Friday, May 13, 2005

Rant of the Week: Happy Friday the 13th

I love Friday when it falls on the 13th. Being dyslexic, left-handed and prone to bouts of "fakieness", I hypothesize that what is considered unlucky for the masses is pure gold for me. I turned 13 years of age on Friday the 13th, and I recieved a heapload of Empire Strikes Back action figures and playsets on that auspicious occasion (OK, that was in 1985, and too late even for the Return of the Jedi lame-o tri-quel, so I must have gotten heaploads of other gifts, like skateboards or parachute pants--but you get the idea: it was a good birthday). Why did 13 get such a bad rap anyways? Baker's dozen? Nah, everyone loves bakers and their wares. Friday the Thirteenth, the movie franchise? I missed the last seven of them, but they couldn't have been so bad as to malign the entire calendar date. Wait. This just in...Fakiegrind researchers have scoured the internet and come up with the following datum:

-Alexander the Great wanted to be made into a god, so he had a statue of himself erected in Alexandria, alongside the twelve other statues of the gods (one for each month of the year). He died not long after this, and so the number 13 was thenceforth considered unlucky.

-Christ is thought to have died on Friday the 13th, having been betrayed by the 13th apostle--giving both the day, and the number an unlucky connotation.

Well, I never knew that. Ok I knew about Judas, the 13th apostle, and the dark role he played in the Passion. Anyone who doesn't know the story can now see it on the big screen thanks to Mel Gibson. I have often thought that Judas was one of the unsung heros of the Gospels, and I'm not just being fascetious (for once). Think about it. Jesus dies a martyr, which is horrible and tragic, but he is also the Son of God, so he gets resurrected and has a whole religion named after him. Judas, on the other hand, becomes the universal scoundrel. But was he really so bad? After realizing that he had just betrayed an innocent man, his friend and teacher, he tries to return the money given to him by the SanHedrin councel (kind of like the DFC of ancient times), but they will have nothing of it and send him away with a curse. He then casts the money away and, in what must have been a moment of excrutiating despair, hangs himself.

Perhaps Judas is the unrecognized hero of the Passion story. As William Blake pointed out, Jesus was no saint. He lived off the wages of others, mocked the God of the Sabbath, bore false witness by refusing his defense against Pilate, and is at least indirectly responsible for the deaths of all the martyrs who would come after him (amongst whom Judas might be seen as the first). Jesus was a Man with a Mission, which was to spread the word of Love and Forgiveness, and if people got hurt in the process--including himself--so be it.

I'm no theologian, but it seems to be part of Biblical myth that in order for the story to come off right, the Messiah was going to have to die and be resurrected. Call it "the scapegoat myth to end all scapegoat myths", "an eternal victory over death", "bad luck for a decent fellow trying to make it in the competative world of middle eastern religious politics", or what have you, the prophecy had to be fullfilled, and, according to Gospel accounts, Jesus himself knew this beforehand.

When it comes to films about Jesus, I much prefer the 1988 Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ to Gibson's Passion of the Christ. Based on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same name, the movie has Harvey Kietel portraying Judas as Jesus' most loyal friend and reluctantly willing accomplice in the Passion events. Willem Dafoe, by the way, does a great job of portraying a reluctant Messiah--almost as good as John Cleese in Life of Brian. I haven't actually seen The Last Temptaion recently enough to remember it clearly, but one can imagine a Judas who, having just betrayed his best friend and teacher--not for personal gain or political ideal, but at his friend's own bequest--finds himself beset with such great inner psychological turmoil that the only solution he can find to his predicament is in suicide.

El Greco's Judas

We can't know the actual constellation of events that lead to Jesus' death with any degree of certainty. It's hard enough getting the various witnesses to last week's traffic accident to agree. The Gospel accounts of Judas' role are brief and unflattering, but they were written by people who were likely feeling no small degree of remorse and bitterness over the loss of their God and leader. And what if Judas did really harbour ill will towards Jesus? What if it was jealousy over a woman, or simple rancour of the "Who does He think He is" variety? Whatever the motive, the Bible records a change of heart, a recognition and reversal, the psychological force of which drove him to commit the ultimate act of self-abnegation.

I have read somewhere that some apocryphal mythologies depict Jesus and Judas as twin brothers, locked in cosmic stuggle like the two great divinities of the ancient Zoroastrian religion. While the Zoroastrian faith holds that at the end of time, Ahura Mazda, the god of life and light, will win a decisive victory over Angra Mainyu, the god of death and darkness, history up until that point is seen as being a constant struggle and interplay between the two forces. While Ahura Mazda is seen as the only god worthy of being worshipped by any right-minded believer, Angra Mainyu's existence seems to be a necessary constituent of the warp and woof of creation. Could Judas, in the Christian story, be seen as an equivalent to God's polar opposite: a necessary shadow that brings the whole picture into greater clarity? If so, does he not deserve some respect and recognition, not only as an embodiment of deep human tragedy, but as a martyr without whom the entire Christian religion would never have come to exist? Whatever the gloss, it is clear that Judas acted as instrument in an unfolding of events that Christians believe hold the secret to the will of God on earth. He suffered and died for the role he played in this unfolding, and whatever you may think about the man, it couldn't have happened without him.

Well, I was trying to stay away from religious and political rants in this blog, but on this Friday the 13th I would like to propose making Judas Iscariot the official Saint of Fakiegrind. I think that were Jesus here today, he could not help but to love the guy. And as for the Alexandrian explanation for the much maligned number; I have my doubts as to its legitimacy, but I'll have to go see the movie first.

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