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”.