“How can he sleep like that?” Dominic interrupted Paul.
Everyone looked Alexander, the business man.
The blinding sun was beaming through the small window above them, and was shining directly into Alex’s face. He didn’t stir.
“Well, he seems content.” Paul replied.
Dominic replied, “He may look it, but I don’t think that is the case. He told me yesterday that he didn’t think he would be here for long. His trial is due.”
There was a quiet moment that passed, and then Mark looked at Paul.
“So what happened after you saw Stephen stoned? Did the Romans arrest you all for executing someone without their permission?”
“No”, replied Paul. “Actually, they just seemed to ignore it. The Romans have always hated to deal with the priests and religious leaders. It was easier for them to turn the other way.”
“So, what did you do then?” asked Darius. The larger of the twin’s deep voice resounded inside the cell even though he seemed to whisper.
All eyes shifted to Alex as he stirred.
“Yeah, what happened to the rest of them? Stephen wasn’t the only one causing trouble,” added Dominic, “there is this guy Peter here in Rome that sounds a lot like the Peter in your story. Is he the same guy?”
“Oh, yes! He is an interesting one. We have had our moments…”
“From the time we stoned Stephen I was different. I think that the depth of the decision I made, to watch a friend put to death because he refused to see the truth, made me determine to be committed to the cause. My one purpose was to shut the mouths of these disciples of Jesus as quickly as possible.
“I was moving through the city of Jerusalem like a fire moving through a dry forest. Every time I identified someone as a disciple, I would enter their homes and drag them into the street and demand that they recant their beliefs. If they still resisted, then they would be dragged to prison and held until they changed their minds.
“No way. With the Romans and their rules, how could you do that? Just go into peoples houses like that?” asked Dominic.
“Oh, Rome didn’t care…this was our issue; and the High Priest didn’t care how it happened, but he wanted them stopped. That is what I was doing.
“I don’t think he realized how much power he had given to a 32 year old Pharisee with a giant chip on his shoulder.”
“Wait, you were only 32 then?” asked Daruis.
“Oh yes, young and full of energy. I don’t think I had a good nights sleep for weeks.
“But it didn’t take long for the disciples to scatter. Within a few days, most of the homes I entered were empty. I had driven the church to move underground, or to completely leave Jerusalem, and that bothered me. My intention was to contain the young church, not cause it to spread.”
“It didn’t work” yawned Alex. No one had noticed that he was awake.
“No, you are right. Quickly, news began to arrive of new congregations appearing in other cities. Reports from the synagogues at Damascus gave description of people behaving just like the ones we were chasing in Jerusalem. They were disturbed by the number of the people that referred to themselves as ‘The Way’. And it wasn’t just the people leaving and moving, they were growing incredibly fast.
“As soon as I was aware of this, I ran to the High Priest and requested letters to the synagogues in Damascus stating that he gave me the authority to arrest any men or women that claimed to be followers of Jesus and bring them home.
Of course he obliged.
“I quickly assembled a small group of men together, and prepared to take the 5 day trip starting on the North Road to where it intersects the Via Maris heading west to Damascus.
The Romans had perfected the roads in this region. They were smooth and were able to handle heavy traffic.
As soon as the group had cleared the gates of Jerusalem, Saul set off at an unrelenting speed, his short legs sweeping forward, sandals barely touching the packed dirt.
The men in the group that accompanied Saul consisted of a few former military men and some younger religious zealots. The older ones were brought along for strength, and the younger ones were chosen for their enthusiastic religious beliefs.
But young or old, the travelers found themselves staring at the back of Saul’s balding head. His legs seemed to pump along with boundless energy.
At one point, Jonathan, the youngest of the travelers at 22 years old, shuffled ahead of the others to talk to Saul.
“Yes” replied Saul in a monotone voice.
“I understand that we are trying to hurry, but could we slow down just a little?”
“No, we can’t slow down.”
He didn’t turn his head from the road.
“Do you understand what is happening? They are moving faster than we are. They blaspheme, they turn from their past, and their teachers, and follow a dead man. These men are foolish. They cause me such grief, and there is no end in sight.”
So the course and the pace remained the same until they reached Joppa, where the North Road intersected a heavily travelled highway known as the Via Maris. The Romans had constructed this smooth stone road for the heavy travel of the army from the sea to the west. The name was usually called the “Coastal Route” or “The Way of the Sea”.
The Coastal Route served as the major travel road for soldiers, traders, caravans and any other type of business that would require a network of large cities.
The road originated at the mouth of the Nile River, and ran North East through the desert until reaching the green oasis town of Gaza. After leaving Gaza the road turned due north, continuing along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea to the large port town of Caesera. From there it struck a westerly route through Joppa, ending at the front gate of the town of Damascus.
Three days into the trip they passed through Joppa, and Saul’s pace seemed to find itself at a reasonable stride, mostly due to the extra traffic of the main road that they were now on It was a relief for everyone to settle into a common rhythm for travel.
On day four, they continued inland toward the new city of Tiberias on the Southwestern tip of the Sea of Galilee.
Traffic increased, and it became obvious that every road that headed to Damascus funneled into the Via Maris at the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. There was a long open plateau that allowed passage into Damascus without having to pass over the rocky mountain range and through the heavily forested region to the south.
At night fall, they stopped at the base of the mountains and tried to sleep to pass the final night of the trip.