How could Jesus—who preached righteousness before God, and love and mercy toward neighbors—be so hated and pursued? To the Temple officials, he was a threat to the livelihood and authority of the priesthood. To Herod Antipas, he was a threat to his ambition to be the King of the Jews. And to the Roman overlords, he was seen as a dangerous threat; a man who commanded an army of the common people. He could heal wounds, offer miraculous provisions, and even raise from the dead. If Jesus had accepted popular acclaim and become an earthly king, he would have been unstoppable.
Jesus’s last days are explored through three people who interacted with him: Governor Pilate, for whom Judea will either make or break his career; Pilate’s wife, Claudia, desperately seeking aid for her much loved, crippled son; and Centurion Marcus Longinus, caught in the middle between loyalty to the Empire, love for Claudia, and an ever-increasing belief in Jesus as the Son of God. After encountering Jesus, none of them will ever be the same.
Supper concluded, Caesar rose again and addressed the crowd. “Rome’s honor is indeed mine to share with whomever I choose. And tonight I have additional honors to bestow.”
The crowd waited expectantly.
A crooked smile turned up one corner of the emperor’s mouth. “Such as my son-in-law.”
A flush burst across Pilate’s face. He never could hold his wine. Marcus prayed, for Claudia’s sake that tonight Pilate could hold his tongue.
“For Pontius Pilate,” Caesar continued. “A fellow who thinks of himself . . . I mean to say, thinks for himself.”
Pilate squirmed. Color leapt across the space between them, imprinting scarlet on Claudia’s cheeks as well.
“Tribune Pilate, you are present tonight so I can honor you as well as General Severus and Centurion Longinus. Now that you have proven . . .” Caesar’s next words were uttered singly and distinctly. Each hung in the air like the beat of a wave on a rocky shore. “What . . . metal . . . you . . . are . . .made . . . of.”
There was a collective intake of breath at the threat hanging over Pilate’s head, as if the entire audience sensed the panther about to spring. The emperor had once been a soldier-a good one, plainspoken and forthright. Since those days he had learned the ways of politics well.
“We tested your military metal in the cold north, but in the east there is a hot land, requiring a different sort of alloy . . . a political metal. Two governors have failed in their duty to me. I hereby appoint you to the office of Prefect of Judea. We shall see how you distinguish yourself in governing the Jews.”
The exaggerated color drained from Pilate’s face. He became nearly as pale as the tile clouds surrounding the mosaic face of Augustus Caesar set into the ceiling.
Marcus saw Claudia bite her lip and give the smallest shake of her head.
Judea, where better men than Pontius Pilate had already tried to govern and failed. One had been too harsh, another too lax. Both men had succumbed to pressure in the form of Jewish letters of complaint addressed to Tiberius on two distinct themes.
The way this man acts, he is no friend of Caesar. His measures cause riots and interfere with the collection of taxes.
He is failing to control bandits, which interferes with the collection of taxes.
It was rightly said that the Jews were stiff-necked people, impossible to govern. Even though they were left alone to worship their invisible, unnameable deity, there seemed no pleasing them.
Marcus did not envy Pilate his task, but there was no refusing an Imperial offer. It was a command.
To those who knew the tension between Caesar and his son-in-law, the threat was perfectly clear. This appointment was Pilate’s last chance to make good.
I feel like I have been waiting for this novel for years. Ever since I began reading The AD Chronicles with First Light back in 2003 or 2004 I sensed (and hoped) that this was where the Thoenes would eventually take us. Both The AD Chronicles and The Jerusalem Chronicles bring the Gospels to life in way that is unparalleled by anything else I have ever read – fiction or non-fiction. They are rich with historical detail, as well as both Jewish and Biblical insight, and feature a cast of characters whose lives are transformed by Yeshua.
Many of these characters are based directly on encounters recorded in the Gospels, but whereas the Gospels usually devote only a few verses to the encounter itself, these novels flesh out the personal stories behind the encounters. In Behold The Man, we have the story of Marcus Longinus, the Roman Centurion who stood at the foot of the cross and declared, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” We also have the story of Claudia, the wife of Pontius Pilate, who is recorded in Matthew as having told her husband, “Have nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.”
With few historical details to go on, Brock and Bodie have created an emotionally charged and entirely plausible history for Marcus, Claudia, and Pilate. I was initially surprised to find that this story began prior to Pilate being appointed as Prefect of Judea; in Germania, to the north of Rome, where Pilate and Marcus have spent two years fighting the Cherusci under Severus. When Pilate is captured and held for ransom, Marcus mounts a daring rescue campaign under cover of night that is so successful it routs the Cherusci and earns Marcus the corona obsidionalis – the highest and rarest of Rome’s military decorations. He returns to Rome a hero, with Pilate skulking in his wake.
It did not take me long to realise that this was the perfect beginning to establish the emotional and political tensions that drove these characters. In a fantastic scene that is just bursting with subtext, Tiberias Caesar appoints Pilate as Prefect of Judea – a final opportunity for Pilate to ‘make good.’ Knowing full well the humiliation Pilate feels at having been shown up by Centurion Longinus, as well as the jealousy he still harbours over Claudia’s love for Marcus, Tiberias’ decision to appoint Marcus as Primus Pilus – chief centurion – of Judea is a provocative one; and so the personal and political tensions continue to mount.
The novel does not attempt to cover everything that occurs in the years between Pilate’s appointment and Christ’s crucifixion, but it does cover the important political and personal events that impact these characters, eventually bringing them into contact with Jesus himself.
As much as I love the Thoenes’ wrting (and I do highly recommend this novel), I have to confess to being a little disappointed by this novel for two reasons. The first is that I couldn’t get past the feeling that so much of Marcus’s story was missing. We learn that he takes a beautiful Jewish woman as his mistress – Miryam of Magdala – but Miryam herself does not have a significant role in the novel. Their story is actually the basis for an earlier book written by the Thoenes in the Zion Legacy series titled ‘The Jerusalem Scrolls‘, and continued in the subsequent books in the series, ‘Stones of Jerusalem‘ and ‘Jerusalem’s Hope.’ It is a bittersweet story, and painful to read at times, but I highly recommend reading those books in conjunction with this one to get Marcus’s full story. I realise there is no way that all of this could have been combined into one book, but it almost felt like Marcus existed in two parallel stories, despite the few overlapping scenes.
The other reason I felt a little disappointed was that the novel ended too abruptly for me. I don’t know whether the Thoenes have any plans to write about the days immediately following the resurrection, but I felt as though I needed more resolution, more time for the closure to become real. And I would dearly love to see Marcus happily settled with a wife. Perhaps that’s just the romantic idealist in me and I know life doesn’t always work like that, but I’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for him…
On the whole, I do highly recommend this novel and can’t wait to see what the Thoenes have planned next.
I received a complementary copy of this novel through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 1 March 2016
Author’s website: http://www.thoenebooks.com/