by Traci C. Muhammad
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
–2 Timothy 1:13-14 NIV
Historically speaking, a portion of the first words recorded in the Bible’s New Testament, the Gospel, are not solely the words of Jesus—the central figure of the Gospel. The words are in fact, a section of a critical exchange, a conversation if you will, between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. Yes, Pontius Pilate.
Papyrus52 (P52) was acquired in 1920 by Mr. Bernard Grenfell, in an Egyptian market. The physical papyrus (the text) itself measures 3.5 by 2.5 inches (8.9 cm × 6.4 cm) or roughly the size of a debit card. P52 is considered by scholars to have come from a larger codex. A codex is a sewn and folded book, which was rare for the time because most written words were found on scrolls or a single sheet of papyrus during that time.
P52 is more commonly referred to as the St. John’s Fragment. The St. John’s Fragment has writing which appears on both sides of the papyrus; with the surviving portion, having part of the top and lower reverse margins visible. The top left corner, the recto, comes from a right-hand facing page. The verso reveals the words found in the top right corner of the left facing page. The writing style is known as ‘bookhand’ in the language of Greek. The full fragment is currently under preservation at John Rylands University Library in the United Kingdom.
One of the more fascinating aspects of P52 is that it reads not as a statement or decree but as a conversation. Not quite casual and not so informal as to allude to friendship, yet it remains deeply analytical and piercingly respectful in nature. It is within the contextual nuances of the conversation, that a question organically arises. It is the type of question that pricks the intellectual curiosity. It is a question that in this perilous hour, everyone should be asking.
Pontius Pilate asks this question, after Jesus has been brought to him for judgement, through the devices of a meticulously planned death plot. A death plot designed to cause Jesus’ death at the hands of his own people—preferably by a trusted disciple. The reader is strongly encouraged to read the full text which can be found in the Gospel of John 18:37, 38. For the purposes of this writing, the text we are focusing on comes from the verso side and reads:
Gospel of John, 18:37–38 (Greek):
ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΕΙΜΙ ΕΓΩ ΕΙΣ TOΥΤΟ ΓΕΓΕΝΝΗΜΑΙ
ΚΑΙ (ΕΙΣ ΤΟΥΤΟ) ΕΛΗΛΥΘΑ ΕΙΣ ΤΟΝ ΚΟΣΜΟΝ ΙΝΑ ΜΑΡΤΥ-
ΡΗΣΩ ΤΗ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ ΠΑΣ Ο ΩΝ ΕΚ ΤΗΣ ΑΛΗΘΕI-
ΑΣ ΑΚΟΥΕΙ ΜΟΥ ΤΗΣ ΦΩΝΗΣ ΛΕΓΕΙ ΑΥΤΩ
Ο ΠΙΛΑΤΟΣ ΤΙ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ ΚΑΙ ΤΟΥΤΟ
ΕΙΠΩΝ ΠΑΛΙΝ ΕΞΗΛΘΕΝ ΠΡΟΣ ΤΟΥΣ ΙΟΥ-
ΔΑΙΟΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΛΕΓΕΙ ΑΥΤΟΙΣ ΕΓΩ ΟΥΔΕΜΙΑΝ
ΕΥΡΙΣΚΩ ΕΝ ΑΥΤΩ ΑΙΤΙΑΝ
Gospel of John, 18:37–38 (English):
a King I am. For this I have been born
and (for this) I have come into the world so that I would testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears of me my voice.” Said to him
Pilate, “What is truth?” and this
having said, again he went out unto the Jews
and said to them, “I find not one
fault in him.”
Again, the reader is strongly encouraged to read the entire text.
The question: “What is truth?” is Pilate’s response to Jesus statement that, “Everyone who is of the truth hears of me my voice.” As we take this excursus through the text, let us take note that it is after Pilate asks Jesus “What is truth?” that Jesus does not have the opportunity to illuminate his statement, as Pilate makes the conscious decision to immediately leave Jesus and return to the gathered conspirators. Pilate then declares to the conspirators, “I find not one fault in him.” A slower read of the text revels a critical sequential alliteration, “again, he went out…and said to them.” This is a critical turning point in the text because the author, John, creates a timeline by using this one sentence.
“Again, he went out…” By doing this, what John tells us without saying so outright, is that these conspirators had on at least one other occasion approached Pilate. Approached him about Jesus and what they considered the necessity to find a permanent solution to what the conspirators deemed a real and credible threat to their established religious, social, political and financial order.
To say “again” is to say that this has been an ongoing, well discussed desire among the conspirators. To refer to them as conspirators, is a purposeful action by this author, in order to broaden the scope of this excursus; without being incumbered by ideological and religious barriers, that compose unnecessary tension within a modern reading and textual analysis of the writing.
It took thousands of years for the answer to Pilates very legitimate question to be answered. Not in part, but fully. In a series of articles published in the Pittsburgh Courier and on the back cover of the book, ‘Our Saviour Has Arrived’ published in 1974 we find the answer to Pilates question. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote in this series of articles that what he was presenting, was an invincible truth. On the back cover of ‘Our Saviour Has Arrived’ what we find is this same truth now referred to as the “Sure Truth” The natural question now becomes why was it necessary to first refer to this truth as an Invincible Truth and then a Sure Truth?
Returning to Pilates question, “What is truth?” we have the answer to the theological and political nature of his question. Let us pause here and be reminded, Pilate is a Roman authority. Based on his authority, bestowed upon by Rome itself, he is being pressed to make a judgement (decree) of death, on a member of the conspirator’s own community, because they cannot execute (put to death); only the Roman government has that authority. Taking a step back we can see that this is in fact a conspiracy that is not confined in its target to only one person, Jesus, it is a co-dependent conspiracy. Meaning, that it is a conspiracy within a conspiracy. The conspirators want Jesus to be executed but they need Pilate.
By way of analogy, think of the gears in a watch—each gear is turned by the “teeth” of the gear adjacent to it fitting into the empty space of the other gear. These gears are then co-dependent upon each other for movement. It is the same with this conspiracy—this death plot. The conspirators want to maintain their position within their community. They cannot risk exposure. Exposure threatens their capacity to rule over their own people by calling into question the legitimacy of their decrees and self ascribed nearness to divinity.
The conspirators have studied Pilate, the man. They know that he has political aspirations, they know that this is a critical time of the year, and he would be redescent to embolden a potential mob against Rome’s authority to rule and collect taxes. Most importantly, they know that Pilate is vain, that he works to distance himself from any appearance of imperfection. They have studied him and know that if they “shift him” just so, they can manipulate him based on his vanity and lust for power into doing their bidding.
“Again, he went out…”
The conspirators were working on Pilate for some time while simultaneously searching among those closest to Jesus for the weak link in the chain. It is a curiousness, in human nature, the fissure between the Divine Man and the flesh or the ego. It is the ego which creates opportunity for fracture in consciousness. Where the ego begins to convince itself that it’s self referentially inconsistent dialogue of polytheistic thought is accurately reflecting reality. “I am better than…” becomes the unconscious reframe that disallows full submission to the man in whom is the embodied will of God.
What allowed the conspirators to be successful in the execution of this conspiracy—this death plot? First and foremost, this was and is within the Divine Active Will of Allah (God) in the person of Master Fard Muhammad. Secondly, Pilate and Judas were possessed of the same sickness. The same dreadful disease which the conspirators latched onto. That disease: Envy. Pilate and Judas both envied Jesus’s divinely favored life, speech and actions. His moral uprightness, his commitment, his willingness to sacrifice. Most importantly, Pilate and Judas envied Jesus’s love and faithfulness to His Father—God.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan explained in a lecture entitled “The Sickness of Envy” delivered at the Final Call Administration Building on March 7,1990, how both Pilate and Judas were ensnared in this wicked death plot, “Allah says in the Qur’an that we should seek refuge against those who cast evil suggestions in firm resolutions. There are people that talk to you all the time and if you’re not a discerning one, you don’t listen carefully to not just to the words but the way the words are placed, someone will make a positive assertion but deep down in it is an evil suggestion.”
The conspirators cast an evil suggestion in firm resolution which fell on fertile ground in each of these men, Pilate and Judas, because they both were possessed of the disease of envy of which vanity is an external manifestation. It manifests what lies deep in the heart (thinking) of the person.
“What is truth?” in the end Pilate and Judas chose the love of self over the love of God and both suffered as a result. The death plot is real. We can learn lessons from everything and everyone if we are humble and observant. From the conspirators, we learn that they are patient. Roles may change, timelines my shift, machinations may change but the objective remains the same. Evil does not dance in the sunlight; it hides in the darkness of a mind consumed with doubt while blacking the heart with a poison that pass the lips in carefully worded “evil suggestions cast in firm resolution”
“Envy is one of the worst kinds of spiritual diseases. Anyone of us who have some gift or quality that others wish they had or want; it is so sad that people will literally hate you for what only God could give you. An envious person is really a devil, no matter what the color of the skin. If your heart is poisoned with the disease of envy, you have become, in your person, a devil. Why is that? Because you or those who are afflicted with that disease are not just hateful of the person whom they envy but they are hateful of the God who gave that person that which they have for which they are being envied.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that an envious person is the worst kind of person. That’s a devil. Because an envious person will kill you. Now, that makes you a devil. Because if God is the Giver of life and the Giver of gifts and someone is envious of you because of some gift that God gave you, and that envy reaches the point where it becomes hatred and then hatred gives way to murder, then that person who would rob you of the life that God gave you because of a gift that God gave you; that’s the worst kind of human being.”
— Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan
In the name of Allåh, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
1 Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of the dawn,
2 From the evil of that which He has created,
3 And from the evil of intense darkness, when it comes,
4 And from the evil of those who cast (evil suggestions) in firm resolutions,
5 And from the evil of the envier when he envies.