Saturday, September 12, 2009


Judas Iscariot is old news, some might say. But he is new everytime they do to someone else what they did and still do to him.

I comtinue to be shocked at how many scholars there are (and it's probably an overwhelming majority) who take the imputation of devlishness to Judas in Luke and John to be a valid piece of evidence that he had done something evil. It's not that they believe in the devil or the literal truth of the devil entering him. Bu they all — every man, woman, Jack, and Jill of them — believe it is a mark against Judas that he was remembered in this negative light, and therefore, that he likely did something bad to Jesus, namely betray him.

Are you kidding me? Are they serious? How is it possible that, in the 21st century, a majority of academics can still so badly misinterpret this evidence? What is wrong with everyone? The so-called argument for this is a good sign that theology and emotions have never ceased to dominate the field of historical Jesus studies. The historical Jesus debate and evidence (and everything connected to him, like Judas) is as emotionally skewed as it ever was.

Yes, from one point of view, the-devil-made-him-do-it is certainly evidence that Judas came to be vilified. But we know that already. That is not the issue. In fact, he was vilified more and more as time went by and that includes the passage of time from Mark and Matthew, which are relatively bland on the subject of Judas (they never demonize him as Luke and John do), to the later Gospels.

The isuue is not whether Judas was portrayed more negatively with each new generation. The issues are whether he was originally regarded as a traitor and whether there is good, solid evidence for this. Putting the devil in Judas, especially coming as late as it does, is pretty poor evidence. It could just as easily have been the result of slander. Like innocent people have never been demonzied in history?

Whoever first thought this up might have been trying to taint Judas with a label that would never go away, regardless of his guilt or innocence. You can easily see how and why this happened. Mark and Matthew, as I said, are reticent to paint Judas in such negative terms. They never really explainItalic the "betrayal". People who listened to these Gospels read out loud must have been asking questions. What is going on here? What is Judas doing? Why he is doing it? We don't understand what is happening. Instead of offering some facts, one day, someone said, The devil got into him. And people bought it. Okay, they said, that's an explanation we can live with.

But 2,000 years later, professional scholars are still buying it as serious evidence that he was guilty of something!? How could you not want to scream!?

I have to put in my own mea culpa here. Me too. I didn't see it for the longest time. It took me ten years to write The Ghost in the Gospels, and all that time, I thought the demonization was one slight point against Judas (though, I argued, the bulk of the evidence pointed to his innocence). It was another two years before it hit me that ascribing the devil to Judas only proves how hated he became. It doesn't prove the vilification was justified. It took me almost forever to see this. Prejudice is like wet seaweed. It is quite an effort to shake off every last piece.

If we had any evidence the other disciples cursed Judas out after Jesus was taken in, or demonized him in any way ("Bastard! Devil! How could you do this!?"), that would be an interesting detail. It would at least be a record that someone at the time thought Judas was demonically evil. But we don't have that. This crucial evidence is missing from all the Gospels.

Comments from the Gospel authors, like a news reporter's accounts of his insights, count for much less, perhaps nothing. And we don't even have the earliest Gospel writers waxing vitriolic against Judas. It is only the last two who make the nastiest remarks and even they do not quote anyone who knew Judas spewing such vitriol.

Judas was accused of being a traitor. This we know. Did it happen during his lifetime or only after he died? This we don't know. We haven't a clue. That no one who knew Judas accuses him of anything should make us think that maybe the accusations came much later. Whenever it came, we are obligated as rational investigators to ask: Was it true? Or was he falsely accused? The latter is a possibility — another theory, if you like, or even if you don't like.

Historians have to consider two theories: 1) Judas was a traitor, and 2) Judas was innocent and slandered as a traitor. Which theory better explains the evidence?

This is the logical way to proceed. This is how one thinks in any other discipline. We analyze the possibilities. We look at the clues from more than one angle. But there is an incredible arrogance in historical Jesus scholars that makes them believe they are above the rules of logic and evidence that are followed in any other field. They act like bullies. They put themselves above reason the way some politicians hold themselves to be above the law — with hostility galore towards anyone who objects and dissents.

Using accusations as evidence defies the rules of logic. Accusation can never be considered proof of guilt. Same goes for demonization. If anyone you loved was convicted of a crime on evidence like this, you would be horrified. Have I said that clearly enough? Horrified!

But we let New Testament scholars go on committing this kind of horror and we look the other way. They have the power to defame an ancient person because they believe he cannot defend himself. Would you look the other way if your loved one or family member was accused of a terrible crime and the prosecutor introduced newspaper reports making general accusations but giving no supporting facts as evidence?

Imagine a relation of yours accused of something heinous and, fifty years later, a newspaper columnist says he or she was demonic (or using some other epithet). It gets picked up and repeated, and then "historians" use this to "prove" his or her guilt for the original crime. You would move heaven and earth to undo this injustice. But it will be an uphill struggle because they already did it to Judas Iscariot and you let them get away with it.

Will it make the world a better place if we finally release Judas — on a sound, rational basis — from the false charges against him? Does it matter after 2,000 years? I don't know. But I don't believe the world will be a better place if we continue to cover up this injustice. Not just the injustice of the final result for Judas, but the injustice of letting scholarly bullies rewrite and misinterpret the evidence in history.

Why is 2,000 years of bullying us into accepting bad arguments considered perfectly acceptable? Can someone answer that for me?

Leon Zitzer

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