October 23, 2009

On the Possible Whereabouts of the Shroud in Post-Resurrection Times (2 of 3)

Continued from Part 1

Part 2 - The Shroud in Apocryphal Literature

The canonical Gospels did not give us the answer. But the history was picked up by apocryphal writings. Saint Jerome in his Of Illustrious Men, 2, quotes from The Gospel according to the Hebrews : “Now the Lord, when he had given the linen cloth unto the servant of the priest, went unto James and appeared to him (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour wherein he had drunk the Lord’s cup until he should see him risen again from among them that sleep), and again after a little, ‘Bring ye, saith the Lord, a table and bread’, and immediately it is added, ‘He took bread and blessed and broke and gave it unto James the Just and said unto him: My brother, eat thy bread, for the Son of Man is risen from among them that sleep’.” At the time of translation St Jerome believed that this was the original Hebrew Matthew. He changed subsequently his opinion, but the facts related cannot suffer from that. Montague Rhodes James draws the attention on the passage of the giving over of the linen cloths to the servant of the priest, commenting that the passage implies that the priests have been apprised of the Resurrection as soon as the apostles. Who was the servant? Rhodes James surmises that it was Malchus.[5]

The Gospel of Gamaliel gives us a different version.[6] Pilate had a dream of the risen Lord. In panic he called for the scribes and the Elders urging them to explain his dream. The Roman soldier, who was on watch at the time of the Resurrection, comes in with the report of the disturbing news. The whole company, Pilate and the members of the Sanhedrin, goes to the tomb. Pilate enters the empty tomb and like the Apostles sees the linen lying there and says to the centurion: “I know that the man, who was involved in this shroud, is indeed raised from the death.” He then takes the shroud, kisses it and hands it over to the centurion who was blind in an eye and disfigured. The soldier kisses it and applies it to his eye and he began to see and his horrible scar disappeared at once, a significant detail that we will talk about later in relation to the healing of Tiberius. What follows is the story of the discovery in a well of the corpse of a crucified man wrapped in a shroud. The matter seemed to be solved, but Pilate orders Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to identify the corpse, which turned out not to be of Jesus, and to compare the shrouds. They have no hesitation in recognizing the right one. He orders them to bury the corpse found in the well in the same way they buried Jesus. As soon as they rolled the stone the assistance heard a voice from within calling loudly to be let out because Jesus Christ brought him back to life. It turned out that it was the good robber crucified with Jesus. Pilate ordered the arrest of the scribes and sacked the Sanhedrin. Back home he shows the two shrouds to his wife Procla. She indicated without hesitation the true shroud and took the linen in her care. Pilate asked the centurion for a complete report and ordered King Herod Antipas to restore urgently all “judicial errors” against the risen Jesus. Herod and the High Priest studied the letter of Pilate and decided to take action to stop that nonsense. They ask Pilate for a contrary decision and require the return of the two shrouds on the grounds that, according to the Law of Moses, they were ritually unclean. Pilate agreed with the King’s request, but Procla refused to hand over the linen, stressing that she was not bound by the Jewish law (it is another indication that Pilate, even otherwise convinced, was making all the efforts to respect the Law of Moses). According to later sources Procla handed over the Shroud to Luke the Evangelist, who passed the cloth to St. Peter.[7]

The discussions around the authenticity and the reliability of the Gospel of Gamaliel seem to miss a point. It is a very terse description of a judicial investigation. Pilate interrogates the witnesses, undertakes a forensic analysis, investigates the crime scene and orders a re-enactment. Finally, after due consideration and judgment, orders the revising of the sentence by the lawful authorities; authorities that, according to Gamaliel, chose once again to use extra judicial means to expedite the case by suppression of witnesses and destruction of material evidence i.e. the Shroud. The Gospel of Gamaliel relates the story of the hired assassins who killed the centurion, his companions and the good robber. It is impossible to doubt that Pilate referred the case to the Emperor. The argument that the Roman historians do not mention anything about it is a case of “argument by silence” which hardly proves anything. “The silence” of Tacitus, for instance, is precisely due to the loss of the books of his Annals relating to the period (i.e. the end of the reign of Tiberius, the reign of Caligula and the first six years of Claudius). All the reports addressed by Pilate to Tiberius and Herod as well as the responses of the Emperor to Pilate and of Herod to Pilate, which survived in the “apocryphal” literature are based on authentic documents. We cannot bring ourselves to think that these “traditions” common to the entire Christianity are just a flight of unbridled imagination. Gamaliel is a saint both for the Roman-Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. The Martyrologium Romanum makes him a saint, celebrated on August 3. In the Orthodox Church he is celebrated twice, firstly on January 4 at the “Sobor” (Gathering or Synaxis) of the Apostles, and secondly on August 2, when the Orthodox Church celebrates the Translation from Kafargamala (the hometown of Gamaliel) to Constantinople, of the relics of the Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen, the pupil, like the Apostle Paul, of Rabbi Gamaliel buried there by his teacher.

We also have the Gospel of Nicodemus, better known as the Acts of Pilate. Certainly they are not the “original” Acts of Pilate and they cannot be dated earlier than the fourth century. But critics have dismissed too lightly their relationship with the writings that Justin Martyr and Tertullian spoke about, namely the report of Pilate to Tiberius preserved in the archives of Rome. The critical opinion is summarized by Montague Rhodes James, the editor of The Apocryphal New Testament: “The truth of that matter is that he (Justin Martyr) assumed that such records must exist” (emphasis ours).[8] It is hard to believe that Justin could have made such unfounded allegations in his address to the Emperor. The truth of the matter is that the allegations were made in the First Apology of Justin, addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius with the specific purpose to demand a judicial investigation in relation to the unjust charges brought against Christians who were being persecuted “for their name”. He clearly evoked imperial decrees (certainly the one of Trajan, which made Christianity a religio illicita) and tried to counteract them with other official acts. Justin was far from the “apologist” of the common parlance i.e. biased, uncritical and gullible. And Tertullian was a lawyer. They knew what they were talking about, with cogent arguments. The critics had to admit that the original Acts and the documents on which they were based had been destroyed during the persecution of Diocletian and replaced by a fabricated version of them “full of every kind of blasphemy against Christ”, as Eusebius puts it, alleged to be the “true” Acts.[9] Imperial edicts ordered to be exhibited openly for everyone to see in every place, both town and country and that primary school teachers should give them to children, instead of lessons, for study and committal to memory, says Eusebius. It brings to mind the methods and practices of the “scientific atheism” propaganda which prevailed in the now defunct Communist regimes! It is no less than the promotion of other “true histories of the origins of Christianity“, like the famous bestseller The Da Vinci Code. “It is imagined by some that our book (the Acta Pilati) was a counterblast to these”, adds Montague Rhodes James. It is rather a reconstruction of the lost documents made shortly after their destruction. The Acta Pilati introduces the name of Berenice, Beronice in the Coptic version, Veronica in the Latin version who was to have a great treasure. The Acts refer to her only as a witness, bringing the testimony of her healing from an issue of blood by touching the garment of the Christ. In medieval developments of the legend she became the possessor of the “likeness” of Jesus. It is interesting to mention that The Golden Legend of Jacobus of Voragine, in the life of Saint Martha made a startling affirmation: “That woman Emorissa, whom our Lord healed, Ambrose saith that it was Martha”, the sister of Mary Magdalene. She was probably not, but her association with the Shroud is significant in view of the later developments.

The Mors Pilati, the Cura sanitatis Tiberii and the Vindicta Salvatoris[10] contain the legend of the healing of the Emperors Tiberius and Titus by the likeness of Jesus. Tiberius was suffering from a disease. Hearing from a Jew about the miracles of Jesus he sent to Jerusalem a “great officer” Volusianus, Volusian or Velosian to bring the “great physician who healed all sicknesses”. With Jesus being dead, Volusian had to make do with his likeness which cured the woman Veronica of her issue of blood. Tiberius was duly cured and punished Pilate. In the Vindicta Salvatoris Titus was a king in Aquitaine in the city of Libia called Burdigala in the time of Tiberius. He was suffering from a cancer which ate his right nostril and his face was eaten away up to his eye. He is cured just by expressing his desire to avenge the death of the Lord. Then along with Vespasian he went to Jerusalem to fulfill his promise. There they found Veronica and asked Tiberius to send Velosian. Velosian arrived “after a year and seven days” and first found Joseph and Nicodemus who told him of the burial, as well as of Joseph’s imprisonment and deliverance by Jesus. Then Veronica came and told of her healing. Velosian had Pilate arrested and put in an iron cage. Then he questioned Veronica who denied that she had the likeness. He threatened her with torture and eventually she produced it. Velosian adored it, put it in a golden cloth and locked it in a box and embarked for Rome, taking Veronica with him. After another year they arrive at Rome. There follows the story of the cure of Tiberius as we know it from the other sources with the addition that Tiberius was baptized after his healing. The Vindicta Salvatoris is very much confused. It is obviously the combination of two stories. King Titus of Aquitaine and Vespasian are undeniably the two emperors of the Jewish War, both of them Titus Flavius Vespasianus.

In The Golden Legend which contains the life of Saint James the Less, there is another variant: Pilate sends a messenger, Albanus, to Caesar to excuse himself for the condemnation of Jesus. Albanus is driven ashore in Galacia and brought to Vespasian, who derived his name from the fact that he was troubled by a wasps’ nest in his nose. Vespasian is healed by declaring his belief that Jesus was the Son of God and that he could cure him. The Golden Legend contains also the story of the meeting between the Emperor and the historian Josephus, and the story of the discovery of Joseph of Arimathea built up in a very massive wall where he survived miraculously sustained with light and food from heaven.

The Greek version of the Acta Pilati contains a lamentation of Mary Magdalene: “Who shall make this known unto all the world? I will go alone to Rome unto Caesar. I will show him what evil Pilate hath done, consenting unto the wicked Jews.”[11] This story is very popular in the Orthodox Church. Tradition has it that the Emperor Tiberius was diseased in an eye. Mary Magdalene showed him a red egg, greeting him with “Christ is risen”! The Emperor was instantly cured! The story is more elaborate, but the detail of the diseased eye is significant. It is precisely a detail taken from the Gospel of Gamaliel, that of the centurion who recovered the vision in an eye after touching the Shroud. Also Titus from Vindicta Salvatoris suffered from a disease which ate his face up to his eye. The centurion of the Gospel of Gamaliel was disfigured. There can be little doubt that so particular a detail was based on the testimony of Gamaliel. The lament of Mary Magdalene recorded in the Acta Pilati is a sufficient source of the tradition of Veronica. The real Veronica was Mary Magdalene.

Another character in the literature of Pilate will give us a further clue. Who was the mysterious Volusianus, Volusian, Velosian? We know of two Volusiani in Roman history. One is Caius Vibius Afinius Veldumianus Volusianus (Roman Emperor from 251-253 AD), the son of the emperor Trebonianus Gallus; the other Caius Ceionius Rufius Volusianus (246-315 AD), an important personage under Maxentius and Constantine. But both belong in the third and fourth centuries. Looking at the first century we find a very famous character: Lucius Volusius Saturninus, a very long lived Roman senator who served every emperor from Augustus to Nero, until he died at the beautiful age of 93. A man of “egregia fama” and immense wealth, whose splendid villa could be admired near Rome and mentioned by Tacitus[12] and Pliny the Elder (who gave him as an example of youth in old age since he fathered a child at the age of 78), and known by an inscription dedicated by Nero in the Theatre of Pompey. He was consul, proconsul of the Province of Asia, legatus augusti propraetore under Augustus and Tiberius in “provinciis…et Dalmatia”, augur, sodalis augustales; he died still being Praefectus Urbi, honored with a public funeral and seven statues in important places in Rome. The inscription is broken at the list of the provinces, but we know that he was the legate of Syria in the years 4-6 AD.[13] We can speculate further and surmise that he was the Saturninus mentioned by Josephus Flavius as the husband of Fulvia, a noble Roman lady who embraced the religion of the Jews.

Fulvia, persuaded by four Jewish swindlers, gave them a large amount of gold to be sent to the Temple in Jerusalem.[14] But the four rascals spent the money themselves. Saturninus informed the Emperor, who ordered an inquiry which led to the banishment of the Jews from Rome, largely attributed to the anti-Semitism of the infamous Sejanus, the Prefect of the Praetorium and confidante of Tiberius. Volusius Saturninus was therefore a most suitable envoy to carry out the investigation ordered by Tiberius in the affairs of Judaea. The story of Josephus Flavius follows immediately after a long denunciation of Pilate and the famous passage about Jesus Christ, the testimonium flavianum, which seems in fact to be another accusation against Pilate, which would, we think, plead for the authenticity of the famous passage. Josephus Flavius gives the general impression that the events were somehow related. But the expulsion of Jews from Rome, probably at the instigation of Sejanus, took place in the year 19 AD. The background was the popular discontent about the money that the Jews from all over the Roman Empire were sending to the Temple of Jerusalem. One of the grievances of the Jews against Pilate was that he used the Temple treasury to finance the construction of an aqueduct. We should see the investigation ordered by Tiberius in this general context. We should certainly add the messianic agitations of the “fourth philosophy” of Judas the Galilean, which in time led to the outbreak of the Jewish War. In this context the trial of a “King of the Jews”, followed by the most incredible claims was of the nature to attract the serious attention of the Emperor. Another case related to Judaea was soliciting his attention. The prince Herod Agrippa, grand-son of Herod the Great was busy denouncing his uncle the tetrarch Herod Antipas, to the Emperor. Not obtaining satisfaction from Tiberius, he befriended the heir of the throne, Caligula, and at a banquet he made the wish that the sun of Caligula would soon shine upon the world. These were not certainly words to please the Emperor; they were no more, no less a case of crimen maiestatis, high treason, from a prince who ambitioned to restore the kingdom of Herod the Great and was also an enemy of the Christians. It is particularly interesting that Tiberius seemed to take a great interest in murder cases. Tacitus describes the case of the murder of Apronia, the wife of Plautius Silvanus. She was thrown out of a window by her husband. Summoned before the Emperor, Plautius pretended that his wife commited suicide. Tiberius proceeded in person to the house and inspected the premises, discovering signs of violence and resistance in the bedroom. From these signs he drew his conclusions and referred the case to the Senate and it was entered for trial.[15]

Tiberius certainly ordered an inquiry in the circumstance of the death of Jesus. He sent Volusius with the mandate to summon before the Emperor the witnesses and to present the material evidence in dispute: Mary Magdalene, Joseph and Nicodemus, Pilate, the Shroud and the Lance that pierced the side of Jesus! Tertullian. in his Apology (cap. 5), said that Tiberius was so moved that he proposed the reception of Christ among the gods of Rome, but the Senate refused because it had not itself given its approval. The passage is reproduced in Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica (2.2). It is reproduced also in the History of Armenia of Moses of Chorene. He adds that Tiberius threatened with death the accusers of the Christians. The Golden Legend tells in the story of the feast of St. Peter ad Vincula of the wish expressed by Agrippa to Caligula to see the death of Saint Peter and the imprisonment of Agrippa for this reason. The story related by Tertullian and Eusebius is considered by critics “inherently improbable and inconsistent with what we know about Tiberius”. I dare say that on the contrary, it is inherently probable and consistent with what we know about Tiberius; in this particular case, his keen interest in judicial matters and thorough investigation of murders. As in the case of Apronia, the Emperor, after the investigation, referred the case to the Senate. His proposal to receive Christ among the Roman divinities might also mean that he submitted to the Senate the recommendation to quash the accusations against Jesus, maybe also against Pilate. The Volusianus of the Vindicta Salvatoris, (i.e Volusius Saturninus) puts a “year and seven days” to arrive in Judaea and another year to return to Rome. If the dates offered by the Vindicta Salvatoris can be an indication, the “cure” of Tiberius occurred roughly between 35-36 AD. Pilate remained in Judaea until 37 AD. Josephus tells us that he was removed from office by the new governor of Syria, Vitellius, following fresh complaints from the Jews and sent to Rome to answer before the Caesar. But Tiberius died in March 37 AD. Practically the Kingdom of Herod the Great was restored in favor of Agrippa where he displayed a great zeal in persecuting the Christians and playing the divine king. Herod Antipas was exiled to Vienne in Gallia.

What happened then to Pilate? Two different views prevailed. The Coptic Church sanctified him as a convert to Christianity and a martyr. Primitive Christianity took a rather positive view. In the Christian West, he remained rather the villain who killed Jesus. Pilate was either executed by Tiberius himself or killed himself in prison. But The Golden Legend (“The Passion of our Lord”), recounting the same story found in Mors Pilati, offers another variant: “In Scholastica Historia (of Petrus Commestor) is read that Pilate was accused before the Emperor Tiberius (of the slaying of the Samaritans)…And for these things he was sent to Lyons in exile to die among the people of whom he was born. And this may be well supposed that this history be true… But when the Emperor heard how he had made our Lord Jesus to die, he made him return from his exile and come to Rome. Eusebius and Bede in their chronicles say not that he was imprisoned and put in exile, but that he fell in despair and he slew himself with his own hand”. There is considerable confusion in the sources. In Mors Pilati Tiberius could not judge Pilate because he was wearing the seamless tunic of the Christ and the rage of the Emperor subsided every time. Eventually he followed the advice of a Christian and stripped him of the tunic to give way to his wrath, sentencing Pilate. He killed himself in prison. His corpse was thrown in the Tiber but because the demons gathered at the place provoking storms, the corpse was taken out of the river and carried off to Vienne on the Rhine and then buried in the territory of Lausanne. We think that this contrived story says essentially that Pilate was exiled to Vienne (not far from Lyons) where he committed suicide, but as Eusebius says, in the time of Caligula (HE, 2.7). And where his supposed tomb resides is shown to everybody. Had his bitter enemy Herod Antipas, exiled also to Vienne, helped Pilate to fall into despair, likely by continuing to denounce him to the Emperor? It may be that it was Caligula who summoned Pilate back to Rome. It should be clear that Caligula reversed the measures of Tiberius in regards to the Jesus question. Caligula was too keen to make himself a god.

Part 3