Excerpt of Discovery

 

Scene Four: Severine’s spotless lab. Early the next day.

 

(There are double sheets of glass, tweezers, scalpels, a digital camera, which Peter is using, other tools for restoring ancient manuscripts. Larger pieces of the text may be projected above SEVERINE and PETER, who are about to begin work on the manuscript. As the scene progresses, SEVERINE uses tweezers to begin delicately extricating bits of manuscript from the box, piece by piece, some a few inches wide and tall, others an inch or less in jagged size. PETER takes photos from time to time. As SEVERINE extricates pieces, she places them on plates of glass, then covers them with top pieces of glass to keep them from moving. It is a painstaking process.)

 

            SEVERINE

In all my years this is the most pitiable and most beautiful manuscript I’ve ever seen. How could it have been mistreated the way it was? From what I’m told, it was in nearly pristine condition when it was found in that Egyptian cave. I can’t…I can’t fathom it…sold on the black market…stolen from the antiquities dealer…abandoned in a bank vault…stored in a freezer for godsake!

 

            PETER

For God’s sake?

 

            SEVERINE

Don’t ask me. I’m an atheist.

 

            PETER

But you—

 

            SEVERINE

I what?

 

            PETER

Care.

 

            SEVERINE

Of course!

 

            PETER

So who is to say?

 

            SEVERINE

Rodolphe maybe.

 

            PETER

And he says—?

 

            SEVERINE

As one of—what—a single handful of Coptic experts in the world?

 

            PETER

Yes.

 

            SEVERINE

That it’s an unspeakable tragedy. To have been able to have had this in our hands in 1979, to have been able to have translated it when it was whole—?

 

(SEVERINE takes bits of manuscript from the box using tweezers, supporting them underneath with a putty knife so as to delicately move them without further damaging them. She places pieces on glass as PETER watches intently.)

 

            PETER

I’m not qualified for this.

 

            SEVERINE

You are.

 

            PETER

I’m not.

 

            SEVERINE

Don’t undersell yourself. You have the perfect qualifications for your job as my lackey. And don’t laugh. We could lose a piece.

 

            PETER

Your flunky, then.

 

            SEVERINE

You may be a novice, but—

 

            PETER

(Teasing.) Your novitiate.

 

            SEVERINE

My intern. You have a degree in these things. And you know more than you think.

 

            PETER

I’m honored. And terrified.

 

            SEVERINE

Yeah, well don’t bring that coffee mug into the lab.

 

(SEVERINE continues work as PETER looks on.)

 

            PETER

Is that true—what you told me yesterday? That they actually knew this book existed? I told my friend Sandy that last night.

 

            SEVERINE

Peter! I told—.

 

            PETER

I know. I failed. But she’s the only one, and I swore her to secrecy.

 

            SEVERINE

Peter, you cannot—

 

            PETER

Again. I failed. I see her every other day. Of course she’s going to ask what I’m working on.

 

            SEVERINE

Not everyone is going to approach this book with the enthusiasm of Kasser and Emmel.

 

            PETER

But people have already found and translated other Gnostic gospels. The Nag Hammadi manuscripts created a stir at first too, but—

 

            SEVERINE

Of course they did! But this is a gospel according to Judas! Of all the gospels circulating, Irenáeus singled it out for particular abuse.

 

            PETER

Aren’t you curious about what it says?           

 

            SEVERINE

Of course! But not because of how it might affect the Church.

 

            PETER

No?

 

 

            SEVERINE

Although that would be an interesting diversion. I don’t mean that. But this is an historical document—important for its own sake, for what it reveals about an ancient culture.

 

            PETER

So you do care what it says?

 

            SEVERINE

Of course. We must somehow figure out how to put it back together, even if we don’t have all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.

 

            PETER

That may be a good thing. They weren’t all that successful. But why do you think Irenáeus found this particular gospel so dangerous?

 

            SEVERINE

I only know what Rodolphe told me. According to Irenáeus, the book claimed that Judas alone of all the disciples knew the truth about Jesus, that Judas was favored above the others. That Jesus confided secret teachings to him. That’s a pretty outrageous claim.

 

            PETER

So then why would Judas betray him?

 

            SEVERINE

I don’t know. (She hands him some tweezers.) Here. Get to work, lackey.

 

Scene Seven: A café not far from the museum.

 

(CLAIRE and PETER are having coffee. PETER is on his cell phone. CLAIRE is eagerly reading parts of her new copy of The Gospel of Judas. PETER closes his cell phone and puts it away. PETER and CLAIRE are trying to avoid recognizing a mutual attraction.)

 

            CLAIRE

Well?

 

            PETER

She’s not happy.

 

            CLAIRE

It didn’t go well?

 

            PETER

Oh the interview went fine. She’s not happy that I brought you to the wrap party.

 

            CLAIRE

Where is she now? Exactly, I mean.

 

            PETER

We didn’t get to that.

 

            CLAIRE

I’m so sorry. I told you when you invited me—

 

            PETER

I really don’t see what difference it makes.

 

            CLAIRE

You must know how dramatic she is.

 

            PETER

She sounded jealous.

 

            CLAIRE

‘Cause she’d have loved it! Anyway, thank you so much for getting all those people to sign my book. And Professor Myerson is so nice! I don’t think I’ll be doing anything for the rest of the week but reading.

 

            PETER

I mean it’s fascinating, but why are you so interested in all this?

 

            CLAIRE

It would be fascinating to anyone, don’t you think? Sorry, I’m trying to pull myself away from this. I just got to this part. Listen: “Jesus said, 'Truly I say…this baptism…my name…to me.'” I see what Professor Myerson means by lacunae. All these gaps make this very hard to read. (Reading on.) “Truly…say to you, Judas, those…offer sacrifices to Saklas…” Who is Saklas?

 

            PETER

The word is Aramaic for “fool.”

 

            CLAIRE

So, “those”—I’m guessing the missing word is “who,” “who offer sacrifices to the fool…divine…everything that is evil. But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man who bears me.” Exceed all of them! Jesus is speaking to Judas! It kind of sounds like he wants Judas to hand him over for crucifixion—that Judas would be doing a good thing. Otherwise, why would he say Judas will exceed them all?

 

            PETER

And from my few very brief encounters with Dr. Myerson, I think he would agree with you—that Jesus may even have asked Judas to hand him over.

 

            CLAIRE

It doesn’t actually say that Jesus asked him to, but it kind of sounds like—

 

            PETER

But he may have asked him offstage. Look at the line that follows what you just read. “…your heart has become strong.”

 

            CLAIRE

“And they approached Judas and said to him, ‘What are you doing here? You are Jesus’ disciple.’ And he answered them as they wished. And Judas received the money and handed him over to them.” And that’s how this gospel ends. I guess we know the rest. I’m sorry. I’m a terrible date. Well, not date, but—

 

            PETER

You kidding? I love this stuff. But you haven’t answered my question: Why do you find this so interesting?

           

            CLAIRE

I’m pretty sure people would think I’m a heretic.

 

            PETER

People?

 

            CLAIRE

You. Everyone.

 

            PETER

And that matters because—?

 

            CLAIRE

I don’t think Dad could handle this.

 

            PETER

Wait. He’s here? I don’t see him. Ah, so I can’t handle it?

 

            CLAIRE

It’s too—

 

            PETER

You won’t threaten me! Try me, Claire.

 

            CLAIRE

When you told us about this gospel the other night, and then the bits and pieces I got from Professor Myerson just now… Are you sure you want to hear this? How many years ago? 1998? Yeah, it was 1998 because I was on Cape Cod, on the beach, contemplating the arrival of the Pilgrims, I think.

 

            PETER

Wasn’t that in Plymouth?

 

            CLAIRE

Are we splitting hairs? Anyway, the beach was deserted, the way it would have been for them, for the Pilgrims, and I could almost see their ship arriving. It was early spring and chilly. What does the word epiphany mean? I mean exactly.

 

            PETER

It’s the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the visit of the Wise Men to Bethlehem.

 

            CLAIRE

What?!

 

            PETER

You said exactly.

 

            CLAIRE

Do you, like, just know these things off the top of your head?

 

            PETER

I’ve been around Biblical scholars for four years.

 

            CLAIRE           

Isn’t there a metaphorical meaning or something? An insight? A revelation?

 

            PETER

Yes, but you asked for the exact definition.

 

            CLAIRE

So, does an epiphany have to be accurate to be an epiphany? Does it have to turn out to be correct?

 

            PETER

I don’t know.

 

            CLAIRE

Well then I think I had one—an epiphany.

 

            PETER

There on the beach?

 

            CLAIRE

Yes.

 

            PETER

About the Pilgrims?

 

            CLAIRE

No. About Judas.

 

            PETER

Ah…

 

            CLAIRE

Okay, can we be serious for a moment?

 

            PETER

Yes.

 

            CLAIRE

Okay. You know I was brought up somewhat conservatively.

 

            PETER

I kind of got that impression the other night at dinner.

 

            CLAIRE

Okay. Well, during my musings, I was thinking about the crucifixion. 

 

            PETER

This is what you do on vacation?

 

            CLAIRE

I was thinking about how I was brought up to believe that Jesus died for our sins, that his death on the cross was, as they put it in evangelical circles, propitiation for our sins. ‘The  Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.’ ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that, not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.’ 

 

            PETER

Do you just know these things off the top of your head?

 

            CLAIRE

Yes. Years and years in church—not to mention attending a conservative Christian college—think monastery—the verses just kind of roll off the tongue.

 

            PETER

Do you believe that?

 

            CLAIRE

That my college was like a monastery?

 

            PETER

No, whatever it is you said: “For by grace are you saved—whatever.”

 

            CLAIRE

I was trying to make sense of it. (She means her epiphany.) And now—?

 

(SANDY opens the door of the café, pulling her luggage. She is bedraggled, wet, frustrated. She sees them, heads over to the table.)

 

            CLAIRE (cont.)

And I was thinking, IF Jesus had to die for our sins—

 

PETER

Sandy!

CLAIRE

Hey!

           

            SANDY

So! I missed it?!

 

            PETER

But—?

 

            SANDY

The only one there was a guy locking up. Do you know it’s raining cats and dogs out there?

 

            PETER

I told you that on the phone.

 

            SANDY

That it was raining?

 

            PETER

That it was over.

 

            SANDY

I couldn’t hear you. I was in a taxi.

 

            PETER

I thought you were still at the airport.

 

            SANDY

I was going to surprise you. The other plane got in early, so I thought—

 

            CLAIRE

Sandy, I’m so sorry that—

 

            SANDY

(To CLAIRE.) And you got to go?

 

            PETER

I had two tickets.

 

            SANDY

Were they there? Severine and Matthew and Rudolph and everybody?

 

            PETER

Yes. Severine asked about you.

 

            SANDY

Oh well, that’s nice!

 

            PETER

I’m so sorry.

 

            CLAIRE

Me too. It was…nice.

 

            PETER

(Giving SANDY his coffee.) Here. Share.

 

            SANDY

I think I’ll have a glass of wine—and make it a good one!

 

            PETER

I’ll get it.

 

(PETER goes to the bar.)

 

            SANDY

So!

 

            CLAIRE

How’d the interview go?

 

            SANDY

Fine. Good. How come you got to come?

 

            CLAIRE

He feels really bad already, Sandy. He’s really sorry you missed it.

 

            SANDY

You always say I’m like this flighty chick—

 

            CLAIRE

I’ve never called you a “chick”—and besides—

 

            SANDY

And I gave up this thing I was really looking forward to for a job interview! And then you—

 

(PETER returns with a glass of wine.)

 

            SANDY (cont.)

Thank you.

           

            PETER

I had two tickets!

 

            SANDY

I told you I’d make it.

 

            PETER

You told me you missed your plane.

 

            CLAIRE

Look, it’s late. Is that your taxi outside?

 

            SANDY

Yes, I told him to wait.

 

            CLAIRE

Okay if Peter takes you home?

 

            SANDY

If he wants to.

 

            PETER

Of course I’ll take you home. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you missed it.

 

            CLAIRE

Look, I’ll take your taxi. You guys…you guys, enjoy. Okay? (Then to SANDY.) I’m sorry Honey, I’m really, really sorry.

 

(CLAIRE exits.)

 

            SANDY

So!!!???

© All text copyright 2018 by Micki Shelton