Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Deputy

"He renounced honour, good, peace, the Kingdom of Heaven, as others, less heroically, renounced pleasure."

Not all Middle East personages inspire. For that matter, most are quite forgetful. Some, however, have gone down in history as the vilest of villains, the bastions of deepest infamy, cast as far down as Dante's frozen Seventh Circle of Hell. That is where the great Italian placed Judas, the betrayer of the Christ. With one kiss, the sinner signed up for an eternity of hatred, his very name - innocent enough in the original Hebrew (Yehuda) - became the very mark of betrayal.

An equally talented Argentinian writer suggested a different understanding of the great betrayer from the Middle East. In two short and incisive stories, Jorge Luis Borges leaves a trail where Judas ends up in a somewhat better light. In 'Three Versions of Judas', Borges puts forward the un-suggestable: Judas chose infamy as an ultimate act of respect for the divine. Braver and truer to the greater reality than others, Judas shunned all good as only suitable for God and debased himself into an ultimate ascetic, willing to pay a higher price than his Master in the cosmic drama: to become forever a criminal in order for the Passion Play to be complete.

In a second story, 'The Sect of the Thirty', Borges goes further. He suggests that in fact Jesus and Judas were the only two characters of the path to crucifixion who were aware of what was going on - the rest of the cast playing out out their roles in a desultory sleep. Roman soldier, Sanhedrin, even Mother Mary - all were oblivious, their consciousness barely dawning in comparison to the bright wakefulness of Judas and Jesus.

This means not only that Judas acted with conscious intent, but that he was also positively essential for the fulfilment of the Christ's mission. Indeed, Borges raises a question that has always baffled: "why the kiss?". Jesus would have been well known enough to be arrested without one. It may be that Judas intended his infamy in both method and timing, as Jesus also needed his doppleganger.

It is so that the great betrayer saunters into history, forever reviled, the ultimate anti-hero, in full and conscious compliance with the divine order. Together, Jesus and Judas, Yeshua and Yehuda, two men of the Middle East two millenia ago, created a story of friendship and betrayal, of suffering and redemption that resonates across the ages, continents and civilizations.

Indeed, at the Last Supper, it was Judas who was seated to the left of Jesus, the most honoured seat at the table in the Middle Eastern tradition of the time. I have always wondered to what degree the two men were in fact in league, and Borges suggests that they were more likely than not in very close collaboration. John Zada goes one step further and calls Judas, "Jesus' Deputy".

All text in this post copyright John Bell and John Zada

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