In first Century Jewish law, a felon, after conviction and sentence, still had opportunity to plead for mercy. If any testimony in mitigation on behalf of the convict should be presented, it would be considered, and judgment might be altered accordingly. Even when the convicted person was taken to the place of execution, he or she still had a chance of redemption. A rider on horseback would follow the procession, continually looking back to the city gates for a signal from a flag bearer. The flag bearer would, if there should be any new evidence or mercy to be shown, lift the flag and wave it calling back the cortège. This is exactly what happens when Tertullus, a first century lawman, has a procession called back on the strength of new evidence. In this case the convict is freed and Tertullus is the hero.
It is the year 50CE. Tertullus is an eloquent, 40 year old lawyer in the bustling metropolis of Jerusalem. After the favorable judgment, some members of the Sanhedrin visit Tertullus, to employ his services. They explain to him their wish to prosecute Paul of Tarsus, a recent convert to the Way and an enemy of the people. Paul is incarcerated in Caesarea at the court of Felix, the Roman Procurator in Judea. Tertullus knows about Paul and gladly accepts the challenge.
Tertullus stays in a conventional first century house with some Roman influence, notably a lavish water feature in the front porch. We meet Tertullus’s soft-spoken wife, Huldah (38), and his young son, Ulli (9), Huldah helps in the city’s dye factory. We realize quickly that things aren’t what they should be in the household as Tertullus callously tells Huldah he leaves for Caesarea in the morning and will only be back in a few days.
Tertullus, astride a black stallion, admires the Judean landscape. He’s without his family. A cart for the High Priest, Annanias, rattles behind the riders.
Antonius Felix enters the auditorium with his entourage. He is immediately crowded by a group of Jewish dignitaries. Annanias thanks the Procurator for this hearing. Felix impatiently bids Paul to be brought forward.
The legal proceeding is informal and comprises the charges brought by Tertullus on behalf of the Jewish people and Paul speaking in his own defense. Tertullus’s suit is eloquent, flattering the procurator and disparaging of Paul. Paul’s retort is extraordinary and powerful. Tertullus is taken aback. After the “hearing” he asks leave to visit with the prisoner.
Tertullus meets Paul in his cell. He is surprised that Paul can throw all caution to the wind and hold on to intangible, dreamlike fantasies. Their discourse about law and values does not satisfy his quest either. Many of Paul’s views trouble the fiery lawyer.
Paul, says, “The law in Moshe condemns but the new law brings life.
Tertullus, “The law is the law, it cannot change!”
Paul, “The law cannot bring to perfection those who by obedience try to keep it”
Tertullus, “We try because the law is a reflection of truth, a mirror, a representation, of….God. It is the will of God revealed.”
Paul, “The law written on stone cannot move a heart of hate to love.” Paul’s answer upset Tertullus, he shouts,” Blasphemy! The law is holy!” and leaves in a huff.
During the journey back, Tertullus, troubled by his visit with Paul, asks Annanias about Yeshua’s trial. Upon hearing that the Yeshua’s trial took place at night he is visibly distressed. This is unheard of and absolutely illegal. Making mention of this Annanias suggests Tertullus visit Caiaphas to get clarity on the matter.
Back in Jerusalem, at the Shushan Gate, Tertullus takes his leave from the group of religious leaders, to make his way home from there. At home Tertullus’s wife reminds him of the play they have to see that night. They attend a presentation of Aristophanes’ The Clouds at the arena in the plain. Tertullus leaves Huldah seated while he goes to the ablutions, below the raked seating, Tamar, a 37 year old woman, intercepts Tertullus. She’s beautiful and accused by her husband of adultery. She decries her lot and urges Tertullus to save her from being convicted.
At that moment Tamar’s husband, Zadok, appears. Two friends, accompanying him, advance aggressively to lay a hold of Tertullus. Tertullus is accused of being the man who cajoled Zadoks wife. The ensuing argument doesn’t resolve anything until Tertullus persuades Zadok to give his wife the benefit of the doubt or to take her to the priest to be tested by the law. Zadok, “There’s nothing to doubt!” Tertullus counsels, “Do what the law demands.” Tertullus eventually returns to Huldah, who is still listening intently to the thespians on stage.
The next morning Tertullus leaves home to visit with Caiaphas to hear him on the trial of Yeshua. Huldah leaves for the dye factory.
In his conversation with Caiaphas in the Court of Priests, Tertullus airs his concern that Yeshua was tried at night. Caiaphas gives their defense of the trial during which Tertullus hears of more irregularities. Amongst others the overwhelming crowd manipulation and that Yeshua was crucified on the same day He was tried. Also, Tertullus asks, “what about Paul's claim that Yeshua is alive.” Caiaphas tells him that it is impossible because the disciples stole the body and hid it.
As he leaves the temple courts, Tertullus notices Tamar being taken into the Court of Women. This is the section of the temple where women are allowed. In a vestibule, a chamber for the priests, Zadok brings the offering of barley to bring to remembrance iniquity. Tamar then undergoes the ritual test for an unfaithful wife. Tertullus surreptitiously watches through the colonnade as the priest uncovers Tamar’s head and ruffles her hair and puts the grain offering into her hands. He then takes a goblet of water and sprinkles dust from the temple floor into it. He puts Tamar under oath and speaks judgment over her. He writes the curse on a parchment of papyrus. The priest then ceremoniously washes the ink into another goblet with the water and dust mixture. He holds this cup in front of Tamar and commands her to repeat the curse spoken over her and to drink the bitter water. As the priest hands her the water, she slams it to the ground and runs for her life.
She is quickly caught and brought to Solomon’s Porch. Disheveled and distraught she hides her face when she notices Tertullus approaching. He interrupts the ensuing mob-trial and persuades the growing crowd to hear Tamar in court the following day. She is allowed to leave with her husband.
At the Tower of Antonio, headquarters for the Roman army, Tertullus looks for Isham, the Captain of the Guard at the tomb of Yeshua. He is persuaded by this shady character to come and see for himself where the disciples hid the body of Yeshua. Tertullus follows the devious soldier to a network of catacombs under the city. There he is shown a body wrapped in linen cloth.
At home Tertullus tells Huldah that he saw the body of Yeshua. She holds that it’s not possible and that the body must be someone else’s.
The trial of Tamar comes to the inevitable verdict of guilty on the strength of the eyewitness testimony from her husband and his friend. Tertullus has nothing in mitigation. As Tamar is led out, she looks expectantly to see if anyone will plead mercy on her behalf. Tertullus is totally distraught. Tamar breaks loose from her captors and runs to Tertullus. She embraces him desperately and whispers, “I will love you forever.” No one in the crowd notices tears welling up in Tertullus’s eyes, except Huldah, who watched the proceedings from behind the trellises. The following day, Tamar is taken outside where the customary horse and rider follow her to the place of execution. Expectantly, the rider keeps looking back to see if there is any witness for the convict. Nothing is forthcoming and Tamar is stoned to death.
Devastated, Tertullus wonders through the streets of Jerusalem looking for any of the disciples. He finds Thomas with whom he spoke earlier about the supposed resurrection of Yeshua. Thomas attempts to persuade Tertullus. He holds that while they bound Yeshua in linen cloth his hand slipped into the wound on Yeshua's side and he particularly noted how dead the man was. "He lay there as a plank" Then Thomas tells Tertullus that he saw Yeshua three days later in John Marks's house! Yeshua took the same hand and stuck it into the selfsame wound. Thomas is overcome with emotion. Tertullus tells of his escapade with Isham and that he saw Yeshua's body in the catacombs under the city. Thomas says, "Deception is a powerful enemy of the truth" Tertullus leaves in a state of anguish.
Tertullus furtively slips into an opening in the wall and descends into the catacombs. Tertullus rips the material off the embalmed body he saw some days before, only to discover the indisputable corpse of a woman. Tertullus gasps in realization that what Thomas said, must be true!
Tertullus, in an attempt to wash him of the guilt, ends up in the water feature at his home. Ulli watches perplexed from the portico window. He approaches his father who embraces him desperately.
A bedraggled Tertullus walks into the dye factory with his son by his side. He can't approach his wife. He watches her working at the dye baths. A large drape of material, hanging from a huge beam, is lifted out of the bath. The dye is blood red. Huldah becomes aware of Tertullus. She turns to him. They stare at one another. Slowly she walks closer. Tertullus speaks, barely audible, "is there forgiveness for…." Huldah wraps her red arms around her husband. Ulli's eyes fix on the little fish dangling from his mothers neck. The small family cut a singular picture against the backdrop of the bustling metropolis of Jerusalem.
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