Roger Caillios’s short novel in centered around Pontius Pilate (obviously) and his day before Jesus’s crucifixion.
Now, I don’t know anything about the real Pilate – as far as I’m concerned, one thing stuck: the hand washing that’s now part of popular culture. So Caillois’s take was interesting, as far as I could see, though definitely inferior (again, that’s just my guess) to Pilate’s appearance in Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”. While the latter was strong and cruel yet human and just, the first is indecisive, weak and easily influenced.
The really tiny book is divided in 7 parts, each marking a moment in Pilate’s day: his encounter with the Jewish priests Ana and Caiafa, his counsel with Menenius the prefect, his conversation with a seemingly rambling Judas, the interrogation of Jesus, the evening discussion with his friend Marduk and Pilates – alone with his thoughts and his insomnia. Plus his wife’s dream of the rise of Christianity. A pretty busy day, I would think 😀
Each conversation makes him more and more doubtful – of his moral fiber, of his social status, of his power. The priests have already put a dent in his credibility, Menenius is the one who suggests the symbolism of the hand washing gesture, Judas tries to convince him that by allowing what seems like an unjust crucifixion he will be part of something bigger than what had ever before been seen and his name will live on forever, all the while Jesus refusing to answer his questions. Pilate, a mediocre political figure, but otherwise a well educated man, passionate by Greek philosophy seeks enlightenment and comfort in his friend Marduk who will, over a glass of wine, foresee the entire history of the humanity, but present it as nothing more than logical deductions and harmless invention. In the end, Marduk also counsels Pilate to go ahead with the crucifixion – an answer that takes him by surprise and does nothing more than increase his worries and questions.
In the Epilogue – Pilate has finally made his choice – a choice that will not affect his personal history (he will still commit suicide in Vienna), but the entire mankind: he will let Jesus go. And that’s where the book ends – in a place where it would have been more interesting to begin. How would the world be shaped if that had happened? Nothing more than speculations, of course, but it could have been so much more exciting…
Not that it’s a waste reading this book – after all, it doesn’t take more than a couple of hours – it’s just that I found it somewhat…pointless.