Writing Archives - Easter 2011
Diary of a Roman Soldier
We killed the Nazarene heretic today.
For the Jewish holidays, Bellicus and I were placed on the speira assigned to the Sanhedrin. It’s the duty nobody wants, so it’s mainly comprised of grunts from the 7th cohort. It’s bad enough being bossed around by your centurion, but when one of these priests thinks he can tell you what to do, it’s not easy for a soldier to maintain discipline. Of all the places in the Empire, I get sent here. I might have to kill another Jew before the week is over.
We received a tip last night that the one they call Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, so we lit our torches and went with the Jewish guards to arrest him in the middle of the night. When we arrived, one of Jesus’ followers nearly took off another Jew’s head. The sight of a sword sent most of those cowards scurrying. We thought we might have a good fight on our hands, but Jesus called off his men. I didn’t understand everything that was said, but he agreed to come with us peacefully. Good thing for him and his followers, because most of us were not happy to be roused out of bed. We left him with Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas.
I saw him later when he was first taken before Pontius Pilate. He didn’t seem dangerous to me. He didn’t rant and rave, like that madman Barabbas, whom the Jews eventually let out of prison. Fools they are, if you ask me. I was in the cohort that arrested Barabbas and I got a good look at his eyes. He’s crazy. He has killed before and will kill again. Nothing like this Jesus. Evidently Pilate agreed with me, because he said he could find no fault in him. We sent him off to Herod just to get rid of him, but he sent him back before noon.
I don’t know who laid into him, but the next time I saw Jesus, he was in bad shape. Some say it was Herod’s men, but who knows. Our soldiers can be brutal at times, but that’s what makes us the best in the world. Pilate decided to appease the Jews and crucify Jesus along with a couple of thieves, but when it came time to carry his cross up to Golgotha, he had been beaten so severely that he could hardly stand. I grabbed some Cyrenian out of the crowd and made him help. Once those three were put up on their crosses, we were tired, so Bellicus and I asked permission to retire to our quarters for some rest. That didn’t last long.
We were awakened from our afternoon nap by an earthquake. We all ran outside. It was over quickly, but we had a good laugh because Bellicus hadn’t grabbed his robe before running out, so there he was naked, half asleep and frightened for his life. A centurion caught us laughing and ordered us to get dressed and report again for duty.
The Jewish priests wanted those three off their crosses by nightfall. Some religious thing related to their festival. So a few of us went up that skull-shaped hill to smash the legs of the criminals. If they’re not already dead, that does the trick. They can’t hold themselves up any longer, so I guess they suffocate. Sounds that way to me.
I hate the crack their bones make when breaking, so when we got to Jesus and he looked dead, I just stuck my sword in his side to make sure. Blood and water poured out and he didn’t react, so I could tell he was gone. Better for him that way. I noticed someone had nailed a sign on his cross. It was in Aramaic, Latin and Greek, so I could read it: “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
The priests were worried that Jesus’ followers would steal his body from the grave, so we followed an Arimathean Jew who came to bury him and pushed the heaviest stone we could find over the entrance. I doubt anyone can move it, but just to make sure, Pilate sent an official to put a Roman seal on it. Nobody will be robbing that grave – especially some Jew. Still, the priests are worried, so we’re setting a guard around the clock. It’s a full-time job just keeping these Jews from insurrection.
Bellicus and I drew the morning guard duty at Jesus’ tomb. We relieved the night-duty team and checked the stone and seal. Nothing had moved. No surprise there. Most of the Jews are celebrating their holiday, so it was pretty quiet.
A couple of women came by, but we told them they couldn’t go in the tomb. Pilate’s orders. So they left. Other than that, most people stayed away. Word got around that we were guarding it, so that kept the curious away.
Bellicus said that it was the high priest’s slave, Malchus, that almost got the sword in the garden. Someone said he lost an ear, but I saw him later and there wasn’t a scratch on him. He did look a little shaken, though.
Morning guard duty with Bellicus again. I’m pretty sure the overnight guards were asleep until they heard us coming. Looked like they had just woke up. We checked the stone and seal again. Nothing. Are they going to make us guard this tomb until the body rots? Curse those Jews and their ridiculous superstitions!
Thankfully, it was another festival day for them, so the graveyard was dead. (Haha!) We passed the time by telling stories we’ve heard about great Roman battles. I think Bellicus makes them up, but at least they are entertaining.
One odd thing happened. A centurion came by to check the tomb. Asked lots of questions, like what we thought about Jesus. We told him we didn’t think about him very much. He said he was there, at the cross, the moment Jesus died. Said that was when the earthquake hit. I would have told him the funny story about Bellicus and the quake, but he had a strange look about him. Bellicus asked him if he thought the stories were true about Jesus – the miracles and such. I thought about the sign: King of the Jews. The centurion didn’t really answer Bellicus’ question. Just said, “He was an innocent man.” Then he told us to keep good watch over the tomb. Strange. Very strange.
Another day, another boring guard duty.
Those two women came by again. They want to put spices on the body, so we told them to come back tomorrow around the sixth hour. Our orders are up by then, so they can do what they want, although I wouldn’t go in a tomb after three days’ rot.
Quintillus, another guard in our cohort, asked if I could take his night shift. Says he isn’t feeling well. Offered to bribe me with a piece of Jesus’ clothing he won casting lots with the others, but I turned it down. I’m not superstitious, but it seems like bad luck to take a crucified man’s clothes – especially if he was innocent. Quintillus can make it up to me some other way.
Guess I’d better get some sleep now, since I will be up all night.
I am in deep trouble!
Last night, I took Quintillus’ place at the tomb. I was there with a man named Gnaeus Pompeius Silvanus, who comes from a noble family in Picenum. He seems an honorable man and, not knowing each other, we were careful to stay awake and vigilant throughout the night. I relayed the story of the centurion coming by that morning, which served to put both of us on alert.
I don’t know what time it was, but well before sunrise something happened that I still cannot explain or fully reconcile. I was pacing about, trying to stay awake, while Silvanus was leaning up against the tomb. Suddenly, he jumped up as if stung. I asked him what was wrong.
“The tomb…the tomb…” he stammered. He had a look of fear on his face. Before I could ask another question, there was a bright flash. It was not an outer blaze, as if lightning across the sky, but like the explosion you see when struck with a sword across the helmet. The kind you see inside your head.
I saw Silvanus start to fall, then felt my legs give way. But before I hit the ground, I swear by my father’s name, I saw a man – or was it a god? – dressed in brilliant, shining clothes standing above the tombstone. He looked nothing like the images of Jupiter, Apollo or any other god I’ve seen, but if he was just a man, he was like none other.
After that, all was black. The next I knew, it was nearly dawn. I shook Silvanus until he awakened. We checked ourselves for cuts or bruises, but there were none. Our torches were out, but by the early light we could see that the seal had been broken and the stone had been rolled away. Though I feared for my life, I feared for the coming punishment even more, so I had to know if the body was still there. In the dim light, it was nearly impossible to see inside the tomb. I could barely make out the light-colored garment that the Arimathean had wrapped Jesus in. I used my sword, which I had unsheathed the moment I woke up, to feel for the body. Under the thin cloth, it only found stone.
Silvanus wanted to flee, but I urged him to come with me to tell the chief priests. Perhaps they could find whoever did this. He was not yet convinced when we heard the voices of some women coming. We ran to see the priests, who said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”
Foolish priests. All of us knew such a story would not satisfy Pontius Pilate. So we got money. Lots of it. When we left, we went straight to our quarters, though neither of us said why. We didn’t have to; we both knew. Upon entering, I encountered Bellicus, who was on his way to relieve Silvanus and me. I repeated the priests’ story and I could tell by the look on his face that he knew how much trouble I was in. “Go see for yourself,” I urged him. When he left, I gathered my belongings and fled.
Now, I make camp for the night. Tomorrow, I will reach Joppa, where I hope to catch a ship on the Great Sea. But there is one last thing I must record. For on my way out of Jerusalem, as I approached the town of Emmaus, there was a man bathing in the warm springs that flow there. As I passed by, he smiled at me and I realized that I recognized him somehow. I did not slow my pace, for I am a man at flight, but I saw something as he raised his arm to pour water over his head. There was a wound in his side. It was the mark of my very sword.
But how can it be? He was dead. I know. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. But then, I saw him again. And now I know…it’s true, he is alive!
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