Research for the First Three Chapters

Centurion is a work of historical fiction. The text of Scripture was the inspiration for the story. That text, along with the testimony of history, provided the parameters of my work.  Literary license was taken only when those sources were either sketchy or silent. The following sources were consulted to make sure the historical and cultural backgrounds of the story were accurate. The first entry, for example, is the background of the frontispiece quote, which is in Aramaic and articulates the theme of the centurion’s spiritual quest.  Other entries follow the sequence of the story as it unfolds.

 

Regarding the Aramaic phrase “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” See Matthew 27:46 (RSV)—“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”

 

Regarding Ovid. Ovid was a poet who wrote under the reign of Augustus. Born in 43 BC, Ovid traveled to Rome as a teenager, where he studied Greek and Latin literature, along with rhetoric. He later went to Athens to study philosophy. Among his writings are Metamorphoses (“Transformations”), Amores (“Love Poems”), Ars Amartoria (“The Art of Love”), Fasti (“Holidays”), along with some lesser works. The Metamorphoses is his greatest work, written at the height of his creative powers. It is a series of 250 stories, woven into an unbroken narrative that chronicles the entire span of Greek and Roman mythology. Beginning with the initial transformation of the primeval chaos into the creation, it ends with the transformation of Julius Caesar into a star. Ovid’s works were quoted widely during his lifetime. He died around AD 18.  For a fascinating study on his colorful life, see the chapter “The Poet” in Romans and Barbarians by Derek Williams (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 116-65. 

 

Regarding the Passover moon. “The three great annual festivals, the Passover with the Feast of Unleavened Bread at the vernal full moon, the Harvest Feast, or Feast of Weeks, in midsummer, and the Feast of the Ingathering, or of Booths, at the time of the vintage, marked in ancient Palestine the three great seasons of the agricultural year” (George Foot Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, vol. 2 [New York: Schocken Books, 1971], 23). “The Passover was to be celebrated at the full moon in the first month of a year beginning in spring” (Roland deVaux, “Religious Institutions,” in Ancient Israel, vol. 2 [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961], 485).

 

Regarding Passover. For Old Testament references to Passover, see Exodus 12:1—13:16; Deuteronomy 16:1–8. For New Testament references, see John 1:29, 36; 19:36; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18–19; Revelation 5:12. For background to Passover, especially at the time of Christ, see Anthony J. Saldarini, Jesus and Passover (New York: Paulist Press, 1984). For background to Passover rituals of the temple at the time of Christ, see Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 208–48.

 

Regarding the geography of Jerusalem. For background to the geography of Jerusalem, particularly the Kidron, Hinnom, and Tyropean valleys, see I. W. Hopkins, Jerusalem: A Study in Urban Geography (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 28–44. Regarding the infamy of the Valley of Hinnom, Joachim Jeremias writes, “Road sweepers may be referred to in b. B. M. 26a (cf. b. Pes. 7a): ‘According to R. Shemaiah b. Zeira the streets of Jerusalem were swept every day’, evidently to secure the levitical purity of the city. The fact that the Valley of Hinnom was a dump for filth and rubbish agrees with this statement. The upper end of the valley, between the tower of Hippicus and the Gate of the Essenes in the south, was called . . . a ‘place of filth’. The gate called the Dung Gate M. Eduy, i.3 (cf. p. 5), the quarter of the despised weavers, gave immediately on to the Valley of Hinnom at its debouchment into the Kidron Valley.  This accords with the fact that the Valley of Hinnom was a place of abomination from ancient times, since it was connected with the worship of Moloch (II Kings 23:10; Jer. 2:23 and elsewhere), and was supposed to be the same as Gehenna (Hell), which took its name from it. It was still in modern times the place for rubbish, carrion and all kinds of refuse” (Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969], 16–17).

 

Regarding the temple in Jerusalem. For background to the temple in Jerusalem in the first century AD, several sources were helpful, including Alfred Edersheim’s The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972). For an archaeological study of the temple mount, see Jack Finegan, The Archaeology of the New Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 116–33. For a visual layout of the temple mount, with all its structures, see Ian Wilson, Jesus: The Evidence (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 110–11.

 

Regarding the Fortress of Antonia. For archaeological remains of the Fortress of Antonia, see Jack Finegan, The Archaeology of the New Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 156–61. See also pages 118–19: “This tower or fortress probably became the citadel which Josephus (Ant. xv 11, 4 § 403) says the Hasmoneans built and called Baris  . . . a name perhaps derived from the Hebrew word for “fortress” seen in Neh. 2:8.  Herod, in turn, made the Baris stronger for the safety and protection of the temple and, to please his friend Mark Antony, called it Antonia (Ant. xv 11, 4 § 409).  Josephus (War v 5, 8 §§ 238ff.) says the Antonia, the work of King Herod, was build upon a rock 50 cubits high, precipitous on all sides, and covered with smooth flagstones to make it unclimbable. The edifice itself rose to a height of 40 cubits and had towers at its four corners, three of these 50 cubits high, the one at the southeast angle 70 cubits high to command a view of the whole area of the temple.  Inside the Antonia resembled a palace in spaciousness and appointments. Broad courtyards provided accommodation for troops, and a Roman cohort was quartered there permanently. Particularly at festivals the soldiers kept watch on the people in the temple area to repress any insurrectionary movement. Stairs led down at the point where the fortress impinged on the temple area porticoes, so that the soldiers could descend rapidly. The tribune and his soldiers and centurions ran down these steps to apprehend Paul (Ac 21:32). Also there was a secret underground passage from the Antonia to the eastern gate of the inner sacred court (Ant. xv 11, 7 § 424).”

 

Regarding Greek and Roman deities. A helpful introduction to the deities of the Greeks and Romans can be found in the illustrative volume of Titans and Olympians: Greek & Roman Myth by Tony Allan and Sara Maitland (London: Duncan Baird Publishers, 1997). A glossary of gods, their responsibilities, and how the names changed when the Romans adopted the Greek gods, can be found on page 138. The gods were divided into two major groups: the great celestial deities, of which there were twelve, including Jupiter and Neptune; and the choice deities, of which there were eight, including Saturnus and Janus. Behind them was a minor group of inferior deities, including Hercules and Pan. See also, Alexander Adam, Adam’s Roman Antiquities (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1836), 181–91. For a more exhaustive reference, see N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1970).

 

Regarding the Romans as architects. “The Romans might be called the greatest architects of antiquity. They borrowed almost all their architectural forms and building techniques, but wrought such changes on them that by the first century A. D. they had created a daring and unique style that was profoundly to influence the western world. The style was based on the arch and its extensions, the vault and the dome, thithereto little used, and it was made possible by a Roman innovation—concrete that did not buckle under the stresses of huge structures” (Robert Payne, The Horizon Book of Ancient Rome, ed. in charge, William Harlan Hale [New York: Doubleday & Company, 1966], 247).

 

Regarding the Romans as road builders. “Roads were mainly for official use, but private citizens were granted passports to use them. They found posthouses about every ten miles, and every thirty, inns sold food, lodging, and carnal pleasure. Thus encouraged, many set out to see the world, doing much to unify the empire’s disparate peoples. But the system’s greatest importance was the speed with which troops could be deployed and information relayed over the roads. Julius Caesar once went 800 miles in eight days, and postriders could move twice as fast” (Robert Payne, The Horizon Book of Ancient Rome, ed. in charge, William Harlan Hale [New York: Doubleday & Company, 1966], 251).

 

Regarding the Pax Romana. See the chapter titled “The Roman Peace” in Robert Payne, The Horizon Book of Ancient Rome, ed. in charge, William Harlan Hale (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1966), 262–81. “For some two hundred years following the accession of Augustus, the Mediterranean world was virtually at peace. War, when it was waged at all, was confined almost entirely to frontier areas. Never in human history had there been so long a span of general tranquility, and never again was peace maintained so steadily among so many people. One mighty state seemed almost to embrace the world, with only the savage tribes of northern Europe and of central Africa and the mysterious nations of the Orient living beyond the pale. The pax Romana, the Roman Peace, extended from Scotland to the vast Sahara Desert, and from Portugal to the borders of Persia. Throughout much of the empire, men lived out their lives in quiet contentment, safe from marauding armies, going abut their affairs in the knowledge that they were sheltered by Rome, a stern but generous master that demanded unyielding obedience to laws, at the same time granting to each community the right to adapt those laws to local circumstances. Under Roman protection trade flourished, cultivation was extended, and prosperity was brought to regions that had never before progressed beyond mere subsistence” (p. 262).

 

Regarding the extent of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. For a map showing the extent of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus (AD 14) to the death of Trajan (AD 117), see Robert Payne, The Horizon Book of Ancient Rome, ed. in charge, William Harlan Hale (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1966), 8–9.

 

Regarding Roman interest in books. For background on methods of writing, including instruments of writing and compilations of writings, see Alexander Adam, Adam’s Roman Antiquities (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1836), 359–67.

 

Regarding the library at Alexandria. “The first famous library was collected by Ptolemy Philadelphus at Alexandria, in Egypt, B. C. 284, containing 700,000 volumes. . . . Adjoining the Alexandrian library was a building called MUSEUM, for the accommodation of a college or society of learned men, who were supported there at public expense, with a covered walk and seats where they might dispute. . . .

         “A great part of the Alexandrian library was burnt by the flames of Caesar’s fleet, when he set fire to save himself, but neither Caesar himself nor Hirtius mentions this circumstance. It was again restored by Cleopatra, who, for that purpose, received from Antony the library of Pergamus, then consisting of 200,000 volumes. It was totally destroyed by the Saracens, A. D. 642.

         “A keeper of the library was called a BIBLIOTHECA” (From Alexander Adam, Adam’s Roman Antiquities [Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1872], 366–67).

 

Regarding the rank of centurion. “‘Centurion’ . . . . The commander of a ‘century’—one hundred soldiers—the smallest unit of the Roman army. (In New Testament times there were ten centuries in a cohort and sixty centuries in a legion, making about six thousand soldiers per legion.) The centurions, often called the backbone of the army, were responsible for keeping discipline, for inspection of arms, for commanding the century in both camp and field, and for the command of the auxiliaries” (Allen C. Meyers, ed., The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 198–99).

 

Regarding the dress of the Roman soldier. See Albert Harkness, Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War, with introduction, notes, and vocabulary (New York: American Book Company, 1901), 32–35.

 

Regarding the dress of the Roman citizen. The toga was the primary garment of the Roman citizen. For a description of it and its variations, see Jerome Caropino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, edited with bibliography and notes by Henry T. Rowell, translated from the French by E. O. Lormer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 154–55.  See also, Alexander Adam, Adam’s Roman Antiquities (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1836), 286–91.

 

Regarding the treatment of slaves. See Jerome Caropino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, edited with bibliography and notes by Henry T. Rowell, translated from the French by E. O. Lormer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 57–75. Although earlier treatment was sometimes harsh, laws were progressively passed to ensure more humane treatment of slaves. For Roman legislation regarding slaves, see Alexander Adam, Adam’s Roman Antiquities (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1836), 23–29.

 

Regarding the importance of Roman law. See Will Durant, Caesar and Christ (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944), 391–406.  Especially page 391: “Law was the most characteristic and lasting expression of the Roman spirit. As Greece stands in history for freedom, so Rome stands for order; as Greece bequeathed democracy and philosophy as the foundations of individual liberty, so Rome has left us its laws, and its traditions of administration, as the bases of social order.” For a thorough examination of citizens’ rights, the senate, public forums, the rule of magistrates, specific laws, and judicial proceedings, see Alexander Adam, Adam’s Roman Antiquities (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1836), an excellent compendium of research distilled from primary Latin sources.

 

Regarding some of the food that was for sale during Passover. “Certain vegetables and spices needed for the correct keeping of the Passover had to be brought to the market in great quantities, considering the large number of pilgrims. Lettuce was prescribed (M. Pes. x. 3), but also allowed were chicory, pepperwort, snakeroot and dandelion (M. Pes. ii. 6). Besides these, the market at Jerusalem at Passover time had to supply spices, wine, and wine vinegar, which mixed with crushed fruits made up the prescribed fruit puree (harōset) (M. Pes. x.3). Wine had to be drunk as part of the rite, and even the poorest had to drink at least four cups (M. Pes. x. 1)” Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 46.

 

Regarding the ritual of sacrificing Passover lambs at the temple. See Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 208–28.

 

Regarding Mary Magdalene. “‘Mary Magdalene,’ from Magdala of the Sea of Galilee. . . . She was one of the women who ‘ministered’ to Jesus and contributed to him financially to him and his disciples (Matt. 27:55-56 par.; Luke 8:3). Mary Magdalene was present at the crucifixion and burial of Jesus (Matt. 27:56, 61 par.), and was among the women who went to visit the tomb of Easter morning (28:1 par.). It was she who reported his resurrection to the apostles (Luke 24:10; John 20:18). Identified as one ‘from whom seven demons had gone out’ (Luke 8:2), Mary has traditionally been identified with the sinful woman (by tradition, a prostitute) of 7:36-50; however, this is very unlikely because of the way Mary is introduced as a new character at 8:2. Tradition has also identified the Magdalene with Mary of Bethany . . . but this also is very unlikely” (Allen C. Meyers, ed., The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 696).

 

Regarding the centurion’s response to the earthquake and Jesus’ death. New Testament references to the faith of the centurion who oversaw the crucifixion of Christ are Matthew 27:54: “Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”; Mark 15:39: “When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!”; Luke 23:44–47: “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.’ Having said this, He breathed His last. Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’” (Quoted from the New American Standard Bible).

 

Regarding the sluicing of blood from the temple mount. Speaking of how the vast amounts of blood were removed from the temple at such times as Passover, Alfred Edersheim explains: “The system of drainage into chambers below and canal, all of which could be flushed at will, was perfect; the blood and refuse being swept down into Kedron and towards the royal gardens” (Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972], 55).

         “Admittedly the Kidron valley is a wadi, with water flowing only in winter (Ant. 8:17; John 18:1), but an artificial supply which made the valley so extraordinarily fruitful was the blood of the Temple sacrifices. . . . The Temple floor was paved and sloped in particular directions, so that the blood from sacrifices could easily be rinsed away (Pseudo-Aristeas 88, 90). . . . The channel which drained it away began by the altar. . . . This drainage channel led underground into the Kidron valley.” (Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969], p. 44.

 

Regarding the roasting of the Passover lamb. “According to Jewish ordinance, the Paschal lamb was roasted on a spit made of pomegranate wood, the spit passing right through from mouth to vent” (Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972], 232).

 

Regarding the importance of Livy. Titus Livius came to Rome, where he studied rhetoric and philosophy, dedicating the last forty years of his life, from 23 BC to AD 17, to writing a seven-hundred-year history of Rome. For the influence of Livy’s writings on the imaginations of his readers, see Will Durant, Caesar and Christ (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944), 250–52. Durant notes that Livy “set forth, through history, the virtues that had made Rome great—the unity and holiness of family life, the pietàs of children, the sacred relation of men with the gods at every step, the sanctity of the solemnly pledged word, the stoic self-control and gravitas. He would make that stoic Rome so noble that its conquest of the Mediterranean would appear as a moral imperative, a divine order and law cast over the chaos of the East and the barbarism of the West. Polybius had ascribed Rome’s triumph to its form of government; Livy would make it a corollary of the Roman character” (p. 251).

 

Regarding Roman soldiers. For background on the Roman soldier, see Michael Grant, The Army of the Caesars (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974). See also, Derek Williams, Romans and Barbarians (New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 116–65. See also, Alexander Adam, Adam’s Roman Antiquities (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1836), 244–86.

 

Regarding the conscription and divisions of the Roman army. See Alexander Adam, Adam’s Roman Antiquities (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1836), 244–53.

 

Regarding the crosses used in crucifixion. Three main types of crosses were used for crucifixions at the time of Christ. There was what was later termed St. Andrew’s Cross, where the beams were diagonally crossed in an X. There was the Tau cross in the form of a T. And there was the traditional cross, known as the Latin cross, t. Alfred Edersheim believed the cross of Christ was the Latin cross. He argues, “This would also most readily admit of affixing the board with the threefold inscription, which we know His Cross bore. Besides, the universal testimony of those who lived nearest the time (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and others), and who, alas! had only too much occasion to learn what crucifixion meant, is in favour of this view” (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], bk, V, chap. XV, 584–85). 

 

Regarding crucifixion. Although literary evidence for crucifixion is plentiful (Josephus, Ant. XIV: 380–81, Cicero, Livy, among others), archaeological evidence for crucifixion is not. “In 1968, archaeologists discovered the skeleton of a man, younger than Jesus, named Yehohanan, who was crucified about 2,000 years ago. His bones were found in a burial cave at Giv’at ha-Mivtar in northeastern Jerusalem, more than a mile north of the Damascus Gate. This is the first physical evidence ever found of an actual crucifixion” (Wendell Phillips, An Explorer’s Life of Jesus [New York: Two Continents Publishing Group / Morgan Press, 1975], 395). 

The archaeologist who made the discovery was Vassilios Tzaferis. He published his findings in the article “Crucifixion—The Archaeological Evidence,” in Biblical Archaeology Review 11, no. 1 (January–February 1985). From his study of the body, he concluded: “From the way in which the bones were attached, we can infer the man’s position on the cross. The two heel bones were attached on their adjacent inside (medial) surfaces. The nail went through the right heel bone and then the left. Since the same nail went through both heels, the legs were together, not apart, on the cross.

“A study of the two heel bones and the nail that penetrated them at an oblique angle pointing downward and sideways indicates that the feet of the victim were not fastened tightly to the cross. A small seat, or sedile, must have been fastened to the upright of the cross. The evidence as to the position of the body on the cross convinced the investigators that the sedile supported only the man’s left buttock. This seat both prevented the collapse of the body and prolonged the agony.

“Given this position on the cross and given the way in which the heel bones were attached to the cross, it seems likely that the knees were bent, or semi-flexed, as in the drawing [shown in the article]. This position of the legs was dramatically confirmed by a study of the long bones below the knees, the tibia or shinbone and the fibula behind it.

“Only the tibia of the crucified man’s right leg was available for study. The bone had been brutally fractured into large, sharp slivers. This fracture was clearly produced by a single, strong blow. The left calf bones were lying across the sharp edge of the wooden cross, and the percussion from the blow on the right calf bones passed into the left calf bones, producing a harsh and severing blow to them as well. The left calf bones broken in a straight, sharp-toothed line on the edge of the cross, a line characteristic of a fresh bone fracture. This fracture resulted from the pressure on both sides of the bone—on one side from the direct blow on the right leg and on the other from the resistance of the edge of the cross. 

“The angle of the line of fracture on these left calf bones provides proof that the victim’s legs were in a semi-flexed position on the cross. The angle of the fracture indicates that the bones formed an angle of 60º to 65º as they crossed the upright of the cross. This compels the interpretation that the legs were semi-flexed.

“When we add this evidence to that of the nail and the way in which the heel bones were attached to the cross, we must conclude that this position into which the victim’s body was forced was both difficult and unnatural” (p. 52).

 

Regarding the centurion reporting to Pilate after Christ’s death. See Mark 15:42–45 (NASB): “When evening had already come, because it was the preparation day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate wondered if He was dead by this time, and summoning the centurion, he questioned him as to whether He was already dead. And ascertaining this from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph.”

 

Regarding the earthquake and the soldiers who were guarding Christ’s tomb. Matthew 27:62–66 tells of the guard whom Pilate stationed to secure Christ’s tomb. See also 28:2–4 (NASB): “And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.”

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