Judas the Misunderstood Disciple
Judas - My Favorite Apostle
So not many people these days like Judas. I mean there was the whole 30 pieces of silver thing, and the betrayal, and of course the moral obligation not to kill off the messiah... but was he really that bad of a guy? I admit, I've always been far more interested in villains then heroes in any story from the fairy tales I grew up with to the modern literature that eases my nerves today. They just seem to be more layered as individuals, more psychoses, more motivation, more delicious details. However I was surprised to find on my wayward travels that Judas didn't fit this profile at all. Far from being a villain he seems, at least in my opinion, to be a misunderstood hero of sorts. Before you start sending hate mail let me explain and at least give the poor guy a chance. Christian love mandates you should.
The Familiar Story
Most Catholics and Christians are undivided on how to take the story of Judas. For those of you who have lived under a rock for your entire lives and have not heard the story I'll reiterate. Usually the good part of the story starts when Jesus is at the last supper, surrounded by all his male apostles, with no one else in the room, and everyone seated bizarrely on one side of the table (OK so the Bible doesn't say that but the popular art seems to.) They're all eating their dinner, the prefuneral game if you will, when Jesus throws a bomb into casual conversation, claiming someone at the table will betray him. I'm sure everyone probably stopped chewing at this point, looking up and wondering how he'd know this. Because he's a God-man, that's why. Makes total sense.
So Judas took a brisk walk that evening until he comes across a soldier. He says, "Yo soldier! I got someone for you!" after which he walked away with 30 new shiny pieces of silver.
The rest of the story is history. We all know what happened to poor God-man. It wasn't pretty. Meanwhile people back home are getting a bit fidgety about Judas. They want his blood. And dangling from a nice big tree Judas is finally found, swaying in the breeze. Forever after he was damned for all eternity the traitor! But did he really deserve it?
The Historians Take on Judas
For a long time historians, who generally are booed and hissed at by "real" Christians, have said there's a lot missing in the last supper story. Many have claimed for decades that Judas was probably Jesus' brother. Brother, you say, how can Jesus have brothers from a virgin mommy? Simple, once a virgin does not mean permanently a virgin. The Bible says Jesus had four brothers and doesn't mention any sisters (but since women and girls are inferior creatures they wouldn't have been mentioned even if he had eighty of them.) One of his brother's name was indeed Judas. This is where Historians start bickering. There's no passage saying, "Oh, and by the way Judas the traitor is the same as Judas Jesus' brother." But it's not that much of a stretch to think, "hmmmm Judas... Judas... They're probably the same dude, huh?"
So if Judas was Jesus' brother why then would he go third-person homicidal on him? Could this be the worse case of sibling rivalry ever? No, nothing beats dear old Cain and Abel. So what then? What was it?
The Gnostic Take on Judas
Not so long ago some very lucky people stumbled upon a lost text, The Book of Judas. This is where the story gets really interesting. Historians tell us the Bible was actually a whole bunch of different texts that was edited to a fraction the size it was originally. One of the lost pieces was The Book of Judas, a whole book that the early church decided wasn't good for their congregation to know about. However there was a small branch of Christians, the Gnostics, who were the radicals of the Christian world. They kept the text and taught it through the generations until it was lost (due to the Catholic influence at the time.)
So what was in the Book of Judas? A totally different look at the last supper story. Not only does it say Judas wasn't history's worst bastard, it actually says he was the most important apostle, not Peter like the Catholic church (which he created) claimed! The new version of the story goes something like this.
One night Jesus brought Judas outside under the evening stars and he says, "Judas, you really grok me. The rest of my apostles are idiots. They get some of what I say but only you get the message within the message. Yours is the only mind which can hold all I have to say and get it!" To which Judas probably humbly nodded. "Judas, I am going to ask you do something. Something horrible that will damn you for all eternity."
"Oh?" Says Judas a bit startled.
"No one's going to join my religion if I die of old age in a hut somewhere."
"No, what my religion needs is something that packs a more powerful punch."
"Like a martyr!"
"You're not going to ask me to be a martyr are you?"
"Well yes, but no. I'll be the first martyr and you'll be the one who'll turn me in! Because you get me. I would have no one else to be my killer."
"You want me to have someone kill you?"
"Yes. And then I will be free of this goddamn body that chains me to this world and so will you."
"You. You'll have to ditch your body as well."
"Yes, you'll have to hang yourself and since the other apostles are idiots and will never get that this was all planned you will be considered for all history the betrayer of God's holy son."
"Weeeeell, I suppose. I have nothing better to do." And just like that history was made. Christians spread across the earth like a plague and Jesus and Judas both got to ditch their earthly bodies (which in Gnostic terms was a good thing.)
Now, I admit my retelling of the story is very loose as I'm pretty sure Jesus never used the word grok or dispelled his plans for world domination after death, however the rest is indeed in there somewhere. Judas really was the chosen one, really did get Jesus like no one else did, and really was only doing what Jesus asked him to do. Does that make him a bastard or the most loyal follower of them all? I think poor Judas has gotten a bum rap for way too long. Personally, I like the guy. He had pluck.
For those of you who are intrigued (or who think I'm making this all up) feel free to read an article on the real translation of The Gospel of Judas.