Well, it looks like I’m going to retire without ever solving my most puzzling case. My name is Wednesday, Flavius Wednesday. I’m a cop. I’ve been a detective with the R.B.I.—the Roman Bureau of Investigation—for over forty years. I’ve worked my entire career here at the Conspiracy Division of our Judean regional office. We report directly to Caesar.
This office has the best record in the Empire. We’ve solved every single case we’ve ever had—except one. A solitary bulging file has been sitting on my desk for as long as I can remember. I often come down to the office late at night when I can’t sleep and flip through it again, trying to see if there’s something I may have missed. But it’s always the same. I’ve gone over every detail a million times. It just doesn’t add up. And now I’m scheduled to retire next week and I have to submit either a “case solved” or a “case unsolved” report. The truth is, I’m no closer to unraveling the mystery of this conspiracy than the day I first pinned on my badge as a fresh-faced gum-sandal straight out of the R.B.I. Training Academy. It looks like some other hotshot G-man will have to solve the baffling Christian Conspiracy Caper.
I was a rookie cop when they assigned this case to me. It was a cupcake—an open and shutter. That’s why they gave it to me. The veteran detectives were too busy with tough cases. And it sure seemed simple at the start. A gang of uneducated peasants had just lost their smooth-talking leader. It seems he offended the local authorities one too many times and was arrested and executed. But instead of disbanding and heading back to their fishing boats and farms, these peasants started proclaiming the most ridiculous story anyone had ever heard. They said their leader, a guy named Jesus from Nazareth, had come back to life after being killed, had talked with them and eaten with them, and then rose up into the air to take his place in heaven.
In fact, their main point in this wild story was to prove this Jesus fellow was some sort of god who had spent time on earth to pay the price for everyone’s sins. Now I don’t get involved in any religious stuff. That’s not my job. The natives here in Judea think there is one god who picked them to be his “chosen” people. The folks back home in Rome think there are more gods running around than there are relatives of Caesar on the government payroll. Me, I don’t get involved. I’m a cop. I work exclusively with facts and hard evidence. I leave the religion to other people. My assignment was to shoot a hole in this conspiracy theory and keep the story from spreading and causing problems.
I went right by the book in conducting the investigation. My first step was to confirm that this Jesus guy had really been executed. The temple guards are not known for their efficiency. I soon discovered it wasn’t the temple guards who performed the execution; it was a Roman centurion and his troops. And it was a crucifixion. No question now, he was dead. Roman soldiers simply do not bungle a crucifixion. I interviewed the centurion on duty and obtained a copy of his report. His men had flogged the victim to the brink of death beforehand and then lanced him through the side with a spear while he was hanging on the cross. Even if by some incredible stroke of luck he had been alive when they took him down from the cross—which, trust me, he wasn’t—his body was immediately bound up with grave clothes and seventy-five pounds of sticky embalming spices. He would have suffocated in five minutes.
I figured my next step would shatter the conspiracy right away. It was simple and to the point: dig up the dead guy. If I could present “Exhibit A,” Jesus’ rotting corpse, to his followers, it would certainly shut them up in a hurry. But the temple authorities had already tried this. No one could find the body. There must have been some confusion about which grave he was buried in, or his followers must have stolen the body. This was not a major setback, however. It just meant I would need a little more time to expose the conspiracy.
The missing corpse was not the main feature of this strange scheme anyway. These people claimed to have seen him alive, eaten with him, and watched his entire body rise into the sky. They were spreading this story all over the territory and it was causing a great deal of upheaval. I’m paid to nip upheaval in the bud.
The Bureau trained us at the Academy to keep an open mind about all possibilities when conducting an investigation. In this case, everything boiled down to two simple choices: the followers of Jesus were either lying or they were telling the truth. And of course, the chances of this story being true were...well, come on, it’s about the same chance of a man being able to travel to the moon. There was no doubt in my mind that Jesus’ followers were lying through their teeth. But being a good cop, my job was to prove they were lying. I was sure it would be over in two weeks—a month, tops. I had seen other conspiracies fall apart quickly, and with people much more shrewd and sophisticated than this ragtag bunch. This case was going to be simple.
Well, it’s now over forty years later and I haven’t been able to put a single dent in the case. In the meantime, this Christian story has spread throughout the entire Empire and tens of thousands of people believe it’s really true. Needless to say, Headquarters is none too pleased that I failed to snuff out this conspiracy a long time ago. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been promoted to Senior Investigator or transferred to a fancy seaside regional office.
When I realized it would be impossible to I.D. a body, the next step was to examine the motive behind this conspiracy. It’s one of the first things they taught us at the Academy. All conspiracies have a motive. People will only enter into a group lie if they can get something out of it. In studying these conspirators, I discovered that many of them had been devoted followers of Jesus for three years. He had spoken many times about a coming kingdom, with himself, apparently, as the new king. Nothing new. Everybody and his brother wants to overthrow we Romans. His inner circle of followers were expecting prestigious positions in the new administration. When the plan backfired, all of their time and loyalty was suddenly about to go unrewarded.
My theory was that they had concocted this story as a means of attracting prestige, power, and money for themselves. They shifted Jesus’ kingdom to an imaginary, spiritual realm. He was some kind of ghost king ruling over a phantom empire, and they could still somehow consider themselves high-ranking officials. I realize it’s a little off-the-wall, but you see a lot of strange things in the crime fighting business.
Early on, I was convinced the conspiracy would dissolve before it could ever get rolling. The conspirators were getting nothing out it. The story was so outlandish that it only brought them loads of trouble. For a while I expected someone from the group to walk into my office and say, “Hey flatfoot, I want to make a deal. I’ll tell you everything about our scheme if you let me plea bargain.” It happens all the time. Even lucrative and plausible plots often have someone who gets cold feet and wants to come clean. And this Christian caper was anything but lucrative. These guys were taking some serious heat. It was sure to collapse.
But the weeks turned into months; and then into years. They were sticking to the story. They received more and more grief every time they told it, but they kept on telling it. Some of them were arrested. Some were roughed up. They were all poor and often hungry. But they continued to stick to the story. Events were now going completely against the book.
Bureau Headquarters started sending terse memos demanding that I make some progress. I decided to meet with the local law enforcement officials and conduct a joint operation to crush this movement once and for all. We called it “Operation Good-bye Motive.” We were going to take away any and all reason for these conspirators to continue lying. An ambitious and ruthless young local official named Saul was my point man in the campaign. He wanted to wipe out these Christians as much as anyone back at Headquarters.
They seized a conspirator named Stephen and after a brief interrogation, stoned him to death. I was frankly stunned that this fellow stuck to the story. It cost him his life. All he had to do was say, “Wait a minute, it’s not true, we made it up,” and his life would have been spared. I suppose being in the same city with all his co-conspirators put just enough pressure on him to remain silent about the plot. But to actually die for a lie? There was not a single record in the Bureau’s vast archives—I had a clerk check all the micro-scrolls—where a conspirator allowed himself to be killed rather than expose a fraudulent scheme. I found it extremely puzzling. It was to get even more bizarre.
With the death of Stephen I was sure the plot would be exposed. The stakes were now much higher. There had to be at least one of them—if not all of them—who would recant this wild story to save his life. As soon as I had a confession, I was going to use the Bureau's P.R. department to announce it to the world and spread the news just as diligently as the conspirators had been spreading their false claims.
I took the leash off Saul and let him run wild. He began to arrest Christians by the wagon load. They left the city in fear and scatter throughout the region. Success was just around the corner, I was certain. Now that these people were away from the city and the support of their central group, they would crack. Being imprisoned far from home, alone and afraid, would be too much for anyone to continue lying. There would be no peer pressure from their co-conspirators, only the pressure of imminent death if they didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear. I waited anxiously for Saul’s report that he had obtained a signed confession. I’m still waiting.
I know now that I will never break this conspiracy. All except one of the original plotters is dead. The sole survivor is named John and he has been banished to the island of Patmos. I sent two young field agents to see him last year. It was a waste of time. When they threatened John with bodily harm if he didn’t come clean about the Jesus conspiracy, he kissed them both, bowed down before them, and pointed to the back of his neck, saying, “Chop here, please.”
My agents were too confused to do anything. They left him there kneeling on the ground. Rookies.
I was in my office late last night looking through the file one last time before filling out my final report. I’ve kept a dossier on each of the original conspirators.
James, son of Zebedee - preached the Jesus story in Judea. Killed with a sword by King Herod Antipas.
Thomas - preached the Jesus story in India. Killed with a Brahman sword near Madras.
Bartholomew - preached the Jesus story in Armenia. Skinned alive with a whip and died.
Mark - preached the Jesus story in Egypt. Burned to death at Bucolus.
Andrew - preached the Jesus story in Ethiopia. Crucified on an X-shaped cross.
Philip - preached the Jesus story in Phrygia. Crucified at Hierapolis.
James, relative of Jesus - preached the Jesus story in Judea. Stoned to death.
Simon the Zealot - preached the Jesus story in Mauritania and Africa. Crucified.
Matthew - preached the Jesus story in Ethiopia and Egypt. Killed with a spear by King Hircanus.
Jude - preached the Jesus story in Assyria and Persia. Killed in Persia.
Peter, group leader - preached the Jesus story in Judea and Rome. Crucified upside down in Rome.
And then there’s the most puzzling conspirator of all. Saul, a.k.a. Paul, my point man in “Operation Good-bye Motive.” He quit chasing Christians long ago and joined the conspiracy. He claimed Jesus had actually appeared to him. Paul became the most damaging conspirator of them all. He traveled constantly throughout the Empire preaching the Jesus story and writing eloquent letters to his Christian friends. I just received final word from Headquarters last week about Paul. He was beheaded because he would not renounce his claims about Jesus. The report included a copy of a letter he had written to some people in Corinth, which included the lines, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Bureau agents in Rome report that Paul was singing these words with a big smile on his face at the moment he died.
All of these men were killed because they refused to recant the Jesus story. Even more astonishing is the fact that they each suffered and died alone. Any one of them could have admitted it was all a lie and saved his life. The next time they saw their co-conspirators—if they ever saw them again—they could have easily claimed everything was going fine, and no one would have ever known. But they all stuck to the story and it cost them their lives.
I’ve finally decided which form to use in filling out my final report on this case. I’m not going to use the “case solved” form. And I’m not going to use the “case unsolved” form either. I’m a cop. I'm a good cop. I have to follow the overwhelming evidence here even if Headquarters blows a gasket. I’m going to use the “case dropped—lack of evidence” form. The only logical explanation is that there never was any conspiracy in the first place. These simple peasants were truthfully reporting what they had seen and experienced. I’m probably going to lose my pension—boy, the Missus will be steamed—but it’s the only thing that makes sense.