St. Peter and Mordecai by Johannes Jorgensen
Translated By Ann R. Born
It was during the time when Our Lord walked the earth with his
apostles. As is generally known, Our Lord was a poor man. He had no
regular employment, neither with State nor borough, he was not in an
office, he was certainly no University professor or minister of the
church. He had no private income to live on, and he had no door on
which he could knock on the first day of each month and when bidden to
come in walk over to the counter, remove his hat, sign a receipt and
be paid so and so many five pound notes. To be blunt about it, Our
Lord lived on charity, but he never had enough to enable him to put
something aside for a rainy day (not that he wanted to do that
anyway). He couldn't, perhaps, be arrested for lacking the means of
subsistence, because he always had enough for his immediate needs; the
other question directed at vagrant persons, that is, as to where they
live, was more serious. Our Lord had no permanent address, he caused
the registration office not a few headaches—at one moment he was
stated to be living in Capernaum as a lodger of Simon bar Jona's
mother-in-law, and the next in Bethany, where he had a room at the
house of one named Lazarus—a house of somewhat ill repute, as a
matter of fact—"You know, the sister, the one from Magdala"—"Oh, the
beautiful Miriam—with the red hair—stunning bit of goods—but,
But Our Lord couldn't always count on getting to either Capernaum
or Bethany by evening. The Holy Land is small, of course—but even so,
when you are on foot the roads are long enough. And the apostles, who
faithfully followed Our Lord from Dan to Beersaba and from Sion to
Djebel Hermon, were not all such good walkers—for instance, Peter was
no longer so young; neither was Matthew, who had spent half his
lifetime sitting behind the counter in his customs house, any great
lover of hiking expeditions. On the other hand John was usually ahead
of all the others—often he was joined by Nathanael—John was so eager
to know what Nathanael had been thinking about "when he was sitting
there beneath the fig tree," but Nathanael only replied that it was a
secret between the Master and himself.
Then one evening Our Lord and the twelve faithful happened to lose
their way among the mountains of Judaea. They were coming from thee
north and had intended to go on as far as Ain Karim to stay with the
family of John the Baptist. But they had taken the wrong road at Nebi
Samuil—and when darkness fell and the first jackal appeared beside
the road, they found themselves in the middle of a stony, deserted
valley. They came to a halt—the disciples gathered about the Master,
at a loss as to what to do. Peter bent down, got hold of a stone and
aimed it at the jackal, not hitting it, but causing it to run off.
From a short distance they heard its eery laugh—which was answered by
other jackals round about among the rocks.
"Why did you do that, Simon?" said the Master reprovingly. "Now you
have set all the jackals on to us."
Peter struck the sword he wore at his belt.
"I will defend you, Rabbi!"
"All right," came the reply (and there was a smile in the answering
voice). "All right, Simon bar Jona, you had better go up over the hill
and see if you can't catch a glimpse of a house. The new Roman town
which the Latins call Castellum must lie somewhere in this direction.
Meanwhile, we others will say Evensong."
And while Peter disappeared up over the slope (the stones slipping
and slithering under his feet) the twelve recited De Profundis—"We
call to Thee from the depths, O Lord." But the prayer was hardly
finished before there came a shout from the scouting apostle, who had
just reached the brow of the hill—"Come up here! I can see a light!"
He was right. The light was not far away. Before long the tired
band was standing outside the door and knocking. But just at that
moment the light inside was extinguished.
"Knock again, Peter," commanded the Master.
A peevish voice answered from within: "What do you want? I am in
bed with my children—I have washed my feet and I don't want to soil
them again by walking on the floor. There is a caravanserai farther
on— people will still be up there. Go along there!"
There was a short silence among those outside.
"Caravanserai—that's all very well! A caravanserai needs paying for.
How much is there in the money-bag, Judas?"
Judas felt the purse which he wore at his belt—it was not heavy.
"And there is bread to be bought for us all first thing to-morrow," he
added. "Unless you all want to fast?"
"Knock once more, Simon," ordered the Master.
They heard a small child begin to cry inside the house—then there
was a rustling sound as if somebody had got up from a mattress of
maize leaves—the sound of naked footsteps padded across the stone
floor—a bolt was drawn back—and a middle-aged Jew showed his hooked
nose and grizzled beard through the cautiously opened crack in the
"Adonai, Lord of Hosts," he burst out in horror, when he saw how
many were standing out there in the dark wanting to come in. And he
hastily made as if to shut the door.
But Peter had already wedged his foot in—and in a confidential
half- whisper he informed the owner of the house as to WHO it was who
stood before him.
"Rabbi Joshua ben Joseph—oh, yes, I've heard a lot about him,"
came the answer, almost amiably. "There is room for the Rabbi under my
poor roof, but as for all you others—how many of you are there?
Twelve! No, for all you others there is the caravanserai, as I said!
Master, walk in!"
And with these words the owner of the house flung the door wide
open. But after Our Lord came Peter—and after Peter, Andrew—and
after Andrew, John—and Nathanael—and Judas, who clasped the
money-bag tightly so that the silver coins in it should not chink and
raise hopes of payment in the owner of the house....Finally the whole
house was full of apostles, who lay down to sleep in all the corners.
The next morning Peter was up betimes talking to their host, whose
name was Mordecai, of the tribe of Levi. "You may be sure," he
explained to the man, who was none too satisfied, "that you will not
have done this for nothing. You know who my Master is—and you also
know that he has no silver nor gold—but he can give you things worth
far more than they. Ask what you will of him—and your desire will be
fulfilled. But be careful to ask sensibly! You don't get such an
opportunity every day."
The good man will most likely wish for wealth, good health, a long
life, thought Peter. Or, if he is a devout Israelite, he will pray for
the forgiveness of his sins and a place in Abraham's bosom after
Before long the apostles stood ready to leave, gathered about their
Master—barefoot, no staff in hand, no purse or bag at their belt.
They all thanked their host heartily and begged him to excuse them for
pushing their way in the night before. "And now, wish!" said Peter.
Now it should be mentioned that the previous evening, when the lamp
had been rekindled in order that the many uninvited guests could find
themselves resting places, Peter had seen a box of dice standing on
the table. He had been amazed to find a Jew who played dice in such a
deserted village—this foreign game had only just begun to be known in
Jerusalem, where it had been introduced by the Roman soldiers.
The dice-box was still on the table in the morning, and Simon
Zelotes (which stands for The Zealous One) looked at it somewhat
disapprovingly. Judas had been a strict Pharisee and still had trouble
in accepting the new commandment: "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
But now a most extraordinary thing happened. "You may wish a wish,"
said Peter, "and the Master will give you everything you wish for."
Mordecai looked at the Master, who nodded and said Amen.
Then the old Jew picked up the dice-box. "Master," he said, "let me
always win whenever I play with these dice—even if it should be with
"Miserable man," burst out Peter. "Is that all you can think of to
"I have no other wish," answered the grey-haired Israelite calmly.
They all looked at the Master—and again the reply came from his
lips: "Amen! So be it!"
The years passed. Everyone is familiar with the events that
followed. The Rabbi of Nazareth suffered, died, rose from the dead and
ascended to Heaven, from where He has not yet returned to judge the
quick and the dead. Simon bar Jona went to Rome, preached the Gospel,
suffered, died, was buried beside the Via Aurelia below the hill of
the Vatican, and received his position in eternal glory as keeper of
the gates of Paradise. The keys are his—and his alone; if he shut the
door no-one shall ever open it, if he open it no-one may shut it.
The time came for Mordecai of the Levi tribe too to forsake his
earthly abode and go to where the way divides—one way is narrow and
dark and leads upwards, another goes downwards and is broad and
brightly lit and paved with good intentions. At the parting of the
ways stands a sign-board like those on the French railways: Bifur—and
so that nobody should go wrong, an angel stands beside the sign-post
and directs people where to go.
All his life Mordecai had walked in righteousness, and the angel
directed him to take the narrow path.
"Mayn't I go a little way along the broad one?" asked Mordecai.
"Good Heavens," answered the angel. "Anyone who holds a ticket to
Heaven is allowed to go where he will on the Other Side. But take care
you don't get run over."
The warning was timely—an elegant car with a lovely young lady at
the wheel whizzed past Mordecai, roaring to hell in a cloud of petrol
The old Jew kept to the pavement. Traffic was brisk, both there and
on the carriageway—eventually there was such a jam that the cars had
to be parked and everyone continued on foot. Mordecai had not
experienced such a crush since the previous Easter in the fore-court
of the temple at Jerusalem—and he thought now that he could recognise
a number of the faces he had so often seen there at festival times
behind the tables of the money-lenders and pigeon-vendors. Mordecai
was about to greet them—but somehow they didn't seem to want to be
known. So he restrained his courtesy—and besides, he had far more
important matters to attend to.
For it was certainly not for his own pleasure that he was treading
the road to Hell to-day. The reason was quite another one; the good
Mordecai had a fairly certain idea that several members of his family,
not less than twelve in number, who had already mistaken the right way
when they were on earth, had gone wrong in eternity too. And it was
his plan now to try to pass the time of day with them at least—who
knows—perhaps there was still a chance of doing something for them?
Thus considering, Mordecai arrived at the main entrance to Hell. He
could see inside—long avenues of lights, coloured lanterns in the
trees, music and a crowd of strolling, laughing, flirting people.
There was a turnstile at the gate, and the clicking noise of it went
on incessantly, new joyous guests streamed through continuously.
Mordecai joined the queue and at length came to the entrance.
That nearly put a stop to Mordecai's plan. Of course he had a
ticket— but it was WHITE. And you could only go in on RED tickets. A
small discussion ensued—until finally a superior inspector decided
the dispute. Mordecai was in the right—white tickets granted
safe-conduct for Heaven, Purgatory, and...HERE.
"By the way, though, what brings you down to us, Mr. Mordecai?"
asked the polite inspector.
Well, it so happened that Mordecai was rather keen on having a chat
with some of his family. The inspector did not see why he shouldn't.
Mordecai gathered his courage together. Might it perhaps be
possible for him to take them away with him—to another place—if it
wasn't too much to ask?
The inspector immediately became rather more guarded. It depended
chiefly upon the persons concerned, he declared. But Mordecai felt
quite certain on that score—who would not gladly leave the eternal
prison if they were given the chance?
"You may be right," replied the official politely. "But of course
such permission can only be given by one person—by the President of
the Republic of Hell. His Excellency Field Marshal Lucifer."
"I rather suspected that," answered Mordecai, still keeping his
spirits up. "Do you think I could have a word with the President?"
"Actually the President only receives in audience at midnight. But
I imagine he would make an exception in the case of such a rare
visitor. It is 6 o'clock now—the President dines at 7 o'clock—I will
see if it might not be possible just before dinner. In the meantime it
might amuse you to see our latest film 'Christian Women naked on the
Beach at Miami.' Or if you prefer something historical, there is the
Massacre of Czar Nicholas and his family—the bodies are chopped up—
soaked in petrol and burnt—an interesting cultural spectacle..."
Mordecai had his audience earlier than had been expected. The
President received him in his study. A writing desk, practically bare-
-no telephone—only on the walls a row of shining screens, where
pictures showing everything of importance happening anywhere in the
world, i.e. all serious transgressions against the ten commandments,
immediately appeared to the Chief. Mordecai made out ten screens—and
over each one were printed in Hebrew the ancient words from Moses'
stone tablets—printed in mockery as an impotent protest against the
reality of life and the powers of darkness.
"Well, Mr. Mordecai," began the President, using one of the three
official languages of Hell, English,—"Well, Mr. Mordecai, and what
can I do for you?"
Without thinking Mordecai began to talk in Hebrew, his native
tongue, stopped himself and started to continue in English. But the
President stayed him with a wave of the hand—"No, Mr. Mordecai, go
on—Hebrew, Russian and English are our official languages! I
understand you perfectly."
Then Mordecai stated his undeniably bold request. There followed a
short silence—His Excellency fingered the sole decoration he wore on
his fiery red uniform tunic—a small iron swastika. "And what have you
got to offer me in return for the dozen sinful souls you wish to
export from the Republic?" came the voice of Lucifer at length.
Mordecai felt in the inner pocket of his tunic—yes, the miraculous
dice-box was there! He took it out and placed it on the desk.
Then: "Your Excellency," he said, "I will give you my own soul, the
soul of a righteous man. But as I know that you have no jurisdiction
over me, your Excellency, I will make a pact with you of my own free
will. Here are these dice—one throw with them and the matter is
decided. If you win, then the twelve souls in question must remain
here, and I with them. If I win, all thirteen of us shall be free!"
It was plain to see that Lucifer was tempted. He prefers chess,
certainly—more than once he has checkmated his white opponent with
those black men of his. But always the White Queen proves her
superiority over him and saves the game, often at the last moment.
However, playing dice is a good game too—and the stakes were
tempting—the soul of Mordecai the Righteous...
He grasped the box firmly—glanced into it first to see whether
there had been any hanky-panky with it—and threw. There were three
dice and they turned up 6, 6 and 5. Lucifer put his hand to his to
hide a smile—there would have to be a miracle if Mordecai his twelve
sinners were to be saved. And miracles...!
Then the dice rattled for the second time; they showed 6, 6—and 6.
Mordecai and the twelve souls he had rescued stood before the gates
of Heaven and rang the bell. The doors were opened by St. Peter
himself— he did not recognise Mordecai—but seeing that the man had a
white ticket—well, come in!
"But those others behind there—who are they—may I see their
"Oh," answered Mordecai, "they're just with me," and with that he
tried to rush the whole flock inside, past St. Peter, without showing
their tickets of admission (which they did not possess, anyway). But
the ancient guard of the heavenly gates was not going to play—he
hastily lowered the iron grating in the door—"Nobody comes in here at
Then Mordecai approached the grating by himself and asked to be
allowed to say just a word or two between the iron bars to St. Peter.
The request was granted—St. Peter laid his ear to the grating as if
it were the confessional, and Mordecai spoke quite quietly.
"Do you remember," he said softly (and again he spoke in Hebrew,
which is also one of the official languages of HEAVEN—there are only
two, the other being Latin). "Do you remember, one evening your Master
and you and the eleven had lost your way in a deserted valley among
the mountains of Judaea? The jackals were beginning to come out, and
you threw a stone after one and the Master reproved for doing so. Then
he commanded you to go to the top of one of the hills and look around
for a light—and you saw a light—and the light was in my house. And
you all came and stood outside my house and knocked..."
"Ah yes," whispered St. Peter back. "Now I remember—you wouldn't
let us in—you had washed your feet and didn't want to soil them
"That was what I said," answered Mordecai, "but what did I do? I
opened the door to your Master—and all the rest of you crowded in
after him—and I didn't drive you out!"
"No," answered St. Peter. "That's right. You didn't do that. On the
contrary you put us all up—you saw to it that the Master had a
resting-place—and the twelve of us too!"
"And now," said Mordecai and knew that he had triumphed. "Now I
stand here outside the gate and knock. And you will gladly open up for
me, as I opened up for the Master. But the others will push in after
me— and you won't drive them out, I know, dear, holy Peter, you will
take them in together with me to eternal Rest!"