(A Review by Christopher Laurence)
Cathedral chancellors are a threatened species. So we were told at the last gathering of the Lincoln Theological Society by our own Chancellor. He was introducing one of his fellow-survivors, the Revd Canon Dr. Anthony Cane. Those who heard Dr.Cane would share regrets that the Church of England is losing provision for the kind of serious academic theological exploration which his lecture emonstrated.
Dr. Cane’s interest in the figure of Judas was triggered many years ago by the remark of a great theologian that “Judas is the tragedy at the heart of the New Testament.” In most traditions Judas is simply a write-off. “Better for him that he had never been born,” Mark has Jesus say. He went straight to hell and that’s that; end of story.
Contemporary culture is more compassionate and seeks to understand Judas. But Dr. Cane, good postmodernist that he is, avoids novelistic, psychological interpretations, “satisfying falsehoods” he called them: mere attempts to avoid the mystery. He devotes himself strictly to the text. This is where I have to confess that I am personally severely handicapped in reporting his findings. He has a mind like a child’s nit-comb whereas mine is like a hay-rake. So I do not see the force of the great distinction he makes between the perceptions that Judas “handed over “ Jesus and that Judas “betrayed” him . The Gospel translations prefer “betrayed” even when the Greek word is “handed over”.
Dr. Cane considers that the latter translation allows better for the recognition that Judas’ action was within the providence of God. There were two necessary deaths in Holy Week: the one a self-offering to the Father, the other an act of despair.
And our Creed has it that “Jesus descended into hell”, there to embrace Judas his betrayer. This at least is the message I took from this wonderful exposition of the texts: the affirmation of our ultimate hope for all humanity, especially those bits of it that we find hard to deal with. As Dr. Cane quoted from a remarkable poem by Ruth Etchells “There is no final victory without this man from hell”.