Chapter V.—The Forged Acts.
1. Having therefore forged Acts of Pilate 2731 and our Saviour full of every kind of blasphemy against Christ, they sent them with the emperors approval to the whole of the empire subject to him, with written commands that they should be openly posted to the view of all in every place, both in country and city, and that the schoolmasters should give them to their scholars, instead of their customary lessons, to be studied and learned by heart.
2. While these things were taking place, another military commander, whom the Romans call Dux, 2732 seized some infamous women in the market-place at Damascus in Phœnicia, 2733 and by threatening to inflict tortures upon them compelled them to make a written declaration that p. 360 they had once been Christians and that they were acquainted with their impious deeds,—that in their very churches they committed licentious acts; and they uttered as many other slanders against our religion as he wished them to. Having taken down their words in writing, he communicated them to the emperor, who commanded that these documents also should be published in every place and city.
These Acts are no longer extant, but their character can be gathered from this chapter. They undoubtedly contained the worst calumnies against Christs moral and religious character. They cannot have been very skillful forgeries, for Eusebius, in Bk. I. chap. 9, above, points out a palpable chronological blunder which stamped them as fictitious on their very face. And yet they doubtless answered every purpose; for few of the heathen would be in a position to detect such an error, and perhaps fewer still would care to expose it if they discovered it. These Acts are of course to be distinguished from the numerous Acta Pilati which proceeded from Christian sources (see above, Bk. II. chap. 2, note 1). The way in which these Acts were employed was diabolical in its very shrewdness. Certainly there was no more effectual way of checking the spread of Christianity than systematically and persistently to train up the youth of the empire to look with contempt and disgust upon the founder of Christianity, the Christians Saviour and Lord. Incalculable mischief must inevitably have been produced had Maximins reign lasted for a number of years. As it was, we can imagine the horror of the Christians at this new and sacrilegious artifice of the enemy. Mason assigns “the crowning, damning honor of this masterstroke” to Theotecnus, but I am unable to find any proof that he was the author of the documents. It is, of course, not impossible nor improbable that he was; but had Eusebius known him to be the author, he would certainly have informed us. As it is, his statement is entirely indefinite, and the Acts are not brought into any connection with Theotecnus.359:2732
The commandant of the Roman garrison in Damascus.359:2733
Damascus, from the time of Hadrian (according to Spruner-Menke), or of Severus (according to Mommsen), was the capital of the newly formed province of Syria-Phœnice, or Syro-Phœnicia.