The narrative returns to Yershalaim, beginning with the sentence read by Margarita at the end of the previous chapter. As the storm rages on, lightning intermittently illuminates the great temple through the otherwise “pitch darkness.” The storm develops into a hurricane, wrecking the palace gardens. Pontius Pilate lies on the couch, drinking wine and growing impatient.
The storm is a signal of the magnitude of the events that have taken place. Pilate might not have realized the significance of executing Yeshua at first, but it is starting to dawn on him. The title of the chapter is ironic, as will become clear.
As the storm dies down, the hooded man who was present at the execution now comes in. He is Aphranius, the head of Pilate’s secret police. The procurator makes his servants fetch dry clothes and hot food for Aphranius, who is soaked through. The two men drink a toast. Pilate asks about the mood of the city, which Aphranius describes as “now satisfactory,” adding that the only guarantee in the world is “the power of the great Caesar.”
Aphranius is a murky figure and suggestive of the secret police in the Moscow narrative. He occupies a powerful position in Yershalaim, overseeing its security from the shadows. He is a dutiful servant to the Roman empire.
Pilate complains about Yershalaim: “there’s no more hopeless place on earth […] I get sick every time I have to come here.” He especially hates the “feasts,” which attract “magicians, sorcerers, wizards”; he cites Yeshua Ha-Nozri as the latest example of these “fanatics.” He expresses a wish to return to Caesarea.
Pilate is trying to underplay the effect that his brief exchange with Yeshua had on him by likening to others who have come before. It is an attempt to absolve himself of his guilt, which he himself knows isn’t working.
Pilate asks Aphranius about the execution. Aphranius explains that Yeshua had refused the offer of water; Pilate calls Yeshua a “madman.” Aphranius reports that Yeshua said he was “grateful” and did not blame anyone for “the taking of his life.” The only other thing Yeshua said was “that among human vices he considered cowardice one of the first.”
Aphranius’ recollection of Yeshua’s actions buries itself in Pilate’s psyche, exemplifying the courage to Pilate’s cowardice. Yeshua would have known that a report would be sent to Pilate and so these words represent his message to the latter man.
Pilate requests that Aphranius bury Yeshua’s body, along with the other executed men, in a secret location so that there will be no possibility of him acquiring “admirers or followers.” They then move on to discuss Judas of Kiriath.
Pilate doesn’t want there to be a shrine for Yeshua, but it’s also an attempt on his part to make sure there as little reminder of Yeshua—and Pilate’s decision—as possible. Pilate’s feelings are more complicated than that, as will become clear.
Aphranius explains that Judas is to receive money from the palace of Kaifa for turning in Yeshua. The procurator says he has received information that Judas will be killed that night. Aphranius is surprised not to have heard this himself. Pilate refuses to tell Aphranius his source but adds that it is one of Yeshua’s “secret friends” that will do the deed; according to Pilate, this friend will also give the money back to the high priest with a note saying, “I return the cursed money.”
Pilate has in fact decided that he himself will kill Judas, showing that deep down he believes in the authenticity of Yeshua’s beliefs and actions. Pilate is thus “the secret friend” that he refers to, and he wants to atone for his earlier cowardice. Pilate and Aphranius talk euphemistically on purpose, keeping the murder plot as secret as possible. Judas’s story is a parable of greed, chiming with what’s happened elsewhere in the novel.
The two men discuss the potential assassination of Judas, saying it will cause trouble for the high priest Kaifa and will “cause a very great scandal.” Aphranius points out that it will be difficult to pull off. Pilate insists that he has a “presentiment” Judas is certain to be killed that evening. Aphranius: asks, “So they will kill him, Hegemon?” When Pilate says yes, Aphranius salutes him and bids him goodbye. Pilate requests a report later that night on both the burial of the bodies and on the Judas “matter.”
Aphranius’s question is not about any other people killing Yeshua, but a request for confirmation that Pilate is sure about what he wants to do. Pilate can obviously say he has a presentiment because it is his own intention to kill Judas.