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Chapter 25: How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Karioth 
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Post Chapter 25: How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Karioth
Tying up the loose end at the end of Chapter 24, Satan has magically restored the burnt manuscript that the Master had written, in a remarkable example of fiction presciently mirroring truth, since that was exactly what happened with the KGB restoring Bulgakov’s diaries discovered in 1991.

The fairy story has been magically restored to the previous state of innocent bliss. “In the Master’s study, all was as it had been before… Fearing that it was nothing more than a piece of wizardry, that the folio might vanish…, the all-powerful Woland really was all-powerful and Margarita was able to leaf through the manuscript to her heart’s content.”

The confusion here is that this next chapter, extracted from this miraculous manuscript that Margarita has in her hands, continues the story of Pilate that at the very beginning of the book had allegedly been related by Satan himself as an eyewitness account. But now the assertion is that we have a fictional account written by the master. No matter. The confluence of the streams can still sweep us away.

The first two pages of Chapter 25 are devoted to setting the scene of Golgotha, the sense of a brooding divine presence as humanity declares its superiority to God, as perceived from Herod's pagan palace. Not to be outdone, a thunderbolt smashes a cypress like a twig, and a dark fog rolls around like Prufrock’s cat at his ankles as the threatening clouds turn violet tinged with white, raining with an intense noir that could have come from Blade Runner.

Pilate’s eyes are inflamed with insomnia and wine as the hail and lightning crash around the palace, provoking his sullen irritation, if not his conscience. A smashed wine jug recalls the blood of one on a nearby hill. Then his spy returns from his observations at Calvary. Of uncertain nationality, with fleshy nose, vague coloured hair and small eyes narrowing to shine with sly intelligence, the army spy assists the Procurator with the imperial data needed to rule the hated city. Bulgakov is a master of personal description, with vague the perfect colour for a spy’s hair.

The proceeding conversation between imperial apparatchiks, finessing about the mood of the occupied territory and plans for troop movements, is a masterful study of the mind of power. Nothing is reliable in this world, says the spy, save the power of great Caesar. Such obeisant loyalty against Pilate’s amiable condescension well captures the atmospherics of military rule. One can well imagine Bulgakov modelling this discussion on the needs of the Soviet power in occupied Kiev.

Pilate swears by the Lares, illustrating Bulgakov’s attention to historical detail. These guardian deities at the crossroads https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lares and every locality had a central role in Roman identity and religious life.

In telling the Procurator about the death of Christ (Ha-Notsri), the spy explains that his seven last words were that cowardice is among the worst human sins. Apparently this was one of the most significant lines in the book that were censored out of the Brezhnev edition, so I am pleased to be reading Glenny’s excellent unfilleted smuggled version.

For Bulgakov to make such a j’accuse zolanism was clearly unacceptable to Soviet Power, whose heroic collective courage in the Great Patriotic War was the obvious opposite of cowardice, except in the eyes of enemies of the people. And yet Bulgakov has a point, that the cowed inability to speak truth to power enabled the whole Stalinist tyranny. No wonder Brezhnev didn’t like hearing such talk even more than a decade after the descension of Uncle Joe.

Bulgakov’s mastery of imagery continues in this conversation, with Pilate implying the three criminals were equal, and the spy giving vent to the obvious assumption that Jesus was the important one, leading to instructions for the effective disposal of the body. Having dispatched this item of business, the conversation turns to Judas.


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Post Re: Chapter 25: How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Karioth
The Procurator, Pontius Pilate, has received information, from a casual, vague and unreliable source, that Judas will be murdered tonight. He tells his spy, whom he now names as Arthanius, to prevent the death. One of Ha-Notsri’s secret followers, revolted by this money-changer’s monstrous treachery, has plotted to kill Judas and return his accursed blood-money to the High Priest.

Dramatic tension rises as the Roman interlocutors conspire about how Arthanius will be able to rescue Judas from this imminent mortal threat. In one sense this conversation is the moment of greatest tension in The Master and Margarita, as we wonder how both the spy and the followers of Jesus will be able to find Judas so quickly, whether there will be a confrontation, and whether Bulgakov will rewrite the Bible to give Judas a different fate from the one in the Gospel accounts of his death. Judas Iscariot, here called Judas of Karioth, is central to the unfolding tragedy of Jesus Christ, and so we are left to wonder how Bulgakov will re-tell this episode, and with what motives.

Pilate has a presentiment that the murder will happen in line with the intelligence he has received. Bulgakov is weaving a sense of divine intuition into the efforts of the organs of state to protect their informer. Although Pilate had washed his hands of the blood of Christ, that was an act of supreme diplomatic finesse, contriving to blame the Jews for a decision that in reality was entirely caused by the power of Rome, enlisting the help of corrupted compradors under the pretence that they somehow retain ability to make independent decisions on matters of sedition.

The fate of Judas is an important part of the jigsaw of maintaining order, given the knowledge of the Jewish authorities that any softness towards Jesus would bring down the wrath of empire as the tension builds towards rebellion.

As in the Communist Empire of the Soviet Union, informers were central to the ability of Rome to maintain imperial control. The flow of casual betrayal depends on the expectation that those who provide secret information to the state will not be left to the vengeance of the mob. So even if Arthanius is unable to achieve Pilate’s command, the effort makes a difference, since the functionaries will be able to tell future turncoats that casting their lot with Rome will be in their personal interest.

The chapter ends with Pilate emphasising his patron-client relationship with Arthanius, giving him a bag of money, which the spy at first attempts to refuse but of course takes, when Pilate reminds him that one should always remember trifles. Arthanius departs with the advice from Pilate that “our only hope is your extreme efficiency.”


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Post Re: Chapter 25: How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Karioth
Robert Tulip wrote:
The proceeding conversation between imperial apparatchiks, finessing about the mood of the occupied territory and plans for troop movements, is a masterful study of the mind of power. Nothing is reliable in this world, says the spy, save the power of great Caesar. Such obeisant loyalty against Pilate’s amiable condescension well captures the atmospherics of military rule. One can well imagine Bulgakov modelling this discussion on the needs of the Soviet power in occupied Kiev.
I have recently picked up "The Orphan Master's Son" about contemporary North Korea. There is little of this assessment and manipulation, because the story is told from the perspective of pawns in the game. Or maybe one should say knights, since by virtue of some skill they have become valuable to the hierarchy.

Their attention to maintaining the official fictions is mind-bending. One gradually begins to recognize that the purpose of the fictions is not to fool anyone. Rather it is to impose a groupthink that will maintain complete serviceability, like something from 1984. Explaining inconvenient facts, if one is in a position to be an embarrassment to power, is not to be considered. No one will catch them out for covering up a failure (because to do so would be to admit that there was a failure): only actual independence of action would be punished. Rather one is expected to display sufficient awareness of the requirements of official fiction to make up extravagant stories which will maintain the veneer.

It gives new insight into the mind of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the spinmeister job of which she has such an extreme version to fill. She is a bridge, allowing us to see across to the manipulations of the powerful, and it seems to me that the view you take of Pilate's machinations is timeless in its reflection of how control thinks.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Pilate swears by the Lares, illustrating Bulgakov’s attention to historical detail. These guardian deities at the crossroads https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lares and every locality had a central role in Roman identity and religious life.
At first I thought perhaps the crossroads was a significant allusion, but the Wiki article seems to underline "locality." They have an almost animistic feel, like the Spirit House (posted outside the residence) common in East Asian culture. The Lares seem to be at the intersection of superstition and everyday piety, and it is interesting to see Pilate portrayed invoking them.

Robert Tulip wrote:
In telling the Procurator about the death of Christ (Ha-Notsri), the spy explains that his seven last words were that cowardice is among the worst human sins.
I thought I detected a distinct whiff of confession from Bulgakov at this point. The innocent has been slain, like the kulaks, and what little we are left with from their truth-telling is that this vast conspiracy of cowardice has enabled unfathomable injustice. Bulgakov is haunted by it, and trying to examine the little bit of humanity left to those caught up in such an atrocity.

Does any other vice have a similar effect of sweeping others into its own downward spiral? Of normalizing enormity? Even the institutions of the West, who had nothing terrible to fear, were unwilling to tell what they knew because they also knew that the cowed populace would not back their story.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The Procurator, Pontius Pilate, has received information, from a casual, vague and unreliable source, that Judas will be murdered tonight.
The vagueness of the source is, of course, an important detail.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Dramatic tension rises as the Roman interlocutors conspire about how Arthanius will be able to rescue Judas from this imminent mortal threat. In one sense this conversation is the moment of greatest tension in The Master and Margarita, as we wonder how both the spy and the followers of Jesus will be able to find Judas so quickly, whether there will be a confrontation, and whether Bulgakov will rewrite the Bible to give Judas a different fate from the one in the Gospel accounts of his death.
Judas Iscariot, here called Judas of Karioth, is central to the unfolding tragedy of Jesus Christ, and so we are left to wonder how Bulgakov will re-tell this episode, and with what motives.
No suspense in the "forced moves" of power, only in the machinations around the fictions. Of course the execution of the kulaks was not a forced move except in the tortured soul of someone who finds controlling people to be an absolute compulsion. We must kill the people to save the people. Neither was the execution of Jesus a forced move.

But whether some violent move will succeed or fail, be betrayed or even meet a comeuppance, that is enough to hold our attention. This is why "B" grade action movies keep getting churned out.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The fate of Judas is an important part of the jigsaw of maintaining order, given the knowledge of the Jewish authorities that any softness towards Jesus would bring down the wrath of empire as the tension builds towards rebellion.

As in the Communist Empire of the Soviet Union, informers were central to the ability of Rome to maintain imperial control. The flow of casual betrayal depends on the expectation that those who provide secret information to the state will not be left to the vengeance of the mob.

I wonder. Was the mob a force to be reckoned with in Stalin's Russia? Was even the Party a force to be concerned about? True enough that the knights have to be given a sense that their cooperation brings security, as long as they don't try to be independent.

You can see the same mentality unfolding in Trumpistan. The Republicans are afraid of the Tea Party, backed by Koch and Mercer millions, so they will not raise their voices even at the betrayal of their country. Their souls were sold a long time ago, so their pride goes easily. The list of criteria for their security in office gets shorter and shorter, so that loyalty and obedience are almost the only items left on the list. McConnell is wriggling around to preserve a fig leaf of independence, while Ryan steps into his usual role of enabler of the Party Line.



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Robert Tulip
Fri Jul 27, 2018 4:01 pm
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