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Judas Iscariot

Oh, Judas, I think.  I think you have to be drawn to the figure of Judas.  I don’t mean drawn in the sense of admiring, but I always have found Judas a completely credible character—again within the narrative.  If you imagine him as someone who is just impatient, who feels that Jesus is the… if you think of him in a certain sense, as sort of Malcolm X to Jesus’ Martin Luther King, you make perfect sense of him.  You know, you can go on YouTube and you find all of these videos of Malcolm saying: I don’t understand why Dr. King is so patient with these people. We should, you know, we’re at war with these people, with white America, in exactly the same way that you can imagine Judas saying: These are god damn Romans, what are, why, what do you mean, we, we render on to them that which we ought to render on to them?  We’re at war with these people!  So, if you imagine Judas as being impatient in that way and wanting to provoke, war, provoke a strike, he becomes a very credible character in that way, or if you prefer to see him just as somebody who’s weak, he becomes…he’s credible in another way. 

Now, theologically, as we know, he presents an endless conundrum because since Jesus’ sacrifice is necessary to the redemption of mankind, the man who provokes the sacrifice is in a sense part…is the redeemer, or at least is a piece of the redemption. Of course, the Gospel of Judas as it was rediscovered in our own time, says that explicitly, says…Jesus is conspiring with Judas to get him killed because that’s the only way that he’ll get off of this planet and the only way mankind will be redeemed, which has it’s own kind of odd charm and intensity, whatever the date or the particular context of that Gospel.  So, yes, I think that Judas is… that that’s the great play, if you had to write a play, Judas and Jesus, or Peter and Jesus.  Peter’s a bit of a bore, but there is great play to be written, Judas and Jesus.

  • Adam Gopnik

    Adam Gopnik is a staff writer for The New Yorker  magazine. His recent books of essays include Paris to the Moon (2000) and Through the Children’s Gate (2006).