25. How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Kiriath

English > The novel > Annotations per chapter > Chapter 25

The dread Antonia Tower

The AntoniaTower was already presented in chapter 19, when Margarita reread fragments having neither beginning nor end of the Master's fire-damaged typescript.

The Hasmonaean Palace

The Hasmonaean Palace was also described in chapter 19.

Bald Skull

Golgotha, which Bulgakov calls Bald Skull here, was already described in the chapters 2 and 16.

The palace of Herod the Great

The palace of Herod the Great

Bulgakov's notes show that he took the architectural details of the palace of Herod the Great from The Life of Christ by Frederic Farrar (1831-1903). Farrar was a famous British preacher, born in Bombay (India). He was - among other things - minister in the famous Westminster Abbey and later Dean of Canterbury. His talent to mix historical details with biblical facts attracted masses of people to his sermons. The palace was situated at the west side of the Jerusalem city walls.

The Life of Christ is downloadable in our archives section

An oyster

Bulgakov may have found this detail in Le Procurateur de Judée (1892) by Anatole France (1844-1924), pseudonym for Jacques Anatole François Thibault. In his preparatory notes to the last edition of The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov has a note: «Could Pilate have eaten oysters?»

The excerpt of the text of Anatole France, which may have inspired Bulgakov for this question, sounds as follows: «...la table supportait des plats d'argent dans lesquels étaient préparés des becfigues au miel, des grives, des huîtres du Lucrin et des lamproies de Sicile» or, in English: «...on the table were silver plates in which were prepared becfigues with honey, oysters from Lucrinus and sea lampreys from Sicily».

The lake of Lucrinus, in Campania, northeast of Naples, had a connection to the sea, and was very famous for its oyster parks. In 1538 the lake disappeared as a result of an earthquake.

Le Procurateur de Judée is downloadable in our archives section

Falerno or Caecuba

Bulgakov originally thought that Falerno wine was red. When he learned that it was dark amber, he changed the wine to Caecuba. He wanted to use a wine with the colour of blood. Unfortunately, Bulgakov died before he was able to make this change throughout the novel. In this chapter he found a textual solution by inserting the change from Falerno to Caecuba into the dialogue between Pilate and Afranius, but in chapter 30, where the colour matters, the text hasn't been changed. So Azazello says: «I beg you to note that it's the same wine the procurator of Judea drank. Falernian wine»

For us, for thee, Caesar, father of the Romans, best and dearest of men!

According to some scholars this toast would be historically accurate, but I haven't found any confirmation. But he sounded very contemporary for the Soviet citizen in the Stalin era. Bulgakov displaced much of what was typically to Russian in the 1930's to the Pilate chapters: interrogation and beating, political double-dealing, spying, etc. Pilate's reflexive response to the mention of Caesar is part of this pattern.

The feast of the twelve gods

The twelve senior  gods of the Roman pantheon were: Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Vulcan, Apollo,  Diana, Ceres, Venus, Mars, Vesta, Mercury and Minerva.

The lares

Lar (plural lares) is a Latin word of Etruscan origing meaning lord or ruler. Lares were Roman deities - or rather ghosts - protecting the house and the family.

Another kind of household gods were the penates, they were honoured, together with the lares, in the house, where they were in charge of the daily necessities, the daily bread. They were the gods of the domestic storeroom.

This messiah

Messiah comes from the Hebrew word מָשִׁיחַ (mashiah), meaning the anointed one. The word exists in many religions like Judaism, christianity and islam, but in each religion it has got another meaning.

In Judaism a messiah is a leader who will herald a messianic period of peace and prosperity for the Jewish and other people, which will eventually lead to the end of the world. This person will be a descendant of King David (1005 BC-970 BC) and will rebuild the nation of Israel, bring world peace by restoring the Davidic Kingdom. The messiah is seen as an important prophet and king. Many times in history Jewish men have claimed the title of messiah, but none of them was ever accepted by Judaism so far.

Christianity believes that the Messiah came in the person of Jesus Christ. To christians the Messiah has both a divine and a human side. He is seen as the Son of God and as God himself, albeit in another way than the Father and the Holy Spirit with whom he exists in trinity. The Messiah plays an important role in christian eschatology or expectation of the end of the world. When he returns, Jesus Messiah will square up with everything which is hostile to God and then establish, from Jerusalem, the dominion over the earth.

According to the islam the messiah is Isa (Arab for Jesus), which means that he ascended into heaven and will return to finish the rest of his life and clear the earth from idolaters. The arrival of the prophet Ahmed or Mohammed (569-632) would have been announced during his life. According to the Islam the messiah will, somewhat like in christianity, herald the last days.

Were they given the drink before being hung on the posts?

Some bible scholars consider the offering of drinking to the condamned suffering at the cross as some legal kind of mercy - as Pilate means it here too, but in the Gospels it is rather presented as an ultimate mockery, which may explain why Jesus refuses it.

Matthew 27:34 - «There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it» and Mark 15:23 - «Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it»

Among human vices he considered cowardice one of the first

This saying is not found in the Gospels, though it is of great thematic importance for The Master and Margarita. Bulgakov himself, according to one of his friends, regarded cowardice as the worst of all vices, «because all the rest comes from it». And the Soviet authorities apparently felt tackled by this quotation, because all references to this «worst of vices» were removed from the original magazine publication of The Master and Margarita in 1966.


This character appears already in Chapter 2, but only now he's been given a name. Maybe because he is the head of Pilate's secret police.

His name could be inspired by Sextus Aphranius Burrus (1-62), a Roman with Gaul roots. Aphranius Burrus was a tribune, and later procurator and private guard of empress Livia Drusilla II (58 BC-29) - the widow of emperor Augustus (63 BC-19) - and later private guard of the emperors Tiberius (42 BC-37) and Claudius (10 BC-54). He helped Julia Agrippina the Younger (15-59) to get her son Nero (37-68) on the trone and became one of his advisors when Nero became emperor in 54 at the age of 16. The other advisor was the philosopher and writer Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC-65). The first 5 years of Nero's government - the quinquennium Neronis. - were generally described as «a school example of good governance», because Burrus and Seneca were determining the policy behind the scene.

When the apostle Paulus (3-67) was being arrested and put in the Mamertine prison at Capitoline Hill, Aphranius Burrus was responsible for him. There was said that he treated him very humanly.

Nero, however, had to tolerate that his mother Julia Agrippina the Younger (15-59) claimed an always more important role for herself. By mediation of Agripinna, Aphranius Burrus got control on the Praetorian Guards in the year 51. He had an excellent military reputation but he knew bloody well that he had to be grateful to Agrippina. He could prevent that Nero assassinated his mother a first time - although it later happened nevertheless. Sextus Aphranius Burrus himself died in the year 62.

Some oneliners coming from Aphranius Brutus are still known. He once said to the young emperor Nero: «When I have spoken once, do not question me again», and his last words, just before he died, were «Ego me bene habeo» or «With me everything's well».

I have just received information that he is going to be killed tonight

Pilate seems to have a double intention with this comment. On the one hand he wishes to somehow make up for the unjust execution of Yeshua, on the other he is making sure that Kaifa will have problems resulting from Judas' death.

He rubbed his hands briskly

This gesture of Pilate is probably the best known exploit of the historical Pontius Pilate: he washed his hands in innocence. Matthew 27:24 - «When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it».

Share this page |