It's Passover. Gamaliel and his physician friend, Loukas, are crime-solving a third time - reluctantly. Pontius Pilate has been accused of murder. He denies the crime. If convicted, he might escape death but would be removed from Judea. Those rejoicing urge the Rabban to mind his own business. But Gamaliel is a just man which is, as Pilate says to him, "your weakness and also your strength."
Knowing that exonerating the Roman could cost him his position, possibly his life, Gamaliel, as would Sherlock Holmes centuries later, examines evidence and sorts through tangled threads, teasing out suspects who include assassins, Roman nobles, Pilate's wife, rogue legionnaires, slaves, servants, and thespians. Unusually, justice triumphs over enmity. Gamaliel is satisfied, High Priest Caiaphas is irate, Loukas accepts an apprentice from Tarsus, and few notice the events of what will later be known as Easter.
Ramsay's plausible narrative answers some questions which have puzzled Biblical scholars for centuries. Why did Pilate hear the case against Jesus? Why invent a tradition that required one prisoner be released at Passover? And we ask, why could Caiaphas not heed Gamaliel's warnings not to martyr the man?
About the Author
Frederick Ramsay has published fourteen books that range from historicals (The Jerusalem Mysteries), to Africa (The Botswana Mysteries), to police procedurals (The Ike Schwartz Mysteries). In addition, his stand-alone Impulse was named one of the Best 100 Books of the Year in 2006 by Publishers Weekly. He is an iconographer and an accomplished public speaker. He lives and writes in Arizona.
Read an Excerpt
The Wolf and the Lamb
A Jerusalem Mystery
By Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2014 Frederick Ramsay
All rights reserved.
He couldn't remember venturing this deep into the labyrinthine corridors and arbitrary passages of the Antonia Fortress. He'd never needed to. He took one tentative step forward and paused, put out his hand and felt the stone wall—damp. He inhaled acrid smoke, burning pitch from the torches. Why had Priscus asked him to meet in this dank and dreary hallway? Located as it was deep in the bowels of the building—the cloaca, he would have said—Priscus must have had a great need for secrecy—routine in Roman politics. Half the torches were dark and those that still glowed sent tendrils of smoke to the ceiling. Had they been extinguished recently? If so, by whom and why? Lighted or dark, they lined either side of the corridor and projected from sconces at angles as if to salute any passerby. He hesitated and peered into the darkness. Like one of his hunting dogs when it caught the scent of a stag in flight, he went into full alert, unmoving and listening. If he had shared the dog's cropped ears, they would have been twitching this way and that. The only sound he heard was the beating of his own heart.
He strained to see into the hallway's depths. It was impossible to determine where it led or how long it might be. It could as easily disappear into an abyss as come to an abrupt halt a few cubits farther along. Then, it might end at an intersecting wall or continue for a half mile and out into the night air beyond the city walls to the north. He knew the last wasn't the case, but this inky hallway with half its torches unlit created that illusion. Perhaps the fort's builder, the first Herod, in assembling this monument to the late and, for most, unlamented Mark Antony, thought a siege inevitable or that Antony would retreat from Egypt to Judea with his Ptolemaic Queen to make his stand against Octavian. Or perhaps it was simply another manifestation of that King's diseased and suspicious mind. Throughout the year the space housed a resident contingent of legionnaires with a Centurion in command. It could have served as well if half or a quarter its current size.
Priscus' message made it clear he wanted to meet at this place, that he had something important to tell him, and that it required privacy. The message had been vague and the legionnaire who bore it nearly inarticulate, but he'd no reason to suspect anything out of the ordinary so he'd come as asked. Priscus, after all, was a loyal member of his entourage and a serving officer. On the other hand, he knew that all Roman politics operated on intrigue and duplicity. He shuddered. He didn't know why. It wasn't as if he were afraid.
He took another tentative step forward and reached up to free one of the lighted torches from its bracket. He held it aloft squinting into the darkness, straining to make out what lay further on. He touched its flame to the still-smoking pitch-soaked fabric at the end of a nearby staff. It burst into flame and a bit of his anxiety waned as the light penetrated deeper into the gloom. He lit another and moved on. As he leaned forward to light a third, he stumbled against a form lying at his feet. Startled, he jerked his foot back. He looked again and recoiled at the sight of a corpse. He took a deep breath, knelt, and rolled the body over.
A dagger had been thrust in the man's chest. Its gilded and stone-studded hilt protruded from his bloody short toga. The knife's angle was all wrong. He lifted the torch to cast light on the dead man's face. Aurelius Decimus' lifeless eyes stared at the ceiling, the expression of shock at his unexpected demise still frozen on his face. None of this made any sense. He dismissed the notion that Aurelius Decimus had committed suicide. No one with that man's enormous ambition would consider such an action. Furthermore, to fall on one's dagger or sword took a measure of courage that he knew this man did not possess. Not suicide. That meant that someone had stabbed him, murdered him. It seemed so unlikely. A man murdered in the depths of the Antonia Fortress, the very symbol of Roman preeminence and a safe haven for its citizens. Yet, here the ambitious Aurelius lay in an expanding pool of blood.
He regained his feet and glanced around, uncertain what to do next. And what had happened to Priscus? Footsteps scraped against the stones behind him—several pairs, in fact. He stood and faced about.
"Priscus? Is that you? Come here."
"Pontius Pilate, Emperor's Prefect of Judea and Overseer of the Palestine, tu deprenditur discurrent caede."
"I am to be arrested for murder? I only this moment arrived and found this man lying here. I did not murder anyone, Cassia."
"Yet our friend Aurelius Decimus lies dead at your feet, Prefect. The dagger in his chest is yours, I believe."
Was it? It was.
"And I can see no reasonable explanation for your presence in this remote part of the Fortress other than an assignation with him in order to remove the one man who could have sent you back to Rome in disgrace."
"My dagger? Sent back? Cassia, what am I being accused of?"
"Assassination, Prefect, as you well know. Sicarius."CHAPTER 2
"The Romans call them the Sicarii," the High Priest said. "Surely you have heard of them?"
Everyone knew about the Sicarii, this new and dangerous political sect, the Dagger Men. They had begun to make themselves felt in the country by killing men whom they labeled as enemies of the State. Thus far, only one or two minor tax gatherers and a handful of men whom they'd determined to be [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], collaborators, had fallen to their knives. These killings worried the people, of course. They were inexcusable. What worried them more was the dangerous precedent they set. In a country occupied by an omnipotent Rome, what person could not be branded [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] If you sold their legions salt fish, as the Galilean fishermen did by the barrel, and grew rich in the process, wouldn't that make you a collaborator? Or wine merchants, or bakers? What about Gamaliel's student, Saul, who came from a family of tent-makers? Legionnaires in need of a shelter light enough to be carried with their packs made up an important portion of the family's business in and around Tarsus. How would that rigid Pharisee describe those transactions? Where does one, or more importantly, where would the Sicarii, draw the line when branding someone a collaborator?
"The worst part, Rabban," the High Priest continued, "is I have been told they consider me to be one of Rome's allies. Me! It is an outrage. Do I have control over what Rome does? I don't. Do I retain my position at the Emperor's sufferance? I do. How else shall we keep the faith? Do these fools think that the Nation could survive even a month without a functioning Temple? Would the Lord allow it? No, I tell you, He would not. If we abandon Him, He will judge us harshly and these misguided men, these cowards who creep about in the night terrorizing innocent people, they will end by begging the Romans to return and save them."
The High Priest wore worry like his priestly vestments. Gamaliel had listened to his worried discourses on many topics—from the price of incense to the status of itinerant rabbis—one, in particular—for years. This sudden concern about the Sicarii opened a new chapter. He wondered what had inspired it.
"You need not fear the Sicarii, High Priest. They only concern themselves with two things. They hope to terrorize Roman officials and thereby assume that they, in turn, will ease up on their oppressive practices and leave us in peace. That is no more than wishful thinking. Zealots thrive on wishful thinking. Yet, they are mostly brigands themselves and apply this patina of political activism to cover their acts of robbery and worse. Consider Barabbas. Shall we call him a patriot or a criminal?"
"Barabbas? What about him? How can you possibly know about him or any of this? You spend your days disputing the Law with your students and scholars. Scrolls and musty sheets of papyrus are your companions. What can you tell me of the world around us?"
"You do not do me justice, High Priest. You believe the pursuit of truth excludes one from the cares of the day? You may be correct, but I do not think so. I get out into the streets daily and I have contacts here and there. What I do not know, but should know, they will tell me. For example, did you know that this very Barabbas is currently raging away in a cell deep in the Antonia Fortress? Ah, I see you did not. So, which of us needs to be out and about more? Now, unless you have something else to discuss with the Rabban of the Sanhedrin, I will be on my way. I have things to do that are far more pressing."
That statement was not exactly true. Except to finish parsing an Isaiah scroll sent up from Qumran, Gamaliel had nothing pressing, but he could only endure the High Priest's company for short periods. Gamaliel nodded and started to move away.
"Wait, yes. I do have another matter. Passover is upon us next week."
"It is fair to say everyone knows that, Caiaphas."
"Yes, of course. I am concerned about riots, Rabban, demonstrations, misadventures, and so on. What if these Sicarii decide to use Passover as an excuse to cause trouble? I tell you that of all our holy days ... this one brings more people to the city than any of the others combined and is, moreover, the logical one to inspire a revolt."
"And, and what? Oh, yes, where was I? Yes, and it is ripe for the work of these dangerous people. They will say, 'Moses led us to freedom. This is a new Passover and we must continue the journey,' or some such nonsense."
Gamaliel started to respond but the High Priest rattled on. "That rabbi from the Galilee, for example, he is at it again, stirring up the people, instigating just those sorts of thoughts. Do you see? If this Yeshua comes to Jerusalem with his followers ... no, not if, but when ... he is always here for Passover. When he comes he very well could do something to provoke people. Riots could follow which would then require the intervention of the Prefect's soldiers and that would inevitably turn deadly. I received an edict from the Prefect who says he will accept no disturbance of any sort this year. Anyone who engages in such things and—listen to this—anyone who even appears to countenance such behavior, will be severely punished."
"Your country rabbi hardly constitutes a threat to the mighty Roman Empire, Caiaphas, nor does he pose one to you. You worry too much about all the wrong things."
"He has many followers. Some say hundreds, thousands."
"Thousands? Did anyone actually count them? And who are they, High Priest? I will tell you. They are farmers and fishermen, the forgotten, the landless, women, and shepherds. Shepherds, High Priest, imagine. I doubt you could find anything more dangerous on them than a gutting knife or pruning shears. They may be determined in their newly discovered faith, but hardly pose a threat to anyone."
"Their newly discovered faith of which you speak is not new and it is not from the Lord, as you surely know. And that is not the problem. What we fear is that in their zeal to proselytize, they will stir up trouble. Not everyone is as tolerant of unorthodoxy as you."
"You seriously believe that I tolerate a lack of orthodoxy? Surely you misspeak, Caiaphas. I am many things, but unorthodox, much less radical, is not one of them."
"And I tell you, Gamaliel, while you insist on being blind to the inherent danger these people pose, I foresee problems that could very well end in the undoing of us all. Do you not understand that Rome will leap at any excuse to destroy the fragile balance we have established here? Even a trivial uprising could topple it. One dissident rabbi and a handful of misguided Sicarii, and everything could collapse around us. And then where will you and I be?'
"It is a sobering thought if true, but I do not believe it. The Lord has promised us the land and the future. He will not desert us now or ever. Passover is about the flight from bondage to freedom, to the land promised to us. We are here. The promise has been kept, and even when we stray and are carried off to Babylon, he leads us back. So, to answer your question, where will I be? Rome or no Rome, I will be in my study with, as you put it, my musty companions. May I suggest that if you wish to ponder a problem of real import, you might turn your mind to discovering why our Prefect arrived early for Passover this year and why a party of Roman officials, who may or may not be part of the Prefect's entourage, have descended on the city as well, and both a full week early. What is in the wind?"
"And why is that a problem?"
"Romans are many things and most of them quite unpleasant, but the characteristics on which we have come to rely are their maddening consistency and predictability. The arrival of this group at this time lacks both. It is a problem to be solved and therefore it is imperative that you discover what they are up to. Now I must leave."
"And the rabbi and his ragtag band? What am I to do about them?"
"Forget them. One eccentric rabbi more or less should not be your concern. Rather, find out what Pilate and his bullies are about."CHAPTER 3
Gamaliel moved off toward his home. He had been listening to the High Priest's rants about Rabbi Yeshua ben Josef since the Galilean had first come to his notice as a person with something of a following. At least he boasted more than a floating minyan such as characterized most of his contemporaries. After the idiotic beheading of John the Baptizer by King Herod and Yeshua's alleged blood relationship to the Desert Prophet, Yeshua's presence seemed to have gained more gravitas, a fact which doubtless explained the High Priest's concerns.
The real problem for the Nation was Rome's heavy foot pressed on the neck of the Nation, so that each day began and ended in uncertainty and, for many, fear. In times like these, it was not unusual for messiahs of all shapes and sizes to crawl out from under every rock or lurk behind every tree. Unless and until the Nation wrested free from its oppressive overlord, that phenomenon would continue and grow. Its history demonstrated that when oppressed, the Nation would soon be rife with prospective saviors. Occasionally they would actually rise up and liberate the people for a time, the Maccabees, Gideon, Saul, and David ... but they were the exceptions—exceptions that forged the Nation, to be sure—but exceptions, nevertheless. And now along comes this rabbi from Nazareth. He had amassed an impressive following and the hopes of some—who knows how many—rested on his claim to be Mashiach. So, messiahs, redeemers, would-be saviors, Moseses and this Yeshua. It had always been so. It would always be so, but Gamaliel, for one, did not see another Moses on the horizon, the High Priest's obsession on Yeshua ben Josef notwithstanding.
In any case, and for reasons Gamaliel would never understand, Caiaphas had determined that of all these self-proclaimed rabbis, prophets, and holy men, Yeshua posed a threat to the Nation. In one minor respect, Gamaliel thought, the High Priest just might have it right. If any one of the many itinerant preachers and prophets would have a lasting impact, he guessed this Yeshua could be the one. He had a message that differed from the others, even from that of his presumptive cousin. But did that justify the High Priest's obsession with him? Gamaliel thought not. There were so many other, more pressing issues confronting them at present that needed their attention.
Why, given this rather obvious situation, had the High Priest singled out this particular man? He'd once asked that of Caiaphas. "Why are you so concerned with this particular rabbi and not any of the half a hundred like him?"
"I hardly think 'half a hundred' describes their number and I am concerned about them, Rabban, but this Yeshua seems to touch people in ways that differ significantly from the others. Oddly, he seems to know the Law and the Prophets and yet presents them in ways that are well beyond the self-serving ramblings of his contemporaries. He is, shall I say, seductive. It is almost as if ..."
Excerpted from The Wolf and the Lamb by Frederick Ramsay. Copyright © 2014 Frederick Ramsay. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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