The last of the thirty pieces of silver
20 Jan 2010
Below's one of those moments of exasperated "you know, I wouldn't be terribly surprised or shocked if it had been like this".
* * *
The Roman soldier was silent-drunk, staring-drunk, and in no condition to listen or to answer. This made him the perfect audience for Jud's little confession; he wanted to speak out, but wasn't exactly seeking retorts or judgments.
"Holy God and his legion of angels", he whispered, "we just wanted to get to the city in style, and now my best friend is dead."
A Syrian woman, drunken, her movements sharp and jerky, brought Jud his yet-another mug of wine; he drunk half of it in a gulp, shuddered, and gazed into the shadows.
There were plenty of those; no customer of this syphilitic pit of a tavern wanted to dwell too much on the others that drunk here. Neither did Jud; the screams inside his head were quite enough.
"I told him it was a bad idea", he muttered, then shook his head. "Nonsense. A man that lies to others is wicked; the man that lies to himself is damned. I had a flicker of doubt, but I did not say anything; and I was the one that went into the crowd and started the rumor."
He chuckled. "Yes, right. The great and famous teacher from Galilee is coming, I told them. Water into wine, walking on water, all the right tricks I attributed to him. And I said Jesus son of Joseph was his name."
The passed-out Roman did not hear him; but that did not matter because Jud was looking back into a place very different from the shadows of this rotting dive. "And as the day drew to its close, and the rumors had passed from mouth to mouth, flowing together and growing stronger, I went to the stables and said I had been sent by the great teacher Jesus to get an ass for him to ride into town, as the prophecies had said. Prophecies, hah, prophecies say anything you want them to say. And I got the ass, and a mule for myself! Just as we had planned, and all we had planned!"
He drained the rest of the cup, and coughed. "No lying to myself; I think he wanted to run away when I came back with the animals. He knew, I knew too, it would be trouble. Jerusalem at Passover is a turbulent place, where many turbulent priests are gotten rid of if they stir up too much trouble. By the Romans, by the high priests, by their own followers even. And we weren't animal thieves; just two fishermen with no money, no families and no life to go back to; and so we mounted and rode into Jerusalem, and the crowds cheered us and laid palm fronds on our path: the rabbi Jesus, and his disciple, young Judas of Galilee. I returned the animals; I thought that would be all and more than enough."
The Roman shuddered; a foul snort escaped his mephitic cavern of a mouth; but he did not awaken.
"How was I to know there would really be followers? There were so many people ready to follow, their eyes burning with that hunger that all prophets must feed, or perish. Like their former prophet, that Baptist, had perished." The ends of Jud's mouth twitched upwards in a parody of a smile. "And they knew all the stories already! Made up not a day previous, and there were already miracles upon miracles and more than I'd ever invented, all supposed tales from the countryside! And so we, you and I, nodded and added details and tried to remember what our village rabbi, that old lunatic, had muttered and whispered each night before falling to his troubled sleep; and those dogs got the hungrier the more we fed them. One provided a hall, another a feast; someone gave you a drinking-cup, another gifted me thirty pieces of silver for he wanted me to question you about immortality, heavenly bodies and other absurdities; and they all gathered around us with adoring ravenous eyes and claw-hands stretched out for a blessing, heads empty gourds for us to fill with whatever we said."
He shook his head. "No, certainly not the time to say we weren't serious. That we were just poor fishermen that had wanted to ride to Jerusalem, to just once in our lives have a bit of... mischief or glory. No, that pack of wolves and lions would have torn us apart, and then gone to seek a different prophet, one less kind and honest. And there was no slipping away from that lot; not when when you retired they came to me and asked if it was true you were a spirit-being and meditated instead of defecating."
The Roman began to snore; Jud looked at him in disgust. "Yes, thunder! Thunderclouds on the skies, and two fools and their flock of wolves at the garden of Gethsemane. Unaware that the more fiery members of that flock have been upturning tables and disrupting services in their master Jesus's name, proclaiming all manner of outlandish things; unaware that the guards of the Sanhedrin are coming to them to take care of this upstart prophet."
"Unaware that after the night of confusion and the pitched battle of lunatics in the garden, one of the fools finds himself safely fled, fled from the first instances of the fighting; but unable to find the other in safety. Oh! Poor Judas and Jesus ran away, leaving their deluded followers to fight; but only Judas got away. The Sanhedrin got Jesus, accused him of neither he nor I knew of what; handed him to the Romans; and the Romans obliged and he was the third of the three crucified that day, for various and sundry crimes and offenses against the great and bulbous emperor of Rome."
"It's the third night after that; he has been three days dead in a tomb or a heap somewhere, or wherever his body was whisked away to, probably by some surviving fool of a follower; and the stories are growing again and I have been cast to be the villain because I did not die with him."
He drained his cup and stood up, swaying slightly. "And, my Roman friend, I more than half agree with my villainy, though for reasons different from those they know. Now my thirty piece of silver are spent --- they did not buy immortality, only temporary oblivion --- and of our mistake only ashes remain. My dear unconscious Roman friend, I think I, Judas of Galilee, shall now go and kill myself. Better that than living remembering this tragedy that everyone else shall soon forget, but I cannot."
The Roman did not hear him leave, just as he hadn't heard anything he said; and thus the origins of a great tale were lost.
* * *
"Galilee? Why the Gehenna should I want to go to a backwater like that? Besides, we already know what happened there. I myself heard the teacher tell of that, and his reputation had preceded him."
"So why were they at the garden of Gethsemane, you ask? Er, the prophet said he was tired of our company. Guess he knew the end was nigh; that surely was his meaning. And lordy the fracas was terrible when the soldiers came, but it calmed down after they found him."
"Well guess what, in my dreams the teacher came to me and said he knew you would deny him! Deny him twice, no, heck, three times before the cock crows, you stone-for-brains bumpkin, and that I'm going to tell to everybody --- let's see you wriggling off that with some slimy excuse!"
"My lord, prophet, teacher, master, fountain of all wisdom and keeper of the secret of eternal life... hear this humble one's earnest plea. Alone I have rescued thee; please share thy divine wisdom with me alone and let me have the life everlasting. Please awaken. Please awaken. Your corporeal body smells already."
"His childhood? Erm, well, he was the son of Joseph and... and um, I don't know if such matters have been revealed to anybody yet, but if we look at the Holy Books I am sure we can find prophecies that he fulfilled. Just look for, um, uh, births, children, future kings, stuff like that."
"You hear they found that Judas hanged in a garden outside the walls? By his own hand I hear. That's proof as good as any; he really did betray the lord and run away. And I hear he stole thirty pieces of silver from that desperate old rich dude; saw him walking around yesterday and he was just broken."
"An unbeliever! Kill! Stone the heretic!"