The Valdosta Daily Times
South Georgia author Jason Owen’s latest book, “The Centurion,” is a novel based on the biblical passage regarding the Centurion of Capernaum, a Roman who seeks Jesus to heal his critically injured servant.
In developing this novel, Owen delved into the historical record for more information. “One of the people that previewed the book for me, Mrs. Becky Davis, had actually been to that exact area,” Owen says. “There are ruins in Capernaum of a temple in that town. She told me the story, that is told at that site, about the centurion mentioned in the Bible who built the temple there or had it built. At any rate, a Roman building a Jewish temple is of note.”
Yet, despite the research, there is little known about the Centurion. Owen incorporated what he could find, but the lack of details allowed him great freedom in developing his plot.
“I really had only the biblical accounts and the ruins to work with, but I combined that with my years of historical study on the Roman Empire and the occupation of Palestine,” Owen says. “I tried to create a true Roman character and all of the pressures and prejudices that he and his men would hold and then I thought about what events could shake a strong and proud persona like that Centurion.
“As for the action, anyone who has studied any Roman history can say that someone is always trying to gain power by any means necessary and Palestine presented an interesting place for that to develop. In most of the other Roman provinces, the governor was also the commanding general of the army but not in Palestine. That province had both a governor in Jerusalem and a commanding general in Syria (the Legate of Syria). Anytime you have two ‘leaders,’ you are going to have a power struggle which makes dissension, conspiracy and even simple communication a problem.”
In “The Centurion,” Owen introduces readers to Centurion Lucius Titus Justus. A devoted Roman soldier charged with supervising the city of Capernaum, Lucius has established a pocket of peace between the Jews and the Romans. In other Judean locales, relations are marked by hostility. Bandits are a threat. So is dissatisfaction in the Roman ranks. Lucius learns of another centurion’s plot against Roman governor Pontius Pilate, a scheme that would use a Jewish priest reputed for working miracles among the people. Lucius has ignored stories of Jesus, regarding him as a harmless priest. Events will soon change this regard.
While many may read the biblical passage regarding the Centurion of Capernaum as one of Jesus’ many miracles, Owen found the inspiration for a full, 250-plus-page novel.
“I have to say God laid him on my heart! Here is a man who is a leader of men in a position of great authority and yet he is not too proud to admit that he needs help,” Owen says. “Most people just suffer and never seek help with anything, but this Centurion knew he needed help and he knew where only his help could come from, Jesus.”
In a study Bible, Owen confronted the reference that spurred him further: How he ignored the considerations of his time, place and rank to meet with Jesus.
“Would Jesus talk with a Roman? Would Jesus’ men allow the meeting? Would he be safe? Could he even speak the same language as Jesus? And those were just on the Jesus side of the issue,” Owen says. “What would the Centurion’s men think of him? What would his superiors think of him? Would he lose their respect talking with a ‘radical’ priest?
“I took all of those questions and put them in the modern day. What would happen if an Army captain wanted to talk to a ‘radical’ cleric? All of those previous questions come to mind again but then the story would be picked up by the media, ‘Army officer seeks to have meeting with radical cleric.’ Now what would that guy’s family and friends back home think of him? It could all be explained but how many times do people really get the chance to explain something like that? When you take all of that into consideration, you see the enormous amount of courage it took for this Centurion to seek out Jesus. We need more examples of courage like that in our lives today.”
Owen also considered the conversation the Centurion had with Christ.
“The Centurion saw in Jesus some of the same qualities that he had himself. That is what it takes for a person to come to Jesus. You have to address that desperate need within yourself and then find a similarity that Jesus had too which allows you to relate to Him. Then you can make that leap of faith because you know that Jesus will catch you,” Owen says. “To me the conversation Jesus had with the Centurion was one of the best in the Bible. So much was shared and then Jesus (in Matthew 8:10) says, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not seen faith like this in all of Israel!’ Basically, Jesus is saying to all of His people that this Roman has more faith in Him than the people He came to minister. All of this courage and respect was laid upon this Centurion and we do not even know his name! I find that to be a tragedy because, as I said earlier, we need examples like this centurion to follow.”
“The Centurion” is Owen’s second novel. His first was “Soulmate,” which is part love story, part mystery, part exploration of what it means to have faith in something that cannot be explained.
Owen is writing other books, including a children’s book tentatively titled “A Rabbit’s Tale” and a novel called “Fighting for Life.”
“The Centurion” is available from book websites.