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The Passion of Rev. Wright

1:55 PM, Mar 28, 2008 • By STUART KOEHL
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Michael posted this quote last night from a 2003 sermon by Reverend Wright:

"Remember it was soldiers of the Third Marine Regiment of Rome who had fun with Jesus, who was mistreated as a prisoner of war, an enemy of the occupying army stationed in Jerusalem to insure the mopping up action of Operation Israeli Freedom."

What can one say but. . . Wow! It takes real talent to make up stuff like that. Where can one even begin to deconstruct it. Wright has such a breathtaking insouciance with regard to truth that his statements simply deny contradiction. "Third Marine Regiment of Rome"? He's got a Roman order of battle a lot better than any I have seen. In any case, there were no "Roman" troops in Judea in March of AD 33. The nearest legion was up in Syria. There was a cohort of auxiliary troops, but these men were not Roman citizens; most were probably Syrians and Egyptians; a few were probably Jews. We "garlic noses" get a bum rap on that one.

On the matter of an "occupying army" in Jerusalem, again, there were only about 500 (at most 1000) auxiliary troops in all of Judaea. Only a hundred or so were regularly stationed in Jerusalem (at the Antonia Fortress); the Praefect Pontius Pilate probably brought a few hundred more from his capital at Caesarea Maritime. If only we could be so efficient at "occupation"!

On that subject, Reverend Wright is apparently unfamiliar with just how Pontius Pilate got to be the Praefect of Judaea (a thankless job if ever there was one). Judaea, you see, had been an independent client kingdom under Idumean Jew King Herod the Great. When he died, his son Archelaus inherited his kingdom, which he continued to govern for another six or seven years at least. But his rule proved so brutal and inept (his dad had been brutal, but efficient) that his subjects, the Jews, appealed to Caesar Augustus in Rome to be made a province of the Roman Empire. Thus, Archelaus was deposed, and Judaea made a second-rank province under a Praefect from the Equestrian order, subordinate to the Senatorial province of Syria. Pilate was appointed to his post by Tiberius Caesar, and held his position from about AD 26 to AD 36. He may not have been popular, but he was governing Judaea because the Jews themselves asked Rome to govern on their behalf.

And for the most part, the period from the 20s through the early 40s were relatively peaceful; there may have been some sporadic rebellions here and there, and endemic banditry in the countryside, but there is no evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with Roman rule until the time of Gaius Caligula. If you want to point to when the situation truly deteriorated, look to the 50s and 60s, under Nero, when a series of brutal and corrupt governors sparked rising nationalist sentiments. It is at this time that we find Jewish terrorist groups like the Zealots and the Sicarii causing widespread violence, culminating with the Jewish Revolt of AD 66.

Which brings us to an interesting side note: the two most ancient and authentically African Christian Churches, the Church of Ethiopia and the Church of Eritrea, both venerate the "garlic nose" Pontius Pilate as a saint, canonized in the sixth century and commemorated on 25 June.