April 24, 2011

Pontius Pilate

I have really enjoyed reading "Pontius Pilate" by Paul Maier - (I am about 2/3s of the way through it.) I have read one other book by Maier - the "Flames of Rome" and both of them are fantastic pieces of historical fiction. In fact it's a bit of an understatement to call them "historical fiction" as they are thoroughly researched and come complete with chapter notes, citations of original source material, and rules of methodology for using literary license. It is written with the same quality and methodology as "O, Jerusalem"- it's not quite history, but you don't want to call it fiction either. 

The biggest advantage to these works are of course the intellect of the author - he is a scholar and a good fiction writer - oil and water can mix! Another advantage to these works is that they are cheap - you could get both books (used copies) for under $10 including shipping!

Allow the following paragraph to introduce you to his work:
"It was not until evening that Pilate received a full briefing on the palm-waving phenomenon from the tribune at the Antonia. But the explanation hardly satisfied him, since it was so full of contradictions. Yes, the demonstration was in honor of a man, the prophet Jesus, who had evidently come out of hiding. Yes, the event might have serious political overtones.  Many Jews though their Messiah would be declared as king on that very Mount of Olives. The crowds had also shouted praises to 'the son of David,' a loaded name if Jesus should claim to be heir of King David in a restored Judean monarchy.  Even the waving of palm branches could be symbolic, for the palm was the national emblem of Palestine (my comment one criticism I have is the use of this term - it's anachronistic - the land had a name - Judea).  These were Jewish flags... And of the extra quarter million people jamming Jerusalem, how many were members of the Zealot party from Galilee? 

Yet others told him that Jesus was a nonpolitical person, the commandant continued, and that he was misunderstood by the swarms of pilgrims.  Still others insisted that the people knew this and were only cheering on their favorite prophet.  His vehicle was not a golden chariot but a jogging ass, certainly a poor prop for any kingmakers.

And when he reached Jerusalem, Jesus made no incediary speeches to the masses or flaunted pretentions of any kind.  He simply walked over to the temple, enjoyed the view across the Kidron Valley then returned with his disciples to Bethany, for it was getting toward suppertime.

Pilate was baffled by the significance of it all.  The episode was harmless or it was meaningful in the extreme.  But the fate of the puzzling prophet would clearly depend on what he did or did not do from now on in the face of such enthusiastic support.  If Jesus veered into politics, Rome would intrude, much as Pilate hated the thought of getting involved." (Maier 1990:195-196)
One of the disadvantages of knowing the Gospel story is that we know "the end" too well - we allow it to color how we view the plot. We forget that Pilate, Caiaphas, Judas, Peter, and Jesus were real people who had real expectations of how their fates would come out and how extraordinarily surprised all of them (save the Wisdom of God) must have been with the events of Passover 33 AD. Likewise, one of the benefits of reading historical fiction is that we can recapture the sense of anticipation and feeling of "calm before the storm" that we lose in our devotional readings and expositional sermons of the Passion of the God-man.

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