Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Holy Week 2019: Heaven on their minds

Judas is almost certainly a completely fictional character.  Dom Crossan notes the name "Judas" is not attributed anywhere else in the literature, and is likely meant to be a designation echoing "Judea," from which we get our English word "Jews."  He is a character of endless fascination in Christianity and the cultures touched by Christianity.  In the gospels he is the explanation for everything that went wrong; surely someone was responsible!  Writing an account that could be legibly traced to the Romans (who alone had the power of crucifixion, and reserved it for political prisoners, for those who most directly threatened the Pax Romana from inside) was the short path to suicide.  Blaming your antagonists, the people of Judea who rejected your claims for Jesus of Nazareth, was the safer path.  But Jesus of Nazareth had almost nothing to do with the ruling class (who among us does, except to run afoul of them?), and how could they identify him?  Enter a figure, a scapegoat, someone to blame:  Judas.

So Judas is the central, fascinating figure in our imaginations.  Judas is a disciple, but a betrayer; drawn to, and repulsed by, the person he most admires but thinks is most misguided.  It's the story of Brutus and Julius (via Shakespeare), of Jack Burden and Willie Stark, of every politician who has risen to power and the people afraid of what that politician has, or will, become.

It is the story of our divided hearts; of how we are afraid of those we love most dearly, how we can't ever reconcile our desires with our needs, our hopes with our realities.

It is a very human story, indeed.


  1. I've long found it curious that in Luke the section after Jesus reveals he's going to be betrayed he tells the 12 that they've had kingdoms prepared for them, I would imagine that would have included Judas. As I recall somewhere in Matthew Jesus makes a similar inclusive statement about the 12.

    From that you'd have to conclude that Judas was saved. This cycle in the Catholic lexicon is heavy on John, for the most antisemtic Gosepel it sure makes a lot of non-antisemtic comments and claims. What it is is a lot more nuanced than a cursory reading would lead you to think.

  2. The anti -semitism has to be read into John. You're right, it is the most subtle of the four.

    I still think Luke has the best theology, though.

  3. "Dom Crossan notes the name "Judas" is not attributed anywhere else in the literature, and is likely meant to be a designation echoing "Judea," from which we get our English word "Jews.""

    This I don't understand. The name, transliterated from the Greek, is "Iudas" (or "Ioydas"). That is the exact same name as the son of Joseph in Genesis and Exodus in the Septuagint (usually called "Judah" in English translations), not to mention the same name as Judas Maccabeus.

    For what it's worth, I have always thought that "anti-Semitism" was a wildly anachronistic term for hostility gleaned in the New Testament, since the conflict was almost entirely within Second Temple Judaism. Surely we wouldn't call the hostility of Sadducees to Pharisees "anti-Semitism."

  4. I would bet you that the author of John considered himself a Jew, as some of the earliest of those considered Popes almost certainly did.

    The 19th century origin of the word "antisemitism," invented to give sciency cachet to his hatred of Jews (even as all three of his wives had Jewish ancestry) and, especially, the recent and very political attempt to make it mean things that lead to many Jews being called "antisemites" lessens the usefulness of the word and, dangerously, has uses that promotes exactly what its modern use is supposed to condemn.

    I do like Luke (and Acts) most of all. I have this blog to thank for turning me around on Paul, too. I can't imagine not having noticed what he was doing in those passages we good liberals were supposed to hate him for.

  5. My Crossan reference is from fuzzy memory, but I wouldn't put much weight on the authority of the Septuagint v. the Masoretic text, at first blush. Transliteration is no more authentic than translation; but that doesn't make Crossan's point sound, either.

    Or confirm my memory.