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from the January 2017 issue

The Betrayal

Giuseppe Berto finds a surprising motive for an infamous betrayal

Rabbi, there were several of us with scabs of impurity in that little flock that was soon to be dispersed. Anyway, whether pure or impure, You washed all of our feet and You explained, “Have you understood what I have done? You call me Rabbi and Lord, and that is well, because I am. If then I, who am Lord and Rabbi, have washed your feet, you also must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example.”

Then, with a majesty never before seen on Your face, You took a piece of bread, broke it, and, after giving thanks, gave each of us a piece of it, saying, “Take this and eat it for this is my body.”

We ate the bread.

Then You raised a chalice of wine, gave thanks to the Eternal, and gave it to us to drink from it. And we passed it from one to another, each taking a sip, as You said, “What you are drinking is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is shed for you and for the multitude. I shall drink no more the fruit of the vine until the day I shall drink it again in the kingdom of God.”

You thus made, if only symbolically, a gift of Yourself, body and blood, but no one made much of it, nor asked for explanations. They didn’t even notice that by this time Your talk of death was referring to an event that was so near, perhaps the hour was already late. The son of man was going, as it was written of him, but it might be that small delays were still permitted; there were formalities to observe, moments to be taken advantage of, choices to be confirmed.

Again, you turned to us, repeating to each and everyone Your love, and, with everything that may have still been uncertain and obtuse in our souls, trust. Indeed, You said, “I know whom I have chosen.”

But immediately afterward You added, “Nevertheless, the word of the scripture must be carried out. One who eats the bread with me has raised his heel against me.”

Words of a great king from our history. He had pronounced them when he was already in decline, overcome with fear, torn by thoughts of persecution, sick with remorse for his sins. Why did You choose to say those words? Was there no other way to illustrate the necessity for a betrayal? Or did You want to emphasize that he who had been commanded to turn his back on You was one with whom You had lived in peace, in whom You had confided? Surely, if it was me You spoke of, You could be trusting; I would not fail You.

You were so sure of it, You said, “I tell you now before it happens, so that when it happens you will know that I am.”

This could have been a key to understanding for the future, the ignominy of a betrayal for the benefit of Your becoming.

And then You added a sentence—everything was tremendously important on that occasion—a sentence that appeared to have nothing to do with what had been said up to then, but that perhaps had secret pertinence in relation to one who would soon be going to Caiaphas to take payment of the small price of a great betrayal, and even with respect to Caiaphas himself, who by paying thirty dinars would take part in a necessary and universal event.

You said, “He who welcomes him whom I have sent welcomes me and he who welcomes me welcomes him who sent me.” 


Now, Jesus, there was no more time to be wasted. Having established the sacredness of the betrayal, with no further delays or hesitations You had to send someone, designate the accomplice. This hour could not be allowed to pass, nor the verb “I am” wait for fulfillment. You were overcome with intense emotion and in the end You said, “Verily I say to you, one of you shall betray me.”

The announcement surprised them. You had pre-announced the betrayal more than once, You had even referred to it moments before with words of David—the words of David would soon come back in You again to denounce another and definitive abandonment—yet they were dumbfounded as though it were something new, and then they began to look at one another, not knowing of whom You had spoken. One of you, You had said, and in their view it could have been any one of us, they had no idea what a terrible greatness was to befall him who had been designated to pay a price much harsher than death. They kept on asking themselves who among them was about to do such a thing.

You were absorbed in deep sadness, and You held close to You him whom You had allowed to share even Your sadness. John, in fact, leaned his head against Your breast.

And Peter, who was more than anyone else—perhaps not without reason and fear—anxious to know, signaled to John to ask You whom You were referring to.

And John, pressing in even closer to You, asked, “Lord, who is it?”

I heard his question, and also Your answer.

You responded, “It is he to whom I shall offer the morsel I am about to dip.”

The plates where everyone dipped their bread were in the middle of the table, according to our custom, and now You had to make the elementary and final gesture to take a piece of bread, dip it, and then offer it to one of us, the designated one. Afterward, there would be no turning back, even for You.


You then took a morsel of bread—very slowly—you dipped it in a plate—even more slowly—and I knew it was for me—it was not everyone who could do what would be asked of me to do, and I too had an hour for which I had come—and yet I continued to pray that—if possible—the chalice would be taken from me. The morsel had now been dipped. You could have offered it to Peter, or to John, or to any other of the twelve; everything, in a certain sense, was still to be decided.

Leaning forward, avoiding my eyes, You offered it to me, Judas of Simon Iscariot, son of perdition.

The others, distant or distracted, didn’t notice a thing. But John was right there, leaning on your breast, hearing Your every word and breath, observing every expression and gesture, even the smallest. And, many years later, John wrote, "Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him."

They are words of the Holy Spirit: in that moment, after the morsel that You had given me as a commandment.

Still, overwhelmed, I hesitated, I needed confirmation and exhortation. So You said to me, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”

None of the others, aside from John, understood the significance of what You said. They thought that, since I kept the purse, You had ordered me to go buy something, or to give something to the poor. We were alone in our mission, and You urged me to act quickly because, by now, the less time wasted the better, for both of us.

John wrote, “So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night."

It was, indeed, a pitch-black night; the Eternal had hidden the face of the new moon behind a veil of clouds.



The rest of it, if we’re talking about acts to be done, actions to be carried out, was not hard.

I went to Asaf, who took me to Caiaphas, who presented me to the council, which was meeting in permanent session to come up with a way to resolve, without resentment among the people, the issue of that Galilean come to disturb the public order, and perhaps even a conscience or two.

It was written that someone would deliver him, and I pronounced myself willing to deliver my Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. I would deliver him that same night, if they so pleased; as for me, the sooner the better. They believed me, they paid me right away with a sum that, for some ancient and incomprehensible reason, was thirty dinars. They told me to go and wait under the portico in the first courtyard of the Temple.

There were lighted torches in the first courtyard, with large shadowy areas between one torch and another. I chose the darkest corner. Afterward, guards started coming in, and Judeans armed with swords, lances, clubs. I thought that every human being—or only some—has his verb—I am—to fulfill, great or little as it may be, divine or demoniac. I was just about to fulfill mine—demoniac: all that was left for me to do was to lead to the agreed-upon place a crowd of armed Judeans who, on their own, wouldn’t have had the courage to put their hands on a harmless Galilean.

Then it would be up to You, Rabbi, to bring to fruition Your divine verb; to be the Anointed, the Messiah of the Messiahs, the Redeemer of the human race.

I, at last, believed.


Translation of chapters 97–100 of La Gloria. © Giuseppe Berto Estate. Published by arrangement with The Italian Literary Agency, Milano, Italy. Translation © 2017 by Gregory Conti. All rights reserved.

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