Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

One of the central themes in Mills’s novel is faith, specifically, faith in Jesus Christ. That Christ is the subject of Pontius Pilate’s memoir is significant. Even though his reminiscences include comments on Jewish history, accounts of his dealings with the Jews, and descriptions of Roman political infighting, Pilate admits that his most vivid memories of his life in Palestine involve Jesus. His attempt to put Jesus on the same level as Socrates does not convince anyone, least of all Pilate himself, that the Jew was merely a good man. Though he tries to reason away the angelic annunciation, the star that brought the astrologers to Jesus’ birthplace, the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies, the many miracles, and the darkness and the earthquake at the end, Pilate cannot forget a single detail about the life and death of Jesus, nor can he erase the memory of their brief encounter.

Despite his fascination with Jesus, at the end of the novel, Pilate has still not made a commitment. For one thing, Pilate prides himself on practicality. He recalls leaving the cross because he had important matters to take care of. Pilate’s snobbery is another obstacle to faith. The Roman official who proudly recalls his dinners with Herod Antipas would not be at ease with Jewish fishermen. Moreover, Pilate feels intellectually superior to the Jewish fanatics who follow Jesus. His offhand comment “What is truth?” was undoubtedly meant to show his grasp of complex thought. What it really demonstrates, however, is his inability to make a commitment, either to save an innocent man or to believe in him. Thus the memoirs end without resolution. At the end of the novel, Pilate is still waiting for proof of Jesus’ divinity.