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Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil [Hardcover]

Hyam Maccoby
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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31 May 1992
Maccoby shows that in the earliest texts relating to the life of Jesus, no special or sinister role was ascribed to Judas Iscariot. He argues that the evil Judas was an invention of later Christians who wished to distance themselves from the Jews.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: The Free Press; 1st American Ed edition (31 May 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029195551
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029195550
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,450,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Judas Iscariot has a role in Christian mythology somewhat like Loki, the trickster god of Norse mythology, who hates the brilliant god, Baldur, for no real reason but only as the dark hates the light. Judas is also accused of simony, though thirty pieces of silver is not very much money to sell a god to the Romans. His betrayal is also explained by jealousy, because he was a Judean outsider in the midst of Galileans and because he was possessed by the devil (which surely exonerates him, though this earns him no forgiveness by Christianity).

Using his deep knowledge of the realities of Roman Judaea, contemporary Jewish religious teachings and 'tendenz criticism' of the Gospels (whereby fragments from the original texts are visible beneath Christian accretions because they contradict the pro-Roman tendency of the Gospel editors), Hyam Maccoby argues that Judas was chosen by Christian mythographers to enact the role of a 'sacred executioner' in a pagan deicide myth. (The 'sacred executioner' performs a task that saves the community, which transfers all their guilt onto him, whom they exile and treat with hatred and contempt.)

The real Judas Iscariot was probably the same man as Judas the brother of Jesus, author of the Espistle of Jude, and even possibly the same man as Judas Thomas. Of course, Judas never betrayed Jesus and did not kill himself: the stories of his death in Matthew and Acts contradict each other, though together they complete a pagan sacrifice myth, like that of Attis. Indeed, the whole Judas legend must be understood on the level of pagan mythology rather than history.

'Judas Iscariot' is a well-made argument and a worthy addition to 'Revolution in Judaea' and 'The Sacred Executioner'.
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Maccoby's writings on the origins of Christianity have generally met with hostility from Christian scholars, because they question too many assumptions and traditions that lie at the very heart of the history of the early Christian church. While his hypotheses have been dismissed as 'unhistorical', there has been to date no serious attempt to refute them.
'Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil' is consistent with Maccoby's overall revision of early Christian history, but it is more narrowly focussed on the NT account of Judas' 'betrayal' of Christ - and of the subsequent attachment of 'guilt' to the Jewish race.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jude the Obscured 1 Jan 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a Jew who has always retained a sidelong curiosity about Christianity, particularly Christian origins, I have found the works of Hyam Maccoby to be the most illuminating, of all the books on the topic I have read. It has always been a subject of intellectual curiosity for me how a religious community claiming to find its historical origin in my faith could have deviated so radically from the religious practices of Judaism and even become an institutionalized source of hostility against it. All those questions and more are answered in "Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil". This book is best seen as a concluding title in a sequence of books about Christian origins by Hyam Maccoby after "Revolution in Judaea: Jesus and the Jewish Resistance" and "The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Chrisianity". While I found Maccoby's writing to be stimulating and brilliant, I have no doubt there will be some pious Christians who take offense. One of the things I love about Maccoby's work is that unlike so very many other books I've read on the subject, Maccoby exhibits no apologetic reflex. As a non-Christian, Hyam Maccoby, is that rarest of rare birds: a brilliant, learned Biblical and Classical scholar who has no compunction about using that formidable intellect of his to dismantle the basic Christian story. How many books like that do you see on the market? Nevertheless, I can appreciate that what is so appealing to me may be very insulting to others. Dedicated Christians may not want to see their faith analyzed in so unsparing a way. At the last, Maccoby draws a red line between the character of Judas Iscariot in the Gospel Passion Play and the phenomenon of anti-semitism in history culminating with the Holocaust in modern times. I doubt if many Christians will appreciate being saddled with a burden of such extraordinary guilt. In "Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil" Hyam Maccoby has written a controversial book, perhaps deliberately so. He means to force to the surface, contentious issues, stemming from remote antiquity, which many of us might rather not discuss or even fancy don't constitute a problem anymore if ever they did. Many will undoubtedly view this book with hostility; all that can be reasonably asked of any potential reader is that he or she keep an open mind.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Historically Maccoby's weakest, but still worth reading 26 Mar 2001
By John S. Ryan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Hyam Maccoby here continues his analysis of the origins of Christianity and the roots of antisemitism. This volume is probably his weakest attempt at history, but it is worth reading at least for its remarks on the nature and importance of myth.

Maccoby's historical thesis is that the traitorous Judas of the gospels was a sheer invention -- but one nevertheless "spun off" from a real person: the Judas of history was the brother of Jesus. And yes, Maccoby has to perform some remarkable hat tricks in order to pull this off.

Whether or not one accepts his historical reconstruction, though, Maccoby has helpful things to say about the role of myth in antisemitism. He does make a strong case that the character of Judas has served (as his name suggests) as a stand-in for the Jews in Christian thought and culture. And he makes some extremely pertinent remarks about the "fundamentalism" of certain writers on the nature of myth (e.g. Rudolf Bultmann, Joseph Campbell), noting well that myths are not beyond criticism either.

Not Maccoby's best book, then, but still very much worth reading.
12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maccoby obviously correct 3 April 2006
By James A. Nollet - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Hyam Maccoby is obviously correct to state that Judas never "betrayed" Jesus. This view is eminently defensible from the New Testament itself.

1) Jesus obviously had foreknowledge that Judas was going to inform the authorities where to find him. First of all, if we assume that as the Son of God and the Second member of the Holy Trinity, Jesus is God and therefore knows everything, OF COURSE he then must know what Judas is up to.

2) The Gospels themselves say that Jesus knew. In Matthew, when Judas kisses Jesus and asks, "Is it I?" Jesus tells him, "Go, do what you must."

3) It is therefore logical to suppose that Jesus actually SENT Judas to inform the authorities. Think about it. They've just had the Last Supper. This is Jerusalem in the 1st Century; not a lot of night life. After dining on a holiday, there was nothing else to do but go to bed inside the city, more or less where they had supper. But instead, Jesus and the disciples leave the city and go to the Mount of Olives. Question: How would the authorities know to look for Jesus there? For surely, Jesus WANTED the authorities to find him. Either in his capacity as the sacrificial Lamb of God, knowing he's going to be arrested, tried, and crucified, wanting to go through with it because of his love of mankind, or in his capacity as Messiah, wanting to battle with the Romans in order to usher in the Age of the Messiah -- either way, he can't get it going unless he confronts the authorities, and he can't do that if they don't know where to find him. So OF COURSE he needs someone to TELL them -- and that someone is Judas.

4) Now consider who Judas really is. He's the only disciple with a "surname." But the "surname is no surname; it's a STREET name. It's like being named "Mack the Knife."

What does it mean? "Is" - "Ish," Hebrew/Aramaic for "man." And "S-cariot" is a blend of Latin and Hebrew. In Latin, a "sicarius" means "dagger." (It is from this word that we get the words "cigar" and "cigar-ette' ('little cigar') since both have the general shape of a dagger.) And in Hebrew, the "iot" ending is used with plural feminine nouns, so "sicarius" the dagger becomes "sicar-iot" the daggers.

Judas Iscariot then is "Judas the Daggerman," or "Judas, Man of Daggers."

5) This is significant because Josephus records that during this time, there was a group of assassins within the party of the Zealots who frequently picked off stray Romans by stabbing them to death -- with sicarii! In fact, that's what they were called -- The Sicarii.

Judas was in this class of Jewish patriot.

6) So how could it possibly be that THIS Judas, of ALL people, could possibly have turned over his beloved master to the very people he hated the most?

The answer must be he didn't know what he was doing.

Jesus sends him to tell the authorities where to find him. Judas gladly does so, because he thinks the Messianic Revolt as foretold by Zechariah and Joel is going to occur this very evening. He PRETENDS to the authorities to be a turncoat in order to embellish the verisimilitude; this is why he accepts their payments of 30 pieces of silver.

He leads the authorities to Jesus, but to his shock, horror, and dismay, instead of ushering in the Age of the Messiah, Jesus is meekly arrested, and the whimper of te revolution is over before it truly began.

Judas knew what would happen next -- Jesus was going to be executed, probably on the cross.

In great despair, he throws back the pieces of silver, and then hangs himself in grief.

The suicide is the key to the story. If Judas had truly and cravenly "betrayed" Jesus, then why the waterworks afterward? Why the grief and despair?

But if Judas didn't know what was going to happen, then all is clear and understandable. He killed himself because it went terribly wrong, and he felt horrible guilt about his unwitting role.

I go into this and more in my booklet, "A Scientific Determination of the Exact Time and Date of the Death of Jesus of Nazareth." Please go to www.romaband.com/james for more details.

Thank you.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For Die-Hards only. Some missed opportunities here... 21 Feb 2005
By CharmedLife - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In this book Maccoby makes some illuminating points on Judas (greek for Judah) as a stand-in for the jewish people, and somehow actually rehabilitates Judas. Bonus material includes: deconstructing the attonement myth that requires a betrayer or "black christ" in Judah, rehash of medevil passion plays and some interesting composites made from anomalous judas/brothers/apostles material in the NT.

I read this in a day, being only a ~160pg book. Some missed opportunities here that were a disappointment include: parallels to "the kiss" to the kissing of the Torah scroll (ie kissing you goodbye) and more elaboration of the role of evil and human sacrifice in Judaism. Maccoby really does not delve into this material where the Advarsary is considered helpful, including the "evil" inclination which can derive good. Obviously, these additudes have developed alongside Christian's identification of the Jews as evil anyway, a pariah people. A comparison between the nature or role of evil in Judaism vs. Christianity's switch against the Jews would have made the book more significant. The collective blood libel ('let his blood be upon us and our children' - Matt 27:22) of deicide and other remarks against Jews (such as Jesus accusing the Jews of devil worship John 8:44) does not begin with Judas. Judas was just an accessory character, probably a symbolic one.

Another thing is his exageration of anti-semetism today. In America in the 21st century, you have jews as vice-presidential nominations, senators, etc. in every civic and professional role. Great strides have been made in the judeo-christian dialogue since WWII, and the role of Judas has been made more innocous. Many Christians may even be shocked at the association between Judas and the Jews. But Maccoby is right that such themes still resonate in our culture - and of course played a hand in the manifestations of non-religious political movements such as fascism and communism. As he said there are differences between a "catholic" atheist and a "jewish" atheist due to their religious/societal orientations.

This book is for Maccoby fans only. Despite my disagreement with some of the material, his brilliance is obvious. Its always interesting to read a talmud scholar's dissections of the NT. Even if you don't agree (and I'm not saying I don't mind you) you must like the way he turns the picture upside down and backwards!
5.0 out of 5 stars Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil 5 Aug 2012
By Kristin Rossi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Another great study by Hyam Maccoby. Glad I found it! Things are not always as they seem to be nor what they are that we've been told.
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