Review of ‘Judas’ by Amos Oz
First published in 2014
Short-listed for international Man-Booker in 2017
(3.5 / 5)
On Hurting God
There must seem something paradoxical to some of the religious folks in the idea that anyone could in anyway hurt God or his relative. They thus want to argue that such people who might have done something against God were, in fact, folks who just wanted to give the God (and relations) leverage to create drama or God made them that way for drama. Many versions of Ramayana would have you believe that Ravana, in fact, was a devotee of Rama and, all he did, was to get killed from same ( talk about Machoist love!). Bible said God made Pharaoh refuses Moses’ offers so that he could bring plagues to Egypt to prove his existence (and then they blame me for creating scenes!) a Borges version said Pharaoh was intentionally serving God by refusing Moses’ offers (and letting his people suffer and die).On Judas
It is thus natural that a similar argument should be visited upon Judas by some of Christians. How could anyone betray Jesus? No, it makes more sense to believe Judas was in one way or other serving Jesus.
” And yet, had it not been for Judas, there might not have been a crucifixion, and had there been no crucifixion, there would have been no Christianity.”
In this case, there is a lot of room for arguments – some of them are forwarded by the author himself. Though two most obvious ones aren’t – why should Judas kill himself after seeing Jesus’ death? What kind of guilt did he feel if he wants Jesus to die? It would have made more sense if he had killed himself on seeing Jesus’ rise again, ain’t it? Again, if Jesus had foreknowledge of what was about to happen – as he showed at the last supper, then why didn’t he left the place? Oz isn’t the first man to see those holes in the story, they are so very old. A very impressive short story on same lines is Judas Iscariot by Leonid Andreyev.
Anyways, Judas has been turned into an unwilling brand ambassador of all traitors – the only others I know who have anything even vaguely approaching his popularity are Brutus and Vibhishana. Judas also came to be a major reason behind Christian prejudice for Jews though he had turned Christian (understandable – religious people do not like to think evil people belong to their religion). Though as a character in book argues that Christians would have found one reason to hate Jews one way or other.
Can a traitor be in fact serving his master by his/her betrayal? Oz should know being labeled a traitor by some people in his own country.
“Anyone willing to change,” Shmuel said, “will always be considered a traitor by those who cannot change and are scared to death of change and don’t understand it and loathe change.”
For a person wants a change because he is not happy with present ways and people who are not satisfied with something are going to criticise it. Those who refuse to change think of it betrayal. Oz was called traitor because he supported two nation solution like a character, Abravanal, within the novel. The ultra-nationalists who call then that must be like those RSS-BJP supporters who think anyone differing with them is a traitor.
On Israel and Nationalism
Abravanal was perhaps too idealist in believing that Jews and Arabs could live together without there being a nation of any sort needing a military etc – he believed there should be no nations at all. He believed that Jews and Arabs have both suffered at hands of Europe and so can be natural friends – what he forgot was that they had trust issues (understandably) with exactly because of that very reason
“The fact is that all the power in the world cannot transform someone who hates you into someone who likes you. It can turn a foe into a slave, but not into a friend. All the power in the world cannot transform a fanatic into an enlightened man. All the power in the world cannot transform someone thirsting for vengeance into a lover.”
Shmuel, who is a bit of baby boy, too saw how unjust it was:
” And even if we suppose that Shealtiel Abravanel was right in his opinion that all nation-states were a disaster and a scourge, even if he was right in saying that the scourge of nationalism would soon disappear and all states would wither, surely at least until the vision of a stateless world finally became a reality, at least so long as every nation had bars on its windows and bolts and locks on its doors, was it not also ght that the Jewish nation should have a small house with bolts and bars, just like all the others? And especially after a third of this nation was slaughtered a few years earlier, only because they did not have a house or a door with a lock or a piece of territory of their own? Or an army and weapons to defend themselves? When the day came that all the nations would finally rise up to demolish the walls dividing them, then definitely, by all means, we too would willingly demolish the walls we had built around us and happily join in the general festivities. Even if, out of neurotic caution, perhaps this time we would not necessarily be the first in the world to give up our bolts and bars. Perhaps this time, for a change, we would be the third in the world or the fourth in our region. Just to be on the safe side.”
In the end, that is the only argument for nations to exist – lack of mutual trust among people.
It is a novel of ideas and is at its best when discussing them. The plot-line is thin. The areas where it does try to have a plot are the weakest.
Finally, if you really care about my opinion, I think both Jewish claims based on their religious books and Arab’s claims of owning land for having lived their for centuries are equally stupid. You do not own a land just because you were there first or have been there for centuries (which is another thing those Hindu nationalists of my country don’t understand). It is inhuman to ask people to leave their home or to deny homes to those in need on basis of those absurd reasons – even if it is for two-state solution (which is just the best of bad solutions). Anyone should have a right to live anywhere (provided their innocence). Right? To me, the blame for the problem really lies with Europe. New and Arabs are just two oppressing races fighting, fighting because their histories have taught them that ‘neurotic caution’.
“Is it really possible for us all, without exception, to love all of us, without exception, all of the time? Did Jesus himself love everyone all of the time? Did he, for example, love the moneychangers at the gates of the Temple, when in a fit of rage he violently overturned their tables? Or when he proclaimed, ‘I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword’—did he forget at that moment his own exhortation to general love and his commandment to turn the other cheek? Or when he urged his apostles to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves? And especially when he said, according to Luke, ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay them before me.
“Have you ever thought, my young friend, how right the English were when they invented the excellent phrase ‘to fall in love’?”
“The real tragedy of humankind,’ Shealtiel used to say, ‘is not that the persecuted and enslaved crave to be liberated and to hold their heads high. No. The worst thing is that the enslaved secretly dream of enslaving their enslavers. The persecuted yearn to be persecutors. The slaves dream of being masters.”