Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Paul Novel Excerpt: Priscilla Expulsion from Rome

I've committed to finishing this novel, but is anyone out there actually liking the snippets I've posted?
Priscilla and Aquila had brought the gospel to the Corinthian synagogue less than a year before Paul arrived in the city. They and other believing Jews had been forced to leave Rome by the Roman emperor Claudius.

The good news that the Christ had arrived had made its way to Rome even before Jesus appeared to Paul. But the crisis with the emperor before Claudius, Caligula, had made Jews in the city--and around the world--pay more attention to the message than they might have otherwise.

A little more than ten years earlier, the Jews of Alexandria had undergone a major crisis. The Roman prefect of Egypt, Flaccus, had allowed those who hated the Jews to riot against them. He would eventually lose his life for his great incompetence in the matter and, indeed, his borderline complicity.

Several were killed by mobs in the center of Alexandria, and those Jews who lived throughout the city huddled for safety into the part where most Jews lived. About a fifth part of the city was made up of Jews. Indeed, there were more Jews in part of the city of Alexandria than there was in the entire city of Jerusalem!

One of the things at issue was whether some Jews were truly citizens of the city or whether they were simply a group unofficially tolerated. Up to that point, the wealthier Jews of the city, people like the writer Philo, participated in much of Alexandria’s civic and political life. Philo himself had enjoyed a gymnasium education alongside non-Jews, although he eventually helped found a gymnasium of sorts just for Jews. He was an armchair philosopher who followed a long tradition in the city of respectable Jews who engaged non-Jewish literature and thought.

But now suddenly, the question of whether Jews like him really belonged or not was being brought to a decision. Jews around the world—including Christian Jews—were certainly curious about what Caligula would decide. Most Diaspora Jews, Jews scattered around the world outside Palestine, no doubt felt like any other ethnic group. They did their own thing and, as long as they didn’t cause trouble, the Romans didn’t have a problem with them.

Then Caligula took a matter of curiosity and made it into a serious question. The maniac decided to put a statue of himself in the temple in Jerusalem, an all around bad idea. He commanded the Roman governor of Syria, Petronius, to take two legions of soldiers with him to Jerusalem to make sure it happened. When Petronius told Caligula he would not be able to comply without annihilating the entire Jewish populace, Caligula ordered him to commit suicide. But fortunately for Petronius, the order didn’t get there until about a month after a follow up order from Caligula, one telling him not to do anything further on the matter. The Jewish king, Agrippa I, had talked him out of it. Caligula was assassinated within a year.

Diaspora Jews who before had not taken their identity or the temple back in Jerusalem very seriously, now found their nationalistic fervor stirred. The idea that the messiah was about to come to earth instantly became a message of great interest. Many groups now began to take a strong interest in the book of Daniel, as Caligula had surely just tried to set up an “abomination that causes desolation” in the temple!

Claudius was at least a little saner than Caligula had been. But he did not rule in favor of the Jews. The Jews of Alexandria, he decided, were not citizens of the city. They were officially tolerated and could go on doing things in their own peculiar way. But they shouldn’t think themselves more than they had been before.

It was an immense shock to Philo and those who had gone with him earlier to Rome to see Caligula. From that point on his writings took on a more nationalistic flavor, whereas his earliest writings had drawn fuzzier lines between his Jewish ideas and those of the Greeks. His nephew, Tiberius Alexander, could see that Jews like himself would have to make a choice, so he renounced his Judaism and fully entered the Roman political system and arena.

Less than ten years later, the idea that Jesus was the Christ had the Roman synagogues in a great uproar. Many, many Jews in the city believed in the good news and were boldly proclaiming that the messiah was about to return to earth and establish his kingdom. But the other side just as vehemently opposed the message. After all, what kind of a messiah ended up naked on a Roman cross—and from Galilee, no less!

The controversy was so severe that eventually Claudius became involved. He didn't really know the details of what was going on, but he had lost all patience with these Jews and their problems. He closed down the key synagogues at the center of the controversy and banished their members from the city, not a small number of Jews. Among this number were believers like Priscilla and Aquila. And thus it was that they had made their way to Corinth.


Bob MacDonald said...

I had better not read this till I finish editing my old section on Prisca! I find myself finally purging the glut of words.

Bob MacDonald said...

OK I have reworked over the past three weeks a piece I wrote about 7 years ago. You can see it here. Now I will read your post.

Ken Schenck said...

Bob, I guess I had not put two and two together that you were doing something similar! Obviously my warped and twisted imagination is quite different from sane people such as yourself!

Bob MacDonald said...

OK - do I like it? The rule is this from I think it is Bird by Bord by Anne Lamont - get it down, clean it up. My criticism of this as story is that it is all narrative. You are telling us rather than showing us. You need characters, plot, action, page turning, unknowns, and story.

Do it. I've been at it for 16 years and I have one tiny 10 page book published. Most of the rest is compost. But there is one small flower. (Maybe I am just slow).

Bob MacDonald said...

What ! me sane - not a chance! Passionate only. In need of direction and filled with risk. But alive.

Ken Schenck said...

Yes, I know what you're saying. I had started a Paul novel in the first person a few years back that was much more vivid. For good or ill, I'm spitting out the first draft of this one in the third person, using the letters as the skeleton, which impacts the style too.