Chapter IX
 

As an old cheat, coughing, smiling fawningly, bowing incessantly, Judas Iscariot the Traitor appeared before the Sanhedrin. It was the day after the murder of Jesus, about mid-day. There they were all, His judges and murderers: the aged Annas with his sons, exact and disgusting likenesses of their father, and his son-in-law Caiaphas, devoured by ambition, and all the other members of the Sanhedrin, whose names have been snatched from the memory of mankind--rich and distinguished Sadducees, proud in their power and knowledge of the Law.

In silence they received the Traitor, their haughty faces remaining motionless, as though no one had entered. And even the very least, and most insignificant among them, to whom the others paid no attention, lifted up his bird-like face and looked as though no one had entered.

Judas bowed and bowed and bowed, and they looked on in silence: as though it were not a human being that had entered, but only an unclean insect that had crept in, and which they had not observed. But Judas Iscariot was not the man to be perturbed: they kept silence, and he kept on bowing, and thought that if it was necessary to go on bowing till evening, he could do so.

At length Caiaphas inquired impatiently:

"What do you want?"

Judas bowed once more, and said in a loud voice--

"It is I, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed to you Jesus of Nazareth."

"Well, what of that? You have received your due. Go away!" ordered Annas; but Judas appeared unconscious of the command, and continued bowing. Glancing at him, Caiaphas asked Annas:

"How much did you give?"

"Thirty pieces of silver."

Caiaphas laughed, and even the grey-bearded Annas laughed, too, and over all their proud faces there crept a smile of enjoyment; and even the one with the bird-like face laughed. Judas, perceptibly blanching, hastily interrupted with the words:

"That's right! Certainly it was very little; but is Judas discontented, does Judas call out that he has been robbed? He is satisfied. Has he not contributed to a holy cause--yes, a holy? Do not the most sage people now listen to Judas, and think: He is one of us, this Judas Iscariot; he is our brother, our friend, this Judas Iscariot, the Traitor! Does not Annas want to kneel down and kiss the hand of Judas? Only Judas will not allow it; he is a coward, he is afraid they will bite him."

Caiaphas said:

"Drive the dog out! What's he barking about?"

"Get along with you. We have no time to listen to your babbling," said Annas imperturbably.

Judas drew himself up and closed his eyes. The hypocrisy, which he had carried so lightly all his life, suddenly became an insupportable burden, and with one movement of his eyelashes he cast it from him. And when he looked at Annas again, his glance was simple, direct, and terrible in its naked truthfulness. But they paid no attention to this either.

"You want to be driven out with sticks!" cried Caiaphas.

Panting under the weight of the terrible words, which he was lifting higher and higher, in order to hurl them hence upon the heads of the judges, Judas hoarsely asked:

"But you know... you know... who He was... He, whom you condemned yesterday and crucified?"

"We know. Go away!"

With one word he would straightway rend that thin film which was spread over their eyes, and all the earth would stagger beneath the weight of the merciless truth! They had a soul, they should be deprived of it; they had a life, they should lose their life; they had light before their eyes, eternal darkness and horror should cover them. Hosanna! Hosanna!

And these words, these terrible words, were tearing his throat asunder--

"He was no deceiver. He was innocent and pure. Do you hear? Judas deceived you. He betrayed to you an innocent man."

He waits. He hears the aged, unconcerned voice of Annas, saying:

"And is that all you want to say?"

"You do not seem to have understood me," says Judas, with dignity, turning pale. "Judas deceived you. He was innocent. You have slain the innocent."

He of the bird-like face smiles; but Annas is indifferent, Annas yawns. And Caiaphas yawns, too, and says wearily:

"What did they mean by talking to me about the intellect of Judas Iscariot? He is simply a fool, and a bore, too."

"What?" cries Judas, all suffused with dark madness. "But who are you, the clever ones! Judas deceived you--hear! It was not He that he betrayed--but you--you wiseacres, you, the powerful, you he betrayed to a shameful death, which will not end, throughout the ages. Thirty pieces of silver! Well, well. But that is the price of YOUR blood--blood filthy as the dish-water which the women throw out of the gates of their houses. Oh! Annas, old, grey, stupid Annas, chock-full of the Law, why did you not give one silver piece, just one obolus more? At this price you will go down through the ages!"

"Be off!" cries Caiaphas, growing purple in the face. But Annas stops him with a motion of the hand, and asks Judas as unconcernedly as ever:

"Is that all?"

"Verily, if I were to go into the desert, and cry to the wild beasts: 'Wild beasts, have ye heard the price at which men valued their Jesus?'--what would the wild beasts do? They would creep out of the lairs, they would howl with anger, they would forget their fear of mankind, and would all come here to devour you! If I were to say to the sea: 'Sea, knowest thou the price at which men valued their Jesus?' If I were to say to the mountains: 'Mountains, know ye the price at which men valued their Jesus?' Then the sea and the mountains would leave their places, assigned to them for ages, and would come here and fall upon your heads!"

"Does Judas wish to become a prophet? He speaks so loud!" mockingly remarks he of the bird-like face, with an ingratiating glance at Caiaphas.

"To-day I saw a pale sun. It was looking at the earth, and saying: 'Where is the Man?' To-day I saw a scorpion. It was sitting upon a stone and laughingly said: 'Where is the Man?' I went near and looked into its eyes. And it laughed and said: 'Where is the Man? I do not see Him!' Where is the Man? I ask you, I do not see Him-- or is Judas become blind, poor Judas Iscariot!"

And Iscariot begins to weep aloud.

He was, during those moments, like a man out of his mind, and Caiaphas turned away, making a contemptuous gesture with his hand. But Annas considered for a time, and then said:

"I perceive, Judas, that you really have received but little, and that disturbs you. Here is some more money; take it and give it to your children."

He threw something, which rang shrilly. The sound had not died away, before another, like it, strangely prolonged the clinking.

Judas had hastily flung the pieces of silver and the oboles into the faces of the high priest and of the judges, returning the price paid for Jesus. The pieces of money flew in a curved shower, falling on their faces, and on the table, and rolling about the floor.

Some of the judges closed their hands with the palms outwards; others leapt from their places, and shouted and scolded. Judas, trying to hit Annas, threw the last coin, after which his trembling hand had long been fumbling in his wallet, spat in anger, and went out.

"Well, well," he mumbled, as he passed swiftly through the streets, scaring the children. "It seems that thou didst weep, Judas? Was Caiaphas really right when he said that Judas Iscariot was a fool? He who weeps in the day of his great revenge is not worthy of it-- know'st thou that, Judas? Let not thine eyes deceive thee; let not thine heart lie to thee; flood not the fire with tears, Judas Iscariot!"

The disciples were sitting in mournful silence, listening to what was going on without. There was still danger that the vengeance of Jesus' enemies might not confine itself to Him, and so they were all expecting a visit from the guard, and perhaps more executions. Near to John, to whom, as the beloved disciple, the death of Jesus was especially grievous, sat Mary Magdalene, and Matthew trying to comfort him in an undertone. Mary, whose face was swollen with weeping, softly stroked his luxurious curling hair with her hand, while Matthew said didactically, in the words of Solomon:

"'The long suffering is better than a hero; and he that ruleth his own spirit than one who taketh a city.'"

At this moment Judas knocked loudly at the door, and entered. All started up in terror, and at first were not sure who it was; but when they recognised the hated countenance, the red-haired, bulbous head, they uttered a simultaneous cry.

Peter raised both hands and shouted:

"Get out of here, Traitor! Get out, or I will kill you."

But the others looked more carefully at the face and eyes of the Traitor, and said nothing, merely whispering in terror:

"Leave him alone, leave him alone! He is possessed with a devil."

Judas waited until they had quite done, and then cried out in a loud voice:

"Hail, ye eyes of Judas Iscariot! Ye have just seen the cold-blooded murderers. Lo! Where is Jesus? I ask you, where is Jesus?"

There was something compelling in the hoarse voice of Judas, and Thomas replied obediently--

"You know yourself, Judas, that our Master was crucified yesterday."

"But how came you to permit it? Where was your love? Thou, Beloved Disciple, and thou, Rock, where were you all when they were crucifying your Friend on the tree?"

"What could we do, judge thou?" said Thomas, with a gesture of protest.

"Thou asketh that, Thomas? Very well!" and Judas threw his head back, and fell upon him angrily. "He who loves does not ask what can be done--he goes and does it--he weeps, he bites, he throttles the enemy, and breaks his bones! He, that is, who loves! If your son were drowning would you go into the city and inquire of the passers by: 'What must I do? My son is drowning!' No, you would rather throw yourself into the water and drown with him. One who loved would!"

Peter replied grimly to the violent speech of Judas:

"I drew a sword, but He Himself forbade."

"Forbade? And you obeyed!" jeered Judas. "Peter, Peter, how could you listen to Him? Does He know anything of men, and of fighting?"

"He who does not submit to Him goes to hell fire."

"Then why did you not go, Peter? Hell fire! What's that? Now, supposing you had gone--what good's your soul to you, if you dare not throw it into the fire, if you want to?"

"Silence!" cried John, rising. "He Himself willed this sacrifice. His sacrifice is beautiful!"

"Is a sacrifice ever beautiful, Beloved Disciple? Wherever there is a sacrifice, then there is an executioner, and there traitors! Sacrifice--that is suffering for one and disgrace for all the others! Traitors, traitors, what have ye done with the world? Now they look at it from above and below, and laugh and cry: 'Look at that world, upon it they crucified Jesus!' And they spit on it--as I do!"

Judas angrily spat on the ground.

"He took upon Him the sin of all mankind. His sacrifice is beautiful," John insisted.

"No! you have taken all sin upon yourselves. You, Beloved Disciple, will not a race of traitors take their beginning from you, a pusillanimous and lying breed? O blind men, what have ye done with the earth? You have done your best to destroy it, ye will soon be kissing the cross on which ye crucified Jesus! Yes, yes, Judas gives ye his word that ye will kiss the cross!"

"Judas, don't revile!" roared Peter, pushing. "How could we slay all His enemies? They are so many!"

"And thou, Peter!" exclaimed John in anger, "dost thou not perceive that he is possessed of Satan? Leave us, Tempter! Thou'rt full of lies. The Teacher forbade us to kill."

"But did He forbid you to die? Why are you alive, when He is dead? Why do your feet walk, why does your tongue talk trash, why do your eyes blink, when He is dead, motionless, speechless? How do your cheeks dare to be red, John, when His are pale? How can you dare to shout, Peter, when He is silent? What could you do? You ask Judas? And Judas answers you, the magnificent, bold Judas Iscariot replies: 'Die!' You ought to have fallen on the road, to have seized the soldiers by the sword, by the hands, and drowned them in a sea of your own blood--yes, die, die! Better had it been, that His Father should have cause to cry out with horror, when you all enter there!"

Judas ceased with raised head. Suddenly he noticed the remains of a meal upon the table. With strange surprise, curiously, as though for the first time in his life he looked on food, he examined it, and slowly asked:

"What is this? You have been eating? Perhaps you have also been sleeping?"

Peter, who had begun to feel Judas to be some one, who could command obedience, drooping his head, tersely replied: "I slept, I slept and ate!"

Thomas said, resolutely and firmly:

"This is all untrue, Judas. Just consider: if we had all died, who would have told the story of Jesus? Who would have conveyed His teaching to mankind if we had all died, Peter and John and I?"

"But what is the truth itself in the mouths of traitors? Does it not become a lie? Thomas, Thomas, dost thou not understand, that thou art now only a sentinel at the grave of dead Truth? The sentinel falls asleep, and the thief cometh and carries away the truth; say, where is the truth? Cursed be thou, Thomas! Fruitless, and a beggar shalt thou be throughout the ages, and all you with him, accursed ones!"

"Accursed be thou thyself, Satan!" cried John, and James and Matthew and all the other disciples repeated his cry; only Peter held his peace.

"I am going to Him," said Judas, stretching his powerful hand on high. "Who will follow Iscariot to Jesus?"

"I--I also go with thee," cried Peter, rising.

But John and the others stopped him in horror, saying:

"Madman! Thou hast forgotten, that he betrayed the Master into the hands of His enemies."

Peter began to lament bitterly, striking his breast with his fist:

"Whither, then, shall I go? O Lord! whither shall I go?"

               .    .    .    .    .  .    .    .

Judas had long ago, during his solitary walks, marked the place where he intended to make an end of himself after the death of Jesus.

It was upon a hill high above Jerusalem. There stood but one tree, bent and twisted by the wind, which had torn it on all sides, half withered. One of its broken, crooked branches stretched out towards Jerusalem, as though in blessing or in threat, and this one Judas had chosen on which to hang a noose.

But the walk to the tree was long and tedious, and Judas Iscariot was very weary. The small, sharp stones, scattered under his feet, seemed continually to drag him backwards, and the hill was high, stern, and malign, exposed to the wind. Judas was obliged to sit down several times to rest, and panted heavily, while behind him, through the clefts of the rock, the mountain breathed cold upon his back.

"Thou too art against me, accursed one!" said Judas contemptuously, as he breathed with difficulty, and swayed his heavy head, in which all the thoughts were now petrifying.

Then he raised it suddenly, and opening wide his now fixed eyes, angrily muttered:

"No, they were too bad for Judas. Thou hearest Jesus? Wilt Thou trust me now? I am coming to Thee. Meet me kindly, I am weary--very weary. Then Thou and I, embracing like brothers, shall return to earth. Shall we not?"

Again he swayed his petrifying head, and again he opened his eyes, mumbling:

"But maybe Thou wilt be angry with Judas when he arrives? And Thou wilt not trust him? And wilt send him to hell? Well! What then! I will go to hell. And in Thy hell fire I will weld iron, and weld iron, and demolish Thy heaven. Dost approve? Then Thou wilt believe in me. Then Thou wilt come back with me to earth, wilt Thou not, Jesus?"

Eventually Judas reached the summit and the crooked tree, and there the wind began to torment him. And when Judas rebuked it, it began to blow soft and low, and took leave and flew away.

"Right! But as for them, they are curs!" said Judas, making a slip-knot. And since the rope might fail him and break, he hung it over a precipice, so that if it broke, he would be sure to meet his death upon the stones. And before he shoved himself off the brink with his foot, and hanged himself, Judas Iscariot once more anxiously prepared Jesus for his coming:

"Yes, meet me kindly, Jesus. I am very weary."

He leapt. The rope strained, but held. His neck stretched, but his hands and feet were crossed, and hung down as though damp.

He died. Thus, in the course of two days, one after another, Jesus of Nazareth and Judas Iscariot, the Traitor, left the world.

All the night through, like some monstrous fruit, Judas swayed over Jerusalem, and the wind kept turning his face now to the city, and now to the desert--as though it wished to exhibit Judas to both city and desert. But in whichever direction his face, distorted by death, was turned, his red eyes suffused with blood, and now as like one another as two brothers, incessantly looked towards the sky. In the morning some sharp-sighted person perceived Judas hanging above the city, and cried out in horror.

People came and took him down, and knowing who he was, threw him into a deep ravine, into which they were in the habit of throwing dead horses and cats and other carrion.

The same evening all the believers knew of the terrible death of the Traitor, and the next day it was known to all Jerusalem. Stony Judaea knew of it and green Galilee; and from one sea to the other, distant as it was, the news flew of the death of the Traitor.

Neither faster nor slower, but with equal pace with Time itself, it went, and as there is no end to Time so will there be no end to the stories about the Traitor Judas and his terrible death.

And all--both good and bad--will equally anathematise his shameful memory; and among all peoples, past and present, will he remain alone in his cruel destiny--Judas Iscariot, the Traitor.