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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Did Judas get a bum rap?

There is a new book out that tries to tell the Gospel story from Judas's perspective. In it, it's not Judas who betrays Jesus. Here are a couple excerpts from an article in today's Washington Post about it:

Unorthodox Pair Converts Judas Tale Into a Page-Turner
By Sarah Delaney

Lord Jeffrey Archer, author of best-selling thrillers, former member of the British Parliament and convicted perjurer, has written "The Gospel According to Judas" with the academic help of the Rev. Francis J. Moloney, a world-class biblical scholar and former theological adviser to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. ...

In the book, Judas does not mean to send Jesus to his death; rather, he
hopes to persuade him, with the aid of a scribe, to return to the safety of
Galilee. The scribe, however, betrays Judas and, consequently, Jesus.
Let's skip the juicy tidbit about one of the authors being a convicted perjurer and the concept of the true traitor being a scribe or writer (ancient version of a blogger?), and focus on Judas himself. I'm sure you thought that the story of Judas was pretty straight forward: betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver then hangs himself in shame. Well, nothing is ever that simple is it?

It turns out there's been a lot of pretty heavy theological discussion about his motivation, his actual actions, and even whether he's a villain or not. If Jesus needed to die on the cross in order to save Man, and Judas played the critical role of getting Jesus crucified, does that make him a hero? Was he just a victim of fate -- a pawn in God's plan? The interpretation may depend on your views of the importance of intention, or the existence of free will. But then again, what if Judas knowingly, or with divine encouragement, acted to fulfill prophecy? Can an act of betrayal be noble, if that act is committed for the greater good?

If you'd like to read more, check out the Wikipedia article on Judas Iscariot. In it there is a list of the following theological questions concerning Judas's role in the Biblical story:
  • Why did Jesus allow Judas to betray him?
  • Did Jesus fail to foresee the betrayal?
  • Was Jesus unable to prevent the betrayal?
  • Did Jesus willingly allow the betrayal to go ahead?
  • Did Jesus actively try to cause the betrayal to happen?
All of this brought to my mind the film "Last Temptation of Christ" (click here for the IMDB listing) directed by Martin Scorsese (it's also a novel written by Nikos Kazantzakis ). In it Judas (played by Harvey Keitel) recalls Jesus to his true mission -- sacrifice on the cross, salvation of Mankind -- after Jesus has given into the desire to pursue the life of an ordinary married man. That was the devil's last temptation of Christ, allowing him to see how his life would be if he accepted a different fate.

If you believe in a black and white world of pure good versus pure evil, all stories will have pretty simplistic interpretations (see any of George W Bush's speeches). If you live in the real world, and deal with real people and their conflicts and contradictions, you'll realize that there's always much more to the story.
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