Who was Pilate's Wife?
Approximately 2000 years ago, Jerusalem was under Roman rule. From 26 AD to 36 AD, the Roman governor was Pontius Pilate. Much of what we know about Pilate comes from the Christian New Testament where he is involved in the political machinations to execute Jesus. His wife is mentioned in a single verse, Matthew 27:19:
While Pilate was sitting in the court to judge the case, his wife sent a message to him. She said, `Do nothing to that good man. I have been troubled very much in a dream about him today.' (WE)
Later Christian literature gave Pilate's wife the name Claudia and a reputation as a seeress. Journalist Antoinette May decided to write a biography of Pilate's wife. This started a fourteen year journey which included an education in classics and trips to Rome and the Middle East, and the realization that imagination was the only way to fill in the details of Claudia's life. The final product was not the expected biography but May's first novel - Pilate's Wife: A Novel of the Roman Empire.
Pilate's Wife definitely meets May's goal of filling in the less than one-dimensional character mentioned in Matthew 27:19. Her Claudia is interesting, human and believable. I really enjoyed how Pilate's Wife kept true to known historical cities, events and cultures. The depiction of Egypt was particularly vivid and enjoyable. Unfortunately, many of the rest of the characters and locations were one dimensional, even characters who had major rolls throughout the book. I found this to be particularly obvious with Rachael, a slave woman who accompanies Claudia for most of her life. Early on, Rachael shows signs of being a fully rounded character then goes on to spend much of the rest of the book as little more than a placeholder, only having any personality when needed for the plot. This variance in level of detail and fullness may actually be an artistic effect. Claudia's visions range from vividly detailed and informative to almost nonexistent, and the changing level of detail in places and characters give Claudia's world a similar sense of contrast between great detail and sketchy unreality.
This book gave me a much better sense of life in various parts of the Roman Empire, including Egypt and Judea. As a novel qua novel, I found Pilate's Wife to be interesting and enjoyable, but not exceptional. However, as an exploration of women's lives and roles in Europe and the Middle East during the first century, Pilate's Wife is exceptional and I would highly recommend it.
If you want to read Pilate's Wife, you can order a copy from my favorite online bookseller, Alibris, OR you can enter to win a copy in my latest forum contest!
New Testament verse from The Worldwide English (WE) translation of the bible, copyright SOON Educational Publications and free to use for portions smaller than a single book. It is available online at Bible Gateway
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