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POLICY TOWARDS THE JEWS

Alexandria

I found your letter waiting for me when I landed and I hasten to thank you for it. I count myself happy that you who are so busy and making for yourself so brilliant a name in the courts should have had the inclination and the time to write me a long letter of good wishes and advice. It was shrewd of you, too, my friend. 'Pilate,' you said to yourself, 'the impulsive, headstrong Pilate, will not be able to argue with me; he will have to take my warnings on with him from Alexandria and chew upon them all the way to Caesarea.' I will do that, I promise you, and whenever I do so I shall wonder again that one so young as you should be so wise.* The State is fortunate which can boast not only of Caesars but of Senecas to serve them, and I shall watch your progress with affectionate eagerness from my exile among the savages.

*Seneca was about thirty years of age at this time.
'What,' you will say, 'savages! So that is all that my letter has accomplished, so that is the spirit in which you take up your task? The Jews are not savages.' No, they are not; I seek but to provoke you. The Jews are highly civilized. They are intelligent and subtle, industrious and tenacious; they can split a hair with the most learned and steal a march with the most cunning. You need not be afraid; I shall not under-rate them.

But, you say, beware of their religion, for on that subject they are the most sensitive, the most prone to take offence, the most indomitable in resistance, of any people on this earth. And, you add, holding up a warning finger, 'You know what Caesar wishes!' I know. No commotions, no rebellions, taxes duly paid: that is what Caesar wishes. Yet you will not pretend that Caesar loves the Jews, at least in Rome. Precisely, says the wise Seneca: in Rome Caesar does not love the Jews any more than he does the Egyptians. They will not mix, they are a race apart, they will not do sacrifice to the Gods or to Caesar, and they claim all sorts of privileges. Caesar does not want such people in Rome, though they flock there more and more. They should stop in their own Judaea, then, and in their own Judaea - let them alone! Is not that the instruction? Have I not laid your letter well to heart? Believe me, I shall not interfere with their religion, their priests or their Temple. But I have heard - and have you, who know so much, not also heard? - that with a Jew religion comes very near to politics? What, pray, is a Roman Governor to do when religion becomes politics? I have heard that some of them will acknowledge no ruler except their God, not even Caesar. Not even Caesar, mark you! Let them beware. I do not think that Caesar will be lightly displeased with servants who are only concerned to secure respect for his authority. In religion the Jews may go their own way. In politics they shall go my way, the Roman way, or I will know the reason why.

To-morrow I meet Valerius in the morning, and in the afternoon a deputation of Alexandrine Jews, who wish to pay me their dutiful respects and (so their letter says) make representations to me about lightening of the burdens on their countrymen in Judaea. I shall be expected, I suppose, to show how much finer a fellow than Valerius I am by reducing the taxes.

The shopping campaign is already in full swing.


3---MEETING WITH HIS PREDECESSOR VALERIUS: --next letter of LETTERS OF PONTIUS PILATE
LETTERS OF PONTIUS PILATE: --back to table of contents
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