David and I are once again in Israel, the “Beautiful Land,” as the prophet Daniel described it.
The Museum connected with the Masada National Park provides narrative for both what it meant to be a Roman soldier in the first and second centuries CE, and what the rebels’ lives were like during their time on Masada. So today will be about Roman soldiers and Monday will be about the Sicarii.
Romans in the Greek Scriptures
While Dave and I were walking through the Masada Museum, it occurred to me that Roman soldiers show up a lot, and at important junctures, throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts.
- It was a Roman edict that ended up causing the fulfillment of prophecy that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
- Roman soldiers came out to hear John the Baptist teach and asked him what they should do to be right before God.
- Jesus healed a centurion’s servant and commended this Roman officer for his faith, saying in a amazement, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
- The chief priests and Pharisees called the Sanhedrin together to discuss what to do about Jesus. “If we let him go on like this,” they said, “everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” Which Rome actually did, but not because of Jesus.)
- Just as there were Roman soldiers who put great faith in Jesus, there were also soldiers who mocked and tortured Jesus. There were those assigned to crucify Jesus, and they gambled for the Lord’s meager belongings. A detachment of Roman soldiers was sent by Pilate to guard Jesus’s tomb.
- Peter had his own run-ins with Roman authority, but his most famous encounter was with a centurion named Cornelius, whose conversion and the subsequent baptism of his whole household blew the doors off the Gospel.
- Paul, a Roman citizen, also had a number of dealings with the Roman authorities where his citizenship proved handy time and again. Paul was able to make friends with the centurions in charge of keeping him safe on two separate occasions, once when a plot was afoot to assassinate Paul, and once during a shipwreck. In fact, Paul was able to demand a hearing with the Roman emperor, and was remanded to the imperial guard to get him to Rome.
- In the last chapter of Acts, Paul was living under house arrest with Roman soldiers guarding him around the clock. It is possible this experience inspired Paul’s famous analogy of putting on the armor of God.
- It is notable to consider the faith of the centurion who declared at the cross, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” and those of Caesar’s household whom Paul greeted in Philippi.
Life of a Roman Soldier
I had never really thought about it before.
Life as a soldier meant life on the road, having everything one needed in a knapsack. The army had physicians then as armies do today, soldiers received scrip for their pay, and often their pay included deductions for the supplies they needed to buy while on the road.
Equipment for a Roman Soldier
It was not just the apostle Paul who got a close up view of a Roman soldier’s armor and weapons. Soldiers were a real presence throughout Palestine. Over the course of about four hundred years, Roman legions had conquered much of the known world, adding a Latin layer to the Hellenization begun by Alexander the Great. By the first century, the Roman Empire was at the height of its power.
Many soldiers were mercenaries. Herod the Great, for example, had a body guard comprised of four hundred Gallic soldiers (from Gaul). The Emperor Vespasian began his career with the Roman army as a Scythian warrior.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, for our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm.
—Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth
—and put on the breastplate of righteousness
—and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace.
— With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
—Take the helmet of salvation
—and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.Ephesians 6:10-18 (NRSV)