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About Playwright Motti Lerner

Motti LernerMotti Lerner teaches playwriting at the Kibbutz College in Tel Aviv. His plays have been produced in the US, Israel, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, South Africa, Australia, Canada and India. Among his plays are Pangs of the Messiah (produced at Silk Road Rising in 2009), Kastner, Paula, Pollard, Exile in Jerusalem, Passing the Love of Women, Autumn, Hard Love, The Hastening of The End, The Murder of Isaac, Benedictus, and In the Dark. He has written screenplays for the films Loves in Betania, The Kastner Trial, Bus Number 300, Egoz, A Battle in Jerusalem, The Silence of the Sirens, Altalena, Spring 1941 (with Joseph Fiennes in the lead role), and twelve episodes of the TV drama series The Institute. He is a recipient of the best play award (1985) and the Israeli Motion Picture Academy award for the best TV drama in 1995 and in 2004. In 1994 he won the Prime Minister’s of Israel Award for his creative work. His book According To Chekhov was published in 2011. His play The Admission will open in Theatre J in Washington DC in March 2014. He has taught playwriting and screenwriting at Duke University, Knox College, and Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

A Statement from Motti Lerner about Paulus

Paulus explores neither the historical Paul nor the mythological Paul, but rather a psychological Paul. A Paul who witnessed the crucifixion and was traumatized by it. Paulus imagines the Apostle Paul as he’s dragged from his prison cell to his execution site in Rome. Like the gospel writer, the playwright is not a historian; he is not interested in relaying facts but in revealing truths. The meaning of what happened is more important than what actually happened. Still, since we live in a world where truths and myths are continuously distorted by politicians, by clergy, and by the media, I want to make clear to the audience that I am not using any presumed lack of knowledge to manipulate them. I want the audience to trust the story, engage the story, argue with it, not reject it as somehow “false.”

The playwright wishes to thank The Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture for providing support for the writing of the play.

With thanks to the Glossberg Visiting Israeli Scholar Fund of Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, for providing support for the translation of the play.

EXCERPT FROM PAULUS

HANANIAH
You've grown gray, Paulus.

PAULUS
And the High Priesthood has made you taller.

HANANIAH
It will soon cut me down to the size of a coffin. (He laughs.) I see those chains are cutting into your skin. (Orders a soldier to remove the shackles)

PAULUS
Had I known so many Jerusalemites would line the streets to see me in them, I would have put them on myself.

HANANIAH
More of them would line the streets to see you stoned.

PAULUS
They still think I'm a traitor?

HANANIAH
Until the day you left for Damascus, no one in Jerusalem had more Christians stoned to death than you did. You went from house to house, dragging men and women off to jail.

PAULUS
I'll never stop atoning for that all my life, Hananiah. (He falls silent) When I returned from Damascus I wrote you and asked to see you. When you were appointed High Priest, I sent you another letter.

HANANIAH
Had I agreed to see you, the word in Jerusalem would have been that I approved of your preaching.

PAULUS
That's why I wanted to be tried by you.

HANANIAH
I won't mince words, Paulus. We're groaning under the Roman boot. Many in Jerusalem dream of a savior who will redeem them. If you've come to promote that Messiah of yours, you're fomenting rebellion.

PAULUS
I've come to offer you a pact, Hananiah.

JESUS
Watch what you say, Paulus. Your pact could shake the world to its foundations.

PAULUS
Perhaps it needs to be shaken, Rabbi.

JESUS
And who are you to shake it?

HANANIAH
A pact?

PAULUS
We'll spread the name of God together. I've wandered from country to country and seen how weary men are of their idols. They're looking for God. Many are seeking a way to the God of Israel.

HANANIAH
If they're seeking the God of Israel, let them live by the laws of Israel.

PAULUS
I'm not abandoning the laws of Israel. I only want to add to them. The Torah has failed to prepare the world for redemption. That's why God sent us the Messiah, to spread knowledge of Him among His creatures and redeem them.

HANANIAH
Spreading knowledge of God means spreading His Law, not some tall tale about a Messiah who rose from the dead. A generation from now, your Jewish followers who fail to keep the commandments will no longer be Jews and won't be redeemed.

PAULUS
Whoever believes in the Master of the Universe is a Jew. Our pact will make Jews of the whole world. All will be redeemed.

JESUS
Does the Master of the Universe want the whole world to be Jews? Didn't He at Mount Sinai sanctify us with his commandments? Didn't He desire us, and choose us from all the nations to be a holy people and a kingdom of priests?

PAULUS
On the road to Damascus, you told me to bear your name before the Gentiles and kings. You said, "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God?" You didn't say "Only the Jews shall see God".

HANANIAH
The whole world Jews? Greeks, Egyptians, Romans?

PAULUS
We're all the children of God.

HANANIAH
Can the whole world live by God's Law?

PAULUS
It can believe in Him and be redeemed.

JESUS
Redemption will come, Paulus, even if it takes its time. You only wish to hasten it because you can't believe in it unless you see it with your own eyes.

PAULUS
I believe in it, Rabbi.

JESUS
And if you don't, neither do you believe in the Creator of the world who promised it. I'll have to sit in mourning for you as if you were dead, and you'll never see my face again.

He exits.

HANANIAH
This pact you are offering, Paulus, is rooted in a lie. You yourself were sent by me to arrest Jesus on the Mount of Olives. You saw him crucified. You saw him buried. How could you have met him on the road to Damascus? How could he have shared his teachings with you? You didn't betray us because you had a vision of him, but because you realized that in our midst you could never be a great scholar. You preferred being a jackal's head to a lion's tail. I'd put you on trial if you weren't dear to me and I didn't fear the Sanhedrin sentencing you to death. Go back to Tarsus and live out your life there. Stop your evangelizing. Stop your preaching. Stop defaming the Torah.

Silence.

PAULUS
When Jesus was on the cross, I stood watching him from the crowd. I saw his suffering that could not be explained and his pain that could not be measured – a lonely man, hanging between heaven and earth, his soul about to leave him while the crowd stood and cheered. I saw the frailty of flesh-and-blood, its helplessness, its bottomless despair. When I heard Jesus cry out and get no answer, I was stricken by a great fear. If there is no answer to a cry that fills the world, maybe God doesn't exist? Maybe He never did? Maybe He did but doesn't any more? My heart stopped beating and my blood froze. If there is no God, what hope do we have? What salvation? Don't you see, Hananiah? If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, there is no God above and human beings are condemned to eternal, unredeemable suffering.