Introduction To Judas
There is one individual within the New Testament who historically stands alone as the opponent to Jesus of Nazareth. Historically, Judas Iscariot has been seen by Christians as the betrayer of Jesus. Judas is the most notorious figure within Christian lore and mythology. It is impossible to deny Judas' involvement in the death of Jesus, but the blame for this act should not rest solely upon his shoulders. There were many contributing factors which brought about the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Religious scholars as well as film makers have offered a variety of interpretations concerning the extent to which Judas was involved in Jesus' death. Scholars such as William Klassen and film-makers like Martin Scorcese have come to new conclusions as part of a trend in the past century that alters the amount of responsibility and guilt which rests on Judas' shoulders.
Judas Iscariot has been wrongfully portrayed by Christianity and it's lore for most of the common era. The accusations which these stories and legends make against him have lead to his negative depiction in film. Many of the legends and myths about Judas were comprised in such a way as to make him a scapegoat for the communities' inability in the first century to recognize the presence of the messiah. After reviewing the historical evidence concerning Judas, there will be no basis for guilt on his behalf. Working from the viewpoint of William Klassen, certain directors' portrayal, and the Gospels accounts of Judas, Judas' true involvement in the death of Jesus is revealed. Judas' involvement in the death of Christ will be shown for what it was, then and only then may one come to an new conclusion about the guilt of Judas Iscariot.
An investigation into the historical possibilities for interpretation of the role of Judas Iscariot in film, leads to alternatives to holding him guilty of this crime. A primary source of reference in which to examine the actions of Judas in the passion narrative, is film. Various directors have dealt with this subject matter and each of them have depicted his motivation in a unique and interesting light. The characterization and motivation which is given to Judas by these film-makers may be a testimony to the historical Judas.
Judas' motivation for betraying Jesus is the key element which formulates an audience's understanding of his character. Post-modern film-makers suggest that the canonical portrayal of Judas causes the audience to fail to comprehend his motivational reasoning. Each of the directors which work with the passion narrative, have their own unique interpretation concerning his grounds for betrayal. What is so surprising is that none of these directors use the Gospels account for Judas' motivation. By separating their interpretation from that of the Gospels, they not only challenge the audiences but also the Gospels view of Judas' character.
There are two main aspects of the Judas character which the directors use to depict his character: physical appearance and dialogue. Dramatic gesture and wardrobe exist within the category of physical appearance. Both Jewison and Scorcese made a conscious decision to separate Judas from the remainder of the disciple band. By separating Judas, the only comparative figures for the audience to assess Judas against are Jesus and the character constructed by their own personal biases. Jewison's characterization of Judas is the most ironic and controversial in the history of his depiction in film. Scorcese's depiction of Judas is controversial but compared to Jewison's his lacks a dramatic twist to empower his statement about Judas' innocence. Scorcese works from the literary work of Kazantzakis which does not contain a resurrection scene or anything to the ironic nature which Jewison has in his final Judas scene.
Cecil B. DeMille and Paolo Passolini's cinematic portrayal of Judas will act as a foundation from which to understand the new conception of the Judas figure by post-modern directors. DeMille's work King of Kings, is indicative of the influence which Christian lore has had upon Judas' portrayal in film for much of the common era. Passolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew, also depicts the Catholic perception of Judas by working from traditional theories of the Renaissance. Both of these directors choose to depict Judas' character from the position of Christian ideology.
In comparison to the traditional methods of DeMille and Passolini, Norman Jewison and Martin Scorcese break away from the common filmatic portrayal of Judas by creating a new trend in the post-modern era. Norman Jewison's work Jesus Christ Superstar, reveals a new understanding of Judas' character by adding a potent twist of irony into his account of the narrative. Scorcese's Judas in The Last Temptation of Christ, also challenges the views of the audience by working from the historical possibilities presented by modern scholars like William Klassen.
As Judas' portrayal in film is dealt with more closely, it is apparent that he becomes the secondary focal point next to the figure of Jesus. Furthermore, post-modern directors choose to focus intensely upon the character of Judas. Two examples of this are Norman Jewison's production of Jesus Christ Superstar and Martin Scorcese's film, The Last Temptation of Christ. As Judas' character in these two films is expanded upon, his role moves from subordinate to equal, and finally surpasses that of Jesus. Within these two productions a clear picture of his character is the end result. It should come as no surprise that both artistic works were met by severe criticism from the Catholic Church and local religious groups at the time of their release.
Since there are very few historical records or accounts concerning Judas' life, one way of understanding and interpreting his character is through his depiction in film. Exploring the depiction of Judas in the artistic medium of film inevitably forces the audience to question their beliefs about this notorious figure of the Christ narrative. These films work towards promoting an innocent man to a culture whose fascination with death and betrayal may have began with this figure. Post-modern directors works from the historical possibilities supplied by scholars like William Klassen, to completely renovate the audiences perception of Judas Iscariot. These films interpret Judas as innocent and encourage their audiences to agree with their hypothesis.
After examining the historical presentation of Judas an understanding of the circumstances surrounding Jesus' death will be evident. The theories of modern religious scholars provide a basis for reconstructing the audience's beliefs concerning Judas' innocence. The cinematic depiction of these theories allows the audience to see this familiar narrative through different lenses. The audience will come away with a completely new outlook concerning the accusations made against Judas. Finally, the new trend in filmatic depiction of Judas will force the audience to question their understanding and hopefully present his character in an innocent light.
Gospel Traditions of Judas
From the accounts of the four Gospels, Judas' role in the betrayal of Jesus is subject to interpretation. There are many inconsistencies and illogical aspects of Judas' actions which allow post-modern directors to challenge his traditional depiction within the Gospels. Judas' character is can not be proven guilty of betrayal from the accounts in the Gospels. He is charged as a greed infested traitor who breaks his sacred connection to Jesus. However, one can not determine Judas' finite motive for betrayal from the Gospel accounts. The lack of agreement in these testimonials raises many questions about the historical accuracy about Judas Iscariot. Judas' name and position in the Apostle group will be examined along with his motivation for betrayal to display his ambiguous nature in the Gospels.
In the four canonical gospels, Judas' name appears in Jesus' calling of the apostles. This simple fact places Judas in the role of an elite member of Jesus' closest companions. Even though the accounts do not coincide completely from gospel to gospel, Judas Iscariot's name always exists in Jesus' calling of the apostles. His name also appears at the end of all four listings. From the manner in which his name is listed in the Gospels, the depiction of his character is illustrated.
Judas Iscariot's name is referred to last out of all of Jesus' disciples. The fact there is a separate section for the calling of the twelve is proof that they are significant figures in the life of Jesus. This separation contest the theories of some scholars who believe that the disciples did not hold a significant position in the movement(Mercer,). Judas' inclusion in this group places him in the role of an apostle who will be trusted to promote the words of Jesus after his death. Judas, being a betrayer, does not coincide with this role. Judas is chosen by Jesus as an apostle because his fate is not revealed until the time of the last supper.
Judas Iscariot's name being placed at the end of every listing of the twelve apostles, reveals his negative position in the mind of the authors. The positioning of the apostles does not seem to have any specific order but the first and last names may have been intentionally separated. Peter's positive role coincides with his positioning in the Gospels, which can be seen in his always being listed as the first disciple. Similarly, Judas' position at the end of the listing documents his stature as Jesus' most ambiguous apostle.
Judas name is always followed by a reminder of his actions of the passion. Matthew states, "and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him"(10:4). Luke likewise states, "and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor"(Lk.6:16). It is odd that Judas is the only apostle who is given a surname. The reason for this is a constant source of debate by modern religious scholars. Some theorize that Iscariot explicates his city of origin, and others consider it to be a label which illustrates his act of betrayal.
From the Lukan gospel, the name Iscariot appears to be derived from Judas' act of betraying Jesus. In Luke's account of the betrayal, the author suggests that Judas is possessed by Satan prior to committing himself to the religious authorities plan to arrest and crucify Jesus. In this segment the author states, "Then Satan entered into Judas/ called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve"(Lk.21:3). The authors wording of this account causes one to question whether Judas' name is Iscariot or whether he assumed that name after he betrayed Jesus. Being called "Iscariot" can be interpreted as being a name which was given to him after the fact. Other Gospel writers mention the name Iscariot at the calling of the twelve.
Judas motivation is clearly stated in Matthew, but a lack of motive is evident in the Gospel according to John. In the Matthean account it states, "Judas Iscariot went to the/ chief priests and said, 'What will/ you give me if I betray him to you"(Mt.26:14-15). From this account Judas motivation is obviously greed. However, in the Gospel according to John, his motive is quite puzzling. Judas is called a "thief" and his position of treasurer among the disciples is mentioned but it does not clearly point to greed as his motive for betrayal. Rather, John thirteen presents Judas as being possessed by Satan at the instruction of Jesus. Jesus says to Peter, "it is the/ one to whom I give this piece of bread/ when I have dipped it in the dish"(Jn.13:26).
Judas receives the piece of bread from Jesus and becomes possessed by Satan. Jesus is responsible for the possession of Judas, which eventually leads to his betrayal. From the Gospel of John, Judas is innocent of the betrayal of Jesus, because he can not be held responsible for his actions while under the control of Satan. Therefore, Judas' motivation for betraying Jesus is left to the interpretation of religious scholars.
Historically, Judas has been laden with the guilt which wrongly rests on his shoulders. There are four parties which took part in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Judas has no involvement in the chief priest's and elder's original plan to remove Jesus from the political or spiritual arena of Jerusalem. The extent of his role in the death of Jesus ends at his providing the Sanhedrin with the whereabouts of Jesus on the eve of Passover. The final issue which has been overlooked is a rational examination of not only who had the power to have Jesus killed but also who controls man's destiny.
According to the Gospels, the original plan to crucify Jesus of Nazareth was contrived by the Sanhedrin. Jesus' teachings not only conflicted with the Sanhedrin's belief system, but threatened their position as the ultimate religious authority in Jerusalem. Prior to their discussion with Judas, they had decided Jesus' fate. There is no evidence within the gospels that states that Judas had any knowledge of what the Sanhedrin had plotted concerning Jesus. The chief priests and elders had already decided to kill Jesus when Judas promised to hand Him over. Judas had no power to kill Jesus. The Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate were the empowered parties which used Judas' ignorance and manipulated Judas' kindness for the poor to cause him to hand Jesus over.
In order to betray an individual one must commit the act with malicious intent and a degree of surprise. Betrayals are never considered to be acts of friendship or kindness. Furthermore, the negative connotation of betrayal stems from the element of surprise which overcomes the party being betrayed. In the case of Judas Iscariot, neither of these criteria are fulfilled during Jesus' being handed over to the Sanhedrin. Judas' lack of a desire to kill Jesus prior to meeting with the Sanhedrin is established in three out of the four canonical Gospels. Upon His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus has no reason to be surprised. He prophesied his own death three times during His travels and conveyed an understanding of His arrest at the last supper.
From the Gospel accounts Judas is depicted in varying shades of darkness. Matthew is clear in it's portrayal of Judas Iscariot as being a mammon hungry disciple who strays from the path of Jesus. Luke and John do not make as convincing an argument for their motive of possession does not fully convict Judas of the betrayal of Jesus. The Markan account also tends to be rather ambiguous in it's depiction of Judas. There is not a strong sense of greed or anger on behalf of Judas' character. Mark is similar to John in having the agreement for betrayal come after the anointing in Bethany where the issues of money are raised. Matthew is clear in his motivation of greed but the other three gospels remain unclear of Judas' overall motive. From the inconsistent nature of these accounts many scholars have delved into the task of deciphering the true motivation of Judas' character. Judas' ambiguous nature in the gospels has spurn a wide variety of conclusions to be drawn about both his persona and guilt.
The Challenges of W. Klassen
Within the pages of William Klassen's work Judas; Betrayer or Friend to Jesus, he argues for Judas' historic guilt to be removed from his character. Klassen uses the work of other scholars as well as his own to challenge the traditional representation of Judas in the canonical Gospels. Klassen looks at Judas' inclusion in the disciple band as a key to understanding his tragic role in the narrative. The translations of both of the names "Judas" and "Iscariot" are particularly important to the validity of his argument. He raises five questions which challenge the popular beliefs against Judas. These five questions prove to be the fundamental information for understanding Judas' portrayal in the post-modern cinema.
Klassen's theory to alleviate Judas' guilt is based on the fact that Judas was part of the original twelve. Judas' inclusion in all four gospels legitimate his inclusion as one of Jesus' twelve disciples. According to the gospels, Jesus traveled through Galilee and recruited these twelve men on his own. Therefore, Judas was chosen by Jesus to travel with Him and listen to his message. Prior to the handing over of Jesus, Judas would have been responsible for promoting the memory of Jesus after his death. There are some questions which challenge the popular belief that the disciples were a tight knit group. The fact that the authors of the gospels highlighted twelve individuals from Jesus' following, confirms that they held a higher degree of importance than the remainder of his followers.
Judas' inclusion in the disciple band poses certain theological problems in the Jesus narrative. Assuming Jesus personally selected these twelve men, then he would be guilty of selecting his own betrayer. It is obvious that Jesus foresaw his own death because he acknowledges it three time prior to it's occurrence. However, is it difficult to discern whether or not Jesus foresaw Judas' involvement at the moment that he placed him in the disciple group. It is apparent that Jesus knew of Judas' destiny at the last supper, but his omnipotence is questionable prior to the passion. While investigating the question of Judas' innocence, it is crucial to understand the action which he is accused of committing.
According to Klassen, the name Judas was quite popular in ancient Israel. He theorizes that his name may have some connection to Judah. In the Old Testament, Judah is the son of Jacob who proposes to his brother that they get rid of the father's favorite son. Jesus is the son of God and shares his tragic role of favorite son with Joseph. Judas and Judah are connected by their presumed act of betraying their brother. Judas' last name, Iscariot, has provoked various theories about his historical character.
The name Iscariot has led scholars to theorize about Judas' lineage, homeland, and political affiliation. Some scholars believe that Iscariot is a clue to understanding Judas' homeland, but this theory has not led to any major conclusions because their is no known area which existed in Israel with that name. Since there was no town or area by that name in Israel, it may suggest that Judas was not an Israelite. This theory could account for the garments which directors like Jewison choose to dress Judas in. If Judas is not an Israelite, why would he have been chosen as a disciple, and what would he be doing in Galilee? These questions are important for understanding his role in the death of Jesus. Other theories about the name Iscariot are more realistic and provide a better basis from which to understand not only his character but also his actions.
Klassen believes that the name Iscariot is derived from either the Hebrew word sakar, or Latin word sicarus. A sicarus is a short dagger which was the traditional weapon used by Zealots to assassinate Roman soldiers in an attempt to liberate Jerusalem. On the other hand, the word sakar can be translated as "hand over" and may be indicative of Judas' action towards Jesus. However, if the latter is true, then this name must have been contrived after the act of handing Jesus over was committed. There would be no reason to call Judas by this name in the Gospels until after Jesus' arrest in the garden. Since this name appears prior to Jesus' arrest in all four gospels, it would stand to reason that this theory is lacking in historical truth. The first translation of this name has a profound effect on the audience's understanding of Judas' motivation.
By connecting Judas to the militant faction of Israel known as the Zealots, the audience is given a clear picture of his political outlook concerning Jesus. Some Zealots interpreted the arrival of the Messiah, as the arrival of a great leader which would led them against the Romans. For these Zealots, the Messiah symbolized freedom from Rome and the rejuvenation of the Israelite kingdom. If Judas is placed in this group, then his reasons for following Jesus are based on his conception of the messianic tradition.
The actual translation of the word "betray" from the original text is also questioned by Klassen and other scholars. Betrayal has a negative connotation, which causes Klassen to argue that Judas did not betray Jesus, but rather that he "handed Jesus over" to the authorities. In any society, the act of encouraging a meeting between two factions with the intention of resolving their differences is considered to be a positive step.
It is possible that Judas was simply acting as a liaison between these two factions? and if so is he guilty of betrayal. Throughout this examination of Judas' guilt it is essential that the audience ask themselves, Who has the power to kill? and Who benefits from the death of Jesus? The conclusions that these questions will bring may be quite shocking.
William Klassen concludes that Judas did not in fact betray Jesus, but he acted as a liaison between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. Judas' lack of malicious intent in handing Jesus over, negates the possibility of translating the Hebrew term sakar, into the English word "betray." In the Gospels, Judas is depicted as gaining money or mammon for his betrayal of Jesus. However, in film none of the directors portray Judas as being motivated by greed. In film Judas' motivation stems from various sources. Jewison works from the standpoint of Judas' compassion for the poor. Scorcese's Judas is forced to hand over Jesus, by none other than Jesus himself. These points will be discussed further in upcoming sections. Their inclusion at this stage is simply intended to clarify the translation of Judas' action.
Klassen's hypothesis provides the basis from which post-modern representations of Judas in film may be understood. Directors work from Klassen's theories to depict an innocent Judas character. Klassen's work transfers Judas from the traditional realm of knowing into that of an ignorant and devoted follower. Post-modern directors take Klassen's model for a tragic Judas figure and expand upon it with their own ideas. His theories about the derivation of Judas' names are embellished upon by DeMille's and Scorcese's separate depictions of Judas.
Post-modern directors of film work from the context of recent religious scholars hypothesizes concerning Judas to present an innocent portrayal of his character. The upcoming segments of this work will examine the premise of Judas' innocence as it is portrayed in modern and post-modern film. The Modern directors such as DeMille, Zeffirelli, and Passolini will provide a basis for understanding the works of post-modern works by Norman Jewison and Martin Scorcese. After a careful analysis of particular scene in these works, the post-modern trend of illustrating an innocent Judas will appear. From this trend, and the analysis of certain relevant scenes one will begin to understand the transformation of the Judas character in film. Judas' character moves from a subservient role to the key figure of the Christ narrative, and in so doing his historical accusations are challenged.
Zefferelli's Judas in Accordance with the Cultural Mores of Jewish Society
Zefferelli's Jesus of Nazareth, is the clearest example of Judas' misunderstanding of the Sanhedrin's plans for Jesus. Judas is portrayed as being unaware of the plot to kill Jesus, and acts out of his desire for peace in Jerusalem. Judas is presented as a devoted disciple of Jesus, by acting on this train of thought. Jesus' teachings speak of the responsibility of each man to keep the peace in a community. While the Gospels chose to depict Judas in a disturbing and controversial light, Zeffirelli works with the scholarly premise which sees Judas actions being motivated by his desire for peace and stability in Jerusalem.
In Klassen's work he suggests that the best translation for Judas role is that of an informer. He states, "an informer need not, however, have anything to do with betrayal, and may in fact render an essential service"(pg.64). By bringing Jesus and the Sanhedrin together Judas creates an opportunity for these two groups to resolve their differences. Once Jesus is under the control of the Sanhedrin, Zeffirelli allows the audience to see Judas realize the mistake which he had made. It is at this point which Judas tries to repent and eventually runs off in despair.
Zefferelli's depiction of Judas follows the Lukan explanation for his handing Jesus over to the Sanhedrin. The gospel of Luke states, "Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot...so he consented to betray Jesus"(Lk.22:3-6). Zeffirelli illustrates the possession of Judas, by having him bump into Satan in a dark alley on his way to talk with Zerah. Judas can not be held accountable for his actions while being possessed by Satan. His mortality causes him to be susceptible to the influence of Satan's power. Judas' possession removes the label of betrayer from his person. If he is possessed then the possessor must accept the responsibility for the actions of that individual.
Regardless of the theory of possession, under the guidelines of Israelite law, Judas' act of informing the Sanhedrin of Jesus' whereabouts is not considered a criminal act. Judas handed a fellow Jew over to Jewish authorities. In the legal codes of Jerusalem as well as modern social mores, Judas' act parallels that of a peace officer. Judas did not knowingly hand Jesus over to a hostile enemy. In terms of Jewish legality the Sanhedrin and Herod are guilty of the act which is punishable by death. Herod and the Sanhedrin placed Jesus, a Jew, in the hands of a gentile. Therefore, Judas is innocent of any crime because of the social acceptance of his actions in comparison to those of the Sanhedrin.
In connection with this legal code, it is Judas who repents by self inflicting the punishment which he felt that he deserved for committing this tragic error. Judas becomes his own judge and executioner in an attempt to save his soul. He does not deserve to carry the brunt of the responsibility for Jesus' death because he simply did not see the Sanhedrin's intended plan of action. It is unjust to hold Judas responsible for an act which he was unable to see the outcome of. By acting in accordance with Jewish legal codes, Judas demonstrates his loyalty to his community.
Judas not only acted in accordance with his cultural mores but exhibited an understanding of Jesus' teachings. Jesus speaks about the importance of right action. One example of right action is the moral lesson of turning the other cheek. From this lesson one is instructed to face the enemies which stand before them. Jesus' problems concerning the religious authorities was common knowledge, Judas attempted to create a forum where these two parties could reconcile their differences.
Judas' inability to recognize the intentions of the Sanhedrin exonerates him of the crime of causing Jesus' death. Jesus and God are the only two individuals with the power of foresight in this narrative. Judas may not have been able to see the threat which the Sanhedrin posed to Jesus. However, God and Jesus definitely demonstrate a clear understanding of Jesus' future. Both of these figures were in a position to change the outcome of these events, and yet they allowed them to unfold. Jesus' knowledge of the upcoming events refutes the charge of betrayal against Judas. His knowledge negates the undermining aspect which is necessary for betrayal.
Pre-conceived Messianic Ideals in Post-Modern Judas
Judas' intention for working in connection with the Jewish authorities may be caused by his misinterpretation of the Messianic Tradition. If Judas is a Zealot, then he would assume that the role of Jesus of Nazareth was one of a political leader. Many Zealots conceived the coming of the messiah as the arrival of their political savior. This political savior would build an army to attack and overcome the Roman contingent which controlled Israel. In order for the rebellion to be successful, it would need the backing of the religious authorities. Judas' pre-conceived notion of the messiah may have led him to believe that he was bringing two powers together, for the revival of the Israelite kingdom.
Jesus taught and spoke about the coming of His kingdom. Judas' handing over of Jesus may have been a result of his lack of understanding concerning the logistics of this kingdom. Judas' messianic expectations could have lead him to believe that Jesus' "kingdom" existed in the physical realm. Jerusalem would have been the most logical place for Judas to envision this new kingdom. The emphasis which Jesus placed on reaching Jerusalem, would have reinforced Judas' beliefs and image of the kingdom. Anyone of the disciples was in a position to misinterpret the message of the kingdom. Under Judas' train of thought, a meeting between the Sanhedrin and Jesus would be a positive step towards constructing a new kingdom to bring about the liberation of Jerusalem.
The gospels frequently reveal the disciples' inability to interpret Jesus' spiritual messages. Peter's protesting of the passion at Caesarea Philippi, is one example of the disciple's earthly minds. Jesus rebuked Peter for his becoming a "stumbling block," for "setting his mind not on divine things"(Mt.16:21-23). Judas was not the only disciple who misinterpreted the scope of Jesus' mission. Peter and Judas could not comprehend the transcendental aspects of Jesus' ministry. Judas' character did not lead him to hand over Jesus but his limited mind may have. Anyone of the twelve could have come to the same conclusions as Judas did concerning the kingdom. Furthermore, anyone one of them could have handed Jesus over. The act of handing Jesus over was not exclusive to Judas.
Two films which specifically deal with Judas' pre-conceived messianic expectations are DeMille's King of Kings and Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ. These films expand upon the historical possibility of Judas' ties to the Zealots. DeMille uses wardrobe and gesture to symbolize Judas' yearning for political power and wealth. Alternatively, Scorcese's approach works with an extremely literal depiction of Judas' as a Zealot. Each of these films conveys Judas' political views by their own means. DeMille's Judas parallels that of Scorcese's, until the crucial moment of silence which occurs in the temple within the second hour of The Last Temptation of Christ. After which point Scorcese's Judas deviates strongly from DeMille's historical characterization.
In DeMille's version of the passion narrative, he chose to portray Judas as a man who had wealth, but craved power. In the first scene where Judas is introduced, his handsome and clean shaven face separates him from the rest of the disciples. His youth and his rich silk garments also place him in contrast to the older bearded disciples. Judas' wealth exceeds that of his fellow disciples, and his slim elegant pose elevates him above the solid stance of eleven hard working fisherman. His eyes speak of money and he never seems to be attentive to the words and teachings of Jesus. While DeMille centers Jesus in well lit areas, he places Judas in dark and shadowy corners. The audience is given the impression that Judas is constantly plotting his rise to power as he watches Jesus captivate his crowd.
Judas' pre-conceived expectations are built upon in other subtle ways by DeMille. For example, as Jesus and the twelve enter a village during his mission, Judas is shown keeping the children at a distance. Jesus places his hand on Judas and fixes the child's toy soldier. In the gospel of Matthew, children exemplify the pure faith of Jesus' devoted followers. Judas' dislike for children greatly conflicts with the message of Jesus. DeMille's use of these images depicts the true intentions of Judas. His greed and desire for power are clearly illustrated by his separation from the group and lack of kindness.
Judas' expectations are presented with a subtle move of the camera during the confrontation between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. While in the temple, the Sanhedrin questions Jesus about the kingdom which he has preached to his followers. During Jesus' explanation of the kingdom Judas' expression is caught by the camera. He is utterly baffled by the notion of a transcendental kingdom. The real message of the kingdom did not hold the political promises which Judas had desired. From this point on Judas' appearance deteriorates into one of a disheveled lunatic. His usually neat and combed hair becomes tangled and unkempt. Judas' realization of Jesus' message of the kingdom drives him to insanity. His insanity eventually causes him to commit the act of handing Jesus over to the Sanhedrin.
Scorcese works from the reconstruction of Judas' lineage and political beliefs to create his unique presentation of Judas. Judas political affiliation is explained in the second scene. Judas and two other Zealots assassinate a Roman sentry in the town of Nazareth. Zebedee remarks to Philip, "I don't like his hair. I've heard that his ancestor Cain had a beard like that"(Kazantzakis,110). From the opening moments of this film, Judas is referred to by others as the "red devil." All three of these examples depict his evil or threatening nature as the story begins. However, Scorcese uses Judas' negative popularity to illustrate the power and influence of Jesus. Judas constantly works as the catalyst for Jesus' mission.
From the beginning of his mission, Jesus is unsure of the path which will allow him to fulfill his vision. There are three paths which Jesus takes during his mission in Scorcese's film. First there is the path of Love, inspired by Jesus' concern for Mary Magdalene. Followed by the path of the ax, which is prompted by Judas' encouragement. Jesus third and final path is that of Sacrifice which is also spurned by the actions of Judas. Judas is assigned to kill Jesus for making the cross which Barrabas, a presumed messiah and fellow Zealot was crucified. Instead of killing Jesus, Judas follows and instructs Jesus on his mission to bring forth the kingdom of his vision. Judas tells Jesus to seek out John the Baptist, and places Jesus upon his road to glory. Even though Judas uses force and the threat of death to spur Jesus' mission, he remains as the motivating element.
Judas is the symbolic image which places Jesus on the path of the ax. The path of the ax for Judas promises the liberation of Israel. Judas' believes that Jesus is the messiah which will lead his nation to freedom. Scorcese illustrates Judas political beliefs through his role in Jesus' temptation. When the lion of kingship appears to Jesus and tempts him with world dominance, the lions offer is spoken through the voice of Judas. By using his voice, Scorcese reaffirms Judas' politically motivated expectations of Jesus. Jesus is not tempted by the lion, but is placed on the path of the ax by succumbing to the temptation of the apple. After finding the ax in the dirt, he rejoins his disciples and pushes on to Jerusalem. Jesus journeys to Jerusalem with the intention of regaining control of the temple. Judas supports Jesus with undying devotion, for the remainder of the film.
Scorcese uses wardrobe to symbolically separate Judas from the rest of the disciple band. All of the disciples wear white or cream colored robes. Judas is placed in black to symbolize his threat of death as well as his connection to violence. Judas' black clothing does not follow the traditional symbolic references to evil for the duration of the film. Once Jesus is on the path of the ax, Judas' "blackness" represents the strength of his friendship and devotion to Jesus. Judas has known Jesus for his entire life, but their friendship does not begin until Jesus begins his mission. Judas both fuels and supports Jesus mission with his desire for a better life for the Israelite community. He alone acts as a column of support for Jesus.
DeMille and Scorcese's depictions of Judas are founded on the same principle element of Judas political affiliation. However, their styles and objectives in the portrayal of Judas are drastically separate. DeMille uses Judas' zealot ties to display Judas as a weak follower of Jesus. On the other hand, Scorcese works to alleviate Judas of guilt and focuses on his Zealot ideology to illuminate his transformation from foe to friend of Jesus. A more in-depth approach to Scorcese's depiction of Judas in upcoming sections will further emphasize his role as the primary motivational force behind Jesus' mission.
Traditional Portraits of Judas in Film
Judas' physical appearance is one area which every director has utilized to define his character. Physical appearance is one aspect of Judas' character which allows directors to convincingly alter his role due to the limited accounts his dialogue and description. His limited dialogue forces these pioneering directors of biographical Jesus films to concentrate solely on his appearance and gesture. Directors such as DeMille and Passolini construct their Judas in strict conformity to the traditional depiction of Judas, in hopes to create a deceitfully guilty representation of his character. Physical appearance is one aspect of Judas' character which allows directors to convey their message concerning his guilt while remaining consistent to the text.
Cecil B. DeMille focus on portraying Judas' guilt, instigates his creation of a politically motivated Judas in King of Kings. Judas' motivation for following Jesus in King of Kings, is based on his personal desire to achieve status and power by befriending the next king of Israel. Judas is depicted as a man of beauty and elegance, who craves political power and success. However, when he becomes aware of Jesus' true message about his kingdom he is utterly confused and driven by greed to betray Him. DeMille's Judas is guilty of betrayal, but he is also depicted as being mentally insane at the time of the betrayal. Judas' insanity poses a problem for those who wish to blame Judas for the death of Jesus.
The actions of an insane individual do not stand up in the court of law as a means by which to punish an individual. DeMille's Judas also expresses remorse and guilt for his actions. His suicide is cinematically tied to the crucifixion of Jesus and his act of throwing the money back at the temple makes the audience question his historical portrayal as an monetarily motivated opponent and betrayer.
Passolini's portrayal of Judas in, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, is based on the concept of physiognomy. Theories of physiognomy hold that an individual's emotions and morality were conveyed through his/her outward appearance. For example, a handsome man is pure of heart, while an ugly man is evil and immoral. This theory allows Passolini to convey his belief concerning Judas' malicious intent in handing Jesus over. Judas' ugliness, forces Passolini's audience to believe that hatred and jealousy were his motives for betraying Jesus. Passolini's physical portrait of Judas, causes the audience to perceive his betrayal as an act of deceit. The inability of Judas' character to draw sympathy, removes any doubt of his guilt.
Passolini's Judas is the product of the literal translation of the Gospel of Matthew. All of his lines are identical to those in the gospel account. However, Passolini's ability to place all of the guilt and responsibility for Jesus' death on Judas is remarkable. Judas' appearance is what allows Passolini to create his sinister persona. Without the use of physiognomy, Passolini's portrayal of Judas would not be complete. Judas' dialogue in the Matthean gospel does not evoke the same guilt which Passolini is able to place on his Judas. The Matthean motive for betrayal is greed. However, Passolini pushes Judas' greed as to evoke hatred and anger from his audience. Passolini's Judas is in strict coherence with the traditions pertaining to him.
Post-Modern Directors Approach to Judas
Modern and post-modern representations of Judas have varied significantly from his traditional characterization in the Gospels. Modern directors of cinematic and theatrical entertainment have looked to Judas' character to breath new life into the Christ narrative. By recreating or simply clarifying Judas' role in the narrative, the audience receives a new understanding of the events of the passion. Judas' character is the pivotal role which shapes the audiences understanding of Jesus' death. A more accurate depiction of Judas' role is accompanied by new and difficult theological questions for the audience to contemplate.
Directors like Jewison and Scorcese focus upon the historical possibility of Judas' innocence to create a dramatic shift in the audiences interpretation of the Jesus myth. Both of these directors are successful in portraying a convincingly innocent Judas. Their construction of Judas' character is based on the same methods used by biographical directors. Physical appearance and gesture depict Judas in a different light than the Judas' of DeMille and Passolini. The audience's perception of Judas is based on the church tradition. However, these directors use Judas' traditional reputation to create ironic shifts in their productions.
Jewison and Scorcese force the audience to question every aspect of the understanding and perception of Judas. Historical evidence does not make a strong enough case against Judas to refute these directors claims and explanations of his innocence. These directors remain focused on displaying an innocent portrait of Judas. Judas does not have to bear all of the guilt in order to remain consistent to the historical data. Judas' guilt is questionable, and these directors actively seek to challenge the traditional accusations against Judas. The question of Judas' innocence is based entirely on his motive for handing Jesus over. Jewison and Scorcese's explanation of Judas' motive removes the guilt of Jesus death from his shoulders.
Jesus Christ Superstar's Judas
Unlike any other filmatic portrayal of Judas, Jewison chose Carl Anderson, an African American actor, for the role of Judas in both his stage and screen productions. Jewison's decision to have a black Judas was meet with protest and controversy. The critics and audience who viewed the opening night in London were shocked and confused by Jewison's choice of Carl Anderson for Judas. Civil rights groups were outraged, and many theatres would not bring this production to their stages. Jewison's choice in picking Judas was completely intentional. In order to have his message heard he had to shock and confuse the audience. The audiences first impression may have caused them to be angry but upon further contemplation of Jewison's choice his message becomes clear.
In order to fully comprehend Jewison's Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, there must be a careful examination of his appearance. Jewison's uses of wardrobe and color play upon the traditional representation of Judas. Judas enters in the second scene, dresses in a red jumpsuit covered in flames. Traditionally, the red flames on Judas' garment represent the flames of hell and the color red stands for his jealousy. This burning image coincides with the Christian lore which promotes Judas as being the messenger of death in the Christ narrative. By placing Judas in red, he is an agent of evil and fits comfortably into the stereotypes which the audience has brought into the theater.
However, the lyrics of Heaven on Their Minds, reveals Judas' true relationship to Jesus. Judas' flames are representative of his admiration and understanding of Jesus' message. He sings, "you have set them all on fire." In actuality, Judas is the one who is on fire, and he reminds Jesus that he has been his "right hand man all along." Judas warns that the Sanhedrin will "hurt you if they find their wrong," but his word fall on deaf ears. His love for Jesus resounds from the verse, "Please remember that I want us to live." Therefore, Jewison juxtaposes his Judas against the traditional figure in Christian lore.
Jewison uses three colors to symbolically represent the forces which work within his film. Jesus and the disciples are dressed in white, to represent purity. Caiaphas, Annas, and the priests black garments suggest their guilt and evil intentions. The third color is red and wore by the two characters which Jewison suggests are wrongfully accused of the death of Jesus. Besides Judas, Pontius Pilate wears a red robe at the trial of Jesus. Pilate's innocence is based on the fact that he is pressured by the priests and Herod into crucifying Jesus. Judas is the only character who holds a connection with all three of these colors. His connections to black and red are obvious, but his connection to white does not surface until the end of the production. Similarly, this topic will not be addressed without an understanding of Judas' overall role in the production.
Judas assumes the role of the strongest disciple, and becomes the ultimate promoter of Jesus' message. During his days with Jesus, he remains tied to his teacher and friend. Judas advises Jesus during his mission because he is focused on keeping Jesus and the twelve alive. In the song Strange Things Mystifying, Judas warns Jesus of his own hypocrisy in connection with his relationship with Magdalene. Judas critiques Jesus' actions for the promotion of a consistent message. He understands the potential danger which may befall Jesus if he does not remain consistent in his teachings.
Jesus' act of cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem precedes Judas' meeting with Caiaphas and Annas. Judas relates that he has "weighed the whole thing out before" coming to the meeting. It is Judas' understanding of the overall necessity for the death of Jesus which forces him to betray Him. The verse "I have not thought at all about my own reward, I really didn't come of my own accord," reveals his motivation for betrayal. With this verse, Jewison refutes Judas motive in the gospel, and alludes to the real force behind Judas' action. Judas is not in control of his actions at this time. He is confused as to why he is the prophet who must bring about this solution. The gospel suggests that Judas was motivated by greed. However, Judas constantly states that his motive is not greed. This is exemplified by Judas' claims, "I don't want your blood money," and "I don't need your blood money." The existence of angelic voices at the end of this scene affirms that this plan of action stems from a higher realm.
God's will and Jesus' ambition fuel Judas' handing over of the Messiah to the priest and scribes. Jesus' involvement in His own death appears in His argument with Judas at the last supper.
Jesus- Why don't you do it
Judas- You want me to do it!
Jesus- Hurry they are waiting
Judas- If you knew why I do it...
Jesus- I don't care why you do it
Judas- To think I admired you
For now I despise you
Jesus- You liar- you Judas
Judas- You wanted me to do it!
What if I just stayed here
And ruined your ambition?
Christ you deserve it! (The Last Supper)
Jesus' desire to remain consistent to the Messianic prophecies prompts Judas to betray Him. The verses, "If you knew why I do it" and "You wanted me to do it!," prove that Judas did not conceive of this act. Judas is merely a vehicle which allow God's will to be carried out. Judas also mentions the popular misconceptions of society concerning his guilt. His reputation is one of a "jaded mandarin." A mandarin is an individual who sits in the presence of an elite group. Judas being one of the twelve, makes him a mandarin in the Jesus group. The worst thing for Judas to accept is that he will be blamed for Jesus' death when it was not his plan to begin with.
God's involvement in the betrayal of Jesus is explained during Judas' death. After betraying Jesus, Judas flees in anger and confusion. Prior to the death of Jesus, Judas visits Him after his flogging. The site of a beaten Jesus, prompts Judas to curse God in his Death song. Judas states, "You (God) beat him so hard/ That he was bent and lame/ And you know who everyone's/ Going to blame." After his betraying Jesus, Judas questions whether Jesus will forgive him and love him "After he is cold and dead." Jewison views Judas as a sympathetic figure, who never had the chance to explain his side of the story.
In Jewison's eyes, Judas is an innocent man whose reputation is a product of his own betrayal. Judas states, "I have been used/ And you knew." God becomes the responsible party in Jewison's version of the Christ narrative. Judas' innocence stems from God's selection of him as Jesus' betrayer. Judas dies without understanding why God chose him for "His crime." Judas' final words before enacting his repentance for betraying Jesus, illustrate Jewison's message concerning guilt. Judas runs wildly to his death screaming, "You have murdered me!" into the heavens.
His death scene parallels the betrayal with the arrival of angelic voices that sympathetically sing, "So long Judas/ Poor old Judas." In the betrayal scene they sing, "Well done Judas/ Good old Judas." The presence of the angelic voices verifies that these aspects of Judas' life where pre-destined, and there was nothing that he could have done to prevent their occurrence.
Jewison's ironic reshaping of the Judas character is fully empowered by the resurrection scene. Judas is resurrected and accompanied by a choir of angels, to encourage Jesus to face his destiny. Judas returns in all of the glory and understanding of heaven which is represented by his white jumpsuit. Judas' character becomes equal to if not greater than that of Jesus at his resurrection. Judas is the only character in the physical realm which fully understands the mission of Jesus. Jesus' lack of understanding is exemplified in the garden and again on the cross.
Judas' white costume in the resurrection scene is a symbol of his innocence. All of Jewison's characters who wear white are examples of the purity which resonates from images and figures of divinity. In this scene Judas descends towards Jesus, which is representative of his return from the kingdom of Heaven. A choir of white gowned back up singers accompany Judas as he descends from heaven. Judas becomes a figure of divinity once his actions are proven to be inspired by a spiritual source. The divine inspiration of Judas' actions are attested to be the presence of the angelic voices at critical moments in his life. These moments of divine intervention consequently shape his reputation throughout history. Once the audience understands that these actions were conceived and enacted by God, they must find Judas innocent of his historical crime of betraying Jesus.
Jewison's choice of Carl Anderson, sets up the audience for the ironic twist which arises in the final moments of the play. By placing a black Judas, in a red suit Jewison is able to play off of the audience's stereotypes. Jewison's Judas becomes a symbol for the oppression and negative stereotypes against African Americans. In the resurrection scene, as Judas dons a white suit, he reveals the true nature of his biblical character. With this ironic twist Jewison forces his audience to not only reevaluate the stereotypes against blacks, but more importantly the figure of Judas. By layering Judas' character with two-sided symbols, he allows his audience to remain confident that their perceptions of this character are correct regardless of whether they see him as innocent of guilt. Therefore, his final statement either reinforces his audiences belief of Judas' innocence or shocks them with this message. Jewison's rock opera might as well have been named The Gospel According to Judas, if it would not have caused much of the audience to protest it's performance.
Martin Scorcese's Judas
Martin Scorcese's portrayal of Judas Iscariot is based on that of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel The Last Temptation of Christ. Scorcese filmatic representation of this story works in close relation with its original literary format. Kazantzakis' characterization of Judas stems form the historical possibilities which scholars like Klassen have researched. Kazantzakis may in fact be the inspiration for Jewison's dramatic irony in his depiction of the Judas character. Scorcese's film The Last Temptation of Christ, parallels the work of Jewison in Jesus Christ Superstar, in it's conscious effort to remove the historical and legendary guilt from Judas' character.
Scorcese visually expands upon the theological and historical possibilities surrounding Judas' character. The questions and ideas which Kazantzakis raises in his novel are rejuvenated and reinforced by the visual symbolism which Scorcese brings to the narrative. Scorcese takes Jewison's concept of balancing the Judas and Jesus roles one step further. Judas Iscariot, is the main character in Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ. His motivation and support of Jesus is unparalleled by any of the other disciples. Judas is the key element for the progression and fulfillment of Jesus' mission. Scorcese constructs the passion narrative around the figure of Judas. Within this film, a dramatic transformation of the figure of Judas reveals his innocence.
Scorcese and Kazantzakis work from Schulthess and Cullmann's ideas concerning the term Iscariot, to characterize Judas as a member of the Zealots. Schulthess and Cullmann's theorize of Judas' connection with the Zealots in Klassen's work, Judas; Betrayer or Friend of Jesus. Judas being a devoted Zealot, enters Jesus' house on the day of the crucifixion of Barrabas. One gets the impression that these two men have know each other for many years, and there is a level of concern for Jesus in the eyes of Judas. His attitude towards Jesus constantly shifts during this scene. When Jesus declines Judas' invitation to walk the path of the Zealots, he becomes hostile, calling Him a "coward." Then he shows concern for Jesus by offering to carry Barrabas' cross for Him. There is a feeling of camaraderie between these two black robed figures. Judas' connection to the Zealots is furthermore exemplified by his assignment to assassinate Jesus for his involvement in the crucifixion of Barrabas.
Judas' political affiliation with the Zealots has many interesting affects on his relationship with Jesus. Jesus offers no resistance when Judas comes to complete his assignment. Judas is struck with fear, and recognizes the messianic potential of Jesus at this moment. Jesus relays to Judas that their objectives are identical, and wonders if Judas has been sent by God to join Him. His friendship and fear of Jesus' messianic potential allows Jesus the opportunity to begin his mission. As Jesus travels and speaks with the crowds Judas acts as an insurance policy that Jesus will remain on His path of liberation. Judas remains tied to his Zealot ideology even after he befriends Jesus.
Jesus becomes frustrated by his current ideological path of love, and is unsure of his messianic validity. While the others sleep Jesus and Judas discuss the success of their current path of Love. Judas tells Jesus why he spared His life, and relates his dislike of the disciples weakness. Jesus then states, "Judas, you are my strongest disciple." Their philosophical debate under this tree, conveys Judas' preconceived messianic expectations. They argue about the best place to being to bring about change in Israel. Judas proclaims that the body must be saved before the soul can be released. On the other hand Jesus feels that the opposite of this is true. When they arrive at this dilemma, Judas suggests to Jesus that they visit John the Baptist. By suggesting this course of action, Judas becomes responsible for placing Jesus upon his path of glory.
Judas' devotion to Jesus' mission illustrates his role as Jesus' most supportive disciple. Scorcese uses the biblical model in Matthew to depict the actions of the other disciples. While the disciples await the return of Jesus from the desert, their lack of "faith" is conveyed by their questioning the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. Judas' belief in Jesus as the messiah physically distances him from the other disciples in this scene. Judas resolution of the argument clearly portrays his leadership position amongst the disciples.
Jesus returns from the desert and invites the disciples to join Him on the "path of the ax." Judas is the first one of the disciples to support Jesus' ideological shift towards rebellion. Judas' faith in the Jesus movement, propels him to support Jesus. Jesus' wardrobe changes with each of the ideological shifts in His movement. On His initial path of Love, Jesus' white robe contrasts that of Judas. After He shifts to the ax, a black shroud remains on His head until His final recognition of His true path. Jesus and Judas become symbolically linked by the blackness in His garments. Jesus' mental connection with Judas' ideology exists in the appearance of black in His wardrobe. Judas' steadfast ideals throughout the film are illustrated by the consistency of his black robe.
Similar to Jewison, Scorcese uses Judas' traditional characterization to create an ironic portrayal of his innocence. Judas' connection to death, murder, and violence exist in his character until the movements triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. Jesus enters the city with conviction and brings His movement to the verge of rebellion against the Romans. In this scene, Judas is stunned as he recognize Jesus' reception of the Stigmata. Jesus whispers, "Judas, help me, stay with me, don't leave me." Judas places his arms around Jesus and protects Him from the crowd. This is the second time in the film where Jesus relies on Judas for protection and support. The intimacy of their relationship, began the night they debated the importance of the body and soul and Judas held Jesus while they slept. In the scene which follows the Temple rebellion, Judas' innocence and devotion are revealed.
Jesus confides in Judas by revealing His vision of the previous evening. Isaiah's visit to Jesus, enlightens Him by laying the path of sacrifice at Jesus' feet. Jesus tells Judas, that He is the lamb and that Judas must hand Him over to the authorities. Judas replies, "I can't, get someone stronger." Judas' love for Jesus will not allow him to betray his "master and rabbi." When Judas asks Jesus if He could commit this act, He answers, "No. That's why He gave me the easier job." Jesus' statement conveys that it is God who has decided the path of both of these men. Judas holds his friend and begins to cry.
Judas' tears exemplify his understanding of the futile nature of challenging God's will. At this moment, the audience understands Scorcese's view of the betrayal of Jesus. Judas is not the betrayer but the betrayed. His friendship, love, and devotion to Jesus has been used by God to insure the completion of His master plan. Judas is stuck in the most difficult position of his life. He must decide between his friendship with Jesus and his liberation ideology. Jesus reminds Judas of his promise to kill Jesus if he strayed from the path of liberation. Judas' decision sacrifices his friendship with Jesus to uphold this promise. However, his betrayal of Jesus perpetuates his devotion to the messiah.
Judas never strays from his promise to remain devoted to Jesus. As he proclaimed, "You are the one that I follow" his remains true to his promise. By betraying Jesus, Judas is also being supportive of Jesus' wishes. Judas' noble act of betraying Jesus, is done with a strict commitment to devotion. Jesus sacrifices his own soul and reputation in the eyes of the Christian church, for the benefit of his master. Scorcese's representation of Judas' act of devotion parallels the sacrifice which Jesus makes for all of humanity. Jesus dies for the sins of man, while Judas forfeits his reputation for the glorification of his master and teacher.
The Transformation of Judas
Judas' final scene in Martin Scorcese's film The Last Temptation of Christ, clearly displays Judas' innocence in being involved in the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Jerusalem begins to burn as Jesus falls ill and is taken to bed by His guardian angel. The young angel watches as Jesus' life slips from his grasp. Jesus' death will be the final chapter in the role of the guardian angel. She squats in the corner and anxiously anticipates the death of the now mortal Jesus. God commands Peter, Nathanael, John, and Judas to visit Jesus. As the angel attempts to stop them from entering the room, Peter pushes her away saying, "Get out of my way, we were sent here."
Jesus is unable to recognize Peter, but remembers John and Nathanael. Jesus is puzzled by their visit, and Peter speaks of how God told them that He would show Himself to them before His death. Judas enters and is furious with Jesus. Once again Judas becomes the guiding light which places Jesus on His path of glory. Judas recalls the meeting when Jesus begged him to betray him so that He could be crucified and resurrected. Jesus tells Judas of the arrival of the guardian angel at the cross in an attempt to explain His abandoning death on the cross. Judas' final act of guidance comes in the form of educating Jesus.
Judas peers at the guardian angel saying, "Look at her, Satan!" Satan's final temptress assumed the shape of a young girl and successfully convinced Jesus that He was not the Messiah. Jesus' act of eating the apple in the desert, allowed Satan one last opportunity to deviate Jesus from His path. Judas is the only disciple who is able to see the guardian angel for what she really is. Judas assumes the role of Jesus' mentor, out of the pain of his broken heart. Scorcese's ironic reversal of these two character's roles unleashes the true character of Judas.
The nature of Judas' character evolves from murderer to follower, and finally to that of His mentor. Scorcese's physical portrayal of Judas is based on his traditional reputation of Christ's evil betrayer. From this base Scorcese is able to bring Judas' persona full circle. The audiences initial perception of Judas is that of a physical threat to the life of Jesus. This perception works in connect to his historical figure and is easily accepted by the audience. As Judas becomes closer to Jesus through his understanding of the messages, the audience begins to feel uncomfortable. Jesus' belief that Judas is His strongest disciple openly challenges the historical position against Judas. By proclaiming Judas the strongest disciple, Jesus removes the guilt of betrayal from Judas. Judas now assumes the role of an innocent man whose friendship and loyalty prompt him to educate his master.
From the modern representation of Judas in film, his historical guilt is replaced with glorification. The charge that Judas was a hindrance to Jesus' successful completion of His mission is turned on it's head. Judas becomes the motivational force behind the Jesus movement, for modern directorial interpretations of the Christ myth. In the two modern examples of the Christ myth, Judas' guilt is washed from his character by his acts of devotion. Judas becomes an omnipotent figure in both scene's which follow his betrayal of Jesus. Similar to Jewison, Scorcese's final scene with Judas depicts him as being an omnipotent figure whose sole purpose is to point Jesus in the right direction. By conveying his understanding of the overall importance of Jesus death, these two Judas characters become to most influential figures in the narrative.
Judas did betray Jesus. However, it was not his plan and he acted in accordance to the will of God. Judas' personal opposition to God's will, is overlooked by the historical criticism against him. His objection to the betrayal of Jesus, in Scorcese's film depicts God's betrayal of Judas' friendship with Jesus. Judas' return after the original betrayal of Jesus illustrates his commitment to the fulfillment of the messianic tradition.
It is unjust for an audience to limit their perceptions of Judas to the words and ideals of the Church. Both Scorcese and Jewison's intentions are clear. Their works center around the one critical aspect of Judas' act which is overlooked by those who chose to rest all of the guilt upon his character. Judas is the one figure within the Christ narrative whose actions are necessary for the fulfillment of the Messianic tradition. If Judas is the betrayer of Jesus, then he also acts as the accelerator of the Messianic tradition. As the Rabbi in Nikos Kazantzakis novel states, "Do not be afraid; have faith! God's law is such that the knife must reach clear to the bone. Otherwise no miracle will take place!... Man cannot sprout wings unless he has first reached the brink of the abyss"(pg.43)! Judas betrayal of Jesus brings Him to the abyss. There can be no Messiah without a Crucifixion.
Judas act of bringing Jesus to His crucifixion, is a noble one. Scorcese's representation of Judas in the final scene exemplifies his understanding of this truism. Had Judas refused the will of God and not brought about Jesus' crucifixion, the messianic tradition is lost. Without the existence of Jesus as the messiah, there is no Christianity. Scorcese and Jewison work from this viewpoint, and their audiences are left with the impression of a historically innocent figure of Judas.
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Jewison, Norman, 1973, Jesus Christ Superstar: Universal Studios.
Scorcese, Martin, 1989, The Last Temptation of Christ: Universal Pictures.
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