Bible Review 13:6, December 1997

Bible Books

The Search for the Historical Judas

Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus?

William Klassen (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996) 238 pp., $19 (paperback)

Tradition has been hard on Judas of Iscariot. His very name has become synonymous with treachery and greed, while the “kiss of Judas” has come to signify the ultimate in betrayal. In paintings of the Last Supper, he is often seated apart from the other disciples, unworthy to dine with them. His bulging moneybag is invariably displayed prominently. This standard view of Judas may be attributed to a cultural soft spot: blindness to the anti-Semitism of some Christian interpretation and translation of the Bible.

For many Christian interpreters, Jesus and his faithful disciples symbolized Christians and all that was good; Judas, the unfaithful disciple, symbolized evil, especially the Jews who had rejected and, according to traditional anti-Jewish theology, killed Jesus.

Now the search for the historical Judas has begun. In Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? William Klassen challenges what we think we know about Judas and the Passion. As a well-known Mennonite scholar who has written extensively on Jesus’ love command and on the ethics of peace, Klassen is an ideal candidate to make a case for this purportedly errant disciple.

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