CHAPTER I
The First Three Centuries of Christianity: a Historical Summary

PONTIUS PILATE, appointed Procurator of Judaea in 26, towards the end of the Principate of Tiberius, and recalled ten years later to Rome in disgrace for misgovernment of the Province, would only be remembered today as a poor representative of the Imperial Civil Service, had it not been his fate to be responsible for the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In early Christian art Pilate is usually represented in the act of washing his hands, a personification of his weakness when confronted by the Jewish mob. Yet for the modern Christian this symbolic act of dissociation from blood guilt is perhaps less dramatic than the momentous interview that preceded it--between the representatives of temporal and spiritual authority. It is therefore a strange chance that the earliest surviving text of the New Testament, a scrap of St John's Gospel on papyrus, records some of this extraordinary conversation. The fragmentary page, copied in Egypt in the mid-second century, and originally part of a codex, or bound book, is now preserved in the John Rylands Library in Manchester. The reading of the two fragments as parts of St John, XVIII, VV. 31-33 and 37-38 is not in doubt, since wherever it can be checked it conforms with the established text of later codices. The passages are these:

'The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die. Then Pilate entered into the judgment-hall again, and called Jesus, and saith unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews?'-- and then:

-39-

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