The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

If Jesus were the Son of God and he appeared on earth to teach us the Way, and died on the cross to save us, why have the Christians since time immemorial condemned Judas as a foul traitor? It has always puzzled a detached individual that the apostle from Iscariot, who clearly was part of the proclaimed divine plan, should have been so vilified. What if, however, Judas was not a betrayer? What if he didn't hang himself on a fig tree in shame after the crucifixion of Christ? What if, indeed, he was Jesus' most faithful friend to the bitter end?

I've said it before and I am forced to say it again: according to the wise man, there are no coincidences. Around the time that C. K. Stead published his wonderfully witty and acerbic portrayal of the life of Judas came the news of the discovery of the lost Gospel according to that accursed Apostle. My Name Was Judas was the result of a poet and realist's efforts to look at the story of Jesus through the eyes of a contemporary sceptic, an elegy filled with poetry conveying Judas' confusion, loss of faith, and grief, and love for Jesus.

Judas, recalling his life and Jesus', four decades after the fateful events that sparked a new faith and condemned him to lasting infamy, sets before us the facts. He doesn't betray his oldest friend, not for three or for thirty pieces of silver; he remains faithful to Jesus to the end despite all his doubts; he, unlike the rest of the apostles, does not run away at Jesus' capture; he skewers the various untruths that become accepted as the Christian orthodoxy; and he shows that Jesus, far from having miraculous powers, was carried away by his own eloquence into believing he was the Son of God.

They had grown up together: Jesus, the carpenter's son, and Judas, the scion of a merchant family. Attending the same school, attracted by each other's intelligence and hunger for knowledge, the difference in their social standing did not prevent the blossoming of a fast friendship. Jesus was the brilliant one, his mind like quicksilver, his oratory and imagination peerless. Judas, warm-hearted and affectionate, was a close and accurate observer, truthful and honest, ever-questioning but loyal. As they grew up, Jesus explored the nature of spirituality and man's relations with God and came to realise that the Jews were diminished by their corruption and venality, and that by remaining in thrall to the Roman overlord, they distanced themselves from their God, who had made them His Chosen People.

At first Jesus was gentle in his sermons, but as his fame spread so did his frustration with the moral and political status quo. Soon, he was preaching fire and brimstone, talking of purges and great devastation upon the sinful; he talked of the Biblical prophesies of the Messiah and subtly began to equate himself with the Son of Man. Judas nervously watched this steady onset of what he considered dangerous megalomania and sedition, trying to persuade his friend to desist. To no avail.

Believe in me
and book your seat
for Heaven's Glory -

refuse and die
to everything
but endless torment -

the old infallible
carrot and stick,
he used it

like a master -
Jesus, my brilliant
friend, who held us

fearful, yielding,
as men do, to the
lash of language.

But power
comes at a cost and
he had yet to pay.

Judas recounts faithfully his own doubts and fears. His loyalty and love for his oldest friend clashed with his own keenly analytic mind. He was appalled by the credulity and the lack of scruple among Jesus' followers, and constantly sought to correct the falsehoods. His words and efforts fell upon the unheeding. The other eleven who became Jesus' faithful followers were blind believers, spreading various exaggerations as the truth, and Jesus did nothing to stop the rumours of his miracle-work or, indeed, of his divinity. Still, he didn't abandon Jesus.

Why did I go
on that final
fatal adventure?

Was it to see
the story played out
to an ending?

Or because
I'd developed a taste
for the limelight?

From him we
borrowed a radiance
each lacked alone.

How nice to be
cheered and admired
by beautiful girls!

How risky to
play guardian to
the Son of God!

Jesus, filled with divine longing and knowledge of his impending martyrdom, hurried events along. Close to the end
what Jesus said to us that evening is as deeply marked in my memory as it would have been if I had been one of the believers. All the dark fire had gone from his eloquence, replaced by the charm and gentleness that had persuaded me to leave Nazareth and travel the roads with him. His thoughts now, as in those early days, were for the poor, the unhappy, the enslaved, the weak. Their time, he assured us, was at hand. The anger and rage, the promises of terrbile events and individual punishment, the flames of hell, the separating of wheat from chaff, sheep from goats, the weeping and wailing and grinding of teeth - all that had disolved into a message of hope and reassurance... He was going from us, but only to the Father, to prepare a place for us, and for all who believed in him.
In his old age, Judas recalls with anguish the last days of the brotherhood. Forty years after the torture and crucifixion of his dearest friend the memory and ache and terror fill his heart. In the bright light of reason, he knows he has not been a traitor. But alone, in the dark recesses of the night, he is crushed by nightmares:

In my dream the
water won't support
my walking feet.

It closes over
my head and becomes
a furnace.

I drown, I
burn, I choke, hanging
from the black fig tree

while ravens
peck out my eyes, and
a voice from heaven

cries, 'This is
the blind betrayer of
Jesus, my Son.'

Stead has said that he was interested in exploring a messianic character as a non-believer. He thoroughly enjoyed the certain amount of ingenuity needed to account for the miracles. I see Judas as a much-maligned character, and in my novel he doesn't betray Christ literally. He simply doesn't believe in his divinity. With his beautifully controlled prose and his deeply moving poetry, Stead has crafted a wonderful work. For the faithful, it may prove subversive and blasphemous. For everybody, the glory of Jesus and his life shines through, not at all diminished by the revelation of his humanity.


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