Chapter 61: The Mission

Three weeks later, early on the morning of the kalends of August, Paul opened the shop to find a large crowd of black-robed, hard-faced men waiting for him. Rough hands took his arms, lifting him from his feet.

Berekiah and Sosthenes stepped forward to face Paul.

“Ah, Saul,” Berekiah oozed. “We meet again, it seems. Things have been so quiet in the synagogue of late, I almost miss you. Almost.” His mouth stretched into a semblance of a smile. “Would you be so kind as to accompany us?”

Paul struggled briefly against the two men who held his arms. “Where are you taking me, Berekiah?”

“Oh, a brief stroll through our fair city this fine morning. An appointment in the agora. Nothing for you to worry about.” Berekiah moved closer, towering over Paul’s small frame, radiating threat and hostility. Paul could smell it on him. “Then again, Saul,” he said in a voice that carried to the whole group, “perhaps you should worry a little. You have stolen the last of our sheep. You’ve troubled our synagogue for the final time. For we intend to stop you. Today. But if not today, then tomorrow or next month. It’s over for you here in Corinth.” A murmur of assent rose from the rest of them.

He stepped back and nodded to his companions. Turning, he and Sosthenes walked towards the center of the city, Paul dragged along behind them, the crowd of angry Hebrews taking up the rear.


“We respectfully request an audience with the governor.”

Sosthenes had to crane his neck to look up at the legate towering above him on the Bema. “We were on the docket for today. The matter of the Hebrew council versus Saul of Tarsus. We have prepared our case. My people—hard-working, tax-paying residents of this city—have closed their shops and suspended their business to appear as witnesses.” He gestured towards the men around him. And then he pointed at Paul. “Here stands the accused. Please, we ask that the governor hear our indictment.”

“As I’ve already told you, the docket has been cancelled for today. Gallio …” a small smile played at the legate’s lips, “… the Proconsul is indisposed this morning.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that our honorable governor is not feeling well,” Sosthenes replied with some sympathy. “But we’ve gone to considerable effort to bring this matter before him. The case is cut and dried. It will not take much of the governor’s time. Please ask if he could hear us briefly.”

The legate looked down at the group, considering. “And why can’t you come back tomorrow? Gallio will hear your case then.”

“Sir,” Sosthenes was thinking fast on his feet. “We would gladly do so. But the accused,” he pointed again towards Paul, “is a notorious criminal. Legal actions have been initiated against him throughout Asia Province and Macedonia. He’s likely to take flight—now that he knows we’re bringing charges against him—and spread his mischief elsewhere.”

“I see,” said the legate, examining Paul more carefully and tapping his chin with a finger. “Well, I’ll lock him up for the night. Set him under guard until your case can be heard. Would that satisfy you?”

Paul made some quick calculations of his own. “Actually, sir, that would not satisfy. I am a Roman citizen and cannot be imprisoned without formal charges being filed.”

The legate’s eyes widened. Berekiah and Sosthenes looked at each other in surprise.

A crowd was beginning to gather, the usual mix of bystanders and loiterers who had nothing better to do than eavesdrop on other people’s problems. In Corinth, as in every city of the Empire, public trials were a chief form of entertainment—a spectator sport as engaging, in its own way, as the theater or the arena. Paul’s claim of citizenship started them buzzing. This might prove amusing.

“I see,” the legate said again. He looked at Paul, at the knot of prominent Jews who stood with Sosthenes, at the growing crowd of spectators, and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll talk to the Proconsul and determine his pleasure in the matter.”

Turning on his heel, the legate marched away from the Bema, entered the south stoa, and disappeared through a doorway into the governor’s mansion.

He knew where to find Gallio. Marching to the closed door of the lavatory, he listened, smiling, to the moans and emissions coming from within. He knocked. “Proconsul. So sorry to disturb you, sir. But there is a legal matter I think you should attend to.”


Gallio followed his lictors to the Bema, walking unsteadily and cursing under his breath. His bowels ached. His skin itched. His legs hurt. And, thanks to the ointments prescribed by that quack physician of his, he smelled of rancid fish. Oh, the indignity of it all! he moaned. Oh, the burdens of high office.

He took his place on the Bema and scanned the crowd with a sour, belligerent eye. “This had better be good!” were his first words. Paul suppressed a grin. And Sosthenes felt a nervous tremble start in his stomach.

He stepped forward. “Honored governor. Let us offer our sympathies for your ailments and our gratitude for granting us time in spite …”

“Yes, yes,” Gallio interrupted, feeling a fresh wave of diarrhea threaten and waving his hand at Sosthenes. “Get on with it, man!”

Sosthenes blanched. Not a favorable beginning. “Honored governor. We stand before you in the case of the Hebrew council versus Saul of Tarsus. The accused is a notorious criminal, arrested, tried, convicted, and punished by numerous synagogue tribunals and Roman courts throughout the Asia Province and Macedonia. He is a dangerous man, Proconsul, and we ask that you deal with him accordingly.”

Gallio raised his hand to stop Sosthenes and turned towards Paul. “My legate tells me you are a Roman citizen. Is that true?”

Paul took a step forward. “Yes, honored governor. I was born a citizen, in the city of Tarsus, where my citizenship is recorded on the municipal rolls.”

“And yet you are a troublemaker, I take it.”

“Forgive me, Proconsul, but my accuser has not represented me accurately. I have never been tried before a Roman court. I am neither a criminal nor a danger to public order. And, as you will discover when my accuser finally gets around to naming his charges,” he fixed Sosthenes with a level gaze, “these people have no allegations of criminal behavior to lay at my feet. They have inconvenienced you this morning because they find me … inconvenient.”

Gallio glowered down at them all and groused, “Is that so? Well, I hope for your sakes this man,” he pointed a finger at Paul, “is a liar as well as a lawbreaker. You!” He moved the finger to Sosthenes. “What charges do you bring? And be quick about it!” Gallio withdrew his finger and hand, placing them solicitously on his aching belly.

Sosthenes did not like the way this was going. His mouth felt like a desert.

“Governor, this man has disrupted our synagogue. He has provoked disorder and disunity. He has undermined the faith of some of our most prominent members. And all because he teaches people to worship God in a manner that is not in keeping with our law!”

There was a long pause. “And?” Gallio demanded.

Sosthenes quailed. “And these good men stand with me to enter their testimony as evidence of his blasphemies and disregard for our customs.”

Gallio was already feeling poorly. It didn’t require much effort to work himself into a towering rage. He gave the legate who’d disturbed him a withering glance. His eyes, predatory and violent, roamed over the band of robed and bearded men. “You’d better be here to testify to more than that! Do any of you accuse this man of theft? Has he done any violence? Has he spoken sedition against the Emperor? Does he violate little girls?” His voice quavered in anger. His words were less question than challenge.

None of them answered. None of them would meet his eyes.

Gallio took a deep, calming breath—the way an archer breathes before loosing an arrow at the heart of an enemy. “Let me see if I understand. You don’t like the way this Saul of Tarsus worships. So you bring him up on charges before the Proconsul of all the Achaean Province? You drag me from my sick bed to hear a case that shouldn’t have come before me in the first place? And you want me to condemn and punish a Roman citizen because he takes issue with you about some minor aspect of your religious practices?”

“Respectfully, sir,” Sosthenes interrupted. “These matters are not minor.”

“Silence!” Gallio roared. “If you had real charges to bring against this man, I’d adjudicate gladly and pronounce the proper punishment, citizen or no.” He glared at Paul. “But these are matters over which I have no jurisdiction and even less interest! How dare you waste my time like this!”

His bowels shot warnings at him again. He shooed off the accusers with the backs of his hands. “Go away. Deal with these things yourselves. Wrangle over your words and readings and interpretations.”

“But, Sir!” Sosthenes tried again, looking nervously at the men around him. “If we could deal with these matters ourselves, we would not have bothered you. This Saul is causing problems for an important segment of Corinth’s population! We Hebrews pay taxes. We contribute to Corinth’s prosperity. And we insist that you deal with this man so we can keep doing so without distraction!”

Gallio’s eyes narrowed. When he spoke next, it was almost in a whisper. But there was something about the whisper that was more intimidating than a shout. “You insist?” He turned to his legate for confirmation. “Did this parasite just use the word ‘insist’ with Rome’s proconsul?”

The legate nodded vigorously, eager to please.

“Let me tell you what we’re going to do.” Gallio turned back to stare at Sosthenes with a look that should have frozen him on the spot. “We’re going to forget that unfortunate word ‘insist.’ We’re going to forget these pointless accusations. I’m going back to bed and will work hard to forget that you have wasted my time and tried my patience. Do you understand me? Should I say it again slowly?”

They understood.

“But there are a few things we will remember. We will remember that I am governor of this province and that you live and work here at my pleasure. We will remember—since you brought up the issue of race—that Hebrews were banned from Rome two years ago for rioting … over just the kind of nonsense you bring me today. I sat in the Roman senate then. I approved the Emperor’s decree of expulsion with a great deal of enthusiasm.” He looked down at the group with contempt.

“And, most of all, we will remember that I have the power to issue the same decree here, in Corinth. I can confiscate everything you have and throw the lot of you out on your beards. And that’s exactly what I’ll do if I am ever bothered with such nonsense again.”

With that, Gallio turned on his heel and hurried as fast as he could back to his quarters—his lictors and legates scurrying to catch up—and to the lavatory he was coming to know so well.

The Hebrews stood like statues in the awful silence left behind in his wake. They could not look at each other. They did not speak. Instead, they tried to come to terms with the disaster they’d just witnessed, to measure the scope of it.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time, such a simple thing. Bring charges. Have Gallio deal with Saul. Wash their hands of him and return to normal. But now, Saul was free to go. They had alienated the most powerful man in the province. And Gallio had threatened to eject all Hebrews from the city!

Some of the men began to moan softly. A few tore at beards and robes in their agitation.

Berekiah knew this was the critical moment. He had to make sure Sosthenes was blamed for failure. Of course, as in so many things, Berekiah had a plan to accomplish just that.

He nodded to his closest associates and advanced on Sosthenes. “You fool! I warned you not to talk about the synagogue! I urged you to charge Saul with subversion of the Empire, to set his King Jesus against Claudius Caesar! Gallio couldn’t dismiss that. I begged you to cite the string of cities where he’s caused riots and disturbances among Jews and Greeks. By the altar! We could have made up a charge—any charge—and the governor would have gone along.”

The rest of the group gathered around the two of them, watching. Sosthenes stared at Berekiah in shock.

“But no,” Berekiah continued. “You knew better, didn’t you Sosthenes. You, and you alone, knew how to handle Gallio. You needed no advice from me.” His lips curled into a sneer. “I told you he wouldn’t be interested in our synagogue squabbles. I told you he wouldn’t care about Saul’s teachings. But you wouldn’t listen. And because of your stubbornness, not only do we lose a perfect opportunity to deal with Saul, but now our entire community is threatened.” He raised his hand and slapped Sosthenes across the face.

Sosthenes staggered back, as stunned by the accusation as by the blow. Berekiah had never suggested any other charges. He’d never recommended another course of action. In fact, he’d advocated the very course Sosthenes had pursued. The strategy had been his idea.

But then Sosthenes looked at the faces of the others around him, at the anger and fear written there. And suddenly he understood.

Berekiah had manipulated the whole thing.

He opened his mouth to explain when another blow hit him in the kidney. One of Berekiah’s henchmen shouted, “You’re a fool, Sosthenes. And, what’s worse, you’re a dangerous fool. You’ve put us all at risk.” Someone else cracked a cane across his head. “Why didn’t you listen to Berekiah?”

Another of Berekiah’s men grabbed him by the beard and punched him in the face. He sank to his knees, blood pouring from his nose, trying to choke out what Berekiah had done. But no one was listening. The blows began to rain down in earnest. He covered his head. They hit him and kicked him and cursed him for a fool. He fell prone to the ground and still they attacked him. He felt a vicious kick to his shoulder and another to his groin. He moaned in agony and in rage.

And then someone kicked him in the head and Sosthenes—the old and honored leader of his people, the patron of the synagogue, the defender of the ancient ways—lost consciousness as his own people continued to vent their anger on his limp body.

[Next Chapter]

[Beginning of the novel]

© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.