Gradually they got used to Judas and stopped noticing his hideousness. Jesus assigned him the money box, and with it all the household duties fell on him: he bought the necessary food and clothing, handed out alms, and during travel he sought out places for overnight stay. All of this he did very skillfully and so very soon he earned the respect of some of the disciples who have seen his efforts. Judas lied constantly, but to this too they got used to as they saw no bad deeds behind the lies, and it added to Judas’ words and stories a certain interest and made life seem like an amusing and sometimes frightening tale.
Listening to Judas’ stories gave one the impression that he knew everyone, and that every person, whom he knew, had committed in his life some bad deed, or even a crime. According to him, those who were called good were those who could conceal their deeds and thoughts; but if one were to hug such a person, show them affection, and question them properly, then from that person would leak out all manner of falsehoods, filth, and lies, like pus from a punctured wound. He readily admitted that he would sometimes lie himself, but he maintained under oath that the others lied even more, and if there was in the world someone who was deceived, then it was him, Judas. It happened that some people deceived him many times in all manner of ways. For instance, a treasurer working for a rich dignitary admitted to him one day that for ten years now he had an incessant desire to steal the property entrusted to him, but he could not do it as he was afraid of the dignitary and of his own conscience. And Judas believed him—but then he suddenly committed the theft, and thus deceived Judas. But here too Judas believed him—but then he suddenly returned the stolen goods to the dignitary, and thus once again deceived Judas. And everyone deceived him, even animals: when he caressed a dog it would bite his fingers, and when he beat it with a stick it would lick his legs and, like a daughter, look into his eyes. He killed that dog, buried it deep, and even placed a large rock over it. But who knows? Maybe his killing it made it even more alive, and instead of lying in a hole it is cheerfully running about with other dogs.
Everyone laughed merrily at Judas’ story, and he himself smiled pleasantly, squinting his animated, mocking eye, and then suddenly, with the same smile, admitted that he had lied a little: he did not kill that dog. But he will certainly find it and will certainly kill it because he does not want to be deceived. And these words of Judas made everyone laugh all the more.
But in his tales he would sometimes cross the boundaries of what is believable and probable and would attribute to people such inclinations that are not present even in animals, accusing them of such crimes that have never happened and could never happen. And, because he would give the names of the most respectable people as he did this, many protested of slander, while others asked jokingly:
“Well then, your father and mother, Judas, were they not good people?”
Judas squinted his eye, smiled, and spread out his hands. And, in unison with the swaying of his head, swayed his frozen, wide open eye, gazing in silence.
“And who was my father? Maybe it was that man who beat me with a rod, and maybe it was the devil, or a goat, or a rooster. After all, can Judas know all those whom his mother shared her bed with? Judas has many fathers; which one are you talking about?”
Everyone protested at this as they all held parents in deep reverence, and Matthew, considerably well read in the Scriptures, said sternly in the words of Solomon:
“Whoever curses his father or his mother, his lamp shall go out out in deep darkness.”
John Zebedee haughtily threw in:
“Well then, what about us? What bad can you say about us, Judas of Kerioth?”
Feigning surprise, Judas began waving his hands, and, hunched over like a beggar pleading in vain for alms from passersby, he whined:
“Ah, they tempt poor Judas! They laugh at Judas, they want to deceive the poor, trusting Judas!”
And while one side of his face was being twisted into buffoonish grimaces, the other swayed seriously and sternly, and the eye that never closed kept staring broadly.
Peter Simon laughed more than everyone else at Judas’ jokes. But it happened one time that he suddenly frowned, grew silent and sad, and, pulling Judas by his sleeve, drew him aside.
“And Jesus? What do you think of Jesus?” he asked in a loud whisper as he leaned down. “Only don’t joke, I beg you.”
Judas looked at him viciously:
“And what do you think?”
Peter whispered with fear and joy:
“I think that he is the son of the living God.”
“Then what are you asking for? What can Judas tell you, whose father is a goat!”
“But do you love him? You don’t seem to love anyone Judas.”
Sharply and abruptly, with the same strange viciousness, Iscariot snapped at him:
For two days after this conversation Peter would loudly call Judas his octopus friend, and the other, clumsily and with the same viciousness, tried to slip away from him somewhere into a dark corner, and would sit there grimly, glimmering with his white eye that never closed.
Only Thomas listened to Judas with complete seriousness: he did not understand jokes, pretense and lies, games of words and thoughts, and in everything he sought out the fundamental and the affirmative. And he would frequently interrupt every one of Judas’ tales about bad people and deeds with brief, businesslike remarks:
“This must be proven. Have you heard this yourself? And, apart from you, who else was present? What is his name?”
Judas would get annoyed and start shouting in a shrill voice, saying that he had seen and heard it all himself, but the stubborn Thomas would keep interrogating him, calmly and incessantly, until Judas admitted that he told a lie, or until he came up with some new, believable lie, which the other would spend a long time mulling over. And when he found a mistake, he would immediately come over and with indifference denounce the liar. In actual fact Judas aroused in him a strong curiosity, and this created something akin friendship between them, full of shouting, laughter, and arguments on one side, and calm, persistent inquiry on the other. At times Judas felt an intolerable revulsion to his strange friend, and, piercing him with his sharp stare, he would speak with irritation, almost pleadingly:
“What do you want? I told you everything. Everything.”
“I want for you to prove how it is possible for a goat to be your father.” Thomas kept his interrogation going with persistent indifference and waited for an answer.
It happened that after one of such questions Judas suddenly grew silent and with amazement examined the other from head to toe with his eye: he saw a long, straight trunk, a gray face, frank, transparently light eyes, and two large wrinkles, which began at his nose and disappeared in his coarse, evenly cut beard, and he said decisively:
“How stupid you are, Thomas! What do you see in your dreams: a tree, a wall, a donkey?”
And Thomas grew strangely embarrassed and did not raise any objections. And at night, when Judas was already covering up his living, restless eye for sleep, Thomas exclaimed suddenly from his bed—both of them now slept together on the roof:
“You’re wrong, Judas. I see very awful dreams. What do you think: should man also answer for his dreams?”
“And does someone else and not he himself see the dreams?”
Thomas sighed quietly and became lost in thought. And Judas smiled contemptuously, tightly shut his thievish eye, and calmly yielded himself to his tempestuous dreams, monstrous nightmares, and insane visions that were tearing apart his bumpy skull.
When, during the time of Jesus’ travels around Judaea, the travelers were approaching some settlement, Iscariot would say bad things about its inhabitants and foretell trouble. But it almost always happened that the people, of whom he spoke ill, met Christ and his friends with joy, surrounded them with attention and love, and became believers, and Judas’ money box was made so full that it became difficult to carry. And then they would laugh at his mistake, and he would obediently spread out his hands and say:
“Well! Well! Judas thought that they were bad, but they are good: they were quick to believe, and they gave us money. It means that, once again, they have deceived Judas, the poor, trusting Judas of Kerioth!”
But one time, when they were already a good distance away from a settlement, which gave them a hospitable welcome, Thomas engaged in a heated argument with Judas and, in order to resolve it, they went back. It was only on the next day that they caught up with Jesus and his disciples, and Thomas looked confused and sad, while Judas appeared so proud that it looked like he expected them at any moment to begin congratulating and thanking him. Walking up to the teacher, Thomas stated decisively:
“Judas is right, my Lord. They were evil and stupid people, and the seed of your words fell upon stone.”
And he recounted what happened at the settlement. After Jesus and his disciples had left, one old woman began to scream, saying that her young white goat had been stolen, and she had accused the departed of the theft. People argued with her at first, but, when she obstinately kept trying to prove that there was nobody else other than Jesus who could have stolen it, many agreed with her and even wanted to set off on a chase. But even though soon afterwards they found the little goat entangled in a bush, they still decided that Jesus was a charlatan, and perhaps even a thief.
“So that’s how it is!” cried Peter, inflating his nostrils. “My Lord, if you want, I’ll go back to those fools, and…”
But Jesus, who remained silent all this time, looked at him sternly, and Peter grew silent and hid at the back, behind the others. And nobody spoke again about what had happened, as if nothing at all had occurred and Judas turned out to be incorrect. In vain did he show himself from every side, trying to make his divided, predatory face with a slightly hooked nose appear humble—nobody looked at him and, if someone did look at him, it was with hostility and, it seemed, even with contempt.
And from that day on, Jesus’ attitude to him underwent a strange transformation. Previously, for some reason, Judas never spoke directly with Jesus, and Jesus had never addressed him directly, although he would often look at him with caring eyes and smile at some of his jokes, and if he had not seen him for a while he would ask: and where is Judas? But now he looked at him as if he did not see him, even though he would oftentimes, as before—and even more keenly than before—seek him out with his eyes as he began addressing his disciples or the people, but he would either sit with his back turned to him, throwing his words over his head to Judas, or he would make it seem as if he did not notice him at all. And whatever he would say, even if he said one thing today and something completely different tomorrow, even if he said the same thing as Judas was thinking, it seemed that he was always speaking against Judas. And for everyone he was a gentle and beautiful flower, like a fragrant Lebanese rose, but for Judas he had only sharp thorns—as if Judas had no heart, as if he had neither eyes nor a nose and did not better understand than everyone else the beauty of tender, unblemished petals.
“Thomas! Do you like that yellow Lebanese rose, which has a swarthy face and eyes, like those of a chamois?” he asked his friend one day, and the other replied indifferently:
“A rose? Yes, I find its smell pleasant. But I have never heard of a rose having a swarthy face and eyes, like those of a chamois.”
“What? Perhaps you don’t even know that the many-armed cactus, which yesterday shredded your new clothes, has only one red flower and only one eye?”
But even this Thomas did not know, even though a cactus did indeed tear into his clothes and shredded them into pitiful rags. He did not know anything, that Thomas, even though he inquired into everything, and he stared so directly with his clear eyes, through which one could see the wall behind him with a downcast donkey tethered to it, like through Phoenician glass.
Some time later another incident took place in which, once again, Judas turned out to be right. In one Judaean settlement, which Judas disliked so much that he even advised them to bypass it, Christ received a very hostile welcome, and, after he spent time preaching and unmasking hypocrisies, the locals became enraged and wanted to beat him and his disciples with rocks. There were many foes, and it is certain that their baleful intention would have been realized if it were not for Judas of Kerioth. Gripped by an intense fear for Jesus, already seeing drops of blood on his white shirt, Judas threw himself fiercely and blindly at the crowd, threatened, screamed, pleaded, and lied, and by doing this he created time and opportunity for Jesus and the disciples to escape. Strikingly nimble, as if he ran around on a dozen legs, amusing and terrible in his fury and pleas, he darted around wildly before the mob, spellbinding it with some strange power. He cried, saying that Nazareth was not at all possessed by the beast, that he was just a charlatan, a thief who loves money, just like the rest of his disciples, just like Judas himself—he shook the money box, grimaced, and pleaded, hurling himself down to the ground. And, gradually, the fury of the mob turned into laughter and disgust, and the raised hands holding rocks were lowered.
“These people don’t deserve to die by the hands of honest men,” some of them said, while the others’ thoughtful stares were seeing off the hastily retreating Judas.
And again Judas awaited congratulations, praises, and gratitude, and he displayed his ragged clothes and lied, saying that he was beaten—but on this occasion too he was incomprehensibly deceived. A vexed Jesus walked with long steps and remained silent, and even John and Peter did not dare approach him; and everyone whose eyes caught sight of Judas, with his joyfully-excited yet still a little frightened face, would drive him away from themselves with curt and angry exclamations. It was as if he did not save them all, as if he did not save their teacher, whom they all loved so much.
“Do you want to see some fools?” he said to Thomas, who was walking thoughtfully at the back. “Look: there they’re walking along a road, bunched up like a herd of rams, raising dust. And you, clever Thomas, you trudge at the back, and I, the noble, beautiful Judas, I trudge at the back like a dirty slave who has no place beside his master.”
“Why do you call yourself beautiful?” Thomas asked in surprise.
“Because I am beautiful,” answered Judas with conviction and, inflating the truth, recounted how he tricked the enemies of Jesus and laughed at them and their stupid rocks.
“But you lied to them!” said Thomas.
“Well, yes, I did,” Iscariot agreed calmly. “I gave them that which they asked for, and they returned that which I needed. And what is a lie, my clever Thomas? Wouldn’t the death of Jesus have been a great lie?”
“What you did was wrong. Now I believe that your father was the devil. It was he who taught you, Judas.”
Judas’ face grew pale and in a sudden haste moved towards Thomas—as if a white cloud had found and blocked the road and Jesus. With a soft motion, which was just as swift, Judas pressed onto him, pressed hard, paralyzing motion, and whispered in his ear:
“So, the devil taught me? Well, well, Thomas. And I saved Jesus? So that means, the devil loves Jesus, so that means, the devil needs Jesus and truth? Well, well, Thomas. But anyhow, my father is not the devil, but a goat. Maybe the goat also needs Jesus? Eh? And you don’t need him, no? And you also don’t need truth?”
Thomas, irritated and slightly frightened, with difficulty broke himself free from Judas’ sticky embrace and strode briskly ahead, but very soon he slowed down his pace, trying to comprehend what had just happened.
And Judas trudged quietly at the back, gradually lagging more and more behind. And now the travelers in the distance have fused into a little motley pile, and already one could not tell which one of these tiny figures was Jesus. And now the tiny Thomas turned into a gray dot—and suddenly they all disappeared behind a corner. After looking around Judas walked off the road and, taking huge leaps, made his way into the depth of the rocky ravine. His fast and sporadic sprint inflated his robe and his arms soared upwards, as if ready for flight. He slipped at a scarp and rolled down rapidly as a gray lump, scraping against rocks, then jumped up and scolded the mountain angrily with his fist:
“And now you, damn thing!…”
And, suddenly changing the speed of his movements, with a surly and concentrated slowness, he picked out a place near a large rock and unhurriedly sat down. He turned, looking for a comfortable position, placed his hands, palm in palm, onto the gray rock, and pressed his head heavily onto them. And he sat like this for two hours, not moving and deceiving the birds, motionless and gray, like the gray rock itself. In front of him and behind him, and all around him the walls of the ravine rose upwards, cutting the edges of the blue sky with a sharp line; and everywhere, digging into the earth, towered enormous gray rocks—as if one day a rain of rocks fell here, its heavy drops freezing in eternal contemplation. And this desolate ravine looked like an upturned, severed skull, and its every rock like a frozen thought, and there were many of them, and they were all contemplating—arduously, boundlessly, unyieldingly.
Now a deceived scorpion hobbled amicably near Judas on its shaky legs. Judas glanced at it without moving his head away from the rock, and again his eyes locked onto something, both of them motionless, both covered with a strange whitish haze, both blind and terrifyingly sighted. Now the calm darkness of the night began to rise up from the earth, from the rocks, from the crevices, it enveloped the motionless Judas and quickly crawled upwards—towards the light, paled sky. The night has come with its thoughts and dreams.
That night Judas did not return to lodge, and the disciples, torn from their contemplation by the hassle of getting food and drink, grumbled at his negligence.