-I try not to let my personal belief structures – political, social, religious or otherwise – mar this blog. I try to keep it to random observations, relatively “safe” daily musings, or about the work. Some days that’s easier than others. But it’s likely apparent to anyone who’s read my work that I have a deeply held interest in religious topics; it bleeds through in most of what I write, and leads to all kinds of heretical shenanigans such as those found in Shadow of Purity or as just plain nutty rants like the ones that led to Blogs from the Basement. (Legal aside: Links lead over to Amazon. I’m not an Amazon employee.)
But the central religious theme that’s stuck in my craw over the years is Judas Iscariot. He’s the figure that makes me ask the most questions about faith in general, and Christianity specifically. He’s the one that got me in the most trouble during my time of
torture education at St. Teresa of Avila. He’s the one that makes me go “Hmmmm.”
There he is, delivering that Kiss that we all know so well. Or think we do, anyway. Alongside one of the other Apostles (some folks claim it’s John, others an unnamed one) booking it out of there, a couple of very irate soldiers and a guy holding a lamp (that most sources seem to claim is Caravaggio himself, in a nice bit of meta-painting, illuminating the scene from within as well as without.) I love this painting. I adore it. If I had the financial and political power of Batman/Bruce Wayne, I’d find a way to hang this sucker in my bedroom. But there’s something to notice here. The fleeing Apostle looks like he’s just soiled his britches or forgotten that he left his car in short term parking. One of the soldiers looks grimly amused, while the other seems about ready to choke slam Jesus, Judas or both. Caravaggio’s lantern holder looks curious – and perhaps a little excited – while Judas looks troubled and maybe just a little too hungry for the Kiss that’s about to happen (or has already, depending on your interpretation.)
Okay. All of those are probably understandable, acceptable emotions, given the circumstances as we understand them. But look at Jesus. He doesn’t look pissed. He doesn’t look confused. I don’t see any worry in that expression. He just looks sad. To me, that’s very much a “Yeah, yeah, get on with it” sort of face.
Which brings me to my central issue with the whole of mainstream Christian theology, that says “Judas Iscariot is a sinner. He was a thief, a liar, a conniver, possibly the Antichrist, possessed by the Devil Himself, and is damned to Hell for all eternity for what he did.” Why? Why should that bother me, when ostensibly, he sold out his friend, his teacher (and, according to some sources, his lover, though probably unrequited) for the price one would get for a slave. He sent the supposed Son of God to be tortured, maimed, beaten, mocked, spat on and murdered in a horrible, horrible way. I mean, that’s gotta earn you a special seat in the Hot Place, right? Dante puts him in one of the Maws of Satan, hanging out with – to folks of Dante’s era, anyway – two of the other worst traitors in the world.
Before I get to my favorite little nugget of “Wait, what?” located in the Bible, I’m going to point out a couple of base assumptions for the purpose of this exercise. One, we’re going to assume that the accounts in the New Testament Gospels are literal, historical truth. Note, I don’t necessarily believe that, but for the logic to flow, we have to start there. Second, I’m going to assume that the disagreements between the Synoptic Gospels vs John are explained as “John decided to get a little more literal, while the Synoptics – perhaps in pursuit of the legendary Q – were more esoteric.” Yeah, it’s messy, but we’ll go with it. Now, some of the issues.
Issue #1: Judas Iscariot was a thief, a liar, a sinner: That one’s kind of a “duh.” According to Biblical tradition, we’re all sinners; that was sort of the reason Jesus had to show up in the first place. Also, even assuming Judas was a thief – which I am not at all convinced of, given that the only Biblical statement to that effect seems to be one line in John (Chapter 12, Verse 6, to be precise) – what of it? As already noted, we’re all sinners to some degree, and Jesus had a LOT of interesting folks in His retinue, including a tax collector, a “fallen woman” – that is generally accepted to be a euphemism for a prostitute – and later, a gentleman who used to torture and murder members of nascent Christianity. Or how about Thomas? Wouldn’t believe that his Lord had returned until he stuck a finger in the wounds. And let’s not forget that Peter guy. You know, the “Rock,” the one He chose to build His church, the Pope of Popes and supposedly the guy who’s sitting up there with a big book to tell you if you
won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes get to go in to Heaven. Yeah, you know him; the one who told three different people he didn’t know Jesus, wasn’t one of His followers, nope, not at all. Who also didn’t show up for the crucifixion – despite others, like Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, John and in some sources even Judas himself – at least peeking through the crowds to watch His trek down the Via Dolorosa. But hey, that’s cool.
Basically, my issue here is that Judas is often singled out as being somehow “less” than the other Apostles, and often based on far less actual scriptural evidence than the slanders one could apply to his fellows.
Issue #2: Judas was a faithless, unbelieving and generally despicable human. Possibly the Antichrist or possessed by the Devil: Okay, again we have John to thank for some of this. According to that fine fellow, Judas was possessed at the time of his betrayal of Christ. Alright. Let’s assume that’s true. So you’re telling me that Judas didn’t sell Jesus up the river, the Devil did? And somehow Judas gets the blame for it? Sure, it opens up the can of worms that “if he hadn’t have been bad, he couldn’t have been possessed in the first place,” but the problem with that logic is that Jesus spent much of His ministry casting demons out of folks and urging them to believe. He taught the Apostles how to do the same, and sent them out to get to work. If possession was grounds for “You’re on the naughty list, sucks to be you,” then that rule must have gotten added after Jesus sent those poor pigs off a cliff.
That’s also ignoring quite a few points where Jesus or our narrators point out that the Twelve were chosen for their faithfulness, where they were given a mission, given special powers to perform miracles, and where all of them went out and spread the good word. Nowhere does it say “Eleven of the Apostles went about, casting out demons and healing the sick and creating wine from water, but that Judas guy just stood back and laughed.” He had an equal share in the ministry, and performed his duties – we assume – at least as adequately as any of the others. Nobody voted him off the island. Nobody said “Judas’ ministry is now pointless and irrelevant because he’s, well, you know, evil… let’s just pretend that didn’t happen.” After his death, Matthias was appointed to take charge of Judas’ share and keep on truckin’. That’s awfully odd behavior for the legacy of someone who “should never have been born,” wouldn’t you say?
So, if we take those things as being true, and here comes the whammy, then why on Earth did Jesus choose Judas to be an Apostle? I mean, seems like a positively terrible idea, no matter stunning his resume might have been. If you were possessed of divine knowledge that says “Hey, this guy is going to sell you out and get you killed in a truly horrific fashion,” wouldn’t you say “I’m sorry, Judas, but we’ve decided to continue on with other applicants. But feel free to reapply later, and we’ll be keeping you in mind for future opportunities!” And that’s not even the real kicker. In John 13:27, Jesus tells Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” That almost sounds like… gosh… tacit agreement, or a command, for Judas to do what he did. Funny, that.
Which brings me to my wrap up point. There’s a lovely document, known as the Gospel of Judas. In it, there are claims made that Judas is heir to secret knowledge kept – for assorted and debated reasons – from the other Apostles. That somehow, he’s in fact the most faithful and spiritual of the Apostles. That Jesus trusts him above the others, somehow. And Jesus asks him to sacrifice “the flesh that clothes [Him].” Not a new concept; there’s been plenty of theories stating that Judas was a co-conspirator for Jesus over the centuries. But, damn, has it got folks in a tizzy. Screaming heresy this, Gnosticism that. But honestly, it makes a little more sense to me than Judas just being evil, and at least it doesn’t cast Free Will into doubt as the standardized Biblical account does.
Which is really my issue with the whole thing. If this whole scenario was preordained – and don’t get me started on why a God who is supposedly filled with infinite mercy and compassion, who is omniscient and omnipotent, has to send His son to be tortured and murdered to cleanse the world of Original Sin, which is a concept He Himself invented and applied to man; what, a “mea culpa” and a divine fiat that we can dispense with that concept wasn’t good enough? – then someone has to offer up the sacrifice. That, or Jesus would have had to march up to the Pharisees and say “Yo. I’m the Son of God. Ooooh, blasphemy, scary! Gonna have me tried and executed, now?” Judas is a necessary part of the Passion Play as we understand it. Without him, there’s no crucifixion. No crucifixion? No salvation. So, what folks are really saying is Judas is damned to eternal hellfire for setting in motion the salvation of all mankind? Wow. Well, you know what they say about the road to Hell… ahem.
Also, one last little loophole. Jesus dies to cleanse the sins of mankind. Or, at least, all who believe in Him. We can probably safely assume Judas believed in Him; he walked with him, talked with him (and told Him he was His friend…). He was granted miraculous powers in His name, and held one twelfth of the ministry that would lead to Catholicism in due time. Jesus – obviously – died to provide salvation after Judas act of supposed betrayal. So… technically, doesn’t that mean Judas gets a clean slate, and absolution, and thus probably shouldn’t be condemned to being Lucifer’s chew toy for all time? Just sayin’.
Obviously, quite a lot of this is related to the research and general thought processes that are in play as I work on Ioudas, but I wouldn’t be working on Ioudas if I didn’t have a degree of sympathy and interest in the character of Judas Iscariot and what I consider to be the unfair treatment and perception of him. On a personal level – and mind you, I’m not Catholic, nor do I really hold with quite a lot of things they do, say or endorse – I’d honestly say he should be nominated for sainthood instead of being vilified. But I doubt that’ll happen in my lifetime; one can hope, though.
And now that I’m done brooding about depressing religious concepts, we should all go read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. Because it’s hilarious, but also somewhat thought-provoking. And I think we could all use a bit more thinking.
Got something you want to add? Comments, flames, suggestions, a favorite Biblical underdog of your own? Drop ’em in the magic box below!