Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Judas Iscariot is not a Son of Perdition

Saul, David, and Solomon ruled over a unified Kingdom of Israel, but after Solomon’s death, the kingdom split into Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the South. When the Northern Ten Tribes of the Kingdom of Israel were carried away in 722 BC by the Assyrians, that left only the two Southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) of the Kingdom of Judah. Judah, the son of Jacob (Israel), was promised that the Messiah would be born to his descendants. As a result of the tribes of the northern kingdom becoming the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, the Israelites of the Kingdom of Judah gradually become known as Judeans, which developed into the modern word Jew. Thus, “Judah”, “Judean”, and “Jew” function essentially as synonyms, and due to this close synonymous association theologians, authors, dramaturges, and madrigals alike have cast aspersions at Judas as the epitome of the stereotypical Jew (greedy, Christ-killer, etc.) and various depictions of Judas throughout history have served as thinly veiled excuses to stoke anti-Semitic violence. Judas (Ιουδας [Ioudas]) is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Judah (יהודה [Yadhvè]), meaning “I shall praise Yahvè.” Indeed, the Alexandrine Gnostics praised and venerated Judas much more than Jesus, attributing his endless torment in hell as a superior sacrifice to Jesus’ praiseworthy altruism. Yahvè is the Proper Name of God in Hebrew and tradition held, and still holds it secret, ineffable, and nay unmentionable. To utter it was to violate the Commandment against taking god’s name in vain which Piero Ricci describes in “The Fourth Version of Judas”:

The P.N. [Proper Name] itself manages to turn this character [Judas] into a double actor. One who, by the simple dropping of a letter may become God, because in Hebrew script a single letter—dáleth—differentiates the name of Judas from the magic letters, the Tetragrammaton, which may not be either written or spoken. A simple distraction, a lapsus calami, the falling down of a border (‘dáleth’ means ‘door, threshold’ in Aramaic) could confuse Judas with God. (18)

At some point in time, Hebrews began to write only the consonants of god’s name in what came to be known as the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) so as to avoid any mention of god’s name and prevent kindling his wrath. Such was their rigor that the true pronunciation of the name has been lost. Instead they employed what Steven Pinker calls the “euphemism treadmill” to invent different ways to prevent breaking the Proper Name taboo (Pinker). Because of the loss of the original pronunciation and other chrono-linguistic causes, the original exact meaning of the Name of God has been lost. By guessing at the sounds lost to the missing vowels, various interpretations are plausible—including the auto-predicate statement, “I AM.” When Jesus used this name to describe himself to the Pharisees they sought to take away his life for breaking the taboo, and thus in their minds the commandment against speaking the name of He Whose Name Is Not Spoken (St. John 8:56-59):

Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

The mere act of uttering “I am” that “I exist” constituted blasphemy to many Hebrews, for their existence correlates to divine primacy—they owing their existence to his acts and will. The name “Jew” used to describe Hebrews, in Hebrew, is similar to the Proper Name of God and to the Gnostics this similarity provides ample fodder for viewing the Proper Name of God as derivative from Judas.

De Quincey said, “Not one thing, but all things that history attributes to Judas Iscariot are false.” De Quincey tried to vindicate Judas by proposing that he had sought to spark a rebellion against the occupation of Judea by the Romans. Pompey claimed Palestine, later renamed Judea, for the Romans in the 1st Century BC and it remained in Roman hands until its conquest by Arabs in the 7th Century AD. The Judeans’ history is a never-ending series of conquests, scatterings, returns, and waiting for the coming of their messiah. The Judean political leaders in power during Judas’s life were closely allied to Rome and the various cultural insensitivities or over-sensitiveness occasioned by both sides led to frequent clashes and uprisings. Various armed groups including the Sicarii, a group of armed assassins from which some claim Judas received his “Iscariot” name, sought to end Roman rule. Scholars generally agree however that the Sicarii did not arise until around 50AD. To illustrate the point to which the Jews were waiting for an armed messiah to liberate them, let me relate the example of Barabbas, one of the men who was to be crucified along with Jesus. Tradition holds that he was also named Jesus—a popular name of the time. When Pontius Pilate asked the gathered crowd whether he should release Barabbas, who had fought against Rome and committed murder, or Jesus, the crowd clamored for Barabbas’s release, yelling “crucify him” when asked what should be done with Jesus. The crowd chose the murderer man-of-action Jesus instead of the pacifist man-of-peace Jesus (Mark 15:6-14). De Quincey believed Judas was merely trying to compel the Savior into action for he believed him to be the messiah.

The word Apostle comes from Greek and means “messenger” and the calling of Judas was to be a witness of God. It is the compelling factor of the Biblical account of the betrayal that it comes from an Apostle, one of only twelve people called in the whole world, chosen specifically to testify of the divinity and mission of Jesus. This deceit is far more bitter, cutting, and symbolic than his betrayal by anyone else. Jesus had thousands of followers and hundreds of disciples but he chose the Twelve as his special messengers to be at his side at all times. A kiss signifies love, or at least trust, and betraying someone by a kiss represents a potent act of treachery. The Judas Kiss, from a literary standpoint makes for good storytelling as an especially deceitful way to betray someone.

Interpretation of the written page must decide to serve either the god of authorial intention or that of the actual text independent of authorial meddling. In the case of exegesis, the interpretation of divinely attributed or divinely inspired writings, this debate is especially fierce because understanding of the scriptures to the believer is crucial to their salvation/progress and to understanding the will of god. The libraries of the world contain countless tomes dedicated to trying to explain and clarify scripture via various methods: literal, hermeneutic, Midrash, grammatical-historical, folklore, and rational amongst others. Jesus chided the Pharisees for their interpretation of the Law of Moses and their strict adherence to the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law in Matthew 23:32, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin [sic], and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Luke (4:9-10) writes that the devil himself quoted scripture for his own purposes when Jesus was fasting in the desert in an attempt to convince him to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple (thus committing suicide). If the Christian adversary interprets scripture for evil purposes then countless other mortal interpretations will differ, blaspheme, and engage some. The heteroglossia of Judeo-Christian religious exegesis complicates any preoccupation with errors in the scriptures (which surely exist according to C.S. Lewis).

Personal interpretation of scripture—made possible in part by Erasmus’ humanist crusade to translate the Bible into the vernacular—or any written text, also depends on countless variables in the mind, experience, environment, etc. of the reader. A hermeneutic approach would yield a vastly different result than say a deconstructionist one. The notions of orthodoxy and unorthodoxy are ones of interpretation and explanation of essentially the same texts and ideas.

In spite of the numerous prophecies concerning the betrayal and sacrifice of the messiah (Zechariah 11), does a Christian see the betrayal by Judas as unavoidable or merely the betrayal itself as unavoidable—the specific agent being unimportant? History claims that God predestined the betrayal of Jesus by Judas according to his will. Here we find a further encapsulation of the sempitern debate concerning the human condition. “Predestined” can have two very different definitions: Predestination and foreordination. In an attempt to reconcile God’s foreknowledge with humanity’s promised, but not theopneustianly confirmed—free will, theologians and philosophers have established at least six methods of reconciliation. The first explanation states that humans are not truly free, but predestined to either salvation or damnation. Freedom is illusory and this mistaken belief arises out of ignorance of divine purpose. The second explanation hinges on the belief that God's foreknowledge while perfect, is yet still limited because his omniscience cannot determine any inevitabilities in all the possibilities (which he can contemplate) of human free agency. This belief is shared by Levi Ben-Gershon, also known as Gersonides. Gersonides, bothered by the old question of how God's foreknowledge is compatible with human freedom, holds that what God knows beforehand is all the choices open to each individual. God does not know, however, which choice the individual, in his freedom, will make The third explanation supported by Thomas Aquinas states that because of God’s eternal nature, he exists outside of time, and thus his knowledge does not impinge on human freedom. The fourth explanation, championed by William of Occam, claims that God’s foreknowledge is a paradox and that humanity cannot fathom how he accomplishes it. The fifth approach, as explained by Luis de Molina, describes how God has middle knowledge of what will and could happen. God knows what he wants to happen, and what situation would cause a person, of their own free will, to do what he wants them to; therefore he creates a world that will bring that to fruition. The sixth explanation, espoused by Maimonides, is the somewhat confusing belief that everything is foreseen, and yet God grants free agency.
The first example given dealt with a predetermined existence and Baruch Spinoza, differs from Calvin in his pantheistic belief that God is Nature—an entity entirely devoid of will, morals, or choice. Steven Nadler writes, “While Spinoza’s God is […] the ultimate and infinite cause of everything that exists, he is not […] a free God who acts by will and choice. […] All aspects of the universe follow necessarily and with absolute determination from the infinite substance—God—and its attributes” (144).

John Calvin—perhaps the most well known believer in and advocate of predestination—believed that one has no control over one’s salvation or damnation because everything was predetermined by God’s will and not dependent on God’s foreknowledge. Though interestingly, Calvin rejected the idea of an omnipotent all powerful God. To him, God’s greatest glory was his obedience to laws that gave him his rectitude and his righteousness. God cannot act on caprice alone. He must obey his own laws, and thus his own will. He believed that every action taken in life stemmed from necessity, which is a temporal and spiritual manifestation of God’s will. He based his ideas, in part, on the words of the scriptures, including St. Paul’s writings in the book of Romans 8:29-30. Before his conversion by god himself on the road to Damascus, Paul was a Pharisee; as such, per Jospehus, he would have believed—previous to his conversion—that some things were determined by god, while individual choice was still free. It is interesting to note, that Paul wrote his books first, yet they contain zero mention of Judas. They speak of the handing over of Jesus, not of the betrayal.

The Bible is replete with instances where people were foreordained to a certain task contingent on their obedience. Foreordination means that someone has been called to perform a certain task, but that the completion and coming to pass of that foreordination hinge on something else, be it obedience, worthiness, righteousness, or some other qualifier. Neal Maxwell describes foreordination as “[…] a conditional bestowal of a role, a responsibility, or a blessing which, likewise, foresees but does not fix the outcome” (71). I realize that some make no distinction between these differences, but the very Bible has examples of this dichotomy. God tells Jonah to go and preach repentance to the city of Nineveh because of their wickedness. One baleen sojourn later and Jonah overcomes his initial reluctance to obey Jehovah. He eventually goes to Nineveh and cries repentance unto the people there, but unlike the typical Old Testament response to prophetic admonition, the people of Nineveh repented of their ways; their supplications prompted Jehovah to spare them the destruction “that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:10). This story contains examples of foreordination and foreknowledge based on contingent human choices. God promises the destruction of Nineveh should they not repent, and when they do, he relents; had they not changed, he would have accomplished his will and prediction. Their foreordination to destruction or salvation hinged on their obedience and willingness to hearken to the voice of Jehovah’s prophet. In another example, Esau sold his birthright to his brother for some pottage (Gen 25:31-34) and he thereby forfeited to his twin brother Jacob the patriarchal right as the primogenit son to inherit the priesthood from his father. Jacob had received a divine promise of protection predicated on his righteousness, meaning that Jacob feared Esau because he knew God’s promise to protect him was conditional upon his merit. When the Israelites began demanding a king to rule them instead of the judges, Samuel tells that Jehovah did not want this for his people. They persisted in clamoring for a king, so Jehovah told Samuel to anoint Saul king of Israel. Jehovah would not crown anyone but the best to be the king of his chosen people, hence when he was chosen, Saul had to have been the most righteous and deserving man in Israel—David was still too young to govern the twelve tribes. Saul was foreordained to be king of Israel; Samuel told him that Jehovah would save all of Israel according to Saul’s righteousness, but just like everything that is foreordained, the prophecy depended on worthiness. Saul paid no heed to the counsels of the prophet and for that he fell from grace.

Rationally, in a predestination system of belief, if god predestines all human actions by the imposition of his will, then consequentially he would in turn be the author of human sin—something the scriptures and adherents to the doctrine of predestination deny as impossible. Human agency demands the prospect of choice and thus would deny predestination as absolute in every circumstance. Under Calvin’s example, Judas would have been predestined from either before time began and before God decreed that man would fall from their state of innocence (supralapsarianism) or after he decreed the fall (infralapsarianism) to betray Christ. Under Spinoza’s concept, Judas would be forced to betray Christ, but would only be free to say “yes” to his destiny to betray Christ because he then understands that it was necessary and therefore he was free because he understood his part in the completion of necessity.
Gersonides’ ideas, as explained in the previously given second example, hearken back to pre-Platonist ideas about the limited omniscience of God. While he sees astrological influence on sub-lunar entities as an influential causal force affecting actions—for example the tides rise and fall due to the gravitational pull of the moon—he maintains that humans are nonetheless free to choose. Under his system, humans are free to choose much the same way that a person’s choices can be influenced by consequences, community, or any other stream of variables. The stars are yet another factor in human decision making. Concerning divine foreknowledge, Gersonides posits that God can fathom all of the possible variables and outcomes of human action, but he cannot know the inevitabilities of free agent choices. To Gersonides, whose general doctrine of divine cognition is the most radical theory of God’s knowledge in Medieval Jewish thought, human freedom is so important that God’s omniscience must be redefined in order to accommodate it. If God knows expressly what someone will do, then he has predetermined it; therefore he grants people freedom to choose by choosing not to know what they will do. For Gersonides, human agency and divine omniscience are inversely proportional: the stronger the notion of freedom, the weaker the notion of omniscience. Hence God doesn’t know what Abraham will do when he commands him to sacrifice Isaac. Tamar Rudavsky, a noted Gersonides scholar, has written, “God knows that certain states of affairs are particular, but he does not know in what their particularity consists. God knows individual persons, for example, only through knowing the species humanity.” Omniscience in this case should not be defined as knowing all, but as knowing all that can be known. Thus, under Gersonides’s model, Judas would be free to deliver Jesus to his enemies because God, and thereby Jesus, chose not to know what exactly Judas would do (though arguably he had a really good idea). This allows God to know that someone will betray him without forcing anyone’s hand.

The third example revolves around the special nature of God’s foreknowledge. Thomas Aquinas would agree with this interpretation of why Saul was ever called as king in the first place. He was a firm believer in free will and in the first part of his Summa Theologica, question 83, article 1, after citing the Apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus, Chapter 15, he writes:

Man has free-will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain. In order to make this evident, we must observe that some things act without judgment; as a stone moves downwards; and in like manner all things which lack knowledge. And some act from judgment, but not a free judgment; as brute animals. For the sheep, seeing the wolf, judges it a thing to be shunned, from a natural and not a free judgment, because it judges, not from reason, but from natural instinct. And the same thing is to be said of any judgment of brute animals. But man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he judges that something should be avoided or sought. But because this judgment, in the case of some particular act, is not from a natural instinct, but from some act of comparison in the reason, therefore he acts from free judgment and retains the power of being inclined to various things. For reason in contingent matters may follow opposite courses, as we see in dialectic syllogisms and rhetorical arguments. Now particular operations are contingent, and therefore in such matters the judgment of reason may follow opposite courses, and is not determinate to one. And forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will."

God calls himself Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8) inferring that he has no beginning and no end, which indicates an extra-temporal existence, an existence outside of time—eternity. The human mind measures time linearly and struggles to contemplate something without beginning or end. One approach of explaining atemporal existence consists of comparing eternity to a ring; rings have no beginning or end. This refers to the concatenation, meaning linking of time, which occurs in eternity. Plato conceived of eternity as the archetypal ideal of time, and time in the world was eternity maintaining itself by constantly replacing time. Irenæus engendered the Christian concept of eternity based on the nature of the Trinity and its timelessness. If God created Jesus, and the Holy Ghost emanates from them, then this would mean that God preceded Jesus. Human choice would not be limited by God’s knowledge in this example because the future does not exist to Him—all things are present. Boethius, a 6th Century theologian and early advocate for the atemporal divine condition, wrote “God has a condition of ever-present eternity, His knowledge, which passes over every change of time, embracing infinite lengths of past and future, views in its own direct comprehension everything as though it were taking place in the present” (163). Therefore God could have foreknowledge of what is to be because his reckoning of time is not linear but eternal. In this sense Judas is free to betray Jesus, but because of his divinity, Jesus knows outside of the present, what Judas will do. If Christ has an actual body, it would be temporal and necessarily age. A docetic Christ can inhabit any present his wishes, freed from the temporal constraints of a body; this approach lends itself nicely to belief in a docetic Christ.

The fourth explanation as explained by Occam hinges on the causality and contingency of future actions to determine the past, meaning that if Judas had chosen not to betray Christ on the night of his arrest, then Zechariah would have never prophesied that he would do it.

The chief proponent of the fifth approach, Luis de Molina, believed that God has three different types of knowledge: natural, free, and middle knowledge. Alfred J. Freddoso explains the three types of Molinist divine knowledge with elucidation in his introduction to Luis de Molina’s On Divine Foreknowledge:

By his natural knowledge God knows that it is metaphysically possible but not metaphysically necessary that Adam will sin if placed in the garden; by His free knowledge He knows that Adam will in fact be placed in the garden and will in fact sin. What He knows by His middle knowledge, on the other hand, is something stronger than the former but weaker than the latter namely that Adam will sin on the condition that he be placed in the garden. So God has middle knowledge only if He knows all the conditional future contingents. (47)

Therefore, middle knowledge is prevolitional, meaning that it does not grant to God any more control over events than does his natural knowledge. Only after the imposition of his will does free knowledge exist. Pelagius believed that innocents who die without baptism attain eternal salvation and are saved from fire and brimstone. Refuted as a heretic by Augustine for ignoring the concept of original sin and for promoting the notion that justice demanded the innocents’ salvation (Augustine would counter that justice alone without interceding grace would demand that all men burn in hell), Pelagius was eventually forced to stand trial in a Jerusalem synod (he was acquitted). In this case, God knows how Judas would react and thus creates that exact situation so that his (god’s) will shall come to pass; Judas has his free will to choose and god’s will is fulfilled.

The sixth approach to answering the mystery of God’s foreknowledge maintains that god’s knowledge is perfect and yet that does not in any way limit mankind’s free will. Maimonides says:

Besides, I find it expressed in various passages of Scripture that the fact that God knows things while in a state of possibility, when their existence belongs to the future, does not change the nature of the possible in any way; that nature remains unchanged; and the knowledge of the realization of one of several possibilities does not yet effect that realization. (293-94)

Knowledge of the realization of one of several possibilities would be god knowing which path one will choose, yet his foreknowledge of which path will be chosen in no way influences the realization of that possibility. Though all of the possible outcomes of one’s life can be seen by god, his foreknowledge is compatible with human freedom, while human foreknowledge would be wholly impossible and incompatible with human freedom. On the basis of this observation, he adds:

This is likewise one of the fundamental principles of the Law of Moses […]. Otherwise it would not have been said, "And thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof," etc. (Deut. 23:8), or "Lest he die in the battle, and another man take her" (ibid. 20:7). The fact that laws were given to man, both affirmative and negative, supports the principle, that God's knowledge of future [and possible] events does not change their character. (294)

Meaning that mankind is free, so to speak, to make decisions because we cannot know the future and just because God knows which choice we will make, we are still able to make the choice independent of his influence.

In a system that presupposes divine omniscience and omnipotence, god would certainly know how Judas would act. Is this foreknowledge causal or predictive? Regardless of prophetic purpose, Jesus chooses Judas as one of his Apostles (John 17:12) knowing that he will be betrayed by his confidant. Here we encounter the paradox of reconciling divine foreknowledge with human freewill in a concrete situation. If Judas can only carry out the divine will, absent his own free agency, he is essentially a fancy golem and divine foreknowledge forces his hand. If he chooses to betray Jesus of his own volition then god’s foreknowledge is predictive but not compelling.

The Apostle John called Judas a thief. John was the called “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and this level of praise from Christ would indicate to a Bible reader that John’s writings could be trusted, ergo; John would not stoop to call someone a thief who was innocent. Of course, given that John is presumably the author of John, then it stands to reason that his description of the events that transpired and Christ’s opinion about him could be tainted by his own prejudices and personal feelings towards Judas. However, if one believes in what the scripture says then one would have to believe the words of John about Judas.

The Synoptic Gospels all put him last in order of the Apostles. Mark always brackets his descriptions of Judas with some comment about the future betrayal (Mark 3:19). Judas at dinner goes to sell out his brother, the same way that his ancestor Judah, during dinner, sold his youngest brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Joseph’s time in Egypt was crucial to the survival of the Jewish people during the horrendous famine of seven years that Joseph foresaw. Likewise, according to the Gnostics Judas’s time in Hell is crucial to the survival of humanity—they believed anyone could die for someone else, but to codemn oneself to eternal hellfire was a true sacrifice. In their dogma, Judas is a doppelganger of Christ, he does everything that Jesus does but without the nobility—with an aversion to virtue that—involved in doing something for the promise of eternal glory.

The difference between predestination and foreordination is that in a foreordination system, Judas has freewill. James Talmage wrote that if Judas had remained faithful to Jesus and worthy of his calling as an Apostle, someone else would have had to have betrayed Jesus:
Had Judas been true to the right, other means than his perfidy would have been operated to bring the Lamb to the slaughter. His ordination to the Apostleship placed him in possession of opportunity and privilege above that of the uncalled and un-ordained; and with such blessed possibility of achievement in the service of God came corresponding capability to fall.
Presupposing a just deity (as Christianity typically does), if Judas had not had the freedom to choose his own destiny, the mission of Jesus would have been in vain; a truly just god cannot command obedience and then compel his subject to disobey a previous commandment against disobedience. Because he was given esoteric knowledge, and because he knew that Jesus was the son of god, betraying him was all the more severe, all the more cruel, and all the more prejudicial to his eternal soul. Although it should be noted that the Apostle Peter also denied Christ on three separate occasions. Why Peter is forgiven and Judas has been vilified as Perdition for centuries is a source of debate among Christian scholars.

I do not believe Judas is a son of perdition, and I believe had he not killed himself, he would have been able to receive forgiveness for his betrayal. I can’t see him hanging out in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, but he is NOT a son of perdition! No Scripture ever calls him that! It’s in the Lord’s hands now.

Read this if you’re confused ↓

“The true relationship of foreknowledge to foreordination is difficult to explain. God foretells, through His prophets, for instance, the division of the kingdom of Solomon, the captivity of Israel, and the very place of the exile. Human reason would naturally conclude that if God saw that these things were to happen, they had to happen, no matter what man would do. But history shows that they came about through the sins of the rulers and the people, and that the Lord warned them incessantly against these sins, as if anxious to prevent the predictions from coming true. The very disobedience to the warnings became the immediate justification for the punishment predicted. Could the people have repented and averted the calamities predicted and foreseen? If so, how could they have been foreseen, except conditionally? Perhaps the history of Jonah and Nineveh, by showing that repentance averts disaster even when predicted, offers the only satisfactory answer to that question.”

A Study of the Articles of Faith: The Principal Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. James E. Talmage 1890.
Whitefish, MT Kessinger Publishing. Reprint 2005 page 491


Karie said...

Gravy Mac,

Just think how much you could have gotten done on your dissertation instead of writing this particular entry. What lead to the diatribe anyway?

Mac said...

It is part of my dissertation.

Karie said...

Well then...good for you. Look at how much you got done on your dissertation.

paul said...

This is about as interesting as watching the Oscars.