"The Last Days of Judas Iscariot"
March 24, 2005 11:56 AM   Subscribe

What About Judas? Dante condems Judas to eternal damnation in the darkest, deepest circle of hell. But what if someone came to the great traitor's defense in a trial to win his entrance into heaven? The playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis imagines just such a scenario in "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and running at the Public Theater in New York City. More inside.
posted by matteo (21 comments total)
Guirgis sets his play in a Purgatory courtroom presided over by a disgraced Civil War veteran. The case is argued by an obsequious prosecutor and an agnostic defense attorney who has won writs from both St. Peter and God himself to continue the appeal. At stake is the soul of the Bible's Benedict Arnold, who has been reduced to a catatonic state, unable or unwilling to communicate.

"Judas" marshals a parade of witnesses, from Satan (played by Eric Bogosian) to Mary Magdalene, Mother Teresa, and Pontius Pilate, many of whom speak in the contemporary parlance of the urban street. The strongest defense of Judas (played by Sam Rockwell) comes from fellow disciple Simon the Zealot, who proffers the theory that Judas handed Jesus over to the chief priests in order "to throw Jesus into the deep end of the pool." By forcing Jesus' hand, the theory goes, he "would have to act," thus sparking a revolution against the cruel Roman occupation of the Jewish homeland.
posted by matteo at 11:58 AM on March 24, 2005

What appears to be a free three-mp3 set comprising a reading of JL Borges' "Three Versions of Judas".
posted by kenko at 12:22 PM on March 24, 2005

the theory that Judas handed Jesus over to the chief priests in order "to throw Jesus into the deep end of the pool."

Interesting perspective, although he seems to have immediately regretted the tactic, if that was the case.
posted by scheptech at 12:30 PM on March 24, 2005

I had a youth minister who espoused exactly that view.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:32 PM on March 24, 2005

OTOH, it's a fairly long-standing theological idea - see Judas / modern interpretations at Wikipedia - that rather than being a traitor, Judas could have been a co-conspirator in playing out a planned scenario.
posted by raygirvan at 1:03 PM on March 24, 2005

kenko, yeah, I think Borges did a better job of explaining Judas (Google cache - you're on your own with the formating).
posted by bitpart at 1:19 PM on March 24, 2005

scheptech, that's what I was thinking. Although the suicide-by-variously-given-means makes a little more sense if you watch enough episodes of 24, where everyone kills themself while fomenting revolution.

Indulge me for a minute. Non-traditional interpretations aside, Jesus had to be crucified for the whole redemption thing to happen, right? So Judas, even assuming that he had no intentions beyond gaining his 30 pieces, still sort of did a mitzvah in the whole scheme of things, right?

So are evil intentions the only things that make a sin a sin? Or evil outcomes? And isn't God kind of screwing with us either way?
posted by LittleMissCranky at 1:46 PM on March 24, 2005

Isn't that also the idea in (if you'll excuse) Jesus Christ Superstar?

You wanted me to do it!
What if I just stayed here
And ruined your ambition?
Christ you deserve it!
posted by muckster at 1:48 PM on March 24, 2005

It's also Kazantzakis' take in Last Temptation of Christ (and, btw, the movie doesn't begin to do justice to the thought that goes on in the book, pretty though it may be). Judas was the most faithful of the disciples, because he was the one who did what Jesus knew had to be done. It's not like he denied him three times.

Always loved that book.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:33 PM on March 24, 2005

Something similar in Jeffers' Dear Judas, I think, though my memory is extremely sketchy (and in fact I never finished it).
posted by kenko at 2:36 PM on March 24, 2005

Is this somehow a stage sequel to The Passion?
posted by aGreatNotion at 2:41 PM on March 24, 2005

Possibly it was the Mossad behind it to get the Romans out of Palstine/Israel so that the Zionist entity could build a wall to keep them out forever.
posted by Postroad at 3:55 PM on March 24, 2005

So are evil intentions the only things that make a sin a sin? Or evil outcomes?

Intentions don't matter. Evil doesn't matter. Outcomes do not matter. Sin = disobedience to God, according to the fundamentalistic teachings I've had. No more, no less. Anything is ok morally, if God says so.
posted by Bort at 4:20 PM on March 24, 2005

Yeah, I get that. . .but since we don't actually have a ruling on everything, is it okay, say, to betray the son of God?
posted by LittleMissCranky at 4:43 PM on March 24, 2005

kenko: thank you! The Borges mp3s are a real treat.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:45 PM on March 24, 2005

The anthropolgist Marvin Harris had an interesting take on Judas Iscariot--this is from a chapter from his Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches - The Riddles of Culture, pasted in a comment at the Skeptic Files:

Although we cannot be in error about when Jesus spoke, there are many reasons to suppose that we are in error about what he spoke. A simple practical solution to the questions raised at the close of the previous chapter is that Jesus was not as peaceful as is commonly believed, and that his actual teachings did not represent a fundamental break with the tradition of Jewish military messianism. A strong pro-zealot-bandit and anti-Roman bias probably pervaded his original ministry...

The crowd surrounding Jesus certainly had not had time to adopt a non-violent lifestyle. Even his most intimate disciples were clearly not prepared to "turn the other cheek." At least two of them had sobriquets which suggest that they were linked with the militant activists. One was Simon, called "The Zealot," and the other was Judas, called "Iscariot." There is an uncanny resemblance between Iscariot and sicarii, the word used by Josephus to identify the knife-wielding, homicidal, dagger men. And in certain Old Latin manuscripts Judas is actually called Zelotes...

All four gospels record the fact that the disciples put up armed resistance at the moment of Jesus' capture. After the Passover supper, Jesus and his inner circle slipped away to a garden in Gethsemane where they prepared to spend the night. Guided by Judas Iscariot, the High Priest and his men burst in on them as Jesus was praying and the rest were sleeping. The disciples drew their swords and a brief struggle ensued, during which one of the temple policemen lost an ear. As soon as the police grabbed Jesus, the disciples stopped fighting and ran away into the night. According to Mathew, Jesus told one of his disciples to sheath his sword, a command which the disciple obeyed but was obviously unprepared to hear, since he immediately deserted.

In the gospel narrative, the price given to Judas resembles Herodias' denunciation of John the Baptist. If Judas was in fact Zelotes - a zealot bandit - he might have betrayed Jesus for any number of tactical or strategic reasons, but never simply for money. (One theory is that Jesus wasn't being militant enough.) By identifying Judas' motivation as pure greed, the gospels may simply have repeated the kind of distortion that Josephus and the Romans automatically employed with respect to all zealot-bandits...

posted by y2karl at 6:45 PM on March 24, 2005

Very interesting thread, the 'real motivation' of Judas. Hmm, bears further investigation. Meanwhile:

Yeah, I get that. . .but since we don't actually have a ruling on everything, is it okay, say, to betray the son of God?

The thinking is you don't need a specific ruling. Basically in the old testament under the old covenant everything was legalistic. Under the new covenant, i.e. through Christ, you don't need all the laws, you follow His teachings or guidelines as it were which replace all the impossible-to-live-up-to legalism that existed up till then, and which offer ways to sort out new previously un-considered situations.

I believe that's the general idea at any rate. So, in this case, you would ask yourself generally: would you betray a friend, would you give up an innocent person to people you know intended harm to them?
posted by scheptech at 7:05 PM on March 24, 2005

Great Maundy Thursday post (which I'm reading on Good Friday). Just to throw in my two cents: both Matthew and Mark have Judas going to the chief priests after the anointing at Bethany.

I think that these two stories are preserved together to imply that the anointing might have been the final straw for Judas. He wasn't upset about the waste, or Jesus' defense of Mary-- he's upset at Jesus' final insistence that he will die. Judas finally realizes that Jesus is a completely different Messiah than what he expected (or wanted), and that as far as he's concerned, a dead Messiah is worth about 30 pieces of silver.

This irony of this, and of all the Passion narratives for that matter, is that the gospel writers want us to see Jesus through the eyes of the ones who hate him and want him dead becasue they are the only ones who really know what he's implying about himself.
posted by footballrabi at 2:01 PM on March 25, 2005

no time to type...try looking up Borges' *two versions of Judas*, in which Judas is said to be the real messiah...
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:20 PM on March 25, 2005

No time to read, either, I suppose.
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:51 AM on March 26, 2005


i even managed to get the title wrong! :(

posted by UbuRoivas at 5:39 PM on March 28, 2005

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