Catherine Cook Review of UK Version:
'Pilate's Wife': The birth of Christianity, with a feminist twist
By Deirdre Donahue, USA TODAY November 9, 2006
Claudia Procula, the star of Antoinette May's new historical novel, Pilate's Wife, has a cameo in Matthew 27:19: "Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: 'Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.' "
Mr. & Mrs. Pilate's biblical role makes them significant in religious history. But it is her journey from childhood to marriage to exile as imagined by the author that gives the novel tang. Like Anita Diamant's Old Testament blockbuster The Red Tent, Pilate's Wife makes the female experience of past millennia exotic yet universal.
The future seer of Jerusalem grows up as the cherished child of happily married Roman aristocrats related by blood to the Emperor Augustus. While various famous psychopaths such as the Empress Livia and Caligula play a role in shaping Claudia's future, May gives a sense of everyday family life around the year 16.
May effectively captures how the values of the Romans differed from ours. For example, courage was valued far more than empathy. There were no egalitarian impulses, so Claudia and her sweet mother go slave shopping without a qualm. And pre-Christian sex was not accompanied by guilt.
While watching gladiatorial combat with Emperor Tiberius, Claudia discovers her second sight. May makes this gift credible, helped perhaps because she co-wrote Sylvia Browne's best-selling Adventures of a Psychic.
The clairvoyant Claudia also is a spiritual seeker. She connects with the Egyptian goddess Isis and samples a few of the ancient world's creepier cults and rituals.
Marriage Roman-style proves to be rocky terrain for Claudia after she weds the attractive, ambitious Pontius Pilate. The shifting tides of affection and power are influenced by Claudia's family's disastrous fall from political power.
It is a jarring if necessary element that Claudia is always meeting many of Bible's biggest names: Herod, Salome and Mary, among others. Though this is an admiring depiction of Christianity's beginnings, Pilate's Wife is not for those who interpret the Bible literally.
But readers with a flexible vision of Christ's divinity who thrilled to the savage Imperial pomp of Russell Crowe's Gladiator just might give Pilate's Wife the thumbs-up.
Library Journal (Starred Review) October 15, 2006
The only surviving historical record of the wife of Pontius Pilate is a very brief reference in the Gospel of Matthew, which states that she sent word to Pilate during Jesus's trial imploring him to have nothing to do with the Galilean, as she had been troubled by dreams of him. From this meager bit of information, May (coauthor, Adventures of a Psychic) has written the story of Claudia, born to one of Rome's first families, follower of the goddess Isis, young wife of Pilate, and seer and visionary in her own right.
From an early age, Claudia is blessed or cursed with the ability to see the future. Sadly, like Cassandra of Troy, this capacity does not come with the power to change the tragic events she sees unfolding for herself, her family, and her world. Depicting an extraordinary woman living in a turbulent and pivotal moment in time, May's fiction debut is a fresh and vivid retelling of a well-known story comparable in scope to Anita Diamant's The Red Tent and Elizabeth Cunningham's The Passion of Mary Magdalene.
One hopes this is the first of many novels by this excellent author. Recommended for public libraries, particularly where there is an interest in historical fiction, Christian fiction, or early church history.
Biographer and journalist May (Adventures of a Psychic) turns to fiction to offer a privileged woman's view of religion, spirituality, sex and marriage in the time of Christ.
May imagines 14-year-old Claudia Procula living with loving parents and holding a secret devotion to the goddess Isis and a gift for seeing the future. Six years later, Claudia marries the handsome and ambitious Pontius Pilate just before her family falls from imperial favor.
While Pilate busies himself with affairs of state (and those of the extramarital variety), Claudia chats with her Jewish slave Rachel, visits her gladiator lover Holtan, tangles with the conniving Empress Livia, dines at Herod's palace and attends Jesus' wedding. Though blessed with the ability to see the future, Claudia never manages to prevent the tragedies she foresees.
May is at her best when unencumbered by literary or historical precedent; Claudia's sister, the unwilling Vestal Virgin Marcella, for example, is better realized than the shallowly rendered Caligula, and descriptions of Antioch and Caesarea are more compelling than those of well-known locations like Pompeii.
Fiction debut from May (Passionate Pilgrim, 1993, etc.) makes an unlikely romantic heroine of Claudia, wife of the Roman magistrate who presided over the crucifixion. By the reign of Tiberius, the Roman Empire was a widespread, multicultural bureaucracy, and it's in this rich world that May sets her story.
Claudia, a Roman patrician who is gifted with prophetic dreams, lives her early years in the provinces, from Gaul to Syria, as her father serves as second-in-command in her uncle Germanicus's army.
In Egypt, while still a young girl, she falls under the thrall of the cult of Isis. The Egyptian goddess, who in May's vision espouses a kind of proto-feminist, free-thinking philosophy, becomes the driving force in Claudia's life. Before long, May has her young heroine using Isis's potent magic to snare the young centurion, Pontius Pilate. Through her Isis worship, she also meets a beautiful Galilean courtesan, Miriam of Magdala, for whom Claudia has visions of a great, though tragic, love.
But neither the goddess's spells nor her own psychic powers can save Claudia from heartache when she falls for a handsome gladiator and runs afoul of Tiberius's domineering mother, Livia. As Claudia comes to understand the larger tragedy of the crucifixion, she tries to warn Pilate away from his role, to no avail.
May's background in psychic phenomenon and biography make her heroine sympathetic, despite the tendency to gush over gowns and men. Her great dramatic climax, however, cannot help but be overwrought, as Jesus returns with a New Age inspiration "of love and hope, a joyous knowing that we were as one in this moment." May salvages her story by going one step further, back into her original humanstory, where she grants Claudia and Pilate reconciliation. Suffers from an unlikely, sweetly sentimental conclusion, but May's vivid settings, founded in research, make this quick read of a romantic adventure enjoyable.