Memoirs Of Pontius Pilate: A Novel by James R. MillsMemoirs Of Pontius Pilate: A Novel by James R. Mills

Memoirs Of Pontius Pilate: A Novel

byJames R. Mills

Paperback | February 27, 2001

Pricing and Purchase Info


Earn 105 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


It's been thirty years since he sentenced the troublemaker to die,
but Pontius Pilate can't get Jesus out of his mind. . . .

Forced to live out his life in exile, Pontius Pilate, the former governor of Judea, is now haunted by the executions that were carried out on his orders. The life and death of a particular carpenter from Nazareth lay heavily on his mind. With years of solitude stretched out before him, Pilate sets out to uncover all he can about Jesus—his birth, boyhood, ministry, and the struggles that led to his crucifixion. With unexpected wit and candor, Pilate reveals a unique, compelling picture of Jesus that only one of his enemies could give.

In a vibrant, inventive, completely engaging novel that places Jesus and his teachings in a wonderfully accurate historical setting, James R. Mills has created nothing less than a new gospel that illuminates the beginnings of Christianity from an astonishing and unexpected point of view.

Title:Memoirs Of Pontius Pilate: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:240 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.5 inShipping dimensions:8.5 × 5.5 × 0.5 inPublished:February 27, 2001Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345443500

ISBN - 13:9780345443502


Read from the Book

PrologueThe time has come for me when I, like Julius Caesar, can say, "I havelived long enough, whether for fame or fortune." My wife is dead, and Ihave no friends here in my place of exile, so I spend my days reflectingupon the past, as old men do for lack of better ways to occupy theirtime.As I reflect upon my experiences of long ago, I find that they arefading in my memory, losing their colors and details, growing as muzzyas wall paintings exposed to the elements in some ancient ruin. However,one action of mine is still as vivid in my mind as it ever was. I referto my ordering of the crucifixion of that now famous Jewish carpentercalled Jesus of Nazareth, while I was governor of Judea, Samaria, andIdumea.Three years after I was exiled to Gaul by Caligula, that mad youngemperor banished Herod Antipas to Lugdunum, just a few miles up theriver that flows outside my window as I sit here writing this. Herod didnot deserve to be disgraced, even as I did not, but we both had powerfulenemies, and we both became the victims of those enemies.Herod had been, like his father, Herod the Great, a loyal ally of Romeand a pragmatic ruler of his people. However, his youthful nephew HerodAgrippa was a close boyhood friend of Caligula's, and he wanted to beking of all the Jews, so the realm of Herod Antipas was added to hisown, and Herod Antipas was banished to Gaul in his old age to die.I had dinner with Herod Antipas once in the last year of his life, andwe talked for over an hour about that strange carpenter. His wife waspresent, and she tried to turn our conversation to another odd Jewishmystic, one called John the Baptist, a fellow she had snared her husbandinto beheading. Herod muttered through his beard that it had been amistake to kill John, which it clearly had been, and he spoke again ofthe carpenter, expressing a belief that the man's miracles had beengenuine.During the long years I have been in exile here, I have had few otheroccasions to talk about Jesus of Nazareth. However, an agent of theEmperor came here recently to question me about the man. The reason forthat sudden imperial interest was, of course, the great fire thatdestroyed Rome.I must acknowledge in passing that there are people who think theChristians are not guilty of the crime of starting that fire. Suchskeptics say it is not in accordance with Christian principles to causeso much random death and destruction. Be that as it may, scandal mongersin Rome have been spreading a rumor that it was the Emperor himself whowas responsible for the conflagration, and that created a need to assignblame elsewhere and to proceed at once with spectacular punishments.Whether or not persons punished are responsible for the crimes of whichthey are accused is not the only factor to be taken into accountsometimes. That can be an uncomfortable truth, as it was for me in thecase of the carpenter.It seems the Emperor wants to get rid of the Christians in any event.They have become subversive of the interests of the empire in theirefforts to woo the general populace away from its beliefs in theofficially recognized gods of Rome, including Nero himself, whosedivinity seems important to him.Punishing those wretches is easy to do, and watching them die providespopular entertainment for the citizens of the charred and blackenedcity. Because of the stories of their drinking blood as a part of theirrituals, the Christians had already become objects of public loathing,and severe governmental condemnation became an appropriate way toappease that popular feeling of antipathy.The current concern about this sect has caused me to sit down here at mydesk with a long roll of papyrus, a lot of goose quills, and a pot ofink before me. My purpose is to spend a month of my otherwise idle timerelating and explaining the events in the life of this fellow Jesus ofNazareth. I think it important to let readers know how the man was seenby his own people during his lifetime. Therefore I shall point out thosepeculiarities that set him apart from the other charlatans, demagogues,and zealots who have recently declared themselves to be the messiah, bywhich they mean the deliverer of the Jewish nation from Roman rule. Someof those pretenders have attracted considerable followings and havethereby caused a great deal of Jewish blood to flow. However, with theexception of this single individual, the execution of each of them hasresulted in the disillusionment of his followers.I'll give two examples. When Felix was governor of Judea, he had to dealwith an Egyptian Jew who proclaimed he would bring down the walls ofJerusalem with a breath from his mouth. This shatterbrain presentedhimself east of the city, upon the Mount of Olives, where the messiah isexpected to appear. He was able to assemble four thousand fools toattack the city, but Felix dispatched troops to take him prisoner. Onthe morning that maniac was executed, his movement vanished. Later, whenFadus was governor there, a magi-cian named Theudas persuaded amultitude of Jews to go with him to the Jordan River, which he told themhe would divide to allow them to walk through it dry-shod. To deal withthem, Fadus sent a large detachment of cavalry which killed many of thatmob and took a lot of prisoners. Among them was Theudas. The soldierscrucified him there on the bank of the river, and they cut off his headand took it to Fadus in Jerusalem.Afterward none of his followers ever spoke of him again. It issurprising that a similar falling away has not taken place among theadherents of that carpenter, even though the measures now being taken tosuppress them are thorough and systematic. The agent of the Emperor whocame to see me here informed me that one of those who have beencrucified in Rome recently was a Galilean fisherman named Peter who wasa leader among them because he had been close to the carpenter. Thatimperial representative also told me that another man who had greatauthority among the Christians--an aged Jew named Paul--was beheaded notlong ago in Rome.No doubt this singular sect will disappear with the execution of itsleaders and the extermination of its members throughout the RomanEmpire. At most it may persist for a time in isolated parts of the Eastas a small and esoteric cult.It is difficult for reasonable men to understand how that dead carpentercan continue to attract followers who cling to his memory even whilethey are being nailed to their own crosses. I shall try to shed light onthat mystery by setting forth in writing the facts relating to his lifeand death that have given rise to the legends now current about him.Over thirty years ago, in Caesarea, I heard with some interest reportsfrom Galilee about that charismatic carpenter and the stir he occasionedthere when he laid down his tools and assumed his new identity, that ofa wonder-working prophet. Those earliest reports did not concern medirectly, because the provinces I governed did not include Galilee. Idid not order my agents to start collecting information about him untilhe had left Galilee and was no longer the responsibility of HerodAntipas and had become mine by coming into Judea. From that time untilthe end of his life, I continued to receive reports about him as apotential leader of insurrection in the region for which I wasresponsible. The more his following grew, the more I had to take aninterest in him, until at last he stood before me in the judgment hallof the Fortress Antonia on the last day of his life.I remained as military governor of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea for fouryears after that. During that short time Christianity was alreadybecoming a rapidly growing element among the Jews. Therefore I told myagents to continue to collect information about the crucified carpenterand the increasing legions of his worshipers. When I was dismissed byVitellius and sent back to Rome to be tried before the emperor, Ibrought all that information with me, along with other material bearingupon the danger of messianic movements in that troubled land.In addition, I still receive letters from the few friends I have left inRome, and one of those friends recently sent me a biography of thecarpenter that was taken from a group of his worshipers who werecaptured and then crucified in the arena in Rome. Fortunately that bookcontains a number of direct quotations of things the man said.Because I possess these materials, and because I acquainted myself withthe customs and beliefs and history of the Jews during the years when Iwas their governor, I can tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth andexplain why he lived and died as he did.

Bookclub Guide

1. Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion With what impression of Pontius Pilate did you pick up James Mills's book? What shaped that impression? How did Memoirs of Pontius Pilate challenge if not redefine your understanding of Pilate? 2. Mills has stated his ambition to write a fifth Gospel, one from the perspective of an enemy rather than a follower of Christ. To what extent does Mills succeed? What does his work have in common with the four Gospels? How does it differ?3. Characterize the tone in which Mills's Pilate recounts the time in which his life intersected with that of Christ's. Given the retrospective gaze of the writing, do we discover in it considerable reflection or regret? What explains the evenness with which Pilate chronicles his tumultuous past?4. A number of timely and timeless clashes and contradictions appear in Pilate's memoir: politics and religion, private ambition and public expectation, the secular and the sacred, landed and nomadic cultures, competing truths, faith and reason, literal and liberal interpretations of Scripture, prophecy and paranoia, vilifying and sanctifying, etcetera. Discuss them. What conflicts would you add to the list? What do we learn about these matters in weighing the reasons for Pilate's decisions? Are such issues fated to persist? Why? 5. What do we learn about crime and punishment in Christ's time? What has and hasn't changed today? What connections can we draw between crucifixion and the death penalties of today?6. Mills calls his book a novel, while making clear a fidelity to the depictions of Pilate presented in the four Gospels. Attempt definitions of fiction, mythology, and history vis-a-vis the Bible and Memoirs of Pontius Pilate. Where do the genres overlap? How is each distinct? How does an oral tradition compare to a written one?7. Provide examples of Pilate's qualities and shortcomings. What has the upperhand? Why? Do his weaknesses deepen or compromise his humanity? Why?8. How does Pilate's regard for the God-worshipping Jews differ from his perspective on Roman pagans? Where does Pilate stand on the God/gods question?9. Compare Mills's Pilate to the man depicted in the four Gospels. To which Gospel is Mills most indebted? With which aspects of Pilate's character does he take the most liberty? The least? 10. How is Christ depicted throughout Pilate's memoir? What contributes most to Pilate's understanding of the man's past and present? What weight do you assign to the letters of Joseph ben Caiaphas in coloring Pilate's perception of Christ?11. What import do prophecy, superstition, dreams, and visions hold in Christ's time? What explains a group or individual's willingness to invest much in them? How does the otherworldly shape the worlds of politics and religion? 12. To what extent is Pilate a reliable narrator? What leads you to question or accept the veracity of his telling? Does his memoir attempt some sort of objectivity or play loose with events in the name of self-justification?13. Discuss the scene in which Pilate asks Christ to define truth. What compels such a question, and in what tone is it asked--sardonic, earnest, reflective, etcetera? How does the elusiveness of an answer affect our reading of Pilate's memoirs?14. In his waning years, Pilate notes that "political and religious leaders are willing to tolerate a man of principle only as long as he does not become a nuisance to them." How does his statement resonate in light of the stories he tells? What twentieth-century examples illustrate Pilate's point?15. Seek out non-Christian and non-Western chronicles of Pilate's life, e.g., those collected in Ann Wroe's scholarly biography, Pontius Pilate. How does the depiction of Pilate's character differ from culture to culture, religion to religion? What do the myriad presentations tell about narrators and their subjects? 16. How many are responsible for the death of Christ? Who deserves the most blame? 17. What would you have done in Pilate's dilemma?

Editorial Reviews

--Midwest Book Review