A CASE OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
The column of mounted men paused just outside the open gate leading into the city, to allow time for a small caravan of camels to wend its way up the hill. A man mounted on a fine black stallion, dressed in the uniform of a senior officer in the Roman legion, leaned across his saddle and said,
“Gaius, I see no need for my party to sit here in the hot sun waiting on a bunch of camels. Detach a small escort, and we’ll go ahead to my residence.”
Centurion Gaius Vellum was happy to be rid of the arrogant ass on the black horse, and replied,
“As you wish, Your Excellency. You should not have a problem; it is just before the holiest days on the Judean calendar, so many of the locals have already begun preparations.”
“Just be sure all of my belongings are delivered as soon as those Bedouin devils get their camels here. I’ll need to change for dinner,” replied the man on the black horse, who was followed by an escort of ten legionnaires. The horsemen entered the city’s crowded streets, and a path opened up to allow them to pass, with many people bowing slightly to honor the Roman dignitary.
After a short ride, the party came to a heavy wooden gate in a high stone wall. The gate was guarded by a pair of legionnaires who saluted the man on the black horse, and opened the gate. Inside the wall, was a green oasis of calm and peace. The courtyard was filled with succulent plants, sparkling fountains and colorful mosaics. The man dismounted and handed the reins of the stallion to a stable boy, and without greeting or thank you, he walked into the waiting villa.
He was met by an elderly retainer, who took his cloak and followed him, as the man unstrapped his armor and leather gear. The retainer bowed and said,
“Your Excellency, I’ve prepared your bath and laid out your toga for the evening. Are we still expecting guests for dinner?”
“Yes, there will be three guests: Aurelius Flavius, Camillus Dursa and Crispus Cyprianus, and they are expected to be here by dusk.”
“Shall I arrange for entertainment for the evening?”
“No, we’ll be discussing this latest local crisis. Just be sure there’s plenty of food and wine. Pontius Pilate stepped into the hot bath and relaxed with a sigh. The steaming water began to sooth the stiffness of a day in the saddle, and leach away the tension. After almost an hour in the hot water, the lean, tanned man walked naked to his quarters and began to dry off on a towel. His baggage had been delivered during his bath, and all his clothes were neatly put away. He chose a dress toga with the purple edges, indicating his rank as Prefect of the Roman province of Judea. Pilate had spent his entire adult life in the service of Rome, first as an officer in the Legions, and then as Procurator helping to rule the Empire. He had held his present post as the ranking military officer in Judea for the past five years, and he was in hopes of promotion in the near future.
He finished dressing and was walking toward the courtyard, when he heard his guests arrive. He greeted each as they came in, and the whole party settled into marble couches around a gurgling fountain. Servants began passing platters and bowls of food, and pouring goblets of wine. When everyone had food and drink, Pilate said,
“Gentlemen, I appreciate each of you making the effort to join me this evening. As you all know, part of my responsibility as Prefect of Judea requires that I keep abreast of the local politics. I am the face of Rome, and as such, I am expected to be sure peace is maintained and taxes collected. Aurelius, you are well versed in the religion and customs of the people of Judea, and I value your insights. I have been informed of the danger of unrest surrounding the upcoming religious holiday. What say you?’
“I really don’t believe there is much of a threat to Rome in the current unrest. The Jews treat their religion as we treat our politics. The current tempest in a teapot is centered on a provincial holy man who has been disrupting some of the activities at the Jew’s temple,” Aurelius replied.
“Why do the Jewish leaders care about some backwoods Druid?”
“It seems that this particular man has been attracting large crowds in Galilee. Allegedly, he has performed some feats of magic, such as turning water to wine and feeding large groups of people from a single basket of food. There is even some talk of him bringing the dead back to life. Mind you, there is no real evidence of any of this.
“Well, if we find that he can indeed bring the dead back, he’ll be welcomed in Rome, but it sounds a little fishy to me,” Pilate added with a laugh.
Camillus Dursa joined in the laughter and said,
“Speaking for the Legion, such a healer would be a welcomed addition to our medical staff. It would be very efficient to just raise our casualties back to life, and think what it would save on recruiting and training. Maybe we ought to check this shaman out a little closer.”
Crispus Cyprianus spoke up,
“You may have that opportunity sooner than you think. I hear that he has been arrested by the Temple authorities, and has been tried before their Sanhedrin and found guilty of heresy. His case was taken to Herod in Tiberias. The Tetrarch could find no fault, and suggested that he should be charged with treason to Rome and sent before your court, Pilate.”
“What are the charges against him that might be treasonous to Roman rule?” Pilate asked.
Aurelius took a sip of wine and said,
“Riding on an ass, he led a small band of his followers into the city. The whole thing caused a small uproar, and Dursa sent a detachment to check it out.”
Dursa smiled and said,
“My Centurion reported that the whole business hardly disturbed the neighborhood, and they took no action against the man. Later, there was a confrontation between the man and some of the money dealers who operate out of the Temple.”
“What sort of confrontation?” Pilate asked.
“Seems he took umbrage at the money dealing in the holy place, and turned over some of their tables. The Jewish elders had him arrested and charged with heresy.”
“Because he wrecked a couple of loan sharks?”
“Well, that, and some say when asked who taxes should be paid to, he replied something to the effect of render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.”
“That sounds like a reasonable plan to me, as long as Caesar’s share comes first,” Crispus said with a laugh.
“Is that the extent of their charges against this man?”
“That, and he allegedly proclaimed himself to be some leader from Hebrew prophecies, some Messiah or some such.”
“Well, if that didn’t piss Herod off, it certainly doesn’t offend Rome. We always welcome local rulers, and make every attempt to recognize local religious customs. I can’t believe I’ve got to deal with such trivia tomorrow. Unless someone can come up with more substantial charges than these, then Rome has no business being involved.”
“We agree, Excellency. We think you should wash your hands of the whole business.”
“I’ll do just that; now let’s get on with our meal.”
The image of the Pontius Pilate carving is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.flickr.com
Categories: Flash Fiction