Judas! February 20, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Books, Culture, Religion.
Reading a recent edition of Private Eye magazine over the weekend I was drawn to the Literary Review pages, and the Books & Bookmen (sic) column. In it was a brief piece about how last year New Zealand novelist had “My name was Judas” published. As PE noted this was ‘a fictionalised memor in which Judas Iscariot defended himself against he charge that he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. In Stead’s version, Judas didn’t kill himself after the crucifixion but lived to a ripe old age and with a clear conscience’.
PE goes on to note that ‘with a loud fanfare’ Jeffrey Archer ‘reveals the startlingly original premise of his next book’… The Gospel According to Judas. As PE continues this is a ‘fictionalised memoir dictated by Judas Iscariot…defending him against he charge that he betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver’… where he ‘lived to a ripe old age and with a clear conscience’.
PE finishes with the quip ‘Another triumph for the master story teller’.
Well, perhaps. Far be it for me to defend Jeffrey Archer. But… this is far from the second time around for this particular plot line (and TGAtJ) is actually co-authored with Professor Francis J. Moloney described as “one of the world’s leading biblical scholars”).
In 1972, Peter Van Greenaway, one of the more interesting British thriller writers of the 1960s and 70s (and author of the Medusa Touch on which the not really great horror movie was based) wrote a book called...The Judas Gospel. Now it’s at least fifteen years since I read it, but I seem to recall something along the lines of a ‘fictionalised memoir dictated by Judas Iscariot’…etc, etc, etc. Greenaway’s work is more subtle – at least in intent – than those above (well I’m being unfair to at least one of the authors above since I’ve read neither of their books) as a review in Time magazine from 1972 indicates (incidentally, what an internet to be able to get that particular review).
In 1995 Daniel Easterman, or Denis MacEoin to use his proper name (born in Belfast no less) released the Judas Testament. Another thriller, this time with the author of the Testament being Jesus. Okay, that’s a little confusing, as was the thriller, with various machinations by factions within the Catholic Church and neo-fascist groups to gain control and/or destroy the Testament. As I recall it was an entertaining read.
A quick look at wikipedia reveals a tidal wave of fictional usages of Judas in one way or another.
So in truth it’s hard to get too worked up about a device used so freely.
Still, in a way what is fascinating is that in a largely secularised period of history this particular narrative retains a currency. Is it the equivalent of that old publishers trick, putting a Swastika on the cover of a thriller, anecdotally said to be always good for a couple of extra thousand sales? Or is it that the inversion of a history (and I use the term advisedly) learned so young by many in Western culture somehow has a peculiar power? Curious too that there have been no significant religious sects built around the figure of Judas, but perhaps his ‘betrayal’ is too rooted in the mundane and the human to have much traction in the divine, even as an alternate focus for worship.
Perhaps Manichaeism was closest in spirit to such a sect. Or indeed the Cathars with their development of Manichaeism into a more explicitly Christian influenced religion. Dualism, a battle between the material and the light (and their belief that the Christian God was essentially an imposter) echoes the duality between Jesus and Judas.
The material world as a prison? The Old Testament God as usurper… Great stuff. Although some of the proscriptions of Catharism don’t seem quite so…cheering…
Maybe it’s time someone wrote a thriller about the survival of the Cathars into the modern era…
What’s that? You say it’s already been done?
Still, if the mini-industry centred on Judas is anything to go by there’s always room for one more.