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DEFEAT OF PILATE

Caesarea

I thank Jove that the place is clear of Jews again. The last of their rag-tag-and-bobtail is disappearing into the mountains, and I write to you, my dear Seneca, in haste to tell you what has happened. I shall be quite frank with you, for the truth is that I may need the help of you and of my other friends. I am glad that Caesar himself is not in Rome, for I cannot conceal from myself that the facts might be misrepresented to him. No, I said I would be frank with you; I should be afraid that the facts might be reported to him truly.

After four days the Jews showed no signs of weakening. They stood and sat and slept and said their prayers all round the Palace and in the adjoining streets and squares. Especially they said their prayers. Marcius wrote to me that everything in Jerusalem was at a standstill and that he was passively beseiged in the Antonia. Joseph reported that the Sanhedrim had sent envoys to Herod Antipas, his brother and the Governor of Syria begging them to intervene with me on the ground that a serious outbreak in Judaea would have an unpleasant repercussion in their territories. The priests had also chosen the mission which they would, if need be, send to Rome. I determined to use a direct threat of military force. I announced that on the next day - the sixth day of these proceedings - the Jews were to assemble in the market-place early in the morning and I would address them personally. At the same time I ordered all the available troops to be concealed in the surrounding buildings. At the conclusion of my speech they were to pour out and advance upon the Jews.

The market-place is an open space which will hold twenty thousand people, and it was packed. The din, when I arrived, was indescribable. For ten minutes they shouted at me and at one another. They behaved like madmen. I do not know what they were saying; I doubt whether many of them knew themselves. The priests, who had made a line (to protect me, I believe) in front of the raised platform on which I sat, could not obtain silence. At last I rose, gave a signal to my officials and made as though to leave. That quieted them for a second and Caiaphas, mounting the platform, told them that the Sanhedrim had asked me to address them personally (this was not true) and that it was their duty to listen quietly. They became silent for the time.

I was polite, I was conciliatory. I told them that Caesar had always been anxious not to interfere with their religion and that I was no less disposed than other Governors to respect their scruples. But this was not religion, it was purely an administrative act to which they ought not to take exception. They could not expect to be exempt from the symbols of Roman dominion, I might almost say of Roman citizenship, which were common to the whole civilized world. At this murmurs arose. I was willing, I said, to consider any reasonable request that they might make, but first of all they must return quietly to their homes. Until that, nothing could be done. Or did they desire to enter on a conflict with the power of Rome? I ceased abruptly and gave the signal. Immediately the troops appeared on every side and, with all their weapons ready for immediate use, hemmed in the crowd.

What do you suppose they did, wisest of the wise men of Rome? Fall into panic, tremble before the Roman sword, seek to escape? They showed no signs of it. Assail the troops, plunge into the conflict with which I threatened them? Not for a moment. At first they were taken aback and made no sound or movement. Then one of their leaders in front of me cried out loudly in Aramaic and, baring his neck to the sword, knelt down before the soldier nearest to him. He had said, so I was told, that sooner would they suffer death than yield. In a flash they followed his example. Everywhere, priests and people alike, they did the same thing. They struggled among themselves to get to the front in order to present their necks to the Roman executioner and behind the lucky ones they knelt down with bared necks, row after row, thousands upon thousands, to await their turn. The position was ludicrous. I could not very well order a wholesale butchery. I had never intended to. Even had they had but one head I could not have cut it off, though it would have given me the greatest pleasure. I had failed and knew it. It took but a few seconds for me to make up my mind. I signalled to the chief priests to follow me and withdrew for consultation. Let me cut short the story of my humiliation. I announced that I was deeply impressed by their devotion to their religion (and that was true enough), but that what impressed me most was the order and calm resolution which they exhibited. Had it been otherwise, had they sought to intimidate me by violence - but you see the argument and, though you may smile, I assure you that the priests did not. They thanked me gravely and Caiaphas went out and announced my decision in almost my own words, adding that they must have confidence in me and in their priests and return quietly to their homes. Thereafter jubilation, thanksgiving and, of course, more prayers. Yahveh gets the credit for it. All day long they have been departing, singing their psalms. Let them sing while they may. But if some day they get a different sort of governor from me, if Caesar abandons his policy of patient toleration, if their wild fanatics overthrow these politic and cunning priests, if the Roman armies march - will Yahveh save them then?

I look to you and to my other friends to put the best face on it when this story reaches Rome. After all, I have but sought to compel respect for Caesar and his images have lorded it above their Temple for a week. It is a beginning, even if at the finish I have lost the throw.

Now I await the preacher John. Marcius should by now have laid him by the heels. When he is safely here in gaol, the sword shall deal with him. If their victory over me makes them think that the new age has begun, I will at least take care that the prophet does not live to see it.

So you have been reading one of your tragedies to an admiring audience in Rome? I am sure it will be full of fine sentiments. Would I were there to listen to them. Would you were here that you might apply them to these incorrigible Jews, with me to watch the fun.


19--ARREST OF JOHN BY HEROD ANTIPAS: --next letter of LETTERS OF PONTIUS PILATE
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