Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hey Judas

The conclusion to Joan Acocella's review-essay of some recent books rehabilitating Judas, the betrayer of Christ, especially in light of the recently recovered Gnostic gospel of Judas:

Why shouldn’t we entertain the idea of an archetypal betrayer? In Gubar’s view, the original, Biblical Judas may have had a bad influence on our politics, but he does represent something true about our lives. He testifies, she says, to the “distressing nature of the human condition,” our “capacity for faltering and sinning” and then for despair and self-hatred—which, somehow, don’t prevent us from faltering and sinning again. Many of us, on many occasions, are not going to love one another. If this widely acknowledged fact is personified by one figure in the New Testament, why shouldn’t it be?

The alternative is to revise the Bible. Some religious scholars think that this is a good idea. Regina M. Schwartz, in her book “The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism” (1997), argues that the Old Testament’s endorsement of violence—the fruit, she says, of monotheism, with its intolerance—has been so destructive that we should delete it from the text and “produce an alternative Bible . . . embracing multiplicity instead of monotheism.” ...

All this, I believe, is a reaction to the rise of fundamentalism—the idea, Christian and otherwise, that every word of a religion’s founding document should be taken literally. This is a childish notion, and so is the belief that we can combat it by correcting our holy books. Those books, to begin with, are so old that we barely understand what their authors meant. Furthermore, because of their multiple authorship, they are always internally inconsistent. Finally, even the fundamentalists don’t really take them literally. People interpret, and cheat. The answer is not to fix the Bible but to fix ourselves.

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