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Judas in Japan

"Scorsese’s foreword fills one with familiar dread. Here is the voice of mock piety, yet another chin-stroking sophomore speculating that the real sacrifice would be to give up one’s morals. In his discussion of Silence, Scorsese recapitulates the way he portrayed Judas as a collaborator in Jesus’s sacrifice in his own The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)—projecting his particular interpretation of Judas as pseudo-saint onto Endo: “In order for Christianity to live, to adapt itself to other cultures and historical moments, it needs not just the figure of Christ but the figure of Judas as well.” This image of Judas is far afield from the Christian tradition that formed Endo and his protagonists, and instead maps onto the irreverent, speculative fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, who in “Three Versions of Judas” posits Iscariot as the true sacrifice and true Messiah: “The ascetic, for the greater glory of God, degrades and mortifies the flesh; Judas did the same with the spirit. He renounced honour, good, peace, the Kingdom of Heaven, as others, less heroically, renounced pleasure . . . . He thought that happiness, like good, is a divine attribute and not to be usurped by men.” A Catholic would, of course, say that renouncing “good” for the greater glory of God is incoherent, for God is all-good and seeking good is seeking God. This contrived version of Judas does not emerge from considered theology but rather from an attempt to create a grand-scale mythological “anti-hero”—a very modern character archetype which has been widely read backwards into the Christian story.

Of course, the temptation of Rodrigues to tread on the sacred for the sake of earthly goods is a characteristically modern one. Scorsese’s introduction suggests that he broadly approves of this sort of blasphemy as a kind of fruitful betrayal, as long as it is undertaken with fear and trembling. Perhaps portraying a fallible Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ was Scorsese’s own fumie."

Andrew Garfield in the film adaptation of Silence. Photo: Paramount

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