A fresco painting from the Chapel of Notre Dame des Fontaine, France.
John Canavesio (1450 – 1500)
The Suicide of Judas, ca. 1492

There are four deaths recounted in the Bible in the story of Good Friday.

Jesus own death.

The implied death’s of Good & Bad, the two flanking thieves.

& the suicide of Judas.

Judas betrayed Jesus to the Jewish Priests & Elders on Spy Wednesday in return for 30 pieces of silver, & on Holy Thursday he leads a mob of them armed with ‘swords & staves’ to seize Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus’ offense has been to undermine the power of the Elders & Priests, who serve as administrators of the Jewish lands on behalf of the Romans, & who are as corrupt & cruel to the ordinary people as the Romans.

On the morning of Good Friday Jesus is brought before a Kangaroo Court of Elders & Pharisees & unanimously condemned to death by them.

Judas was not, it seems, expecting such a harsh punishment, & he indignantly bursts in on the Priests & Elder & flings the 30 pieces of silver at their feet in repentance & disgust. The priests and elders coldly mock him.

Judas then goes off and hangs himself. Interestingly, this is presented matter-of-factly & without any condemnation of the act of suicide itself. Suicide was common at the time in the Roman Empire, often as a form of self-execution after one had publicly shamed oneself for one reason or another. It is certainly open to the reader to see Judas’ suicide as an honorable act, even a redemptory one, making up for the betrayal of Jesus.

There are six other suicides in the Bible, all of them in the Old Testament. As is the case with Judas, there is no condemnation of these suicides, & no suggestion anywhere in the bible that suicide is even a sin.

Although there is no biblical taboo on suicide, christian sects & christian intellectuals did consider it sinful from early on – with the exception of the Circumcellions of the late 4th Century, who sought suicide by martyrdom, attacking rich people, landlords, soldiers – hoping to provoke their victims into murdering them.

Yep, it’s a mad world – but isn’t provoking the powerful into murdering him exactly what Jesus did, & doesn’t this also make The Crucifixion of Our Lord a suicide?

It was, in fact, the 500s before suicide was officially declared sinful, and the 1500s before the cruel practice of excluding suicides from Christian burial grounds began.

I write all this not to make the case for suicide, of course, which is rarely the right course of action – as perhaps it was in Judas’ case.

My point is that Christ & Christianity are two different things & much of Catholic doctrine especially has no basis in the life or teachings of Christ, who although he couldn’t read or write himself remains among the greatest figures in world literature & recommended reading for all interested in literature.

Ignorance of the Bible in fact effectively equates to ignorance of Literature, especially Western Literature, so much of which is written under the strong influence of The Bible. The Bible is a lot deeper than priests & bishops, by and large, are capable of revealing it to be – it has had most of its deeper explorations & profoundest responses carried out by poets, philosophers, painters – the realm of arts in general.

That is why, although I am for a fully secular education, I am also for young people being encouraged to study the Bible. It is a truly great book that has shaped all of our outlooks through its massive & unavoidable influence on our civilization over the last two millennia. It we don’t know it, & know it well, I don’t think we can claim to fully or truly know ourselves, what we are made of.