Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Biblical Betrayal of the Iniquitous Iscariot

                 If there was one individual who gave the Christians a bit of a headache, it was Judas Iscariot. The Bible story tells how Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, leading eventually to the crucifixion. Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus but he returned this fee and, full of remorse, he went off and hanged himself. 

Caravaggio - The Taking of Jesus

Why is this a headache? Well, in the first place, why did anyone need to identify Jesus? Surely he was well known enough in Jerusalem at the time. He’d ridden into town on a donkey and the crowds had turned out in their numbers and waved their palm fronds at him. He’d preached to and taught these people, at an earlier stage he’d even fed five thousand of them, he’d gone into the Temple and thrown out the moneylenders. He was hardly acting inconspicuously. So why on earth did it need Judas to point him out? 

Some will argue that it was because he was betrayed to the Romans, and they weren’t as familiar with the assorted Jewish messiahs who were doing the rounds at the time (there were quite a few about the place), so they needed someone to point out precisely which one it was that they wanted. That’s fair enough if you imagine that the Romans were merely a bunch of armour-wearing, knuckle-headed thugs who thought that all those Jews looked the same to them, but I think they were just a little bit more sophisticated than that. 

Giotto - Judas Betrays Jesus - Scrovegni Chapel

Other people will say that it was to satisfy an earlier prophecy, that the messiah would be betrayed with a kiss and be sold for thirty pieces of silver. Which is fair enough, if you believe in prophecies and in being able to tell the future, which smacks a little bit of special pleading to me. If something is foretold, then it’s going to happen, no matter what. Which interferes somewhat with the notion of free will. And that’s where another headache arises. If Judas’s future was already planned out for him, then he had no choice in the matter. He couldn’t have done any differently, even if he had wanted to. Which is a bit rough on Judas and his immortal soul. He was damned before he was even born, which doesn’t really sit well with the idea of personal responsibility and divine mercy. 

Judas and the Sanhedrin

On the other hand, if Judas had the option of not betraying Jesus, that knocks the prophecy business into a cocked-hat. It’s a headache. Either everything is planned out by God in advance, in which case what’s the point of trying to live a good life, since you’re damned whatever you do. Or, it’s up to you - if you don’t tear around the place doing whatever you feel like, if you don’t commit any sins, then you won’t have done anything wrong and it would be a massive injustice if God starts condemning the innocent. 

Some of the later Protestant theologians thought they had an answer to this. No, they said, what matters is believing in God and his Word, if you accept God into your heart, then you’re saved, but if you don’t, then get ready for the eternal torments and so forth. But that, they seem to have missed, also involves a choice. You’ve either got the option of believing or you haven’t. Is it free will or is it predestined? You can’t have it both ways. You can nit-pick, hair-split and special plead all you want, but either Judas had a choice or he didn’t. 

The Life and Death of Judas Iscariot

Then, there’s another problem. In Matthew’s gospel (27:5), Judas takes himself off and hangs himself. In the Acts of the Apostles (1:18), Judas falls headlong into a field, bursts open and his intestines spill out. You can’t have it both ways. Which one is it? No, no, say the Christians (Augustine, I’m looking at you), you’ve misunderstood. Judas went off and hanged himself but the rope broke and he fell down, which is when the splitting open happened. 

Right, sure, whatever you say. It’s me that’s got it wrong. Surprising that. I’ve got it wrong when I take Matthew’s word for it that Judas went back to the Jewish elders with his thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the temple. As in, 
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. [Matt. 27:5]” 
So, St Peter isn’t fibbing in the Acts, when he says, 
With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field. [Acts 1:18]” 
You can’t have it both ways. Which one is it? Did he throw the money away or did he buy a field with it? No, no, is the reply. You’ve got it wrong (again?). The Priests picked the money up and bought the field on Judas’s behalf, because technically it was still his money, you see. Well no, technically, I don’t see. It sounds to me like you’re cobbling bits together that suit your argument and twisting them around until all the kinks and wrinkles fall out. (How about this for a bit of wriggling? Judas acted with Jesus’s knowledge and consent and he wouldn’t have been damned at all if he hadn’t gone and committed suicide – that was the sin that did for him). 

You can either have a Bible that is the infallible word of God or you can have a book that has got some mistakes and inconsistencies in it. And if that sounds simplistic, it’s because it is that simple. It’s one thing or the other. No ifs or buts, No becauses or howevers. No ‘it’s you don’t understands’ or ‘you’re misinterpreting thats’. And it’s not the only time it happens. The Bible is packed with mistakes and inconsistencies. This is just a minor example. And it was just the same sort of examples like this that made people start to sit up and say, “Wait a minute, this bit here doesn’t match with what it says there.” And this in turn started the headaches for some people and their vested interests. 

Oh Judas, what have you started? Or didn’t you get a say in the matter, after all?

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