JRP vs. Bishop Spong vs. Judas Iscariot: Round Five (2 of 4)

Part 1 of this Round can be found here. (With links tracing back to previous Rounds.)

The concept being promoted by Bishop Spong for his fifth piece of evidence for suspicion of Judas Iscariot being a fictional character, is that "Judas" was too common a name among Jewish men in Jesus’ day, and therefore is too convenient to be used as the name of the traitor. Or, as he prefers to put it instead: it’s too convenient that the traitor is named after the whole Jewish nation. (The way a vast number of other Jewish men were named in that time. But he never bothers bringing that up.)

His theory therefore is that Iscariot was created by Christians, starting around the time of GosMark’s composition (i.e. after the fall of Jerusalem), in order to bring orthodox Judaism into contempt in the minds of Jewish Christians; and then, from GosMark through Matt, Luke, Acts and John, the authors progressively develop Iscariot into an ever-more-sinister character, for the purpose of assassinating the character (so to speak) of orthodox Judaism itself.

But do the actual textual characteristics fit this theory?

Bishop Spong tries to link Judas Iscariot with the betrayal of Joseph by the Patriarch Judas; but as I pointed out toward the end of the previous entry, there are only two or (if a particular detail of GosMatt is included) maybe three parallels between the two stories; and those parallels are pretty shallow on examination. (Worse, the Matthean extra parallel would run directly against a supposed intention of vilifying Judaism--something Bishop Spong seems completely, if not conveniently, oblivious of!)

But perhaps the Patriarch Judah is treated as a nit in the Gospels?--as the betrayer of Joseph for example? (Not that Bishop Spong claims this, but it might have helped his theory.)

In fact, he’s almost never mentioned at all, except in those infancy narratives during the genealogies. GosMatt tactfully nods in the direction of some pagan and/or adulterous women in Christ’s geneology, but he doesn’t single out Judah for any calumny while doing so. Nothing bad is ever said about the Patriarch in the few places he’s even mentioned in the Gospels.

I’ve already shown that proper names like “Judah” are never used as “the very name of the Jewish nation” in the Gospels. But is “Judah” mentioned as the very name of the Jewish nation elsewhere in the canonical New Testament documents? (Not that Bishop Spong claims this, but it might have helped his theory.)

Eh, once. Hebrews 8:8. The few other times are either as the name of the particular tribe (Rev 5:5) for genealogical purposes again, or probably as a particular tribe reference (Heb 7:14), again genealogically.

But at least those few times the tribe or nation of Judah is treated in some violent and persecuting anti-Jewish fashion! Or anti-Semitic! Whatever! Right!? (Not that Bishop Spong claims this, but it might have helped his theory.)

Sorry, no. As noted, two of those times the usage is genealogical for Christ’s lineage. And one of those times (Rev 5:5), the reference includes a term that was considered rather flattering, and still is, among Jews: Christ is the “Lion” out of the house of Judah, who was typified in the OT as a lion starting with Jacob’s own inheritance blessing of him. The third time, Heb 8:8, is promising that God will set up a new covenant with the house of Judah--which by context has to mean the whole Jewish nation.

(Note that Heb 8:8 also illustrates what the use of the personal name of “Judah” as referencing the whole Jewish nation, would look like. Had the Gospel authors been intending to draw an overt typological link between the personal name of Judah and the whole Jewish nation, this is how they would have done it: by routinely, or at least ever-more-frequently, describing the whole Jewish nation in this fashion.)

True, the necessity of setting up a new covenant is because Israel (which is how “the house of Judah” is described, in nationalistic terms, pretty much everywhere else in the New Testament, and especially in the Gospels) is considered to have broken the original covenant many many times over. But that happened long before the story of Christ (as did the promise of a new covenant with Israel), and if the Old Testament is “anti-Semitic” or (more accurately) “anti-Jewish” for saying that, then there is nothing that isn’t “anti-Jewish”. Which is ridiculous.

But surely all the other uses of “Jud-“ names in the canonical New Testament are all pernicious slandery characters of low moral, uh, somethings... that... (Not that Bishop Spong claims this, but it might have helped his theory.)

Nope. Judas the Galilean is briefly mentioned once, as a false Messiah, but we know he was historical. Why would it be anti-Jewish for Christians to report Jewish authorities being against a known false Messiah whom the Christians had to be against, too? (Moreover, the character who brings this up, in Acts, is no less than the ultra-honored and beloved Jewish rabbi Gamaliel I!--in the process of pleading for clemency for the apostles from the other Jewish leaders! And who was supposed to be the teacher of Saul of Tarsus. But who is never claimed to have converted to Christianity by the supposedly fictionalizing authors.)

All the other Jud-s are nice faithful Christians. Sure, Jesus’ brothers think he’s crazy at one point in GosMark, but that changes later. (And, frankly, their comment was kind of a colloquialism even in that one place where they say it: the family is exasperated because Jesus hasn’t come home for lunch but is still out preaching on the shore. Nor is the name “Jude” mentioned in that particular Markan detail. When GosJohn says that Jesus’ brothers didn’t really believe in Him, as explanation for their challenge for Him to operate openly in Jerusalem, “Jude” isn’t the brother specifically mentioned either.)

Moreover, Jude is the brother of Christ with whom the canonical epistle is traditionally identified. A canonical epistle largely devoted to religious concerns from what is, to all appearances, a faithfully Jewish perspective. (Except for the whole thing about identifying Jesus as our only Lord and Owner and as the YHWH Who guided Israel out of Egypt, etc. Obviously non-Christian Jews would have some understandable problems with that! But Jude isn’t dissing them for doing so; he’s busy warning lax Christians that God, Who loves them, will punish them for being lax, as He punished the Jewish people of old. Punished for what? For being too Jewish?! No, for lapsing into paganism.)

Okay, so the Gospel authors must at least be making links between Judas Iscariot and “the Jews” per se, right?

No again. That term shows up only rarely in the Synoptics, and never in connection to Judas Iscariot. Nor is the term ever used in direct connection to Judas Iscariot in GosJohn. (It’s used twice in connection of Jews rejecting Jesus and His message, near reference to Iscariot; but it’s also used once in connection to Jews accepting Jesus in near reference to Iscariot. The chief priests and authorities are called “the Jews”--a very normal habit of the Johannine author--during the arrest, and by narrative logic Judas must be standing with them, but the author doesn’t emphasize this connection.)

But surely in the Gospels, the authors must be making direct connections between Judas Iscariot and the whole Jewish nation. Right? RIGHT?! Surely Bishop Spong couldn’t have been pulling this entirely out of his--!

Nope. Not even once.

And yes. Basically, he was.

There isn’t even any connection in the Gospels between Iscariot and Jewish religious law--unless one counts Iscariot’s attempt at returning money given for betraying an innocent man! If the reader is wondering how this one vague link constitutes calling the whole of orthodox Judaism into blame through Iscariot as a character per se, and is expecting Bishop Spong to help with answering that, the reader will have to get used to disappointment. (And maybe should just set aside her critical thinking and assume Bishop Spong’s theory is correct from here out--as he specifically expects his reader to do in the subsequent chapter.)

[Next time, part 3 of 4 for Round Five: does even Bishop Spong himself think Christians, decades after Jesus’ death, invented the rejection of Jesus by the leaders of orthodox Judaism?]


Jason Pratt said…
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Jason Pratt said…
Addendum: to be fair, the amount of silver Iscariot originally receives has some connection to Jewish law. But GosMatt's author doesn't bother making any emphatic connection to this--the author prefers to try connecting the return of the money to an illustrative analogy in one prophet (as though this was supposed to be a prophecy of the event to come). Even here the return of the money is what GosMatt focuses on far more thematically than the paying of the money.

Notably, Judas Iscariot never, in any Gospel account, including GosMatt (where one might have most expected it), is connected with Jewish procedure for entrapment and legal testimony against blaspheming teachers. For example, he is never shown being called in as an agent-provocateur witness, testifying that he heard Jesus speaking against the Jewish religion (much less against the "whole Jewish nation").


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