March 29, 2013

Writer offers fictional Roman newspaper report of Holy Week

(A scroll of the Roman periodical Tempus, from the 18th year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius Caesar—what we know as 30 A.D.—was recently uncovered in Rome. It included the following article, which has been translated from its original Latin.)

By John F. Fink (Jerusalem Correspondent)

JERUSALEM (Pentecost)—A man named Peter, from Capernaum in Galilee, declared today that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified the day before Passover this year, rose from the dead three days later.

Saying, “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32), Peter and his associates convinced enough people that 3,000 people were baptized in the mikvot located in front of the Jewish people’s Temple.

Jesus was a popular preacher in both Galilee and Judea. Many of the Jews believed that he was the long-awaited Messiah who would restore the kingdom of the Jews. However, he was crucified by order of Governor Pontius Pilate after he was handed over to him by members of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

They accused him of opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar, maintaining that he was the Messiah, and inciting the people with his teaching.

The Sanhedrin was led by the high priest Caiaphas. In an interview, he said that members of the Sanhedrin had been alarmed by the number of people who were following Jesus. They feared that, if something wasn’t done, all the people would believe in him, and the Romans would take away their land and their nation.

“That’s when I stepped in,” Caiaphas said. “I made them understand that it would be better for one man to die instead of all of us. So when the opportunity arose, we arrested Jesus and took him to Pilate.”

Pilate has said that he found Jesus not guilty. “But they were adamant,” he said. “I had Jesus flogged, hoping that that would satisfy them, but it didn’t. I tried all sorts of things, even sending him to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, at one point. But when it looked like a riot was breaking out, I washed my hands of the whole matter and turned Jesus over to be crucified.”

In a separate interview, Herod admitted that he had met with Jesus. “I was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,” he said. “I talked to him at length, but I was disappointed when he refused to answer my questions. So I sent him back to Pilate.” Herod was back in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

Caiaphas admitted that it had been difficult to convince Pilate to have Jesus crucified. “At one point,” he said, “I told Pilate, ‘If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar’ (Jn 19:12). I think that’s what did it.”

Jesus was crucified with two other men, nailed to the cross rather than tied. Pilate had an inscription put on the cross that read, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”

After several hours, when the Roman soldiers went to break the legs of the men to hasten their deaths, they discovered the Jesus was already dead. However, one of the soldiers thrust his lance into Jesus’ side.

Pilate said that he thought he was rid of the whole affair. However, he said, the next day the chief priests and Pharisees were back. They told him that, while still alive, Jesus had said that he would be raised up after three days.

“I thought that was ridiculous,” Pilate said. “But, to humor them, I gave them some soldiers to guard the tomb. I understand that they secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone, and then they posted the guard. Imagine, guarding a tomb.”

Despite the measures taken, two days after the feast of Passover, the tomb was found to be empty.

Most of the guards refused to answer questions. However, one of them, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, admitted that the Jewish high priests had given the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘his disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep’ ” (Mt 28:13).

“That’s not true, of course,” the soldier told me. “Imagine what would have happened to us if we were found to be asleep while on guard duty. Besides, how could anyone believe that his disciples could have removed that huge stone from the entrance to the tomb without waking us up, if we had been asleep?”

Peter, whose real name is Simon, told me that Jesus not only rose from the dead, he began to appear to some of his disciples.

“At first, we thought that the Jewish leaders took his body,” he said. “Some of our women said that Jesus had appeared to them, but that seemed like nonsense.”

Then, Peter said, a couple of the disciples told them about meeting Jesus while they had been walking to Emmaus. They said that they hadn’t recognized Jesus until they began to eat supper. When Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, they recognized him. But then, they said, he vanished.

“We didn’t believe them either,” Peter said.

Then, he said, that night, while they were all inside a locked room, Jesus suddenly appeared to them. “At first we thought we were seeing a ghost,” Peter said.

But, he said, Jesus showed them his hands and feet with their nail holes and invited them to touch him. He even ate some fish, he said.

Peter said that Jesus appeared to his disciples several times during the next 40 days. He commissioned them, he said, to go out into the whole world and to teach the people all that he had taught to them.

“We started that mission today,” Peter said. “We are confident that Jesus will do what he promised, that he will be with us always, until the end of the age.”

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion.)

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