The old man rapped on the table and called for silence.
As the room fell quiet, the gathered men all looked at him expectantly; each one waiting to find out why he had been called to this secret meeting in a back-street tavern.
The old man stood up.
‘My friends,’ he growled, ‘we face a grave problem. The power of Rome is crushing us. They demand taxes from us – taxes that we can ill-afford to pay; they take our menfolk for slaves and work them to the ground; they use our women for their casual pleasure. We have managed all these years, but it is no longer tolerable. The people are getting restless and I hear talk of rebellion growing stronger every day.’
He paused a moment, glaring round the room.
‘Right now,’ he continued, ‘we are weak and divided, and rebellion would be a disaster. The Romans would destroy us and we would lose more, much more, than we could possibly gain.’ He shook his head. ‘No, what we need first is something that brings us together, unites us and makes us stronger. Then we can co-ordinate a rebellion that will work; a rebellion that has the strength of purpose and the momentum to overthrow the hated Romans…’ his voice rose to a shout, ‘so we can take back Judea for ourselves and for our people!’ He glared around the room again. ‘And I, Saul of Tarsus, I will be proud once again to hold up my head and call myself a citizen of Judea and not a slave of Rome!’
There was a roar of approval from the crowd in front of him. He took a sip of wine from his cup, then raised his hand to call for quiet.
‘I am open to suggestions,’ he continued, letting his voice drop back once again to a soft growl, ‘as to how we can unite Judea around a common cause.’
He sat down, letting the question hang in the air. The men in the tavern looked nervously around at each other. [more]