Ryan Cagle


: to move toward one point and join together : to come together and meet

Jesus is the convergence of Heaven and Earth. He is the place in which the fullness of God steps into humanity and in Him we are invited to see the world through a whole new perspective, one of “Holy Imagination”. This new outlook is radically different than the one offered to us by the world because it refuses to be content with seeing the world as rotten or beyond healing. This new way to see the world is not one in which we ignore reality and pretend like evil and injustice do not exist but rather we see reality as it was always intended and live as agents of the Heaven right in the middle of the Hell around us. We are graciously invited to see the convergence of Heaven and…

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How Did Jesus Get to be So Hot? Where Popular Images of Jesus Actually Came From


Borgia - JesusLyrics for the rap song, B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), include the following line: The white image, of Christ, is really Cesare Borgia. The idea that our modern image of Jesus could be based on a ruthless power-hungry illegitimate son of a pope is startling and farfetched. But it is no more bizarre or fanciful than many other ideas about who Jesus was or what he looked like. And it does have an interesting tale behind it.

To understand the Borgia story requires a bit of context.

It’s All Guesswork

In contrast to what many people believe, we have no authentic physical artifacts confirming the gospel stories, nor descriptions of Jesus from any of his contemporaries. Even the gospels themselves never claim to be eyewitness accounts. Scholars now believe that the stories of Jesus’ life and ministry that have been handed down to us—both within the Bible and…

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When We Tried To Resurrect Our Friend

Once some friends and I tried to raise one of our friends from the dead.

I have a circle of friends I have know most of my life. We met via Church Camp. All of us were Pentecostals of the most fervent variety, cradle tongue-talkers and enthusiasts, prone to “words of knowledge” and ecstatic touches following anointing with oil. We had fallen to the ground, overwhelmed by the Spirit. We had shouted, laughed, and cried all our lives. We considered each other brothers and sisters. We were from Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, cities and towns. All we knew of God, we knew from each other. Twenty-plus years of familial bonding. Some of us were from choral families while others were the children of evangelists, pastors, and overseers (our denomination’s version of bishops). Blessing seemed to walk beside us. We dreamed of one day joining the overseers’ board and leading the church to its next levels. Ministry overseas. Blossoming congregations. A team of Joshuas. All these plans and hopes.

I was in my early twenties. I was off work and my brother and two friends of ours (also brothers) were hanging out in Mississippi when we got a call. Our friend JG, one of the youngest of us, was in a bad jetski accident in Arkansas at a lake, his brother told us, weeping and crying out in strings of glossolalia. Someone had struck him when he was surfacing in the water after falling off while tubing. My fellows and I were at a Chinese buffet restaurant. We sat and waited. We called others in Arkansas and got the same information. JG was going to be fine; he was the craziest and most impulsive of us. The most alive. We all have had people in our lives he were so vibrant we become certain in some part of our souls that they will never die. JG was a brutal prankster, clever and disarming. There was no middle path with him. He was the binding center that kept us together; he was our heart of adventure and youthful recklessness. He was youth itself, golden and immortal. He wrestled with doubts and wondered about his own future. He was the best drummer I’ve personally known. Once, while helping with a revival in Bicknell, Indiana, as we sat after night service, after many of us had powerful experiences of spiritual catharsis, he had felt little. I remember him standing, weeping softly, saying, “All of yall have prophecies and can preach and all that stuff. Nothing like that ever happens to me. Doesn’t God love me? Does God love me? Does God love me?” We held him and wept with him, doling out assurances and hypotheses. These comforted him somewhat. He had a purpose, we told him. He had a destiny.

We sat eating slowly, our movements absent of real thought, waiting for the next bit of news. He’s fine. He’s just a little bruised, a little hurt; he will be ok. My phone (an old flip-phone that made me think of Captain Kirk) rang. I answered, seeing it was JG’s older brother. “What’s up?”
“he’s dead he’s dead he’s dead he’s dead” Jerry screamed and the line clicked off.

My memory is fuzzy here. I looked at my brother; he nodded solemnly. He knew. Deep down, he already knew. I knew I couldn’t have a freakout here in the Chinese restaurant, so I stood and headed toward the doors. I remember stepping off the curb onto the asphalt. When I came to myself my brother was standing over me, telling me to calm down. I was screaming and slamming my head against his car door when he found me, and I came to myself and stood weeping. “We have to go to Arkansas now. We have to go.”
My brother nodded but said, “Eat something. Then we’ll go home and pack some stuff and head that way. You’ve got to keep it together.” (Others similarly lost their control; my friend JSJ was at work at the pharmacy we worked at when JG’s mother called her to tell her JG was dead. Coworkers said she fell to the floor and screamed and screamed and screamed.) The centre cannot hold; things fall apart.

In a few hours we were on the road from Alabama, my brother driving, my friend Ben and I riding with him. We called every friend in our group we could. We had a plan. We had faith. We had a destiny.

We were going to Arkansas to raise JG from the dead.

We reached Arkansas in a bout three hours or so. We assembled ourselves, our circle, and headed resolutely to the morgue. His mother and paternal grandmother sat in the parlor, somber and quiet, almost wept beyond weeping. Of course, we were permitted to go into the morgue. We had a mission.
There he was on the table, like “the evening spread out across the sky.” His neck had been broken by the impact. His neck and jaw were swollen. He was a little bloated. His eyes were shut. His mop of wild curls (almost a blond-brown afro) haloed his face. He was naked save for some boxers. The mortician/funeral director stood off to the side with a woman I assumed to be his wife. We moved forward.

Have you ever had moments in your life wherein your faith felt flawless, as real and set as a jewel? Wherein no doubt remained. Your actions so sure as if your very steps were ordered by the angels. There was no doubt. Absolute certainty. We would embrace him, recite the words, and he would rise. We were as sure of this as you might be of the sunrise. It was a given in our calculations.

We grasped him. We wept over him. Prayers. Glossolalia. My brother, always so uncomfortable with the dead at funerals, lay across him weeping (he told his girlfriend-now-wife over the phone, “My best friend is dead; what do I do now?”). His older brother laid on him, begging him to come back. We wept. We prayed every prayer we knew or could invent. We begged. We supplicated. He stayed on the slab. We rose one by one and eased out into the parlor. We knew: it just wasn’t time yet. Did not Lazarus lie dead four days before he rose? The patterns must repeat, yes? We went to JG and his older brother’s home (they lived with their parents still but JG had set up an apartment and planned to move out soon with his friend/adopted-brother CWR) and we mourned. So many of us. We had the funeral in the city civic center; it was packed out; some stood outside and listened to the funeral; thousands ( I exaggerate not at all) came through those long dark days.

He did not rise the next day. Or the third day. Or the fourth day. Or now. I visited his grave a few months back in Arkansas. I’m starting to forget what he sounded like. That’s the worst, I think: forgetting his voice. We lose him a little fragment at a time, sand caught in the water, vanishing slowly into the blind depths of memory.

When we walked out of the parlor, my pastor at the time (in many ways, my spiritual father) said, “Don’t give up on God. Sometimes He answers in ways we don’t understand or won’t see yet. Don’t lose faith.” I didn’t. I blamed others (none of our circle), saying they had lacked the needed faith to raise JG. In reality, I was hurt beyond healing, and merely lashed out in my anger and sorrow. I don’t believe that now. I have reasons I believe he rose not; panaceas of the mind. But honestly, I don’t know “why” he stayed in the ground, if it was a matter of the right faith (whatever that means).

He’s gone. I like to believe I will see him someday. I hope there is some true resurrection to come. If I don’t see him again (or the others we have lost) let me vanish into the dark and cease to be. A mere scratched line on the face of history and being. I don’t want him to be only a memory. I hope he is waiting out there, beyond the edge of things. I hope he is safe. I hope he is happy. I believe in the Resurrection and World Without End, Amen.

Oh God, my God. If there is nothing of that hope let my bones lie empty of a soul and let my being return to the cosmos, born anew and scattered like still-glowing embers wherein my heart once burned. But, let there be more. And let us share it, and meet like happy thieves, glad to be forgiven, in some Light.

)Around some time after this I read “A Prayer for Owen Meaney.” The last few words are mine, too; my prayer: “O God–please give him back! I shall keep asking you.”)

How Editorial Fatigue Shows That Matthew and Luke Copied Mark

Is That in the Bible?

Church taught me to read the Gospels separately while assuming they all told the same story. Higher criticism, however, has taught me to read the Gospels together while letting them speak for themselves. New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman calls this approach “horizontal reading” in Jesus Interrupted, one of the books that first got me interested in biblical studies. Naturally, it is something that successful Bible scholars have been doing for a long time.

One subject I haven’t written much about yet is the Synoptic Problem. By reading the canonical Gospels horizontally and comparing related passages, it is quite easy to see why scholars almost unanimously believe Mark was written first (i.e. Marcan Priority). I’d like to highlight the phenomenon of fatigue in particular and what it shows us about these texts.

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The Evidence Against Tony Jones

Tony Jones should be DONE after this. But he will pop up again, I’m sure.

R.L. Stollar //// Overturning Tables

The situation surrounding Julie McMahon and her allegations of emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse against Tony Jones have weighed on my heart the last few weeks. I have been discouraged by how prominent members of the progressive Christian community responded to the outcries of abuse survivors. I have been shocked by the callous and thoughtless defenses given by Jones and his compatriots. My heart breaks to think of what messages are being sent by these leaders to those who have suffered abuse in the Church.

At the same time, I have been encouraged by how many people have rallied together to give Julie the chance to share her story and to speak up about their own experiences of abuse. The Twitter teach-in #NotMyProgressiveSanctuary encouraged a vitally important dialogue about how progressive Christians can make their communities and sanctuaries more welcoming for domestic violence survivors and victims (and other marginalized groups).

Throughout the…

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The Song of Solomon is Probably Not About Jesus & the Church

Recently some friends and I were having a Facebook discussion about Bible stuff (almost always a mistake, unless you all EXACTLY agree on EVERYTHING) and I made a light-hearted comment about my surprise at the Song of Solomon being in the Bible (I actually really like it and think it a beautiful dramatic poem). A few friends pointed out they did not see what I saw, seeing the Song as being a poem about Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church. I’m just gonna paste a few quotes from the Song I think kinda debunk this view.


I am very dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!”
The Girl (the object of Solomon’s pursuits) is describing how she is tanned from the field, and so considers herself unworthy as the love of royal king Solomon.
She has kept the vineyards, but has been unable to tend her own beauty. I suppose one could spin this as being about how Jesus loves us despite our unloveliness but I think that’s stretching it.


My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi.”
Come on, guys. She’s talking about him resting his face between her breasts.


I adjure you,[c] O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.”
How is waiting and being careful not to stir up your lover’s desire about Jesus, guys?

This whole section is talking about how hot Solomon thinks his girl is. How is this about Jesus and the Church, again?


   “A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense,myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices—a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow.”
His beloved is a locked garden–that is to say, he hasn’t gotten “access” yet. But he is hoping her “spices” will be “flowing.” *Wink wink nudge nudge.* She follows this with: “Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.” *Triple wink, folks.*


   This is part of a dream sequence of the Girl: “My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. I opened to my beloved…”
Guys, this is some explicit stuff here. Without being too crass, let me explain: She dreams he lays his hand on her “latch” which makes her heart race.
She sits up and her hands “dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. ” I don’t think I need to explain “I opened to my beloved.” What we have here is a case of Biblical erotica.


   This is definitely not about how “hot” Jesus is to the Church. That would be weird.


    “My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices,to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies”
Remember, she is that garden. He has “gone down” to “graze in the gardens.” Still not Jesus-y.

This verse is pretty explicit, because he is definitely not talking about her navel, you guys. Use your imagination and knowledge of anatomy.


   “Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine. It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.”
She is a palm tree and her breasts are its fruit. He wants to climb her and lay hold of her “clusters.” NOT JESUS-Y, GUYS.

   Look, I’m not trying to be vulgar. That’s one reason I’m glad Song is in the canon. We need healthy views of sexuality and this book has them. But we need not spin everything into an allegory of our relationship with Jesus. Our relationships with our spouses is important, too. But, I do not want to think Jesus is wanting to say any of this to me. Sorry.

Jonah ben-Amittai, A Midrash

God said to Jonah, the prophet of Gath-hepher, “Go to Nineveh, the city of the Assyrians; tell them to repent, for the outcry of all they have oppressed and killed has come up to me like a foul incense.” But Jonah, knowing the nature of his God, rose up and fled west, away from Nineveh. He paid to sail on a ship out of Joppa, heading toward Tarshish, to flee the face of God.
A storm troubled the ship. The sailors, mostly Phoenicians, cried out to their hollow-eyed gods to no avail. Soon, they began to seek whom brought such a nemesis upon them–who had angered the gods? They brought all to the deck to pray and plead; perhaps this spot of sea was the dominion of one of these sailers’ gods. Jonah sat, praying; but no avail came. Obviously, it was some divine fury. Cleromancy would bring the answer. The lots fell on Jonah. One said to Jonah, “What have you done? By Tanit and Molech, tell us, who is your god? Is he god of the Great Sea? Of the storms? For we have cried unto ours but they act not. You have wronged your god. Plead with him, lest we all die for your wrong!”
Jonah said, “I am a Hebrew. I fear YHWH, god of the sky-roof. He made the Sea and the Land.”
“Then mayhap he will hear you and have mercy on us.”
“I made an oath to be his oracle, but I have fled his face.”
“What shall be done, then? Yamm will soon swallow us, and we will descend into the house of Melqart.”
Jonah clenched his jaw. “Throw me to him then. The Sea will calm.” So they lifted Jonah up and threw him into the Sea. Within moments the storm ceased, and the waves rested. So the Phoenicians made vows that day to make offerings to the Hebrew’s god in thanks. Jonah sank into the arms of the deep, down into the abyss of tehom. He had escaped, he believed. Soon, his chest would burn, and he would die. And the Assyrians would not be given the chance to be redeemed, and would be destroyed like Sodom.
But something happened.
In the wine-dark sea, something rose up from the abyss and swallowed Jonah, some ancient Leviathan. He didn’t drown. He wasn’t escaped yet. In that strange belly he lay, his skin raw and scrubbed and reeking. And Jonah relented, saying, “YHWH, to you I cry. I know you will answer. In Sheol’s belly I am weeping, and you hear. You hurled me into the abyss, into the sea’s very heart, and the deluge surrounds me. They are your billows and waves that pass over me like the angel of death. I thought I was beyond your sight…but I know I will see your holy temple again. I will not be left here, though the abyss itself closes its fist around me. Crowned with weeds, I descended to the very moorings of the mountains of the world; I heard the earthen gate close behind me, at the edge between the world of the living and dead.
“Yet you have raised my life up out of the pit. O YHWH, my god…when my soul corpsed within me, I remembered you, YHWH, and I prayed to you, and that incense ascended to you in the heavenly temple. Anyone who prays to a worthless idol is unworthy of mercy (like those Assyrians!)…but I will do as I vowed to you, thankfully. Only YHWH can save.”

Light, as in the beginning. Blinding, and so making us able to see.
There is a gush around him. Putrid waters. He tumbles, rushing outward.
If you had been on the shore you would have seen a wild-haired man cast onto the sand. His clothing is tattered and stinks like a fisherboat. He stands on wobbling legs. His skin looks bleached. He coughs. His eyes and nose run. He hacks another cough out. Then, resolutely, he goes east., muttering prayers…sometimes it sounds like he is arguing.

Jonah came to Nineveh. He cried out, “In forty days, Nineveh shall be overthrown for her great evils!” This he cried, this wild man borne up out of the sea. The prophet, seized by the enthusiastic grasp of his god. The king of Nineveh heard his words and heeded them, for the prophet is the mouth of his god; the god of the Hebrews was known among them: the slave-freeing god, the sea and river-parting god, the defeater of the Peleshtim and of Mitsrayim. A god of fire. Maker of sky, water, and land. The king set a vow on the city: all went in sackcloth, their hair full of ashes, and they wept, and no food touched their lips. Even their beasts fasted. And a great cry went up from Nineveh.
Jonah received word from the Lord, and so came to the Assyrians and told them, “YHWH has seen your works; he will relent; he has shown you mercy.” And the Assyrians wept for joy. And Jonah went out of the gates of Nineveh.

But Jonah did not go home. Instead he went up a hill overlooking great Nineveh, sat, and watched them day and night, awaiting their destruction. He said to his god, “This is why I refused you! I know you are merciful and full of grace. I knew you would forgive for any chance you could take! Forgive the Assyrians? I have seen their works, O Merciful One, O Relenting One: children spitted on a post, still alive. Men impaled in rows in city streets, and down the highways to the next city! Women torn open! TORN OPEN! And their babes torn from their bellies and their skulls bashed open on stones! And you forgive them! I saw men with hooks put through their noses and drug across the desert. They put out the eyes of the sons of Israel! I have seen them lay the skins of men on walls as if they were blankets! Savages! They are not men, and they all deserve to burn forever. They are demons in human flesh–and you wanted to save them. I wanted justice for Israel! For my people on this horde of demons! But not you, oh, you always seek a path of redemption, even for these beasts! They nailed children–children!–to the ground and left them. And you tell me you love them! So, yes, I am angry. And I will sit here and wait. They have not changed; I will wait. They will return to their evil and some nemesis or fury shall befall them and Nineveh shall be a memory like Gomorrah and her sister-cities. If not, let me sit here and die in peace.”
Days went by. Jonah made a booth beneath a great tree and rested in its shade. And a kikayon began to grow, and it gave him him great shade; and he sat in the cool shadow, watching Nineveh. He could hear the laughter of children, the bustle of voices in the bazaar, the calls of cattle–and he waited for all of it to die. He wished it. He prayed it. But no voice came to him to tell him Nineveh would burn and tumble into perdition. But at least he was comfortable.
But one day a worm crept along the root of the kikayon; and it killed the root and the plant withered away, so Jonah’s countenance fell. Then the hot sirocco wind came from the east, a wind of Yah, and the shade was gone, and Jonah felt as if he would fall over dead from the heat of the burning eye of the sun. “It is better to just be dead. If they are not dead, I would be dead.”
At last the voice came.
“Jonah, why has your countenance fallen? If one does well, will I not receive them into my fold?”
Jonah groaned. “Lord. Lord, please. Let me die. I am bitter unto death.It is more than I can bear. You have left me in this land of Nod like Cain.”
“And like Cain you wish your brethren dead.”
“Abel had done no wrong. I fail to see your point.”
“No man is without wickedness in his heart. Even you, Jonah. You say Cain’s only sin was that his reason to want to kill his brother was not satisfactory to your judgment? That you may kill your brother as long as your reason is satisfactory to you or those like you?”
“My Lord. Please. Enough.”
“Are you angry that the plant has burnt up and is no more? That the kikayon has died?”
“Yes! Of course I’m angry! Let me die!”
“You pitied a plant. You did not seed it in the soil. You did not give it water or sunlight. You did not rejoice as it grew and spread. You only loved it because it profited you…Yet you cannot love the Assyrians? You loved what you did not conceive. You loved what you did not tend and watch grow up. You loved it though you did not hold it in your hands like a child of your own. There are more than 120 thousand souls in Nineveh. I made them all with my hands. I have watched them grow. I have tended them as my garden. I have loved them, though they profited me little. Yet I desired that they might live, as you desired that the kikayon might live, though you did naught for it but sit in its wealth of shade.”
Jonah spat.
The voice seemed to almost chuckle. “If not the people, what of the cattle in the city? Its sheep? Its doves? Or do you only love what benefits you and you alone?”
What did Jonah say? What do we say?

Pilate: A Midrash, Part 2

Pilate turns to one of the locals turned soldier (Pilate dreams of having real Roman soldiers but such is all he can get in this province; at least they aren’t Jews) and says, “Go, tie his hands and scourge him.” The man is bound to the post in an open yard. Pilate takes a seat; he will count each stroke; it is the will of Rome that will say when the victim has “had enough.” Oh, in more civilized places, the limit is 40 lashes, but out here in godsless Judea…here, Pilate is the lictor.
The lash’s cords are threaded with lead balls, perhaps bits of broken bone; every strike is paralyzing and instantly debilitating. Most men don’t even survive the scourging. Pilate has seen men drug away, their organs hanging out of their backs. Pilate will show Roman mercy–he will beat the malefactor nearly to death…so he won’t have to concede to the mob and kill him outright. The soldier lifts the whip and down it comes, over and over and over. The onlookers listen for each counted stroke: “Unum. Duo. Tria…Quinque. Sex et viginti…Quadraginta…”  Who knows where the count stopped. Who knows when Pilate looked on the man and said to himself, “Here is enough.”
Eventually, after an eternity, it stops. The man quivers at the post, gasping. Pilate can actually see the muscles in his back working with each breath.Sufficit, Pilate thinks. He rises and orders the man be taken back to the steps of the Praetorium. With that, Pilate heads back through the halls. A servant comes to him bearing a letter. He takes it; it is from Procula. She had a nightmare; “Leave the man alone.” How can she know about him? A dark omen. Are the gods trying to turn him from the path?
The soldiers, however, have a game. “Kings,” it is called; played on the tiles with knucklebones. The criminal “wins” each roll, so he receives his royal vestments: a crown of bristling thorns, long and curved as a harvestman’s sickle. Holding it in leather gloves, they shove it down on his head. Blood like water runs. They bring a roughspun cloak of purple (as if he were an Eques on campaign). It clings to his bruised and broken flesh, stuck by blood and filth. His flesh is oozing and scabby, almost black with blood. His legs wobble, but he stands. One soldier grins, “These Jews, always defiant. Always standing when they should kneel,” he says, and strikes the man across the face; but he pulls away when the man looks at him in…love. The criminal says, “It’s alright. It’s alright. Don’t be afraid. Everything is alright.” The soldier hits him again, gasping, and says, “Take him to the governor! Take him! Now! Ite! Ite! Ite!

Pilate cannot believe what he sees: the man before him, in his halls, bloodying the stone with his steps, is a ruin but still has that look of command on his face. This lunatic who claims he is come from beyond the edge of the world, beyond Ultima Thule. Pilate remembers then a story from his youth, the story of King Pentheus and the god Dionysus. When the wild god came among the people of Pentheus, sowing revelry and madness and hunger, and Pentheus refused to believe he was a god. The king jailed the moon-mad man, but the god revealed his divinity, broke jail, and drove Pentheus’ women mad as Bacchae. Pentheus was driven mad by the sight of the god in his unveiled glory and wanders into a bacchanalia. His mother and daughters, delirious with the new god’s touch, think him a wild swine and tear him in pieces. Thus to all men who do not recognize the gods. Pilate must be careful. So careful.
He goes out to the people. “I will show you this man. He is faultless. He is harmless.” He turns to his guard, “Bring him to me.” The mob is quieted. The Sanhedrinists (some are missing, Pilate notices; only those seeking this man’s death are here) stare.
His footfalls are quiet and stumbling. He is brought forth. So much blood. He looks out at the crowd. Pilate looks out and says, “Ide, O anthropos!” The words will echo down to us: Ecce homo. Behold, the Man. What do you see? What will you do with him?
The quiet holds a breath and then, resounding shouts, horrific roaring: “CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!”
Pilate pulled away. His restraint falls away. He screams at the crowd, “YOU CRUCIFY HIM! HE’S DONE NOTHING! LEAVE HIM ALONE! YOU CRUCIFY HIM!”
Caiaphas seized the moment, the nail in the coffin, and screamed at the governor, “We have a law! You have a law! He must be killed because he called himself the son of God!”
Pilate freezes. ‘Son of God.’ Filius Dei. His master, the great Caesar Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus, who was son of the divine Julius. This was a deadly wrinkle. He could shrug off some itinerant madman…but a man accused of claiming kingship over the Jews and to be the son of God…no, Tiberius, moody Tiberius, would have him humbled utterly. If Pilate was lucky, he would only be recalled, perhaps exiled. But to not get rid of a man guilty of maiestas, of defiling the majesty of Rome, incarnate in Tiberius…Tiberius once had a man tortured because he went to the bathroom with a few coins in his pocket; why? Because the coins had the emperor’s face on them. Maiestas. Sejanus wouldn’t even be able to protect him from the cold hands of the gloomy lord. Pilate wrung his hands. No. Damn them. Damn them.
He must ask the man. He has the man brought back into the Praetorium. He grabs his arm, “What are you? Where are you really from? Tell me! Tell me! Tell me what to do!” The man smiles at him. Pilate roars in fear and rage, “To me?! To me, you won’t speak? I have the power to crucify you or set you free!”
The innocent man (the god?) smiles at him, and recites, “To me? To me you have no power at all. It was given to you from someone above you. The ones who brought me here have committed themselves to a greater sin. I am always free, Pontius; you have not the authority to chain me.”
It was too much for Pilate. Obviously, if he is not a god, he is one of their messengers. He had to get rid of him. He had to get rid of him. He went back outside, almost running. “He’s done nothing wrong! Nothing. I will let him go. He has been punished.”
From behind his curtain, Annas speaks, “If you let him go, you are not Caesar’s friend.”
What stew of thoughts boiled in Pilate’s mind? Caught between potential deicide and the wrath of a vengeful son of god, he must act. Perhaps…perhaps better mercy that can be seen, felt. The mercy of the god emperor. Perhaps prayers to the divine Julians will ameliorate his judgment. Perhaps Jove will see his dilemma and not lent him be rent apart. He mutters a prayer to his household gods. He signals to his men and they bring the man down to the Pavement. PIlate looks out at the crowd then holds his glare at Caiaphas. Quietly, defiantly, he says, “Behold your king.” Pilate gets a little delight seeing Caiaphas snarl his face at him. The priest cries it first and the horde follows, “Away with him! Crucify him”
Pilate holds his stare at Caiaphas. “Shall I crucify your king?” He will make this Jew, this atheist say it. Say it! Say it, Jew!
Caiaphas spits, “We have no king but Caesar.
Pilate nods. “Thou sayest.” He turns to his guards: “Take him to Skull Hill; crucify him. Crucify Caiaphas’ king.”
They drag him away and Pilate feels a sort of relief wash over him. He signals for water and washes his hands slowly in front of Caiaphas. “I am innocent of his blood.”
Caiaphas sneers. “His blood on us and our children, then.” When Caiaphas said this, Pilate noticed the preacher shake his head, tears in his eyes. “I forgive you,” he said. Caiaphas spat at him; Pilate stared, his eyes wide. He stifled a hysterical sound that would have been a laugh and a scream. Deicide. Deicide.
A servant brought a stylus and a titlus to the governor. Watching the damned man being led away, Pilate glanced at his accusers and wrote. A final jab at the conspirators, at the mob, at this hellhole called Judea. “Yeshua Notsri,” Caiaphas read aloud in Aramaic, chewing each word, “King of the Jews..No. No. It should say, ‘He said he was king of the Jews.'”
Pilate smiled at the bearded Jew atheist and responded in Greek, “O gegrapha, gegrapha. Go away.”

And then Pilate had lunch brought to him.

Later in the day, Pilate sees the sky go black. On the day divine Julius was murdered there was an eclipse. The sky herself hid her face, for a god had been slain by impious men. Perhaps he wrung his hands. Perhaps he just turned from the window.

Afterword:  I realize I have not followed the Gospels’ accounts absolutely. This was deliberate but not intended as disrespect. I left out the Herodian Interlude in the interest of keeping it all on Pilate. A Midrash is a sort of story-commentary. Pilate has always fascinated me. In some ways I find him one of the more pitiful politicians of history. Pilate, like his Pontii ancestors, tried to find a middle ground; in doing so, he ordered the killing of God. His Samnite forebears were conquered by the Romans while trying to find the middle way. Seeking a political solution, he had his hand in the killing of God. Seek not the kingdom of man, it kills holy ones. Seek the kingdom of God. How much Pilate knew about Jesus prior to the trial is open to speculation; he was at least somewhat aware of him from daily reports, in all likelihood.
Pilate was eventually exiled after he brutally put down a Samaritan uprising. He is lost to history and traditions.

Pilate: A Midrash, Part 1

It is near dawn when the servant wakes Pilate. He sits up, the cold air gnawing numbly at his flesh. Procula rolls away from him, pulling the sheets tighter around her curled form. He turns and sits his feet on the cool stone floor. He sighs, grunts, stretches, and slips his thin slippers on. Unbidden, the servant comes near with a bowl of water. Pilate washes his face. Pilate never notices the servant light the braziers. He raises his robe and urinates in a brass pot. He never even glances at the slave holding it to the governor’s waist.
He sits in a chair by the window as the fingers of dawn scramble over the room. A barber shaves his face clean. Occasionally, you will hear Pilate hiss when his skin is nicked; the barber’s nimble fingers quickly apply a salve. He goes over the daily reports. It’s another of those Jews’ festivals. The worst one, in Pilate’s opinion: when the filthy little hairy atheists celebrate the end of their bondage under a foreign king. The word is raspy and phlegmy in Pilate’s Samnite mouth: Pascha. He eats a bit of bread, puts on his royal-rimmed toga and heads down to the Praetorium to take the seat. Is he worried? Were there ill omen shapes in the water as he washed his face?

After some time his guard brings him through the halls to the great dais. There is already a throng there. In the night, reports have come to him: the Roman appointed Jew-priests had arrested some malefactor or other. Pilate feels a cord of unease pull tight in his chest. What sort of man is it now? Some lestai who wandered the hills, disrupting the Roman roads, murdering publicans on tax collection for divine Tiberius’ coffers. He sits, staring at that damned Caiaphas walking forward, his father-in-law Annas behind, resting behind the curtains of his palanquin. The temple guards draw a ruin of a man forward, wearing a tattered robe. The blood spilt on it looks fresh to the governor’s soldier’s eye. Pilate signals the High Priest forward. “Joseph Caiaphas, why have you come?”
Caiaphas’ eyes are defiant–despite his dependence on Gentile gold and power: “We have brought this malefactor to you for judgment.”
Pilate cannot resist a little jibe at the Jews,”What do you say he has done?”
The whole retinue answered, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.”
Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” What are they playing towards?
Caiaphas looked wounded.“It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”
At those words, Pilate leans forward. What could this roach have done to offend these little cut-throats? Pilate thought he knew who the man might be: Annas and his court ran the temple bazaar, and made a hoard off of the pilgrims come to make sacrifice to the Hebrews’ one little god. Reports said some backwater enthusiast had overturned the moneychangers’ tables and freed all the sacrificial beasts. No doubt Annas’ heart lurched at such a financial loss that day. But it couldn’t simply be that…and if they were seeking death….
“He says he is the King of the Jews,” Caiaphas snarls.
Maiestas…could it be sedition? An act of treason against holy Lady Roma? A defilement of the augustan, divine-brought Pax? The man does not move; but his eyes…Pilate averts the man’s stare: he seemed to stare right at the governor, fearless. No, this man was no bandit. What? What? What?
Pilate’s guards bring the Jew into the Praetorium. His accusers do not follow; the very stones of the floor would defile them from their feast. The prisoner has no option, but Pilate notes this strange Jew seems unbothered by the idea of defilement. Perhaps he thinks he cannot be defiled, ha! Pilate brings an interpreter forward to translate the mongrel Aramaic into blessed Greek. Pilate looks on the tatters of the man and, smiling, like he would at a festival Fool, he asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
The man looks at Pilate fearlessly. This unnerves Pilate somewhat. The prisoner says, “Do you want to know if I am king, or did they tell you to ask?”
Pilate pulls aback. Was that insubordination? As if a man educated in Rome, patroned by the lieutenants of the son of god Tiberius himself, would give one hang about some Jewish custom, some rule for these filth that cut at their own genitals like some barbarous tribe of the moonstruck? Pilate snarled, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?”
There was a long pause, as the prisoner was taking measure of the judge and not vice versa. What is wrong with this Jew? Is he mad? The bloodied man sighs, and speaks as if he is reciting lines he has learned at the crib, in the long ago, “My kingdom is not of this kosmos. If My kingdom were of this kosmos, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
Pilate is stricken. ‘Kosmos?’ What does that mean? A kingdom beyond the dome of the sky? What is this man saying? A kingdom that had no need of blade and shield, of armor, or coins or horsemen? Pilate stutters, starts to speak a few times, stopping before he even begins. The guards glance at each other: When has Master Pilate ever been caught speechless,especially by some uneducated hill-Jew? Finally, he speaks, and a relief fills the room; the master will lead. Pilate latches on to the one clause that seems coherent, that would be found in a real world.
Pilate said to Him, “Are You a king then?”
The man replies, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
How long is this moment? Is there silence? A nervous chuckle in that knight’s mouth? How much do we all wrestle with that question, caught on its horns like brother Pilate, wrested off our feet, trying to find our footing, trying to answer, Jacob caught in the fiery grasp. Unable to escape, we gasp and plead; the Man touches us, and we are not the same.
‘The truth,’ the man said. The definite article. Not some truth, but the Truth, untarnished and incorruptible. What was happening? Pilate speaks, his words falling over each other in a hurried but defiant stumble–or maybe hopeful, hoping for some divine word, some hidden gnosis to heal his turbulent innards, but all that comes out, just the same, are those words, “What is truth?”
The man gives no reply; perhaps the man is the reply.
At that, the governor steps out to the steps again; the mob has grown with pilgrims and rubberneckers. He says to the Jewish rulers, “I find no fault in Him at all.” At that, Pilate watches the crowd roil and squirm like maggots on meat. He feels them pull from him. His mouth tastes like copper. Perhaps, he turn their own customs against them. He has to get this man, whatever he is, away from him. He troubles him–like looking at a tree with wonder, and suddenly seeing Faunus lazing among the branches. He will use their own barbarous ways against them, yes. “But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” Yes, remind them he is just some madman, harmless. Some Dionysiac foundling who does no more than wander the hills shouting at the sky. Harmless. But–
Then they all cried again, saying, “Not this Man, but Bar-Abba!” Bar-Abba? That was unexpected; Bar-Abba was a convicted traitor, a murderer of Romans and Hellenist-leaning Jews. The priests had out-planned him. This was their mob. They were trying to play the representative of divine Tiberius! So be it; Pilate will play till the bitterest end. Perhaps he can turn the mob…He will beat the man. No, he will scourge him, scourge him so badly no other punishment be needed.