Ernest Renan

The Life of Jesus

Chapter XXIII

Last Week Of Jesus

JESUS did, in fact, set out with his disciples to see once more, and for the last time, the unbelieving city. The hopes of his companions were more and more exalted. All believed, in going up to Jerusalem, that the kingdom of God was about to be realized there. The impiety of men being at its height was regarded as a great sign that the consummation was at hand. The persuasion in this sect was such that they already disputed for precedence in the kingdom. This was, it is said, the moment chosen by Salome to ask, on behalf of her sons, the two seats on the right and left of the Son of man. The Master, on the other hand, was beset by grave thoughts. Sometimes he allowed a gloomy resentment against his enemies to appear; he related the parable of a nobleman who went to take possession of a kingdom in a far country; but no sooner had he gone than his fellow-citizens wished to get rid of him. The king returned, and commanded those who had conspired against him to be brought before him, and had them all put to death. At other times he summarily destroyed the illusions of the disciples. As they marched along the stony roads to the north of Jerusalem, Jesus pensively preceded the group of his companions. All regarded him in silence, experiencing a feeling of fear, and not daring to interrogate him. Already, on various occasions, he had spoken to them of his future sufferings, and they had listened to him reluctantly. Jesus at last spoke to them, and, no longer concealing his presentiments, discoursed to them of his approaching end. There was great sadness in the whole company. The disciples were expecting soon to see the sign appear in the clouds. The inaugural cry of the kingdom of God, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord," resounded already in joyous accents in their ears. The fearful prospect he foreshadowed troubled them. At each step of the fatal road the kingdom of God became nearer or more remote in the mirage of their dreams. As to Jesus he became confirmed in the idea that he was about to die, but that his death would save the world. The misunderstanding between him and his disciples became greater each moment.

The custom was to come to Jerusalem several days before the Passover, in order to prepare for it. Jesus arrived late, and at one time his enemies thought they were frustrated in their hope of seizing him. The sixth day before the feast (Saturday, 8th of Nisan, equal to the 28th March) he at last reached Bethany. He entered, according to his custom, the house of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, or of Simon the leper. They gave him a great reception. There was a dinner at Simon the leper's, where many persons were assembled, drawn thither by the desire of Seeing him, and also of seeing Lazarus, of whom for some time so many things had been related. Lazarus was seated at the table, and attracted much attention. Martha served, according to her custom. It seems that they sought, by an increased show of respect, to overcome the coolness of the public, and to assert the high dignity of their guest. Mary, in order to give to the event a more festive appearance, entered during dinner, bearing a vase of perfume, which she poured upon the feet of Jesus. She afterwards broke the vase, according to an ancient custom by which the vessel that had been employed in the entertainment of a stranger of distinction was broken. Then, to testify her worship in an extraordinary manner, she prostrated herself at the feet of her Master and wiped them with her long hair. All the house was filled with the odor of the perfume, to the great delight of everyone except the avaricious Judas of Kerioth. Considering the economical habits of the community, this was certainly prodigality. The greedy treasurer calculated immediately how much the perfume might have been sold for, and what it would have realized for the poor. This not very affectionate feeling, which seemed to place something above Jesus, dissatisfied him. He liked to be honored, for honors served his aim and established his title of son of David. Therefore, when they spoke to him of the poor, he replied rather sharply: "Ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always." And, exalting himself, he promised immortality to the woman who in this critical moment gave him a token of love.

The next day (Sunday, 9th of Nisan) Jesus descended from Bethany to Jerusalem. When, at a bend of the road, upon the summit of the Mount of Olives, he saw the city spread before him, it is said he wept over it, and addressed to it a last appeal. At the base of the mountain, at some steps from the gate, on entering the neighboring portion of the eastern wall of the city, which was called Bethphage, no doubt on account of the fig-trees with which it was planted, he had experienced a momentary pleasure. His arrival was noised abroad. The Galileans who had come to the feast were highly elated, and prepared a little triumph for him. An ass was brought to him, followed, according to custom, by its colt. The Galileans spread their finest garments upon the back of this humble animal as saddle-cloths, and seated him thereon. Others, however, spread their garments upon the road, and strewed it with green branches. The multitude which preceded and followed him, carrying palms, cried: "Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!" Some persons even gave him the title of king of Israel. "Master, rebuke thy disciples," said the Pharisees to him. "If these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out," replied Jesus, and he entered into the city. The Hierosolymites, who scarcely knew him, asked who he was. "It is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth, in Galilee," was the reply. Jerusalem was a city of about 50,000 souls. A trifling event, such as the entrance of a stranger, however little celebrated, or the arrival of a band of provincials, or a movement of people to the avenues of the city, could not fail, under ordinary circumstances, to be quickly noised about. But at the time of the feast the confusion was extreme. Jerusalem at these times was taken possession of by strangers. It was among the latter that the excitement appears to have been most lively. Some proselytes, speaking Greek, who had come to the feast, had their curiosity piqued, and wished to see Jesus. They addressed themselves to his disciples; but we do not know the result of the interview. Jesus, according to his custom, went to pass the night at his beloved village of Bethany. The three following days (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday) he descended regularly to Jerusalem; and, after the setting of the sun, he returned either to Bethany, or to the farms on the western side of the Mount of Olives, where he had many friends.

A deep melancholy appears, during these last days, to have filled the soul of Jesus, who was generally so joyous and serene. All the narratives agree in relating that before his arrest he underwent a short experience of doubt and trouble; a kind of anticipated agony. According to some, he suddenly exclaimed, "Now is my soul troubled. O Father, save me from this hour." It was believed that a voice from heaven was heard at this moment: others said that an angel came to console him. According to one widely-spread version, the incident took place in the garden of Gethsemany. Jesus, it was said, went about a stone's throw from his sleeping disciples, taking with him only Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and fell on his face and prayed. His soul was sad even unto death; a terrible anguish weighed upon him; but resignation to the Divine will sustained him. This scene, owing to the instinctive art which regulated the compilation of the Synoptics, and often led them in the arrangement of the narrative to study adaptability and effect, has been given as occurring on the last night of the life of Jesus, and at the precise moment of his arrest. If this version were the true one, we should scarcely understand why John, who had been the intimate witness of so touching an episode, should not mention it in the very circumstantial narrative which he has furnished of the evening of the Thursday. All that we can safely say is, that during his last days the enormous weight of the mission he had accepted pressed cruelly upon Jesus. Human nature asserted itself for a time. Perhaps he began to hesitate about his work. Terror and doubt took possession of him, and threw him into a state of exhaustion worse than death. He who has sacrificed his repose and the legitimate rewards of life to a great idea always experiences a feeling of revulsion when the image of death presents itself to him for the first time, and seeks to persuade him that all has been in vain. Perhaps some of those touching reminiscences which the strongest souls preserve, and which at times pierce like a sword, came upon him at this moment. Did he remember the clear fountains of Galilee where he was wont to refresh himself; the vine and the fig-tree under which he had reposed, and the young maidens who, perhaps, would have consented to love him? Did he curse the hard destiny which had denied him the joys conceded to all others? Did he regret his too lofty nature, and, victim of his greatness, did he mourn that he had not remained a simple artisan of Nazareth? We know not. For all these internal troubles evidently were a sealed letter to his disciples. They understood nothing of them, and supplied by simple conjectures that which in the great soul of their Master was obscure to them. It is certain at least that his Divine nature soon regained the supremacy. He might still have avoided death; but he would not. Love for his work sustained him. He was willing to drink the cup to the dregs. Henceforth we behold Jesus entirely himself; his character unclouded. The subtleties of the polemic, the credulity of the thaumaturgus and of the exorcist, are forgotten. There remains only the incomparable hero of the Passion, the founder of the rights of the free conscience, and the complete model which all suffering souls will contemplate in order to fortify and console themselves.

The triumph of Bethphage -- that bold act of the provincials in celebrating at the very gates of Jerusalem the advent of their Messiah-King -- completed the exasperation of the Pharisees and the aristocracy of the temple. A new council was held on the Wednesday (12th of Nisan) in the house of Joseph Kaiapha. The immediate arrest of Jesus was resolved upon. A great idea of order and of conservative policy governed all their plans. The desire was to avoid a scene. As the feast of the Passover, which commenced that year on the Friday evening, was a time of bustle and excitement, it was resolved to anticipate it. Jesus being popular, they feared an outbreak; the arrest was therefore fixed for the next day, Thursday. It was resolved, also, not to seize him in tho temple, where he came every day, but to observe his habits, in order to seize him in some retired place. The agents of the priests sounded his disciples, hoping to obtain useful information from their weakness or their simplicity. They found what they sought in Judas of Kerioth. This wretch, actuated by motives impossible to explain, betrayed his Master, gave all the necessary information, and even undertook himself (although such an excess of vileness is scarcely credible) to guide the troop which was to effect his arrest. The remembrance of horror which the folly or the wickedness of this man has left in the Christian tradition has doubtless given rise to some exaggeration on this point. Judas until then had been a disciple like the others; he had even the title of Apostle; and he had performed miracles and driven out demons. Legend, which always uses strong and decisive language, describes the occupants of the little supper room as eleven saints and one reprobate. Reality does not proceed by such absolute categories. Avarice, which the Snoptics give as the motive of the crime in question, does not suffice to explain it. It would be very singular if the man who kept the purse, and who knew what he would lose by the death of his chief, were to abandon the profits of his occupation in exchange for a very small sum of money. Had the self-love of Judas been wounded by the rebuff which he had received at the dinner at Bethany? Even that would not explain his conduct. John would have us regard him as a thief, an unbeliever from the beginning, for which, however, there is no probability. We would rather ascribe it to some feeling of jealousy or to some dissension among the disciples. The peculiar hatred John manifests towards Judas confirms this hypothesis. Less pure in heart than the others, Judas had, from the very nature of his office, become unconsciously narrow- minded. By a caprice very common to men engaged in active duties, he had come to regard the interests of the treasury as superior even to those of the work for which it was intended. The treasurer had overcome the Apostle. The murmurings which escaped him at Bethany seem to indicate that sometimes he thought the Master cost his spiritual family too dear. No doubt this mean economy had caused many other collisions in the little society.

Without denying that judas of Kerioth may have contributed to the arrest of his Master, we still believe that the curses with which he is loaded are somewhat unjust. There was, perhaps, in his deed more awkwardness than perversity. The moral conscience of the man of the people is quick and correct, but unstable and inconsistent. it is at the mercy of the impulse of the moment. The secret societies of the republican party were characterized by much earnestness and sincerity, and yet their denouncers were very numerous. A trifling spite sufficed to convert a partisan into a traitor. But if the foolish desire for a few pieces of silver turned the head of poor Judas, he does not seem to have lost the moral sentiment completely, since, when he had seen the consequences of his fault, he repented, and, it is said, killed himself.

Each moment of this eventful period is solemn, and counts more than whole ages in the history of humanity. We have arrived at the Thursday, 13th of Nisan (2nd April). The evening of the next day commenced the festival of the Passover, begun by the feast in which the Paschal lamb was eaten. The festival continued for seven days, during which unleavened bread was eaten. The first and the last of these seven days were peculiarly solemn. The disciples were already occupied with preparations for the feast. As to Jesus, we are led to believe that he knew of the treachery of Judas, and that he suspected the fate that awaited him. In the evening he took his last repast with his disciples. It was not the ritual feast of the passover, as was afterwards supposed, owing to an error of a day in reckoning; but for the primitive Church this supper of the Thursday was the true passover, the seat of the new covenant. Each disciple connected with it his most cherished remembrances, and numerous touching traits of the Master which each one preserved were associated with this repast, which became the corner-stone of Christian piety and the starting-point of the most fruitful institutions.

Doubtless the tender love which filled the heart of Jesus for the little Church which surrounded him overflowed at this moment, and his strong and serene soul became buoyant, even under the weight of the gloomy preoccupations that beset him. He had a word for each of his friends; two among them especially, John and Peter, were the objects of tender marks of attachment. John (at least, according to his own account) was reclining on the divan, by the side of Jesus, his head resting upon the breast of the Master. Towards the end of the repast the secret which weighed upon the heart of Jesus almost escaped him: he said, "Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me." To these simple men this was a moment of anguish; they looked at each other, and each questioned himself. Judas was present; perhaps Jesus, who had for some time had reasons to suspect him, sought by this expression to draw from his looks or from his embarrassed manner the confession of his fault. But the unfaithful disciple did not lose countenance; he even dared, it is said, to ask with the others: "Master, is it I?"

Meanwhile, the good and upright soul of Peter was in torture. He made a sign to John to endeavor to ascertain of whom the Master spoke. John, who could converse with Jesus without being heard, asked him the meaning of this enigma. Jesus, having only suspicions, did not wish to pronounce any name; he only told John to observe to whom he was going to offer a sop. At the same time, he soaked the bread and offered it to Judas. John and Peter alone had cognisance of the fact. Jesus addressed to Judas words which contained a bitter reproach, but which were not understood by those present; and he left the company. They thought that Jesus was simply giving him orders for the morrow's feast.

At the time this repast struck no one; and apart from the apprehensions which the Master confided to his disciples, who only half understood them, nothing extraordinary took place. But after the death of Jesus they attached to this evening a singularly solemn meaning, and the imagination of believers spread a coloring of sweet mysticism over it. The last hours of a cherished friend are those we best remember. By an inevitable illusion, we attribute to the conversations we have then had with him a meaning which death alone gives to them; we concentrate into a few hours the memories of many years. The greater part of the disciples saw their Master no more after the supper of which we have just spoken. It was the farewell banquet. In this repast, as in many others, Jesus practiced his mysterious rite of the breaking of bread. As it was early believed that the repast in question took place on the day of the Passover, and was the Paschal feast, the idea naturally arose that the Eucharistic institution was established at this supreme moment. Starting from the hypothesis that Jesus knew beforehand the precise moment of his death, the disciples were led to suppose that he reserved a number of important acts for his last hours. As, moreover, one of the fundamental ideas of the first Christians was that the death of Jesus had been a sacrifice, replacing all those of the ancient Law, the "Last Supper," which was supposed to have taken place, once for all, on the eve of the Passion, became the supreme sacrifice -- the act which constituted the new alliance -- the sign of the blood shed for the salvation of all. The bread and wine, placed in connection with death itself, were thus the image of the new testament that Jesus had sealed with his sufferings -- the commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ until his advent.

Very early this mystery was embodied in a small sacramental narrative, which we possess under four forms, very similar to one another. John, preoccupied with the Eucharistic ideas, and who relates the Last Supper with so much prolixity, connecting with it so many circumstances and discourses, and who was the only one of the evangelists whose testimony on this point has the value of an eyewitness, does not mention this narrative. This is a proof that he did not regard the Eucharist as a peculiarity of the Lord's Supper. For him the special rite of the Last Supper was the washing of feet. It is probable that in certain primitive Christian families this latter rite obtained an importance which it has since lost. No doubt Jesus on some occasions had practiced it to give his disciples an example of brotherly humility. It was connected with the eve of his death, in consequence of the tendency to group around the Last Supper all the great moral and ritual recommendations of Jesus.

A high sentiment of love, of concord, of charity, and of mutual deference, animated, moreover, the remembrances which were cherished of the last hours of Jesus. It is always the unity of his Church, constituted by him or by his Spirit, which is the soul of the symbols and of the discourses which Christian tradition referred to this sacred moment: "A new commandment I give unto you," said he, "that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. These things I command you, that ye love one another." At this last moment there were again evoked rivalries and struggles for precedence. Jesus remarked that if he, the Master, had been in the midst of his disciples as their servant, how much more ought they to submit themselves to one another. According to some, in drinking the wine, he said, "I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." According to others, he promised them soon a celestial feast, where they would be seated on thrones at his side.

It seems that towards the end of the evening the presentiments of Jesus took hold of the disciples. All felt that a very serious danger threatened the Master, and that they were approaching a crisis. At one time Jesus thought of precautions and spoke of swords. There were two in the company. "It is enough," said he. He did not, however, follow out this idea; he saw clearly that timid provincials would not stand before the armed force of all the great powers of Jerusalem. Peter, full of zeal, and feeling sure of himself, swore that he would go with him to prison and to death. Jesus, with his usual acuteness, expressed doubts about him. According to a tradition, which probably came from Peter himself, Jesus declared that Peter would deny him before the crowing of the cock. All, like Peter, swore that they would remain faithful to him.


Chapter XXIV

Arrest And Trial Of Jesus

IT was nightfall when they left the room. Jesus, according to his custom, passed through the valley of Kedron; and accompanied by his disciples, went to the garden of Gethsemane, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and sat down there. Overawing his friends by his inherent greatness, he watched and prayed. They were sleeping near him, when all at once an armed troop appeared bearing lighted torches. It was the guards of the temple, armed with staves, a kind of police under the control of priests. They were supported by a detachment of Roman soldiers with their swords. The order for the arrest emanated from the high priest and Sanhedrim. Judas, knowing the habits of Jesus, had indicated this place as the one where he might most easily be surprised. Judas, according to the unanimous tradition of the earliest times, accompanied the detachment himself; and, according to some, he carried his hateful conduct even to betraying him with a kiss. However this may be, it is certain that there was some show of resistance on the part of the disciples. One of them (Peter, according to eye-witnesses) drew his sword, and wounded the ear of one of the servants of the high priest, named Malchus. Jesus restrained this opposition, and gave himself up to the soldiers. Weak and incapable of effectual resistance, especially against authorities who had so much prestige, the disciples took flight, and became dispersed; Peter and John alone did not lose sight of their Master. Another unknown young man followed him, covered with a light garment. They sought to arrest him, but the young man fled, leaving his tunic in the hands of the guards.

The course which the priests had resolved to take against Jesus was quite in conformity with the established law. The procedure against the "corrupter" (mesith) who sought to injure the purity of religion is explained in the Talmud, with details the naive impudence of which provokes a smile. A judicial ambush is there made an essential part of the examination of criminals. When a man was accused of being a "corrupter," two witnesses were suborned, who were concealed behind a partition. It was arranged to bring the accused into a contiguous room, where he could be heard by these two without his perceiving them. Two candles were lighted near him in order that it might be satisfactorily proved that the witnesses "saw him." He was then made to repeat his blasphemy, and urged to retract it. If he persisted, the witnesses who had heard him conducted him to the tribunal, and he was stoned to death. The Talmud adds that this was the manner in which they treated Jesus; that he was condemned on the faith of two witnesses who had been suborned, and that the crime of "corruption" is, moreover, the only one for which the witnesses are thus prepared.

We learn from the disciples of Jesus themselves that the crime with which their Master was charged was that of "corruption"; and, apart from some minutiae, the fruit of the rabbinical imagination, the narrative of the Gospels corresponds exactly with the procedure described by the Talmud. The plan of the enemies of Jesus was to convict him, by the testimony of witnesses and by his own avowals, of blasphemy, and of outrage against the Mosaic religion, to condemn him to death according to law, and then to get the condemnation sanctioned by Pilate. The priestly authority, as we have already seen, was in reality entirely in the hands of Hanan. The order for the arrest probably came from him. It was before this powerful personage that Jesus was first brought. Hanan questioned him as to his doctrine and his disciples. Jesus, with proper pride, refused to enter into long explanations. He referred Hanan to his teachings, which had been public; he declared he had never held any secret doctrine; and desired the ex-high priest to interrogate those who had listened to him. This answer was perfectly natural; but the exaggerated respect with which the old priest was surrounded made it appear audacious; and one of those present replied to it, it is said, by a blow.

Peter and John had followed their Master to the dwelling of Hanan. John, who was known in the house, was admitted without difficulty; but Peter was stopped at the entrance, and John was obliged to beg the porter to let him pass. The night was cold. Peter stopped in the antechamber, and approached a brasier, round which the servants were warming themselves. He was soon recognized as a disciple of the accused. The unfortunate man, betrayed by his Galilean accent, and pestered by questions from the servants, one of whom, a kinsman of Malchus, had seen him at Gethsemane, denied thrice that he had ever had the least connection with Jesus. He thought that Jesus could not hear him, and never imagined that this cowardice, which he sought to hide by his dissimulation, was exceedingly dishonorable. But his better nature soon revealed to him the fault he had committed. A fortuitous circumstance, the crowing of the cock, recalled to him a remark which Jesus had made. Touched to the heart, he went out and wept bitterly.

Hanan, although the true author of the judicial murder about to be accomplished, had not power to pronounce the sentence upon Jesus; he sent him to his son-in-law, Kaiapha, who bore the official title. This man, the blind instrument of his father-in- law, would naturally ratify everything that had been done. The Sanhedrim was assembled at his house. The inquiry commenced; and several witnesses, prepared beforehand according to the inquisitorial process described in the Talmud, appeared before the tribunal. The fatal sentence which Jesus had really uttered, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days," was cited by two witnesses. To blaspheme the temple of God was according to the Jewish law, to blaspheme God himself. Jesus remained silent, and refused to explain the incriminating speech. If we may believe one version, the high priest then adjured him to say if he were the Messiah; Jesus confessed it, and proclaimed before the assembly the near approach of his heavenly reign. The courage of Jesus, who had resolved to die, renders this narrative superfluous. It is probable that here, as when before Hanan, he remained silent. This was in general his rule of conduct during his last moments. The sentence was settled; and they only sought for pretexts. Jesus felt this, and did not undertake a useless defence. In the light of orthodox Judaism, he was truly a blasphemer, a destroyer of the established worship. Now, these crimes were punished by the law with death. With one voice the assembly declared him guilty of a capital crime. The members of the council who secretly leaned to him were absent or did not vote. The frivolity which characterizes old established aristocracies did not permit the judges to reflect long upon the consequences of the sentence they had passed. Human life was at that time very lightly sacrificed; doubtless the members of the Sanhedrim did not dream that their sons would have to render account to an angry posterity for the sentence pronounced with such careless disdain.

The Sanhedrim had not the right to execute a sentence of death. But, in the confusion of powers which then reigned in Judea, Jesus was, from that moment, none the less condemned. He remained the rest of the night exposed to the ill treatment of an infamous pack of servants, who spared him no indignity.

In the morning the chief priests and the elders again assembled. The point was to get Pilate to ratify the condemnation pronounced by the Sanhedrim, which, since the occupation of the Romans, was no longer sufficient. The procurator was not invested, like the imperial legate, with the disposal of life and death. But Jesus was not a Roman citizen; it only required the authorization of the governor in order that the sentence pronounced against him should take its course. As always happens when a political people subjects a nation in which the civil and religious laws are confounded, the Romans had been brought to give to the Jewish law a sort of official support. The Roman law did not apply to Jews. The latter remained under the canonical law which we find recorded in the Talmud, just as the Arabs in Algeria are still governed by the code of Islamism. Although neutral in religion, the Romans thus very often sanctioned penalties inflicted for religious faults. The situation was nearly that of the sacred cities of India under the English dominion, or rather that which would be the state of Damascus if Syria were conquered by a European nation. Josephus asserts, though this may be doubted, that, if a Roman trespassed beyond the pillars which bore inscriptions forbidding pagans to advance, the Romans themselves would have delivered him to the Jews to be put to death.

The agents of the priests therefore bound Jesus and led him to the judgment-hall, which was the former palace of Herod, adjoining the Tower of Antonia. It was the morning of the day on which the Paschal lamb was to be eaten. (Friday the 14th of Nisan, our April 3rd.) The Jews would have been defiled by entering the judgment-hall, and would not have been able to share in the sacred feast. They therefore remained without. Pilate, being informed of their presence ascended the bima or tribunal, situated in the open air, at the place named Gabbatha, or, in Greek, Lithostrotos, on account of the pavement which covered the ground.

He had scarcely been informed of the accusation before he displayed his annoyance at being mixed up with this affair. He then shut himself up in the judgment-hall with Jesus. There a conversation took place, the precise details of which are lost, no witness having been able to repeat it to the disciples, but the tenour of which appears to have been well divined by John. His narrative, in fact, perfectly accords with what history teaches us of the mutual position of the two interlocutors.

The procurator, Pontius, surnamed Pilate, doubtless on account of the pilum or javelin of honor with which he or one of his ancestors was decorated, had hitherto had no relation with the new sect. Indifferent to the internal quarrels of the Jews, he only saw, in all these movements of sectaries, the results of intemperate imaginations and disordered brains. In general, he did not like the Jews, but the Jews detested him still more. They thought him hard, scornful, and passionate, and accused him of improbable crimes.

Jerusalem, the center of a great national fermentation, was a very seditious city, and an insupportable abode for a foreigner. The enthusiasts pretended that it was a fixed design of the new procurator to abolish the Jewish law. Their narrow fanaticism and their religious hatreds disgusted that broad sentiment of justice and civil government which the humblest Roman carried everywhere with him. All the acts of Pilate which are known to us show him to have been a good administrator. In the earlier period of the exercise of his office he had difficulties with those subject to him which he had solved in a very brutal manner; but it seems that essentially he was right. The Jews must have appeared to him a people behind the age; he doubtless judged them as a liberal prefect formerly judged the Bas-Bretons, who rebelled for such trifling matters as a new road, or the establishment of a school. In his best projects for the good of the country, notably in those relating to public works, he had encountered an impassable obstacle in the Law. The Law restricted life to such a degree that it opposed all change, and all amelioration. The Roman structures, even the most useful ones, were objects of great antipathy on the part of zealous Jews. Two votive escutcheons with inscriptions, which he had set up at his residence near the sacred precincts, provoked a still more violent storm. Pilate at first cared little for these susceptibilities; and he was soon involved in sanguinary suppressions of revolt, which afterwards ended in his removal. The experience of so many conflicts had rendered him very prudent in his relations with this intractable people, which avenged itself upon its governors by compelling them to use towards it hateful severities. The procurator saw himself, with extreme displeasure, led to play a cruel part in this new affair, for the sake of a law he hated. He knew that religious fanaticism, when it has obtained the sanction of civil Governments to some act of violence, is afterwards the first to throw the responsibility upon the Government, and almost accuses them of being the author of it. Supreme injustice; for the true culprit is, in such cases, the instigator!

Pilate, then, would have liked to save Jesus. Perhaps the dignified and calm attitude of the accused made an impression upon him. According to a tradition, Jesus found a supporter in the wife of the procurator himself. She may have seen the gentle Galilean from some window of the palace overlooking the courts of the temple. Perhaps she had seen him again in her dreams; and the idea that the blood of this beautiful young man was about to be spilt weighed upon her mind. Certain it is that Jesus found Pilate prepossessed in his favor. The governor questioned him with kindness, and with the desire to find an excuse for sending him away pardoned.

The title of "Kings of the Jews," which Jesus had never taken upon himself, but which his enemies represented as the sum and substance of his acts and pretensions, was naturally that by which it was sought to excite the suspicions of the Roman authority. They accused him on this ground of sedition, and of treason against the Government. Nothing could be more unjust; for Jesus had always recognized the Roman Government as the established power. But conservative religious bodies do not generally shrink from calumny. Notwithstanding his own explanation, they drew certain conclusions from his teaching; they transformed him into a disciple of Judas the Gaulonite; they pretended that he forbade the payment of tribute to Caesar. Pilate asked him if he was really the King of the Jews. Jesus concealed nothing of what he thought. But the great ambiguity of speech which had been the source of his strength, and which, after his death, was to establish his kingship, injured him on this occasion. An idealist that is to say, not distinguishing the spirit from the substance, Jesus, whose words, to use the image of the Apocalypse, were as a two-edged sword, never completely satisfied the powers of earth. If we may believe John, he avowed his royalty, but uttered at the same time this profound sentence: "My kingdom is not of this world." He explained the nature of his kingdom, declaring that it consisted entirely in the possession and proclamation of truth. Pilate understood nothing of this grand idealism. Jesus doubtless impressed him as being an inoffensive dreamer. The total absence of religious and philosophical proselytism among the Romans of this epoch made them regard devotion to truth as a chimera. Such discussions annoyed them, and appeared to them devoid of meaning. Not perceiving the element of danger to the empire that lay hidden in these new speculations, they had no reason to employ violence against them. All their displeasure fell upon those who asked them to inflict punishment for what appeared to them to be vain subtleties. Twenty years after Gallio still adopted the same course towards the Jews. Until the fall of Jerusalem, the rule which the Romans adopted in administration was to remain completely indifferent to these sectarian quarrels.

An expedient suggested itself to the mind of the governor by which he could reconcile his own feelings with the demands of the fanatical people, whose pressure he had already so often felt. It was the custom to deliver a prisoner to the people at the time of the Passover. Pilate, knowing that Jesus had only been arrested in consequence of the jealousy of the priests, tried to obtain for him the benefit of this custom. He appeared again upon the bima, and proposed to the multitude to release the "King of the Jews." The proposition made in these terms, though ironical, was characterized by a degree of liberality. The priests saw the danger of it. They acted promptly, and, in order to combat the proposition of Pilate, they suggested to the crowd the name of a prisoner who enjoyed great popularity in Jerusalem. By a singular coincidence, he also was called Jesus, and bore the surname of Bar-Abba, or Bar-Rabban. He was a well-known personage, and had been arrested for taking part in an uproar in which murder had been committed, A general clamor was raised, "Not this man; but Jesus Bar-Rabban"; and Pilate was obliged to release Jesus Bar- Rabban.

His embarrassment increased. He feared that too much indulgence shown to a prisoner to whom was given the title of "King of the Jews" might compromise him. Fanaticism, moreover, compels all powers to make terms with it. Pilate thought himself obliged to make some concession; but still hesitating to shed blood, in order to satisfy men whom he hated, wished to turn the thing into a jest. Affecting to laugh at the pompous title they had given to Jesus, he caused him to be scourged. Scourging was the general preliminary of crucifixion. Perhaps Pilate wished it to be believed that this sentence had already been pronounced, hoping that the preliminary would suffice. Then took place (according to all the narratives) a revolting scene The soldiers put a scarlet robe on his back, a crown formed of branches of thorns upon his head, and a reed in his hand. Thus attired, he was led to the tribunal in front of the people. The soldiers defiled before him, striking him in turn, and knelt to him, saying, "Hail! King of the Jews!" Others, it is said, spit upon him, and struck his head with the reed. It is difficult to understand how Roman dignity could stoop to acts so shameful. It is true that Pilate, in the capacity of procurator, had under his command scarcely any but auxiliary troops. Roman citizens, as the legionaries were, would not have degraded themselves by such conduct.

Did Pilate think by this display that he freed himself from responsibility? Did he hope to turn aside the blow which threatened Jesus by conceding something to the hatred of the Jews, and by substituting for the tragic denouement a grotesque termination, to make it appear that the affair merited no other issue? If such were his idea, it was unsuccessful. The tumult increased, and became an open riot. The cry, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" resounded from all sides. The priests, becoming increasingly urgent, declared the Law in peril if the corrupter were not punished with death. Pilate saw clearly that to save Jesus he would have to put down a terrible disturbance. He still tried, however, to gain time. He returned to the judgment-hall and ascertained from what country Jesus came, with the hope of finding a pretext for declaring his inability to adjudicate. According to one tradition, he even sent Jesus to Antipas, who, it is said was then at Jerusalem. Jesus took no part in these well-meant efforts; he maintained, as he had done before Kaiapha, a grave and dignified silence, which astonished Pilate. The cries from without became more and more menacing. The people had already begun to denounce the lack of zeal in the functionary who protected an enemy of Caesar. The greatest adversaries of the Roman rule were suddenly transformed into loyal subjects of Tiberius, that they might have the right of accusing the too tolerant procurator of treason. "We have no king," said they, "but Caesar. If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar." The feeble Pilate yielded; he foresaw the report that his enemies would send to Rome, in which they would accuse him of having protected a rival of Tiberius. Once before, in the matter of the votive escutcheons, the Jews had written to the emperor, and had received satisfaction. He feared for his office. By a compliance, which was to deliver his name to the scorn of history he yielded, throwing, it is said, upon the Jews all the responsibility of what was about to happen. The latter, according to the Christians, fully accepted it by exclaiming, "His blood be on us and on our children!"

Were these words really uttered? We may doubt it. But they are the expression of a profound historical truth Considering the attitude which the Romans had taken in Judea, Pilate could scarcely have acted otherwise. How many sentences of death dictated by religious intolerance been extorted from the civil power! The king of Spain, who, in order to please a fanatical clergy, delivered hundreds of his subjects to the stake, was more blameable than Pilate, for he represented a more absolute power than that of the Romans at Jerusalem. When the civil power becomes persecuting or meddlesome at the solicitation of the priesthood, it proves its weakness. But let the Government that is without sin in this respect throw the first stone at Pilate. The "secular arm," behind which clerical cruelty shelters itself, is not the culprit. No one has a right to say that he has a horror of blood when he causes it to be shed by his servants.

It was, then, neither Tiberius nor Pilate who condemned Jesus. It was the old Jewish party; it was the Mosaic Law. According to our modern ideas, there is no transmission of moral demerit from father to son; no one is accountable to human or Divine justice except for that which he himself has done. Consequently, every Jew who suffers to-day for the murder of Jesus has a right to complain, for he might have acted as did Simon the Cyrenean; at any rate, he might not have been with those who cried "Crucify him!" But nations, like individuals, have their responsibilities, and, if ever crime was the crime of a nation, it was the death of Jesus. This death was "legal in the sense that it was primarily caused by a law which was the very soul of the nation. The Mosaic law, in its modern, but still in its accepted form, pronounced the penalty of death against all attempts to change the established worship. Now, there is no doubt that Jesus attacked this worship, and aspired to destroy it. The Jews expressed this to Pilate with a truthful simplicity: "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die; because he has made himself the Son of God." The law was detestable, but it was the law of ancient ferocity; and the hero who offered himself in order to abrogate it had first of all to endure its penalty.

Alas! it has required more than eighteen hundred years for the blood that he shed to bear its fruits. Tortures and death have been inflicted for ages in the name of Jesus on thinkers as noble as himself. Even at the present time, in countries which call themselves Christian, penalties are pronounced for religious offences. Jesus is not responsible for these errors. He could not foresee that people, with mistaken imaginations, would one day imagine him as a frightful Moloch, greedy of burnt flesh. Christianity has been intolerant, but intolerance is not essentially a Christian fact, It is a Jewish fact in the sense that it was Judaism which first introduced the theory of the absolute in religion, and laid down the principle that every innovator, even if he brings miracles to support his doctrine, ought to be stoned without trial. The pagan world has also had its religious violence. But, if it had had this law, how would it have become Christian? The Pentateuch has thus been in the world the first code of religious terrorism. Judaism has given the example of an immutable dogma armed with the sword. If, instead of pursuing the Jews with a blind hatred, Christianity had abolished the regime which killed its founder, how much more consistent would it have been! how much better would it have deserved of the human race.


Chapter XXV

Death Of Jesus

ALTHOUGH the real motive for the death of Jesus was entirely religious, his enemies had succeeded, in the judgment-hall, in representing him as guilty of treason against the State; they could not have obtained from the skeptical Pilate a condemnation simply on the ground of heterodoxy. Consistently with this idea, the priests demanded, through the people, the crucifixion of Jesus. This punishment was not Jewish in its origin; if the condemnation of Jesus had been purely Mosaic, he would have been Stoned. Crucifixion was a Roman punishment, reserved for slaves, and for cases in which it was wished to add to death the aggravation of ignominy. In applying it to Jesus they treated him as they treated highway robbers, brigands, bandits, or those enemies of inferior rank to whom the Romans did not grant the honor of death by the sword. It was the chimerical "King of the Jews," not the heterodox dogmatist, who was punished. Following out the same idea, the execution was left to the Romans. We know that among the Romans their soldiers, their profession being to kill, performed the office of executioners. Jesus was therefore delivered to a cohort of auxiliary troop's, and all the most hateful features of executions introduced by the cruel habits of the new conquerors were exhibited towards him. It was about noon. They re-clothed him with the garments which they had removed for the farce enacted at the tribunal, and, as the cohort had already in reserve two thieves who were to be executed, the three prisoners were taken together, and the procession set out for the place of execution.

The scene of the execution was at a place called Golgotha, situated outside Jerusalem, but near the walls of the city. The name Golgotha signifies a skull; it corresponds with the French word Chaumont, and probably designated a bare hill or rising ground, having the form of a bald skull. The situation of this hill is not precisely known. It was certainly on the north or north-west of the city, in the high irregular plain which extends between the walls and the two valleys of Kedron and Hinnom, a rather uninteresting region, and made still worse by the objectionable circumstances arising from the neighborhood of a great city. It is difficult to identify Golgotha as the precise place which, since Constantine, has been venerated by entire Christendom. This place, is too much in the interior of the city, and we are led to believe that in the time of Jesus it was comprised within the circuit of the walls.

He who was condemned to the cross had himself to carry the instrument of his execution. But Jesus, physically weaker than his two companions, could not carry his. The troop met a certain Simon of Cyrene, who was returning from the country, and the soldiers, with the off-hand procedure of foreign garrisons, forced him to carry the fatal tree. Perhaps they made use of a recognized right of forcing labor, the Romans not being allowed to carry the infamous wood. It seems that Simon was afterwards of the Christian community. His two sons, Alexander and Rufus, were well known in it. He related perhaps more than one circumstance of which he had been witness. No disciple was at this moment near to Jesus.

The place of execution was at last reached. According to Jewish custom, the sufferers were offered a strong aromatic wine, an intoxicating drink, which, through a sentiment of pity, was given to the condemned in order to stupefy him. It appears that the ladies of Jerusalem often brought this kind of wine to the unfortunates who were led to execution; when none was presented by them, it was purchased from the public treasury. Jesus, after having touched the edge of the cup with his lips, refused to drink. This mournful consolation of ordinary sufferers did not accord with his exalted nature. He preferred to quit life with perfect clearness of mind, and to await in full consciousness the death he had willed and brought upon himself. He was then divested of his garments, and fastened to the cross. The cross was composed of two beams, tied in the form of the letter T. It was not much elevated, so that the feet of the condemned almost touched the earth. They commenced by fixing it, then they fastened the sufferer to it by driving nails into his hands; the feet were often nailed, though sometimes only bound with cords. A piece of wood was fastened to the upright portion of the cross, towards the middle, and passed between the legs of the condemned, who rested upon it. Without that the hands would have been torn and the body would have sunk down. At other times a small horizontal rest was fixed beneath the feet and sustained them.

Jesus tasted these horrors in all their atrocity. A burning thirst, one of the tortures of crucifixion, devoured him, and he asked to drink. There stood near a cup of the ordinary drink of the Roman soldiers, a mixture of vinegar and water, called Posca, The soldiers had to carry with them their posca on all their expeditions, of which an execution was considered one. A soldier dipped a sponge in this drink, put it at the end of a reed, and raised it to the lips of Jesus, who sucked it. The two robbers were crucified, one on each Side. The executioners, to whom were usually left the small effects (pannicularia) of those executed, drew lots for his garments, and, seated at the foot of the cross, kept guard over him. According to one tradition, Jesus pronounced this sentence, which was in his heart if not upon his lips: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

According to the Roman custom, a writing was attached to the top of the cross, bearing in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the words: "THE KING OF THE JEWS." There was something painful and insulting to the nation in this inscription. The numerous passers-by who read it were offended. The priests complained to Pilate that he ought to have adopted an inscription which would have implied simply that Jesus had called himself King of the Jews. But Pilate, already tired of the whole affair, refused to make any change in what had been written.

His disciples had fled. John, nevertheless, declares himself to have been present, and to have remained standing at the foot of the cross during the whole time. It may be affirmed, with more certainty, that the devoted women of Galilee, who had followed Jesus to Jerusalem and continued to tend him, did not abandon him. Mary Cleophas, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, wife of Khouza, Salome, and others, stayed at a certain distance, and did not lose sight of him. If we must believe John, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also at the foot of the cross, and Jesus, seeing his mother and his beloved disciple together, said to the one, "Behold thy mother!" and to the other, "Behold thy son!" But we do not understand how the Synoptics, who name the other women, should have omitted her whose presence was so striking a feature. Perhaps even the extreme elevation of the character of Jesus does not render such personal emotion probable at the moment when solely preoccupied by his work, he no longer existed except for humanity.

Apart from this small group of women, whose presence consoled him, Jesus had before him only the spectacle of the baseness or stupidity of humanity. The passers-by insulted him. He heard around him foolish scoffs, and his greatest cries of pain turned into hateful jests: "He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. He saved others," they said again; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him! Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself." Some, vaguely acquainted with his apocalyptic ideas, thought they heard him call Elias, and said: Let us see whether Elias will come to save him." It appears that the two crucified thieves at his side also insulted him. The sky was dark; and the earth, as in all the environs of Jerusalem, dry and gloomy. For a moment, according to certain narratives, his heart failed him; a cloud hid from him the face of his Father; he endured an agony of despair a thousand times more acute than all his torture. He saw only the ingratitude of men; he perhaps repented suffering for a vile race, and exclaimed: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But his Divine instinct still prevailed. In the degree that the life of the body became extinguished, his soul became clear, and returned by degrees to its celestial origin. He regained the idea of his mission; he saw in his death the salvation of the world; he lost sight of the hideous spectacle spread at his feet, and, profoundly united to his Father, he began upon the gibbet the Divine life which he was to live in the heart of humanity throughout infinite ages.

The peculiar atrocity of crucifixion was that one might live three or four days in this horrible state upon the instrument of torture. The hemorrhage from the hands quickly stopped, and was not mortal. The true cause of death was the unnatural position of the body, which brought on a frightful disturbance of the circulation, terrible pains of the head and heart, and, at length, rigidity of the limbs. Those who had a strong constitution only died of hunger. The idea which suggested this cruel punishment was not directly to kill the condemned by positive injuries, but to expose the slave, nailed by the hand of which he had not known how to make good use, and to let him rot on the wood. The delicate organization of Jesus preserved him from this slow agony. Everything leads to the belief that the instantaneous rupture of a vessel in the heart brought him, at the end of three hours, to a sudden death. Some moments before yielding up his soul his voice was still strong. All at once he uttered a terrible cry, which some heard as: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!" but which others, more preoccupied with the accomplishment of prophecies, rendered by the words, "It is finished!" His head fell upon his breast, and he expired.

Rest now in thy glory, noble initiator. Thy work is completed; thy divinity is established. Fear no more to see the edifice of thy efforts crumble through a flaw. Henceforth, beyond the reach of frailty, thou shalt be present, from the height of the divine peace, in the infinite consequences of thy acts. At the price of a few hours of suffering, which have not even touched thy great soul, thou hast purchased the most complete immortality. For thousands of years the world will extol thee. Banner of our contradictions, thou wilt be the sign around which will be fought the fiercest battles. A thousand times more living, a thousand times more loved since thy death than during the days of thy pilgrimage here below, thou wilt become to such a degree the corner-stone of humanity that to tear thy name from this world would be to shake it to its foundations. Between thee and God men will no longer distinguish. Complete conqueror of death, take possession of thy kingdom, whither, by the royal road thou hast traced, ages of adorers will follow thee.

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