Betraying Jesus with one hand, Judas diligently sought to upset his own plans with the other. He did not try to dissuade Jesus from his last, dangerous journey to Jerusalem, as did the women, he was even inclined to take the side of Jesus’ relatives and those of his disciples who thought that a victory over Jerusalem was essential for the complete success of their enterprise. But he persistently and doggedly warned about the danger, painting in vivid colors the Pharisees’ terrible hatred of Jesus, their readiness to turn to crime and covertly, or overtly, put to death the prophet from Galilee. He spoke about this every day and every hour, and there was not a single believer before whom Judas would not stand, his finger raised, and speak in a stern, cautionary tone:
“Jesus must be kept safe! Jesus must be kept safe! We must stand up for Jesus when the time comes.”
But due to the boundless faith of his disciples in the miraculous power of their teacher, or due to the belief in the righteousness of their cause, or simply due to blindness, Judas’ fearful words were met with smiles, and his endless advise even provoked grumblings. When Judas somehow obtained and brought them two swords, Peter was the only one to show appreciation, and only Peter praised the swords and Judas, the others, however, said discontentedly:
“Are we warriors that we need to girdle ourselves with swords? And is Jesus not a prophet but a warlord?”
“But what if they decide to put him to death?”
“They won’t dare when they see that all the people are with him.”
“And if they dare? Then what?”
John spoke scornfully:
“One would think that it is only you, Judas, who loves the teacher.”
And, greedily grasping those words, without taking any offense, Judas began to interrogate him briskly and passionately, with a severe perseverance:
“But you love him, yes?”
And there was not a single believer who had visited Jesus whom he did not ask repeatedly:
“And you love him? You love him dearly?”
And all of them said that they did.
He oftentimes spoke with Thomas, and, raising his admonishingly dry, tenacious finger, with a long and dirty nail, gave him a mysterious warning:
“Look, Thomas, a terrible time is approaching. Are you ready for it? Why didn’t you take the sword I brought?”
Thomas gave a judicious answer:
“We are people not accustomed to handling weapons. And if we enter a battle with Roman soldiers, then they will kill us all. Besides, you have brought only two swords—what can be done with two swords?”
“It’s possible to obtain more. They can be taken from soldiers,” Judas objected impatiently, and even the serious Thomas smiled through his straight, overhanging mustache:
“Ah, Judas, Judas! And where did you get these? They look like the swords of Roman soldiers.”
“I stole these. I could have stolen more but they started shouting—and I ran away.”
Thomas reflected on this and said sadly:
“Again you have done wrong, Judas. Why do you steal?”
“But there is no such thing as someone else’s property!”
“Yes, but tomorrow they’ll ask the soldiers: and where are your swords? And, not finding them, the guiltless will be punished.”
And afterwards, after the death of Jesus, the disciples recalled these conversations with Judas and concluded that he wished for them to perish together with their teacher by inciting them to enter an unequal, mortal battle. And they cursed the hated name of Judas of Kerioth, the traitor.
And after every such conversation a disgruntled Judas went to see the women and cried his eyes out before them. And the women willingly listened to him. The gentle and womanly touch that was in his love for Jesus drew him closer to them, made him appear simple in their eyes, relatable, and even beautiful, although, as before, in his interactions with them he showed a certain amount of disdain.
“Are they men?” he complained bitterly about the disciples, trustingly aiming his blind, motionless eye at Mary. “They really aren’t men! They have no blood in their veins, not even for an obol!”
“But, after all, you have always spoken ill of men,” objected Mary.
“Have I ever spoken ill of men?” Judas replied in surprise. “Sure, I spoke ill of them, but can’t they be just little bit better? Ah, Mary, stupid Mary, why aren’t you a man who could carry a sword!”
“It is so heavy, I couldn’t lift it,” Mary smiled.
“You’ll lift it, when the men turn out to be so bad. Did you give Jesus the lily that I found in the mountains? I got up early in the morning to find it, and the sun was so beautiful today Mary! Was he glad? Did he smile?”
“Yes, he was glad. He said that the flower smells of Galilee.”
“And of course you didn’t tell him that Judas found it, Judas of Kerioth?”
“You did ask me not to tell him.”
“No, no need, of course, no need,” sighed Judas. “But you could have blabbed, for, after all, women gossip so much. But you didn’t blab, no? You were firm? Well, well, Mary, you are a good woman. You know, I have a wife somewhere. I’d like to look at her now: maybe she’s not a bad woman too. I don’t know. She used to say: Judas is a liar, Judas Simon is evil, and so I left her. But maybe she is a good woman, do you know?”
“How could I know if I have never seen your wife?”
“Well, well, Mary. And what do you think, thirty silver pieces—is that a large sum of money, or not? Is it a small sum?”
“I think that it’s a small sum.”
“Of course, of course. And how much did you make when you were a harlot? Five silver pieces or ten? Were you expensive?”
Mary Magdalene blushed and lowered her head so that her rich golden hair completely covered her face, only her round, white chin remained visible.
“You are so unkind, Judas! I want to forget about that, and you bring it up.”
“No, Mary, you shouldn’t try to forget it. Why? Let the others forget that you were a harlot, but you should remember it. This is something the others need to soon forget, and you have no need to. What for?”
“But it is a sin.”
“The one who has never committed a sin is afraid. But for the one who has sinned—what should he be afraid of? Is it the dead man who fears death and not the living? The dead man laughs at the living, and at his fear.”
Thus they sat and chatted amicably for hours on end—he, already advanced in years, dry, hideous, with his bumpy head and violently divided face; she—young, timid, gentle, enchanted by life as if it was a tale, a dream.
But time flowed indifferently, and thirty silver pieces lay under a rock, and the terrible day of betrayal drew inexorably closer. Now Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey, and, spreading out their robes across his path, the people greeted him with triumphant cries:
“Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
And their jubilation was so great, their love for him so unstoppable as it reached for him through their cries, that Jesus wept, and his disciples proudly said:
“Is this not the son of God with us?”
“Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
That evening they did not go to sleep for a long time as they recalled their triumphant and joyous welcome, and Peter was like a madman, like someone possessed by a demon of joy and pride. His shouts drowned all other speech like a lion’s roar, he laughed, throwing his laughter at people’s heads like large, round stones, he kissed John, kissed Jacob, and he even kissed Judas. And he admitted loudly that he was very afraid for Jesus but that now he was no longer afraid of anything because he saw the people’s love for Jesus. Iscariot looked around in surprise with his keen, animated eye; he contemplated, and then again listened and watched; then he drew Thomas aside and, as if nailing him to the wall with his sharp gaze, asked him in bewilderment, fear, and some sort of hazy hope:
“Thomas! But what if he’s right? If there are rocks under his feet, and under mine—only sand? Then what?”
“Who are you talking about?” inquired Thomas.
“What then for Judas of Kerioth? Then I would have to strangle him in order to make the truth. Who is deceiving Judas: you or Judas himself? Who is deceiving Judas? Who?”
“I don’t understand you, Judas. You speak very incomprehensibly. Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?”
And, nodding his head, Judas repeated, like an echo:
“Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?”
And on another day, on the one when Judas raised his hand with his thumb thrown back, whenever he looked at Thomas there would sound that same strange question:
“Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?”
And Thomas was even more surprised and even grew anxious when all of a sudden during the night he heard the loud and seemingly joyous voice of Judas:
“Then there will not be a Judas of Kerioth. Then there will not be Jesus. Then there will be… Thomas, stupid Thomas! Have you ever wanted to grasp and lift up the earth? And, maybe, throw it afterwards?”
“That’s impossible. What are you saying, Judas!”
“It’s possible.” Judas said with conviction. “And we will lift it someday, when you will be sleeping, stupid Thomas. Sleep! I am happy, Thomas! When you sleep a Galilean pipe plays in your nose. Sleep!”
And now the faithful had scattered across Jerusalem and hid in their houses, behind walls, and the faces of the passersby became unfamiliar. The jubilation was extinguished. And now hazy rumors of danger crawled in through the cracks; the brooding Peter tested the sword that Judas gave him. And the face of the teacher was growing ever sadder and sterner. Time ran so quickly and the terrible day of betrayal was inexorably drawing nearer. And now the last supper had passed, full of sadness and hazy fear, and Jesus’ unclear words about someone who would betray him had been uttered.
“Do you know who will betray him?” asked Thomas as he gazed at Judas with his straight, clear eyes, which were almost transparent.
“Yes, I do,” answered Judas, stern and decisive. “You, Thomas, you will betray him. But he himself doesn’t believe in what he says! It’s time! It’s time! Why doesn’t he summon the strong, beautiful Judas?”
And now inexorable time was no longer measured in days, but in short, quickly passing hours. And it was evening, and there was evening silence, and long shadows stretched over the ground—the first sharp arrows of the oncoming night of the great battle—when a sad, stern voice sounded. It said:
“Do you know where I am going, my Lord? I am going to betray you into the hands of your enemies.”
And there was a long silence, the silence of the evening, and sharp, black shadows.
“You are silent, my Lord? You are ordering me to go?”
And again silence.
“Let me stay. But you cannot? Or dare not? Or will not?”
And again silence, immense, like the eyes of eternity.
“But you do know that I love you. You know everything. Why do you look so at Judas? Great is the mystery of your beautiful eyes, but is mine—less? Order me to stay!… But you are silent, you are still silent? My Lord, my Lord, is this why I sought you in anguish and torment all my life, sought and found! Free me. Lift the burden, it is heavier than mountains and lead. Can’t you hear the chest of Judas of Kerioth cracking under it?”
And the last silence, bottomless, like the last glance of eternity.
The evening silence did not even wake up, she did not shout and did not weep and did not ring with the soft clinking of her thin glass—so weak was the noise made by the departing steps. They sounded and fell silent. And the eternal silence became lost in thought, stretched herself out through the long shadows, grew darker—and suddenly, she sighed with all of her being through the rustle of the leaves swept up mournfully into the air, she sighed and became still, greeting the night.
Other voices began to rattle, beat and pound—as if someone untied a bag of animated, ringing voices, and they they fell from it onto the ground, at first one after another, then in twos, then all of them at once. It was the disciples talking. And, eclipsing them all, smashing against trees, against walls, falling onto itself, thundered the resolute, commanding voice of Peter—he was swearing that he would never desert his teacher.
“My Lord!” he spoke with fury and anguish. “My Lord! With you I am ready to go to prison and to death!”
And, quietly, like a soft echo of someone’s departing steps, sounded a merciless reply:
“I am telling you, Peter, this night before the rooster crows, you shall deny me thrice.”