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In this vibrant and completely engaging historical novel that places Jesus and his teachings in a wonderfully accurate historical setting, the author has created nothing less than a new gospel that gives us fresh insight about Jesus' time on earth.
It's been thirty years since he sentenced the troublemaker to die,
but Pontius Pilate can't get Jesus out of his mind. . . .
Forced to live out his life in exile, Pontius Pilate, the former governor of Judea, is now haunted by the executions that were carried out on his orders. The life and death of a particular carpenter from Nazareth lay heavily on his mind. With years of solitude stretched out before him, Pilate sets out to uncover all he can about Jesus—his birth, boyhood, ministry, and the struggles that led to his crucifixion. With unexpected wit and candor, Pilate reveals a unique, compelling picture of Jesus that only one of his enemies could give.
In a vibrant, inventive, completely engaging novel that places Jesus and his teachings in a wonderfully accurate historical setting, James R. Mills has created nothing less than a new gospel that illuminates the beginnings of Christianity from an astonishing and unexpected point of view.
"OUTSTANDINGLY ORIGINAL, SUPERBLY WRITTEN, FASCINATING AND ENGAGING."
--Midwest Book Review
1. Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion
2. Mills has stated his ambition to write a fifth Gospel, one from the perspective of an enemy rather than a follower of Christ. To what extent does Mills succeed? What does his work have in common with the four Gospels? How does it differ?
3. Characterize the tone in which Mills's Pilate recounts the time in which his life intersected with that of Christ's. Given the retrospective gaze of the writing, do we discover in it considerable reflection or regret? What explains the evenness with which Pilate chronicles his tumultuous past?
4. A number of timely and timeless clashes and contradictions appear in Pilate's memoir: politics and religion, private ambition and public expectation, the secular and the sacred, landed and nomadic cultures, competing truths, faith and reason, literal and liberal interpretations of Scripture, prophecy and paranoia, vilifying and sanctifying, etcetera. Discuss them. What conflicts would you add to the list? What do we learn about these matters in weighing the reasons for Pilate's decisions? Are such issues fated to persist? Why?
5. What do we learn about crime and punishment in Christ's time? What has and hasn't changed today? What connections can we draw between crucifixion and the death penalties of today?
6. Mills calls his book a novel, while making clear a fidelity to the depictions of Pilate presented in the four Gospels. Attempt definitions of fiction, mythology, and history vis-a-vis the Bible and Memoirs of Pontius Pilate. Where do the genres overlap? How is each distinct? How does an oral tradition compare to a written one?
7. Provide examples of Pilate's qualities and shortcomings. What has the upperhand? Why? Do his weaknesses deepen or compromise his humanity? Why?
8. How does Pilate's regard for the God-worshipping Jews differ from his perspective on Roman pagans? Where does Pilate stand on the God/gods question?
9. Compare Mills's Pilate to the man depicted in the four Gospels. To which Gospel is Mills most indebted? With which aspects of Pilate's character does he take the most liberty? The least?
10. How is Christ depicted throughout Pilate's memoir? What contributes most to Pilate's understanding of the man's past and present? What weight do you assign to the letters of Joseph ben Caiaphas in coloring Pilate's perception of Christ?
11. What import do prophecy, superstition, dreams, and visions hold in Christ's time? What explains a group or individual's willingness to invest much in them? How does the otherworldly shape the worlds of politics and religion?
12. To what extent is Pilate a reliable narrator? What leads you to question or accept the veracity of his telling? Does his memoir attempt some sort of objectivity or play loose with events in the name of self-justification?
13. Discuss the scene in which Pilate asks Christ to define truth. What compels such a question, and in what tone is it asked--sardonic, earnest, reflective, etcetera? How does the elusiveness of an answer affect our reading of Pilate's memoirs?
14. In his waning years, Pilate notes that "political and religious leaders are willing to tolerate a man of principle only as long as he does not become a nuisance to them." How does his statement resonate in light of the stories he tells? What twentieth-century examples illustrate Pilate's point?
15. Seek out non-Christian and non-Western chronicles of Pilate's life, e.g., those collected in Ann Wroe's scholarly biography, Pontius Pilate. How does the depiction of Pilate's character differ from culture to culture, religion to religion? What do the myriad presentations tell about narrators and their subjects?
16. How many are responsible for the death of Christ? Who deserves the most blame?
17. What would you have done in Pilate's dilemma?
The time has come for me when I, like Julius Caesar, can say, "I have
lived long enough, whether for fame or fortune." My wife is dead, and I
have no friends here in my place of exile, so I spend my days reflecting
upon the past, as old men do for lack of better ways to occupy their
As I reflect upon my experiences of long ago, I find that they are
fading in my memory, losing their colors and details, growing as muzzy
as wall paintings exposed to the elements in some ancient ruin. However,
one action of mine is still as vivid in my mind as it ever was. I refer
to my ordering of the crucifixion of that now famous Jewish carpenter
called Jesus of Nazareth, while I was governor of Judea, Samaria, and
Three years after I was exiled to Gaul by Caligula, that mad young
emperor banished Herod Antipas to Lugdunum, just a few miles up the
river that flows outside my window as I sit here writing this. Herod did
not deserve to be disgraced, even as I did not, but we both had powerful
enemies, and we both became the victims of those enemies.
Herod had been, like his father, Herod the Great, a loyal ally of Rome
and a pragmatic ruler of his people. However, his youthful nephew Herod
Agrippa was a close boyhood friend of Caligula's, and he wanted to be
king of all the Jews, so the realm of Herod Antipas was added to his
own, and Herod Antipas was banished to Gaul in his old age to die.
I had dinner with Herod Antipas once in the last year of his life, and
we talked for over an hour about that strange carpenter. His wife was
present, and she tried to turn our conversation to another odd Jewish
mystic, one called John the Baptist, a fellow she had snared her husband
into beheading. Herod muttered through his beard that it had been a
mistake to kill John, which it clearly had been, and he spoke again of
the carpenter, expressing a belief that the man's miracles had been
During the long years I have been in exile here, I have had few other
occasions to talk about Jesus of Nazareth. However, an agent of the
Emperor came here recently to question me about the man. The reason for
that sudden imperial interest was, of course, the great fire that
I must acknowledge in passing that there are people who think the
Christians are not guilty of the crime of starting that fire. Such
skeptics say it is not in accordance with Christian principles to cause
so much random death and destruction. Be that as it may, scandal mongers
in Rome have been spreading a rumor that it was the Emperor himself who
was responsible for the conflagration, and that created a need to assign
blame elsewhere and to proceed at once with spectacular punishments.
Whether or not persons punished are responsible for the crimes of which
they are accused is not the only factor to be taken into account
sometimes. That can be an uncomfortable truth, as it was for me in the
case of the carpenter.
It seems the Emperor wants to get rid of the Christians in any event.
They have become subversive of the interests of the empire in their
efforts to woo the general populace away from its beliefs in the
officially recognized gods of Rome, including Nero himself, whose
divinity seems important to him.
Punishing those wretches is easy to do, and watching them die provides
popular entertainment for the citizens of the charred and blackened
city. Because of the stories of their drinking blood as a part of their
rituals, the Christians had already become objects of public loathing,
and severe governmental condemnation became an appropriate way to
appease that popular feeling of antipathy.
The current concern about this sect has caused me to sit down here at my
desk with a long roll of papyrus, a lot of goose quills, and a pot of
ink before me. My purpose is to spend a month of my otherwise idle time
relating and explaining the events in the life of this fellow Jesus of
Nazareth. I think it important to let readers know how the man was seen
by his own people during his lifetime. Therefore I shall point out those
peculiarities that set him apart from the other charlatans, demagogues,
and zealots who have recently declared themselves to be the messiah, by
which they mean the deliverer of the Jewish nation from Roman rule. Some
of those pretenders have attracted considerable followings and have
thereby caused a great deal of Jewish blood to flow. However, with the
exception of this single individual, the execution of each of them has
resulted in the disillusionment of his followers.
I'll give two examples. When Felix was governor of Judea, he had to deal
with an Egyptian Jew who proclaimed he would bring down the walls of
Jerusalem with a breath from his mouth. This shatterbrain presented
himself east of the city, upon the Mount of Olives, where the messiah is
expected to appear. He was able to assemble four thousand fools to
attack the city, but Felix dispatched troops to take him prisoner. On
the morning that maniac was executed, his movement vanished. Later, when
Fadus was governor there, a magi-cian named Theudas persuaded a
multitude of Jews to go with him to the Jordan River, which he told them
he would divide to allow them to walk through it dry-shod. To deal with
them, Fadus sent a large detachment of cavalry which killed many of that
mob and took a lot of prisoners. Among them was Theudas. The soldiers
crucified him there on the bank of the river, and they cut off his head
and took it to Fadus in Jerusalem.
Afterward none of his followers ever spoke of him again. It is
surprising that a similar falling away has not taken place among the
adherents of that carpenter, even though the measures now being taken to
suppress them are thorough and systematic. The agent of the Emperor who
came to see me here informed me that one of those who have been
crucified in Rome recently was a Galilean fisherman named Peter who was
a leader among them because he had been close to the carpenter. That
imperial representative also told me that another man who had great
authority among the Christians--an aged Jew named Paul--was beheaded not
long ago in Rome.
No doubt this singular sect will disappear with the execution of its
leaders and the extermination of its members throughout the Roman
Empire. At most it may persist for a time in isolated parts of the East
as a small and esoteric cult.
It is difficult for reasonable men to understand how that dead carpenter
can continue to attract followers who cling to his memory even while
they are being nailed to their own crosses. I shall try to shed light on
that mystery by setting forth in writing the facts relating to his life
and death that have given rise to the legends now current about him.
Over thirty years ago, in Caesarea, I heard with some interest reports
from Galilee about that charismatic carpenter and the stir he occasioned
there when he laid down his tools and assumed his new identity, that of
a wonder-working prophet. Those earliest reports did not concern me
directly, because the provinces I governed did not include Galilee. I
did not order my agents to start collecting information about him until
he had left Galilee and was no longer the responsibility of Herod
Antipas and had become mine by coming into Judea. From that time until
the end of his life, I continued to receive reports about him as a
potential leader of insurrection in the region for which I was
responsible. The more his following grew, the more I had to take an
interest in him, until at last he stood before me in the judgment hall
of the Fortress Antonia on the last day of his life.
I remained as military governor of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea for four
years after that. During that short time Christianity was already
becoming a rapidly growing element among the Jews. Therefore I told my
agents to continue to collect information about the crucified carpenter
and the increasing legions of his worshipers. When I was dismissed by
Vitellius and sent back to Rome to be tried before the emperor, I
brought all that information with me, along with other material bearing
upon the danger of messianic movements in that troubled land.
In addition, I still receive letters from the few friends I have left in
Rome, and one of those friends recently sent me a biography of the
carpenter that was taken from a group of his worshipers who were
captured and then crucified in the arena in Rome. Fortunately that book
contains a number of direct quotations of things the man said.
Because I possess these materials, and because I acquainted myself with
the customs and beliefs and history of the Jews during the years when I
was their governor, I can tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth and
explain why he lived and died as he did.
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