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"The Epistle of Publius Lentulus"

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Archives / 1945 / March



"The Epistle of Publius Lentulus"

Robert L. Odom

R. L. ODom. Editor, Watchman Magazine, Nashville, Tennessee.

R. E. LOASBY. [Professor of Biblical Languages, Theological Seminary.]


Some of our workers have fallen a Prey to the spuri­ous description of the Physical features of Jesus, allegedly written by Publius Lentulus. Such have used it in the pulpit, over the air, and in print—which is to be re­gretted. This has created distrust as to the judgment and scholarship of such workers on the part of the in­formed. To get the facts before our readers, we asked two experienced men—an editor and a teacher—to care­fully investigate and report. Here are their separate findings.—EDITORS.

Once in a while a speaker or a writer bobs up among us with a discourse in which is promi­nently featured the beautiful description of the physical features of Jesus as they are verbally sketched in the apocryphal document known as "The Epistle of Publius Lentulus." *

This spurious letter purports to be the writing of one Publius Lentulus, Roman and praeses Hier­osolymitanorum (president of the people of Jerusa­lem) to the Roman senate. In some texts he is said to have been either a proconsul in Judea or an official in the province of Judea. In one text the letter is addressed to Tiberius Caesar. The Latin classics speak of some forty-three persons called Publius Lentulus, but in none of these instances is there anybody mentioned by that name as having been a Roman official in Jerusalem in the time of Christ's ministry. There was a praeses Syriae (a president of Syria) and a procurator Tudae (a procurator of Judea), but no office called praeses Hierosolymitanorum is known to have existed. Jo­sephus says nothing about any Publius Lentulus holding such an office in Palestine.

Moreover, it was not the practice of the Roman emperors to address their reports to the senate, but to the emperor, to whom they were responsible. It should be noted that in the early centuries of the empire the emperors preserved the forms of re­publican government. Augustus and Tiberius and even later emperors left the peaceful provinces nominally in the hands of the senate. The emperor Augustus, however, took over the turbulent prov­inces. Reports from the pacified provinces might well be addressed to the senate, but those from the turbulent provinces would probably be addressed to the emperor. Palestine was a turbulent province under the emperor.

No mention is made of this epistle by any of the ancient writers, either Christian, Jewish, or pagan, while numerous other spurious epistles are either quoted or referred to by the so-called "church fathers." While the Latin used in the letter is of the ancient type, yet the text abounds in expres­sions that would not be used naturally by a Roman citizen.

The fraudulent letter was widely circulated as genuine among Roman Catholics in the Middle Ages. Today it is recognized by them as spurious (SeeCatholic Encyclopedia, Vol. IX, art., "Publin/ Lavertas" ; The Catholic Mind, March, 1944, p­189.) It is repudiated as a forgery by all Protes­tant scholars of repute. And it certainly discredits the minister and our ministry in the eyes of intelli­gent people for any of our workers to quote the letter as authentic. Its first known appearance is said to have been in the fifteenth century.

It would be well to seek information from relia­ble literary sources or from some of our best-informed ministers before quoting as genuine any literary productions purporting to be of the type of that called "The Epistle of Publius Lentulus." R. L. °Dom. [Editor, Watchman Magazine, Nashville, Tennessee.]

Spurious Report of Pontius Pilate

The alleged "Report of Pontius Pilate to Tiberius" has come down in various forms and is said to be that of Pilate, narrating the proceed­ings of the trial and speaking of Jesus in the high­est terms of praise. It is built upon Eusebius' statement that:

"The wonderful resurrection and ascension into heaven of our Saviour was now already generally fa­mous, and in accordance with an ancient custom that those who were ruling over the nations should report to him who held the imperial office any new movement among them, in order that no event might escape his notice, Pilate communicated to the emperor Tiberius the story of the resurrection from the dead of Our Saviour Jesus as already famous among all throughout Palestine, together with the information he had gained of His other wonders and how He was believed by many to be a God, in that after death He had risen from the dead."—The Loeb Classical Library, Eusebius I, p. III, E. H. II. 2.

Several versions of Pilate's alleged report are in existence, and all are obviously fictitious. No orig­inal has ever been discovered. For detailed infor­mation on these, one may read Tischendorf, Evan­gelia apocrypha, and the article by Lipsius on "Apocryphal Gospels" in the Dictionary of Chris­tian Biography. Lipsius says that all these reports are "of Catholic origin, and written with an apolo­getic intention." He continues:

A copy may be seen in J. D. Donehoo, The Apocra­Canonical Life of Christ (New York : Funk and Wag-nails, 1903), pp. 210, 211.

"Their composition for the most part seems to have been suggested by the Roman custom to draw up official reports of important trials and executions, the so-called Acta praesidialia. The conjecture was a natural one that such acts must have been drawn up by Pontius Pilate himself, or under his authority, in reference to the trial and crucifixion of our Lord."—Dictionary of Christian Biography (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 188o), Vol. II, p. 707.

To this Catholics agree. When a copy of the "report" was submitted to Fathers Kortendick and Mullin, of the Catholic University, Washington, D.C., both men pronounced it a forgery.

It is merely another, copy of a line of similarly forged reports. The one submitted is undoubtedly the copy printed by W. D. Mahan, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, of Boonville, Missouri, and published in 1879. In 1885 Mr. Mahan published a considerable volume containing nine such re­ports, alleging them to be translated from ancient parchments and scrolls at Constantinople and the Vatican at Rome.

These various reports are full of "childish blun­ders," references to "authorities" that simply do not exist, and transcriptions from Ben-Hur and other books. The whole hoax has been exposed for the valueless thing it is, and condemned as "ridicu­lous and disgusting." A full account is given in Strange New Gospels, by E. G. Goodspeed, pages 42-62. (University of Chicago, 1931.) Our work­ers will raise serious question as to their own care­fulness, discernment, and reliability whenever they employ dubious and spurious citations of this sort. R. E. LOASBY. [Professor of Biblical Languages, Theological Seminary.]

*A copy may be found in Bernard Pick, The Extra-Canonical Life of Christ, New York: Funk and Wag-nails, 1903, pp. 210, 211.)

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