The Gospel according to Pilate


In the Garden of the Mount of Olives, a man waits for soldiers to come and arrest him and take him to be executed. What supernatural power has turned this carpenter's son into an agitator and a worker of miracles who preaches love and forgiveness? Three days later, on Passover morning, Pilate heads a truly bizarre police investigation: the body of Nazareth's wizard, whom he allowed to be put to death, has vanished.



L'Express - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

(...) It took Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt eight years to finish writing The Gospel according to Pilate, one of the most exciting, most iconoclastic novels this autumn. Writing in a taut style without ornamentation, Scmitt the novelist, has had the good taste to avoid the measured repartee he has used so successfully in the theatre. The underlying theme is whether or not Christ was aware of being the Messiah.

For the last two thousand years, opinions have been divided on this issue. According to some, Jesus knew from the outset he was the Messiah, whereas others believe it only came upon him gradually. Schmitt explores a third, Pascalian, possibility. Whereby Christ acted ac cording to a double premise. First, that he was of divine and not satanic inspiration. And second that he really was the Son of God. But to prove it he had to undergo the trial of the Cross and the Resurrection.

The book's title is not absolutely accurate - the first third is devoted to a prologue entitled "Confessions of a condemned man on the evening of his arrest". It is only in the second part that Pilate recounts his version of the facts in a series of letters addressed to "his dear Titus". Jesus, then. Prophets abound in this Judaea that is driving the Romans crazy. Whereas Jesus is upsetting the rabbis. He likes laughing, drinking, eating - and is said to have had 1,000 women. His own brothers are ashamed of him for the way he keeps the company of drunkards and fallen women. "What are we going to do with you?" wonder the rabbis of Nazareth. The greatest problem is that he is preaching a religion of love that goes against the accepted norms. To be a real Messiah you need to have a strategy, an ambition and an objective.But he only offers love and sharing. And they can't stand it. "My little Yéchoua," his mother tells him, "You mustn't love too much. Or else you'll suffer a lot." She wasn't wrong. Jesus would suffer. A great deal.

"A bad carpenter". A bad Jew. His future looked decidedly grim. In desperation, he goes to visit his cousin, John the Baptist, who he thinks is something of a fake with all his posing as an enlightened prophet. And then John the Baptist goes and announces that he is the Messiah! Which is where Jesus' problems really begin, as people start attributing a whole string of miracles to him. Because he is not convinced. He even thinks it might be his disciples setting things up in his name! Furthermore, his followers don't seem to give a hoot about his teachings, only following his common sense advice that makes their life easier.

The provincial Jesus has to go "up" to Jerusalem. More than ever before, Jesus has his doubts. "Everyone has been certain of my destiny for the last thirty years," he says. "Except me!" When people ask him "Are you the son of God?" he simply replies enigmatically: "You say that I am!" He confesses to Judas, his favourite follower, "I don't know who I am." But Judas has understood. In order to fulfil the prophesies, Jesus the provincial has to go "up" to the capital, Jerusalem. Her must not give himself up to the Sanhedrin, which would be an acknowledgement of guilt, but must be betrayed by those closest to him. Jesus is ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of the undertaking. So when Jesus warns, "One of you shall betray me," he is in fact betraying himself.

Pilate has a different kind of problem. As guarantor of order in the Roman province, he is impervious to the "Jewish madness" and hates his posting in this remote corner of the Empire. But even more than that, he hates Jerusalem, a hotbed of lies and deceit. He has been looking forward to spending a pretty quiet Easter, with no more than fifteen arrests and three crucifixions. Except that a troublesome Galilean rabbi called Jesus is stirring everyone up - even his own wife, the exceedingly aristocratic Claudia, is wild about him. Which looks like threatening all his plans.

To get out of this hornet's nest there is only one solution - find the crucified body. Dead or alive! And stifle the growing rumour of him being resurrected. Was this something Herod had dreamed up? Was Joseph of Arimathea party to this put up job? What was behind the unnatural alliance between Ciaiphas and the Sanhedrin? And was Claudia the mysterious fourth woman at the foot of the cross? Had Jesus really appeared to the whimsical Salome?

In other words, was there a "Jesus mystery" or just a "Jesus problem"? The further Sherlock Pilate gets into his enquiry, the more doubts begin to arise in his mind. And from the doubt arises the idea of faith.

Thierry Gandillet

Le Monde - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

(...) Schmitt has talent. He has studied the scriptures and is not afraid of putting forward the most daring theories. And yet we would prefer to attribute his success -without any question - to the sincerity of his message and to humility in the face of the inexplicable (...)

J. Sn

Magazine Littéraire - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

(...) To describe this novel as a good read, funny and entertaining would not be doing it justice. Make no mistake: the elements of farce and the skilful handling of Christ's life (with never any cheap jokes) are not just for the sake of invention.

Through the confessions of Yéchoua and the letters of Pontius Pilate, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt subtly raises a number of genuine problems in a way that is never facetious. When Pilate meets Herod, for instance, there is more than just a hint of political manoeuvring and even racism in the air.

But still more than the taut style, witty words and the comedy of so many scenes, it is the richness of the story that is so compelling, shifting with supreme virtuosity from the light-hearted to the serious, from humour to extreme gravity. It comes as no surprise to discover that Schmitt has also written about Diderot.

Pierre-Robert Leclercq

Le Figaro - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

(...) The subject of The Gospel according to Pilate goes resolutely against the tide of themes currently in vogue and is one of the most arresting novels to appear this autumn.

Dominique Guiou

Le Pélerin Magazine - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

A very fine novel, in which Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt recounts Pilate's internal struggle.

(...) Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt presents a thrilling enquiry that brings us some of the mysteries of Christianity. Pontius Pilate asks himself - and us - a number of fundamental questions: was Jesus really the Messiah whose coming was prophesied in the Scriptures? Why did he have to let himself be tortured? What meaning should be given to the resurrection?

This novel is clearly a statement of faith on the author's part, but he also tells a wonderful, easy-to-read story that speaks to us all and perhaps especially to non-churchgoing adolescents (an aspect of the book that should not be underrated). Its exploration of the Gospels achieves the feat of stirring us once again with events we have read and heard a thousand times, but they are told with such skill that we cannot help but be captivated by them again.

Jean-François Fournel

Le Point - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

Traduction to come...

Pierre Billard

Le Figaro - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

(...) Schmitt's narrative keeps us turning the pages, hoping in spite of our knowledge of the historical facts, that Tiberius' governor will change his mind. He offers some enticing, unexpected theories, for example that Jesus himself asked Judas to betray him to the police, because the Redeemer wished to fulfil his destiny as a victim of torture (...)

Schmitt's writing is meticulous, limpid and vigorous as the text requires. His simple, rhythmic prose brings us the subtle fragrances of the Middle East. All this is a pleasant change from the gutter treatment some publishers have tried to make fashionable, but he's never self-righteous.

It takes courage for a young author to go against an insidious commercial trend, which nevertheless often fails to meet financial targets, proving that novels of blood and gore have not completely taken over from those dedicated to flesh and blood. Here we share the pain of suffering, and numerous are the souls in pain in these arresting pages.

Eric Ollivier

République des Pyrénées - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

Book of the day: The Gospel according to Pilate by A. Brohan(...)

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has the rare gift for bringing to life characters with slightly different names and lives from those in the Gospels. Most striking, however, is his power to suggest that their intuitions, words and actions were exceptional, though unintentionally so.(...)

Schmitt writes in a good tradition of authors who have taken Christ as their hero, among them the poet Alfred de Vigny in his Mont des Oliviers. Like de Vigny, Schmitt evokes a dimension beyond mere words. Claudia, Pilate's wife, is another character for whom mystery is essential. Love and faith prevail over reason. That is why the most characteristic pages are dedicated to the episode of the empty tomb. What happened to the man on the Cross?

How will the witnesses of the Resurrection describe their experience?(...)

A truly remarkable book.

A. Brohan

Républicain Lorrain Dimanche - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

E. E. Schmitt is undoubtedly one of the greatest of today's playwrights.

(...) Through all his plays, Schmitt in a way revisits the great metaphysical topics. He gives them as he says a new "strength, freshness and mystery". And, our playwright does the same with his new novel THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PILATE (ALBIN MICHEL). It is an ambitious, bewildering and deeply personal book with, at the same time, far-reaching and universal effects.

(...) One of the most original elements in the book is the way Schmitt handles the figure of Christ and which reminds us of the most recent exegetists's discoveries. Take Jesus for example. He discovers his nature and his mission but step by step. Jesus's human side is then very much emphasized. Thanks to Schmitt's imagination, we will witness Jesus in love (with Rebecca who will become the mother of the future ressucitated newborn). Schmitt also stresses the part played in the greatest story ever told by Yohanân, the Diver, who discovers, in his own very way, the intimate relationship of the Son with the Father as well as the irresistible strength of love.

But Schmitt's most beautiful idea is probably the creation of a character commonly called Judas, the friend but also the informer who will betray but out of friendship...

R. Bichelberger

Midi Libre - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

Traduction to come...

Jacques Duquesne

Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace - « The Gospel According to Pilate »

The Wager of free, serious thought.

A daring, brilliant and iconoclastic book that invites a closer look at the mystery of faith under cover of a detective story. Writers fall into two categories: scribes and novelists. Scribes recopy, adapt and plagiarize; novelists take a familiar story and give their imagination free reign.

Schmitt is without doubt an accomplished novelist.Self-Awareness. Who can doubt that this unique Gospel will one day be as famous as the sparkling plays that have justly won Schmitt his renown? This is a brilliant and iconoclastic Gospel that has exactly the same impact as the Holy Scriptures, promoting thought not obedience. Schmitt explores the mind of a man who knows he has only a few hours to live. The first part of this novel consists of Christ's anxious, restless monologue on the eve of his arrest on the Mount of Olives. "How did it all come to this?"

Schmitt's novel goes straight to the heart of Christianity's greatest mysteries: the enigma of the Incarnation. According to some, Jesus was aware of his destiny from the day he was born; for others, the nature of his mission came upon him only gradually. Schmitt favours the second theory, but adds that this awareness was only made possible by asking the question, "what is man?"

It is no accident that the greatest philosphers, from Plato to Kant, have laboured to answer this question. As a good philosopher himself, Schmitt pushes the theory further: Jesus wagered twice - wagers worthy of Pascal. When he returns from voluntary exile in the desert, Jesus wagers that it is not the devil that is in him but God; then, after the resurrection of Rebecca's son, Jesus wagers on the reality of his miracles. Yet the paradox remains: how did he trigger the hatred that led him to the Cross when the only word on his lips was "love"?From Enigma to MysteryPerhaps Pilate holds the key to the mystery. What do we know about Pilate? Only what we learnt at Sunday school, in other words, precisely nothing. Schmitt fills out the figure of this Roman civil servant and probes his hero's soul. (...)

This Pilate is a soldier whose one interest is to keep the peace in Jerusalem. A prototype of modern man, he is not unlike ourselves. As a pragmatist, his vision of the world is simply political and the 'Jesus affair' a threat to Roman order. Pilate therefore opens an inquiry into the disappearance of the corpse and its mysterious reappearance three days later, stubbornly confronting rumours of resurrection with rational arguments.

Above all, he wants to keep up appearances and safeguard common sense by proving that resurrection is impossible, even if reason is going to be a little hard hit. Pilate decides this is all a plot involving a double. He manages to prove that it is medically impossible to die on the cross in less than a few hours. Gradually, from having thought he was dealing with an enigma, he comes to see that he is facing a mystery. For an enigma can always be solved, whereas mystery on the other hand only plunges those who approach into a morass of perplexity.To doubt or to BelieveSchmitt leaves Pilate on the brink of the abyss, as he does with all his characters.

Jesus the Jew, who only sought the truth (what is worth fighting for, dying for, living for?), has changed Pilate's vision of the world. The words of Claudia Procula, Pilate's wife, who converts to Christianity after Jesus's resurrection, will surely find a lasting echo in all those who insist that they are not interested in the life of Christ: "To doubt and to believe are one and the same thing, Pilate.

Only indifference is atheist."

Shades of Pascal again… God lives in us all in the form of the fundamental question. He is not present, for He is invisible in the world, but as long as we ask ourselves whether He exists, He is certainly not absent; God exists because of our eternal questioning. To doubt or to believe - the ebb and flow of the same wave.This is a generous and profound book, which will delight all those who place freedom of thought above all else, as well as those who maintain an obdurate suspicion of believers and of the laws that avoid true thought.

François Busnel


  • In Bulgarian language, published by Lege Artis Publishing House
  • In Czech language, published by Garamond
  • In Deutch language, published by Atlas
  • In Finnish language, published by Like
  • In German language, published by Ammann Verlag in 2004, translation by Brigitte and by Fisher in 2007
  • In Greek langguage, published by Editions Periplous
  • In Italian language, published by Edizioni San Paolo in 2002, translation by Lia Del Corno Guagnellini: El Evangilio segun Pilatos
  • In Japanese language, published by Yumiko Sakara in 2001
  • In Korean language, published by Moonwhamadang Publishing in 2002
  • In Latvian language, published translation by Janis Rose
  • In Norwegian language, published by Pantagruel Publishers
  • In Polish language, published by Wydawnictwo Literackie Publisching in 2003, translation by Krystyna Rodowska
  • In Portuguese language, published by Ambar in 2002
  • In Portuguese language(Brazil), published by Ediouro in 2002, translation by Carlos Correia Monteiro de Oliveira
  • In Romanian language, published by Humaitas Fiction
  • In Russian language, published by Ast Publisher and Azbooka
  • In Serbian language, published by Laguna
  • In Slovenian language, published by Vale Novak Publishers
  • In Spanish language, published by Edaf/Madrid in 2001, translation by Tomas Onaindia
  • In Turkish language, published by Everest Yayinlari in 2001, translation by Nermin Acar