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Scene 1

The Courtyard of the Antonia. Evening of Wednesday.
Marcus, Longinus and Barca
Has Spurius Naso not arrived from Tyre?
His lateness will set Pilate in a rage.
Scant love is lost ‘twixt governor and tribune.
Their verbal fencing gives me choicest sport.
Such rivalries have all the bite of steel
On steel, handled by master swordsmen.
It might be counted sport at other times,
But misplaced now are rivalries so sharp
When Rome must stand united to oppose
The ferment of the Jews.
‘Tis strange, Longinus,
That more than all the nations, the Jews alone
Though few and poor, inhabiting a soil
Of little worth, provoke more anarchy
Than Egypt’s teeming millions.
It serves us right! The blame must surely fall
On Julius Caesar’s head, who ninety years ago
Lavished the Jews with more than they deserved.
Could not the man whose legions humbled Gaul
Have also smashed this pestilential mob?
Had I been Caesar --
Why, here comes Spurius Naso.

(ENTER Spurius Naso)
Hail, comrades all!
Barca, Longinus, Marcus.
I thank you for your greetings, but Barca tell,
What means this sudden summons?
That’s soon told:
The Jews are looking dangerous this Pasch.
Rebellion is it?
There’s more than that involved.
They’ve raked through all their old prophetic books,
Pretending that a Saviour has appeared
To lead their nation back to sovereignty.
Their champion is a carpenter from Galilee;
‘Tis said the man claims wondrous healing powers.
In Capharnaum, our captain Quintus Veturus,
Besought the healer’s aid for his sick slave.
Rewarded for his faith and confidence
He journeyed home. Far from the city gates
He spied the youth renewed in health and limb
Running to meet him at a lusty trot.
I’ve heard such fictions up and down the coast.
But he’s a mountebank, a fraud in saintly robes,
A rustic trading on a rustic faith.
He’s cleansed the lepers, healed the lame,
Unloosed the tongues that nature had left mute,
And opened deafness to sound of voice and song.
Light at his touch has flashed on blinded eyes,
And life, some say, obedient to his will,
Has streamed back into corpses in their graves.
Whatever of these tales, if he expects
To play the king and challenge Roman power
Then Rome through us must cure his blindness.

His public exhortations, I have heard,
Are simple proverbs, couched in a peasant wit,
Which lack all hint of anything seditious.
What think you,Marcus?

‘Tis more than like
He’s but a puppet in a national intrigue,
A figurehead the priests intend to use
Against our occupation of this land.
And all the while
Pilate dreams of far-off future glory
But fails to see the mischief at his feet.
A would-be Cicero, he gives us words,
Speeches, reports and detailed regulations,
Never the rod of strong administration.
Soft vacillating functionary, what blind fate
Bestowed the reins of government on him?
Your censure, now at least, appears misaimed,
For never has he shown such vigilance,
Such dauntless zeal and iron hardihood
Than in the present turbulence. He means
To break this rabble with a curb of steel.
Impatient of Judea’s local feuds
He hopes by showing strength to win preferment
To Greece or Asia and its luxuries.
But still I fear. I knew him as a boy.
At rhetoric we studied side-by-side,
And even then I doubted of his powers.
His presence bred distrust, as if
He was predestined to some high estate
While others grovelled in their humble depths.
Have not events borne out those youthful hopes?
His present state is not the prize of worth,
But fortune’s gift. His father well deserved
Augustus’ commendation, who dying
Enjoined upon Tiberius to repay
The father’s merits to the son.
I care not how he came to power. I wish him luck.
Let him perpetuate his father’s energy
And crush these cursed Jews.

The courtyard has been gradually filling; straggling groups
form into ordered lines; there is mounting activity.
Enough of words!
Lest we usurp the procurator’s role.
Who presently approaches.

They break up to walk among their men who now get into formation; the tribune and centurions then return to stand at the end of the lines nearest to the throne.

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