What Is Truth? Said Pilate
The Testimony of Polykrates
A historical novel
By David Smyth
(Copyright 2005. All rights reserved)
Four decades after the Crucifixion, Vespasian, the Roman Emperor, issued this order to his servant, the Greek philosopher Polykrates: “The Christians burned down half of Rome a few years ago under my predecessor Nero. I want no more trouble from this pernicious sect. Find their leader Jesus, dead or alive. They say he rose from the dead. He may still be alive.” Polykrates left this account for posterity.
A puzzle to entertain you before you look into this book: What is the hidden meaning? Seek and ye shall find, perhaps, in coded words and letters here:
wiLliam shakespeare, francis bacon, cIpher, da vinci code, secret, jesus christ, holy shroud, turin, flavius josephus, jerusalem, temple, cruciFixion, essene, qumran, scrolls, gnostic, procurator, pontius pilatE, christian, tiberius, nero, julius, abdes, pantera, vespasian, titus, simeon, symeon, herod antipas, mary magdalen, caesarea maritima, nag hammadi, alexandrIa, library, maSada, galba, vitellius, otho, claudius, cAligula, epaphroditus, tacitus, gessius florus, coponius, valerius gratus, domitian, suetonius, gospel, maTthew, mark, luke, john, queeen berenice, johanan ben zakai. christiAn, danieL, nazareth, codex, aramaic, hebrew, jotapata, mEssiah, samaritan, mount gerizim, augustus, high priesT, caiaphas, annas, sanhedrin, isis, cybele, mithra, gOspel, evangel, anointed, john baptist, river jordan, nazareth, bethLehem, tetrarch, kingDom of god, galilee, jeremiah, simon, andrew, james, zeBedee, capernaum, cYrene, bethsaidA, tetrarch, son of maN, son of god, hubrIs, israel, boanerges, juDas iscarIot, sicarius, cananean, zealOt, galilee, anaThoth, geraSa, tyre, syria coele, sIdon, passover, jericho, Gethsemane, mouNt of olives, davId, zechariah, portico of solomon, maccabees, ein Feshka, bethanY, passover, nissan, aramaic, hallel, gethsemane, hIgh priest, judea, antonia, barabbas, aqueduct, cyrene, eloy lama sabachthaNi, joseph arimathea, soma, ptoma, golGotha, salome, peter, alexandria library, scepter, rule, world, hebrew, epictetus, euripides, cybele, attis, saint paul, petroNius, tiberius alexander, simon bar giOra, gnosticism, annas, james the just, emmaus, cleopas, nabi, mount zion, bethany, wicked priest, teacher of righTeousness, zoker, virgin mary, cana, hebrew, bingen, pantera, vestal virgin, isHmael, nazarene, tabernacle, passover, lazarus, sanhedrIn, tower of siloam, gihon, isaiah, holy of holies, gethsemane, ephesus, poseidon, temple of diaNa, artemis, dead sea scrolls, holy sepulcher, golgotha, spouter of lies, wicked priest, hemlock, rosh, eusebius, slavonic, sluGa, hyperetai, andreW, bad kreuznach, artemIs, diana, gospeL of mary, simon magus, constantine, juLian apostate.
For further information about “What Is Truth? Said Pilate” contact David Smyth at
What Is Truth? Said Pilate
The Testimony of Polykrates
Table of Contents
(Contact David Smyth for information on Chapters 5 to 26 at Currell@aol.com )
By David Smyth
The narrative of Polykrates has been unexpectedly revealed to us by one of those improbable flukes of history that uncovered the Dead Sea scrolls and the early Christian documents of Nag Hammadi. After they had lain hidden for nearly twenty centuries in caves by the Dead Sea and buried under the desert sands of Egypt, local shepherds and peasants looking for fertilizer, goats or buried treasures dug up those ancient Jewish and Christian parchments by accident. The manuscript of Polykrates appears to have survived the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria and other unknown vicissitudes down the centuries, to show up eventually in the library of an early Christian monastery in the Sinai. If that is indeed the place where the document was found – it seems to have passed through the hands of various shady dealers, and where it originally came from is none too clear. (The history of the manuscript is discussed more fully in the Epilogue).
Jerusalem, 26 hyperberetaios (11 November, 71 AD)
The narrative that follows is the testimony of Polykrates, written in the fear of imminent death. I am composing this account in Jerusalem, in the winter months, while awaiting my enforced return to Rome, a journey on which I face an uncertain fate. In a few months the winter storms will be over, the sea-lanes will reopen, and I will sail from Caesarea for Puteoli, on the way to Rome. While awaiting my departure, under virtual house arrest, I have committed this to writing in the expectation that I might be murdered in Jerusalem, or thrown overboard some dark night on the way to Italy, or executed on my arrival, and that my testimony should thus perish with me.
If I should die, I am determined that my written words should endure, for it is they rather than I that bear undying witness to the truth. This manuscript was begun today, the twenty-sixth day of hyperberetaios in the third year of the reign of the Emperor Vespasian. It describes the events in my life from the eighteenth day of apellaios, in the second year of Vespasian. During this period of nearly a year it was my assigned task - entrusted to me by Vespasian himself - to investigate the life and deeds of a certain Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of a sect that has been denounced as a subversive threat to law and order throughout the Roman Empire. The followers of Jesus, known as Christians, have been accused of all kinds of evil deeds and foul practices, including black magic, the drinking of human blood and eating of human flesh. Eight years ago the Emperor Nero charged them with setting the great fire that incinerated most of the City of Rome. For this, he burned them like human torches. Their usual fate is to be torn to pieces by wild beasts in the arena, the customary punishment for practitioners of black magic. Nero was deathly afraid of magicians.
Here in Jerusalem, surrounded as I am by enmity, treachery and deceit, I suspect that my manuscript may be burned or otherwise made to disappear if it should fall into the hands of the Procurator, or of other Romans, or Christians or Jews of hostile intent. It is necessary therefore for me to use guile in order to preserve the truth. I shall conceal this account of my investigation by attaching it as an appendix to my Treatise on Dreams. I have told the Procurator that I am completing this scientific Treatise to occupy my time during the period he has me under arrest in Jerusalem, and that I want to deposit it in the Great Library of Alexandria. I think I have convinced him that my Treatise on Dreams is more important to me than my investigation of the Christians. If he should lay hands on this scholarly document, being an ignorant and brutish Roman military thug who is barely able to read Greek, he will try to get through the first few sentences of my Treatise and then throw it contemptuously on the floor for Daniel, his Jewish secretary, to pick up and dispose of at his pleasure.
The fact is I do not even have faith in Daniel, although I am leaving my manuscript in his care for lack of anyone else to trust. I shall ask Daniel to send my Treatise to Alexandria and have it deposited among the scholarly works in the Great Library there. I put my faith in the fact that Daniel is an avid scholar of ancient Hebrew texts but has the claustral mentality of the pious Jew. He has no interest in heathen Greeks or their ideas or their dreams. He too may read a few sentences of my Treatise, before yawning and shaking his head over such pagan nonsense. But as I will leave him enough money to send the manuscript to Alexandria, and as he is honest in money matters, I believe he will send it.
So there on the shelves of the Great Library of Alexandria, where the dynasty of the Ptolemies planned nearly four centuries ago to collect every book ever written, hidden among ten thousand other manuscripts like it, the Treatise on Dreams of Polykrates will gather dust, unread and undisturbed for years - perhaps for centuries in this Roman era of disdain for intellectual voyages of discovery.
Until one day, long after we who are alive today have turned to dust and all our passions of the moment have gone with us to the grave, some curious scholar - when the love of philosophy has been born again in a future age - will read my Treatise through to the end.
And then he will discover also, appended to it, this manuscript of the Testimony of Polykrates, an investigation of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, founder of the Christian sect. In that enlightened era of the future perhaps the Treatise on Dreams and the Evangelion of Polykrates will prove to be of greater pith and moment than the historical works of Julius Caesar are today. Like Caesar therefore, I now assume the mantle of immortality and write henceforth in the third person.
Rome, 18 apellaios (January 2, 71 AD)
“Jesus of Nazareth?” Josephus said with a puzzled smile. “The Galilean, you say? Jesus Christ? Jesus the Messiah?” He frowned. He was a man of exaggerated mannerisms, Polykrates noted. He also spoke Greek incorrectly, and with a Jewish accent.
“No, none of these names or titles mean anything much to me,” Josephus said finally. “I know there is some sort of pagan cult whose followers adore a leader called Jesus but nobody of any consequence in the Jewish community knows anything about him. He seems to have been a nobody. Perhaps if you nudged my memory with some additional details I might recall something about him.”
“I sent you a document last week,” Polykrates said, a tone of annoyance in his voice now. “By imperial messenger. A so-called evangelion by a man named Mark. Have you not read it yet?”
“Oh, that curious screed,” Josephus replied. “A really peculiar document. Written in semi-literate Greek, as I recall. Let me see if I can find it.”
They were standing in the atrium of Vespasian’s former home across the Tiber from the imperial palace. Josephus went over to the room on the left, that Polykrates remembered as Vespasian’s study, and began rummaging through a stack of scrolls on the marble-topped table. This was the room where Polykrates had taught Domitian the intricacies of Greek grammar. It had been taken over now by a group of elderly men sorting through heaps of scrolls. Polykrates could see them making way deferentially as Josephus impatiently pushed them away to examine one scroll after another before throwing the documents aside.
It was the first time Polykrates had met Josephus face to face, and he had taken an instant dislike to him. Perhaps it was the incongruous combination of servile politeness and haughty arrogance in Josephus’ manner. This man can be either a slave or a tyrant, Polykrates told himself as he heard Josephus curse one of the elderly scribes in the neighboring room for his slowness. He is incapable of dealing with anyone as an equal. And he is not to be trusted.
Josephus had received him, coldly and without ceremony, in the atrium of the house in Transtiberium that Vespasian had lived in before he became emperor. A general’s home, severe and practical and orderly. It was evident that Josephus had made himself at home since Vespasian turned the house over to him and allowed him to move in. His belongings were strewn everywhere, Jewish artifacts mostly - candelabra, ornate pieces of furniture, priestly vestments, untidy heaps of scrolls of what looked like Hebrew script. The portrait of Vespasian’s grandmother that used to hang in the library had been taken down and stood leaning against the atrium wall. Polykrates made a mental note to remind the Emperor that it had been left behind in the move to the imperial palace.
Polykrates had received no invitation to be seated, so he was still standing when Josephus emerged from the shade of the library into the sunlit atrium, bearing a codex. “Here it is,” he said, “no wonder I couldn’t find it - it was not a scroll but a flat sheaf of papyrus leaves sewn together in a fascicle. It is a really curious document, both in appearance and in content. It seems to be a sort of biography of this Jesus of yours, written in what even I can recognize as slave quarters Greek.” He flipped through the pages and said, “it ends with Jesus being executed and then disappearing from his tomb. A really peculiar tale.”
“He was crucified,” Polykrates said. “About thirty five years ago, in Jerusalem. You had never heard of this man?”
“Obviously, another of those misguided rebels against Rome,” Josephus commented with a bitter smile. “He was a man before his time, you know. He died thirty years before the great uprising. Thousands of Jewish rebels have ended their lives on Roman crosses since then. Thirty-five years ago, you say? So who would care about him now, when so many others have died the same shameful death?”
“The Emperor does,” Polykrates said curtly. “My master Vespasian has commanded me to investigate the life and death of this Jesus.”
Josephus made a gesture of irritation with his expressive, manicured hands. “Hundreds and hundreds, no, thousands upon thousands of Jews have been crucified in the past six years of war against Rome,” he said, “and for the same reason: insurrection against the Roman Empire. Tell me, who could possibly be concerned about this man now? Let alone the Emperor, or his son Titus, who personally gave the orders for up to five hundred crucifixions a day in the siege of Jerusalem? This Jesus of yours is insignificant. Let me tell you, I was the Jewish commander in Galilee when the war broke out, and even I have never heard of him, or even of any place called Nazareth.”
“But you -” Polykrates began.
“Now, Polykrates,” Josephus interrupted, overriding with finality Polykrates’ attempt to continue discussing this subject as so much idle chatter, “let us talk about important matters.”
“The Emperor has given me his command,” Polykrates insisted, his voice beginning to rise in anger.
Josephus waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal. “The Emperor, the Emperor,” he said. “I know all about the Emperor. After I was captured at Jotapata and transferred my allegiance to Rome I was constantly at Vespasian’s side as the Roman Army’s official interpreter into Aramaic until the war ended. I know the Emperor’s mind as well as anyone living. He simply would not bother himself with such a trifling matter as the execution of this obscure little Jewish rebel thirty-five or forty years ago. Aquila non captat muscas, as they say in Latin.”
Josephus now seated himself on the marble bench at the edge of the rainwater pool without asking his guest to take a seat beside him, and launched into the matter that was uppermost in his own mind.
“Polykrates,” he began condescendingly, “your name was mentioned to me by Titus some time ago when he first gave me the order to write a history of the Judean war - a work that is to be a lesson and a warning, as he put it, to all prospective rebels against Rome’s imperial power. One version of my book would have to be in Greek, of course, for all the subject peoples of the Empire, and another in Aramaic for the Jews of the Diaspora and Babylonia. Titus mentioned to me that Vespasian had employed you for several years as a tutor in his household, and so I asked Titus to send you to me. As you will have noticed by now, I speak Greek, but with an accent. I can also write it, but not well. I shall therefore write my history of the war in Aramaic, and you will translate it for me into the best Attic Greek.”
Polykrates began to object but Josephus waved him to silence. “I do not doubt your ability,” he said. “I was informed by Titus that you are the slave in charge of the Greek education of his younger brother Domitian. To be the tutor of the Emperor’s younger son is a great honor. I am sure you speak and write the best classical Greek in the style of Demosthenes and Plato. You are an Athenian by birth, are you not?”
The condescending tone was infuriating. So this insolent Jewish turncoat thought that Polykrates was a household slave? Polykrates the philosopher? the leading light of Plato’s Academy, the most original thinker in Athens in the past two hundred years? Polykrates suppressed a sudden eruption of rage that suffused his whole head with an angry rush of blood and set up a furious pounding in his temples. Much of his initial dislike might have stemmed merely from what he had known about Josephus beforehand. He was infamous in Rome as a Jewish traitor who had turned on his own people and gone over to the Romans during the Judean war. But now this supercilious insolence of manner - to be treated with such contempt by so contemptible a man - was more than Polykrates could endure. If Josephus had wormed his way into the imperial favor and was Vespasian’s pet then so be it. He would still hear some unpleasant truths from Polykrates, no matter what the consequences.
Seating himself on the bench beside Josephus with an abruptness that made his host recoil, Polykrates leaned forward into his face and said slowly and emphatically, “I am a freeborn citizen of Athens. I am the tutor of Domitian, the Emperor’s second son, of my own free will. But as long as I am in the Emperor’s service I obey his orders. And I would have you know that I am here in this house at the Emperor’s command to question you about a man called Jesus of Nazareth, also known as the Christ or the Messiah. If you have other matters to discuss I will be glad to talk about them later. But I think you will agree that the business of the Emperor Vespasian takes precedence over the concerns of his son Titus.”
Josephus received these words with a look of astonishment. Then, recoiling before the verbal onslaught with an alacrity that made him even more repulsive to Polykrates, he answered smoothly, “I sincerely regret any misunderstanding about you or your mission. The Emperor’s word is your command, and mine as well. Do please come into the tablinum.”
Josephus rose, and placing a friendly hand on Polykrates’ back, guided him into the reception room, where he invited him to recline on one of the ornate couches. “Do please forgive me,” he said apologetically, “for my assumption that you were an Imperial slave. I had no intention of slighting you. One of my closest friends in Rome is Epaphroditus, a Greek like you - a member of a distinguished Alexandrian family in fact - who deliberately sold himself into slavery so as to make a career in the Imperial service. Perhaps you know him? He is very wealthy now, and of course a free man again. He was manumitted after serving as the Emperor Nero’s secretary for years. I believe there are others who have made successful careers in the upper ranks of government service as Imperial slaves. Anyway, do please forgive my gaffe.”
Having accommodated his guest, Josephus made himself comfortable on his own couch and clapped his hands for a servant. A tall, statuesque woman in a long white robe appeared from the kitchen and Josephus ordered her to bring wine, biscuits and preserved figs.
When they had been served, he took a sip of wine and said, “I am at your service. What is it that you wish to know?”
“By Imperial command, I am to investigate the life and death of this Jesus, who I understand was some sort of Jewish cult leader during the reign of Tiberius,” Polykrates said.
“And to suppress his followers?” Josephus replied.
“And to discover whether they are still a danger to the state,” Polykrates said. “If they are to be suppressed that will be somebody else’s responsibility. I am a pedagogue and a philosopher, I also have a personal interest in religious mystery cults. But I am not a policeman.”
“In what terms did the Emperor phrase his command?” Josephus said.
“The Emperor had awakened that day from an ominous and fearful dream,” Polykrates replied. “In it he foresaw the overthrow of Rome and what seemed to be the triumph of some Christian sect. He said to me: The Christians burned down half of Rome a few years ago under my predecessor Nero. I want no more trouble from this pernicious sect. Find out what they are doing. Find their leader Jesus, dead or alive. They say he rose from the dead. He may still be alive.”
“Working for the powerful is dirty work,” Josephus observed. “You cannot do it and keep your hands clean. If you find this Jesus alive you will have to kill him. And you will have to kill all his followers.”
“The mission entrusted to me by the Emperor is to discover the truth,” Polykrates replied. “He said nothing about killing.”
“My friend,” Josephus said, leaning closer to his guest, “I may call you that, may I not? I collaborated very closely with Vespasian when he was only a general in Judea. I know how his mind works. To his way of thinking, the letter A is followed by B. If it is your task to investigate malefactors then it is your task to suppress them. If you find Jesus then you will have to see to it that he is killed.”
“Let us deal first with the investigation,” Polykrates said curtly. “This Jesus was accused of blasphemy or some such offense by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. It appears that they had no authority to impose the death sentence, so they brought him before Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judea at the time. Pilate condemned him to death by crucifixion. Unfortunately I have discovered that if there were any records of the trial in the Imperial archives in Rome, they were all burned in Nero’s great fire seven years ago. There is no documentary evidence remaining in Rome.”
“Well, what about Pontius Pilate?” Josephus said. “Is he not still alive?”
“Perhaps, but I doubt it,” Polykrates replied. “He would be in his seventies or eighties or even older by now. In any case, I have been unable to find him yet. Shortly after executing Jesus he was denounced for the massacre of hundreds of Samaritans -
“Yes, on Mount Gerizim,” Josephus interrupted. “The massacre is remembered to this day. The Samaritans were following a false prophet. ”
“Pilate was recalled to Rome in disgrace by the Emperor Tiberius,” Polykrates continued. “But before he arrived in Rome, Tiberius died and Caligula became emperor.”
“What happened to him?” Josephus said.
“Pilate may have been destined for political exile or even mandatory suicide,” Polykrates said, “but in the confusion between one reign and another he may have escaped punishment. I have heard that he did commit suicide - that would have been presumably at the orders of Caligula. Others have told me that Pilate was banished to Gaul. One place of exile I have heard mentioned is Vienne on the River Rhone. I have sent a courier there. But all I have at present is a lot of contradictory rumors and gossip.”
“Had he no family?” Josephus asked.
“He was from Samnium in central Italy, but the family no longer lives there,” Polykrates said. “He was evidently well-connected. His wife’s name was Claudia Procula. I have been told that she was the granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus and the illegitimate daughter of Claudia, the third wife of the Emperor Tiberius. I am particularly interested in finding her.”
“Why?” Josephus said.
“Because she is said to have had a premonitory dream and warned Pilate not to crucify Jesus.”
“And why would a woman’s dream interest you?” Josephus inquired with a smile. “We are talking about serious matters.”
“I am a philosopher, and I am developing a theory of dreams,” Polykrates said. “I believe I am on the verge of proving that everything in human life has its origin in dreams.”
“Even the Greek and Roman gods?” Josephus said sardonically.
“Especially the gods,” Polykrates replied. “They are only the figments of dreams. For example, on his last night on earth, Julius Caesar dreamed that he was soaring above the clouds and then shaking hands with Jupiter. His wife Calpurnia dreamed that the ornamental tribute awarded him by the Senate had collapsed, and that he lay stabbed in her arms. She awoke suddenly and the bedroom door burst open of its own accord. My theory is this - .”
“Perhaps at another time my learned friend,” Josephus interrupted. “As you said earlier, we have Imperial business to discuss. It seems to me then that you have no documentary evidence of Jesus’ trial and you are unable to locate his judge and executioner, Pontius Pilate. Is that correct?”
“I have no documentary evidence or witnesses in Rome,” Polykrates replied. “But what about Jerusalem? That is my next question for you. The Jewish High Priest who accused Jesus of blasphemy, who was he? And where is he now? This evangelion of Mark does not mention his name.”
Josephus considered the matter. “In the time of Pontius Pilate,’ he said at last, “that would have been Caiaphas, the son-in-law of the former High Priest, Annas. Caiaphas was deposed shortly after Pilate was sent home to Rome in disgrace. He and Pilate had collaborated very closely for many years. Unfortunately, I believe Caiaphas died some years ago.”
“Caiaphas presided over some sort of Jewish council meeting that was convened to try Jesus,” Polykrates said. “There must have been some kind of official record of that session.”
“The council was the Sanhedrin,” Josephus said. “If it met in formal session there would certainly have been a transcript or summary of the proceedings. But you are not going to find it.”
“Why not?” Polykrates said.
“Because when the Jewish uprising began six years ago,” Josephus said, “one of the first things that swine Eleazar and his rebel gang did was to burn down the House of Records in Jerusalem where all the official documents were kept.”
“Why?” Polykrates said.
“Because that was where all the records of mortgages and all other legal debts were stored,” Josephus said. “The rebels wanted to curry favor with the common people by expunging the evidence of every debt in Judea. I was there. I saw it happen. The mob cheered and shouted as the documents went up in flames. It was a debtor’s festival.”
“Nothing was saved?” Polykrates asked.
“Practically everything was burned except some ancient historical documents. When the Romans recaptured Jerusalem I begged Titus to give them to me. They will be useful for my history, and I have my scribes sorting them out now to see which of them are not too badly scorched.”
Polykrates glanced over at the elderly men at work in the library. “But I can assure you,” Josephus added, “that there is nothing there about the trial or execution of anyone named Jesus nor any reference to Caiaphas or Pontius Pilate. These scrolls I have here are all about the ancient history of Israel and the Temple. Now if we may return to the matter of my history – “.
“Later, if you please,” Polykrates interrupted. “If I understand you correctly, you are telling me that Jesus and his followers are of no importance in Judea?”
“None at all,” Josephus asserted.
“I find that hard to believe,” Polykrates objected. “You must admit that they are of some consequence in Rome. According to the Emperor Nero they were the culprits who set the great fire that burned most of the city down seven years ago. He had dozens of Christians tortured and executed for the crime. He considered them a major threat to public safety.”
“I think most people believe that Nero himself set the fire,” Josephus responded. “They say he wanted to burn Rome down to the ground and build a new city to be called Neropolis. Does Vespasian believe now that the followers of Jesus were the real incendiaries? Is that why he has ordered your investigation?”
“Possibly,” Polykrates said. “Now, here is something odd I have discovered. Jesus was a Jew but most of his followers in Rome are not Jews. I find that curious. I was in the Jewish quarter some days ago. Are you familiar with it?”
Josephus shook his head and Polykrates reflected that the most infamous traitor of his race was unlikely to set foot in a neighborhood teeming with Jews who would like nothing better than to stick a knife between his ribs.
“The Jewish quarter is a slum,” Polykrates said. “On this, the wrong side of the Tiber, a little further down-river. It is a warren of narrow alleyways, reeking of salted fish, sausages and the stinking sewage of the Tiber. I found a synagogue. But I found no followers of Jesus there. The Jesus communities are in a different neighborhood, inhabited by non-Jews, people from all over the Empire. They are poor people too, dyers, leather-workers, coppersmiths, potters, bakers, fishmongers, cooks, ironworkers and other artisans and small tradesmen of that sort. Ignorant and credulous people, all of them.”
“They were probably originally God-fearers,” Josephus commented.
“What are they?” Polykrates asked.
“Gentiles who believe in the Jewish God and attend Jewish synagogues but do not become full members of the Jewish community.”
“Probably because circumcision is too painful,” Josephus replied.
“But these followers of Jesus want nothing to do with the Jews of the Jewish quarter,” Polykrates objected.
“As you know, Jews are not exactly the most popular people in Rome just now,” Josephus commented. “For the past six years they were in open armed revolt against the Empire. Any Gentile followers of Jesus would naturally want to distance themselves as far as possible from the Jews, and even from the Jewish followers of Jesus, if there are any such here.”
“Very well,” Polykrates said, “then it seems there is a non-Jewish cult of Jesus in the making here in Rome.”
“That would be beyond my sphere of knowledge,” Josephus said. “It is something you yourself would have to investigate.”
“I attended one cult meeting.”
“And they did not throw you out or kill you?” Josephus said. “Since Nero’s persecution they must be highly suspicious of strangers.”
“They looked on me with great wariness,” Polykrates replied. “I am too educated a man to fit easily into such unlettered groups, but they were not aware of my connection with the Imperial Palace. I told them I am a visitor from Athens, that I am a student of philosophy and religion. I said I am making a study of the mystery religions and I had heard that their mysteries were superior to the mysteries of Isis and Cybele. I was introduced to their leader, a man named Linus. He has the title of episcopus or supervisor. He is a simple-minded man but he became eager to talk and convert me to their way of thinking, if you can call it thinking.”
“What did he tell you?’” Josephus asked. “Nothing that any Jew could possibly believe, I would think.”
“They all spoke constantly of the miracles and cures performed by Jesus,” Polykrates said. “He was apparently some sort of magician. But I could not get them to tell me anything about his arrest or trial or death. On this they refused to say a word.”
“Evidently, that is part of the mystery,” Josephus remarked. “An outsider like you can be told nothing of the esoteric knowledge. And anyway, what could you expect? Those events were hideous and horrible. Their lord and master died on the Roman cross, a shameful death, a slave’s death. To us Jews it is an even worse death because according to our holy book Deuteronomy a man who hangs on a tree is accursed of God. Spreading the word that their Messiah had come to such an ignoble end would only make others despise their faith.”
“On that point you are wrong,” Polykrates retorted. “They could not keep their secrets from me. I discovered later that they have written it all down for the cult members, in every detail. The members of the cult are starting to write their own holy books. This evangelion of Mark that I sent you is one example. It recounts all the circumstances of Jesus’ execution.”
“I congratulate you,” Josephus said. “You are evidently good at worming out secrets. But how did you get hold of it? They would not talk and you are not a cult member.”
“I made friends with a Greek amanuensis at the meeting and had him make a copy for me,” Polykrates said. “I told him I was interested in the tract as a Greek student of philosophy and that it would be studied by important philosophers at the Academy in Athens. In fact, no serious student in Athens is going to pay any attention to such an illiterate scribble, but the first part at least is not untrue. I take an interest in all mystery religions, dream diviners, fortunetellers and other aberrations of that sort. They all provide evidence for my theory that - .”
“I presume you also persuaded him with money,” Josephus interrupted.
“I gave him ten drachmas,” Polykrates admitted.
“A generous fee. No wonder he obliged you. So what do you make of this new holy book of the Jesus people?” Josephus asked.
“The Greek is atrocious, which is what you would expect of a writer from such a semiliterate milieu,’ Polykrates said. “But your question is the very one I came here to ask you. As a Jew you will be able to enlighten me on the teaching and actions of a Jewish cult leader in Palestine. It is a world that is entirely foreign to an Athenian Greek like me.”
“In that case,” Josephus said, getting up from his couch, “you must do me the honor of staying to take your midday meal in my poor home while you give me time to make a serious effort to read this so-called evangelion.”
Josephus clapped his hands again and the woman in the white robe appeared once more from the kitchen. Polykrates noticed now that she was strikingly beautiful. She was bearing a tray with three bowls of a deliciously steaming stew, which she set on the table before them. It was evident to Polykrates that she intended to eat with them.
“Get back in the kitchen where you belong!” Josephus shouted suddenly. His studied air of civility was gone and Polykrates noted that his face was twitching uncontrollably.
“She thinks she can act like a grand Roman lady,” Josephus complained as the woman retreated into the kitchen. “Jewish women do not eat in the presence of strange men.”
Polykrates ate in silence as Josephus began to read. After he had finished the bowl he said, “If the woman is your cook I congratulate you. The stew is excellent.”
“She is my wife,” Josephus answered, looking up from his reading. “A present from Vespasian. He gave her to me when I was a prisoner in Caesarea Maritima.”
“An excellent gift,” Polykrates commented.
“When the ruler of the world presents you with a woman you cannot refuse the gift, even if the present is unwanted” Josephus retorted.
“She is a beautiful woman,” Polykrates insisted.
“A profaned woman,” Josephus said. “She was among a group of women taken prisoners by the Tenth Legion. I am by birth a priest of the holy Temple. Our Jewish Law forbids me to take a profaned woman as my lawful wife. Can the Romans not understand that? Must they humiliate us at every turn?”
“I imagine that Vespasian simply wanted to present you with a beautiful woman as a reward for your valuable services in the war,” Polykrates said.
“You don’t understand,” Josephus replied angrily. “You are a Greek. The Romans conquered you but they admire you, they even love you. They use your language, they teach it to their children, they ape your manners, they have even borrowed your gods. But they hate us. They hate us as they hated Carthage. They destroyed that city, they leveled it to the ground, they strewed salt on it so that nothing should ever grow there again. They obliterated everything so that nothing of Carthage should remain. And so it is with us and Jerusalem.”
Polykrates looked at him in surprise and Josephus caught himself again. “Please, I beg you,” he pleaded, “forget those words. Expunge them from your memory. It may seem to you and the world that everything I say and do is said and done by calculation. But underneath it all I am an emotional man. There are moments when my feelings cannot be denied.”
Josephus now returned to the scroll and buried himself in its contents, leaving his bowl of stew untouched as Polykrates finished his crust of bread and nibbled some figs in silence. As he ate, Polykrates felt the urge to ask Josephus why it was that Jews abstained from eating in the company of non-Jews. Are we so unclean to you? he asked himself. And, my hypocritical friend, how many times did you sit down in the Roman officers’ mess during the Judean campaign to eat in the company of the heathen soldiers who were destroying your native land? And to eat unclean food at that?
Josephus put down the scroll at last, Polykrates finished his meal and the woman came out in silence to take away the plates.
“How can you know for certain that she was profaned?” Polykrates asked after she had left.
“A woman as beautiful as that?” Josephus replied. “A daughter of Jewish aristocrats? Of course she was raped by some Roman legionary brute. Perhaps by many. Or, even worse, by some filthy auxiliary troopers from Tyre or Sidon or Caesarea.”
He handed the document back to Polykrates and said, “Now, ask me whatever it is you want to know about this strange story.”
Polykrates read aloud. “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. What is the meaning - ” he began to ask.
“Blasphemy,” Josephus interrupted him in mid-question. “Blasphemy on the very first line.”
“Why?” Polykrates asked. “Because Jesus is claimed to be the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah of the Jews?”
“No,” Josephus said. “Anyone may claim to be the Messiah. Many men have done so. That is lawful. Whether the claim turns out to be true is another matter. In the case of Jesus, God has spoken: the man was a failure. He was crucified. Therefore he was obviously not the Messiah.”
“Then where is the blasphemy?” Polykrates asked.
“The Son of God,” Josephus replied. “Jesus the son of God. Only a pagan or a madman would make such a claim. No Jew would ever claim to be the son of God. God does not father human sons.”
“Zeus does,” Polykrates retorted. “”The other Olympian gods fathered children on human women. And some of the Christians I met the other day assured me that Jesus was begotten by God on a Jewish woman named Mary.”
“You were talking to pagans,” Josephus replied impatiently. “For us Jews there is only one God, the maker of heaven and earth. And he does not carnally beget human children.”
“Do you not consider yourselves the children of God?” Polykrates said.
“Yes. We are the sons of God because we are the sons of Adam and Eve, who were created by God out of a handful of earth. But the one true God does not carnally beget human children. It must be the pagan followers of Jesus who are making this blasphemous claim. If Jesus was a Jew he would never have done so himself.”
Polykrates nodded and returned to the text.
“We come now to a man named John the Baptist,” he said. “As predicted by the prophet Isaiah, ‘John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him’.”
“Now this is something I do know,” Josephus said. “John the Baptist was a well-known preacher in Judea about forty years ago. He has a large following of devout believers even to this day. They believe that he was the Messiah.”
Polykrates looked up. “It says later on in this text that John was executed,” he said. “So according to you he was not the Messiah. Was he a rebel against the Romans?”
“John was a good man,” Josephus said, “a rebel against the Temple priests, but he consecrated people through his baptism to a life of justice, virtue and piety.”
“Then why was he executed?” Polykrates asked.
“He denounced Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee for living an evil life. Antipas had married the wife of his brother Philip in violation of Jewish law. And there may have been other reasons,” Josephus added uneasily.
“What other reasons?” Polykrates demanded.
“The Temple priests. Pious Jews seek – sought - God’s forgiveness by offering sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. John offered them God’s forgiveness merely by being baptized in the River Jordan. The penitents did not have to buy sacrificial animals. The priests did not like that. Sacrifices brought in a lot of revenue to the Temple treasury. Perhaps the High Priest thought more of money than of God. And now God has punished us. The Temple is destroyed.”
Polykrates returned to the text and continued, “John proclaimed, ‘the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals’.”
“That, I would say, is an outright lie,” Josephus commented. “John preached the coming of God, not the coming of Jesus. John taught that the end of the world was near and that the Kingdom of God was about to begin. The Kingdom of God. Not the Kingdom of Jesus.”
Polykrates continued reading. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
“As you see,” Josephus remarked, “Jesus became the follower of John. His follower, not his master.”
“Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.’ What is your interpretation of this?”
Josephus shrugged. “Hallucinations perhaps. Religious hysteria. Who knows? You would have to ask Jesus, since it was he who had the experience. It is at this point, I would say, that he started perverting the teaching of John the Baptist.”
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,” Polykrates continued reading.
“Interesting,” Josephus commented. “John having been arrested, Jesus tried to take over the leadership of his movement. And he took over John’s message too: repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. Anyway, you see now why neither I nor anyone else in Judea would know much about Jesus. He returned to his home country, Galilee.”
“Is that so far away from Judea?” Polykrates asked.
“No,” Josephus said, “a three days’ march from Jerusalem. But it is a God-forsaken place. I know. I fought the Romans there. I was the Jewish rebel commander in Galilee. About half of the population are pagans. The Jews who live there are recent converts. Galilee only became Jewish a little more than a hundred years ago, you know. And it was a forcible conversion. Galilean Jews mix freely with pagans, their eating habits are foul, and they are ritually unclean. They don’t observe the Temple rites. They are ignorant. They speak Aramaic with an awful guttural accent. There is even a saying in Judea: can anything good come out of Galilee? Certainly no prophet ever came out of there - only exorcists, faith healers, miracle-mongers, roadside magicians. As for the Jewish Law, as Johanan ben Zakai once said to me, Galilee hates the Law.”
Polykrates gave him a searching look. “I suspect the truth is that Josephus was defeated in Galilee,” he said, “and so Josephus hates Galilee.”
Josephus smiled bitterly. “I saw the light of truth there,” he said. “That God was on the side of the Romans.”
“Jesus proclaimed the good news of God,” Polykrates continued reading, “saying, ‘the time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near’.”
“Exactly what John the Baptist had been preaching in Judea,” Josephus remarked, “and they are both wrong, you know. God does not intervene directly in human affairs. “When God wanted to punish Israel he sent Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian armies to chastise the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon were the instruments of God. And God sent the prophet Jeremiah to warn the Jews of that time of the punishment to come. In our own time God did not punish us himself. He sent the Roman legions to humble us. And he sent me to warn the Jews as he had sent Jeremiah before me.”
Polykrates laid down the codex and contemplated Josephus with interest. “Jeremiah is I believe one of the great prophets of Israel,” he said. “Have I learned that much correctly of your Jewish history already?”
“That is so,” Josephus agreed.
“And the Josephus I see before me, if I understand you, is the Jeremiah of this age, the prophet of the Jews for our times?”
“There are certain parallels,” Josephus agreed. “Jeremiah warned the Jews that God had sent Nebuchadnezzar to punish them for their sins. He told them the truth: that God was punishing a generation that had become corrupt. The holy place had been filled with the blood of innocents and had become a den of robbers. He told them to surrender to the Babylonian army besieging Jerusalem. That is exactly what I have told the Jews of my own time: surrender to the Romans. And God punished the Jewish people both times: first with the Babylonian captivity, now with the Roman occupation. The Temple in Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians on the ninth day of Ab.”
“The very day that Titus captured the Temple 657 years later.”
“A curious coincidence,” Polykrates agreed, “but Jeremiah is honored by the Jews as a prophet. Do you know what your reputation is among your own people?”
Josephus sighed. “The arch-traitor,” he said. “But Jeremiah suffered all that too in his time. He was put in the stocks, thrown into prison, cast into a cistern. But he never went back on his warnings. And once the Babylonian disaster had occurred Jeremiah too was left to weep alone. I can only repeat his words: Cursed be the day I was born. Why was I born to see labor and sorrow, my days consumed by shame?”
“Well, there are certain consolations to being a prophet in our own times,” Polykrates observed. “There is that large estate Vespasian has given you on the outskirts of Jerusalem.”
“After the Babylonian defeat,” Josephus replied, “the Lord spoke to Jeremiah, telling him to buy the field of his cousin Hanamel at Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin. He did. It was a sign that a new day was coming. My time will come too, and I will be honored by my people.”
Polykrates shook his head. “I admire your faith in your own countrymen,” he said, turning to the codex again.
“Jesus now recruits his first followers,” he continued. “As he walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen… a little farther he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets - ”
“Not the most promising sort of leaders to take over John’s movement in Judea,” Josephus commented.
“Because they were ignorant fishermen?” Polykrates asked.
“That of course too, ignorant and illiterate,” Josephus said, taking a sip of wine. “But remember what I told you about Galilee. Preachers with an uncouth Galilean accent do not get much respect in Jerusalem - ”
“And that would apply to Jesus too?” Polykrates interrupted.
“Obviously,” Josephus replied. “As they say in Jerusalem: can anything good come out of Galilee?”
“In Athens we say the same sort of things about the Boeotians,” Polykrates remarked, “peasants, an uncouth and boorish people.”
“They went to Capernaum,” Polykrates continued reading. “Where is that?
“A town on Lake Galilee,” Josephus said.
“When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then -.”
“Stop there,” Josephus interrupted. “He taught as one having authority. That, my Greek friend, is the first sign of a false prophet. The scribes in our synagogues are interpreters of God’s Law. They tell the congregation, ‘God’s Law says this,’ ‘God’s Law says do that,’ and ‘the proper interpretation of God’s holy books is thus and thus.’ The prophets of old in all our holy books all proclaim, ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ never ‘Thus say I the prophet.’ If Jesus preaches ‘with authority’ then he is telling his listeners, ‘These are my words.’ They are not God’s words. And his listeners are right to be astounded. Because he is a blasphemer.”
“Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out… ‘Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God. Jesus casts the demon out of him - ”
“As I recall, the man then goes into convulsions,” Josephus interjected. “There are mentally unstable people like this in every community. This poor fellow thrashes around on the floor, he foams at the mouth a bit. And when he recovers consciousness he is rational again, until his next attack. And credulous bystanders like the four fishermen and all the fishwives of Capernaum believe that Jesus has made a great cure. This evidently marks the beginning of his career as a faith healer.”
Polykrates smiled. “You just will not allow this poor man any virtues,” he said. “But he is indeed launched now on a career as a healer. On leaving the synagogue, Jesus goes to the house of Simon and Andrew and cures their mother of a fever. His fame now starts to spread, and by evening the whole town is there outside the door with all the sick people lined up to be cured by this new physician.”
“And his ambition grows apace with his success,” Josephus observed.
Polykrates nodded. “What he can do in Capernaum perhaps he can do in all of Galilee. The next day he prays to God for guidance and leaves on a tour of the neighboring towns to heal the sick and proclaim his message throughout the whole region.”
“Prays to God for guidance?’ Josephus interposed. “Where does it say anything about God or guidance?”
Polykrates consulted his text. “I stand corrected,’ he said. “He went out to a deserted place, where he prayed. For what, it does not say. So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.”
“Well, we have seen that kind of thing many times in Judea,” Josephus said. “A holy man wanders about the countryside preaching that the end of the world is near, that a new world is coming. Pay attention, he warns, because the new world is God’s Holy Kingdom, and I am God’s messenger. Of course not even the credulous would give any heed unless the holy man first got their attention by performing miraculous cures. Tell me, Polykrates, in Greece do you not have such wandering healers traveling through the land, hoodwinking the gullible with their mumbo-jumbo?”
“Yes,” Polykrates said, “throughout the Empire you have healers who cast magic spells, some of them swindling roadside goetes, and also some rather more respectable magi. That happens everywhere. But they ask for money. I see no mention of money here. And the cures Jesus achieves seem to be unusually impressive. He cures a leper. And now Jesus becomes so famous that he could no longer enter a town openly but stayed out in the country. Yet people still came to him from everywhere.”
“So the Galilean prophet and miracle-worker is launched on the path to success,” Josephus said mockingly, “but the price of success is that the authorities in Galilee will take note of his rising popularity. And as a disciple of John the Baptist, Jesus will most certainly have the eye of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas on him as a potential trouble-maker.”
Polykrates read again: “When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room for them.” A paralyzed man was lowered through a hole in the roof and Jesus cured him, saying, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The scribes then say ‘He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”
“That is precisely what I have been telling you,” Josephus said. “If you are a Jew then you believe that only God can forgive your sins. It is obvious that he is repeating out of his own mouth the blasphemous claim that is made for him on the very first line of this evangelion: that Jesus is the Son of God.”
“He calls himself the Son of Man here,” Polykrates objected. “Jesus says, ‘So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins - he said to the paralytic - I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home’.”
“Whether he calls himself the Son of Man or the Son of God,” Josephus retorted, “he is claiming to have the power of God here on earth, and sooner or later he will answer for this blasphemy. I believe you Greeks have a word for this.”
Polykrates nodded. “Hubris,” he said, “challenging or usurping the powers of the gods. Jesus now sees Levi in his tax collector’s booth and recruits him as a disciple. Levi invites him to dinner at his home, together with other tax collectors and sinners. Who are these sinners?”
“Social outcasts,” Josephus replied. “Jews who were shunned by their fellow-Jews. This is a deliberate provocation by Jesus. Jewish tax collectors are detested as collaborators with the Romans. It has always been an unsavory trade and it attracts unsavory characters. Levi no doubt had unsavory friends.”
“But in the eyes of Jesus they are all preferable to the righteous leaders of the Jewish community?”
“Precisely.” Josephus agreed.
“Jesus is now confronted by the righteous: why are his disciples not fasting when the Pharisess and even the disciples of John the Baptist are keeping the fast?”
“This is another deliberate challenge by Jesus,” Josephus said, “a gesture of defiance in the face of established Jewish religious customs.”
“Jesus now says, No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, this will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. One puts new wine into new wineskins.’”
“And this,” Josephus said, “quite clearly shows that Jesus is preaching a radical religious doctrine. His new wine is obviously his own new and intoxicating idea, and it means throwing out the ruptured old wineskins of the Jewish religion.”
Polykrates ran his finger down the text. “We have two incidents now,” he noted, “where Jesus challenges the traditional sanctity of the Sabbath day. His disciples walking through a grain field on the Sabbath pluck some heads of grain. When the Pharisees object, Jesus replies that King David and his men unlawfully ate up the dedicated bread in the Temple - ”
“An interesting comparison,” Josephus commented. “On that occasion King David was fighting the battles of the Lord and his dire need in the fray was his justification for the sacrilege. Were Jesus and his men also engaged in battle for the Lord against the forces of Herod Antipas?”
“And fleeing for their lives through the wheat field?” Polykrates said.
“Perhaps,” Josephus replied. “I have the impression that there is more than meets the eye in this account. All the violence has been omitted.”
“And then on the Sabbath too,” Polykrates continued, “Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in the synagogue. At this point, it says, “The Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”
“So the Herodians were already out to kill Jesus then,” Josephus commented.
“For what reason?” Polykrates said, “for some previous violence?”
“Read on,” Josephus replied. “If I recall the text aright you will have your answer.”
Polykrates took up the codex again. “Jesus departed with his disciples to the sea and - ”
“And on the far shore he would have been out of Galilee and beyond Herod’s jurisdiction,” Josephus interjected.
“And a great multitude from Galilee followed him. Hearing all that he was doing they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon.”
“So,” Josephus commented, “the miracle worker was now attracting a dangerously large following from the whole region. And he could soon expect the same fate as John the Baptist – the loss of his head.”
“And therefore,” Polykrates added, “if Jesus now stood at the head of an adoring multitude from Judea, Galilee and elsewhere, this surely was the time to proclaim that he was indeed the Messiah of Israel. But it says here, “Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, You are the Son of God. But he sternly ordered them not to make him known”. Why did he not proclaim himself the Messiah?”
Josephus smiled. “Perhaps he did proclaim himself the Messiah,” he said.
Polykrates looked at him questioningly.
“My friend,” Josephus said, “you attended that meeting of Christians here in Rome. If you were preaching to them that Jesus was the Messiah, how would you explain to them that he had never been accepted as the Messiah by his own Jewish people in Galilee or Judea?”
Polykrates considered the matter. “I would perhaps have to tell them that Jesus wanted to keep it a secret,” he said.
“As Mark does indeed tell them in this evangelion,” Josephus said.
“Let us say then.” Polykrates conceded, “that Jesus perhaps may have proclaimed himself the Messiah. At this time he certainly did begin to organize his followers. It says, Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message - Why twelve?”
“Because,” Josephus said, “they represented the twelve tribes of Israel, as befitted the Messiah of all Israel on the mountain top.”
Polykrates continued reading, “These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”
“Judas Iscariot,” Josephus noted, “that’s our way of saying Judas Sicarius.”
“Sicarius?” Polykrates said.
“Judas the Assassin,” Josephus explained. “Sicarius is Latin for dagger-man, a Jewish terrorist who conceals his dagger under his clothes and stabs his political opponents in the midst of the crowds - in the street, in the market place, in the Temple itself. Then he melts into the crowd and disappears. These men are fanatics. The last remnants of them are still holding out against the Romans in a fortress named Masada. One sicarius murdered the High Priest Jonathan in the Temple courtyard. I believe that it was after this act of sacrilege that God abandoned the Jews and condemned us - .”
“So one apostle may have been a political assassin,” Polykrates interrupted. “What about the others?”
“Simon the Cananaean,” Josephus replied, “you might think this was a man from Canaan, but there is no Canaan today, and there are no Cananaeans. He was a qanna in Hebrew, a qan’an in Aramaic.”
“Which means?” Polykrates asked.
“A Zealot, a man dedicated to violence in the name of God. One of the very same fanatics who revolted against Rome six years ago and brought death and destruction down upon us.”
“What about Boanerges?” Polykrates said.
“Yes, the Sons of Thunder, or the Sons of Wrath. If Jesus himself called them that he must have had good reason. Violent men, the pair of them.”
“So four of the twelve apostles may have been men of violence,” Polykrates concluded.
“And if these four were, then why not the other eight also?” Josephus said.
“So they were up to some mischief when they were marching through that wheat field on the Sabbath day?” Polykrates said.
“What else should I think?” Josephus replied. “You can see why the Tetrarch Herod Antipas was becoming alarmed as the Jesus movement grew and even spread beyond the borders of Galilee.”
Polykrates nodded. “I get the impression at this stage of the evangelion of a mounting frenzy,’ he said. “The crowd came together so that they could not even eat… people were saying, He has gone out of his mind. The teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, He is possessed by Beelzebub. By the prince of demons he is casting out demons.’ Jesus accuses them of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit and says they will never be forgiven. They are ‘guilty of an eternal sin. He said this because they were saying, He has an evil spirit.’ And when they heard all this uproar the mother and brothers of Jesus went out to restrain him.”
“They decided to restrain him,” Josephus repeated, “to tie him up like a lunatic. They were convinced he was mad. And can you blame them? He had challenged the religious authorities. He had rebelled against the royal authority of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas. He had stirred up mobs from Galilee and Judea and other areas as well. Powerful men had come down from Jerusalem to suppress him and his growing movement. Jesus was headed for death and disaster.”
“And his family evidently feared that they would perish with him,” Polykrates agreed. “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Whosoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’.”
“And so,” Josephus said, “Jesus was now committed to his suicidal mission.”
“Again he began to teach beside the sea,” Polykrates continued. “Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables’ - beginning with the parable of the sower who strewed seed on fertile soil and rocky ground. ‘When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables.’ How do you interpret this?”
“Obviously,” Josephus replied, “that there are two kinds of teaching here, one for the immediate disciples - the initiates - and another for the people at large.”
“If Jesus was pursuing political aims perhaps he did not want to reveal his plans for an insurrection to the population at large and frighten them off. If he was thinking in religious terms then it seems that he had an esoteric doctrine for the initiates and an exoteric teaching for the outsiders.”
“You mean something similar to the mystery cults of Isis and Cybele, where the inmost truths are reserved for confirmed believers?” Polykrates said.
“Yes,” Josephus agreed. “I would imagine he had some sort of secret initiation ceremony such as the adepts of the cult of Isis receive, a baptism perhaps or some all-night vigil.”
“But what was the inmost teaching?”
“That,” Josephus said, “was most likely reserved for the inner circle of initiates, for those twelve violent men.”
“You say they were violent,” Polykrates replied. “I have seen no proof of it so far. On that day, when evening had come, Jesus took his apostles with him by boat across the Sea of Galilee. A great windstorm arose and nearly swamped the boat. His followers were terrified, but Jesus slept peacefully in the stern until they awakened him. He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet, be still’. Then the wind died down and it was completely calm…They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Josephus laughed out loud. “The Sea of Galilee,” he said, “sudden storms come up on the lake, the wind whistles down from the hills, and then just as suddenly the tempest is over. Would you like me to perform a miracle like that? I will wake you before dawn tomorrow. We will both face the East, and I will command the sun to rise. And you, a sophisticated Athenian scholar, will believe that I command the sun to do my bidding.”
“They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes,” Polykrates continued. “They come ashore at a cemetery and are met by a shrieking maniac who comes rushing out of the tombs. Jesus cures this madman by casting out a host of evil spirits, which enter into a herd of two thousand pigs. The beasts stampede over a cliff into the sea and are drowned.”
“I would point out to you,” Josephus said, “that Gerasa is about thirty miles to the southeast of the Sea of Galilee. It has no steep cliffs overlooking any sea.”
“What about the stampeding pigs?” Polykrates said.
“I suppose they were alarmed by the shrieks of the madman,” Josephus said, “and I doubt that he was a Jew. I do not know of any Jews raising pigs.”
“Jesus now crosses over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to a town - “
“I presume it is Capernaum,” Josephus interjected.
“Where he cures a woman of a bleeding disease - .”
“An instantaneous cure?” Josephus interrupted. “How does the woman know that she has stopped bleeding for good?”
Polykrates continued, “He also revives the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official - ”
“He brings the girl back from the dead,” Josephus said scornfully.
Polykrates looked up at him. “No,” he said. “You interpret everything in this document in such a negative sense. The girl’s family thinks she is dead, but Jesus says she is only sleeping. She is unconscious until he revives her.”
“Jesus left that place,” Polykrates continued, “and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue. But his fellow townsmen took offense at him. They said, ‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us… And he could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people.”
“You laugh,” Polykrates said, “and Jesus himself is reduced to protesting that ‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’ But is it really surprising? Back home in Nazareth Jesus was no longer the mysterious stranger from far away as he was in other towns in Galilee - the miracle-working medicine man with supernatural powers. He was just the snot-nosed brat who perhaps had been chased with his brothers and friends after stealing figs from a neighbor’s orchard. How could they possibly believe that a hometown boy like that could work miracles?”
“No, you don’t understand why I am laughing,” Josephus replied. “What you say is quite true, but it is not all. The townspeople say, Is not this Mary’s son? I think you Greeks have the same custom we do of using the father’s name. I am Josephus ben Matthias, Josephus the son of Matthias. And you are I suppose Polykrates - .”
“The son of Lysias,” Polykrates said.
“Precisely,” Josephus said, “and if Jesus is known as the son of Mary, it means he is illegitimate, a bastard. He has no known father. His mother is most probably a disreputable woman. So what possible respect could the good people of Nazareth have for a village bastard who does odd jobs as a carpenter when he is not off on the road somewhere, preaching blasphemous ideas and doing God knows what?”
Polykrates shook his head. “You are determined to take the worst possible view of him at all times,” he said. “So now, after his setback in Nazareth, Jesus goes out on his travels again. ‘Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two… They went out and preached that people should repent… King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, John the Baptist has been raised from the dead… Others said, He is Elijah… And still others claimed, He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago. But when Herod heard this he said, ‘John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead.”
“And now Jesus is doomed,” Josephus commented. “The Tetrarch Herod Antipas is not going to tolerate another troublemaker like John the Baptist in his kingdom. John had stirred the people up against him. Jesus might actually get them to rise in revolt.”
“To revolt on what ground?” Polykrates asked.
“Herod Antipas had been married to the daughter of Aretas, the king of Arabia, but he divorced her to marry his own niece Herodias. This was a violation of Jewish law, as denounced by John, and the people hated Herod Antipas for it. Aretas hated him too for slighting his daughter, and was planning to get his revenge. If Aretas attacked - as he in fact did in the end - Herod Antipas could not count on much support from his own people. He was the ruler of Galilee probably throughout the whole of Jesus’ lifetime but he knew that one misstep would cost him his throne.”
“And Jesus had given the fatal signal by sending his twelve apostles through Galilee to raise support,” Polykrates interposed. “Herod knew that some sort of organized movement was underway.”
Polykrates quickly ran his eye down the text. “We have now two miracles where Jesus feeds a multitude of thousands with five loaves and two fishes, and then he walks on the water on the Sea of Galilee.”
“Obviously he now has to impress his followers with his supernatural powers,” Josephus commented. “The danger of violent repression by Herod is looming over him, and Jesus has to reassure the wavering, the doubters and the defectors that he has the power to protect them.”
“Wherever he went, into villages, cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”
“In a word,” Josephus said, “Jesus is now claiming the royal touch, one of the divine attributes of kingship. If you touch the sacred person of his majesty you are healed.”
“So it is your turn now to laugh,” Josephus said. “But your own lord and master Vespasian has done the very same thing. He grumbled and did it reluctantly, but he did it. When he was proclaimed emperor in Alexandria, a blind man and a man with a crippled hand begged him for the royal cure. The god Serapis had promised them in a dream that they would be healed if Vespasian spat on the blind man’s eyes and touched the lame man with his heel. He did, and they were both cured.”
“Polykrates smiled. “So Vespasian is not only the emperor, perhaps he is also the Messiah then,” he said. Returning to the text, he continued, “We now have some disputes between Jesus and teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem - ”
“Scholars from the Temple summoned to help the local authorities to combat this threat to the established order,” Josephus interrupted.
“And then Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre,” Polykrates resumed reading.
“Yes,” Josephus said, “the situation was evidently becoming so dangerous for Jesus that he had to flee from Galilee, the territory of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas. Tyre is in Syria, a province governed directly by Rome. There are some Jews there living among the pagans, but no Jewish authorities to worry about.”
“But Jesus is still preaching only to Jews,” Polykrates noted. “A Greek woman asks him to cure her daughter and he replies contemptuously, let the children of Israel be fed first, since it is not good to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Do you Jews always call us dogs?”
Josephus shrugged. “What do you call us?” he retorted. “Barbarians?”
“Then Jesus returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, and into the region of the Decapolis.”
Josephus held his head in his hands. “Impossible,” he said. “Everything is wrong here. Sidon is north of Tyre. The Decapolis is south of Galilee. There is no road from Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, only one from Tyre. Nobody could make such a journey unless you rearranged the map. Whoever wrote this account is ignorant of our geography.”
“I will ask Mark about that when I find him,” Polykrates said. “Now Jesus is back in Galilee, followed by an enormous crowd ‘who have been with me for three days and have nothing to eat.’ Evidently they are leaving their homes and following him over long distances. He performs another miracle, feeding them all with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. As he is now back in Galilee, stirring up trouble I suppose, the religious authorities confront him and demand a sign from heaven. What sign do they want?”
“That he is the Messiah,” Josephus said. “If he can’t give it he is a false prophet.”
Polykrates continued, “But Jesus refuses to give them any sign and goes across the lake to Bethsaida - ”
“A prudent withdrawal from the territory of Herod Antipas,” Josephus interrupted. “Jesus was not ready to challenge the Tetrarch with a claim to be the Messiah and thus the rightful king.”
“Where is Bethsaida?”
“In the jurisdiction of Antipas’s brother Philip, the Tetrarch of Iturea, Gaulanitis and Trachonitis.”
“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Where is that?”
“Even deeper into the territory of Philip,” Josephus replied.
“And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist’; and others, ‘Elijah’; and still others, ‘one of the prophets’. But who do you say I am? Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah’.”
“And Jesus orders them not to tell anyone,” Josephus interposed.
“Why?” Polykrates asked. “Because he does not know himself?”
“Because,” Josephus said, “I suspect now that he thinks none of them is right. Jesus really believes he is not the Messiah but literally and physically the Son of God. If so, he is quite evidently insane.”
Polykrates went on: “And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power’.”
“And so at last he believes his time has come,” Josephus commented. “The kingdom of God he has been preaching is about to arrive, and when it comes no one will ever die. He must be mad.”
“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus…Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.’ So Jesus is now claiming to be a prophet like Elijah and Moses?”
“No. He is claiming to be greater than them,” Josephus replied. “Jesus is placing himself alone at the very crest of this mountain. He is not only a prophet like Elijah and Moses, he is something unique, the Son of God.”
“Then they went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed he will rise again.”
“So he returns to Galilee,” Josephus said, “but surreptitiously, so as not to bring down upon himself the heavy hand of Herod Antipas. And he has evidently decided to go on to Jerusalem to claim his Kingdom.”
“Once he is back in his base of operations in Capernaum,” Polykrates continued, “his disciples begin to argue about which of them is the greatest.”
“The Kingdom is coming,” Josephus commented, “and the courtiers are starting to argue about the division of the spoils and about who takes precedence at the royal court. It does not bode well for God’s coming kingdom.”
“Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Why Judea, and not Galilee where all his supporters are?”
“Because,” Josephus said, “he knows that Galilee is too small a stage for the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth. If he succeeds in Galilee he will only overthrow a minor Jewish princeling, an insignificant minion of the Romans. And if he fails he faces an ignoble end in an obscure little corner of the world. If he is truly a prophet he must go to Jerusalem, the center of world Jewry. The holy city is the only fit place for a Jewish prophet to do or die. And there he will confront the Roman power face to face.”
“Crowds gathered around him - ”
“This is the decisive moment,” Josephus broke in. “Remember that this is all happening just before Passover, the great festival when all the Jews from all over the world gather in Jerusalem in their thousands to celebrate our liberation from Egypt.”
“The liberation they now so desperately want from Rome,” Polykrates interjected.
“Precisely,” Josephus agreed. “Pilgrims are preparing to leave for the holy city from all over Galilee, and the followers of Jesus are just one more contingent in this multitude. But of course he would try to bring them all under his leadership if he could. This is no longer a localized provincial movement on the outer fringes of Judaism but a direct march on the world center of the Jews - the great Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem. The Son of God evidently intends to claim his kingdom there.”
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; the disciples were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.’ But his closest disciples were already jockeying for position in the imminent new kingdom. The brothers James and John – “
“The Sons of Thunder,” Josephus interrupted, “the king’s generals.”
“Claimed the right to sit at his right and left hand when he assumed his throne in the Kingdom of God, and the other ten apostles were angry with them.”
“Poor deluded Galilean peasants,” Josephus remarked. “They believe their crazy leader is going to take over the Temple, overthrow the power of Rome, and that they are all going to live and squabble forever.”
“They came to Jericho. Where is that?”
“A town in Judea about twenty miles east of Jerusalem.”
“When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives - Where are these places?”
“Bethphage and Bethany are about four miles east of Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives is a hill between these two small villages and Jerusalem.”
“Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, why are you doing this? Just say this, The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately’ They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it and he sat on it. What are all these mysterious details about?”
“I don’t really know,” Josephus replied. “And I have the impression that Jesus’ disciples and the author of this script don’t know either. Jesus has apparently made some secret arrangements without telling his followers. I suspect that he is in contact with some secret supporters in Jerusalem itself who provided the mysterious colt.”
“Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna, Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David. Hosanna in the highest heaven’.”
“Well, this is clear beyond any doubt,” Josephus said. “If you have read the prophet Zechariah you will recognize at once that by this symbolic act Jesus has assumed the role of the Messiah of Israel.”
“Then he entered Jerusalem - ”
“Does it say by what gate? Josephus interrupted.
“If Jesus and his procession went in through the gates to the north or south of the Temple they would have had to make their way through the city streets before entering the Temple enclosure. If they entered through the Golden Gate in the east wall, through Solomon’s Portico, they would have entered directly into the Temple area.”
“This would have been a direct public challenge to the Temple authorities. The High Priest would have seen at once that this was no peaceful demonstration by a meek Messiah mounted on a humble donkey. It was a triumphal entry like that of Simon Maccabeus two centuries ago, when he led his men into the holy city and purged the citadel of its pollutions, with praise and palm branches, and with harps and with cymbals and with viols and with hymns and with songs.”
“Let us assume it was the Golden Gate,” Polykrates said, “because it says that ‘Jesus went into the Temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.’ I do not really understand this lack of action. A dramatist would call it an anticlimax.”
“It is understandable enough,” Josephus said. “You must remember that just before the Passover festival Jerusalem was teeming with Jewish pilgrims from all over the world. There would have been thousands of them in the Temple grounds, all agog at this dramatic entrance of a would-be Messiah and his followers. But Jesus was absolutely unknown to them. They were not ready to follow him until they had learned something about him.”
“On the following day,” Polykrates noted, “when they came from Bethany, Jesus went to pick some fruit from a fig tree, but it had no fruit. Jesus cursed the tree and it withered that same day. What is the significance of this?”
“The withering of the wicked is frequently cited in our holy books as a demonstration of God’s power to punish,” Josephus said. “The incident is intended to show that Jesus could act with the power of God.”
“Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the Temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the Temple, and he overthrew the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves. And he would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the Temple courts. And as he taught them he said, ‘Is it not written My House will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers’.”
“So there is your climax,” Josephus said, “the final confrontation with the Temple authorities, the holy of holies of the Jews.”
“Was it a den of robbers?” Polykrates asked.
“No,” Josephus asserted. “That was all legitimate trade, controlled by the High Priest. Pious Jews who made offerings of money could not present coins with forbidden images on them such as Caesar’s head. They had to exchange them for acceptable Temple coins. So they needed the services of moneychangers.”
“And the other traders?”
“They sold sacrificial animals. To women giving thanks to God, for example, with the sacrifice of a dove in gratitude for the birth of a son. It was all legitimate Temple business. Nobody had ever questioned it before.”
“And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.”
“There may have been another reason for their hesitation,” Josephus said.
“And what was that?”
“If Jesus was taking such violent action, his followers may have been armed,” Josephus said. “Anyway, Jesus had achieved his purpose. He had gained the attention of the crowd in the Temple and gathered a lot of support.”
“And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.”
“But evidently the time was not yet ripe to gain control of the Temple,” Josephus added.
“However, Jesus and his followers were numerous enough or strong enough to avoid being arrested by the Temple police,” Polykrates noted. “Jesus caused that violent disturbance and then apparently retained control of the Temple courts, or at least remained unmolested for that entire day.”
“The following day,” he continued, “again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the Temple, the chief priests, the scribes and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?’”
“I would have asked him that question myself,” Josephus commented.
“And Jesus counters with a question of his own: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or from men? Answer me.”
“A shrewd blow,” Josephus said. “Unlike Jesus, John was well known and much loved by many in Jerusalem. Once again, Jesus was wrapping himself in the mantle of John.”
“And to good effect,” Polykrates said. “The Temple authorities did not dare say that John’s authority was not divine, for ‘they feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.”
“Some at least did,” Josephus conceded. “Enough so that the priests feared a riot if they arrested Jesus.”
“And then Jesus went on preaching to the crowd,” Polykrates added, glancing down the lines of text. “Mostly in parables hostile to the Temple authorities. In one parable he compares God to the owner of a vineyard and himself to the vineyard owner’s son who is murdered by the tenants – obviously his meaning is himself as the son and the tenants of the Temple as the murderers. ‘What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
“So God will come and kill the priests and give the Temple to others. The Son of God is threatening them with the wrath of God,” Josephus said. “Jesus can really expect no mercy from them after this.”
“But the priests are still unable to retaliate,” Polykrates said. “They wanted to arrest him but they feared the crowd.’ So they try instead to trap him into making treasonous statements against Rome. Then the Romans will arrest him. They ask whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Rome. If he says no he commits treason, and if he says yes he loses the sympathy of the crowd.”
“But he manages to wriggle out of that dilemma like the best of your Greek sophists,” Josephus commented.
“And the large crowd was listening to him with delight,” Polykrates quoted from the text. “Then, “As he was leaving the Temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look Teacher, what massive stones, what magnificent buildings.’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down’.”
“He has already threatened the priests with God’s wrath. Now he is threatening the Temple itself with destruction,” Josephus commented. “One threat seems to follow from the other. There is no forgiveness for him now.”
“Or perhaps,” Polykrates said, “the author of this text, writing years later, in our own times, and knowing that the Temple is already destroyed, is trying to put supposedly prophetic words into the mouth of Jesus after the event.”
“Why do you say that?” Josephus said. “To absolve Jesus of blame?”
“Because the inference seems just as reasonable as yours,” Polykrates replied, “and because the text now goes on for page after page with Jesus predicting troubles and sorrows for his followers that have in fact come about under Nero and the other emperors, but that Jesus could not have known about at that time. I suspect Mark inserted all these prophecies to comfort the Christians of his own time in their tribulations.”
“No doubt he puts words into the mouth of Jesus when it suits him,” Josephus conceded. “There is, I would say, a great deal of fantasy and fiction in this whole account. After all, I have been intimately involved in the life and struggles of Judea since my early youth. How is it that I have never heard of the events recounted here?”
“It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread,” Polykrates continued. “The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said,’ Not during the festival, or the people may riot.’ Being a Greek I know little about Jewish religion. Tell me again, what exactly is this Passover festival of yours?”
“It is one of the three great festivals of the Jewish year,” Josephus said. “It commemorates our liberation from Egyptian bondage - ”
“And so reminded Jews of their present bondage to the Romans?” Polykrates said.
“Yes,” Josephus said. “At Passover the whole city was a seething mass of religious passion. It needed only a spark to ignite the conflagration. Jerusalem could accommodate three hundred to four hundred thousand pilgrims from all over the world. Some lodged with householders in the city. Others camped out in nearby villages, as Jesus and his Galilean followers did in Bethany. Many pitched tents outside the city walls.”
“What time of the year was this?”
“Spring. The Passover feast is on the fourteenth day of Nissan. It lasts one day. The festival of unleavened bread lasts the next seven days from 15 to 21 Nissan. In fact, the pilgrims start arriving a week early, about 8 Nissan, because a week of ritual purification is required before they enter the Temple. They are sprinkled with water and the ashes of a red heifer.”
“While Jesus and his disciples are at Bethany,” Polykrates went on, “Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. Why?”
Josephus shrugged. “Perhaps Judas was the first to see that Jesus and his movement were doomed.”
“On the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed - When is that?”
“That would be Thursday 14 Nissan,” Josephus replied. “On that afternoon one member of every pilgrim party takes - took - a lamb to the Temple. There it was sacrificed, flayed and gutted. The pilgrim then brought it back and it was roasted whole for the Passover meal that evening.”
“Now we have more mysterious details,” Polykrates said. “Jesus sent two of his disciples, telling them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, The Teacher asks: where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples? He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready’.”
“Once again,” Josephus said, “it seems to me that Jesus is in secret communication with someone or some group in the city. Not even his disciples know what is going on. Jesus is planning something that his disciples do not understand or even know about.”
“But Jesus does know what Judas is up to,” Polykrates said, “because he announces now at the Passover meal that one of the Twelve will betray him.”
“Perhaps one of his secret supporters in Jerusalem had informed him that Judas had been in contact with the Temple priests.”
“But it was dangerous for Jesus to be in Jerusalem with only twelve companions,” Polykrates said. “Why did he leave the relative safety of Bethany, amid his supporters, and enter the city in the midst of his enemies to celebrate the Passover?”
“Because he had to,” Josephus replied. The Passover lamb had to be eaten within the confines of the city, which actually extended beyond the city walls. But Bethany was outside the permitted area. The punishment for trying to celebrate the meal out of the city was a beating of forty strokes.”
“What about the other followers of Jesus then?” Polykrates asked. “He appears to have come down from Galilee accompanied by scores or perhaps even hundreds of followers.”
“There would have been thousands of pilgrims from Galilee,” Josephus said. “The followers of Jesus as well as the usual contingent of Passover travelers who were not his followers. The partisans of Jesus may have joined the other Galilean pilgrims perhaps, or come closer to the city where they could lawfully eat their Passover meal on the Mount of Olives or in the Kidron valley.”
“While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured for many.’ What is the meaning of this ceremony?”
Josephus uttered an oath in Aramaic. “It is a parody, a vile travesty of one of our most sacred ceremonies,’ he said angrily. “Jesus is substituting himself for the Passover lamb. He is going back to the dark days of human sacrifice. Did he never hear how Abraham spared his son Isaac from the sacrificial knife at God’s command?”
“To me it sounds like a ritual from one of our Salvation cults,” Polykrates said. “The worshipers of the goddess Cybele, for example. The body and blood of her beloved Attis are symbolically devoured by her idolaters and the believers thus become one body with the deity - ”
“Yes, of course,” Josephus exclaimed. “These filthy pagan idolaters of Cybele slash their arms and drink their own blood in their religious frenzy, then they castrate themselves at the end of the procession and dedicate their lives as eunuch priests to the goddess. A Greek perversion of our Jewish religion - that is what is being described here. Ask one of your pagan friends at that Christian meetinghouse which of them invented this ceremony. No Jew would think of drinking blood, let alone human blood. If any of Jesus’ disciples had been truly a Jew he would have vomited or walked out into the night rather than take part in such a rite.”
“So explain to me as an ignorant Greek pagan then’” Polykrates said, “the true and pure meaning of the Passover meal to you Jews.”
“It is a commemoration of the meal before the flight from Egypt,” Josephus said.
“Jesus seems to be expecting something more apocalyptic than the flight from Egypt,” Polykrates said, because he now says, ‘Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’.”
“The new wine theme again.” Josephus commented, “and now evidently Jesus believes he is on the very doorstep of the kingdom of God and the divine wine is very close to his lips.”
“When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. What is this hymn?”
“The Hallel,” Josephus replied. “It comes from the psalms that celebrate the deliverance of the Jews from the Egyptians and give thanks to a merciful providence. The words are “I love the Lord because He has heard my voice and my supplications. The cords of death compassed me and the pains of Sheol got hold of me. I found trouble and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord.”
“Why did they go to the Mount of Olives so late at night?” Polykrates said.
Josephus shrugged his shoulders. “I really do not know,” he admitted. “If they were returning to Bethany they would have gone that way. I suppose they were fleeing from the city because Judas had betrayed their presence. But evidently Judas must have known where they were going because later that night he found them there.”
“They went to a place called Gethsemane - where is that?”
“It is a garden with a grotto on the slope of the Mount of Olives facing the city.”
“Jesus is now ‘distressed and agitated.’ He takes Peter, James and John apart with him and says ‘my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’ Why?”
Josephus shrugged and shook his head helplessly.
“Jesus now goes off by himself a little way and prays to God that if possible the hour might pass from him. He returns to his disciples and finds them sleeping - “
“Not surprising,’ Josephus commented. “If theirs had indeed been a real Passover meal they would have been obliged to drink the four cups of wine demanded by the Passover ritual. They would have been drowsy.”
“Jesus then goes apart by himself again and prays once more in the same words.”
“If he is apart from his disciples and then they are sleeping, how could any of them have known what he was saying?” Josephus objected. “Who was the witness who reported these words? According to this account there was no witness.”
Polykrates nodded. “You are beginning to think like a Greek philosopher,” he said approvingly. “Now Judas appears on the scene accompanied by a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders. Judas identifies Jesus by kissing him.”
“So it seems that Jesus was not well known enough to these men for them to recognize him without help,” Josephus commented.
“The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.”
“So the followers of Jesus were armed,” Josephus observed. “I told you they were men of violence.”
“Only one of them had a sword,” Jesus corrected him.
“And was willing to use it,” Josephus added.
“But Jesus put a stop to the resistance immediately. ‘Am I leading a rebellion,’ said Jesus, ‘that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the Temple courts, and you did not arrest me’ - ”
“Something is amiss here,” Josephus interrupted, shaking his head. “If they had seen him every day in the Temple why were they unable to recognize him without the assistance of Judas?”
“Then everyone deserted him and fled,” Polykrates continued.
“A sorry bunch,” Josephus remarked.
“If your leader forbids you to resist, what else can you do but flee?” Polykrates rejoined. “And now,” he said, returning to the text, “we come to a truly bizarre incident. A young man was following Jesus, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. Who was this young man? What was he doing out on the Mount of Olives naked but for a linen cloth? Why was he the only one who didn’t flee but rather tried to follow the captive Jesus?”
Josephus leaned back on his couch and regarded Polykrates sardonically. “You expect me to explain this to you in terms of Jewish behavior?” he said. “You would do better to ask a madman what lunatics do in a madhouse. Or better yet, ask some adept of one of your Greek mystery religions what it is they do in their secret nocturnal rituals.”
“A secret rite?” Polykrates repeated, seizing on the phrase. “Could this be possible? But what ritual could they have planned on a night like this, of all nights?”
“Let me think, my Greek philosopher friend,” Josephus said with mock seriousness. “How crazy can these Jesus people be? How about this? Jesus had appointed his twelve apostles as leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. But Judas had defected and there were now only eleven. So Judas had to be replaced in order to inaugurate the Kingdom of God with all tribal leaders present and correct. In due ceremony of course, at a midnight baptism, in ritual attire, a linen cloth over a naked body. So then, instead of praying on his own, what Jesus had been doing while his disciples slept was baptizing his new candidate into the apostleship. The ceremony was interrupted midway by the arrival of Judas and the High Priest’s men.”
“Where is the proof of that?” Polykrates objected. “By your tone of voice you are making a joke of this.”
“Where is the proof that Jesus was praying?” Josephus retorted. “There was no witness.”
Polykrates shook his head angrily. “I am making a serious inquiry,” he said. “And you are making a mockery of it.”
Josephus shrugged indifferently. “You will have to agree with me,” he said, “that the Temple authorities did not take it very seriously either. The arresting party made no attempt to capture or detain any of the apostles. They just let them run away into the night. So, if it was an armed rebellion it was not a dangerous one. It was beneath contempt. The authorities just wanted to arrest the crazy preacher himself.”
“They took Jesus to the High Priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled.”
“On the eve of Passover?” Josephus interrupted incredulously. “A formal meeting of the Sanhedrin? Convoked overnight? With the High Priest himself presiding over it? Such a proceeding is not only illegal. It is impossible. It could never have taken place”
“Perhaps it was some summary proceeding then, to consider an emergency situation, a breach of the public peace?” Polykrates suggested.
“Perhaps,” Josephus said, “but unfortunately for your investigation, nothing that would justify any formal written record of the proceedings.”
“Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree - ”
“And where did they round up so many witnesses in the middle of the night?” Josephus said sarcastically.
“Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, I will destroy this temple –‘ ”
“Well, according to this very evangelion,” Josephus interrupted, “Jesus had indeed said that not one stone will be left here upon another. And he had also threatened the Temple authorities with the wrath of God.”
“Then the High Priests stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? … Are you the Messiah? The Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming out of the clouds of heaven.’ Then the High Priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What is your decision?’ All of them condemned him as deserving death.”
“Blasphemy? The High Priest said blasphemy? I do not believe it,” Josephus objected. “As I told you when we began, there was no blasphemy in Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. As for being the Son of the Blessed one - ”
“But it was blasphemy,” Polykrates interrupted him.
Josephus gave him a questioning look.
“Not against your Jewish god,” Polykrates said. “Blasphemy against the Roman god. By admitting that he was the Messiah, the rightful king of Israel, Jesus was blaspheming against the divine majesty of the Emperor Tiberius. He was guilty of laesa maiestas, violation of the divine authority of Caesar. You told me, did you not? that Caiaphas the High Priest had collaborated closely for many years with the procurator Pontius Pilate. Caiaphas knew very well how to influence the procurator’s judgment.”
Josephus looked at him admiringly. “For a Greek dog you have a remarkably sensitive nose,” he said. “You can follow the twists and turns of political intrigue in the High Priest’s mind.”
Polykrates smiled and gave a slight bow of appreciation. “To understand the mind of a barbarian one must think like a barbarian,” he said.
“And that is something our Roman masters have no wit for,” Josephus said ruefully.
“Some began to spit on him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards took him and beat him.”
Josephus shook his head in disbelief. “Believe me,” he said, “nothing like this ever disgraced the dignity of a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Jewish Law. Perhaps something like this shameful behavior might have happened at a summary meeting hurriedly called in the barracks guardroom in the middle of the night. And you just accused me of making a mockery of Jesus’s arrest. What greater mockery could there be than what you have just read out, written by the Christians themselves?”
“Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. Where in Jerusalem did Pilate have his headquarters?”
“He didn’t,” Josephus said. “The Procurator - or the Prefect as he was then called - governed Judea from Caesarea Maritima on the coast of the Mediterranean.”
“Then why was Pilate so conveniently available in Jerusalem?” Polykrates asked.
“Because it was the Passover of course,” Josephus said. “For the Roman authorities the Passover was always the most incendiary of all our festivals. With thousands of pilgrims milling about in Jerusalem the city was like a tinderbox waiting for a spark. The procurator knew that if there was to be a Jewish uprising it would almost certainly break out at Passover.”
“And where would Pilate have set up his temporary headquarters in Jerusalem?” Polykrates asked.
“In the Fortress Antonia. It overlooks the Temple and is connected to it by stairways and tunnels. Antonia gave the Roman garrison instant access to the Temple courts in case of trouble.”
“So Pilate would have been in Jerusalem watching the situation from the Fortress Antonia throughout the whole week before Passover?” Polykrates asked.
“Most likely. He would probably have reinforced the Roman garrison too. There was normally a cohort of six hundred men stationed in the Antonia.”
“Therefore Pilate would have been aware of any seditious activities of Jesus and his followers in the previous few days? He would have known about the violent attack on the moneychangers and traders in the Temple courts? And any other disturbances caused by them?”
“Yes. Caused by them or by any other unruly elements in the city,” Josephus said. “He would have been watching them all. He would not have been doing his duty otherwise. He was the Roman governor and he had to keep order. If he did not he would answer to Caesar for it.”
“Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?”
“That was the crucial question, of course. If Jesus said he was, then he was a rebel against the Roman Emperor and the penalty was death by crucifixion.”
“Jesus answered him, You say so.”
“Playing the Greek sophist again,” Josephus observed, “juggling with words.”
“Then the chief priests accused him of many things…but Jesus still made no reply.”
“His safest course, obviously,” Josephus said.
“Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested - ”
“I have never heard of any such custom,” Josephus interrupted, “and least of all would I have expected such a gesture from Pontius Pilate. He was one of the most brutal and callous in a long succession of brutal and callous procurators.”
“Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection - ”
“Stop right there,” Josephus interrupted, leaning forward with sudden interest. “During the insurrection it says. So there had been an insurrection. There had been an armed uprising. It had been repressed, obviously. There were rebels in prison. They had committed murder - presumably had killed Roman soldiers. Barabbas and other rebels had been captured. But this evangelion of yours mentions all this merely in passing as though it had no further importance. In fact these few words seem to have slipped through by accident. The writer evidently wants to suppress any further information about all this violence in the very days that Jesus was arrested.”
“The question then is Why?” Polykrates said.
“I would suspect,” Josephus replied, “that it is because the author of this tract does not want to give the slightest hint of any violence or any anti-Roman activities on the part of Jesus and his followers. He is writing for Christians in Rome - the very ones you met - and wants to distance the Jesus movement from the rebellion that has made the Jews so unpopular in Rome in the past six years.”
“Yes,” Polykrates said, “but there was an insurrection. And if there was, then you as a historian must have some knowledge of it. What was this insurrection?”
Josephus pondered the matter. “It must have been the matter of Pilate and the aqueduct,” he said finally. “It happened about that time.”
“Why would anyone rise in arms about an aqueduct?” Polykrates said.
“Pilate had a genius for provoking the Jews,” Josephus replied. “He wanted to improve the city’s water supply, and nobody would have objected to that. But in his usual high-handed way he seized sacred Temple funds to pay for the works. This was money dedicated to God, not to Roman waterworks. Jerusalem was in an uproar at the sacrilege. Thousands of people gathered in protest meetings. But Pilate paid no attention to the popular clamor. When a crowd gathered to urge him to retract his decision, Pilate had his soldiers surround them, disguised as civilians. They had their weapons hidden in their clothing. When Pilate gave the signal his men fell on the protesters and clubbed everybody right and left. Scores of people were killed, including innocent bystanders.”
“But Barabbas and his men fought back,” Polykrates said.
“Evidently,” Josephus said, “but I do not recall the name Barabbas.”
“And what of Jesus and his followers?”
“Either they took part in the fight together with Barabbas and his rebels or they had the misfortune to be caught up in the tumult.”
“Which do you think?” Polykrates asked.
“Did I not tell you that Jesus had violent men among his followers?” Josephus replied.
“And did you not also ridicule the apostles of Jesus because they all ran away?” Polykrates retorted. “And because the Temple guards did not even bother to detain them when they arrested Jesus?”
Josephus shook his head dubiously. “None of this makes much sense,” he admitted at last. “Too many facts have been suppressed from this account to arrive at the truth.”
“So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Pilate asked if they wanted him to release Jesus, but they wanted Barabbas.”
“Yes, of course,” Josephus said. “If Barabbas had led an armed insurrection against the Romans he would have been a great hero to the Jewish crowd.”
“But Pilate would have wanted to crucify him.”
“Then why did Pilate give way to them and release Barabbas instead of Jesus? He was the Roman procurator. His word was law. He could impose his will on all of them.”
“Certainly,” Josephus said. “But Pilate must have been in a very weak position at the time. He had provoked the Jews by bringing the legions’ pagan standards into Jerusalem a short while before. He had now illegally used Temple money to build his aqueduct, provoking a riot in which Jewish protesters had been killed. As a result of all his high-handedness there had been complaints against him in Rome. Tiberius Caesar might well recall him for misconduct. And Caiaphas the High Priest knew all this.”
“I still do not see why Pilate would want to favor Jesus,” Polykrates insisted.
“If Jesus was innocent and Pilate crucified him, the Procurator could be denounced again in complaints to Rome for violating the rights not only of a Jew but also of a subject of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. Pilate was already in trouble with Antipas for killing Galileans in the protest over the aqueduct. And Herod Antipas was well connected at the court of Tiberius. So Pilate was probably reluctant to punish Jesus.”
”And if he released Jesus?” Polykrates said.
“Caiaphas could have denounced him to Tiberius for releasing a man who had blasphemed against the Emperor by claiming to be the rightful king of the Jews. Pilate had worked hand in glove with Caiaphas for ten years but this was a risk he could not take.”
“So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them, and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.”
Josephus shook his head dubiously. “There is more than meets the eye here,” he said. “I doubt that Pilate ever released Barabbas. Not unless the High Priest had some powerful means of compulsion over him. Pilate was one of the worst and most tyrannical procurators we ever had in Judea. He did not release prisoners.”
“Then the soldiers led Jesus into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the praetorium) and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him And they began saluting him, ‘Hail King of the Jews.’ They struck his head with a staff, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him.”
Josephus held his head in his hands. “And this,” he said, “this pitiable figure of fun is supposed to be the Messiah of Israel.”
“After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross. It was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Cyrene is in Africa?”
“Yes. Simon must have been a North African Jew in Jerusalem for the Passover.”
“I must try to find Alexander and Rufus,” Polykrates said. “It seems from this reference that they are well-known members of the Christian community.”
“Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha,” Polykrates continued reading, “which means the place of a skull. And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was the third hour when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, The King of the Jews. And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.”
“Two bandits,” Josephus remarked. “In other words two leaders of the insurrection, with the chief bandit, the king of the Jews, in the middle.”
“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So, you who are going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself and come down from the cross.’ But surely, if Jesus had been a rebel against the Romans he would have been a hero to the Jewish passers by.”
“Not if he was a blasphemer against God and had made threats against the Temple, and had caused a riot in the Temple,” Josephus said.
“At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
“The sun stood still for Joshua,” Josephus said. “I doubt that it simply vanished for three hours for Jesus”
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ Which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
“That,” Josephus said, “is given in the original Aramaic and it has the ring of truth to it.”
“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!”
“So God is punishing the Jews and converting the Romans, or so the writer of this evangelion would have us believe,” Josephus said.
“Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.’ Tell me Josephus, if Jesus had contemplated a violent attack on the Temple, would he have brought so many women with him to Jerusalem?”
“Perhaps he knew that they would be faithful to the end,” Josephus replied, “which is more than you can say for his male followers.”
“It was Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath. So, as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Who was this Joseph of Arimathea?”
“I don’t recognize the name,” Josephus said. “Evidently a secret supporter of Jesus in the Sanhedrin. And so, perhaps an explanation for those mysterious incidents of the tethered colt and the man with the water jar. He may have been the Jewish official in charge of burying the bodies of condemned criminals.”
“And where is Arimathea?” Polykrates said.
“As far as I know, there is no such place in Judea,” Josephus replied, “unless the name is a corruption of Ramatha, the birthplace of the Prophet Samuel. Or unless – “
“Unless what?” Polykrates said.
“Unless…” Josephus said with a sly smile. “Let us suppose,” he began again, “that Mark, the author of this evangelion, found it necessary to get around the awkward fact that under usual procedure crucified criminals are not buried at all. They are left on the cross to rot, for the crows and the wild dogs to devour. So Mark had to find a plausible way of burying Jesus. He then invents a wealthy and influential secret patron or supporter, who would of course have to have access to the Procurator, and who would also be the owner of a convenient tomb nearby. Mark invents this rescuer, and then he has to give this man a name. But Mark is not a Jew, and he does not know much about Jewish names. So he seizes on the name of the most prominent and notorious Jew of this time and age.”
“Who is?” Polykrates asked ironically.
“In Rome, it is Josephus ben Matthias,” Josephus said. “In Greek, Josepou Matthias. Does that not sound suspiciously like Joseph apo Arimathias to you?”
Polykrates laughed. “So Josephus is not only the Jeremiah of our times,” he said. “He is also the inspiration for the fictional person who rescued Jesus from the cross.”
Josephus shrugged. “You are a Greek philosopher,” he said. “Should you not consider every possibility?”
“Let us consider the possibility that by some means, contrary to Roman penal practice, Jesus was buried,” Polykrates replied. “Where would that be?”
“There are two burial places in Jerusalem for executed felons,” Josephus said. “One for those beheaded and strangled, the other for those stoned and burned.”
“What about those who are crucified?” Polykrates said. “Are they not dumped somewhere when the crosses are taken down?”
“Under Jewish law they would be, but crucifixion, as you know, is a Roman, not a Jewish punishment,” Josephus said. “The crucified were always left there to rot indefinitely. You must have seen the crucifixion ground on the Campus Esquilinus here in Rome. Golgotha was much the same - rows of permanent upright poles, bodies hanging from the crossbars that the condemned criminals themselves carried there. You have the smell of sweat, blood, urine, feces, rotting flesh; clouds of flies, packs of dogs, flocks of crows pecking at the corpses. It is an essential part of the Roman punishment to refuse burial to the crucified.”
“Then Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead he granted the body to Joseph.’ You know, there is a very curious detail here.”
“That Pilate gave the body to Joseph?” Josephus said. “That is indeed strange. Unbelievable I would say.”
“No, I mean before that,” Polykrates replied. “There is a certain nuance in the Greek words. The writer is such a bad writer of Greek that he is probably unaware of its significance. Joseph asks Pilate for the soma - the body, possibly the living body, of Jesus. Pilate grants him the ptoma - the dead body, the corpse. Did Joseph believe, or perhaps know, that Jesus was still living? Was there any chance that Jesus was alive when he came down from the cross? The Christians I met the other day believe most fervently that he died and then was resurrected. But perhaps he did not die on the cross. Is it possible for a man to survive crucifixion?”
“Yes,” Josephus replied, “if he is taken down soon enough. The wounds, after all, are not mortal - nails through the wrists and feet. And in this case Pilate himself was surprised that Jesus was dead in such a short while. That is a suspicious detail.”
“Do you know of anyone coming down from the cross alive?”
“Yes, I do,” Josephus said. “I know of three. During the war in Judea Titus sent me with Vettulenius Cerealis and an advance guard of a thousand men to a village called Thecoa to set up camp. On the way there we saw a row of crucified Jewish prisoners. I recognized three of them as my friends and begged Titus to spare them. He had them taken down at once and handed over to the army doctors for medical attention.”
“Did they survive?” Polykrates asked.
“One did. The other two were too far gone and could not be saved.”
“How long had they been on the cross?”
“From morning to late afternoon,” Josephus said.
Polykrates consulted the text. “Jesus was nailed to his cross at the third hour and died at the ninth hour - six hours altogether. And Pilate was surprised that he should have died so soon.”
“Most of the crucified Jews I saw before the walls of Jerusalem took several days to die,” Josephus said.
“So he could have survived,” Polykrates said.
“He was on the cross for a shorter time than my three friends,” Josephus said.
“Perhaps not,” Polykrates replied. “To the six hours you would have to add the time it took for Joseph of Arimathea to go from Golgotha to the Fortress Antonia, speak to Pilate and return to Golgotha. In between you would have to allow time for Pilate’s messenger to go to the centurion who was guarding the cross and return. But perhaps the centurion accompanied Joseph of Arimathea from Golgotha. How far is it to the Antonia?”
“About half an hour’s walk perhaps.”
“So: add an extra one or two hours for the comings and goings, plus another hour for Joseph’s audience with Pilate. Say two to three hours. Jesus was on the cross for perhaps eight or nine hours.”
“And may have come down alive,” Josephus said.
“With about one chance in three that he survived the shock, if we are to go by the experience of your three friends,” Polykrates concluded.
“Or perhaps there is another calculation to be made,” Josephus suggested with another sly smile.
Polykrates looked at him questioningly.
“When - after beseeching the Roman commander just like Joseph of Arimathea did - I had those three Jews taken down from the cross at Thecoa,” Josephus said, “the Roman lower ranks considered it to be quite a remarkable event. It was a unique event, I would say, in the entire Jewish war. They were the only three Jews ever saved from crucifixion. Two died and one lived. It was the subject of much comment in the legions’ ranks. Some soldier back in Rome might well have told the tale at some Christian gathering about that one lucky Jew.”
“And it came to the ears of Mark?” Polykrates said. “Well, that is not too far-fetched, I grant you.”
He continued reading: “Then Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.’ Where would that tomb have been?”
“Probably close to the place of crucifixion,” Josephus said. “Golgotha was the site of a disused quarry taken over many years ago for burial purposes.”
“Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. When the Sabbath was over’ - why did they let a day go by?”
“It is forbidden to touch a dead body on the Sabbath,” Josephus said.
“Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body’ - Evidently the women were expecting to find a dead body, not a living man, if they had made such preparations. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they went to the tomb. There they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. By whom?”
“I think that must be obvious,” Josephus said. “By the mysterious Joseph of Arimathea.”
“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side. Who was he?”
“Presumably an accomplice of Joseph of Arimathea,” Josephus said.
“Don’t be alarmed, he said. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
“The young man knew about the disciples, he knew about Peter,” Josephus commented, “so he had some close connection to the followers of Jesus. And he said they were to follow Jesus back to Galilee. If Jesus came down alive from that cross, where would he go?”
“Back to Galilee,’ Polykrates said, “where he would be out of the jurisdiction of the Roman procurator who had sentenced him to death.’
“So Jesus came down alive from the cross,” Josephus concluded.
“No,” Polykrates objected. “Not necessarily. There is not enough evidence for that conclusion. There is too much that remains unknown here. To begin with, who was that young man in the tomb? There is really no proof of any connection with Joseph of Arimathea.”
“Perhaps the mysterious young man in the linen cloth who fled naked from Gethsemane,” Josephus suggested.
“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
“Well now, we are told that Jesus had disappeared from his tomb, therefore he had risen from the dead,” Josephus said, “and the testimony for this is the word of three women who were afraid to tell anyone what they had seen. We have the word of three frightened women who were all desperately eager to believe that Jesus was really not dead. Even if they did speak, are you aware that women are not even allowed to testify in Jewish law courts? So what is their testimony worth?”
“To me it is worth a great deal,” Polykrates replied. “As you said earlier about the last despairing words of Jesus on the cross, it has the ring of truth to it. If the writer of this evangelion had wanted to lie he would have invented some impressive and unimpeachable witnesses. But instead he gives us three terrified women. Why? I think probably because it happened that way. The little, humble truth impresses me more than the grand, vainglorious truth.”
Josephus raised his hands in a gesture of exasperation. “And I suppose you also believe the mysterious young man who said Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee,” he said. “They all planned to go home again and meet in Galilee. As I told you, I was the Jewish military commander in Galilee and I never met anyone who had ever claimed to have seen Jesus in Galilee again.”
“Of course not,” Polykrates retorted. “Put yourself in his position. If you had been crucified, but by some incredible stroke of luck had survived, would you have appeared in public again so that the Romans could crucify you once more? Or would you have lain low and lived out the rest of your life in secrecy?”
“You mean Jesus may have lived on for years in hiding in Galilee? May still be living there today under some other name?” Josephus said.
“It seems a possibility,” Polykrates replied. “Although a remote one.”
“Because only one of my three friends survived? And so he probably died also, like the other two?” Josephus said.
“No,” Polykrates replied, “not only that. Because of his followers - his disciples then and his followers today nearly four decades later. They are all fervent believers in his real death and real resurrection.”
“And so?” Josephus said.
“And so I arrive at this conclusion: if he did not actually die on the cross, that fact was and remains unknown to his believers. If they did know that his death was only fictitious - if they knew that he had been skulking for years incognito in Galilee - such a fraudulent situation would not have inspired such fervent belief.”
Josephus shook his head admiringly. “You Greeks have an explanation for everything,” he said. “But suppose that the disciples never discovered that Jesus had survived his crucifixion. He just slunk off and never reappeared to anyone who had known him before.”
“To make people believe that he had died and had been gathered up into heaven?” Polykrates said. “It has been done. The philosopher Empedocles threw himself down the crater of Mount Etna with that end in view. Unfortunately there was a small eruption and the volcano gently wafted his charred hat down into the city below. But if that is what Jesus did he could not have returned to Galilee, where he was well known. Where would he have gone?”
Josephus gave the matter some thought. “Probably to the Essenes at Qumran,” he said. “They are a reclusive and secretive society and if he had threatened to destroy the Temple they might have welcomed him. They believed the Temple was corrupted and forsaken of God.”
“Perhaps to Samaria,” Josephus said. “The Samaritans too hated the Jerusalem Temple as an unholy place. They had their own temple on Mount Gerizim, which had been destroyed many years ago. In fact, shortly after the matter of the aqueduct, Pilate ordered that massacre of the Samaritans at Tirathaba on Mount Gerizim.”
“And this was shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus?” Polykrates said.
“Yes, perhaps a few months or a year later. A Samaritan holy man said he knew where the sacred vessels of Moses were hidden on the mountain. A huge crowd of Samaritans gathered, Pilate sent troops to disperse them and many were killed.”
“Could that holy man have been Jesus?” Polykrates asked.
“That seems a fanciful idea,” Josephus replied. “Jesus was a Jew. Samaritans and Jews do not mix. Anyway it was Pilate’s last atrocity as procurator. The Samaritans complained to Vitellius, the governor of Syria, and Vitellius finally sent Pilate back to Rome in disgrace.”
Josephus looked at Polykrates sardonically. “And so,” he said, “the tale is ended. Jesus may have come down alive from the cross. He may have lived on for years in Galilee. He may still be alive, an old man of seventy or eighty, still hiding from the Roman crucifixion squad. What does it matter? It is all irrelevant to anything. Nobody in Judea cares what happened to him, whether he lived or died. Now, is there anything further you want to know?” he asked indifferently.
“Yes,” Polykrates said. “Why are you so prejudiced against these followers of Jesus?” He tossed the codex down on the table between them. “There is a tone of unrelenting hostility in every comment you make about this document. Why?”
“Why?” Josephus repeated angrily. “Let me tell you why.”
Polykrates saw that his question had struck home like a fist to the belly in a pankration contest, for once again Josephus had been shaken out of his attitude of cool disdain and his words betrayed a violent agitation.
“I detest these followers of Jesus. They are misguided God-fearers, pagan hangers-on who have twisted our Jewish beliefs into a travesty of God’s holy word. If there are still any Jews left among them then they are even worse than their pagan accomplices, who have at least the excuse of ignorance.”
“What is it in particular that you dislike?”
“I repudiate their blasphemous claim that their leader was the Messiah. The Messiah was and is the great hope of Israel. How could the Messiah have come and died like a common criminal? God would not have permitted such a monstrosity. If the Messiah has come and gone then every Jew in the world is left to live on without hope. We might as well all die.”
“But how can you prove that Jesus was not your Messiah?” Polykrates insisted.
“He was not because this document is obviously absurd,” Josephus exclaimed, picking up the codex. “In the books of Moses it is written that a man who hangs on a tree, as Jesus did, is accursed of God. And even if Jesus did rise from the dead, as these so-called Christians claim, what does that prove? He would not be the only one to have entered heaven while still alive. Enoch, Eliezer, Methuselah, Hiram of Tyre, the three sons of Korah, the prophet Elijah, they all entered paradise while still alive.”
“And you have proof for all of them?” Polykrates said skeptically.
“Better proof than there is for Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus defies belief. His very burial is subject to suspicion. As you well know, the Romans never allow proper interment to crucified criminals. They are left on the cross to rot.”
There were eyewitnesses,” Polykrates persisted. “They saw that the tomb of Jesus was empty. His body had gone.”
“Eyewitnesses,” Josephus snorted. “Three crazy women. You know what their testimony is worth. Nothing. This document is pathetic evidence of a pathetic story about a pathetic little man.”
“And yet,” Polykrates said, half to himself, picking up the codex again, “I do not see it that way. Despite all its naïve simplicity of outlook, regardless of its primitive and unidiomatic Greek, this story has a certain unaccountable dignity. Do you know how the Iliad ends?” he said suddenly to Josephus.
“It concludes with the burial of Hector, the Trojan hero. Hector’s father, King Priam of Troy, has to humble himself with abject pleas to induce Achilles and the Greeks to hand over the body of the slain Hector for honorable burial by his own people. There is a funeral pyre and a splendid feast in Hector’s honor. The story of the Iliad ends with the laments of Andromache, Hecuba and Helen, the three women closest to Hector.”
“And you are trying to make some ridiculous comparison between these noble figures and Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and the three women at that tomb in Jerusalem,” Josephus said scornfully.
“Yes,” Polykrates replied. “But there is another comparison that has come unbidden now to my mind. Where Homer’s Iliad ends the Aeneid of Virgil begins. Aeneas the Trojan sets out from ruined Troy to undertake the foundation of Rome. The end of the Greek epic is the beginning of the Roman epic. And here in this codex, whose words are spreading among the subject peoples of the empire, I sense what may be the beginning of a new and unknown epic. I must go to Jerusalem to find out at the source the truth about its origins.”
“Enough of this fanciful nonsense,” Josephus said impatiently, “let us return to the here and now and our own affairs. Polykrates, God, or fate if you like, has thrown us together and we should be friends. You have served as tutor to Domitian, the emperor’s second son, but the young man is now of age and your tutorial duties are ended. Now Vespasian has assigned you the task of investigating the sect of the Christians. You can do that best right here in Rome. I promise you any assistance I can give you. And it is in Rome too that you can help me in my task, the history of the Jewish war. I need your help, Polykrates, to write this history in Greek. And we should be allies, my friend.”
“Allies?” Polykrates said, “You and I?” From the moment he met Josephus there was an instinctive mutual distrust between them and it seemed to Polykrates that rather than allies they were more like two wrestlers at the games, circling warily as each man sought the first hold to pin his opponent on his back.
“Yes,” Josephus said. “We are both subjects of the Empire, Greek and Jew. Here at the imperial court we have magnificent opportunities to do great things for our peoples. We should work together in harness.”
Polykrates considered the matter. “I had not expected this,” he said finally.
“To become involved in palace politics. When I came to Rome with Vespasian some years ago I intended to found my own school of philosophy, my own academy.”
“You came here as a pedagogue, as tutor to Vespasian’s son.”
“Yes, that was to have been my point of entry, my foot in the door to the imperial capital. I met Vespasian in Athens when Nero was on his tour of Greece some years ago, winning every singing contest that his Greek sycophants set up for him to win from Corinth to Olympia. Vespasian was a general in the imperial entourage, the only dignified figure in that whole crew of imperial clowns. He offered to bring me to Rome as Domitian’s tutor. I jumped at the chance. I despised the intellectual leaders of Athens at the time. I still do. The head of the Academy was a pompous ass, and the director of the Stoa a pettifogging pedant. You cannot imagine the degeneration of our schools of philosophy since the glorious days of Plato and Aristotle.”
“Aristotle and his pupil Alexander the Great. Athens is no longer the center of the world,” Josephus said slyly.
“Well, you are right,” Polykrates admitted. “What is the use of arguing with Greeks today? We are powerless to do or achieve anything on our own. Better to teach philosophy to the Romans, and do some good for the world that is at their feet and at their mercy.”
“God knows the Romans could use some wisdom these days,” Josephus commented. “The whole empire in upheaval - Gaul and Germany in revolt, rebellion in Judea, armies marching and countermarching from Spain to Pannonia, rival generals fighting each other for the imperial power, turmoil and destruction throughout Italy and in Rome itself.”
“Yes, three emperors in a single year,” Polykrates agreed. “It has not been the most propitious time to think of setting up a philosophical school in Rome.”
“But you can do it now,” Josephus said. “The turmoil is all over now. I know Vespasian, as you do too. He is not an emperor-for-a-day like the three that went before him. He is here to stay, and to stay as the founder of a dynasty. So seize the moment, Polykrates. Investigate the Christians here in Rome, help me with my history, and then set up your academy. But remain here in Rome, my friend. Do not be diverted by any distractions, and especially by any wild goose chase to Jerusalem in search of some insignificant little Jewish rebel who died nearly forty years ago.”
“When I return from Jerusalem we will discuss our further collaboration,” Polykrates replied.
Josephus leaned forward earnestly. “Give up this crazy idea of going to Jerusalem, my friend,” he said. “It is only a heap of ruins now. You have nothing to learn there, nothing to gain there. This Jesus was a nobody in our Jewish community. His Jewish following was insignificant in his lifetime and is probably inexistent now. John the Baptist was a more important figure in Judaism than Jesus will ever be. Let us suppose that you go out to Jerusalem and that your mission is a success – you find Jesus alive and you have him crucified again – making sure that he is really dead this time. What will you have achieved? the execution of a puny and long-forgotten little rebel. Nothing more.”
“But I have to discover the truth about him,” Polykrates said. “That is my commission from the Emperor.”
“The truth about him!” Josephus exclaimed. “What is that to the Emperor? Vespasian is concerned about subversion in the Empire - as well he might after the rebellion in Judea - not about obscure little Jewish sectarians who will never be of any importance to anyone. You know what the situation is: if there is any danger to the Empire from the Christians it is from the non-Jewish members of the cult, from the pagans who embrace this perversion of Judaism. They become fanatical devotees of what they believe to be the One True God and then refuse to honor the gods of Rome.”
Polykrates shook his head in disagreement, although he recognized the logic of Josephus’ words.
“Polykrates,” Josephus said, gripping him by the arm, “I know the Emperor. I was at his side in the Judean war. He is a military man. He wants results. And he wants results today. He does not tolerate failure and he does not want to hear excuses the day after the battle. Listen to me now. There are millions of Jews throughout the Empire - more than lived in Judea itself. It is my allotted task to write a history that will get it through their thick skulls that rebellion against Rome is suicidal folly. I alone saw this clearly after the rebellion began in Judea, and I am still alone among the Jews in seeing it today.”
“Then who will read your history?” Polykrates said.
“My work will make the truth clear to all. Vespasian has opened the official archives to me. He has given me access to all the Roman libraries. He and Titus are providing me with transcripts of their war diaries. This is the task he has given me. To tell the truth.”
“And my task is to investigate the truth about the Christians,” Polykrates said.
“Your task,” Josephus said, “is to eliminate the Christians as a subversive force before they burst out into revolt throughout the Empire. You will not find any Christians in Judea. You will find them spread all over the Empire, and it is there that you must seek them out and root them out.”
And how would you do that?” Polykrates said.
“Use the authority granted you by the Emperor to set up an investigative commission. Haul up every Christian in the Empire for questioning. Have an edict issued that any of them who refuse to offer sacrifices to the Emperor’s divinity will be enslaved. If they are slaves already they will be executed. Set up tribunals for the judgment of Christians. Faced with the choice of life or death they will recant. I know Vespasian and I know this is the policy he would approve. I myself will recommend it to him the next time I see the Emperor. You will have my wholehearted support. But, my dear Polykrates, do not waste your time on any useless expeditions to Judea. Stay here in Rome, where you can achieve all you aims.”
“And help you achieve yours. That is your real reason, is it not? To help you write your history in Greek.”
“Yes, that is my reason,” Josephus retorted angrily. “I have to write this book. It is an order from Titus, my commanding officer in the war. For reasons of state he requires it to be finished within the next year. He needs this book in Aramaic and Greek to suppress every thought of rebellion throughout the Empire. There are to be no more Judeas, he told me. But I need you. I cannot complete this history without your help.”
Polykrates regarded him thoughtfully. “There are other scholars who can write Greek as well as I can,” he said. “You have some other motive. You said we should be allies. What did you have in mind?”
Josephus leaned forward confidentially and lowered his voice. “As you no doubt have heard,” he said, “Titus is madly in love with Berenice, the Jewish queen. First they were allies, now they are lovers. When the revolt in Judea broke out, Berenice sided with the Romans at once. She provided auxiliary troops for the legions. She and Titus began their love affair while the fighting was still going on around Jerusalem. Titus brought her to Rome and set her up in those palatial quarters of hers near the imperial palace.”
“As his mistress,” Polykrates agreed. “Yes, everyone in Rome knows that. There has been a lot of gossip. Many leading figures of the Senate are angry about the affair. The queen of the Jews is now a Roman general’s lady love.”
Josephus edged still closer. “But what if Berenice were to become his wife?” he said.
Polykrates smiled. “So that is what you Jews are planning,” he said. “Cleopatra’s little game of sexual titillation. The queen of Egypt who thought she could save her throne by sleeping with conquering Roman generals. Cleopatra even bore sons to Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in the hope of founding a Roman dynasty of her own. She even dreamed, it is said, of moving the capital of the Empire from Rome to Alexandria. But it all ended badly for her, as you know. And Cleopatra was still of an age to bear children. It is too late for that for Berenice. I saw her the other day. She is still beautiful, but she must be over forty.”
Josephus reached out and clutched Polykrates’ arm. “Whether she bears children or not does not really matter,” he said. “What matters is that Titus fully intends to marry her. I see Titus almost daily and I know that for a fact. Polykrates, in five or ten years we will have a Jewish empress of Rome.”
“And she will persuade Titus to move the capital of the Empire to Jerusalem, no doubt,” Polykrates said scornfully.
“Perhaps not,” Josephus said, “but stranger things have happened.”
“There is only one obstacle,” Polykrates said.
“And what is that?”
“Vespasian,” Polykrates said. “He will never allow it. He will forbid his son to marry Berenice and he will send her back to Judea.”
“How do you know that?” Josephus said.
“I heard him say it two days ago over the dinner table.”
“Are you so close to the Emperor that you take your meals with him?” Josephus said.
“Some days I have that privilege,” Polykrates replied. “Whenever Vespasian wants to take his mind off matters of state and talk of philosophy or discuss the youthful indiscretions of Domitian.”
Josephus rose abruptly and walked to the edge of the pool. He cast a pebble into the water and watched its ripples disturb the reflections on the surface. Then he turned back to Polykrates.
“You are an intelligent man,” he said. “You should have some vision of the future. I did. I foresaw that the Jewish cause was doomed. I saw that God’s will was the triumph of the Roman legions. I acted accordingly. And I risked everything. My own men wanted to kill me when I decided to surrender at Jotapata., but I outwitted them.”
“What was your vision?” Polykrates said with sudden interest. “Did it come to you in a dream?”
“Yes. God forewarned me in my dreams of the calamities that were in store for the Jews because of their transgressions. He told me to yield to the Romans not as a traitor but as His servant. And He brought this to my mind: that there is a prophecy in one of our holy books, the Book of Numbers, that a star will rise from Jacob, a scepter to rule the world. To Jewish believers that means that one day the ruler of the world will arise in Judea - that the world ruler will be Jewish.”
Polykrates laughed. “That day will be long in coming,’ he said.
“In a sense it has already come,’ Josephus said. When the Romans captured me God told me to predict that the Roman general into whose hands I fell - Vespasian - would be that ruler. And within a few months he was acclaimed as Emperor. Our ancient prophecy was correct. But everyone had misinterpreted it.”
“Everyone except you,” Polykrates observed. “You and your god are as tricky as our Greek oracle at Delphi. She and the god Apollo told King Croesus that if he made war he would destroy a great empire. He made war. And the empire he destroyed was his own. But I am not the Oracle of Delphi, and I am not Josephus ben Jeremiah. I am a philosopher, not a prophet. What apocalyptic vision of the future do you want me to adopt?”
“Nothing apocalyptic,” Josephus said. “Not even any philosophical speculation. This is just simple common sense. Look into the future, Polykrates. Vespasian is in his sixties. In five years, perhaps ten, he will be dead. His son Titus will succeed him. All I am asking you to consider is that in a few years Titus will be our emperor, not Vespasian.”
“And it will no longer matter that Vespasian objects to his son’s marriage to Berenice,” Polykrates added.
“Or even better,” Josephus insinuated, “perhaps you could use whatever powers of persuasion you have at the imperial table to induce Vespasian to withdraw his objection now.”
Polykrates stood up and gazed at his reflection in the pool. After a few moments of thought he turned to Josephus and said, “I will consider what you say. As to your history, I will have to learn Aramaic and Hebrew if I am to help you with that. I will start tomorrow. Tell your scholars over there in the library that I shall require them to teach me in relays, two hours each, turn and turn about, from sunrise to sunset. If you would be so hospitable, you and I could have our midday and evening meals together every day and I will practice with you what I have learned from them. In two or three months I expect to be fluent in both languages. Are you in agreement with my plan?”
“Perfectly,” Josephus replied, reaching out to shake his hand. “Tomorrow I will begin writing the first chapter of the Aramaic version.”
Polykrates rose to go. “I thank you for your help and advice,” he said. “I will be here at dawn tomorrow.”
“I look forward to a fruitful collaboration with you,” Josephus said with a bow as he accompanied him to the door. “And do not forget,” he added, “there is that man at court I mentioned to you called Epaphroditus, a very learned man who may be able to help you. He was secretary to Nero for years and would like to offer his services as imperial secretary to Vespasian. As I told you, Epaphroditus is a good friend of mine.”
“I believe I met him briefly when Nero was in Greece,” Polykrates said. “He is an amateur student of philosophy. In fact he paid a fabulous sum for a young Greek slave named Epictetus simply because the boy showed some promise as a budding philosopher.”
“If you should come across him among the petitioners at the Imperial Palace,” Josephus said, “I suggest you talk to him. Epaphroditus is unusually well informed about our Jewish sects as well as the cults of Isis and Cybele. And he is particularly interested in the Christians. In fact,” Josephus added confidentially, “I think he may be secretly a Christian himself.”
Polykrates turned in the doorway and faced Josephus. “You told me that Epaphroditus was your good friend,” he said.
“Indeed he is,” Josephus replied.
“Then why are you telling me this?”
“Bcause I am your friend too. I wish to help you in every way I can.”
“Even if it means fingering Epaphroditus as a member of a seditious sect?”
“You said yourself,” Josephus answered, “that you are only interested in discovering the truth, not in applying the punishment that the truth entails. So why should I worry about Epaphroditus?”
Polykrates shook his head. “Divinity is impervious to human feeling. I defy divinity,” he said.
“What does that mean?” Josephus said with a puzzled look.
“It is a line from a Greek play,” Polykrates said. “By Euripides. A hero called Herakles speaks the words I quoted. I understand him better than I understand you or Jeremiah. You defy humanity.”