I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you. Sir. That man is cruel. Cruel. A cruel man. Yes. A hateful man. A wicked man. Ah, I can’t bear it. You mustn’t let Him live.
Yes, yes. I’ll tell you slowly. You mustn’t let that man go alive. He’s a danger to the world. Yes, I’ll tell everything. The whole, bare truth. I know where He is. I can take you right away. Please kill Him. Tear Him to shreds. That man, He is my teacher. My lord. Yet He is the same age as me. Thirty four. I was born only two months later than Him. There shouldn’t be much difference between us. There shouldn’t be much difference between one man and another. But you don’t know how many times He’s made me suffer and treated me like dirt. I’m sick of it. I’ve borne it as far as I can bear. What’s your life worth if you don’t fight back when you have to? I tell you, no one knows. No one knows how much I’ve helped Him from the shadows. Not even He knows. No, He does. I know He does. It’s because He knows that He treats me so badly. He’s an arrogant man. He can’t stand knowing how much I’ve helped Him. He’s egotistical. He seems to think it a thorn in His side that He has to rely on someone like me. He wants to show the whole goddamn world that He can do everything by Himself. Stupid! That’s not how things work in the real world. You always have to bow and scrape to someone, and, when you finally begin to rise, step by step, you do it by trampling on the heads of other people. That’s the only way. What can He do? Nothing. He’s got all the worldly experience of a little boy. If it hadn’t been for me He’d be lying dead in a field long ago, He and those numbskull disciples of His. “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.” Yes, yes, that. He said the damn thing Himself. What can Peter do? What can James do, what can John do, or Andrew, or Thomas, the whole lot of them, following Him like sheep, sucking up to everything He says, mindlessly swallowing His kingdom of heaven nonsense: do they seriously believe that one day they’ll be made ‘Mr. Minister of State of the Kingdom of Heaven’ or what? Idiots. We don’t even have enough bread to last the day; wouldn’t they have all starved to death if it weren’t for me? I’m the one who arranges His sermons, who goes around the crowds asking quietly for offerings, who persuades the rich men of the village for patronage, who handles everything from our lodgings to our clothes and food, and I’ve never complained; yet I don’t get a single word of thanks either from Him or from those idiots. Worse, He actively pretends not to see the work I put in and then comes and demands the most ludicrous things from me, like the time He told me to feed an entire crowd when all we had were five loaves of bread and two fish. You don’t know how I struggled to piece together all that food with what little money we had. In short I’m His miracle worker, His magician’s assistant. I’ll have you know that I’m not the type to complain about a little work. I have an eye for people, you see. When I look at that man I see something beautiful. He has no greed at all. Just like a child. Every day I scrimp and save just to make sure we have enough bread for the day and He squanders it all on some foolish venture—but I don’t feel angry at all. He’s beautiful. I may only be a poor merchant but I know a visionary when I see one. He could waste all the coins I work so hard to scrape together on some stupid scheme and I wouldn’t even mind. No, I wouldn’t: but still, you’d expect to hear some thanks, just one word would be enough, and yet from how He talks you’d be surprised to know that I even exist. One day in spring while wandering along the shore He suddenly called my name, and said, “I’ll be needing your help too. I know your loneliness. But it is bad to be frowning all the time. Only hypocrites let loneliness show in their expression. Hypocrites crave for people’s understanding, so they sigh and put on a disconsolate expression for show. But if you truly believed in God then even in times of loneliness you would not show it at all; you would instead wash your face and oil your hair as always, and always be smiling gently. You do not understand? You do not need other people to know your loneliness, for if your true Father knows it, He who resides out of the reach of your sight, then is that not enough? Is that not correct? Everyone carries loneliness inside them.” When He said that I wanted to cry out loud, No! Even if my Father in heaven does not understand me, even if no one on earth should know me: if You alone would understand me—that would be enough. I love You, my lord. No matter how deeply the other disciples love You, I still love You incomparably more. I love You more than anyone. Peter and James and the others only follow You because they think there’s some reward waiting at the end. But I know. I know that there’s nothing to be gained from following You. Yet I cannot bring myself to leave You. Something must be wrong with me. If You were to disappear from this world then I should die immediately as well. I could not live on. There’s something I always think about in secret. I think, why don’t You abandon the stupid disciples, stop preaching Your Kingdom of Heaven, and settle down to a quiet life with Your mother Mary and me, forever? I still have a small house standing in my village. My old father and mother are there too. We own a decent-sized peach orchard. In spring, right about now, the peach flowers are beautiful. We could live comfortably forever. I would always be by Your side to serve You. Please take a good woman as Your wife. But He only laughed thinly. “Peter and Simon are fishermen. They have no beautiful peach orchards. James and John are also impoverished fishermen. Nowhere do they have lands that would let them live comfortably forever,” He said, in a low voice as if to Himself, and continued walking silently along the seaside. That was the only time I got to talk properly with Him; not any time before, and certainly not any time after, did He open Himself to me again. I love Him. If He should die, I would die with Him. He belongs to no one. He belongs to me. I would rather kill Him than give Him away. I’ve abandoned my father, abandoned my mother, abandoned the land where I was born just to walk with Him. I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t believe in god. I don’t believe that He will come back to life. What makes Him think He can be the king of Israel? Those idiot disciples believe that He is the Son of God and are over the moon to have heard that ‘Gospel of the Kingdom of God’ from Him. It’s a pitiful sight. They’ll be disappointed, I know it. He promised that whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased and whosoever humbleth himself shall be exalted—like He knows how the world works! He’s a liar. Everything He teaches and everything He says is straight-up nonsense, and I don’t believe any of it. The only thing I believe in is His beauty. There is no one as beautiful as Him in the world. I am purely and simply in love with His beauty. That’s all there is to it. I don’t expect any reward. I’m certainly not self-serving enough to hang around out of some misbegotten expectation of being made any Minister of State in heaven. I just don’t want to leave Him. I’m just happy watching Him, and hearing His voice, and being by His side. And, if it were possible, to have Him give up preaching and to live with me, just the two of us, forever. Ah, if only He would! It would be bliss. I only believe in the present. Happiness in this life is all we have. Judgement after death doesn’t scare me. My love is unconditional and pure. Why won’t He accept it? Ahh, you must kill Him. Sir. I know where He is. I will lead you to Him. He debases me, He despises me. Why does He treat me so cruelly when I am the one who saves Him and His disciples from starving every day? Listen to this. Six days ago, when He was having a meal in the house of Simon from Bethany, Mary, the sister of that Martha from the same village, slunk into the banquet room with an alabaster jar filled with nard perfume and suddenly splashed it onto His head until He was wet to His feet, and, without even an apology, knelt calmly and wiped His feet clean with her own hair. As the scent of perfume spiked through the room I became furious and yelled at the girl, Don’t disrespect our lord! Aren’t His clothes drenched now, and look what expensive perfume this is: don’t you think it a waste, you fool? This perfume must have been worth about three hundred denarii; if you had sold it and given the money to the poor then how glad would they have been? Don’t give us more trouble than we need! I gave the girl the scolding she deserved, but He just looked sharply at me and said, “You must not scold this woman. She has done a beautiful deed to me. Will you not always have the poor with you to give to? Yet it will soon be too late with me. I will not tell you why. This woman is the only one who knows. By pouring this perfume on me, she has prepared my body for burial. Remember this well: in every land where my short life is told of, what this woman has done today will also be told in memory of her.” His pale cheeks were flushed. I don’t believe what that man says. As always I was able to treat it like one of His grandiloquent gestures and ignore it, but more strikingly there was in the tone of His voice and the look in His eyes something different that I had never felt before, and I hesitated to admit it, but I saw more closely the faint reddening of His cheeks and the way His eyes shone with tears, and I knew. For shame! I loathe even having to say it out loud, but He must have fallen in love with the peasant girl—No! It wasn’t, it couldn’t possibly be love—But what if? maybe? He did have some similarly unnatural feelings for her? Him, our teacher and our lord! For Him to feel even an inkling of especial affection for that ignorant chit—What a lapse. What a scandal. There’s no recovering from this. Now, I was born with a nose for the kind of feelings that eventually bring people down. It’s a dirty ability, sir, and I am not proud of it, but it allows me to pinpoint people’s weaknesses with a single glance. It may have been only a flutter, but He had definitely felt something for the uneducated peasant girl. My eyes were not mistaken. It was love. Ahh, I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t sit by and watch it happen. I thought He was done for. I thought Him an utter disgrace. Up until now, no matter how many women expressed their love for Him, He had remained still and noble as water. He never wavered in the slightest. But He’s lost His edge. He’s let Himself go. Maybe you’ll say you can’t blame Him since He’s a young man in His prime, but if that’s the case then I’m the same age as Him. In fact I was born two months after Him. There’s no difference in our youth, but I haven’t given in. Ever since I offered my heart to Him I haven’t allowed myself to feel a thing for any woman. Now Martha the elder sister is a sturdy woman, big like an ox and fierce too, and really there is nothing good about her except for the way she bustles around and gets work done: but Mary, no, Mary is fine-boned and her skin is so pale it seems translucent, and her hands and feet are dainty and plump, her eyes are deep and limpid and large like pools of water, always gazing into the distance as if dreaming, and trails around an air of elegance that is the marvel of everyone in the village. Even I thought about it sometimes. To secretly buy a roll of white silk or something when we went to town and make a present of it to her. Ah, I don’t know what I’m saying! Where was I? Right, it wasn’t fair. I don’t know why. I could stamp my feet with how unfair it was. If He was young then well, I was young. I was talented, I had a house, I had lands, I was in every way a successful man—yet for His sake I threw all my privileges away. I was tricked. That man is a liar. Sir. That man stole my woman. No, that’s not it! That woman stole Him from me. Ahh, that’s not right either. Nothing I say is true. Don’t believe my testimony. I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m sorry. All I’m making are groundless accusations now. The truth is nothing like this. I said such outrageous things. But all the same, it isn’t fair. So much that I want to tear at my breast. I don’t know why I feel like this. Ah, what a vice jealousy is! I’ve followed Him all this time with such adoration that I would throw away my life if He wanted, and yet He won’t give me a single kind word and instead defends that lowly, base woman from me—with flushed cheeks! Ahh, He’s let Himself go. He’s lost His edge. There’s no future for Him any more. He’s a common man. Just a man. No one would miss Him if He died. When I thought that, I suddenly began to consider something truly frightening. It may have been the devil whispering in my ear. From that day I thought that maybe I should just kill Him with my own hands. It would be a service. He is bound to get killed someday: sometimes from how He acts it even looks like He’s trying to get Himself killed. I will give Him what He wants. I won’t let anyone else kill Him. I will kill Him—and die myself. Sir. I’m sorry. I’m ashamed to be crying. Yes, I’ll stop. Yes, yes. I’ll calm down. The day after the meal we set off, at last, for Jerusalem. A crowd of old and young people followed us until at last we came near the temple of Jerusalem, where He spotted a mangy donkey by the road and told us, beaming, that this was the fulfilment of a prophecy. “O daughter of Zion, fear not, behold, thy King cometh unto thee riding upon an ass,” He quoted, and swung Himself smiling onto it. Yet I could not rejoice with the rest of them. He looked so pitiful. This was our long-awaited Passover, this our triumphant entry into the temple of Jerusalem: and this how the Son of David was supposed to look? Was this what He had dreamed of, to hobble into the temple astride a decrepit donkey? All I could feel was sorry for Him. It was nothing more than a farce, and I thought, Ah, He is past His peak. For each day that He lives He will only shed more of His beauty to reveal the stupidity and ugliness inside. Flowers are only flowers before they wilt. They must be clipped while they remain beautiful. No one loves that man more than I do. I don’t care if the world hates me for it. More and more I was convinced that, painful though it be, I had to kill Him as soon as I could. The crowd swelled by the minute, tossing out their clothes of red and blue and yellow and every other colour on the road before Him, or cutting down branches of palm and laying them in His path, and welcomed us with cheers. They walked before us, followed behind us, closed in from the left and from the right and rose in all like an enormous wave, swinging Him and the donkey left and right, and every mouth was singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David, praise be to Him that comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest!” Peter and John and Bartholomew and all the other idiots were in ecstasy, embracing and kissing one another amid tears of happiness, as if heaven were right there before us, as if we were walking behind a triumphantly returning general, and the hardheaded Peter was embracing John and had broken down into loud, happy sobbing. Looking at them even I recalled the days of deprivation we eked through and the tribulations we had faced in preaching, and found the corners of my eyes growing hot. So He entered the temple and, getting off the donkey, picked up a rope and began whirling it madly around, lashing out at the tables and chairs of the money-changers and dove-sellers in the precinct, and whipping the sacrificial cattle and sheep so that they ran away, before turning to all the merchants in the temple and yelling in a shrill voice, “Make yourselves scarce! Don’t turn the house of my Father into a market!” I thought He had lost His mind. Nothing else could explain why such a gentle man as He would work this meaningless, drunken violence. The people around us were astounded as well, and when they asked Him what this meant He panted, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days!” Even the simple-minded disciples had difficulty believing, and could only stare open-mouthed at a reckless claim like that. But I knew. It was nothing more than a childish show of force. He just wanted to show off the absolute strength of His faith, that there was nothing it couldn’t achieve. But wasn’t it rather petty if all it meant was swinging around a rope and driving out defenceless merchants with it? I wanted to ask with a pitying smile, Is kicking over the stools of dove-sellers all the resistance You can muster up? Is that all the fight You have in You? This man is finished. He’s given up. He’s lost all self-respect and self-love. He must have realised at last that this is as far as He can go and is raising a furore to get Himself arrested: this way He can take His exit before the holes in His act get any bigger. I was able to really give up on Him when I thought that. I could laugh at myself too, for being foolish enough to have loved so completely this boy playing pretend. Eventually that man stood before the crowd in the temple and launched into the most outrageous, offensive, and arrogant speech that He had ever given. Yes, He had given up. He was pathetic. You could practically hear Him scream, “Kill me!” in His speech. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” It was mad. It was absurd. Even talking about it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. He said the craziest things. He was out of His mind. He went on about famines, earthquakes, stars falling from heaven and the moon not giving light, the earth being strewn with carcasses and eagles gathering to peck at them, and the people shall mourn and gnash their teeth—He let the most impossible things spew forth from His mouth. It was so lacking in common decency. So arrogant too. He is a fool. He needs to be put in His place. He cannot escape His sin. Crucify Him. It’s the only way.
I heard from a merchant in town yesterday that the leaders of the priests and the elders of the people had assembled secretly in the high priest Caiaphas’ courtyard, to decide on how to kill Him. I also heard that they were afraid of the people rioting if they captured Him in public, so they’re buying information for thirty pieces of silver on where to find Him and His disciples alone. I don’t have time to deliberate. He is going to die. I’ll hand Him over to the authorities myself instead of letting someone else do it. It will be a fitting end to the unwavering love I’ve offered to Him till now. It is my duty. I’ll sell Him out. It’s not an easy decision. No one will understand that I do this out of only the strongest love. No, I don’t need anyone to understand. My love is pure. It’s not something so shallow that it needs to be understood by anyone. I will probably be hated forever for it. But the craving of my love is stronger than any fear of punishment or fires of hell. I will live by my values. I was shaking with resolve. I began looking for my chance. Soon it was the day of the festival. We took the gloomy second-floor room of an old restaurant on the top of a hill for the Passover feast. When we sat at the table and were about the begin the meal, He stood up suddenly and removed His outer robe in silence, and while we looked on, perplexed about what He was about to do, He took a jug of water from the table and filled a small tub that He took from the corner of the room, then wrapped a white towel around His waist and one by one began washing the disciples’ feet. They didn’t understand what He was doing and could only gape, but I felt like I knew what hidden feelings had compelled Him to this. He was lonely. In a moment of weakness He felt so alone that He would cling even to His ignorant and closed-minded disciples for support. That had to be it. How pitiful. He knew the fate He could not escape. Seeing Him like that I felt a violent sob rise in my throat. I wanted to throw my arms around Him and cry with Him. Oh, poor thing, You did nothing wrong. You were always gentle. You were always right. You were always the ally of the poor. And You always shone with beauty. You are truly the Son of God. I knew all along. Please forgive me. I have been looking for a chance to sell You these past few days. But now I don’t want to. How could I think of something so outrageous? Please don’t worry. Even if five hundred officials, a thousand soldiers came today, I would not permit them to lay a finger on Your divine body. You are being watched, my lord. You are in danger. You must run away from here. Peter too, James, John, everyone. Let us protect our gentle master and live long and safe. The loving words boiled up from the bottom of my heart, and though I couldn’t say them out loud, they were roiling in my breast. I was hit by a kind of spiritual awe that I had never felt before and hot tears of penitence streamed blissfully down my cheeks, and as He finally took my feet and washed them quietly and carefully with his holy hands and patted them dry with the towel around His waist, ah, that feeling! I think I saw heaven. After me He washed Philip’s and Andrew’s feet, and then when it was Peter’s turn the straightforward oaf couldn’t hide his incomprehension and, pursing his lips with some discontent, said, Lord, why would You wash my feet? He explained calmly, “Ah, you do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand,” and crouched before Peter’s feet, but still Peter resisted and held his feet back, insisting, No, You mustn’t. You must never do anything as menial as wash my feet. It is below You. At that He said, forcefully, “If I do not wash your feet then you have no part with me!” and Peter frantically dropped to his knees and said, I’m sorry, please wash my feet. And my hands, and my head too, if You please! I couldn’t help laughing out loud and the rest of the disciples were smiling too, and the room seemed to grow a little brighter. He smiled faintly as well and said, “Peter, washing your feet alone is enough to make your whole body clean. Ah, James too, and John, you now all have untainted, pure bodies. Yet—” and He straightened up and for an instant a look of great sorrow came over His face, as if He were carrying a pain He could barely endure. He squeezed His eyes shut and said, “If only everyone here were clean.” I was shocked. He knew! He was talking about me. He had seen through my dark mood of only a moment ago when I was plotting to sell Him. But I had changed. I was a different man. I had been cleansed. My heart had changed! Ahh, He did not know. He did not know that I had changed. I wanted to scream, That’s not true! but the words only got as far as my throat before my heart pulled them back and I swallowed them like a coward. They dropped down my throat like saliva. I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t say anything. I was taken by the insidious thought that if He said I wasn’t clean then maybe it really was so. It reared its head in me and in moments swelled black and horrible and raced through my limbs, and filled me with an explosive rage. No, it’s too late. It’s too late for me. He already hates me from the bottom of His heart. I’ll sell Him. I’ll sell Him. I’ll kill Him, and die with Him. My earlier resolve rose again and like a monster I was hungry for revenge. As if He hadn’t noticed the tumult that had twice raced through and overturned my heart, He put His outer robe back on and straightened His clothes, and lowering Himself into His seat said, ashen-faced, “Do you know why I washed your feet? You call me lord and teacher, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Despite being your lord and teacher I have washed your feet, so you must also aim to wash one another’s feet in the spirit of brotherhood. I have set an example for you because I may not be able to be with you always. Look to it that you do as I have shown you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, so listen well and do not forget my words.” He spoke with a terrible melancholy and silently began to eat, before suddenly covering His face and moaning, in a painful, tear-choked voice, “One of you will betray me.” As one the disciples were alarmed; they kicked back their chairs and rushed around Him, each demanding, Lord, is it me, Lord, did You mean me, and He shook his head faintly, like a man about to die, and said, “It is the one to whom I will give a piece of bread. That man has languished in a deep unhappiness. Truly, it would be better for him if he had not been born.” He spoke with a surprising clarity. He took a piece of bread and stretched His arm and pushed it unhesitatingly into my mouth, and I, well, I was ready for what I had to do. I felt no shame, only hate. I hated that even now He was making fun of me. He had always openly ridiculed me before the disciples. Damn him. Fire and water, never to mix: that was the fate between him and me. To feed me a crust of bread like you would a dog or a cat—was that enough to make him happy? Hah. What a fool. Sir, he told me to do quickly what I had to do. At once I ran out from the restaurant, ran through the falling night, and only just got here. And then I gave you my testimony. Now you must punish him. I don’t care how you do it. You can capture him and beat him with cudgels, you can strip him and kill him. Ah, I can’t bear it any more. He is a hateful man. A cruel man. He’s made me suffer all this time. Ha ha ha, the bastard. Right now he is in the Garden of Gethsemane on the other side of Kidron River. By now he must have finished with supper in that second-floor room and gone with the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, and be offering prayers to the heavens. There will be no one except his disciples. It would be easy to capture him now. Ah, I hear birds singing. They’re so noisy. Why are the birds so noisy tonight? Birds were singing loudly in the forest I ran through on the way here too. Birds that sing in the night are rare. I was taken by a childlike curiosity to see, if only for a glance, what those birds were. I stood there and tilted my head back, and tried to see to the top of the branches. Ah, what am I saying? I’m sorry. Sir, are the preparations made? Ahh, what fun. I feel so good. Tonight will be the last night for me too. Sir, sir, please take a good look when I stand next to him tonight. Tonight I will stand as his equal. I won’t fear him. I won’t abase myself to him. I am the same age as him. An excellent young man just like him. Ahh, the birds are so noisy. I can’t shut them out. Why are the birds making such noise tonight? What are they chirping about? Oh, what is that money for? For me? Thirty pieces of silver, you’re giving them to me? Ah, I see. Ha ha ha. No, I must refuse. If you don’t take it back I’ll hit you. I didn’t come to you for the money. Take it back! No, I’m sorry, I’ll take it after all. Yes. I’m a merchant after all. Was it because of money that he never treated me with respect? I’ll take it. I am a merchant. This dirty money will be my revenge. The perfect revenge. Serves him right! He will be sold for thirty pieces of silver. I won’t even cry. I don’t love him. I never loved him the slightest, not from the very start. That right, sir. I’ve been lying all this time. I followed him because I wanted money. Yes, that how it must have been. I worked out tonight that he was never going to let me make any money, so, like a true businessman, I betrayed him and made my getaway. Money. That’s the only thing that matters. How beautiful these pieces of silver are. I will take them. I am a penny-pinching merchant. I want them more than anything. Yes, thank you very much. Yes, yes. I forgot to tell you. My name is Judas the merchant. Ha ha. Judas Iscariot.
Translated from the 1940 short story Kakekomi Uttae by Dazai Osamu (太宰治『駈込み訴え』). Regarding the title: an “uttae” is a testimony, appeal, or lawsuit, while “kakekomi” means rushed or running-in. The image is literally that of Judas rushing into the police (?) office and panting out his testimony so that they will arrest Jesus.
Aside from being a fascinating reworking of the Judas tale (and one written before the discovery and translation of the self-titled Gospel of Judas in 2006, which gives a similar account), this story is also interesting for its effortless Japanisation of a Western story. Dazai characterises Judas’ relationship toward Jesus with a heavy use of honorific language at the start of the story, then shifts it to plain speech and even to almost-rude pronouns by the end. I have tried to represent this first by using, and later dropping, the capitalised pronouns “He” and “You” for Jesus, but if you can read it in Japanese, you’ll find it a more colourful experience.