A Passover Story

Blog Post

There was a time in this blog’s evolution when I wrote short stories and posted them for the heck of it. This is a reprint with a brief edit of TEMPLE, one such story, originally posted here on September 20, 2015

It’s not the traditional Easter post. No crosses or newly hatched chicks. But I hope that you enjoy my effort at historical fiction all the same.

TEMPLE

Militiades of Heraklion stood at ease on the ochre stones in the temple courtyard. The contubernium, or squad of eight soldiers to which he had been assigned in the courtyard, changed position ever horae for four and then rested for one before going on watch for another four. Marius, his decanus, was on his best behavior and he worked to keep Militiades and the rest of the squad sharp as well. If something was going to go wrong in Judea, it would go wrong at the temple during the Feast of the Passover. Even though Militiades felt that two contubernium was vastly insufficient, nobody had asked him his opinion nor was anyone likely to.

The lorica hamata of chainmail that he wore had been dragged by a horse though the sand only yesterday, and it shown brightly, completely free of rust. He’d sharpened the semispathium now hanging at his side to the limits of the metal to hold an edge. He’d polished his cassus, the helmet which he’d cinched onto this head with a worn, sweat stained leather strap, until the sun reflected from it. They had turned out in their best sagums, tunics made of light weight wool, originally dyed red, but though use in weather, it was at best a shade of light rose. The light clothing had been called for because of warm weather. The caligae, leather military boots with hobnail cleats, were standard issue at all temperatures. They’d been issued new boots for the occasion and they chafed where the new leather met his skin in places. Standing guard duty in new shoes started out tolerable but as the day wore on, they’d become miserable.

An auxilla velite, attached to the Prefect’s maniple, Militiades had been born in Crete and joined the army in Gaul. His maniple arrived at the Judean capitol to serve the garrison under Prefect Valerius Gratus and stayed into the term of Prefect Pontius Pilate, a thickly built former equite with higher political aspirations. Service brought Roman citizenship and if he lived through his enlistment, there would be a retirement stipend and land in some far off corner of the Empire that he could farm, along with other soldiers. Their presence, even as farmers, who knew which end of the gladius was which, helped tame the unsettled ends of Pax Romana.

Militiades moved from the area of the partially enclosed temple courtyard where livestock was being  kept in preparation for sacrifice. The place smelled of blood, shit and roasting meat, which shouldn’t have made him hungry, but did. A boy, attached to his maniple as a water bearer brought by a partially deflated wineskin and gave him a few swallows. It had the taste of crude wine, watered down three-to-one for taste but no effect. His new post, near the money changers, had the shadow of a large awning cast over it.

An old man, bearded Jew, hook nose, prosperous clothing, hands gnarled like the branches of an olive tree, walked up next to him and spoke, “It is a good day, soldier.”

Militades growled a response but the old man’s cheerfulness could not be deterred. “Passover makes my year.”

“And your business is — Jew?”

“Simon, my name is Simon and I raise birds. For Passover I raise doves. The rest of year its hens, partridges and pigeons. That’s my place over there. My sons and grandsons are managing the business.” He pointed to a large stand with caged doves, sold to pilgrims to make the required sacrifices. “Doves for those who can’t afford a lamb. And there are many supplicants who can’t afford a lamb without blemish.”

“And Roman denarius are not good enough for your use?”

The old man pointed to the table where the Roman coins, denari and assarious, which bore the likeness of Caesar Agustus on one side, and usually a god or mythic beast on the other were in the process of being changed into shekels. “Your coins violate our law which forbids graven images. They must be exchanged for shekels, which have the images of plants on them. We can’t take denari. It’s in violation of God’s law, particularly here in the temple.”

“I notice that the exchange rate strongly favors the temple during the holiday,” Militades said dryly.

“There are many tens of thousands of people who come to the temple in this holy season and this is the source of my prosperity and that of my family.  The temple tax coins are the only ones that I’m able to accept under the torah.”

“And Rome gets its share of the profit.”

“Yes, of course. Judea is under Rome’s heel. You are here to insure that the exchange goes smoothly, are you not?”

“I am here merely to maintain Rome’s law, for the glory of Rome. Your birds or your practices of taking advantage of pilgrims is none of my concern. They are his.” Militades shrugged his spear toward a fat priest overseeing the money being exchanged over wooden tables, scarred and pocked from thousands of coins that had been pushed back and forth along their surfaces. “I do not interfere in matters of priests or Jews unless they violate Roman policy.”

A man, perhaps a few years older than Militades, dressed after the manner of the Essenes, walked up to them and, ignoring the soldier said, “Simon, the dove merchant, desecrating my father’s house once again as is your practice.”

“Yeshua ben Joseph, I am surprised to see you here. If you wish to make a purchase, you can see my sons over there.” He pointed a knuckle at the stand with many hundreds of white, caged doves. “Or are you simply threatening not to make more cages for my birds, carpenter?”

“Take them out of here now, or I will scatter them and let them fly. You are making my father’s house a market. Do it swiftly, or I will put them to flight. Do you understand?”

Simon looked at Militades, who shrugged. “Not my concern old man, but take care, friend Essene, with your threats that you don’t interfere with Rome’s business or its glory.”

Yeshua ben Joseph, a strong, middle aged man with rugged features, turned, took a few paces pushing past the fat priest, shoving him aside, causing him to lose his balance. He picked up the far edge of the table and flipped it, causing the coins to scatter. The abject shock on the faces of the money changers as thousands of coins went in all directions caused Militades to laugh, but all else in the temple court drew into silence.

Yeshua uncoiled a rope scourge and began to whip the lambs and their owners, driving them into awnings that collapsed. He smashed the cages owned by Simon the dove merchant as well as others in his trade, and true to his threat, they took to the air immediately.

“My money–in the air and on the ground! Do something!” Simon keened at Militades, still laughing. “Help me pick up my money.”

“Stop!” Militades shouted half-heartedly, laughing at the rampaging man, who called on the priests to repent and purify the temple, whipping, kicking coins and punishing.  He broke out into uncontrollable laughter at the sight of the priests, supplicants and merchants all scrambling for hundreds of thousands of coins scattered about in the blood of sacrifice and lamb shit. He slowly brought his laughter under control, and then spoke to Simon, even as as the Essene who Simon had recognized as Yeshua ben Joseph, continued to drive people before him, over-ending more changing tables.

“Entertainment, friend Jew, is essential to the Glory of Rome.”

16 thoughts on “A Passover Story

    1. Obviously none of us was there, but the account of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple and cultural and physical situation with Passover and the soldiers of Rome at the time is well documented. I relied on my readings of the Roman occupation of Judea to create the story. The soldiers were present to keep order under a very well defined set of circumstances. They did not interfere with ‘squabbles between Jews’. The Agustan reforms of the legion had taken place and these soldiers in Judea were second or third rate troops, attached to the local governor for his use in maintaining order and seeing that the collection of taxes required by Rome were accomplished. For more on arms and armor of the Roman Army, visit:
      http://turningpointsoftheancientworld.com/index.php/2018/08/12/evolution-roman-legionary-armour/?fbclid=IwAR2_V4Xx_kp-An7gyxcnqp7COh03yXPy_iy0ITBRAdXk4ANg6gZVVxjw_oQ

  1. Really enjoyed this perspective on that event, the minds-eye can read between the Biblical text lines and see this as very probable.

    All the “merchants” (running a scam on the Passover pilgrims) were in it for their own, forgot where they were, and as with most things, politics played a heavy role. Jesus’ bold and angry action questioned the Jewish leadership, but they enjoyed their high and mighty position. He made them look bad by reminding them that they knew better, or should have. But power corrupts. And that was the beginning of the end, albeit temporary…God had the last word, as He always does.

    Seems the more this COVID19 mess/slight of hand continues, the more it becomes apparent it is time to “flip the tables over” on those who believe they are the potentate’s of us all. I believe God will move a person, likely our President…who is getting impatient with the “experts” silliness and state-level overreach at all levels. And people are tired of being clamped down and run over by a ruinous semi-police state that looks fully political at this point.

    But God always has the last word. This we can hope.

    Happy Easter to you and yours.

      1. Flipping the table over is always risky business because the matter of cause and effect is best examined after the effect is fully manifest.

        The Savior’s flipping of the money changer’s tables was as symbolic as it was actual.

        In His day, Judea was run by priests who interpreted the law. In our day priests, whose job was to preach from the revealed word of God to and urge us to do what is right have been replaced by hoards of lawyers whose job it is to interpret what it legal.

        The days of priests advising kings has long been replaces by lawyers advising kings.

        We can argue that the high priests of the Sanhedrin in the days of Jesus Christ acted more like lawyers, than they did like priests – and collectively, they decided that Jesus, in his innocence and truth, MUST DIE. Of course, they fulfilled the law, unwittingly, by doing so.

        There are many take-aways from that this Easter Day.

        1. Very much so…and I am humbled by your exceptional perspective and acumen (Not blowing smoke, I mean that.)

          As we are mere mortals, weighing respectful civil disobedience requires careful consideration, as you suggest. Yet being bold is what our faith asks of us.

          Lawyers, always defining the world in their terms then forever arguing the meaning of those terms.

          At the very least Christ offered us hope, the oxygen for our souls.

          1. Hope in Christ, hope in an atonement for our sins, hope in a resurrection helps us to work toward a more abundant life here. Lack of hope is a horror beyond words.

        2. The Pharisees were like the Republicans under Obama.
          “Resist Obama!” (Resist Rome!) “We can’t do anything”, while all along they wanted the status quo that they profited from.

          1. RINO’s. Most of them. Not Nicodemus, and not Joseph of Aramathia, but most of them. It’s a sad statement that mankind has changed so little in the intervening millennia, isn’t it?

    1. Pontias Pilate became a Christian and a martyr later in life, according to some. We discussed it on this blog some time ago. I find that intensely interesting. It’s difficult to know whether that is true or ‘how true’ it is. Today it’s relegated to the stuff of legend. But every time I think of Mount Pilatus (Named for Pontias Pilate, the martyr, in Switzerland), I think of the Governor, sitting as a judge, who found no fault in Him.

        1. Under Roman law, Jesus was no threat to sovereignty or to the Glory of Rome. At the same time, Pilate’s job was to keep the peace and to keep the money flowing. He could have defended Jesus from his own people, but chose to do the politically expedient thing to do.

          By doing so and paving the way for the crucifixion, prophecy was fulfilled.

          Maybe if Rome had sent a stronger man who was less of a bureaucrat, the prophecy would have been in jeopardy? Jesus offered himself as as a sacrifice, fulfilling the law of sacrifice by blood, and Pilate’s part in it was unfortunate for Pilate.

  2. Enjoyed it the first time and same again! By way of aside, did you know the Romans recruited Samaritan auxiliaries to police/subdue the Jews? And the Jews themselves were formidable fighters and hired out as mercenaries, apparently. There’s a story in that, perhaps.

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