“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” John 1:10.
“Not one, but all of the things attributed by tradition to Judas Iscariot are false.” Thomas De Quincey
The man who really gave us the Easter Bank Holiday probably isn’t the guy you think it is.
At Sunday School children are told that Judas Iscariot is the arch-betrayer, the fallen apostle who gave Jesus to the Romans, consigning the Son of God to a public and excruciating death for thirty pieces of silver. Like all mainstream media narratives, that tale is useful to certain powerful parties, but it doesn’t really make much sense, does it?
Let us forget for a moment the theological paradox that it is impossible to betray an all-knowing deity, and focus on the prosaic. As certain intrepid Gnostics have pointed out, Jesus Christ was a famous preacher who gave daily performances to audiences of thousands. Roman security services hardly needed a visual id on the suspect. They couldn’t possibly have required the services of Judas Iscariot. Judas, as he is officially portrayed, is entirely superfluous.
Many of the Gnostic texts, dismissed by the early church as heretical, described him as the best of the apostles (whether he was the best or the worst, he was still selected by an omnipotent deity, so one can safely assume Judas possessed at least some virtue). De Quincey later postulated that he must have led the authorities to Jesus so that he would be forced to reveal his true divinity, thereby triggering a mass uprising against the Roman Empire. Others have resorted to philosophy in order to justify the story. Some argue Judas vilified and mortified his own flesh so as to glorify Christ, some offer he believed himself unworthy of being good and acted out of humility, some maintain he sought hell because he thought happiness and morality to be divine attributes only, some consider him to be an instrument in the mystery of humanity’s pre-planned redemption. That last viewpoint is perhaps the only one which is broad enough to be irrefutable, and it makes clear that Judas Iscariot was a tool. He was an agent, and not of the Roman Empire.
The true nature of Judas’ actions are unknown. His motivation is a mystery, and his ultimate fate is widely disputed. Matthew has him hanging himself in the Potter’s Field, as per the conclusion of some vague prophecy. In the Acts of the Apostles he simply falls down and bursts asunder. The Codex Tchacos, found in Egypt in the seventies, says he was stoned by the other disciples. The early Christian leader Papias told his followers Judas wandered about like a tramp until he was run over by a chariot. I like to think he went to ground somewhere and died in his old age.
In Three Versions of Judas, a short story of characteristic genius by the brilliant Jorge Luis Borges, he is revealed to be… well, I think you should read that yourself, if you’re interested.
But a famous, vilified, individual, about whom we know nothing except that the official version cannot be true, an individual who appears, pivotally, at a turning point in history? Judas Iscariot’s canonization is officially refuted by all organised Christian religions, but somewhere a very small circle of people knew what he did and why. The reasons are all gone now: forgotten, lost to history. The truth of it will never be known. The only thing we have is the outcome. I wonder if it all worked out as intended. I doubt it. Life never does.
So here’s to all the Judases, to the mysterious and despicable names which confound us, the Mohammed Emwazis and Lee Harvey Oswalds and Saad Al Hillis and Jonathan Moyles and Edward Snowdens and Kim Philbys and Hafizullah Amins, and to their handlers, the Sarah Davies’ and Anthony Arnolds and Michael Savages. May the secret policemen of the world keep their distance a little while longer yet.
Ends and means, my readers. Enjoy your eggs.