Friday, April 10, 2009

"I've had kisses that make Judas seem sincere..."

Looks like I'm starting a tradition of sharing semi-profound but more accurately subversive thoughts on Good Friday. Last year, I took issue with the very concept of Christians calling the day Christ died "good" (even though ultimately its outcome was). This year I want to talk about Judas (Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, not Thaddeus, who was unfairly maligned by his namesake). For 2000 years, the name Judas has been synonymous with ultimate betrayal. And rightfully so. But something occurred to me about a while back: if Judas hadn't betrayed Jesus, would Christianity even exist? Wasn't it essential to the salvation of mankind that Jesus be crucified by the Romans, that at that moment he could absorb the sins of all mankind, that by a belief in him they might be saved? And if this is true, does Judas, traitor though he may be, not ultimately play a positive role in these proceedings?

Then of course there's the theory (seen in the Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ, and apparently borne out in the Gospel of Judas and elsewhere) that Judas was in fact Jesus's dearest friend, and that Jesus asked him to bear the burden of being the one who betrays him. It's an interesting concept, one that at least bears consideration today.

But anyway, Christians, enjoy (?) your Good Friday. (What do people generally do on Good Friday anyway? Growing up, I don't recall doing anything in particular. Oh well.)

"Judas ain't the only one
Who couldn't live with what he'd done
But if he hadn't, would you still be saved?"
- the Ultimate Self-Indulgence, My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma


Blogger Ben said...

Regarding the Gospel of Judas: That book and the other Gnostic gospels (i.e. the Gospel of Thomas) were written by a dissident group around 175 A.D. at the earliest. Most historians agree that Mark was written in the A.D. 70's, Matthew and Luke in the '80s, and John in the '90s. In other words, they were written at a time when the apostles and other eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus were beginning to die (and would want their recollections written down for posterity). One of my favorite comments on whether the Gospel of Judas and its ilk are in any way threatening to the story as set out in the four "canonical" gospels is found in the New Yorker: "[The Gnostic Gospels] no more challenge the basis of the Church's faith than the discovery of a document from the nineteenth century written in Ohio and defending King George would be a challenge to the basis of American democracy."

All that being said...

You're not the first to wonder about the place of Judas in Christianity. Religious scholars through the ages (including people in my own Bible Study group) have pointed out that the most important even in Christianity could not take place without Judas's actions. Sure, he's generally considered a villain. Along with Benedict Arnold, his name has become a byword for "betrayer." But is he a hero? A pawn? A tragic anti-hero? What if his motivations were bad, but his accomplishment was good? Some scholars believe that he thought Jesus would be a political Messiah who would overthrow Rome, and betrayed Jesus in bitter disappointment when it became clear that wasn't Jesus's intention.

So, yeah, this raises a whole host of issues for Christians, religious scholars, and anybody interested in thinking about the story, regardless of their beliefs. Issues of free will, heroism, good and evil, etc. etc. It's fascinating stuff. And, yeah, it's kept theologians awake for centuries.

April 10, 2009 11:34 AM  
Blogger Matthew B. Novak said...

I think the question of the "necessity of Judas" is a fascinating one, full of the solid questions both you and Ben acknowledge.

I think one of the keys to working through the questions is remembering that Judas had no idea the Resurrection would happen. None what-so-ever. To him, this was an act that there was no going back on, no great salvation on the horizon, etc. We see the events in hindsight, full of the knowledge of Jesus' triumph over the grave. Judas never made it to that point (he killed himself before Jesus rose, right?).

And one of the coolest things to think about is that if Judas had made it to that point, and had been around for the Resurrection... well, Jesus would have forgiven him.

And maybe that means we need to too? We can recognize his betrayal for what it was, but at the same time marvel in the power of God to not only overcome death but also forgive his traitor. Wow.

April 10, 2009 5:05 PM  

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