JERUSALEM – A spokesman for Gov. Pontius Pilate today discounted rumors that a once-popular Jewish preacher executed Friday had been seen alive.
The spokesman said the rumors stem from the disappearance of the body of Jesus of Nazareth from a borrowed tomb. Guards at the tomb apparently fell asleep, allowing the theft of the body, the spokesman said. Pilate has ordered an internal investigation, and those responsible for a lapse in security at the tomb could face disciplinary action.
Jesus, 33, was crucified on a hill near Jerusalem after a whirlwind series of events that began with his arrival in the city last Sunday and culminated in an appearance before Pilate. The governor was hesitant to condemn the Galilean to death. “I find no fault with this man,” he said.
Political insiders suggested that Pilate’s reluctance may have been attributable to Jesus’ high standing in public opinion polls earlier in the week and an unexpectedly enthusiastic welcome he received when he rode into the city on a donkey. However, public opinion shifted dramatically later in the week and there was broad support for Pilate in ordering Jesus’ crucifixion.
Religious authorities who reportedly pressured Pilate to order Jesus’ execution also scoffed at the rumors that he was still alive. Said Caiaphas, the high priest: “We are urging the governor to vigorously pursue this investigation so that the desperation and duplicity of this man’s followers can be exposed and these ridiculous rumors put to rest.”
Caiaphas denied charges that his aides had paid one of Jesus’ followers to turn him in. Reports that the follower, Judas Iscariot, had committed suicide, were unconfirmed.
Jesus’ other close followers, believed to be hiding somewhere in the city, were unavailable for comment. With the exception of a few women, they have kept a low profile in recent days. Reports indicated the group’s chief spokesman, a fisherman named Peter, may have renounced the movement and resigned.
Jesus, a carpenter by trade, began his public ministry three years ago and immediately attracted notice. Reports of healing the sick, miraculously feeding large crowds, and even raising the dead preceded his arrival in Jerusalem.
He stirred controversy by eating with tax collectors and prostitutes and violating well-established religious rules. His growing popularity alarmed religious authorities and eventually the civil government, which feared yet another rebellion against imperial rule. Authorities were particularly troubled by Jesus’ periodic claims to be the Son of God.
A Jerusalem University political scientist said a close study of regional history indicates Jesus will soon be forgotten. “This is one of those religious/political movements that rises up amidst a lot of populist fervor, then dies out or is snuffed out quickly,” he said.
The rumors of a bodily resurrection are a predictable ingredient in the movement’s last gasp, he said. “The claim is so patently ludicrous on its face that it can’t possibly have any lasting impact.”
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This is adapted from an Easter column he first published in 1998.