29th March 1947.
Judas arrives at Caiaphas' country house at night. But the moon acts as an accomplice of the murderer, illuminating the road for him. He must be certain that he will find there, in that house outside the walls, those he is looking for, otherwise I think he would have tried to enter the town and he would have gone to the Temple. Instead, he is climbing among the olive-trees of the little hill – without a moment's hesitation. This time he is more certain than the previous time, because it is night-time, and the darkness and the late hour protect from every possible surprise. The country roads are now deserted, after being busy all day with the crowds of pilgrims going to Jerusalem for Passover. Even poor lepers are now in their caves and are sleeping the sleep of unhappy people, forgetting their fate for a few hours.
Judas is now at the door of the house, which is all white in the moonlight. He knocks: three times, once, three times again, twice… Even the conventional signal is familiar to him! And it must be a sure signal, because the door is half-opened without any check by the door-keeper through the peep-hole in the door
Judas steals in and asks the servant porter: « Have the members assembled? »
« Yes, Judas of Kerioth, they have. A full assembly, I might say. »
« Take me there. I have to speak of an important matter. Quick! »
The man locks the door with all the bolts, and precedes him along a semi-dark vestibule, stopping in front of a heavy door, at which he knocks. The murmur of the voices in the closed room stops, and is replaced by the noise of the lock and the squeaking of the door, which is opened, and a cone of bright light is projected on the dark corridor.
« It's you? Come in! » says the person who opened the door and who is unknown to me. And Judas goes into the hall, while the man who opened the door locks it again.
There are signs of surprise or at least of excitement, when they see Judas enter the room. But they greet him all together: « Peace to you, Judas of Simon. »
« Peace to you, members of the holy Sanhedrin » greets Judas.
« Come forward. What do you want? » they ask him.
« I want to speak to you… of the Christ. It is not possible to go on like this. I can no longer be of any assistance to you, unless you make up your minds to take drastic measures. The man is suspicious by now. »
« Have you given yourself away, you fool? » they exclaim interrupting him.
« No. But you are the fools, as you have made the wrong move by hurrying things in a stupid way. You knew very well that I would serve you! But you did not trust me. »
« You have a weak memory, Judas of Simon! Don't you remember how you parted from us the last time? Who could think that you were loyal to us, when you proclaimed in that way that you could not betray Him? » says Helkai ironically, and he sounds more venomous than ever.
« And do you think that it is easy to get to deceive a friend, the Only One Who really loves me, the Innocent? Do you think it is easy to go so far as to commit a crime? » Judas is excited.
They try to calm him down. They coax him. And they allure him, or at least they try to do so, pointing out that he will not commit a crime « but a holy deed for his Fatherland, whom he will spare reprisals from the rulers, who are already giving signs of intolerance because of the continual public commotions and divisions of parties and crowds in a Roman province; and for Mankind, if He is really convinced of the divine nature of the Messiah and of His spiritual mission. »
Another says: « If what He says is true – far be it from us to believe it – are you not the collaborator of Redemption? Your name will be associated to His forever, and your Fatherland will number you with her valiant men, and will honour you with the highest dignities. A seat among us is ready for you. You will rise, Judas. You will lay down laws for Israel. Oh! We shall not forget what you have done for the welfare of the holy Temple, of the holy Priesthood; for the protection of the most holy Law; and for the welfare of the whole Nation!
All you have to do is to help us, then we swear to you, I swear to you in the name of my powerful father and of Caiaphas, who is now wearing the ephod, you will be the greatest man in Israel. Greater than the tetrarchs, greater than my father, now a High Priest put out of office. Like a king, like a prophet, you will be served and listened to. And if Jesus of Nazareth should be but a false Messiah, even if He really should not be liable to death because His deeds are not those of a robber, but of a madman, we remind you of the inspired words of the pontiff Caiaphas – you know that he wears the ephod and the rational speaks through divine suggestion and prophesies what is good and what is to be done – Caiaphas, do you remember? Caiaphas said: “It is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole Nation to be destroyed.” It was a prophetic word. »
« It was really a prophecy. The Most High spoke through the lips of the High Priest. Let him be obeyed! » say all together those dirty puppets, the members of the great council of the Sanhedrin, who already sound theatrical, and look like automata who are to make certain gestures.
Judas is influenced, and allured… But there is still a little common sense, if not goodness, in him, and this restrains him from uttering the fatal words.
Surrounding him with respect and feigned affection, they urge him, saying: « Don't you believe us? Look: we are the heads of the twenty-four priestly families, the Elders of the people, the scribes, the greatest Pharisees in Israel, the wise rabbis, the magistrates of the Temple. The cream of Israel is here, around you, ready to acclaim you, and by one consent we say to you: “Do it, because it is a holy deed.” »
Judas replies: « And where is Gamaliel? And Joseph and Nicodemus, where are they? And where is Eleazar, Joseph's friend, and where is John of Gaash? I don't see them. »
« Gamaliel has secluded himself to do severe penance. John is with his pregnant wife who is poorly this evening. Eleazar… we do not know why he has not come. But anybody can be seized by a sudden illness, don't you think? With regard to Joseph and Nicodemus, we have not informed them of this secret meeting for your sake, and for the sake of your honour… so that, if our plan should unluckily fail, your name would not be reported to the Master… We are protecting your name. We love you, Judas, the new Maccabee, saviour of our Fatherland. »
« The Maccabee fought a good battle. I… am betraying. » says Judas.
« Do not consider the details of the action, but the justice of the purpose. Will you please speak, Sadoc, the golden scribe. Precious words flow from your lips. If Gamaliel is learned, you are wise, because the wisdom of God is on your lips. Speak to this man who still hesitates. »
That crook Sadoc comes forward followed by a decrepit Hananiah, an emaciated dying fox, beside a shrewd strong cruel jackal.
« Listen, o man of God! » begins Sadoc pompously, assuming an inspired oratorial attitude, his right arm stretched forward in Ciceronian style, his left one engaged in holding up the heap of folds forming his scribe garment. He then raises also his left arm, allowing his monumental garment to spread out untidily, and thus, with his face and arms raised towards the ceiling of the room, he says in a thundering voice: « I say unto you! I say unto you in the Most High Presence of God! »
« Maran Atha! » they all exclaim, stooping, as if a supreme inspiration bent them, then rising with their arms crossed on their chests.
« I say unto you. It is written in the pages of our history and of our fate! It is written in the signs and figures left by ages! It is written in the rite celebrated uninterruptedly since the night fatal to the Egyptians! It is written in the figure of Isaac! It is written in the figure of Abel! And let what is written come true. »
« Maran Atha! » say the others in a low mournful striking chorus, repeating the previous gestures, their faces oddly illuminated by the light of two chandeliers of pale-violet mica, shedding a phatasmagoric light at the ends of the hall. The assembly of men, almost all dressed in white, with the pale or olive complexions of their race, made even more pale and olive by the diffused light, really looks like a gathering of ghosts.
« The word of God has descended upon the lips of the prophets to approve this decree. He must die! It is stated! »
« It is stated! Maran Atha! »
« He must die, His destiny is marked! »
« He must die. Maran Atha! »
« His fatal destiny is described to the last detail, and fatality cannot be infringed! »
« Maran Atha! »
« Even the symbolic price to be paid to him who becomes the instrument of God for the fulfillment of the promise is indicated! »
« It is indicated! Maran Atha! »
« As Redeemer, or as false prophet, He must die! »
« He must die! Maran Atha! »
« The hour has come! Jehovah wants it! I can hear His voice! It is shouting: “Let it be accomplished!” »
« The Most High has spoken! Let it be accomplished! Let it be accomplished! Maran Atha! »
« Let Heaven fortify you as it fortified Jael and Judith, who were women and behaved like heroes; as it fortified Jephthah, who, a father, sacrificed his daughter to his Fatherland; as it fortified David against Goliath, and do the deed that will make peoples remember Israel forever! »
« May Heaven fortify you. Maran Atha! »
« Be the winner! »
« Be the winner! Maran Atha! »
The clucking senile voice of Hananiah is heard:« He who hesitates over a sacred order is condemned to dishonour and death! »
« Is condemned. Maran Atha! »
« If you do not listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and you do not carry out His order and what He orders you through our words, may all maledictions fall upon you! »
« All the maledictions! Maran Atha! »
« May the Lord strike you with all the Mosaic curses and may He scatter you among the nations. »
« May He strike and scatter you! Maran Atha! »
Dead silence follows this impressive scene… Everything becomes motionless in frightening stillness.
At last Judas' voice is heard, and it is so changed, that I recognise it with difficulty: « Yes. I will do it. I must do it. And I will do it. The last part of the Mosaic curses is already my share, and I must get rid of it because I have already delayed too long. I am becoming mad, because I have no peace or respite. My heart is frightened, I look bewildered, and my soul is consumed by sadness. I tremble at the idea of being found out and crushed by Him for my double-crossing – because I do not know how much He is aware of my thoughts – I see my life hanging by a thread, and morning and evening I implore to get over with this hour because of the terror that frightens my heart. Because of the horrible task I must perform. Oh! bring this hour forward! Release me from my anguish! Let everything be done. At once! Now! That I may be freed! Let us go! »
Judas' voice has become firmer and stronger as he speaks. His gestures, previously automatic and insecure, like those of a sleepwalker, have become free and voluntary. He stands up in all his height, diabolically handsome, and shouts: « Let the ties of a foolish error fall! I am free from fearful subjection, Christ! I am no longer afraid of You and I am handing You to Your enemies! Let us go! » A cry of a victorious demon, and he boldly goes towards the door.
But they stop him: « Wait! Tell us: where is Jesus of Nazareth? »
« In Lazarus' house. At Bethany. »
« We cannot enter that house, as it is well provided with faithful servants. It's the house of a favourite of Rome. We should certainly come up against much trouble. »
« Well, we are coming to town at dawn. Place guards on the Bethphage road, stir up a turmoil and capture Him. »
« How do you know that He will come along that road? He may take the other one… »
« No. He told His followers that He will go into town that way, by the Ephraim gate, and to wait for Him near En Rogel. If you capture Him before… »
« We cannot. We would have to go into town with Him among the guards, and all the roads leading to the gates, and all the streets in town are crowded with people from dawn till night. There would be a riot. And that must not happen. »
« He will go up to the Temple. Ask Him to come into one of the halls to question Him. Tell Him to come in the name of the High Priest. He will come, because He has more respect for you than for His own life. Once He is alone with you... you will have the opportunity to take Him to a safe place and to condemn Him at the right moment. »
« There would be a riot just the same. You must have noticed that the crowds are completely won over by Him. And not only the crowds, but also the great ones and the hopes of Israel. Gamaliel is losing his disciples, and so is Jonathan ben Uziel and others among us, and they are all leaving us, seduced by Him. Even the Gentiles venerate Him, or they fear Him, which is also veneration, and they are ready to rebel against us if we ill-treat Him. Among other things, some of the brigands we had hired to act as false disciples and stir up brawls, have been arrested and they have spoken hoping for mercifulness in return for their information, and the Praetor knows... The whole world follows Him, whilst we are concluding nothing. But it is necessary to act subtly, so that the crowds may not become aware of anything. »
« Yes. That is how it must be done. Even Annas recommends that. He says: “It must not happen during the festivities, and there must be no disturbance among the fanatic people.” That is what he ordered, and he gave orders that He should be treated with respect in the Temple and elsewhere, and that He should not be disturbed, in order to deceive Him. »
« So, what do you want to do? I was quite willing tonight, but you are hesitating… » says Judas.
« Well, you should take us to Him when He is all alone. You are aware of His habits. You wrote to us that He wants you to be closer to Him than anybody else. So you must know what He wants to do. We shall always be ready. When you think that it is the right place and the right moment, come, and we will follow you. »
« Agreed. And what retribution shall I receive? » Judas is now speaking coldly, as if he were dealing with common business.
« What is mentioned by the prophets, so that we may be faithful to the inspired word: thirty silver pieces… »
« Thirty silver pieces to kill a man, and that Man? The price of a common lamb during these festivities?! You are mad! It is not that I need money. I have plenty. So do not think that you can convince me for greed of money. It is too little to compensate, for my grief in betraying Him Who has always loved me. »
« But we have told you what we will do for you. Glory, honours! What you were hoping to have from Him, and you did not get. We will cure your disappointment. But the price has been fixed by the prophets! Oh! it is a formality! A symbol and nothing else. The rest will follow later… »
« And the money when? »
« The moment you say to us: “Come”. Not before. No one pays before taking possession of the goods. Don't you think that is fair? »
« It is fair. But at least treble the amount… »
« No. That is what the prophets said. And that is what has to be done. Oh! we will obey the prophets! We will not omit an iota of what they wrote of Him. Ha! Ha! Ha! We are loyal to the inspired word! Ha! Ha! Ha! » laughs the revolting skeleton of Hananiah. And many join him with mournful, vulgar, false laughter, a true cachination of demons who can but sneer. Because laughter is typical of serene loving spirits, and sneer is peculiar to upset hearts sated with wrath.
« Everything has been said. You may go. We will await dawn to go back to town by different roads. Goodbye. Peace be with you, lost sheep, who are returning to Abraham's flock. Peace to you! Peace to you! And the gratitude of the whole of Israel! Rely on us! A desire of yours is a law to us. May God be with you, as He was with all His more faithful servants! All the blessings on you! »
They take him to the door with embraces and protestations of love… they watch him go away along the half-dark corridor… they listen to the noise of the locks of the door that is opened and closed…
They go back to the hall exulting.
Only two or three voices can be heard, those of the less demoniac ones: « And now? How shall we behave with Judas of Simon? We know very well that we cannot give him what we promised, except those miserable thirty silver pieces!... What will he say when he realises that he has been betrayed by us? Shall we not have caused greater damage? Will he not go around telling the people what we have done? We know that he is a man who changes his mind. »
« You are quite simply foolish having such thoughts and worrying thus! It has already been decided what we will do to Judas. It was decided the last time. Don't you remember? And we will not change our minds. After everything is finished with the Christ, Judas shall die. That is settled. »
« But if he should speak before? »
« To whom? To the disciples and to the people, to be stoned? He will not speak. The horror of his deed will gag him… »
« But he may repent in future, he may feel remorse, he may even become mad… Because his remorse, if it should awaken, could only drive him mad… »
« He will not have time. We will see to that before. Everything at the right moment. The Nazarene first, then the man who betrayed Him » says Helkai slowly, in a dreadful tone.
« Yes. And mind! Not a word to those who are absent. They already know too much of our thoughts. I don't trust Joseph and Nicodemus. And I don't rely much on the others. »
« Do you doubt Gamaliel? »
« He has stood aloof from us for many months. He will not take part in our meetings without a personal order from the pontiff. He says that he is writing his work with the assistance of his son. But I am speaking of Eleazar and John. »
« Oh! They have never contradicted us » says at once a member of the Sanhedrin, whom I have seen sometimes with Joseph of Arimathea, but whose name I do not remember.
« Nay! They have not contradicted us enough. Ha! Ha! Ha! And we shall have to watch them! Many snakes have built their nests in the Sanhedrin, I think... Ha! Ha! Ha! But they will be dislodged... Ha! Ha! Ha! » says Hananiah, as he goes, shaking and trembling, leaning on his stick, looking for a comfortable place on one of the low wide seats covered with thick carpets, placed against the walls of the hall, and he lied down happily, and soon falls asleep, with his mouth open, looking ugly in his wicked old age.
They watch him, And Doras, the son of Doras, says: « He has the satisfaction of seeing this day. My father dreamt of it but did not have it. I will carry his spirit in my heart, so that he may be present on the day of the revenge upon the Nazarene, and he may rejoice... »
« Remember that we must be constantly in the Temple, in turns, and many of us in each turn. »
« We will do that. »
« We will have to give instructions to take Judas of Simon to the High Priest at any time. »
« We will arrange that. »
« And now let us prepare our hearts for the final task. »
« They are already prepared! They are ready! »
« Cunningly. »
« Cunningly. »
« Subtly. »
« Subtly. »
« To avoid all suspicion. »
« To allure every heart. »
« Whatever He may say or do, we shall not react. We will revenge ourselves for everything at one go. »
« We will do that. And it will be cruel vengeance. »
« A thorough one! »
« And dreadful! »
And they sit down trying to rest while waiting for dawn.