Authors: Frederick Ramsay
Tags: #Fiction, #Religion
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Questions about JUDAS ISCARIOT tantalized scholars, clergy, and laypersons. Why did he betray JESUS, then no more than an obscure itinerant rabbi? Why did Jesus select him to be one of his closest and most trusted associates in the first place? Jesus claimed a special relationship with God. Should he not have anticipated his betrayal? Is it possible, then, that the two were co-conspirators in Jesus martyrdom? Unlike the many recent “Gospels of Judas” which appeared after the release of the National Geographic special, this book tells a plausible and compelling story-a story of a boy turned man but whose loyalty will be compromised by zealotry on the one hand and vanity on the other. The child Judas, the illegitimate offspring of a Jewish woman and a Roman soldier, struggles to understand his mother’s god, a god who allows terrible things to happen to him and his family. Despairing, he abandons any hope of ever finding that god and becomes a survivor in the brutal streets that characterized the Roman Empire in the first century. Later, as a young man determined to avenge the wrongs committed against his mother and sister, he returns to the land of his birth hoping to join the rebels led by Barabbas, only to be betrayed by them as well. Beaten and broken he is brought to the community of Zealots at Qumran and eventually to the one forming around Rabbi Jesus. During this journey he discovers God and is baptized into messianic anticipation. His enthusiasm for revolution lead him to out-guess God. He proceeds down a path that will result in a difficult, and for him and others, fateful choice. In the end, faced with the consequences of that decision, friendless and without his master, he retreats to the outskirts of Jerusalem there to bring an end to his journey, perhaps to start another. Audience: Readers of religious fiction, historical fiction-believers and non-believers alike. Iscariot will appeal to all segments of society. It is primarily an unraveling of a mystery, not an espousal of a particular theological or religious point of view.
The Gospel of Betrayal
Frederick J. Ramsay
Perfect Niche Publishing
Copyright © 2010 by Frederick J. Ramsay
First Edition 2010
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2009931410
ISBN: 9780967759036 Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781615951659 eBook
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
Perfect Niche Publishing
6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
To the late C. Stephen Mann, Ph.D.
Priest, scholar, mentor, and friend
A special thanks to Robert Rosenwald and Perfect Niche Publishing for taking a passion of mine and making it theirs as well.
My thanks, also, to Raymond Strait, who first declared that this book and, by indirection, this author, had some merit. Also, my gratitude to Jean Jenkins, editor and friend, for her thoughtful suggestions and encouragement, and to my old critique group, Nancy, Bette, and John, more thanks.
I am grateful to the staff of St. George’s College, Jerusalem, for their instruction in the Palestine of Jesus’ Time, and the people of Israel for their kindness and hospitality on my several journeys to their land.
Another special thanks to Connie Collins, without whose work the study guide appendix would never have seen the light of day.
Finally, and most importantly, my great thanks to my wife, Susan, who never stopped believing in this project.
First, a disclaimer: I am not a biblical scholar by any definition of the word. And, like most novelists, I rely heavily on the resonance between plausibility and circumstance to discern the truth of a matter. I would be remiss, then, if I didn’t make clear that this is, in every sense, a work of fiction. As such, it qualifies as a midrash, a retelling of scripture in an allegorical or metaphorical form.
For centuries, biblical scholars of every stripe, divines, poets, and philosophers have attempted to unravel the Gordian knot that Judas Iscariot presents to understanding the Christian story. There are numerous theories, musings, speculations, and explanations about what he did and why he did it. Depending on an author’s particular bias, they range from virulent anti-Semitism to painful political correctness. Judas is described as evil incarnate or the willing coconspirator with a politicized Jesus in his quest for martyrdom. All fail to address a fundamental aspect of the Gospel narrative: None of Jesus’ followers knew, or could even guess, what the outcome of their time together would be, how the story would end. The Gospels, then, were all written teleologically. That is, their authors assembled the narrative specifically to lead the reader to Easter. Too often we read into the actions of one of the major players in the Gospel, interpretations contingent on our knowing that ending. But what if we were ignorant of it? What interpretation would we put on the same actions, then? In any event, this is not the traditional rendering of the character of Judas.
I have appended a few notes to the end of the book that expand on or explain the basis of some of the assumptions made in the course of assembling the story.
Also, thanks to Connie Collins, you will find a study guide intended for both individual and group use.
Finally, it is my hope that many who read this will be sufficiently intrigued by the fictional account to read the authentic one.
I learned the stories of my earliest childhood from my mother and, later, from Nahum the Surveyor. My mother would not speak of those events at first, but when she thought me old enough, she answered my questions, and over time I pieced together the whole of it.
Her family came from the Galilee. By all accounts they flourished in that most prosperous portion of the Palestine of Rome. Her father worked a plot of land on a hillside south of Sepphoris. He had a devoted wife, four sons, a beautiful daughter, servants, flocks, and, remarkably, his own well. On the Sabbath, the honor of reading from the Law or Prophets often fell to him. The community held him in high esteem—a Righteous Man, they said—the greatest compliment our culture offers. His name was Judas, the same as mine.
One day he looked upon his sons and daughter, his flocks and fields, and declared it was time to free the nation. He made no close inspection of holy writ, did not attempt to divine the will of God in omens and signs, indulged in no long speeches filled with holy rhetoric. He simply decided God had called him out as the successor to Zadok to free the land and restore His Kingdom. As things turned out, it might have been better if he had consulted the Lord. There are risks attached to presuming to know the mind of God.
My grandmother paled when she heard but knew better than to argue. She dispatched her two younger sons south to relatives in Nain. She wanted to send her daughter, Miriam, also, but grandfather would not hear of it.
“How will it look,” he complained, “if I ask them to join me, but have sent my jewel away for fear of losing her? No, Miriam must stay with her older brothers.” And so she stayed.
In a week or two he persuaded fifty men to follow him. They, in turn, gathered another hundred. Then, one sultry summer day, this band of foolish but brave men attacked the armory at Sepphoris. The contingent of Roman soldiers assigned to guard the building lacked both the numbers and determination to hold out for long against these Galilean zealots. The armory fell into the hands of the rebels within an hour.
Armed and flushed with success, they turned to face the relief column sent to retake the armory. They expected that once the news of their triumph spread, hundreds more would join them and that the fire they lighted would sweep across the land, driving the hated Romans into the Great Sea.
They were wrong.
The next day two hundred legionnaires arrived from Caesarea, lead by their Centurions and a tribune from the Syrian barracks—a man with a reputation for handling these annoying disturbances. The sight of those seasoned soldiers, beating time on their shields, marching inexorably toward them, struck terror in their souls. The fainthearted fled like Saul before the Philistines.
By nightfall of the third day, my grandfather, his sons, and all of the men and boys who joined him, as well as many who had not, were either captured or killed, and my grandfather’s irrational defiance was replaced by calculated Roman terror.
Sepphoris exploded with the cries of its terrified citizens and fire put to the torch at the Tribune’s order. Flames could be seen for miles, lighting the night sky a brilliant red-orange. Silhouetted against that, black and ominous, rows of crosses lined the road to Nazareth. Men and older boys, naked, bleeding, and nailed to the hard wood, hung near death. The younger men raised their voices in agony. Older men, those still alive, remained grim and silent, refusing to give their persecutors the satisfaction of hearing them cry out.
In the darkness, beyond the crosses, screams and moans drifted across the land with the black smoke from burning houses—women and girls, paying the price for their husbands’ and fathers’ foolishness. Farther up the road, inside the bright well of firelight, soldiers, their tunics already soaked red with the blood of countless men, methodically slaughtered children while their mothers and grandmothers—those not being otherwise abused—watched. The author of this carnage, a man whose ambition for high office and innate sense of Roman superiority enabled him to accept, even enjoy these things, looked on impassive, his armor unspotted and gleaming.
People from the countryside as far south as Nazareth were rousted from their homes and herded to this place to bear witness to Roman power and the folly of standing against it. An example needed to be made of these rebels of the Galilee, this Judas, this self-proclaimed Messiah and his ragged band of dissidents and fanatics. They came, trembling, looking for friends and relatives, and a few even fearful of discovery—those who fled the armory earlier, before the end, before the horror began. They came to witness. Many swore silently that some day, somehow, they would avenge this indecency. God would raise up a Messiah, a new David, who would lead an army against this blasphemous abomination from across the sea and cast it out forever.
Women keened, men lowered their heads, jaws clenched, fighting their guilt and despair. Children, forced to see this terrible thing, clung to their mothers’ robes and hid their faces. All except one boy, who stood quietly beside his mother, holding her hand and gazing clear-eyed at the crucified men in front of him. His gaze seemed far away, as though he were seeing his future.
Soldiers, eyes bright with the madness of the moment, dragged a young girl past them, her clothing in tatters, legs streaked with blood. Her eyes pleaded for help. None came.
Judas’ daughter, his beautiful Miriam, who should have been safely away in Nain, was hauled before the Tribune, who had her stripped and raped in front of her father and then released her to a gang of soldiers who took their pleasure with her. Before the cohort finally marched away from the smoking ruins, one young man came back for her. He placed her with the camp followers to become his woman. In so doing, he probably saved her life. When the terrified residents returned to the ashes of their city, they finished punishing any rebels the Romans may have overlooked.
This chaos was my birthright.