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Shipboard, near to Caesarea
Now at last I can describe the Jewish deputation. It was a bigger affair than I had expected, but then the Jews in Alexandria are much more important than I had supposed. There is a Jewish settlement which they say occupies nearly half the city; I know that on the day before the deputation came I drove and drove and always the people and the placards and the shop-signs were Jewish. Everywhere children and everywhere aged greybeards, grave or gesticulating, in the street. I have never seen so many old men. Do they ever die, I wonder? Or is it only than one notices them more, they are so different?

It had become known that I intended to receive some of their leading men and there was a great crowd in the square before the palace of the City Prefect, Junius Macrinus, with whom I was staying. You should have heard the uproar when the deputation appeared. The Jews, who were there in force, gave their countrymen an excited welcome, I suppose because they were going to admonish the prospective oppressor of Judaea. This provoked the mob (mostly Greeks), who began to hoot and then to hustle the Jews and finally to throw stones. The Jews resisted and I thought that there would be a riot. However, Junius, who is used to this sort of thing and was amused at my taking it so seriously, had a company of troops in readiness and they soon hurried the deputation indoors and cleared the square. Everything went like clockwork. Two men, I believe - both Greeks - were killed.

You would scarcely believe how much the Jews are disliked in this part of the world. The crowd called them 'swine,' 'robbers' and 'blood-drinkers.'* Partly it is because they are arrogant and exclusive, but the Greeks cannot forgive them for beating them in trade. There is a saying in Alexandria that 'an Egyptian could make money from a pyramid, a Greek from a stone, and a Jew from a grain of sand.'

*Apparently an allusion to the calumny of the 'ritual murder' of infants which has been brought against the Jews by their enemies from very ancient times.
Alexander, the secretary, had prepared me for the deputation. He hinted that he could write my speech, but I intend to make my own speeches. 'The deputation,' he said, 'will be important: as a sign of respect to the new Procurator it will be headed by Philo and Alexander.' He seemed to expect me to say something. 'Oh yes,' I said, 'Philo and Alexander. I must remember their names.' Junius was delighted. 'I do not believe you have ever heard of either of them,' he said. The secretary went on unmoved. 'Philo has a certain reputation as a philosopher.' 'Why,' said Junius, 'he is the greatest living Jew. He is called "The Jewish Plato," which infuriates the Greeks. I have never read a word of him, but I believe he has set out to prove that the Hebrew scriptures contain the whole of Greek philosophy.' 'Alexander,' added the secretary, 'is Philo's brother, and is the leader of the Jews in commerce and finance as Philo is in letters.' Junius added that Alexander was the recognized head of the Jewish community, enormously wealthy and ready to lend money on good security. I thought myself that I must take note of Alexander.

Philo and Alexander were, in fact, the spokesmen of the party. I was brief and soldierly. 'You have, I hear, a petition to make to me,' was all I said when Junius presented them. Each of the pair had something to ask of me. They spoke quietly but, I need scarcely say, with complete assurance, as though equals to equals.

Philo spoke first, since he was to deal with religion. He began with compliments to Rome, to Caesar, and to me. He said that the Jews had always fought hard for their independence, but had never for long been able to preserve it. Always some great Power from the north or from the south had overcome them: Egypt, Assyria, the Greeks, the Syrian kings, and finally Rome. Nowadays they not only recognized that they could not hope to prevail against the might of Caesar, but they no longer desired to, for Caesar gave them peace and good government. I interrupted to say that there were constant complaints of some fellow springing up in Judaea - an itinerant preacher or a so-called patriot or a mere bandit - and he always ended by inciting the people against Rome. Philo rejoined that these were in any event ignorant, illiterate men who counted for little, and that the rulers at Jerusalem, supported by all that was best and most educated among the Jews, were satisfied to have things as they were, provided that they were left undisturbed in the exercise of their religion, and in this every Jew throughout the world was on their side. He went on to warn me, with professions of respect, that in Judaea the Jews would not abate one jot or tittle of their religious convictions. They had, he said, endured the extreme of persecution before, and, if need be, they would do so again. Antiochus of Syria had tortured and slain them by the thousand in his determination to force heathen customs upon them and to make them rather Greeks than Jews, but at the end they had defeated him.* Herod had sought to bribe them by the magnificence of his benefactions and by building them a Temple which was the wonder of the world, but when he set a golden eagle over the Temple Gate they had pulled it down, for neither the cross nor the stake had terrors for the God-fearing Jew.** He reminded me - not, he observed, that he thought it necessary - that the Jews, worshipping an invisible God, would accept no statue or image of living beings, and that even Herod had not placed his head on his own coins in Judaea.

*Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) endeavoured to destroy Jewish religion and 'Hellenize' the Jews. The successful revolt led by Judas Maccabaeus marked the failure of his policy. Antiochus dedicated the Temple at Jerusalem to the Olympic Zeus and erected in it the pagan altar which is the 'abomination of desolation' spoken of in the Book of Daniel.

**Herod the Great's policy towards the Jews was one of benevolent (and suspicious) contempt. He did not seek, like Antiochus, to 'Hellenize' them, but at the same time that he restored the Temple on the grandest scale in order to gratify them, he established a theatre and amphitheatre at Jerusalem whose pagan character was a constant offence to them.

I asked him bluntly whether he proposed that Caesar's head should not be placed on his own coins within his own dominions; but he was too shrewd to be trapped by the question; he only hoped, he said, that I would respect the susceptibilities of the Jews in the ancient home of their race and their religion even as Caesar himself desired that they should be respected.

I asked him whether he was aware that in Rome Caesar had ordered that the Jews should abandon their special forms of worship on pain of being expelled from Italy or forced into the labour battalions of the army.* He replied that he knew this was so, but that whereas Caesar would not tolerate a distinctive race with special exclusive privileges in Rome, he was equally firm in allowing them the undisturbed enjoyment of their religious customs in their own home. He added pointedly that everybody knew this was the policy laid down by Caesar for his governors, and they were grateful for it both to him and to them. He ended with a petition: the instructions given me at Rome before I left - and Valerius too laid stress upon this - informed me that at Jerusalem the Roman Governor keeps the vestments of the High Priest in his custody. He only hand them over to the High Priest on the eve of the great festivals and he receives them back again when the festival is finished. It is a sign of authority to which Rome attaches great importance. The Jews, of course, resent it. Philo proposed that, since Judaea had behaved so well during Valerius's term of office, I should restore the vestments to the High Priest. I answered coldly that the Jews must earn any concession by good behaviour shown to me, that I knew Caesar's mind and should carry it out, and that I had every intention of allowing the Jews the full exercise of their religion, provided that they recognized in every proper manner the authority of Caesar. The question of the vestments, I said, was one which only Caesar could decide.**

*The Emperor Tiberius had enforced this measure seven years earlier - in A.D. 19.

**Herod the Great had kept the vestments in his own custody and the Romans continued the practice. When, in A.D. 36, Pilate was summoned to Rome to answer to the accusations of misgovernment that were made against him, the vestments were restored to the charge of the priests in the Temple.

I hope you will approve of this mild and cautious utterance. Religion is one thing; by all means let them have their religion. But when they say that their religious scruples forbid them to tolerate the symbols of the authority of Rome - a statue or an image or even an inscription - that is another matter altogether. I shall see about it. I do not think that Caesar will blame me for enforcing his authority.

I thought Philo would never stop. His brother, Alexander, I am glad to say, was briefer. He was full of the poverty of the Jews. He said there was an impression about that all Jews were rich, but it was a great mistake. Judaea was a poor country, a large part of it mountainous and barren. The really rich territory was Galilee - do I not know it! - but people thought Judaea was wealthy because of the contributions which Jews everywhere sent up to Jerusalem. This, however, was 'Temple-money' designed to maintain the services and the priests, and it could no more be touched than the jewels, given by pious benefactors - he himself, by the way, is one of these - which adorn the Temple itself! He urged me to create peace and contentment at the beginning of my governorship by a large remission of taxation. He spoke of my reference to troublesome agitators in Judaea and said that his own experience as a collector of taxes in Egypt was that the less people were taxed the less likely they were to listen to sedition. I said I would consider it. I could not tell him, - could I? - that a Governor never needs money so urgently as in his first year of office and that every Governor has an endless string of creditors at Rome. If it were not for his creditors, would any man consent to govern Jews? A most illiberal sentiment, you will say. So it is, so it is, but I cannot always be a Seneca. To think of the untold wealth that flows from every city of Asia and Africa and almost of Europe to Jerusalem, and I cannot so much as touch it! Nor, I assure you, will I attempt to.

Soon we shall be within sight of Caesarea. Procula is full of excitement about it: but then, she does not realize for how many years she may have to live in it.

LETTERS OF PONTIUS PILATE: --back to table of contents
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