The Sacred Executioner
To the Editor:
In his review of my book, Judas Iscariot: the Myth of Jewish Evil [Books in Review, October 1992], Jon D. Levenson acknowledges that my thesis is correct in showing a strong link between the Judas myth and Christian anti-Semitism, but balks at the idea that Judaism contains no similar myth of salvific evil. He argues that the role played by Judah in the betrayal of Joseph is a Jewish analogue (and even possibly the source) of the Christian story of Judas Iscariot.
Some necessary distinctions are here ignored. To say that God can mold events in such a way that evil actions are followed by good consequences is very different from saying that God needs an evil action as the indispensable means of producing salvation. Moreover, in the story of Judah, human repentance plays an important role: the good consequences that flow from the crime of Joseph’s brothers are inextricably bound up with their repentance. Judah betrays Joseph, but by risking his life for Benjamin, he redeems himself, and becomes reconciled with his former victim, Joseph. Similarly, Judah’s descendant, David, sins with Bathsheba, yet founds with her a messianic dynasty. It is not his sin that produces this result, but his repentance. (In one version, Judas Iscariot repents, but his repentance has no influence on the course of salvation.) The repentant sinner, the Talmud tells us, is of higher status than the non-sinner; but this concept is worlds away from the idea that sin itself produces salvation. The fundamental difference is shown in the fact that, while Judas Iscariot becomes an outcast, Judah becomes a central figure in Jewish destiny. Thus the Jewish conception does not produce outcasts and could never produce an analogue to Christian anti-Semitism. This is quite apart from the obvious fact that the crime of selling Joseph does not have the human-sacrificial connotations of the myth of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus to a violent death.
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