Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil
Maccoby (Hyam)
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Inside Cover Blurb

  1. In this speculative study of the early Church, Hyam Maccoby raises the question of whether anti-Semitism has roots in Christian theology. This would not have been a controversial question fifty or a hundred years ago. Yet strangely, no one formally involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue was willing to be quoted, pro or con, for attribution on the subject. This refusal to discuss a legitimate issue that should deeply concern representatives of both religious groups suggests that Maccoby has hit a nerve. And indeed, that is precisely his intention in this closely argued book about the origin, development, and posthumous career of the shadowy Biblical figure called Judas Iscariot.
  2. Maccoby begins with a simple question: Who was Judas, and how did he become the preeminent figure of evil in Christian myth and literature? Maccoby shows that Judas was not marked out for any special role in the earliest accounts of Jesus' life and death; rather he emerges in successive versions as the fated betrayer who leads Jesus to his necessary sacrifice. The Judas story, he concludes, is thus a total fabrication which has more to do with the internal quarrels of the early Church — above all with the narrative requirements of a sacrificial myth — than with the actions of any supposed historical character. This mythic role of Judas as a "sacred executioner" is central to the understanding of his story and indeed to the subsequent history of the Jews within Christian civilization. For this role was transferred to the whole Jewish people, who have been branded with precisely those vices of envy, greed, and ultimate disloyalty displayed by Judas in the Gospels. Maccoby traces this association through the literature and art of Christian Europe to the present day, showing that beneath the civilized euphemisms that have been variously applied to Jews — internationalists, cosmopolites, or secular humanists — there lingers the ancient theological slander embodied in the Judas myth.
  3. Maccoby does not identify Christian theology as the sole source of anti-Semitic prejudice, of course. But he maintains that symbols of the Christian myth have greater power in the post-theological age than we realize, precisely because our rationalistic prejudice persuades us that we are immune to sub-rational influence. Thus, paradoxically, Enlightenment — which Jews regarded as the key to their emancipation — may actually have intensified anti-Semitism by driving the idea of evil to the margins of acceptable discourse. And it is just this "primitive" identification of the Jews as the people of evil that the well-meaning liberal exponents of interfaith dialogue refuse to discuss.

Back Cover Blurb
  1. "Much grief has been visited on the Jews because of their presumption that they were chosen. It is Maccoby's powerful argument that it was the Christians who chose them."
    Howard Jacobson, The Sunday Times of London
  2. "Hyam Maccoby, a writer of considerable power who delights in controversy... thinks that the Judas we all know never existed but was gradually invented by the Evangelists as a figure symbolising the Jews, as part of the struggle by the Pauline church to replace the Jewish-dominated Jerusalem church... Many will find this hard to swallow but Maccoby argues his case with great skill and ingenuity, weaving into it an extensive knowledge of the ancient texts and a wide range of reading among modern scholars."
    Paul Johnson, London Sunday Telegraph
  3. "Combining original textual scholarship with a sophisticated theory of myth and ritual, Maccoby demonstrates that antisemitism originated not merely in response to political or economic pressures but as a purely cultural problem. As Maccoby lays out his brilliant revisionist thesis, he shreds rationalistic explanations of antisemitism to pieces. At a time when barbarous beliefs about Jews are once again on the rise, this reminder of their specifically ideological origins takes on even greater importance."
    → Jeffrey Alexander, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, UCLA
  4. "It may seem a strange coincidence that of all Jesus' twelve disciples, the one whom the Gospel story singles out as traitor bears the name of the Jewish people. The coincidence was not overlooked by Christian commentators, who saw it as a mysterious sign, by which the Judas-role of the Jews was divinely hinted at. I have taken this as the starting point of a consideration of the part played by the character of Judas Iscariot in the history of antisemitism. As the argument develops, the element of coincidence will tend to disappear, and it will become reasonably clear that Judas was chosen for a baleful but necessary mythological role precisely because of his name."
    → From Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil – Acknowledgements

    Preface and Acknowledgments – ix
  1. Judas in the Western Imagination – 1
  2. The Enigma of the Early Sources – 22
  3. The Story Develops: Mark and Matthew – 34
  4. Judas Iscariot in Luke and Acts – 50
  5. Judas Iscariot in John – 61
  6. The Beginnings of Folklore – 79
  7. Judas and the Growth of Antisemitism – 101
  8. Who Was Judas Iscariot? – 127
  9. Prince Jude: A Reconstruction – 141
  10. The Judas Myth – 160
    Illustrations – between pages 86 and 87
    Notes – 169
    Appendix: St. John Chrysostom on Judas Iscariot – 193
    Bibliography – 197
    Index – 205

Book Comment

The Free Press, Macmillan. 1992. Hardback.

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  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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