Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil

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Free Press, 1992 - Antisemitism - 213 pages
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In this speculative study of the early Church, Hyam Maccoby raises the question of whether anti-Semitism has roots in Christian theology. This would not have been a controversial question fifty or a hundred years ago. Yet strangely, no one formally involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue was willing to be quoted, pro or con, for attribution on the subject. This refusal to discuss a legitimate issue that should deeply concern representatives of both religious groups suggests that Maccoby has hit a nerve. And indeed, that is precisely his intention in this closely argued book about the origin, development, and posthumous career of the shadowy Biblical figure called Judas Iscariot. Maccoby begins with a simple question: Who was Judas, and how did he become the preeminent figure of evil in Christian myth and literature? Maccoby shows that Judas was not marked out for any special role in the earliest accounts of Jesus' life and death; rather he emerges in successive versions as the fated betrayer who leads Jesus to his necessary sacrifice. The Judas story, he concludes, is thus a total fabrication which has more to do with the internal quarrels of the early Church - above all with the narrative requirements of a sacrificial myth - than with the actions of any supposed historical character. This mythic role of Judas as a "sacred executioner" is central to the understanding of his story and indeed to the subsequent history of the Jews within Christian civilization. For this role was transferred to the whole Jewish people, who have been branded with precisely those vices of envy, greed, and ultimate disloyalty displayed by Judas in the Gospels. Maccoby traces this association through theliterature and art of Christian Europe to the present day, showing that beneath the civilized euphemisms that have been variously applied to Jews - internationalists, cosmopolites, or secular humanists - there lingers the ancient theological slander embodied in the Judas myth. Maccoby does not identify Christian theology as the sole source of anti-Semitic prejudice, of course. But he maintains that symbols of the Christian myth have greater power in the post-theological age than we realize, precisely because our rationalistic prejudice persuades us that we are immune to subrational influence. Thus, paradoxically, Enlightenment - which Jews regarded as the key to their emancipation - may actually have intensified anti-Semitism by driving the idea of evil to the margins of acceptable discourse. And it is just this "primitive" identification of the Jews as the people of evil that the well-meaning liberal exponents of interfaith dialogue refuse to discuss.

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Judas in the Western Imagination
The Enigma of the Early Sources
Mark and Matthew

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