The Lamb by August Strindberg

Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch, had come to Jerusalem, because there was much unrest among the populace. He had taken up his dwelling with Pilate, the Governor. Since on the preceding evening he had witnessed a gladiatorial show in the circus and then taken part in an orgy, he slept late into the morning–so late that his host, who was waiting for his guest, had gone upon the roof.

There lay the Holy City, with Mount Moriah and the Temple, Zion and David’s House. To the north-west and west there stretched the Valley of Sharon to the Mediterranean Sea, which in the clear air appeared like a blue streak at a distance of five miles.

In the east there rose the Mount of Olives, with its gardens and vineyards, olives, figs and terebinths, below ran the brook Kedron whose banks were decked in their spring apparel of flourishing laurels, tamarisks, and willows.

The Governor was restless, and often paused to stand by the parapet of the roof in order to look down into the forecourt of the Temple. Here numbers of people moved about busily, forming themselves into knots which dissolved and then formed larger groups.

At last the Tetrarch appeared. He had overslept himself, and his eyes were blood-shot. He gave the Governor a brief greeting, and settled himself as though for a conversation. But he found it hard to bring out a word; his head hung down, and he did not know how to begin, for the orgies of the preceding night had made him forget what he had come for.

Pilate came to his help: “Speak, Herod; your heart is full, and your mind uneasy.”

“What do you say, my brother?”

“We were speaking yesterday of the strange man who stirs up the people.”

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“Quite right! I had John beheaded. Is it he who is going about?”

“No, it is another one now.”

“Are there two of them?”

“Yes, this is another one.”

“But they have the same history–a prophecy which foretold their birth, and the fable of a supernatural origin, just like the Perseus of mythology, and the philosopher Plato in history. Is it a confusion of persons?”

“No, not at all.”

“What is his name? Josua, Jesse…?”

“His name is Jesus, and he is said to have passed his childhood in the Egyptian towns Heliopolis and Leontopolis.”

“Then he must be a magician or wizard; can he not come and divert me?”

“It is difficult to find him, for he is now in one place, now in another. But we will question the High Priest; I have had him called, and he waits below.”

“Why is there this commotion in the court of the Temple?”

“They are going to erect the Emperor’s statue in the Holy of Holies.”

“Quite right! Our gracious Emperor Tiberius lives like a madman on Capri, and is pummelled by his nephew Caligula, if the offspring of incest can be called a nephew. And now he is to become a god. Ha! Ha!”

“Antiochus Epiphanes had the statue of Zeus set up in the Holy of Holies. He, however, was a god. But to set up this beast, Tiberius, means a tumult.”

“What are we to do? Call the Priest here.”

Pilate went and fetched the High Priest Caiaphas.

Herod closed his eyes, and folded his hands over his breast. He regarded all matters of business as an interruption to his pleasures, and generally liked to cut them short. When Pilate returned with Caiaphas, the Tetrarch awoke from his doze, and did not know where he was, or what they were talking about. Pilate stepped forward, aroused him to consciousness, and directed his attention to the matter in hand.

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“There is a tumult in the Temple,” was his first observation, for that disturbed his sleep. “Ah! the Priest is here. What is the meaning of the uproar below?”

“It is the Galilaean, who has taken to using force, and has driven the money-changers out of the Temple.”

Herod’s curiosity was aroused: “I should like to see him.”

“He has already gone.”

“Tell us, High Priest, who is this man? Is he the Messiah?”

“That is incredible. The son of a poor carpenter, who is weak in the head!”

“Is he a prophet?”

“He stirs up the people, he breaks the law, he is a glutton and wine-bibber, and he blasphemes God. Yes, he says that he himself is God, the Son of the Highest.”

“Have you witnesses to this?”

“Yes, but they contradict each other.”

“Then procure better witnesses, who will agree. But now, Priest, we must talk of something else. You know that the Senate have decreed the apotheosis of the Emperor, and that his image is to be set up in the Temple. What do you think about it?”

“We live by the favour of the Emperor. But if this abomination is done, we will all die as the Maccabees did.”

“Then die!”

Caiaphas considered a moment before he answered. “I will summon the Sanhedrim, and tell them what the Emperor wishes.”

“Yes, do that. And before the Passover you must bring the Galilaean before me, for I wish to see him.”

“I will.”

“Then go in peace.”

Caiaphas retired.

“They are a hard people, these Israelites,” said Pilate, for want of something better to say. “I am also of Israel,” answered Herod somewhat curtly, “for I am an Edomite, of Esau’s race, and my mother was a Samaritan, belonging to the despised people.”

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Pilate saw that he had made a slip, and therefore struck the ground three times with his official staff. A large trap-door opened, and a table came up covered with all kinds of delicacies according to Roman taste.

Herod’s countenance cleared.

* * * * *

In the Court of the Priests stood Caiaphas and Annas, and spoke with each other.

“Since we cannot avert the abomination,” said Caiaphas, “and the Emperor’s image is to be erected in the Holy of Holies, and the people will be destroyed if there is an insurrection, it is better for us to bring an offering to the Lord, and that one man die for the people.”

“You are right. An extraordinary atoning sacrifice is necessary, and as the Passover is approaching, let us sacrifice the Galilaean.”

“Good! But the offering should be pure. Is the Galilaean pure?”

“Pure as a lamb.”

“May he then take Israel’s sins upon him, that we may be set free through his blood. Who brings him into our hands?”

“One of his disciples, who stands outside.”

“Fetch him in.”

John, later known as the “Evangelist,” was brought in, and Caiaphas began to examine him.

“What do you say concerning your teacher? Has he transgressed the law of Moses?”

“He has fulfilled the law.”

“But what new commandment has he introduced into our holy law?”

“Love one another.”

“Did he say he was the King of the Jews?”

“The Master said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’”

“Has he not made children rebel against their parents?”

“The Master said, ‘He who loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.’”

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“Did he not say that one has a right to neglect one’s duties as a citizen?”

“The Master said, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.’”

“Did he tell labourers to leave their work?”

“The Master said, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden.’”

“Did he say that he would conquer the world?”

“The Master said, ‘In the world ye have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’”

Caiaphas was weary: “According to all that I have heard and perceived, this man has not answered a single question.”

“The Master answers in spirit and in truth, but you ask according to the flesh and the letter. We are not the children of one spirit.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He has sent me to preach good tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to preach deliverance to the captives, to give sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”

“What you speak in foolishness, young man, can neither bring credit to you nor to your teacher.”

“Woe unto you when men praise you, and he who departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.”

Caiaphas turned to Annas: “This is not the man who will deliver the Galilaean up to us.”

“They have sent another one–Listen! Is your name Iscariot?”

“No; my name is John.”

“Then go in peace, but send us Iscariot instead. But wait! Give us in two words the teaching of your Master regarding the meaning of life.”

“Death is a gain for the righteous,” answered John without stopping to think.

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“Is life not itself…?”

“Through death ye shall enter into life.”

“We have heard enough. Go.”

But Caiaphas repeated to himself, as though he thought he would understand those words in his own mouth better: “Death is a gain for the righteous.”

Now there arose a clamour from the market-place and the hall of justice. Annas and Caiaphas went out upon the battlemented walls to find out the cause. Levites were standing there, and looking down.

“Has he been taken?”

“He has already been seized as an inciter to insurrection, because he bade his disciples to sell their garments and buy a sword.”

“Have they found them with weapons?”

“They have found two swords.”

“Then he is already condemned.”

Then they heard a cry rise from the crowd before the Court of Justice–at first difficult to distinguish, but ever clearer. The people were crying “Crucify! Crucify!”

“Is that not too severe, regarded as a punishment?” said Caiaphas.

“No,” answered the Levite; “one of his disciples called Simon or Peter drew his sword and wounded one of the servants called Malchus.”

“Do we need any more witnesses?”

“But the Teacher said, ‘Put up thy sword into its sheath, for they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword.’”

“That is a difficult saying,” said Annas, and went down. But the people continued to cry, “Crucify! Crucify!”

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