Easter reflections: Pontius Pilate’s revealing epistle
What really are the facts surrounding the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross? For more than 2000 years, it is a question that has agitated minds of a great many. In thinking circles, in theological schools, among scholars and researchers the question is being asked— from year to year. It is a question that will not leave those who preoccupy themselves with it in peace. As part of efforts to get at the truth of what happened and why, researchers have been digging into archives in which, it has been discovered, is contained what is called Pilate Files. It is trite to say Pontius Pilate played a crucial role in the death of the Lord, a fact even popularised by the Christian creed, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate…” Pontius Pilate was the third Roman governor in Judea. The troubling question that will not go away: Was Christ sent to die for the sins of mankind?
As I was saying last week, captioned “Historical document,” Pontius Pilate’s letter was to Tiberius Caesar, the Emperor of Rome, “verifying his sympathy for Jesus Christ and exposing the treachery of the Jews.” The source is ‘The Archko Volume, or The Archeological Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews, entered into the Congressional record in the year 1887. Republished in 1975 by Keats Publishing Inc.,…USA.’ It reads as follows:
Greetings: The events of the last few days in my province have been of such a character that I will give the details in full as they occurred, as I should not be surprised if, in the course of time, they may change the destiny of our nation, for it seems of late that all the gods have ceased to be propitious. I am almost ready to say, Cursed be the day that I succeeded Vallerius Flaceus in the government of Judea; for since then my life has been one of continual uneasiness and distress.
“On my arrival at Jerusalem I took possession of the praetorium, and ordered a splendid feast to be prepared, to which I invited the tetrarch of Galilee, with the high priest and his officers. At the appointed hour no guests appeared. This I considered an insult offered to my dignity, and to my dignity, and to the whole government which I represent.
“A few days after, the high priest deigned to pay me a visit. His deportment was grave and deceitful. He pretended that his religion forbade him and his attendants to sit at the table with the Romans, and eat and offer libations with them, but this was only a sanctimonious seeming, for his very countenance betrayed his hypocrisy.
“Although I thought it expedient to accept his excuse, from that moment I was convinced that the conquered had declared themselves the enemy of the conquerors; and I would warn the Romans to beware of the high priests of this country. They would betray their own mother to gain office and a luxurious living.
“It seems to me that, of the conquered cities, Jerusalem is the most difficult to govern. So turbulent are the people that I live in momentary dread of an insurrection. I have not soldiers a sufficient to suppress it. I had only one centurion and a hundred men at my command.
“I requested reinforcement from the prefect of Syria, who informed me that he had scarcely enough troops sufficient to defend his own province. An insatiate thirst for conquest to extend our empire beyond the means of defending it, I fear, will be the cause of the final overthrow of our whole government.
“I lived secluded from the masses, for I did not know what those priests might influence the rabble to do; yet I endeavored to ascertain, as far as I could, the mind and standing of the people.
“Among the various rumors that came to my ears, there was one in particular that attracted my attention. A young man, it was said had appeared in Galilee, preaching with a noble unction a new law in the name of God that had sent him. At first I was apprehensive that his design was to stir up the people against the Romans, but my fears were soon dispelled. Jesus of Nazareth spoke rather as friend of the Romans than of the Jews.
“One day in passing by the place of Siloe, where there was a great concourse of people, I observed in the midst of a group a young man who was leaning against a tree, calmly addressing the multitude. I was told it was Jesus. This I could easily have suspected, so great was the difference between him and those listening to him. His golden coloured hair and beard gave to his appearance a celestial.
“He appeared to be about thirty years of age. Never have I seen a sweeter or more countenance. What a contrast between him and his hearers, with their black beards and tawny complexions! (Emphasis in bold letters, Pontius Pilate’s).
“Unwilling to interrupt him by my presence, I continued my walk, but signified to my secretary to join the group and listen. My secretary’s name is Manlius. He is the grandson of the chief conspirators who encamped in Etruria waiting for Cataline. Manlius had been for a long time an inhabitant of Judea, and is well acquainted with the Hebrew language.
“He was devoted to me, and worthy of my confidence. On entering the praetorium I found Manlius, who related to me the words Jesus had pronounced at Siloe. Never have I read in the works of the philosophers anything that can compare to the maxims of Jesus. One of the rebellious Jews, so numerous in Jerusalem, having asked Jesus if it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, he replied, ‘Render unto Ceasar the things that belong to Caesar, and unto God the things are God’s.’
“It was on account of the wisdom of his sayings that I granted so much liberty to the Nazarene; for it was in my power to have had him arrested, and exiled to Pontus; but that would have been contrary to the justice which has always characterized the Roman government in all its dealings with men; this man was neither seditious nor rebellious; I extended to him my protection, unknown perhaps to himself.
“He was at liberty to act, to speak, to assemble and address the people, and to choose disciples unrestrained by any praetorian mandate. Should it ever happen (may the gods avert the omen), should it ever happen, I say, that the religion of our fathers will be supplanted by the religion of Jesus, it will be to this noble toleration that Rome shall owe her premature death, while I miserable wretch, will have been the instrument of what the Jews call Providence, and we call destiny.
“This unlimited freedom granted to Jesus provoked the Jews—not the poor, but the rich and powerful. It is true, Jesus was severe on the latter, and this was a political reason, in my opinion, for not restraining the liberty of the Nazarene. ‘Scribes and Pharisees,” he would say to them, ‘you are a race of vipers; you resemble painted sepulchers; you appear well unto men, but you have death within you.’ At other times he would sneer at the aims of the rich and proud, telling them that the mite of the poor was more precious in the sight of God. Complaints were daily made at the praetorium against the ‘insolence’ of Jesus.
“I was informed that some misfortune would befall him; that it would not be the first time Jerusalem had stoned those who called themselves prophets; an appeal would be made to Caesar. However, my conduct was approved by the Senate, and I was promised reinforcement after the termination of the Parthian war. Being too weak to suppress an insurrection, I resolved upon adopting a measure that promised to restore the tranquility of the city without subjecting the praetorium to humiliating concession. I wrote to Jesus, requesting an interview with the praetorium. He came You know that in my veins flows the Spanish mixed with Roman blood==as incapable of fear as it is of weak emotion.
“When the Nazarene made his appearance, I was walking in my basilica, and my feet seemed fastened with an iron hand to the marble pavement, and I trembled in every limb as does a guilty culprit, though the Nazarene was as calm as innocence itself.
“When he came up to me, he stopped, and by a signal sign ne seemed to say to me, ‘I am here,’ though he spoke not a word. For some time I contemplated with admiration and awe this extraordinary type of man—a type of man unknown to our numerous painters, who have given form and figure to all the gods and the heroes. There was nothing about him that was repelling in its character, yet I felt too awed and tremulous to approach him.
“Jesus said, ‘I unto him at last—and my tongue faltered—‘ Jesus of Nazareth, for the last three years I have granted you ample freedom of speech; nor do I regret it. Your words are those of a sage. I know not whether you have read Socrates or Plato, but this I know, there is in your discourses a majestic simplicity that elevates you above those philosophers. The Emperor is informed of it, and I, his humble representative in this country, am glad of having allowed you that liberty of which you are worthy. However, I must not conceal from you that your discourses have raised up against you powerful and inveterate enemies. Nor is it surprising. Socrates had his enemies, and he fell a victim to their hatred. Yours are doubly incensed—against you on account of your discourses being so severe upon their conduct; against me on account of the liberty I have afforded you. They even accuse me of being indirectly leagued with you for purpose of depriving the Hebrews of the little power, which Rome has left them. My request—I do not say my order—is, that you are more circumspect and moderate in your discourses in the future, and more considerate of them, lest you arouse the pride of your enemies, and they raise against you the stupid populace, and compel me to employ the instruments of law.’
“The Nazarene calmly replied, ‘Prince of the earth, your words proceed not from true wisdom. Say to the torrent to stop in the midst of the mountain-gorge; it will uproot the trees of the valley. The torrent will answer you that it obeys the laws of nature and the Creator. God alone knows whither flow the waters of the torrent. Verily I say unto you, before the rose of Sharon blossoms, the blood of the Just shall be split.’
“’Your blood shall not be split’, said I with deep emotions; ‘you are more precious in my estimation on account of your wisdom than all the turbulent and proud Pharisees who abuse the freedom granted them by the Romans. They conspire against Caesar, and convert his bounty into fear, impressing the unlearned that Caesar is a tyrant and seeks their ruin. Insolent wretches! They are not aware that the wolf of the Tiber sometimes clothes himself with the skin of the sheep to accomplish his wicked designs. I will protect you against them. My praetorium shall be an asylum, sacred both day and night.’
“Jesus ceaselessly shook his head, and said with a grave and divine smile: ‘When the day shall have come, there will be no asylums for the Son of Man, neither in the earth nor under the earth. The asylum of the Just is there’, pointing to the Heavens. ‘That which is written in the books of the prophets must be accomplished.’
“’Young man,’ I answered mildly, ‘you will oblige me to convert my request into an order. The safety of the province, which has been confided to my care requires it. You must observe more moderation in your discourses. Do not infringe my order. You know the consequences. May happiness attend you; farewell.”
“’Prince of the earth,’ replied Jesus, ‘I come not to bring war into the world, but peace, love, and charity. I was born the same day on which Augustus gave peace to the Roman world. Persecutions proceed not from me. I expect it from others, and will meet it in obedience to the Will of my Father, who has shown me the way. Restrain, therefore, your worldly prudence. It is not in your power to arrest the victim at the foot of the tabernacle of expiation.’
“So saying, he disappeared like a bright shadow behind the curtain of the basilica—to my great relief, for I felt a heavy burden on me, of which I could not relieve myself while in his presence.
“To Herod, who then reigned in Galilee, who then reigned in Galilee, the enemies of Jesus addressed themselves, to wreak their vengeance on the Nazarene. Had Herod consulted his own inclinations, he would have ordered Jesus immediately to be put to death; but, though proud of his royal dignity, yet he hesitated to commit an act that might lessen his influence with the Senate, or like me, was afraid of Jesus. But it would never do for a Roman officer to be scared by a Jew. Previously Herod called on me at the praetorium, and, on rising to take leave, after some trifling conversation, asked me what was my opinion concerning the Nazarene. I relied that Jesus appeared to me to be one of those great philosophers that great nations sometimes produced; that his doctrines were by no means sacrilegious, and that the intentions of Rome were to leave him to that freedom of speech which was justified by his actions. Herod smiled maliciously, and, saluting me with ironical respect, departed.
“The great feast of the Jews was approaching, and the intention was to avail themselves of the popular exultation which always manifests itself at the solemnities of a Passover. The city was overflowing with a tumultuous populace, clamoring for the death of the Nazarene. My emissaries informed me that the treasure of the Temple had been employed in bribing the people. The danger was pressing. Roman centurion had been insulted. I wrote to the Prefect of Syria for a hundred foot-soldiers and as many cavalry. He declined.
“I saw myself alone with a handful of veterans in the midst of a rebellious city, too weak to suppress an uprising and having no choice left but to tolerate it. They had seized upon Jesus, and the seditious rabble, although they had nothing to fear from the praetorium, believing, as their leaders had told them, that I winked at their sedition—continued vociferating: ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’
“Three powerful parties had combined together at the time against Jesus: First, Herodians and the Sadducees, whose seditious conduct seemed to have proceeded from double motives: they hated the Nazarene and were impatient of the Roman yoke. They never forgave me for having entered the holy city with banners that bore the image of the Roman emperor, and although in this instance I had committed a fatal error, yet the sacrilege did not appear less heinous in their eyes. Another grievance also rankled in the bosoms. I had proposed to employ a part of the treasure of the Temple in erecting edifices for public use. My proposal was scorned.
“The Pharisees were the avowed enemies of Jesus. They cared not for the government. They bore with bitterness the severe reprimands which the Nazarene for three years had been continually giving them wherever he went. Timid and too weak to act themselves, they had embraced the quarrels of the Herodians and the Sadducees. Besides these three parties, I had to contend against the reckless and profligate populace always ready to join a sedition, and to profit by the disorder and confusion that resulted therefrom.”
The foregoing is the account of circumstances, as narrated by Pontius Pilate, that were created by the Establishment and the howling mob to secure the brutal murder of the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Living Love.
NEXT WEEK: THE TRIAL OF THE SON OF GOD!
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