27th December 1946.
If the news of the death of Lazarus had shaken and agitated Jerusalem and a large part of Judaea, the news of his resurrection ended by shaking and penetrating also where the news of the death had not caused any excitement.
Perhaps the few Pharisees and scribes, that is the members of the Sanhedrin present at the resurrection, did not mention it to the people. But the Judaeans certainly have spoken about it, and the news has spread in a flash, and the voices of women repeat it from house to house, from terrace to terrace, while the common people propagate it in the streets with great jubilation for Jesus' triumph and for Lazarus. People fill the streets running here and there, thinking they are the first to give the news, but they are disappointed because it is already known in Ophel as well as in Bezetha, in Zion as at the Sixtus market. It is known in synagogues, in warehouses, in the Temple and in Herod's palace. It is known at the Antonia and from there, or vice versa, it spreads to the guard-rooms at the gates. It fills mansions and hovels: « The Rabbi of Nazareth has raised from the dead Lazarus of Bethany, who died the day before Friday and was buried before the beginning of the Sabbath and he rose again today at the sixth hour. » The Jewish acclamations to the Christ and to the Most High mingle with the various « By Jove! By Pollux! By Libitina! » etc. of the Romans.
The only ones I do not see among the crowds talking in the streets are the members of the Sanhedrin. I do not see even one of them, whereas I see Chuza and Manaen come out from a stately mansion and I hear Chuza say: « Wonderful! Wonderful! I sent word to Johanna at once. He is really God! »; and Manaen replies to him: « Herod, who came from Jericho to pay his respects to... the chief, Pontius Pilate, seems to have gone mad in his palace, while Herodias is frantic and she presses him to have the Christ arrested. She trembles dreading His power; he is torn with remorse. With chattering teeth he tells his devoted followers to defend him from... ghosts. He got drunk to muster up courage and the wine eddying in his head makes him see phantasms. He shouts saying that the Christ has raised also John who is now yelling God's maledictions close to him. I ran away from that Gehenna. I was content with saying to him: “Lazarus has been raised from the dead by Jesus the Nazarene. Mind you do not touch Him, because He is God”. I stimulate his fear so that he may not yield to her murderous intents. »
« On the contrary, I shall have to go there... I must go. But I wanted to call on Eliel and Elkanah first. They live in seclusion, but their opinions are always highly thought of in Israel! And Johanna is pleased that I honour them. And I... »
« A good protection for you. That is true. But not so good as the Master's love. That is the only protection that matters... »
Chuza does not reply. He is pensive... I lose sight of them.
Joseph of Arimathea comes forward hurriedly from Bezetha. He is stopped by a group of citizens who are still uncertain whether they should believe the news. They ask him.
« It's true. Very true. Lazarus has risen and he has also been cured. I saw him with my own eyes. »
« So... He is really the Messiah! »
« His deeds are such. His life is perfect. This is the right time. Satan fights Him. Let each man conclude in his own heart who is the Nazarene » says Joseph wisely and fairly at the same time. He greets them and goes away.
They continue to discuss and end up by saying: « He is really the Messiah. »
There is a group of legionaries and one of them says: « I will go to Bethany tomorrow if I can. By Venus and Mars, the gods I prefer! I may travel all over the world, from the hot deserts to the icy German lands, but never again shall I find a man who comes to life again after being dead for days. I want to see what a man, who comes back from death, is like. He will be black with the water of the rivers of the beyond... »
« If he was a virtuous man, he will be bluish after drinking the sky-blue water of the Elysian Fields. There is not only the Styx there... »
« He will tell us what the meadows of asphodels in Hades are like... I will come as well... »
« If Pontius will allow us... »
« Of course he will! He sent a messenger to Claudia at once telling her to come. Claudia loves these things. I have heard her more than once converse, with the other women and her Greek freedmen, about souls and immortality. »
« Claudia believes in the Nazarene. According to her He is greater than any other man. »
« Yes, but according to Valeria He is more than a man. He is God. A kind of Jupiter and Apollo with regard to power and handsomeness, they say, and wiser than Minerva. Have you seen Him? I came here with Pontius and it is the first time that I have been here, so I do not know... »
« I think that you have arrived in time to see many things. Not long ago Pontius was shouting as loud as Stentor saying: « Everything is to be changed here. They must understand that Rome is the ruler and that they, all of them, are servants. And the greater they are, the more servile they are, because they are more dangerous.” I think it was because of that tablet that Annas' servant took to him... »
« Of course. He will not listen to them... And he keeps shifting us... because he does not want us to be friendly with them. »
« Friendly with them? Ah! Ah! With those big-nosed types stinking like billy-goats? Pontius suffers from indigestion because he eats too much pork. If anything... we are friendly with some of the women who do not disdain the kisses of clean-shaven lips... » says a mischievous one laughing.
« It is a fact that after the unruliness at the feast of the Tabernacles he insisted in having all the troops changed with the result that we have to go away... »
« That is true. The arrival of the galley bringing Longinus and his century was already notified at Caesarea. New officers and new troops... and all because of those crocodiles of the Temple. I liked this place. »
« I preferred Brindisi... But I shall get accustomed to this place » says the one who arrived in Palestine recently.
They also move away.
Some guards of the Temple pass by with wax-tablets. People watch them and say: « The Sanhedrin is meeting with urgency. What are they going to do? »
A man replies: « Let us go up to the Temple And see... » They set out towards the street leading to the Moriah.
The sun disappears behind the houses in Zion and the western mountains. Night falls and the streets are soon cleared of curious people. Those who went up to the Temple come down looking upset because they have been driven away from the gates, where they had lingered to see the members of the Sanhedrin pass by.
The inside of the Temple, now empty, desert, enveloped in moonlight, seems immense. The members of the Sanhedrin slowly gather in their meeting hall. They are all there, exactly as they were for Jesus' death sentence, but those who were then acting as clerks are not present (1). Only the members of the Sanhedrin are there, some sitting in their places, some in groups near the doors.
(1) The present chapter was written after the one describing Jesus being sentenced to death and which is part of volume 5.
Caiaphas comes in with his face and body resembling those of an excessively fat and wicked frog, and he goes to his seat.
They begin to discuss the events at once and they become so impassioned of the matter that the session is soon animated. They leave their seats, they go down into the empty space gesticulating and speaking in loud voices.
Some counsel calm and circumspection before taking a decision. Others answer back: « But have you not heard those who came here after the ninth hour? If we lose the most important Judaeans, what is the use of accumulating charges? The longer He lives, the less we shall be believed if we accuse Him. »
« And this fact cannot be denied. We cannot say to the many people who were there: “What you have seen is not true. It is a make-believe. You were drunk”. The man was dead. Putrid. Decomposed. The corpse was placed in a closed sepulchre and the sepulchre was properly walled up. The corpse had been enveloped in bandages and covered with balms for several days. And it was tied. And yet it came out of its place, it came as far as the entrance by itself without walking. And when it was freed, the body was no longer dead. It breathed. There was no putrefaction. Whereas before, when it was alive, it was covered in sores, and when it died it was rotten. »
« Have you heard the most influential Judaeans, whom we urged to go there to have them completely on our side? They came and said to us: “As far as we are concerned He is the Messiah.” Almost every one of them has come! Not to mention the people!... »
« And those cursed Romans full of nonsense! What about them? They say that He is Jupiter Maximus. And if they get that idea into their heads! They made us acquainted with their stories, and it was a curse. Cursed be those who wanted Hellenism among us and out of flattery desecrated us with foreign usages! But it helps us to know people. And we know that the Romans are quick in demolishing and elevating by means of plots and coups d'etat. Now if anyone of these mad people goes into raptures over the Nazarene and proclaims Him Caesar, and therefore, divine, who will ever dare touch Him? »
« Certainly not! Who do you think would dream of doing that? They do not give a fig for Him or for us. No matter how great is what He does, He is always “a Jew” as far as they are concerned. So nothing but a miserable wretch. Fear has turned your brain, dear son of Annas! »
« Fear? Did you hear how Pontius replied to my father's invitation? He is upset, I tell you. He is upset by this last event, and he is afraid of the Nazarene. How wretched we are! That man has come to ruin us! »
« I wish we had not gone there and we had not almost ordered the most mighty Judaeans to go as well! If Lazarus had risen without witnesses... »
« So? What would have changed? We certainly could not have made him disappear for good to make people believe that he was always dead! »
« Certainly not. But we could have said that it was apparent death. You can always find witnesses bribed to commit perjury. »
« But why so much excitement? I can see no reason for it! Has He perhaps provoked the Sanhedrin and the Pontificate? No, He has not. He just worked a miracle. »
« Just?! But are you mad or has He bribed you, Eleazar? Did He not provoke the Sanhedrin and the Pontificate? What else do you want? The people... »
« People can say what they like, but the situation is exactly as Eleazar said. The Nazarene has only worked a miracle. »
« That's another one defending Him! You are no longer fair, Nicodemus! You are no longer just! That is an action against us. Against us, do you realise it? Nothing will convince the crowds any longer. Ah! How miserable we are! Today some Judaeans scoffed at me! At me they scoffed! »
« Be quiet, Doras! You are only a man. It's the principle that is attacked! Our laws! Our prerogatives! »
« You are right, Simon, and we must defend them. »
« How? »
« By offending and destroying His! »
« That is easily said, Sadoc. But how can you destroy them if with your own power you cannot even make a midge come to life again? What is required here is a miracle greater than His. But none of us can work it because... » The speaker cannot explain why.
Joseph of Arimathea completes the sentence: « Because we are just men, only men. »
They rush upon him asking: « And what is He, then? »
Joseph of Arimathea replies without hesitation: « He is God. If I still had had any doubt... »
« But you had no doubt. We know, Joseph. We are well aware. You may state clearly that you love Him! »
« There is nothing wrong if Joseph loves Him. I also admit that He is the greatest Rabbi in Israel. »
« Are you, Gamaliel, saying that? »
« Yes, I maintain that. And it is an honour to me to be... dethroned by Him, because so far I had kept the tradition of the great rabbis, the last one of whom was Hillel, but after me I do not know who was able to receive the wisdom of centuries. Now I shall go away happily, because I know that it will not be lost, on the contrary it will grow greater, as it will be increased by His own wisdom, in which the Spirit of God is certainly present. »
« But what are you saying, Gamaliel? »
« I am speaking the truth. It is not by closing our eyes that we can ignore what we are. We are no longer wise, because the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and we are sinners without the fear of God. If we had such fear we would not trample on the just, neither would we be foolishly greedy for the wealth of the world. God gives and God takes away, according to merits and demerits. And if God deprives us of what He had given us, in order to give it to other people, may He be blessed because holy is the Lord and holy are all His deeds. »
« But we were talking of miracles and we meant that none of us can work them because Satan is not with us. »
« No. Because God is not with us. Moses parted the waters and he struck the rock, Joshua stopped the sun, Elijah raised the boy from death and made the sky give rain, but God was with them. I remind you that there are six things that God hates and the seventh He abhors: a haughty look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that weaves wicked plots, feet that hurry to do evil, a false witness who lies and he who sows dissension among brothers. We do all these things. I say: we. But you only do them. Because I refrain from shouting “Hosanna” and from crying “Anathema”.
I am waiting. »
« For the sign! Of course! You are waiting for the sign! But what sign can you expect from a poor madman, even if we want to forgive Him all the rest? »
Gamaliel stretches his hands and arms forward, and with closed eyes and lightly lowered head, looking most grave, he says in a slow distant voice: « I have anxiously asked the Lord to show me the truth, and He enlightened for me the words of Jesus the son of Sirach. These ones: “The Creator of all things spoke to me and gave me His instructions, and He Who created me rested in my Tabernacle and said to me: 'Dwell in Jacob, make Israel your inheritance, take root among My chosen people' “. And He enlightened also the following words and I have acknowledged them: “Approach Me, you who desire Me, and take your fill of My fruits because My spirit is sweeter than honey and My inheritance is sweeter than the honey-comb. The memories of Me will last forever. They who eat Me will hunger for more, they who drink Me will thirst for more; whoever listens to Me will never have to blush, whoever works for Me will never sin, whoever explains Me will have eternal life.” And the light of God became brighter in my spirit while my eyes were reading these words: “All these things are contained in the book of Life, the will of the Most High, the doctrine of Truth... God promised David that from him would descend the most powerful King Who is to sit on the throne of glory forever. His wisdom brims like the Pishon and the Tigris in the season of fruit, like the Euphrates He brims with intelligence, He rises like the Jordan at harvest time. He diffuses wisdom like light... He was the first to become perfectly aware of it.” That is what God had enlightened for me! Alas! I say that the Wisdom among us is too great to be understood by us, neither can we contain a thought vaster than oceans nor an advice deeper than the great abyss. And we hear Him shout: “Like an immense watercourse I gushed out of Paradise and I said: 'I am going to water My garden', and then my watercourse became a river, and the river a sea. Like dawn I shed My doctrine on everybody, and I shall make it known to the remotest peoples. I shall descend into the lowest parts, I shall cast glances on those who are sleeping, I shall enlighten those who hope in the Lord. I shall pour out teaching like prophecy and I shall leave it to those who seek wisdom, I shall not stop announcing it until the holy century. I have not toiled for Myself alone, but for all who are seeking the truth.” This is what God, the Most High God, made me read » and he lowers his arms and raises his head.
« So, according to you He is the Messiah?! Tell us! »
« He is not the Messiah. »
« He is not? Then what is He according to you? Not a demon. Not an angel. Not the Messiah... »
« He is He Who is. »
« You are raving! Is He God? Is that madman God according to you? »
« He is He Who is. God knows what He is. We see His works. God sees also His thoughts. But He is not the Messiah because Messiah to us means King. He is not and never will be king. But He is holy. And His works are those of a holy man. And we cannot threaten the Innocent without committing sin. I will not assent to sin. »
« But with your words you have almost said that He is the Expected One! »
« I have said so. While the light of the Most High lasted I saw Him as such. Then... as the hand of the Lord no longer held me uplifted in His light, I became man again, the man of Israel, and the words were only those to which the man of Israel, I, you, those before us, and, God forbid it, those after us, attach the meaning of their, of our thoughts, not the meaning they have in the eternal Thought that dictated them to His servant. »
« We are talking, digressing, wasting time. And the crowds in the meantime are excited » says Hananiah in a croaking voice.
« You are right! It is necessary to take a decision and act, to save ourselves and to triumph. »
« You say that Pilate would not listen to us when we asked his help against the Nazarene. But if we informed him... You said previously that if the troops become excited they may proclaim Him Caesar... Eh! A good idea! Let us go and point this danger out to the Proconsul. We shall be honoured as faithful servants of Rome and... and if he takes action we shall get rid of the Rabbi. Let us go! Since you, o Eleazar of Annas, are more friendly with him than we are, be our guide » says Helkai laughing malingnantly.
There is some hesitancy, then a group of the most fanatics leaves to go to the Antonia. Caiaphas remains with the others.
« At this time! He will not receive them » remarks one.
« On the contrary! It's the best time. Pontius is always in high spirits after eating and drinking as a pagan does... »
I leave them there discussing, and I see the scene at the Antonia.
They cover the short distance quickly and without difficulty, so bright is the moonlight that is so different from the red light of the lamps lit in the entrance-hall of the praetorium building.
Eleazar is successful in sending in his name to Pilate, and they are led into a large empty hall. It is completely empty. There is only a heavy chair with low back covered with a purple cloth that stands out strongly against the complete whiteness of the hall. They remain in a group, somewhat timid and cold, standing on the white marble floor. No one comes in. There is dead silence, broken at intervals by remote music.
« Pilate is at table. He is certainly with friends. The music is played in the triclinium. There will be dances in honour of the guests says Eleazar of Annas. »
« They are corrupt. I will purify myself tomorrow. Lust oozes from these walls » says Helkai with disgust.
« Why did you come, then? It was your idea » replies Eleazar.
« For the honour of God and the welfare of our fatherland I can make any sacrifice. And this is a great one! I had purified myself after approaching Lazarus... and now!... A dreadful day, this one!... »
There is no sign of Pilate. Eleazar, being familiar with the place, tries the doors. They are all closed. The Judaeans in the hall are seized with fear. Frightening stories come to light again. They regret having come. They feel that they are already lost.
At long last, on the side opposite to them, who are near the door through which they came in and thus close to the only chair available in the hall, a door is opened and Pilate comes in, wearing a tunic as white as the hall. He comes in speaking to some guests. He is laughing. He turns round to instruct a slave, who is holding up the curtain beyond the door, to throw essences into a brazier and to bring scents and water for their hands and a slave to come with mirror and combs. He pays no attention to the Hebrews, as if they were not there. They get enraged but they dare not react...
Over there, in the meantime, they bring braziers, they spread resins on the fire and pour scented water on the hands of the Romans. And a slave, with skilful movements, tidies their hair according to the fashion of rich Romans of those days. And the Hebrews get enraged.
The Romans laugh and jest among themselves looking now and again at the group waiting at the other end, and one of them speaks to Pilate who has never turned round to look; but Pilate shrugs his shoulders making gesture of boredom and he claps his hands to call a slave whom he orders in a loud voice to bring sweets and to let in the dancers. The Hebrews tremble with rage and are scandalised. Just imagine Helkai compelled to watch girls dancing! His countenance is a poem of suffering and hatred.
The slaves come back with sweets in precious cups, and they are followed by the dancers wearing garlands of flowers and hardly covered with fabrics that are so light as to seem veils. Their very white bodies appear through their light garments dyed pink and blue, when they pass before the burning braziers and the many lights placed at the other end. The Romans admire the gracefulness of bodies and movements and Pilate asks them to repeat a dance that he particularly liked. Helkai, imitated by his companions, turns indignantly towards the wall not to see the dancers move as lightly as butterflies with their dresses fluttering indecorously.
When the short dance is over Pilate dismisses them putting in the hand of each a cup full of sweets and he throws a bracelet into each cup nonchalantly. And at last he condescends to turn round and look at the Hebrews saying to his friends in a weary voice: « And now... I must pass from dreams to reality... from poetry... to hypocrisy... from gracefulness to the filthy things of life. The miseries of being a Proconsul!... Hail, friends, and have pity on me. »
He is left alone and he slowly approaches the Hebrews. He sits down, he examines his well-cared for hands and he discovers something wrong under one nail. He attends to it anxiously taking from under his tunic a tiny thin golden stick with which he remedies the great damage of an imperfect nail...
He is then so kind as to turn his head round slowly. He sneers seeing the Hebrews still bowing servilely and he says: « You! Here! And be quick. I have no time to waste on trifles. »
The Hebrews approach Pilate in an attitude that is always servile until he shouts: « That's enough. Don't come too close » and his words seem to nail them to the floor. « Speak! And stand up straight because animals only stoop towards the ground » and he laughs.
The Hebrews straighten themselves at the sneering words and remain stiff.
« So? Speak! You insisted on coming. Speak, now that you are here. »
« We wanted to tell you... We are told... We are faithful servants of Rome... »
« Ah! Ah! Faithful servants of Rome! I will let divine Caesar know and he will be happy! He will certainly be happy! Speak up, you clowns! And be quick! »
The members of the Sanhedrin quiver with indignation, but they do not react. Helkai speaks on behalf of everybody: « We must inform you, o Pontius, that a man was raised from the dead today at Bethany. »
« I know. Is that why you have come? I was informed several hours ago. He is a lucky man as he already knows what it is to die and what the next world is like! What can I do if Lazarus of Theophilus has been raised from the dead? Has he perhaps brought me a message from Hades? » He is ironic.
« No. But His resurrection is a danger... »
« For him? Of course! The danger of having to die again. Not a very pleasant event. So? What can I do? Am I perhaps Jupiter? »
« A danger not for Lazarus. But for Caesar. »
« For?... Domine! Am I perhaps drunk? Did you say: for Caesar? And how can Lazarus be harmful to Caesar? Are you afraid that the stench of the sepulchre may infect the air that the Emperor breathes? Do not worry! He is too far away! »
« No, not that. The fact is that Lazarus by rising from the dead may have the Emperor dethroned. »
« Dethroned? Ah! Ah! That's a bigger fib than the whole world! So you are drunk, not I. Perhaps the fright has deranged your minds. To see a man rise... I think it may upset one. Go, go to bed. And have a good rest. And a warm bath. A very warm one. It is very good against deliriums. »
« We are not delirious, Pontius. We are telling you that unless you take a decision you will go through a sad time. You will certainly be punished, if not killed, by the usurper. The Nazarene will soon be proclaimed king, king of the world, do you understand? Your very legionaries will proclaim Him. They have been enticed by the Nazarene and today's event has elated them. What servant of Rome are you, if you do not take care of her peace? So, do you want to see the Empire upset and divided because of your inertness? Do you want to see Rome defeated, the ensigns pulled down, the Emperor killed, everything destroyed... »
« Be silent! I will now speak. And I say to you: you are mad! You are even worse. You are liars. You are criminals. You deserve death. Get out of here, you filthy servants of your own interests, of your hatred, of your meanness. You are servants, not I. I am a Roman citizen and Roman citizens are not subject to anybody. I am an imperial official and I work for the welfare of our fatherland. You... are our subjects. You... are under our rule. You... you are the galley-slaves tied to the benches and you fret in vain. The lash of the chief is over you. The Nazarene!... Would you like me to kill the Nazarene? Would you like me to put Him in prison? By Jove! If for the safety of Rome and of the divine Emperor I should imprison dangerous subjects or kill them here where I am the governor, I should leave free and alive the Nazarene and His followers, and them alone. Go away. Clear off and never come back here again. You riotous fellows, instigators, thieves and accomplices of thieves! I am well aware of all your manoeuvres. You had better know that. And bear in mind that new weapons and fresh legionaries have served to discover your snares and your instruments. You complain of Roman taxes. But how much have you paid for Melkiah of Gilead, and Jonah of Scythopolis, and Philip of Shochoh, and John of Beth-aven and Joseph of Ramoth, and for all the others who will soon be caught? And do not go towards the caves in the valley because there are more legionaries there than stones, and the law and galley are the same for everybody. For everybody! Do you understand? For everybody. And I hope to live long enough to see you all in chains, slaves among slaves under the heel of Rome. Get out! Go and report – you as well, Eleazar of Annas whom I do not wish to see any more in my house – that the time of clemency is over, and that I am the Proconsul and you the subjects. The subjects. And I give orders. In the name of Rome. Go out! You night snakes and vampires! And the Nazarene wants to redeem you? If He were God, He ought to strike you by lightning! Thus the most revolting stain would disappear from the world. Out! And dare not conspire, or you will become acquainted with sword and whip. »
He stands up and goes away slamming the door before the dismayed members of the Sanhedrin, who have no time to come to themselves because an armed squad comes in and drives them out of the hall and of the building as if they were dogs.
They go back to the hall in the Sanhedrin. They make their report. The excitement is great. The news of the arrest of many highwaymen and of raids into caves to catch more upsets very much all the members who have remained. Many, in fact, tired of waiting, have gone away.
« And yet we cannot let Him live » shout some of the priests.
« We cannot leave Him alone. He is active. We are doing nothing. And we are losing ground day by day. If we leave Him free, He will continue to work miracles and everybody will believe in Him. And the Romans will end up by opposing us and destroying us all together. Pontius says so. But if the crowds should proclaim Him king, oh! Pontius will have to punish all of us. We must not allow that » shouts Sadoc.
« All right. But how? The attempt... by Roman law has failed. Pontius is sure of the Nazarene. The attempt... through our law is impossible. He does not commit sin... » points out one of the members.
« If no sin exists, one can be invented » insinuates Caiaphas.
« It's a sin to do that! To swear what is false! To have an innocent condemned! It's... too much!... » say most of them in horror. « It's a crime, because it would be His death. »
« So? Does that frighten you? You are foolish and you understand nothing. After what happened Jesus must die. Do you not consider that it is better for us if one man dies instead of many? So let Him die to save His people so that all our country may not perish. In any case... He says that He is the Saviour. So let Him sacrifice Himself to save everybody » says Caiaphas with disgusting cold sly hatred.
« But... Caiaphas! Consider! He... »
« I have spoken. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, the High Priest. Woe to those who do not respect the Pontiff of Israel. The thunderbolts of the Lord upon them! We have waited enough! We have had enough flurry! I order and decree that whoever knows where the Nazarene is must come and inform us of the place, and anathema on those who will not obey my word. »
« But Annas... » say some objecting.
« Annas said to me: “Whatever you do will be holy”. Let us close the meeting. We shall all be here on Friday between the third and the sixth hour to decide what to do. All of us, I said. Inform those who are absent. And ensure that all the heads of families and classes, all the cream of Israel are summoned. The Sanhedrin has spoken. Go. »
And he is the first to withdraw to the place from which he came, whilst the others go in different directions and they leave the Temple speaking in low voices while going home.