A budget from you has made me happy. Ships have been delayed by stormy weather so that several letters have arrived at once. Before I open them I think myself important, occupied with weighty affairs of State, a not inefficient part of Caesar's great machine. But when I read them, ah me! I wish that I were again at the centre of the world, in the Forum or the Senate-house, the theatre or Sejanus's ante-chamber, amid the noise and smoke of Rome, where after all a man does live. Here nothing happens - nothing, at least, that matters; from here nothing can arise; how much, I beg you to tell me, will Rome ever know or care about Judaea unless there is a war and comfortable appointments have to be found for our noble idlers on the Commander's staff? There, I have had my growl. Let me see whether, after all, I have any news to repay you for your letters.

Procula has seen and heard the Galilean Jesus. She writes to me that as soon as they had crossed into Galilee and started on the road which runs along the west side of the lake they began to hear of little else. Alexander, the ferret, was nosing here and there, collecting information. It seems that all Galilee is agog about Jesus; every one knows of someone who has heard of someone else who has been cured of some disease or other, and the interesting thing (to me) is that a number of my good subjects of Judaea are also in Galilee, following the preacher when they would be better employed following their jobs at home. Alexander had arranged, as it happened, for Procula to make a halt at a farm-house towards the northern end of the lake, and as she went along - but you shall have the story in her own words as she has sent it me:

'We came suddenly on a crowd of people who were hurrying along the road in front of us and over the slopes leading down to the sea and even along the beach. Others were joining them from the paths that came in from the hills. No one took any notice of us. They were Jews of all kinds - mostly hale and hearty people, but there were sick and cripples too, who were dragging themselves along or being carried by their friends. The crowd was excited, gesticulating, pointing to a boat that was following the coast line, and shouting to those on board. I thought at first that they were angry but Alexander said that they were calling to Jesus, who was on board, to come to shore and speak to them. They kept on shouting the same words over and over again. I could not make it out because it was all in Aramaic and when I asked Alexander he only shook his head and muttered something about it being a bad business. He would not tell me what they meant, though he told me later. When we stopped at the farm-house the crowd rushed on and presently I could see them leaving the high road and hurrying down to the shore. Alexander asked permission to go after them and I said he could provided that he took me with him. So we went, with an escort - you need not be afraid - and after half an hour we found them all in a great mass, down near the sea, with Jesus standing on a knoll in the field, addressing them. There were thousands upon thousands of them, and at the back, quite close to us, some groups of better-dressed Jews, who were standing aloof, watching and listening. Alexander took a look at them and muttered again. "Spies from Jerusalem," he said and went off to talk to them.

'I saw the preacher clearly. He is a strange man, gaunt and rugged, as though he were burnt up by the fire of his passion. When you see his face and hear him speak, he is full of self-confidence, imperious, often fierce. The crowd were noisy at first because those at the back could not hear and there were interruptions. He put them down with a few words. He was like a general among the legions and they obeyed like common soldiers. He spoke always as though he thought no one could contradict him. He began quietly but then raised his voice and it became harsh and vehement. The Jews from Jerusalem were fidgetting and muttering to each other. Alexander said he was denouncing them and their friends. I have never heard anything that sounded so passionate and bitter. Then he became quieter again and went off in a rapt way as though he did not know the people were there. There was a murmuring and stirring all through the crowd then but not angrily, and they pressed forward to him. Alexander could not take his eyes off him. He would pay no attention to my questions. He kept on saying to himself "A better time coming!" and laughed in a queer, anxious sort of way. I thought he was quoting something that the preacher had been saying. He kept looking at the party from Jerusalem and said he must get a report to you at once.

'Then a curious thing happened. Jesus suddenly raised his arm and cried out something sternly. They stopped pushing towards him and sat down on the grass in a great circle round him - except the Jews from Jerusalem, who made no movement but went on watching. I am sure I have seen some of them going to the Sanhedrim. Then Jesus called some men who were standing close to him and they brought him bread. He broke this into little pieces - so small that from where I stood you could scarcely see them at all. He gave these to the men and they went along the ranks distributing them to the crowd, who ate them while the preacher went on talking. I wish I could have understood. All I could get out of Alexander was that the preacher was enrolling them as his followers but that it was not a military business at all but purely religious; the eating of the bread was a symbol that they enrolled themselves under him, to live as he lived and to do all the things that he had been telling them to do. Alexander added that it was dangerous, it might be misunderstood.

'The strangest thing was to follow. When the ceremony was finished everything was still for a few seconds and then the crowd began to stir and talk. Gradually they became more and more excited. Jesus said something to the men about him, and running down to the sea, they began to pull the boat close in so that he could embark again. When the crowd saw that he was going to leave them they broke all bounds. They ran forward, crying and shouting, and surrounded him. Some of them were brandishing sticks and clubs and knives. They were not threatening him; it was quite different. Others of them were weeping. Many of them fell down at his feet. All the time I could make out that they were shouting the same words that I had heard them using on the high-road when they were looking out to sea. I asked Alexander what they were saying. I had to shake him by the shoulder before I could get an answer out of him. He was impatient with me. "King!" he said, "that's what they are saying. King of Israel! King of the Jews! And Messiah!" I am not sure what the last means, but you will know.

'I could see that Jesus was repelling them. He would not listen to them. He almost drove them back with words and gestures. I am sure he was telling them that they had made a great mistake. He was almost beside himself. He made those who were kneeling rise and those who were brandishing weapons put them down. He was more stern and determined than he had been all the afternoon. At the same time he began to move down to the sea hurriedly as though he must escape. The crowd followed slowly in a dejected way. They seemed to be disappointed and bewildered. "He is angry with them for calling him King of the Jews," I said to Alexander. "He has cause to be," said Alexander. "He is a dead man from to-day."

'There was another incident. Before Jesus could get on the boat, the Jews from Jerusalem, who had been watching every movement of the crowd, walked rapidly down the hill and spoke to him. They met each other as enemies; I could see that though I could not hear the words. The talk only lasted a few moments. They said something to him and he looked at them with a face of stone. Then he answered curtly and turned his back on them. Some of his followers helped him into the boat. I thought they were puzzled too, and perhaps afraid. He was not afraid himself. He spoke and acted as though he was ready to fight the whole world.

'Whatever it was that was said to the Jews from Jerusalem they were pleased about it. They came away whispering and smiling and, when I left, they were going about among the crowd, as busy as bees. I knew they were denouncing Jesus, because they kept on looking out to sea and pointing to the boat. Alexander is now engaged in writing you a report upon the whole affair.'

'King of the Jews!' my dear friend - you mark the words! Yes, I know, it is only in Galilee and, likely enough, I shall not myself be worried. Trust Antipas to look to it! Would you like to hear the report of the sage Alexander? He says:
'Galilee would rise at a word but he does not say the word. He puzzles the people even while he attracts them. He has performed strange cures, though every one has a different story of his own about them and it is impossible to say how much of it is truth. The gatherings that he addresses have been like clay between his hands. In controversy no one can stand against him. He is at daggers-drawn with the priests, the lawyers and the Law. He is terrible in his attacks upon them: most fierce and unsparing. He would overthrow the whole system which the priests have imposed upon the Jewish nation, and the priests will never forgive him for it. At the first sign that the people are turning against him, the priests will make an end of him.

'There are signs that they are about to turn against him now. They have hailed him as the expected deliverer, the new king of the Jews. He refuses the titles. This afternoon he beat the crowd off almost by force when they acclaimed him. You never saw such a hang-dog look as they had when they drifted away. In his own mind he is no king or Messiah. I believe he dreads lest they should insist on treating him as either one or the other. Above all else the popular ferment has been caused by the cures, and I have found, by careful inquiry, that on every occasion he has tried to conceal what he has done and so to prevent the people from hailing him as the deliverer. He seeks to avert the danger that he fears. The war which he wages is against the Sanhedrim and the Judaic Law. If he persists they will surely take his life. Their delegates were on the watch to-day and some of them are remaining in Galilee. But I doubt whether they will be under the necessity, or have the chance, of taking him. Unless he takes to immediate flight, Herod Antipas will seize him.

'Antipas can do nothing else after to-day. I hear that Jesus has already sailed for the other side of the lake to take refuge in the territory of Herod Philip. If he stays there Philip will lay hands on him. If he returns to Galilee he is lost. May I suggest that it would be interesting to have a report from the High Priest on his view of the case?'

You see, then. Another popular hero rising to worry me and call himself King. No, you will say, he does not so; it is they who call him King. And what difference, pray, does that make to the Procurator? If Jesus values his life he will keep out of Judaea. If Antipas lets him slip through his fingers I will not. Only one thing grieves me. 'He is at daggers-drawn with the priests, the lawyers and the Law.' I could like him for that. But a king in Judaea, even one who would not (at present) be a king, a man imperious, fierce, burnt up by his own passion, the type of man to whom this restless and insurgent people willingly gives heed - no, no, that will not do! When he is dead, then they can call him king.

By the way, the Greek merchant has been found under a pile of stones in a ravine outside Jerusalem. There was scarcely a whole bone in his body. Apparently they used clubs. The story is that the Jewess has gone off to Rome with an Egyptian actor. You know how she will end.

LETTERS OF PONTIUS PILATE: --back to table of contents
WISDOM CALLS: --back to homepage