Moon Over Gethsemane
in Order of Appearance
Yeshua, the Christ, an incarnation of God
Peter, a fisherman, disciple of Yeshua
Bartholomew, a farmer, disciple of Yeshua
Matthew, a tax collector, disciple of Yeshua
Judas Iscariot, an intellectual, disciple of Yeshua
Simeon, a pilgrim and a wayfarer
Salomé, stepdaughter of Herod Antipas
Caiaphas, High Priest of the Sanhedrin
Malchus, servant to Caiaphas
Lucius, a centurion
Three Roman Soldiers, attached to Lucius’s unit
Evening has come to Jerusalem, capital of the ancient kingdom of Judea. It is the beginning of Passover, Anno Domini 30. We are in a pleasant and fragrant garden adjoining Gethsemane, a private estate. A large fig tree looms stage right. Center stage, a flagstone path winds past a boulder, weaves among fecund bushes and flowering shrubs, and terminates in a high-back marble bench, stage left, carved with elegant bas-relief scrollwork. A human figure lies supine on the bench, fast asleep.
Clouds occlude the full moon, but at rise a single beam penetrates the mantle to illuminate the face of YESHUA, a charismatic rabbi and the incarnation of God. As the clouds roll away, golden moonlight bathes the entire garden. Yeshua moves down the flagstone path accompanied by three disciples: PETER, a fisherman, BARTHOLOMEW, a farmer, and MATTHEW, a rehabilitated tax collector.
All four men are bearded, robed, and of medium build, but we have no trouble distinguishing among them. Peter is high-strung and neurotic; Bartholomew is diffident and bewildered; Matthew exudes an aura of sardonic pessimism; and Yeshua radiates omnipotence combined with a touch of narcissism. Each apostle wears a sheathed sword strapped to his waist.
PETER: I thought the bread was good tonight. Unleavened, but good.
YESHUA: It was stale, Peter.
PETER: Stale, exactly.
MATTHEW: An admirable wine, in my opinion.
YESHUA: It was sour, Matthew.
MATTHEW: The perfect word, Rabbi. Sour.
BARTHOLOMEW: The herbs impressed me.
YESHUA: They were bitter, Bartholomew.
BARTHOLOMEW: The bitterest.
PETER: What did you think of my brother’s fish?
MATTHEW: Simply awful.
BARTHOLOMEW: Sautéed sandal leather.
MATTHEW: Andrew can catch a herring, but doesn’t know how to cook one.
PETER: Please don’t tell him that. It would hurt his feelings.
BARTHOLOMEW: For our next Seder, we’ll get a caterer.
YESHUA: (cynical) Ah, yes, our next Seder. (beat) Actually, I rather liked the fish.
MATTHEW: The fish was superb.
BARTHOLOMEW: Such a savory herring.
Matthew and Bartholomew approach the marble bench. They examine the sleeping man, who begins snoring loudly.
MATTHEW: Who have we here?
BARTHOLOMEW: Is it James? Thomas? Philip?
Matthew crouches over the sleeping man, studying his face.
MATTHEW: He’s not one of us. I’ve never seen him before.
Yeshua and Peter shuffle toward the fig tree. In the exchange that follows, they speak in low voices. Matthew and Bartholomew mill around near the sleeping man, oblivious to the conversation between Yeshua and Peter.
YESHUA: It’s all very poetic, wouldn’t you say?
PETER: (uncomprehending) Oh, yes.
YESHUA: The story of sin begins in a garden, and it will end in a garden as well. First the Devil temps Eve with a fatal fig, throwing back the floodgates of iniquity. A hundred generations later, my Father brings me here, and the souls of men are redeemed. Eden to Gethsemane, a perfect circle.
Yeshua plucks a fig from the tree and offers it to Peter.
YESHUA: (cont’d) Care for a fig?
PETER: I’m full.
YESHUA: I should hope so. How did I taste?
PETER: Come again?
YESHUA: Tonight you consumed my body and blood. How did I taste?
PETER: The bread and the wine? They tasted rather like … like bread and wine. Until Andrew added the cheese. Then you tasted like fondue.
YESHUA: That’s how I want you to remember me, Peter. As the best fondue you ever had. (beat) I would never say this in front of the others, but you were always my favorite. You are a rock.
PETER: A … rock.
YESHUA: And yet, before the cock crows this morning, you will deny me.
YESHUA: Not once, but thrice.
PETER: I would die first.
Yeshua consumes the fig.
YESHUA: I must ascend the Mount of Olives.
PETER: To pray?
YESHUA: To pray, to complain, to negotiate. Stay awake, Peter. Will you do that for me, my friend, my rock?
PETER: Of course.
YESHUA: Perhaps I should have stuck with carpentry. What a wondrous table I might have built, with little depressions contoured to each utensil, so you’d never put the soup spoon in the salad fork’s place. Or perhaps I would have made an aviary. Can you picture it?
PETER: (confused) Oh, yes.
YESHUA: (starting away) In my birdhouse there are many mansions. You’ve never seen such splendid wrens, Peter, such melodious nightingales, such joyful larks.
Exit Yeshua, bound for the Mount of Olives. Peter approaches the marble bench and addresses Matthew and Bartholomew.
PETER: He wants to be remembered as fondue.
MATTHEW: I think he’s losing it.
BARTHOLOMEW: I think he lost it months ago.
Enter JUDAS ISCARIOT, the most intellectual of Yeshua’s disciples, carrying a milking stool and a long sturdy rope. He loops one end of the rope over the lowest branch of the fig tree, secures it to an exposed root, and shapes the other end into a hangman’s noose.
MATTHEW: Judas, what are you doing?
JUDAS: The instant I finish betraying him, I’m going to hang myself.
Judas stands on the milking stool, grasps the noose, and opens it to the diameter of a large pumpkin. He sticks his head inside the loop.
PETER: (appalled) You’re planning to betray him?
Judas removes his head from the noose.
JUDAS: With a kiss.
Bartholomew and Matthew draw their swords.
BARTHOLOMEW: I shan’t allow it.
MATTHEW: Nor I.
JUDAS: Shield your swords, brothers. If I don’t kiss him tonight, how else will the world be purified? He wants me to do this.
PETER: (corroborating) I fear that Judas speaks the truth. “Eden to Gethsemane, a perfect circle.”
MATTHEW: (to Judas) This is more of your sophistry.
JUDAS: (to Matthew) Just be happy you aren’t fated to play my part. The whole world will want to read your book, Matthew, but not mine, never mine.
Reluctantly Matthew and Bartholomew sheathe their swords. Judas steps off the milking stool and tugs on the rope. The branch snaps free of the tree and falls to the ground.
JUDAS: (cont’d) “The Gospel According to Judas: a Tragicomedy for Our Time.”
BARTHOLOMEW: Let me have that.
Bartholomew approaches the fig tree and picks up the branch. Returning to the bench, he gently bends the sleeping man’s legs at the knees, thus making room for himself. Bartholomew sits on the bench, the branch between his thighs, his hip brushing the stranger’s feet.
JUDAS: Where is Yeshua?
PETER: On the Mount of Olives.
BARTHOLOMEW: The Father, always the Father. Why aren’t we good enough for him?
MATTHEW: He shouldn’t be alone tonight. The Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the nobility, the Romans — everybody’s out to get him.
Bartholomew unsheathes his sword and uses it to shear the twigs from the severed branch. Judas meanwhile affixes his noose to the next highest limb. He tugs on the rope. The branch holds.
PETER: (to Bartholomew) What are you making?
Bartholomew begins shaving the bark from the severed branch.
BARTHOLOMEW: Could you use a new fishing rod, Peter?
BARTHOLOMEW: Or perhaps I’ll fashion a javelin to pierce a centurion through the heart. Or maybe a staff like Aaron’s — the Master will snap his fingers, and the rob will turn into a snake and bite Caesar on the ass.
MATTHEW: Why don’t you whittle a flute, Bartholomew? I love the sound of a flute.
BARTHOLOMEW: A flute it shall be.
MATTHEW: He shouldn’t be alone.
Exit Matthew, headed for the Mount of Olives. Bartholomew takes out his pocketknife and sets about carving a flute. Judas reaches inside his robe and retrieves a leather purse secured around his neck with a thong. He opens the purse and scatters its contents at the base of the tree. The thirty silver coins glitter in the moonlight.
JUDAS: I can’t get the math to work. After I’m gone, there will be eleven of you left. Thirty pieces of silver divided by eleven is 2.72727272 … ad infinitum.
PETER: How frustrating.
BARTHOLOMEW: How marvelous. A mathematical proof of God’s existence.
PETER: If the Master were here, he would bid us gather up those shekels and give them to the poor.
Peter approaches the fig tree and, bending low, starts to collect the scattered coins. Bartholomew keeps on whittling. Suddenly the sleeping stranger awakens.
STRANGER: Leave those shekels where they are, Peter!
PETER: Huh? What?
STRANGER: Don’t touch a single coin!
BARTHOLOMEW: Who are you?
JUDAS: Identify yourself!
STRANGER: Call me Simeon son of Simeon.
Yawning and stretching, SIMEON climbs off the bench. Weary in body and wearier still of the world, he is Yeshua’s physical opposite: beefy, bulky, and forever scratching himself, as if his robe might be infested with lice.
SIMEON: (cont’d) Study those coins closely, Peter. Notice anything unusual about them?
Peter examines the scattered shekels.
PETER: Unusual? No.
SIMEON: Whose image decorates the obverse?
PETER: Each coin bears the face of Tiberius.
SIMEON: And why does each coin bear the face of Tiberius?
PETER: Because Tiberius is emperor?
BARTHOLOMEW: (getting it) Because they all landed heads up! Good heavens, it’s a miracle!
SIMEON: No, Bartholomew, not a miracle. A major improbability. If Judas had scattered the coins an infinite number of times, and if they’d never oncelanded Caesar side up, that would be a miracle.
JUDAS: (gesturing toward the coins) How remarkable that you predicted this “improbability”.
SIMEON: I foresee many things, some of which I would prefer not to know.
BARTHOLOMEW: Are you an angel?
JUDAS: A sorcerer?
BARTHOLOMEW: A demon?
SIMEON: I am a pilgrim and a wayfarer.
PETER: What things would you prefer not to know?
Simeon shambles up to Peter and looks him in the eye.
SIMEON: Before the cock crows, you will deny Yeshua three times.
PETER: (amazed) He just told me the same thing.
BARTHOLOMEW: Peter would never deny our Master!
SIMEON: This night is different from all other nights.
Simeon wanders across the field of scattered silver and, approaching the fig tree, fixes Judas with a burning stare.
SIMEON: (cont’d) Listen to me, Judas. When Caiaphas and the soldiers get here, you will face a monstrous dilemma. You must decide whether to kiss Yeshua … or whether to kiss me.
JUDAS: Kiss you?
BARTHOLOMEW: Good idea. Kiss him tonight, Judas. Kiss Simeon.
PETER: A great big smooch, right on the lips.
JUDAS: No, it’s Yeshua I must betray. The locus of my kiss is foreordained. (to Simeon) Why should I turn you over to the Sanhedrin?
SIMEON: Yeshua intends to die for our sins — for your sins, for my sins, for the sins of all mortals everywhere, past, present, and future. He means for his blood to cleanse our souls.
JUDAS: And I mean to enable the sacrifice.
SIMEON: Indeed. A poignant and necessary arrangement. But it leaves a momentous question unanswered.
JUDAS: What question?
SIMEON: Who will die for Yeshua’s sins?
BARTHOLOMEW: How’s that?
SIMEON: If Yeshua dies for our sins, who will die for—?
PETER: (cringing) I won’t listen to this!
BARTHOLOMEW: The Master requires no redemption. He is redemption.
PETER: (agreeing) He did the dishes tonight. His own last supper, and he did the dishes.
Judas’s anger boils over. He grabs the sleeve of Simeon’s robe.
JUDAS: Yeshua is perfect! That’s the whole point!
SIMEON: (insistent) I have come to die for his sins. He is the Christ, and I am the Hyperchrist.
JUDAS: He never told a lie. He never stole, cheated, cursed, killed, or committed adultery! He has not brought harm to any man!
SIMEON: With one conspicuous exception.
PETER: There is no exception.
BARTHOLOMEW: What are you talking about?
JUDAS: Thou shalt not bear false witness, Simeon!
A stunningly beautiful female adolescent pirouettes into the garden holding a bulging leather satchel. She is SALOMÉ, the tetrarch’s seventeen-year-old stepdaughter, and her spectacular entrance distracts the disciples from their interrogation of Simeon. Salomé exudes an aura of wholesome lewdness, a concupiscent corona augmented considerably by her outfit, which would be ideal for belly dancing.
SALOMÉ: How brightly the moon shines this night!
Setting down her satchel, she notices the scattered silver.
SALOMÉ: (cont’d) What have we here?
JUDAS: Pennies from Hell, scattered by Lucifer himself.
SALOMÉ: They all landed Caesar side up! (beat) I seek the young rabbi who rode into Jerusalem three days ago. The one they call Yeshua of Nazareth.
JUDAS: What do you want of him?
SALOMÉ: It is rumored he has the power to forgive sins.
JUDAS: (indicating Simeon) Haven’t you heard the news? Here is the man who forgives sins.
SIMEON: Simeon son of Simeon, at your service.
Salomé extends her hand, which Simeon promptly kisses.
SALOMÉ: I am Salomé, daughter of Herodias, stepchild of Herod Antipas.
PETER: (astonished) The tetrarch’s stepdaughter!
BARTHOLOMEW: Does he know you’re here?
SALOMÉ: You won’t tell him, will you? If he learns that I left the palace grounds, he’ll withhold the opal and the pair of peacocks he promised me for my birthday.
BARTHOLOMEW: A Jewish princess.
SALOMÉ: Indeed. My mother is a Maccabean. My stepfather is of Idumaean descent. (beat) The opal will show me visions of the future, and the peacocks will follow in my footsteps, holding my train in their beaks.
SIMEON: Judas has overstated my powers. I cannot forgive sins. I can merely die for them. And not all sins. Yeshua’s alone.
Salomé pivots gracefully on her heel to face Judas.
SALOMÉ: Then you must tell me where to find him.
JUDAS: Why do you require absolution, Princess?
SALOMÉ: It’s not a pretty story.
JUDAS: I’ve seen it all.
SALOMÉ: You haven’t seen this.
Salomé sits on the boulder, sets the satchel on her lap, and speaks in a diffident voice.
SALOMÉ: (cont’d) I drink human blood.
SALOMÉ: Human blood. I drink it. Blood is my nourishment.
PETER: That is so wrong.
SALOMÉ: (agreeing) Walk to and fro in the earth, go up and down in it, and you will not find a cult more corrupt than mine. Sometimes we drain our prey of so much blood they waste away and die.
JUDAS: (pensive) I have read of this practice.
SALOMÉ: But our victims don’t stay buried. In time they crawl out of their tombs, and now they too require blood to sustain themselves.
JUDAS: The legend began in Syria.
Salomé rises from the boulder and, satchel in hand, moves among the shekels as if in a trance.
SALOMÉ: The incubus first came to me on my fifteenth birthday. I was alone in the palace garden. A full moon had risen. He wore a cloak of mist, and his teeth gleamed like burnished daggers. It was my time of bleeding. He licked the blood from my thighs, my sex, and then he penetrated my neck. The next night he visited me again, and the next night as well, and the next, until I…
SALOMÉ: Died. Don’t tell my stepfather. He won’t give me the opal and the peacocks.
BARTHOLOMEW: (to Simeon) First you show up and say you are the Hyperchrist, and now the Princess Salomé claims to be a corpse. This isn’t a garden, it’s a madhouse.
SALOMÉ: (to Peter) Please tell me where to find Yeshua.
PETER: Yeshua? Who’s Yeshua?
SALOMÉ: My shame is as vast and deep as the Sea of Reeds.
JUDAS: Our master is praying. I would lead you to him, but I fear you would…
SALOMÉ: Bite him? No. My thirst has already been quenched this night.
Staring at the ground, Salomé tiptoes through the shekels and explains her assertion.
SALOMÉ: (cont’d) Last month a man called Jokanaan appeared at the palace, a wild and hairy prophet from the desert. He stood beneath our balcony and denounced my mother for an adulterer and my stepfather for a sybarite. I have never heard so passionate a sermon. His brow turned crimson. Most men are satisfied to have their pricks grow hard with blood, but Jokanaan would not cease his jeremiad until his entire brain was engorged. In time I grew convinced that his mind contained more blood than had ever spilled from the altars of Baal or dribbled from the jaws of Moloch.
BARTHOLOMEW: You speak of Yeshua’s cousin, Jokanaan the Baptist.
SALOMÉ: (distressed) His cousin? Really? That’s not going to help my case.
BARTHOLOMEW: Our Master is very forgiving.
Salomé releases a groan combining skepticism with self-pity.
SALOMÉ: There is more to the story. My stepfather had the wild man thrown into prison, for that is now tetrarchs treat prophets who accuse them of debauchery. A few nights later, my stepfather said that if I danced for him, he would give me anything I desired.
JUDAS: Legendary is the lechery of Herod Antipas.
SALOMÉ: “Anything?” I asked the tetrarch. “Anything,” he replied, “even unto the half of my kingdom.” And so I danced for him, and when I was done, I sat in his lap, and he said, “Now name your price, Salomé.” Whereupon I informed him that my price was … the severed head … of the hairy prophet in the dungeon.
PETER: Child of depravity!
SALOMÉ: I retired early that evening, and at length there came a knock on my bedchamber door. “Enter freely,” I told the executioner. He came in carrying Jokanaan’s bearded head, resting upon a white silk pillow atop a silver charger.
PETER: Daughter of darkness!
SALOMÉ: After the executioner had departed, I penetrated Jokanaan’s skull with an auger bit. I inserted a hollow reed and filled my mouth with his salty thoughts.
PETER: Spawn of Satan!
SALOMÉ: Each night I sip the nectar of his intellect. For reasons I do not understand, the reservoir never runs dry.
PETER: Bride of Beelzebub!
Salomé stoops over her satchel, loosens the drawstring, and removes Jokanaan’s severed head. She displays the trophy first to Simeon, then to the three disciples.
PETER: (cont’d) Harvest of Hecate! Mistress of Mephisto!
As Salomé returns the head to its satchel, the scattered silver again attracts her attention.
PETER: (cont’d) Whore of Babylon! Offspring of offal! Sibling of pigs!
SALOMÉ: These shekels are just lying around like nobody wants them. They would make a beautiful necklace.
BARTHOLOMEW: They’re earmarked for the almshouse.
JUDAS: No, I want the Princess Salomé to have them.
Salomé drops to her knees and begins collecting the shekels. She deposits them in the satchel containing Jokanaan’s head.
JUDAS: (cont’d, to Simeon) Whatever transgression Yeshua has committed, it cannot be worse than this succubus and her severed head.
SIMEON: It’s worse, Judas. One of the most horrible stories I’ve ever heard.
Simeon marches toward Salomé and helps her finish filling the satchel with coins.
SIMEON: (cont’d) I’ll wager that Salomé has heard the tale a hundred times. It begins with three astrologers, wise men from the east, knocking at the gates of old Herod’s palace. (to Salomé) Your stepfather’s father receives the magi, and they tell him they’ve come to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews — only they don’t know where in Galilee to find him.
Salomé rises and approaches the boulder.
SALOMÉ: When I was a child, my stepfather told me the tale every Saturday night, right before he took his bath. (beat) So Herod the Great summons the chief priests and scribes to the palace, and he asks them where the Christ will be born, and they remind him of an obscure prophecy in some forgotten scrap of scripture—
SIMEON: The Book of Micah.
SALOMÉ: A prophesy from Micah that the village of Bethlehem will one day give Israel a great leader.
SIMEON: So Herod says to the magi, “Go to Bethlehem, and when you have found the child, let me know where his cradle lies, so that I too may pay him homage.” But in truth Herod cannot abide the thought of a ruler in Galilee who is not of his own line. So when the magi fail to report back, Herod follows the one course that still lies open to him.
SALOMÉ: This is the part that never fails to amaze me. Are you listening, friends of Yeshua? (beat) My stepfather’s father decrees that every male infant recently born in Bethlehem must be put to the sword.
PETER: I don’t believe you!
SIMEON: It’s a matter of historical record. The documents are stored in the palace.
SALOMÉ: So one terrible night the temple guards sweep through Bethlehem like brigands, butchering newborn after newborn.
SIMEON: (to Judas) Thirty male Jewish infants perish in the slaughter. A dead child for every piece of silver that Caiaphas paid you this afternoon. Your Master floated into the world on a river of blood.
JUDAS: That wasn’t his transgression, Simeon. The fault lies with Herod.
SIMEON: Being omniscient, being God, Yeshua knew exactly what would happen if he incarnated himself. Had he stayed in his own sphere, those thirty boys would be alive today. That is your Master’s unspeakable sin. (to Bartholomew) That is why I must redeem him. (to Peter) That is why I must take up Yeshua’s cross.
PETER: Yeshua? Never heard of him.
SIMEON: I don’t ask much of my Messiahs, but I do expect them not to trigger atrocities.
JUDAS: Friend Simeon, I fear you’re forgetting the spiritual heart of the matter. We must not choke on the gnat of thirty murdered children while swallowing the camel of a fallen world. Only through Christ’s atoning death can the Almighty reconsecrate his realm. “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son…”
SIMEON: That doesn’t sound like love to me, Judas. That sounds like theology.
JUDAS: (persisting) Come Sunday morning, everything will be different. The risen Christ will roll back the great stone, and the world will be washed clean of sin.
SIMEON: But what does that mean, exactly? On the day after Easter, will human beings suddenly stop killing, maiming, raping, exploiting, and enslaving one another?
BARTHOLOMEW: (contemplative) Thirty murdered children…
SIMEON: And there would have been thirty-one, but it happened that my mother was wiser than most.
Salomé and the three disciples regard Simeon with gaping eyes and falling jaws.
BARTHOLOMEW: You were on the death list?!
PETER: Goodness gracious!
JUDAS: (quoting Job’s servant) “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”
SALOMÉ: (to Simeon) How ever did your mother manage it? Did she bear you away from Bethlehem in a sack of flour?
SIMEON: She hid me in the carcass of a dead ox. To this day the stench fills my sinuses.
Bartholomew carves the last finger-hole in the flute, then rises from the bench and displays the instrument.
BARTHOLOMEW: It is finished.
PETER: Matthew will be delighted.
Bartholomew blows into the mouthpiece, producing a low, sweet, sensual note.
JUDAS: Forgive me, Simeon, but it would seem you’ve missed the mythic necessity of Herod’s decree. Whenever a subversive ruler is born, his enemies must seek to eradicate him through a massacre. It’s required. It’s traditional. Generations before anyone heard of Moses, the infant Sargon escaped such an extermination — and in a reed basket, no less. Eventually he became king of Babylon. Krishna survived a slaughter of the innocents and went on to spread the teachings of Vishnu. Epoch upon epoch, the paradigm gets repeated.
SIMEON: Your paradigm, my generation.
Having descended from the Mount of Olives, Yeshua and Matthew enter the garden. Peter panics and starts to flee.
JUDAS: Rabbi, you have returned!
BARTHOLOMEW: Matthew, welcome back!
PETER: (indicates Yeshua) I never saw this man before in my life!
Exit Peter. Transfixed by Salomé’s beauty, Matthew sidles toward her and introduces himself.
MATTHEW: Call me Matthew. I’m a tax collector.
SALOMÉ: Call me Salomé. I’m a vampire.
MATTHEW: We have much to talk about.
Yeshua approaches the fig tree with its dangling noose. He stands on the milking stool and tugs on the noose.
YESHUA: Shame on you, Judas. Suicide is a mortal sin.
JUDAS: Are we Catholics now, Rabbi?
YESHUA: I’m thinking of converting.
Yeshua steps off the milking stool and with a sudden kick sends it flying into the wings. He strides up to Simeon, bowing before him in a faintly mocking manner.
YESHUA: (cont’d) I prayed long and hard that you would stay home tonight.
SIMEON: And I prayed long and hard for the courage to leave my bed.
Yeshua rests a hand on Simeon’s shoulder, then turns and addresses the three disciples.
YESHUA: Ecce homo. Simeon son of Simeon. He who came forth from the ox.
BARTHOLOMEW: This man has made a most extraordinary assertion.
YESHUA: I know all about it.
Noticing Bartholomew’s flute, Matthew approaches his fellow disciple and takes hold of the instrument.
MATTHEW: What a splendid piece of craftsmanship.
BARTHOLOMEW: Can you play it?
MATTHEW: Let me see what I remember of my lessons.
Matthew sets his lips to the mouthpiece and plays a simple Hebrew melody. Bartholomew applauds.
Yeshua pivots away from the bench and approaches the satchel containing the thirty coins and the severed head. He kneels, loosens the drawstring, and peers inside.
YESHUA: Oh, Jokanaan, sorry Jokanaan, I warned you not to preach at the palace. I told you it would come to this.
SALOMÉ: I’m hoping you might forgive me, Yeshua.
Yeshua closes the satchel, gains his feet, and glowers at Salomé.
YESHUA: You killed my cousin to feed your unholy appetite.
SALOMÉ: I won’t deny it. Am I beyond salvation?
YESHUA: Dance for me.
YESHUA: You danced for the tetrarch, and you can dance for me. Dance, Salomé, and you will have my forgiveness.
SALOMÉ: And that alone is the price of my redemption?
YESHUA: You are the fairest corpse in the land.
Like a magician producing handkerchiefs, Yeshua pulls seven silk veils from his robe, then passes them to Salomé.
YESHUA: (cont’d) Music, Matthew.
Matthew puts the flute to his lips and starts to play an exotic Eastern melody in 7:8 time. Bartholomew picks up the satchel and shakes it, thus adding a percussive element to the performance as the coins rattle against each other. Salomé throws her entire being into a raw athletic rendering of the Dance of the Seven Veils. She quickly works herself into a frenzy.
Enter CAIAPHAS, the pragmatic and worldly High Priest of the Sanhedrin. He is accompanied by his nimble servant, MALCHUS, holding a torch. Next LUCIUS, a centurion, enters the garden, accompanied by three ROMAN SOLDIERS gripping drawn swords.
CAIAPHAS: What’s going on here?
LUCIUS: (to Matthew) Silence, Jew!
FIRST SOLDIER: (to Salomé) Stop your dancing, slut!
Matthew takes the flute from his lips. Salomé abruptly ends her dance by doing a split and bringing her raised arms together to form a circle. She extricates herself from this posture and sits on her haunches, exuding defiance.
SECOND SOLDIER: Throw down your swords, Jews!
Matthew and Bartholomew unsheathe their weapons and drop them.
THIRD SOLDIER: The flute too!
Matthew sets the flute on the ground.
CAIAPHAS: Good evening, brother Judas.
JUDAS: (sardonic) Welcome to Paradise, Lord Caiaphas.
CAIAPHAS: (snaps fingers) Lucius…
Lucius and the three soldiers take hold of Yeshua, Simeon, Matthew, and Bartholomew, lining them up beside the fig tree. Caiaphas struts back and forth along the rank of candidates.
CAIAPHAS: (cont’d, indicating Simeon) Is this the man, Judas? (indicates Bartholomew) Is he the one? (indicates Yeshua) Is it he? (indicates Matthew)What about this fellow?
SIMEON: I am the Christ!
BARTHOLOMEW: No, I am he!
YESHUA: Call me King of the Jews!
MATTHEW: There is no Messiah in Jerusalem save I!
LUCIUS: Be quiet, all of you! The next man to waggle his tongue loses it!
CAIAPHAS: We shall decide this controversy with a kiss.
Salomé scrambles to her feet and observes the winnowing process with great interest.
JUDAS: (indicates Bartholomew) Bartholomew couldn’t walk across a lake to save his life.
CAIAPHAS: Be gone, imposter!
Bartholomew flees the scene.
JUDAS: (indicates Matthew) Matthew will never turn water into wine. He can barely turn water into tea.
CAIAPHAS: Run home and stay there, charlatan!
Matthew stumbles reluctantly out of the garden. Judas marches up to Yeshua. He leans toward the Christ as if to kiss his cheek.
SIMEON: Love or theology, Judas, which shall it be?
YESHUA: The truth will set you free, Judas!
SIMEON: Don’t take this cup away from me.
Judas suddenly lurches toward Simeon, placing a firm wet kiss on the Hyperchrist’s lips.
SIMEON: (cont’d) You nailed me, Judas! Nolo contendere!
YESHUA: No, I’m the one!
CAIAPHAS: The kiss has spoken!
The first soldier and the second soldier lurch toward Simeon. They seize his arms and hold them behind his back.
YESHUA: (to Simeon) You know what’s going to happen now, don’t you? The Romans will beat you, kick you, flay you, rip your brow with their crown of thorns.
SIMEON: As befits the King of the Jews.
YESHUA: And then they will—
SIMEON: There are thirty shekels in Salomé’s satchel.
Yeshua releases a sigh of acquiescence mixed with mind-numbing guilt.
YESHUA: The most difficult decision I ever made. And perhaps also my worst.
SIMEON: One of your worst certainly.
YESHUA: I wonder what will happen to me ministry. The Sermon on the Mount, the parable of the good Samaritan, the story of the woman taken into adultery — are these now fated to pass away?
JUDAS: People forget so easily.
Salomé strides up to Yeshua.
SALOMÉ: I can fix that.
YESHUA: (sudden realization) You can fix that.
JUDAS: (excited) She can fix that!
SIMEON: Kiss me, Salomé.
Salomé suddenly pivots and lunges at Simeon, who simultaneously wrenches free of the soldiers and bares his neck to the princess.
MALCHUS: Crazy wench!
Salomé sinks her fangs into Simeon’s jugular vein. The first soldier and the second soldier immediately recapture Simeon. Lucius and the third soldier seize Salomé and press her against the fig tree.
LUCIUS: Take this madwoman to the garrison!
SALOMÉ: Yes, by all means, arrest the tetrarch’s one and only stepdaughter. Excellent idea, Centurion. You’ll probably get a medal.
Caiaphas snatches the torch from Malchus and, marching up to Salomé, illuminates her face.
CAIAPHAS: God in Heaven, it’s she!
MALCHUS: It’s the princess!
Lucius and the third soldier release Salomé. She remains beneath the tree, wiping the blood from her fangs.
SALOMÉ: Leave Gethsemane posthaste, all of you, and I shall forget this whole sordid episode.
CAIAPHAS: Fair Salomé, how perspicacious of you to bite the Nazarene. I share your low opinion of the man, and I assure you that the Sanhedrin will find him guilty.
SALOMÉ: (as if reading a stage direction) Exit Caiaphas.
Lucius and the three soldiers drag Simeon away. Malchus joins the procession. Caiaphas, still holding the torch, brings up the rear.
CAIAPHAS: (to Judas) Mazel tov, Judas.
YESHUA: (to Caiaphas) He did better than you know.
JUDAS: I feel like hanging myself.
Exit Caiaphas. Yeshua retrieves Matthew’s fallen sword, marches up to the fig tree, and cuts down the noose. He hands the rope to Judas.
YESHUA: You made the right choice, friend.
JUDAS: I selected the lesser of two evils.
YESHUA: Poor Simeon. Doomed to die on the cross.
SALOMÉ: Poor Simeon. Doomed to roam the earth forever.
She picks up the flute and approaches Yeshua, who still holds Matthew’s sword.
SALOMÉ: (cont’d) Oh, Yeshua, sweet Yeshua, you cannot imagine how weary I am of being dead.
She sets her hand on the hilt of Matthew’s sword.
SALOMÉ: (cont’d) A carpenter should have no difficulty with this. You take the sword in one hand, the flute in the other, and you whittle the mouthpiece into a sharp point. Next you firm your grip on the stake, and you plunge it—
YESHUA: No, Salomé. I know a better way. This is God you see before you. The Lord of Hosts. The King of the Universe. I can cure you.
SALOMÉ: Cure me? Truly?
YESHUA: I cured Lazarus, and I can cure you.
Yeshua jams the sword into the earth.
JUDAS: What about Simeon? Can you cure him too?
YESHUA: After he rolls back the stone and appears to the eleven, yes, I shall free him of the curse. (to Judas) Perhaps we could have lunch tomorrow.
JUDAS: I would like that.
Judas approaches Salomé and kisses her cheek.
JUDAS: (cont’d) Good night, sweet Princess.
SALOMÉ: Farewell, sad mortal.
Judas and Yeshua embrace vigorously.
JUDAS: I love you, Yeshua. You’re the best man I ever knew.
YESHUA: I love you, Judas. Don’t forget your shekels.
JUDAS: They’re yours, Master. Spend them as you will.
Judas and Yeshua pull away from each other. Still holding the noose, Judas exits the scene, leaving Yeshua and Salomé alone in the garden.
Yeshua approaches the satchel, opens the drawstring, and speaks to Jokanaan’s head.
YESHUA: For my penance, Jokanaan, I shall visit every bereaved family.
SALOMÉ: And I shall visit them with you.
YESHUA: Each shall have my abject apology and one piece of silver.
Yeshua rises, walks up to Salomé, and takes the flute from her grasp.
YESHUA: (cont’d) Dance for me, Salomé.
SALOMÉ: With pleasure, Rabbi.
YESHUA: The moon is full tonight. The fish was good. Dance for me.
Yeshua conjures a joyful melody from the flute. Salomé resumes her dance. Slow fade to black.
The curtain falls.