A Passion Play

In Three Acts


George A. Blair

Copyright © 2007


George A. Blair


Longinus, a centurion, in charge of the garrison in Jerusalem. He is level-headed, decent, and fair; willing to believe in the gods if enough evidence presents itself.

Marcus, a Roman soldier of the plebeian (common) class. He is a very devout pagan, and a man of sound common sense.

Secundus, a Roman soldier of the patrician (noble) class. He is a very complex person, whose brother, mutilated by a Jew during a battle, has soured him on all Jews.

Joab, a Jewish recruit into the Roman army. He had been a follower of Jesus, but left him when Jesus seemed to be committing blasphemy by claiming to be God. He is "a true Israelite, without guile."

The following notice is to be placed in all programs
whenever this play is performed:

Please note: This play, in order to provide dramatic tension, includes many anti-Semitic remarks, particularly on the part of one of the characters. I wish to make it clear that Joab, the Jew, is the most noble of all the characters. The play is about faith, and he is the only one to keep his faith through the whole ordeal.


The stage is dark. The CHORUS, consisting of persons dressed in costumes representing all ages and all religious types, nuns, priests, lay people, rabbis, ministers, etc. are standing on both sides of the acting area. As they begin to speak, lights come up showing them.


We waited, in the darkness and the chill.
We waited, and it was night.
For us, it has been night forever:
a block of darkness--solid, frozen,
and we, encased inside it, waiting.
In the beginning, the earth was waste and void,
and in the middle, the earth is waste and void.
And in the end?
Well, we wait,
and darkness is upon the face of the deep.

Not long ago--
a week, two thousand years, not long,
we thought the light had come at last.
We praised it;
we waved palms before it--
and then we noticed that it rode upon a donkey.
That was his hour, the hour upon an ass,
and now that sun has set.
If that was light, we do not comprehend it;
light for us must be solemn, lofty,
conforming to the noble darkness in our souls.
Give us a darkened light, and we will grasp it.

But he taught us, nonetheless, and now we know.
We learned from him not to trust in stories;
legends visible mock the sword that issues from their mouths.
He taught us that a legend is no more than symbol,
Telling in pictures the power within ourselves.
And now we look no more to hope, but action,
and wait no longer but create the world
unto the image and likeness of mankind.
The myth has lost its grip and shown our strength.
Now is the hour of man, and the power of darkness.

The lights fade on the CHORUS


The lights come up on a room in the High Priest's palace. It is a bare room, for the military garrison, with hooks for military cloaks, and some armor lying about. There is one table in it.

LONGINUS is discovered in the room, shining his armor. MARCUS enters and salutes.

Long: Yes?

Mar: We took the main one, at least, master, and that was the one that you said you wanted.

Long: You what? Five of you and half of the high-priest's retinue, and you took no more than one?

Mar (Chagrined): Yes, Master.

Long (Looks at him sternly): Why?

Mar: Well . . .You did, Master, you remember, . . . you did give orders not to fight if it could be avoided. And you also said that the one that Galilean was to show us was the only really important one.

Long: I knew I should have put Secundus in command. How many were there with him?

Mar: I know not, exactly. Ten or a dozen.

Long: A dozen! Marcus, I realize that one cannot expect a great deal from the lower orders of society, but a soldier in command must have a minimum of common sense. You had enough men to surround them three times!

Mar: Yes, Master.

Long: Then why did you not?

Mar: Well, as you know, Master, I was not actually in command; I could only give orders to the Romans. That Malakai had the impression that he was in charge because they had asked for us, and you did tell him when we met here for him to lead me there.

Long: I meant for him to show you where to find him, not to take over command! What do the high priest's slaves know of police work?

Mar: I realize that, Master, but that was the way he understood it, and I thought it was not worthy of a fight.

Long: Very well, I see your point. But one would think that even he would have known enough to surround them.

Mar: Yes, but in actuality, Master, as it happened, it was in a walled garden, and we all had to go in at the gate. And then he told us all to stay together, lest we be attacked.

Long: Attacked! Great Pollux! . . . I knew I should never have agreed to this insane raid in the first place! But tell me, just for my enlightenment. You are all standing there, in front of the gate, armed for attack. And if you had to go in by the gate, they had to go out by it. What did you do? Give them safe-conduct through you?

Mar: No, Master . . .but . . . that is . . . what happened was that . . . that he told us to let them go, and we did.

Long: What! He was the one who told me he wanted that man and all the followers he could get! Marcus, I cannot excuse this. If you do not know enough to take over command when another loses his head--

Mar: But it was not he, Master.

Long: What was not he?

Mar: The one who told us to let them go. It was the other one.

Long: I do not understand. There was another one?

Mar: I mean the other one--the one we captured.

Long: The one you captured! You mean to tell me that the man you captured simply told you to let his followers go, and you let them go? Thus? (Gestures with his arm.)

Mar: Yes, Master. I know how it sounds, but--

Long: Oh, no, Marcus. You have no idea how it sounds!

Mar: But really, Master, had you been there--

Long: Had I been there, I, too, would have thought it seemed a good idea. Of a certainty. Spare me the explanation, Marcus. The reason I was not there was because I had more important things to do here, arranging to see that there will be no uproar we cannot deal with in this festival tomorrow. I assumed that I could send a subordinate on a simple mission without having it completely mishandled. It did not occur to any of you, did it, that if you let his followers go, they could get reinforcements and come back to free their chief? You are lucky you reached here alive!

Mar: But we knew that would not occur, Master. One or two of them began to fight, and for a moment it seemed as if there might be trouble, and we would not be able to take him alive. One of his men even cut off an ear of one of the high priest's slaves. But then he said he wanted no fighting, and--

Long: And so everyone put the swords away, of course. Naturally. He is certainly persuasive, is he not? But what did the slave do? Simply stand there and bleed politely to death?

Mar: No, Master.

Long: And what of the other slaves, what were they doing? Admiring this new fashion?

Mar: No, Master.

Long: Well, what did happen? You have me interested now--which doubtless was what you were trying to do.

Mar: No, Master. He picked up his ear and put it back on.

Long: (Laughs) He put back his own ear! Did he wipe the dust off first? And the blood? And it stuck? Really, Mar--

Mar: No, Master, not he; the man.

Long: The man? You mean the man you captured?

Mar: Yes, Master.

Long: I see. That would make everything fit and fine, would it not? So then he told you to let his followers go, and you let them go.

Mar: Yes, Master.

Long: It was polite of him not to tell you to let him go also. Or did he?

Mar: No, Master. He let us take him.

Long: Marcus, do you expect me to believe that a man who could put back an ear that had been cut off and force you by merely saying so to let his people alone would simply stand there and allow himself to be captured?

Mar: No, Master.

Long: Well that is fortunate. Because I do not, you realize. It is well for you that I am not he who wanted those people, or you would be rowing a galley tomorrow. What entered your head, Marcus? I thought you were one of my best men! It matters nothing whether it was important or not; when Rome becomes involved in such matters, it gives us a bad name.

Now leave while I decide what to do with you--no, wait. Send in Secundus. I wish to have some notion of what really happened out there. . . . And while you are about it, you had better try to repair some of the damage done. Put one or two of extra men at the gate, and notify reinforcements to be ready lest they try to storm the palace. I hope it is not too late already. Look out in the courtyard to see if you can see anyone who was there in the garden; they may have sent a spy here to see what happens before they try anything. But be careful about it; the last thing we want to do if we can help it is to stir everyone up. Do you understand?

Mar: Yes, Master. (Salutes and leaves. LONGINUS resumes polishing his armor.)


Sec: Well, Longinus, it has been an evening indeed! I was going to come in in any case to thank you for sending me, but poor Marcus says you wish to see me. I can imagine about what.

Long: Secundus, what in the name of high Olympus has been going on? I thought that Marcus was as level-headed a man as we had; up to now the only fault I could find with him was his lack of imagination!

Sec: I thought as much. You know, all the way back I was contemplating that little scene between the two of you. Evidently he was too honest to try to weasel out of it.

Long: It sounded like something out of a farce by Plautus!

Sec: Well, but be not hard on him, Longinus; he has had a trying night. I myself do not know what I would have done after we fell down on the ground in front of that man.

Long: You mean there is more?

Sec: Oh, did he not mention that? Well, I suppose he would not, if he could help it; it sits not well in the Roman breast to admit such things. I was quite impressed myself-quite impressed, indeed.

Long: When did this happen? And how?

Sec: At the very beginning. That little filth of a Jew--the spy, you know--decided he had to be dramatic and went up and kissed him as a signal who was the man. Of course, he saw through it immediately, and stepped forward and asked who we were seeking. Then that Malakai-in passing, Longinus, if you ever send anyone out with Jews again, make it very clear that we are the ones who give the orders. Had I been in Marcus's place, there would be three or four Jews without heads by this time--and at least two of them would have been on our side. He handled things very well considering it was their expedition, and he had not a centurion's rank to use on them.

Long: Yes, yes, yes; I have learned my lesson. So Malakai did what?

Sec: He became full of pomp and intoned, "We want Jesus of Nazareth." And then this Jesus said, "That is the one I am," and there was something about the way he said "I am" that--I know not--we all fell back two paces and prostrated ourselves. Just as if it were Caesar himself. When we rose, I saw Marcus clutch at his neck, and for a moment I thought something had happened to him; but he was only grasping that medallion he always wears. I have never been able to discover why he thinks he is safer with it in his hand than hanging about his neck--but then, if one has such things at all, one cannot expect a great deal in the way of rationality, I suppose.

Long: But what made you do it?

Sec: I have not the least idea. As I said, it was something about the way he talked. But we--at least I--did not feel any force or anything of the sort; I simply did it. I suppose it was the same for everyone else; we did not speak of it, as you may imagine. Of course, these Easterners have all sorts of mysterious powers, in spite of the fact that they cannot learn to live like human beings. And then there was the little incident of the ear. Did Marcus tell of that? He was truly impressed when that happened, I can assure you. I thought he was going to faint.

Long: Did that man really put someone's ear back on?

Sec: Well that depends, of course, on whether the ear was ever really cut off in the first place. It certainly looked as if it was; one could even see it lying on the ground--or so you thought. But it was one of his henchmen who did the hacking, and once one has been the subject of magic tricks, one becomes suspicious about such matters. I must say, though, that whatever it was, it was very neatly done; even the swordstroke was such a masterpiece of ineptitude that it must have taken a lot of practice. Of course, the problem was that after the worshiping trick, it was an anticlimax--to me, anyway, though it seems to have worked for poor Marcus. But by that time, I was prepared, and realized it must be an illusion, even though I have no idea how he did it. But that worship stunt--that was perfect. No buildup, no preparation, nothing; he just said in a perfectly natural tone, "That is the one I am," and down we went.

You know, it is a pity those Jews have got hold of him; they hate him. With a little coaching on timing and such details, he could be a sensation in Rome.

Long: Yes, but what about his telling you to let his followers go free? That is what chiefly worries me about the whole matter.

Sec: Ah, yes, that. Well, I am not proud of myself for that. There I was, convinced that I saw through what he was doing, when he says, "If I am the one you seek, then let these men go." And we did-without so much as a question or a by-your-leave. It did not occur to anyone what we had done until were were almost at the gate here. I tell you, it was a fascinating night.

--But I think you need have no worry about them. They were ready to fight, but as soon as the ear episode was over, and they saw that he actually intended to let himself be taken, you could see the blood drain from their faces, and the fear light up in their eyes. No, unless I miss my guess--and I shall not--they are too interested in their unwashed hides to risk them in the lair of the eagle--do eagles have lairs? Nest? No. Den? What do eagles have? Aeries! Aeries, of course. I must be losing my grip.

Long: Be still, and let me think....You say he intended to let himself be taken?

Sec: Oh, yes, quite clearly. For he could merely have said, "Let me pass," and I have not the slightest doubt we never would have seen him leave.

Believe me, it was an interesting experience, and I would not have missed it for a month's furlough; but that doesn't mean it did not have its uncanny moments. Seeing such things happen on a stage is one thing, but being in one is something else entirely. While it is happening, one actually wonders if this is some kind of a god one is dealing with; and if he wants you to do something, you will just do it.

No, he let himself be taken; but he did not want the others to be; and that is exactly how it turned out. So do not blame Marcus; you would not have done any better yourself. And considering that he believes in gods and things, Marcus handled himself in a way that would make any commander proud.

Long: Well, perhaps; I shall see. You are probably right. . . . Hm. . . . If what you say is true, it is easy to see why they want him; such men can be dangerous. But why do you suppose he let you capture him?

Sec: I know not, really. Perhaps he wants to confront the council, and this is his way of attending a meeting; they are all there to try him in extraordinary session. He may be planning to--I know not, to claim he is their god or some such thing--and then when they all become enraged, to vanish in a puff of smoke.

I hope that is what it is. It would be a delight to see their faces when it happens, given how they sneer down at us mere mortals.

Long: (tapping his fingers on the table, pondering.) Let us consider that. . . . Suppose he does that and escapes. With the crowds in Jerusalem now, we would not want him being captured with our help and then escaping. . . . And even if they set him free themselves, he probably ought to be kept out of circulation for a day or two until everyone goes home.

But how? . . .

Well, presuming that he is mortal man, then if he plays some trick to make himself invisible, I would suppose one would still be able to feel him. . . . But we cannot enter into the courtroom.

Sec: No, we pollute it, of all things!

Long: Hm . . . We could station someone outside the door--no, that would probably not succeed, because of the surprise when it suddenly opened, if one could not see a person coming through. And if we told one of our men to try to seize an invisible man coming through the door--no, it would never work.

Have we any of our men that are Jews here tonight?

Sec: It seems to me I did notice a strange odor under one of the helmets. The name is Joab, I think.

Long: Joab? Good. Did he go out to that place with you?

Sec: I believe he did. I try not to notice such things, but they force themselves on one's attention somehow.

Long: Then he knows what to expect. Go find him and tell him to enter and quietly stand by the door, and if that man vanishes, he is to block the door and seize hold of anything he can feel and hang on for dear life. It is well he is the one; I do not think he is too superstitious to handle it.

Sec: One never knows with a Jew; but it cannot be helped, I suppose. He will be out there by the fire, or I miss my guess.

(He goes out. LONGINUS resumes his work, thoughtfully.)


Long: Now what?

Mar: (Salutes) Secundus told me to report to you that he sent Joab into the council chamber, and that he was taking my place in the courtyard.

Long: Oh? Why is that?

Mar: There is a bare possibility that one of them might have been out there. He left, but I sent a man after him to see where he went, and Secundus thought he would look around a little and see if he recognized anyone else.

Long: Why did you let him go this time?

Mar: Well, there was no real reason to suspect him, Master. I thought he resembled somewhat the one who cut off the ear, but really, all Jews look the same to me, and you know how it is when one tries to recognize a person one only saw once and in the dark. But one of the women made as if she recognized him also, and so I thought that there might be something to it. But--well, she was a woman.

Long: Do not belittle women when it comes to noticing things.

Mar: No, Master. I tried to find out when he came in, but nobody had been paying any particular attention. He might have been one of a pair that came in a little after we did, which is suspicious; but the guard at the gate--the Jew, I mean--was a friend of the other one, so even if it was he, it is probably nothing. But nobody else came in later that was not known--they say, at least. I suppose they have no spies in the high priest's retinue, or that Judas or whoever he was--the one that took us out--would have told us. So I thought the woman was simply trying to attract attention.

Long: It is possible. It is possible. Still, I would have checked a little more before I just let him go.

Mar: Yes, Master. I had one of them ask if she saw him in the garden, and he acted as if he knew not what she was speaking of.

Long: He would, of course.

Mar: I also thought the same; but some of the others heard her, and they began pestering him, and he kept saying he knew nothing about it. But he could see me looking at him, and he became more and more nervous.

Long: That is suspicious.

Mar: Yes, Master, but it could just as easily have been that he was afraid of finding himself in a stew.

Long: You should not have been looking at him.

Mar: Well, it would have been worse if I was not, because by the time he noticed me, everyone was looking at him.

Long: Very well, I suppose. You did say you had him followed, however.

Mar: Yes, Master. But if he was a spy, he was the wrong one to choose for it. By the time he left he was crying.

Long: Crying, was he? Because of what they were saying, or had he heard anything about the trial?

Mar: I think not. In fact, I think the trial had not even begun by that time. And in any case, no one out there knew what was happening inside. No, he was just frightened.

Long: Very well. You probably handled it as well as it could have been handled. Probably. (Enter JOAB) It does not sound as if--Yes, Joab.

Joab: (Salutes) There was no problem at the trial, Master.

Long: What? Is it over already?

Joab: Yes, Master. They were still calling witnesses when I went in, and it seemed as if it might be going to last a long time; but then the high priest tricked him into condemning himself out of his own mouth, and it was all over.

Long: He tried no tricks?

Joab: No, Master. He even said nothing except that one thing they condemned him for--that I heard, at least.

Long: Where do they have him now? Perhaps he means to make his escape now that he has been condemned.

Joab: He is locked up in that place beside the council chamber, Master. There is no possibility he will be able to escape. He is also tied up and blindfolded, and they started slapping him and asking him to prophesy who hit him, and suchlike things. If he was going to try anything, he would have done it then--and by now I imagine he is not in much of any condition to do anything at all.

Long: What is wrong, Joab?

Joab: Nothing, Master.

Mar: You look as if you are sorry for him.

Joab: Oh, well it is merely that it was not necessary to batter him in that way.

Mar: Wait-what was his name? Jesus of Nazareth, was it not?

Joab: What of it?

Mar: Did you not tell me once that you had been a follower of someone and then became disgusted with him and joined us? It would not by any chance have been this Jesus of Nazareth, would it? I thought I had heard that name before.

Joab: Well, what if I was his follower at one time? I am not one now, and I have not been one for many months.

Long: So you were his follower. Tell me, what are they trying to do? Reinstate their kingdom or some such thing?

Joab: Oh, no, Master. It is nothing but a religious matter.

Long: Is he dangerous?

Joab: You mean to Rome? He is no danger to anyone; he is merely a fool. But he is a decent man nonetheless, and even though they were right to find him guilty, they had no cause to beat him and slap him and spit on him when he was tied up.

Long: He is a decent man, and yet they were right to find him guilty.

Joab: Well, he violated our law. He thinks he is doing the right thing, but he broke the law. It is a pity in a way; for a while I even thought he was a prophet.

Mar: A prophet? You mean a soothsayer?

Joab: A man who speaks for God. A man who speaks with God's voice.

Mar: We have those, also.

Joab: Not like ours.

Long: Enough, you two. Joab, I have no interest in your religion; all I want to be sure of is the answer to two questions: Did he ever say anything that could be interpreted as subversive? And will his followers try to fight to get him freed? The second question is the most important one at the moment.

Joab: I think not, Master. Most of those I knew are still with him. Of course, I was not very close to his Emissaries--he called them that, as if he were a king, which was another reason I left--and they did not recognize me there in the garden. But they are not fighters; far from it; merely fishermen and suchlike. Actually, many of his followers are women.

Long: So there was no problem in letting them go. I mean, they will not try to bring reinforcements and start a fight.

Joab: As far as I know, there is nowhere for them to go to for reinforcements. There were only twelve of them that he had always with him-his Emissaries, those that were there in the garden--and everyone else simply gathered around or went away depending on whether something interesting was going on.

Long: Very well, then. Marcus, I think you can call off that extra guard. The men will need their sleep for tomorrow, when there might be real trouble.

Mar: Yes, Master. (Salutes and leaves.)

Long: And you think Rome would not be interested in him either. He did not innocently say things that could stir the people into a revolt against us, for instance.

Joab: Oh, no, he was just the opposite. He believed we could give to Caesar what was Caesar's if Rome allowed us to worship the way we believe. That was why I became his follower, in fact. So many of us are so interested in freeing ourselves of Rome that we've forgotten the spiritual side of worship, and--

Long: You can spare me the religion, Joab.

Joab: But that is exactly the point, Master; he was nothing but religious. Why, I was there once when they tried to make him king, and he just slipped away as he was accustomed to do.

Long: So he can vanish when he chooses. But it almost sounds as if he is with us. . . . I wonder if that was why he was captured. I do not trust those priests.

Joab: No, Master, nothing of that sort As I said, he violated our law.

Long: Well, anyway, we will not have to concern ourselves with it.

Joab Actually, Master, we will. He received the death penalty, and we must take him to the governor to have him executed.

Long: The death penalty! That is truly serious. What did he do? Violate the Temple, or something?

Joab: No, Master. It is merely that he thinks he is God.

(The lights go out in the acting area, and come up on the CHORUS)