Is the Letter for Publius Lentulus describing Christ legitimate?

By John Baskette
The following is a translation of a two-page handwritten document I came across Wed 5. Jan. 1994.

Letter from First Consul Publius Lentuleis(?) to Caesar Tiberius (reg. 14 - 37 AD). The letter is partly an answer to a direct question from the Caesar.

There lives at this time in Judea a man of singular virtue whose name is Jesus Christ, whom the barbarians esteem as a prophet, but his followers love and adore him as the offspring of the immortal God.

He calls back the dead from the graves and heals all sorts of diseases with a word or touch. He is a tall man, well-shaped, and of an amiable and reverend aspect; his hair of a color that can hardly be matched, falling into graceful curls, waving about and very agreeable crouching upon his shoulders, parted on the crown of the head, running as a stream to the front after fashion of the Nazarites. His forehead high, large and imposing; his cheeks without spot or wrinkle, beautiful with a lovely red; his nose and mouth formed with exquisite symmetry; his beard, and of a color suitable to his hair, reaching below his chin and parted in the middle like a fork; his eyes bright blue, clear and serene. Look innocent, dignified, manly and mature. In proportion of body most perfect, and captivating; his arms and hands delectable to behold.

He rebukes with majesty, councils with mildness, His whole address whether in word or deed, being eloquent and grave. No man has seen him laugh, yet his manners are exceedingly pleasant, but he has wept frequently in the presence of men. He is temperate, modest and wise. A man for his extraordinary beauty and perfection, surpassing the children of men in every sense.

I would be very thankful if anyone with relevant expertise would comment on this - could it possibly be authentic? I'm also curious about this First Consul - did he actually exist?

Chapter 11 of the following book discusses this letter:

Modern Apocrypha, Famous "Biblical" Hoaxes by Edgar J. Goodspeed (The Beacon Press, Boston, 1956) the Library of Congress catalog card number is 56-10075

I don't have any relevant expertise but Goodspeed does.

Goodspeed talks about this document in chapter eleven. He prints one English variation of this document and speaks of several variants. The document has existed in some form or another since medieval times. Goodspeed refers to another work _Christusbilder_ by Von Dobshutz that contains a list of these manuscripts. He also mentions the Latin MS 22 in the library of the University of Chicago written in 1466-1469.

Goodspeed says that the book "probably" originated in 13th Italy. In it's earliest form it did not identify Lentulus but said, "It is read in the annals books of the Romans that our Lord Jesus Christ, who was called by the Gentiles the prophet of truth, was of stature ...". He says that it was probably based on instruction books used by painters who illustrated medieval manuscripts. Many of these instruction books still exist today. Books were made for all of the New Testament characters and for many others such as the heroes of Troy.

He says that in a number of medieval manuscripts, the description is given in a longer form as a letter from Publius Lentulus, Governor of Judea, to the Roman Senate.

The text given in Goodspeed's book matches your text pretty well, but the preamble is as follows:

"A certain Lentulus, a Roman, being an official for the Romans in the province of Judea in the time of Tiberius Ceasar..."

Goodspeed gives the Latin preamble as follows:

"Lentulus habens officium in partibus Iudeae herodis ad senatores romanos hane epistolam deferre iussit."

which does not mention Tiberius. Goodspeed's chapter does not mention that Lentulus was called "First Counsel", but the document seems to have a lot of variants.

Goodspeed lists the governors of Palestine and points out that there never was any Lentulus. According to him there is a Publius Cornelius Lentulus (both a father and a son) mentioned by Cicero who lived in the first century before Christ. He also says that at least one Lucius Lentulus held the office of consul in Rome. (He does not mention the date, but I am assuming that it must have occurred before Julius Ceasar's time which would make it well before the time of Christ but I am no expert and may be wrong.)

I'll quote his evaluation of the description from p.91 of his book:

"The 'Letter of Lentulus' is evidently a fiction, designed to give currency to the description contained in the printers' manuals about the personal appearance of Jesus. The varying accounts of its provenance are simply devices to explain its survival from antiquity until today. It is probably as old as the thirteenth century; but it was unknown to Christian antiquity, and has no claims to serious attention as throwing any light upon the personal appearance of Jesus."

John Baskette

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The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26