Chapter 1 of 15
Forgive me for omitting the pleasantries that usually adorn the start of my letters, my brother, but time is short and I have much to tell you.
As you must know, the Romans have slaughtered tens of thousands of our people in Galilee. Their mighty army will soon reach the gates of Jerusalem. The Zealots who control the city say that the Almighty will never allow anyone to defeat His chosen people. But although I have been a scribe in the Temple of the Lord for nearly two score years, and a slave in the house of the High Priest for more than five years before that, I am not so bold as to be confident that I know the will of the Lord. Although I would be risking my life to give speech to these thoughts, I would not be surprised if the Almighty were to reward the arrogance of the Zealots with their destruction and, I fear, with ours as well.
The events that I relate took place at the time of the Passover festival in the twelfth year of the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas, a man still regarded by many to be the last great ruler of the house of God. Many men have been elevated to the office of High Priest in the more than thirty years since Caiaphas was deposed, they come and they go so quickly that it is difficult even for me to remember their names and as you know, my brother, I forget nothing.
Now it happened in those days that one of the household slaves came to me, he said that a man had appeared at the door of the house unannounced and was demanding to see the High Priest. Normally the slave would have sent the stranger on his way, as it is unwise to disturb the priest while he is making preparations for the Passover festival. And as it happened, it was past the setting of the sun, and it is dangerous to allow strangers to enter the dwelling at night. However, this visitor, who would not identify himself, spoke as a Roman, and he spoke with authority. Although I too was only a slave in those days and lesser in years than many of the others, at that it was known in the household that I had the ear and the confidence of my master, something that created more than occasional jealousy among the other slaves. However, their jealousy never prevented them from turning over to me the difficult problems that they feared to resolve among themselves.
When I went to the door I saw a man in common dress, he wore a dark cloak with a hood that cast his face in shadow so that I could not see who he was. But when I questioned him and he turned to face me, I immediately recognized him as Pontius Pilate, who was at that time the Procurator of Judea. I cannot find the words to tell you how amazed I was, my brother. The Procurator never appeared in public in any garb other than his full ceremonial dress. He seldom so much as walked on the road without a full complement of his special guard. He certainly never ventured forth unprotected when he visited Jerusalem. And although it is true that the Procurator had the power to appoint High Priests and the power to remove them, it was nonetheless unthinkable for the Procurator of Judea to visit the dwelling of the High Priest of Israel uninvited and unannounced.
When I recovered from my surprise, I led the Procurator to an inner room and ran off to fetch my master, who was at that time meeting with some of the other priests in the council chamber. Caiaphas was annoyed by my interruption, but I spoke in his ear and told him of our secret visitor, and so he made his excuses and followed me to the room where I had left the Procurator. Caiaphas greeted the Procurator and began to welcome him to his home, but Pilate, who seemed to be annoyed at having been made to wait ever so briefly, interrupted him rudely, saying that he had serious business and little time. He added that he must speak with the priest alone, and so I started to leave the room, but my master bade me stay. "Whatever I hear, Enoch hears," Caiaphas said.
I was filled with pride at this evidence of the trust placed by the High Priest in a mere slave, but I also recognized that Caiaphas had a practical purpose, in that he did not wish to be left alone with Pilate. Now I do not mean to suggest that my master feared that he would come to harm at the hands of the Procurator; rather, I suspect that Caiaphas was instinctively wary of this highly unusual visit and wanted to have a witness to whatever events might transpire. And as it happened, I was already becoming known as "the slave who forgets nothing," and I believe that my master was grateful that such a reliable witness was available.
The Procurator scowled, but I did not think that he had any real objection to my presence, as I was well known to him. You may have been too young to remember, my brother, but I was already a slave in the house of Caiaphas when Pontius Pilate had arrived in Judea four years earlier. Caiaphas went nowhere in public without me, and Pilate saw me so often that he had even learned my name. Once, during a difficult negotiation between the Procurator and my master, the discussion had become so confusing that neither man could remember what he had said just moments earlier. Caiaphas turned to me and asked for my help; I repeated what each man had said, word for word. Pilate had raised an eyebrow at me which was, for him, a rare sign of respect. "Priest," he said to my master, "you should train young Enoch as a scribe, perhaps he might have the luxury of being able to forget things if he wrote them down." Looking back at his words, they seem like prophecy now, for the priest did, indeed, begin to train me as a scribe shortly thereafter. However, the prophecy of the Procurator came to pass only in part, for I write and I write and I write, yet still I cannot forget.
"There is a man in Jerusalem right now," the Procurator said, "who is trying to stir up a rebellion against Rome. This man is dangerous. He cannot be allowed to live."
"Only Rome can condemn a man to die in Judea," Caiaphas pointed out. "I have no such power. Why do you bring this information to me?"
"You do have the power to condemn a man to die," Pilate said, correcting my master. "But it is true that only Rome can carry out the sentence. And that is what will happen to this man. You will condemn him. You will turn him over to me. And I will crucify him."
"But Procurator," the priest protested, "I do not understand. Why would I wish to do this?"
"For one thing, priest," the Procurator said, with a flash of anger, "you will do it because I tell you to do it, and you will do as I say if you wish to remain as High Priest. But also, you will do it because you wish to be rid of this man as much as I do. He started a riot in your temple just a few days ago. He says that he is the King of the Jews and if he is your King, then you have no need of the Emperor in Rome. He also claims to be the son of your God and if your God has a son here in Jerusalem, then your people no longer need the services of a priest. So it appears that not only is he trying to stir up a rebellion against me, he is trying to stir up a rebellion against you as well."
With that, I knew of whom the Procurator spoke, as did my master. "The name of this man is Jesus," Caiaphas said, "a bothersome preacher from Nazareth who ventures into Jerusalem now and again when he tires of lecturing to the rabble in Galilee. As you say, he did start a commotion in the temple, but it was short-lived and it caused little damage. He has done so before, a few years ago, and I have no doubt that he will do so again a few years hence. But he is a mere annoyance, we can take care of him ourselves. He should be of no interest to Rome."
"Rome decides what is of interest to Rome," the Procurator snapped. "It troubles me that you have known of the activities of this criminal, but you have not seen fit to bring them to my attention. Did you not know that he claims to be the son of your God? Have you not heard that he claims to be your King?"
Caiaphas frowned; I knew him well enough to recognize that he was uneasy with the idea of condemning one of our own people to the cruel justice of the Romans. "Indeed," he finally admitted, with some reluctance, "I have heard it said that this Jesus claims to be the son of God. If it can be proven that these reports are true, the man is a blasphemer, and he deserves to die. But I have heard no reports that this Jesus foments rebellion against Rome or that he claims to be our King," my master added. "I believe that you may have been misinformed."
The Procurator scowled. "If this Jesus is not a rebel," he asked, "then why does one of his followers call himself 'the Zealot'?"
Caiaphas glanced at me, a signal that he wanted information. "Jesus has twelve followers, they call themselves 'disciples,'" I said. "Two of the disciples are named 'Simon,' one of them calls himself 'Simon the Zealot,' apparently to distinguish himself from the other Simon. I do not know if he actually is a Zealot, but it seems likely."
In those days, my brother, few of us believed that the Zealots could be more than a minor irritant to Rome, like flies attacking a lion. I did not understand why Pilate was so worried that one man had added the word "Zealot" to his name. Of course, now that the Zealots have taken control of Jerusalem, I must admit that Pilate was wise to be so concerned.
The Procurator glared at me. "And why does another of the 'disciples' of Jesus call himself 'Iscariot'? How does Enoch the Wise Slave explain that name?" he asked with a sneer.
"It could simply mean that he is of the town of Kerioth," I replied. "But," I had to admit, "it might also be that he is of the Sicarii."
I should explain to you, my brother, that the Sicarii are the men who bear the sicae, which are short but very lethal daggers. But the Sicarii are not common thieves, they are especially fanatical Zealots. And in those days, they used their daggers to attack and kill only the Romans who oppressed us.
"If the followers are rebels, then the leader must also be a rebel," Pilate said. He strode over to Caiaphas and stared into his face, as if he were daring my master to disagree. "This man is a threat to you. He endangers the merchants in the temple. He challenges your leadership. He blasphemes against your God. He should be executed according to your own law, but you are powerless to carry out an execution in Judea. You will condemn him. I will grant you a favor and execute him."
"If you do nothing and this man stirs up a rebellion against Rome," my master countered, giving no ground, "Tiberius Caesar will think you incapable of controlling Judea, and he will replace you. But if you execute this man on your own, with no evidence, you fear that the people will rise up and cry out to Tiberius that you are too brutal to be a good ruler and he will replace you. So if the priests of the temple of Jerusalem condemn this man, it seems that it is we who will be granting you a favor."
I should tell you, my brother, that Tiberius had once reprimanded Pilate because the people of Judea had complained of his brutality. It had been reported that Tiberius had threatened to replace Pilate should the offense be repeated, but it is difficult to know whether these reports were true. I have seen that many Roman officials at every level of authority treat their subjects harshly, and Tiberius himself had a reputation for brutality at least as great as that of Pilate so why would Pilate be in trouble for, as they say, "doing as the Romans do"?
My master was, at the time, forty years of age; his long beard was turning gray, making him appear even more aged than he really was. He had a certain strength that belied his age but now I could not tell if he was being strong or if he was merely being stubborn. In fact, it seemed to me that both men were being dangerously stubborn clearly, neither man wanted to back down, as neither wanted to be seen as accepting a favor from the other and thereby placing himself in the other's debt.
Although it was not my place to join the discussion without permission, I cleared my throat.
"It appears that Enoch the Wise Slave has something to say," the Procurator said. I was relieved that, rather that becoming even angrier, he appeared to be somewhat amused. Perhaps he felt that my master's inability to control his own slave gave him some small advantage. But I knew that my master trusted my judgment and indeed, the priest gave me leave with a nod.
And so I spoke. "Let us not talk of favors," I suggested. "Instead, let us come to an agreement, a 'contract' as you Romans call it, which will be to our mutual benefit. If we can locate this Jesus, we will arrest him and bring him to trial. If the priests find him to be a blasphemer, they will condemn him to die. This will be a benefit to you," I explained to the Procurator, "because you believe him to be a rebel. And for your part, you will execute this Jesus, which will be a benefit to us because we believe him to be a blasphemer. Thus we will have an agreement with benefit to both parties a 'contract,' if you will."
I hesitated to turn my gaze to my master, because the benefit that we would gain from this 'contract' would be far outweighed by the benefit to the Procurator. It was, after all, the Procurator who had approached us, it was he who sought the death of Jesus. But there was, of course, a benefit to my master that remained unspoken: Pilate would continue to allow Caiaphas to serve as High Priest, rather than removing him and appointing another who would do his bidding more readily.
And the greatest benefit to my master would be that he could choose to believe that he had entered into an agreement with Pilate, rather than believing that he was condemning a man to death in order to maintain his position.
When I did turn to look at my master, I saw that he understood all of this without explanation, and further that he recognized the wisdom of my suggestion. He nodded once more. "It is agreed by me," he said, and turned back to the Procurator.
"So," Pilate said, "we have a 'contract,' like merchants in the bazaar?" He laughed. "Well, then, it is agreed by me as well. And it is important that you understand," he added, with cold menace in his voice, "that no one must ever know of our discussion. It will appear to all that I have crucified Jesus at your request. I am certain that you understand what I say."
My master started to reply, but Pilate held up a hand for silence. "No more talk," he said. "Our business is concluded. I must return before my absence is discovered." He slid his hood back over his head; he could have been mistaken for a tradesman on the street.
The Procurator asked if there was a way for him to leave the dwelling other than through the main entrance; even in disguise, he did not want to risk being recognized. My master instructed me to guide Pilate to a door that led to a narrow passage behind the dwelling. The Procurator started to follow me, but then he stopped and turned back to face the priest. Reaching into his cloak, he withdrew a purse from an inner pocket and bounced it in his hand a few times as if trying to judge how many coins it held and whether or not he wished to part with them. Finally, he tossed the purse in the direction of my master, who caught it in one hand.
Caiaphas was too surprised to speak, but Pilate answered his unasked question. "To seal the agreement," he said. Then he turned and followed me down the corridor and slipped through the door. He vanished into the night without another word. I latched the door behind him.
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©2004 Henry Charles Mishkoff