The Trial of Jesus

PILATE'S WIFE: Do you want to hear my dream, darling?

PILATE: Not particularly.

WIFE: It was such a vivid one!

PILATE: Sweetheart, you always have vivid dreams. They go rambling on for about half an hour, and there's never any point to them. Caiaphas is going to be here any minute now.

WIFE: Who's Caiaphas?

PILATE: You know perfectly well who he is. The leader of the Pharisees.

WIFE: Oh yes. The one who always seems to be angry about something.

PILATE: Well, he's a man of strong convictions.

WIFE: What's he coming to see you about?

PILATE: He wants a word with me in private before we start the trial.

WIFE: Whose trial? Who is it that you're trying?

PILATE: I told you all this last night, darling. We're trying that rebel preacher, Jesus, the carpenter's son from Nazareth.

WIFE: But that's who my dream was about!

PILATE: Was it? You've never seen him, have you?

WIFE: No, but I've heard quite a lot about him. One of the servants says her daughter was cured of a heavy bleed by him. She touched the hem of his garment as he passed, and the bleeding stopped.

PILATE: What rubbish.

WIFE: She was convinced that it was true.

PILATE: I daresay she was. So, what was your dream?

WIFE: Well, I dreamed that you'd been recalled to Rome, to see Caesar. And it took us ages to get a boat, because - you know that slave we used to have - the one from Gaul -

PILATE: Spare me all the circumstantial details. Just give me the important bit.

WIFE: Oh, all right. Well, when we got to Rome and went to see Caesar, it wasn't Caesar after all, it was this man Jesus.

PILATE: What, you mean -

WIFE: We went into a big marble hall, and there was a throne at the end, and this horrible-looking red thing in the throne, and it turned out to be a man, what was left of a man, all covered in blood. He'd been scourged. And instead of laurels on his head, he had a crown of thorns. And then I woke up crying.

PILATE: How did you know it was Jesus?

WIFE: I just knew. Dreams are like that, aren't they?

PILATE: Hm. Yes, I suppose so.

WIFE: It was so vivid. It was really horrible. I think it was an omen.

PILATE: Oh, nonsense.

WIFE: No, I do. I don't think you should have anything to do with this man. Let him off. Set him free.

PILATE: Darling, I know you don't like it when I have to punish people. You don't like it when I have them flogged, never mind when I have them executed.

WIFE: No, I don't. It makes me sick.

PILATE: But I've got my job to do, haven't I? You have the misfortune of being married to the man who has the misfortune to be the Governor of Judaea. You know what these Jews are like. The proudest and most difficult people on the face of the earth. Don't ask me what they've got to be proud about. Their idea of culture is a collection of old scrolls. Their idea of religion is this ridiculous insistence that there's only one god. They can't seem to remember Roman laws or how to abide by them... Anyway, it's part of my job to punish them when they get out of line.

WIFE: I quite like them. The women are sweet. And the children are sweet too.

PILATE: Well it's not generally the women and children I have to deal with. Life would probably be a good deal simpler if it was. I deal with the men, and quite frankly I'd rather deal with a pack of rabid dogs. Roman men are bad enough, drunken and lecherous whenever they get the chance, cruel and brutal at all times, but at least you know where you are with them. If a Roman soldier does something wrong he knows it's wrong, and if he gets caught he knows that he'll be punished. These Jews are something else. They reserve the right to make up their own minds, instance by instance, as to whether Rome is in the right or in the wrong. They look down on us as if we were the barbarians, not them. They give themselves such airs about their religion and their moral virtue, how they came through slavery in Egypt and Babylon and all the rest of it, Moses and King David and what have you; and their insolence towards us is almost intolerable - even the ones who pretend to be loyal to Rome -

[Enter Caiaphas]

CAIAPHAS: My lord Pilate!

PILATE: Ah, Caiaphas! There you are.

CAIAPHAS: Am I interrupting?

PILATE: No, no, that's all right. You'd better go, my dear.

WIFE: Remember what I said.

PILATE: Yes, yes, I'll do what I can. I'll see you after the trial.

[Exit Pilate's wife]

Now, Caiaphas. Tell me about this man Jesus.

CAIAPHAS: He is a blasphemer, my lord.

PILATE: A blasphemer. You mean he disbelieves in your God, or preaches what you would call heresy about him.

CAIAPHAS: Worse than that. He -

PILATE: That's nothing to me, you know, or indeed to Rome. Your entire system of belief is heresy as far as we are concerned, and our system of belief no doubt appears equally heretical to you. I hope you wouldn't suggest that I should be put on trial or threatened with execution for my belief in Jupiter.

CAIAPHAS: Of course not, my lord.

PILATE: Of course not. I daresay you think all Romans are barbarians who believe a lot of superstitious nonsense. No doubt if you were our overlords, instead of us being yours, you would take a rather less tolerant view of our beliefs than we do of yours. So perhaps you should count your blessings. Because although we may not understand your beliefs very well, Caiaphas, on the whole we do tolerate them. That is one of the things the empire has taught us: to tolerate the beliefs and customs of other nations.

CAIAPHAS: I appreciate that, my lord.

PILATE: We even go so far, in our tolerance, as to allow you fairly wide jurisdiction over your own people, where matters of belief and custom are concerned. So, if the case against this man Jesus is one of blasphemy, you can try him and punish him yourselves. You have that power. You know you have that power. If the case is one of blasphemy, there's no reason for Rome to get involved.

CAIAPHAS: However, the case is not simply one of blasphemy. The man is a malefactor and a troublemaker. Furthermore, if it is decided, ultimately, that the appropriate course of action would be to put him to death, then the death penalty is beyond our power. Only Rome has that prerogative.

PILATE: So, you've brought him here because you want me to put him to death.

CAIAPHAS: No, my lord. I've brought him here to be tried.

PILATE: I'm not a cat's-paw, Caiaphas. Rome doesn't deal out death sentences to settle the petty disputes of her subjects.

CAIAPHAS: This is not a petty dispute, my lord.

PILATE: All right. Then you'd better tell me about this man. I hear he's a follower of what's-his-name, the wild man, John the Submerger.

CAIAPHAS: John the Baptist.

PILATE: Well, there was no particular harm in John the Baptist, was there? He made an enemy of Herod's wife, that was his mistake. He was a wild man and he didn't know how to keep his mouth shut, but there was no harm in him otherwise, was there? He amused the people for a year or two.

CAIAPHAS: He exhorted the people to turn their backs on the priesthood.

PILATE: Oh, I see. You Pharisees didn't like him. He put your noses out of joint.

CAIAPHAS: This is not simply a matter of jealousy and wounded pride, my lord. You must understand that there are two separate strands in our religion. There is the law, founded on our ancient histories and texts, which is kept and interpreted by the priesthood. Then there is a tradition of charismatic preachers, often claiming to be prophets.

PILATE: Like John the Baptist.

CAIAPHAS: Exactly. Now this second strand is highly problematic. The priesthood is a proper discipline: to become a priest you must spend years studying, you must live an upright and blameless life, you must immerse yourself in our law and history, and you must be examined and approved by existing priests. Whereas anybody with the inclination can do what John did: strip himself naked except for a loincloth, take himself off to the wilderness, and declare himself a prophet. Rail against the people as a generation of vipers. Tell them that the time has come for the axe to be laid to the roots of the trees: meaning that everything old must be cut down and cleared away.

PILATE: But John never preached any insurrection against Roman law.

CAIAPHAS: He didn't need to. He didn't directly attack the priesthood, for that matter. The mere fact that he did his preaching in the wilderness, not the temple, showed clearly enough what he thought of us. If people went to be baptised by him, they were turning their backs on us, and he knew it. His whole creed was rebellion against the law. He told soldiers to give up killing, which meant giving up their obedience to their commanders, and abandoning their duty to Rome.

PILATE: But this Jesus, from what I've heard, preaches in the temple, and he also preaches obedience to Rome. When he was asked if it was right for Jews to pay taxes, he said 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.'

CAIAPHAS: I have heard the same. But your lordship should consider that this same Jesus is said to call himself the King of the Jews, which means that he sets himself up in opposition to Caesar. And when he says 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's', the unspoken part of his message is that Caesar should only be obeyed in certain respects. There are certain things over which Caesar has no jurisdiction, and those are the most important.

PILATE: Which is exactly what you'd argue yourself, isn't it?

CAIAPHAS: Not quite, my lord, if you will forgive me. I preach obedience to the law. The law of Rome is one thing, and the law written in our holy books is another. As long as Rome does not ask us to break our own laws - to eat unclean meat, for example, or to work on the Sabbath - then we can live at peace with her. But John preached that each man should obey the dictates of his own conscience, regardless of the law. When he baptised people in the River Jordan he meant them to be washed clean of the past and born again, like newborn infants. He meant them to obey neither Rome nor the priesthood, nor the writing in our holy books, but simply their own inner voices. He thought he was returning them to a state of innocence, but I would call it anarchy.

PILATE: Enough about John. He's dead. What about this man Jesus?

CAIAPHAS: Jesus takes us a step further, from anarchy to pure madness. 'Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,' he says; 'I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them'. What he means is, he has come to supplant them. He tells his disciples to glean ears of corn on the Sabbath. He tells the people that it's wrong to stone an adulterous woman. He tells them that the old traditions of temple-going and praying are mistaken, and they must learn a new type of prayer, in accordance with his instructions. And his authority for doing this is simple. He believes that he can rewrite the laws because he was the one that wrote them in the first place. Do you understand me, my Lord? This man Jesus believes that he is God himself. He said to us in the Temple, 'Before Abraham was, I am'. I shudder to repeat those words: the same words with which God declared himself to Moses. This man Jesus actually thinks he is Almighty God.


PILATE: Which brings us back to the charge of blasphemy. I can understand your anger and disgust, Caiaphas, given your beliefs; but I repeat that blasphemy is nothing to do with me or Rome. You have your own powers with which to punish blasphemers.

CAIAPHAS: But if this man has his way, my lord, his followers will pay no heed either to Rome or the priesthood. Everything will be swept aside. They will believe that God has come down to earth again for the final judgement. They will think the end of the world has come. Nothing will restrain them.

PILATE: Oh, come on, Caiaphas, I'm not a child to be frightened by such stories. People don't really run amuck because of some prophet or other. Look what happened with John. He was a nine-day wonder, and then everyone went back to their normal lives.

CAIAPHAS: My lord, this Jesus is a dangerous man. I urge you to take him seriously.

PILATE: All right, Caiaphas, I'll take him seriously.

CAIAPHAS: The people need to be dissuaded from following one self-proclaimed prophet after another. They need to be shown an example of what happens to those who set themselves above the law.

PILATE: All right, Caiaphas, I've heard what you've got to say.

CAIAPHAS: It is expedient that one man die for the good of the people.

PILATE: Enough, man. [He calls out:] Guards! Bring in Jesus of Nazareth!

CAIAPHAS: I cannot stay in the place of judgement. I would be defiled.

PILATE: Off you go then. Guards!

CAIAPHAS: Remember all I have said, my lord.

PILATE: Yes, yes, all right, all right.

[Exit Caiaphas. Two guards bring in Jesus, who has been scourged and is wearing a crown of thorns.]

PILATE: All right, guards, you can go. I don't think I'm in any danger.

[The guards go out. Jesus is silent.]

PILATE: What's the matter, cat got your tongue?


PILATE: Knocked some sense into you, have they?


PILATE: They tell me that you call yourself the King of the Jews. And Caiaphas tells me that you believe yourself to be the Jewish God, come down to earth.


PILATE: You don't look much like a king to me, let alone a god.


PILATE: Answer me! Are you the King of the Jews or not?

JESUS: Are you asking me because you believe it yourself, or has someone else told it to you?

PILATE: What? What are you talking about? Am I a Jew? Do you think I care who you are, or what you are? Your own people have delivered you to me. They want me to put you to death. What have you done? That's what I'm trying to find out.


PILATE: Have you nothing to say for yourself? Don't you know I've got the power to crucify you, or the power to release you?

JESUS: You could have no power over me at all, unless it was decreed by God.

PILATE: Oh, really. But I thought you were the Son of God.

JESUS: Oh, I'm the Son of God all right.


PILATE: Well, you've got some balls, I'll give you that. Most people in your position either spit in my face and curse me, or grovel at my feet and beg for mercy.

JESUS: I did my begging last night.

PILATE: Did you? You mean to Caiaphas?

JESUS: No, before that. I begged God to take this cup from me. But now I can see that this is the only path to where I need to go.


PILATE: All right, let's start again from the beginning. Are you a king?

JESUS: My kingdom is not of this world.

PILATE: What does that mean?

JESUS: Forget kingdoms. Talk of kingdoms is a distraction. I came into this world to bear witness to the truth. Anyone that wants to know the truth will hear my voice.

PILATE: What truth? What is truth?


I'll tell you what my truth is. It's the Roman Empire. It's the nations of the world and the framework of power. Armies, administration, laws, money. It's a grinding-mill into which people are fed. I'm being ground up in it, and you're being ground up in it too. You can't think straight for the noise of the wheels and the cries of the victims. You can't see the sunlight or the sky, all you can see is the machinery. You say there's only one God. If there's only one God, and this is the world he's created, what kind of God is he?


And I'll tell you something else, Jesus of Nazareth. You're better off with Caiaphas than you are with me. That's the plain fact of the matter. At least Caiaphas believes in something. At least he's doing the right thing by his own standards. If you go around claiming to be Jehovah, he'll seek your destruction, because he can't tolerate that kind of talk. He abhors blasphemy: that's how he's made. With me it's a different story. I'm an educated man, a liberal-minded man, a man with a sense of irony. I used to relish new ideas. When I came here I was genuinely interested in the cultures and customs of other nations. And now look at me. It's not that I've changed, but I've been sidelined. I stand to one side and watch myself fulfilling my duties as an officer of Rome, no matter how cruel and hypocritical they may be. I can't even feel my own actions any more. I watch myself from the outside, as if I were watching a bronze statue. Don't expect me to help you. I feel a certain amount of sympathy towards you, but my sympathy won't do you any good. The machinery only works one way. I can't change anything, that's what I've discovered: I gave up trying a long time ago. Now I just let it happen. Don't expect any help from me.


So, I've told you my truth. Now you tell me yours.

[Pause. Jesus seems about to answer]

No, on second thoughts, don't. Don't tell me anything. You're going to say that my whole life is founded on lies and mistakes, and the only way forward would be to give up everything I have, everything I've ever done, and start all over again from the beginning. You might even be correct. But I don't want to hear it, and I haven't got the energy to go through with it.


This is what I'm going to do, Jesus of Nazareth. I'm going to make half a decision instead of a whole one. I don't know if I can save you, but I'm not going to be guilty of your death. I'm going to let the people decide. It's customary at this time of the year to release one prisoner. I'll give them a choice between you and some felon or other - Barrabas the murderer, for example. They can choose. If they choose you, you can go free. If not, I'll wash my hands in front of the people and their priests, to show that it's none of my doing. That's my decision. What do you say?

JESUS: That it's all God's will.


PILATE: Well, I'll go and tell Caiaphas.

[He goes out.]