Kim Paffenroth offers the specialist and non-specialist alike a small treasure in his cross- disciplinary study of the disciple Judas. Starting with the New Testament and moving into the realms of art, film, psychology, music, literature, and folklore as well as theology, Paffenroth. examines with thoughtful detail and serious reflection multiple portraits of the "lost disciple" that have flourished in the last two millenia.
He begins by arranging his study into five chapters with each chapter focusing on a popular aspect of Judas's character as an object "of curiosity, of horror, of hatred and derision, of admiration and sympathy, [and] of hope." He further divides these units into topics that explore some of the prevalent and not-so-prevalent conceptions of Judas that western culture has produced. The author's epilogue in which he offers his own story of Judas's fate is the only section of this robust inquiry into the complexities and ambiguities surrounding Judas that may be deemed weak. And even there his sketch of Judas's actions and relationship with Jesus reflects his serious work with the tradition.
I found two sections that were most interesting and helpful to me as a teacher of undergraduates who often encounter for the first time in my courses a historical and analytical examination of anti- Semitism in the NT and a systematic investigation into the question of theodicy in the Christian tradition. Paffenroth's middle chapter addresses how Judas's depiction as a grasping and avaricious villain in John's Gospel has been parlayed by Christian writers into the loathsome anti-Semitic portrait of all Jews as deceitful and mercenary. In this ugly myth, all Jews become clones of Judas. He notes the anti-Semitism practiced in the Greco-Roman world, while at times as virulent and vicious as was later demonstrated under Christian auspices, never employed stereotypes associated with deceit or greed. Rather pagan society found the source of its bigotry in Judaism's separation of itself from civic society, a separation demanded by food laws and Sabbath observances. He begins by directing the reader to the early Christian polemic against Jews by John Chrysostom and notes how Chrysostom links not only Judas's sinfulness, treachery, and avarice to the character of every Jew, but also his fate to what theirs ought to be. Paffenroth continues to explore this transformation of Judas into the timeless model of every Jew through western literature and theology right up to Karl Barth.
The source of another, contrasting image of Judas as an "object of admiration and sympathy" and even as a "penitent," is found by Paffenroth in Matthew's Gospel. Here the author observes the theological issues surrounding the figure of Judas as a repentant betrayer (Mt 27:3-10). He delineates what is as stake: if Judas repented, how can God condemn him given Jesus' teaching about forgiveness? Or, in another vein, if God's plan for human salvation needed Judas as a catalyst for Jesus' death, how can Judas be condemned for obedience to the divine will? The latter scenario leads ultimately to the question of theodicy. Paffenroth begins with Origen's assessment of Judas's repentance as genuine and his suicide as misguided self-judgment. As in his previous chapters, the author carefully traces this thread of hope for Judas's (and hence all humanity's) salvation through intervening centuries' depiction of him in medieval poetry, baroque music, and twentieth century theology. In the end, those readers who wish to find a definitive judgment by Paffenroth for or against the figure of Judas will be disappointed. They will not, however, be disappointed if they treasure the kind of careful and balanced scholarship the author employs to present the treatment of the enigmatic figure Judas in western tradition.