Leonid Andreyev


People pointed at Judas and said, some with contempt, some with hatred and fear:

“Look: that’s Judas the Traitor!”

This was the beginning of his infamy, to which he doomed himself for eternity. A thousand years will pass, peoples will be replaced by peoples, but these words will keep resounding through the air, uttered with contempt and fear by good and bad alike:

“Judas the Traitor… Judas the Traitor!”

But he listened without concern to everything they said about him, absorbed by the burning, all-conquering feeling of curiosity. Ever since the morning, when they led a battered Jesus out of the guardhouse, Judas walked after him, and for some strange reason he felt neither sorrow, nor pain, nor happiness—only an unstoppable desire to see and hear everything. Even though he had not slept all night, his body felt light to him; when they did not let him pass, crowding him out, he shoved the people aside and nimbly moved to the front; and there was not a minute’s rest for his quick, animated eye. At Caiaphas’ interrogation of Jesus, in order not to miss a single word, he put his hand to his ear and shook his head affirmatively, muttering:

“Well! Well! You hear that, Jesus!”

But he was not free. A fly tied to a thread may fly around buzzing this way and that, but the stubborn, obedient thread will not leave it even for a minute. Some kind of rocky thoughts lay at the back of Judas’ head, and he was tethered tightly to them; he did not seem to know what these thoughts were, he did not want to touch them, but he felt them continually. And there were moments when they advanced on him, pressed onto him, began to crush him with all their unimaginable weight—like a vault of a rocky cave slowly and terribly descending on his head. When this happened, he would place his hand over his heart, he would try to keep all of his body moving, as if he was freezing, and would hasten to shift his eyes onto something new, and then again someplace else. When Jesus was being led away from Caiaphas, their eyes met up close, and he unconsciously gave him several friendly nods of the head.

“I’m here, my son, I’m here!” he muttered hastily and angrily pushed the back of some gaper blocking his way.

Now, as one massive, clamorous mob, they set off to see Pilate for the final interrogation and judgement, and Judas, with the same intolerable curiosity, quickly and greedily searched the faces of the swelling crowd. Many were completely unfamiliar, Judas had never seen them before, but there were also those who had shouted “Hosanna!” to Jesus—and their numbers seemed to swell with every step.

“Well, well!” Judas thought quickly, and his head began to spin, as if he was drunk. “It’s all over. Any second now they will cry out: he’s ours, that’s Jesus, what are you doing? And they will all understand and…”

But the faithful walked in silence. They pretended to smile, pretended that all of this had no effect on them; others were saying something with restraint, but their quiet voices were drowned without a trace in the din of the stream, in the loud, frenzied shouts of Jesus’ enemies. And again he felt light. Suddenly Judas noticed Thomas carefully making his way nearby, and, quickly thinking of something, decided to approach him. Thomas became frightened at the sight of the traitor and wanted to hide, but Judas caught up with him in a narrow, dirty little street, between two walls.

“Thomas! Wait!”

Thomas stopped and, stretching forward both his hands, solemnly uttered:

“Get away from me, Satan.”

Iscariot impatiently waved his hand.

“How stupid you are, Thomas, I thought that you were smarter than the others. Satan! Satan! After all, that must be proved.”

Thomas lowered his hands and asked in astonishment:

“But did you not betray our teacher? I myself saw how you brought the soldiers and pointed Jesus out to them. If that is not betrayal, then what is betrayal?”

“Something else, something else,” said Judas hurriedly. “Listen, there are many of you here. All of you need to gather together and loudly demand: give us Jesus, he’s ours. They won’t refuse you, they won’t dare. They won’t dare…”

“Come now, come now,” Thomas waved him away decidedly, “haven’t you seen how many armed soldiers and servants of the temple there are? And besides, the trial had not yet taken place, and we mustn’t obstruct the court. Surely they will understand that Jesus is innocent and will order his immediate release.”

“You think so too?” Judas asked thoughtfully. “Thomas, Thomas, but what if it’s true? What then? Who is right? Who has deceived Judas?”

“We have talked all night about this and have decided that there is no way that the court can convict an innocent. But if it does convict…”

“Well?!” Iscariot hurried him.

“…then it is not a court. And they will be sorry when they have to answer for this before the real Judge.”

“Before the real one! There’s also a real one?!” Judas laughed.

“And all of us have cursed you, but, as you say you are not a traitor, then, I think, you ought to be tried…”

Judas, without having finished listening, turned sharply and darted quickly down the street after the disappearing crowd. But soon he slowed down his pace and began to walk unhurriedly, thinking that whenever people walk in a large crowd they always walk slowly, and the one who walks alone will undoubtedly overtake them.

When Pilate led Jesus out from his palace and presented him before the people, Judas, pressed against a column by soldiers’ heavy backs, violently shifting his head in order to see anything between two glinting helmets, suddenly felt certain that now everything was over. Under the sun, high above the heads of the crowd, he saw Jesus, bloodied, pale, wearing a wreath of thorns, digging into his forehead with its spikes; he stood at the edge of the elevation, all of him in sight, from his head to his small, tanned feet, and he waited so patiently, his integrity and purity was so plain to see that only a blind man who is unable to see the sun could not see it, only a madman could not understand it. And the crowd was silent—it was so silent that Judas could hear the breathing of the soldier in front of him, and with every breath somewhere on his body a belt would creak.

“So. It’s over. Now they’ll understand,” thought Judas, and suddenly, something strange stopped his heart, something that felt like the blinding happiness of falling from an infinitely tall mountain into a radiant blue abyss.

Pilate, drawing his lips contemptuously down to his round chin, is throwing curt, dry words at the crowd—like bones thrown to a pack of hungry dogs—thinking to trick their thirst for fresh blood and living, trembling flesh:

“You have brought me this man as one who corrupts the people; and now that I have examined this man before you I do not find him guilty in that which you accuse him of…”

Judas closed his eyes. He is waiting.

And all of the people began shouting, yelling, howling with a thousand voices of man and beast:

“Death to him! Crucify him! Crucify him!”

And, as if in self mockery, as if wanting to experience at once the full boundlessness of disgrace, madness, and ignominy, the same people shout, yell, and demand with a thousand voices of man and beast:

“Release Barabbas to us! Crucify him! Crucify!”

But the Roman had not yet given his final word—convulsions of disgust and anger run across his shaved haughty face. He understands, he knows! Now he is speaking quietly to his servants, but his voice cannot be heard through the roar of the crowd. What is he saying? Is he telling them to take their swords and strike these madmen?

“Bring water.”

Water? What water? What for?

Now he is washing his hands—for some reason he is washing his clean, white hands, adorned with rings—and, raising them, he cries out furiously to the stunned, silent crowd:

“I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man. See to it yourselves!”

The water was still rolling down his fingers onto the marble slabs when something spread itself out before Pilate’s feet, and hot, sharp lips kissed his impotently resisting hand—sucking onto it, like tentacles, drawing blood, almost biting it. He looks down with fear and disgust—he sees a large writhing body, a violently divided face with two enormous eyes, so strangely unlike each other that it seemed like a multitude of creatures were clinging to his hands and legs. And he hears a poisonous whisper, broken and fevered:

“You are wise!… You are noble!… You are wise, wise!…”

His wild face is aglow with such satanic glee that Pilate screams and kicks him away, and Judas falls onto his back. And, lying on the stone slabs, looking like an overturned devil, he continues to stretch out his hand towards the departing Pilate, and he shouts, as if passionately in love:

“You are wise! You are wise! You are noble!”

He then nimbly rises and runs, escorted by soldiers’ laughter. After all, it is not over yet. When they see the cross, when they see the nails, they might understand, and then… What then? He catches a glimpse of a stupefied, pale Thomas, and for some reason gives him a calming nod of the head, then catches up with Jesus on his way to the execution. It is difficult to walk, small stones are rolling under the feet, and suddenly Judas senses that he is tired. All of his energies are now focused on how to best plant his feet, he looks around dully and sees Mary Magdalene weeping, sees a multitude of women weeping—loose hair, red eyes, twisted lips—all of the immeasurable sadness of a woman’s gentle soul surrendered to outrage. He is suddenly reanimated and, seizing the moment, runs up to Jesus:

“I am with you,” he whispers hurriedly.

The soldiers try to drive him away with the blows of their whips and, writhing in order slip away from the strikes, showing the soldiers his bared teeth, he hurriedly explains:

“I am with you. Thither. You understand, thither!”

He wipes the blood off his face and threatens a soldier with his fist, who turns around and laughs as he points him out to the others. For some reason he looks for Thomas—but neither he nor any of the disciples are present in the crowd. Again he feels tiredness, he arduously shifts his legs, carefully looking at the sharp, little, white stones.

When they lifted the hammer in order to nail Jesus’ left hand to the wood, Judas closed his eyes and held his breath for an eternity, he did not see, he did not live, he only listened. Now a grating strike of iron against iron, and then one by one a series of short, dull, low strikes—one can hear the sharp nail entering the soft wood, separating its fibers…

One hand. It is not too late.

The other hand. It is not too late.

A foot, the other foot—is it really all over? He opens his eyes reluctantly and sees the cross being lifted, swaying, being installed in the hole. He sees Jesus’ arms painfully stretching, tensely convulsing, widening his wounds—and suddenly his exhausted abdomen pulls back behind the ribs. The arms keep stretching, keep stretching, becoming thin, becoming pale, they twist at the shoulders, and his wounds grow red under the nails, creeping—they’ll tear at any moment… No, it stopped. It all stopped. Only the ribs move, lifting upwards from short, deep breaths.

On the very crown of the hill a cross is raised—and on it the crucified Jesus. Iscariot’s horrors and dreams have been realized—he rises from his knees, on which, for some reason, he was kneeling, and coldly looks around. Thus gazes a victor who has already decided in his heart to surrender everything to death and destruction, scanning for the last time a rich foreign city, still alive and bustling, but already ghostlike under the cold hand of death. And suddenly, as clearly as his terrible victory, Iscariot sees its sinister precariousness. But what if they figure it out? It is not too late. Jesus is still alive. There, he is gazing with his entreating, mournful eyes…

What can prevent the thin film that covers man’s eyes from tearing, so thin that it is almost nonexistent? What if… they figure it out? What if they decide to press forward with the whole of their thunderous mass of men, women, and children, in silence, without shouting, wipe out the soldiers, submerge them up to their ears in their own blood, rip that damned cross out from the earth, and with the hands of those who are still left alive lift the freed Jesus up high above the crown of the earth! Hosanna! Hosanna!

Hosanna? No, it is better for Judas to lay down on the ground. No, it is better to watch and wait, while lying on the ground, gnashing one’s teeth like a dog, until they all rise up. But what has happened to time? Now it seems to almost stop, to the point where one wants to shove it forward with one’s hands, kick it, beat it with a whip, like a lazy donkey—now it rushes down senselessly from some mountain, takes one’s breath away, and one’s hands seek in vain to grab onto something. There weeps Mary Magdalene. There weeps the mother of Jesus. Let them weep. Do her tears have any meaning now? The tears of all mothers, all women in the world!

“What are tears?” asks Judas and frantically tries to push forward the motionless time, strikes it with his fists, curses it, as if it was a slave. It is someone else’s, that is why it is so disobedient. Oh, if only it belonged to Judas—but it belongs to all those who are weeping, laughing, chatting, like at a bazaar; it belongs to the sun; it belongs to the cross and to the heart of Jesus, who is dying so slowly.

What a mean heart Judas has! He holds it with his hand, but it screams “Hosanna!” so loudly that any moment now everyone will hear it. He presses it to the ground, but it screams: “Hosanna! Hosanna!”—like a chatterbox who scatters divine secrets onto the street… Be silent! Be silent!

Suddenly there is a loud, broken wail, dull shouts, hasty movement towards the cross. What is this? Have they understood?

No, Jesus is dying. And this is possible? Yes, Jesus is dying. His pale hands are motionless, but short convulsions run across his face, across his chest and legs. And this is possible? Yes, he is dying. His breathing has become less frequent. It stopped… No, another breath, Jesus is still on the earth. And another? No… No… No… Jesus has died.

It happened. Hosanna! Hosanna!

Horrors and dreams have been realized. Who will now snatch victory from Iscariot’s hands? It happened. Let all the peoples that exist on the earth flow to Golgotha and scream with millions of their throats: “Hosanna, Hosanna!”—and they will spill a sea of blood and tears at its foot—and they will find only the shameful cross and a dead Jesus.

Iscariot inspects the deceased calmly and coldly, pauses his gaze for a moment on the cheek, which he had kissed only yesterday with his farewell kiss, and slowly walks away. Now all of time belongs to him, and he walks unhurriedly; now all of the earth belongs to him, and he treads firmly, like a lord, like a tsar, like one who is infinitely and happily alone in this world. He sees Jesus’ mother and tells her severely:

“You weep, mother? Weep, weep, and for a long time to come will mothers of this earth weep with you. Until the time when we return together with Jesus and destroy death.”

What—is he insane or is he mocking, this traitor? But he is serious, and his face is stern, and his eyes no longer dash around in a mad hurry. Now he pauses and with cold attentiveness examines this small new earth. It became small, and he can feel the whole of it under his feet; he looks at the small mountains, softly reddening in the sun’s last rays, and he feels the mountains under his feet; he looks at the sky, its blue mouth wide open, he looks at the little round sun, trying in vain to blind and burn—and he feels both the sky and the sun under his feet. Infinitely and happily alone, he proudly senses the powerlessness of every force that acts in the world, and he casts them all into the abyss.

And he continues walking, taking calm, commanding steps. And time moves neither in front nor behind him; obedient, it moves with him with all of its invisible immensity.

It happened.

Chapter IX →
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