Friday, April 14, 2006

Snitching on Good Friday: Rethinking Judas

Today Christendom celebrates Good Friday, so naturally my thoughts turn to "snitching." After all, it's hard to think of the passion story without recalling Judas' betrayal of Christ and the disciples for thirty pieces of silver.

What else was Judas Iscariot, in the end, but a Roman snitch?

The finally-released Gospel of Judas would recast the pariah disciple as hero - the ancient gnostic text, which has received tremendous press recently, portrays Judas' betrayal of Christ as an act of obedience and faith. According to this rendition, Judas Iscariot followed Jesus' instructions rather than subverting his cause.

I find that possibility fascinating - it would explain a lot. For instance, in the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus obviously knew ahead of time he would be arrested that evening, requesting that his heavenly father "let this cup pass from me." The prediction that Peter would deny Christ three times before the cock crowed could stem from divine pre-cognition, or it could be that Jesus knew the group would be targeted because he'd personally dispatched Judas to turn him in.

Let's say for a moment, just for argument's sake, that the latter explanation from the Gospel of Judas is true. Why might Jesus use a trusted disciple to arrange his own arrest? Here are a few thoughts on the subject, unproven hypotheses all, but at least a starting point for discussion:
  • Jesus could have wanted to arrange his own martyrdom thinking it would cause the movement he left behind to rally and grow.
  • Perhaps Jesus mistakenly believed the Jewish nation would back him with popular support. The scene where Pontius Pilate asks the Jews who they would rather free, the brigand Barabus or Jesus, may have been a pivotal scene where Jesus' plans went horribly wrong. Perhaps Christ actually arranged Judas' snitching hoping that, at that critical moment, the Jewish people would rally behind the cause. If so, he miscalculated.
  • To put the most pro-traditional spin on the episode, assume Jesus knew he would literally rise from the grave, that he was supposed to do so. He might have intentionally provoked his own crucifixion - using Judas as his instrument - expressly as a means for providing redemption and grace for all.
If any of those are true, then Judas' role as snitch becomes more complicated. It would mean that he DIDN'T betray Jesus but in fact was a double agent. If that's right, the Romans' most famous snitch was really using the authorities, carrying water not really for the police but doing the bidding of their investigative target!

That happens often with informants, even today. Police can never know for certain a person's motive for cooperating, while there are a million reasons why a snitch might lead authorities in directions that coincide with their goals - whether theological, political, or criminal - not the pursuit of justice.
A prime example from the criminal justice arena was Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, leader of a South Boston gang who spent 25 years informing on his competitors in the Italian mafia while running his own massive crimnal enterprise. Sure his information led to convictions, but he was using the FBI for his own purposes, not helping them reduce crime.

If Judas was a snitch then he stands as an icon for why snitches to this day are treated with loathing and scorn - count Jesus' disciples, in that case, as early proponents of the "Stop Snitching" meme. But if Judas was really using the Romans for political purposes - if he was Christ's agent, not his enemy - then he becomes a different kind of symbol, a cautionary tale for how easily authorities relying on informants can be manipulated in ways that undermine the interests of the state.

See prior Grits posts on snitching.


markm said...

Great post!

The Gospel of Judas has upset a lot of people, because they consider Jesus arranging his own arrest and crucifixion as suicide and believe that's a sin. So obviously it can't be true... (And I have no doubt that it's a forgery written after everyone who actually remembered Jesus was dead, but so are the accepted Gospels.)

However, if sending Judas to help the authorities find him was suicide, wasn't hanging around Jerusalem when it was clear the authorities were looking for him also suicide? Or, moving from the perfect to the truly sinful, is it a sin for a murderer to turn himself in when execution is likely?

Anonymous said...

So, let me get this straight, If your against "snitching" (ie; getting a reduced sentence or dropped charges for helping catch a bigger fish); then you must be for giving all these low-level drug offenders their full sentence?

Catonya said...

passing along a good take on the drug war. John Fugelsang: Taking the "Drug War"... Seriously | The Huffington Post

Anonymous said...

It seems that the public's treatment of snitches has less to do with the snitcher than the snitched-upon. Rat out the Messiah and you end up in Dante's 9th circle of hell; turn in your brother the Unabomber and people hail you as a hero.

Catonya said...

anonymous at 7:42pm -
You're implying that all low level drug offenders who don't receive the maximum sentence are snitches, and that isn't the case.

twisting that into "giving all low-level offenders their full sentence" by eradicating snitching is nonsensical.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 7:42 promotes the fallacy that justifies snitches, but it's not always true: Big fish get off, little fish get eaten.

Anonymous said...

Uh, you didn't just compare Jesus and his disciples to the Irish mob ... did you? :-)

Catonya said...

stopping by to wish you a very
Happy Easter.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Happy Easter to you too, Cat. It always brightens my day when you stop by to comment - I appreciate you a lot. :-)

Someone said...

This is something I feel very strong about. And I know that some would say I am crazy as a loon for saying this But...Judas in my opinion was "chosen" to do what he did. I don't know about Jesus telling him to do what he did but if not for his actions things would have or could have gone very differently and well, I think what happened was meant to happen as it did!! Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead and the rest is history. Thank God and Jesus that he asked for Forgiveness for US! What a great guy!! And now thanks to him and the way it all went down which I believe was "meant" to go the way it did we can be forgiven and have a place with Him when we die no matter what mistakes we sinners make. We don't know how to be like Jesus(t0tally sin free) and really can't be and thanks to Jesus we still get to go to be with Him after this life anyways.Jesus rules(figuratively and literally, hehe)

Someone said...

Oh and to the anonymous blogger above-not all drug users are bad people or low-lifes! And please know that if you don't think the snitches snitching are even worse than the one they are snitching on-you are wrong. The guy who stole my truck was a snitch and I know for a fact that the police looked the other way instead of catching him for stealing it so they could keep him out of jail so he could continue to give them info. He has stolen a number of other peoples vehicles one of which was a young new mother who lives several miles from the nearest store!! And he continues to get by with crime after crime(like cooking dope, stealing cars, and even robbing a local store causing $5000 in damage) so that he can give cops info on low-level criminals usually guilty of doing nothing but buying a quarter bag of meth. Meth he probablly cooked--you tell me is that justice. If you don't think this happens everyday, your naive!!!

Happy Easter to everyone!! Because this day-not Christmas-is the day we should really be celebrating. J.C.'s death is the most important event in history!!

wheeler said...

i think there is also a theory that judas was working against jesus and the romans. that is, judas was a revolutionary who initially followed jesus because he thought jesus was going to overthrow rome. jesus let him down, and judas thought by turning him over to the romans he might provoke the revolution jesus had failed to deliver.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Wheeler: There are several renditions of that theory that I'm aware of, some holding that Jesus and his followers were really Jewish nationalists of the brand chronicled in Josephus who rebelled in 70 A.D., not proponents of a new religion. Even from the canonical texts, it's easy to see Judas' resentment in the scene where he questions Mary Magdalene's pouring expensive oil on Christ's feet - Judas said they should sell it and give the money to the poor, while Christ said the poor will always be with us. According to that hypothesis, if Judas were really a populist radical agitating for an overtly anti-colonial revolt by the impoverished masses, he might feel pretty betrayed himself by a perception that Christ had abandoned the movement to pursue his own personal glory. A great deal of speculation on that score was included in the massively overwritten but provocative scholarly book, James the Brother of Jesus.

Anonymous said...