The Lion And The Ox

“One law for the lion and ox is oppression.” – William Blake

*  *  *

When I tell people that I don’t believe in equality, the response I get is invariably one that combines horror with incomprehension. How, people ask, could I not be in favor of equality? Equality is, after all (and as Tocqueville ably illustrated) the very business of America! How could I not think equality the most desirable state to which mankind can aspire, and that which we must work together to build? How could I not wish the government to pass laws to grant us more of it, and to want it implanted as a value in every human heart?

My reply is that they have misunderstood me. I do not say “I don’t believe in equality” in the sense that I might say that I don’t believe in Objectivism or Communism or Juche. I say “I don’t believe in equality” in the sense that I might say that I don’t believe in unicorns, or the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus. I mean that I see no convincing evidence that the thing being discussed actually exists, either at an individual level or at a group level. Thus, it is immaterial whether I support it, or wish for it, or think it would be a great idea if we had more of it. Perhaps it would be the most wonderful thing in all the world if equality really existed, and perhaps I can’t think of a single reason why it wouldn’t be. Similarly, I daresay it would be the most wonderful thing in the world if Santa Claus really existed, and I most certainly can’t think of a single reason why it wouldn’t be. And yet reality remains what it is.

This, of course, runs up against two of the left’s most anti-reality tendencies. The first is its consistent inability to comprehend the difference between the descriptive and the normative – between an “is” and an “ought”. To the left, if something ought to be, then it is – or perhaps more specifically, if something must be true in order for their beliefs to be valid, then it is true, and questioning it will be placed beyond the pale. The second is their belief in the power that laws passed by governments have to restructure reality. They protest: “But we have passed laws to ensure equality! We have had Supreme Court decisions! The law is clear!” Perhaps it is – but it is also meaningless in the face of implacable reality.

So here is some reality: You cannot pass a law that will make human beings equal. You can pass a law that will force everybody to act as if human beings are equal, but that is not the same thing. The government could just as well pass a law forcing everybody to act as if unicorns existed, and enforce it with penalties so harsh that virtually nobody would be willing to speak up against it. In fact, you can go even father. You could mandate teaching about unicorns at schools and universities, and indeed, you could even set up whole Departments of Unicorn Studies. You could make sure that films and television were careful to never question whether unicorns existed. You could get people kicked off of social networks for snickering at the idea of unicorns. You could make it so that those who dared to disbelieve in unicorns were fired from their jobs, blacklisted from entire professions, and rendered unable to make enough money to put food on the table for their children to eat.

You could do all of that, and it still won’t make unicorns exist.

It is at this point that I can imagine conservatives and libertarians responding: “Alright, we accept that individuals are not inherently equal. But we should at least grant people equal treatment under the law! That is the cornerstone of liberty! It is the key principle to which free men subscribe! It is what the Founding Fathers fought for!”

I am afraid that at this point, I will rankle them by not only disagreeing with the premise of equality under the law, but by illustrating my point with something else I’m sure they’ll dislike: a defense of Islam.

To do this, let us start by looking at the rape epidemic sweeping Europe – at incidents ranging from the Rotherham scandal to the Cologne sex attacks – and ask ourselves why they happened. Specifically, why does the arrival of waves of young men from Muslim countries in northern European societies consistently correlate with a wave of sex-related crimes in those countries? The obvious answer is that they feel empowered to commit them, but at the bottom of that chain of discoveries lies a stark truth: The reason that they suddenly feel empowered to do in Europe what they would not do at home is because the system of restraints (statutory, religious, and cultural) that is sufficient to restrain Swedes, Danes, and Englishmen from doing these things is not sufficient to restrain Syrians, Somalis, and Pakistanis from doing them. In their own countries, they would likely be lashed, beheaded, or otherwise face punishments for these acts that Westerners would consider draconian, and they would be subjected to them after far less due process of law than Westerners are used to. And this, of course, is over and above all the preventative restraints found in Muslim societies such as a still-intact system of patriarchal control over wives or unmarried daughters, the covering of women in clothing that reveals nothing, and an honor code that takes sexual impropriety as a serious matter calling for retribution (often delivered directly by the family of the violated woman). This is a serious system of restraints. Would you or I want to live under them? Would we want to wrap our women head to toe in black cloth and face the lash (or lynching) for sexual indiscretions? Of course not. But we are (either genetically or by citizenship) Europeans, and these restraints would be unnecessarily harsh if placed on us. In criticizing Islam as regards these cases, therefore, we may be confusing cause with effect. It is likely that instead of causing incidents like these, Islam (and the set of restraints that it represents) is in fact the only thing that prevents them from being as much of an epidemic among young men from Muslim countries in their homelands as it is among groups of them in Europe*.

(I will note here that the harshness of the American justice system has long been, of necessity, set at a level necessary to deal with the disproportionate criminality of blacks. This means that it is in general much harsher than the justice systems found in places like Sweden, which were set up to restrain basically all-white societies. Whether this generally higher level of harshness has anything to do with the fact that there has been no notable rape epidemic among Muslims in America is a conclusion I will leave it up to my readers to make.)

The obvious answer for the afflicted northern European countries (other than disallowing immigration from Muslim lands) would be to establish different sets of restraints for Pakistanis than for Englishmen and for Syrians than for Germans. In fact, many Muslim communities in their nations have openly requested this by asking to be allowed to set up Sharia-based law courts to deal with infractions in their communities. And yet they are consistently opposed in this by their European hosts, whose unshakable faith in blank slate theory, human equality, and equal treatment under the law cannot permit them to enact an answer so obvious that even the supposed “victims” of this inequality would eagerly welcome it.

(It is worth noting that the Muslims in these communities were so frustrated by the refusal of European authorities to allow them their own courts that they took to implementing vigilante-style “Sharia Patrols” in cities in Britain and Germany to maintain order in their neighborhoods. The authorities cracked down on these aberrations against equality with a swiftness and sureness that one might wish it reserved for the likes of Al-Qaeda or ISIS.)

And here we face the trap that Blake warned us about. While it is impossible to enact a separate law code to deal with each different individual, it is both possible and, if there is to be true justice, necessary to enact a separate law code to deal with each identifiably different group. What happens if we do not? Then we must have one law for everyone. But if we do that, at what level do we set the harshness of its restraints? If we set it at the level of those who need the least restraint, then we will have endless chaos caused by those who need more of it. If we set it at the level of those who need more restraint, we will unnecessarily tyrannize those who need less of it. If we slosh around between the two in a hopeless attempt to somehow split the difference, we get what Sam Francis referred to as anarcho-tyranny.

This is why the American south’s now universally-reviled Jim Crow system was in fact both sensible and necessary. And oh, yes, it is reviled! A national mark of shame! To think that we ever required blacks to sit in the back of the bus, away from everyone else! What barbarism! And yet… what have the results of the abolition of this system been? Let us consider the case of the buses. Half a century after desegregation, what do they look like? The sad truth is that our roads are choked with cars – many old, rusted, and belching smoke – because nobody who can possibly avoid taking public transportation in this country does take it. And while there are multiple reasons for that, one that cannot be ignored is a desire to avoid the swarms of loud, scary blacks that are ubiquitous on public transportation in any big city in America (it is not for nothing, after all, that Jay Leno once referred to buses as “rolling bad neighborhoods”). This has a snowball effect. It keeps ridership low, which prevents expansion. It makes existing routes outside of poor black areas economically difficult to maintain, and new routes outside of them politically difficult to create (Why did the St. Louis MetroLink – known to locals as the “CrimeLink” – never expand into the wealthy suburbs west of the city proper? Why did the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART commuter train system never expand into rich, white, liberal Marin County, despite initial plans for it to do so? The reason is both obvious and rarely mentioned.)

So much for the liberal dream of us all giving up our cars and using public transit! More cars on the road, more traffic, more expense for the working poor, more pollution – all unintended consequences of the ideal of equality under the law.

Let us consider another example: The left is absolutely correct that “stop and frisk” laws have disproportionately targeted visible minorities, especially blacks, in many cities (perhaps most notably in New York). And when they did, crime went down drastically. As a result, black neighborhoods became drastically safer. Many non-criminals who lived in these neighborhoods had their effective level of freedom increased, because they were no longer imprisoned in their houses out of fear of walking the streets. Whites, no longer afraid to come and spend money there, did. Businesses started to thrive again. Things got better.

And then Black Lives Matter showed up and demanded equal treatment under the law – or else. Cities burned, and policemen were put on trial (after intense pressure from BLM or its allies on the left) for doing their jobs. The new mayor of New York declared his support for the protesters and antipathy toward the police. As a result, policemen started staying in their cars instead of patrolling, and started to turn a blind eye to what they once would have stopped. Predictably, crime started to rise again. This will not end well for anyone.

In Europe, one law for native whites and for Muslims is a disaster. In America, one law for white and black is a disaster. It is obvious why. Middle easterners are not Englishmen; blacks are not whites. Nor are any two distinct and identifiable groups of people the same as each other. For example: Jews are not Arabs (a fact reflected in the law of the Jews’ own homeland) nor are they whites. Women are not men. Aristocrats are not craftsmen, craftsmen are not peasants, and peasants are not slaves**. Yes, exceptions exist to just about any generally true observation. But we can’t make sensible law based on exceptions and edge cases. The “talented tenth” may be inconvenienced by laws like Jim Crow, but the untalented 90% is a huge problem that must be realistically dealt with. Besides which, wisely-exercised human judgment among authority figures can more than adequately adjust for exceptions and edge cases. (Though this is exceptionally difficult under the current system, because Moderns have a horror of human judgment, preferring to believe instead that impersonal, automatic, universal systems of law and bureaucracy will provide us with just and wise leadership).

Everywhere we either find helpless acceptance of the anarcho-tyranny that inevitably accompanies equality under the law, or we find people engaging in elaborate schemes by which to treat different groups of people differently without letting it appear that that’s what we’re doing (often by finding ways to price certain groups of people out of certain markets, thus making the cost of living skyrocket for everyone). Aside from the patent ridiculousness and injustice of all this, it is not sustainable. So why do we not simply formalize the obvious solution, which is to treat distinctly different groups of people with distinctly different attributes differently? The answer is simple enough: Because that would be an arrangement based on truth, and we are a society that both fears and hates the truth.

But law that is not based on truth can neither ever be just, nor can ever stand very long. Lions are not oxen, pretending that they are is delusion, and having one law for both really is oppression. This is the truth, and in the end, the truth cannot be ignored forever. As the old saying goes: “Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret”.

(*I will go on record as saying that we in the West don’t give Islam nearly enough credit. It manages to keep some basic semblance of order in a lot of very rough places – and among a lot of very rough peoples – that would almost certainly be much worse off without it. Thus, I do not at all question the utility of Islam when practiced in those places. I question only 1) its validity as a genuine revelation from God, and 2) its compatibility with other – especially Christian/European – cultures.)

(**There are some people who are natural aristocrats of the soul, and there are other people who, as Aristotle noted, are natural slaves. Just as it’s true that it’s basically impossible to stop a natural aristocrat from becoming some form of elite within the society around him, so too is it true that it’s basically impossible to free natural slaves, because “slave” doesn’t describe their employment or legal status, but simply describes who they are. They will inevitably, invariably become some form of slave within the society around them. Witness, for example, the permanent welfare class – disproportionately the descendants of the slaves of 150 years ago – who live in a form of slavery in which they are utterly dependent upon their masters, who [the actual labor of slaves being obsolete in the post-industrial age] ask them to work only one day a year. That is, election day, when the time and effort they put into voting is required in order to maintain their masters’ power over them – a labor which they gladly supply.)

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Good Friday

From The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, Chapter Two:

 

“In a white cloak with blood-red lining, with the shuffling gait of a cavalryman, early in the morning of the fourteenth day of the spring month of Nisan, there came out to the covered colonnade between the two wings of the palace of Herod the Great the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. 

More than anything in the world the procurator hated the smell of rose oil, and now everything foreboded a bad day, because this smell had been pursuing the procurator since dawn.

It seemed to the procurator that a rosy smell exuded from the cypresses and palms in the garden, that the smell of leather trappings and sweat from the convoy was mingled with the cursed rosy flux.

From the outbuildings at the back of the palace, where the first cohort of the Twelfth Lightning legion, which had come to Yershalaim with the procurator, was quartered, a whiff of smoke reached the colonnade across the upper terrace of the palace, and this slightly acrid smoke, which testified that the centuries’ mess cooks had begun to prepare dinner, was mingled with the same thick rosy scent.

‘Oh, gods, gods, why do you punish me? … Yes, no doubt, this is it, this is it again, the invincible, terrible illness… hemicrania, when half of the head aches … there’s no remedy for it, no escape … I’ll try not to move my head…’

On the mosaic floor by the fountain a chair was already prepared, and the procurator, without looking at anyone, sat in it and reached his hand out to one side. His secretary deferentially placed a sheet of parchment in this hand. Unable to suppress a painful grimace, the procurator ran a cursory, sidelong glance over the writing, returned the parchment to thesecretary, and said with difficulty:

‘The accused is from Galilee? Was the case sent to the tetrarch?’

‘Yes, Procurator,’ replied the secretary.

‘And what then?’

‘He refused to make a decision on the case and sent the Sanhedrin’s death sentence to you for confirmation,’ the secretary explained.

The procurator twitched his cheek and said quietly:

‘Bring in the accused.’

And at once two legionaries brought a man of about twenty-seven fromthe garden terrace to the balcony under the columns and stood him beforethe procurator’s chair. The man was dressed in an old and torn light-blue chiton. His head was covered by a white cloth with a leather band around the forehead, and his hands were bound behind his back. Under the man’s left eye there was a large bruise, in the corner of his mouth a cut caked with blood.

The man gazed at the procurator with anxious curiosity.

The latter paused, then asked quietly in Aramaic:

‘So it was you who incited the people to destroy the temple of Yershalaim?’

The procurator sat as if made of stone while he spoke, and only his lips moved slightly as he pronounced the words. The procurator was as if made of stone because he was afraid to move his head, aflame with infernal pain.

The man with bound hands leaned forward somewhat and began to speak:

‘Good man! Believe me …’

But the procurator, motionless as before and not raising his voice in the least, straight away interrupted him:

‘Is it me that you are calling a good man? You are mistaken. It is whispered about me in Yershalaim that I am a fierce monster, and that is perfectly correct.’ And he added in the same monotone: ‘Bring the centurion Ratslayer.’

It seemed to everyone that it became darker on the balcony when the centurion of the first century, Mark, nicknamed Ratslayer, presented himself before the procurator. Ratslayer was a head taller than the tallest soldier of the legion and so broad in the shoulders that he completely blocked out the still-low sun.

The procurator addressed the centurion in Latin:

‘The criminal calls me “good man”. Take him outside for a moment, explain to him how I ought to be spoken to. But no maiming.’

And everyone except the motionless procurator followed Mark Ratslayer with their eyes as he motioned to the arrested man, indicating that he should go with him. Everyone generally followed Ratslayer with their eyes wherever he appeared, because of his height, and those who were seeing him for the first time also because the centurion’s face was disfigured: his nose had once been smashed by a blow from a Germanic club.

Mark’s heavy boots thudded across the mosaic, the bound man noiselessly went out with him, complete silence fell in the colonnade, and one could hear pigeons cooing on the garden terrace near the balcony and water singing an intricate, pleasant song in the fountain.

The procurator would have liked to get up, put his temple under the spout, and stay standing that way. But he knew that even that would not help him.

Having brought the arrested man from under the columns out to the garden, Ratslayer took a whip from the hands of a legionary who was standing at the foot of a bronze statue and, swinging easily, struck the arrested man across the shoulders. The centurion’s movement was casual and light, yet the bound man instantly collapsed on the ground as if his legs had been cut from under him; he gasped for air, the colour drained from his face, and his eyes went vacant.

With his left hand only Mark heaved the fallen man into the air like an empty sack, set him on his feet, and spoke nasally, in poorly pronounced Aramaic:

‘The Roman procurator is called Hegemon. Use no other words. Stand at attention. Do you understand me, or do I hit you?’

The arrested man swayed, but got hold of himself, his colour returned, he caught his breath and answered hoarsely:

I understand. Don’t beat me.’

A moment later he was again standing before the procurator.

A lusterless, sick voice sounded:

‘Name?’

‘Mine?’ the arrested man hastily responded, his whole being expressing a readiness to answer sensibly, without provoking further wrath.

The procurator said softly:

‘I know my own. Don’t pretend to be stupider than you are. Yours.’

‘Yeshua,’ the prisoner replied promptly.

‘Any surname?’

‘Ha-Nozri.’

‘Where do you come from?’

‘The town of Gamala,’ replied the prisoner, indicating with his head that there, somewhere far off to his right, in the north, was the town of Gamala.

‘Who are you by blood?’

‘I don’t know exactly,’ the arrested man replied animatedly, ‘I don’t remember my parents. I was told that my father was a Syrian…’

‘Where is your permanent residence?’

‘I have no permanent home,’ the prisoner answered shyly, ‘I travel from town to town.’

‘That can be put more briefly, in a word – a vagrant,’ the procurator said, and asked:

‘Any family?’

‘None. I’m alone in the world.’

‘Can you read and write?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you know any language besides Aramaic?’

‘Yes. Greek.’

A swollen eyelid rose, an eye clouded with suffering fixed the arrested man. The other eye remained shut.

Pilate spoke in Greek.

‘So it was you who was going to destroy the temple building and called on the people to do that?’

Here the prisoner again became animated, his eyes ceased to show fear, and he spoke in Greek:

‘Never, goo…’ Here terror flashed in the prisoner’s eyes, because he had nearly made a slip. ‘Never, Hegemon, never in my life was I going to destroy the temple building, nor did I incite anyone to this senseless act.’

Surprise showed on the face of the secretary, hunched over a low table and writing down the testimony. He raised his head, but immediately bent it to the parchment again.

‘All sorts of people gather in this town for the feast. Among them there are magicians, astrologers, diviners and murderers,’ the procurator spoke in monotone, ‘and occasionally also liars. You, for instance, are a liar. It is written clearly: “Incited to destroy the temple”. People have testified to it.’

‘These good people,’ the prisoner spoke and, hastily adding ‘Hegemon’, went on: ‘…haven’t any learning and have confused everything I told them. Generally, I’m beginning to be afraid that this confusion may go on for a very long time. And all because he writes down the things I say incorrectly.’

Silence fell. By now both sick eyes rested heavily on the prisoner.

‘I repeat to you, but for the last time, stop pretending that you’re a madman, robber,’ Pilate said softly and monotonously, ‘there’s not much written in your record, but what there is enough to hang you.’

‘No, no, Hegemon,’ the arrested man said, straining all over in his wish to convince, ‘there’s one with a goatskin parchment who follows me, follows me and keeps writing all the time. But once I peeked into this parchment and was horrified. I said decidedly nothing of what’s written there. I implored him: “Burn your parchment, I beg you!” But he tore it out of my hands and ran away.’

‘Who is that?’ Pilate asked squeamishly and touched his temple with his hand.

‘Matthew Levi,’ the prisoner explained willingly. ‘He used to be a tax collector, and I first met him on the road in Bethphage,’ where a fig grove juts out at an angle, and I got to talking with him. He treated me hostilely at first and even insulted me – that is, thought he insulted me – by calling me a dog.’ Here the prisoner smiled. ‘I personally see nothing bad about this animal, that I should be offended by this word…’

The secretary stopped writing and stealthily cast a surprised glance, not at the arrested man, but at the procurator.

‘… However, after listening to me, he began to soften,’ Yeshua went on, ‘finally threw the money down in the road and said he would go journeying with me…’

Pilate grinned with one cheek, baring yellow teeth, and said, turning his whole body towards the secretary:

‘Oh, city of Yershalaim! What does one not hear in it! A tax collector, do you hear, threw money down in the road!’

Not knowing how to reply to that, the secretary found it necessary to repeat Pilate’s smile.

‘He said that henceforth money had become hateful to him,’ Yeshua explained Matthew Levi’s strange action and added: ‘And since then he has been my companion.’

His teeth still bared, the procurator glanced at the arrested man, then at the sun, steadily rising over the equestrian statues of the hippodrome, which lay far below to the right, and suddenly, in some sickening anguish, thought that the simplest thing would be to drive this strange robber off the balcony by uttering just two words: ‘Hang him.’ To drive the convoy away as well, to leave the colonnade, go into the palace, order the room darkened, collapse on the bed, send for cold water, call in a plaintive voice for his dog Banga, and complain to him about the hemicrania. And the thought of poison suddenly flashed temptingly in the procurator’s sick head.

He gazed with dull eyes at the arrested man and was silent for a time, painfully trying to remember why there stood before him in the pitiless morning sunlight of Yershalaim this prisoner with his face disfigured by beating, and what other utterly unnecessary questions he had to ask him.

‘Matthew Levi?’ the sick man asked in a hoarse voice and closed his eyes.

‘Yes, Matthew Levi,’ the high, tormenting voice came to him.

‘And what was it in any case that you said about the temple to the crowd in the bazaar?’

The responding voice seemed to stab at Pilate’s temple, was inexpressibly painful, and this voice was saying:

‘I said, Hegemon, that the temple of the old faith would fall and a new temple of truth would be built. I said it that way so as to make it more understandable.’

‘And why did you stir up the people in the bazaar, you vagrant, talking about the truth, of which you have no notion? What is truth?’

And here the procurator thought: ‘Oh, my gods! I’m asking him about something unnecessary at a trial… my reason no longer serves me…’ And again he pictured a cup of dark liquid. ‘Poison, bring me poison…’

And again he heard the voice:

‘The truth is, first of all, that your head aches, and aches so badly that you’re having faint-hearted thoughts of death. You’re not only unable to speak to me, but it is even hard for you to look at me. And I am now your unwilling torturer, which upsets me. You can’t even think about anything and only dream that your dog should come, apparently the one being you are attached to. But your suffering will soon be over, your headache will go away.’

The secretary goggled his eyes at the prisoner and stopped writing in mid-word.

Pilate raised his tormented eyes to the prisoner and saw that the sun already stood quite high over the hippodrome, that a ray had penetrated the colonnade and was stealing towards Yeshua’s worn sandals, and that the man was trying to step out of the sun’s way.

Here the procurator rose from his chair, clutched his head with his hands, and his yellowish, shaven face expressed dread. But he instantly suppressed it with his will and lowered himself into his chair again.

The prisoner meanwhile continued his speech, but the secretary was no longer writing it down, and only stretched his neck like a goose, trying not to let drop a single word.

‘Well, there, it’s all over,’ the arrested man said, glancing benevolently at Pilate, ‘and I’m extremely glad of it. I’d advise you, Hegemon, to leave the palace for a while and go for a stroll somewhere in the vicinity – say, in the gardens on the Mount of Olives. A storm will come…’ the prisoner turned, narrowing his eyes at the sun, ‘…later on, towards evening. A stroll would do you much good, and I would be glad to accompany you. Certain new thoughts have occurred to me, which I think you might find interesting, and I’d willingly share them with you, the more so as you give the impression of being a very intelligent man.’

The secretary turned deathly pale and dropped the scroll on the floor.

‘The trouble is,’ the bound man went on, not stopped by anyone, ‘that you are too closed off and have definitively lost faith in people. You must agree, one can’t place all one’s affection in a dog. Your life is impoverished, Hegemon.’ And here the speaker allowed himself to smile.

The secretary now thought of only one thing, whether to believe his ears or not. He had to believe. Then he tried to imagine precisely what whimsical form the wrath of the hot-tempered procurator would take at this unheard-of impudence from the prisoner. And this the secretary was unable to imagine, though he knew the procurator well.

Then came the cracked, hoarse voice of the procurator, who said in Latin:

‘Unbind his hands.’

One of the convoy legionaries rapped with his spear, handed it to another, went over and took the ropes off the prisoner. The secretary picked up his scroll, having decided to record nothing for now, and to be surprised at nothing.

‘Admit,’ Pilate asked softly in Greek, ‘that you are a great physician?’

‘No, Procurator, I am not a physician,’ the prisoner replied, delightedly rubbing a crimped and swollen purple wrist.

Scowling deeply, Pilate bored the prisoner with his eyes, and these eyes were no longer dull, but flashed with sparks familiar to all.

‘I didn’t ask you,’ Pilate said, ‘maybe you also know Latin?’

‘Yes, I do,’ the prisoner replied.

Colour came to Pilate’s yellowish cheeks, and he asked in Latin:

‘How did you know I wanted to call my dog?’

‘It’s very simple,’ the prisoner replied in Latin. ‘You were moving your hand in the air’ – and the prisoner repeated Pilate’s gesture – ‘as if you wanted to stroke something, and your lips…’

‘Yes,’ said Pilate.

There was silence. Then Pilate asked a question in Greek:

‘And so, you are a physician?’

‘No, no,’ the prisoner replied animatedly, ‘believe me, I’m not a physician.’

‘Very well, then, if you want to keep it a secret, do so. It has no direct bearing on the case. So you maintain that you did not incite anyone to destroy … or set fire to, or in any other way demolish the temple?’

‘I repeat, I did not incite anyone to such acts, Hegemon. Do I look like a halfwit?’

‘Oh, no, you don’t look like a halfwit,’ the procurator replied quietly and smiled some strange smile. ‘Swear, then, that it wasn’t so.’

‘By what do you want me to swear?’ the unbound man asked, very animated.

‘Well, let’s say, by your life,’ the procurator replied. ‘It’s high time you swore by it, since it’s hanging by a hair, I can tell you.’

‘You don’t think it was you who hung it, Hegemon?’ the prisoner asked.

‘If so, you are very mistaken.’

Pilate gave a start and replied through his teeth:

‘I can cut that hair.’

‘In that, too, you are mistaken,’ the prisoner retorted, smiling brightly and shielding himself from the sun with his hand. ‘You must agree that surely only he who hung it can cut the hair?’

‘So, so,’ Pilate said, smiling, ‘now I have no doubts that the idle loafers of Yershalaim followed at your heels. I don’t know who hung such a tongue on you, but he hung it well. Incidentally, tell me, is it true that you entered Yershalaim by the Susa gate riding on an ass, accompanied by a crowd of riff-raff who shouted greetings to you as some kind of prophet?’ Here the procurator pointed to the parchment scroll.

The prisoner glanced at the procurator in perplexity.

‘I don’t even have an ass, Hegemon,’ he said. ‘I did enter Yershalaim by the Susa gate, but on foot, accompanied only by Matthew Levi, and no one shouted anything to me, because no one in Yershalaim knew me then.’

‘Do you happen to know,’ Pilate continued without taking his eyes off the prisoner, ‘such men as a certain Dysmas, another named Gestas, and a third named Bar-Rabban?’

‘I do not know these good people,’ the prisoner replied.

‘Truly?’

‘Truly.’

‘And now tell me, why is it that you use me words “good people” all the time? Do you call everyone that, or what?’

‘Everyone,’ the prisoner replied. There are no evil people in the world.’

‘The first I hear of it,’ Pilate said, grinning. ‘But perhaps I know too little of life! …

You needn’t record any more,’ he addressed the secretary, who had not recorded anything anyway, and went on talking with the prisoner. ‘You read that in some Greek book?’

‘No, I figured it out for myself.’

‘And you preach it?’

‘Yes.’

‘But take, for instance, the centurion Mark, the one known as Ratslayer – is he good?’

‘Yes,’ replied the prisoner. ‘True, he’s an unhappy man. Since the good people disfigured him, he has become cruel and hard. I’d be curious to know who maimed him.’

‘I can willingly tell you that,’ Pilate responded, ‘for I was a witness to it. The good people fell on him like dogs on a bear. There were Germans fastened on his neck, his arms, his legs. The infantry maniple was encircled, and if one flank hadn’t been cut by a cavalry turmae, of which I was the commander – you, philosopher, would not have had the chance to speak with the Rat-slayer. That was at the battle of Idistaviso, in the Valley of the Virgins.’

‘If I could speak with him,’ the prisoner suddenly said musingly, ‘I’m sure he’d change sharply.’

‘I don’t suppose,’ Pilate responded, ‘that you’d bring much joy to the legate of the legion if you decided to talk with any of his officers or soldiers. Anyhow, it’s also not going to happen, fortunately for everyone, and I will be the first to see to it.’

At that moment a swallow swiftly flitted into the colonnade, described a circle under the golden ceiling, swooped down, almost brushed the face of a bronze statue in a niche with its pointed wing, and disappeared behind the capital of a column. It may be that it thought of nesting there.

During its flight, a formula took shape in the now light and lucid head of the procurator. It went like this: the hegemon has looked into the case of the vagrant philosopher Yeshua, alias Ha-Nozri, and found in it no grounds for indictment. In particular, he has found not the slightest connection between the acts of Yeshua and the disorders that have lately taken place in Yershalaim. The vagrant philosopher has proved to be mentally ill. Consequently, the procurator has not confirmed the death sentence on Ha-Nozri passed by the Lesser Sanhedrin. But seeing that Ha-Nozri’s mad utopian talk might cause disturbances in Yershalaim, the procurator is removing Yeshua from Yershalaim and putting him under confinement in Stratonian Caesarea on the Mediterranean – that is, precisely where the procurator’s residence was.

It remained to dictate it to the secretary.

The swallow’s wings whiffled right over the hegemon’s head, the bird darted to the fountain basin and then flew out into freedom. The procurator raised his eyes to the prisoner and saw the dust blaze up in a pillar around him.

‘Is that all about him?’ Pilate asked the secretary.

‘Unfortunately not,’ the secretary replied unexpectedly and handed Pilate another piece of parchment.

‘What’s this now?’ Pilate asked and frowned.

Having read what had been handed to him, he changed countenance even more: Either the dark blood rose to his neck and face, or something else happened, only his skin lost its yellow tinge, turned brown, and his eyes seemed to sink.

Again it was probably owing to the blood rising to his temples and throbbing in them, only something happened to the procurator’s vision.

Thus, he imagined that the prisoner’s head floated off somewhere, and another appeared in its place. On this bald head sat a scant-pointed golden diadem. On the forehead was a round canker, eating into the skin and smeared with ointment. A sunken, toothless mouth with a pendulous, capricious lower lip. It seemed to Pilate that the pink columns of the balcony and the rooftops of Yershalaim far below, beyond the garden, vanished, and everything was drowned in the thickest green of Caprean gardens. And something strange also happened to his hearing: it was as if trumpets sounded far away, muted and menacing, and a nasal voice was very clearly heard, arrogantly drawling: ‘The law of lese-majesty…’

Thoughts raced, short, incoherent and extraordinary: ‘I’m lost! …’ then: ‘We’re lost! …’ And among them a totally absurd one, about some immortality, which immortality for some reason provoked unendurable anguish.

Pilate strained, drove the apparition away, his gaze returned to the balcony, and again the prisoner’s eyes were before him.

‘Listen, Ha-Nozri,’ the procurator spoke, looking at Yeshua somehow strangely: the procurator’s face was menacing, but his eyes were alarmed, ’did you ever say anything about the great Caesar? Answer! Did you?… Yes … or … no?’ Pilate drew the word ‘no’ out somewhat longer than is done in court, and his glance sent Yeshua some thought that he wished as if to instill in the prisoner.

‘To speak the truth is easy and pleasant,’ the prisoner observed.

‘I have no need to know,’ Pilate responded in a stifled, angry voice, ‘whether it is pleasant or unpleasant for you to speak the truth. You will have to speak it anyway. But, as you speak, weigh every word, unless you want a not only inevitable but also painful death.’

No one knew what had happened with the procurator of Judea, but he allowed himself to raise his hand as if to protect himself from a ray of sunlight, and from behind his hand, as from behind a shield, to send the prisoner some sort of prompting look.

‘Answer, then,’ he went on speaking, ‘do you know a certain Judas from Kiriath, and what precisely did you say to him about Caesar, if you said anything?’

‘It was like this,’ the prisoner began talking eagerly. The evening before last, near the temple, I made the acquaintance of a young man who called himself Judas, from the town of Kiriath. He invited me to his place in the Lower City and treated me to…’

‘A good man?’ Pilate asked, and a devilish fire flashed in his eyes.

‘A very good man and an inquisitive one,’ the prisoner confirmed. ‘He showed the greatest interest in my thoughts and received me very cordially…’

‘Lit the lamps…’ Pilate spoke through his teeth, in the same tone as the prisoner, and his eyes glinted.

‘Yes,’ Yeshua went on, slightly surprised that the procurator was so well informed, ‘and asked me to give my view of state authority. He was extremely interested in this question.’

‘And what did you say?’ asked Pilate. ‘Or are you going to reply that you’ve forgotten what you said?’ But there was already hopelessness in Pilate’s tone.

‘Among other things,’ the prisoner recounted, ‘I said that all authority is violence over people, and that a time will come when there will be no authority of the Caesars, nor any other authority. Man will pass into the kingdom of truth and justice, where generally there will be no need for any authority.’

‘Go on!’

‘I didn’t go on,’ said the prisoner. ‘Here men ran in, bound me, and took me away to prison.’

The secretary, trying not to let drop a single word, rapidly traced the words on his parchment.

‘There never has been, is not, and never will be any authority in this world greater or better for people than the authority of the emperor Tiberius!’ Pilate’s cracked and sick voice swelled. For some reason the procurator looked at the secretary and the convoy with hatred.

‘And it is not for you, insane criminal, to reason about it!’ Here Pilate shouted: ‘Convoy, off the balcony!’ And turning to the secretary, he added: ‘Leave me alone with the criminal, this is a state matter!’

The convoy raised their spears and with a measured tramp of hobnailed caligae walked off the balcony into the garden, and the secretary followed the convoy.

For some time the silence on the balcony was broken only by the water singing in the fountain. Pilate saw how the watery dish blew up over the spout, how its edges broke off, how it fell down in streams.

The prisoner was the first to speak.

‘I see that some misfortune has come about because I talked with that young man from Kiriath. I have a foreboding, Hegemon, that he will come to grief, and I am very sorry for him.’

‘I think,’ the procurator replied, grinning strangely, ‘that there is now someone else in the world for whom you ought to feel sorrier than’ for Judas of Kiriath, and who is going to have it much worse than Judas! …

So, then, Mark Rat-slayer, a cold and convinced torturer, the people who, as I see,’ the procurator pointed to Yeshua’s disfigured face, ‘beat you for your preaching, the robbers Dysmas and Gestas, who with their confreres killed four soldiers, and, finally, the dirty traitor Judas – are all good people?’

‘Yes,’ said the prisoner.

‘And the kingdom of truth will come?’

‘It will, Hegemon,’ Yeshua answered with conviction.

‘It will never come!’ Pilate suddenly cried out in such a terrible voice that Yeshua drew back. Thus, many years before, in the Valley of the Virgins, Pilate had cried to his horsemen the words: ‘Cut them down! Cut them down! The giant Rat-slayer is trapped!’ He raised his voice, cracked with commanding, still more, and called out so that his words could be heard in the garden: ‘Criminal! Criminal! Criminal!’ And then, lowering his voice, he asked: ‘Yeshua Ha-Nozri, do you believe in any gods?’

‘God is one,’ replied Yeshua, ‘I believe in him.’

‘Then pray to him! Pray hard! However…’ here Pilate’s voice gave out, ‘that won’t help. No wife?’ Pilate asked with anguish for some reason, not understanding what was happening to him.

‘No, I’m alone.’

‘Hateful city…’ the procurator suddenly muttered for some reason, shaking his shoulders as if he were cold, and rubbing his hands as though washing them, ‘if they’d put a knife in you before your meeting with Judas of Kiriath, it really would have been better.’

‘Why don’t you let me go, Hegemon?’ the prisoner asked unexpectedly, and his voice became anxious. ‘I see they want to kill me.’

A spasm contorted Pilate’s face, he turned to Yeshua the inflamed, red veined whites of his eyes and said:

‘Do you suppose, wretch, that the Roman procurator will let a man go who has said what you have said? Oh, gods, gods! Or do you think I’m ready to take your place? I don’t share your thoughts! And listen to me: if from this moment on you say even one word, if you speak to anyone at all, beware of me! I repeat to you – beware!’

‘Hegemon…’

‘Silence!’ cried Pilate, and his furious gaze followed the swallow thathad again fluttered on to the balcony. ‘To me!’ Pilate shouted.

And when the secretary and the convoy returned to their places, Pilate announced that he confirmed the death sentence passed at the meeting of the Lesser Sanhedrin on the criminal Yeshua Ha-Nozri, and the secretary wrote down what Pilate said….

 

….Pilate drew into his breast as much of the hot air as he could and shouted, and his cracked voice carried over thousands of heads: ‘In the name of the emperor Caesar! …’

Here his ears were struck several times by a clipped iron shout: the cohorts of soldiers raised high their spears and standards and shouted out terribly:

‘Long live Caesar!’

Pilate lifted his face and thrust it straight into the sun. Green fire flared up behind his eyelids, his brain took flame from it, and hoarse Aramaic words went flying over the crowd:

‘Four criminals, arrested in Yershalaim for murder, incitement to rebellion, and outrages against the laws and the faith, have been sentenced to a shameful execution – by hanging on posts! And this execution will presently be carried out on Bald Mountain! The names of the criminals are Dysmas, Gestas, Bar-Rabban and Ha-Nozri. Here they stand before you!’

Pilate pointed to his right, not seeing any criminals, but knowing they were there, in place, where they ought to be.

The crowd responded with a long rumble as if of surprise or relief.

When it died down, Pilate continued:

‘But only three of them will be executed, for, in accordance with law and custom, in honour of the feast of Passover, to one of the condemned, as chosen by the Lesser Sanhedrin and confirmed by Roman authority, the magnanimous emperor Caesar will return his contemptible life!’

Pilate cried out the words and at the same time listened as the rumble was replaced by a great silence. Not a sigh, not a rustle reached his ears now, and there was even a moment when it seemed to Pilate that everything around him had vanished altogether. The hated city died, and he alone is standing there, scorched by the sheer rays, his face set against the sky. Pilate held the silence a little longer, and then began to cry out:

‘The name of the one who will now be set free before you is…’ He made one more pause, holding back the name, making sure he had said all, because he knew that the dead city would resurrect once the name of the lucky man was spoken, and no further words would be heard. ‘All?’ Pilate whispered soundlessly to himself. ‘All. The name!’ And, rolling the letter ‘r’ over the silent city, he cried:

‘Bar-Rabban!’

Here it seemed to him that the sun, clanging, burst over him and flooded his ears with fire. This fire raged with roars, shrieks, wails, guffaws and whistles.

Pilate turned and walked back across the platform to the stairs, looking at nothing except the multicoloured squares of the flooring under his feet, so as not to trip. He knew that behind his back the platform was being showered with bronze coins, dates, that people in the howling mob were climbing on shoulders, crushing each other, to see the miracle with their own eyes – how a man already in the grip of death escaped that grip! How the legionaries take the ropes off him, involuntarily causing him burning pain in his arms, dislocated during his interrogation; how he, wincing and groaning, nevertheless smiles a senseless, crazed smile.

He knew that at the same time the convoy was already leading the three men with bound arms to the side stairs, so as to take them to the road going west from the city, towards Bald Mountain. Only when he was off the platform, to the rear of it, did Pilate open his eyes, knowing that he was now safe – he could no longer see the condemned men.”