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Chapter 26: The Burial 
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Post Chapter 26: The Burial
The Art of the Triple Cross.

Spoiler Warning!!!

High upon the lonely hill of Golgotha, three crosses stand empty on a Friday night under the bleak silent moon.

Meanwhile, in an account of sublime mastery by Bulgakov - who in truth must have been there himself as an eyewitness so vivid is his description - the complex plot to murder Judas unfolds with secrecy, conspiracy, deception, a feminine lure, organisation, confusion, betrayal, complete plausibility and surprise, and two sudden steel blades under the unfortunate ribs of the betrayer of Christ, putting paid to the rumours of suicide that somehow made their way into the Bible.

With no magic abroad in the air, a whole choir of nightingales sang in Gethsemane, as sweetly sombre accompaniment under the poor puzzled frown of the moon, and the whole damned world seemed upside down.

Seemingly a triple cross, doubling down on the double-cross of the double agent, Arthanius appears to deceive Pilate by promising to protect Judas, then arranging his murder with supreme efficiency, then concocting an elaborate plausible counter story, and finally apparently proving that was what Pilate secretly wanted all along.

Pilate’s real desire, no man no problem, had been conveyed so very sotto voce that this key instruction failed to make it into Bulgakov’s otherwise complete record of events. The reader is left to wonder if Arthanius fully knew their conversation had contained a real meaning that was precisely the opposite of the stated words. The imperial servant must interpret his master’s voice, with his ability to conjure an effective final result the sole criterion of preferment. Principle, honesty, honour and ethics are of no concern in this harsh world. It almost makes the reader think Bulgakov is satirising the instruction methods of the man of steel.

As the chapter opens, Pilate twitches in paranoia as he wonders if Jesus is hiding in his bedroom, concealed in a cloak draped over a chair. This sense of guilty conscience pervades the account of the burial of Christ. Rather like Stalin wondering if revengeful friends of someone he has murdered will sneak through his security, Pilate shakes the cloak on the chair in a moment of superstitious fear. He descends into brooding depression recalling the hellish pain of the morning, not the crucifixion of Christ but his annoying headache. And yet Jesus nags at him, with a sense of irretrievable loss, held at bay only by self deception. Finally relief is at hand, as his giant dog, his only true love, bounds into his bed.

Meanwhile Arthanius is at work, although his exact activities remain a mystery.


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Post Re: Chapter 26: The Burial
Robert Tulip wrote:
The Art of the Triple Cross.

Spoiler Warning!!!

Seemingly a triple cross, doubling down on the double-cross of the double agent, Arthanius appears to deceive Pilate by promising to protect Judas, then arranging his murder with supreme efficiency, then concocting an elaborate plausible counter story, and finally apparently proving that was what Pilate secretly wanted all along.

After Stalin himself, the most feared man in post-War Russia was fellow Georgian Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the NKVD and the organizer of the Soviet atomic bomb. I haven't checked the time line to see if Bulgakov could be referring to him, but this chapter is a masterpiece of ironic admiration for a truly fearsome head of security, who has mastered the subtleties of plausible deniability along with the brutal necessities of the power play.

Pilate even hides his desire for Judas' death from himself, but his head of security (Afranius in my edition - these e-books often confuse letter combinations which look similar such as fr and th) reads him like a book and manages to have Judas killed while maintaining the appearance of innocence of all concerned, and then leads Pilate through the use of the clues to see how he can construct a plausible story about Judas which allows him to believe the Romans are innocent and everything has been done to protect the informer.

The apparent references to Sherlock Holmes and the entire detective genre are haunting, as Afranius skillfully arranges the evidence (and its interpretation) so that what is publically known will exonerate the one who wishes to think of himself as innocent. "What is truth?" indeed.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Pilate’s real desire, . . . had been conveyed so very sotto voce that this key instruction failed to make it into Bulgakov’s otherwise complete record of events. The reader is left to wonder if Arthanius fully knew their conversation had contained a real meaning that was precisely the opposite of the stated words. The imperial servant must interpret his master’s voice, with his ability to conjure an effective final result the sole criterion of preferment.
There might be some slight room for doubt that Afranius has his own agenda, but Pilate's praise for him and the mildness of the rebuke for "letting him escape" are fairly conclusive evidence (there it is again) that this was a silent co-conspiracy, in which everything hinges on the henchman's ability to interpret the true intention of the ruler and to arrange for plausible deniability.

In his story within a story, Bulgakov asks us to look beyond the cover stories and draw the obvious conclusions that are too dangerous to state.

I found the torment of Pilate within his own conscience, mainly on display in the next chapter, to be equally interesting. It reveals a different kind of self-deception from what is going on in the White House today, but both the real dictator and the wannabe share an obsession with creating power through fear.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Principle, honesty, honour and ethics are of no concern in this harsh world. It almost makes the reader think Bulgakov is satirising the instruction methods of the man of steel.

No concern? One must ask what all the charades and deception are about, if honour and principle are of no concern? Indeed, as 45's web of lies closes in on him, you have to wonder who does he think he's fooling? The only ones who care to listen to the lies are people who have, themselves, bought into a great deception about America's guilt, and don't want anybody talking about it out loud.

But one must also ask, who made it so harsh? Before Stalin's gratiutous horror in Ukraine there was von Moltke, poison gas, the massacre of Armenians by the Turks, and the Amritsar massacre. Stalin didn't invent this kind of necrophilia.

The only security is collective security. Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword, and take as many others down with them as they can.



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Post Re: Chapter 26: The Burial
Harry Marks wrote:
After Stalin himself, the most feared man in post-War Russia was fellow Georgian Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the NKVD and the organizer of the Soviet atomic bomb. I haven't checked the time line to see if Bulgakov could be referring to him, but this chapter is a masterpiece of ironic admiration for a truly fearsome head of security, who has mastered the subtleties of plausible deniability along with the brutal necessities of the power play.
Bulgakov died in 1940, and would have been more familiar with Felix Dzerzhinsky, leader of Lenin’s secret police the Cheka until 1926, when Lubyanka Square in central Moscow was renamed in his honour, a recognition that lasted until 1990, with pride of place given to the 'Iron Felix' statue built in the 1950s. Beria headed the secret police from 1938 until 1945, when he was promoted into the politburo. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lubyanka_Square

The autocratic theme of plausible deniability is central to state legitimacy, to assert rule by consent while denying the reality of rule by control. The reality of control is masked by ruthless suppression of any emerging challenges to consent, teaching the public that interest in politics is dangerous.

Judas Iscariot was a model for revolutionaries, rejecting the peaceful otherworldly spirituality of Jesus Christ in favour of political rebellion against Rome. His name is said to refer to the sicai, the dagger of the Sicarii rebels. Bulgakov’s presentation of the murder of Judas by Roman cloak and dagger operation reflects how Josephus described the operations of the Sicarii assassins.

So Pilate is in an ambiguous position, wishing to validate the comprador decision to kill Jesus but finding the existence of the man who enabled the execution inconvenient. Judas is guilty of even worse sedition than Jesus, even if Pilate finds it hard to say so to the high priest.

Afranius must navigate this minefield, and his ability to do so with such aplomb marks him as a true Chekist. Mindful of Stalin’s supreme idea that death solves all problems, the Chekist easily discounts any platitudes that seem to contradict basic principles of state stability and security.
Harry Marks wrote:
Pilate even hides his desire for Judas' death from himself, but his head of security (Afranius in my edition - these e-books often confuse letter combinations which look similar such as fr and th) reads him like a book and manages to have Judas killed while maintaining the appearance of innocence of all concerned, and then leads Pilate through the use of the clues to see how he can construct a plausible story about Judas which allows him to believe the Romans are innocent and everything has been done to protect the informer.
I have read translations both by Glenny and by Pevear and Volokhovsky, and find Glenny infinitely more elegant. But at the moment I have the clunky PV version to hand. We find several clues to Pilate’s real intent in the first conversation with Afranius. The command to bury Jesus in secrecy and silence, and the “subtle understanding” of why Barabbas can no longer rebel, reflect an urbane cultivated veneer concealing absolute ruthless intent.

When Afranius returns for the second discussion, Pilate’s grin when given the bloody bag with thirty pieces of silver shows how easily he will reject Afranius’s initial demand to be tried for failure of duty. Afranius well understands this elaborate dance, and proceeds to word up Pilate to ensure their entirely false stories are consistent, to prevent any leak of cracks that might allow light to penetrate this darkness.

The Holmesian prediction of the Gethsemane murder site becomes the only possible truth once all other suggestions have been eliminated. His calm and weighty logic excludes the possibility that Pilate raises that a woman lured Judas out of town, while the reader is fully aware that is exactly what happened. Piling irony upon deception, Afranius notes that these vagabonds lack the big money needed to involve a woman in their plot, showing us how he must have bribed the woman he used to entice Judas out.

The utterly convincing alibi continues with the bizarre reasoning that Judas must have wanted to bury his money at Gethsemane. The constantly darting eyes indicate the real agenda of being able to sell this entirely fake account. The soldiers who allegedly lost Judas in the marketplace will receive a token reprimand, everyone will agree, and the whole episode will be buried and forgotten, a burial in line with the title of the chapter, a burial that the overlords expect will be as successful as their plan to bury Jesus Christ.
Harry Marks wrote:
The apparent references to Sherlock Holmes and the entire detective genre are haunting, as Afranius skillfully arranges the evidence (and its interpretation) so that what is publically known will exonerate the one who wishes to think of himself as innocent. "What is truth?" indeed.
The burial of truth by Pilate, with both Judas and Jesus, faces the nasty problem that truth has a habit of resurrecting itself. In the world of fake news, truth is what sells. The utter cynicism of the priority of myth over evidence involves elaborate effort to bury any incriminating detail, with the irony that the reader is well aware that these tactics of imperial control were subverted, according to the Gospel myth, by the rising of Christ at Easter.
Harry Marks wrote:
There might be some slight room for doubt that Afranius has his own agenda, but Pilate's praise for him and the mildness of the rebuke for "letting him escape" are fairly conclusive evidence (there it is again) that this was a silent co-conspiracy, in which everything hinges on the henchman's ability to interpret the true intention of the ruler and to arrange for plausible deniability.
Yes, that rogue theory was my first impression, but the astute triple cross, a deception that mirrors Calvary as the burial of the Judas story mirrors Pilate's plan for Christ, shows Bulgakov’s deeper appreciation of the Chekist mindset.
Harry Marks wrote:
In his story within a story, Bulgakov asks us to look beyond the cover stories and draw the obvious conclusions that are too dangerous to state.
Russian Dolls all the way down. As I mentioned, Brezhnev’s censors in 1966 did not like one little bit the discussion in this and the previous chapter about Christ’s view that cowardice is the greatest sin. So the danger in stating things more clearly is that the censors would simply ban the book, a problem that Bulgakov wrestled with in all his earlier novels and plays, given his background as an enemy of the people.

Pilate has dreams, including a walk on a moonbeam with Christ where Pilate boldly contradicts the messiah’s claim that cowardice is only one among the most terrible vices. Pilate says instead that cowardice is the most terrible vice, claiming for himself the high moral ground above Christ, and cites his military experience to prove his point. Bulgakov is mocking the nomenklatura, who loved to beat their breasts about their political courage in suppressing the kulaks while always making sure they were not the first to stop clapping when Stalin finished speaking, living lives of sheer intimidated terror.


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Harry Marks
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