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The Philodoxer
Thoughts on writing and publishing, and the various sources of entertainment...
A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 05/14/2006
Judas: The Honorable Traitor

I bought a copy this week of the recently rediscovered and translated second century Gnostic text the Gospel of Judas. Fragmentary, the text is somewhat disappointing, save for its inconceivable redemption of Judas Iscariot.

Gospel of Judas

The man's story is short, and known to most Westerners. According to the New Testament, Judas was one of the 12 disciples chosen by Jesus Christ. He betrayed Christ, (a.k.a. God) to Roman authorities for a couple of bucks, resulting in the torture and crucifixion of Christ, and the redemption of mankind.

Intelligent persons of the empathic and dispassionate dispositions have long tried to expiate history's most notorious traitor, but not even the rediscovered Gnostic text, of a class known for its Platonic quality and emphasis on salvation via knowledge, can come close to the bitter perfection of Jorge Luis Borges' defense for Judas.

While the Gospel of Judas offers such blatant justifications for Judas' actions as the all-knowing Christ condemning/exalting Judas with the words, "You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me," Borges exonerates the man with far less than a divine pardon.

In "Three Versions of Judas," a story written by Borges in 1944 (found in the short story collection Labyrinths), the religious scholar Nils Runeberg puts forth several blasphemous justifications for Judas' betrayal of the messiah, all improbable yet disturbingly plausible. The five-page story itself is essentially a summary of the fictional Runeberg's heresies, and my brief summary will be thus more heretical still. In one version, Runeberg tells us that Judas was a good man, perhaps the best man, who understood what Christ was and his purpose; he therefore voluntarily sacrificed his principles and became a snitch to pay for God's sacrifice of Himself. In the second hypothesis, Judas is not only perhaps the best man, but rivals even the Christ in terms of humility: Judas was so devout, so good, he believed himself unworthy of the divine gift of happiness. In his piety, Judas methodically seeks his own damnation for the greater glory of God.

Labyrinths

Runeberg's final and inexorable proposition perhaps explains this quote by Jesus from the Gospel of Judas: "You [Judas] will be cursed by the other generations--and you will come to rule over them." Runeberg concedes that Judas is squarely evil; in which case, he continues, God, the omnibenevolent, not only miraculously debased himself to the point of becoming human, finite, but to becoming the vilest man in all humanity, and spend eternity in damnation. Jesus is not the Christ, Runeberg reveals, Judas is.

Borges' Judas demonstrates the power and even inevitability of logic to transcend or annihilate itself, the invaluable trick that more famously made Nietzsche and Derrida frustratingly injudicable. Judas, like God, is ultimately inscrutable.

Happy Mother's Day, folks! See you next week!

-- Abel

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