Roman senator Marcus Gallio is worried because his son, young tribune Marcellus, has incurred the wrath of the corrupt Prince Gaius. Gaius vindictively orders Marcellus to a remote desert outpost in Minoa (Palestine). Marcellus and his loyal Corinthian slave, Demetrius, must fight to earn the respect of the garrison at Minoa, but eventually they do. During Passover, their detachment goes to Jerusalem to make a show of force, and Demetrius makes eye contact with Jesus while entering the city and is mesmerized. Marcellus, put in charge of the Crucifixion, wins Jesus’ robe at dice but becomes so depressed following the event that he can barely function.
Meanwhile, Diana, a beautiful young friend of the Gallio family who is a favorite of Emperor Tiberius and admired by Marcellus, persuades the emperor to recall Marcellus from Minoa. His family, however, is so alarmed by Marcellus’s condition that they send him and Demetrius to Athens to recover. In Athens, Marcellus touches the robe again and is healed. Demetrius confides the story to Theodosia, their landlord’s daughter. The two men learn about Jewish theology from Benjamin, the Jew who mends the robe for them and also teaches them to speak Aramaic.
Tiberius, interested in the metaphysical, orders Marcellus back to Palestine to learn more about the Jesus movement. Demetrius, who attacks a Roman tribune who has insulted Theodosia, must go into hiding, so the two young men are separated....
Early on the morning following the Military Tribune Banquet, Marcellus Lucan Gallio tells his sister Lucia that he was drunk the night before and laughed outright at the tribute to Prince Gaius, who may be emperor someday. Lucia fears Gaius’s revenge; she admits she has previously rejected Gaius’s attempts to make love to her. In addition, Senator Gallio, their father, has recently criticized Gaius openly.
Marcellus receives orders to serve in Minoa, an undesirable port city in Southern Palestine. His Corinthian slave Adelphos Demetrius accompanies him. In Minoa, Marcellus receives new orders to take his troops to Jerusalem to ensure peace during Passover. The Roman government and the Sanhedrin (the legislative body of the Jewish temple) worry about the teacher Jesus, who has been drawing crowds and drove the money changers from the temple.
Jesus is seized by the Romans. Demetrius makes eye contact with Jesus as the soldiers push the abused man past him. Demetrius feels peace after the experience. The tormented Jesus goes before High Priest Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Pontius Pilate literally washes his hands of the matter and sends Jesus to the ruler who settles Galilean affairs, Herod Agrippa. Herod sentences the prophet to death by crucifixion.
Marcellus must oversee the cruelty inflicted upon Jesus. He heeds Centurion Paulos’s advice to drink in order to endure overseeing the punishment. Marcellus even casts lots and wins Jesus’ robe at the foot of the cross. Once Marcellus recovers his sobriety, he realizes what he has done. He asks Demetrius to dispose of the robe.
Marcellus goes to Pontius Pilate’s banquet hall and charges Pilate with unfairness. At the banquet, Centurion Paulos asks to see the robe. Demetrius brings it to him, gaining peace from its touch. Marcellus dons the robe at Paulos’s request and loses his mind at its touch. Marcellus becomes ill, and he and Demetrius return to Rome.
Senator Gallio suggests that Demetrius and Marcellus go to Athens to stay at George Eupolis’s inn. An Athenian weaver named Benjamin repairs the robe and teaches the men more about Jesus. Emperor Tiberius sends new orders to Marcellus by Quintus, Gaius’s personal soldier. When Quintus insults Eupolis’s daughter, Demetrius attacks Quintus and wounds him severely.
Demetrius flees on the ship Vetris to Palestine and develops a plan to reunite with Marcellus later. Captain Fulvius protects Demetrius, who had once rescued the captain from an attacking slave. Once in Palestine, Demetrius works with Benyosef, a weaver. Demetrius learns the trade. He learns to read Aramaic; receives baptism from Peter, the Big Fisherman; and meets Matthais and Barsabas Justus, two replacements for the disciple Judas who betrayed Jesus.
Justus serves as a guide for Marcellus, who has orders from Tiberius to retrace Jesus’ route, to gather information on Jesus, and to share the information with the emperor. Marcellus becomes a Christian. Along the roadsides, the two travelers begin to see the...
Books on Trial. Review of The Robe. Books on Trial 3, no. 3 (September, 1944): 568. Brief contemporary book review.
Dawson, Virginia Douglas, and Betty Douglas Wilson. The Shape of Sunday: An Intimate Biography of Lloyd C. Douglas. London: P. Davies, 1953. Biographical insights into the author, a former minister turned author in order to reach a “larger congregation.”
Frederick, John T. “The Robe and The Apostle.” English Journal 33 (January/December, 1944): 281. Frederick, a journalism professor, compares The Robe to Sholem Asch’s The Apostle (1943), finding it lacking in historicity and theological rigor.
Mangan, E. A. Review of The Robe. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 5 (1943): 488. Book review from the novel’s first publication.
Phy, Allene Stuart. “Retelling the Greatest Story Ever Told: Jesus in Popular Fiction.” In The Bible and Popular Culture in America, edited by Allene S. Phy. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985. Contextualizes The Robe as a popular narrative establishing Douglas’s place in religious thought and gives biographical details and anecdotes about the author.