Sunday, June 1, 2008

In Capharnaum manet

The villages of Galilee are many. The main Roman town is not mentioned in these books. It is as if the writers did not want to note that their country was conquered or they remembered the more elaborate and later Tiberias. But Zippori was an important town nonetheless. The soldiers were garrisoned there, just a few miles from Nazareth.

When I first came to Zippori, I stood before the meeting rooms where the local people worshiped. I had been told how strange the customs were and I was very curious.

My father had told me, “They read from a book and they have no images anywhere. They are a peculiar people, stubborn. They even call them­selves stiff-necked. And they are prone to riot if their religious sensibilities are offended. Not only riot but stand in total defiance of the mightiest army on earth, willing to die for the sake of purity. The men are cut as a sign of their allegiance to their treaty with their God. Treaties with Rome they manage through client kings and brokers as in all the lands of the Empire, but their treaty with their God, covenant they call it, is marked permanently for all males in the flesh of their member.”

And he said that there are others who follow these practices but none who hold them with such zeal. This is a serious religion, I thought as I stood before the gates. I will go in and listen. There is nothing to see, so let me open my ears.

Zippori is some distance from Capernaum. I have not traveled in that country. I know of it only from the letters of the twins and Claudius Giordanus, a Roman Centurion stationed in Zippori with the Imperial Legion XXIV. He had some interest in the customs of Palestine and donated to three of the local Synagogues as he himself testified.

So I attended synagogue every Sabbath. There are several synagogues in and near Zippori and I made the rounds enjoying the flavour of each one. In some, rich mosaics adorn the floors with figures of birds and even of the signs of the heavens. Others are plainer. In some, I heard the words in Hebrew and have to ask for translation. In some, I heard the Aramaic, for many of the local people need an interpretation of the Hebrew also. In others, I heard the words in Greek. This has been easier for me.

The people have loved me, for I have striven to keep the peace fairly, control corruption, and encourage mercy as the prophets command. I was accepted as a God-fearer. From my own pay, I have contributed to three of the congregations. The local people became like family to me. My father, Panthera Urbanus, had been in the same district before me. He died in the thirty-seventh year of Octavian, twelve years after his retirement to Sicily, when I was ten. Before I left for my engagement, my mother told me to be on the lookout for a possible half-brother whom my father, being an honest man, had not kept secret.

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