Friday, January 16, 2015

Jude: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary.  I will also include artwork by famous artists.

The Hebrew word for Jude is “Yehudah.”  It literally means “Jewish man” or “Judean.”  It can also be translated “Judas.”  Who was the author of the letter of Jude?  He identifies himself as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.”  Jude is the only New Testament letter writer to include his brother’s name as part of his credentials.  For this reason, some scholars think that this James is the brother of Jesus, the well-known leader of the Jerusalem church after Jesus’ death.  If this is true, then the author of Jude (or Judas) is Jesus’ brother as well!  Mark 6:3 lists Judas, along with James, as one of Jesus’ brothers.  This means that (maybe) two of the books of the New Testament (the letters of James and Jude) were written by (or at least inspired by) Jesus brothers!

St. Jude (the other brother of Jesus?) painting by Myrna Migala

The short letter of Jude is interesting in other ways as well.  It makes references to stories about famous biblical figures (like Moses and Enoch) that are not in the Bible.  For example, in verse 9, the author refers to a story about the devil and the angel Michael fighting over Moses’ corpse (not a story in the Bible).  Also, in verses 14-15, Jude makes reference to a prophecy by the biblical figure Enoch, about the final judgment of the world.  This prophecy is actually taken from the non-biblical (but very popular at the time) book of 1 Enoch.  Also, in verse 6, the author refers to a story about the fall of the angels from heaven, an event nowhere narrated in the Hebrew Bible, but popular in first century Jewish legend.

The devil and the angel Michael fight over Moses' body.

Jude, like other early Christian texts, is somewhat obsessed with the imminent apocalypse, when Christ will return to judge the world, and separate the righteous form the sinners.  Of specific target for Jude are people whose beliefs and practices are different from his own.  He calls these people “intruders” for whom “the deepest darkness has been reserved forever.”  Like the author of the letters of John, Jude sees the world in a dualistic way—evenly divided between those destined for heaven, and those destined for hell.  

The Last Judgment (separation of righteous and sinners)

To me, this dualism is a rather simplistic understanding of human beings, who tend to resist such easy categories.  Every human being I’ve ever met (whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, or whatever) is a complex mixture of good and bad.  In fact, categories like “good” and “bad” are problematic from a psychological or sociological perspective.  As someone who has received a great deal of psychotherapy, I tend to view people as super complicated products of their environment, traumas, emotions, families, friends, cultures, and ideologies.  I would not presume to divide humanity evenly into two categories, as Jude and other New Testament writers do.  This, to me, is an ancient and outdated worldview that does not correspond to the reality I experience.

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