Friday, April 07, 2006


Cinema and the Lost Gospel of Judas

As the Christian observance of Holy Week approaches, the recent rediscovery of the lost Gospel of Judas -- in which Judas, one of Jesus' 12 disciples, goes from being history's ultimate traitor to becoming one of its greatest heroes -- put me in mind of two films which have been influenced by the 1700-year-old text, now come to light again: The Passover Plot and The Last Temptation of Christ. Both films propose the idea that Jesus not only orchestrated own his death to fulfill prophecy, but in both cases, asked Judas to do him the "favor" of handing him over to authorities who would ultimately kill him. For mainstream Christian believers, that notion is tantamount to blasphemy, but those two films -- while perhaps the most radical -- are not the only ones to explore with greater complexity Judas' key role in the passion of Jesus. Franco Zeffirelli's masterful account of the life of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth also proposed the idea that Judas was not so much a traitor as a victim of a double-cross, unaware that his leading the Jewish authorities to Jesus would result in his master's death. The accepted Biblical text actually says very little about Judas, leaving filmmakers over the years to fill in the holes of the story and theorize as to the motive for Judas' actions. So, it will be interesting to see how the newly published Gospel of Judas will impact cinema's exploration of this character in the future.

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