The Judas ReConnection
By Frank Thomas Smith
Judas pointed down the road
And said, "Eternity!"
"Eternity?" said Frankie Lee,
With a voice as cold as ice.
"That's right," said Judas Priest, "Eternity,
Though you might call it 'Paradise.'"
From The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest – Bob Dylan
My name is Judas.
Funny name for an Irish-Catholic kid from Brooklyn? You bet, and how I struggled to make the other kids forget it and call me Jude! But the teachers in school always called me Judas (with arching of eyebrow), so I couldn’t avoid it completely. Now you’ll ask why my parents gave me such a name, the name of a traitor, the worst traitor in the history of mankind. Well, they didn’t, an immigration official did, with the worst or the best intentions. He had a strong Italian accent (my Dad told me). I was just an infant in my Mom’s arms prematurely born on the boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Since I didn’t have any documents, probably because we were in steerage so the Captain or the ship’s doctor or both didn’t bother – the birth was bother enough – the immigration official asked what my name was and my Dad, who said he didn’t like Eye-talians, glowered at him and said, of course, “Jude”. The guy wrote “Judas” on my entrance papers and my parents didn’t notice it until years later, when I started school.
That’s the how; and the why? That’ll take longer to explain.
It’s understandable that with a name like Judas I would be interested in the eponymous Biblical character. I read the places where he’s mentioned in the Gospels a thousand times trying to figure him out. They said he was a thief and a betrayer, that he did it for thirty pieces of silver. I don’t know how much that was in dollars or euros or pesos at the time, but it didn’t seem like much considering that he was turning over the Savior of Humanity or maybe just a dangerous revolutionary – depending on your, or their, point of view – to the Romans for crucifixion, which is a lot worse than the chemical injections they use in Texas. In one story he gave the money back and committed suicide, in another he skipped town and became the Wandering Jew. But what really caught my attention was where Jesus tells him to go and “do what you must”. That raises the possibility that Judas wasn’t so bad after all, that maybe he was just doing what Jesus told him to do. If that was the case, he was a hero instead of a traitor. But how could I know? I couldn’t.
I went through life carrying the cross of Judas – or his name at least, on my driver’s license and passport. Countless raised eyebrows: “Judas McGlynn? You gotta be kidding!” I could have changed it legally; what judge would deny me that right? But somehow I never got around to it. I don’t know, somehow it seemed like it would be like trying to change my destiny when I didn’t even know what my destiny was. Finally I decided that I had been carrying around this guilt complex long enough. If you were raised Catholic like I was you’d know what Guilt is and how it grabs your guts after all the brainwashing about original sin, dirty thoughts and all that crap and betraying Christ by sinning. Any normal kid with a normal name is made to feel guilty, so you can imagine the heat of guilt I felt; it was like I was on my way to Dante’s eighth circle without needing to die first.
So I said to myself: the Pope and all those penguin priests are like bad actors in vaudeville and I’m throwing away my season (lifetime) ticket. Then I decided that the whole Jesus story, including Judas’ role, was a crock of shit: I know, I know that’s sacrilegious, but I didn’t care any more. The Judas in the Bible probably didn’t even exist…so what’s my problem? No problema!
The trouble is that I didn’t feel relieved at all. I mean just because the Church put you in a straight jacket so you’d have no freedom, it didn’t necessarily mean that the Bible story wasn’t true.
One evening I was alone in my study pondering my fate. The tomes were stacked up high around me: Thomas of Aquinas, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, Thomas Merton, even Rudolf Steiner and Krishnamurti, and of course the Holy Writ itself.
I’d give anything to know the truth about Judas, I said to myself.
“Yes, anything!” ... Who said that? I spun around in my chair and was shocked to see a man, at least someone who anyone would have taken to be a man. He looked like a young Robert Redford, but his smile was more like Stalin's.
“Who are you?” I stammered. “How did you get in?”
I think you already know who I am, he said, and if so how I got in is irrelevant.
Did I know who he was? I searched my memory, but he wasn’t there. “I don’t know who you are,” I said.
Come now, Judas, you even translated Goethe’s Faust.
“Only the Prolog in Heaven,” I objected, “and that’s a very small part of it.”
Ah, but an important part. Now I want you to meditate for a moment and see if you can recite it.
“That was decades ago,” I said. “I can’t recite it now. Never could.”
There was something hypnotic about his way, hypnotic and authoritative. I tried:
PROLOG IN HEAVEN
from FAUST by J.W. von Goethe
translated by Judas McGlynn
The Lord, the Heavenly Hosts, later Mephistopheles.
The Archangels step forward.
RAPHAEL The sun resounds as once of old
In loving spheres of motley song,
Predestined is its journey bold,
Ripening as it flows along……
Forget those motherfucking archangels! the guy shouted. Their groveling sickens me. Skip to Mephistopheles.
MEPHISTO- Since you, O Lord, approach us once again
PHELES And ask us how our work is getting on,
And since I've given pleasure now and then,
You see me here debating with the throng.
My choice of words leaves much to be desired,
I'm subject to this circle's cruelest scorn;
You'd die laughing at pathos by me inspired,
If laughter were not a thing you'd long forsworn.
About the sun I've nothing to confess,
I only see how men are in a mess.
Not like that. Put some life into it for Pete’s sake. Like this:
(with brio) The god of earth is still his father's son,
As queer as when the days were one.
Somewhat better would he live
Had you forgot heaven's light to give.
His use of reason's minimal,
Lower than the lowest animal,
He seems to be, with permission of Your Grace,
A cricket jumping all around the place,
Who's always spinning and spinning springs,
and in the grass the same old lyric sings;
If only he'd molder in the grass
And not stick his nose in such morass.
THE LORD (me) Have you nothing else to say?
Must you always arrogance display?
Doesn't anything on earth seem good to you?
MEPHISTO- No Sir, I find things rotten through and through.
PHELES So sorry for humanity am I
That tormenting it almost makes me cry.
THE LORD Do you know Faust?
MEPHISTO. The doctor?
THE LORD My servant.
MEPHISTO. Of course. He serves you in a special way,
Keeping even food and drink at bay,
Confusion plays the devil with his mind.
Though knowing only fools would take such measures,
He asks that heaven show him orbs sublime
And earth provide him all its pleasures;
Not all that's high nor all that's low
Can satisfy his will to know.
THE LORD Although he serves me in some confusion,
I'll gladly show him soon the light.
The gardener knows that flowers in profusion
And fruit adorn his trees when all is ripe.
MEPHISTO. What will you bet? You'll lose, you know,
If me you give permission
To lead him where he longs to go.
THE LORD As long as he's on earth alive,
So long it's not to you forbidden.
Men must err as long as they still strive.
MEPHISTO. I thank you, Lord. I never kept it hidden
That once they're dead I keep my distance,
It's rosy cheeks I love in every instance.
I'm not at home to corpses in my house,
I like to play the game of cat and mouse.
THE LORD All right, I give you leave to try it.
Seduce that spirit from its primal source
And guide it, should you find a way to beguile it,
Along the fearsome pitfalls of your course;
And stand disgraced when finally you admit:
A good man, in spite of iniquity's force,
Will find the path to truth before he's quit.
MEPHISTO. Done! It won't take very long.
I have no doubt that I will win the bet,
And when I do, please don't forget the debt,
Allow my triumph its rightful measure.
Dust shall he eat, and with pleasure,
Just like the serpent, my celebrated pet.
THE LORD Even that you're free to try.
Your kind and you I've never hated,
Of all the spirits who me deny,
The rogue by me the least is rated.
The deeds of men are easily put to sleep,
They love their undisturbéd rest.
That's why I give them over to his keep,
Who as the devil puts them to the test.
But you, true sons of God, enjoy
The living wealth of beauty's joy.
Let Being -- active and alive forever --
Embrace you in love's delightful folds.
Make fast the things that swerve and sever
With thought that steadfast holds.
MEPHISTO. I enjoy seeing the Old Man now and then
To make sure our rapport is never broken.
It's damned decent of Himself once again
In person with the Devil to have spoken.
I recited the Lord’s part, (my guest did Mephisto) - as though I had it memorized, when in fact I hadn’t even thought about it in ages. When we finished my interlocutor asked if I still didn’t know who he was. I had a pretty good idea by then, but didn’t want to know, so I shook my head.
You also translated a scene in Faust’s study.
I’d forgotten about that, but he hadn’t.
Now recite it.
A high-vaulted, narrow gothic room.
Faust, restless, in a chair at his desk
I have eagerly studied philosophy,
Jurisprudence and, regrettably,
Theology -- most thoroughly.
Now here I sit in wisdom poor,
Just as I sat ages before.
Doctor they call me and even Master.
Ten years now you've seen me pester
All my students, weak and sound,
Up and away, around and down--
And see that nothing we can know!
Such knowledge brings me low,
Although I'm smarter than all the teachers,
Doctors, Masters, writers and preachers.
I'm bothered not by scruple or evil,
I fear neither hell nor its grinning devil--
But no joy in me remains,
While ignorance my mind reclaims,
I don't reserve the right to teach,
To better men or their souls to reach.
Nor have I earthly goods or gold,
Or honor or glories of this world.
No dog would want to live this way,
So now to magic I will stray,
To see if on the spirit's field
The secrets I seek may be revealed,
That I no longer must pretend
To know the beginning and the end,
That I may find and having found
What make the universe go round,
Observe the power and the fount,
And not be skewed by fear and doubt...
Yes, that’s all you translated. A pity, but no matter. Well recited.
He took a cigarette from a gold case and offered it to me already lighted. But excuse me, you smoke a pipe. From his jacket pocket he extracted an expensive looking briar pipe already lit and emitting aromatic clouds of smoke. He handed it to me. I accepted it (I don’t think I could have done otherwise) and puffed. It was divine.
So - who am I?
As good a name as any. He smiled. May I sit down?
“Of course.” Despite being the devil in person, he was polite and amiable. I should have been afraid, but wasn’t. I decided to be blunt. “What do you want?”
No, the question is what you want, and we both know what that is.
“You mean Judas?”
Exactly. I can bring you Judas, Judas.
Oh come now, you’re just stalling for time. Of course Iscariot.
“You mean here, right now?”
Obviously I know my Faust, and I also know that Mephisto doesn’t do you favors for nothing; there’s always a payback. “Uh, what must I do in return?” I asked him.
He clicked open his attaché case, pulled out a document and placed in on my desk. He took a gold-plated fountain pen from his sleeve, I guess, it was just suddenly there.
Just sign here, he said, indicating a place at the bottom where he had already signed.
“But this is in German!” I exclaimed.
And why not? Quid vobis est melius Latine? he asked in Latin.
“No, why should I prefer Latin?”
German is our favorite language since Latin was downgraded. Well?
“Am I signing away my soul?”
Oh come now, let’s not be so melodramatic. It’s only your astral body. See, here it is. He pointed to the word Astralleib in the contract.
“And that’s not bad?” I said.
Of course not.
Your Self remains untouched.
He growled, controlled himself and smiled. They’re not in my province…yet.
I’m not a complete dummy and I never sign anything I don’t read…so I read the contract carefully. What he’d said was true: I would be signing away my astral body, after death of course, in return for an hour-long meeting with Judas Iscariot, in which Judas would answer all my questions truthfully. I signed and I’d like to try to explain why. First of all, I knew that at the end of Faust he is redeemed through the intervention of the Eternal Feminine and doesn’t have to give his soul to Mephisto after all; so I knew there was hope for me, too. And even if I did lose my astral body, or more likely had to accompany it to the depths of hell, I could still redeem it eventually. But most of all there was this burning desire in my breast to know whether Judas was really a treacherous traitor and if so, could he also be redeemed?
Mephistopheles smiled, cruelly. He returned the contract delicately into his attaché case.
I’ll be seeing you, Judas, sooner than you think, sooner than you mortals ever think. And he was gone in a puff of sulfur.
Days passed and I became convinced that it had been a hallucination, and I resolved to try to lay aside my Judas obsession, even change my name legally. It was affecting my mind, which is the last thing I wanted to happen; Alzheimer’s would come soon enough.
On the seventh day my downstairs bell rang. I checked the visual intercom and saw a young woman in a business suit carrying an attaché case. She looked directly into the camera so I could see her better. Although she was unknown to me, my heart began to beat more strongly.
“Mr. Judas McGlynn?”
“Yes. Who are you?”
“I’ve come in reference to the conversation you had with a certain obnoxious gentleman seven days ago.”
“Are you Judas?” I asked, astonished.
She shook her head. “Do I look like Judas?”
I shook my head, which she couldn’t see. “Who then?”
“I’m to take you to him,” she said. “Just let me in and I’ll explain.”
My finger trembled as it pressed the “open” button.
I live on the thirty-third floor, so it takes a while to get up here. I nervously paced the hallway waiting for the elevator to arrive. When it did and she stepped out, I gaped at her…at her halo. She smiled at me and it disappeared.
“Hello, Judas. May I come in or must we talk in the hallway?”
“Of course, come in, ah, what did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t.” She walked into my apartment and looked around with her hands on her hips. (The attaché case hung from a strap over her shoulder.) She had a great figure from behind. I hadn’t really looked at her face when I was blinded by the halo, but when she turned and faced me I saw that she was beautiful.
“Just call me María,” she said and sat down on one of my low chairs and crossed her legs. “This place is kinda tacky, don’t you think?”
“Tacky? What do you mean?” I asked, although I have heard the word in English movies and know it means.
“Never mind. You wouldn’t know the difference, haven’t changed a bit.”
“No buts. Are you ready to go?”
“To meet Judas of course. Don’t you remember?”
“Yes, I remember, but I thought it was a dream…or something.”
“Well, now you know. Do you have anything to drink? That elevator trip made me thirsty.” She uncrossed her legs and re-crossed then on the other side revealing, of all things, a garter belt. I thought that I was falling in love with her; little did I know that…
“You’re not married I see,” she said.
“How do you see that?”
“This place.” Was she making fun of me?
I shrugged. “I have coffee or beer,” I said. "Take you pick."
“Ugh, don’t you have wine? Manischewitz if possible.”
“No, sorry, but I think there’s some white wine left over from Thanksgiving.”
She laughed in my face. “Never mind, let’s get moving. Judas is waiting.”
I picked up my jacket from where I’d tossed it over a chair. “Should I wear a tie?” I asked her.
“Oh, definitely, what would Judas think if you came without a fucking tie?”
“I don’t know,” I said, kind of shocked.
“Let’s go,” she said, standing up. “Forget the tie.” She shook her head again, smiling, but not at me.
A black limo was waiting downstairs. No chauffer. She drove.
“Is it far?” I asked, just to say something.
“Around the corner.”
I should have asked which corner because it took a half-hour to get there. Maybe it was a parable.
We stopped in front of a decrepit looking apartment building in a neighborhood I didn’t recognize – which doesn’t mean anything. Didn’t Thomas Wolfe write that Only the Dead Know Brooklyn? I wasn't dead yet.
She opened the front door with a huge key that looked like it was for a castle instead of a Brooklyn tenement and we walked up to the third floor, where she opened another door with another big key.
“Jesus, it took you long enough, Miriam,” a masculine voice from the shadows grumped. She ignored him and switched on the lights. The room was large, almost as large as a loft and was furnished tastefully (it seemed to me, although I know next to nothing about taste) in a modernist style – completely contrary to what you saw of the building from outside. María, Miriam now, sat down in an air-chair and kicked off her high-heeled shoes.
“Here’s our boy,” she said.
The guy in shadows, which no longer existed with the lights on, stood up and looked at me. He was about my age, fortyish, but taller, with curly red hair, even red eyelashes, and a beak nose – handsome in a rough way. And he wore a clerical collar over a black turtleneck sweater.
“Hello, Peter,” he said. “Nice gimmick that, at Ellis Island.”
“My name is Judas, Judas McGlynn, not Peter,” I replied.
The guy smiled, then sighed, then said: “Of course, you haven’t been initiated yet. Well, we’ll soon take care of that.”
“Are you a priest?” I asked.
“Yes…until further notice. Why, do you want my blessing?”
“Leave him alone, Padre,” María-Miriam said. “Let’s get down to business.”
“Yes, business. Okay. Sit down please, Judas.”
I took a chair next to M.M. who I hoped was an ally, and waited.
The padre clasped his hands behind his back and began to walk back and forth across the room. Whenever he spoke he stopped and looked at me. He had a slight accent. “I understand you made a deal with our friend, Lucy.”
“Lucy?” I said, thinking of Lucille Ball. “I thought he was Mephistopheles.”
“Nice name, more literary. We call him Lucy, short for Lucifer.”
“Whoever he was,” I said, feeling it was time to exert myself a little, “the deal was that I was to meet Judas Iscariot.”
“Well, you’re looking at him, pal.”
“You, Judas, a priest?”
“Yeah, I must be paying for my past sins.”
“Stop it!” M.M. shouted. “All this doesn’t make sense unless we explain the situation to him. Stop playing games.”
The padre sighed and collapsed onto a sofa. “Okay, Miriam, you’re right as usual. You know that sometimes I just can’t help myself.”
“Maybe after a couple of hundred more incarnations you’ll be able to modify your abusive, aggressive-choleric temperament.” She stopped glaring at him and turned to me with a smile.
“You know something about reincarnation, I suppose.”
"Oh sure", I said. "Seelenwanderung in German."
“Whatever. It means that we have all lived on earth previously. Do you believe that?”
“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I mean what do I know?”
“Okay, good, it’s better to know than to believe. Anyway, the padre here - she nodded towards the priest slumped in his armchair - was Judas Iscariot in that defining incarnation.”
I could see that coming and said, “And how do you know that?”
“Because I was there.”
“Aha!. And I suppose you were…”
“You know who. Say it.”
“Miriam of Magdala. And you were Peter.”
That floored me: “Peter? The apostle?” I gasped.
“The rock,” Padre Judas interrupted. “The asshole apostle. I’ll never understand why the Boss put up with you.” He stood up and glared at me. “Did you ever understand what he meant by ‘Upon this rock I build my church?’”
“That I was to be the first Pope?”
“Bullshit. He meant Upon a numbskull like this I’d build a church already? There were no punctuation marks in Aramaic and after you appointed yourself Bishop of Rome and misquoted him, the other numbskulls believed you.”
“He believed it, too, Judas,” Miriam of Magdala said. “Don’t be so hard on him…”
While she was talking I saw an image of..of Him looking at me and saying something about me and a rock, but I couldn’t make out the words.
“…So here we all are, Peter, M.M. was saying. “Let’s call each other by those names, the names of Jesus’ time, to avoid confusion. You wanted to meet Judas Iscariot, and now you have him, his reincarnation at least, in the same room. What did you want to ask him?”
I looked from her, Mary Magdalene she claimed, to him, Judas Iscariot he claimed. I decided to suspend disbelief. What choice did I have?
“I wanted to ask Judas if he really betrayed Jesus or if he as only doing his bidding,” I said.
Miriam looked at Judas, who spoke. “I was doing his bidding of course. Have you read the recently discovered Gospel of Judas?
“Yes,” I said. “Did you write it?”
“No, you fool. Someone wrote it after I died. I don’t know who, but it’s basically accurate.”
“But why did he want you to do that, betray him I mean?”
“Because it was impossible to arrest him when all the people were around. They followed him wherever he went, the multitudes. So it had to be somewhere secret, when we were alone. Besides some asshole prophet wrote it. Get it? >It was written."
“But why did he want to be arrested? He must have known what would happen.”
“It was his destiny, his karma. Your pal Lucy was trying to prevent it happening by making everyone so goody-goody, so I had to do the dirty work. Anyway, it was written."
I thought a moment, then asked the fundamental question: “Was he God?”
“The Father?” Judas said. “Of course not. How could he speak of himself in the third person? But he was a god, yes, as we all are…potentially. Only he already was one. “
Maybe it wasn’t the most important question to be asked, but I wanted to know. “Did he and Mary Magdalene have a … a… relationship?” I expected him to laugh at me, but he didn’t. He looked at Miriam, who lowered her head.
“We were all in love with her,” Judas Iscariot said. “But Jesus was the only one who really loved her. Does that answer your question?”
I nodded. It did.
The session lasted the full agreed-upon hour, when Miriam’s cellphone rang.
“Time’s up, Peter. We have to go.”
Judas and I shook hands.
He smiled. “You’ve changed, Peter,” he said. “Still dumb, but at least not so rock-headed. You seem willing to learn. After all, you arranged that Ellis Island scenario to get my name and be so curious about me.”
“Sure, before you got yourself born again to an Irish immigrant family. Ha, a good one! Perhaps we can work together sometime.”
“If you mean in the Church,” I said, “not a chance.”
“No, that’s over. We tried Liberation Theology, but the Polish Pope really screwed us on that. I tried to convince Miriam to marry me so they’d kick me out for that, but she said she was waiting for someone else. I’ll find a way though.”
“Oh. Well, yeah, I’d like to work with you, but don’t I have only an hour?”
“Don’t worry about that, m’boy. Lucy tries to be a real bad guy, but he’s even dumber than you.”
“I’ve learned a lot, Judas, and I’m truly relieved to know that you’re a good guy after all,” I said. “But just one more thing.”
“Is Jesus around, too?”
“The kingdom of God is within you,” he answered.
When the limo arrived back at my apartment Miriam accompanied me into the elevator. My heart beat so hard I could hear it. I knew now that I hadn’t been falling in love with Miriam of Magdala, but have been in love with her for over two millennia. The elevator seemed to take longer than usual going up the thirty-three floors. At halfway she suddenly said, “I’m staying with you.”
You are? (Wow!)
“You’re in love with me, aren’t you?” she said.
“Yes, I am, very much.”
She leaned against me, sensually I hoped. “You signed a contract with Lucy, didn’t you Peter?”
I’d forgotten about that. I didn’t care as long as she was with me. I nodded.
“Well then, you need me to get you out of it.”
“Of course – the Eternal Feminine!" I said. "You got Faust out of his contract.”
“Faust was fiction, silly. This is real life.”
“But the Eternal Feminine isn’t fiction.”
“If you say so, but my law degree from NYU will help, too.”
“Do you think I should change my name to Peter?”
She laughed. “No, that’s the padre’s name in this incarnation. It’d only confuse things.”
"That's a relief," I said.
I don’t know if a law degree from NYU will impress Lucifer, but the eternal Feminine Miriam of Magdala certainly will. And you can call me Judas now. I like it."