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FIRST MENTION OF JESUS

Caesarea

The Sanhedrim are obstinate. I have told them that they must find ways and means within three months of paying for the aqueduct and roads. I have had endless conferences with their chief men. I repeat until I am weary - 'For the first time in its history Jerusalem will have good drinking-water. It is essential for the health of your great city.' They remain unmoved. One of them said loftily - 'Water for drinking is not of real importance. That is only an affair of the unclean body. What matters is provision for the soul - water for the ablutions that are ordained by our Law.' (They are always at their ceremonial washings; I have never been able to understand how people who wash so much can look so dirty.) This argument gave me a chance. 'Precisely,' I retorted, 'you require great quantities of water for your ablutions and for the temple sacrifices.' (They have, you must know, a huge bowl of water in the Temple for swilling away the blood from sacrifices.) 'The aqueduct is therefore a matter of religion as much as of health and decency and I should expect you to be prepared both to support me and to pay for the service which I am doing you.'

Then a brilliant idea came into my head. 'Since,' I added, 'the aqueduct, on your own showing, will be a great assistance to your religious exercises, why no pay for it with the Temple-money?' You would hardly believe with what fury they received this reasonable suggestion. 'Robbery' and 'sacrilege' were the weakest words they used. I protested to them that they might regard it as a loan and by imposing a levy on the population of Jerusalem and spreading it over twelve months (or longer if they chose) repay the Temple funds. They were almost beside themselves, but I stood firm and ordered them to bring the proposal before a formal meeting of the full Sanhedrim. The more I think over it, the more agreeable does this project look to me. It solves the difficulties with such simplicity.

The news in your last letter makes entertaining reading. I thought we had fallen low enough when sprigs of our ancient noble houses drove their own chariots at the Games, but I never expected to hear that a Claudius was fighting as a common gladiator before the lousy mob or a Domitius fawning as an actor on the stage. I have, I fear, no such exciting scraps of gossip for you. One of the Rabbis who was suspected of looking with favour on my aqueduct was murdered yesterday as he left his house for the Sanhedrim. Five ruffians fell on him with knives; he had over twenty wounds. There is not the smallest chance of catching the murderers, although their hiding-place will be known to many people. Reports from the frontier state that another wandering preacher, one Jesus, has turned up in Galilee; I have told Joseph to keep an eye on him. The only daughter of one of the chief priests of Jerusalem has run off with a Greek merchant. They wanted me to arrest the pair and declared that she has taken some of her father's money. He can spare it. Alas! the soldiers did not arrive at the quay till the ship was safely gone, and to-day I am very much in Procula's good graces.

I cannot get over my astonishment at your letter. What will Tiberius Caesar say when he hears that a Claudius has become a gladiator!*

*The Emperor Tiberius belonged to the Claudian line, which was notorious for its arrogance. 'The pride of the Claudian family,' says Tacitus, 'was inveterate in his nature.'


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