Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Three Versions of Judas

I mentioned in a comment on my friend pHinn's blog that Jorge Luis Borges has a story that precedes the current enthusiasm about Judas's gospel. I had finally some time to look this up. The story "Three Versions of Judas" has no Finnish translation (at least none I know of), but it's easily available in the English translation of Ficciones, one of Borges's most famous collections of short stories and essays.

As is often the case with Borges, it's not entirely clear whether the Judas story is real or whether he made it all up. Nevertheless, Borges's "hero" is one Nils Runeberg who wrote in 1904 a thing called Kristus och Judas. His masterpiece, according to Borges, is Den hemlige Fralsaren (in the Grove edition I have it's written as "Dem", which is most certainly wrong; I don't know if the mistake was already in Borges's original). Runeberg was refuted by all the confessions, says Borges, when he said that Judas "intuited the secret divinity and the terrible purpose of Jesus". "Judas", writes Borges, "the disciple of the Word, could lower himself to the role of informer (the worst transgression dishonor abides), and welcome the fire which can not be extinguished." Runeberg derives his ideas from Thomas De Quincey (who did exist) who said in 1857 that "Judas had betrayed Jesus Christ in order to force him to declare his divinity and thus set off a vast rebellion against the yoke of Rome". It was Runeberg's task to give De Quincey's idea the "metaphysical vindication".

Borges muses by having Runeberg think that the act of treachery was not necessary, since everyone knew Jesus who performed miracles before thousands and preached daily in public (I've often wondered about this: you'd think the Romans did know what Jesus looked like). Thus the treachery of Judas was "a predestined deed which has its mysterious place in the economy of the Redemption". Runeberg/Borges continues that it's really Judas Iscariot who was sacrificed, not Jesus Christ.

Borges continues his fancy in quite length and I won't go into that. Let me just say that this is a very delightful and thoughtful piece and it's a small wonder no one has pointed it out. (And I must thank Robert Elkin on the Rara-Avis e-mail group for mentioning this. I'd read the story or a description of it somewhere, but couldn't remember details.)

PS. Well, it's mentioned at least here and here. Read the story here.

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