Friday, April 15, 2022

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Tom Bissell, on the Mysterious Figure of Judas Iscariot)

“Who Judas was, what he did, why he did it, and what he ultimately means have been debated within Christianity since its first decades. In the centuries since, many—believers and non-believers alike—have attempted to discern in his few scriptural appearances a personality complicated and large enough to merit the crime for which he is condemned. These myriad attempts have resulted in almost as many Judases as attempts. We have been presented with a Judas who is tormented and penitent, a Judas possessed by devils, a Judas possessed by the Devil, a Judas who is diseased, a Judas who is loyal, a Judas who does what he has to do, a Judas who wants Jesus to act against Rome, a Judas who is confused, a Judas who is loving, a Judas who loves women, a Judas who kills his own father, a Judas who works as a double agent, a Judas who does not understand what he has done, a Judas who kills himself, a Judas who lives to old age, a Judas who loves Jesus ‘as cold loves flame,’ a Judas who is the agent of salvation itself.”— Travel and short-story writer Tom Bissell, “Looking for Judas,” VQR, Summer 2009

In Israel’s Hinnom Valley over a decade ago, Bissell and a companion journeyed toward Hakeldama (alternatively, Akeldama), or Aramaic for “field of blood”—originally where children in the Old Testament were sacrificed, then made more notorious as the site that Judas Iscariot is alleged to have bought for betraying Christ, and where, tradition holds, he hanged himself in guilt-ridden remorse.

In the fascinating creative nonfiction piece that resulted, Bissell examined what is commonly accepted or disputed about the most notorious Apostle, including differences among the Gospel accounts of what led him to his shocking last act.

Unlike other sites in the Holy Land with less historical foundation, Bissell found, there are no physical signs pointing the way for pilgrims here. But the atmosphere, with its "caves, mud, and bushes," remained eerily desolate.

Moreover, on the ridge overlooking the field, loomed a contemporary reminder of the division and violence that Jesus came to ameliorate before becoming its victim: what modern Israelis call the Separation Barrier and Palestinians refer to as the Racial Separation or Apartheid Wall.  That concrete wall, Bissell observed, “possessed the hideous gray inelegance of a supermax prison.”

The image accompanying this post, showing Judas Iscariot, in the right foreground, slipping away from the Last Supper to betray Christ, was created in the late 19th century by the Danish painter Carl Bloch (1834-1890).

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