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The Resurrection Scam

Jesus, Judas, and the Victim-Perpetrator Bond

Ever-escalating discussion about The Gospel of Judas, discovered in Egypt in 1978 and due to be published in English this year, suggests that Judas may soon become a figure as controversial as Mary Magdalene. With the immense success of The Da Vinci Code, the Jesus-Magdalene connection, previously known only to heretics (the Gnostics) suppressed by the Roman Church, has become an item of world-wide entertainment. Whether she is imagined to be a harlot, a gifted female apostle, or a loving wife and mother, Magdalene changes the way the life-story of Jesus is perceived. Her presence in the story throws the entire mission of Jesus into question, and challenges centuries-old notions about a divine plan for salvation.

Can the Judas-Jesus connection deliver a similar shock to the collective psyche?

To at least one Biblical scholar, the Judas story was old hat. In The Passover Plot, published in 1965 (thirteen years before the Gospel of Judas was found), High Schonfield proposed that Judas conspired with Jesus in a plot to have his master captured by the Romans and crucified, but then rescued at the point of death, hidden in a crypt, and made to appear to rise from the dead. The aim of the resurrection scam was to infuse a supernatural mystique into the failing Jewish revolt against Roman occupation of Palestine.

The spearhead of the revolt was the Zadokite movement. The Zadokites, or Zealots, were the outgrowth of the Maccabean revolt of 167 BCE, when five brothers attempted to return the wayward Jewish nation to rigorous obedience to Jehovah. Inspired by the apocalyptic visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, the Zealots embraced a militant-mystical agenda whose central aim was to establish a fundamentalist theocratic state in the Promised Land. Their program, recorded in the Dead Sea Scrolls, was never shared by mainstream Jewish believers. In one generation after another, the visionary program of the Zadokite messiah—a nationalist "freedom-fighter" with a mystical agenda, if you will—was brutally crushed by the opposition, and rejected by his own people, as well. .

The movement regrouped in 63 BCE when Pompey, Julius Caesar's chief rival, annexed Palestine to the Empire. With a century of terror and fanaticism behind them, the Zadokites now went into high gear, only to be betrayed and defeated, once again. A century later, around 30 CE, a haughty Galilean named Yeshua (to us, Jesus) assumed leadership of the group. With two centuries of defeat behind him, and a prediction of betrayal written into the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jesus may well have considered extreme measures to achieve the ever-evasive goal of his movement.

According to the New Testament, at least one of Jesus' close disciples was a known Zealot: Simon Zelotes. Judas himself answered to the nickname Escariot, a corruption of sicarius, "knifeman;" i.e., "Jude the Knife." The Zealots were known to be ruthless killers who did not hesitate to murder fellow Jews seen to be collaborating with the Romans. (The Roman practice of crucifixion was borrowed from the Jews, who used it in Old Testament times as a punishment for backsliding into Pagan ways.) The general populace called the Zealots by many insulting names, including lesthai, "thieves," the very term used in the New Testament for the two men crucified on either side of Jesus. Many who witnessed that scene would have cursed the man in the middle with the same insult.

The profile of Judas as a throat-slitting terrorist is perhaps not incompatible with his role as a traitor, even a traitor who colludes with the one he betrays. Arguably the most coldhearted member of the Zealot band, Judas could well have qualified for the ultimate act of treachery. Schonfield wrote: "A conspiracy had to be organised of which the victim himself was the deliberate secret instigator. It was a nightmarish conception and undertaking, the outcome of the frightening logic of a sick mind, or of a genius. And it worked out."

Did Jesus or Judas cook up the plot? We will never know, but many people are now likely to be left wondering.

Schonfield anticipates renegade scholar Robert Eisenmann whose monograph, Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians and Qumran (1983), famously upset the establishment, both Jewish and Christian. In his interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Eisenmann made Jesus out to be a Zadokite messiah intent on winning his kingdom by violence, and highlighted the role of his brother, James, as the main ideologue of the movement. In a word, Eisenmann politicized the figure of Jesus. To this day, DSS scholars who define and dominate the field continue to stonewall these views. The impressive, two-volume Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls considers half a dozen theories of the ancient cult at Qumran, but it tacitly ignores Eisenman's Zadokite hypothesis.

Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail, breaking the story on Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus. Baigent and Leigh also wrote The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, which gives a good account of Eisenmann's theories (not an easy read) and the controversy around them.

To modern skeptical minds, Eisenman's ideas may be more appealing than those of establishment scholars because of how they fit the verifiable facts of the time, putting Jesus in historical context, and, more precisely, in a volatile political situation that mirrors the ongoing struggle in Palestine. Eisenman's line-by-line analysis of the ferocious competition between James, the ultra-convervative Zadokite priest, and the apostle Paul, who may have hijacked Zadokite doctrines to invent his own religion, makes shocking sense of many incidents in the New Testament. Verse after verse, chapter after chapter, it looks like James and Paul (after Jesus' death) were pitted in a nasty turf war over who owned and operated the Messiah.

Schonfield's take on the Jesus-Judas connection prefigures the current debate over the Gospel of Judas, and Eisenman's political profile of the Zadokite leader makes collaboration look even more plausible. With the Gospel of Judas we are only seeing the surface fissure of a huge crack that has been developing for over 40 years.

But the nagging question remains, To what end did Jesus and Judas conspire?

Both Schonfield and Eisenman reject the view that Jesus was in any sense divine. Human divinity is a concept alien to mainstream Jewish religion, though it was a central tenet of the ultra-radical Zadokite program. Schonfield explained that in that time and setting the Zadokite messiah would have been viewed as divine in the same way that Pagan heroes such as Hector and Hercules were so regarded —but not as the single and exclusive incarnation of divinity, following the party-line of Saint Paul. Was the resurrection scam intended to confer on the Zadokite leader an aura comparable to other Pagan superheroes throughout the Empire? If so, it would certainly have been well conceived, consistent with the atmosphere in those turbulent days when all kinds of miraculous events were expected. Judas would have been the key agent in a clever plot to make a mortal man appear superhuman.

Of course, this scenario will not play with anyone who believes that Jesus was truly divine. The aim of the plot would then have been, not political, but spiritual. The argument of theodicy (speaking for God, to explain or excuse what God does) would then go like this: God fore-ordained that the crucifixion happen so that humanity would be saved by vicarious atonement, but for the crucifixion to actually happen Jesus had to be betrayed to the Romans. In this view, Judas conspired with Jesus, at Jesus' own command, to bring about a divinely ordained, supernatural event. Through Judas, Jesus fulfilled the will of the Father. Therefore, Judas must be viewed as an accomplice in God's plan for humanity.

If Judas is viewed in this way, the resurrection scam appears to be a nasty human means to achieve a sublime end, the miraculous event of the savior rising from the dead—an event that prefigures and guarantees the opportunity for all of us to survive death. Those who can believe that deceit, betrayal, torture, and murder are legitimate ways for God to grant immortality to the human species, will not need to question their beliefs on this account. On the contrary, they will have what they already believe confirmed by the Gospel of Judas. God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. People of faith can thank the traitor Judas that they will have a chance to live again after death.

It is also possible, however, that the Judas factor could backlash on the faithful. While it is not inconceivable that we survive death in some way or other—this belief has persisted in all times and places, independent of the Christian program, and there is massive testimony of post-mortum survival, ranging from clinical NDEs to spectral visitations to the Tibetan Book of the Dead—it begins to look increasingly absurd that a divine, omniscient, and omnipotent being would undertake a scam of the Judas type to accomplish such an end, or any end whatsoever. Or, perhaps better said, the deity that would resort to such a scam begins to look more and more suspect, even ridiculous.

With the Gospel of Judas, all the cards in the divine plot are on the table, face up. Those who persist in believing that this is how God really works, may now risk looking downright foolish, if not downright crazy.

God may well work in mysterious ways, but in my new book, Not in His Image, I argue that there is nothing mysterious about the victim-perpetrator bond, the psychological core-dynamic of salvationist religion. Until now it was certain that Jesus was the divine victim, but there were many perpetrators in the story, including Jews and Romans, depending on what version you follow. Now it is clear, not only that there was one primary perpetrator, Judas, but that Jesus was bonded with the perpetrator who betrayed him. The victim-perpetrator bond not only explains the pathological contagion of salvationism, now it also explains how the historical savior came to fulfill his divine mission in the first place.

If now we come to understand that victimization is not merely the result of an act of perpetration, but actually an instrument for perpetrators to dominate in the world by colluding with those they harm, we can thank Judas for that staggering —and, possibly, liberating—insight.

jll Easter Sunday 2006






Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2018 by John L. Lash.