Leonid Andreyev: Judas Iscariot

Jesus Christ had been frequently warned that Judas of Kerioth was a man of ill repute, a man against whom one should be on guard. Some of the disciples of Jesus who had been to Judea knew him well personally, others had beard a great deal of him, and there was none to say a good word concerning him. And if the good condemned him saying that Judas was covetous, treacherous, given to hypocrisy and falsehood, evil men also, when questioned about him, denounced him in the most opprobrious terms. "He always sows dissensions among us" they would say spitting contemptuously at the mere mention of his name; "he has thoughts of his own, and creeps into a house softly like a scorpion, but goes out with noise." Even thieves have friends, robbers have comrades, and liars have wives to whom they speak the truth, but Judas mocks alike the thieves and the honest, though he is a skillful thief himself, and in appearance he is the most illfavored among the inhabitants of Judea. "No, he is not of us this Judas of Kerioth," the evil would say to the surprise of those good people who saw but little difference between them and other vicious men in Judea. It was rumored also that Judas had years back forsaken his wife, and that the poor woman, hungry and wretched, was vainly striving to eke out her sustenance from the three rocks that formed the patrimony of Judas, while he wandered aimlessly for many years among the nations, reaching in his travels the sea, and even another sea that was further still, lying, cutting apish grimaces and keenly searching for something with his thievish eye, only to depart suddenly, leaving in his wake unpleasantness and dissension, — curious, cunning and wicked like a one-eyed demon. He had no children, and this again showed that Judas was an evil man, and that God desired no progeny from him. None of the disciples had noticed the occasion on which this red-haired and repulsive Judean first came near the Christ. But he had been going their way for some time already, unabashed, mingling in their conversations, rendering them small services, bowing, smiling, ingratiating himself. There were moments when he seemed to fit into the general scheme, deceiving the wearied scrutiny, but often he obtruded himself on the eye and the ear, offending both as something incredibly repulsive, false and loathsome. Then they would drive him away with stern rebuke, and for a time he would be lost somewhere on the road, merely to reappear unobserved, servile, flattering and cunning like a one-eyed demon. And there was no doubt to some of His disciples that in his desire to come near Jesus there was hidden some mysterious object, some evil and calculating design. But Jesus did not heed their counsel; their voice of warning did not touch His ear. With that spirit of radiant contradiction which irrepressibly drew Him to the rejected and the unloved, He resolutely received Judas and included him even in the circle of His chosen ones. The disciples were agitated and murmured among themselves, but He sat still, His face turned to the setting sun, and listened pensively, — perhaps to them and perhaps to something entirely different. For ten days not a breath of wind had stirred the atmosphere, and the same diaphanous air, stationary, immobile, keen of scent and perception hung over the earth. And it seemed as though it had preserved in its diaphanous depth all that had been shouted and sung during these days by man, beast or bird, — the tears, the sobs and the merry songs, the prayers and the curses; and these glassy transfixed sounds seemed to burden and satiate it with invisible life. And once more the sun was setting. Its flaming orb was heavily rolling down the firmament, setting it ablaze with its dying radiance, and all on earth that was turned toward it: the swarthy face of Jesus, the walls of houses and the foliage of trees reflected obediently that distant and weirdly pensive light. The white wall was no longer white now, nor did the crimson city on the crimson hill appear white to the eye. And now came Judas. He came humbly bowing, bending his back, cautiously and anxiously stretching out his misshapen large head, and looking just like those who knew had pictured him. He was gaunt, well built, in stature almost as tall as Jesus, who was slightly bent from the habit of thinking while He walked. And he seemed to be sufficiently -vigorous, though for some reason he pretended to be ailing and frail, and his voice was changeable: now manly and strong, now shrill like the voice of an old woman scolding her husband, thin and grating on the ear. And often the listener wished to draw the words of Judas out of his ears like some vile insect. His stubbly red hair failed to conceal the strange and unusual form of his skull: it seemed cleft from the back by a double blow of the sword and patched together. It was plainly divided into four parts, and its appearance inspired mistrust and even awe. Such a skull does not bode peace and concord; such a skull leaves in its wake the noise of bloody and cruel conflicts. The face of Judas, too, was double: one side, with its black, keen, observing eye was living, mobile, ready to gather into a multitude of irregular wrinkles. The other side was free from. wrinkles, deathly smooth, flat and rigid; and though in size it was equal to the other, it seemed immense because of the wide-open, sightless eye. Covered with an opaque film it never closed night or day, facing alike the light and the darkness; but its vigilant and cunning mate was so close that one was loth to credit its entire blindness. When in fear or excitement Judas happened to close his seeing eye and shake his head, it rolled with the motion of the head and gazed silently and intently. Even altogether unobserving persons realized when they looked on the Iscariot that such a man could bring no good; but Jesus took him up and even seated him at His side, at His very side! ...

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