18 March 2009

Lol at the JBL

One does not often expect, upon beginning to read through the book reviews in an issue of the Society of Biblical Literature’s quarterly journal, Journal of Biblical Literature, to laugh out loud at some point. Nevertheless, that was precisely my reaction a couple of years ago upon reading Raymond Brown’s review of a 1996 book from Fortress Press (Raymond E. Brown, ‘Review of Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? by William Klassen’, JBL Vol. 117, No. 1, Spring 1998, pp. 134-6). In the book under review, William Klassen attempts to prove that Judas was in fact a faithful disciple of Jesus who acted upon Christ's orders in turning him over to the Temple authorities but was unfairly reviled as a ‘traitor’ in subsequent Christian tradition. Much of the humour derives from Brown's careful understatement in attempting to give Klassen the benefit of the doubt, as exemplified well by two passages:

1) ‘The Synoptic evangelists portray sequentially the chief priests seeking a way to arrest and kill Jesus . . . , Judas receiving money to give Jesus over, and then his coming at night with others who seize or arrest Jesus. Other interpretations may be possible, but it is quite proper for most commentators to read that sequence as recounting betrayal’ (Brown, p. 135).

2) ‘[It] is perfectly true that Jesus' woe on the one who would give him over...is not technically a curse and could simply foretell misfortune. But following the description of Judas taking money to give Jesus over, the accompanying “better for that man if he had not been born” tilts the surface impression toward Jesus’ foretelling punishment for evil’ (Brown, p. 135).

Finally however, the best line is the parting shot:

Klassen mentions a German law forbidding parents to name their sons Judas. Even without such legal guidance, I doubt that Klassen’s passionate attempt to rehabilitate the Iscariot will persuade any parents to add ‘Judas’ to their lists of appropriate names for offspring. (Brown, p. 136)

Incidentally, the same issue of JBL contains a review written by Moisés Silva, who some have deemed infallible, indeed, solely infallible, though that seems clearly to go a bit far. At any rate, on pp. 155-6, Silva favourably reviews Veronica Koperski's The Knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: The High Christology of Philippians 3:7-11.

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