Monday, November 19, 2012

Reading the Gospel of Judas VII: Contemporary Conspiracy

If Dante consigned Judas to the lowest circle of hell, gnawed by the devil himself, two other figures shared the same fate: Brutus and Cassius.[1] In the time of Jesus these two were the most recent and thus best known examples of treachery. Because of the pivotal role they played in Roman history, they would continue to be well-known figures inspiring such literary works as Dante and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Gaius Cassius and Marcus Brutus were Roman senators. Julius Caesar, the first Roman emperor, did come off occasionally as arrogant. The Roman Senate felt that Caesar insulted them by not standing to greet them.[2] Though Caesar had declined the title of king, some of the senators wanted to press the title anyway.
Because his enemies shrank from agreeing to this proposal, they pressed on with their plans for his assassination. Several groups, each consisting of two or three malcontents, now united in a general conspiracy.[3]
And so,
More than sixty conspirators banded together against him, led by Gaius Cassius and Marcus and Decimus Brutus.[4]
The latter two Caesar had treated like adopted sons since their mother was his favorite mistress.[5]

And so, on March 15, when Caesar was visiting the Senate for a meeting, he was stabbed twenty-three times. The physician Antistius concluded at the autopsy that the second wound, to the chest, killed Caesar. That blow had been delivered by Marcus Brutus, to whom Caesar is said to have spoken his last words: “You, too, my child.”[6]

The death of Caesar, however, had not been the end of the plot:

It had been decided to drag the dead man down to the Tiber, confiscate his property, and revoke all his edicts; but fear of Mark Antony, the Consul, and Lepidus, the Master of Horse, kept the assassins from making their plans good.[7]
Instead the result was another Roman civil war where one adopted son, Octavius, defeated the other adopted son, Brutus, and went on to become the emperor Augustus, in whose days Jesus was born (and likely others of the apostles as well).

This would have been the story of treachery that would have come to the mind of most citizens and subjects of the Roman empire when Judas betrayed Jesus.

[1] Dante, Inferno 34.61-69.
[2] Suetonius, Julius Caesar, 78-79. I will quote from Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Twelve Casears, trans. Robert Graves (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1957).
[3] Suetonius, Julius Caesar, 80.
[4] Suetonius, Julius Caesar, 80.
[5] Suetonius, Julius Caesar, 50.
[6] Suetonius, Julius Caesar, 82.
[7] Suetonius, Julius Caesar, 82.