Thursday, April 13, 2006

Judas

Warning: Religious post by decidedly non-religious person below
(In other words, I approach the matters below not as a "believer" but as a lover of the stories nonetheless.)

The latest news stories about the Gospel of Judas are giving me chills. As unreligious (non-religious?) as I am, I studied both Judaism and Christianity (and, specifically, the life of Jesus) in college. In the class on the life of Jesus, we read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; we read books by John Crossan and Elaine Pagels; and--most moving to me--we watched movies like The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus of Montreal, and Jesus Christ Superstar. (Yes, and Life of Brian, too.)

In watching those movies (especially Harvey Keitel's performance in Last Temptation and Carl Anderson's in Superstar), my heart broke for Judas. In these portrayals, he felt compelled to give up Jesus. Not because of greed, as some people would maintain. But because he was pushed to do so, either by his concern for his fellow Jews under the oppressive Roman rule, or by Jesus himself. Temptation really brought it home for me: If Jesus doesn't die on the cross, mankind is doomed. Thus, when Jesus is tempted by the Devil, he must refuse. He must remain on the cross and "die for our sins."

But for some reason, the same people who understand why Jesus rejected Satan while upon the cross, and indeed who love him for it, despise and curse Judas for putting him there. I never understood that. If Jesus must die to save mankind, then Judas is a crucial and necessary component of that. If Judas had shrugged off the forces compelling him to "betray" Jesus and had instead protected his friend whom he loved and admired, then where would Christianity--and mankind--be? My mind just does not understand how Judas became the villain in all of this. The man did what he knew he had to do, possibly knowing that he would be vilified for centuries because of his heart-breaking yet utterly necessary deeds.

And now, the Gospel of Judas is a text that backs up that line of thinking. I am so excited about this. And right now I'm watching an excellent two-hour special on the Gospel of Judas on the National Geographic Channel, which has appearances by Bart Ehrman, of whom I'm a big fan. My mind doesn't often turn to matters such as these, but now I am transfixed. Is anyone else as interested in this as I am?

7 Comments:

Blogger Gina said...

Absolutely!

Actually, what all these "gospels" coming to light mean that the Bible as we know it today was simply heavily edited by the Church to serve their own ends.

But why should this surprise me at all, coming as it does from a patriarchy of white males? ;)

I was raised Catholic, and yet have not completely broken from the Church, so I am not trying to knock religion. Yet the Bible was descended from oral tradition, and no one seems to think anything got lost. Which makes no sense to me.

11:06 PM, April 13, 2006  
Blogger KLee said...

I am also fascinated. I have yet to see that program, but I'll set my TiVo for it.

I think that a lot of people (many of whom are much more religious [and hardlined] than myself)are going to have a hard time reconciling any new discoveries of Bible text. It's hard for them to accept that the Bible was a written and edited work, not a 'handed-down-intact'work straight from the mouth of God. What a lot of people tend to forget is since that the Bible was written by man, it is open for mistake and embellishment, just like all published work.

11:16 AM, April 14, 2006  
Blogger TSC Girl said...

I'm still trying to figure out if the last supper was essentially a Passover seder, where bread would have been forbidden, then how do we get the Christian practice of communion, which is eating bread?? I know that Catholics eat a wafer-like "Host" rather than bread, but still, shouldn't communion be taken with Matzah?

1:47 PM, April 14, 2006  
Anonymous elizabeth said...

Yes.

I could have written this post. Eerie. : )

3:18 PM, April 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am actually a religous person. I have also struggled with the hatred people have for Judas. He fulfilled the prophecy. That being said, I think the Judas gospel is fascinating and want to watch the show on NG
hieronymous0733@yahoo.com

5:21 PM, April 14, 2006  
Blogger Deborah said...

Jesus had rejected satan before the cross - immediately after his baptism and in the garden before Judas came with the soldiers. Judas had a choice in his acceptance/rejection of Jesus, just as all of us do. I've never heard anyone say that they hated Judas. Like all of us, he had his own choices to make. In fact, there is nothing in the Gospels or the Epistles that suggest that even Jesus' closest disciples hated Judas. May I suggest that you add to your list of Jesus movies, Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of Christ.' It is a clearer picture of His life and lends some understanding to the times and reason He died - He gave up His life, no one took it.

7:09 AM, April 17, 2006  
Blogger Jody said...

For me, there are two issues: (1) the fact that these alternate Gospels raise people's awareness of the "created-ness" of the Bible -- the fact that what we have was chosen by people, mostly men, and therefore isn't the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We can't get all the way back to the "historical Jesus," because not only where the Gospels we kept written after his death, but they were chosen by fallible men (whether or not you believe that the Holy Spirit was at work to guide their hands). And (2), this particular Gospel -- which no one is arguing was written at anything like the same time as the Gospels that remain in the Christian Bible -- shows that from the beginning, the early Church wrestled with the question of Judas and his complicity in the Crucifixion. What did it mean, precisely, for Jesus to sacrifice himself on the cross? Were Judas, Pilate, the High Priests, particularly damned because of their role? What, exactly, is the role of free will? Do people have it or not? And if Jesus was always destined for the Cross, does that diminish his sacrifice?

I don't see any reason why this "Gospel of Judas" would be considered MORE authoritative than the other Gospels, certainly not the Gospel of Mark. And the letters from Paul are really the earliest articulations of Christian theology and story we have, having been written the earliest. But I do think this offers more insight into the various ways that different groups of new Christians approached the reports of Jesus' life, and tried to make sense of his ministry.

I've always wished, myself, that more of Peter's letters had been preserved. We're a very Pauline church, and I don't so much care for Paul's personality so much that I consider that an unalloyed good.

2:25 PM, April 19, 2006  

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