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Letter from Rome
A historical fiction to give an alternative perspective of the Passion and supply more of its context.
Cornelia, my dear wife,
I always love writing back to Rome knowing that when this reaches you I can expect to hear from you once more. I am thankful I can read and write most soldiers are not so fortunate. Everything changed when the Emperor sent us with Pilate to control the Jews in Jerusalem. I feel more like an unpleasable parent to children who resent me than a soldier to citizens. Truly, in all my years as a soldier, I have never seen anything like this. Herod is every bit the puppet king the rumors claim he is. Indeed, we are the true servants of Caesar, but Herod seems to be more of a wealthy drunk than a King. My brother soldiers and I are well though, we long to come home. When I do my sweet Cornelia, we shall let our love grow once again. My dear Cornelia, make sure to be stern with our daughter in my absence so that she would still grow to be a great woman as you are.
I shall now tell you about how so much has changed in this culture. We have had the strangest few months of our time here, the political exchange between us and the Jew has grown volatile, and I fear that there will be a rebellion soon. The Governor Pilate doubled the ground forces here as the Jewish feast of Passover was beginning, when Jews from all around hoped to sacrifice, no kidding, a lamb. Who knows why they don’t seek a fatted sheep, one ripe for slaughter. Anyway, there was this great prophet who claimed to be a god of the Jews. I am unsure why the Jewish leadership so hated him, clearly, he had supernatural abilities if half the rumors of this Jesus of Galilee were true. What more sign is needed? In fact, it has made me, forgive me for writing it but they only would know what has spoken anyway, question our gods. We offer sacrifice night and day and what have we to show for it. It seems they hardly answer but after talking with one Centurian, He did not even need to enter the house to cure. However, as Passover drew near, there was a strange report from one of my brother soldiers that a man came riding into Jerusalem and everyone had laid palm branches down as he came. He heard them shouting “Hosanna” which he did not know what it meant so he asked and a woman told him it means, “Save us”. He then asked, “What are you to be saved from?” From an evil, the Messiah, this Jesus, will save us from all our enemies. He was shocked but thought better of it because it was just a man on a donkey, He said He would be more concerned about it if He at least had a small band of soldiers, but when asking about his followers, she told him that they were former tax collectors and fisherman. He said they would not stand a chance against any Roman soldier. So we thought it was just some more Jewish nonsense. However, the next day when he told me all this, they had him arrested in the night and had brought him in chain beat up and clearly were trying to make it our problem. They claimed he calls himself the “king of the Jews”. Could imagine us doing that to Caesar, it is probably not possible as he is basically a god.
Governor Pilate did not want anything to do with this man, clearly, he was wrongfully accused. But, the people started chanting at him, we have no “King but Caesar!” which seemed accurate because Herod is hardly a king. But then Pilate saw an opportunity to get rid of Him without instigating the crowd. Since Herod was the only “King” he said Herod ought to deal with him. So the crowd, led by the temple priests, went to Herod’s palace. Herod thought it was some joke or insult so he sent them away. Apparently, they were coming back. The Governor instructed us to gather some more forces to the Praetorium so we were called from our patrols to attend to this. By the time, I reached the Jerusalem Praetorium the crowd was already there, so we had to dismount our horses outside the gate and enter through the armory which was convenient because we needed the shields anyway.
We finally got in front of the people when they had begun to have discontent. About that time, Pilate had promised them he would be scourged. We were instructed to follow the crowd and I was sure that there was no trouble. Apparently, they had scourged him as usual, since there was no limit except death. The general showed up and stopped them. By the time we returned with Jesus, to the Praetorium, some of the brothers took the opportunity to put a soldier's cloak on him and a crown of thorns to mock him. Pilate said to the crowd, “Look at him”. But the crowd was, even more, bloodthirsty, chanting even louder. They demanded he is crucified. Again, why would the Jewish people want an innocent man given the worst of all tortures, he was already half dead. Even their own law would not allow them this. Pilate knowing this, gave them the choice of releasing a murderer of Jesus. They chose the murderer. Pilate was visibly distressed. This kind of thing seems unthinkable to me also, never had the Jews done something like this before. But he had us do it all the same, probably because of the crowd. He made sure they knew he was only doing it because of them.
This man having done nothing wrong, was led to the cross. He somehow managed to carry part of the way, the man could barely stand. I was just so amazed He was at such peace, he never swore and didn’t put on a quarter the theatre as the Priests. I was assigned to keep the crowd from killing him before we got there. But, then Cornelia, I saw something I will not be able to forget as his mother followed him the whole way. There was something I did not know happening. After we had crucified him, he had this gaze that tore me to the heart, it was as though I felt some of his suffering. In all my years as a soldier, I had never seen so painful a figure, no one so tortured as he. Cornelia, I wonder if he was not actually a god for who could endure all this and still forgive? Who could endure all this and still speak lovingly as he did for his friends there? Even the robber we crucified was spoken to lovingly. No Jew would ever speak to a criminal in that way.
With Passover happening, I am glad to have written this much. The way this day went who knows what lies ahead. Take care my beloved, and so shall I, that we may meet again in the fatherland of Rome.
Your husband and defender of Rome,