Judas Iscariot by Thomas De Quincey

Story type: Essay


Everything connected with our ordinary conceptions of this man, of his real purposes, and of his ultimate fate, apparently is erroneous. That neither any motive of his, nor any ruling impulse, was tainted with the vulgar treachery imputed to him, appears probable from the strength of his remorse. And this view of his case comes recommended by so much of internal plausibility, that in Germany it has long since shaped itself into the following well-known hypothesis:–Judas Iscariot, it is alleged, participated in the common delusion of the apostles as to that earthly kingdom which, under the sanction and auspices of Christ, they supposed to be waiting and ripening for the Jewish people. So far there was nothing in Judas to warrant any special wonder or any special blame. If he erred, so did the other apostles. But in one point Judas went further than his brethren, viz., in speculating upon the reasons of Christ for delaying the inauguration of this kingdom. All things were apparently ripe for it; all things pointed to it; the expectation and languishing desires of many Hebrew saints; the warning from signs; the prophetic alarms and kindling signals raised aloft by heralds like the Baptist; the fermentation of revolutionary doctrines all over Judea; the passionate impatience of the Roman yoke; the continual openings of new convulsions and new opportunities at the great centre of Rome; the insurrectionary temper of Jewish society, as indicated by the continual rise of robber leaders, that drew off multitudes into the neighboring deserts; and, universally, the unsettled mind of the Jewish nation. These explosive materials had long been accumulated; they needed only a kindling spark. Heavenly citations to war had long been felt in the insults and aggressions of paganism; there wanted only a leader. And such a leader, if he would but consent to assume that office, stood ready in the founder of Christianity. The supreme qualifications for leadership, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, were evident to all parties in the Jewish community, and not merely to the religious body of his own immediate followers. These qualifications were published and expounded to the world in the facility with which everywhere he drew crowds about himself,[Footnote: As connected with these crowds, I have elsewhere noticed, many years ago, the secret reason which probably governed our Saviour in cultivating the character and functions of a hakim, or physician. Throughout the whole world of civilization at that era [Î� Î�Î�χÎ��…Î�Î�Î�Î�], whatever might be otherwise the varieties of the government, there was amongst the ruling authorities a great jealousy of mobs and popular gatherings. To a grand revolutionary teacher, no obstacle so fatal as this initial prejudice could have offered itself. Already, in the first place, a new and mysterious body of truth, having vast and illimitable relations to human duties and prospects, presented a field of indefinite alarm. That this truth should in the second place publish itself, not through books and written discourses, but orally, by word of mouth, and by personal communication between vast mobs and the divine teacher–already that, as furnishing a handle of influence to a mob-leader, justified a preliminary alarm. But then, thirdly, as furnishing a plea for bringing crowds together, such a mode of teaching must have crowned the suspicious presumptions against itself. One peril there was at any rate to begin with–the peril of a mob: that was certain. And, secondly, there was the doctrine taught: which doctrine was mysterious and uncertain; and in that uncertainty lay another peril. So that, equally through what was fixed and what was doubtful, there arose that ‘fear of change’ which by authentic warrant ‘perplexes monarchs.’] in the extraordinary depth of impression which attended his teaching, and in the fear as well as hatred which possessed the Jewish rulers against him. Indeed, had it not been for the predominance of the Roman element in the government of Judea, it is pretty certain that Christ would have been crushed in an earlier stage in his career.

Believing, therefore, as Judas did, that Christ contemplated the establishment of a temporal kingdom–the restoration, in fact, of David’s throne; believing, also, that all the conditions towards the realization of such a scheme met and centred in the person of Christ, when viewed in relation to the circumstances of the times; what was it that, upon any solution intelligible to Judas, neutralized so grand a scene of promise? Simply and obviously, to a man with the views of Judas, it was the character of Christ himself, sublimely over-gifted for purposes of speculation, but, like Shakspeare’s great creation of Prince Hamlet, not commensurately endowed for the business of action and the sudden emergencies of life. Indecision and doubt (such was the interpretation of Judas) crept over the faculties of the Divine Man as often as he was summoned away from his own natural Sabbath of heavenly contemplation to the gross necessities of action. It became important, therefore, according to the views adopted by Judas, that his master should be precipitated into action by a force from without, and thrown into the centre of some popular movement, such as, once beginning to revolve, could not afterwards be suspended or checked. It is by no means improbable that this may have been the theory of Judas. Nor is it at all necessary to seek for the justification of such a theory, considered as a matter of prudential policy, in Jewish fanaticism. The Jews of thai day were distracted by internal schisms. Else, and with any benefit from national unity, the headlong rapture of Jewish zeal, when combined in vindication of their insulted temple and temple-worship, would have been equal to the effort of dislodging the Roman legionary force for the moment from the military possession of Palestine. After which, although the restoration of the Roman supremacy could not ultimately have been evaded, it is not at all certain that a compromise might not have been welcome at Rome, such as had, in fact, existed under Herod the Great and his father.[Footnote: It was a tradition which circulated at Rome down to the days of the Flavian family, that the indulgence conceded to Judea by the imperial policy from Augustus downwards, arose out of the following little diplomatic secret:–On the rise of the Parthian power, ambassadors had been sent to Antipater, the father of Herod, offering the Parthian alliance and support. At the same moment there happened to be at Jerusalem a Roman agent, having a mission from the Roman Government with exactly the same objects. The question was most solemnly debated, for it was obvious, that ultimately this question touched the salvation of the kindgom, since to accept an alliance with either empire, would be to insure the bitter hostility of the other. With that knowledge fully before his mind, Antipater made his definitive election for Rome. The case transpired at Rome–the debate, and the issue of the debate–and eventually proved worth a throne to the Herodian family; for the honor of Rome seemed to be concerned in supporting the man who, in this sort of judgment of Paris, had solemnly awarded the prize of superiority to the remoter potentate.] The radical power, in fact, would have been lodged in Rome; but with such external concessions to Jewish nationality as might have consulted the real interests of both parties. Administered under Jewish names, the land might have yielded a larger revenue than, as a refractory nest of insurgents, it ever did yield to the Roman exchequer; and, on the other hand, a ferocious bigotry, which was really sublime in its indomitable obstinacy, might have been humored without prejudice to the grandeur of the imperial claims. Even little Palmyra in later times was indulged to a greater extent without serious injury in any quarter, had it not been for the feminine arrogance that misinterpreted and abused that indulgence.

The miscalculation, in fact, of Judas Iscariot–supposing him really to have entertained the views ascribed to him–did not hinge at all upon political oversights, but upon a total spiritual blindness; in which blindness, however, he went no farther than at the time did probably most of his brethren. Upon them, quite as little as upon him, had as yet dawned the true grandeur of the Christian scheme. In this only he outran his brethren–that, sharing in their blindness, he greatly exceeded them in presumption. All alike had imputed to their Master views utterly irreconcilable with the grandeur of his new and heavenly religion. It was no religion at all which they as yet supposed to be the object of Christ’s teaching, but a simple preparation for a pitiably vulgar scheme of earthly aggrandizement. But, whilst the other apostles had simply failed to comprehend their master, Judas had presumptuously assumed that he comprehended the purposes of Christ more fully than Christ himself. His object was audacious in a high degree, but (according to the theory which I am explaining) for that very reason not treacherous at all. The more that he was liable to the reproach of audacity, the less can he be suspected of perfidy. He supposed himself executing the very innermost purposes of Christ, but with an energy which it was the characteristic infirmity of Christ to want. His hope was, that, when at length actually arrested by the Jewish authorities, Christ would no longer vacillate; he would be forced into giving the signal to the populace of Jerusalem, who would then have risen unanimously, for the double purpose of placing Christ at the head of an insurrectionary movement, and of throwing off the Roman yoke. As regards the worldly prospects of this scheme, it is by no means improbable that Iscariot was right. It seems, indeed, altogether impossible that he, who (as the treasurer of the apostolic fraternity) had in all likelihood the most of worldly wisdom, and was best acquainted with the temper of the times, could have made any gross blunder as to the wishes and secret designs of the populace in Jerusalem.[Footnote: Judas, not less than the other apostles, had doubtless been originally chosen, upon the apparent ground of superior simplicity and unworldliness, or else of superior zeal in testifying his obedience to the wishes of his Master. But the other eleven were probably exposed to no special temptation: Judas, as the purse-bearer, was. His official duty must have brought him every day into minute and circumstantial communication with an important order of men, viz., petty shop-keepers. In all countries alike, these men fulfil a great political function. Beyond all others, they are brought into the most extensive connection with the largest stratum by far in the composition of society. They receive, and with dreadful fidelity they give back, all jacobinical impulses. They know thoroughly in what channels, under any call arising for action, these impulses are at any time moving. They are always kept up au courant of the interior councils and ultimate objects of the most national, and, in one sense, the most powerful body in the whole community. Consciousness, which such men always have, of deep incorruptible fidelity to their mother-land, and to her interests, however ill understood, ennobles their politics, even when otherwise base. They are corrupters in a service that never can be utterly corrupt. They have therefore a power to win attention from virtuous men; and, being known to speak a representative language, they would easily, in a land so agitated and unreconciled, so wild, stormy, and ignorant as Judea, kindle in stirring minds the most worldly contagions as to principle and purpose: on the one hand, kept through these men in vital sympathy with the restless politics of the insurrectionist populace–on the other, hearing a sublime philosophy that rested for its key-note upon the advent of vast revolutions among men–what wonder that Judas should connect his daily experience by an imaginary synthesis?] This populace, however, not being backed by any strong section of the aristocracy, having no con
fidence again in any of the learned bodies connected with the great service of their national temple, and having no leaders, were apparently dejected, and without unity. The probability, meantime, is, that some popular demonstration would have been made on behalf of Christ, had he himself offered it any encouragement. But we, who know the incompatibility of any such encouragement with the primary purpose of Christ’s mission upon earth, know of necessity that Judas, and the populace on which he relied, must equally and simultaneously have found themselves undeceived for ever. In an instant of time one grand decisive word and gesture of Christ must have put an end peremptorily to all hopes of that kind. In that brief instant, enough was made known to Judas for final despair. Whether he had ever drunk profoundly enough from the cup of spiritual religion to understand the full meaning of Christ’s refusal; whether he still adhered to his worldly interpretation of Christ’s mission, and simply translated the refusal into a confession that all was lost, whilst in very fact all was on the brink of absolute and triumphant consummation, it is impossible for us, without documents or hints, to conjecture. Enough is apparent to show that, in reference to any hopes that could be consolatory for him, all was indeed lost. The kingdom of this world had melted away in a moment like a cloud; and it mattered little to him that a spiritual kingdom survived, and that intellectually he might suddenly become aware of it, if in his heart there were no spiritual organ by which he could appropriate the new and stunning revelation. Equally he might be swallowed up by despair in the case of retaining his old worldly delusions, and finding the ground of his old anticipations suddenly giving way below his feet, or again in the opposite case of suddenly correcting his own false constructions of Christ’s mission, and apprehending a far higher purpose; but which purpose, in the very moment of becoming intelligible, rose into a region far beyond his own frail fleshly sympathies. He might read more truly–far more truly; but what of that, if the new truth were nothing to him? The despondency of Judas might be of two different qualities, more or less selfish; indeed, I would go so far as to say, selfish or altogether unselfish. And it is with a view to this question, and under a persuasion of a wrong done to Judas by gross mistranslation disturbing the Greek text, that I entered at all upon this little memorandum. Else what I have hitherto been attempting to explain (excepting only the part relating to the hakim, which is entirely my own suggestion) belongs to German writers. The whole construction of Iscariot’s conduct, as arising, not out of perfidy, but out of his sincere belief that some quickening impulse was called for by a morbid feature in Christ’s temperament–all this I believe was originally due to the Germans; and it is an important correction, for it must always be important to recall within the fold of Christian forgiveness any one who has long been sequestered from human charity, and has tenanted a Pariah grave. In the greatest and most memorable of earthly tragedies, Judas is a prominent figure. So long as the earth revolves, he cannot be forgotten. If, therefore, there is a doubt affecting his case, he is entitled to the benefit of that doubt; and if he has suffered to any extent–if simply to the extent of losing a palliation, or the shadow of a palliation–by means of a false translation from the Greek, we ought not to revise or mitigate his sentence merely, but to dismiss him from the bar. The Germans make it a question–in what spirit Iscariot lived? My question is–how he died? If he were a traitor at last, in that case he was virtually a traitor always. If he perpetrated treason in the last hours of his connection, with Christ, and even a mercenary treason, then he must have been dallying with the purpose of treason during all the hours of his apostleship. If, in reality, when selling his master for money, he meant to betray him, and regarded the money as the commensurate motive for betraying him, then his case will assume a very different aspect from that impressed upon it by the German construction of the circumstances.

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The life of Judas, and the death of Judas, taken apart, or taken jointly, each separately upon independent grounds, or both together upon common grounds, are open to doubts and perplexities. And possibly the double perplexities, if fully before us, might turn out to be self-neutralized. Taking them jointly, we might ask–Were they, this life and this death, to be regarded as a common movement on behalf of a deep and heart-fretting Hebrew patriotism, which was not the less sincere, because it ran headlong into the unamiable form of rancorous rationality and inhuman bigotry? Were they a wild degeneration from a principle originally noble? Or, on the contrary, this life and this death, were they alike the expression of a base mercenary selfishness, caught and baffled in the meshes of its own chicanery? The life, if it could be appreciated in its secret principles, might go far to illustrate the probable character of the death. The death, if its circumstances were recoverable, and could be liberated from the self-contradictory details in the received report, might do something to indicate retrospectively the character and tenor of that life. The life of Judas, under a German construction of it, as a spasmodic effort of vindictive patriotism and of rebellious ambition, noble by possibility, though erring and worldly-minded, when measured by a standard so exalted as that of Christianity, would infer (as its natural sequel) a death of fierce despair. Read under the ordinary construction as a life exposed to temptations that were petty, and frauds that were always mercenary, it could not reasonably be supposed to furnish any occasion for passions upon so great a scale as those which seem to have been concerned in the tragical end of Judas, whether the passions were those of remorse and penitential anguish, or of personal disappointment. Leaving, however, to the Germans, the task of conjecturally restering its faded lineaments to this mysterious record of a crime that never came before any human tribunal, my own purpose is narrower. I seek to recall and to recombine the elements, not of the Iscariot’s life, nor of his particular offence, but simply of his death.

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The reader is probably aware, that there has always been an obscurity, or even a perplexity, connected with the death of Iscariot. Two only out of the entire five documents, which record the rise and early history of Christianity, have circumstantially noticed this event. Mark, Luke, and John, leave it undescribed. St. Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles have bequeathed to us a picturesque account of it, which, to my own belief, has been thoroughly misunderstood; and, once being misunderstood, naturally enough has been interpreted as something fearfully preternatural. The crime, though great, of Iscariot has probably been much exaggerated. It was the crime of signal and earthly presumption, seeking not to thwart the purposes of Christ, or to betray them, but to promote them by means utterly at war with their central spirit. As far as can be judged, it was an attempt to forward the counsels of God by weapons borrowed from the armory of darkness. The crime being once misapprehended as a crime, without a name or a precedent, it was inevitable that the punishment, so far as it was expounded by the death of the criminal, should, in obedience to this first erroneous preconception, be translated into something preternatural. To a mode of guilt which seemed to have no parallel, it was reasonable enough that there should be apportioned a death which allowed of no medical explanation.[Footnote: In neutral points, having no relation to morals or religious philosophy, it is not concealed by the scriptural records themselves, that even inspired persons made grave mistakes. All the apostles, it is probable, or with the single exception of St. John, shared in the mistake about the second coming of Christ, as an event immediately to be looked for. With respect to diseases, again, it is evident that the apostles, in common with all Jews, were habitually disposed to read in them distinct manifestations of heavenly wrath. In blindness, for instance, or, again, in death from the fall of a tower, they read, as a matter of course, a plain expression of the divine displeasure pointed at an individual. That they should even pause so far as to make a doubt whether the individual or his parents were the object of this displeasure, arose only from the absolute coercion to so much reserve as this which was continually obtruding itself in the cases where innocent infants were the sufferers. This, in fact, was a prejudice inalienable from their Jewish training; and as it would unavoidably lead oftentimes to judgments not only false but also uncharitable, it received, on more occasions than one, a stern rebuke from Christ himself. In the same spirit, it is probable that the symptoms attending death were sometimes erroneously reported as preternatural, when, in fact, such as every hospital could match. The death of the first Herod was regarded by the early Christians universally as a judicial expression of God’s wrath to the author of the massacre at Bethlehem, though in reality the symptoms were such as often occur in obstinate derangements of the nervous system. Indeed, as to many features, the malady of the French king, Charles IX., whose nervous system had been shattered by the horrors of the St. Bartholomew massacre, very nearly resembled it; with such differences as might be looked for between an old, ruined constitution, such as Herod’s, and one so youthful as that of Charles. In the Acts of the Apostles, again, the grandson of Herod (Herod Agrippa) is evidently supposed to have died by a judicial and preternatural death, whereas apparently one part of his malady was the morbus pedicularis–cases of which I have myself circumstantially known in persons of all ranks; one, for instance, being that of a countess enormously rich, and the latest a female servant.]

This demur, moreover, of obscurity was not the only one raised against the death of Judas: there was a separate objection–that it was inconsistent with itself. He was represented, in the ordinary modern versions, as dying by a double death–viz., 1st, by a suicidal death: ‘he went and hanged himself‘–this is the brief account of his death given by St. Matthew; but, 2d, by a death not suicidal: in the Acts of the Apostles, we have a very different account of his death, not suggesting suicide at all, and otherwise describing it as mysteriously complex; that is, presenting us with various circumstances of the case, none of which, in the common vernacular versions (English and Continental), is at all intelligible. The elements in the case are three: that he ‘fell down headlong;’ that he ‘burst asunder in the middle;’ and that ‘his bowels gushed out’–the first of these elements being unintelligible in the English expression of it, and the two others being purely and blankly impossible. These objections to the particular mode of that catastrophe which closed the career of Judas, had been felt pretty generally in the Christian church, and probably from the earliest times; and the more so on account of that deep obscurity which rested upon the nature of his offence. That a man, who had been solemnly elected into the small band of the apostles, should so far wander from his duty as to incur forfeiture of his great office–this was in itself sufficiently dreadful, and a shocking revival to the human imagination of that eldest amongst all traditions–a tradition descending to us from what date we know not, nor through what channel of original communication–the possibility that even into the heaven of heavens, and amongst the angelic hosts, rebellion against God, long before man and human frailty existed, should have crept by some way metaphysically inconceivable. What search could be sufficient, where even the eye of Christ had failed to detect any germ of evil? Still, though the crime of Judas had doubtless been profound,[Footnote: In measuring which, however, the reader must not allow himself to be too much biassed by the English phrase, ‘son of perdition.‘ This, and the phrase which we translate ‘damnation,’ have been alike colored unavoidably by the particular intensity of the feeling associated with our English use of the words. Now, one great difficulty in translating is to find words that even as to mere logical elements correspond to the original text. Even that is often a trying problem. But to find also such words as shall graduate and adjust their depth of feeling to the scale of another language, and that language a dead language, is many times beyind all reach of human skill.] and evidently to me it had been the intention of the early church to throw a deep pall of mystery over its extent–charity, that unique charity which belongs to Christianity, as being the sole charity ever preached to men, which ‘hopeth all things,’ inclined through every age the hearts of musing readers to suspend their verdict where the Scriptures had themselves practised some reserve, and (were it only by the extreme perplexity of its final and revised expressions) had left an opening, if not almost an invitation, to doubt. The doubt was left by the primitive church where Scripture had left it. There was not any absolute necessity that this should ever be cleared up to man. But it was felt from the very first that some call was made upon the church to explain and to harmonize the apparently contradictory expressions used in what may be viewed as the official report of the one memorable domestic tragedy in the infant stage of the Christian history. Official I call it, as being in a manner countersigned by the whole confederate church, when proceeding to their first common act in filling up the vacancy consequent upon the transgression of Judas, whereas the account of St. Matthew pleaded no authority but his own. And domestic I call the tragedy, in prosecution of that beautiful image under which a father of our English church has called the twelve apostles, when celebrating the paschal feast, ‘the family of Christ.'[Footnote: for the reader must not forget that the original meaning of the Latin word familia was the sum total of the famuli. Hence, whenever it is said in an ancient classic that such or such a man had a large family, or that he was kind to his family, or was loved by his family, always we are to understand not at all his wife and children, but the train and retinue of his domestic slaves. Now, the relation of the Apostles to their Master, and the awfulness of their dependency upon him, which represented a golden chain suspending the whole race of man to the heavens above, justified, in the first place, that form of expression which should indicate the humility and loyalty that is owned by servants to a lord; whilst, on the other hand, the tenderness involved in the relations expressed by the English word family, redressed what would else have been too austere in the idea, and recomposed the equilibrium between the two forces of reverential awe and of childlike love which are equally indispensable to the orbicular perfection of Christian duty.]

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This early essay of the church to harmonize the difficult expressions employed in the Acts of the Apostles–an essay which, therefore, recognises at once the fact that these expressions really were likely to perplex the simple-hearted, and not merely such readers as systematically raised cavils–was brought forward in the earliest era of the church, and under the sanction of the very highest authority, viz., by one who sat at the feet of the beloved apostle; by one, therefore, who, if he had not seen Christ, had seen familiarly him in whom Christ most confided. But I will report the case in the words of that golden-mouthed rhetorician, that Chrysostom of the English Church, from whose lips all truth came mended, and who, in spite of Shakespeare himself, found it possible

‘To gild refined gold, to paint the lily.
And add another perfume to the violet.’

The following is the account given by Jeremy Taylor of the whole history, in so far as it affects the Scripture report of what Judas did, and what finally he suffered:–‘Two days before the passover, the Scribes and Pharisees called a council to contrive crafty ways [Footnote: Otherwise, it must naturally occur to every reader–What powers could Judas furnish towards the arrest of Jesus beyond what the authorities in Jerusalem already possessed? But the bishop suggests that the dilemma was this:–By day it was unsafe to seize him, such was the veneration of the populace for his person. If done at all, it must be done during the darkness. But, precisely during those hours, Christ withdrew into solitudes known only to his disciples. So that to corrupt one of these was the preliminary step to the discovery of that secret.] of destroying Jesus, they not daring to do it by open violence. Of which meeting, when Judas Iscariot had notice (for those assemblies were public and notorious) he ran from Bethany, and offered himself to betray his Master to them, if they would give him a considerable reward. They agreed for thirty pieces of silver.’ In a case so memorable as this, nothing is or can be trivial; and even that curiosity is not unhallowed which has descended to inquire what sum, at that era of Jewish history, this expression might indicate. The bishop replies thus:–‘Of what value each piece was, is uncertain; but their own nation hath given a rule, that, when a piece of silver is named in the Pentateuch, it signifies a sicle; if it be named in the Prophets, it signifies a pound; if in the other writings of the Old Testament, it signifies a talent.’ For this, besides other less familiar authority, there is cited the well-known Arius Montanus, in the Syro-Chaldaic dictionary. It is, however, self-evident that any service open to Judas would have been preposterously overpaid by thirty talents, a sum which exceeded five thousand pounds sterling. And since this particular sum had originally rested on the authority of a prophet, cited by one of the evangelists,[Footnote: Viz., St. Matthew. Upon which the bishop notices the error which had crept into the prevailing text of Jeremias instead of Zecharias. But in the fourth century, some copies had already corrected this reading; which, besides, had a traditional excuse in the proverbial saying that the spirit of Jeremiah had settled and found a resting-place in Zecharias.] ‘it is probable,’ proceeds the bishop, ‘that the price at which Judas sold his lord was thirty pounds weight of silver [that is, about ninety guineas sterling in English money]–a goodly price for the Saviour of the world to be prized at by his undiscerning and unworthy countrymen.’ Where, however, the learned writer makes a slight oversight in logic, since it was not precisely Christ that was so valued–this prisoner as against the certain loss of this prisoner–but simply this particular mode of contending with the difficulty attached to his apprehension, so that, in the worst case, this opportunity lost might be replaced by other opportunities; and the price, therefore, was not calculated as it would have been under one solitary chance.

The bishop then proceeds with the rehearsal of all the circumstances connected with the pretended trial of Christ; and coming in the process of his narrative to the conduct of Judas on learning the dreadful turn which things were taking (conduct which surely argues that he had anticipated a most opposite catastrophe), he winds up the case of the Iscariot in the following passage–‘When Judas heard that they had passed the final and decretory sentence of death upon his Lord, he, who thought not it would have gone so far, repented him to have been an instrument of so damnable a machination, and came and brought the silver which they gave him for hire, threw it in amongst them, and said, ‘I have sinned in betraying the innocent blood.’ But they, incurious of those hell-torments Judas felt within him, because their own fires burned not yet, dismissed him.’ I pause for a moment to observe that, in the expression, ‘repented him to have been an instrument,’ the context shows the bishop intending to represent Judas as recoiling from the issue of his own acts, and from so damnable a machination, not because his better feelings were evoked, as the prospect of ruin to his Master drew near, and that he shrank from that same thing when taking a definite shape of fulfilment, which he had faced cheerfully when at a distance–not at all: the bishop’s meaning is–that Judas recoiled from his own acts at the very instant when he began to understand their real consequences now solemnly opening upon his horror-stricken understanding. He had hoped, probably, much from the Roman interference; and the history itself shows that in this he had not been at all too sanguine. Justice has never yet been done to the conduct of Pilate. That man has little comprehended the style and manner of the New Testament who does not perceive the demoniac earnestness of Pilate to effect the liberation of Christ, or who fails to read the anxiety of the several evangelists to put on record his profound sympathy with the prisoner. The falsest word that ever yet was uttered upon any part of the New Testament, is that sneer of Lord Bacon’s at ‘jesting Pilate.’ Pilate was in deadly earnest from first to last, and retired from his frantic effort on behalf of Christ, only when his own safety began to be seriously compromised. Do the thoughtless accusers of Pilate fancy that he was a Christian? If not, why, or on what principle, was he to ruin himself at Rome, in order to favor one he could not save at Jerusalem? How reasonably Judas had relied upon the Roman interference, is evident from what actually took place. Judas relied, secondly, upon the populace, and that this reliance also was well warranted, appears from repeated instances of the fear with which the Jewish rulers contemplated Christ. Why did they fear him at all? Simply, as he was backed by the people: had it not been for their support, Christ was no more an object of terror to them than his herald, the Baptist. But what I here insist on is (which else from some expressions the reader might fail to understand), that Jeremy Taylor nowhere makes the mistake of supposing Judas to have originally designed the ruin of his Master, and nowhere understands by his ‘repentance’ that he felt remorse on coming near to consequences which from a distance he had welcomed. He admits clearly that Judas was a traitor only in the sense of seeking his Master’s aggrandizement by methods which placed him in revolt against that Master, methods which not only involved express and formal disobedience to that Master, but which ran into headlong hostility against the spirit of all that he came on earth to effect. It was the revolt, not of perfidious malignity, but of arrogant and carnal blindness. In respect to the gloomy termination of the Iscariot’s career, and to the perplexing account of it given in the Acts of the Apostles, the bishop closes his account thus:–‘And Judas went and hanged himself; and the judgment was made more notorious and eminent by an unusual accident at such deaths; for he so swelled, that he burst, and his bowels gushed out. But the Greek scholiast and some others report out of Papias, St. John’s scholar, that Judas fell from the fig-tree, on which he hanged, before he was quite dead, and survived his attempt somewhile; being so sad a spectacle of deformity and pain, and a prodigious tumor, that his plague was deplorable and highly miserable; till at last he burst in the very substance of his trunk, as being extended beyond the possibilities [Footnote: Quaere, whether the true reading is not more probably ‘passibilities,’ i.e., liabilities to suffering.] and capacities of nature.’

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In this corrected version of Papias, we certainly gain an intelligible account of what otherwise is far from intelligible, viz., the falling headlong. But all the rest is a dismal heap of irrationalities; and the single ray of light which is obtained, viz., the suggestion of the fig-tree as an elevation, which explains the possibility of a headlong fall, is of itself an argument that some great disturbance must have happened to the text at this point, else how could so material a circumstance have silently dropped out of the narrative? There are passages in every separate book of the canon, into which accident, or the somnolence of copyists, has introduced errors seriously disturbing the sense and the coherence. Many of these have been rectified in the happiest manner by ingenious suggestions; and a considerable proportion of these suggestions has been since verified and approved by the discovery of new manuscripts, or the more accurate collation of old ones. In the present case, a much slighter change than might be supposed will suffice to elicit a new and perfect sense from the general outline of that text which still survives. First, as to the phrase ‘fell headlong,’ I do not understand it of any fall from a fig-tree, or from any tree whatever. This fig-tree I regard as a purely fanciful resource; and evidently an innovation to this extent ranks amongst those conjectural audacities which shock the discreet reader, as most unsatisfactory and licentious, because purely gratuitous, when they rest upon no traces that can be indicated as still lurking in the present text. Fell headlong may stand as at present: it needs no change, for it discloses a very good and sufficient sense, if we understand it figuratively as meaning that he came to utter and unmitigated ruin, that his wreck was total, for that, instead of dedicating himself to a life of penitential sorrow, such as would assuredly have conciliated the divine forgiveness, the unhappy criminal had rushed out of life by suicide. So far, at least, all is sound and coherent, and under no further obligations to change small or great, beyond the reading that, in a metaphorical sense, which, if read (as hitherto) in a literal sense, would require the very serious interpolation of an imaginary fig-tree.

What remains is equally simple: the change required involves as little violence, and the result from this change will appear equally natural. But a brief preliminary explanation is requisite, in order to place It advantageously before the reader. The ancients use the term bowels with a latitude unknown generally to modern literature, but especially to English literature. In the midst of the far profounder passion which distinguishes the English from all literatures on the modern European continent, it is singular that a fastidious decorum never sleeps for a moment. It might be imagined that this fastidiousness would be in the inverse ratio of the passion: but it is not so. In particular the French, certainly the literature which ranges at the lowest elevation upon the scale of passion, nevertheless is often homely, and even gross, in its recurrences to frank elementary nature. For a lady to describe herself as laughing a gorge deployee, a grossness which with us, equally on the stage or in real life, would be regarded with horror, amongst the French attracts no particular attention. Again, amidst the supposed refinements of French tragedy, and not observe the coarser tragedy of Corneille, but amidst the more feminine and polished tragedy of Racine, there is no recoil at all from saying of such or such a sentiment, ‘Il me perce les entrailles’–it penetrates my bowels. The Greeks and Romans still more extensively use the several varieties of expression for the intestines, as a symbolic phraseology for the domestic and social affections. We English even, fastidious as we are, employ the term bowels as a natural symbolization for the affections of pity, mercy, or parental and brotherly affection. At least we do so in recurring to the simplicities of the scriptural style. But, amongst the Romans, the word viscera is so naturally representative of the household affections, that at length it becomes necessary to recall an English reader to the true meaning of this word. Through some physiological prejudice, it is true that the bowels have always been regarded as the seat of the more tender and sorrowing sympathies. But the viscera comprehended all the intestines, or (as the French term them) les entrailles. The heart even is a viscus; perhaps in a very large acceptation the brain might be regarded as a co-viscus with the heart. There is very slight ground for holding the brain to be the organ of thinking, or the heart of moral sensibilities, more than the stomach, or the bowels, or the intestines generally. But waive all this: the Romans designated the seat of the larger and nobler (i.e., the moral) sensibilities indifferently by these three terms: the pectus, the pr�“cordia, and the viscera; as to the cor, it seems to me that it denoted the heart in its grosser and more animal capacities: ‘Molle meum levibus cor est violabile relis;’ it was the seat of sexual passion; but nobler and more reflective sensibilities inhabited the pectus or pr�“cordia; and naturally out of these physiologic preconceptions arose corresponding expressions for wounded or ruined sensibilities. We English, for instance, insist on the disease of broken heart, which Sterne, in a well-known passage, postulates as a malady not at all less definite than phthisis, or podagra, though (as he says) not formally recognised in the bills of mortality. But it is evident that a theory which should represent the viscera as occupied by those functions of the moral sensibilities which we place in the central viscus of the heart, must, in following out that hypothesis, figure the case of these sensibilities when utterly ruined under corresponding images. Our ‘broken heart’ will therefore to them become ruptured viscera, or pr�“cordia that have burst. To burst in the middle, is simply to be shattered and ruined in the central organ of our sensibilities, which is the heart; and in saying that the viscera of Iscariot, or his middle, had burst and gushed out, the original reporter meant simply that his heart had broke. That was precisely his case. Out of pure anguish that the scheme which he meant for the sudden glorification of his Master, had recoiled (according to all worldly interpretation) in his utter ruin; that the sudden revolution, through a democratic movement, which was to raise himself and his brother apostles into Hebrew princes, had scattered them like sheep without a shepherd; and that superadded to this common burden of ruin he personally had to bear a separate load of conscious disobedience to God and insupportable responsibility; naturally enough out of all this he fell into fierce despair; his heart broke; and under that storm of affliction he hanged himself. Here, again, all clears itself up by the simple substitution of a figurative interpretation for one grossly physical. All contradiction disappears; not three deaths assault him, viz., suicide, and also a rupture of the intestines, and also an unintelligible effusion of the viscera; but simply suicide, and suicide as the result of that despondency which was figured under the natural idea of a broken heart. The incoherences are gone; the contradictions have vanished; and the gross physical absurdities, which under mistranslation had perplexed the reverential student, no longer disfigure the Scriptures.

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Looking back to the foot-note on the oriental idea of the hakim, as a mask politically assumed by Christ and the evangelists, under the conviction of its indispensableness to the free propagation of Christian philosophy, I am induced, for the sake of detaining the reader’s eye a little longer upon a matter so important in the history of Christianity, if only it may be regarded as true, to subjoin an extract from a little paper written by myself heretofore, but not published. I may add these two remarks, viz., first, that the attribution to St. Luke of this medical character, probably had its origin in the simple fact, that an assumption made by all the evangelists, and perhaps by all the apostles, had happened to attract more attention in him from merely local causes. One or two of the other apostles having pursued their labors of Propagandism under the avowed character of hakims, many others in the same region would escape special notice in that character, simply because, as men notoriously ready to plead it, they had not been challenged to do so by the authorities; whilst others, in regions where the government had not become familiar with the readiness to plead such a privilege as part of the apostolic policy, would be driven into the necessity of actually advancing the plea, and would thus (like St. Luke) obtain a traditionary claim to the medical title which in a latent sense had belonged to all, though all had not been reduced to the necessity of pleading it. Secondly, I would venture to suggest, that the Therapeutae, or healers, technically so called, who came forward in Egypt during the generation immediately succeeding to that of Christ, were neither more nor less than disguised apostles to Christianity, preaching the same doctrines essentially as Christ, and under the very same protecting character of hakims, but putting forward this character perhaps more prominently, or even retreating into it altogether, according to the increasing danger which everywhere awaited them from the hostile bigotry of expatriated Jews, as they gradually came to understand the true and anti-national views of those who called themselves Christians, or Nazarenes, or Galileans.

In short, abstracting altogether from the hatred to Christ, founded on eternal principles of the enmity between the worldly and the spiritual, and looking only to the political uneasiness amongst magistrates which accompanied the early footsteps of Christianity, one may illustrate it by the parallel feelings which in our own generation, amongst the Portuguese, for instance, have dogged the movements of free-masonry. We in England view this panic as irrational: and amongst ourselves it would be so; for British free-masonry conceals nothing worse than it professes. But, on the Continent, it became a mask for shrouding any or every system of anti-social doctrine, or, again, for playing into the hands of treason and conspiracy. There was always in the first place a reasonable fear of secret and perilous doctrines–Communism, for instance, under some modification, or rancorous Jacobinism. And secondly, suppose that for the present, or in the existing stage of the secret society, there really were no esoteric and mischievous doctrine propagated, there was at any rate the custom established of meeting together in secret, of corresponding by an alphabet of conventional signals, and of acting by an impenetrable organization, always applicable to evil purposes, even where it might not originally have been so applied. The machinery which binds together any secret society, as being always available for evil ends, must inevitably justify some uneasiness in all political authorities. And, under those circumstances, the public jealousy must have operated against the free movement of early Christianity: nothing could have disarmed it, except some counter-principle so managed, as to insure that freedom of public meetings which opened the sine qua non channel for the free propagation of religious truth. Such a counter-force was brought into play by Christ on that day when first he offered himself to Judea as a hakim, or popular physician. Under the shelter of that benign character, at one blow he overthrew an obstacle that would else infallibly have frozen the very element in which only any system of novel teaching could attempt to move. Most diseases were by the Jews invested with more or less of a supernatural character; and in no department of knowledge was the immediate illumination from above more signally presumed than in the treatment of diseases. A physician who was thus divinely guided in the practice of his art was a debtor to God and to his fellow-men for the adequate application of so heavenly a gift. And, if he could not honorably withdraw from the mission with which God had charged him, far less could politicians and magistrates under any allegation of public inconveniences presume to obstruct or to make of none effect the sublime mysteries of art and sagacity with which the providence of God had endowed an individual for the relief of suffering humanity; the hakim was a debtor to the whole body of his afflicted countrymen: but for that very reason he was also a creditor; a creditor entitled to draw upon the amplest funds of indulgence; and privileged to congregate his countrymen wherever he moved. Here opened suddenly a broad avenue to social intercourse, without which all communication for purposes of religious teaching would have been sealed against Christ. As a hakim, Christ obtained that unlimited freedom of intercourse with the populace, which, as a religious proselytizer, he never could have obtained. Here, therefore, and perhaps by the very earliest exemplification of the serpent’s wisdom and foresight engrafting itself upon the holy purposes of dovelike benignity, Christ kept open for himself (and for his disciples in times to come) the freedom of public communication, and the license of public meetings. Once announcing himself, and attesting his own mission as a hakim, he could not be rejected or thwarted as a public oracle of truth and practical counsel to human weakness. This explains, what else would have been very obscure, the undue emphasis which Christ allowed men to place upon his sanatory miracles. His very name in Greek, viz., Î�Î�σÎ�ς, presented him to men under the idea of the healer; but then, to all who comprehended his secret and ultimate functions, as a healer of unutterable and spiritual wounds. That usurpation, by which a very trivial function of Christ’s public ministrations was allowed to disturb and sometimes to eclipse far grander pretensions, carried with it so far an erroneous impression. But then, on the other hand, seventy-fold it redeemed that error, by securing (which nothing else could have secured) the benefit of a perpetual passport to the religious missionary: since, once admitted as a medical counsellor, the missionary, the hakim, obtained an unlimited right of intercourse. If medical advice, why not religious advice? And subsequently, by the continuance of the same medical gifts to the apostles and their successors, all exercised the same powers, and benefited by the same privileges as hakims.

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