Monday, March 28, 2005

Judas Iscariot - Betrayer or Scapegoat?

Allan Massie of The Independent investigated into the world’s most famous betrayer, Judas Iscariot, and wondered whether the poor bloke had been made a biblical scapegoat these past 2000 odd years.

Wikipedia has this to say about Judas Iscariot:

Judas is also the subject of many philosophical writings, including The Problem of Natural Evil by Bertrand Russell and Three Versions of Judas, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. They both allege various problematic ideological contradictions with the discrepancy between Judas' actions and his eternal punishment.

(1) If Jesus foresees Judas' betrayal then Judas has no free will, and cannot avoid betraying Jesus;

(2) If Judas cannot control his betrayal of Jesus, then his punishment and portrayal as a traitor in western culture is undeserved;

(3) If Judas is sent to Hell for his betrayal, and his betrayal was a necessary step in the humanity-saving death of Jesus Christ, then Judas is being punished for saving humanity;

(4) If Jesus only suffered while dying on the cross, and then ascended into Heaven, while Judas must suffer for eternity in Hell, then Judas has suffered much more for the sins of humanity than Jesus, and his role in the Atonement is that much more significant.

The Bible also states that on the cross Christ forgave those that had contributed to his death, saying that they 'know not what they do.' However Judas seems to have not been included in this pardon.

Allan Massie identified John (the Apostle) as the one who was out to get Judas. John was not satisfied with Judas as a mere betrayer but went on to label him a thief. Massie quoted a Canadian scholar, Professor William Klassen of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, and Hyam Maccoby, author of Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, as two who questioned the Church’s continuous stress on Judas as a betrayer.

Massie suggested one reason for Judas falling out with Jesus was that he was a person who had a social conscience and was disturbed by Christ’s attitude in an incident, thus losing confidence in the ‘Messiah’. Massie also remarked:

Klassen sees the demonisation of Judas gathering pace as the Christian sect moved away from its Jewish roots as a result of St Paul's mission to the Gentiles. Judas, then, in this Greek-speaking Church, became the stereotype of the treacherous Jew, rejecting and betraying Christ. Klassen traces the development of Judas' role from the earliest Gospel, Mark, to thefull-blown villainy presented in the last written Gospel, John.

There might of course be another explanation. If that gospel really was written by the Apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, or compiled by someone who had spoken with John, then it might even reflect a personal animus.

Hyam Maccoby goes further than Professor Klassen. In his opinion, the Judas story did not ‘spring from any actual event’ but was ‘dictated by mythological necessity. In other religious myths, a deity who brings salvation by his violent death has to have an evil betrayer. Judas was therefore elected as the fall-guy.’ The role, played on an individual level by Judas, is played also by the Jews as a whole. Making Judas guilty allowed the medieval Church to pretend neither Jesus nor the other apostles were Jewish.

A bit of Jew-bashing by the Christian Church? A 're-invention' of Jesus Christ as a non-Jew? Certainly plenty of food for thoughts!

The full Allan Massie's article

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