By Chris Sharp
I am Caius Marius. At the moment, I am half-sitting, half lying in a shaded glen off the Tiber River, really too tired to do anything but write these words with a dull quill on equally dull parchment. They want me to write about Pontius Pilate, my former supervisor. Of course, if the emperor thought I was converting to Christianity, with all my government service on it, I would be human meat to lions the next day.
But I am getting so old that it matters less to me how I die than it used to. Maybe the lions could add a little excitement to my final stage exit.
Even ten years ago, I would have been shocked to find people interested in anything to do with Procurator Pilate. I had not heard anything about the man since he had been recalled to Rome by Caligula, beyond of course the usual gossip that followed Caligula anywhere. The most popular gossip was that Caligula had duped Pilate into returning to Rome on the pretext of being reassigned, but once deep at sea, the procurator was thrown overboard. That could only be if the emperor had heard of the things Pilate was doing in the East that only an emperor had license to do.
But now it is over 20 years since I had woken up that morning that looked so much like any ordinary day in Jerusalem. I had been drinking much too much wine the previous night. Then I woke up late right in the middle of a working morning.
Pilate was already in the midst of one of his ceremonial demonstrations on his vast raised terrace when I reported to him. He had several soldiers with him in addition to two prisoners whose lower arms were roped together. One of the prisoners was excessively burly and looked like a real zealot terrorist who had typically been caught. The other was a younger man who looked less typical a prisoner and seemed to have been beaten up and scourged a lot.
“Marius,” said Pilate, when I arrived. He was really too pre-occupied with his new situation to even mind my lateness. “I have two prisoners here and they both have the name of ‘Jesus.’ To my left is Jesus Barabbas and to my right, meet Jesus Ben Joseph, or something like that, and he is from Galilee. Isn’t this something, Marius?”
Pilate was in one of his frenzies of energy, which he expressed with walking one end of his terrace to his other as he spoke, and turning like a dancer when he returned to us from the crowd of a few dozen men in the small courtyard. There was something about the crowd of men that looked somewhat carnival imbued, and then I found my answer what it was.
“Procurator,” I told him. “Why do you have your guard costumed like a Jewish street rally?”
“Be quiet, Marius, quiet. Don’t you see I’m having some fun here?”
I knew nothing about this Jesus Barabbas. But for the past week, I had been getting an earful about this other Jesus from Galilee, who had then already was becoming a legend in his own time. At Caesarea, we had been getting reports for some weeks now that there was a Galilean named Jesus creating a stir all over the Northern provinces with a traveling crusade. Pontius could get easily jealous over minor competition, but got really got enraged that there was a Galilean who was making his name known in places that hardly knew the name of Pilate. What was worse, all the time this Galilean was moving closer to Jerusalem.
Three days before Jesus actually entered Jerusalem, to a triumphant welcome from what seemed like every resident of the city, Pilate had thought he had already killed the man. Actually he had slaughtered another group of Galilean men who were traveling to Jerusalem to exercise their worship, thinking they were Jesus and his entourage. When Jesus and his real entourage entered Jerusalem just three days after that terrible slaughter, this normally smug Pilate had looked suddenly shaken, as if Jesus was now coming back from the dead.
“Well men,” he said to the crowd. “Who do want me to crucify today, or who do you want me to save for Passover? Do you want me to crucify Jesus Barabbas, or the other Jesus?”
“The other Jesus,” the men yelled.
“Well, the other Jesus is called the king of the Jews.”
“Let them condemn us Jews for all future generations then,”
“You heard them say it,” Pontius said to me. “Now the Jews want to condemn themselves, and not just for today, but for all future generations.”
“Do you want my honest opinion, Pontius?”
“Whether I want it or not, I am sure you will give it to me, my dear Marius.”
“My opinion is that the emperor would not like knowing you playing these games. Only the emperor can get away with these kinds of jokes.”
“Who said I am joking? Look. I am paying honor to the King of the Jews. Centurion, make sure that this king is given his proper title before you lift him up on the cross.”
Sometime after that, Pontius was recalled by the emperor and disappeared off the face of this earth. I had of course warned him. But I always tell the outcome to my new Christian friends, who are crazy about even an old proliferate like myself who had spent even a few minutes seeing what happened that day. I tell them the only consolation Pilate can get from history is the fact that one of his days intersected one of the days of Jesus. Pilate spent the day – typically – disgracefully. But I will never forget the courage Jesus displayed as he gazed over the entire scene without even a complaint, but reacted throughout like what we old Romans would say as even more than just a “real man.”
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Chris Sharp has had fiction published in Kalkion.com, DailyLove.net (Oct. 24, 2010), Yesteryear Fiction (Feb. 8 and March 6, 2011), Aphelion@webvine.com and West Ranch Beacon.com. He won the 2003 West 35th Street Award in “Best New Short PI Fiction” for his story. “A Smell on the Beach” from Crimestalkers.com. He is married to the poet Debbie Bongiovanni-Sharp and they live with a cat and a parrot in Menifee, California.
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