Jesus in Contemporary Culture: Part 7; Jesus, Judas, and Our Conceptions of Spirit & Matter (Skinner)

JudasIn preparation for yesterday’s class we had students read the Gospel of Judas and exposed them to the issues surrounding its discovery, translation, and dissemination to the wider public. We felt that this text had an important connection to the film we just finished watching. In Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus and Judas are depicted as the best of friends and Jesus ultimately asks Judas to betray him so that the will of God can be done. This is not unlike the situation we see in the Gospel of Judas.

If you haven’t read the Gospel of Judas, you should know that it is dripping with a heavily Platonic understanding of the spirit/matter duality that was critical to various expressions of Gnosticism in the first few Christian centuries. Spirit is “good” and matter is “evil,” and Judas is the hero figure who betrays Jesus so that he can die and be released from his evil body.

Following our presentation of the two Judases we had students gather into groups of five and discuss the following questions:

(1) What are your thoughts on these similar portrayals of the relationship between Jesus and Judas?

(2) How do you typically conceive of the relationship between the material (body) and the immaterial (soul, or the “inner-life”)?

(3) What factors influence how people understand these various portrayals of Jesus?

As with previous class discussions, many of our students found the presentation of Judas in the Gospel and in the movie so unfamiliar that they struggled to articulate their thoughts. If we are accomplishing anything this semester, we are—at the very least—helping students who were previously mired in a very myopic understanding of their own Christian tradition see beyond themselves. Tomorrow we move to our third film of the semester: The Book of Life.

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