The Chasing and Burning of Judas

Discussion in 'Culture' started by easthigh69, Mar 12, 2000.

  1. easthigh69

    easthigh69 Member

    Jidáš: Judas

    Velký pátek (Good Friday) and Bílá sobota (White Saturday) are the two times in the year where it seems appropriate, or at least common, to vent one’s anger at Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus.

    In olden times, one of the most common customs on Velký pátek or Bílá sobota in the distant districts of the Czech Republic was the chasing of Judas, who was supposed to be frightened by the noise of various wooden noisemakers. Boys assembled at the roadside statue of a Saint or in the village cemetery to begin their procession and happily made all the noise possible with homemade instruments, some of which were as large as wheelbarrows, while others looked like the noisemakers often seen in the United States at New Year’s parties.

    A similar event took place inside the churches. After the Velký pátek Mass was over, the people in the church ran through the aisles to “chase out Judas.”

    Now, the next part of this custom needs to be tied into the larger picture throughout Europe. An Easter Fire is lit on the top of mountains and must be kindled from new fire, drawn from wood by friction. This is a custom of pagan origin in vogue all over Europe, signifying the victory of spring over winter. The bishops issued severe edicts against the sacrilegious Easter fires (Conc. Germanicum, a. 742, c.v.; Council of Lestines, a. 743, n. 15), but did not succeed in abolishing them everywhere.

    The Church adopted the observance into the Easter ceremonies, referring it to the fiery column in the desert and to the Resurrection of Jesus; the new fire on Holy Saturday is drawn from flint, symbolizing the Resurrection of the Light of the World from the tomb closed by a stone (Missale Rom.). In some places a figure was thrown into the Easter fire, symbolizing winter, but to the Christians on the Rhine, in Tyrol and the Czech lands, the figure symbolized Judas the traitor.

    On the afternoon of Bílá sobota, the village boys collected and stacked wood and placed a straw-covered cross in the center of that stack. After the evening church service, the men and children gathered around the church steps. The boys lit lanterns at the Paschal Candle, hurried to the stack of wood, and set fire to the cross. They chanted, Pálíme Jidáše! (“We are burning Judas!”)

    The boys then went caroling from house to house, receiving gifts at every stop as a reward for their efforts. The ashes from the burned cross were guarded throughout the night, and on Easter morning were thrown into a flowing steam. Ladies from the church then gave decorated eggs to the one boy lucky enough to have lit the fire in this annual observance.

    Unfortunately, the burning of Judas ceased to exist around the beginning of the last century.

    Background on Judas: Judas has become the classic traitor. Legend describes him as small, with red hair and wearing a yellow robe. He was said to have lived in Calabria, Sicily. The scriptural designation Iscariot may have meant that he came from Kerioth in southern Judaea, but he may have been a sicarius, dagger-man, hence a Zealot, who sought to overthrow Roman rule by guerrilla action.

    In art he was represented as the treasurer of Jesus’ band of followers, carrying the bag or chest which contained their funds. He was presumed to be consumed by greed, and to steal from the common fund. His meanness was demonstrated when he protested at the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by Mary Magdalene, with ointment which could have been sold for thirty pence. Legend has it that he wanted the proceeds of the sale for himself.

    Tempted by Satan, he conspired with the High Priest Caiaphas to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

    At the Last Supper, when Jesus told His disciples that one of those eating with Him at table would betray Him, Judas asked, “Rabbi, is it I?” Jesus replied, “You have said it” (Matthew 26:25 NKJV). St. Peter asked who would be the traitor, and Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it,” and he handed it to Judas, saying, “What you do, do quickly.” Satan entered into Judas and he hurried out into the night (John 13:21-30 NKJV).

    Judas led the High Priest’s men to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus had gone to pray. He told them to seize the Man Whom he would kiss. Going up to Jesus he said, “Master,” and kissed Him on His cheek or, in some versions, on His lips.

    Whatever Happened to Judas? Just how did Judas die? The question may be posed: “Why does it say that Judas bought a field and fell headlong and burst wide open and his guts spilled out, when he was supposed to have hanged himself?”

    There are two accounts of his fate. According to the first account:

    “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’ Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.’ And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.’” (Matthew 27:3-10 NKJV).

    According to the second account:

    “‘Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.’” (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out. And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)” (Acts 1:16-19 NKJV)

    It is clear that, because the apostles understood Scripture through the enlightenment of Jesus (Luke 24:27), St. Peter is very sure of the meaning of two prophetic psalms (Psalm 69:5 and Psalm 109:8) – psalms which had never been previously understood in the light that his interpretation gives them. St. Luke (who is the writer of the Acts) does not give details of Judas’ death in his Gospel; he just reports St. Peter’s words here. St. Matthew’s account, given above, is only with some difficulty reconcilable with St. Peter’s. Nevertheless, the Church Fathers are not greatly troubled by it. Theophylact sets forth the common tradition: that while Judas did indeed hang himself, the tree upon which he put the rope bent and he survived, because God wanted to save his life – either so he could repent or to make an example of him. Then he adds, “They say Judas later became so bloated from dropsy that he could not pass through an opening a wagon could easily pass through, and then, falling face forward, he burst asunder, or ruptured, as Luke says in the acts of the Apostles.”

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