“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” By that measure, no one in the history of Christianity is due a greater heavenly reward than Judas Iscariot, for no one in the Gospels or afterward has been more thoroughly reviled on Jesus’ account. In “Judas: A Biography,” Susan Gubar has amassed a long, grim and often nauseating catalog of the ways in which the Christian imagination has vented its wrath on the disciple who betrayed his master.
According to Papias, an early church leader writing around A.D. 130, Judas’s “private parts were shamefully huge and loathsome to behold and, transported through them from all parts of his body, pus and worms flooded out together as he shamefully relieved himself.” The author of the medieval “Golden Legend” imagined Judas’s early life, which included killing his father and marrying his mother; an Arabic legend conjured an infant Judas obsessively biting himself. Medieval artists portrayed him as a slavering brute, deploying a racist arsenal of Jewish and African stereotypes to contrast him with the lily-white Jesus. No wonder that Dante placed Judas at the very bottom of the Inferno, where he is gnawed by Satan: “his head within and outside flails his legs.”
Frankly, I’ve never understood why Judas gets so much blame. He betrayed my Lord, yes. But somebody had to do it. Judas was, after all, part of God’s plan. However, I don’t think such an argument is going to get Judas past the pearly gates.