August 12, 2004

Three Versions of Judas

"Three Versions of Judas" is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. I found it in a collection of his works called Labyrinths. This is not a theological work, but some of the short stories do have interesting things to say about religion, Christianity in particular. I found "Three Versions of Judas" especially compelling.

In TVJ, Borges does an examination of Judas through the character of Nils Runeberg, a theologian who has proposed that the things attributed to Judas are false. One point of evidence is that the "Judas kiss" should have been unnecessary to identify Jesus. If Jesus really had all these crowds following him, and was despised by Jewish leaders and feared by Romans, they would be able to recognize him. Judas was, in effect, representing all of man in making a sacrifice of himself. This parallels nicely with the sacrifice that Jesus made for all men.

At this point in the story, theologians refute Runeberg's theory for various reasons, and he comes up with another. The new theory says that God spending only one afternoon on the cross as a sacrifice is "blasphemous." Also, Judas was chosen by Jesus himself to be a disciple, which entailed many moral qualities. Borges' Runeberg has Judas as the ultimate ascetic, who scorns his own happiness for that of the Lord's. "Judas sought Hell, because the happiness of the Lord was enough for him. He thought that happiness, like morality, is a divine attribute and should not be usurped by humans."

In addition, Runeberg reasons that it would not be possible for God to become a human without being able to sin - "the attributes of impeccabilitas and of humanitas are not compatible." The final conclusion that Runeberg reached is that God did not become Jesus - God became Judas.

I'm not sure I did a very good job laying out the logic involved with Runeberg's conclusion. I'm not sure the logic is even sound, but as I read it straight through it was convincing. Overall, this story is an interesting one, despite its brevity (Six pages). I recommend Borges to anyone who likes bits of philosophy in their stories. This collection contains many of Borges' short stories, as well as some undeveloped thoughts, many of which play out like the thought experiments philosophers often use. Posted by mill1991 at August 12, 2004 2:10 PM