Friday, April 07, 2006

Judas vs. Dan Brown

Background reading for the Judas story:

1. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels. An examination of the other paths Christianity might have taken. The Judas Gospel is by all accounts Gnostic; Pagels of course didn't have access to it when she wrote this book, since it was sitting in a safety deposit box in New Jersey. But this is the context. (Gnosticism seems hot right now; Philip Pullman seems to be responsible.)

2. William Klassen, Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? Klassen points out that while paradidomi is usually translated as "betrayal," it really means something more neutral, like "handing over." Judas's bad reputation is thus based on a mistranslation.

3. Jorge Luis Borges, "Three Versions of Judas." Theologian Nils Runeberg shows that the savior of humanity was not Jesus but Judas. Classic Borges; also gnostic.

4. Andrew Lloyd Weber, Jesus Christ Superstar. As with Milton's Satan, Judas is the most interesting character.

This is the thinking man's Dan Brown. In the DaVinci Code, the idea is that Jesus was fully human to the extent that he had sex and his ancestors live to this day. This is exactly opposite the conceit in gnosticism, where the earth is something to escape, and where salvation is achieved through knowledge and the ideal. The former is focused on the material, the latter on the immaterial. In both cases, the church is assumed to be the betrayer of the real message of Christianity rather than its protector. And in both cases, the problem of interpretation is removed by focusing on the supposed existance of a secret code. All uncertainty about the meaning of the ultimate message is removed, because it can only be understood in one way. A terrible blasphemy: you really think the word of God means only one thing, instead of infinitely many?

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