Thursday, January 12, 2006

Judas the Misunderstood

From The Times (UK) Online.
Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus with a kiss, is to be given a makeover by Vatican scholars.

The proposed “rehabilitation” of the man who was paid 30 pieces of silver to identify Jesus to Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane, comes on the grounds that he was not deliberately evil, but was just “fulfilling his part in God’s plan”.

Why would one assume that those two propositions are mutually exclusive? One mans evil can work for other men’s good and the unfolding of God’s plan. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28, NIV) All things implies that even evil is eventually turned to the service of God’s purposes. To say that Judas did not deliberately choose to be evil is to say that God is the source of the evil done through him. That seems like a pretty severe theological problem to this layman.

Christians have traditionally blamed Judas for aiding and abetting the Crucifixion, and his name is synonymous with treachery. According to St Luke, Judas was “possessed by Satan”.

Uhhh…could that be because scripture and the fathers all specify Judas as the betrayer?

Now, a campaign led by Monsignor Walter Brandmuller, head of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science, is aimed at persuading believers to look kindly at a man reviled for 2,000 years.

Mgr Brandmuller told fellow scholars it was time for a “re-reading” of the Judas story. He is supported by Vittorio Messori, a prominent Catholic writer close to both Pope Benedict XVI and the late John Paul II.

Are we sure these guys aren’t Episcopalian?

Signor Messori said that the rehabilitation of Judas would “resolve the problem of an apparent lack of mercy by Jesus toward one of his closest collaborators”.

He told La Stampa that there was a Christian tradition that held that Judas was forgiven by Jesus and ordered to purify himself with “spiritual exercises” in the desert.

Can anybody find a reference to this? I have never heard it, and a quick web search brings up nothing useful. The Cainite “Gospel of St. Judas,” which has a framed Judas fleeing to Egypt, is a Gnostic text which makes it about as reliable as a Dan Rather newscast. It was condemned by Iranaeus and the translation hasn’t even been released yet.

In scholarly circles, it has long been unfashionable to demonise Judas and Catholics in Britain are likely to welcome Judas’s rehabilitation.

And, of course, fashion is what’s important. We wouldn’t want to lose our place on the invite list to all the right cocktail parties.

Father Allen Morris, Christian Life and Worship secretary for the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, said: “If Christ died for all — is it possible that Judas too was redeemed through the Master he betrayed?” The “rehabilitation” of Judas could help the Pope’s drive to improve Christian-Jewish relations, which he has made a priority of his pontificate.

Of course it’s possible! Peter also betrayed Christ. He was forgiven, restored, and became the “apostle to the Jews.” It would be really cool to run into Judas hanging out in a bar in the New Jerusalem. The implication of Judas’s suicide in the gospels is that Judas never sought or accepted forgiveness, but the texts are hardly definitive on his ending up in hell.

As to improving Christian-Jewish relations, if having a Jewish Messiah, Jewish apostles, and an early church composed entirely of Jews isn’t good enough, then I don’t think reinventing Judas is going to help much.

Some Bible experts say Judas was “a victim of a theological libel which helped to create anti Semitism” by forming an image of him as a “sinister villain” prepared to betray for money.

Are we really sure these guys aren’t Episcopalian?

In many medieval plays and paintings Judas is portrayed with a hooked nose and exaggerated Semitic features. In Dante’s Inferno, Judas is relegated to the lowest pits of Hell, where he is devoured by a three-headed demon.

The move to clear Judas’s name coincides with plans to publish the alleged Gospel of Judas for the first time in English, German and French. Though not written by Judas, it is said to reflect the belief among early Christians — now gaining ground in the Vatican — that in betraying Christ Judas was fulfilling a divine mission, which led to the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus and hence to man’s salvation.

Mgr Brandmuller said that he expected “no new historical evidence” from the supposed gospel, which had been excluded from the canon of accepted Scripture.

“Excluded” implies that there was some possibility of including it. There is no evidence that it was ever considered scriptural. Iranaeus condemns the Gospel of Judas in the late second century work Against Heresies 1:31. It wasn’t “excluded” any more than Caesar’s Commentaries were “excluded.”

But it could “serve to reconstruct the events and context of Christ’s teachings as they were seen by the early Christians”. This included that Jesus had always preached “forgiveness for one’s enemies”.

As they were seen by a weird group of early “Christians” who would make both the Branch Davidians and John Shelby Spong seem orthodox:
A Gnostic Sect of the second century was called Cainites or Caianites. They regarded all characters held up to retrobation in the Old Testament as worthy of veneration, as having suffered at the hands of the cruel God of the Jews; hence Cain, as the first man cursed by Hysteraa, the Demiurg, claimed their special admiration. This sect of Antinomians never found many adherents, and Hippolytus at the beginning of the third century dismisses them with the bare mention of their name.” (From The Catholic Encyclopedia at

Some Vatican scholars have expressed concern over the reconsideration of Judas. Monsignor Giovanni D’Ercole, a Vatican theologian, said it was “dangerous to re-evaluate Judas and muddy the Gospel accounts by reference to apocryphal writings. This can only create confusion in believers.” The Gospels tell how Judas later returned the 30 pieces of silver — his “blood money” — and hanged himself, or according to the Acts of the Apostles, “fell headlong and burst open so that all his entrails burst out”.

Apocryphal writings are interesting; they can be thought provoking, and may even provide spiritual insights, as long as I don’t confuse them with scripture! If Matthew says A, and some Gnostic gospel says Not-A, then I’m going with Matthew. That’s why it’s scripture! Yeesh…

Some accounts suggest he acted out of disappointment that Jesus was not a revolutionary who intended to overthrow Roman occupation and establish “God’s Kingdom on Earth”.
In the Gospel accounts, Jesus reveals to the disciples at the Last Supper that one of them will betray him, but does not say which. He adds “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Yes He does! Matt. 26:25-26.

But he also - according to St Matthew — acknowledged that Judas had a divine function to fulfill, saying to him during the arrest, “Friend, do what you are here to do” and adding that “the prophecies of the Scriptures must be fulfilled”.

Again, a lot of intentional human evil went into the fulfillment of the scriptures. Hitler and the Nazis, through the holocaust and through producing hundreds of thousands of displaced Jews, were in large measure responsible for the founding of the modern state of Israel. Should the Israelis put up a statue to the SOB? Don’t ask me to donate for it!

The “Gospel of Judas”, a 62-page worn and tattered papyrus, was found in Egypt half a century ago and later sold by antiquities dealers to the Maecenas Foundation in Basle, Switzerland.