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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 3 (Sept. 1992)


Bernhard Dieckmann, Judas als Sün denbock: Eine verhängnisvolle Geschichte von Angst und Vergeltung. München: Kösel, 1991. 376 pp. Hard bound, ca. 36 DM.

This book should be of interest to all readers of German who are concerned with the phenomenon of scapegoating, particularly in Western culture with its Christian heritage. Dieckmann presents a historically oriented study of the Judas tradition in order to lay out a basis not only for understanding Judas as an archetype of enemy and fiend but also for dismantling this archetype.

The first and longest part of the book, which deals with the medieval picture of Judas, was the most instructive for this reviewer. The survey of Judas legends, Passion plays (the Donaue schinger Passion is the primary example), works of art, and the connections made between Judas and the Jews presents some eye-opening texts and a wealth of bibliography. Particularly striking from the standpoint of comparative mythology is the motif of Judas as a new Oedipus. The chapter on "The Donaueschinger Passion: Judas and the Jews," in which Judas is represented as a stereotypi cal Jew and the Jews are depicted as the murderers of God, should be required reading for all theologians, clerics, and educators.

The second part of the book, on depictions of Judas since the Enlightenment, contains brief discussions of views of Judas in the works of thinkers such as Goethe, Anatol France, Claudel, et al. Part three, a Christian theological critique of the Judas tradition, is a clear statement concerning the human condition and the central role of the cross in the Christian gospel. The author concludes that all of us carry an image of a "mortal enemy" (Todfeind) within us that can easily be transferred to an archetypal scapegoat like Judas. Dieckmann argues, however, against turning Judas into an image of a poor, misunderstood victim who was a prey to fate. He emphasizes rather that "we, we ourselves are the real mortal enemy--through our mistrust, through our anxiety in the face of trust and love" (319). We should not make for ourselves an image of the evil other but occupy ourselves with the knowledge of our own sin. "We should beware lest we cast a stone at Judas . . ." (323)--that is, at the enemy other, at any scapegoat--knowing as we do the gospel message of forgiveness.

The author refers to Girard's work several times and is clearly in debt to Girard for his analysis of scapegoating and rivalry. In fact, the chapters on the question of Judas as a double of Jesus and on reciprocity and despair show the influence of Girard to good advantage. It is unfortunate, however, that Dieckmann did not include an analysis of Judas as subject to and mediator of mimetic desire. Mimesis, the foundation of the mimetic model, is strangely missing from this otherwise fine treatise.

James G. Williams