فصل 02

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فصل 02

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CHAPTER 2

Pontius Pilate

In a white cloak with blood-red lining, with the shuffling gait of a cavalryman, early in the morning of the fourteenth day of the spring month of Nisan, there came out to the covered colonnade between the two wings of the palace of Herod the Great1 the procurator of Judea,2 Pontius Pilate.3 More than anything in the world the procurator hated the smell of rose oil, and now everything foreboded a bad day, because this smell had been pursuing the procurator since dawn.

It seemed to the procurator that a rosy smell exuded from the cypresses and palms in the garden, that the smell of leather trappings and sweat from the convoy was mingled with the cursed rosy flux.

From the outbuildings at the back of the palace, where the first cohort of the Twelfth Lightning legion,4 which had come to Yershalaim5 with the procurator, was quartered, a whiff of smoke reached the colonnade across the upper terrace of the palace, and this slightly acrid smoke, which testified that the centuries’ mess cooks had begun to prepare dinner, was mingled with the same thick rosy scent.

‘Oh, gods, gods, why do you punish me? … Yes, no doubt, this is it, this is it again, the invincible, terrible illness … hemicrania, when half of the head aches … there’s no remedy for it, no escape … I’ll try not to move my head …’ On the mosaic floor by the fountain a chair was already prepared, and the procurator, without looking at anyone, sat in it and reached his hand out to one side. His secretary deferentially placed a sheet of parchment in this hand. Unable to suppress a painful grimace, the procurator ran a cursory, sidelong glance over the writing, returned the parchment to the secretary, and said with difficulty: ‘The accused is from Galilee? 6 Was the case sent to the tetrarch?’

‘Yes, Procurator,’ replied the secretary.

‘And what then?’

‘He refused to make a decision on the case and sent the Sanhedrin’s7 death sentence to you for confirmation,‘ the secretary explained.

The procurator twitched his cheek and said quietly:

‘Bring in the accused.’

And at once two legionaries brought a man of about twenty-seven from the garden terrace to the balcony under the columns and stood him before the procurator’s chair. The man was dressed in an old and torn light-blue chiton. His head was covered by a white cloth with a leather band around the forehead, and his hands were bound behind his back. Under the man’s left eye there was a large bruise, in the comer of his mouth a cut caked with blood. The man gazed at the procurator with anxious curiosity.

The latter paused, then asked quietly in Aramaic:8

‘So it was you who incited the people to destroy the temple of Yershalaim?’9

The procurator sat as if made of stone while he spoke, and only his lips moved slightly as he pronounced the words. The procurator was as if made of stone because he was afraid to move his head, aflame with infernal pain.

The man with bound hands leaned forward somewhat and began to speak:

‘Good man! Believe me …’

But the procurator, motionless as before and not raising his voice in the least, straight away interrupted him:

‘Is it me that you are calling a good man? You are mistaken. It is whispered about me in Yershalaim that I am a fierce monster, and that is perfectly correct.’ And he added in the same monotone: ‘Bring the centurion Ratslayer.’ It seemed to everyone that it became darker on the balcony when the centurion of the first century, Mark, nicknamed Ratslayer, presented himself before the procurator. Ratslayer was a head taller than the tallest soldier of the legion and so broad in the shoulders that he completely blocked out the still-low sun.

The procurator addressed the centurion in Latin:

The criminal calls me “good man”. Take him outside for a moment, explain to him how I ought to be spoken to. But no maiming.‘

And everyone except the motionless procurator followed Mark Ratslayer with their eyes as he motioned to the arrested man, indicating that he should go with him. Everyone generally followed Ratslayer with their eyes wherever he appeared, because of his height, and those who were seeing him for the first time also because the centurion’s face was disfigured: his nose had once been smashed by a blow from a Germanic club.

Mark’s heavy boots thudded across the mosaic, the bound man noiselessly went out with him, complete silence fell in the colonnade, and one could hear pigeons cooing on the garden terrace near the balcony and water singing an intricate, pleasant song in the fountain.

The procurator would have liked to get up, put his temple under the spout, and stay standing that way. But he knew that even that would not help him.

Having brought the arrested man from under the columns out to the garden, Ratslayer took a whip from the hands of a legionary who was standing at the foot of a bronze statue and, swinging easily, struck the arrested man across the shoulders. The centurion’s movement was casual and light, yet the bound man instantly collapsed on the ground as if his legs had been cut from under him; he gasped for air, the colour drained from his face, and his eyes went vacant.

With his left hand only, Mark heaved the fallen man into the air like an empty sack, set him on his feet, and spoke nasally, in poorly pronounced Aramaic:

‘The Roman procurator is called Hegemon.10 Use no other words. Stand at attention. Do you understand me, or do I hit you?’

The arrested man swayed, but got hold of himself, his colour returned, he caught his breath and answered hoarsely:

‘I understand. Don’t beat me.’

A moment later he was again standing before the procurator.

A lustreless, sick voice sounded:

‘Name?’

‘Mine?’ the arrested man hastily responded, his whole being expressing a readiness to answer sensibly, without provoking further wrath.

The procurator said softly:

‘I know my own. Don’t pretend to be stupider than you are. Yours.’

‘Yeshua,’11 the prisoner replied promptly.

‘Any surname?’

‘Ha-Nozri.’

‘Where do you come from?’

‘The town of Gamala,’12 replied the prisoner, indicating with his head that there, somewhere far off to his right, in the north, was the town of Gamala.

‘Who are you by blood?’

‘I don’t know exactly,’ the arrested man replied animatedly, ‘I don’t remember my parents. I was told that my father was a Syrian …’

‘Where is your permanent residence?’

‘I have no permanent home,’ the prisoner answered shyly, ‘I travel from town to town.’

‘That can be put more briefly, in a word — a vagrant,’ the procurator said, and asked:

‘Any family?’

‘None. I’m alone in the world.’

‘Can you read and write?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you know any language besides Aramaic?’

‘Yes. Greek.’

A swollen eyelid rose, an eye clouded with suffering fixed the arrested man. The other eye remained shut.

Pilate spoke in Greek.

‘So it was you who was going to destroy the temple building and called on the people to do that?’

Here the prisoner again became animated, his eyes ceased to show fear, and he spoke in Greek:

‘Never, goo …’ Here terror flashed in the prisoner’s eyes, because he had nearly made a slip. ‘Never, Hegemon, never in my life was I going to destroy the temple building, nor did I incite anyone to this senseless act.’ Surprise showed on the face of the secretary, hunched over a low table and writing down the testimony. He raised his head, but immediately bent it to the parchment again.

‘All sorts of people gather in this town for the feast. Among them there are magicians, astrologers, diviners and murderers,’ the procurator spoke in monotone, ‘and occasionally also liars. You, for instance, are a liar. It is written clearly: “Incited to destroy the temple”. People have testified to it.’ ‘These good people,’ the prisoner spoke and, hastily adding ‘Hegemon’, went on: ‘… haven’t any learning and have confused everything I told them. Generally, I’m beginning to be afraid that this confusion may go on for a very long time. And all because he writes down the things I say incorrectly.’ Silence fell. By now both sick eyes rested heavily on the prisoner.

‘I repeat to you, but for the last time, stop pretending that you’re a madman, robber,’ Pilate said softly and monotonously, ‘there’s not much written in your record, but what there is is enough to hang you.’ ‘No, no, Hegemon,’ the arrested man said, straining all over in his wish to convince, ‘there’s one with a goatskin parchment who follows me, follows me and keeps writing all the time. But once I peeked into this parchment and was horrified. I said decidedly nothing of what’s written there. I implored him: “Burn your parchment, I beg you!” But he tore it out of my hands and ran away.’ ‘Who is that?’ Pilate asked squeamishly and touched his temple with his hand.

‘Matthew Levi,’13 the prisoner explained willingly. ‘He used to be a tax collector, and I first met him on the road in Bethphage,14 where a fig grove juts out at an angle, and I got to talking with him. He treated me hostilely at first and even insulted me — that is, thought he insulted me - by calling me a dog.’ Here the prisoner smiled. ‘I personally see nothing bad about this animal, that I should be offended by this word …’ The secretary stopped writing and stealthily cast a surprised glance, not at the arrested man, but at the procurator.

‘… However, after listening to me, he began to soften,’ Yeshua went on, ‘finally threw the money down in the road and said he would go journeying with me …’

Pilate grinned with one cheek, baring yellow teeth, and said, turning his whole body towards the secretary:

‘Oh, city of Yershalaim! What does one not hear in it! A tax collector, do you hear, threw money down in the road!’

Not knowing how to reply to that, the secretary found it necessary to repeat Pilate’s smile.

‘He said that henceforth money had become hateful to him,’ Yeshua explained Matthew Levi’s strange action and added: ‘And since then he has been my companion.’

His teeth still bared, the procurator glanced at the arrested man, then at the sun, steadily rising over the equestrian statues of the hippodrome, which lay far below to the right, and suddenly, in some sickening anguish, thought that the simplest thing would be to drive this strange robber off the balcony by uttering just two words: ‘Hang him.’ To drive the convoy away as well, to leave the colonnade, go into the palace, order the room darkened, collapse on the bed, send for cold water, call in a plaintive voice for his dog Banga, and complain to him about the hemicrania. And the thought of poison suddenly flashed temptingly in the procurator’s sick head.

He gazed with dull eyes at the arrested man and was silent for a time, painfully trying to remember why there stood before him in the pitiless morning sunlight of Yershalaim this prisoner with his face disfigured by beating, and what other utterly unnecessary questions he had to ask him.

‘Matthew Levi?’ the sick man asked in a hoarse voice and dosed his eyes.

‘Yes, Matthew Levi,’ the high, tormenting voice came to him.

‘And what was it in any case that you said about the temple to the crowd in the bazaar?’

The responding voice seemed to stab at Pilate’s temple, was inexpressibly painful, and this voice was saying:

‘I said, Hegemon, that the temple of the old faith would fall and a new temple of truth would be built. I said it that way so as to make it more understandable.’

‘And why did you stir up the people in the bazaar, you vagrant, talking about the truth, of which you have no notion? What is truth?’15

And here the procurator thought: ‘Oh, my gods! I’m asking him about something unnecessary at a trial … my reason no longer serves me …’ And again he pictured a cup of dark liquid. ‘Poison, bring me poison …’ And again he heard the voice:

The truth is, first of all, that your head aches, and aches so badly that you’re having faint-hearted thoughts of death. You’re not only unable to speak to me, but it is even hard for you to look at me. And I am now your unwilling torturer, which upsets me. You can’t even think about anything and only dream that your dog should come, apparently the one being you are attached to. But your suffering will soon be over, your headache will go away.‘ The secretary goggled his eyes at the prisoner and stopped writing in mid-word.

Pilate raised his tormented eyes to the prisoner and saw that the sun already stood quite high over the hippodrome, that a ray had penetrated the colonnade and was stealing towards Yeshua’s worn sandals, and that the man was trying to step out of the sun’s way.

Here the procurator rose from his chair, clutched his head with his hands, and his yellowish, shaven face expressed dread. But he instantly suppressed it with his will and lowered himself into his chair again.

The prisoner meanwhile continued his speech, but the secretary was no longer writing it down, and only stretched his neck like a goose, trying not to let drop a single word.

‘Well, there, it’s all over,’ the arrested man said, glancing benevolently at Pilate, ‘and I’m extremely glad of it. I’d advise you, Hegemon, to leave the palace for a while and go for a stroll somewhere in the vicinity — say, in the gardens on the Mount of Olives.16 A storm will come …’ the prisoner turned, narrowing his eyes at the sun, ‘… later on, towards evening. A stroll would do you much good, and I would be glad to accompany you. Certain new thoughts have occurred to me, which I think you might find interesting, and I’d willingly share them with you, the more so as you give the impression of being a very intelligent man.’ The secretary turned deathly pale and dropped the scroll on the floor.

The trouble is,‘ the bound man went on, not stopped by anyone, ’hat you are too closed off and have definitively lost faith in people.

You must agree, one can’t place all one’s affection in a dog. Your life is impoverished, Hegemon.‘ And here the speaker allowed himself to smile.

The secretary now thought of only one thing, whether to believe his ears or not. He had to believe. Then he tried to imagine precisely what whimsical form the wrath of the hot-tempered procurator would take at this unheard-of impudence from the prisoner. And this the secretary was unable to imagine, though he knew the procurator well.

Then came the cracked, hoarse voice of the procurator, who said in Latin:

‘Unbind his hands.’

One of the convoy legionaries rapped with his spear, handed it to another, went over and took the ropes off the prisoner. The secretary picked up his scroll, having decided to record nothing for now, and to be surprised at nothing.

‘Admit,’ Pilate asked softly in Greek, ‘that you are a great physician?’

‘No, Procurator, I am not a physician,’ the prisoner replied, delightedly rubbing a crimped and swollen purple wrist.

Scowling deeply, Pilate bored the prisoner with his eyes, and these eyes were no longer dull, but flashed with sparks familiar to all.

‘I didn’t ask you,’ Pilate said, ‘maybe you also know Latin?’

‘Yes, I do,’ the prisoner replied.

Colour came to Pilate’s yellowish cheeks, and he asked in Latin:

‘How did you know I wanted to call my dog?’

‘It’s very simple,’ the prisoner replied in Latin. ‘You were moving your hand in the air’ — and the prisoner repeated Pilate’s gesture — ’as if you wanted to stroke something, and your lips …‘ ‘Yes,’ said Pilate.

There was silence. Then Pilate asked a question in Greek:

‘And so, you are a physician?’

‘No, no,’ the prisoner replied animatedly, ‘believe me, I’m not a physician.’

‘Very well, then, if you want to keep it a secret, do so. It has no direct bearing on the case. So you maintain that you did not incite anyone to destroy … or set fire to, or in any other way demolish the temple?’ ‘I repeat, I did not incite anyone to such acts, Hegemon. Do I look like a halfwit?’

‘Oh, no, you don’t look like a halfwit,’ the procurator replied quietly and smiled some strange smile. ‘Swear, then, that it wasn’t so.’

‘By what do you want me to swear?’ the unbound man asked, very animated.

‘Well, let’s say, by your life,’ the procurator replied. ‘It’s high time you swore by it, since it’s hanging by a hair, I can tell you.’

‘You don’t think it was you who hung it, Hegemon?’ the prisoner asked. ‘If so, you are very mistaken.’

Pilate gave a start and replied through his teeth:

‘I can cut that hair.’

‘In that, too, you are mistaken,’ the prisoner retorted, smiling brightly and shielding himself from the sun with his hand. ‘You must agree that surely only he who hung it can cut the hair?’ ‘So, so,’ Pilate said, smiling, ‘now I have no doubts that the idle loafers of Yershalaim followed at your heels. I don’t know who hung such a tongue on you, but he hung it well. Incidentally, tell me, is it true that you entered Yershalaim by the Susa gate17 riding on an ass,18 accompanied by a crowd of riff-raff who shouted greetings to you as some kind of prophet?’ Here the procurator pointed to the parchment scroll.

The prisoner glanced at the procurator in perplexity.

‘I don’t even have an ass, Hegemon,’ he said. ‘I did enter Yershalaim by the Susa gate, but on foot, accompanied only by Matthew Levi, and no one shouted anything to me, because no one in Yershalaim knew me then.’ ‘Do you happen to know,’ Pilate continued without taking his eyes off the prisoner, ‘such men as a certain Dysmas, another named Gestas, and a third named Bar-Rabban?’19

‘I do not know these good people,’ the prisoner replied.

‘Truly?’

‘Truly.’

‘And now tell me, why is it that you use the words “good people” all the time? Do you call everyone that, or what?’

‘Everyone,’ the prisoner replied. ‘There are no evil people in the world.’

‘The first I hear of it,’ Pilate said, grinning. ‘But perhaps I know too little of life! … You needn’t record any more,’ he addressed the secretary, who had not recorded anything anyway, and went on talking with the prisoner. ‘You read that in some Greek book?’ ‘No, I figured it out for myself.’

‘And you preach it?’

‘Yes.’

‘But take, for instance, the centurion Mark, the one known as Ratslayer - is he good?’

‘Yes,’ replied the prisoner. ‘True, he’s an unhappy man. Since the good people disfigured him, he has become cruel and hard. I’d be curious to know who maimed him.’

‘I can willingly tell you that,’ Pilate responded, ‘for I was a witness to it. The good people fell on him like dogs on a bear. There were Germani fastened on his neck, his arms, his legs. The infantry maniple was encircled, and if one flank hadn’t been cut by a cavalry turm, of which I was the commander — you, philosopher, would not have had the chance to speak with the Ratslayer. That was at the battle of Idistaviso,20 in the Valley of the Virgins.’ ‘If I could speak with him,’ the prisoner suddenly said musingly, ‘I’m sure he’d change sharply.’

‘I don’t suppose,’ Pilate responded, ‘that you’d bring much joy to the legate of the legion if you decided to talk with any of his officers or soldiers. Anyhow, it’s also not going to happen, fortunately for everyone, and I will be the first to see to it.’ At that moment a swallow swiftly flitted into the colonnade, described a circle under the golden ceiling, swooped down, almost brushed the face of a bronze statue in a niche with its pointed wing, and disappeared behind the capital of a column. It may be that it thought of nesting there.

During its flight, a formula took shape in the now light and lucid head of the procurator. It went like this: the hegemon has looked into the case of the vagrant philosopher Yeshua, alias Ha-Nozri, and found in it no grounds for indictment. In particular, he has found not the slightest connection between the acts of Yeshua and the disorders that have lately taken place in Yershalaim. The vagrant philosopher has proved to be mentally ill. Consequently, the procurator has not confirmed the death sentence on Ha-Nozri passed by the Lesser Sanhedrin. But seeing that Ha-Nozri’s mad utopian talk might cause disturbances in Yershalaim, the procurator is removing Yeshua from Yershalaim and putting him under confinement in Stratonian Caesarea on the Mediterranean — that is, precisely where the procurator’s residence was.

It remained to dictate it to the secretary.

The swallow’s wings whiffled right over the hegemon’s head, the bird darted to the fountain basin and then flew out into freedom. The procurator raised his eyes to the prisoner and saw the dust blaze up in a pillar around him.

‘Is that all about him?’ Pilate asked the secretary.

‘Unfortunately not,’ the secretary replied unexpectedly and handed Pilate another piece of parchment.

‘What’s this now?’ Pilate asked and frowned.

Having read what had been handed to him, he changed countenance even more. Either the dark blood rose to his neck and face, or something else happened, only his skin lost its yellow tinge, turned brown, and his eyes seemed to sink.

Again it was probably owing to the blood rising to his temples and throbbing in them, only something happened to the procurator’s vision. Thus, he imagined that the prisoner’s head floated off somewhere, and another appeared in its place.21 On this bald head sat a scant-pointed golden diadem. On the forehead was a round canker, eating into the skin and smeared with ointment. A sunken, toothless mouth with a pendulous, capricious lower lip. It seemed to Pilate that the pink columns of the balcony and the rooftops of Yershalaim far below, beyond the garden, vanished, and everything was drowned in the thickest green of Caprean gardens. And something strange also happened to his hearing: it was as if trumpets sounded far away, muted and menacing, and a nasal voice was very clearly heard, arrogantly drawling: ‘The law of lese-majesty …’ Thoughts raced, short, incoherent and extraordinary: ‘I’m lost! …’ then: ‘We’re lost! …’ And among them a totally absurd one, about some immortality, which immortality for some reason provoked unendurable anguish.

Pilate strained, drove the apparition away, his gaze returned to the balcony, and again the prisoner’s eyes were before him.

‘Listen, Ha-Nozri,’ the procurator spoke, looking at Yeshua somehow strangely: the procurator’s face was menacing, but his eyes were alarmed, ‘did you ever say anything about the great Caesar? Answer! Did you? … Yes … or … no?’ Pilate drew the word ‘no’ out somewhat longer than is done in court, and his glance sent Yeshua some thought that he wished as if to instil in the prisoner.

‘To speak the truth is easy and pleasant,’ the prisoner observed.

‘I have no need to know,’ Pilate responded in a stifled, angry voice, ‘whether it is pleasant or unpleasant for you to speak the truth. You will have to speak it anyway. But, as you speak, weigh every word, unless you want a not only inevitable but also painful death.’ No one knew what had happened with the procurator of Judea, but he allowed himself to raise his hand as if to protect himself from a ray of sunlight, and from behind his hand, as from behind a shield, to send the prisoner some sort of prompting look.

‘Answer, then,’ he went on speaking, ‘do you know a certain Judas from Kiriath,22 and what precisely did you say to him about Caesar, if you said anything?’

‘It was like this,’ the prisoner began talking eagerly. ‘The evening before last, near the temple, I made the acquaintance of a young man who called himself Judas, from the town of Kiriath. He invited me to his place in the Lower City and treated me to …’ ‘A good man?’ Pilate asked, and a devilish fire flashed in his eyes.

‘A very good man and an inquisitive one,’ the prisoner confirmed. ‘He showed the greatest interest in my thoughts and received me very cordially …’

‘Lit the lamps …’23 Pilate spoke through his teeth, in the same tone as the prisoner, and his eyes glinted.

‘Yes,’ Yeshua went on, slightly surprised that the procurator was so well informed, ‘and asked me to give my view of state authority. He was extremely interested in this question.’ ‘And what did you say?’ asked Pilate. ‘Or are you going to reply that you’ve forgotten what you said?’ But there was already hopelessness in Pilate’s tone.

‘Among other things,’ the prisoner recounted, ‘I said that all authority is violence over people, and that a time will come when there will be no authority of the Caesars, nor any other authority. Man will pass into the kingdom of truth and justice, where generally there will be no need for any authority.’ ‘Go on!’

‘I didn’t go on,’ said the prisoner. ‘Here men ran in, bound me, and took me away to prison.’

The secretary, trying not to let drop a single word, rapidly traced the words on his parchment.

‘There never has been, is not, and never will be any authority in this world greater or better for people than the authority of the emperor Tiberius!’ Pilate’s cracked and sick voice swelled. For some reason the procurator looked at the secretary and the convoy with hatred.

‘And it is not for you, insane criminal, to reason about it!’ Here Pilate shouted: ‘Convoy, off the balcony!’ And turning to the secretary, he added: ‘Leave me alone with the criminal, this is a state matter!’ The convoy raised their spears and with a measured tramp of hob-nailed caligae walked off the balcony into the garden, and the secretary followed the convoy.

For some time the silence on the balcony was broken only by the water singing in the fountain. Pilate saw how the watery dish blew up over the spout, how its edges broke off, how it fell down in streams.

The prisoner was the first to speak.

‘I see that some misfortune has come about because I talked with that young man from Kiriath. I have a foreboding, Hegemon, that he will come to grief, and I am very sorry for him.’ ‘I think,’ the procurator replied, grinning strangely, ‘that there is now someone else in the world for whom you ought to feel sorrier than for Judas of Kiriath, and who is going to have it much worse than Judas! … So, then, Mark Ratslayer, a cold and convinced torturer, the people who, as I see,’ the procurator pointed to Yeshua’s disfigured face, ‘beat you for your preaching, the robbers Dysmas and Gestas, who with their confrères killed four soldiers, and, finally, the dirty traitor Judas — are all good people?’ ‘Yes,’ said the prisoner.

‘And the kingdom of truth will come?’

‘It will, Hegemon,’ Yeshua answered with conviction.

‘It will never come!’ Pilate suddenly cried out in such a terrible voice that Yeshua drew back. Thus, many years before, in the Valley of the Virgins, Pilate had cried to his horsemen the words: ‘Cut them down! Cut them down! The giant Ratslayer is trapped!’ He raised his voice, cracked with commanding, still more, and called out so that his words could be heard in the garden: ‘Criminal! Criminal! Criminal!’ And then, lowering his voice, he asked: ‘Yeshua Ha-Nozri, do you believe in any gods?’ ‘God is one,’ replied Yeshua, ‘I believe in him.’

‘Then pray to him! Pray hard! However …’ here Pilate’s voice gave out, ‘that won’t help. No wife?’ Pilate asked with anguish for some reason, not understanding what was happening to him.

‘No, I’m alone.’

‘Hateful city …’ the procurator suddenly muttered for some reason, shaking his shoulders as if he were cold, and rubbing his hands as though washing them, ‘if they’d put a knife in you before your meeting with Judas of Kiriath, it really would have been better.’ ‘Why don’t you let me go, Hegemon?’ the prisoner asked unexpectedly, and his voice became anxious. ‘I see they want to kill me.’

A spasm contorted Pilate’s face, he turned to Yeshua the inflamed, red-veined whites of his eyes and said:

‘Do you suppose, wretch, that the Roman procurator will let a man go who has said what you have said? Oh, gods, gods! Or do you think I’m ready to take your place? I don’t share your thoughts! And listen to me: if from this moment on you say even one word, if you speak to anyone at all, beware of me! I repeat to you — beware!’ ‘Hegemon…’

‘Silence!’ cried Pilate, and his furious gaze followed the swallow that had again fluttered on to the balcony. ‘To me!’ Pilate shouted.

And when the secretary and the convoy returned to their places, Pilate announced that he confirmed the death sentence passed at the meeting of the Lesser Sanhedrin on the criminal Yeshua Ha-Nozri, and the secretary wrote down what Pilate said.

A moment later Mark Ratslayer stood before the procurator. The procurator ordered him to hand the criminal over to the head of the secret service, along with the procurator’s directive that Yeshua Ha-Nozri was to be separated from the other condemned men, and also that the soldiers of the secret service were to be forbidden, on pain of severe punishment, to talk with Yeshua about anything at all or to answer any of his questions.

At a sign from Mark, the convoy closed around Yeshua and led him from the balcony.

Next there stood before the procurator a handsome, light-bearded man with eagle feathers on the crest of his helmet, golden lions’ heads shining on his chest, and golden plaques on his sword belt, wearing triple-soled boots laced to the knees, and with a purple cloak thrown over his left shoulder. This was the legate in command of the legion.

The procurator asked him where the Sebastean cohort was stationed at the moment. The legate told him that the Sebasteans had cordoned off the square in front of the hippodrome, where the sentencing of the criminals was to be announced to the people.

Then the procurator ordered the legate to detach two centuries from the Roman cohort. One of them, under the command of Ratslayer, was to convoy the criminals, the carts with the implements for the execution and the executioners as they were transported to Bald Mountain,24 and on arrival was to join the upper cordon. The other was to be sent at once to Bald Mountain and immediately start forming the cordon. For the same purpose, that is, to guard the mountain, the procurator asked the legate to send an auxiliary cavalry regiment — the Syrian ala.

After the legate left the balcony, the procurator ordered the secretary to summon to the palace the president of the Sanhedrin, two of its members, and the head of the temple guard in Yershalaim, adding that he asked things to be so arranged that before conferring with all these people, he could speak with the president previously and alone.

The procurator’s order was executed quickly and precisely, and the sun, which in those days was scorching Yershalaim with an extraordinary fierceness, had not yet had time to approach its highest point when, on the upper terrace of the garden, by the two white marble lions that guarded the stairs, a meeting took place between the procurator and the man fulfilling the duties of president of the Sanhedrin, the high priest of the Jews, Joseph Kaifa.25 It was quiet in the garden. But when he came out from under the colonnade to the sun-drenched upper level of the garden with its palm trees on monstrous elephant legs, from which there spread before the procurator the whole of hateful Yershalaim, with its hanging bridges, fortresses, and, above all, that utterly indescribable heap of marble with golden dragon scales for a roof — the temple of Yershalaim — the procurator’s sharp ear caught, far below, where the stone wall separated the lower terraces of the palace garden from the city square, a low rumble over which from time to time there soared feeble, thin moans or cries.

The procurator understood that there, on the square, a numberless crowd of Yershalaim citizens, agitated by the recent disorders, had already gathered, that this crowd was waiting impatiently for the announcement of the sentences, and that restless water sellers were crying in its midst.

The procurator began by inviting the high priest on to the balcony, to take shelter from the merciless heat, but Kaifa politely apologized26 and explained that he could not do that on the eve of the feast. Pilate covered his slightly balding head with a hood and began the conversation. This conversation took place in Greek.

Pilate said that he had looked into the case of Yeshua Ha-Nozri and confirmed the death sentence.

Thus, three robbers - Dysmas, Gestas and Bar-Rabban — and this Yeshua Ha-Nozri besides, were condemned to be executed, and it was to be done that day. The first two, who had ventured to incite the people to rebel against Caesar, had been taken in armed struggle by the Roman authorities, were accounted to the procurator, and, consequently, would not be talked about here. But the second two, Bar-Rabban and Ha-Nozri, had been seized by the local authorities and condemned by the Sanhedrin. According to the law, according to custom, one of these two criminals had to be released in honour of the great feast of Passover, which would begin that day. And so the procurator wished to know which of the two criminals the Sanhedrin intended to set free: Bar-Rabban or Ha-Nozri? 27 Kaifa inclined his head to signify that the question was clear to him, and replied:

‘The Sanhedrin asks that Bar-Rabban be released.’

The procurator knew very well that the high priest would give precisely that answer, but his task consisted in showing that this answer provoked his astonishment.

This Pilate did with great artfulness. The eyebrows on the arrogant face rose, the procurator looked with amazement straight into the high priest’s eyes.

‘I confess, this answer stuns me,’ the procurator began softly, ‘I’m afraid there may be some misunderstanding here.’

Pilate explained himself. Roman authority does not encroach in the least upon the rights of the local spiritual authorities, the high priest knows that very well, but in the present case we are faced with an obvious error. And this error Roman authority is, of course, interested in correcting.

In fact, the crimes of Bar-Rabban and Ha-Nozri are quite incomparable in their gravity. If the latter, obviously an insane person, is guilty of uttering preposterous things in Yershalaim and some other places, the former’s burden of guilt is more considerable. Not only did he allow himself to call directly for rebellion, but he also killed a guard during the attempt to arrest him. Bar-Rabban is incomparably more dangerous than Ha-Nozri.

On the strength of all the foregoing, the procurator asks the high priest to reconsider the decision and release the less harmful of the two condemned men, and that is without doubt Ha-Nozri. And so?…

Kaifa said in a quiet but firm voice that the Sanhedrin had thoroughly familiarized itself with the case and informed him a second time that it intended to free Bar-Rabban.

‘What? Even after my intercession? The intercession of him through whose person Roman authority speaks? Repeat it a third time, High Priest.’

‘And a third time I repeat that we are setting Bar-Rabban free,’ Kaifa said softly.

It was all over, and there was nothing more to talk about. Ha-Nozri was departing for ever, and there was no one to cure the dreadful, wicked pains of the procurator, there was no remedy for them except death. But it was not this thought which now struck Pilate. The same incomprehensible anguish that had already visited him on the balcony pierced his whole being. He tried at once to explain it, and the explanation was a strange one: it seemed vaguely to the procurator that there was something he had not finished saying to the condemned man, and perhaps something he had not finished hearing.

Pilate drove this thought away, and it flew off as instantly as it had come flying. It flew off, and the anguish remained unexplained, for it could not well be explained by another brief thought that flashed like lightning and at once went out — ‘Immortality … immortality has come …’ Whose immortality had come? That the procurator did not understand, but the thought of this enigmatic immortality made him grow cold in the scorching sun.

‘Very well,’ said Pilate, ‘let it be so.’

Here he turned, gazed around at the world visible to him, and was surprised at the change that had taken place. The bush laden with roses had vanished, vanished were the cypresses bordering the upper terrace, and the pomegranate tree, and the white statue amidst the greenery, and the greenery itself. In place of it all there floated some purple mass,28 water weeds swayed in it and began moving off somewhere, and Pilate himself began moving with them. He was carried along now, smothered and burned, by the most terrible wrath — the wrath of impotence.

‘Cramped,’ said Pilate, ‘I feel cramped!’

With a cold, moist hand he tore at the clasp on the collar of his cloak, and it fell to the sand.

‘It’s sultry today, there’s a storm somewhere,’ Kaifa responded, not taking his eyes off the procurator’s reddened face, and foreseeing all the torments that still lay ahead, he thought: ‘Oh, what a terrible month of Nisan we’re having this year!’ ‘No,’ said Pilate, ‘it’s not because of the sultriness, I feel cramped with you here, Kaifa.’ And, narrowing his eyes, Pilate smiled and added: ‘Watch out for yourself, High Priest.’ The high priest’s dark eyes glinted, and with his face - no less artfully than the procurator had done earlier — he expressed amazement.

‘What do I hear, Procurator?’ Kaifa replied proudly and calmly. ‘You threaten me after you yourself have confirmed the sentence passed? Can that be? We are accustomed to the Roman procurator choosing his words before he says something. What if we should be overheard, Hegemon?’ Pilate looked at the high priest with dead eyes and, baring his teeth, produced a smile.

‘What’s your trouble, High Priest? Who can hear us where we are now? Do you think I’m like that young vagrant holy fool who is to be executed today? Am I a boy, Kaifa? I know what I say and where I say it. There is a cordon around the garden, a cordon around the palace, so that a mouse couldn’t get through any crack! Not only a mouse, but even that one, what’s his name … from the town of Kiriath, couldn’t get through. Incidentally, High Priest, do you know him? Yes … if that one got in here, he’d feel bitterly sorry for himself, in this you will, of course, believe me? Know, then, that from now on, High Priest, you will have no peace! Neither you nor your people’ — and Pilate pointed far off to the right, where the temple blazed on high — ’it is I who tell you so, Pontius Pilate, equestrian of the Golden Spear!‘29 ‘I know, I know!’ the black-bearded Kaifa fearlessly replied, and his eyes flashed. He raised his arm to heaven and went on: ‘The Jewish people know that you hate them with a cruel hatred, and will cause them much suffering, but you will not destroy them utterly! God will protect them! He will hear us, the almighty Caesar will hear, he will protect us from Pilate the destroyer!’ ‘Oh, no!’ Pilate exclaimed, and he felt lighter and lighter with every word: there was no more need to pretend, no more need to choose his words. ‘You have complained about me too much to Caesar, and now my hour has come, Kaifa! Now the message will fly from me, and not to the governor in Antioch, and not to Rome, but directly to Capreae, to the emperor himself, the message of how you in Yershalaim are sheltering known criminals from death. And then it will not be water from Solomon’s Pool that I give Yershalaim to drink, as I wanted to do for your own good! No, not water! Remember how on account of you I had to remove the shields with the emperor’s insignia from the walls, had to transfer troops, had, as you see, to come in person to look into what goes on with you here! Remember my words: it is not just one cohort that you will see here in Yershalaim, High Priest - no! The whole Fulminata legion will come under the city walls, the Arabian cavalry will arrive, and then you will hear bitter weeping and wailing! You will remember Bar-Rabban then, whom you saved, and you will regret having sent to his death a philosopher with his peaceful preaching!’ The high priest’s face became covered with blotches, his eyes burned. Like the procurator, he smiled, baring his teeth, and replied:

‘Do you yourself believe what you are saying now, Procurator? No, you do not! It is not peace, not peace, that the seducer of the people of Yershalaim brought us, and you, equestrian, understand that perfectly well. You wanted to release him so that he could disturb the people, outrage the faith, and bring the people under Roman swords! But I, the high priest of the Jews, as long as I live, will not allow the faith to be outraged and will protect the people! Do you hear, Pilate?’ And Kaifa raised his arm menacingly: ‘Listen, Procurator!’ Kaifa fell silent, and the procurator again heard a noise as if of the sea, rolling up to the very walls of the garden of Herod the Great. The noise rose from below to the feet and into the face of the procurator. And behind his back, there, beyond the wings of the palace, came alarming trumpet calls, the heavy crunch of hundreds of feet, the clanking of iron. The procurator understood that the Roman infantry was already setting out, on his orders, speeding to the parade of death so terrible for rebels and robbers.

‘Do you hear, Procurator?’ the high priest repeated quietly. ‘Are you going to tell me that all this’ — here the high priest raised both arms and the dark hood fell from his head — ’as been caused by the wretched robber Bar-Rabban?‘ The procurator wiped his wet, cold forehead with the back of his hand, looked at the ground, then, squinting at the sky, saw that the red-hot ball was almost over his head and that Kaifa’s shadow had shrunk to nothing by the lion’s tail, and said quietly and indifferently: ‘It’s nearly noon. We got carried away by our conversation, and yet we must proceed.’

Having apologized in refined terms before the high priest, he invited him to sit down on a bench in the shade of a magnolia and wait until he summoned the other persons needed for the last brief conference and gave one more instruction connected with the execution.

Kaifa bowed politely, placing his hand on his heart, and stayed in the garden while Pilate returned to the balcony. There he told the secretary, who had been waiting for him, to invite to the garden the legate of the legion and the tribune of the cohort, as well as the two members of the Sanhedrin and the head of the temple guard, who had been awaiting his summons on the lower garden terrace, in a round gazebo with a fountain. To this Pilate added that he himself would come out to the garden at once, and withdrew into the palace.

While the secretary was gathering the conference, the procurator met, in a room shielded from the sun by dark curtains, with a certain man, whose face was half covered by a hood, though he could not have been bothered by the sun’s rays in this room. The meeting was a very short one. The procurator quietly spoke a few words to the man, after which he withdrew and Pilate walked out through the colonnade to the garden.

There, in the presence of all those he had desired to see, the procurator solemnly and drily stated that he confirmed the death sentence on Yeshua Ha-Nozri, and officially inquired of the members of the Sanhedrin as to whom among the criminals they would like to grant life. Having received the reply that it was Bar-Rabban, the procurator said: ‘Very well,’ and told the secretary to put it into the record at once, clutched in his hand the clasp that the secretary had picked up from the sand, and said solemnly: ‘It is time!’ Here all those present started down the wide marble stairway between walls of roses that exuded a stupefying aroma, descending lower and lower towards the palace wall, to the gates opening on to the big, smoothly paved square, at the end of which could be seen the columns and statues of the Yershalaim stadium.

As soon as the group entered the square from the garden and mounted the spacious stone platform that dominated the square, Pilate, looking around through narrowed eyelids, assessed the situation.

The space he had just traversed, that is, the space from the palace wall to the platform, was empty, but before him Pilate could no longer see the square - it had been swallowed up by the crowd, which would 38 have poured over the platform and the cleared space as well, had it not been kept at bay by a triple row of Sebastean soldiers to the left of Pilate and soldiers of the auxiliary Iturean cohort to his right.

And so, Pilate mounted the platform, mechanically clutching the useless clasp in his fist and squinting his eyes. The procurator was squinting not because the sun burned his eyes - no! For some reason he did not want to see the group of condemned men who, as he knew perfectly well, were now being brought on to the platform behind him.

As soon as the white cloak with crimson lining appeared high up on the stone cliff over the verge of the human sea, the unseeing Pilate was struck in the ears by a wave of sound: ‘Ha-a-a…’ It started mutedly, arising somewhere far away by the hippodrome, then became thunderous and, having held out for a few seconds, began to subside. ‘They’ve seen me,’ the procurator thought. The wave had not reached its lowest point before it started swelling again unexpectedly and, swaying, rose higher than the first, and as foam boils up on the billows of the sea, so a whistling boiled up on this second wave and, separate, distinguishable from the thunder, the wails of women. ‘They’ve been led on to the platform,’ thought Pilate, ‘and the wails mean that several women got crushed as the crowd surged forward.’ He waited for some time, knowing that no power could silence the crowd before it exhaled all that was pent up in it and fell silent of itself.

And when this moment came, the procurator threw up his right arm, and the last noise was blown away from the crowd.

Then Pilate drew into his breast as much of the hot air as he could and shouted, and his cracked voice carried over thousands of heads:

‘In the name of the emperor Caesar! …’

Here his ears were struck several times by a clipped iron shout: the cohorts of soldiers raised high their spears and standards and shouted out terribly:

‘Long live Caesar!’

Pilate lifted his face and thrust it straight into the sun. Green fire flared up behind his eyelids, his brain took flame from it, and hoarse Aramaic words went flying over the crowd: ‘Four criminals, arrested in Yershalaim for murder, incitement to rebellion, and outrages against the laws and the faith, have been sentenced to a shameful execution — by hanging on posts! And this execution will presently be carried out on Bald Mountain! The names of the criminals are Dysmas, Gestas, Bar-Rabban and Ha-Nozri. Here they stand before you!’ Pilate pointed to his right, not seeing any criminals, but knowing they were there, in place, where they ought to be.

The crowd responded with a long rumble as if of surprise or relief. When it died down, Pilate continued:

‘But only three of them will be executed, for, in accordance with law and custom, in honour of the feast of Passover, to one of the condemned, as chosen by the Lesser Sanhedrin and confirmed by Roman authority, the magnanimous emperor Caesar will return his contemptible life!’ Pilate cried out the words and at the same time listened as the rumble was replaced by a great silence. Not a sigh, not a rustle reached his ears now, and there was even a moment when it seemed to Pilate that everything around him had vanished altogether. The hated city died, and he alone is standing there, scorched by the sheer rays, his face set against the sky. Pilate held the silence a little longer, and then began to cry out: ‘The name of the one who will now be set free before you is …’

He made one more pause, holding back the name, making sure he had said all, because he knew that the dead city would resurrect once the name of the lucky man was spoken, and no further words would be heard.

‘All?’ Pilate whispered soundlessly to himself. ‘All. The name!’

And, rolling the letter ‘r’ over the silent city, he cried:

‘Bar-Rabban!’

Here it seemed to him that the sun, clanging, burst over him and flooded his ears with fire. This fire raged with roars, shrieks, wails, guffaws and whistles.

Pilate turned and walked back across the platform to the stairs, looking at nothing except the multicoloured squares of the flooring under his feet, so as not to trip. He knew that behind his back the platform was being showered with bronze coins, dates, that people in the howling mob were climbing on shoulders, crushing each other, to see the miracle with their own eyes - how a man already in the grip of death escaped that grip! How the legionaries take the ropes off him, involuntarily causing him burning pain in his arms, dislocated during his interrogation; how he, wincing and groaning, nevertheless smiles a senseless, crazed smile.

He knew that at the same time the convoy was already leading the three men with bound arms to the side stairs, so as to take them to the road going west from the city, towards Bald Mountain. Only when he was off the platform, to the rear of it, did Pilate open his eyes, knowing that he was now safe — he could no longer see the condemned men.

Mingled with the wails of the quieting crowd, yet distinguishable from them, were the piercing cries of heralds repeating, some in Aramaic, others in Greek, all that the procurator had cried out from the platform. Besides that, there came to his ears the tapping, clattering and approaching thud of hoofs, and a trumpet calling out something brief and merry. These sounds were answered by the drilling whistles of boys on the roofs of houses along the street that led from the bazaar to the hippodrome square, and by cries of ‘Look out!’ A soldier, standing alone in the cleared space of the square with a standard in his hand, waved it anxiously, and then the procurator, the legate of the legion, the secretary and the convoy stopped.

A cavalry ala, at an ever-lengthening trot, flew out into the square, so as to cross it at one side, bypassing the mass of people, and ride down a lane under a stone wall covered with creeping vines, taking the shortest route to Bald Mountain.

At a flying trot, small as a boy, dark as a mulatto, the commander of the ala, a Syrian, coming abreast of Pilate, shouted something in a high voice and snatched his sword from its sheath. The angry, sweating black horse shied and reared. Thrusting his sword back into its sheath, the commander struck the horse’s neck with his crop, brought him down, and rode off into the lane, breaking into a gallop. After him, three by three, horsemen flew in a cloud of dust, the tips of their light bamboo lances bobbing, and faces dashed past the procurator - looking especially swarthy under their white turbans — with merrily bared, gleaming teeth.

Raising dust to the sky, the ala burst into the lane, and the last to ride past Pilate was a soldier with a trumpet slung on his back, blazing in the sun.

Shielding himself from the dust with his hand and wrinkling his face discontentedly, Pilate started on in the direction of the gates to the palace garden, and after him came the legate, the secretary, and the convoy.

It was around ten o‘clock in the morning.

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