Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Is Judas greater than Jesus?

April 17, 2008

We are familiar with the expressions “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” It’s funny how biblical references become part of everyday speech. It’s somewhat less funny and more disturbing how biblical references sometimes become part of modern day thought and belief. Thank goodness there are some who don’t literally take these ancient misinterpreted texts for truths. As Martin Luther King said “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

SO are we worshiping the wrong guy? Modern day parlance associates the word traitor with the person Judas Iscariot. Thirty pieces of silver is often quoted as the price of betrayal. There are many flaws in the story.

There is an apparent contradiction in the idea of “the betrayal of God“. The main questions seem to be these:

  • Did Judas exist in his time only to betray Jesus just to fulfill the prophecy?
  • Why did Jesus allow Judas to betray him?
    • Was Jesus unable to prevent the betrayal?
    • Did Jesus willingly allow the betrayal to go ahead?
    • Did Jesus actively try to cause the betrayal to happen?
  • Why is it that the ‘villainy’ of Judas becomes greater and more pronounced as one reads from Mark to John?

The early anti-Christian writer Celsus deemed literal readings of the story to be philosophically absurd, especially because Jesus knew about the treason in advance, and told of it openly to all the disciples at the Passover meal, as well as singling out who the traitor would be without attempting to stop him.

The text of the Gospels suggests that Jesus both foresaw and allowed Judas’ betrayal. In April 2006, a Coptic papyrus manuscript titled the Gospel of Judas (see above section) dating back to 200 AD, was translated into modern language, to add weight to the possibility that according to early Christian writings, Jesus may have asked Judas to betray him [3]. While this seems quite at odds with the Gospel of John, where Judas is portrayed as an arch villain, the Gospel of Mark is much more ambiguous and could be considered to be fairly consistent with the stance of the Gospel of Judas on this question.

Philosophical questions

Judas is also the subject of many philosophical writings, including The Problem of Natural Evil by Bertrand Russell and “Three Versions of Judas“, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. They both allege various problematic ideological contradictions with the discrepancy between Judas’ actions and his eternal punishment.

  • If Jesus foresees Judas’ betrayal, then it may be argued that Judas has no free will, and cannot avoid betraying Jesus. If Judas cannot control his betrayal of Jesus, then he is not morally responsible for his actions. The question has been approached by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, which differentiates between foreknowledge and predestination, and argues that the omnipotence of the divine is not sufficient grounds for eliminating the existence of free will. Is free will not God’s greatest gift to mankind?
  • If Judas is sent to Hell for his betrayal, and his betrayal was a necessary step in the humanity-saving death of Jesus Christ, then Judas is punished for saving humanity. This goes hand-in-hand with the “free will” argument, and Aquinas’s Summa deals with the issue of free will in demons and other beings instrumental in the life of Jesus that are nevertheless damned.
  • If Jesus only suffered while dying on the cross and then ascended into Heaven, while Judas must suffer for eternity in Hell, then does Judas not suffer much more for the sins of humanity than Jesus? Should his role in the Atonement be that much more significant? As Borges puts it in “Three Versions of Judas“:

“The ascetic, for the greater glory of God, degrades and mortifies the flesh; Judas did the same with the spirit. He renounced honor, good, peace, the Kingdom of Heaven, as others, less heroically, renounced pleasure.”

  • Does Jesus’ plea, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34) not apply to Judas? Is his atonement insufficient for Judas’ sins?
  • It has been speculated that Judas’ damnation, which seems to be possible from the Gospels’ text, may not actually stem from his betrayal of Christ, but from the despair which caused him to subsequently commit suicide. This position is not without its problems, but it does avoid the paradox of Judas’ predestined act setting in motion both the salvation of all mankind and his own damnation.

The damnation of Judas is not a universal conclusion. The Roman Catholic Church only proclaims individuals’ Eternal Salvation through the Canon of Saints. There is no ‘Canon of the Damned’, nor any official proclamation of the damnation of Judas.

[edit] Motivation

The Kiss of Judas, by Giotto di Bondone

The Kiss of Judas, by Giotto di Bondone

Was the monetary value of 30 pieces of silver the only motivating force for Judas’ actions considering that 30 pieces of silver was also the price one paid for a slave that had been gored by an ox in Old Testament Law? After seeing Jesus’ popularity declining, was Judas’ motivation for handing Jesus over an attempt to force the hand of God into action? Jesus often spoke of creating a kingdom and saving his people. Many times Judas saw Jesus escape capture and stonings. Judas might have been trying to spur Jesus into a war with the Romans by telling them where he was.

The last reading may be plausible if the etymology of “Iscariot” (see below) could be related to Sicarii, a sect of the Zealots committed to the violent overthrow of Rome. If Judas was a Sicarius (which may or may not be historically possible), then it’s possible that he saw Jesus as the Messiah in the fashion expected by the Zealots: a military leader who would defeat and cast out the Romans. If this scenario was the case, then Judas may well have been trying to force Jesus into a position where he had to reveal himself as the divinely appointed warrior-king who would destroy his enemies.

In conclusion Judas Iscariot was not spurred by Satan as was written by Luke 21:37-22:6 “Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” It was against Satan’s wish for Jesus to fulfill his story and save humanity by dying on the cross. Therefore why would he want Jesus to be betrayed.

The gospels are flawed and it could well be that Jesus and Judas were in ca-hoots. If this were to be the case- Jesus got all the glory and Judas took the flack. In my view Judas’ sacrifice is greater than that of “The Messiah”.

(Some information obtained from wikidpedia)

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