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Judas Lives!

(Article published in the Apr 12, 2006 issue of Manila Standard Today)

Tomorrow, April 13, 2006, as shrinking Christendom begins its intensive recollection of the most central narrative of the Jesus the Christ story, the limelight will be shared by the Hero with the villain, Judas Iscariot. Because his role was written about by followers of the Hero, he had to endure the misfortune (among many others) of a bad press.

However, since he, according to one gospel writer (albeit only one of four ) was the apostle who “kept the common purse” (John 12:6), he must have had at least one thing in common with us estate planners, maybe more.  It is thus fitting that we today, though rather belatedly, do a bit for damage control for him who just might, literally or figuratively, or both, be our kith and kin.

What really can be established as fact about Judas Iscariot? 

His name tells us very little about the man. “Judas” or “Ioudas” is the Greek rendition of the Hebrew “Judah” or “Yěhûdâ”, the name of one of the twelve sons of Jacob or Israel.  Since it was a patriarch’s name, it was not uncommon among the Jews even at the time of the New Testament to be called “Judas”.  For example, one of the “brothers” of Jesus was a “Judas” (Mark 6:3) and another disciple had the same name (John 14:22).  There were probably as many “Judases” then as we today have “Jose”. Nothing much we can deduce from that, certainly nothing that would suggest his famed avarice, since it was not yet acceptable to use, as now, a second “first” name, like “Jose Miguel”, for instance.  

Also not very helpful is the surname of sorts, “Iscariot”.  It is said to be derived from “’îš Qěrîyôt” meaning that he came from a town allegedly in ancient Judah called “Kerioth” (Joshua 15:25) somewhere in the area of  Beersheba.   This theory is popular, not because it may indicate that Judas was probably an alcoholic, but because it lays the basis for the observation that Judas was the only Judean among the Twelve, the rest were Galileans.  Characterizing Judas as an “outsider” makes it easy to assume that, as a consequence, he is one likely to behave the way he did.

But modern scholars seriously question the proposition.  They point out that the basis for the argument, i.e. the Hebrew phrase “Qěrîyôt Hesrôn” in Joshua was erroneously  thought by early writers (including St. Jerome, no relation to me) to mean two towns.  In fact, they now believe that “Qěrîyôt Hesrôn” means more accurately “the cities, or villages, of Hezron.”  If recent studies are correct, “Kerioth” becomes as credible as Toting Bunye’s “I have two tapes” (or were they disks?) performance during the “Hello Garci” extravaganza.

What all the four gospels writers, including John, agree on (which is equivalent to hearing Senators Lacson and Pimentel sing in chorus with Presidential men Saludo and Claudio) is that Judas was the one, of the many who could have, who handed over Jesus the Christ, to the religious and political leadership of their time. Thus, undiminished (I was strongly tempted to use the incorrect “irregardless”) by the number of what we do not know of him, we do know that Judas Iscariot’s claim to front page reportage and prime time coverage was his turning over a colleague to the Establishment.

The response of the hero’s followers to this “Judas-Iscariot-ness” (if I may use the esoteric form of speaking in fashion during the chairmanship of Fr. Roque Ferriols, S.J. at the Ateneo Department of Philosophy) was to assign to him the worst of character and most ignominious of deaths.  But the opposition to the Establishment that they were, like the local present day political Opposition, the Christ believers could not put their act together.

Matthew, by relating that Judas asked the chief priests, “What will you give me if I give him over to you? (Matt 26:14-15)” depicts Judas like a present-day dispenser of public office asking an aspirant what the latter can promise in exchange for an exalted office.  John, on the other hand, simply calls him “a thief” and says further that “he held the money box and could help himself to what was put in” (John 12:4-6). Some thing similar to the control that legislators have over pork.

And the allegedly 1,700 year-old recently reconstructed manuscript of the so-called “Gospel of Judas” in irony invests him with nobility by reporting a secret conversation with Jesus.  The conversation is supposed to demonstrate a conspiracy between Hero and villain for the latter to enable the Hero to be a hero.  That is as ludicrous as theorizing that the admitted telephone call by the still President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to an unnamed official of COMELEC was to enable the latter to show his integrity and independence.

The Establishment’s enemies who had different explanations of why Judas betrayed the Master were just as disorganized on the question of Judas’ death.  Matthew said Judas “hanged himself” (Matt 27:5). Luke, writing the Acts of the Apostles, tells of Peter saying (what did he know? He ran away too, didn’t he?) that Judas’s death was by “falling headlong, he burst in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18).

Papias, writing in 150 AD, gave a third version: “Judas lived his career in this world as an enormous example of impiety.  He was so swollen in the flesh that he could not pass where a wagon could easily pass.  Having been crushed by a wagon, his entrails poured out.”  It is not for this reason, of course, that wagons are not presently permitted to pass the narrow streets in and around Malacañang.

In contrast to the disarray of the Jesus followers, the Establishment, which alone benefited from the deed, was single-minded and decisive in dealing with Judas-Iscariot-ness.  First, the chief priests were true to their calling.  Even Matthew concedes in 27:3-10, that when Judas tried to return the thirty pieces of silver, the chief priests rejected them. Nevertheless, they picked them up after Judas had left, having thrown money in the temple. They then used the money to buy a piece of lot to be used as a plot for the burial of strangers.  That is just like to refusing to legalize jueteng and collect taxes on it, on the ground that profits from its operations are the “blood money” of the bettors but in the same breath setting up the Small Town Lottery which is expected to provide funds for local officials to devote to, say, lawful purposes.

Then, silence was automatically observed by all in authority.  Thus, no official spokesman, Jewish or Roman, of note is known to have freely talked of Judas’s betrayal in any of their chronicles.  Those in authority did not even need an executive order to keep their mouths shut.  Everyone, ruler and ruled, was to consider the matter closed.

Moreover, the armed forces conducted a round-up of the Jesus followers as inciters to sedition and conspirators of rebellion.  This was the Establishment’s calibrated response to pre-empt mass action, i.e. celebration of the Mass, by the early Christians who thus were forced to go underground, to the catacombs.

Finally, the Establishment did its own version of raising Judas from the dead.  To date, the public authority’s expression of approval of Judas’ act of betrayal for a fee is part of statute only, not the Constitution.  In our tax code, Judas now lives in Section 282 which grants awards of 10% to persons giving information that are instrumental in collecting taxes and duties.

But we are yet to see, if my fears come true, the full demonstration of the Establishment’s power to raise the dead.  After Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter, I will not be surprised to see a dead law, a law which has been declared wanting and unconstitutional, rising from the dead and being proclaimed as sufficient and there all along. 

As counterpart to the pre-figuration of Lazarus’ awakening from the grave, we learn from the final Commission on Audit Report on the Php 728 million fertilizer fund scandal that the dead had been listed as beneficiaries. And by way of imitation of the prophecies of the old testament, we hear a newly appointed justice of the Supreme Court say, like a vague prophet, “Of course, the high court can abandon an existing doctrine and come up with a new one.” 

This resurrection could very well pave the way for the amendment of the Constitution by initiative (legitimated by our current Sanhedrin) and install in office the betrayers of the public trust.  By then, Judas not only lives but also rules.

         Happy Easter to all.  Make sure you handle the Easter Eggs that you gather at the Hunt with care.  Some of them just might get on our faces.