Did Jesus Kiss Judas?

I guess I had always pictured Judas slinking up to Jesus with exaggerated warmth–“Rabbi!”–and giving him a quick peck on the cheek. The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture has me wondering if I’m just being too Western again. Or too US American:

How magnificent is the endurance of evil by the Lord who even kissed his own traitor, and then spoke words even softer than a kiss! For he did not say, O you abominable one or traitor, is this what you do in return for great kindnesses? He simply says, “Judas,” using his first name. This is in the voice of one commiserating with another or who wished another to come back to him, not the voice of anger.

Dionysius of Alexandria, Quoted in The anCient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, p. 215

I likely would have dismissed this reading of Judas’ kiss as a two-way kiss out of hand, because some of the readings in these volumes are quite…imaginative. But on the next page of the same volume, Ephrem of Syria assumes the same kiss, writing, “Jesus kissed the mouth of him who, by means of it, gave the signal for death to those who apprehended him.”

The Anchor Bible Dictionary has a three page entry for “Kiss” (pp. 89-92 in Volume IV). It disappointingly does not say anything about whether any recent scholars think Jesus kissed Judas back, but it does say that “the holy kiss” (mentioned several times in the New Testament) was a unique practice of early Christians, without precedent in the Greco-Roman or Jewish world. Some scholars even claim that Jesus initiated the practice with his disciples, and the disciples kept up the practice in the early Christian communities. If this is true, as the ABD puts it, Judas’ kiss was “a sign which would convey one message to outsiders but would be the usual form of greeting and hence arouse no suspicions to the inside group” (91). Of course, the whole mob with torches, clubs, and short swords probably would raise suspicion.

But back to Dionysius of Alexandria. As with many of the writers quoted in the ACCoS (many of them relatively minor figures) I had to look him up. During Dionysius’ life, the Church suffered seasons of persecution, in which some Christians denied their faith verbally or in writing and some offered sacrifices to prove they were not Christians, so that they and their families would not be hurt or killed. Seasons of persecution were followed by seasons of tolerance, and as churches reconstituted themselves, Christian leaders were divided about what to do about those who had apostatized and now wanted to return.

Some, led by Novatian, argued that those who had denied Christ and offered sacrifices to idols could not return to receive the sacraments. Such idolatry and faithlessness, he argued, were unforgivable. Others–in what became the Orthodox position set against what eventually became known as the Novatian heresy–said that Christians could repent and be forgiven and restored. Dionysius of Alexandria was one of the great leaders of that Orthodox position, and I see it in his read of Jesus and Judas in the Garden.

Dionysius knew Judas-like folks. Dionysius likely knew people who had been killed due to treachery by other Christians. Even with that life experience he looked to Jesus in the Garden, and he could not imagine a Jesus who would refuse to kiss his disciple when his disciple came to kiss him. The Jesus Dionysius heard in the Gospels would not speak with the condemning voice of Novatian, but always “in the voice of one commiserating with another or who wished another to come back to him, not the voice of anger.”

I want to see, hear, and believe in a Jesus who would kiss Judas back.

(Related public service announcement: Scorsese’s stunning Silence, which deals with faith, apostasy, reconciliation, and grace upon grace upon grace, is streaming on Amazon Prime.)

Advertisements

Tuesday Reading Roundup

This past week I have been reading three wonderful books:

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter

This book had a slow start. First is the fact that it is two authors’ work, the former an oil-executive-turned-amateur-historian and the latter a self-described “professional co-author.” The bigger issue is the basic issue of reading about a group of men dedicated to protecting art in the midst of World War II: aren’t there enough important things which happened in that war that we never need to get to talking about art? Then there is the fact that there were never any “Monuments Men” there to protect anything but Western art.

I’m 65% of the way through, and there has yet to be a real discussion about what it says about human nature and its contradictions that a fabulously successful death cult also dedicated itself to collecting the greatest works of the human spirit. Certainly that’s above the pop-history pay grade, but as a pastor and small-time theologian, I’m endlessly amazed by our human capacity for self-deception, and this whole piece of history is fuel for further thought.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

This year I have an ambitious reading goal anchored by a narrower list of fewer than 40 books. That smaller list includes the complete novels of Toni Morrison (at least the ones I’ve not yet read) as well as a couple of her non-fiction collections. I’m currently wondering if this might be her best work, but it’s been years since I’ve read Beloved.

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren F. Winner

Although it will be difficult for Winner to ever outsell her Girl Meets God, she has become an unbelievably stronger writer since then. In my opinion, Still is the one that has a chance to enter into the classics categoryWearing God, the follow-up to that book, now confounds my expectations that she could never top it. Of course, I’m only thirty pages in. Fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s non-fiction and Barbara Brown Taylor’s more personal work will love this book, in which the title refers to the off-the-beaten-path Biblical images of God that Winner says we need to add to the familiar Shepherd, Father, King, etc. in our heads, hearts, and prayers.


Tuesday Reading Roundup has been a regular feature of this blog and its predecessor for several years. Entries must: 1) Have been read by me in the previous week; 2) Have been particularly interesting, thought- or conversation-provoking, and/or entertaining.

Revisiting Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (part ii)

The substantive post with an argument was from yesterday, so read that first. This is a post gathering together a few thoughts that didn’t quite fit in that argument:

1. Yes, the movie is crazy bloody, sometimes gratuitously so. The difference between what the thieves experienced and what Jesus experienced before their crucifixions is again a mark of the devotional tradition to which this film belongs overtaking other theological and historical claims about what happened. (And I still find no understanding for why the bird had to pluck out the Bad Thief’s eye.)

2. This is the first time that I recognized that Gibson told the story as the conversion story of the centurion Abenader. It is a beautiful conversion in which Abenader accompanies Jesus along the entire way through the Passion and sees the witness of Jesus’ life. If you too return to watch the film again, watch it as The Conversion of Abenader and see it if it shifts your perspective.

3. Gibson’s and Caviezel’s Jesus is astonishingly good at depicting C.S. Lewis’ Liar/Lunatic/Lord. Caviezel as Jesus is either an entirely insane cult leader or there is the possibility that he is telling the truth about Himself and the God who sent Him. The depiction of Jesus is writing, directing, acting, and editing all coming together to somehow make an interesting character out of one of the most oft depicted characters in all of literature.

4. I had much less problem with Satan played by a woman, because this time through I saw it as a female actor playing an androgynous, simultaneously beautiful and hideous role. Maybe others don’t buy that, but if “she” were intended to show that something of woman marks Satan, she would have been played as a sex symbol. In fact, she never plays any sort of female temptress to cause Jesus or anyone else to sexual lust. (Now I’m troubled by the “baby” carried by Satan.)

Revisiting Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ

Passion of the christ poster

Like most other US Christians, in 2004 I saw The Passion of the Christ in the theater. I was dismissive of it, saw its depiction of Christ’s suffering as purely physical, was bored by the storytelling, troubled by the portrayal of Satan by a female actor, and I know I called its violence pornographic. In the ten years since, I’ve avoided several screenings organized by churches during Lent.

Then, a week ago, on Good Friday, I streamed it on Netflix. And I thought it was great.

The Passion of the Christ is a very strange film, because it is one in which you have to know the story beforehand in order to understand what is happening. I cannot think of a another case where I would praise a film adaptation of a book that worked that way. Imagine, for instance, a film adaptation of Macbeth, but only Acts Four and Five are covered, with a few references to past scenes thrown in, which you assume are meaningful to the people who know the story, but which are meaningless to you as the viewer.

Rotten Tomatoes (recording a 49% from All Critics and 80% from Audience) summarizes the critical response: “The graphic details of Jesus’ torture make the movie tough to sit through and obscure whatever message it is trying to convey.” That’s right: the graphic details make a story which is difficult to follow and unclear in its purpose even more difficult to follow and even less clear in its purpose.

Passion scourge

While that represents the mainstream of critical responses, another strong trend of criticism (mainly among Christians who mostly liked the movie) lamented that while the movie was supposedly dedicated to showing every gruesome detail with historical accuracy, it failed at some points. The nails went in Jesus’ hands, some said, when everybody knows they would have actually gone into his wrists, or he would have fallen off the cross from his own weight against weak flesh. My own part in this stream was that I wondered aloud (even as I knew) why Gibson wouldn’t depict a naked Jesus on the cross.

I returned to the 2004 film ten years later prompted by a conversation with my wife in which she said she found the movie meaningful, and in tearing down the movie I found myself tearing down her (and millions of other people). Why is it that 80% of the people who saw The Passion disagreed with me and most established critics? (While a decent question, honestly, I know it’s not for the reason I came to my own change of view.)

My own reason is that (I think) I’ve come to see The Passion of the Christ for what it is rather than what I thought it was or should be. Film critics expected and therefore saw a film that could be judged by the genre conventions of narrative filmmaking and of film adaptations of preexisting works and of other film adaptations of the life of Jesus. Evangelical Christians saw a Passion that brought Hollywood money to bear on telling the most important part of the Most Important Story. Liberal (this is before “progressive” was the preferred term) Christians saw a Passion marred by a right-wing fringe Catholic filmmaker’s bloody misunderstanding of what atonement is and who the God of Jesus is.

Mel-Gibson-and-Jim-Caviez-007

In reality, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is a big-budget film continuation of and representation of a hundreds of years’ old tradition of Roman Catholic devotional art focused on the suffering and death of Jesus. This is why so many of the scenes are composed like classical paintings and why parts of the narrative make no sense without a knowledge of the Stations of the Cross and the various extra-Biblical traditions of how the Passion happened. It’s also why Jesus is not shown naked and why the nails go through the palms of his hands rather than through his wrists. The biggest clue, however, to Gibson’s real intention, however, was right in front of our noses the whole time: the movie’s title.

The Passion of the Christ as a phrase is a theological interpretation of the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth from inside particular theological, devotional, and artistic traditions. “Christ” makes particular claims about who Jesus is, and “Passion” is a much different term than “Death” or “Crucifixion” or even the basic English translation, “Suffering.”

Finally, this doesn’t mean that we cannot judge the Catholic devotional interpretative traditions or the film itself on any merits or against any standards we choose. It is just to say that when we do, we should recognize we are no longer judging the work by its own intentions or on its own terms.

The Crucifixion with St Bridget in Adoration

Tuesday Reading Roundup

 

 

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. When DC was trying to relaunch some classics with 1980s grit and sadness, they turned to Frank Miller, who had already written The Dark Knight Returns. Year One is the story of the rising of James Worthington Gordon and The Batman, who in this telling both arrived to clean up Gotham on the same day. The new show Gotham has to be laboring under Frank Miller’s Batman’s shadow once again, although I’ve not read anything directly connecting the show to this book. At any rate, among the best parts of Year One has to be this.

Benediction by Kent Haruf. A few years ago, I adored Haruf’s Plainsong. Benediction has that earlier novel’s same simplicity, strong characterization, and focus on real story (not plot-drivenness, but story). For one instance that stands out in contemporary fiction, there are very few living novelists who can describe a meeting in a church basement where the basement is real and the people in it are real and the things they talk about and argue about and speak spitefully and speak charitably about are real. Holt, Colorado–where all of Haruf’s novels take place–is a real place.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Mantel’s Wolf Hall was among the best books of 2009, and its sequel is somehow just as good. The two books (and a third in-the-making) follow the life of Thomas Cromwell, who was born a commoner but rose to be a chief adviser to Henry VII (historical spoiler alert: but did not end his life happily). I am not someone who loves every British historical drama that comes along, but this is not just historical fiction. It’s just a great and ambitious novel. Which I’m only 1/4 of the way through.

“A Net, at last, for the Golden Gate Bridge?” by Tad FriendSixteen-hundred suicides in since its opening in 1937, the Golden Gate might finally be getting a net.

“An Open Letter to the Director of Blue Jasmine by Wade Sheeler. Although I’ve closely read most of the articles appearing in the wake of the resurfacing of child sexual abuse allegations, this isn’t one of them. Admittedly that makes it safer to share, but in my defense, it’s just a good article and few of the sex abuse allegation articles are. It’s from August 2013, and it calls Woody Allen to task for refusing to move beyond his long-time soundtrack choices.

Steve Jobs said a thing in an interview once, which was quoted on Twitter. It really reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s word to beginning writers that the most important thing is to actually finish what you’ve started, because the process is so great a teacher.

The Trinity (this ed.) by Saint Augustine. This is going to be on here a while. The introduction by Edmund Hill is fantastic, worth reading on its own for situating Augustine’s work theologically and historically. And then I shared a bit from Augustine himself yesterday.

“‘Tuches Sleeps With the Dictionary!’: Remembering Lester Schonbrun, and the dingy Times Square games parlor where he found a second home” by Stefan Fatsis. In this obituary over at Slate, Fatsis leads the reader into the wild world of boardgame hustlers and champions in 1960s and 1970s New York City.

“Waving to Virginia: Patti Smith Reads Virginia” by Maria Popova. Brain Pickings remembers the death of Virginia Woolf on March 28, 1941 with an archived performance/reading by Patti Smith.


Tuesday Reading Roundup has been a regular feature of this blog and its predecessor for a few years. Entries must: 1) Have been read by me in the previous week; 2) Have been interesting, thought-provoking, and/or entertaining.

Hellbound?: Part I

I do not want Hell to exist.

And yet…I believe there is reason enough for me to believe in a traditional conception of Hell from the words of Jesus in the Gospels and in Revelation.

Some might say that writing those words or holding that belief is a hair’s breadth (or less) from those–Calvinist, Calvinisht, and otherwise–who replace every Mystery of God with, “God’s ways aren’t our ways. Would you put yourself in the place of God?!” From Abraham to Moses to Hannah to David to Jesus in the Garden, however, questioning God has a vital lineage as one of the truest expressions of faith available to a human being.

The emphasis I just mentioned–Mystery–is at the heart of my understanding or beliefs about Hell (and every other Last Thing). Because what I believe about Hell and Judgment more than anything else is what I believe about God. What I believe about God is that every mercy I can imagine ever existing is a dewdrop on a blade of grass compared to the literally infinite ocean of the Mercy Who God Is.

Even if Hell is what the mainstream of Christians have thought it is for a couple thousand years, God’s mercy will provide the shape for even that. It is God’s Mercy which will define every part of whatever The End is.

——————————————————————————————————————–
Hellbound? is a 2012 movie directed by Kevin Miller, now available on Netflix Streaming. This is the first in a series of posts on the film.

Upside Down (2012; dir. Juan Solanas)

What do I say to recommend to you a movie which has all kinds of problems? The acting is mostly just serviceable (although I loved seeing Timothy Spall as not-Wormtail/Peter Pettigrew), the visuals are sometimes beautiful and sometimes the worst kind of CGI, and the writer only had the ideas to fill a much shorter film.

And yet…imagination, love, memorable images, persistence and longsuffering, innovation, the virtue of not giving up: the world needs more of these things. I’m glad I experienced them all in this film. So I’m telling you to watch it too.