Friday, August 17, 2007


Like the proverbial rats, people are fleeing the Bush administration in droves. This week Karl Rove announced, and today it cam out that Tony Snow is decamping for greener pastures (his excuse – he’s too poor on a $160,000 plus per year salary). Of course people leaving an administration as it ends is very common; what’s not common is this time there is well over a year left.

As we all know it’s not just the members of the administration that are fleeing. The entire Republican party is abandoning the President, and not just rhetorically by not invoking his name the way they refer to Reagan. People are making noises about how Bush really isn’t a conservative – he’s actually a liberal. They’re making noises about how the policies of conservatism didn’t fail the President, the President failed the policies. In short, he’s a Judas figure.

Glen Greenwald in his new book, A Tragic Legacy, documents some of this:

‘…Bush’s unpopularity has become so intense and toxic that self-identified political conservatives have taken to distancing themselves from Bush by insisting he was never really a ‘conservative’ at all. In the aftermath of the 2006 midterm elections, the New York Times reported, “Since the election, a chorus from the right has been noisily distinguishing between conservative and Republican, blaming deviation from conservative principles for the election losses. From George Will to Rush Limbaugh, conservatives cut loose with criticisms of the Republicans for spending too much at home and getting bogged down in Iraq.”

The day following the election, Rush Limbaugh assured his conservative audience, “Liberalism didn’t win anything yesterday; Republicanism lost. Conservatism was nowhere to be found except on the Democratic side.” Writing in the National Review, Jonah Goldberg in 2006 actually went so far as to claim that Bush is a ‘liberal’ Republican: “But there is one area where we can make somewhat useful comparisons between Nixon and Bush: their status as liberal Republicans.” Thus, reasoned Goldberg, Bush is the opposite of what “conservatives” support: “The modern conservative movement, from Goldwater to Reagan, was formed as a backlash against Nixonism.”…

…The dramatic turnabout in conservative characterizations of Bush is nowhere better demonstrated than by comparing Goldberg’s accusation in 2006…to Goldberg’s 2002 polar opposite claim that Bush “takes far more after his father’s old boss [Ronald Reagan], than he does his own father” and that “George W. Bush has proved that he’s a Reaganite, not a Bushie.”…

…The dynamic is as obvious as it is corrupt. They are desperately trying to disclaim responsibility for the disasters that they wrought in the name of “conservatism” by repudiating the political figures whom they named as the standard-bearers of their movement but whom America has now so decisively rejected…’

“Bush betrayed the conservative movement” is the meme that we will all be seeing as we get closer and closer to 2008. In the more rabid parts of the discussion, the word ‘Judas’ will be referred to more frequently. But what will happen to President Bush once this ‘betrayer’ leaves office? Fortunately I’ve recently finished Bart Ehrman’s book on the Gospel of Judas, which helpfully consolidates the various available stories.

So what happened to Judas? Like in most cases, the different books of the New Testament disagree. In Paul’s letters, for instance, Judas isn’t even mentioned, and in fact when Paul refers to the last supper, he uses the Greek word paradidomi (to give or hand someone or something over to someone else) to refer to what the Gospels mention as the betrayal. The problem is that when Paul uses that word, he always refers to God doing the handing over (Romans 8:32 – ‘He who did not spare his own son, but handed him over for all of us – how will he not give us all things with him?). So when in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 (‘For I received from the Lord that which I also handed over to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after giving thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body given for you.”) Paul uses the word paradidomi, if he is using it the same way he does in the 15 other times he uses it in his letters, he is in fact referring to God handing Jesus over, not Judas. This could indicate the story of Judas arising in the early church, not in Jesus’ lifetime, for Paul’s letter were written at least ten years prior to any of the Gospels.

In Mark, the earliest Gospel, Judas is sketchily portrayed. First of all, no specific motivations are given for Judas’ betrayal (though the word betrayal is used). And there is nothing in the gospel about what happens to him, after he betrays Jesus with a kiss. Presumably he doesn’t fare too well for it would have been better for him “not to have been born.” (Mark 14:20).

Matthew, which used Mark as a source for his gospel, enriches the Judas episodes. In Matthew, for instance, we find out that Judas betrays Jesus for the bling: after the account of the anointing of Jesus by the unnamed woman and the disciples object due to cost reasons (Matthew 26:8), Judas heads over to the high priests to cut the deal. And thus the thirty pieces of silver. We also get a wrap up to the Judas story: it is in Matthew that he tries to return the 30 pieces of silver, gets rejected and goes to hang himself. Then the priests use the ‘blood money’ to buy potter’s field, which may be a synonym for ‘Field of Blood’ – red potting clay and all that.

Luke, which also used Mark as a source, has it different. Luke 22:3 “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was a member of the twelve; he went out and consulted with the chief priests and soldiers how he might betray him.” So the devil made him do it. Judas doesn’t die in Luke, but instead dies in the book of Acts, the ‘sequel’ to Luke. Acts 1:18-19: ‘Now this one [Judas] purchased a field with the wages of his unrighteous act and falling headlong he burst forth in the middle and all his intestines spilled out. And this became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that this field is called ‘Akeldamach’ in their own dialect, which means ‘Field of Blood.’” Not made clear is how he fell, so theoretically this final story is not in conflict with Matthew.

John actually combines some of the two stories in Matthew and Luke. Judas gets more screen time in John than in any of the other Gospels. He’s actually the treasurer for the 12 Apostles (John 12:6) and would steal from the community funds. He get’s pissed off at the cost of the ointment (John 12:5) and yet Satan “put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, that he should betray him” (John 13:2). Judas’ death is not mentioned, however, in the book of John.

After the writings of the New Testament, things start to get out of hand as the legend grows. In the writings of Papias, from the beginning of the second century, we get the following story about the end of Judas:

‘…But Judas went about in this world as a great model of impiety. He became so bloated in the flesh that he could not pass through a place that was easily wide enough for a wagon – not even his swollen head could fit. The say that his eyelids swelled to such an extent that he could not see the light at all; and a doctor could not see his eyes even with an optical device, so deeply sunken they were in the surrounding flesh. And his genitals became more disgusting and larger than anyone’s; simply by relieving himself, to his wanton shame, he emitted pus and worms that flowed through his entire body.

And they say that after he suffered numerous torments and punishments, he died on his own land, and that land has been, until now, desolate and uninhabitable because of the stench. Indeed even to this day no one can pass by the place without holding their nose. This was how great an outpouring he made from his flesh on the ground…’

Knowing this, one wonders if the writers of the National Review and other conservative apologists want to keep up the ‘betrayer’ meme going. Would any of these endings be an appropriate conclusion to Bush’s two terms as President? Some would certainly agree. The good thing for the President is that these days there is a very easy solution to elephantiasis and parasitism. One just simply goes to the emergency room.