Why Judas Still Conjures Up Images of the Jew as Christ-Killer

Analyzing a Slur That Never Seems To Die

A Long Way From Pippin: Ben Vereen played the role of Judas Iscariot in a 1971 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
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A Long Way From Pippin: Ben Vereen played the role of Judas Iscariot in a 1971 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

By Philologos

Published June 30, 2013, issue of July 05, 2013.
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So perfectly, in fact, does the figure of Judas meet the requirements of Christian hostility toward Judaism that it has been suggested by more than one New Testament scholar that he is a purely fictional character, invented by the Gospels for anti-Jewish purposes. There are certainly aspects of the New Testament narrative that would seem to corroborate this, starting with the name Judas itself.

There is Judas’s betrayal of Jesus for “30 pieces of silver,” a clear literary borrowing from the “20 pieces of silver” for which Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt. There is the fact that the high priest’s constabulary hardly needed a secret informer to identify Jesus, who had been publicly active all over Jerusalem in the days before his arrest. There are the totally different versions of Judas’s death: In the book of Matthew, written scant decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, Judas is said to have hung himself, while in Acts of the Apostles, also an early Christian book, we read that he fell in a field and “burst asunder,” so that “all his bowels gushed out.”

The death of a real Judas, as opposed to an imaginary one, would presumably have been remembered more accurately.

Perhaps spelling “Judas” as “judas” with a small “j” would take some of the sting out of it, but otherwise there’s not much that can be done. The story in the New Testament would remain the same, and the John Martoranos of this world aren’t going to be influenced by our protests. Besides, Martorano has nothing against us Jews — the proof being that, to the best of my knowledge, he has yet to kill a single one of us. Why don’t we just count our blessings.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


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