A Passion Play
In Three Acts
George A. Blair
Copyright © 2007
George A. Blair
T H E C A S T
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
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.
O P E N I N G C H O R U S
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
A C T O N E
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.
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)
C H O R U S
And you--Are you a Galilean also?
Did I see you in the garden, sleeping?
Or in a corner of the church, shaking hands?
Come out here by the fire, and warm yourself;
bask in the glow of the world, and let us see your face.
A C T T W O
(The lights go out on the CHORUS and come up on the next scene, a room in the Praetorium, the governor's fortress. There is a low wall, about waist high, extending from the wings of stage right about a third of the way into the room. The wall has two military cloaks draped over it.
SECUNDUS is discovered bent over behind the wall, apparently taking someone's pulse. He has a cat-o-nine-tails in his hand.)
Sec: No, I see that you are still alive, my friend, after all. For a moment, I thought you had cheated us; but it seems as if you will be here for a while to remember the garden last night. A pity we have to let you go. Still, it has its compensations; they can give you the death penalty, but they cannot enforce it--and I imagine that gives your priests ecstasies of satisfaction. (Enter LONGINUS) SECUNDUS continues, without seeing him) Yes, and they will be doubly overjoyed when they see you back out there preaching, or whatever it is you do. . . . Not immediately, though; you will spend a week or two contemplating our hospitality.
Long: What are you doing? Who are you speaking to?
Sec: (Straightening up, picking up a rag to wipe his face, hanging up the whip, and putting on one of the cloaks) Oh, nothing much. I was speaking to the one down there. He is taking a little rest right now, after our conversation. He did not have much sleep last night, and I was merely letting him know he was not the only one. How is the crowd behaving?
Long: Ugly. They cannot make up their minds whether they want us to let him go or put him to death. Frankly, I wish the Governor had chosen another time for a confrontation between us and their Law. But I suppose he has his reasons.
Sec: Of course he does. That is exactly what they were counting upon: that on a festival like this, he would be too frightened to do anything but just what they wanted. Let them succeed in this, and they will lord it over us every time the rabble collect in this filthy hole they call a city.
Long: I suppose . . . . But it is a treacherous swamp we are in. I suppose that is why he did not simply let him go, even though he thought he was innocent. He wants to show that we do respect their Law, but they cannot use it to just make us do whatever they please. If he goes too far either way, there will be a bloodbath. I hope we have the men for it.
Sec: Look at you! Worried about a little thing like a bloodbath, when all our men are itching for a good wash!
You know, Longinus, you asked me once why I was not at least a centurion, if I'm of Patrician rank. Well this is why. Here are you, pondering ways of using the army to keep the peace, of all things, and all I have to do is exercise my arm a little every now and then (He looks at the whip.) and contemplate the pleasure of taking auspices out of Hebrew guts--and if I die doing it, I die happy. And you probably will not even have a chance to fight; and if we should happen to lose--which we will not, since the odds are only three hundred to one or so--you would not live any longer than anyone else, or die as quickly.
Long: Well, someone has to do it.
Sec: Oh, do not misunderstand; I admit that, and I admire your sense of responsibility. I really do. I just do not share it. But I have sense enough to know that if Rome were peopled by men like me, there would not be a Rome. Luckily for us, however, your type is still plentiful, and the rest of us can take paid vacations in exotic places like Judea, and learn to appreciate how lucky we are when we get back under the shadow of the coliseum.
Long: (Pacing back and forth, thinking, not paying attention.) Well, I think I have done everything that could be done. There are men stationed all through the crowd; and if they start something, we can cut it into six sectors in a matter of minutes, and force them out through different gates, and then they will be no problem.
Now. What about this one? (Indicating what is behind the wall.)
Sec: Oh, he is all right. I merely got a little carried away there for a while, that is all. It seems that with certain people I tend to lose count once I have established a rhythm.
Long: (Looking behind the wall) Great Pollux! You did not leave much of him!
Sec: Well, he was a bit special, you understand. It was the first time in my life I was ever intimidated by a Jew, and I wanted to teach him a little respect for his betters.
Long: That episode last night must have left quite an impression on you.
Sec: I can joke about it; but just between you and me, I did not enjoy it.
Long: I did not realize that, or I would never have let you do the whipping. It is not good for a man to feel one way or the other about someone he is torturing.
Sec: Oh, I know not. It took a weight off my mind.
Long: And put blood all over his back.
Sec: Oh, come now. I did not draw that much blood.
Long: I would hate to see what you call "much," then. I hope he will be able to stand up when we send him out of here, and stay alive long enough for everyone to be out of this town before he dies. I never saw anything like it; they are all wild about him, but half of them want his head and the other half are ready to dress him in purple.
Sec: Fear not; he will recover. You know me; I would not kill a man and spoil his appreciation of my handiwork. And perhaps when we let him go, half of them will begin killing the other half, and we will have our little bloodbath without any trouble on our part. We can just lend a helping hand here and there when things begin to get slack.
Long: What do you have against the Jews anyway, Secundus?
Sec: You mean apart from their appearance, their manners, their stupidity, and their self-righteousness?
Long: You know what I mean. You do not have the normal Roman attitude toward them.
Sec: More is the pity. But you see, the rest of you Romans have not been as well educated as I have. I received a beautiful lesson on the Jewish character the very first month after I arrived here. I never told you I had a brother, did I?
Sec: Well I did, but I do not speak of him much, because it is hard for me to keep from being serious when I do, and I lose my character as the devil-may-care adventurer that I have so carefully cultivated. But you asked for it.
He was a good lad, a couple of years younger than I, and he had one of those Roman senses of responsibility of yours. In fact, if he had lived long enough, I would be talking to him today instead of you--or maybe he would be up there on the balcony listening to the priests and giving orders to all of us.
But be that as it may, the only reason I joined the army was to make sure he did not make too much of a hero of himself; I could tease him out of doing stupid things.
In any case, the first thing that happened when we arrived was that battle on the Plain of Megiddo. He was a centurion, and was right in front--which is another reason that being a centurion does not have a great appeal to me--and he was one of the first ones to fall. No problem with that; glory and all that sort of thing, which was what he was looking for. It happens to the best of us.
But then when it was all over and we were picking up the dead and wounded, I found his body.
Some one of those beloved Jews had stopped everything in the middle of the fight and taken time to decorate his body all over with a dagger.
Now that was not necessary at all. War is war, and to whoever can get them belong the spoils--and he did have a handsome set of armor, which was missing, of course. And that I can understand also.
But not the other thing; that was taking the heat of battle just a little too seriously for my taste. So I decided that if they liked the Romans all that much, who was I to deprive them of the pleasure of my company?
Long: I see . . . .That explains why you are still here.
Sec: That, and the fact that I thought it might be interesting if I could track down the armor. I did find the shield in a little shop about a year ago; and in my quiet way I made sure that no one found the pieces of the shopkeeper. But he did no't remember who he bought it from, in spite of the fact that I was a little . . . persistent . . .on that point.
Long: I can imagine.
Sec: Oh, I hope not. I sincerely hope not. You are not yet that depraved. I still keep looking for the greaves and the helmet, of course, and perhaps some day I will find them.
And meantime, I get a chance every so often (With a glance behind the wall) to lend a Jew or two a helping hand.
Long: Well, I appreciate your point of view, I suppose; but I think that for your sake you will have a few less chances while I'm in command.
Sec: I had a feeling I should have kept my mouth shut. Well, I suppose I will simply have to make the most of what comes my way.
Long: I mean it, Secundus. I have seen hate like yours eat people up until they do all kinds of crazy things. We lose good soldiers that way. Soldiers have to think.
Sec: Ah. Longinus, but you' have never seen hatred when it is as refined and exquisite as mine is. If I were to let it eat me up, then they would win a victory over me, would they not? So in general I merely cultivate an air of having them beneath my notice; but when an opportunity offers, I am ready.
I have two minds; the deep one nobody sees, and the charming, sophisticated self you have all come to know and love.
Long: Well, have it your way, then.
(MARCUS enters, unnoticed, during the following speech.)
Sec: Oh, I will, never fear. Even if I wanted to change, I could not; the image of my brother would haunt me. No, I fear that the day I see anything good in any Jew will be the day my brother gets up from his grave and kneels to one of them.
Long: (Seeing MARCUS) What is it, Marcus?
Mar: A message, Master, for the governor from his wife.
Long: I will take it up. Where is it?
Mar: She wrote nothing, Master. She simply said to tell him to have nothing to do with that Nazarene. He is innocent, she said, and she had a frightening dream about him.
Long: That is all?
Mar: Yes, Master. She seemed very concerned about the dream part.
Long: \very well; I suppose he should be told. What a life! Now we make policy by women's dreams! (He leaves)
Sec: How is it going outside? Have you heard anything?
Mar: They are becoming very stirred up about this man. I could hardly shoulder my way through to get here.
Sec: Marcus, will you do me a favor?
Mar: That depends on what it is.
Sec: I really hate to deprive you of the pleasure, but if there is a fight and Longinus sends you out, will you trade places with me for a while? I have a feeling he is going to keep me in here, and I need some action.
Mar: Very well, if you wish.
Sec: I will be back before he notices. You will not get into trouble.
Mar: Why should I get into trouble for that?
Sec: You will not, so never mind why.
Mar: Very well. It will not be long before it starts. The high priest has all his men down there trying to make everybody yell for his head. Where is he, by the way?
Sec:(Points behind the wall.) Down there. He looks as if he is about to come to.
Mar: (Looks) Huh! If they could see their king now!
Sec: Their king?
Mar: Oh, did you not know? Half of them out there claim he is a descendant of their kings or something, and they want him released so he can take over. They would have got what they wanted, too, except that the Governor had him whipped first; and so the high priests's men say that this means that the Governor really thinks he is guilty. It is a mess.
But after what you did to him, he will not be taking over anything for a good long while.
Sec: Well, I try to do my duty with a will. But I had no idea I was performing such a noble service for a king! The King of the Jews! My, my! I wish I had known; an honor like this comes once in a lifetime, and calls for more imagination than my humble efforts up to now. . . .
But we cannot really whip him any more; it would kill him, and we would not want to kill the King of the Jews! No, not kill him.
Still, it would be a pity to let him go out there incognito; we ought to do something to show his loyal subjects that we have a due and fitting respect for his august majesty. . . .
I think, Marcus, that I feel an idea beginning to blossom! This is too good an opportunity to let slip by!
(He goes to the wings, and calls) Hello, in there! Come in here for a moment!
(Enter members of the CHORUS, dressed as Roman soldiers. As they enter, they make various remarks, such as "What is it? What do you want? What is happening?" etc. )
Sec: Listen. You may not be aware of it, but we have been favored by a visit from royalty! The people out there are calling this magnificent specimen of humanity the King of the Jews! (Various expressions from the men.) Is that not amazing? And he never breathed a word to let us know! (More expressions.)
Oh, look; he is beginning to wake from the royal nap. Is that not sweet? (More remarks) Be careful, now; we do not want to startle him out of his slumbers with our rowdy noise; he will not be used to rough company, and we want to show him that Rome knows how to treat a king. ("What are you speaking of? What do you mean?" etc.)
You see, when I heard the news about what we have here I though that the reason we know not that he is a king is that he has no crown. Now that is a pity--I mean, how can anyone know a man is a king if he has no crown? And I know not where he lives, so I could not go home and fetch the one he forgot, so I looked around to see if I could find a substitute. (He goes over to the side to a pile of thorn-sticks, and starts weaving them into a kind of cap.)
Do you get the idea? (Expressions like "Yes!" "I see!," etc.)
Soldier: There is a broken piece of wall out back that would be perfect for a throne. I sat on it once, and Ouch! (He walks around holding his posterior. Everyone laughs.)
Another: (Picking up a stick) I found a scepter! Perhaps we could use it as a fan, also, lest his head grow hot. (Demonstrates by hitting himself on the head. More laughter.)
Sec: Now that is what I call imagination. Let us go. (A couple of them reach down behind the wall and start to drag the hidden body offstage.)
Mar: Half a moment! Half a moment! Be sure you do not kill him, because the Governor wants him released, and I can tell you that if he dies, we'll all be in trouble, and I mean trouble!
Sec: Now do you not worry your little head, Marcus. We are merely going to pay our respects, nothing more. Why, he will probably still be able even to stand up afterwards, will he not, men? And he will wear his crown proudly for the rest of his life!
(Making various remarks, they go out, including MARCUS. SECUNDUS is about to follow when he notices the cloak draped over the wall.)
Sec: Hm. . . . But what is a king, after all, without a royal robe?
(He takes the cloak and leaves. There is a silence for a few seconds.)
Hail, King of the Jews!
Hail, greater than Caesar!
Your reign extends from sun to sun
and even to the spheres of heaven!
We praise you, we bless you,
we worship you, we glorify you!
We give you thanks for your great glory.
See how we worship the King of Kings!
See how mankind acknowledges its subjection!
See how we wipe his blood upon our hands
and smear it on the face of the Lord's Anointed!
Let it be proclaimed forever
as a memorial to our piety!
Shout it from the housetops, Declare it from the highest mountain
That we Gentiles are the first to call him King!
(LONGINUS enters at this point, says "Secundus?" and looks around, then offstage, and says "Oh, no!" as the CHORUS continues)
King over all of us, King of the world,
King of the heroes, King of the gods!
And this is our worship, this is our tribute.
Thus do we and all our children treat our Lord;
thus do we do to the God who dwells among us!
Long: Stop! Enough! The Governor wants that man up on the balcony to show the people! Secundus, I could kill you! This is your doing. Very well, you take him up, then--take him up dressed thus, and if the Governor asks how he came to be that condition, you will tell him you did it and take the consequences! And if you start a riot when they see him in that fool's costume, all our blood is on your head! Now take him out of there!
(Shuffling noises offstage, but not talking. LONGINUS leans on the wall with his head in his hands for a few minutes. Enter JOAB, without a cloak.)
Joab: Oh. Excuse me, Master.
Long: (Irritably) Yes? What is it now?
Joab: Nothing, Master. I was merely seeking something.
Long: Where is your cloak, soldier?
Joab That is what I was seeking, Master.
Long: Did you not hang it in the cloak room?
Joab: Well, Master, I was merely going down to the bin to get the wood out for the crosses, and I thought I would be gone only a few moments, and--
Long: And so rather than go all the way up to the cloak room, you simply threw it down somewhere, and now you cannot find it. How many times do I have to tell you people that leaving your things scattered everywhere not only makes the barracks look like a stable for camels, but things get stolen thus. You will probably find your cloak in some shop in the Valley of Hinnom, and it will take you half a month's pay to redeem it.
Oh, what is the use? . . . But I want you in a cloak tomorrow when we go out on review--if there is a tomorrow.
Joab: Yes, Master. It was my fault, Master.
Long: There are reasons for our regulations, Joab.
Joab: I know, Master.
Long: Well, let that--oh, forget it. What I need is some sleep. If you are lucky it may be still in the barracks. Where do you think you left it?
Joab: I thought it would be here, Master. I could swear I took it off in this room; I was here when Demetrius asked me to see about the wood.
Long: Well, it looks hopeless; it is not here now. But I will keep my eyes open, and if I happen to see it, I will let you know. Nobody can leave here today, so it is probably still hereabouts.
Joab: Yes, Master (He starts to leave.)
Joab: Yes, Master?
Long: How many crucifixions are scheduled for today?
Joab: Three, Master. There is that Cappadocian we caught in the barracks, and that thief the Pharisees handed over to us, and then there is Barabbas.
Long: Barabbas? Oh, that one. I suppose I will have to start thinking about that now. If we have an insurgent to crucify, it will to be a problem taking him through the crowd up to Golgotha. We ought to have the crucifixions right here.
Joab: That would be worse, Master.
Long: Oh, I know, I know. I have nothing anything against your religion, Joab, but it causes us much trouble.
Joab Some of us appreciate that and respect you for it, Master. We have been occupied by somebody or other for the past couple of hundred years, and you are the first to let us worship according to our consciences.
Long: That is the Roman way, Joab; and that is why we have empire over the whole world. We realize how important religion is to a people, and as long as it is no threat to us, we let them keep it. But it is not simply a practical matter; but part of our character.
Joab: That is part of why I am here, Master.
Long: I know; that is what you said when we accepted you--and I think you really are loyal. I think it a good thing, also, to have a few volunteers from the country in the army--when one can find them. Of course, it is dangerous, and we have to keep an eye on you.
Joab: I understand, Master.
Long: But it shows we are not complete monsters. I think we have a civilizing influence.
Joab: Yes, Master.
Long: You have your doubts, eh? Well, based on what has been happening here today, I can see why you would. You know, one of the reasons I think you are loyal is that you are so transparent; if ever a face was a mirror of a soul, yours is, in spite of that beard--or you are the best actor this side of Athens.
Joab: Thank you, Master.
Long: For what? For calling you guileless, or such a good actor? Forget it. You are a good man, Joab.
Joab: I try to be, Master.
Long: (With mock anger) Then do not go leaving your things around, you hear?
Joab: Yes, Master.
Long: Now begone, and find that cloak of yours.
Joab: Yes, Master. (Again turns to leave)
Joab: Yes, Master?
Long: I should not say this, but I will anyway; I have been more or less working up to it, and I refuse to to let the opportunity slip by. Joab, I want to apologize to you on behalf of the Romans, but for myself also.
Joab: Apologize, Master?
Long: I saw how you felt about that man we captured last night. And I was present when the Governor questioned him this morning, and I think I know why you felt thus. He is a very impressive man, Joab; calm and dignified, even though he knew his life was at stake.
I saw his monomania, too, I think, that in other circumstances would have made him the subject of a great tragedy. The Governor had heard that he was supposed to be a King, and he asked him about it; and he answered that he was a King, but not in this world. Of course, it was a mistake to say even that much, because the Governor was trying to free him and he did claim to be a King of some sort, which made it complicated. You could see he realized that it might lead to his being killed, but like all you Jews, he held fast to what he believed was the truth. He was very noble about it, and respectful of the Governor; but he was willing to die for what he believed.
Joab: He was a great man in many ways, Master--in practically every way but that one. If only he could forget about that!
Long: But he never will, Joab; it's the fatal flaw. But it may not be fatal yet, though. The Governor sent him down here to be whipped because he made that statement, but he plans to let him go.
Joab: I know.
Long: Well, here is why I want to apologize. When he was sent down, he was my responsibility, and I would never have let this happen to him had I but known what was happening--but I should have known what might happen; I should have suspected it.
Joab: What? did they kill him?
Long: No. . . . I know not but what it might have been better if they had, now. No, but they learned somehow that he was supposed to be a King, and they made a crown and dressed him like a-A moment! Half a moment! You say you left your cloak in here?
Joab: Yes, Master.
Long: I know where it is. You will have it back.
Joab: You mean--Who did it? I will kill him!
Long: You will do nothing whatever! I will take care of it! I want no fighting among my men, especially now! You swear to me by that god of yours that you will take no vengeance on anybody for what's been done here today.
Long: Either that, or you're out of the army, as if now. I am not going to be worried about this; I have enough on my mind as it is.
Joab: (After a pause, reluctantly) I swear by the Lord God Almighty that I will not take vengeance on anyone for anything that is done today.
Long: No, no. Not simply by any god; I want the one you believe in. Put his name in.
Joab: But he has no name, Master. That is, he has one, but we never pronounce it.
Long: Say it!
(SECUNDUS enters toward the end of the following speech.)
Joab: Sir, you could cut out my tongue! I swore by the Lord God, and that is the only god there is. I'm not trying to--
Sec: Well, Longinus, it worked out better than we could have dared to hope. As soon as they saw their King, they all publicly admitted that they had no King but Caesar, and now--
Long: I will take your word for it, Joab; but if you are lying and anything happens, you die--and not only you, but I will decimate your people!
Now you! I don't know why I did not let him kill you, as you so richly deserve! I could kill you myself! Listen to me. You will give this man back his cloak, and by tomorrow you will see to it that it has not the slightest bloodstain or mark on it, or you will buy him a brand-new one of the first and finest quality. I intend to inspect that cloak tomorrow, and if there is the slightest defect in it, whether by your antics today or for any other reason, you will find yourself back there (points behind the wall) and I will hand Joab the whip myself!
Joab: I could not do it, Master! I swore--
Long: You can shut your mouth and you can take orders! If you have no consideration for the Jews, the least you could do would be to use your common sense! It is nothing but luck that kept that little game of yours from causing a riot and getting half of us killed--and on top of that to use his cloak! If I had not been here, you would be dead now, and our own men would be fighting each other!
Sec: Longinus, I did not--
Long: The price I pay for making friends! Keep your excuses. I will not let this go, Secundus, but I am not going to decide anything now, until I calm down. . . . And after what I just told you before!
Very well, now what are we supposed to do with that man?
Sec: He is to take Barabbas's place-Master--to be crucified this noon.
Long: What? Then what do we do with Barabbas?
Sec: They are freeing him now.
Long: Freeing him!
Sec: It is the festival, and the people asked for him.
Long: And after we spent three months tracking him down!
Sec: Governor's orders, Master. He was not exactly overjoyed about it either.
Long: (Holds his head and takes several deep breaths.) Very well. What is the crowd doing?
Sec: Milling about aimlessly and screaming and shouting. They know not what to make of it.
Long: They are not the only ones. Nonetheless, Pollux seems to have intervened for us. Still, I had best go out on that crucifixion detail myself; it might be complicated. I will put Demetrius in charge of the garrison here, and station men all through the crowd on the route. But I want to keep my eyes on you two for a while also. You will come out with me.
Joab, did you say that one of the prisoners was a Cappadocian?
Joab: Yes, Master.
Long: Well, ordinarily, I would let you have him; but I am not going to give Secundus the satisfaction of crucifying a Jew today of all days, and so you will take the Cappadocian, Secundus. And you can demonstrate your loyalty to Rome, Joab, by taking that other man--not the King, he is mine. And if you two can behave decently to each other, we might be able to salvage something from this miserable day.
Joab and Secundus: Yes, Master.
Long: I think I will put Marcus as a general guard to come along with us; he will know what we are dealing with.
Very well, we have work to do. Where is the King?
(The lights go out on the acting area.)
C H O R U S
Where is the King?
We have no King but Caesar!
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's
and to Caesar the things that are God's.
No man can serve two masters;
if he loves the one, he will hate the other.
If we serve the one, we will crucify the other.
Follow your heart; lay up your treasures:
treasures of gold and ivory, incense and myrrh,
treasures of silver and diamonds, silk and plyester,
computers and space probes, atom bombs and pearls,
and glorious tracts of unspoiled wilderness.
By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down.
Yea, we wept, when we remembered--Babylon.
Weep for yourselves and for your children,
poor orphans in an affluent society,
eaten by the worm that dieth not:
the worm of greed, the worm of siphyllis,
the worm of equality and justice.
Oh, had we but known the things that are for our peace!
(An intermission, if there is one, should occur here.)
Let him carry the cross; we will look on
Don't force it on our backs; the burden is his,
and we want time to contemplate the mystery.
Can he save others, who could not save himself?
If this is how he leads us, where is our fulfillment?
Let him unbolt his arms and stretch them down to us
if he would draw all things unto himself.
We would believe, we are not stubborn;
but give us grounds for faith, not this!
We would believe, we are eager to believe.
We believe already in science, in democracy,
We will accept the truth of transcendental meditation,
transcendental flying objects, and the classless state.
Anything remotely self-assertive we will believe in;
anything that promises progress and advance.
But not this.
Not useless suffering, passive non-resistance.
Not degradation of human dignity.
Not, O Lord,
(The lights go out on the CHORUS)
A C T T H R E E
(The lights come up on the acting area, which is the hill of crucifixion. There is a rock, as high as a man, stage L, with a spotlight off R, throwing the shadow of a cross on it. A bucket of common wine with a sponge beside it is to one side of the rock. During this act, the lights gradually dim until only the spot with the cross is still on; and as the act reaches its climax, even it dims out, and the stage is in total darkness for a few seconds.)
MARCUS, SECUNDUS, and JOAB are discovered sitting in front of the rock. LONGINUS is seated stage R, staring off into the distance.
(There is a long pause. MARCUS picks up a stick, breaks it in two, idly tries to fit the pieces together, and throws it away. He sighs.)
Sec: This is the worst part, waiting after it is over. When they are finally up there, there's no more drama in it; even the rabble lose interest after an hour or so. Behold. Half of them have left already.
Joab: I thirst. Where is the wine? (He gets up, goes over to the bucket, and takes a drink from the ladle.) Yechh! It is even worse than usual from being in the sun. (He puts it behind the rock after taking another mouthful)
Sec: A pity we cannot accommodate you, friend Jew; but you must make allowances for the Roman military. However, remind me the next time we come out, and I will see if I can't requisition a bottle of Old Falernian for you. (JOAB looks at him as if he is going to spit his mouthful of wine over him, remembers his vow, swallows and sits down again.)
Sec: How long must we stay here, Marcus?
Mar: Until everyone leaves, or until we receive orders, or until night. Or until they die.
Sec: I have seen that take four days. Oh, well.
Joab: It will have to be before night. They will not be allowed to hang there on a cross during this Sabbath, because it is a festival.
Sec: Ah, yes. I give you thanks, Jew; I had forgotten the taboos of your precious religion.
Well, at least we have the anticipation of breaking their legs to beguile away the idle hours.
--but what is wrong with Longinus? I can see that he might be a little annoyed at some of us, but a fit of sulks is not exactly in his character.
Mar: He does what he does.
Sec: True. Somehow, it is a bit difficult to picture him doing what he is not doing. Still, whatever he is doing at the moment, it does not exactly advertise the solidarity and cameraderie of the Roman soldiery; and if he must do it, then maybe he should be persuaded to pick a less public place. (He goes over to LONGINUS) Longinus? Longinus, are you all right?
Long: (With a start) What?
Sec: Are you all right?
Long: It grows dark. Behold.
Sec: Dark! Are you out of your mind? There is not a cloud in the sky!
Long: Oh, yes it does; I have been watching it. Behold over there. An hour ago, you could see the roofs of Bethlehem in the distance; and now you cannot.
Sec: Is that all? It is nothing but haze, my lad. The exhalation of mother earth at this fertile season which heralds in the burgeoning of grain--or whatever burgeons in this forsaken land. I imagine something must burgeon here; thistles, perhaps. They say donkeys thrive on thistles. You scared me for a moment.
Long: It is not haze, Secundus.
Sec: Longinus, it is probably not my place to reopen a friendship that I lost temporarily by an excess--I admit it--of my over-exuberant nature, but you have need to be spoken to. You really do. If it makes you angry, then even that is better than this. No one expects anybody to go into transports of joy on such an occasion, but there is such a thing as decorum. Keep on this way, and you will give crucifixion a bad name.
Now come over with the rest of us, and act like a human being.
Long: (Pulls himself together.) You are right. (They go back and sit down.)
Sec: Well, at least now we are all moping together.
Long: Do you know what he said to me?
Long: My man. The King. Do you know what he said?
Mar: No, what?
Long: I was hammering the nail through his left wrist, and he looked straight into my eyes, and said, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."
Sec: So? What of that?
Long: What of that! When was the last time you were forgiven by someone you were nailing to a cross?
Mar: That is strange, when one thinks of it.
Sec: Listen to them! You knew he was a fanatic. He had probably worked himself into a state where he could not even feel it. I have seen men walk on live coals and sing.
Long: Oh, he felt it, truly enough.
Sec: Then he was probably trying to make you feel guilty and stop. It is a novel approach, I must admit, but from the look of things, it almost worked. I will have to remember it if they ever try to crucify me.
Long: With one hand already nailed down?
Sec: I told you he had a bad sense of timing. Now with me, as soon as the nail touches the delicate flesh of the first wrist, I will look soulfully into the executioner's eye, and say, "Dear chap, I forgive you. It is not your fault that I am as innocent as the merest turtle-dove, or as the butterfly winging its way from rose to tulip." And then, as the tears start forth in his eyes, I will continue, "Nay, sir, do your duty. Men step unthinkingly upon the lilies of the field, and little wit what damage they do to their proud beauty. Men uproot the young sapling even before its prime--I seem to be burgeoning again.
Long: (Laughs) By Pollux, I believe you would! The day you do not turn everything into a joke will be the day they cut out your tongue.
Mar: Well that is what I would do to him if he tried something like that with me.
Sec: Remind me to have someone else assigned to me on that happy occasion, then. Someone who reads the odes of Catullus in his spare moments.
Joab: I know who I will ask to be assigned.
Long: (Warningly) Joab.
Joab: Yes, Master. You did not say I could not think.
Sec: Well, I tried.
Joab: Yes, Master?
Long: Joab, who is this god of yours?
Joab: Not he, sir, if that is what is bothering you.
Long: How do you know? How do you know what the gods are like?
Sec: In the name of sanity, Longinus! Just because you crucified a crazy man--
Long: That is what I want to know. That all I crucified was a crazy man.
Sec: First he is King of the Jews, and now he is a god! I wish I had on my side the one who is responsible for his reputation! Hear me, Longinus. Suppose there are such things as gods. Are they rational or not?
Long: How should I know? I am no god.
Sec: And neither is anyone else. All I'm asking is for you to use your head. A soldier has to think.
Long: Very well, yes; the gods are rational.
Sec: Then can you give me one good reason--one bad reason, anything with the slightest breath of reason in it--why a god would allow himself to be crucified?
Sec: Well, then.
Long: Just because I cannot give a reason, it does not mean there is none.
Sec: What shall we do with him? The King has addled his brain! Even the Jew here has more sense than to believe this!
Long: Oh, yes? Well, look up at the sun (They look at the spot making the shadow of the cross)
Sec: So? There it is, right where it is supposed to be.
Long: And have you ever been able to look directly at it before, in broad daylight?
Mar: (Horrorstruck) He has reason! Something truly strange is happening! The sun is losing its light!
Sec: Will you stop that! It's just a haze!
Long: Secundus, when there is a haze, the sky turns white, not deep blue as it is now.
Mar: What have you done, Master?
Long: I wish I knew, Marcus. I wish I knew!
Sec: Stop that! Anyone who could turn off the sun would not be up there on that cross! What is this? You are going insane because of some freak of this crazy climate!
Joab: I never saw anything like this before.
Sec: Thank you, my, friend; I needed that bit of help. Trust a Jew. Wait a moment. I know what is happening. You people with your hanging gods have kept even me from thinking. It is an eclipse of the sun, that is what it is.
Long: No, it is not. I saw an eclipse of the sun once, Secundus, and when that happens you can see the shadow of the moon pass in front of the sun. You can see the whole disk today.
Sec: Then it is some different form of eclipse.
Long: Forget it, Secundus, it is not an eclipse. If the moon comes in front of the sun the sun, it has to be new moon; the moon has to be dark.
Sec: So it is the new moon.
Long: It is two days before the Kalends of April, Secundus. The moon is full.
Joab: He is right. Our festival is on the full moon.
Sec: Oh, very well, very well, it is not an eclipse. But it is something.
Long: It is certainly something.
Joab: No, but I agree with him, Master. It cannot be connected with that Nazarene; it has to be a natural thing.
Long: You do not believe your god can take away the sun's light?
Joab: Our God can do everything! He created the sun!
Long: Then what makes you think he cannot have a child?
Joab: Master, you do not understand. Our God is not like Jupiter, running around the world looking for pretty girls he can lay. There is no god but our God, and he is a spirit, not an overgrown man. Unless you want to say we are all his children, because he made us; but that does not make us any more than what we are already.
But he could not have a real son that is a man, because then the man would be God, and how can a man be a spirit? It is impossible, sir; it is unthinkable. Our God is like nothing on this earth; why, we are even forbidden to make pictures of him, because he wants us to know he cannot be like anything we could imagine.
And that is why I stopped being a follower of Jesus, and that is why he deserved to die, in spite of the beauty of so much of what he taught. As soon as he began hinting that he was the Son of God, it was all over; he showed himself to be just another deluded fool, and anybody who would follow him would have to be willing to degrade God Almighty to just another dweller on Olympus!
Mar: Well you can tell your god that whether he lives on Olympus or anywhere else, he is no match for Jupiter Capitolinus, and we proved it last night! As soon as I took Jupiter out to look at him, we were in charge again.
Joab: But that is just the point! He is no match for anything, because he is not a god at all!
This is silly. There are no gods except the Lord.
Sec: There are no gods at all.
Marcus Oh, really? I can take that kind of talk from him, because he knows no better. But you are a Roman.
Sec: And therefore, I do know better. There are no gods; not his, and not Jupiter Capitolinus either. If you want to personify nature, Marcus, who am I to stop you? But we have outgrown that sort of thing.
Mar: Well so I heard, but I never really believed it until now! And it is you decadent patricians that are undermining Rome, and bringing the wrath of the gods on us! You destroyed the republic first, and now--
Sec: And now we have the Empire. Quite a comedown. Now there is no land on earth that does not bow down to Rome.
Mar: And who did it? Mars and Jupiter Capitolinus!
Sec: Come now, Marcus, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot have our atheism bringing the wrath of the gods down on us, and then turn around and explain Rome's triumph by the favor of the same gods.
Mar: Why not? They do it in spite of people like you!
Sec: We seem fated to get into religious discussions today. Very well, have it your way, Marcus; far be it from me to argue with you. All I know is that the Jewish god is not making it dark.
Long: And all I know is that it is growing darker and darker!
Sec: Well anyway, what are you worried about? Even if he does have some kind of sun-snuffer up there on the cross you are safe. He forgave you, did he not?
Long: (With sudden relief) That is true; I did not know what I was doing. (Anxious again) Or did I? Did I suspect, even then?
Sec: Great Pollux, Longinus! If he is a god, he certainly knew whether you knew what you were doing or not, and so you are forgiven. And if he is not, then you're just horrifying yourself into a frenzy for nothing. This whatever it is will pass, and the sun will come out, and you will laugh about it. Forsan et haec olim memenisse juvabit.Good old Vergil; he has a line for everything.
Long: (Pulling himself together) I suppose you are right.
Sec: Of course I am right. When have I ever been anything but right? . . . Very well, now what do we do? That little aberration of yours did have the virtue of helping pass the time. But we have three hours left--well, perhaps not. Marcus says we can go back at dark, and as things are now, that only leaves a couple of minutes.
Mar: That is not funny, Secundus.
Sec: Well, what are we to do, then? Simply sit here and fret? Whether it is funny or not, there is nothing we can do about it, so let us find something to take our minds off it. Let somebody else take over; another ten minutes and I will have run out of ideas.
Mar: What would be bad about that? It was your idea that put us into this mess.
Sec: What do you mean by that?
Mar: If you had not played that king game, they probably would have let him go.
Sec: One moment, now, do not go blaming me! Who was the one that hammered the crown down on his head, if it comes to that?
Mar: It was still your idea.
Long: Enough, you two. If it is any comfort to you, Marcus, he said, "Father, forgive them. You knew not what you were doing any more than I did.
Mar: I have no need of his forgiveness (He puts his hand up to his medallion.)
Long: Then stop worrying about it.
Mar: I am not worrying.
Long: Very well.
Joab: We must divide their clothes sometime. Why not now? There is nothing else to do.
Long: That sounds sensible, for a change. Let us go gather their clothes and see what we can do. (They all, except MARCUS, go off and each returns with a small bundle of clothes.) All right, throw them down here.
Joab: Let me see. a tunic brings about as much as a pair of sandals, and--
Sec: Leave it to a Jew to know the price of everything.
Joab: Very well, then how would you divide three men's clothes among four people?
Sec: My dear Jewish friend, I was only stating a fact. You are being most helpful, in truth, and--so far as we know--just.
Long: Enough, Secundus! Continue, Joab.
Joab: Well, I suppose I should simply parcel them out. A pair of sandals for you, one for you, one for me, and a tunic for Marcus. A tunic for you, a tunic for you, two undergarments for me, an undergarment and--let me see--the one belt for Marcus.
Now. What do we do with this? (He holds up a robe)
Mar: Split it on the seams. We can sell it for cloth.
Joab: But then it is practically worthless. Besides, it has no seams. It is a fairly good one, also; it should bring a denarius or so.
Mar: Then what should we do? There is only the one.
Sec: Let us roll dice to see who gets it. Who has dice?
Mar: Here. I go first because they are my dice. First pair wins. (Rolls) Five and two.
Sec: Give them to me; that is no way to do it, Marcus; you must talk to them and coddle them. What do you think they are, just pieces of ivory? Why, they are the mainstay and support of the whole Roman army, and they deserve respect, not just to be flung down as if they were stones to be spurned under foot.
This is how it is done. (He blows on his hands with the dice inside) Now, my pretty ones, my darlings, my loves, pregnant with twins. Show these unbelievers who their father is! (Rolls)
A curse on the bitches, with their bastard three and four! May they never roll a pair again!--until my turn comes round again, of course.
Go ahead, Jew. If they do anything for you, I'll disown dice for the rest of my life.
Joab: (Rolls) Four and two.
Sec: Good Roman dice! You know who your masters are! Longinus, my friend, not that I wish you ill, but business is business, they say, and dice are business multiplied by twelve.
Long: No, forget about me. You three play.
Sec: What is this? A Roman soldier having scruples about a friendly game of dice?
Joab: It is his robe.
Sec: Oh, no! Here we go again.
Long: Go ahead, you three. I do not want it.
Mar: Oh, no! We all play, or I quit!
Sec: Stop being infantile, Longinus.
Long: (Looks at the dice with distaste, then reconsiders.) Oh, very well; anything to keep the peace. (Rolls)
Mar: (With horror) Two! The eyes of Cerberus!
(A brief silence. All look at LONGINUS.)
Sec: Well, it is yours, Longinus. (Hands robe out to him)
Long: No! I do not want it! I will not touch it!
Sec: Now do not go telling me you believe in omens!
Long: Keep it! I did not want to play for it in the first place!
(SECUNDUS makes a move to take back the robe, then suddenly flings it at LONGINUS, who screams and backs away brushing it from him as it hits him. The robe falls at his feet.)
Sec: There! Are you dead? Panicking like an idiot! If you held onto his flesh and drove the nails into his wrists, and your hands did not burn off, what can the touch of his clothes do to you?
And all because of a stupid and inane superstition! You are as bad as the man who throws a two and claims there is a curse on him, and then when he throws a twelve on the next roll says that it is the calve's knuckle he carries that did it. You have your religions all mixed up, Longinus. If that man is the Jewish god, then it would be a little inconsistent for him to be staring up at you from the Roman hades through a pair of dice--especially when he can see you perfectly well from where he is.
Long: You can talk! Behold how dark it is! (Only the spot with the shadow of the cross is on by this time, and it is dimming fast.)
Mar: O Jupiter (clutches medallion) Father of the gods, eternal son of Neptune, remember your favor to the Roman people, and save us!
Sec: Now you have him started! What am I to do with you two?
Mar: O Jupiter, Protector of the Roman people, conqueror of the Titans, look down upon us from high Olympus, and preserve us!
Sec: I cannot bear this! The whole thing is turning into a farce!
Joab: He is right; all this is foolish. Even if the Roman gods existed, they cannot have anything to do with this. And my God's law says that he has to die for blasphemy. We have been doing his will. Why would he be punishing us for doing his will?
Long: You are so certain your God cannot have a son! What do you know of your God?
Joab: Much more than you do!
Long: Well I know little enough not to put restrictions on the immortals! God of the Hebrews, have mercy on us! He begged you to forgive us!
Sec: They are hopeless! Hopeless!
Mar: O Jupiter, Father of the gods, eternal son of Neptune, have pity on us, and vanquish this Hebrew god!
Sec: I surrender! I give up!--and the only one here whose head is not on backwards is a Jew!
Well, I guess I must simply sit here and twiddle my thumbs while they rant--or no! By the grace of whatever gods there are or are not, Longinus, the reinforcements you ordered are arriving in the nick of time to save my sanity! At least I will be able to talk to someone!
Long: Reinforcements? I ordered no reinforcements.
Sec: Perhaps it is merely a message. It is too much to hope that he will tell us the Governor says we can go back.
Mar: Where? I see no one.
Sec: Are you blind as well as mad? (Points) There. Down the road.
Mar: There is no one down the road.
Sec: What? You are out of your mind!
Long: There is no one, Secundus. Do you see anyone, Joab?
Joab: No, Master.
Sec: What are you trying to do? Make me as crazy as the rest of you? He is just over there, with all his gear on except the . . . shield. . . . You can even . . . see . . . his . . . face.
(Silence. All look at SECUNDUS as he watches an imaginary figure pass downstage and go off to the source of the spot, which is now quite dim.)
Long: What is it, Secundus?
Sec: My brother. He went over and knelt in front of the King.
You do not see him, at all?
All, severally: No.
Sec: He is gone.
Long: Listen! He said something! What did he say?
Mar: He said he thirsted. I will get him some wine.
Long: No you will not! He is my man! But how can I get it up to him? I know! Where is my spear? I will put the sponge on the end of it, and give it to him thus!
Sec: Longinus! No!
Long: You stay away from me! I am the one who will give him his drink! Wait, King, I come! Tell your Father to turn on the sun! (Rushes off with the bucket, sponge, and spear.)
Sec: (to himself) Oh, please no! Oh please!
(Pause. Enter LONGINUS.)
Long: There! He will remember that! He is good. I heard him say to the other thief there that they would be together today in paradise. He will not forget me!
Mar: If he remembers, why is it still so dark? O Jupiter, King of all the gods--
Long: Be still, Marcus! He may not like that!
Joab: You are all fools! Fools!
Long: Is your God a god of mercy, Joab?
Sec: Longinus, I hate to say this.
Long: What? He thirsted and I gave him to drink.
Sec: You killed him, Longinus.
Long: I gave him to drink, nothing more! I gave him to drink, as he asked!
Sec: Longinus, you know as well as I do that everyone hanging on a cross becomes mad with thirst, but if you give anyone to drink after he has been in that position a while, he chokes to death.
Long: Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, No! Oh, no!
Sec: (softly) Have mercy on us.
Mar: Well, you've done it now, Master! There is but one hope left! O great Jupiter, I vow to have your statue cast in purest gold and hanging forever about my neck! Destroy this god of theirs, and bring us back our sun!
Voice from offstage It is completed!
(A loud scream. The CHORUS joins in the scream and turns it into a prolonged wail. The spot goes completely off, and for a few seconds a spot in the shape of a cross takes its place. LONGINUS rushes up so that it falls across his face.)
Long: I knew it! I knew it! He truly was the Son of God!
Sec: Beware! The rock!
(Sound of earthquake and thunder. Complete darkness, during which the rock splits in two. The sound subsides into silence. Then the lights go on as at the beginning, revealing all fourlying on the ground or crouching,covering their heads. They remain so for a short time.)
Joab: (getting up) It was an earthquake. An earthquake, that is all. It is over.
(The others get up, severally.)
Sec: An earthquake!
Mar: The mighty Jupiter has saved us! It was a fierce struggle, but he won! I never doubted he would! O great Jupiter, you will have the most beautiful medal the hands of a craftsman can fashion, and it will never leave me! Your mercy knows no bounds!
Sec: An earthquake!
Joab: I told you the Lord had nothing to do with it.
Sec: You know, that is right. You were the only one who kept his head through this whole debacle. Even I lost my senses for a while. (grudgingly.) I suppose I must grant you this, Jew.
(The two face each other, each beginning to think that the other might not be totally repulsive. There is, however, still no love lost between them Eventually JOAB reluctantly takes SECUNDUS's outstretched hand.)
(While this is going on, LONGINUS gets up. He had fallen on the robe, and now has it, absently, in his hand. He is obviously dazed. He goes downstage, looks out at the spot that throws the shadow of the cross on him, silently says to himself, with the back of his fist up to his forehead, "What have I done? What have I done?" The lights fade as he does so.
During this time, the CHORUS begins Victoria's motet, and finishes it in darkness. It would be preferable if the sound could come from speakers place above and behind the audience, so that it seems to fill the auditorium.)
O Domine Jesu Christe
Adoro te in cruce vulneratum.
Deprecor te ut tua vulnera
Sint vita mea.