“Sir,” he said, “don’t you agree that a person should do the right thing because it is right and just, rather than for the selfish reward of eternal life in your paradise? What must heaven be like if it is full of such hypocrites?”
My Dearest Sister,
I’ve spoken with our brother Agrippa, and I believe he’ll agree to have you return to Galilee. It didn’t take much convincing. I told him that since he will never marry, he might as well take advantage of the opportunity of having his sister serve as queen. I said, “Yes, people will gossip, but why should you care? You’re the king. You know of her sound judgment and good sense, and who could ever earn the kind of trust that you already have in her? Besides, honestly, what good is Berenice doing in Cilicia? The Romans have it firmly under their thumb. You have an alliance in name only with them.” He listened and did not dispute anything I said.
Finally, to really make the case, I got Marcus Antonius to offer his not-so-inconsiderable opinion on the matter. “Your wise and beautiful sister deserves to be here with you,” he told Agrippa. “She’s wasted as a bauble to a nitwit king.”
I hope you’ll be appropriately grateful to your younger sister if this thing comes off!
Meanwhile Marcus Antonius is at his wit’s end. The Zealots have the country by the throat. Every day, people are murdered by the Sicarii in the marketplaces and in the streets. We never go out anymore unless we bring a detachment of soldiers.
The latest cause of trouble is the quarrel between the Jews and the followers of the Christos, who have been calling themselves Christians. One of their leaders, a man from Tarsus in Cilicia (perhaps you heard of him when you were there) named Saul, or Paul as he is now called, has been baiting the priests and elders, trying to convert them. He went to the Temple and caused such a riot he was nearly lynched on the spot! The commander of a Roman cohort heard of the disturbance and took some soldiers to the Temple, getting there just in time to save his life. The Romans arrested him, and were about to have him flogged, when the man announced that he was a Roman citizen! Seeing there was nothing more he could do, the commander sent his prisoner here to Caesarea for the procurator to deal with.
Marcus Antonius waited for the high priests to come from Jerusalem and then held a trial. It was worse than a farce. Basically they accused this Paul of being a nuisance, and for that they wanted him executed! Marcus Antonius adjourned the trial and sent the priests away. He’s kept Paul under loose guard until he can decide what he wants to do with him.
Since then we’ve come to know the man quite well. He’s become more a guest than a prisoner here. He’s not a witless man and not the type of foam-at-the-mouth prophet our race is so adept at producing. He’s quite harmless—not at all violent—but a man who can’t help himself from preaching! He was once among the worst of the Christian persecutors, then the risen Yeshua came to him in a vision, and now he persecutes the Jews (or so they say)! In that sense, according to Marcus Antonius, he’s a familiar type—a man who must believe. It doesn’t matter what such types believe. They have no problem one day believing in one thing, and the next day, once they have been convinced of it, believing in the exact opposite!
Nevertheless, Marcus Antonius and I were quite taken with him as a most intriguing specimen and have tried to learn all we can of his sect that has so inflamed the Sanhedrin—that body of self-righteous fools who are no better than the murdering Zealots.
When I asked Paul a question concerning the evil god who created the material world, he said that this was a notion out of Zoroaster and had nothing to do with Christianity. There is only one God, he said, and Jesus was his anointed here on earth—and is now for all time in paradise, something like the Elysian fields of the Romans.
Marcus Antonius, who was particularly interested in the Christian system of morals, asked him why is so much emphasis was placed on divine rewards for good behavior. “Sir,” he said, “don’t you agree that a person should do the right thing because it is right and just, rather than for the selfish reward of eternal life in your paradise? What must heaven be like if it is full of such hypocrites?”
“Governor,” Paul replied, “it is not up to me to decide who is worthy of heaven or who isn’t. Yeshua teaches that there is such a thing as eternal justice, and it is based on what God sees in each man’s heart.”
“In other words, you have no answer to my question!”
“Sir, this is not a question for a man to answer,” Paul replied.
“You must excuse me, but this is unacceptable to a Roman mind,” my very Roman husband said. “It’s in our nature to seek answers to all questions. Do I believe the gods—Jupiter or Athena—have the answers—frankly, no. But I do believe it is our duty to seek out those answers.”
“Then the answer to your Roman mind is that goodness is its own reward,” Paul replied. “And that reward is received in paradise!”
“Now I understand why the Sanhedrin is so infuriated with you!”
“Sir,” I said, “my husband is not a Jew, but I am, and I have heard a story from Jerusalem about a married couple named Ananias and Sapphira. It seems that this couple, who became followers of the Christ, sold their property, putting some of the money aside for themselves and giving the rest to your sect. But because they didn’t give you everything and made it seem that they did, God struck both of them dead on the spot! But how can this be? Everything we’ve heard about God from the Christians is that he is a god of mercy. Didn’t your Jesus say, ‘I am warning you! If another believer sins, rebuke him; then if he repents, forgive him. Even if he wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, forgive him.’ What happened to that warning? Is this what your Christianity stands for—the death penalty for even the smallest sin? Or are you as hypocritical as everyone else?”
“I am pleased to hear you quote our Lord,” Paul said. “You have a right to be upset over this incident. I too have found it most distressing.”
“Perhaps,” my husband said, “God and Jesus don’t see eye to eye on the question of money!”
“Our sect has no interest in the material things of this world,” Paul said. “We hold what few possessions we have in common.”
“Then why would God strike this couple down?” I asked.
“Their lie was a lie before God,” Paul said. “I cannot pretend to know what was in the Almighty’s mind.”
“So, it’s a mystery?” my husband said. “Isn’t that what you people say when you run out of explanations?”
“It’s presumptuous of us to attempt to understand God,” Paul said.
“But you explain him all the time,” I said. “Jesus paid with his life for the opportunity to explain God to anyone who would listen. And you may end up paying with yours as well.”
“Some things are revealed and others are not,” Paul said. “The sun gives heat and warmth—this much we know. Do we know how it does this? Such knowledge is not given to us. For men, knowledge is never complete. There is no certainty, only faith.”
“Faith?” my husband said, puzzled by this, to him, alien concept.
“I don’t think,” Paul said, “that is a word that accords with a Roman mind.”
We had many conversations of this sort. And since we both find this topic of intriguing interest, I’m sure we’ll continue our discussions. This Paul is a very remarkable man. I have no doubt he speaks truly. We were very impressed with the way he answered our questions. If he is still there in Judea and you have a chance, you must seek him out and see for yourself. I’ll have more to say on this later.
My scribe has run out of ink. My best to you and your family.
Your loving sister, Drusilla