Spin cycle

As I suggested in the previous post, the closer we get to Election Day, the more we can expect candidates to go on the attack. Naturally, that also means candidates will be on the defensive. And when someone’s dirty laundry gets hung out for all to see, some laundering of the truth is bound to happen.

That’s when the spin doctors are called in. By the time speech writers have run the facts through a spin cycle, people are persuaded to see things in a whole new light.

As I said earlier: some things never change. To some extent, politics has always been the art of spin, and probably always will be.

. . .

When Claudius Lysias, the Roman tribune, sent Paul to Governor Felix, he wrote a self-serving letter that made himself look like an efficient, competent administrator. To do so, he had to bend the truth a bit, telling the story in a way that tiptoed around his mistakes.

Later, when the high priest and his cronies made their accusations about Paul to Felix, they too distorted the truth, hoping to get a conviction.

When Festus, the new governor, tried to maneuver Paul into agreeing to be transferred to Jerusalem, he hid his political motives. Paul saw through the deception, and made an end-run around him by appealing to the emperor.

And now, as Festus brings King Agrippa up to speed on the case, there will be even more spin put on the story.

It’s enough to make you dizzy.

Festus begins by telling Agrippa that he inherited the problem of Paul from Felix. He went up to Jerusalem, heard the complaints against Paul from the Jewish leadership, and told them that Roman custom dictated that they present their complaints in Paul’s presence. They therefore came to Caesarea, and Festus wasted no time in convening a hearing.

But, Festus tells Agrippa, what they said confused him:

When the accusers stood up, they did not charge him with any of the crimes that I was expecting. Instead they had certain points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there on these charges. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of his Imperial Majesty, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to the emperor. (Acts 25:18-21, NRSV)

Not surprisingly, Festus says nothing about his political motivations for asking Paul to go to Jerusalem. He paints it as a reasonable request, prompted solely by his own need to understand the situation better.

But note that he obliquely admits (and will openly admit later, in front of a crowd of important people) that he saw no reason to hold Paul. He was not being accused of any crime that he “was expecting” — namely, anything that would interest a Roman court. The accusations were about religious matters about which, unlike Felix before him, he had no knowledge (more about this in the next post).

Festus, in other words, could have done what his counterpart in Achaia, Gallio, had done in Acts 19: throw the case and the accusers out.

But he didn’t.

Paul was still in custody, Festus suggests, because Paul himself had requested this; he says nothing about Paul’s testy and distrustful wording. It’s possible that Paul did indeed to be kept in protective custody — but that seems somewhat unlikely for a man who was ready to give his life for the gospel. It’s possible that Festus meant, “Paul appealed to the emperor, so I had no choice but to keep him in custody, even though I didn’t want to.”

Either way, the suggestion seems to be, “It’s out of my hands.” Scholars debate whether this would have been so. But if it was that simple, why was he so nervous about what he was going to write to the emperor? Festus seems to think something needs to be justified, or there will be trouble with Nero.

He needs to figure out what to say. And Agrippa, he hopes, will be his spin doctor.