I have come up as usual for their great festival the Passover. It amused me, when I received your letter just before leaving Caesarea, to find you complaining of the congestion in Rome. You should be here. Judaea has been filling up for weeks past. They come by tens of thousands, weeks in advance, and spread over the country, visiting their friends and relatives, searching out the villages their fathers came from, and making pilgrimages to the places where their history began. During the last week they have been concentrating on Jerusalem. Every ship that has reached Caesarea has been crowded inside and out. The conditions on board some of them must have been disgusting. You never saw such a medley as passes out from these ships. Some of them must have spent their last penny in paying the fare; not a few have got here without paying any fare at all. You know the sort of mixture that comes out from the Games in Rome - riff-raff from the slums and blue blood cheek by jowl. It is the same here and Jewish blue blood has no more liking for riff-raff than blue blood has in Rome. They smell abominably. You should see the aristocrats turning up their rich or learned noses.

The whole lot throng the roads. The stream is continuous from the coast, from Samaria and from Jericho. Many of them sleep in the open. Some of the wealthier bring tents and bedding with them. In Jerusalem and the neighbourhood everybody who can takes in lodgers. They charge a pretty price. Foodstuffs are doubled and trebled in price. I believe the language that the foreign Jews use about their brethren in Judaea shocks even the Greeks. To-day, when I approached, there was a complete block for a good mile from the city, and had it not been for some stout work by my escort I should still be kicking my heels outside the walls.

I have half my total force in readiness - 2,000 men. There is no reason to anticipate anything beyond the usual brawls, but one must be prudent. You know how religion always excites the lowest passions. The Jerusalem Jew is at his worst at these times and the visitors resent his arrogance. They are most apt to brawl in the Temple, that being the heart and kernel of their worship! In the synagogues they are not so dangerous, because most of these foreign communitites have each a synagogue of their own, where they can agree fairly well, but in the Temple they all meet together and can quarrel about priority in offering sacrifice, or about the inadequacy of the other people's gifts, or about being more Jewish Jews than one another.

Having got through earlier Passovers without serious disturbance I have no reason to be anxious. The danger lies in the immense suppressed excitement that underlies the festival. They work themselves up to a state of ecstasy. With all these thousands gathered from the far ends of the earth, they imagine themselves a free and independent people, they live again in the old days, they think that their Yahveh has only to perform one of his preposterous wonders and we Romans would vanish in the wind. If the spark were handy, a fire might easily be lit.

Do you know that since I arrived to-day, the Jews have been complaining that I have not expedited the carriage of foodstuffs to the city? They block the roads and then complain that the foodcarts don't come through. But that is their way. They are intractable. If the place were full of pigs they would sooner starve than eat.

I will let you know how we go on.

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