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Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, by Hyam Maccoby

- Abstract

Seldom have scriptural text and social history come together so explosively as in the case of the New Testament story of Judas Iscariot. “[A]s Judas was called a devil and the devil’s workman,” wrote Pope Gelasius I at the end of the 5th century, “he gives his name to the whole race.” The race the pope had in mind was, of course, the Jews.

As Hyam Maccoby demonstrates with cogency and lucidity, the growth of the legend of Judas—and perhaps its inception as well—is inextricably linked to the anti-Semitic stereotypes that have appeared wherever Christianity has gone. The notion of the Jews as greedy and miserly, for example, is associated with the “deeply implanted, canonical myth” that Judas’s motive for betraying Jesus to the authorities was the 30 pieces of silver that they paid him. The moneybag with which Judas was portrayed in medieval art and the Passion Plays thus recalls not only the New Testament narrative but also the contemporary Jewish moneylender, who was often depicted toting the same unsavory item.

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