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´╗┐Title: The Procurator of Judea
Author: France, Anatole
Language: English
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The Procurator of Judea

Anatole France (1844-1924)

Aelius Lamia, born in Italy of illustrious parents, had not yet
put off the patrician's white toga with the purple stripe when
he went to Athens to study philosophy there in the schools.
He afterwards set up in Rome and, in his house in the Exquiliae,
led the life of a voluptuary amid debauched youths.  But, after
having been accused of being in an illegitimate relationship
with Lepida, the wife of a consul, Sulpicius Quirinus, and when
he was found guilty, he was exiled by Tiberius Caesar.  He was
then in his twenty-fourth year.  For the eighteen years his
exile lasted he wandered over Syria, Palestine, Cappadocia and
Armenia, staying for long periods in Antioch, Caesarea Maritima
and Jerusalem.  When, after the death of Tiberius, Caius Julius
was raised to the imperial purple, Lamia was allowed to return
to Rome.  He even recovered a part of his wealth.  His woes had
made him wise.

He avoided all dealings with free-born women, did not intrigue
for public office, kept away from marks of favour and lived
hidden in his house in the Exquiliae.  Putting into writing
the noteworthy things he had seen in his far-off travels, he
was creating, he said, from his past sufferings, a diversion
for the hours he had these days at his disposal.  In the midst
of these serene labours, and while he was assiduously thinking
on the works of Epicurus, he saw, with a modicum of surprise
and a certain amount of sadness, old age creeping up on him.
In his sixty-second year, tormented by a quite inconvenient cold,
he went to take the waters at Baiae. This shore, formerly dear
to common kingfishers, was at that time frequented by wealthy,
pleasure-seeking Romans.  For a week Lamia had been living alone
and friendless in their brilliant company, when, one day, after
dinner, feeling fit, he took it into his head to climb the hills
which, covered with vines like devotees of Bacchus, overlook the
waves of the sea.

Having reached the summit, he sat down at the side of a path
beneath a terebinth, and allowed his gaze to wander over the
beautiful landscape. On his left the Phlegraean Fields, pallid
and bare, stretched out as far as the ruins of Cumae.  On his
right Cape Misenus dug its sharp spur into the Tyrrhenian Sea.
At his feet, to the west, the rich town of Baiae, hugging the
shoreline's graceful curve, displayed its gardens, its villas
peopled with statues, its porticos and its marble terraces on
the edge of the blue sea in which dolphins played.  In front
of him, on the other side of the gulf, on the Campanian coast,
gilded by the sun that was already low in the sky, shone the
temples, crowned by the bay trees of the Pausilipon, and, on
the far horizon, Vesuvius spluttered and laughed.

Lamia pulled from a fold of his toga a roll containing the
Treatise on Nature of Epicurus, stretched out on the ground
and started to read. But the cries of a slave warned him to
get up to make way for a litter that was coming up the narrow
path through the vines.  As the open litter came nearer,
Lamia saw, stretched out on the cushions, a hugely fat old
man who, head in hand, looked out with an eye both sombre
and proud.  His aquiline nose came down to his lips, made
tight by a prominent chin and powerful jaws.

Right away, Lamia was sure he knew that face.  He hesitated
though for a moment in putting a name to it.  Then he all of
a sudden rushed to the litter in a transport of surprise and

"Pontius Pilate!" he exclaimed.  "Gods be praised.  It has
been given to me to see you again!"

The old man motioned to the slaves to stop and focused his
attention on the man now greeting him.

"Pontius, my dear host," the latter continued.  "Have twenty
years sufficed to make my hair white enough and my cheeks
sunken enough for you to no longer recognize your friend
Aelius Lamia?"

On hearing this name, Pontius Pilate got down from the litter
in as sprightly a manner as the weariness due to his age and
the gravity of his bearing allowed him.  And he twice hugged
Aelius Lamia.

"It's certainly good to see you again," he said.  "Alas, you
remind me of the old days, when I was procurator of Judea in
the province of Syria.  I saw you for the first time thirty
years ago.  It was in Caesarea where you came to drag out the
vexations of your exile.  I was quite happy to mitigate them
somewhat, and you, out of friendship, Lamia, followed me to
that sad Jerusalem where the Jews filled me to the brim with
bitterness and disgust.  You stayed as my guest and my
companion for more than ten years, and we both of us, talking
of Rome, consoled ourselves, you for your misfortunes, me for
my promotions."

Lamia again embraced him.

"That's not all, Pontius.  You fail to recall that you used
in my favour your credit with Herod Antipas and opened your
purse to me liberally."

"Don't even mention it," Pontius replied, "since, when you
were back in Rome, you sent me by one of your freed men a sum
of money that paid me off with interest."

"I don't think I'm out of your debt for any amount of money,
Pontius. But tell me, have the gods granted what your heart
desired?  Do you enjoy all the happiness that you deserve?
Speak to me of your family, your fortune, your health!"

"I've retired to Sicily where I own lands that I cultivate and
sell the wheat.  My eldest daughter, my very dear Pontia, now
a widow, lives with me and keeps house for me.  Thanks be to
the gods, I have not lost the strength of my faculties or my
memory.  But old age does not come without a long procession
of aches and pains.  I suffer atrociously from gout.  And you
see me at present seeking in the Phlegraean Fields a remedy for
my afflictions.  This land that burns, from which, at night,
flames escape, exhales acrid vapours of sulphur which, so they
say, soothe pain and restore flexibility to joints and limbs.
That's what the doctors assure me of anyway."

"May it be what you experience yourself, Pontius!  But, gout
and insect bites notwithstanding, you hardly look as old as me,
though you are, in fact, ten years older.  It's certain you've
retained more vigour than I ever had, and I'm glad to find you
still so robust.  Why, dear heart, did you so prematurely reject
public office?  Why, after you left your governorship in Judea,
did you live on your estates in Sicily in voluntary exile?  Tell
me what you got up to from the moment that I ceased to be there
as a witness to your actions.  You were preparing to put down a
Samaritan revolt when I left for Cappadocia, where I was hoping
to derive some profit from raising mules and horses.  Since
then I haven't laid eyes on you.  What was the success of that
expedition?  Tell me about it.  I'm interested in everything
that's happened to you."

Pontius Pilate shook his head sadly.

"A natural solicitude," he said, "and a feeling of duty led me
to perform my public functions not only diligently but with love
of them too.  But hatred dogged me constantly.  Intrigue and
slander broke my life while the sap was still rising and blasted
the fruit it should have made ripe.  You've asked me about the
Samaritan revolt.  Let's sit down on this mound.  I can tell
you about it in just a few words.  Those events are as fresh
in my mind today as if they had happened yesterday.  A man of
the people, potently eloquent, as many are in Syria, persuaded
the Samaritans to take up arms and gather on Mount Gerizim,
which is held to be a holy place in this region, and he swore
to show them the sacred vessels that an eponymous hero, or
rather a local prophet by the name of Moses, had hidden there
back in the time of Evander and Aeneas, our founding father.
On the strength of this assurance the Samaritans revolted.
But, warned in time to stop them, I had the mountain occupied
by infantry detachments and positioned cavalry to keep watch
over approaches to it.  These prudent measures were needed
urgently.  Already the rebels were besieging the town of
Tyrathaba, to be found at the foot of Mount Gerizim.  I
dispersed them easily and nipped the revolt in the bud.
Then, to make an example with a minimum of victims, I had the
revolt's leaders executed. But you know, Lamia, how dependent
I was on the goodwill of Proconsul Vitellius who governed the
province of Syria not for Rome but against Rome and thought
that the provinces of the Empire could be portioned out like
farms to tetrarchs.  The principal men among the Samaritans
fell weeping with hatred of me at his feet.  To hear them,
nothing was further from their mind than to disobey Caesar.
I had acted provocatively, and it was to resist my violent
attack on them that they had gathered about Tyrathaba. And
Vitellius heard their complaints and, entrusting the affairs
of Judea to his friend Marcellus, he ordered me to justify
how I had acted before the emperor.  My heart heavy with
pain and resentment, I took to the sea.  As I drew near to
the coast of Italy, Tiberius, worn out by age and the cares
of empire, died suddenly on Cape Misenus, the horn of which
you can see from here lengthening in the evening mist.  I
pleaded my case to Caius, his successor, who was naturally
bright and was well acquainted with the affairs of Syria.
But marvel with me at this, Lamia, at how my misfortune
persisted till it brought about my downfall.  Caius had
kept close to him in Rome the Jew Agrippa, his companion,
his childhood friend, whom he loved more than his life.
Agrippa looked with favour on Vitellius because Vitellius
was the enemy of Antipas, whom Agrippa hated most intensely.
The emperor sided with his Jewish friend and would not even
grant me an audience.  I was forced to stay under a cloud
of undeserved disgrace.  Swallowing my tears, nourished by
gall, I retired to my lands in Sicily where I should have
died of regret had my sweet Pontia not come to console her
father.  I planted wheat and grew the fattest ears of it
in all the island.  Today my life is done.  Posterity will
judge between Vitellius and me."

"Pontius," Lamia replied, "I'm convinced that you acted towards
the Samaritans to the best of your ability and in the sole
interest of Rome.  But did you not on that occasion give in too
easily to that impetuous bravery that always dragged you into
things?  You know that in Judea, even though younger than you
were and therefore more ardent, it often fell to me to enjoin
on you mildness and leniency."

"Leniency to Jews!" cried Pontius Pilate.  "Despite your having
lived among them, you know little of these enemies of the human
race.  Both proud and base, combining ignominious cowardice with
invincible obstinacy, they undermine both love and hate.  My way
of thinking, Lamia, is founded on the maxims of the divine
Augustus.  Already, when I was appointed procurator of Judea,
the earth was majestically robed in the Pax Romana.  Proconsuls
no longer got rich from the sack of provinces as they were seen
to do during our civil wars.  I was careful only to use wisdom
and moderation. As the gods are my witnesses, I was only stiff
necked in holding back.  What good did these benevolent thoughts
do me?  You saw me, Lamia, at the beginning of my governorship,
when the first revolt broke out.  Do I need to remind you of the
circumstances?  The garrison in Caesarea had gone to take up its
winter quarters in Jerusalem.  The legionaries carried on their
standards pictures of Caesar.  These images gave offence to the
Jerusalemites who did not recognize the emperor's divinity, as
if, under orders to obey, it was not more honourable to obey a
god than a man.  The nation's priests came before my tribunal
to ask me with haughty humility to have the standards removed
from the sacred precincts. I refused out of respect for the
divinity of Caesar and the majesty of the Empire. Then the
plebs, joining forces with the priests, raised their voices
threateningly round the praetorium.  I ordered the soldiers
to form a phalanx in front of the Antonia Tower, and to go,
armed with sticks, like lictors, to disperse that insolent
crowd.  But, oblivious to the blows, the Jews kept on begging
me and the most stubborn among them lay on the ground, held out
their throats and let themselves be beaten to death by the rods.
You then witnessed my humiliation, Lamia.  On Vitellius's order,
I had to send the standards back to Caesarea.  Surely that was
a shame that I did not deserve.  Here, in full view of the
immortal gods, I swear that, during my governorship, I did not
offend once against justice and the laws. But I am old.  My
enemies and all those who informed on me are dead.  I shall
die unavenged.  Who will defend my memory?"

He groaned and stopped speaking. Lamia answered him:

"It is wise not to place either fear or hope in an uncertain
future. What does it matter what men will think of us?  Our
only witnesses and judges are ourselves.  Rest assured, Pontius
Pilate, of the witness you yourself have borne to your virtue.
Be content with your own esteem and that of your friends.
Besides, peoples are not governed by gentleness alone. That
love of humanity philosophy counsels us to show has little to
do with the actions of public figures."

"Let's talk about something else," said Pontius. "The sulphurous
vapours exhaled by the Phlegraean Fields are more efficacious when
they come up from a ground still made warm by the rays of the sun.
I'd better hurry. Goodbye!  But, since I've found a friend, I want
to take advantage of this piece of luck.  Aelius Lamia, do me the
honour of coming to take supper with me tomorrow.  My house is to
be found on the sea shore, at the end of the town, going towards
Misenus.  You will recognize it easily from the portico on which
you'll see a painting showing Orpheus among lions and tigers he is
charming with the sounds of his lyre. Till tomorrow, Lamia," he
said, climbing back in his litter. "Tomorrow we shall talk of Judea."

The following day, at suppertime, Aelius Lamia went to the house
of Pontius Pilate.  Two couches only awaited the supper guests.
The table, unobtrusive but decently laid, supported silver plates
in which had been prepared warblers in honey, thrushes, oysters
from Lake Lucrino and lampreys from Sicily.  Pontius and Lamia
questioned each other as they ate about their infirmities whose
symptoms they described at length and they told each other of
various remedies which had been recommended to them.  Then,
congratulating themselves on having been brought back together
again in Baiae, they vied with one another in praising the
beauty of this coastline and the mildness of the air one breathed
there. Lamia vaunted the grace of the courtesans who went by on
the beach, laden with gold and dragging behind them trains
embroidered by barbarians. But the old procurator deplored an
ostentatiousness that, for the sake of tawdry stones and spiders'
webs woven by hand, made Roman coinage circulate among foreign
peoples and even among enemies of the empire. They afterwards
came to talk about the great feats of civil engineering carried
out in the region, that huge bridge that Caius had had built
between Puteoli and Baiae, and the canals ordered dug by Augustus
to bring water from the sea to the lakes of Avernus and Lucrino.

"I too," said Pontius with a sigh, "wanted to undertake great
public works.  When I was given, for my sins, the governorship
of Judea, I traced the plan for an aqueduct two hundred stadia
long that was to have brought to Jerusalem an abundant supply of
pure water.  Height of levels, capacity of modules, obliquity of
bronze containers for the pipes to be adjusted to, I had studied
everything and, in the opinion of the engineers, solved all the
problems myself.  I prepared a statute to regulate the use of
the water, so that no one individual could make illegal use of
it.  The architects and workers were ordered and I gave the
command to start the work.  But, far from watching satisfied
that conduit was being erected which, on powerful arches, was
to bring health as well as water to their town, the people of
Jerusalem cried out in loud lamentations.  Tumultuously,
accusing us of sacrilege and impiety, they attacked the
workers and scattered the foundation stones.  Can you imagine
filthier barbarians, Lamia?  Nevertheless Vitellius took their
part and I received the order to discontinue the work."

"It's a big question," said Lamia, "as to whether one should make
people happy in spite of themselves."

Pontius Pilate carried on regardless:

"What madness to refuse an aqueduct!  But everything Roman is
hateful to the Jews.  We are for them impure beings and our very
presence is a profanity for them.  You know they did not dare to
enter the praetorium for fear of defiling themselves and that I
had to hold court in an open air tribunal, upon that marble
pavement that you so often trod. They fear us and despise us.
Yet is not Rome the mother and the tutor of peoples who all,
ike children, rest and smile at her venerable breast?  Our eagles
have carried peace and freedom to the limits of the known world.
Seeing only friends in those we vanquish, we leave to conquered
peoples and ensure their customs and their laws.  Is it not only
since Pompey conquered it that Syria, formerly torn apart by a
multitude of warring kings, has begun to taste peace and plenty?
And even when Rome could sell its benefits for gold, has it
plundered the treasures that the temples of barbarians overflow
with?  Has it looted that of the Great Mother Goddess in Galatia,
or that of Jupiter in Cappadocia and Cilicia, or that of the God
of the Jews in Jerusalem?  Antioch, Palmyra, Apamea have all been
left alone despite their wealth, and, no longer afraid of the
incursions of desert Arabs, raise temples to the genius of Rome
and the divine Caesar.  Only the Jews hate us and defy us. We
have to wrest the tribute from them, and they stubbornly refuse
to do military service."

"The Jews," replied Lamia, "are very attached to their ancient
customs. They suspected you, for no good reason, I agree, of
wanting to abolish their law and to change their habits.  Let me
tell you, Pontius, that you did not always act in a way designed
to dispel their unfortunate error.  You took pleasure, in spite
of yourself, in fuelling their anxieties, and I saw you more than
once fail to hide before them the contempt that their beliefs and
religious ceremonies inspired in you. You particularly annoyed
them by having the vestments and priestly adornments of the high
priest in the Antonia Tower guarded by your legionaries.  You
must admit that, without having risen as we have to contemplate
divinity, the Jews still celebrate mysteries that are venerable
in their antiquity."

Pontius Pilate shrugged his shoulders:

"They do not," he said, "have exact knowledge of the nature of
the gods.  They worship Jupiter, but without giving him a name
or face.  They do not even venerate him in the form of a stone
as certain peoples do in Asia.  They know nothing of Apollo,
Neptune, Mars, Pluto or of any goddess.  I do believe however
that they once adored Venus.  For even today women offer doves
as victims on the altar, and you know as I do that merchants
with stalls under the temple's porticos sell pairs of these
birds to be sacrificed.  I was even told one day that a madman
had knocked over the stalls of these merchants with their cages.
The priests complained of it to me as a sacrilegious act.  I
think that that custom of sacrificing turtle doves was set up
in honour of Venus.  Why are you laughing, Lamia?"

"I'm laughing," said Lamia, "at an amusing idea that, I don't
know how, has just gone through my mind.  I dreamt that one day
the Jove of the Jews might come to Rome to persecute you.  Why
not?  Asia and Africa have already given us a great many gods.
We have seen temples erected in Rome in honour of Isis and the
barking jackal god Anubis.  We find at crossroads and even in
quarries the Good Mother goddess of the Syrians, carried by an
ass.  And did you not know that, in the princedom of Tiberius,
a young knight passed himself off as the horned Jupiter of the
Egyptians and obtained with this disguise the favours of an
illustrious lady, too virtuous to hold anything back from the
gods!  Pray, Pontius, that the invisible God of the Jews does
not disembark one day in Ostia!"

At the idea that a God could come from Judea, a brief smile
slid over the stern face of the procurator.  Then he solemnly
made answer:

"How would the Jews impose their holy law on outsiders when they
themselves tear one another apart to interpret that law?  Split
up into twenty rival sects, you've seen them, Lamia, holding their
scrolls in public squares, insulting each other and pulling each
other's beards.  You've seen them, on the top step of the temple's
crepidoma, ripping their grimy robes in grief around some wretch
in a prophetic trance.  They cannot imagine a peaceful argument,
with a soul that's tranquil, about the numinous, which is veiled
nevertheless and full of uncertainty.  The nature of the immortal
gods remains a mystery to us that we are unable to penetrate.
I do however think it wise to believe in divine providence.  But
the Jews are devoid of philosophy and cannot tolerate a diversity
of opinions.  On the contrary, they judge to be worthy of the
ultimate penalty those who express feelings on the subject of God
at odds with what their law states about Him.  And as, since they
have been under Roman rule, the death sentences pronounced by
their courts can only be carried out with the approval of the
proconsul or the procurator they put constant pressure on Roman
magistrates to support their lethal decrees.  They assail the
praetorium with their demands for capital punishment.  A hundred
times I've seen them, thronging round me, rich and poor, clinging
to their priests, angrily laying siege to my ivory seat, pulling
at the folds of my toga and the thongs of my sandals, clamouring
for, demanding of me the death of some unfortunate whose crime
I was unable to discern and whom I could only hold to be as mad
as his accusers.  What am I saying?  A hundred times?  It was
every day, every hour of the day.  And yet I had to implement
their law as I did ours, since Rome had set me up not to destroy
but to support their customs, and I had power to pardon or to
punish over them.  At first I tried to make them see reason, I
strove to save their wretched victims from punishment.  But this
leniency on my part only annoyed them the more.  They battened on
their prey beating with their wings and pecking with their beaks
like vultures.  Their priests wrote to Caesar I was infringing
their law, and their petitions, backed up by Vitellius, made me
much frowned upon.  How often the desire came to me to make, as
the Greeks say, both the accused and their judges food for the
crows!  Don't think, Lamia, that I harbour feelings of rancour
and senile rage against this people who got the better of all
that was Roman and peaceable in me.  But I can foresee all too
well the drastic action that they will oblige us to take with
them sooner or later.  If we can't govern them, we'll have to
destroy them.  Do not doubt that, ever rebellious, hatching
plots against us in their overheated souls, they will burst out
one day with a fury next to which the wrath of the Numidians
and the threat posed by the Parthians will be child's play.
They nurture in the shadow crazy hopes and madly conspire at
our downfall.  How can it be otherwise, given they await, if
their prophets are to be believed, a prince of their bloodline
who will rule the world?  We shall never overcome this people.
They need to be obliterated.  We need to raze Jerusalem to the
ground.  Perhaps, old as I am, it will be given to me to see
the day when its walls will fall, when flames will devour
its houses, when its inhabitants will be struck down by the
sword and salt will be strewn where the Temple once stood.
And on that day I shall at last be justified."

Lamia endeavoured to put the conversation back on a more even

"Pontius," he said, "I can easily explain to you both your old
resentments and your sinister premonitions.  Certainly, what
you knew of the character of Jews did them no favours.  But I,
who was curious about Jerusalem and mingled with the people,
was able to discover in these men hidden virtues, which were
kept concealed from you.  I knew Jews full of gentleness, whose
simple habits and faithful hearts reminded me of what our poets
have to say about the old man of Ebalia.  And your yourself,
Pontius, saw beaten to death by the rods of legionaries simple
men, who, without even saying their name, died for a cause they
thought just.  Such men do not deserve our contempt.  I talk
like this because it is fitting to keep measure and balance in
all things. But I'll admit I never felt much sympathy for Jewish
men. Jewish women, on the other hand, I liked a lot.  I was young
then, and Syrian women played havoc with my senses.  Their red
lips, their damp eyes, and their long gazes shining in the shade,
struck me to the marrow of my bones.  Made up and painted, and
smelling of nard and myrrh, steeped in spices, their flesh is
rare and delightful."

Pontius listened to these praises impatiently:

"I wasn't a man to fall into the honey traps set by Jewesses," he
said, "and since you lead me to say it, Lamia, I never approved
of your lack of self-restraint.  If I didn't emphasize enough to
you in days gone by that I held you to be very much at fault for
having seduced, back in Rome, the wife of a consul, I think it
was because you were then paying dearly for that crime.  Marriage
is a sacred institution for patricians, one that Rome counts on.
As for slaves or foreign women, the relations you could strike up
with them would count for little were it not that your body gets
used to in them a shameful softness.  You sacrificed too freely
to the goddess of crossroads, I must say, and what I find most
to blame in you, Lamia, is that you did not marry legitimately
and give children to Rome as every good citizen should do."

But the man exiled by Tiberius was no longer listening to the old
magistrate.  Having emptied his cup of its vinum Falernum, he was
smiling at some invisible picture.

After a moment of silence, he continued in a very low voice that
gradually grew louder:

"They dance so languorously, the women of Syria.  I knew then
in Jerusalem a Jewess who, in a hovel, by the light of a small
smoky lamp, on a bad carpet, danced raising her arms to clash
her cymbals. Her back arched, her head thrown back and as if
dragged down by her heavy auburn hair, her eyes drowned in
voluptuousness, ardent and languishing, supple, she'd have made
Cleopatra herself pale with envy.  I loved her barbaric dances,
her slightly husky and yet so sweet singing, the smell of her
incense, the semi-sleeping state she seemed to live in.  I
followed her everywhere. I mixed in with the vile crowd of
soldiers, boatmen and publicans she was surrounded with.  One
day she disappeared and I never saw her again.  I looked for a
long time for her in doubtful alleyways and taverns.  She was
harder for me to do without than Greek wine.  A few months
after I had lost track of her, I learned, quite by chance,
that she had joined a small group of men and women who were
followers of a young Galilean miracle worker.  He was called
Jesus, came from Nazareth, and was crucified, for what crime
I don't know.  Do you remember that man, Pontius?"

Pontius Pilate frowned, bringing his hand to his forehead like
someone who is trying to remember.  Then, after a few moments of
silence, he murmured:

"Jesus. Jesus. From Nazareth? No. I can't bring him to mind."

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large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.