Howard Ingham: Unholy Writ

June 2001
Jesus II: the revenge
Previous Unholy Writs

Comment on this column HERE AT SHIP OF FOOLS we pride ourselves on being historians. Regular readers of this column should be well aware that we're up on those obscure bits of the past that other Christians leave behind (OK, hands up who thought that church history ended with Revelation and started again with Martin Luther?... thought so).

Of course, you've got to be careful. Some of our beloved apocryphal stuff can be slightly dodgy. Or completely made up. For example, take the anonymous story simply called The Avenging of the Saviour.

In this story, the Roman general Titus is visited in Libya around the year 35 by a Judean trader, blown off course. Titus is suffering from leprosy, meaning that his face is pretty hideously disfigured, but when he hears the Judean talking about the crucifixion of Christ and expresses his annoyance at the fact that Jesus isn't around to heal him, he is suddenly miraculously cured.

Titus, impressed by this turn of events, instantly decides to become a Christian. He gets hold of his dad Vespasian, and with the permission of the emperor Tiberius, they take an army to Judea, where they lay siege to Jerusalem. Most of the men in Jerusalem commit suicide, but Vespasian and Titus catch Annas, Caiaphas and Pilate, putting them painfully to death, while the rest of the Jews are sold into slavery, at the rather humiliating price of thirty for one piece of silver.

The Romans then round up all the people who were friends of Jesus (whom, miraculously they haven't killed or enslaved) and see if they can find a picture of Jesus that they can fall down and worship.

They discover the shroud of Christ, imprinted with his face, in the possession of a woman called Veronica (who was the woman who touched Jesus' robe and was healed of her bleeding), and forcibly take it away from her. They then realise that this wasn't a nice thing to do, so they take her back to Rome as well, where the Emperor Tiberius hears about Jesus, converts to Christianity in tears, and transports the shroud to Turin. At which point they all live happily ever after, except the Jews, obviously, who were mostly dead.

THE LACK OF historical accuracy in this story is breathtaking. Any student of ancient history knows that in AD35 Titus wasn't even born. In fact, he and Vespasian didn't level Jerusalem until AD70. The town where all the men committed suicide was Massada, not Jerusalem, and Tiberius certainly didn't become a Christian. And, of course, no 1st-century Jewish woman would have had a name like Veronica.

Who would have read this story? People who weren't Jewish, for a start. The Jews really get a raw deal from this story, and as for the stuff about about the Turin Shroud... well, I don't know what was going on there either.

So, as far as historical accuracy goes, I guess I'm going to have to look somewhere else for my information. The Adventures of Joseph of Arimathea, anyone?

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