Monday, May 09, 2011

Interviewing the Roman Guard

During Easter season it can be good to be aware of some of the context in which the first Holy Week took place.  In the following piece, Sixtus and Justinius are fictional, but all the other characters and events are based on historical records.  The Record-Express is the name of the newspaper in which this first appeared.

As everyone must know by now, all the garrisons in the city have been on high alert for the past two weeks.  The Roman authorities always anticipate trouble around Passover, and this year was no exception.  Last Saturday we were able to interview a couple of soldiers who were standing guard duty in front of a tomb in a garden near the area known as Golgotha. 
Record-Express: Can you please introduce yourselves and tell our readers what you are doing here?  It’s a bit unusual to be guarding a tomb, isn’t it?
First Guard: My name is Justinius and I’ve been stationed in this back-water province of the empire for seven years now.  That fellow over there is Sixtus.  What we’re doing is trying to prevent any more trouble from that Galilean gang. 
Sixtus:  Yeah, we caught their ringleader yesterday and took care of him in a hurry.  What’s left of him is in this tomb behind us.  Usually getting rid of the leader makes the rest of a gang see the uselessness of any more rebellion against the great and mighty Caesar.  But this guy apparently made some claim about being able to rise from the dead, so we’re here to make sure that none of his followers steals the body and puts out some tall tale about his making good on his promise.
R-E:  Who was the fellow, anyway?  Do you know anything about him?
J.:  His name is Jesus bar Joseph, but everyone calls him Jesus of Nazareth.  Hey, if I came from Nazareth, I sure wouldn’t advertise the fact.  But there’s no accounting for how these Jewish peasants think.
S.:  I understand he’s been causing trouble up in Galilee for a couple of years now – one of those Jewish Messiah types who says he’s going to save the people.  It’s code language for insurrection is what it is.  I’m surprised that Antipas didn’t do away with him long before this.
R-E:  So how did you two get involved?
S.:  Well, yesterday morning, I had just come off of second watch, rolled up in my cloak and was trying to get some sleep.  Then Justinius here comes poking me awake, says we’re going to have some fun with a new prisoner they had just brought in. 
J.:  It’s this Jesus of Nazareth, and the charge is that he claims to be King of the Jews.  We get one of those every couple of years, so we know how to show them who is the real king.  The trick is to make a public spectacle – flogging, torture, crucifixion - so any others hanging around with grand ideas will back off quick.
S.:  There was a real mob out there yesterday, came down to the city from Galilee with the Passover pilgrims.  I even saw some women on the edges of the crowd.  Someone said that he used to teach them the same as he did the men that followed him around.  That proves right away that he was a subversive, if you ask me. 
R-E:  So you say that this man was from Galilee.  That’s been a trouble spot for a long time, hasn’t it?
J.: It sure has.  Though things are better now than they were.  Sixtus, tell the reporter your father’s story about the Sepphoris campaign.
S.: Oh, that was a good one!  It was soon after old king Herod died, about 25 or 30 years ago, and my father was posted to the Galilee.  Transitions from one king to another are always unsettled times, and those Jewish peasants kept stirring up trouble.  In Sepphoris – that’s not too far from where this Jesus of Nazareth is from, actually – one group managed to invade the palace and seize the arsenal. 
Well, Rome isn’t about to stand for something like that.  General Varus came in, rounded up everyone who was involved in the rebellion, and crucified them all.  Two thousand crosses they had lining all the roads into town!  And then he burned the city to the ground.  That taught those Galileans a lesson, I mean to tell you. 
J.:  Yes, once our Roman soldiers got things in the Galilee under control, Herod Antipas has been able to do a half-decent job of keeping that area calm and secure.  Taxes are collected and sent in regularly, so Caesar is happy.  And if Caesar is happy, we’re happy. 
S.:  Herod Antipas is certainly a lot better as a ruler than his brother Herod Archelaus was here in the south.  That’s why Rome finally got rid of him and sent in Pontius Pilate.  Archelaus just couldn’t keep the peace.  Jerusalem was way behind on tribute payments, and nothing at all was coming in from some of the neighboring cities.  But Pilate knows how to make them pay regularly.  And if there is any sign of opposition – well, bang – there is one more cross and one less opponent.  He has the Temple leaders in his hip pocket, too.  They know that if they want a turn at being High Priest, they had better stay on his good side.
J.:  So here we are, doing our job and making sure that everything stays secure.  That’s Pilate’s own seal on the stone.  No one would dare to break it, and there is no other way into the tomb except to roll that big stone away.  We’re here to see that doesn’t happen.  A bunch of Jewish peasants is no match for the Roman military, that’s for sure.
R-E:  Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.  Our readers always appreciate first-hand information from folks involved in current events.

As this newspaper went to press, rumors were flying around the city that indeed this Jesus of Nazareth had been resurrected.  Examination of the tomb proved only that, despite the Roman guard, someone had managed to break Pilate’s seal and roll the stone away from in front of the opening.  What has happened to the body that was inside is unknown at this time.
Sixtus and Justinius are confined to barracks and unavailable for comment.  The duty officer advised the press that anyone caught spreading rumors that Jesus was alive would be considered guilty of insurrection, and would be immediately arrested and executed.  Late Monday evening Caiaphas, the current High Priest, issued a statement attributing the rumors to “hysterical women and superstitious peasants,” and urging all pilgrims remaining in the city to complete the Passover festivities and return to their homes without further incident.  Pilate’s press secretary did not return our calls.

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