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Judas Iscariot
by [?]

The life of Judas, and the death of Judas, taken apart, or taken jointly, each separately upon independent grounds, or both together upon common grounds, are open to doubts and perplexities. And possibly the double perplexities, if fully before us, might turn out to be self-neutralized. Taking them jointly, we might ask–Were they, this life and this death, to be regarded as a common movement on behalf of a deep and heart-fretting Hebrew patriotism, which was not the less sincere, because it ran headlong into the unamiable form of rancorous rationality and inhuman bigotry? Were they a wild degeneration from a principle originally noble? Or, on the contrary, this life and this death, were they alike the expression of a base mercenary selfishness, caught and baffled in the meshes of its own chicanery? The life, if it could be appreciated in its secret principles, might go far to illustrate the probable character of the death. The death, if its circumstances were recoverable, and could be liberated from the self-contradictory details in the received report, might do something to indicate retrospectively the character and tenor of that life. The life of Judas, under a German construction of it, as a spasmodic effort of vindictive patriotism and of rebellious ambition, noble by possibility, though erring and worldly-minded, when measured by a standard so exalted as that of Christianity, would infer (as its natural sequel) a death of fierce despair. Read under the ordinary construction as a life exposed to temptations that were petty, and frauds that were always mercenary, it could not reasonably be supposed to furnish any occasion for passions upon so great a scale as those which seem to have been concerned in the tragical end of Judas, whether the passions were those of remorse and penitential anguish, or of personal disappointment. Leaving, however, to the Germans, the task of conjecturally restering its faded lineaments to this mysterious record of a crime that never came before any human tribunal, my own purpose is narrower. I seek to recall and to recombine the elements, not of the Iscariot’s life, nor of his particular offence, but simply of his death.

The reader is probably aware, that there has always been an obscurity, or even a perplexity, connected with the death of Iscariot. Two only out of the entire five documents, which record the rise and early history of Christianity, have circumstantially noticed this event. Mark, Luke, and John, leave it undescribed. St. Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles have bequeathed to us a picturesque account of it, which, to my own belief, has been thoroughly misunderstood; and, once being misunderstood, naturally enough has been interpreted as something fearfully preternatural. The crime, though great, of Iscariot has probably been much exaggerated. It was the crime of signal and earthly presumption, seeking not to thwart the purposes of Christ, or to betray them, but to promote them by means utterly at war with their central spirit. As far as can be judged, it was an attempt to forward the counsels of God by weapons borrowed from the armory of darkness. The crime being once misapprehended as a crime, without a name or a precedent, it was inevitable that the punishment, so far as it was expounded by the death of the criminal, should, in obedience to this first erroneous preconception, be translated into something preternatural. To a mode of guilt which seemed to have no parallel, it was reasonable enough that there should be apportioned a death which allowed of no medical explanation.[Footnote: In neutral points, having no relation to morals or religious philosophy, it is not concealed by the scriptural records themselves, that even inspired persons made grave mistakes. All the apostles, it is probable, or with the single exception of St. John, shared in the mistake about the second coming of Christ, as an event immediately to be looked for. With respect to diseases, again, it is evident that the apostles, in common with all Jews, were habitually disposed to read in them distinct manifestations of heavenly wrath. In blindness, for instance, or, again, in death from the fall of a tower, they read, as a matter of course, a plain expression of the divine displeasure pointed at an individual. That they should even pause so far as to make a doubt whether the individual or his parents were the object of this displeasure, arose only from the absolute coercion to so much reserve as this which was continually obtruding itself in the cases where innocent infants were the sufferers. This, in fact, was a prejudice inalienable from their Jewish training; and as it would unavoidably lead oftentimes to judgments not only false but also uncharitable, it received, on more occasions than one, a stern rebuke from Christ himself. In the same spirit, it is probable that the symptoms attending death were sometimes erroneously reported as preternatural, when, in fact, such as every hospital could match. The death of the first Herod was regarded by the early Christians universally as a judicial expression of God’s wrath to the author of the massacre at Bethlehem, though in reality the symptoms were such as often occur in obstinate derangements of the nervous system. Indeed, as to many features, the malady of the French king, Charles IX., whose nervous system had been shattered by the horrors of the St. Bartholomew massacre, very nearly resembled it; with such differences as might be looked for between an old, ruined constitution, such as Herod’s, and one so youthful as that of Charles. In the Acts of the Apostles, again, the grandson of Herod (Herod Agrippa) is evidently supposed to have died by a judicial and preternatural death, whereas apparently one part of his malady was the morbus pedicularis–cases of which I have myself circumstantially known in persons of all ranks; one, for instance, being that of a countess enormously rich, and the latest a female servant.]