Saturday, October 24, 2015

Henry V and St. Crispin

Tomorrow is October 25. It is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and it is also St. Crispin’s Day. Both of these events are tied together in William Shakespeare’s Henry V. After invading France and losing one quarter of his men, the young English king Henry finds his path blocked by the French army that outnumber him 5 to 1. In his famous speech to his men before battle Henry eludes to St. Crispin a number of times. 

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’

 And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Then call we this the field of Agincourt,
Fought on the day of Crispin Crispianus.
Of Saints Crispin and Crispinian, we know only that they were twins, possibly only fraternal. They preached the Gospel to the Gauls, supporting themselves by working nights as shoemakers. Around the year 286, the governor Rictius Varus tried to drown them, and when that failed they were beheaded. Crispin and Crispinian are the Christian patron saints of cobblers, curriers, tanners, and leather workers. Their feast day is October 25.

This month of All Saint celebrates holiness not as a spectator sport, like fans cheering the holy souls from the bleachers and then saying, "We won!" Those who only observe from the sidelines the spiritual battles in which our culture is now engaged, would be like those who were not at Agincourt.                                                                         

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sin in Hamlet

The day after we saw Hamlet at the Stratford Festival, my wife Susan and I were walking along the charming streets of Stratford talking about the production. Susan made an astute observation that had somehow eluded me. She said how in the play one sin spreads through the characters like the plague leading to still more sin.

Claudius kills the father of Hamlet who then seeks revenge. In his so-called madness, Hamlet kills Polonius. The murder of her father by her boyfriend leads Ophelia to madness and death. Prompted by Claudius, Laertes seeks Hamlet’s death to revenge his father, and by the end of the play all the main characters are dead. They don’t call it tragedy for nothing.

One of the reasons Hamlet is so relevant today is that the characters ring true. Hamlet knows and admits his sinful nature to Ophelia.

I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all;
Even Claudius has a moment of honesty when he is alone.

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven; It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t, A brother’s murder.
O wretched state! O bosom black as death! O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Yet Hamlet knows that man, despite his sinful nature, is God’s greatest and special creation.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!
When speaking to his mother, Hamlet realizes the wickedness of sin and the redeeming power of forgiveness.

Confess yourself to heaven; Repent what's past; avoid what is to come;

Hamlet encourages us to get rid of whatever in our lives is sinful. (And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.)

        O Hamlet, thou hast cleft my heart in twain.

       O, throw away the worser part of it, And live the purer with the other half.

Laertes proudly states that he will risk damnation for his revenge. When he leans Hamlet has killed Laertes’ father, Claudius asks:
What would you undertake
To show yourself your father's son in deed
More than in words?
Laertes answers, To cut his throat i' th' church.

To which Claudius replies, Revenge should have no bounds.

Murderous revenge, ambitious coveting, and despair are all rife in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Humans are sinful creatures. My wife is right. In Hamlet sin begets more sinning. Hamlet is a great play for the very reason that we can learn from it.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Taming of the Shrew at the Stratford Festival

One of the great performances at the Stratford Festival this year is Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. This Battle of the Sexes comedy is performed admirably by the husband and wife team of Deborah Hay and Ben Carlson who I had also seen as Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing. In The Taming of the Shrew, Hay and Carlson have some great interaction, much of it physical. She even gets to slap her husband and spit in his face in every performance.

Practically every character in The Taming of the Shrew has a comedic role and they are well played in this production.

The play itself may draw criticism from some groups who think Petruchio is only trying to break the spirit of Katherina and bend her to his will, but what would these same groups think if it were a play about a woman trying to tame a loud-mouth boorish lout to be a gentleman and husband.

Though some might think that Petruchio is only trying to make Kate obedient, he is actually showing her how churlish and uncouth she is being. He does this by out-shrewing the shrew.

Basically, Kate is a bully, and we all know the public’s attitude regarding bullies. She bullies her family and anyone who comes within reach of her. Kate has boughten into the axiom that one must be strong, overbearing to dominate people to her will. She does not know what love is. Kate does indeed have passion, but it is misdirected.

Only when Kate is broken of all her shrewish passions can she then love. Her speech at the end of the play is magnificent.

 Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee, And for thy maintenance commits his body To painful labour both by sea and land, To watch the night in storms, the day in cold, Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe; And craves no other tribute at thy hands But love, fair looks and true obedience; Too little payment for so great a debt. Such duty as the subject owes the prince Even such a woman oweth to her husband; And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour, And not obedient to his honest will, What is she but a foul contending rebel And graceless traitor to her loving lord? I am ashamed that women are so simple To offer war where they should kneel for peace; Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway, When they are bound to serve, love and obey.

Is there a man alive who wouldn’t cherish such a woman and devote his entire life to her?

To paraphrase Hamlet:

Give me that woman
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear her
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart.

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hamlet at the Stratford Festival (part one)

My wife and I just returned from a another great season at the Stratford Festival. One of the shows we saw was Hamlet, perhaps the greatest English plays ever written. The title role was well performed by Jonathan Goad. The role is quite demanding since the title character is in practically every scene, and though I believe the play was edited a bit, the total production was about three and one half hours long.

I was expecting a bit more of a melancholy Dane, and found Goad’s Hamlet smiled a bit too much. Goad seemed to lack that seething unrest that lies just beneath the surface even when he is trying to be happy.

Tom Rooney was excellent comic relief as Polonius, while Geraint Wyn Davies and Seana McKenna were good as Claudius and the ghost, and Hamlet’s mother respectively.

The scene that caught my attention and stayed with me most was Adrienne Gould as the mad Ophelia. Her transformation from innocence to madness was poignantly tragic and heart wrenching.

The sets were minimalistic consisting of different size black blocks. The big ones reminded me of the black monolith from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

I’ll talk more about Shakespeare’s Hamlet in my next blog.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon

Monday, June 29, 2015

Canada Day with Sherlock Holmes

July 1st is Canada Day and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate this great nation than to spend it with Sherlock Holmes in Canada.

The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of adventures of the world’s greatest consulting detective as he travels across Canada in 1897 with his good friends and associate Dr. John Watson.

In Ottawa the London detective must navigate the rocky shoals of Canadian politics while in the service of Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier, in a case Watson entitles, "The Prime Minister’s Papers."

After solving the Montreal mystery of The McCormick Fortune, Holmes and Watson head west to Sir Henry Baskerville’s Alberta cattle ranch where Holmes and Watson encounter mystery upon mystery and a list of suspicious characters trying to solve the truth behind The Baskerville Curse.


In Cold-Hearted Murder, the great detective is drawn into mystery and murder revolving around a trio recently from the Klondike gold fields in the Yukon Territory where they made their fortune. But what had happened in that remote part of the world near the Arctic Circle? What strange occurrence took place in the Canadian wilderness that would plague: Patrick Flynn, the young handsome American, who was strong but too trusting; Charles Westerbrook, the not-overly honest Englishman, bent on making his fortune; Suzanne Bouchard, the beautiful French-Canadian seductress who used her wiles to get what she wanted.

When grotesque murders are committed during one of the hottest summers in London, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are drawn into the investigation. Cold-Hearted Murder is one of the most baffling and bizarre cases Sherlock Holmes has ever investigated. Why are the victims being monstrously mutilated? Why are they being murdered in cold locations? What is the significance of the Golden Triangle?

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Herod Antipas

Herod’s palace in Jerusalem was a grand structure. He always did things in a big way.

His father had been Herod the Great, the infamous Hebrew king, who had wanted a family dynasty and so created his own. Herod the Great had ten wives and at least as many sons. Three of the sons were executed, one disinherited, one banished. It was a scheming, incestuous family who thought nothing of killing one another for love, power, or simply self-preservation. The old patriarch was a cagey, political animal who could juggle allies and enemies, treaties and alliances. He wove a complicated web of intrigue with himself at its centre like a giant spider. But the old man’s blood was poisoned with paranoia, and he died an agonizing, ugly death. He was a vindictive sort, for before he died he commanded well-renown Jews from his kingdom to come to him. They were shut up in the hippodrome with orders that upon his death all of them were to be executed so that no one would be happy on the day of his passing, and thus guarantee the country to be in deepest mourning. As brutal as that seemed, Herod the Great outdid himself. With his dying breath, before raving madness overcame him, he ordered his bodyguards to kill his own son Antipater. This last action prompted Augustus Caesar to comment, ‘It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.’

I was not certain Herod Antipas would even see me. I waited in an outer room for a good part of the day before being granted an audience.

Like the palace, the audience hall was large and ornate, supported by tall, fat columns with intricate carvings. The painted walls resembled marble, and the floor was of polished imported marble with a decorative mosaic in the centre. Bright coloured curtains hung from the walls decoratively, while at the same time concealed passageways.

Herod sat upon his throne on a raised dias. His regal robes were red and white and tied with gold clasps near his left shoulder. His appearance was more Roman or Greek than Hebrew. I had heard that his grandfather was not even Hebrew, but had converted out of convenience. Next to him on an identical throne sat his wife, Herodias, who had been married to one of Herod Antipas’s disinherited stepbrothers. Herodias herself was the daughter of another of her present husband’s stepbrothers. This was one close family. Herodias wore her raven tresses pinned up but allowed some strands to hang down on one side; a style that was popular with younger women. She was a full-bodied, mature woman who, as it appeared to me, was desperately trying to hold on to the beauty of her youth. She was still an attractive woman, but her attempts at recapturing her youthful beauty only made her appearance grotesque. Too much makeup and too much jewellery did more harm than good to enhance her looks. But there was no disguising her ambition. The woman coveted power, and meant to hold on to it.

"Ah, Tribune Maximus, you grace us with your presence," Herod Antipas greeted me nobly. It was not all pretence. The man respected everything Roman, and realized no sign of respect to the Empire went unnoticed. "What do we owe the honour of this all too rare visit?" He was all smiles and good cheer, which gave me cause to be wary. Even as he spoke the smile remained on his lips as if he were not speaking with his mouth, the words somehow escaping through his teeth.

"Noble Herod, I am looking into the missing body of one of your people who was crucified Friday last," I told him, but even as I did, I felt the tetrarch knew exactly why I was here. "Before his sentence the man was brought before you."

Herod stopped smiling long enough to don a thoughtful look. He stroked his beard as if that aided his memory. As he recalled the instance, he smiled again and said: "Yes, I remember him. A Galilean of no importance, though he was what you Romans would call aura popularis– the popular breeze. But as you know, Tribune, breezes subside. He was reputed to be a great healer and miracle worker, but the man turned out to be a colossal disappointment."

"In what way?" I asked.

Herod cast a sidelong glance at his wife and responded: "We hoped the man would provide us with some amusement, some entertainment. We were in hopes that the man would perform one or two of his miracles for us. I had never seen a miracle, and I was so looking forward to it."

"And did he?"

"Did he what?"

"Did he perform a miracle for you?" I asked.

"No," Herod replied flatly, the smile falling from his lips. "The man refused to perform any acts. He would not even speak. We took it as a personal insult and sent him on his way."

I was about to speak when I heard the sound of movement from behind a rather large column to my left. I looked to the column and saw nothing. I looked to Herod who looked back as if he heard nothing, but I suspected he had.

"You sent Jesus back to Pontius Pilate," I said, more of a statement than question.

"Yes. And it was the Governor who condemned the man in the end. Roman justice, Tribune. The man’s death is not on my hands."

"But it was Pilate who sent Jesus to you in the first place," I remarked not entirely certain where I was going with this.


"How is your relationship with the Governor?"

The look on the tetrarch’s face betrayed him. He wondered what I knew, and how much I knew.

"The Governor and I are politically amicable. We have not always seen things the same, but we manage to get along with each other."

"Is there anything you can tell me regarding Jesus, or the circumstances of his arrest?"

At this question Herod’s jaw went slack and he regarded me with a blank stare. He had, it appeared, inherited some of his father’s craft and cunning. He was calculating, in that political mind of his, just how much he should tell me of what he knew. I had come to learn that most people never told me the entire truth. They always held something back for one reason or another. Perhaps they were afraid of incriminating themselves in some way, or that they may accidentally tell someone else’s secret. Not that they always cared about getting someone else into trouble, especially if it took attention away from them.

"What time was Jesus brought here?" I asked.

Herod stroked his beard again. "It was late. I do not recall the exact hour. It was late."

"Did you not think that was peculiar?" I asked. "That a man would be brought to you so late?"

"No," he answered proudly. "The affairs of state cannot always wait for daylight. When I am called, I answer the call."

"Amicus humani generis," I noted with some sarcasm.

Herod smiled, not noting the sarcasm and said: "Let us say a public servant."

"But you were awake when Jesus was brought," I commented.

"Yes. I often keep late hours."

"And he was brought here under guard."


"You intimated others were present during the man’s questioning."



At this question Herod involuntarily glanced at the column to his right, then back to me. This time I was certain I heard something, and so did he. It may have been a soft gasp, and the light step of a sandalled foot upon the floor. I moved stealthily to the column and stepped around to the back of it. No one was there. But there was a trace of scent in the air– nard, imported from India– very expensive.

"Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests were here," Herod blurted out trying to regain my attention– or to draw me away from the column. He knew who had stood behind that column, of that I was certain. I was just as certain he would not say.

I asked Herod: "Is there nothing else you can tell me of the man Jesus?" Herod shook his head, then I said: "Some say the man Jesus was calling himself King of the Jews. Others were beginning to refer to him as such. Did you feel that threatened your position in any way? After all, you are the tetrarch– which is similar to a king– and along came this man who was usurping your title. That must have troubled you greatly."

Herod motioned to answer, but it was his wife, Herodias, who spoke up with no little resentment.

"Tribune, you are obviously referring to the titulus the Governor ordered placed on the dead man's cross. We did petition the Prefect regarding this. We told him that the Nazarene only claimed to be the King of the Jews, not that he was in truth the king. For reasons of his own, and known only to himself, Pontius Pilate refused to change the titulus."

"Yes, but . . . " I began to respond, and Herodius raised her hand in objection.

"Tribune, my husband has already told you everything he knows," she spoke haughtily. "This entire affair is insignificant and concerns us not at all. Your questions hint at improprieties on my husband’s part, in which case we take grievous offence."

"My apologies, madam," I spoke, trying not to be too humble.

I bowed slightly and turned to leave, then reconsidered and turned back to the tetrarch "If I may ask one last question?" Herod nodded his assent. "How is it you find yourself in Jerusalem at this time?"

"We are here for Passover," he remarked. "It is an important time for us, but we shall soon be leaving for Galilee." Herod cocked his head and regarded my physical appearance. "Now, may I ask you a question, Tribune? What happened to you? You look as if you met up with someone who did not agree with you."

"Yes," I said. "Perhaps they did not like it that I ask so many questions."

"It is never good to ask too many questions, Tribune. A man’s personal business is no one’s affair but his own."

"Whatever takes place in Jerusalem is my concern," I stated.

"Then you may find that a very dangerous affair, indeed," remarked Herod ominously. "Good day, Tribune."

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pilate's Wife

After Maximus questions Pontius Pilate, he is taken to the governor's wife, Claudia Procula.

As I waked down the corridor, I reconsidered Pilate’s story and how inconsistent it all seemed. I knew for a fact that he did not like the high priests, and that he could have gone against their wishes just to spite them. Yet, if he genuinely wished to spare the Nazarene’s life, why send him to the tetrarch Herod, and what was it Herod had said to Jesus?

I was mulling all this over and considering my next move when my attention was caught by a servant girl. She was young and eager-looking. There was urgency in her manner that seemed underlined by fear.

"My mistress wishes to speak to you," she said in a hushed tone. Her eyes darted back and forth along the hallway as if afraid to be seen with me.

"And who is your mistress?" I asked.

"The great lady of the house," she replied. "It is important that she see you."

I turned to leave, but the girl grabbed me by the arm with more strength than I gave her credit for having.

"I will be whipped if I do not bring you to her," the girl spoke in a way that told me she had no intention of letting me leave.

I looked at her. She was beautiful for her age, and would soon become a fine woman that most men would appreciate.

"I would be displeased to see anyone as young and beautiful as you beaten," I told her smiling, but the compliment had little effect.

She led me to an interior room that was ill lit. I turned to say something to her, but she was already gone. Her small bare feet had made no noise upon the floor. The room appeared to be empty, but after a moment I sensed another’s presence. A small brazier burned near me. It made more smoke than light. It burned heavy incense, and its low flame threw flickering shadows. I moved past the brazier and let my eyes adjust to the dim light. A figure moved in the far corner of the room. A woman stepped forward out of the shadows. She stood tall and slender, and her black hair was piled high atop her head which made her appear taller than she was. By all the gods, she was beautiful. She reminded me of a statue of Venus I had once seen as a boy in Rome. I had believed it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and for years to come I would use it as a standard from which to compare all other women. Of all the women I had met in my life, no woman could compare to the perfection of Venus. The one who stood before me now came close.

"You know who I am?" she uttered, her voice low and soft.

I nodded. She was Claudia Procula, wife of the Governor, Pontius Pilate.

"You spoke with my husband?"

I nodded.

"Regarding the Galilean, Jesus?"

I nodded.

"What did my husband tell you?"

"Your husband said he did not wish to persecute the Galilean," I told her. "But the man wound up just as dead."

She thought on this a moment. Her lovely face was pensive, and as she spoke she seemed distracted. "Do you know why my husband wished to free Jesus?"

"Your husband told me he could find no guilt in the man."

"That may well be so," she remarked nodding. "I personally do not believe Jesus was guilty of any crime. It was I who asked my husband not to persecute the man."

"Why did you do that?" I asked curiously. "You admitted that you did not know the man."

She turned away from me and paced the room contemplatively. She was dressed in a splendid gown of white and red that swept the dark tile floor. It hung on her well, displaying a fine figure. She turned and faced me again.

"It was a dream," she said.

"It was a what?"

"I had a dream regarding the man Jesus."

"What sort of dream was it?"

"A very disconcerting dream."

"What happened in the dream?" I asked hoping she could be more specific.

"I do not know," she responded confused and bewildered and a little afraid. For some reason I believed what she said; as strange as it sounded. "Or perhaps more to the point, I do not remember. Of the dream I cannot recall precise details. It all becomes cloudier as days pass. All that I can remember is that the dream was disturbing, and it convinced me of the man’s innocence. No, more than innocence, he was . . . he is . . . "

She did not finish, as if she were uncertain. She gripped my right arm firmly to impress her sincerity. I felt her fingernails sink into my flesh. Her lovely green eyes looked deep into my eyes. By all the gods, she was beautiful! The fierce desperation and concern made her more desirable to me. But she was the Governor’s wife, and even I had my limits. They were spelled out in an ancient code of conduct passed down through the ages. Mostly I thought they were a pain in the podex.

"Promise me you will be careful," she pleaded. "I fear you are in peril." Here she lifted her hand to the cuts and bruises on my face. She ran her fingers over them gently, caressing them, as if that would heal them. "Promise me!" she repeated.

Apparently she possessed oracle powers, but seemed very ill-at-ease with them, as if not at all certain what to do with them.

"I promise," I responded, then asked her: "What can you tell me of the Jewish tetrarch, Herod?"

"Herod." She said the name like it had been on her mind.

"Your husband, the Governor, sent the man Jesus to Herod, but the tetrarch sent Jesus back to the Governor."

"A strange man," she commented, and for a moment I was not certain to whom she referred. "I cannot tell you much about Herod," she said, and her face held a haunted look. "But one thing did strike me."

"What was that?"

"It has to do with his relationship with my husband"

"Between Herod and the Governor?" I asked, wishing to be specific.

"Yes. They used to be political enemies. They did not even like each other personally. But since the crucifixion of Jesus, they have grown closer, friends even."

"What may have brought them together?" I wondered aloud.

Claudia Procula did not reply but only looked at me. After a moment she said: "Tribune, I understand that in Rome you are persona non grata. May I ask you why?"

"It is an extremely personal matter," I said, and would say no more about it.

She nodded. "You may not be welcomed in Rome, Tribune, but please know that you are always welcome here in this house– any time."

Without another word, I left the woman– no easy feat since she evidently desired my company. This last bit of information regarding Herod and Pilate was intriguing. It spoke of conspiracy. The entire matter did. So many players and so many stories. It reminded me of the building of a fantastic mosaic I witnessed once as a child in Rome. The construction of the mosaic began in the centre and grew outward. Each day more tiles were laid, some white, some coloured. At the beginning I saw nothing, simply tiles laid together, side by side. Then I saw a shape, but not a recognizable shape. Then one day, near completion, I saw it. A picture was in the tiles and had become clear to my eyes. I thought it was wondrous. All that time I had seen no discernible pattern or shape, but suddenly it became something. It was a beautiful thing to witness. At this point in time the mystery of the empty tomb was like that mosaic– pieces, hundreds of pieces with no discernible shape. But if I put together enough tiles I would have a clear picture.

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon











Monday, March 30, 2015

Questioning Pilate

One scene in The Case of the Empty Tomb that I liked, was Maximus questioning Pontius Pilate about when Jesus was brought before him. The night before Maximus had been attacked in the night and he stood before Pilate with cuts and bruises. 

Pontius Pilate had received his appointment from Emperor Tiberias, and took over the governorship of Judea about three years ago. I had only been in Judea a year. Pilate had a reputation as a good administrator. The construction of the new aqueduct had garnered him much praise from all quarters. Since Jerusalem was on the edge of a desert, everyone appreciated the need for water in the city. As an administrator, Pontius Pilate managed to exceed the usual amount of bribery, corruption, cruelty, murder, misappropriation of funds and malfeasance, while still carrying out his duties. For a Roman, duty was the main objective, and we carried it out per fas et nefas– through right and wrong. Pilate’s position of governor gave him control of the military forces, and he carried the authority to order the death sentence. His feeling towards the Jews was no secret; he did not like them. The Jews, of course, reciprocated similarly. As Governor of Judea his home was in Caesarea, the Roman administrative centre. Fortunately for me, the Governor was still in Jerusalem. As it was, the Prefect would not see me until midday. While I waited, I privately thanked Ruth for convincing me to visit the baths before my interview with Pilate. I felt clean and refreshed, prepared for any eventuality.

I was shown into an audience chamber of Pontius Pilate’s residence in Jerusalem. The room was richly decorated with ornately carved columns, and imitation marble panels on the wall. Several chairs and statues stood around the room. In the centre of the room was an ornamental pool whose bottom consisted of an intricate wave-pattern mosaic. To the right of the double doors I entered, were two long steps that ran half the length of the room to a balcony. Against the far wall, upon a handsome chair with eagle heads carved into the arms, and surrounded by attendants, sat the prefect.

Pontius Pilate was a serious looking man. He was tall and thin and bony. Bony shoulders poked through his toga. Bony elbows rested on the arms of his chair. And bony knees peeked out at me from beneath his tunic. His thin lips did not smile, for fear people would not take him seriously, and so he also refrained from revealing any humour or wit. His close-set blue eyes regarded me curtly. Pilate seldom looked at me directly during the interview, but chose, instead, to study his hands.

"Claudius Maximus, what happened to you?" he asked more out of curiosity than concern.

"An accident, your excellency" I responded.

He clearly did not like that answer. "It distresses us that one of our tribunes allows himself to be seen in public in this condition. I trust you will be more careful in the future."

"Yes, Prefect."

"What is it you wished to see us about?" His thin lips barely moved as he spoke. His voice and manner were condescending. This was not going to be at all pleasant.

"Prefect, I am tending to the matter of a disappearance of a body from its tomb." I regarded him closely for some sort of reaction, but he revealed none. "Do you recall the man? His name was Jesus. He was crucified last Friday. I was led to understand you were interested in the incident."

"Yes, Tribune," he exclaimed hastily. "You need not remind us. What is it you want?"

"I find I must know the details that led up to his crucifixion." Pilate sat and with a wave of his hand, his dismissed the attendants. The governor waited until they were out of the room before he allowed me to continue. "Prefect, I understand you presided over the trial, and pronounced sentence on him."

Still he said nothing. He was not going to make this at all easy for me. I decided to stare back. It worked. After a tense moment he spoke.

"When the man Jesus was brought before me, it was simply pro forma. His fate had already been determined by his own people, and in regards to them, they were merely going through political channels. It was all predicted."

"But Prefect, you have total authority," I spoke as politely as I could. "The man did not have to die."

Pontius Pilate did not appear to agree. He regarded me coldly, and then continued.

"The governorship of Judea is not an easy nor simple task," he began in a monotone voice. "For one thing I must keep Rome happy, and that means money in the way of taxes. It is also my duty to bring Roman law and Roman order to these desert people." He said ‘desert people’ with no little contempt. "These Jews are a thick-neck lot. You could fill parchment after parchment with their laws and customs. And they cling to these laws and customs as if their very lives depended on them. I, on the other hand, must impose Roman law while trying to keep these people from open rebellion. I am a military governor, yes, and I have the might of our legions under my command, but I am a governor never-the-less, which means I must carefully choose when to force the will of Rome upon the Hebrews, and when to gracefully withdraw from a situation where the possible consequence would outweigh any benefit. Before I came to Judea, the Emperor himself entrusted me with the Pax Romana– the peace of Rome. I intend to honour that trust.

"You were not present in Jerusalem at the time, Tribune, but one of my first acts after arriving here was to erect image-baring standards in the city. You would think that to be a very common, and simple decision. Not so when dealing with Jews. They considered the standards idolatrous. They petitioned me to remove the standards. I declined. The next thing I knew they protested vigorously, and finally I was forced to remove the standards. As Romans– as leaders of the world– we understand that these decisions must be made from time to time. Your father understood.

"If one man must die so Jerusalem may have a little peace, then clearly exitus acta probat– the result validates the deed. Is that so difficult to understand, Tribune? Besides, if it does not deal directly with Rome, or pose any threat to Rome I allow the Jews to handle their own affairs."

This I knew to be only partly true. Pilate himself could appoint the Jewish high priest, and he exercised control over funds in the Temple treasury. It was not common knowledge around Jerusalem, but I knew that Pilate was using Temple funds to help pay for the new aqueduct that brought water into the city from a nearby spring. I decided not to reveal to Pilate that I was privy to this information.

"Prefect, could you tell me something of the man Jesus?" I asked him.

Pilate stared off trying to make it appear he was not thinking about the question.

"He was a man like any other," he replied.

"Was he intelligent?"

"At times he appeared most intelligent," Pilate admitted. "Yet at other times he appeared quite ignorant and stupid."

"How so?"

"Even after being impressed with the severity of the matter, the man would not say a word in his own defence."

"Surely he could see the gravity of the situation," I suggested.

"I suspected he knew. He simply did not care."

"What did he say?"

"Very little. I asked him if he were the messiah, a self-proclaimed king of the Jews. He said these words were not his."

"Why did you ask him that?"

It was clear Pilate did not like being questioned.

"These were the accusations made by the high priests," he spoke slowly and deliberately.

"Were they present during the questioning?"

"No. They waited outside."

"Why was that?"

Pilate shook his head. "They made some reference about not being allowed inside the praetorium during their holiday. As I told you, they have a myriad of rules and laws."

"What happened then?"

"Jesus would say little else. I went out to the high priests to tell them I found no guilt in the man. They insisted he was a criminal. ‘Then try him yourselves!’ I told them in disgust. They make me sick, these so-called ‘holy-men’.

"They practically told me they wanted the man dead, and I was the only one authorized to order the death sentence. I wanted no part of it, so I ordered the man to be brought before Herod."

"Why Herod?"

"Jesus was a Galilean. As tetrarch, Herod’s domain encompasses Galilee."

"What did Herod do?"

"How should I know? He questioned the man and sent him back to me."

"Passing the sestertius," I observed.

"Respondeat superior! The sestertius stops here!" Pilate responded forcibly and with some anger, as he pointed to the floor in front of him. "Jesus was again brought before me and again I tried to save him."
"Why?" I asked. I knew Pilate had no love for Jews. I could not see him urinating on a Jew if one burst into flames in front of him. Why did he try to save this one?

Pontius Pilate regarded me briefly and with some irritation, like he would a pesky insect.

"Just who is being investigated here, Tribune?" he asked suspiciously. "The Galilean or myself? If you are attempting to uncover some unlawful act on my part for a report to Rome, be aware that there are worse places than Judea where you might find yourself stationed. Places so remote that they have never heard of your family name, nor care whose son you are."

I thought it best not to respond to this, but waited for his ire to right itself. It did.

Pilate’s features softened slightly and I knew what was next.

"Of course the reverse is also true," he remarked, beginning to purr like a cat. "If you can bring this problem to a successful conclusion, it would reflect very favourably on you in my report to Rome." He let the last word hang in the air. "I could practically guarantee your request for a change of assignment to anywhere in the Empire. Yes, I dare say, you may even be granted an assignment in caput mundi."

And there it was, the threat and the bribe– the very heart of Roman diplomacy.

"As to your last question of ‘why?’," Pilate continued, "I have no interest in seeing an innocent man, be he Roman, Jew or other, put to death needlessly. Especially this man in particular."

I was not certain what he meant by this last part, but decided not to pursue it.

"To appease the Jewish leaders I ordered the man flogged, but that was not good enough for them– they wanted him dead. I decided to try another way around it. I told the Hebrew populace that during their Passover holiday it is traditional that as Governor I may release a Jewish prisoner. I gave the people a choice: I could release Jesus or the rebel Barabas. They chose Barabas.

"As a politician I have to recognize expediency. I fell back on an old Roman axiom, ‘give the people what they want’."

"So it was a decision made ad captandum vulgus," I commented with a hint of contempt. "In order to win over the masses."

"They were calling me a traitor to Caesar!" Pilate stated, and there was a hint of fear under his anger now. "Me, a traitor to Caesar! I did not need any grief over this. Better to be done with it. I handed Jesus over to be crucified and washed my hands of the entire affair." In an unconscious gesture he studied his hands.

"After the crucifixion you called the centurion, Lucius Drusus," I stated in an attempt to draw the Prefect back into the conversation. "You questioned the centurion if Jesus were dead. Why was that?"

Pontius Pilate lowered his hands into his lap, and looked away. He winced as if trying to recall the incident I mentioned. "Ah, yes," he said. "There was a request made by a Hebrew from Arimathea. This man wished to have the body of Jesus for burial. Before allowing him to take the body I thought it prudent to make certain Jesus was dead."

"And you allowed the Arimathean to take the body?"


"Why?" I asked. Pilate regarded at me with hostility and I attempted to explain my reasoning to avoid any misunderstanding. "Did you know this man? Did he claim kinship with Jesus? What was his interest in the body?"

Pilate turned to me with contempt. "It was a simple request, Tribune. I did not see any reason to refuse."

"Yes, but - "

Pilate stared at me steadily for the first time. "We are finished here, Tribune."

Stephen Gaspar's books are available on Amazon

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Biblical Noir

A number of years ago I had an idea for a detective story regarding Christ's resurrection. I decided to write the story in the style of Hammett and ChandlerI have posted blogs previously at Easter time about The Case of the Empty Tomb, and I thought this Easter I would post some excerpts from parts of the book never before posted.

This is an excerpt from the second chapter, after my protagonist, Tribune Claudius Maximus receives an order to investigate the rumor circulating around Jerusalem about a recently crucified Jew who is apparently missing from his tomb.

The first step in my investigation was to visit Meshullam Malachi, a Hebrew elder, scholar and philosopher, and perhaps the only friend I had in all Jerusalem. I was not certain why Malachi and I had struck up such a quick friendship– me being a young Roman Tribune of twenty-eight, and he a Hebrew elder of sixty-seven. Perhaps it was that we both shared Roman citizenship, neither of us being native of Judea, both outcasts from the lands of our birth. Maybe it was because both he and I knew that things were never as simple as they seemed. We were both men of the world and did not cling to any of the superstitions and steadfast beliefs other did. Not that Malachi did not believe in his religion, it was simply that he did not have to go about proving it to others every day like a Pharisee.

I descended the long, wide stairs of the Antonia Fortress and entered the market area in the city’s lowest ravine referred to as the Valley of the Cheesemakers. The market appeared remarkably crowded and busy today, due mainly to the fact that this was the Hebrews’ largest public festival– Passover, they called it. At this time of year Jerusalem saw an incredible influx of Hebrews from all over the world, as pilgrims swarmed into the city to celebrate an ancient tradition. During the seven-day festival, the Jewish population had swelled to four times its number, and I, for one, was pleased that these pilgrims would soon be leaving the city and returning to their homeland. The last thing Jerusalem needed was more Jews.

I passed the seemingly endless stalls where merchants hawked their wares and haggled with customers as if their very lives depended on making a bargain. The market was noisy with activity, and the smells of fruits and vegetables mingled with the aromas of spices and perfumes– not always a pleasant mixture. I pushed my way through the hurly-burly detecting foreign accents and spotting pilgrims from their different style of dress. They stood out on the streets of Jerusalem as much as I did.

I purchased some sun-dried grapes for breakfast and stuffed them into my mouth as I walked south through the city. To my left, adjoining the fortress, stood the mighty walls of the Temple Mount, and beyond the walls in the middle of a spacious court surrounded by stone balustrades with pinnacles, stood the mysterious Temple. The Temple was the centre of life for the Hebrews and the sole reason the pilgrims had come to Jerusalem. There were more Jews in the rest of the world than there were in the entire country I would wager, and all of them, both foreign and domestic, payed tithes to the Temple. I walked beside the long wall of large square-cut stones that led to a viaduct. Passing under the viaduct that cut across the city from east to west and connected the Temple Mount to the Citadel, I entered the Upper City. Here lived Jerusalem’s elite, the rich, the influential, the elders and priests. Here also was the modest home of Meshullam Malachi. It was not generally acceptable for Jews to be seen associating with non-Jews, so Malachi and I set up a system so we could meet and talk sub rosa. In his home I greeted him by his Greco-Roman name of Marcus because I knew he did not like it.

"Greetings, young Maximus," he replied showing no offence. He was a handsome man, for an old Hebrew, with a long, straight nose that was more Greek than Roman, and a large, flexible mouth. His long grey hair matched his beard, but his most notable features were his green eyes that looked as they must have when he was a young man– vital and sharp. The deep lines on his face betrayed his age and reflected great wisdom. I found him dressed in robes common to his people, though understated for one of his station. It was a plain white ankle-length, seamless tunic tied at the waist by a long girdle. Malachi seldom smiled openly, but there was still honour and mirth hidden there on his face. The man was Thracian by birth, educated in Jerusalem as a boy, and in the rest of the world as a man. He spoke a dozen languages and knew practically everything. In my position he was indispensable to me.

"You are well?" he asked sincerely.

"I am as well as I can be," I answered. "And how are things?"

"Things are as they are. What brings the Roman Tribune Maximus to my humble abode?"

"I am in need of your services."

"My services are that of a teacher. Have you come to learn?"

I nodded.

"I teach men the ways of the Hebrew faith," he said. "Have you come to learn the Hebrew faith?"


"One does not learn part of the Hebrew faith, my young friend. It is all or nothing."

I said, "I have a problem."

"As always."

"I need information."

"As always."

"I am in need of information that only you can provide," I began the litany. "If you can aid me in this, I will be humbly in your debt."

There was a hint of a smile on his lips as he heard the words he was waiting for.

"Tribune Maximus, my limited knowledge is at your service. How may I aid you and the Roman Empire?"

Sometimes Malachi put on displays of servitude– the conquered serving the conqueror, but we both knew he took undue pleasure in seeing a Roman ask a Hebrew for aid. Moreover, it made him feel useful, and gave him the opportunity to display his remarkable mind.

"What can you tell me of a man called Jesus of Nazareth?" I asked plainly.

Malachi’s face grew a little sterner, and said just as plainly: "He is dead. You Romans crucified him."

"That much I know. What else can you tell me about him?"

The old man paused briefly. From his demeanour, I– who knew him better than even he imagined– could see that his mind was recalling information, and was preparing to bring it forth like a fountain spouts out water.

"Born in Bethlehem to a good family. Father was a tradesman– now deceased. Mother is a very holy woman. Jesus lived in Nazareth most of his life. There is nothing remarkable about his early years. About three years ago he began a life as a teacher and developed a quick following. His teachings were ridiculed in the Hebrew community. Some say he blasphemed and taught heresy. He more often could be found amongst known sinners than with respectable, God-fearing people. Some uncorroborated accounts state that he performed miracles of healing. Still other say his teachings opposed the word of God."

"Did he?"

"Did he what?"

"Did Jesus go against the word of God?" I asked.

"Basically he did– according to the letter of the law."

"You Hebrews and your law," I remarked with a chuckle.

"Our law," Malachi said with conviction, "which was passed down to us from Moses, who, in turn, received them from God, is all we have! It is who we are! Rome has many laws. Where would the Roman Empire be without them?"

I felt that I had struck a nerve, and made a mental note never to do it again.

"Did the Hebrew elders see Jesus’s teachings as a serious infraction of your law?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied simply, but it was in the way he answered that told me there was something more. "The elders considered some of the Galilean’s teaching as blasphemous," he added.

"And that is serious?"

Marcus Malachi looked me in the eye, then turned away and said slightly abashed, "The penalty for blasphemy is death."

I looked back at him, surprised, and repeated, "Death? That seems quite harsh."

He nodded. "I did not say it was easy being Hebrew. We have come to understand dura lex sed lex– the law is hard but it is the law."

I nodded in understanding.

"You stated that legally Jesus spoke against God’s law," I said in a calm tone. "Do you believe that to be true?"

The old man studied me intently. This conversation had arisen before. He wanted me to understand that the law was the law. But the law was interpreted by men, he had once told me in confidence, and whereas God was infallible, men were not. Some law was open to interpretation. Malachi had argued in the past with high priests and elders regarding their law. He learned to be discreet in his teachings and how he interpreted the law. He had not been so discreet in Thrace, and it was this indiscretion that brought about his banishment.

"I heard Jesus speak in the Temple once," he told me with a combination of sadness and admiration. "Later I had the opportunity to converse with him."


"A very charismatic young man. He was only around thirty years of age. I could not help but see something in him--something unique. Not that all of his teachings were unique, but his views were different. Non nova sed nove– not new things but in a new way. He put things in such a simple manner that they were difficult to refute. The more complicated you proposed a viewpoint or problem, the more simple he would make it."

"Your people boast of producing prophets, Malachi. Was Jesus simply another prophet?"

"Perhaps he was," he uttered. "But his teachings were not shared by the elders and high priests. He had made enemies in the Sanhedrin. And as you know, young Maximus, although Jerusalem is under the occupation of Rome, the Sanhedrin tribunal holds authority over Hebrew religious and legal disputes."

"Yes," I said thoughtfully, "but tell me, Marcus, to whom do you owe allegiance, the Sadducees or the Pharisees?"

"You know I do not choose sides in the tribunal," he stated. "I find the rift between the two groups only weaken us as a nation. The differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees are minor. Unfortunately they continue to argue their petty points, instead of tending to the welfare of the people."

"Was that view also shared by Jesus?" I queried.

He nodded and said, "I believe so."

I shook my head in incomprehension. "What is the point of it all?" I asked. "Will you people ever change?"

Malachi drew back as if struck. "There is no way I can make you understand what it is to be Hebrew," he said. "Our beliefs date back to Abraham. They are beliefs and traditions hallowed by time, honed through practice, past on by generations. It is what links us to the past and binds us to the one true God. You smile. Have I said something to amuse you?"

"It is strange to hear you speak this way. I did not believe you were encumbered by superstition."

"Make no mistake, Tribune"--he called me tribune. He wished to remind me that I was Roman and he was Hebrew, and that there were certain lines we could not cross. "Despite the Roman citizenship I inherited from my father, I am first and foremost Hebrew. My faith and my beliefs are two other things I also inherited from my father, who inherited them from his father all the way back to Abraham. I could no more deny them than I could the nose on my face. It is who I am."

"Point taken," I said. "But did the Sanhedrin consider Jesus a threat?"

"The elders and priests took it as an insult when Jesus challenged them on teachings they spent their entire lives studying. Pride is a fragile thing to a man. Arrogance grows from it. It is not easy for a learned man to admit he has more to learn. We are teachers– we do not wish to be taught. To many of us on the Sanhedrin, it was clear Jesus was a traitor to his people and his beliefs. Rome had to be convinced he was their enemy also."

"How much of that do you believe?" I asked.

Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon

Friday, January 9, 2015

Othello and Star Trek

There have been many very good productions of Shakespeare's Othello both on the stage and on the screen. One of my favorite movie versions is the National Theatre Company’s staging of Othello in 1965 staring Laurence Olivier. While re-watching it the other day, I was struck by how act II, scene iii reminded me of a scene from Star Trek’s The Trouble With Tribbles.

In Othello, the villain Iago plans the downfall of Michael Cassio. Iago plies Cassio with wine and has Roderigo pick a fight with Cassio. The good Montano tries to intervene, only to have the drunken Cassio turn on him. There is the cry of mutiny and the town bell is rung.

Othello comes to break up the fight, but not before Montano is wounded by Cassio.

Dismayed that his own men are behaving like barbarous Turks, Othello demands of Iago, "Who began this?" Iago answers, "I do not know." Othello then turns to his lieutenant, Cassio, who replies, "I cannot speak."

This scene is similar to scene in The Trouble With Tribbles, where the Enterprise crew get into a barroom brawl with a Klingon crew while they are both aboard Deep Space Station K7.

When Captain Kirk confronts his men, he wants to know, "Who started the fight?" and he gets a few "I don’t know, sir," from his men.

After Kirk dismisses his men he asks Mister Scott to confide who started the fight.

 In Othello, it is Iago who explains, seemingly reluctantly, how the fight broke out.
 "... I heard the clink and fall of swords,
... I found them close together
At blow and thrust ..."

When Othello finds out Cassio started the fight, he strips him of his rank.
"Cassio, I love thee:
But never more be officer of mine."

When Captain Kirk learns that it was Scotty who started the fight:
"Scotty, you’re restricted to quarters until further notice."

 Scotty takes the reprimand with a smile.
"Thank you, sir. That will give me a chance to catch up on my technical journals."

Cassio takes his upbraiding more seriously.

"O, I have lost my reputation!
I have lost the immortal part of myself,
and what remains is bestial."

The Trouble With Tribbles has a happy ending, with the bridge crew of the Enterprise laughing. The ending of Othello is not so joyful.