PART ONE OF TWO:
I saw this story in the newspaper this morning, thought that it might amuse some of y'all and piss off the rest, which means it's the perfect thing to post in this echo....
From the San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, 1 April 1994 (No, this is not an April Fool's joke)
By Don Lattin
Chronicle Religion Writer
Christians are told his story every year around this time, but his name -- unlike Mary's, Matthew's, Mark's or John's -- is rarely given to their children.
Judas, the mysterious apostle who allegedly betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, may have gotten a bad rap. In fact, some Bible scholars say, he may not have even existed but is just an ancient, anti-Semitic myth.
"Judas" is a Greek way of spelling "Judah," the ancient Jewish kingdom.
"Everything about Judas just screams out that this is a late-developing legend to transfer the blame of Jesus' death from the Romans to the Jews," said Episcopal Bishop James Spong, author of the new book, "Resurrection: Myth or Reality?"
Spong's work is among a flood of books about "the historical Jesus," many of which portray Jesus as a teacher of wisdom, peasant revolutionary or social critic -- but not the resurrected savior and Messiah talked about in most churches.
Today, when the church gathers to remember the crucifixion of Jesus, Spong and others are suggesting that Christians take another look at the story of Judas Iscariot.
"It is highly unlikely that there ever was a traitor named Judas," said Spong, a popular author and the Episcopal bishop of Newark, NJ. "And this is a tragedy of enormous dimensions."
Spong delivered these remarks at a recent meeting in Santa Rosa of the Jesus Seminar, a group of scholars re-examining the Bible and other ancient evidence in an attempt to separate the historical Jesus from the theological savior.
After discussing Spong's theory, the scholars concluded that the story of Judas probably arose about 40 years after Jesus' death.
During that period, which saw the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, the early Jewish-Christian sect was struggling with other Jewish leaders over whether Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah.
JUDAS AS SYMBOL
"Judas became the symbol for all Jews who rejected Jesus," said Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar. "The story subsequently served as the basis for gentile anti-Semitism."
Funk's band of scholars have recently published "The Five Gospels -- What Did Jesus Say?" It concludes that no more than 20 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus were actually uttered by the carpenter from Nazareth.
Many conservative evangelicals are not impressed with the spate of new Jesus books and what Christianity Today called "the new, unimproved Jesus."
"If nothing happened after Jesus' death, then any first century Jew would have said what many have said since: He was another deluded fanatic," scholar and evangelical N.Thomas Wright wrote in a recent cover story for the respected evangelical monthly.
"That is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him."
In recent years, conservatives in the church have criticized Spong for his liberal views on gay clergy, Biblical fundamentalism and such cherished doctrines as the virgin birth. Spong insists that he "really cares about the Bible."