2nd December 1946.
I do not see Jesus, or Peter, or Judas of Alphaeus, or Thomas. But I see the other nine walking towards the Ophel suburb.
The people in the streets are nothing like the large crowds at the Feasts of Passover, Pentecost and of the Tabernacles; it is mostly town people. It would appear that the Feast of Lights was not an important one and the Hebrews were not compelled to be present in Jerusalem. Only those who happened to be in town, or those of the villages near Jerusalem, came to town and went up to the Temple. The others, both because of the season and of the peculiarity of the feast, remained at home in their towns.
But there are many disciples in Jerusalem: those, who out of love for the Lord, have left home and relatives, business and work, and have joined the apostles. But I do not see Isaac, or Abel, or Philip, or Nicolaus, who went to take Sabea to Aera. They are speaking to one another in a friendly manner, telling and listening to all the events that have taken place while they were separated. I would think that they have already seen the Master, probably at the Temple, because they are not surprised at His absence. They are walking slowly, stopping now and again, as if they were waiting for someone, looking ahead and behind, at the streets descending from Sion towards this one, that takes one to the southern gates of the town.
The Iscariot, who is almost in the rear and is speaking to a little group of disciples full of good will but lacking in knowledge, is called twice by name by some Judaeans, who are following the group without mingling with it, I do not know with what intentions or task. And twice the Iscariot shrugs his shoulders without even turning round. But the third time he is forced to do so, because one of the Judaeans departs from his group, elbows his way through the group of the disciples, gets hold of Judas by the sleeve, and compels him to stop saying: « Come away for a moment, we must speak to you. »
« I have no time and I cannot » replies the Iscariot resolutely.
« You may go. We will wait for you. In any case we cannot leave town until Thomas comes » says Andrew, who is the one nearest to him.
« All right, go ahead, I will come at once » says Judas who does not appear to be willing to do what he has to do.
When he is alone, he says to the pestering fellow: « So? What do you want? What do you all want? Have you not yet finished bothering me? »
« Oh! what a high-and-mighty manner you are putting on! But when we sent for you to give you money, you did not think that we were bothering you! You are proud, man! But there is someone who can make you humble... Bear that in mind. »
« I am a free man and... »
« No. You are not free. He is free whom we cannot enslave in any way. And you know His name. You! ... You are a slave to everything and to everybody, and first of all to your pride. In short. Bear in mind that if you do not come to Caiaphas' house before the sixth hour, there will be trouble for you! » A real threat of trouble.
« All right! I will come. But you had better leave me alone if you want... »
« What? You swindler... a good-for-nothing... »
Judas frees himself pushing away the man who was holding him, and he runs off saying: « I will tell you when I am there. »
He joins his group. He is pensive and somewhat grim. Andrew asks him kindly: « Bad news? No, eh? Perhaps your mother... »
Judas, who at first had looked askance at him, quite ready to give a sharp reply, becomes more humane, and says: « Yes. Not very good... You know... the season... Now... I have just remembered an order of the Master. If that man had not stopped me, I would have forgotten about it... But he mentioned the place where he lives and that name reminded me of the task I was given. Now when I go for it, I will call also on that man and I shall have more details... »
Andrew, so simple and honest as he is, is far from suspecting that his companion is lying. And he kindly says: « Well go, go at once. I will tell the others. Go and get rid of your worry... »
« No. I must wait for Thomas, on account of the money. A moment sooner or later... » The others, who had stopped waiting for them, look at them approaching.
« Judas has received sad news » says Andrew thoughtfully.
« Yes... only vaguely. But I shall have more information when I go to do what I have... »
« What? » asks Bartholomew.
« There is Thomas coming » says simultaneously John. And Judas takes advantage of that not to reply.
« Have I kept you waiting long? The fact is that I wanted to do the job properly... And I did. Look what a beautiful purse. Very good for the poor. The Master will be pleased. »
« We needed it. We did not have a farthing left for beggars » says James of Alphaeus.
« Give me it » says the Iscariot stretching out his hand towards the heavy purse that Thomas is tossing in his hands.
« Actually... Jesus entrusted me with the task of the sale and I must give the proceeds to Him. »
« You will tell Him how much you got. Now give me it, because I am in a hurry to go away. »
« No, I am not going to give it to you! When we were going through the Sixtus market Jesus said to me: “Then you will give Me the money.” And that is what I am going to do. »
« What are you afraid of? That I may take part of it or that I may deprive you of the merit of the sale? I sold at Jericho, too, and very well. For years I have been responsible for the money. It is my right. »
« Oh! listen! If you want to quarrel over that, take it. I fulfilled my task and I am not interested in the rest. Here it is, take it. There are many things much nicer than that!... » and Thomas hands the purse to Judas.
« Really, if the Master said... » says Philip.
« Don't let us quibble! We had better go, now that we are all together. The Master told us to be at Bethany before the sixth hour. We shall hardly be in time » says James of Zebedee.
« I will leave you, then. Go on, because I will go and come back at once. »
« No! He said very clearly: “Remain all together” » says Matthew.
« You are to remain all together. But I must go. Particularly now that I heard of my mother!... »
« His words could be interpreted also like that. If he received instructions of which we are unaware... » says John conciliatorily.
The others, with the exception of Andrew and Thomas, are not very inclined to let him go. Finally they say: « Well, go. But be quick and prudent... »
And Judas runs away along a narrow street towards the hill of Zion, while the others set out again.
« However, it is not fair. We have not done the right thing. The Master had said: “Be always together and be good.” We have disobeyed Him. I am upset » say Simon Zealot after some time.
« I thought that, too... » replies Matthew.
The apostles are all in a group since they had to discuss their business. I noticed that the disciples always stand aside respectfully every time the apostles gather together to discuss something.
Bartholomew says: « Let us do this. Let us dismiss now these who are following us, without waiting to be on the Bethany road. Then we shall divide into two groups and we shall wait for Judas, one group on the lower road, the other on the upper one. Those who walk faster, on the lower road, the others on the upper one. If the Master should precede us, He will see us arrive together, because one group will wait for the other outside Bethany. »
They all agree. They dismiss the disciples. Then they go together as far as the spot where one can divert towards Gethsemane taking the upper road on the Mount of Olives, or go along the Kidron, taking the lower one that also goes to Bethany and Jericho...
Judas in the meantime has been running as if he were chased. He continues for some time to go up the narrow street that takes him towards the top of Zion westwards, he then turns into a narrower street, almost a lane, that instead of going up runs down southwards. He is suspicious. He runs, and now and again he turns round as if he were frightened. He is clearly suspicious of being followed. The narrow street, winding among the corners of houses built without any town planning, end in the open country. Beyond the valley, outside the walls, there is a hill. It is a low hill covered with olive-trees, beyond the arid stony Hinnom valley. Judas is still running fast, passing between the hedges bordering the small kitchen gardens of the last houses near the walls, the poor houses of the poor people in Jerusalem and he does not go out through the Zion gate, although it is close to him, to leave the town, but he runs up towards another gate, which is rather on the western side. He is out of town. He is running like a colt to be quick. He passes like the wind near an aqueduct, and then close to the gloomy caves of the lepers of Hinnom, but he turns a deaf ear to their lamentations. It is obvious that he is seeking places avoided by other people.
He goes straight towards the hill covered with olive-trees, the solitary hill, south of the town. He draws a sigh of relief at the foot of the hill and slackens his pace, he tidies his headgear, his belt and pulls down his tunic, which had come up, and shading his eyes from the sunshine, he looks eastwards, towards the lower road for Bethany and Jericho. But he does not see anything that may upset him. On the contrary a side of the hill acts as a curtain between him and that road. He smiles. He begins to climb the hill slowly, to take breath after so much panting. And he is pensive, and the more he thinks, the grimmer he becomes. He is certainly talking to himself, but silently. At a certain moment he stops, he takes the purse from his bosom, he watches it carefully, then he puts it back in his bosom after dividing its contents, part of which he puts into his own purse, probably to ensure that what he has concealed in his bosom may not seem too bulky.
Among the olive-trees there is a house. A beautiful house. The most beautiful one on the hill, because the other little houses spread over the slopes, I do not know whether they are part of the estate or they belong to other people, are really modest. He arrives there along a kind of avenue covered with sand among the olive trees planted orderly. He knocks at the door. He makes himself known. He goes in. He goes resolutely beyond the hall into a square yard on the sides of which there are many doors. He pushes one of them. He enters a large room in which there are many people, among whom I recognise the sly and at the same time resentful face of Caiaphas, the ultra-pharisaic face of Helkai, the stonemarten face of Felix, the member of the Sanhedrin, together with the viper's face of Simon. Farther back there is Doras, the son of Doras, whose features are more and more like his father's, and with him there are Cornelius and Ptolmai. And there are the scribes Sadoc and Hananiah, old and wrinkled with age, but young in malice, and Callascebona the Elder, and Nathanael ben Phaba and then a Doro, a Simon, a Joseph, a Joachim, whom I do not know. Caiaphas mentions the names, I write them. He ends saying: «... gathered here to judge you. »
Judas' face is strange: it shows fear, anger and violence at the same time. But he is silent. He does not display his haughtiness. The others surround him, scoffing at him, each in his own way.
« Well? What have you done with our money? What are you going to tell us, you wise man, who can do everything quickly and well? Where is the fruit of your work? You are a liar, a charlatan, a good-for-nothing. Where is the woman? You have not her either? And so instead of serving us you are serving Him, eh? Is that how you help us? » It is a furious charge of people shouting and bawling threateningly, but many of their words escape me.
Judas lets them howl. When they are tired and breathless, he begins to speak: « I have done what I could. Is it my fault if He is a man whom no one can induce to commit sin? You said that you wanted to test His virtue. I have given you the proof that He does not sin. So I have served you with regard to what you wanted. Have you, all of you, succeeded in putting Him in a situation whereby He may be prosecuted? No, you have not. From every attempt of yours to make Him appear a sinner, to lure Him into a trap, He has come out greater than previously. So, if you have not been successful with your hatred, was I to succeed, when I do not hate Him, and I am only disappointed of following a poor innocent man, who is too holy to be a king, a king capable of crushing his enemies? What harm has He done to me that I should injure Him? I am saying so because I think that you hate Him to the extent of wanting His death. I can no longer believe that you only want to convince the people that He is mad, and convince us, me, for our own good, and Him as well, out of pity for Him. You are too generous to me, and too furious seeing that He is above evil, for me to believe you. You have asked me what I have done with your money. I used it as you know. I had to spend it extravagantly to convince the woman... And I was not successful with the first one and... »
« Be quiet! That is not true. She was mad on Him and she certainly came at once. In any case you guaranteed it, because you told us that she had admitted it. You are a thief. I wonder for what purpose you have used the money! »
« To ruin my soul, you murderers of souls! To make a sly man of myself, one who has no more peace, and feels he is suspected by Him and by his companions. Because, you had better know that He has found me out... Oh! I wish He had rejected me! But He does not reject me. No. He does not drive me away. He defends me, He protects me, He loves me!... Your money! Why did I ever accept the first farthing? »
« Because you are a wretch. You have enjoyed our money and now you are weeping because you had a good time with it. Liar! In the meantime we have concluded nothing and the crowds around Him are growing in numbers and are more and more enchanted. Our ruin is drawing closer, through your fault! »
« My fault? Why then did you not dare to arrest Him and accuse Him of wanting to be made king? You also told me that you wanted to tempt Him notwithstanding that I had told you that it was quite useless, as He does not crave for power. If you are so clever, why did you not induce Him to commit a sin against His mission? »
« Because He slipped out of our hands. He is a demon and He vanishes like smoke whenever He wishes. He is like a snake: He enchants you, and there is nothing you can do if He looks at you. »
« If He looks at His enemies: at you. Because I see that if He looks at those who do not hate with all their strength, as you do, then His eyes make them move and be active. Oh! His eyes! Why does He look at me thus and make me good, since I am a monster by myself and you make me ten times more monstruous?! »
« How many words! You assured us that you would help us for the welfare of Israel. Do you not understand, you miserable wretch, that this man is our ruin? »
« Ours? Of whom? »
« Of the whole population! The Romans... »
« No. He is only your ruin. You are afraid of your own ruin. You know that Rome will not be pitiless towards us because of Him. You are aware of that, as well as I am and the people are. But you are trembling because you know, you fear that He may throw you out of the Temple, out of the Kingdom of Israel. And He would do the right thing. He would do a good thing to clean His threshing floor of you, filthy hyenas, dirty asps!... » He is furious.
They get hold of him, they shake him, as they are now furious themselves, they almost knock him down... Caiaphas shouts in his face: « All right. It is so. And if it is so, we are entitled to defend what belongs to us. And since little means are not sufficient any more to convince Him to go away, and not interfere with us, we will arrange the matter by ourselves, leaving you out, you fainthearted servant and chatterbox. And after Him we will deal with you as well, do not doubt it and... »
Helkai keeps Caiaphas quiet and with his ice-cold calmness of a poisonous snake he says: « No. Not so. You are exaggerating, Caiaphas. Judas has done what he could. You must not threaten him. After all has he not the same interests as we have? »
« Don't be silly, Helkai. His interests? I want Him to be crushed! Judas wants Him to triumph, so that he may triumph with Him. And you say... » shouts Simon.
« Peace, peace! You always say that I am severe. But to day I am the only good one. We must understand and pity Judas. He helps us as best he can. He is our good friend, but, of course, he is also the Master's friend. His heart is anguished... He would like to save the Master, himself and Israel... How can he conciliate things so opposed. Let him speak. »
The uproar calms down. Judas can speak at last and he says: « Helkai is right. I... What do you want of me? I do not yet know precisely what you want. I have done what I could. I cannot do more than that. He is by far greater than I am. He reads my heart... and He never treats me as I deserve. I am a sinner and He knows and He absolves me. If I were not such a coward I should... I should kill myself to make it impossible for me to hurt Him. » Judas sits down crushed by the situation. With his face in his hands, his eyes wide open gazing at the void, he is clearly suffering in the struggle between his opposed instincts...
« Nonsense! What do you expect Him to know? You are behaving like that because you are sorry that you pushed yourself forward! » exclaims the one named Cornelius.
« And even if it were so? Oh! I wish it were so! If I were really repentant and capable of remaining in such repentance!... »
« See that! Have you heard him? Our poor money! » says Hananiah moaning.
« We are having to deal with one who does not know what he wants. We have chosen one who is worse than a blockhead! » exclaims Felix aggravating the situation.
« A blockhead? A puppet, you should say! The Galilean pulls him with one string and he goes to the Galilean. We pull him and he comes to us » shouts Sadoc.
« Well, if you are so much cleverer than I am, go on by yourselves. As from today I will take no further interest in the matter. Do not expect any more warnings or words from me. In any case I could not give you any, as He suspects and watches me... »
« Did you not say that He absolves you? »
« Yes. He does. Because He knows everything! Oh! » Judas presses his hands against his face.
« Go away, then, you woman dressed as a man, you disfigured wretch! Go away! We will carry on by ourselves. And make sure you do not speak to Him about this, or you will have to pay for it. »
« I am going! I wish I had never come! But remember what I have already told you. He met your father, Simon, and your brother-in-law, Helkai. I do not think that Daniel has spoken. I was present and I have never seen them speak standing aside. But your father! He did not speak, so my fellow-disciples told me. He did not even mention your name. He only said that his son had driven him away because he loved the Master and did not approve of your behaviour. But he said that we meet, that I come to your house... And he may tell also the rest. Tekoah is not at the end of the world... Do not say that I have given you away, when we are already too many to be informed of your intentions. »
« My father will never speak again. He died » says Simon slowly.
« He is dead? Did you kill him? How horrible! Why did I tell you where he was!... »
« I did not kill anybody. I have not been out of Jerusalem. There are many ways of dying. Are you surprised that an old man, an old man who goes around collecting money, is killed? In any case... it's his fault. If he had lived quietly, if he did not have eyes to see, ears to hear and a tongue to reproach, he would still be honoured and served in his son's house... » Simon says with exasperating slowness.
« In short... did you get someone to kill him? Parricide! »
« You are mad. The old man was struck, he fell, he hurt his head and died. An accident. A simple accident. It was his bad luck that he had to collect the toll from a rascal... »
« I know you, Simon. And I cannot believe... You are a murderer... » Judas is dismayed.
Simon laughs in his face saying: « And you are raving. You see a crime where there is only an accident. I was informed only the day before yesterday and I have done the necessary, to take vengeance and to give honour. But if I was able to honour the corpse, I was not able to get hold of the murderer. Certainly a highwayman, who had come down from the Adummim mountains to sell at the markets what he had stolen... Who will ever be able to catch him? »
« I don't believe it... Go away! Let me go!... You are... worse than jackals... Away with you! » and he picks up his mantle that had fallen on the floor and he moves to go out.
But Hananiah gets hold of him with his rapacious hand, saying: « And the woman? Where is the woman? What did she say? What did she do? Do you know? »
« I know nothing... Let me go... »
« You are lying! You are a liar! » shouts Hananiah.
« I do not know. I swear it. She came. That is certain. But no one saw her. I did not, because I had to leave at once with the Rabbi. My companions did not see her either. I questioned them carefully... I saw the broken jewels that Eliza brought into the kitchen... and I know nothing else. I swear it by the Altar and the Tabernacle! »
« And who can believe you? You are a coward. As you betray your Master, you can betray us as well. But be careful! »
« I am not betraying. I swear it by the Temple of God! »
« You are a perjurer. You look it. You are serving Him, not us... »
« No. I swear it by the Name of God. »
« Say it, if you dare confirm your oath! »
« I swear it by Jehovah! » and he turns pale in pronouncing the Name of God thus. He trembles, stammers, he does not succeed in saying it as it is usually pronounced. It sounds as if he says a J, and H and a V, all drawled and with an aspiration at the end. Something like: Jeocveh. In short, his way of pronouncing it is very strange.
An almost frightening silence is reigning in the room. They have even moved away from Judas... Then Doras and another one say: « Repeat the same oath to confirm that you will serve us only... »
« No! May you be cursed! I will not! I swear that I have not betrayed you and that I will not denounce you to the Master. And that is already a sin. But I am not going to have my future bound up with you, because tomorrow, on the strength of my oath you could compel me to do anything, even to commit a crime. No! Denounce me as a impious person to the Sanhedrin, denounce me as a killer to the Romans. I will not defend myself. I will let them kill me... And it will be a good thing for me. But I am not going to swear any more... » and with violent efforts he frees himself from those holding him, and he runs away shouting: « But you had better know that Rome is watching you, that Rome loves the Master... » A mighty bang of the door resounding all over the house is the clear sign that Judas has left that den of wolves.
They look at one another... Rage, and perhaps fear, makes them deadly pale... And as they cannot give vent to their anger and fear on anybody, they quarrel among themselves. They try to lay on each other the responsibility for the steps taken and of the consequences they may have to suffer. Some reproach for one thing, some for another, some with regard to the past, some to the future. Some shout: « It was you who wanted to seduce Judas »; some say: « It was a mistake to ill-treat him. You have given yourselves away! »; some suggest: « Let us run after him with money, with excuses... »
« Oh! no » screams Helkai who is the most reproached. « Leave it to me and you will have to say that I am wise. Judas, when he has no more money, will become meek. Oh! as meek as a lamb! » and he laughs venomously. « He will not give in today, tomorrow, perhaps for a month... But then... He is too depraved to be able to live in the poverty offered to him by the Rabbi... and he will come to us... Ha! Ha! Let me see to it! I know... »
« Yes. But in the meantime... Did you hear what he said? The Romans are spying upon us! The Romans love Him! And it is true. Also this morning and yesterday, and the day before yesterday there were some waiting for Him in the Court of the Gentiles. The women of the Antonia are always there... They come from as far as Caesarea to hear Him... »
« Whims of females! I would not worry about that. The man is handsome. He is a good speaker. They are mad for loquacious demagogues and philosophers. As far as they are concerned the Galilean is one of them, nothing else. And it helps them to divert their minds in their idle time. It takes patience to succeed! Patience and cunning. And courage, too. But you have none. And you want to do things, but you do not want to show yourselves. I told you what I would do. But you do not want it... »
« I am afraid of the crowds. They are too fond of Him. Love here. Love there. Who would touch Him? If we drive Him out, we will be driven out ourselves... We must... » says Caiaphas.
« We must not miss any more opportunities. How many have we lost! At the first one we get, we must put pressure on those who are hesitant among us, and then take action also with the Romans. »
« Easily said! But when and where have we had the opportunity to act? He does not sin, He does not aim at power, He does not... »
« If there isn't one, we must create it And now let us go. Meanwhile we will keep an eye on Him The Temple is ours. Rome rules outside. Outside there are the crowds defending Him. But inside the Temple... »