Category Archives: Religion

Did Judas really betray Jesus?

The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer

Conversation 24. Jesus and Judas

“Why have You chosen this as the topic of our conversation today?”

“This topic is directly related to The Freedom of Choice. Well, God, a long time ago, back in my student days, when I first read the Gospel, I was left with a strong impression of the ‘theatricality’ of the narrative especially in the ‘Jesus and Judas’ story line.

Judas’ betrayal, his remorse, repentance, and resulting suicide, are written as if in accordance with the banal conventions of ‘poor theatre’ and as a result, the entire Gospel plot is totally unconvincing. At least that was my impression.

I read all four gospels again and again, and following a trail left by the evangelists, perhaps inadvertently, I discovered things in the text that only served to confirm my suspicions. Nothing in the behaviour of Judas, the apostle who was closest to the teacher, sets him apart to be any darker in character than the other apostles, and there is nothing in the text to hint at his future betrayal. Most of all I was troubled by Jesus’ reply You have said so!‘ as described by Matthew, when Judas asks Is it I, Rabbi (Who shall betray You?).

Jesus’ answer has been interpreted as prophecy for more than two thousand years and yet in his words I heard something more like a command.

And I even felt that the famous kiss of Judas‘ was more a sign of farewell than treachery. The evangelists’ attempt to portray Judas in a negative light seemed to me quite flimsy: their speculations as to Judas’ greed, such as his objections to precious oil being wasted on the anointing of Jesus’ feet instead of being sold and the money given to the poor, are all quite unfounded. Judas’ objections may equally illustrate that Judas, more than any of the other apostles, had adopted Christ’s teaching of compassion for the poor.

No one can testify that Judas conspired with the chief priests, unlike so many other events that took place in the presence of large numbers of witnesses. What could be the explanation for why Christ sent Judas so persistently to do what he had to do, something about which only the two of them knew?

Why did Christ who feared death like anyone else not make use of the escape routes deliberately left for him in his questioning by Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate?

And finally, would a person capable of committing the most heinous crime in the history of human betrayal really be driven to hang themselves by sudden pangs of conscience? I would hate to think that the attitude towards Judas on behalf of the apostle-evangelists who described these events was simply one of envy and jealousy on account of their Teacher.

I was greatly confused by it all, until one day, I had a wonderful dream. I saw myself in the garden of Gethsemane on the very night the Saviour was arrested and taken to be judged. It was a moonlit night and unseen by anyone I stood beneath the crown of a large olive tree. There I became an involuntary witness to a secret conversation that took place between Jesus and Judas who were standing behind the same tree. Judas was crying, refusing to do what Jesus asked, saying that he and his descendants would be cursed for centuries. Jesus insisted, ardently trying to convince Judas by saying that he could not trust any of the other disciples to carry out the task.

I listened spellbound standing so close to Christ that I could have reached out and touched his garments. Then the pair withdrew, continuing to talk quietly as they walked and I could tell from the way Judas’s back was slightly sunken that he had resigned himself to the deed.

The next morning, I recounted the dream to my university friends. They were surprised by what I told them, but that was all and I soon happily forgot about the dream entirely. Fifteen years later, as fate would have it, I found myself in North Africa, in Algeria. Standing in an olive grove for the very first time I was struck by the aroma emanating from the olive trees, and recognised the same smell that had remained in my memory from the wonderful dream I had once dreamed faraway, in snowy Siberia.

Staggered by the connection I returned to the memory of my dream over and over again until I could remember the conversation I had overheard between Jesus and Judas in minute detail. I was left with no doubt that the details of the dream did indeed describe how everything had taken place in real life.

Jesus wrote the scene of his own tragic death, produced it, and played the main part.

I naturally began to ask myself why Christ had to die in the way he did, and why he needed Judas to betray him. Could he not have continued to go from village to village continuing to preach his ideas as he had already been doing, and not without success? What was this, to put it bluntly, PR stunt for? This is the question I wanted to put to You today God.”

“Alright then, I shall try to answer you. I remember that story well, in which, among other things, they also made reference to me. How many followers had already embraced the teachings of Christ at that time? There were just the twelve apostles, plus a dozen or so idle listeners who tagged along behind. Christ’s sermons, which hardly helped ‘strengthen’ the position either of the local Jewish or the Roman authorities, had firmly caught the interest of the security services. You can imagine how preacher-dissidents like Christ usually ended up. That’s right! They would be taken out by a secret assassin, or worse, discredited in the eyes of the crowd.

In these circumstances could Christ rely on the widespread propaganda of his views and on the immortality of his great ideas which he valued more than his own life? Of course not! Imagine the world without newspapers, television or the internet! What else could he do? Of course, Jesus was an exultant individual but he definitely was not stupid. He understood very well, that sooner or later Caiaphas’ people would have him killed for the sermons he was preaching. It was highly likely that they would kill him secretly, that there would be a ‘mysterious disappearance’ of his person. Jesus understood that only his ‘loud death to the world’ would immortalise his name and ideas; only by overcoming death by death, so to speak, could he convey his teaching to the largest number of people. So he decided to write the death scene, which you call ‘poor theatre.’ Try to understand and forgive!”

“I do understand, God! I understand now and I mourn his great death. Before, I saw Christ as nothing more than a victim of some banal betrayal, but now, thanks to your explanation, I realise that Jesus arranged his own death. Like everyone else, he could have got married and had children and like everyone else, lived only for the sake of earthly pleasures, but he made a different choice. The greatest choice in history. For the sake of humanity. His feat is all the greater for that choice.

I mourn the death of Judas too, who took upon himself the most terrible mission of all the apostles: to be cursed for centuries. May their souls rest in peace, God!”

The conversation above is taken from “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.

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On the Freedom of Choice

In his novel, ‘East of Eden’, John Steinbeck discovered that in the biblical parable of Cain and Abel the words which God is supposed to have spoken to Cain after he had murdered his brother, are different in British and American translations of the Bible to the original Hebrew. What is a small difference in translation actually implies a huge difference in the meaning of God’s words particularly with regard to Freedom of Choice.

In the English King James edition God’s words sound like a prediction: ‘Thou shalt rule over him’ (You will rule over sin) which would appear to mean that the men can go freely about their lives, knowing that the feeling of sin will be overcome automatically.

In the American Standard translation, God’s words sound like an order: ‘Do Thou rule over him’ (Rule over sin), which would appear to mean that men are obliged to obey God without a murmur of doubt.

Only in the original Hebrew version, by saying: ‘Thou mayest rule over him’ (You may rule over sin), do God gives man the freedom to make the difficult choice, whether to fight against sin or not! With just one Hebrew word ‘timshel’ (‘Thou mayest’) God communicates to man, that he always has Freedom of Choice.

Steinbeck writes:

Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”

“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.

Adam said, “Do you believe that, Lee?”

“Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there. And do you know, those old gentlemen who were sliding gently down to death are too interested to die now?”

Adam said, “Do you mean these Chinese men believe the Old Testament?”

Lee said, “These old men believe a true story, and they know a true story when they hear it. They are critics of truth. They know that these sixteen verses are a history of humankind in any age or culture or race. They do not believe a man writes fifteen and three-quarter verses of truth and tells a lie with one verb. Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives. But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.” Lee’s eyes shone. “You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.

The text above is taken from the second part of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.

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On the meaning of life

I am certain that there is no singular meaning of life that applies equally to everyone. There is a great parable of the six great Jewish prophets which supports my view:

  • In answer to the question: ‘where is truth?’, the meaning of life, the first Prophet, Moses, ‘who had revealed’ the one God to the people, pointed a finger up towards the sky;
  • the second prophet, Solomon, who was known for his great wisdom, pointed a finger to his head;
  • the third prophet, Jesus Christ, who had called the world to compassion placed his hand on his heart;
  • the fourth prophet, Karl Marx, who led the class struggle and the battle for survival, stroked his stomach;
  • the fifth prophet, Sigmund Freud, with his basic instinct pointed, naturally, a little lower.
  • Then came the sixth prophet, Albert Einstein, who declared that the answer to the question was relative and depended on a system of coordinates specific to the person concerned.

The parable above (author remains unknown) was quoted in the third part of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”.

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Note to Conversation 4: Gene Preservation and Abraham

Translated from Russian original by Joanna Dobson

Reader: “God’s testing of Abraham really is quite strange because it runs contrary to the Law of Gene Preservation and his own direct instruction: ‘Be fruitful and multiply …’. How else though could the Creator have tested the level of Abraham’s love and devotion to him?”

Author: “By asking of him exactly the opposite! He could have thrown little Isaac into a raging torrent and gauged Abraham’s reaction. Have no doubt, Abraham, like any other father, would have rushed to save his son without a moment’s hesitation or thought for his own life, obeying in this moment the Law of Gene Preservation alone. This, more than anything else would have been an indicator of Abraham’s unconditional love for God.”

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