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  • Writer's pictureNijay K. Gupta

STRANGE ENCOUNTER | Episode 7: "Wicked men stay dead."

This short-form fiction series is set in Rome in the late first century AD. You can read the previous episodes by clicking the link below.


From the previous episode: Felix had so many questions. What a tale! But this was a wanted man.

“Felix?” Anna cried out in a weak voice, eyes closed, body shifting with discomfort. 

Instinctually, Felix leapt up from his chair (knocking over the chair, in fact). He rushed to her bedside and knelt down, “How are you feeling, my love?” 

“What happened to me?” Anna asked, finally opening her eyes and looking at Felix. 

“You got sick from that wound on your leg, it got worse quickly and you had a terrible fever. But Hermes came by and treated your wound and tracked down ice to cool your head and…” At that moment, Felix looked over in Hermes’ direction to invite him to share more of the story, but…he was gone. He must have slipped out, Felix thought, like he always does. But now, Felix knew why Hermes had mastered the art of stealth.

“Lucian is here!” Felix whispered excitingly to Anna.

Felix turned back to Anna and clasped her clammy hand with both of his. “What matters is that you are getting better. You’ll be on your feet in no time.”

Anna closed her eyes again and managed a weak smile. “Why is my leg sticky?”

“Oh, that’s Hermes’ honey and vinegar treatment,” Felix explained, as if that would make sense to Anna.

Anna furled her brow in confusion (eyes still closed), and then drifted off into sleep again.

A few weeks later.

“Lucian is here!” Felix whispered excitingly to Anna. They were both tidying up in the insula tavern, preparing for customers. Lucian was a bit of a local legend. In his heyday, he was a famous travel writer. He would travel the world and write up stories about his adventures and the wonders he witnessed. But in his thirties he became widely known around Rome for his gambling problem. Now Lucian had too many debts to afford trips. Instead he traveled from tavern to tavern, trying to get a free drink from former fans; he knew this tavern often paid out. 

“Good friend, how about a free drink for an old traveler?” Lucian said to Felix—clearly not knowing his name, but still with a wink and smile that was nearly irresistible. Without a word, Felix poured Lucian a drink spilling a little out of excitement. Then he sat down at Lucian’s table just assuming he would get a chance to hear a spell-binding tale. Anna just rolled her eyes and kept cleaning.

Lucian perked up at this question. “So, you’ve encountered a “Christian?” 

Lucian took a big gulp, sighed, and started in on a tale: “I found myself in Africa’s great city Leptis Magna, I had bet a good sum on a stout, but skilled gladiator…”

Felix interrupted, “Who is Chrestos?”

Lucian was clearly confused. Chrestos, after all, was a common slave name. “Ummm…”

“Or perhaps it was “Christos?”

Lucian perked up at this question. “So, you’ve encountered a “Christian?” 

“Is Christos a god?” 

Lucian got very excited at the opportunity to share his (somewhat inaccurate and limited) knowledge. 

“His full name is Jesus Christ, he was a Jew, born in Judea. He claimed to be Israel’s prophesied king that would lead them to independence; some say this Jesus would lead a revolt to defeat the Romans. But the Romans killed him—alas, a common fate for rebels. In fact, he was crucified and he had no wife or children.”

The mention of crucifixion always put people on edge, such a horrific fate. So, Felix and Lucian sat for a moment in silence.

“Why would these Christians worship a crucified rebel?” Felix could not make sense of this.

“Aha!” Lucian chimed in. “I met a Christian once, in Ephesus. He told me that even though Jesus died on the cross and was buried in a private tomb—I would think the vultures would have ravaged the body, but they say it was whole. Where was I? Ah yes, the tomb. Then—poof!—he vanished. Some say he went to the underworld, some say he wasn’t really dead. But the Christians say he came back to life.”

“That’s impossible!” Felix interjected. 

“I think of it like the legend of Hippolytus, tricked by his step-mother, killed by his grandfather Poseidon, pitied by Artemis, brought back to life by Asklepios,” Lucian waxed in a lyrical tone. 

“But Hippolytus was innocent and noble. The gods had reason to do right by him. What can be said for this rebel Jesus? Wicked men stay dead.”

Felix responded matter-of-factly, “But Hippolytus was innocent and noble. The gods had reason to do right by him. What can be said for this rebel Jesus? Wicked men stay dead.”

Lucian moved on to another topic (another one of his “adventures”), but Felix tuned him out as his mind wandered. How could this “Jesus” be a rebel and criminal, and yet Baculus and Hermes show such clemency and generosity? Surely there is more to these Christians? Why are they so secretive? Why do they not have any temples where people can see statues of their gods? Where are their priests? Are they just another one of those foreign mystery cults? 

As Felix continued to process these questions, he got up from the table and aimlessly started tidying up again, as if in a trance of thought. Some part of him could still hear Lucian talking: “Good sir, how about another drink on the house? friend?...”

This short-form fiction series serves as companion to Dr. Nijay K. Gupta’s book Strange Religion: How the First Christians Were Weird, Dangerous, and Compelling. Stay tuned for Episode 8.


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