April 6, 2006

Did Judas Iscariot have God on his side?

The conventional wisdom on the newly-translated Gospel of Judas is that it "paints a different picture of Judas and Jesus," in saying that "Jesus requested that Judas 'betray' him by handing him to authorities."

But there's no reason this picture has to be "different" than the canonical gospels, because the Bible never says Judas betrayed Jesus. William Klassen established this 10 years ago in his book Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus. I haven't read Klassen myself, but I've discussed him with my friend Leon Zitzer who has used Klassen's discovery as a jumping-off point for a fascinating book of his own, which will hopefully have a US publisher some day (it's currently being translated for publication in Germany). In his opening chapter, Leon paraphrases Klassen, explaining what most scholars (and all recent news reports) get wrong: "It is Klassen who finally put this point on the map that the Greek word paradidomi used in all the Gospels to describe Judas’ action does not mean betray. It is a neutral word with no connotation of betrayal, meaning “hand over” or “deliver”, as Klassen has it, or “convey” or “escort” or “transfer”, as I would put it." Leon's book deals with why scholars who acknowledge that Klassen is correct still insist on a betrayal narrative, and what the gospels actually say once we get past all that stuff we supposedly know they say. He blogs here.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


The role of Judas is further confounded by how the Apocrypha says he spent the 30 pieces of silver: 15 on blow and blackjack, and 15 to Feed the Children.

Borges wrote a neat little piece on a theologian who believed Judas was the true savior of mankind, for he is the one burning in hell for eternity so that Jesus could save humanity.

Yeah, this is not exactly new - in the Gospel of Jesus Christ Superstar it's pretty thoroughly spelled out that Judas saw himself as a chump and patsy for Jesus, doing the God-Man's bidding at his own expense. Since, say what you will about it, Tim Rice's book is generally a pretty faithful synthesis of well-established narratives, I don't see what exactly is so mind-blowing here.

What I find more interesting is the concurrence of this story emerging at the same time as that of our own "savior" in the White House being revealed as the one who personally instructed his own underling to "betray" him.

For 30 pieces of silver.

Money went much farther in those days.

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