Read The Order Online

Authors: Daniel Silva

The Order (14 page)

BOOK: The Order
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
Part Two
Ecce Homo
24
Jesuit Curia, Rome

Even his first name
was lost to the mists of time—the name his mother and father had called him the day he was presented to the gods and a golden
amulet, a
bulla
, was hung round his tiny neck to ward off evil spirits. Later in life he would have answered to his cognomen, the third name
of a Roman citizen, a hereditary label used to distinguish one branch of a family from the others. His had three syllables,
not two, and sounded nothing like the version that would follow him down through the ages and into infamy.

The year of his birth is not known, nor the place. One school of thought held that he was from Roman-ruled Spain—perhaps Tarragona on the Catalonian coast or Seville, where even today, near the Plaza de Arguelles, there stands an elaborate Andalusian palace known as the Casa de Pilatos. Another theory,
prevalent in the Middle Ages, imagined he was the illegitimate child of a German king called Tyrus and a concubine named Pila. As the legend goes, Pila did not know the name of the man who impregnated her, so she combined her father's name with her own and called the boy Pilatus.

His most likely place of birth, however, was Rome. His ancestors were probably Samnites, a warlike tribe who inhabited the
craggy hills south of the city. His second name, Pontius, suggested he was a descendant of the Pontii, a clan that produced
several important Roman military figures. His cognomen, Pilatus, meant “skilled with a javelin.” It was possible Pontius Pilate,
through his military exploits, earned the name himself. The more plausible explanation is that he was the son of a knight
and a member of the equestrian order, the second tier of Roman nobility, falling just beneath the senatorial class.

If so, he would have enjoyed a comfortable Roman upbringing. The family home would have had an atrium, a colonnaded garden,
running water, and a private bath. A second dwelling, a villa, would have overlooked the sea. He would have traveled the streets
of Rome not on foot but held aloft in a litter by slaves. Unlike most children at the dawn of the first millennium, he would
have never known hunger. He would have wanted for nothing.

His education would have been rigorous—several hours of instruction each day in reading, writing, mathematics, and, when he was older, the finer points of critical thinking and debate, skills that would serve him well later in life. He would have honed his physique with regular weight lifting and then recovered from his efforts with a trip to the baths. For entertainment he would have reveled in the blood-soaked spectacles of the
games. It was unlikely he ever saw the Flavian Amphitheatre, the great circular colosseum built in the low valley between the Caelian, Esquiline, and Palatine hills. The project was funded with spoils from the Temple in Jerusalem, which he knew intimately. He would not witness its destruction in 70
c.e.
, though surely he must have known its days were numbered.

The new and restive province of Judea was some fourteen hundred miles from Rome, a journey of three weeks or more by sea.
Pontius Pilate, after serving several years as a junior officer in the Roman army, arrived there in 26
c.e.
It was not a coveted post; Syria to the north and Egypt to the southeast were far more important. But what Judea lacked in
stature it more than made up for in potential trouble. Its native population considered themselves chosen by their God and
superior to their pagan, polytheist occupiers. Jerusalem, their holy city, was the only place in the Empire where local inhabitants
did not have to prostrate themselves before an image of the emperor. Pilate, if he was to succeed, would have to handle them
with care.

He had no doubt seen these people in Rome. They were the bearded, circumcised inhabitants of Regio XIV, a crowded quarter on the west side of the Tiber that would one day become known as Trastevere. There were perhaps four and a half million of them spread throughout the Empire. They had thrived under Roman rule, taking advantage of the freedom of commerce and movement the Empire afforded them. Everywhere they settled they were wealthy and much admired as a God-fearing people who loved their children, respected human life, and looked after the poor, the sick, the widowed, and the orphaned. Julius Caesar spoke highly of them and granted them
important rights of association, which allowed them to worship their God instead of Rome's.

But those who lived in the ancestral homeland of Judea, Samaria, and the Galilee were a less cosmopolitan lot. Violently anti-Roman,
they were riven with sects, perhaps as many as twenty-four, including the puritanical Essenes, who did not recognize the authority
of the Temple. A massive complex atop Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, it was controlled by Sadducee aristocrats who profited through
their association with the occupation and worked closely with the Roman prefect to assure stability.

Pilate was only the fifth to serve in the post. His headquarters were in Caesarea, a Roman enclave of gleaming white marble
on the Mediterranean coast. There was a curving promenade by the sea where he could stroll when the weather was fine, and
Roman temples where he made sacrifices to his gods, not theirs. Pilate, if he were so inclined, might well have imagined he
had never left home.

It was not his task to remake the inhabitants of the province—they would one day become known as Jews—in Rome's image. Pilate
was a collector of taxes, a facilitator of trade, and a writer of endless reports to Emperor Tiberius, which he sealed with
wax and marked with the signet ring he wore on the last finger of his left hand. Rome, by and large, did not involve itself
in every facet of culture and society in the lands it occupied. Its laws hibernated during periods of tranquillity and awoke
only when there was a threat to order.

Troublemakers typically received a warning. And if they foolishly persisted, they were dealt with swiftly and brutally. Pilate's immediate predecessor, Valerius Gratus, once dispatched two
hundred Jews simultaneously with Rome's preferred method of execution: death on the cross. After a revolt in 4
b.c.e.
, two thousand were crucified outside Jerusalem. So powerful was their faith in their one God, they went to the cross without
fear.

As prefect, Pilate was Judea's chief magistrate, its judge and jury. Even so, the Jews handled much of the province's civil
administration and law enforcement through the Sanhedrin, the rabbinical tribunal that convened daily—except for religious
festivals and the Sabbath—in the Hall of Hewn Stones on the north side of the Temple complex. Pilate was under orders from
Emperor Tiberius to grant the Jews wide latitude in running their own affairs, especially when it came to matters of their
religion. He was to remain in the background whenever possible, the hidden hand, Rome's invisible man.

But Pilate, quick-tempered and vindictive, soon developed a reputation for savagery, theft, endless executions, and needless
provocations. There was, for example, his decision to affix military standards bearing the emperor's likeness to the walls
of the Antonia Fortress, which overlooked the Temple itself. Predictably, the Jews reacted with fury. Several thousand surrounded
Pilate's palace in Caesarea, where a weeklong standoff ensued. When the Jews made it clear that they were prepared to die
if their demands were not met, Pilate relented and the standards were removed.

And then there was Pilate's admittedly impressive aqueduct, which he financed, at least in part, with sacred money,
corban
, stolen from the Temple treasury. Once again he was confronted by a large crowd, this time at the Great Pavement, the elevated platform outside Herod's Citadel, which served as Pilate's Jerusalem headquarters. Sprawled impassively atop his curule chair,
Pilate silently endured their abuse for a time before ordering his soldiers to unsheathe their swords. Some of the unarmed Jews were hacked to pieces. Others were trampled in the melee.

Lastly, there were the gold-plated shields dedicated to Tiberius that he hung in his Jerusalem apartments. The Jews demanded
the shields be removed. And when Pilate refused, they dispatched a letter of protest to none other than the emperor himself.
It reached Tiberius while he was on holiday in Capri, or so claimed the philosopher Philo. Seething with rage over his prefect's
needless blunder, Tiberius ordered Pilate to remove the shields without delay.

He went to Jerusalem as seldom as possible, usually to oversee security during Jewish festivals. Passover, the celebration
of the Jews' deliverance from bondage in Egypt, was rife with both religious and political implications. Hundreds of thousands
of Jews from across the Empire—in some cases, entire villages—descended on the city. The streets were jammed with pilgrims
and perhaps a quarter-million bleating sheep awaiting ritual slaughter. Lurking in the shadows were the Sicarii, cloaked Jewish
zealots who killed Roman soldiers with their distinctive daggers and then disappeared into the crowds.

At the center of this pandemonium was the Temple. Roman soldiers kept watch on the celebrations from their garrison at the
Antonia; Pilate, from his splendid private chambers in Herod's Citadel. Any hint of unrest—a challenge to Roman rule or to
the collaborative Temple authorities—would have been dealt with ruthlessly, lest the situation spin out of control. One spark,
one agitator, and Jerusalem might erupt.

It was into this volatile city—perhaps in the year 33
c.e.
, or perhaps as early as 27 or as late as 36—that there came a
Galilean, a healer, a worker of miracles, a preacher of parables who warned that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He arrived, as prophesied, astride an ass. It is possible Pilate already knew of this Galilean and that he witnessed his tumultuous entrance into Jerusalem. There were many such messianic figures in first-century Judea, men who called themselves the “anointed one” and promised to rebuild David's kingdom. Pilate viewed these preachers as a direct threat to Roman rule and extinguished them without mercy. Invariably, their adherents suffered the same fate.

Historians disagree on the nature of the incident that led to the Galilean's earthly demise. Most concur that a crime was
committed—perhaps a physical attack on the currency traders in the Royal Portico, perhaps a verbal tirade against the Temple
elite. It is possible Roman soldiers witnessed the disturbance and took the Galilean into custody straightaway. But tradition
holds that he was arrested by a joint Roman-Jewish force on the Mount of Olives after sharing a final Pesach meal with his
disciples.

What happened next is still less clear. Even the traditional accounts are riddled with contradictions. They suggest that sometime after midnight, the Galilean was brought to the house of the high priest, Joseph ben Caiaphas, where he was subjected to a brutal interrogation by a portion of the Sanhedrin. Contemporary historians, however, have cast doubt on this version of the story. After all, it was both Passover and the eve of the Sabbath, and Jerusalem was bursting at the seams with Jews from around the known world. Caiaphas, having put in a long day at the Temple, is unlikely to have welcomed the late-night intrusion. Moreover, the trial as described—it was purportedly
conducted outside in the courtyard by the light of a bonfire—was strictly forbidden by the Laws of Moses and therefore could not have taken place.

One way or another, the Galilean ended up in the hands of Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect and chief magistrate of the province.
Tradition holds that he presided over a public tribunal, but no official record of such a proceeding survives. One central
fact, however, is indisputable. The Galilean was put to death by crucifixion, the Roman method of execution reserved solely
for insurrectionists, probably just outside the city walls, where his punishment would serve as a warning. Pilate might have
witnessed the man's suffering from his chambers in Herod's Citadel. But in all likelihood, given his fearsome reputation,
the entire episode was quickly forgotten, swept away by some new problem. Pilate, after all, was a busy man.

But then again, the prefect may well have carried a memory of the man long after ordering his execution, especially during
the final years of his rule in Judea, as followers of the Galilean, who was called Jesus of Nazareth, took the first halting
steps toward creating a new faith. Traumatized by what they had witnessed, they comforted each other with accounts of the
Galilean's ministry, accounts that would eventually be written down in books, evangelizing pamphlets known as gospels, which
circulated among communities of early believers. And it was there that Archbishop Luigi Donati, in his rooms at the Jesuit
Curia on the Borgo Santo Spirito in Rome, picked up the thread of the story.

25
Jesuit Curia, Rome

Mark, not Matthew
, was the first. It was written in colloquial koine Greek sometime between 66 and 75
c.e
., more than thirty years after the death of Jesus, an eternity in the ancient world. The gospel circulated anonymously for
several decades before Church Fathers ascribed it to a companion of the apostle Peter, a conclusion rejected by most contemporary
biblical scholars, who contend the author's identity is not known.

His audience was a community of gentile Christians living in Rome, directly under the thumb of the emperor. It is unlikely he spoke the language of Jesus or his disciples, and he probably possessed only passing familiarity with the geography and customs of the land in which the story was set. By the time he took up his pen, nearly all of the firsthand witnesses had died
off or been killed. For his source material he drew upon an oral tradition and perhaps a few written fragments. In the fifteenth chapter, a blameless and benevolent Pilate is portrayed as having bowed to the demands of a Jewish crowd to sentence Jesus to death. The earliest versions of Mark concluded abruptly with the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb, an ending many early Christians considered anticlimactic and unsatisfying. Later versions of Mark had two alternative endings. In the so-called Longer Ending, a resurrected Jesus appears in different forms to his disciples.

“Mark's original author did not compose the alternative ending,” explained Donati. “It was probably written hundreds of years
after his death. In fact, the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the oldest known copy of the New Testament, contains the original
empty tomb ending.”

The Gospel of Matthew, Donati continued, was composed next, probably between 80 and 90
c.e.,
but perhaps as late as 110, long after the cataclysmic First Roman-Jewish War and the destruction of the Temple. Matthew's
audience was a community of Jewish Christians living in Roman-occupied Syria. He drew heavily from Mark, borrowing six hundred
verses. But scholars believe Matthew expanded on the work of his predecessor with the help of the Q
source, a theoretical collection of the sayings of Jesus. His work reflects the sharp divide between Jewish Christians who
accepted Jesus as the messiah and Jews who did not. The depiction of Jesus' appearance before Pilate is similar to Mark's,
with one critical addition.

“Pilate, the ruthless Roman prefect, washes his hands in front of the Jewish crowd gathered on the Great Pavement and declares himself innocent of Christ's blood. To which the
crowd replies, ‘His blood shall be on us and our children.' It is the most consequential line of dialogue ever composed. Two thousand years of persecution and slaughter of Jews at the hands of Christians can be traced back to those nine terrible words.”

“Why were they written?” asked Gabriel.

“As a Roman Catholic prelate and a man of great personal faith, I believe the Gospels were divinely inspired. That said, they
were composed by human beings long after the events took place and were based on stories of Jesus' life and ministry told
by his earliest followers. If there was indeed a tribunal of some sort, Pilate undoubtedly spoke very few, if any, of the
words the Gospel writers put in his mouth. The same would be true, of course, of the Jewish crowd, if there was one.
Let his blood be upon us and our children
? Did they really shout such an awkward and outlandish line? And with a single voice? Where were the followers of Jesus who
came to Jerusalem with him from the Galilee? Where were the dissenters?” Donati shook his head. “That passage was a mistake.
A sacred mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.”

“But was it an innocent mistake?”

“A professor of mine at the Gregoriana used to refer to it as the longest lie. Privately, of course. Had he done so openly,
he would have been dragged before the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and defrocked.”

“Is the scene in Matthew's Gospel a lie?”

“The author of Matthew would tell you that he wrote the story as he had heard it himself and as he believed it to be. That
said, there is no doubt that his Gospel, like Mark's, shifted the blame for Jesus' death from the Romans to the Jews.”

“Why?”

“Because within a few short years of the Crucifixion, the Jesus movement was in grave danger of being reabsorbed by Judaism. If there was a future, it lay with the gentiles living under Roman rule. The evangelists and the Church Fathers had to make the new faith acceptable to the Empire. There was nothing they could do to change the fact that Jesus died a Roman death at the hands of Roman troops. But if they could suggest that the Jews had forced Pilate's hand . . .”

“Problem solved.”

Donati nodded. “And I'm afraid it gets worse in the later Gospels. Luke suggests it was the Jews rather than the Romans who
nailed Jesus to the cross. John makes the accusation straight out. It is inconceivable to me that Jews would crucify one of
their own. They might well have stoned Jesus for blasphemy. But the cross? Not a chance.”

“Then why was the passage included in the Christian canon?”

“It is important to remember that the Gospels were never intended to be factual records. They were theology, not history.
They were evangelizing documents that laid the foundation of a new faith, a faith that by the end of the first century was
in sharp conflict with the one from which it had sprung. Three centuries later, when the bishops of the early Church convened
the Synod of Hippo, there were many different gospels and other texts circulating among the Christian communities of North
Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. The bishops canonized only four, knowing full well they contained numerous discrepancies
and inconsistencies. For example, all the canonical Gospels give a slightly different account of the three days leading up
to Jesus' execution.”

“Did the bishops also know they were planting the seeds for two thousand years of Jewish suffering?”

“A fair question.”

“What's the answer?”

“By the end of the fourth century, the die had been cast. The refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as their savior was regarded
as a mortal threat to the early Church. How could Jesus be the one true path to salvation if the very people who heard his
message with their own ears clung to their faith? Early Christian theologians wrestled with the question of whether the Jews
should even be allowed to exist. St. John Chrysostom of Antioch preached that synagogues were whorehouses and dens of thieves,
that Jews were no better than pigs and goats, that they had grown fat from having too much to eat, that they should be marked
for slaughter. Not surprisingly, there were numerous attacks on the Jews of Antioch, and their synagogue was destroyed. In
414 the Jews of Alexandria were wiped out. Regrettably, it was only the beginning.”

Still dressed in his borrowed clerical suit, Gabriel went to the window and, parting the blinds, peered into the Borgo Santo
Spirito. Donati was seated at his writing desk. Before him, still in its sheath of protective plastic, was the page from the
book.

Evangelium Secundum Pilati 
. . .

“For the record,” said Donati after a moment, “the Nicene Creed, which was written at the First Council of Nicaea, states
unequivocally that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. Furthermore, the Church declared in
Nostra Aetate
in 1965 that the Jews as a people are not collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. And twenty-three years after that, Pope Wojtyla issued
‘We Remember,' his statement on the Church and the Holocaust.”

“I remember it, too. It went to great pains to suggest that two thousand years of Church teaching that Jews were the murderers
of God had absolutely nothing to do with the Nazis and the Final Solution. It was a whitewash, Excellency. It was curial word
salad.”

“Which is why my master stood at the bimah in the Great Synagogue of Rome and begged the Jews for forgiveness.” Donati paused.
“You remember that, too, don't you? You were there, if I recall.”

Gabriel took down a copy of the Bible from Donati's bookcase and opened it to the twenty-seventh chapter of Matthew. “What
about this?” He pointed out the relevant passage. “Am I personally guilty of the murder of God, or are the writers of the
four Gospels guilty of the most vicious slander in history?”

“The Church has declared that you are not.”

“And I thank the Church for belatedly making that clear.” Gabriel tapped the page with this fingertip. “But the book still
says I am.”

“Scripture cannot be changed.”

“The Codex Vaticanus would suggest otherwise.” Gabriel returned the Bible to its place on the shelf and resumed his study
of the street. “And the other gospels? The ones bishops rejected at the Synod of Hippo?”

“They were deemed apocryphal. For the most part, they were literary elaborations on the four canonical Gospels. Ancient fan fiction, if you will. There were books like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas that focused on the early life of Jesus. There were Gnostic gospels, Jewish Christian gospels, the Gospel of Mary,
even the Gospel of Judas. There was also a significant body of Passion apocrypha, stories devoted to Jesus' suffering and death. One was called the Gospel of Peter. Peter didn't write it, of course. It was pseudepigrapha, or falsely inscribed. The same was true of the Gospel of Nicodemus. That book is better known as the
Acta Pilati
.”

Gabriel turned away from the window. “The Acts of Pilate?”

Donati nodded. “Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin who lived on a great estate outside Jerusalem. He was said to have
been a secret disciple of Jesus and a confidant of Pilate. He's depicted in Caravaggio's
Deposition of Christ
, the figure in the sienna-colored garment grasping Jesus' legs. Caravaggio gave him Michelangelo's face, by the way.”

“Really?” asked Gabriel archly. “I never knew.”

Donati ignored the remark. “Dating the Acts of Pilate is difficult, but most scholars agree it was probably written in the
late fourth century. It purports to contain material composed by Pilate himself while he was in Jerusalem. It was quite popular
here in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In fact, it was printed twenty-eight times during that period.” Donati
held up his phone. “To read it now, all you need is one of these.”

“Were there other Pilate books?”

“Several.”

“Such as?”

“The Memoirs of Pilate, the Martyrdom of Pilate, and the Report of Pilate, to name a few. The Handing Over of Pilate describes his appearance before Emperor Tiberius after he was recalled to Rome. Never mind that Tiberius was dead by the time Pilate arrived. There was also the Letter of Pilate to Claudius, the Letter of Pilate to Herod, the Letter of Herod to Pilate, the
Letter of Tiberius to Pilate . . .” Donati's voice trailed off. “You get the point.”

“What about the Gospel of Pilate?”

“I am unfamiliar with an apocryphal piece of Christian writing by that name.”

“Are any of the other books considered credible?”

“No,” said Donati. “They're all forgeries. And they all attempt to exonerate Pilate for Jesus' death while at the same time
implicating the Jews.”

“Just like the canonical Gospels.” The bells of St. Peter's Basilica tolled midday. “What do you suppose is going on behind
the walls of the Vatican?”

“If I had to guess, Cardinal Albanese is desperately searching for Father Joshua. I fear what will happen if he finds him.
As camerlengo, Albanese has enormous authority. Practically speaking, the Order of St. Helena is running the Roman Catholic
Church. The question is, do they intend to relinquish their power? Or do they have a plan to keep it?”

“We still can't prove that the Order killed Lucchesi.”

“Not yet. But we have five days to find the evidence.” Donati paused. “And the Gospel of Pilate, of course.”

“Where do we start?”

“Father Robert Jordan.”

“Who is he?”

“My professor from the Gregoriana.”

“Is he still in Rome?”

Donati shook his head. “He entered a monastery a few years ago. He doesn't use a phone or e-mail. We'll have to drive up there,
but there's no guarantee he'll see us. He's quite brilliant. And difficult, I'm afraid.”

“Where's the monastery?”

“A small town of considerable religious importance on the slopes of Monte Subasio in Umbria. I'm sure you've heard of it.
In fact, I believe you and Chiara used to live not far from there.”

Gabriel permitted himself a brief smile. It had been a long time since he had been to Assisi.

BOOK: The Order
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Chaos by David Meyer
Wired by Sigmund Brouwer
The Chalk Giants by Keith Roberts
Ain’t Misbehaving by Jennifer Greene
Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves
City of Women by David R. Gillham