27 January 2011

Stand Up for Judas

In the western mythos, 'Judas' is synonymous with 'traitor'. This comes from the Christian gospels, in which a man named Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus after being his student and servant for three years of ministry.  According to the gospels,  Judas led soldiers into the garden in which Jesus was praying and distinguished him among his followers by kissing Jesus on the cheek -- betraying his friend for thirty shekels of currency. Jesus was then taken by the Romans, interrogated, beaten, and condemned to death. Judas later expressed shame for his actions and died, either by hanging himself or by tripping and disemboweling himself in a field of broken pottery. 

There have been various attempts to redeem Judas' name. Since most Christians believe that Jesus's essential task on Earth was to die, Judas' role in arranging that death seems necessary. Indeed, when The Gospel of Judas began attracting attention in the media, he was represented as Jesus' dearest friend, specially chosen for the task of leading Jesus to his death. Yesterday, I discovered a song called "Stand Up For Judas", which paints the story of Jesus and Judas in a different story, rooting itself in one of the Christian text's more questionable stories.

In the story, Jesus and his disciples are resting at a supporters' home at the end of a long journey. A woman named Mary enters, carrying an 'alabaster box' full of valuable ointment. Breaking the box, she proceeds to wash Jesus' feet -- presumably dirt-caked from a day of walking -- with it, using her hair to scrub his feet clean.  Some of the disciples -- Judas is named explicitly in the other gospels -- objects to this on the grounds that her actions were wasteful.  That ointment could have been sold, he says, and the proceeds given to the poor.  Jesus' reply was that the poor will always be around but he would not, so it was better that she was able to appreciate him with this sacrifice. Disgusted, Judas leaves and proceeds directly to sell Jesus out.   With that in mind, the song. 

 Essentially, it portrays Judas as a populist revolutionary who feels betrayed by Jesus turning himself into a religious icon rather than leading the people to freedom.Transcribed lyrics follow underneath the video. 

The Romans were the Masters, when Jesus walked the land
In Judea, and in Galilee, they ruled with an iron hand
And the poor were sick with hunger, and the rich were clothed in splendor --
And the rebels, whipped and crucified, hung rotting as a warning.

And Jesus? Knew the answer.
But Judas was a Zealot, and he wanted to be Free --
"Resist!" he said, "the Romans's tyranny!"

So stand up, stand up for Judas!
And the cause that Judas served --
It was Jesus who betrayed the poor with his words.

Jesus was a conjurer, miracles were his game
And he fed the hungry thousands, and they glorified his name
He cured the lame and the lepers,
He calmed the wind and the weather,
And the wretched flocked to touch him, 
So their troubles would be taken..
And Jesus? Knew the answer.
"Only believe in me."
But Judas sought a world in where no one starved or begged for bread.
'The poor are always with us,' Jesus said.

So stand up, stand up for Judas!
And the cause that Judas served --
It was Jesus who betrayed the poor with his words. 

No Jesus brought Division where none had been before
Not the slaves against their masters, but the poor against the poor.
For 'He who is not with me is against me,' was his teaching.
Said Jesus, "I am the answer".
Shall die in your sins."
'Not sheep and goats', said Judas, but 'together we may dare!'
'Shake off the chains of misery we share!'

So stand up, stand up for Judas!
And the cause that Judas served --
It was Jesus who betrayed the poor with his words. 

Jesus stood upon the mountain with the distance in his eyes
"I am the Way, the Light," he cried,  "the Life that never dies!
"So renounce all earthly treasures, and pray to your heavenly father."
And he pacified the hopeless with the hope of life eternal.
Said Jesus, "I am the answer, and you who hunger, only remember -- 
".. your reward's in heaven"
So Jesus preached the other world,
but Judas wanted This -- and he betrayed his master with a kiss.

So stand up, stand up for Judas!
And the cause that Judas served --
It was Jesus who betrayed the poor with his words. 

By sword, and gun, and crucifix, Christ's gospel has been spread!
And two thousand cruel years have shown the Way that Jesus led
The Heretic burned and tortured, and the butchering, bloody Crusaders
The bombs and rockets sanctified, that rain down death from heaven
They followed Jesus! -- they knew the Answer.
All nonbelievers must be believers -- or else be Broken.

"So place no trust in Saviours," 
Judas said, "for everyone
Must be to his or her own self...a Sun."

It's an interesting song, I think. While I've never seen Jesus as a Saviour,   for time I dearly wished to regard him well. I wanted to see him the same way I see Siddhartha Gautama, as a teacher of wisdom. In part I still do, if only to find common ground with Christians, but since he never wrote a thing we cannot say with certainty who he was -- or who he thought he was. The song leaves me with mixed feelings, for I hate injustice and applaud anyone who fights against it with swords or through nonviolent means. I despise the Platonic-Christian contempt for the natural world, and have no use for those who want to be worshiped. I rather like this song's Judas, and would indeed stand up for him -- though I don't know if any uprising could defeat the Romans in the time of Augustus. When the Jews did revolt in 70 CE, they were broken fairly quickly.

I had to look at three different accounts of the alabaster box stories, since every author had different details.Relevant chapters are Luke 7, Matthew 26, and Mark 14


Ahab said...

Judas as a populist revolutionary? Interesting. I wonder if the way Judas was depicted in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR played any role in this reinterpretation.

smellincoffee said...

Definitely interesting, it's sort of a role reversal...Jesus as the sell-out and Judas as the true champion.

How was his portrayal in that musical? I've tried watching a few songs from it online, but they seem a bit...whiny.

Baley Petersen said...

I like the song. I'm struck that it portrays Judas as a Humanist. ;)