Holidays are important to us and we take several every year. With the new travel apps going commercial in the seventies, a raft of new holiday destinations opened up. By 2090 we were able to stand in the field at Gettysburg with Abe Lincoln and mingle with the Parisian crowd at Marie-Antoinette’s execution. Time travel was easy—like going to the cinema or theatre. You had to wear suitable clothing but this was usually provided as part of the package from the travel agent.
Abagail was looking forward to something different this year and, on the recommendation of the travel agent, booked Jerusalem for one of the old religious festivals. She had a secret lingering attachment to the concept of Christianity, which came from her mother, although she wouldn’t admit to it. If I’m being honest, I was looking forward to meeting the Galilean––to see what he was really like under pressure.
The smell of the place was what struck me first–and the noise; people on the move, open sewers along the streets, stalls selling food and other merchandise. Donkeys and soldiers everywhere on this beautiful spring morning. It was like a bank holiday weekend for the local Jewish Passover feast.
We were part of a group gathered outside Herod’s Upper Palace. All were standing around with an air of expectation.
“What’s up?” I asked a man in clerical garb.
“Ah. The usual. Bloody Romans interfering again. That chancer Jesus is up to his tricks again and they won’t do a thing about it.”
“What’s he done?”
“Where have you been? He’s one of that Essene cult. A blasphemer. Should have been put away years ago. Now claims he’s the son of God, would you believe?”
We mingled as best we could with the crowd, keeping a low profile and doing as others did, as we’d been instructed by the travel agent. A hush descended on the crowd as a figure was dragged from the palace by a group of soldiers.
“It’s him,” Abigail whispered, eyes glazed, as in a trance. The prisoner’s wrists were tied together and securely fastened above his head to a stone pillar. A burly Roman soldier appeared, stripped to the waist, he carried a whip with three long leather tails, with small pieces of metal and what looked like bones on the end. The clothes were ripped from the prisoner’s back and the whipping began to the cheers of the crowd. We joined in as each lash drew more blood. Abigail was in tears.
The leather thongs left their marks on his back and wrapped themselves around his side, thighs and ribcage, drawing more and more blood. Visibly weakened after ten lashes of metal and bone cutting into his skin, he fell to his knees, but the lashes continued as the cheers and taunts from the crowd grew louder.
He took his punishment like a man. No pleas for mercy from the Galilean. Yet the crowd cheered, jeered and screamed abuse. “Traitor,” “Crucify him,” and “Essene scum”. We had to join in. It was clear they were bent on the complete physical and mental humiliation of the prisoner. Abigail could not bear to look. I had seen enough, but we were not due to meet the tour guide for another ninety minutes. What could drive people to such frenzy?
When I looked up, the prisoner had collapsed and the lashes had stopped. The soldiers put some kind of a cap on his head. They took him away into the recesses of the palace. I lead Abigail to a quiet, shaded area close to the perimeter wall. She was almost hysterical.
“I can’t take any more of this,” she said.
“I know. It’s not what I expected either.”
A silence descended on the crowd as the prisoner was brought out once more. He had been cleaned up and was wrapped in what looked like a purple blanket. Trickles of blood ran from his head which was covered with a cap made of what looked like hawthorn twigs. We could hear shouts of “King of the Jews.”
“Oh my God, the crown of thorns,” whispered Abigail.
A fuss was being made by hangers-on as the lead Roman, a man called Pilate, appeared on the first floor balcony of the palace. “Well here he is people. I don’t find him guilty of any crime”, he said, addressing the crowd.
There were loud shouts of disagreement from the front of the crowd, with calls to “Crucify him. Crucify him.” This rapidly developed into a relentless atavistic chanting of “Crucify, crucify, crucify, crucify, crucify…” culminating into a crescendo taken up by the entire crowd.
Looking around, we began to realise that most of the crowd were going through the motions. Reluctant participants caught up in an act they had no option but see it through, like ourselves.
Could we all be responsible for what happened to the Galilean on that spring day in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago?
Originally from rural Northern Ireland, Pat Mullan now lives in Co Kildare. His short story “The Same Place” was published in the fourth issue of Spontaneity (June 2014), and “Good For Me” was published in the Galway Review (August 2014).