Thursday, April 20, 2006
sandhya jain on judas
Pioneer 18 April 2006
Judas: haunted heretic
Imagine a scenario in which Ravana was no villain, but a beloved brother of Rama. Such a fundamental transformation in the portrayal of a key character in an epic could hardly occur without an equally elemental alteration in the status of other lead players. More crucially, this would necessitate a critical makeover of the narrative's basic plot.
It cannot be otherwise with Jesus of Nazareth, or Bethlehem, or Galilee, whichever location scholars finally agree is the hometown of the Son of Man. Indeed, one of the greatest historical denouements of our time may be a scholarly verdict that Jesus was involved in a seditious intrigue which failed, and that the Roman governor acted in consonance with the law. The recently unveiled Gospel of Judas reveals that this long-reviled disciple was a pawn in a political conspiracy; once we learn the plot, we may understand why the early Church fathers went to such great lengths to conceal the truth.
The Gospel of Judas makes it impossible for scholars to evade the issue they dodged when the Gnostic Gospels surfaced at Nag Hammadi three decades ago. This concerns the nature and purpose of Jesus' apparent leadership of a band of followers, and the authenticity of his teachings as preserved in the Bible. Given the grudgingly acknowledged importance of Mary Magdalene, who was not merely Jesus' wife but an important priestess of the cult of Isis, and her relationship with wealthy Jewish families, it seems logical that some of the shadowy figures in the story played a far more important role than previously thought.
The role of the Sanhedrin (Jewish clergy) requires re-evaluation. We need to know why Jesus challenged the Temple authorities at Jerusalem by overturning the tables of the moneychangers, a key episode which has never been explained properly. If he wanted to reform Judaism, he should have solicited community support like other prophets. If he was emerging as the religious leader of a non-Jewish community, our difficulties increase.
Superficially, Christianity emerged as the majority of Jews rejected Jesus and his Gentile followers went their own way. Yet this cannot explain the determined support he received from rich Jewish families at critical junctures. We also do not know if Jesus was truly the leader of this nascent sect, or just the public face of an organization whose mission eludes us.
Some scholars say John the Baptist was the charismatic leader of the era. Leonardo da Vinci belonged to a secret society that revered John; he is believed to have faked the Turin Shroud to depict a man beheaded, not crucified. This society (the church denies the Priory of Sion exists) believes Jesus was a junior who appropriated the legacy of John; others think Mary was the real leader. We do not know if Mary was present at the Last Supper, but Leonardo's classic shows a woman seated next to Christ, unless one Apostle was a feminine-looking cross-dresser. However, if Jesus was not the leader of this group, the mystery of the creation of the Roman church deepens.
More seriously, the Gospel of Judas removes the fig-leaf by which Christianity justified its anti-Semitic bias for two millennia. Anti-Semitism led to the Inquisition, which coexisted with the Renaissance and Enlightenment, reaching even India; it is unlikely to disappear with the moral resurrection of Judas.
Pope Benedict XVI owes the international community an explanation for this crude racism rooted in Christian theology since St. Peter; he must open the archives and reveal the truth. As the Vatican is a member state of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan should take up the matter of its crimes against humanity with the same urgency as he espoused the cause of an Afghan convert to Christianity.
Conversions bring us to what I call the Christian Conundrum. Christianity pressurizes peoples to renounce their natal faith, but while negating the old civilizational experience fails to present a meaningful spiritual alternative. Hence, many Christians feel a vacuum in their lives. The authentic doctrine of Christ is unknown; at least fifty gospels existed in the early centuries, each rooted in a Judaeo-Pagan environment. Then, in the world's first grand experiment with a totalitarian ideology, a group of church fathers notarized the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, as official (canonical). They declared all other texts heretical and attempted to destroy them and their adherents. The Gospel of Judas did not suit their political purposes; it was condemned by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (180 CE), as the work of a sect which revered the biblical murderer Cain, the Sodomites, and Judas, believed to be a keeper of secret mysteries.
The impugned Gospel suggests the disciples were seeking a temporal kingdom of the Messiah; that Judas followed Jesus' instructions to have him arrested; and that they probably hoped for a public uprising that would place Jesus on the throne. This validates the view that the kingdom Jesus sought was an earthly one, and that his core mission was political. Perhaps he did hail from the clan of King David, as some early literature suggests.
Some scholars say Judas helped Jesus to die on the cross so he could fulfill his theological obligations. However, such a remote-controlled religious suicide seems a bizarre way to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. It is more likely that a guerilla action was foiled, with devastating consequences for the conspirators, the bitterness of which engendered the Jewish-Gentile divide that dogged the Jews for two millennia wherever Christianity spread.
According to some accounts, after betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, Judas felt guilt-stricken and committed suicide two days later. However, silver pieces had been discontinued some centuries previously. According to Matthew (Acts 1:18), Judas bought a field with his money, called the "Field of Blood" because his guts burst open there. It seems likely that Judas was murdered, either as revenge for the death of Christ, or to cloak a deeper conspiracy. It is pertinent that bloodshed has always accompanied the march of the church. Despite this, in an era when heresy-hunting made dissent a suicidal pursuit, the Gospel of Judas was preserved by people with a commitment to truth. The Vatican should explain the political reasons for expunging all but four gospels from the public domain. It should also, like the former Soviet Republics, open its archives to international public scrutiny.