius said. The sicarii were a particularly violent group, known to kill Romans and people that they suspected of being collaborators. They armed themselves with a particularly nasty dagger that they carried beneath their tunics. If this was true it could be a particularly disturbing turn of events.

“Yes my friend. You see many people followed this Jesus not because of his goodness or any thought of benevolence, but because they believed that he would overthrow the Jewish regime and drive us out of this land.”

“I had no idea. I thought they were all a bunch of do gooders. In fact until Jesus took a whip to all the merchants in the Temple the other day I didn’t think that he had a violent bone in his body.”

He looked at Decius and asked “What does our spy say about this Judas fellows motive?”

The younger officer replied “our man said that He overheard Judas talking before he went into the chambers of the Sanhedrin with some Priests sympathetic with the Zealot party of the Jews.”

“Continue.”

“What he said is that evidently Judas told these men that he was disappointed by the fact that Jesus did not appear to be seeking to overthrow us.”

“That would not be surprising for a member of the sicarii.” Added Flavius, his expression changing from disbelief to anger and after a moment’s reflection he slammed his fist down on the table and added “I could kill that miserable bugger myself…the man Jesus has done nothing wrong.” As Flavius spoke his voice rose in intensity. Longinus knew his friend was upset.

“Flavius, I can understand, this seems a vile thing but there are even larger issues than your friendship with this man and what he did for your servant.” Longinus hoped that his outward calm and acknowledgment of his friend’s feelings would help calm the anger.

“Longinus my friend, I know how you feel about these people and I hoped for better, I wanted to believe that they were a cut above us with their One God, but I see that even a people as devout as the Jews are as capable of evil as the worst Greek, Egyptian, Cretin or Arab.” He paused. “Do you have wine? I could use a drink about now.”

“Of course, my friend. Decius, please pour each of us each a cup of wine.”

As the younger officer got the wine Longinus looked at his angry and downcast friend. He felt a certain amount of sympathy for Flavius, but he had long ago learned not to let the sufferings of occupied people touch him deeply. He had built a fortress at impregnable as Fortress Antonia around his own heart years ago. It was the only way to survive. The being said he recognized a certain amount of humanity in his friend that was absent from so many of his comrades. In a way he envied Flavius. As he thought these things he realized that he needed to move the subject from Flavius’s emotional response to this situation to the practical consequences of this development. About that time Decius brought the wine and placing three cups on the table poured the wine.

“Thank you my friend.” Flavius said as he lifted the cup to his lips.

Both men raised their cups and took a drink. As he set his cup down Longinus continued. “I know that you hoped for better from these people, but you know I have found that some of the most religious people are also the most violent and intolerant.”

Flavius looked at his friend who continued “it seems to me that when someone, you know true believers, know that they have any deity at their disposal they are inclined to be less tolerant of others.” He paused and took a sip of wine. “I think that it is a testament to the Empire that we have so many religions and that in the name of law and order that violent ones are suppressed. That is why throughout most of the Empire we have peace.”

Flavius interrupted his friend. “But we enforce the religion of Caesar, a man, who we claim as God on our citizens.”

“True, but none of us really believe he is a real God anyway, it is a way to keep order. The state makes a religion of itself, it keeps the really dangerous types at bay. So long as people put Caesar first, even if it means burning a bit of incense to a man that they do not believe is God it serves a purpose doesn’t it?”

Flavius looked at his friend and quietly replied “I guess until I met this Jesus fellow I would have agreed completely, but now I don’t know.”

Longinus listened to his friend and could see the sincerity in his face. He continued saying softly “I really believe my friend that the second that any religion that proclaims something different arises and gains control of the Empire you can be assured that the peace that we know will be gone.”

“But that is no substitute for belief in a real God.” Answered Flavius.

“That may be so my friend but it helps keep the peace and is why we don’t have problems throughout the Empire like those that beset us here.”
A curious silence descended in the room as the two friends pondered the situation. Finally Flavius broke the silence. “I just hope that what this man has done stays a Jewish problem for their leaders. I would hate for us Romans to have to become involved in it.”

“As do I my friend, I can drink to that.”

The three men sat silently continuing to drink their wine as they pondered the position that they found themselves…. It was nearly sunset.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Looking into the Face of Evil: A Centurion Meets the Terrorist Barrabas

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This is the third chapter of a prequel to my series on Longinus the Centurion, who according to tradition was the Centurion in charge of the execution of Jesus. Today is how I imagine that the Centurion would deal with receiving orders to prepare for the execution of a condemned terrorist.

The next morning a messenger knocked on the door to Longinus’s quarters in Fortress Antonia. He told Longinus that Pilate wanted to speak to him and to report as soon as possible to Pilate’s headquarters in the fortress.

Longinus, who had been discussing the day with Decius in order to ensure his soldiers were ready for any contingency but also conduct some training was bothered by the request. He had discussed the situation in the city and about Jesus in particular the previous afternoon with Pilate and figured that unless there was some sort of incident that he would meet again later in the day to discuss the latest events.

Instead Longinus, was being ordered to report to Pilate again and it was interfering with his conduct of military business. Longinus hated dealing with politicians and diplomats and though he respected Pilate who he felt to be as decent of man as any politically appointed diplomat as any Pilate was still not a military man. He did not always understand military matters.

Longinus looked at the messenger and asked: “Tell me. what would the Governor need of me at this hour?”

“Centurion,” the messenger replied. I was only told to have you report as soon as possible.”

Bothered by the lack of detail Longinus told the messenger to go and tell Pilate that he would be there shortly. He then looked at Decius, and shook his head. “My friend, I am afraid that I will be delayed. Take care to conduct today’s training and be ready in case any trouble arises.” With that he put on his armored breastplate and cape and left the room.

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When he arrived at Pilate’s headquarters the Governor greeted him cheerfully. “Centurion, it is good to see you.”

“Likewise sir…” Pilate stopped him before he could continue.

“I don’t suppose that you know why I called you here do you?” Pilate asked, irritating Longinus who feeling even more irritated by Pilate’s levity kept his feelings to his self and simple replied: “No my Lord, your messenger only told me to report here, he did not give me a reason.”

Pilate smiled. “It was with good reason, had he done so I am sure that you, like any other Centurion in the province would have found some “pressing military duty,” isn’t that what you call it? to avoid coming here.”  He paused for just a moment and before Longinus could respond continued: “Of course I know the answer, you need not say anything and I suppose if I was in your position that I would feel the same way.”

Longinus knew this was the case and had no answer to Pilate who continued.

“Centurion, this week will unfortunately be a week where we must conduct some rather unpleasant business, less than soldierly business but necessary.” Pilate paused again and motioned for Longinus to take a seat at his desk and Longinus did so, looking about the room and noticing Pilate’s civilian staff and several soldiers assigned as his personal bodyguard.

Longinus, decided to hasten the length of the visit and asked: “My Lord, may I ask why I am here? After all I do have pressing military business to attend to.”

Pilate immediately caught the sarcasm in Longinus’s words and smiled. “Centurion, you amuse me, because I know how you military types think. You see I may not have served with a Legion, but I have served with enough officers to know that you would rather be fighting the enemies of the Empire than doing police work, but we are in Palestine, not the Teutonic Forrest.”

Longinus stared back at Pilate and said nothing.

“Centurion, this week we will dispense justice to three Jewish prisoners. Men of your unit will conduct the crucifixions this Friday.”

“Yes my Lord.” Longinus’s muted response spoke more than any protest could.

Pilate continued. “Centurion, I want you to see the prisoners and in doing so know in your heart why this must be done. These men are violent criminals, and one of them is the infamous Bar-Abbas.”  Longinus looked at Pilate, and asked “the insurgent who has attacked and killed our soldiers and officials?”

Pilate nodded and replied “so you know why this is important, in an environment as volatile as Judea we cannot let a man like this remain unpunished, it would only encourage more men to rise up like him.” Pilate smiled and continued. “We cannot forget how the Jews rose up and overthrew the Seleucid rulers underestimated these Jews when that Judas Maccabee fellow led that bloody revolt.”

Longinus replied “No we could not let that happen on our watch.”

Pilate nodded in agreement and continued. “So you understand Centurion, it is an unpleasant duty, but mind you history will thank us for it, as will any God that you believe in.” Pilate finished by telling Longinus to visit the prison for himself and begin to choose his soldiers for the crucifixion detail with care.

Longinus rose and saluted Pilate, turned and left the room without another word. He was not happy but proceeded to the dungeon where he met the Jailer of the Fortress, a rather obese and dirty looking man named Alexander, a Roman citizen of Greek origin hailing from Antioch.

When Longinus reached the dungeon he immediately noticed the stench and again realized why he was a Legionnaire and not a policeman. The prison was dark, and by Palestinian standards dank and moist smelling of human excrement and body odor.

“Well Centurion, welcome to my kingdom” said Alexander, a smile pressing through his grimy face.

“Thank you Alexander, where are the condemned?” asked Longinus icily.

They are in the cells to your left. Bar-Abbas is in the first and the other two, neither as notorious as he are in the next cell.”

“What are their names?”

“Dismas and Gestas, they are violent criminals of their own accord, but they were only out for personal gain. I think that one feels some remorse, but the other seems to be a rather hardened and unrepentant man.” The words came effortlessly to the unkempt jailer

“Thank you warden, I will see them now” said Longinus as he turned to look over these men as quickly as possible so he could return to his unit.

He walked past Bar-Abbas without making eye contact and went to the second cell. The two prisoners could not appear more different. One, seemed to accept his fate while the other looked at Longinus without remorse. After about a minute Longinus asked their names. The remorseful looking one answered, “I am Dismas, I stand condemned for robbery and murder. I accept my fate Centurion.” The other prisoner glared at his mate and with hatred in his voice and eyes said to Longinus “I am Gestas, and I am not sorry for anything that I did you Roman swine.”

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Longinus stared back saying nothing, his continued lack of respect for such people seemed vindicated. He turned to the other cell and looked at the burly prisoner in it. “So you are Bar-Abbas?”

The prisoner snarled “So what is it to you Roman?”

Longinus began to feel better about his mission. “Well, Bar-Abbas, it seems that you have killed one too many of my comrades and it is I who will get to exact justice on you.”

Bar-Abbas smiled an evil smile and said, “The Roman that can kill me has not been born.” He laughed at Longinus who stood silently for a moment. Then, quietly Longinus replied, “We’ll see about that.” With that Longinus motioned to Alexander the Jailer to let him out. The jailer unlocked the door and Longinus walked up the steps and into the courtyard of the fortress where his unit was practicing battle drills.

Calling Decius to his side, he said. “We have a second mission this week, the mission of executing some dangerous prisoners, including Bar-Abbas the insurgent.”

“Bar-Abbas sir?” replied the junior officer.

“The same, but we have to wait until Friday. It seems that our governor wants to make a show if his generosity to the people here. If it was up to me I would have killed them in the dungeon and been done with it, we could have said that they died of the plague.” Longinus looked at his assistant and then continued “Of course that is not how we Romans do things, they will be executed in public to show these Jews that they cannot engage in such conduct, but it will only build more resentment.”

“Sir, are you saying that our methods are wrong?” asked Decius.

“Young man, look around you. You know the history of these people. They will continue to rise up until they regain their independence or we kill them all.” He paused. “That is their history and they can do no other. After all, if they were occupying our homes, establishing their God in cities and forcing our people to serve them how would we respond?”

Decius nodded his understanding and looked at the Legionnaires practicing close combat tactics that might be necessary in a pitched battle if the city was to erupt in revolt.

Longinus continued “Decius, choose a squad of men as the execution team and another as the escort. The rest of the Century is to be trained to maintain a secure perimeter and ensure that no Jews attempt to interfere with our mission.

“Sir, where is the execution to take place?” asked Decius.

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Longinus motioned to a hill visible just outside the city walls. “Over there, that barren hill. The locals call it Golgotha.” He paused. “Fitting name, the place of the Skull. I perfect place to kill people that don’t want us here wouldn’t you say?” He chuckled and continued, “don’t answer, it is a rhetorical question.”

His assistant nodded and Longinus gave the order “Carry on with training, let me know which men you think should be on the execution team later tonight.”

Longinus turned and walked away wondering what else might happen, after all, the best laid plans of men sometimes don’t work out. He silently cursed under his breath the day that he was assigned to this place, which despite its history and splendor seemed forsaken by the Gods.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Meeting of Centurions in Jerusalem

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This is another part in the historical fiction series that I am wrote about the Centurion Longinus, who according to tradition was the Centurion at the Cross who put his lance in the side of Jesus and who would exclaim “Surely this was the Son of God” as Jesus breathed his last. This chapter takes up where after the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and is about a meeting between Longinus and another Centurion who I call Flavius. This second character is based on the Centurion that Jesus meets in Capernaum recorded in Matthew Chapter eight. I began the first trilogy in 2012 and the second trilogy which is the prequel to the first last year as part of my Holy Week meditations. Hopefully I will to a concluding trilogy at some point imagining what things were like for these men in the years after that momentous week.  

The day after the entry of this Jesus character into Jerusalem was uneventful for Longinus and his fellow Roman officers. Jesus had returned to Bethany after driving out the money changers and other assorted riff-raff out of the Temple but had returned without the tumult of the preceding day, Instead, Jesus with a number of his disciples went to the Temple where he engaged the people and some of the Pharisees in a time of teaching culminating in a series of what Longinus’ Jewish spy said were comments that could be interpreted as threats against the Temple establishment and veiled allusions to Jesus being the Messiah of the Jews.

Jesus left the Temple at the end of the day without incident but Longinus’ spy indicated that the Priests and other religious authorities were discussing ways by which they might rid themselves of this Galilean would be Messiah. Now Longinus and his fellow officers couldn’t care a whit about Jewish religious disputes so long as it did not make their job keeping the peace any more difficult than it already was.

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When his spy reported back Longinus briefed Pilate of the simmering tensions. Pilate was with his wife Bernice when he received the report. Pilate did not like what was going on but had no contact with any of the religious leaders from any faction since his arrival and was troubled. His wife warned him in the presence of Longinus “not to have anything to do with that man” and he told Longinus to continue monitoring the situation, He also dispatched a messenger to the commander of the Legion in Caesarea to send reinforcements to Jerusalem just in case things got out of hand. Until then, Longinus, the Primus Pilus, or senior Centurion of the Legion was to help him maintain a close watch on the situation and hopefully keep the situation from boiling over.

After his meeting with Pilate and Bernice, Longinus sat around the tavern in Fortress Antonia with several others of his officers and Centurions from the Legion currently in Jerusalem. His Optio, or second in command Decius, a Roman from his former unit who had accompanied him to Palestine was there, as were two Decurio officers from the cavalry detachment and his Tesserarius, Quentin, a man who held a position much like a First Sergeant. Late in the evening another Centurion came to the tavern. This Centurion, was accompanied by his young servant was in charge of the Century based in Capernaum in Galilee.

The Centurion, Flavius by name ordered an ale from the barkeeper and walked over to the table where Longinus and the other officers sat. After the exchange of formalities Flavius sat with them. His young servant remained at the bar sitting alone.

Longinus had known Flavius for several years and known him to be an honorable man, though he did not necessarily approve of the very “Greek” arrangement that he had with his Pais,* which was common in the Roman and Greek military units, he respected Flavius’s soldiering abilities, leadership and integrity. Flavius and his Century had arrived in Jerusalem the previous night after Jesus had made his entry into the city. Longinus was glad to see Flavius because he felt that an officer stationed in Galilee might be able to shed more light on this man of mystery who had Jerusalem up in arms and so troubled Pilate.

Flavius asked what Longinus knew about Jesus, and Longinus told him what he had seen the day before as well as the information that he had obtained from his own Jewish spy.

Flavius, nodded and then began to tell Longinus and the other officers of his encounter with Jesus a couple of years before in Capernaum of Galilee.

Flavius began: “Longinus my friend, I met this Jesus in Capernaum and he is no ordinary man.” He paused to take a drink and continued as Longinus nodded for him to continue.

“It was a difficult time my friend. My Pais was very ill, sick to the point of death, He lay in our quarters and I heard that the miracle working Rabbi named Jesus was in town. Now, you know my friends that I care not a thing about what these Jews believe but I was desperate and from what I had heard and seen I believed that the Gods had to be with this man.”

Longinus continued to listen and then asked “Why didn’t you go to our Temple and have our Gods intercede for your Pais?”

“My friend I had already done that but my Pais’ condition had worsened. So I found this Jesus fellow as he was entering the city and sent some Jews that I had befriended to him.” He paused. “Those Jews convinced Jesus that I was a friend of the Jews and had done many good things for their community, and this my friend is true.”

“So the Jews helped you contact this Jesus fellow?” asked Decius. Longinus looked at his subordinate disapprovingly and asked Flavius to continue.

“I tell you my friends, this man is like no one that I have ever met, the Gods are certainly with him, whether our Gods or the Jewish God I know not which but he is not a normal Rabbi.”

The officers looked around the table as Flavius continued.

“Gentlemen, when this Jesus came to me I felt something that I have never felt in my life. Jesus asked what he could do for me and I told him of the sickness of my Pais and he asked if he could come to my quarters. I replied that I didn’t need him to come, because I was not worthy for him to come under my roof but to only say the word and my Pais would be healed.”

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Longinus looked at his fellow Centurion in disbelief. Flavius sensing this continued. “My friend, I could not believe that I uttered those words but Jesus peered into my eyes and I knew that he knew all about me. Then he replied that “your servant is healed” and then exclaimed to all of the Jews around us that he “had not seen such faith in all of Israel.” Then, he put his hand on my shoulder, blessed me with some Hebrew blessing and walked away with his friends. When I returned to my quarters, my Pais, the young man over at the bar was well.”

Longinus saw the deep emotion that Flavius was expressing and raised his mug. “A toast to this Jesus!, whatever and whoever he he is.”

“Here here” replied those at table as Flavius looked on and several laughed. He had not expected such a reaction and said softly.

“My friends I don’t think you understand.” He paused a second and looked Longinus in the eyes. “I do hope that whatever happens in the next few days that no harm will come to this man. I would hate that my spear could bring harm to him.”

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Longinus responded. “I hope that nothing happens to cause any of us any problems. The city is boiling with emotion and unlike your friend Jesus, most of them hate us and would rather see us dead, and some of their leaders from what I understand wouldn’t mind seeing him dead either.” Longinus paused and emptied his mug, drinking the ale to the last and then continued “My friend, I appreciate what you have to say, but we have to do our duty for the Empire regardless of our personal feelings. We are outnumbered here and this Jesus, as much as we may find him fascinating is the source of much of the current discord.” He looked at Flavius. “You do understand this?”

Flavius looked down at his drink and looked back up at Longinus and then at the officers around the table.

“I do understand my duty my friend, but you have to know what he did for me.”

“We do understand my friend” replied Longinus, “but our honor is loyalty to Caesar, not any other man.”

“I know Longinus, I do know, more than you think, but what if he is more than just a man?”

Longinus and the other officers sat silently pondering Flavius’s words. The silence was deafening and slowly the junior officers individually asked to be excused, begging pressing duties to attend to leaving Flavius and Longinus at the table. The bartender brought each man another ale and the two friends continued to drink in silence.

Note: The Greek word Pais is the word used in many Greek texts to to describe a homosexual relationship. The use by Matthew in his account of the healing of the servant of the Centurion used the word Pais to describe the servant, not the typical Doulos which is used for slave or bond servant as is most common throughout the New Testament. In fact this is the only use of the word Pais in the New Testament. Many Biblical scholars and linguists, though not completely certain do entertain that possibility that the Centurion that I call “Flavius” and his servant were a Gay couple. If so that would add an interesting twist of even more inclusiveness on the part of Jesus to the Gospel narratives.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Duplicity in Jerusalem: An Official Visit and 30 Pieces of Silver

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This is the final section of the prequel to my historical fiction series on Longinus the Centurion. The other chapters of the series can be found at the following links. Have a blessed Easter Triduum.

A Centurion’s Sunday in Jerusalem: The Story of Longinus

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Meeting of Friends

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Visit to Death Row 

Good Friday Special: The Long Good Friday of Longinus the Centurion

Holy Saturday Special: A Centurion Reflects on a Days Work

Easter Special: Trouble in River City the Centurion’s Easter: An Empty Tomb, Duplicitous Politicians and a Lingering Question

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Longinus continued to think about the various intrigues that he saw in Jerusalem but he could not imagine what he was soon to learn about. The morning had started normally until the corpulent and corrupt Herod Antipas, the appointed “Jewish” ruler of Galilee and son of Herod the Great arrived in Jerusalem with his entourage.

Longinus knew that there was no love lost between Pilate and Herod, nor between the Pharisees and Herod. Herod chafed knowing that he only ruled a portion of the land his father had ruled especially that he did not rule in Jerusalem. His father had rebuilt and restored the Temple after it was desecrated by the Seleucids, something that the Pharisees and the Priestly class in the city seemed to not give his father enough credit for doing. The fact that Herod was coming to observe the Passover in the city could only add to the tensions that were simmering.

Pilate called Longinus and the other senior officers, including the Centurion Flavius to his headquarters to be part of his official greeting party. Pilate may have despised Herod, but he was the representative of the Empire and Herod, like any proxy ruler needed Pilate’s support.

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The meeting at the court referred to as “the Pavement” was filled with ceremonial pleasantries as Pilate, Herod and their staff members and court followers conducted the business of the day. Nothing of much importance was discussed, Pilate decided not to bring up anything about the Galilean preacher despite the uproar of Sunday that accompanied his arrival. Pilate thought it amusing that a poor preach from Herod’s own province would be greeted as a king while the population hardly acknowledged Herod, apart from the rathe sullen looks that greeted his arrival.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

After Herod departed Longinus, Flavius and the other officers were dismissed, yet another morning that they would never get back. But again that was part of life as an officer in a Godforsaken backwater like Judea. Such meetings of course were a necessary evil for them to attend and sometimes one could find out information that could be useful. Though nothing important was shared in the meeting Longinus noted that no Jewish religious leaders were in attendance. He thought that odd until he arrived back in his quarters where he was doffing his more ceremonial dress uniform items for the more practical daily kit.

As he changed his second in command, Decius knocked on the door.

“Come.” Longinus said and his subordinate entered. Decius came to attention and saluted.

“Be at ease my friend, what news do you bring?”

“Centurion. I have some rather interesting news from our Jewish spy regarding this Jesus fellow.”

“Is that so?” Longinus inquired.

“Yes sir. He said that one of Jesus’s own men, one of his 12 closest followers went to the ruling elders this morning and offered to betray him.” The words coming from his subordinate were stunning.

“Tell me more.” Longinus said, his voice now full of curiosity.

“Sir, our man said that a man named Judas Iscariot, who is trusted by Jesus enough that he carries the money bag and pays whatever expenses that Jesus and his men incur.” Decius paused while Longinus pondered this unexpected turn of events.

After a few moments of silence Longinus asked his Tesserarius, Quentin to fetch Flavius and asked Decius to sit at his desk. Flavius arrived within a couple of minutes and joined Longinus and Decius at the desk.”

Longinus began the discussion.

Judas' 30 pieces of silver

“Flavius, we have news about your friend the Galilean preacher, it seems that one of his merry band is a traitor.”

If Longinus’s reaction to the news was surprise and maybe even amusement with the duplicity of these Jews the reaction of Flavius was one of stunned disbelief and horror.

“You can’t be serious?” He stammered.

“Well that is what Decius says my Jewish insider at the Sanhedrin has reported just a little while ago.” He looked at Flavius as Flavius asked “do you know which one of his men has done this.”

“A certain Judas Iscariot. That is the correct name isn’t it Decius.”

“Yes Centurion, Judas Iscariot.”

Flavius looked at Decius and Longinus and said “Iscariot.”

“You know of him.” Inquired Longinus.

“Yes I do know of him. Before he joined with Jesus he was reported to be linked to a group of assassins called the sicarii.”

“The sicarii?” Longinus asked , hardly believing what Flavius said. The sicarii were a particularly violent group, known to kill Romans and people that they suspected of being collaborators. They armed themselves with a particularly nasty dagger that they carried beneath their tunics. If this was true it could be a particularly disturbing turn of events.

“Yes my friend. You see many people followed this Jesus not because of his goodness or any thought of benevolence, but because they believed that he would overthrow the Jewish regime and drive us out of this land.”

“I had no idea. I thought they were all a bunch of do gooders. In fact until Jesus took a whip to all the merchants in the Temple the other day I didn’t think that he had a violent bone in his body.”

He looked at Decius and asked “What does our spy say about this Judas fellows motive?”

The younger officer replied “our man said that He overheard Judas talking before he went into the chambers of the Sanhedrin with some Priests sympathetic with the Zealot party of the Jews.”

“Continue.”

“What he said is that evidently Judas told these men that he was disappointed by the fact that Jesus did not appear to be seeking to overthrow us.”

“That would not be surprising for a member of the sicarii.” Added Flavius, his expression changing from disbelief to anger and after a moment’s reflection he slammed his fist down on the table and added “I could kill that miserable bugger myself…the man Jesus has done nothing wrong.” As Flavius spoke his voice rose in intensity. Longinus knew his friend was upset.

“Flavius, I can understand, this seems a vile thing but there are even larger issues than your friendship with this man and what he did for your servant.” Longinus hoped that his outward calm and acknowledgment of his friend’s feelings would help calm the anger.

“Longinus my friend, I know how you feel about these people and I hoped for better, I wanted to believe that they were a cut above us with their One God, but I see that even a people as devout as the Jews are as capable of evil as the worst Greek, Egyptian, Cretin or Arab.” He paused. “Do you have wine? I could use a drink about now.”

“Of course, my friend. Decius pour us each a cup of wine.”

As the younger officer got the wine Longinus looked at his angry and downcast friend. He felt a certain amount of sympathy for Flavius, but he had long ago learned not to let the sufferings of occupied people touch him deeply. He had built a fortress at impregnable as Fortress Antonia around his own heart years ago. It was the only way to survive. The being said he recognized a certain amount of humanity in his friend that was absent from so many of his comrades. In a way he envied Flavius. As he thought these things he realized that he needed to move the subject from Flavius’s emotional response to this situation to the practical consequences of this development. About that time Decius brought the wine and placing three cups on the table poured the wine.

“Thank you my friend.” Flavius said as he lifted the cup to his lips.

Both men raised their cups and took a drink. As he set his cup down Longinus continued. “I know that you hoped for better from these people, but you know I have found that some of the most religious people are also the most violent and intolerant.”

Flavius looked at his friend who continued “it seems to me that when someone, you know true believers, know that they have any deity at their disposal they are inclined to be less tolerant of others.” He paused and took a sip of wine. “I think that it is a testament to the Empire that we have so many religions and that in the name of law and order that violent ones are suppressed. That is why throughout most of the Empire we have peace.”

Flavius interrupted his friend. “But we enforce the religion of Caesar, a man, who we claim as God on our citizens.”

“True, but none of us really believe he is a real God anyway, it is a way to keep order. The state makes a religion of itself, it keeps the really dangerous types at bay. So long as people put Caesar first, even if it means burning a bit of incense to a man that they do not believe is God it serves a purpose doesn’t it?”

Flavius looked at his friend and quietly replied “I guess until I met this Jesus fellow I would have agreed completely, but now I don’t know.”

Longinus listened to his friend and could see the sincerity in his face. He continued saying softly  “I really believe my friend that the second that any religion that proclaims something different arises and gains control of the Empire you can be assured that the peace that we know will be gone.”

“But that is no substitute for belief in a real God.” Answered Flavius.

“That may be so my friend but it helps keep the peace and is why we don’t have problems throughout the Empire like those that beset us here.”

A curious silence descended in the room as the two friends pondered the situation. Finally Flavius broke the silence. “I just hope that what this man has done stays a Jewish problem for their leaders. I would hate for us Romans to have to become involved in it.”

“As do I my friend, I can drink to that.”

The three men sat silently continuing to drink their wine as they pondered the position that they found themselves…. It was nearly sunset.

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The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Visit to Death Row

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This is the third chapter of a prequel to my series on Longinus the Centurion, who according to tradition was the Centurion in charge of the execution of Jesus. The Previous chapters as well as the original series can be found at the links supplied below. 

A Centurion’s Sunday in Jerusalem: The Story of Longinus

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Meeting of Friends

Good Friday Special: The Long Good Friday of Longinus the Centurion

Holy Saturday Special: A Centurion Reflects on a Days Work

Easter Special: Trouble in River City the Centurion’s Easter: An Empty Tomb, Duplicitous Politicians and a Lingering Question

The next morning a messenger knocked on the door to Longinus’s quarters in Fortress Antonia. He told Longinus that Pilate wanted to speak to him and to report as soon as possible to Pilate’s headquarters in the fortress.

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Longinus, who had been discussing the day with Decius in order to ensure his soldiers were ready for any contingency but also conduct some training was bothered by the request. He had discussed the situation in the city and about Jesus in particular the previous afternoon with Pilate and figured that unless there was some sort of incident that he would meet again later in the day to discuss the latest events.

Instead Longinus, was being ordered to report to Pilate again and it was interfering with his conduct of military business. Longinus hated dealing with politicians and diplomats and though he respected Pilate who he felt to be as decent of man as any politically appointed diplomat as any Pilate was still not a military man. He did not always understand military matters.

Longinus looked at the messenger and asked: “Tell me. what would the Governor need of me at this hour?”

“Centurion,” the messenger replied. I was only told to have you report as soon as possible.”

Bothered by the lack of detail Longinus told the messenger to go and tell Pilate that he would be there shortly. He then looked at Decius, and shook his head. “My friend, I am afraid that I will be delayed. Take care to conduct today’s training and be ready in case any trouble arises.” With that he put on his armored breastplate and cape and left the room.

When he arrived at Pilate’s headquarters the Governor greeted him cheerfully. “Centurion, it is good to see you.”

“Likewise sir…” Pilate stopped him before he could continue.

“I don’t suppose that you know why I called you here do you?” Pilate asked, irritating Longinus who feeling even more irritated by Pilate’s levity kept his feelings to his self and simple replied: “No my Lord, your messenger only told me to report here, he did not give me a reason.”

Pilate smiled. “It was with good reason, had he done so I am sure that you, like any other Centurion in the province would have found some “pressing military duty,” isn’t that what you call it? to avoid coming here.”  He paused for just a moment and before Longinus could respond continued: “Of course I know the answer, you need not say anything and I suppose if I was in your position that I would feel the same way.”

Longinus knew this was the case and had no answer to Pilate who continued.

“Centurion, this week will unfortunately be a week where we must conduct some rather unpleasant business, less than soldierly business but necessary.” Pilate paused again and motioned for Longinus to take a seat at his desk and Longinus did so, looking about the room and noticing Pilate’s civilian staff and several soldiers assigned as his personal bodyguard.

Longinus, decided to hasten the length of the visit and asked: “My Lord, may I ask why I am here? After all I do have pressing military business to attend to.”

Pilate immediately caught the sarcasm in Longinus’s words and smiled. “Centurion, you amuse me, because I know how you military types think. You see I may not have served with a Legion, but I have served with enough officers to know that you would rather be fighting the enemies of the Empire than doing police work, but we are in Palestine, not the Teutonic Forrest.”

Longinus stared back at Pilate and said nothing.

“Centurion, this week we will dispense justice to three Jewish prisoners. Men of your unit will conduct the crucifixions this Friday.”

“Yes my Lord.” Longinus’s muted response spoke more than any protest could.

Pilate continued. “Centurion, I want you to see the prisoners and in doing so know in your heart why this must be done. These men are violent criminals, and one of them is the infamous Bar-Abbas.”  Longinus looked at Pilate, and asked “the insurgent who has attacked and killed our soldiers and officials?”

Pilate nodded and replied “so you know why this is important, in an environment as volatile as Judea we cannot let a man like this remain unpunished, it would only encourage more men to rise up like him.” Pilate smiled and continued. “We cannot forget how the Jews rose up and overthrew the Seleucid rulers underestimated these Jews when that Judas Maccabee fellow led that bloody revolt.”

Longinus replied “No we could not let that happen on our watch.”

Pilate nodded in agreement and continued. “So you understand Centurion, it is an unpleasant duty, but mind you history will thank us for it, as will any God that you believe in.” Pilate finished by telling Longinus to visit the prison for himself and begin to choose his soldiers for the crucifixion detail with care.

Longinus rose and saluted Pilate, turned and left the room without another word. He was not happy but proceeded to the dungeon where he met the Jailer of the Fortress, a rather obese and dirty looking man named Alexander, a Roman citizen of Greek origin hailing from Antioch.

When Longinus reached the dungeon he immediately noticed the stench and again realized why he was a Legionnaire and not a policeman. The prison was dark, and by Palestinian standards dank and moist smelling of human excrement and body odor.

“Well Centurion, welcome to my kingdom” said Alexander, a smile pressing through his grimy face.

“Thank you Alexander, where are the condemned?” asked Longinus icily.

They are in the cells to your left. Bar-Abbas is in the first and the other two, neither as notorious as he are in the next cell.”

“What are their names?”

“Dismas and Gestas, they are violent criminals of their own accord, but they were only out for personal gain. I think that one feels some remorse, but the other seems to be a rather hardened and unrepentant man.” The words came effortlessly to the unkempt jailer

“Thank you warden, I will see them now” said Longinus as he turned to look over these men as quickly as possible so he could return to his unit.

He walked past Bar-Abbas without making eye contact and went to the second cell. The two prisoners could not appear more different. One, seemed to accept his fate while the other looked at Longinus without remorse. After about a minute Longinus asked their names. The remorseful looking one answered, “I am Dismas, I stand condemned for robbery and murder. I accept my fate Centurion.” The other prisoner glared at his mate and with hatred in his voice and eyes said to Longinus “I am Gestas, and I am not sorry for anything that I did you Roman swine.”

Longinus stared back saying nothing, his continued lack of respect for such people seemed vindicated. He turned to the other cell and looked at the burley prisoner in it. “So you are Bar-Abbas?”

barabbas

The prisoner snarled “So what is it to you Roman?”

Longinus began to feel better about his mission. “Well, Bar-Abbas, it seems that you have killed one too many of my comrades and it is I who will get to exact justice on you.”

Bar-Abbas smiled an evil smile and said, “The Roman that can kill me has not been born.” He laughed at Longinus who stood silently for a moment. Then, quietly Longinus replied, “We’ll see about that.” With that Longinus motioned to Alexander the Jailer to let him out. The jailer unlocked the door and Longinus walked up the steps and into the courtyard of the fortress where his unit was practicing battle drills.

Calling Decius to his side, he said. “We have a second mission this week, the mission of executing some dangerous prisoners, including Bar-Abbas the insurgent.”

“Bar-Abbas sir?” replied the junior officer.

“The same, but we have to wait until Friday. It seems that our governor wants to make a show if his generosity to the people here. If it was up to me I would have killed them in the dungeon and been done with it, we could have said that they died of the plague.” Longinus looked at his assistant and then continued “Of course that is not how we Romans do things, they will be executed in public to show these Jews that they cannot engage in such conduct, but it will only build more resentment.”

“Sir, are you saying that our methods are wrong?” asked Decius.

“Young man, look around you. You know the history of these people. They will continue to rise up until they regain their independence or we kill them all.” He paused. “That is their history and they can do no other. After all, if they were occupying our homes, establishing their God in cities and forcing our people to serve them how would we respond?”

Decius nodded his understanding and looked at the Legionnaires practicing close combat tactics that might be necessary in a pitched battle if the city was to erupt in revolt.

Longinus continued “Decius, choose a squad of men as the execution team and another as the escort. The rest of the Century is to be trained to maintain a secure perimeter and ensure that no Jews attempt to interfere with our mission.

“Sir, where is the execution to take place?” asked Decius.

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Longinus motioned to a hill visible just outside the city walls. “Over there, that barren hill. The locals call it Golgotha.” He paused. “Fitting name, the place of the Skull. I perfect place to kill people that don’t want us here wouldn’t you say?” He chuckled and continued, “don’t answer, it is a rhetorical question.”

His assistant nodded and Longinus gave the order “Carry on with training, let me know which men you think should be on the execution team later tonight.”

Longinus turned and walked away wondering what else might happen, after all, the best laid plans of men sometimes don’t work out. He silently cursed under his breath the day that he was assigned to this place, which despite its history and splendor seemed forsaken by the Gods

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Good Friday Special: The Long Good Friday of Longinus the Centurion

Russian Orthodox Icon of Longinus the Cenurion

This is the first of a series of three Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday stories that I wrote last year and am doing again this year. It is what I image that the commander of the Roman Soldiers in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus must have been going through during that time. The Centurion according to Church tradition was named Longinus who later converted to the Christian faith and by some accounts died as a martyr. Much is legend but still the story of Longinus the Centurion appeals to me as someone who has served in the military for many years and been a company commander in the Army. I will post the other two installments on Saturday and Sunday.  

It was another ignominious day in the life of Longinus the Centurion. Posted to the troubled outpost of Judea he commanded a unit composed of locally recruited troops mostly Samaritans and some Syrians. How he wished that he commanded elite troops of the Italian Cohort or any of the European Legions stationed in nearby Syria.  Normally he and his men were posted to the Roman capital of Judea Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast of Judea, though his troops were not elite the location was not bad so far as amenities, especially for Judea.

However, today’s mission was another distasteful assignment away from Caesarea back to the always troublesome city of Jerusalem.  Since the Jewish Passover was coming and with it thousands of Jewish pilgrims from around the world were in the city and in there was always the potential for trouble. Longinus had heard around the headquarters that tensions in Jerusalem were increasing due to the presence of some itinerant preacher from up in Galilee which according to the agents and spies in the city allegedly had healed the sick, raised the dead and restored sight to the blind. Evidently he had even stirred things up on a previous visit by chasing money changers out of the Temple. Longinus had to admire that, this Jesus was pretty ballsy. Since the worldly and seasoned Longinus didn’t think much of religious zealots, Jewish or otherwise he could only chuckle when thinking of some bumpkin raising hell in the Temple and pissing off the religious elite.

He led his unit as part of the mixed Cohort which provided security for the Imperial Legate, Pontius Pilate. He remembered a previous mission where Pilate had posted the Imperial Standards with the Image of Caesar as God outside the Fortress Antonia very close to the Jewish Temple caused a riot and Pilate had the Standards returned to Caesarea under heavy escort the next day.  This time there was a rebel named Barabbas who had been causing no end of trouble and Pilate had sentenced him to death.  But then the Jewish High Council brought Pilate another case, the case of this itinerant preacher, Jesus of Nazareth. It seemed to Longinus and the other Centurions present that the case was a simple religious disagreement that the Romans should not get involved in. However Pilate took the case fearful of the threat to his job if he allowed another “king” to live.  Yet Pilate had found this Jesus innocent but caved to the pressure of the mob, even ignoring the pleas of his wife Claudia to spare the preacher.  Pilate was a typical politician and cut a deal which allowed King Herod, the Sanhedrin and himself to meet the demands of their various constituencies or in the case of Pilate his boss to end this Jesus of Nazareth problem once and for all.

On the day before the Passover one of the preacher’s own men turned him in to the Council for the paltry sum of 30 pieces of silver. That alone proved to Longinus that this Jesus was no threat to anyone. The Temple Police brought Jesus to the Sanhedrin which condemned him to death, but since they were not authorized by the Roman administration to carry out the death sentence they took the case to Pilate. Longinus saw Pilate use every trick that he could to make the decision the responsibility of someone else and if Longinus had been Pilate he would have told those religious types to pound sand and get the hell out of his headquarters, but he was a soldier not a politician with greater aspirations like the legate.

Instead Pilate complicated his life and those of his fellow Roman officers in charge of their local troops. One Centurion had the duty of supervision the torture of this Jesus. The troops were brutal, Samaritans and Syrians they hated the Jews and torturing a Jew for any offense was just too much fun, but for the Roman officers it was unseemly and lacked the honor of a true battle against other soldiers. After the brutal scourging with a barbed whip those soldiers placed a rough hewn “crown” of thorns on the unfortunate man’s head and robed him in purple to mock his claims to be a “king.” Longinus felt that the whole exercise was a cruel joke but the order had been given and by Roman law had to be carried out. After the scouring Pilate tried one last time to get out of killing this man offering to spare him for the life of Barabbas, a man who was a legitimate terrorist threat to the Empire’s interests in Judea. Instead the weak willed Pilate caved and spared the life of the terrorist for a man who couldn’t even control his own people. It was sad what was done in the name of the Emperor.

When final sentence was pronounced Longinus was assigned to the crucifixion detail.  Normally with such inflamed passions he would have assigned much of his unit to the task of the execution and related security measures. However it seemed that the usually surly population had little interest in stopping this execution of one of their own. With that in mind Longinus took just four soldiers with him to conduct the execution, security did not seem to be a problem. After a rather tumultuous parade through Jerusalem where the condemned man was heckled and abused they arrived at a hill just outside of the city called Golgotha, the place of the Skull. Longinus felt that the place was grotesque but it did work for the execution. Any visitor to the city would see the condemned man as well as two common thieves who were being executed at the same time.

His men performed the execution in the prescribed manner and he allowed the men to divide the condemned man’s clothing among them. For three hours the men along with a number of observers those that were obviously mourning the scene including a woman that appeared to be the itinerant preacher’s mother and a young man who he might be one of his followers. They were balanced out by a group of hecklers who mocked the condemned men, especially the preacher. Even one of the common thieves joined in the heckling. Yet in spite of this the preacher responded with grace and love to those who mocked him in his dying hours offering forgiveness to his men and promising eternal life to one of the condemned men who hung on either side of him.  The only real trouble came when some of the Council members noticed that the placard above the preacher said “The King of the Jews.” They immediately send men to Pilate to change the wording but Pilate finally told them to pack sand saying “I have written what I have written.” Longinus kept his silence when he heard this he and the other Centurions arrived back in Caesarea and had a chance to share drinks and a meal in a local pub.

It was an unusual day, the skies grew black as noon approached and the preacher made a number of chilling statements from his place on the cross the most poignant being where he cried out “my God my God why have you forsaken me?” That struck Longinus, this man was not really guilty of anything in Roman Law but was being killed and Longinus was part of the process.  A tear came to his eye when the preacher cried out “it is finished” and died.  Without thinking he called out to his men and to those remaining at the site “truly this man was the Son of God” drawing the ire of those cheering the execution and the bewilderment of those that appeared to be there to support this man. So when a runner came from Pilate came to order the deaths be speeded up to accommodate the religious traditions of the Jews he was relieved. His men broke the legs of the men on either side of the preacher but when they came to the limp body of the preacher they found that he was dead. Just to ensure that this was the case he had a soldier drive a spear into the side of the man. Blood and water flowed from the wound. The man was dead and the job was complete. Another Centurion came with a detail of soldiers to remove the bodies and to ensure the security of the preacher’s tomb, yet another concession to the religious people.

Longinus was glad that the day was done. He cast a glance at a number of women and one young man that remained. They obviously were his friends and the older women might have even been the preacher’s mother. He shook his head marched his troops back into the city and reported that the mission was complete when he reached Fortress Antonia.  He felt hollow inside and hoped beyond hope that time could be altered to allow him to save the many before it ever got to this point.

Arriving at Antonia he joined a number of fellow officers and as they chatted about the day he felt his anger and frustration rise. That preacher didn’t deserve to die and it was too bad that he could not be restored to life. But the Centurion in change of the Tomb Guard detail reported that the body had disappeared from the tomb. Longinus was tired. He hoped that it might be true. He asked the bartender for another drink and wondered just what was going on in this hellhole called Judea and he thought again “truly this man was the Son of God.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: Longinus is the name attributed to the Centurion at the Cross during the crucifixion by early church tradition. Likewise this is true of Claudia the wife of Pilate. This story is simply my versions of what might have happened that fateful Friday when a Centurion named Longinus became an actor in a play that he could not imagine.

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The Morning after a Crucifixion: A Centurion Reflects on a Days Work

The horrible day was over and the night had passed. The sun rose over the escarpment overlooking the Jordan River casting a red glow in the east as the city awoke to the Sabbath morning.  Longinus rose as always when his adjutant arrived at his quarters in Fortress Antonia with his breakfast.  He preferred a private breakfast and this was typical for the area, a cup of the local tea, a plate of figs a loaf of bread with honey and since they were in a major city a portion of mutton procured from a local butcher who was more interested in earning a living than completely avoiding contact with the gentile Roman legionnaires.  Longinus invited the young officer to sit on a small chair beside the table which served both as his dining table and office desk.

They discussed the impending return to Caesarea and the needs of the soldiers as well as the case of a soldier caught drunk and disorderly stumbling around the outer court of the Temple. The Temple Police apprehended the man and returned him to the watch officer of the fortress. It was embarrassing but not atypical of the locally recruited Samaritans.  Sometimes Longinus wished that he was back with an Italian Cohort or even with the elite Imperial Guard, but even in those units individual soldiers would still do stupid things.  After discussing the matters he dismissed the officer and rose from his chair.  Longinus took the cup of tea and a piece of the bread and walked to the small window which looked out across the city and he could see the rocky crag called Golgotha now devoid of crucifixes where he supervised the executions of the two criminals and the man called by Pilate “the King of the Jews.”

It was the last that bothered him; while Longinus had seen or supervised numerous crucifixions he never enjoyed them as did some of his brother officers.   Occupation duty anywhere but especially here was difficult on soldiers.  The troops were not the elite of the Empire, many of the officers were cast offs from the Legions and the duty itself drained officers and men alike. They knew that the Jews hated them their Caesar and their taxes.  Violence against soldiers posted to remote outposts was not uncommon; the Jews of the Zealot party had no compunction about killing Roman infidels and felt that dying to free their land was an honorable thing to do. They could be brutal both to the Romans as well as other Jews that they suspected of collaborating with the hated occupiers.  Longinus hated them and treated them as terrorists whenever he encountered them, they were not soldiers and they had no honor He hated them and their land, he longed for the culture and peace of the home provinces of the Empire.

There was something unusual about the man that Pilate called “the King of the Jews.” Longinus took a sip of his tea and took another bite from the honey covered bread and shook his head. He had no idea why a man who did not seem to be violent whose followers melted away the moment this “King” was arrested by the Temple Police.  He gazed upon the sunrise as the sky began to lighten. He thought about the women and the young man who stood nearby the cross the day before. He thought about the blood and the water and his remark to his men as the man died “truly this man was the son of God.”  He hadn’t thought about it much until now. He knew that he would have to think some more on this subject but he had too much to accomplish today. There was still the possibility of violence in the city and one never knew what the Zealots were up to.  Yes he would be busy. He took another sip from his tea and dressed for his meeting with Pilate and the other Centurions.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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