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CONFLICT WITH THE JEWS

Caesarea

Now I have news for you. I have had the most exciting week of my life. Truly I have put the fat in the fire. Jerusalem is in an uproar, the hubbub spread throughout the country, and here in Caesarea I am beset by a multitude of angry Jews.

At the first all went well. The troops reached the Antonia while it was still dark and the standards were erected on the battlements. They could be seen from some parts of the Temple. I must tell you that with the earliest dawn the priests begin their preparations for the morning sacrifice and soon the crowd of worshippers assembles. (A good custom, since it makes the people get up early.) It was barely daylight when some one discovered the imagaes on the standard-poles. They have the eyes of hawks where we are concerned. At once there was an outcry. Some of them rushed to the Antonia, others to the priests, others back into the town to spread the news. Caiaphas was round at the Antonia in no time and begged Marcius at any rate to remove the standards from the public view. Marcius politely said no and referred him to me. Caiaphas said he would have to take a strong line; he had already summoned the Sanhedrim; they would complain not only to me but to Rome and would tell the people so, but that he was doubtful whether the mob could be restrained from an actual attack upon the citadel. Marcius did not budge and Caiaphas was at his wits' end what to do. Meanwhile, all Jerusalem gathered in the Temple, and round the Antonia. They threatened not only us but the Sanhedrim as well. Many of them carried clubs and stones, and when Caiaphas emerged from the offices of the Sanhedrim to address them they menaced him violently, accusing the Sanhedrim of having brought this 'insult' on their religion by its tolerance of us and demanding that it should at once secure its removal. Caiaphas replied that the Sanhedrim would do its utmost, but there must be no violence; they would at once send a powerful deputation to me at Caesarea and, if I did not yield, they would forthwith appeal to Caesar and ask for my removal. He added that if any of the crowd chose to accompany the deputation they could do so; they could help to prove to me how deeply moved they were by this act of sacrilege, but they would only do serious injury to their religion and their country by an uproar in Jerusalem. Caiaphas is a shrewd man. He provided them with an outlet for their anger and himself with the means (as he hoped) of intimidating me.

Taking him at his word, they have come to Caesarea. Yes, my dear Seneca, they left their work and their religion and set off to walk, thousands and thousands of them, to me at Caesarea. They came not only from Jerusalem but from a hundred towns and villages; everywhere, as the news spread, they set off for Caesarea. When I heard what was happening I went up on the roof of the palace - this was four days ago - and the roads were black with them as far as the eye could see. They were marching steadily like men with a purpose, as people do in Rome when they are going to the Games. All ages were there, from greybeards down to boys. Their most learned Rabbis came, each with a following of pupils and admirers. A crowd of priests from the Temple escorted the deputation, which was led by Caiaphas and Annas. When the deputation entered the palace there was a tremendous scene of enthusiasm among them. The rest of the population looks on sourly. With a little more provocation, there would be a massacre.

I rather enjoyed the conversation with the priests. Caiaphas was dignified, Annas truculent, and his son Eleazar (formerly High Priest) noisy. But one and all they are anxious to get out of a hole. They are afraid of the mob and still more afraid of their enemies in Jerusalem who are busy undermining their position, calling them pro-Romans, 'abettors of idolatry' (the crime of crimes in the eyes of a good Jew), traitors and the like. You can readily imagine the arguments. On their side, no Procurator had ever done such a thing before; Caesar would disapprove of it; Caesar had always been considerate; neither I, nor Caesar - especially Caesar - could desire riot and open revolt, which were to be expected if I did not cancel my order. On my part, the presence of the images was an ordinary sign of the Roman authority; it was much less offensive than the daily sacrifice which already they performed to Caesar and to Rome; I had gone out of my way to spare their feelings by sending the troops in under cover of the night; to withdraw the images now would be an unprecedented humiliation of Caesar and to withdraw them in the face of threats would be a signal proof of weakness.

Since this meeting they have been here several times, both publicly and privately, and at intervals they harangue the crowd. I have told Caiaphas that he must order his people to go back home, but he says that the most he can do is to keep them quiet by promising to give me no peace until he has persuaded me. Their numbers, so far from diminishing, increase steadily. A great many people come in from curiosity, but all kinds of wild fanatics are arriving from distant parts and making violent speeches. I don't know how they all subsist, but I suppose a good quarrel over religion is meat and drink to them.

The situation cannot last, but I confess I find it a little difficult to deal with. I could disperse them by force, but I do not want bloodshed; all the people at Rome who are for peace and quietness (and who don't in the least understand the difficulties of provincial governors) would be up in arms against me. On the other hand, I ought not to yield. I dearly want to teach these Jews a lesson. Besides, it is really important, as a matter of policy, to break down their exclusiveness, and I have made a beginning. So far from Roman rule being genuinely accepted here, there is a slow but steady movement against it and against the priests who tolerate it. Unless we begin to break their obstinacy we shall, before long, have to reconquer Judaea. If I could only rely on proper support at home, but there - I know that when I talk with hand on sword-hilt I must not expect too much sympathy from you.

I wish you had the job yourself for a few months.

I will let you know the upshot.


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