Judas Iscariot and the Others
Jesus Christ had been warned many times that Judas of Kerioth1 is a man of ill repute and that one should be wary of him. Some of his disciples, who had spent time in Judaea, knew him well, others have heard people’s tales about him, and there was nobody who could say a good word about him. And if good men denounced him, saying that Judas is avaricious, cunning, and inclined towards pretense and falsehood, so did the bad, who, when asked about Judas, would vilify him using the most savage words. “He makes us quarrel constantly,” they said, spitting, “he thinks something of his own and crawls quietly into the house, like a scorpion, and exits it amid clamor. And even thieves have friends, and even robbers have comrades, and even liars have wives to whom they speak the truth, but Judas laughs at thieves just as he laughs at honest men, even though he himself steals skillfully, and his appearance is more hideous than that of anyone in Judaea. No, he’s not one of us, that ginger Judas of Kerioth,” thus the bad men would say, surprising the good, for whom there was little difference between him and all the other wicked men of Judaea.
Further, they said that Judas had long ago abandoned his wife, and that she now lived in hunger and poverty, fruitlessly trying to squeeze out bread for her sustenance from those three rocks that make up Judas’ estate. He himself wandered around aimlessly among people for many years and even managed to reach the sea, and then another sea, which was even farther away; and everywhere he lies, grimaces, searches piercingly for something with his thievish eye; and then suddenly departs, leaving behind him quarrel and trouble—curious, crafty, and malicious, like a one-eyed demon. He has no children, and that once again shows that Judas is a bad man and that God does not want Judas’ offspring.
None of the disciples noticed when for the first time this hideous red-haired Judaean appeared near Christ; but already for a long time he walked after them tenaciously, intruded into their conversations, offered minor services, bowed, smiled, and flattered them. At times he would begin to appear completely familiar, deceiving the wearied eyes, when suddenly he would throw himself into one’s eyes and ears, irritating them, like something unimaginably-hideous, false, and repulsive. And when this happened, they would drive him away with stern words, and for a short time he would disappear somewhere by the road—and afterwards he would return imperceptibly, all complaisant, flattering, and sly, like a one-eyed demon. And for some of the disciples there was no doubt that in his desire to come closer to Jesus lay a hidden goal, an evil and treacherous scheme.
But Jesus did not heed their advice; their prophetic voice did not touch his ears. With that spirit of enlightened contradiction that irresistibly attracted him to those outcast and unloved, he accepted Judas decisively and included him into the circle of the chosen. The disciples were worried and grumbled restrainedly, but he sat quietly, facing the setting sun, and listened thoughtfully, maybe it was them he was listening to, maybe something else. For ten days already there has been no wind, and the air remained the same, without moving or changing, transparent, observant, and sensitive. And it seemed that it preserved in its transparent depth all that which was shouted and sung in those days by men, animals, and birds—tears, wails, and merry songs, prayers and curses; and these frozen, glass voices made it so heavy, alarming, and densely saturated with invisible life. And once again the sun began to set. It rolled down heavily as a blazing sphere, setting the sky on fire; and everything on earth, that which was turned towards it: the swarthy face of Jesus, the walls of the houses, and the leaves of the trees—all this obediently reflected that distant and dreadfully pensive light. The white wall was no longer white, and neither was the red city upon the red hill.
And here comes Judas.
He came bowing low, bending his back, carefully and timidly stretching forward his hideous, bumpy head—he was just as described by those who knew him. He was thin, of a good height, almost the same height as Jesus, whose habit of stooping a little in contemplation during walks made him appear shorter; and it seemed that he had enough strength, although for some reason he pretended to be sick and feeble and had an irregular voice: sometimes manly and strong, sometimes grating, like that of an old woman chastising her husband, irritatingly-shrill and unpleasant to the ear; and oftentimes one wanted to pull out Judas’ words from one’s ears as if they were coarse, putrid splinters. His short red hair did not conceal the strange and unusual forms of his skull: it was as if it was severed from the nape with two swings of a sword and then pieced together again, it was clearly broken into four parts, and this instilled mistrust, even alarm: there can be no tranquility and concord inside such a skull, inside such a skull one can hear the din of bloody, ruthless battles. Judas’ face was also divided: one side, with a black, piercingly searching eye, was alive, animated, readily gathering into countless crooked wrinkles. The other side had no wrinkles and was dead-smooth, flat, and frozen; and, although it matched the former in size, it appeared enormous because of the wide open blind eye. Covered with a whitish haze, closing neither during the night nor during the day, it greeted both light and darkness in the same way; but maybe because beside it lived a crafty comrade, one could not trust in its complete sightlessness. When in a fit of timidity or anxiety Judas would close his living eye and shake his head, the other would sway with the movements of the head, silently gazing. Even people wholly devoid of insight could clearly see, looking at Judas, that such a man could not bring any good, but Jesus brought him closer, and he even… he even sat Judas down by his side.
John, the beloved disciple, squeamishly moved aside, and the rest, loving their teacher, lowered their eyes disapprovingly. But Judas sat down, and, turning his head left and right, he began to complain of his ailments in a high-pitched voice; he complained that his chest hurt during the night, that ascending mountains left him breathless, and that whenever he stood at the edge of an abyss his head would begin to spin and he could hardly restrain himself from a stupid desire to hurl himself down. And he shamelessly dreamed up many other things, as if he did not understand that illnesses don’t come to one by chance but arise from the discord between one’s actions and eternal laws. He rubbed his chest with his large palm, and he even affected a cough, this Judas of Kerioth, before the unanimous silence and downcast eyes.
John, without looking at the teacher, quietly asked his friend, Simon Peter:
“Are you not tired of all these lies? I cannot bear it any longer and I am going to get away from here.”
Peter looked at Jesus, met his gaze, and quickly rose.
“Wait!” he said to his friend.
He looked once more at Jesus and, swiftly, like a rock torn from a cliff, moved towards Judas Iscariot, telling him loudly with frank and clear good-naturedness:
“And so, Judas, you’re with us now.”
He patted Judas gently on the back and, not looking at the teacher but sensing his gaze, added decisively with his loud voice, a voice which expelled all objections like water displaces air:
“It’s no matter that you have such a nasty face: the monstrosities caught by our nets are something else entirely, but when you eat them they turn out to be the tastiest. And it’s not for us, the fishers of our Lord, to throw out our catch only because the fish is prickly and one-eyed. One time I saw in Tyre an octopus caught by the local fishermen, and I was so frightened that I was ready to run. But they laughed at me, a fisherman from Tiberias, and they let me have a taste, and I asked for seconds because it was so delicious. Teacher, do you remember, I told you about this, and you also laughed. And you, Judas, you look like an octopus—although only half of you does.”
And he laughed loudly, pleased with his joke. When Peter said anything his words sounded as forceful as if he was driving them in with nails. When Peter moved or did anything, the noise he raised could be heard far away, and he managed to obtain replies from the most mute of things: the stone floor boomed under his feet, doors trembled and slammed, and the very air shuddered nervously and made a racket. In mountain gorges his voice awakened an angry echo, and in the mornings at the lake, when they were fishing, it rolled around the sleepy, glimmering water, forcing the sun’s first timid rays to smile. And it is likely that this is what made them love Peter: the night’s shadow still lay upon the faces of all the others, but his large head, his broad naked chest, and his freely thrown arms were already alight in the glow of dawn.
Peter’s words, evidently approved by the teacher, dissipated the gathering’s heavy mood. But some, those who have also been to the sea and have seen an octopus, were unsettled by its monstrous image, so carelessly bestowed by Peter on the new disciple. They recalled its enormous eyes, dozens of greedy tentacles, feigned calmness—and bam!—it grasps you, douses you, crushes you, and sucks you dry, without for a moment blinking its enormous eyes. What is that? But Jesus is silent, Jesus is smiling, and, with a frowning, friendly chuckle he looks at Peter, who carries on talking passionately about the octopus—and one by one the uneasy disciples walked up to Judas and softly conversed with him, although afterwards they made a hasty and awkward retreat.
And only John Zebedee remained unyieldingly silent, and Thomas, it seemed, did not venture to say anything as he was thinking through what had just happened. Thomas gazed attentively at Christ and Judas, sitting side by side, and this strange proximity of divine beauty and monstrous hideousness, a man with gentle eyes and an octopus with enormous, motionless, dim, greedy eyes, oppressed his mind like an unsolvable puzzle. He anxiously wrinkled his straight, smooth forehead, squinted his eyes, thinking that this would let him see better, but the only result of this was that Judas really did acquire eight restlessly shifting legs. But that wasn’t real. Thomas knew this and kept staring intently.
And Judas slowly grew in confidence: he straightened his arms, which were bent at the elbows, relaxed his muscles, which were making his jaw tense, and began to carefully move his bumpy head into the light. It was already in everyone’s view, but Judas felt that it was deeply and impenetrably concealed from sight by some invisible but thick and cunning shroud. And now it was just as if he had climbed out of a hole, he felt his strange skull in the light, and then his eyes—he stopped—then decisively revealed the whole of his face. Nothing happened. Peter had gone somewhere; Jesus was sitting thoughtfully, his head resting on his hand, gently swaying his tanned leg; the disciples talked amongst themselves, and only Thomas kept studying him, attentively and seriously, like a conscientious tailor taking measurements. Judas smiled—Thomas did not return the smile, but, it seems, included it in his calculations, like everything else, and continued studying him. But something unpleasant was bothering the left side of Judas’ face—he turned: from a dark corner John was staring at him with his cold, beautiful eyes; beautiful, pure, without a single stain on his snow-white consciousness. And, walking, walking just like everyone else but feeling like he was dragging himself over the ground like a punished dog, Judas approached him and said:
“Why are you silent, John? Your words are like golden apples in transparent silver vessels, gift one of them to Judas, who is so poor.”
John kept looking intently into the motionless, wide open eye and remained silent. And he saw how Judas crept away, paused hesitatingly, and then disappeared in the dark depth of the open doorway.
Because it was full moon, many went out for a walk. Jesus also went for a walk, and, from a low roof atop which Judas made his bed, he saw the departing. In the moonlight every white figure seemed light and unhurried, and it seemed to glide rather than walk in front of its black shadow; and suddenly a man would disappear into something black, and then his voice could he heard. When people again appeared under the moon they seemed silent—like white walls, like black shadows, like the whole of the transparently-hazy night. It seemed everyone was already asleep when Judas heard the soft voice of Christ returning. And everything became quiet in the house and around it. A rooster crowed, loudly and resentfully, as it would during the day; somewhere an awakened donkey cried out, then gradually and reluctantly quieted down. But Judas was still awake and kept listening, lying in wait. The moon lit half his face and was reflected strangely in his enormous open eye, like in a frozen lake.
Suddenly he remembered something and began to hurriedly cough, rubbing his large, hairy chest with the palm of his hand: maybe someone is still awake and is listening to what Judas is thinking.
One suggested origin of the name Iscariot is the Hebrew Îš-Qrîyôt—man of Kerioth. Leonid Andreyev uses “Iscariot” and “of Kerioth” interchangeably throughout the text, and this translation retains his choices. ↩