Read The First Apostle Online

Authors: James Becker

The First Apostle

Table of Contents
The man who’d pursued her walked down the stairs and stood over her. The second intruder appeared from the door to the living room and looked down at the silent and unmoving figure. He knelt beside her and pressed his fingertips to the side of her neck.
After a moment he looked up angrily. “You weren’t supposed to kill her,” he snapped.
Alberti looked down at his handiwork and shrugged. “She wasn’t supposed to be here. We were told the house would be empty. It was an accident,” he added, “but she’s dead and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Rogan straightened up. “You’re right about that. Let’s finish what we’ve got to do and get out of here.”
Without a backward glance, the two men returned to the living room. Rogan picked up the hammer and chisel and continued to chip away at the remaining sections of old plaster about the huge stone lintel that spanned the entire width of the fireplace.
The work took very little time, and in some twenty minutes the entire area was exposed. Both men stood in front of the fireplace, staring at the letters carved into one of the stones. . . .
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First Signet Printing, March 2009
Copyright © James Becker, 2008
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eISBN : 978-1-101-01463-9

For Sally,
as ever.
I’d like to start by thanking Luigi Bonomi, the best literary agent in London and a man I’m pleased to call a good friend, for suggesting the idea for this book in the first place, and for his perseverance in shepherding it through a series of incarnations until it met his exacting standards.
At Transworld, I’d like to thank Selina Walker and Danielle Weekes, two of the most charming and talented ladies I have ever had the privilege of working with—and formidable editors as well—and Francesca Liversidge for her obvious enthusiasm for the book from the first. Publishing, of course, is a team effort, and I’m grateful to everyone involved at Transworld for their dedication and professionalism.
—James Becker
Principality of Andorra, 2008
SPRING, A.D. 67 Jotapata, Judea
In the center of the group of silent watching men, the naked Jew was struggling violently, but it was never going to make a difference. One burly Roman soldier knelt on each arm, pinning it to the rough wooden beam—the
—and another was holding his legs firmly.
General Vespasian watched, as he watched all the crucifixions. As far as he knew, this Jew hadn’t committed any specific offense against the Roman Empire, but he had long ago lost patience with the defenders of Jotapata, and routinely executed any of them his army managed to capture.
The soldier holding the Jew’s left arm eased the pressure slightly, just enough to allow another man to bind the victim’s wrist with thick cloth. The Romans were experts at this method of execution—they’d had considerable practice—and knew that the fabric would help staunch the flow of blood from the wounds. Crucifixion was intended to be slow, painful and public, and the last thing they wanted was for the condemned man to bleed to death in a matter of hours.
Normally, victims of crucifixion were flogged first, but Vespasian’s men had neither the time nor the inclination to bother. In any case, they knew the Jews lasted longer on the cross if they weren’t flogged, and that helped reinforce the general’s uncompromising message to the besieged town, little more than an arrow-shot distant.
The binding complete, they forced the Jew’s arm back onto the
the wood rough and stained with old blood. A centurion approached with a hammer and nails. The nails were about eight inches long, thick, with large flat heads, and specially made for the purpose. Like the crosses, they had been reused many times.
“Hold him still,” he barked, and bent to the task.
The Jew went rigid when he felt the point of the nail touch his wrist, then screamed as the centurion smashed the hammer down. The blow was strong and sure, and the nail ripped straight through his arm and embedded itself deep in the wood. Compounding the agony of the injury, the nail severed the median nerve, causing continuous and intense pain along the man’s entire limb.
Blood spurted from the wound, splashing onto the ground around the
Some four inches of the nail still protruded above the now blood-sodden cloth wrapped around the Jew’s wrist, but two more blows from the hammer drove it home. Once the flat head of the nail was hard up against the cloth and compressing the limb against the wood, the blood flow diminished noticeably.
The Jew screamed his agony as each blow landed, then lost control of his bladder. The trickle of urine onto the dusty ground caused a couple of the watching soldiers to smile, but most ignored it. Like Vespasian, they were tired—the Romans had been fighting the inhabitants of Judea off and on for more than a hundred years—and in the last twelve months they’d all seen too much death and suffering to view another crucifixion as much more than a temporary diversion.
It had been hard fighting, and the battles far from one-sided. Just ten months earlier, the entire Roman garrison in Jerusalem had surrendered to the Jews and had immediately been lynched. From that moment on, full-scale war had been inevitable, and the fighting bitter. Now the Romans were in Judea in full force. Vespasian commanded the fifth legion—
—and the tenth—
—while his son Titus had recently arrived with the fifteenth—
—and the army also included auxiliary troops and cavalry units.
The soldier released the victim’s arm and stood back as the centurion walked around and knelt beside the man’s right arm. The Jew was going nowhere now, though his screams were loud and his struggles even more violent. Once the right wrist had been properly bound with fabric, the centurion expertly drove home the second nail and stood back.
The vertical section of the T-shaped Tau cross—the
—was a permanent fixture in the Roman camp. Each of the legions—the three camps were side by side on a slight rise overlooking the town—had erected fifty of them in clear view of Jotapata. Most were already in use, almost equal numbers of living and dead bodies hanging from them.
Following the centurion’s orders, four Roman soldiers picked up the
between them and carried the heavy wooden beam, dragging the condemned Jew, his screams louder still, over the rocky ground and across to the upright. Wide steps had already been placed at either side of the
and, with barely a pause in their stride, the four soldiers climbed up and hoisted the
onto the top of the post, slotting it onto the prepared peg.
The moment the Jew’s feet left the ground and his nailed arms took the full weight of his body, both of his shoulder joints dislocated. His feet sought for a perch—something, anything—to relieve the incredible agony coursing through his arms. In seconds, his right heel landed on a block of wood attached to the
about five feet below the top, and he rested both feet on it and pushed upward to relieve the strain on his arms. Which was, of course, exactly why the Romans had placed it there. The moment he straightened his legs, the Jew felt rough hands adjusting the position of his feet, turning them sideways and holding his calves together. Seconds later another nail was driven through both heels with a single blow, pinning his legs to the cross.
Vespasian looked at the dying man, struggling pointlessly like a trapped insect, his cries already weakening. He turned away, shading his eyes against the setting sun. The Jew would be dead in two days, three at the most. The crucifixion over, the soldiers began dispersing, returning to the camp and their duties.
Every Roman military camp was identical in design: a square grid of open “roads,” their names the same in every camp, that divided the different sections, the whole surrounded by a ditch and palisade, and with separate tents inside for men and officers. The
legion’s camp was in the center of the three and Vespasian’s personal tent lay, as the commanding general’s always did, at the head of the
Via Principalis
—the main thoroughfare, directly in front of the camp headquarters.
The Tau crosses had been erected in a defiant line that stretched across the fronts of all three camps, a constant reminder to the defenders of Jotapata of the fate that awaited them if they were captured.

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