Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

Concerning this History

I purpose to write in this book the story of certain things which I have seen with my own eyes or have heard from the lips of those who were present at the doing of them. Peradventure some one may ask, and not without reason, who is this that speaks of his own knowledge of so many generations of men? A man may write of fifty or even of three-score years who, having begun to take note of the deeds and words of others as soon as he has reached years of discretion, shall continue in this work unto extreme old age, but who is this that tells the story of nigh upon two hundred years? Such questions it is fitting that I should answer, though I like not to speak of myself.

I was chief keeper of the door in the palace of Pontius Pilatus, who was governor of the land of JudŠa, having his authority from the Caesar of Rome. It was ill done of me who was a Jew to take such an office, but I was overcome by the greed of gain, as many have been, ever since the world was, to their own loss and ruin. I received from the treasury of the governor two silver pence by the day. And, over and above this wage, I was wont to receive monies from such as, having ends of their own to serve, desired admission to the palace at other times than were provided by the order of the place. But these were ill-gotten gains, so that having done ill in taking this office, I did yet worse in my holding of it. To them that had not the will or the power to buy my favour I bore myself proudly and unmercifully. I would keep out them that had lawful business with the governor, those who having been wronged sought redress and the like, admitting them who having made unrighteous gains, sought either to secure or to increase them. So it came to pass that I committed the grievous sin of which I bear the punishment to this very hour.

I had heard many things about a certain prophet who was of the land of Galilee. Some said that he was one of the people, a carpenter by trade; others would have it that he was of the house and lineage of King David, though his family had fallen upon evil times. But that he was no common man all were agreed, one that wrought many marvellous works, healing the sick and giving sight to the blind, aye, and giving life to the dead. Also they said much of his speech, how it was such as none else could use, having such authority that men could not choose but hear. These things I heard, as no one in those days could fail to hear, but I paid but little heed thereto. For, as I have written above, my way of life did not dispose me to concern myself with such matters. If this man was indeed a prophet—so I thought within myself—I care not to go near him. Surely he will rebuke me for my evil ways. So I put away all thoughts of him, and applied myself to my affairs, and became even more cruel and greedy than before, for such is wont to happen when a man turns from the light and chooses the darkness. But it was ordered that, whether I would or no, I should see this man and be spoken to by him. And this came to pass in the fourth year of the rule of Pontius!

There was a great uproar in Jerusalem about the time of the Passover, a thing which often happened, and the city was filled to overflowing, as were all the environs thereof. And the cause of this uproar was, as I was told, this same prophet Jesus of Galilee. The chief priests and rulers of the people bore great ill-will to him, for he was wont to rebuke them for their pride and covetousness and other misdoings. But as they had nothing to lay to his charge, they devised this false accusation that he meditated rebellion against Caesar, alleging that he was wont to speak of a certain kingdom which he was about to set up. So they brought him before the governor, saying, "This man stirs up rebellion against the authority of Rome." Now the governor well knew that the man was no rebel, and was aware also of the real truth of the matter. He sought, therefore, to let him go; but when the rulers of the people were urgent with him that he should condemn him, and he was not minded to set himself against their will, he consented and delivered him to be crucified.

Now there had been many things that day to vex and trouble me, and, indeed, at such times it is no easy matter to discharge the office of a doorkeeper. Many were coming and going, and there was ever a great crowd of those who sought to enter or to go out. And, besides, there was a stirring in my heart which gave me no ease. For I was evil and this man was good, and it was a pain to me that he should be near to me, even as it is a pain to creatures that love the darkness when the light is let in upon them. So it came to pass that I did the deed of which I now write. As the man went forth by the door of which I had the charge he seemed to linger, as well he might, for he was sore weary. For he had been waking all the night, and had been sent to and fro, and had borne many stripes and buffetings. Then a rage altogether without reason seemed to surge up in my heart, and I smote him on the neck, saying, "Why dost thou tarry, Jesus? Go to the death which is thy due desert." Then he turned and looked at me. "I go, O Cartaphilus, but thou shalt tarry till I come." At the first I knew not what he would say, or what this tarrying or this coming again might mean.

One thing was straightway borne in upon me, that I could no longer be doorkeeper in the governor's palace. So I sought for some other employment, and having found such as it went not against my conscience to take, I lived as other men, yet felt that I was not altogether as they are. And when I was come to extreme old age, being nigh upon a hundred years, I felt something within me that drove me into the wilderness. What next came to pass I know not; only when I came to myself I found that I was the same yet not the same, for my old age had departed, and I was of the age I bore when Jesus spoke to me. And so it has been with me again and again. I have followed many occupations, and dwelt in many lands, for again and again there is a stir in my heart that drives me forth from the place where I am sojourning; but I come back ever to the city of Jerusalem, wherein I was born, for there is no place for which I have so great a love. I was there when the Romans laid it even with the ground, after besieging it for nigh upon five months. Never since the world was first inhabited by man have there been, I take it, more terrible things than came to pass at that time. And so it lay desolate for sixty years. Then the Romans built there a city; and this grew and increased, especially after the time of the Caesar Constantine. It was about three centuries after his time that it was taken by the followers of Mahomet; and these ruled over it, though not under the same house of kings or sultans, for many years. But of these times there is no need for me to speak; let others whose business lies in the writings of histories do this. Nevertheless I will say one thing, that the coming of a barbarous people, called Turks, was the beginning of much trouble, as will hereafter be seen. I will begin with the one thousand and twenty-third year after the taking of the city by the Romans.