Leonid Andreyev

VII

The moon had already risen when Jesus got ready to set off to Mount Olivet, where he spent all his last days. But for some unknown reason he lingered, and his disciples, who were ready to leave, were hurrying him; that was when he suddenly said:

“Those of you who have a bag, bring it, as well as some money; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. For I tell you, it is written and must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’.”

The disciples were surprised and looked at each other in confusion. Peter, however, replied:

“My Lord! Here are two swords.”

He looked piercingly into their kind faces, lowered his head and said softly:

“That’s enough.”

Their footsteps resounded sonorously in the narrow streets—and the disciples were frightened of their own steps; on a white wall, illuminated by the moon, their shadows kept growing—and they were frightened of their own shadows. Thus they walked in silence across the sleeping Jerusalem, and now they went outside the city gates, and in a deep valley, full of mysteriously-still shadows, the Kidron stream was revealed to them. Now everything frightened them. The soft murmurs and splashes of water over the rocks seemed to them like the voices of men sneaking up on them; the ugly shadows of the mountains and trees that were blocking the road worried them with their motley shades, and in their night stillness the disciples saw movement. But the more they climbed the mountain and the nearer they came to the garden of Gethsemane, in which they have already spent so many nights in safety and peace, they more they grew in courage. From time to time, as they glanced back at the Jerusalem they have left, all white under the moon, they spoke amongst themselves about their earlier fear; and those, who walked at the back, heard the soft, fragmentary words of Jesus. Everyone deserting him is what he spoke of.

They stopped at the edge of the garden. A large part stayed put and, conversing lightly, began to prepare for sleep, spreading out cloaks in the transparent lacework of shadows and moonlight. Jesus, however, perturbed by worry, went further into the depth of the garden with four of his closest disciples. There they sat down on the ground, which had not yet cooled from the heat of the day, and, while Jesus stayed silent, Peter and John lazily exchanged words, which were almost devoid of meaning. Yawning from tiredness, they spoke about the coldness of the night, and about the high price of meat in Jerusalem, fish altogether impossible to obtain. They tried to determine the precise number of pilgrims who came to the city for the holiday, and Peter, loudly stretching his words with his yawns, said that there were twenty thousand, and John, together with his brother Jacob, assured him, in the same lazy manner, that there was no more than ten. Suddenly Jesus rose quickly.

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me,” he told them and, taking quick steps, he withdrew into a thicket and soon disappeared in the stillness of the shadows and light.

“Where is he going?” said John as he propped himself up on his elbow. Peter turned his head towards the departed and wearily answered:

“I don’t know.”

And, taking another heavy yawn, he turned onto his back and grew silent. The others also grew silent, and the deep sleep of healthy tiredness enveloped their motionless bodies. Through heavy drowsiness Peter vaguely saw something white leaning over him, and someone’s voice sounded and faded, without leaving a trace on his darkened consciousness.

“Simon, are you sleeping?”

And again he slept, and again some gentle voice touched his ears and faded, without leaving a trace:

“Couldn’t you stay awake with me for one hour?”

“Oh Lord, if only you knew how much I want to sleep,” he thought half-awake, but it seemed to him that he said it aloud. And he fell asleep again, and it seemed that much time had passed, when suddenly the figure of Jesus grew near him, and a loud voice instantly sobered him and the others up:

“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough, the hour has come—behold, the son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”

The disciples quickly jumped to their feet, grabbing their cloaks in confusion and shivering from the cold of the sudden awakening. Through a tree thicket, illuminating them with the fire of running torches, with tramp and noise, followed by clanking weapons and crunching branches, a crowd of soldiers and servants of the temple was approaching. And from the other side, shivering from cold, the disciples came running up with sleepy faces and, not yet understanding what was happening, they hastily whispered:

“What is this? Who are these men with torches?”

Thomas, pale, with one end of his straight mustache bent to the side and his teeth chattering, said to Peter:

“It appears they have come for us.”

The crowd of soldiers surrounded them, and the smoky, alarming gleam of fires drove off the soft radiance of the moon somewhere aside and up. At the head of the soldiers Judas of Kerioth was hurriedly making way and, sharply shifting his animated eye, was searching for Jesus.

He found him, for a moment he paused his gaze at the other’s tall, thin figure, and then quickly whispered to the priests:

“The one I kiss, that’s him. Take him and lead him gently. But be gentle, you hear me?”

Then he swiftly approached Jesus, who was silently waiting for him, and, like a knife, thrust his straight, sharp gaze into the other’s calm, darkened eyes.

“Rejoice, rabbi!” he said loudly, placing a strange and dread meaning into the words of an ordinary greeting.

But Jesus was silent, and the disciples looked on with horror at the betrayer, unable to comprehend how a man’s soul could contain so much evil. Iscariot quickly scanned their confused ranks, he saw the shivering, which was ready to transform into the violent trembling of fear, he saw paled faces, meaningless smiles, sluggish arm movements, as if their forearms were tightened with iron—and a mortal sorrow was ignited in his heart, much like that which Christ had experienced earlier. Stretching himself into a hundred loudly ringing, wailing strings, he dashed swiftly towards Jesus and gently kissed his cold cheek. So softly, so gently, with such excruciating love and anguish, that, were Jesus a flower on a thin stalk, he would not have shaken it with that kiss, and he would not have dropped the pearly dew from its pure petals.

“Judas,” said Jesus, and with the lightning of his gaze lit up that hideous mass of tensed up shadows that made up the soul of Iscariot—but he could not penetrate into its bottomless abyss. “Judas! Is it with a kiss that you betray the son of man?”

And he saw how the whole of that monstrous chaos trembled and began to move. Iscariot stood speechless and stern, like death in its proud majesty, but inside him everything screamed, clattered and howled with a thousand violent and fiery voices:

“Yes! With a kiss of love we betray you. With a kiss of love we betray you to abuse, to torture, to death! With a voice of love we summon executioners from their dark holes, and we place a cross—and we raise love crucified by love high above the crown of the earth.”

Thus Judas stood, speechless and cold, like death, and to the screams of his soul replied the shouts and tumult rising up around Jesus. With the rude indecisiveness of an armed force, with the awkwardness of vaguely understood objectives, the soldiers grabbed him by the arms and dragged him somewhere, their own indecisiveness they mistook for resistance, their own fear—for derision and mockery. The disciples crowded together like a bunch of frightened lambs, obstructing nothing but getting in the way of everything—even themselves; and only a few of them dared to move and act separately from the rest. Pushed from every side, Peter Simon, with difficulty, as if he had lost all his strength, drew his sword from its sheath and lowered it weakly onto the head of one of the priests, striking him awry—but he did not cause any damage. And Jesus, seeing this, ordered him to throw down the useless sword, and, with a faint clink, the iron fell at his feet, and it appeared so devoid of its stabbing and killing power that the idea of lifting it never entered anyone’s mind. Thus it lay under their feet, and many days later it was found in the same spot by playing kids who made a toy of it.

The soldiers shoved the disciples aside, but they would gather up again and foolishly try to get in the soldiers’ way, and this continued until a sudden rage took over the soldiers. One of them, frowning his brows, moved towards the screaming John; another rudely brushed Thomas’ hand off his shoulder, who was trying to convince him of something, and he brought a massive fist to those most straight and transparent eyes—and John ran, and Thomas ran, and so did Jacob, and all the other disciples, however many of them there were, they all ran, deserting Jesus. Losing their cloaks, running into trees, tripping on rocks and falling down, they ran to the mountains, persecuted by fear, and in the stillness of the moonlit night the ground boomed sonorously under the tramp of countless feet. A stranger, who had apparently just got up from his bed, for he was covered only by his blanket, scurried anxiously through the crowd of soldiers and priests. But, when they decided to detain him and grabbed him by the blanket, he let out a frightened scream and took flight, just like the others, leaving his garment in the hands of the soldiers. Thus he ran, completely naked, taking desperate leaps, and his nude body was flashing strangely under the moon.

When Jesus was taken away, Peter emerged from behind the trees where he was lurking and, keeping a distance, went after the teacher. And, noticing ahead of him another person walking in silence, he thought that it might be John, and he quietly called out to him:

“John, is that you?”

“And is that you, Peter?” replied the other, stopping, and by his voice Peter recognized him as the traitor. “Peter, why didn’t you run away with the others?”

Peter stopped and with revulsion uttered:

“Get away from me, Satan!”

Judas laughed and, not paying any further attention to Peter, began to walk onward, towards where the the smoky glimmer of torches and the clanking of weapons were mixed with the prominent sound of footsteps. Peter too moved carefully after him, and so, almost simultaneously, they entered the courtyard of the high priest and blended into the crowd of the servants who were warming up by the fires. Judas was gloomily warming his bony hands above a fire when he heard Peter’s loud voice somewhere behind him:

“No, I don’t know him.”

But it seems they were insistent on him being one of Jesus’ disciples because Peter repeated again, even louder: “But of course not, I don’t know what you are talking about!”

Without turning around and failing to restrain a smile, Judas shook his head affirmatively and muttered:

“Well, well, Peter! Don’t let anyone take your place beside Jesus!”

And he did not see how the frightened Peter left the courtyard so as to not reveal himself. And from that evening on until the very death of Jesus, Judas did not see any of the disciples up close; and amid the whole of that crowd there were only the two of them, inseparable until the very death, savagely bound together by their shared suffering—the one who was betrayed to abuse and torture, and the one who betrayed him. They drunk from the same cup of suffering, like brothers, the betrayed and the betrayer, and lips both pure and impure were scorched by its fiery liquid.

Staring fixedly at the fire, which filled the eyes with a feeling of heat, stretching out his long, shivering hands towards the flame, completely formless in the confusion of hands and legs, trembling shadows and light, Iscariot muttered, hoarsely and pitifully:

“So cold! My God, it’s so cold!”

Thus, probably, when fishermen depart at night, leaving on the shore a smoldering fire, something rises from the dark depths of the sea, it crawls up to the fire, stares at it fixedly and savagely, stretches out all its limbs towards it, and mutters hoarsely and pitifully:

“So cold! My God, it’s so cold!”

Suddenly Judas heard an explosion of loud voices behind him, soldiers’ shouts and laughter, full of the familiar, languorously greedy malice, and short, biting strikes upon a living body. He turned around, pierced by a sudden pain affecting the whole of his body, affecting his every bone—it was Jesus they were beating.

So that’s it!

He saw the soldiers taking Jesus to their guardroom. The night was passing, the fires were extinguished and were covered in ashes, and from the guardroom one could still hear muffled shouts, laughter, and curses. It was Jesus they were beating.

Iscariot hastily dashed around the empty courtyard, he would sometimes pause, lift up his head, and again start running, and he would run with surprise into the fires, into walls. He then glued himself to the wall of the guardhouse and, stretching himself, stuck himself to the window, to the cracks in the doorways, and greedily observed what was happening inside. He saw a crowded, stuffy room, dirty, like all the guardhouses in the world, with spit all over the floor, and walls that were so greasy, so stained, as if they were trodden or rolled upon. And he saw the man whom they were beating. They struck him across the face, on his head, they threw him back and forth like a soft bundle, from one end to the other; and, because he did not scream and did not resist, after some time of intense observation it really did begin seem that this was not a living man, but some kind of soft doll, without blood or bones. And it would bend strangely, like a doll, and, when it hit the stone floor as it fell, it did not look like a collision of something hard against something hard but instead it was that same soft thing, soft and painless. And, if one watched for a while, it began to seem like some strange, endless game—at times becoming a complete illusion. After one powerful strike, the man, or the doll, fell down in a smooth movement onto the knees of a sitting soldier; in turn, the soldier shoved it away, and it, having turned around, landed onto the next one, and like that again and again. A violent laughter erupted, and Judas also smiled—as if someone’s strong hand tore his mouth apart with its iron fingers. It was Judas’ mouth being deceived.

The night dragged on, and the fires were still smoldering. Judas fell away from the wall and slowly wandered up to one of the fires, dug the ashes, fixed it up, and, even though he no longer felt the cold, he stretched out his slightly shaking hands over the fire. And he muttered mournfully:

“Ah, it hurts, it hurts so much, my child, my child, my child. It hurts, it hurts so much!…”

Then he went back to the window again, yellowed by a dim fire coming through the openings in the black lattice, and again he watched how they beat Jesus. Once, before Judas’ very eyes, his swarthy face flew past, now disfigured beneath a mess of tangled hair. Now someone’s hand dug into his hair, brought down the man, and, turning the head from one side to the other in equal measure, began to wipe the spit covered floor with his face. A soldier was sleeping right under the window, his mouth agape with glistering white teeth; now someone’s wide back with a fat, naked neck blocked the window, and one could see nothing more. Suddenly everything grew silent.

What’s this? Why are they silent? Did they figure it out?

Suddenly the whole of Judas’ head, every part of it, began to fill with the buzzing, shouting, and roaring of a thousand frenzied thoughts. They have figured it out? They have understood that this—this is the best of men?—it’s so simple, so clear. They stand before him on their knees and weep softly, kissing his feet. Now he comes out here, and they crawl obediently after him—he comes out here, to Judas, comes out a victor, a ruler, the lord of truth, a god…

“Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?”

But no. Again the noise and shouting. They are beating him again. They have not understood, they have not figured it out, and they are beating him even harder, inflicting even more pain. The fires are burning out, becoming covered in ash, and the smoke above them is just as transparently blue as the air, and the sky is as bright as the moon. It is the day approaching.

“What is day?” asks Judas. Now all is illuminated, gleaming, rejuvenated, and the smoke above is no longer blue, but pink. It is the sun rising.

“What is the sun?” asks Judas.

Chapter VIII →
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