As an old scoundrel, coughing, smiling flatteringly, endlessly bowing, Judas of Kerioth, the Traitor, appeared before the Sanhedrin. This was the day after the killing of Jesus, about midday. They were all here, his judges and his killers: there was the elderly Annas with his sons, fat and disgusting like the father, there was his son-in-law, Caiaphas, tormented by his love of praise, there were all the other members of the Sanhedrin whose names have been stolen from mankind’s memory—rich and notable Sadducees, proud of their power and their knowledge of the law. They greeted the Traitor in silence, and their haughty faces remained still, as if nothing had entered. And even the one who was the smallest and most insignificant of them, to whom the others paid no attention, lifted up his birdlike face and stared as if nothing had entered. Judas bowed, bowed, bowed, and they kept staring in silence: as if it was not a man that had entered but some dirty insect that crawled in, which they did not see. But Judas of Kerioth was not the type of man to become embarrassed: they remained silent, and he kept bowing and thought that if he had to bow until evening, then he would keep bowing until evening. Finally, the impatient Caiaphas asked:
“What do you want?”
Judas bowed once more and said loudly:
“It is I, Judas of Kerioth, the one who betrayed Jesus of Nazareth to you.”
“So what? You’ve received your due. Leave!” ordered Annas, but Judas kept bowing as if he had not heard the order. And, glancing at him, Caiaphas asked Annas:
“How much was he given?”
“Thirty silver pieces.”
Caiaphas chuckled, and even the gray Annas himself chuckled, and a gleeful smile slipped over every haughty face; and the one who had a birdlike face even began to laugh. And, growing visibly pale, Judas quickly picked up:
“Well, well. Of course, that’s very little, but is Judas displeased, is Judas screaming that he had been robbed? He is pleased. Was it not a holy cause that he had served? It was holy. Don’t the wisest of men listen now to Judas and think: he’s ours, Judas of Kerioth, he’s our brother, our friend, Judas of Kerioth, the Traitor? Does not Annas want to get on his knees and kiss Judas’ hand? But only Judas won’t give it, he’s a coward, he’s afraid that he’ll be bitten.”
“Drive out this dog. What’s he barking?”
“Leave. We don’t have time to listen to your babbling,” Annas said indifferently.
Judas straightened up and closed his eyes. That affectation, which he carried all his life with such ease, suddenly became an unbearable burden; and with one movement of his eyelashes he cast it off. And when he looked again at Annas, his gaze was simple, straight, and terrible in its honesty. But even this they did not notice.
“You want to be driven out with sticks?” shouted Caiaphas.
Suffocating under the weight of the terrible words that he was lifting higher and higher in order to throw them onto the heads of the judges, Judas asked hoarsely:
“And do you know… do you know… who he was—the one whom you condemned yesterday and crucified?”
“We know. Leave!”
With a single word he will now tear that thin film that covers their eyes, and the whole of the earth will tremble under the weight of the ruthless truth! They had a soul—they will lose it; they had a life—they will lose their life; they had light before their eyes—eternal darkness and horror will cover them. Hosanna! Hosanna!
And here they are, these terrible words, tearing his throat apart:
“He was not a charlatan. He was innocent and pure. You hear me? Judas has deceived you. He betrayed to you an innocent man.”
He waits. And he hears the indifferent, elderly voice of Annas:
“Is that all that you wanted to say to us?”
“It seems you have not understood me,” Judas spoke with dignity, growing pale. “Judas has deceived you. He was innocent. You’ve killed an innocent man.”
The one with the birdlike face is smiling, but Annas is indifferent, Annas is bored, Annas is yawning. And in turn Caiaphas yawns, and he says wearily:
“What’s this I was told about the intellect of Judas of Kerioth? He’s just a fool, a very boring fool.”
“What!” cried Judas, filling up with a dark frenzy. “And who are you, clever men! Judas has deceived you—do you hear! He did not betray him, but you, the wise, you, the powerful, he betrayed you to a shameful death, which will never end. Thirty silver pieces! Well, well. But, after all, that’s the price of your blood, which is as dirty as the filthy water that women pour outside the gates of their houses. Ah, Annas, old, gray, stupid Annas, gorged on the law—why didn’t you give one silver piece more, one obol more? After all, that’s the price at which you’ll go for eternity!”
“Out!” shouted Caiaphas, his face flushing. But Annas stopped him with a motion of his hand and with the same indifference asked Judas:
“Are you done now?”
“If I go to the desert and cry out to the beasts: beasts, have you heard the price at which men valued their Jesus? What will the beasts do? They will crawl out of their lairs, they will howl from wrath, they will forget their fear before man and will all come here to devour you! If I say to the sea: sea, do you know the price at which men valued Jesus? If I say to the mountains: mountains, do you know the price at which men valued Jesus? And both the sea and the mountains will leave their places, assigned to them since the dawn of time, and will come here, and they will fall on your heads!”
“Does Judas wish to become a prophet? He speaks so loudly!” the one with the birdlike face mockingly remarked and gave Caiaphas an ingratiating glance.
“Today I saw a pale sun. It looked at the earth with horror and said: and where is man? Today I saw a scorpion. It sat on a rock laughing and said: and where is man? I approached it and looked into its eyes. And it laughed and said: and where is man, please tell me, I don’t see him! Or has Judas become blind, poor Judas of Kerioth!”
And Iscariot began to weep loudly. In these minutes he looked like a madman, and Caiaphas, having turned away, contemptuously waved him away. Annas, however, thought a little and said:
“I see, Judas, that you really did receive too little, and this troubles you. Here is more money, take it and give it to your children.”
He threw something that made a sharp clinking sound. And this sound has not yet faded when another, similar to it, strangely prolonged it: this was Judas throwing handfuls of silver pieces and obols at the faces of the high priest and the judges, returning their payment for Jesus. The coins rained on their faces, on the table, scattering across the floor. Some of the judges used their hands to cover their faces, palms turned outward, others, leaping up from their seats, screamed and cursed. Judas, trying to hit Annas, threw the last coin, which his shaking hand took a long time to fish out of the bag, spat wrathfully and left.
“Well, well!” he muttered, passing swiftly through the streets and scaring the children. “It seems that you’ve been weeping, Judas? But is Caiaphas right in saying that Judas of Kerioth is stupid? He who weeps on the day of great vengeance is not worthy of it—do you know that, Judas? Don’t let your eyes deceive you, don’t let your heart lie, don’t pour tears over fire, Judas of Kerioth!”
Jesus’ disciples were sitting in mournful silence, listening in to what was happening outside the house. There was still danger that the vengeance of Jesus’ enemies was not limited to him alone, and they all waited for guards to barge in and, perhaps, more executions. By John’s side, for whom, as Jesus’ beloved disciple, his death was especially grievous, sat Mary Magdalene and Matthew, consoling him in a low voice. Mary, whose face was swollen from tears, softly stroked his rich, curvy hair, while Matthew spoke didactically, in the words of Solomon:
“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city.”
At that very moment, loudly banging the door, Judas Iscariot entered. Everyone jumped up in fright and at first did not even realize who he was, but, when they recognized the hated face and the bumpy, red-haired head, they started shouting. Peter raised both of his hands and cried out:
“Go away from here! Traitor! Go away or I will kill you!”
But when they took a better look at the face and eyes of the Traitor they quieted down, whispering in fear:
“Leave him! Leave him! He is possessed by Satan!”
Judas waited until they grew silent, and then loudly cried out:
“Rejoice, the eyes of Judas of Kerioth! You have just seen cold-blooded murderers—and already they’ve turned into cowardly traitors before you! Where is Jesus? I ask you: where is Jesus?”
There was something commanding in Iscariot’s hoarse voice, and Thomas obediently answered:
“But you yourself know, Judas, that our teacher was crucified yesterday evening.”
“How is it that you’ve allowed this? Where was your love? You, beloved disciple, you, his rock, where were you when your friend was crucified on a piece of wood?”
“Just think, what could we have done?” Thomas spread out his hands.
“You are asking this, Thomas? Well, well!” Judas of Kerioth turned his head sideways and then suddenly and wrathfully fell upon him: “He who loves does not ask, he acts! He goes and does everything. He weeps, he bites, he strangles the enemy and breaks his bones! He who loves! When your son is drowning, do you go to the city and ask the passersby: ‘What should I do? My son is drowning!’—or do you throw yourself into the water and drown next to your son. He who loves!”
Peter replied grimly to Judas’ intense speech:
“I drew my sword, but he himself said: don’t.”
“Don’t? And you complied?” Judas laughed. “Peter, Peter, how could you listen to him! Does he know anything of men, of battle?”
“He who does not obey him will go to the fires of hell.”
“Why didn’t you go? Why didn’t you go, Peter? The fires of hell—what is hell? So what if you go—what do you need a soul for if you don’t dare cast it into the fire whenever you choose!”
“Be silent!” cried John, rising. “He himself wanted this sacrifice. And his sacrifice is sublime!”
“Is there such a thing as a sublime sacrifice, what are you saying, beloved disciple? Wherever there is a sacrifice, there is an executioner, as well as the traitors! A sacrifice—it is suffering for one and disgrace for all. Traitors, traitors, what have you done to the earth? Now they look at it from above and from below and laugh and shout: look at this earth, there they crucified Jesus! And they spit on it—as I do!” Judas spat furiously on the ground.
“He took all the sins of mankind upon himself. His sacrifice is sublime!” John insisted.
“No, you took all the sins upon yoursves. Beloved disciple! Does not the race of traitors begin with you, a breed of cravens and liars? Blind men, what have you done to the earth? You wanted to ruin it, you will soon be kissing the cross upon which you crucified Jesus! Well, well—Judas promises that you will kiss the cross!
“Judas, don’t insult us!” roared Peter, his face flushing. “How could we have killed all of his enemies? There are so many of them!”
“You too, Peter!” John cried furiously. “Don’t you see that Satan has possessed him? Get away from us, tempter. You are full of lies! The teacher forbade us to kill.”
“But did he also forbid you to die? Why are you alive, when he is dead? Why do your legs move, your tongue babbles nonsense, your eyes blink, when he is dead, motionless, speechless? How dare your cheeks be red, John, when his are pale? How dare you shout, Peter, when he is silent? You ask Judas: what should we do? And Judas answers you, the beautiful, brave Judas of Kerioth: die. You should have fallen on the road, should have grabbed the soldiers’ swords and hands. You should have drowned them in the sea of your blood—you should have died, died! His Father should have screamed from horror when all of you have entered there!”
Judas raised his hand and fell silent, but suddenly he noticed on the table the remains of a meal. And with strange amazement, in a curious manner, as if he saw food for the first time in his life, he slowly examined it and asked:
“What’s this? You have eaten? Maybe you have also slept?”
“I slept,” Peter answered, meekly lowering his head, now sensing in Judas someone able to command. “I slept and I ate.”
Thomas said resolutely and firmly:
“That’s all wrong, Judas. Just think: if we had all died, who would be left to speak about Jesus? Who would carry his teaching to the people, if all of us had died: Peter, John, and I?”
“And what is truth itself on the lips of traitors? Does it not become a lie? Thomas, Thomas, don’t you understand that you are now only a guard before the tomb of dead truth. The guard falls asleep and a thief arrives, and he takes away the truth with him—tell me, where is truth? Be damned, Thomas! You’ll be fruitless and penniless for eternity, and the rest of you, be damned with him!”
“You be damned, Satan!” shouted John, and his exclamation was repeated by Jacob, by Matthew, and by all the other disciples. Only Peter remained silent.
“I am going to him!” said Judas, extending upwards his commanding hand. “Who will follow Iscariot to Jesus?”
“I! I will go with you!” cried Peter, rising. Horrified, John and the others stopped him, saying:
“Madman! You have forgotten that he betrayed the teacher into the hands of his enemies!”
Peter hit himself in the chest with his fist and began to weep bitterly:
“Then where should I go? My Lord! Where should I go?”
Judas had long ago, during his walks, marked out that spot where he would kill himself after the death of Jesus. It was on a mountain, high above Jerusalem, and upon it stood only a single tree, crooked, half withered, tormented by wind tearing it from every side. It stretched one of its twisted branches towards Jerusalem, as if blessing it or threatening it with something, and Judas chose it for the purpose of tying on it a noose. But the road to the tree was long and arduous, and Judas of Kerioth was greatly tired. Those same sharp little stones were sliding under his feet as if pulling him backwards, and the mountain was tall, enveloped by wind, gloomy and malevolent. And already Judas had to sit down several times to rest, and he breathed heavily, and behind him, through clefts in the rocks, the mountain breathed cold onto his back.
“And now you, damn thing!” said Judas contemptuously and breathed heavily, shaking his heavy head in which all thoughts have now petrified. He would then lift it suddenly, open wide his frozen eyes and furiously mutter:
“No, they are too bad for Judas. You hear that, Jesus? Will you believe me now? I am going to you. Meet me kindly, I am tired. I am very tired. Then, together, embracing like brothers, we will return to the earth. Alright?”
Again he shook his petrifying head and again he opened his eyes wide, muttering:
“But, maybe you’ll be upset with Judas of Kerioth even there? And you won’t believe me? And you’ll send me to hell? Well then! I’ll go to hell! And I will use the fires of your hell to forge iron and will destroy your heaven. Alright? Will you believe me then? Will you then return with me to the earth, Jesus?”
Finally Judas made it to the top and to the crooked tree, and here the wind began to torment him. But after Judas had scolded it, it began to sing softly and quietly—the wind was flying away somewhere and it was saying its goodbye.
“Alright, alright! But they’re dogs!”—Judas replied to it as he tied the knot. And, because the rope might deceive him and break, he hung it over the precipice—if it breaks then he will still find his death atop the rocks. And before he pushed himself off with his leg and hanged himself, Judas of Kerioth warned Jesus attentively one more time:
“Please meet me kindly, I am very tired, Jesus.”
And he jumped. The rope tightened, but held; Judas’ neck became thin, and his arms and legs came together and hung down, as if they were wet. He died. Thus in two days, one after another, they left the earth: Jesus of Nazareth and Judas of Kerioth, the Traitor.
Judas swayed all night above Jerusalem, like some kind of monstrous fruit; at times the wind turned him to face the city, at other times towards the desert—it was if it wanted to show Judas both to the city and to the desert. But whichever way the death disfigured face turned, the red eyes, filled with blood and now alike, like brothers, gazed unfalteringly at the sky. And when morning came, someone with keen eyesight saw Judas hanging above the city and cried out in fear. People came, and they took him down, and, discovering who it was, threw him into a desolate ravine into which they threw dead horses, cats, and other carrion.
Already that evening all the believers received word of the terrible death of the Traitor, and on the next day the whole of Jerusalem heard about it. The rocky Judaea heard about it, and the green Galilee heard about it; and the news of the Traitor’s death spread from one sea to the other, which is even farther away. Neither faster nor slower, it traveled in concord with time, and just as time has no end, neither will there be an end to the tales of Judas’ betrayal and his terrible death. And everyone—the good and the bad—will damn his memory in equal measure; and for all the peoples that ever were and that still are, he will remain alone in his cruel fate—Judas of Kerioth, the Traitor.