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Publius Lentulus

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Publius Lentulus is a fictitious person, said to have been Governor of Judea before Pontius, and to have written the following letter to the Roman Senate:

Lentulus, the Governor of the Jerusalemites to the Roman Senate and People, greetings. There has appeared in our times, and there still lives, a man of great power (virtue), calledJesus Christ. The people call himprophet of truth ; his disciples, son of God . He raises the dead, and heals infirmities. He is a man of medium size ( statura procerus, mediocris et spectabilis ); he has a venerable aspect, and his beholders can bothfear and love him. His hair is of the colour of the ripe hazel-nut, straight down to the ears, but below the ears wavy and curled, with a bluish and bright reflection, flowing over his shoulders. It is parted in two on the top of the head, after the pattern of the Nazarenes. His brow is smooth and vary cheerful with a face without wrinkle or spot, embellished by a slightly reddish complexion. His nose and mouth are faultless. His beard is abundant, of the colour of his hair, not long, but divided at the chin. His aspect is simple and mature, his eyes are changeable and bright. He is terrible in his reprimands, sweet and amiable in his admonitions, cheerful without loss of gravity. He was never known to laugh, but often to weep. His stature is straight, his hands and arms beautiful to behold. His conversation is grave, infrequent, and modest. He is the most beautiful among the children of men.

Different manuscripts vary from the foregoing text in several details: Dobschutz ("Christusbilder", Leipzig, 1899) enumerates the manuscripts and gives an "apparatus criticus" . The letter was first printed in the "Life of Christ" by Ludolph the Carthusian (Cologne, 1474), and in the "Introduction to the works of St. Anselm" (Nuremberg, 1491). But it is neither the work of St. Anselm nor of Ludolph. According to the manuscript of Jena, a certain Giacomo Colonna found the letter in 1421 in an ancient Roman document sent to Rome from Constantinople. It must be of Greek origin, and translated into Latin during the thirteenth or fourteenth century, though it received its present form at the hands of humanist of the fifteenth or sixteenth century. The description agrees with the so-called Abgar picture of our Lord; it also agrees with the portrait of Jesus Christ drawn by Nicephorus, St. John Damascene, and the Book of Painters (of Mt. Athos ). Munter ("Die Sinnbilder und Kunstvorstellungen der alten Christen", Altona 1825, p. 9) believes he can trace the letter down to the time of Diocletian ; but this is not generally admitted. The letter of Lentulus is certainly apocryphal : there never was a Governor of Jerusalem ; no Procurator of Judea is known to have been called Lentulus, a Roman governor would not have addressed the Senate, but the emperor, a Roman writer would not have employed the expressions, "prophet of truth ", "sons of men", "Jesus Christ". The former two are Hebrew idioms, the third is taken from the New Testament. The letter, therefore, shows us a description of our Lord such as Christian piety conceived him.

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