In the Beginning Was the Deed
A Neo-Girardian Look at the Passion Narratives
René Girard: Doing Sacred Violence to the Text?
A form-critical study of dust jacket blurbs and book reviews might reveal that the most often used concluding line is "Even if one finds he cannot agree with Dr. Frankenstein's thesis, one must take it seriously." A rhetorical analysis would make it plain that such a line is a euphemistic damning with faint praise. The point seems to be "He's crazy, but he did put a lot of work into it." And yet when one reads Burton Mack's assessment of the work of René Girard, "Many biblical scholars will be troubled by Girard's theory... But none will be able to... avoid his challenge" (Mack, 137), one cannot help feeling that this time he means it. In Lukan terms, Girard's theory of mimetic violence and the scapegoat mechanism have become "a sign spoken against... that thoughts out of many hearts may be laid bare." His hermeneutic of suspicion forces us to rethink the basic character of religion itself, and not just of conventional interpretations of texts. Indeed the challenge of Girard is so wide-ranging that I can take up but the tiniest fragment here. The rest I will gladly leave to the ranks of dissertation writers.
Basically what I intend to do is, first, to summarize Girard's main thesis in broad outline, then to indicate where his own application of it to the Gospels seems to go astray, and finally to suggest some results of a consistent application of the Girardian paradigm to the Gospels. In Girard's own terms (see immediately below) I will be engaging in a mimetic rivalry with Girard himself as my rival, seeking to emulate his method but to do his trick better than he does. Why not?
Let Not Your Left Hand Know...
René Girard's theories are set forth in a series of books including Deceit, Desire, and the Novel (originally published, in French, in 1961), Violence and the Sacred (1972), Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978), "To Double Business Bound" (1978), The Scapegoat (1982), Job, the Victim of his People (1985), and Violent Origins: Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation (with Walter Burkert and Jonathan Z. Smith, edited by Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, 1987). For the beginning Girardian, Violence and the Sacred or The Scapegoat ought to be adequate to give a good, detailed impression of the theory. His hypothesis is that all culture, civilization, political order, cultural forms, and most especially all religion began with the violent resolution of a primordial Hobbesian "war of all against all." That resolution took the form of the collective murder of an arbitrarily chosen scapegoat upon whom all hatred and blame might be focused and so eliminated. "Cast out the scorner, and dissension will go out" (Proverbs 22:10). This originary act of violence may be repeated as needed when the social/religious order created after the first scapegoat murder begins to weaken and give way in a time of "sacrificial crisis." Order will then be restored or reinforced, chaos held at bay. And though the saving act of murder is ever and again re-presented in the form of ritual sacrifice, the true nature of the deed as the frenzy of a lynch mob will be hidden away under various mythic and theological veils. The one sacrificed becomes a divine savior whose death was voluntary obedience to the divine plan. In this way violence is reified and mystified. Girard stands in the tradition of Durkheim, who characterized religion as simply a mystification of social existence. The mystification provides a transcendent sanction for the society's laws and mores. Both the carrot and the stick are made more effective in this way. Girard has, so to speak, taken Durkheim's theory farther in explaining how social systems began and why it should be that religion is the fright mask society wears. Concrete fears of mundane dangers are here magnified to the proportions of Rudolf Otto's "numinous" fear of the Mysterium Tremendum, fear of the dissolution of all things. If the sanctions of the Sacred are not obeyed, the dam will collapse and Chaos and Old Night will rampage again.
Though Girard is unclear about the conditions obtaining before the initial crisis, his theory seems to imply that most primitive collectivities began as peaceful anarchies. But probably before too long, trouble began, as the Cain and Abel myth indicates. The trouble was mimetic desire. Girard theorizes that desire is always a function of one's imitation of another as a model. One begins wanting to emulate another, perhaps a parent. Naturally, one begins to desire what the model desires, simply in order to be like the model. One imitates the tastes and the values of the model. But at some point the object of desire becomes an obstacle between model and imitator (or "disciple"). They cannot both have it. And at that point model and imitator become rivals. Soon the desired object becomes irrelevant, because the focus again becomes obviously what it already was implicitly: it is the model himself that the imitator covets. Casting aside his own being, the disciple seeks to gain justification, real being, from the model who already has it (cf. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer). The disciple seeks no longer to be like the model but actually to become, to supplant, the model. Striking contemporary examples of this phenomenon would be the many cases of a fan who idolizes a celebrity to the point of stalking him or her and finally killing the celebrity, as if in so doing, the fan could supplant the idol/rival. Mark David Chapman was the mimetic rival of John Lennon. Or think of Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy. Or of Edward Nigma, mimetic rival/double of Bruce Wayne.
As already anticipated, such mimetic conflict rapidly becomes violent. Sometimes violence thus spreads throughout society, and we have the war of all against all. Bergman's film Shame illustrates this condition. So do current events in Bosnia and Serbia. In any case of mimetic violence, whether between two antagonists or between whole countries, the mimetic rivals lose any real distinction from one another. They become mimetic twins. No one is any longer in the right or the wrong. Bosnia seems to us more sinned against than sinning, but one must admit they have their own record of atrocities to place beside Serbia's. Who could support either the Sandinistas or the Contras with a clear conscience?
Since reciprocal violence has leveled the playing field, it becomes not only impossible but also meaningless for either party to admit to being at fault. So how can the turmoil cease? The crowd suddenly seizes on someone, either a third party, someone marginal to the society, or any one of the faceless figures in the general melee, and puts him or her (or them--it might be a minority ethnic or religious group) up as the secret culprit. This scapegoat has become the "monstrous double" of all involved in the conflict. In this figure they see their own rage and culpability, and they see it writ large. And since all distinctions have been obliterated, they are not strictly speaking wrong in seeing the guilt any place, in any face, they look. But the person chosen must be marginalized or otherwise insignificant since otherwise the victim's partisans will take revenge for his death, and the cycle of reciprocal violence will continue unabated.
The antagonists call a halt to the fighting, forming a united front against the one now perceived as the real culprit. The hapless scapegoat takes the blame. (One might understand Mahatma Gandhi to have acted as a self-chosen scapegoat when he undertook a "punishing" hunger strike to stop the Hindu-Muslim rioting in newly independent India.)
The scapegoat must have created the whole mess by some secret and insidious means, an apple of discord tossed in when no one was looking, a poisoner of the well of good will. If the evil schemer can be done away with, everything ought to return to normal. He dies. It does. The crashing silence of newly-won equilibrium seems almost miraculous. Everyone takes a second look at the scapegoat. He must have been a powerful being indeed, not only to bewitch everyone in the first place, but now to heal everyone by his stripes as well! A single death brought peace, demolished the dividing wall that had kept us apart. Whereas before the victim was judged a maleficent magician, now he is seen as a beneficent savior. The scapegoat is retroactively exonerated.
But where does the guilt then go? Perhaps to the members of the community itself, having acted in tragic ignorance. "We esteemed him stricken of God and afflicted, but it was our transgressions that he bore." But that is a hard thing to accept. So a secondary scapegoat may be identified. And all blame is put on him. He's the one who deceived us into slaying the savior! Off with his head! (Or it may be that, as Hyam Maccoby suggests in The Sacred Executioner, the secondary scapegoat will receive exoneration, too.)
The community owes its peace and order, the restoration of pecking orders, social classes and boundary lines, to the death of the scapegoat. So the scapegoat is forever after venerated by repeated sacrificial anamnesis. All we like sheep had gone astray, but the savior brought us back together in one fold as a compassionate shepherd who gave his life for his sheep. The "surrogate victim" employed may be another human or an animal substitute, but either way he is an actor in a Passion Play. By this expedient of repeated sacrifice the danger of chaos is recalled as well as the means of its stemming. The social order is periodically reinforced, and people are warned never to rock the boat again.
Only the saving deed is recalled in a mythically revised form, one in which no real blame is attached to the community, at least not for the arbitrary act of mob violence that put out the fire. It must be so, because if the facts were to become known, the illusion of mystification would be stripped away. All transcendent reference with its powerful sanctioning function, would be gone. There would not be sufficient fear if the sacred categorical imperative were to be reduced to a merely prudential hypothetical imperative. The nation of Islam has more spectacular success in getting people off drugs than do humanistic secular agencies. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." So the effectiveness of the whole system depends on the participants and beneficiaries not knowing how and why it works.
But Girard knows how it works. And he believes he is able to discern in various myths and rituals the effaced signs of the originary mob violence that secretly makes the system work. He is able to disclose "the figure in the carpet" (Henry James) by a sharp-eyed scrutiny. As Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (41) says, Girard has learned to listen to the silences of the mythic texts, aware that they are often more eloquent than the words. "There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard, yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world" (Psalm 19:3-4).
In his analyses of myths Girard is aided by insights derived from two other genres, the Classical tragedy and the persecution text. A persecution text is the record of scapegoating written by the persecutors in historical times (his favorite example is Guillaume de Machaut's Judgment of the King of Navarre, fourteenth century). It may credulously record how the plague was brought to a halt by a pogrom, or how the burning of witches put an end to an epidemic. The "double transference" whereby the scapegoat is first laden with the guilt of the community and then rehabilitated as a savior after his death, is represented in persecution texts only up to the second transfer. The writer of a persecution text still deems the Jew, the witch, the heretic as the guilty party. Good riddance! So such texts offer us only a half-parallel to what Girard envisions going on in myths. But, as far as it goes, Girard feels that the persecution text does attest to the historical reality of the basic scapegoating mechanism. By definition, the persecution text can go no further toward depicting the second stage of transference than it does.
And yet we may wonder whether Girard does not undermine his own case when he suggests that we lack historical texts depicting the second stage of transference because "Mythological persecutors [are] more credulous than their historical equivalents" and thus the latter are not to be expected to be sufficiently cowed by the scapegoat's effectiveness as to deify and worship him (Girard, 1982, 50). This observation implies that we perhaps ought not to seek any historical analogy to the postmortem transformation of the scapegoat, that no historical plausibility attaches to this element of the myths.
(This is a significant and embarrassing lacuna. But perhaps it may yet be filled. There might be recent historical texts which do attest the second transformation, though of course then they would no longer be persecution texts, not that it matters. For instance, a Calvinist record of repentant Calvinists erecting a monument to Michael Servetus, the non-trinitarian Reformer whom Calvin burned at the stake, might qualify: Servetus, once a detestable heretic, had now taken on the halo of a martyr even in the eyes of those whose forbears had hounded him to death.)
Classical tragedies help to decode myths because the dramatists have themselves begun to interpret the myths and to rehistoricize them. It is they who fill in background detail and color including socio-political and religious factors to supply verisimilitude for their audiences. The tragedies, even when they involved supernatural beings, had to seem plausible as happening in the real world. In reconstructing, e.g., the political tensions surrounding the tribulations of Oedipus, Sophocles was able, if not to restore the actual events surrounding the originary act of violence Girard postulates, then at least to tell us the kind of thing that would have surrounded such events in his world. And once we learn what sort of realities are apt to lie behind the myths, we can extrapolate in the cases of those myths to which no dramatic counterpart survives. We will know what to look for, what counts as a clue.
The actual process of reconstructing the violent events underlying a myth involves a considerable amount of cutting and pasting, juggling and reversing, and supplying elements implicit in the myths. "They must be treated like pieces of a puzzle which is the mimetic theory itself, once the correct arrangement has been found" (Girard, 1982, 162). If Girard here sounds a bit like Claude Levi-Strauss, he sounds even closer to him when he advises us to disregard the original diegetic order of events in the myth: "The relationship is then reversed. Differences cancel each other out; a symmetry is constantly generated, invisible in each synchronic moment taken separately but visible in the accumulation of moments... The same details are reiterated throughout the story..., but never simultaneously" (Girard, 1972, 245). "Mythology is a game of transformations. Levi-Strauss has made a most important contribution in revealing this... After shuffling his cards, the magician spreads them out again in a different order. At first we have the impression that they are all there, but is it true? If we look closer we shall see that there is actually always one missing, and it is always the same one, the representation of collective murder" (Girard, 1982, 73). "To be sure, there are many details of the generative event that have dropped out, many elements that have become so warped, misshapen, and transfigured as to be unrecognizable when reproduced in mythical or ritualistic form" (Girard, 1972, 310).
We recall both Levi-Strauss with his paradigmatic approach and Vladimir Propp with his syntagmic approach when we read Girard's analysis of Oedipus' actantial equivalence to other characters in his story: "All the episodes of the Oedipus myth are repetitions of one another... Oedipus, naturally, is a monster [a parricide and engaging in incest], but Tiresias is a monster, too: as a hermaphrodite... The sphinx is a monster... with its woman's head, lion's body, [etc.]. On first glance there is a radical difference between this imaginary creature and the human protagonists, but this difference vanishes on closer inspection. The sphinx plays the same role in relation to Oedipus as do all the human figures... Like Laius, like the drunken Corinthian earlier in the story and Creon and Tiresias later, the sphinx dogs Oedipus's tracks--whenever, that is, Oedipus is not dogging the sphinx's tracks. Like the others, the sphinx catches Oedipus in an oracular trap; in short, the episode of the sphinx recapitulates the other episodes. The sphinx appears as the incarnation of maleficent violence, as Oedipus himself will appear later on. The sphinx has been sent by Hera to punish Thebes, just as the plague is visited upon the city by order of Apollo... The episode of the sphinx shows Oedipus in the role of monster-killer or executioner. Later a monster himself, he will assume the role of surrogate victim. Like all incarnations of sacred violence, Oedipus can and does play every part in succession" (Girard, 1972, 252). Indeed, this is just the type of thing we ought to expect in what Todorov calls a "narrative of substitutions" following "ritual logic," one based on a sacred ritual, where there is no linear development, only cyclical repetition. "The origin of the rite is lost in the origin of time" (Todorov, 132).
Two examples highlighted in The Scapegoat provide a good picture of Girard's methods in action. The first is the Norse myth of the death of Balder. So beloved is the bright hero of Asgard that his mother Frigga seeks to ensure his safety by persuading every living thing never to harm Balder. They readily agree. Unfortunately, Frigga has neglected to secure the oath of a young sprig of mistletoe, which seemed already too harmless to threaten the divine prince. One day Loki beholds his fellow Aesir at sport. They circle the laughing Balder, throwing all manner of spears, swords, and javelins at him. But all alike turn away at the crucial moment, unable to break their vow of harmlessness. Loki dislikes to see such a spectacle and calls for it to stop. Unheeded, he departs and wheedles from Frigga the secret of the lone mistletoe sprig. This he finds and fashions into a deadly dart. Placing it in the hand of Balder's blind brother Hother, Loki guides his cast to its fatal target. Of course the myths of Siegfried and Achilles come readily to mind.
But Girard smells something amiss. Like a detective he is sure there is more than meets the eye here at the crime scene. There must have been an earlier version of the myth in which the encircling crowd of gods executed Balder, whom they regarded as a culprit, by means of their firing squad. An initial clue is that in the extant version Loki first tries to halt the game, as if he anticipates a danger the others do not see. How then has he become the villain of the piece? Note, too, the various "distancing devices" (Maccoby, 1982, 50, 97). We seem to have not only a primary scapegoat, Balder, but a secondary scapegoat as well, Hother. And yet Hother himself is exonerated, first, since he is blind, and thus may have landed the dart accidentally, second, since he is ignorant, not knowing the secret of the sprig until too late, and, third, in a subsequent retelling, since it was the pestiferous Loki who put him up to it. Loki then becomes a tertiary scapegoat!
The Greek myth of the infant Zeus and the Curetes presents basically the same scenario. In it, the godling is in danger from his hungry father Chronos. To hide him from the devourer, the Curetes, fierce warriors, form a circle around the child. This protective gesture, however, is enough to frighten baby Zeus, so he begins to cry. To drown out the sound, the Curetes start crashing their spears against their shields, raising a terrible din that frightens the baby even more. The louder he bawls the louder they get, until Chronos goes to find some peace and quiet elsewhere. Girard suspects that such a commotion would be rather odd as a camouflage strategy. Originally it must have meant something quite different. Of course, it must have been a scene in which the Curetes themselves surrounded the divine babe and closed ranks, slaughtering him. But later piety could not brook this, so Chronos was brought on stage as the villain, while the Curetes became an honor guard for the godling, surely a picture more in keeping with the divine dignity.
But is such a myth of the collective slaughter of a divine child really likely? Indeed it is, replies Girard, since we have precisely such a myth still extant, in which the evil Titans surround baby Dionysus (= "young Zeus", Murray, vi.) and dismember him. Later Zeus takes revenge on the Titans and resurrects Dionysus in another form. Perhaps this rescue is simply an alternative way of cleaning up the deicidal myth. Here the original (human) lynch mob has been translated into a group of culpable divinities. In the myths of Zeus and the Curetes, the solution is the docetic one familiar from early Christianity: there was no death. But Girard knows better. It is written plainly between the lines. Perhaps in an intermediate version of the myth the Curetes were trying to protect him, but Zeus was killed, with Chronos as the secondary scapegoat, the noisy ruse having failed. ("Hey! What in Hades is going on over there? Well, what have we here?") In the same way, in the Balder myth the original human slayers of the original human scapegoat were, like the Titans, made into divinities, but innocent ones. Hence the need for a secondary (and tertiary) scapegoat.
... What Your Right Hand Is Doing
The examples cited and discussed by Girard are plentiful and well-argued. I find myself largely convinced in most cases. At least I am eager to try the paradigm on for size. Thus, again, I will not seek to defend the approach here. My goal is more modest. I want to venture a consistent application of the Girardian paradigm to the Gospel Passion texts. Obviously, I find Girard himself coming up short at this point. At the end of Violence and the Sacred, he writes, "No attempt will be made here to consider the Judeo-Christian texts in the light of this theory, or vice versa; that must be left to a future study. However, I hope to have suggested here the course that such a project might take" (309). Though the anticipated study might have taken the direction implied in Violence and the Sacred, in fact it did not. Indeed, when one ventures into the pages of Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World and The Scapegoat, one feels one has made a wrong turn somewhere, or that Girard has. In these books Girard unfurls the banner of Christian apologetics, specifically what I call dissimilarity apologetics.
We are told that the canonical Gospels have once and for all called the bluff of the scapegoat mechanism on which all previous religion rested, which all previous mythology had embodied. It has done this by the simple expedient of depicting Jesus as innocent, as being railroaded into his scapegoat death. The very opposite of a persecution text, the Gospels are written from the standpoint of the victim. Jesus even attacks the scapegoating mechanism head-on, by damning the Jewish sacrificial system and calling for the end of violence and counterviolence in favor of turning the other cheek and loving the enemy. Jesus thus called for the end of the mystification of violence as the Sacred. Granted, he sometimes had no choice but to employ violent and sacrificial metaphors in order to have any common ground with his hearers, and granted, this may be why it has taken anyone this long to see what Jesus and the Gospels were getting at. But there it is. And if we deny the results of his exegesis, we are only continuing the conspiracy of sacred silence and forgetfulness that has kept the cycle of controlled religious violence going all these ages.
A growing group of Girardian disciples has fanned out through the towns of academic Israel to spread this word. Books written from Girard's perspective, promoting his version of the nonviolent gospel, include Raymund Schwager, Must There be Scapegoats? (1978, trans. 1987), James G. Williams, The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred: Liberation from the Myth of Sanctioned Violence (1991), Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, Paul's Hermeneutic of the Cross (1992) and The Gospel and the Sacred, Poetics of Violence in Mark (1994), and Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, Humanity at the Crossroads (1995). Burton Mack ("The Innocent Transgressor: Jesus in Early Christian Myth and History", 1985) and Lucien Scubla ("The Christianity of René Girard and the Nature of Religion," 1985) have both undertaken detailed though somewhat limited analyses of Girard's Gospel exegesis and found it severely wanting. I agree: the Gospels seem to say what Girard says only if the reader already belongs to that community of interpreters (Fish, 272) infatuated with the Girardian kerygma. Hamerton-Kelly's exegesis of Mark seems almost parodic, a case of hermeneutical ventriloquism at its worst. Page after page of his work (and that of other Girardians) brings inevitably to mind the pesher exegesis of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Like scribes trained unto the kingdom of heaven, they are bringing altogether new goods out of the old storehouse. When we observe this sort of thing done by the New Testament writers, we are accustomed to using the euphemism "charismatic exegesis." When we behold our own colleagues indulging in the sport we call it, even more damningly, "theological exegesis."
Indeed, as in Girard's own theory, there is a crucial fact concealed from these exegetes which alone makes their enterprise possible. They are like the Process Theologians of the 1970s who proclaimed Jesus the Christ because he had disclosed the vision of what God is up to in the world: creative transformation. The irony was, they had the wrong messiah. Surely Alfred North Whitehead deserved the diadem! It was he, not Jesus, who first set forth the view they espoused. No one would ever get Process Christology from the Gospels as David Griffin (A Process Christology) and John Cobb (Christ in a Pluralistic Age) did unless Whitehead had provided the esoteric key. Even so, the revealer of the scapegoat mechanism is none other than René Girard. Like the early Christian prophets posited by Bultmann, Girard has put his own oracles on the lips of the historical Jesus.
I have called Girard's handling of the Gospels "dissimilarity apologetics." Here is what I have in mind. Norman Perrin dubbed a widely used form-critical tool the "criterion of dissimilarity." That is, the critic cannot be sure of the authenticity of a Gospel logion unless it contradicts the beliefs of both contemporary Judaism and the primitive church. Though Jesus may have overlapped at many points with his Jewish contemporaries, and though the early church may actually have taken him seriously here or there, we will not know what was unique to the message of Jesus unless we employ the criterion of dissimilarity. Behind this assumption lurks the orthodox belief that Jesus must have had startlingly innovative things to say since he was a divine revealer. And, not surprisingly, Perrin and the others tended to exaggerate the differences between Judaism and Jesus, making of Judaism an absurd caricature (as when Ebeling imagines that the simple preaching of a loving God would have so infuriated religious Jews as to goad them into executing Jesus! These are the horned Jews of the Oberamergau Passion Play).
One can detect the same dissimilarity apologetics in play today in two of the "hottest" subfields of New Testament scholarship: feminist and social scientific criticism. Jewish views and practices concerning women are distorted by selective proof-texting of the Mishnah so that Jesus appears by contrast to have been a radical proto-feminist. The Gospel evidence certainly shows that Jesus was not a fanatical misogynist, for what that's worth. But it is not hard to see him as fitting in with ordinary Judaism at this, as so many other points. Why should this more modest verdict disappoint? I suspect because the scholars in question think of Jesus as the divine revealer, so he must have been at least as enlightened as themselves. The approach is not unlike fundamentalist efforts to show that Genesis chapter one really foretold the Big Bang or the sphericity of the earth if you just read it the "right" way.
Social science critics take great pains to construct a paradigm of Mediterranean peasant culture which they assume must have held sway in Jesus' day. Once this paradigm is employed in Gospel exegesis, many things are seen in a new light. But, what do you know? It turns out that Jesus "radically reversed" or "radically transcended" this or that social more. Just what one would expect of the divine revealer. Someone has forgotten what it means to use a paradigm. Paradigms are "surprise-free" (Kahn and Wiener, in Berger, 16). If there is seemingly anomalous data that the model cannot account for or would not have predicted, it must mean the paradigm needs adjustment or replacement, or that we are misinterpreting the evidence. One cannot use the paradigm against itself, as if a futurologist should be so surprised at the appearance of an unforeseen trend as to declare there had been a divine intervention in history. In my view, Girard and his mimetic doubles have pulled the same cheat as these other "dissimilarity apologists." If the Gospels appear to defy the type of analysis Girard insists can decode all other supernatural tales as scapegoat myths, then I am willing to bet that either Girard has buckled his paradigm too tightly, or he is giving preferential treatment to a particular set of myths--which just happen to be the scriptures of his own personal religious faith.
It is a simple matter of shaving with Occam's razor: if we find that the Gospel tales can after all be easily accommodated by the method Girard uses to such effect on the myths of Balder, Oedipus, Pentheus, the Curetes, and the infant Dionysus, then why look any further? And it would seem that the Gospels fit the pattern quite well. Yes, Jesus is depicted as innocent from the start, railroaded and exploited as a scapegoat. But this is simply because scapegoat myths are just the opposite of persecution texts. Persecution texts only go up to the first transformation (that of the innocent into the "monstrous double") because they are written by the persecutors who still view the persecuted as the real culprits. But scapegoat myths provide, not both stages of transformation as Girard implies, but rather only the second. They do presuppose the first, but then that is what Girard says we must coax out. The first transformation is never depicted as such in the myths. Indeed, that is his whole point. What is (at least sometimes) depicted is the subsequent transfiguration of the "evil" scapegoat into a sanctified savior.
But often there is not even an initial period of genuine culpability because the retroactive sanctification of the scapegoat has completely permeated the myth. Here one thinks of Küng's schema whereby the resurrection of Jesus transformed him retroactively from a false prophet to the Messiah (344, 372-373; cf. Pannenberg, 135-136). Girard even recounts a number of instances from current field observation in which sacred tribal kings and condemned prisoners treated as kings for a day are venerated and accorded special privileges even while they are blamed for all the community's ills. This ambivalence, he explains, is the result of the retrojection of their still-future sanctification into the present (1972, 276-278, 302). How much more natural for this retrojection to occur in the retelling of a myth? "As a community moves away from its violent origins, ... moral dualism is reinforced. ... There comes a time... when men want only models of morality and demand gods purified of all faults... [Such desires] reflect the disintegration of the primitive notion of the sacred, the tendency toward dualism that only wants to maintain the beneficent aspect of the gods... The tendency to idealize transforms or effaces all the stereotypes: the crisis, the signs that indicate a victim, collective violence, and of course the victim's crime. This can be seen clearly in the myth of Baldr. The god who is not collectively killed cannot be a guilty god. He is a god whose crime has been completely effaced, a perfectly sublime god, devoid of all fault" (1982, 79). So why consider the Jesus story substantially different from the Balder story? In both the divine hero is unambiguously good and then slain by the machinations of a secondary scapegoat figure.
"A guilty conscience is its own accuser." Just so, Girard himself anticipates our protest: "The uprooting [of the scapegoat mechanism] in the Gospels bears the same relationship to the mythological conjuring tricks of a Baldr or the Curetes as the complete removal of a tumor to a village quack's 'magnetic' tricks" (1982, 103). And yet on which side of this analogical ratio does Jesus belong? Perhaps not the side Girard intends. "Jesus... does as expected of a wandering magician" (Hamerton-Kelly, 1994, 101). Girard seems to have learned a few Mesmeric conjuring tricks of his own. Though he himself remarks, "Too great an effort to hide something always reveals the deception" ( 1982, 69), there are many who do take Girard's special pleading seriously, as we have seen. To them the difference between scapegoat myths and the Gospels is (to borrow Hamerton-Kelly's telling phrase) "stupefyingly clear" (1994, 68). Just as trivialities seem profound to one under the influence of marijuana, so those under Girard's spell have no trouble plumbing a difference where others may not see a distinction.
In fact, elsewhere in the vast Passion megatext, Maccoby is able to show startling parallels between the Jesus and Balder Passions even to the details. For instance, in one version of the Toledoth Yeschu, Judas has to display the dead body of Jesus on a huge cabbage stalk instead of a cross or a tree--since the sorcerer Jesus had, like Frigga, made all trees swear an oath never to act against him! It is as if some recessive gene shared by the two myths had at long last surfaced (1992, 98). Maccoby (1982, 49-51, 100-101) performs much the same sort of operation on the Gospel story of Jesus on the analogy of Balder that we should have expected Girard to perform. Mack does something similar: though he does not see Jesus as a Girardian scapegoat, at length he concludes that the Gospels are persecution texts scapegoating Jews (1985, 154-157).
Unlike Burton Mack, I do see the Gospel Passion as a Girardian scapegoat myth. And while I agree with Hyam Maccoby's analysis as far as it goes (and it does say the most important thing), I will attempt to supply what the disappointed reader of Girard has missed: a scrutiny of some specific features of the Passion a la Girard's ingenious exegesis of the various pagan scapegoat myths.
The Right Man at the Right Time
How does Jesus measure up as a Girardian scapegoat? Does he betray any of the classic "signs of the victim"? It seems he is quite suitable for the role. The scapegoat must have an ambivalent relationship to the community. If he is not a member, he cannot bear their guilt as a representative (cf.. Anselm's Satisfaction theory of the atonement). On the other hand, he must be somehow on the fringes of the community so as to be safe to pick on. His collective murder must not engender reprisals or the cycle of reciprocal violence will only continue. As many recent works suggest (Theissen, 1978, 1992; Downing, 1988, 1992; Crossan, 1991) Jesus is consistently depicted in the Gospels as an itinerant preacher after the manner of Elisha or the Cynics. He had no home or family, no possessions, roots, or vested interests. Girard mentions how the scapegoat "passes freely from the interior to the exterior and back again. Thus the surrogate victim constitutes both a link and a barrier between the community and the sacred" (1972, 271). Stevan Davies sums up the social position of itinerants like Jesus: they visited settled communities but their preaching contained no help for communities since the itinerant's ethos inculcated individualistic asceticism. Such preaching would undermine the community or fall on deaf ears. Thus itinerant prophets were marginalized even among their own supporters (Davies, 36). That pretty well fits Girard's characterization of the scapegoat.
Scott D. Hill ("The Local Hero in Palestine in Comparative Perspective," 1992) demonstrates how itinerant holy men have throughout history served as community mediators and arbiters since people regarded them as both divinely inspired and impartial, having no worldly interests (cf. Luke 12:13-14; Mark 12:14). In this they were much like the living bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism whose sublime disinterest enabled them to have divine compassion on all beings without favoritism. Girard shows how the scapegoat, while still a "kind of pariah, assumes the role of supreme arbiter. In the event of an irresolvable struggle he is called upon to 'differentiate' the irreconcilable antagonists, thus proving that he incarnates the sacred violence that is sometimes maleficent, sometimes beneficent" (1972, 262). And yet it is this very marginality that makes him the perfect choice for the scapegoat: he belongs to neither side in the great crisis, so his murder will not require retaliation. In a sense, as Girard implies, his eventual death as a scapegoat is a kind of logical extension and completion of his role as marginalized arbiter between two disputing factions. Again, Jesus fills the role remarkably well.
There are more obvious marks of a scapegoat. "We need only think of those social categories and individuals that provide the victims in scapegoat rites--vagabonds, beggars [both of these fit an itinerant prophet], cripples--to recognize that derision of one form or another plays a large part in the negative feelings that find expression in the course of the ritual sacrifice and that are finally purified and purged by it" (1972, 254). Recall the Hunchback of Notre Dame. (Cf. Erving Goffman, Stigma). To these categories we might add membership in a minority or foreign group. The crowd begins to intimidate Peter once they catch his Galilean accent (Mark 14:70; Matthew 26:73). Jesus, too, was a Galilean in Judea. Was he a cripple? Eastern Orthodox tradition made him hobble, one leg being shorter than the other.
Girard does not limit massive outbreaks of mimetic violence, requiring the antidote of collective murder, to the dawn of human civilization. He says they continue to erupt repeatedly throughout history whenever the sacrificial system established by the previous crisis begins to break down. Violence is no longer being "managed" in the proper sacerdotal channels. The difference between "good" violence (that which proceeds along authorized channels and at the hands of duly designated functionaries) and "bad" violence (personal vendettas, rioting) has broken down. Girard recognizes that sacrificial crises played an important role in the history of biblical Israel. "Amos, Isaiah, and Micah denounce in vehement terms the impotence of the sacrificial process and ritual in general. In the most explicit manner they link the decay of religious practices to the deterioration of contemporary behavior. Inevitably, the eroding of the sacrificial system seems to result in the emergence of reciprocal violence. Neighbors who had previously discharged their aggressions on a third party, joining together in the sacrifice of an "outside" victim [i.e., the sacrificial animals], now turn to sacrifice one another" (1972, 43).
Signs of sacrificial crisis are abundant in the gospels (and this much, of course, Girard would by no means deny). We can see this most clearly in terms of the Jerusalem temple cultus. Speaking of the sacrificial crisis in general, Girard explains, "If the gap between the victim and the community grows too wide, all similarity will be destroyed. The victim will no longer be capable of attracting the violent impulses to itself; the sacrifice will cease to serve as a 'good conductor,' in the sense that metal is a good conductor of electricity" (1972, 39). Bruce Chilton (The Temple of Jesus, His Sacrificial Program Within a Cultural History of Sacrifice, 1992) argues that what so disturbed Jesus about the temple sacrifices was the fact that people no longer brought their own animals from home to be sacrificed, but rather simply paid money for "government inspected meat" once they got to the temple. And it wasn't even their own money they used to pay for it! They had to change "idolatrous" Roman coins for unfilthy lucre, without images. (I think it most likely that Jesus refers to this practice when he dismisses the issue of whether paying Roman tribute represents religious compromise, since the coin used to pay the tax was a Roman coin that couldn't be used to buy animals in the temple. Since you couldn't render your denarius to God anyway, why not render it to Caesar?) Chilton has described precisely a situation in which the distance between the offerer and his sacrifice had grown too great for the sacrifice to be meaningful. Sacrificial crisis, here we come.
Girard goes on to add: "On the other hand, if there is too much continuity the violence will overflow its channels. 'Impure' violence will mingle with the sacred violence of the rites, turning the latter into a scandalous accomplice in the process of pollution, even a kind of catalyst in the propagation of further impurity" (1972, 39). I suspect this is the issue underlying the two tales in which Saul disappoints his patron Samuel (1 Samuel 13:5-15; 15:1-35). For Saul, his hands full of Philistine blood, to have taken on himself the task of offering priestly sacrifice was to trespass the boundary between profane and holy violence. It was for the same reason that Yahve would later forbid the red-handed David to build his temple (1 Chronicles 22:8, a priestly redactional development of 1 Kings 5:3, where David had simply not had time during his busy battle schedule to build the temple). And when Saul had offered all the Amalekites as human sacrifices to Yahve, thus fulfilling a duty of sacred violence, he yet spared the life of King Agag, presumably to use as some sort of diplomatic ace in the hole, and gave the captured livestock to his men. Samuel was displeased because all alike should have been offered up. To make exceptions out of worldly considerations was to compromise the purely sacred character of the violence. One may imagine poor Agag following this theological debate with keen interest, though he probably was disappointed with the outcome.
Do we see anything of the kind in the Gospels? Indeed we do. At least presupposed in the Gospels is the fact of quisling compromise between the temple authorities, especially the High Priest (like the Russian Orthodox Patriarch appointed by the KGB) and the Romans/Herods (Horsley, 3-15). The hypocrisy did not escape the people. Like the priests of Matthew 27:6-7 who piously scruple over whether ritually impure bounty money may go back into the temple treasury or should go for a charitable secular contribution, the temple authorities strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel when they took care to exclude heathen denarii from the temple while getting in bed with Caesar and his flunkies to keep their privileged position. Again we may imagine the disgust of Jesus in the "render unto Caesar" scene. The confusion between sacred and profane violence in the temple finally led to the cutting off of the sacrifice for Caesar at the hands of the anti-priestly Jewish rebels, signaling the ruinous war with Rome. Likewise, the story of Jesus' "cleansing of the temple" must be seen (or at least Girard would surely see it) in the context of impending sacrificial crisis.
The root problem in a time of sacrificial crisis is the breaking down of traditional class, gender, race, and social boundaries. We witness the same sort of thing today in the fundamentalist panic over Gay rights, women's equality, and even the theory of evolution which seems to them to erode the wall between animals and humans. Every culture is defined by where it draws its lines. And when the lines start to be erased, there is going to be trouble, including vigilante violence. When people lose confidence in the proper channels for mediating violence, when, as in our society, they feel the justice system coddles criminal who should really be executed (thus expunging the difference between innocent and guilty), then people begin to take the law into their own hands, and chaos erupts. If the proper channels for violence are sacrificial and ritual in character, then the breakdown or compromise of this system will result in chaos as we have just seen. "The primitive mind... has no difficulty imagining an affiliation between violence and nondifferentiation and, indeed, is often obsessed by the possible consequences of such a union. Natural differences are conceived in terms of cultural differences, and vice versa... Because there is no real difference between the various modes of differentiation, there is in consequence no difference between the manner in which things fail to differ; the disappearance of natural differences can thus bring to mind the dissolution of regulations pertaining to the individual's proper place in society-that is, can instigate a sacrificial crisis" (Girard 1972, 56).
We see something of this erosion of traditional differences in the Gospels, too. But the interesting thing is that Jesus himself is depicted as the chief culprit in erasing those lines! If we take seriously recent work by Schüssler Fiorenza, Crossan, Werner Kelber and others, Jesus appears to have proclaimed a "discipleship of equals" between men and women, welcomed the Untouchables as Gandhi did, received despised Gentiles into fellowship, accepted tax collectors and associated with sinners to the puzzlement of the traditionally pious. Sanders even doubts that Jesus really asked any of these people to repent. Jesus, as painted by Schüssler Fiorenza, Horsley, Crossan and others, even sought to abolish the patriarchal family (Matthew 10:34-36; 23:9). Hamerton-Kelly finds in Mark an idyllic picture of "the confraternity of the kingdom. Within this new context, the traditional family is an anachronism. The new radical fatherhood of God relativizes the claims of earthly parents and family obligations, which were in any case organized for the most part according to the forms of sacred violence" (1994, 83).
While this whole raft of politically correct exegeses might be challenged, a greater problem in attributing such notions to the historical Jesus is that saying after relevant saying has long ago been shown to be a redactional composition or a community formation. Horsley in particular seems fully as credulous about the accuracy of the Gospels as Girard himself. But let us suppose the exegeses of the passages are correct, though their attribution to Jesus is not. What we are left with is a collection of socially disruptive sayings falsely ascribed to Jesus so as to pin the blame for the current social-sacrificial crisis squarely upon him! Here think also of the impression given in the Gospels that Jesus single-handedly sparked the temple crisis. Neither the sacrificial program of Jesus educed by Chilton nor the socio-political background of priestly compromise reconstructed by Horsley is given explicitly in the Gospel texts. Why not? The larger social conditions have been mythically transformed, wider problems attributed to one man alone: the scapegoat.
Up to this point I have been willing to grant for the sake of argument that Girard is correct in seeing Jesus portrayed as unambiguously innocent in the Gospel accounts. Even if that were so, we need simply conclude that the Gospels represent an advanced stage of morally dualistic rewriting of the earlier version of the scapegoat myth. "I implied that an original 'criminal' Baldr must have existed in a more primitive version of the myth" (Girard, 1982, 79). I suggest that, in Girardian terms, the revolutionary rhetoric of Jesus in the Gospels constitutes surviving vestiges of the earlier version of the Passion tale in which there was a "criminal" Jesus. Think also of the discomfort of the various evangelists over what to do with the "false" charge that Jesus had threatened to destroy the temple (Mark 14:57-59; Matthew 26:59-61; Acts 6:12-14; John 2:18-22). John in particular makes it clear his exonerating rationalization occurred to him long after the fact, a perfect example of Girard's retroactive rehabilitation of the criminal scapegoat.
Can Jesus really have been single-handedly responsible for the sacrificial crisis of his day? Not likely. Girard's explanation of the Oedipus myth fits just as nicely here: "If the crisis has dropped from sight, if universal reciprocity [of violence] is eliminated, it is because of the unequal distribution of the very real parts of the crisis. In fact, nothing has been truly abolished, nothing added, but everything has been misplaced. The whole process of mythical formulation leads to a transferal of violent undifferentiation from all the Thebans to the person of Oedipus. Oedipus becomes the repository of all the community's ills. In the myth, the fearful transgression of a single individual is substituted for the universal onslaught of reciprocal violence. Oedipus is responsible for the ills that have befallen his people. He has become a prime example of the human scapegoat" (1972, 77). So has Jesus. Girard ought to have seen that.
I am He as You are He as You are Me and We are All Together
As we have seen, another major sign of the rise of reciprocal violence to crisis proportions is the appearance of doubles or twins. This is a term Girard employs in several related ways. First, in the process of mimesis, when one individual models herself upon another, the model and the imitator are mimetic twins. Second, Girard speaks of the two sides of any struggle, whether individual or collective, as doubles or mimetic twins, indicating that any significant difference between the two has been lost. Reciprocal violence levels the playing field till people may even forget what the violence was all about. Third, in this process, or as the occasion of this process, all traditional differentiations are lost, as we have seen. In this case everyone has become everyone else's twin or double. In fact, since everyone, like Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, has come to see the fiend in every face, everyone has become everyone else's "monstrous double." Fourth, often this sort of collective doubling will appear in myths reduced symbolically to a pair of matched characters, usually antagonistic brothers or twins.
Fifth, once the mass settles on a hapless victim to serve as its scapegoat, this unfortunate becomes the blotter to soak up everyone's guilt and paranoia, and he or she becomes the monstrous double of the society. This is the first act of transference. With the second act, the scapegoat is sanctified and idealized as a savior. But what is to be done with the guilt previously attributed to him? Sixth, it is projected onto a secondary scapegoat. If this happens, then we may speak of the new scapegoat as the monstrous double of the first, rehabilitated scapegoat. Given the return of dualist moralism after the crisis subsides, the scapegoat is thus bifurcated, and his evil twin may be a second scapegoated individual (or group: Jews, according to both Mack and Maccoby) or a mythic creation (adding Loki alongside Hother).
I want to focus here on the appearance in the Gospels of matched/opposing pairs of characters whose function is to symbolize and concretize the mimetic doubling of the larger society in the real crisis the myth reflects, the fourth use of the doubles metaphor. Evident literary doubles of Jesus include John the Baptist and Lazarus, but I must leave them aside here. I will consider Simon Peter as a double of Jesus, then Judas Iscariot as another.
Girard is quick to note it when pairs of mimetic twins in a myth have equivalent names or different versions of the same name. In the Passion of John the Baptist, every named character save for the baptizer himself is named Herod: Herod Antipas, Herodias, and (implicitly) Herod, the brother from whom Herod Antipas had wooed away Herodias. Similarly, Romulus and Remus are variants of the same name. We might also think of the punning resemblance between Jacob and the name of the river whose resident god he wrestles, the Jabbock. And the rivals Evodia ("Successful") and Syntyche ("Lucky") in Philippians 4:2-3, who are to be reconciled with the help of none other than Syzygus ("Yokefellow")! Maccoby explains why in such cases the names indicate the splitting of an originally single character. As the various transferences and bifurcations occur during the evolution of the myth, traits and functions of the original character come to be multiplied or substituted. There are too many actantial roles for a single character to play any more. So the character is multiplied, all keeping the same name as a vestige of their original identity (1982, 126-130).
Simon Peter, Jesus' number one disciple, might, seen through Girardian lenses, betray a considerable resemblance to Simon the brother of Jesus mentioned in Mark 6:3. Though it is possible that this list of names once functioned like the list of the Twelve in Mark 3:14-19, i.e., as an official list of the authoritative Heirs of Jesus, it is difficult to see much reason for mentioning them by name--unless someone has passed along a fossilized hint of Simon being Jesus' mimetic twin. He functions in the Gospels as a sounding board to amplify Jesus' teachings, since, like Holmes's Doctor Watson, he asks Jesus the question the readers are asking. Thus he is a narrative commentary on the sayings of Jesus (the same point is made in the doctrines of extremist Ismail'is who see Jesus and Peter as distinct syzygies emanated from Allah, Jesus being the "proclaimer" of an exoteric revelation, Peter being the "foundation" who explains the esoteric aspect of the teaching afterward.
More than this, however, Simon Peter seems to be the externalized voice of Jesus' own indecision and doubt. When at Caesarea Philippi Simon voices his opposition to the plan of Jesus' coming death, do we not catch the hint that he has struck a nerve? Jesus turns on him with curses because he himself is thinking the very same thing and is trying to resist the temptation. This is exactly what we see later in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus voices overt doubts: if at all possible, cannot Jesus avoid the hemlock cup? Of course Jesus does emerge from the Garden with his resolve intact. He will go the way of the cross in any case. And Simon embodies this, too. For he is also Simon of Cyrene, who carries the cross of Jesus.
And he is Simon the Zealot. Bearing in mind that in the Greek text a "zealous one" and a "jealous one" are the same word, we can see another sign of Peter as a mimetic counterpart of Jesus. We have already seen this in the scene of Peter's confession (where the affirmation of Jesus' identity may thus denote Jesus' own realization of his identity) and its aftermath in which Jesus rebukes his own doubt, calling it Satan. We ought also to remember the Last Supper at which Peter accepts that Jesus will have to die but swears he will see him through to the end, his own death as well as Jesus'--for the two are the same. When Jesus questions Peter's ironclad fidelity, is he again questioning his own? But in Girard's terms, does Peter's protest of loyalty denote that Peter has sought to adopt as his own the destiny of his model? In fact, Peter does die by crucifixion in early Christian tradition (beginning with John 21:18-19). Drawing on Basilides' redaction of the myth, we might say that Simon (as Simon of Cyrene) not only shares the fate of his Lord but supplants it, actually taking Jesus' place on the cross. Another set of brothers, James and John, want to mimetically appropriate the destiny of Jesus, too (Mark 10:35-41).
Simon Peter will meet his own double later on in the form of the anti-Simon, Simon Magus, who approaches Peter about and asks to duplicate his powers of transmitting the Spirit (Acts 8:18-24). There are still more counterparts to Simon Peter, but we must wait till later to meet them.
Judas is surely the most complex of Jesus' doubles. We have already noted that he plays the role of the secondary scapegoat once Jesus has been retroactively exonerated. Maccoby develops the idea independently of Girard, though he says precisely what Girard ought to have said on the subject. Maccoby cites numerous myths in which the executioner of the hero is the hero's brother (e.g., Cain and Abel). The point of such a symbol is to bifurcate the original victim so that the executioner may be seen to bear away the evil originally attached to the victim. The original scapegoat has been split into two, one going to Yahve, the other to Azazel (Maccoby, 1982, 128). Though Girard cannot bring himself to apply it to Jesus and Judas, he is aware of the same trajectory of mythic evolution: "Similarly, the Aztec god Xipe-Totec demonstrates the ability of the incarnation of the sacred to assume different roles in the system. Sometimes this god is killed and flayed in the person of a victim offered as substitute for him; at other times the god becomes the executioner, flaying victims in order to don their skin. Evidently religious thought perceives all those who participate in this violent interplay, whether actively or passively, as doubles" (1972, 251).
In light of these analyses we can plot out the trajectory of the "Big Bang" that led to the multiplication of Judas figures. Judas is of course the Iscariot, the False One, the Betrayer. (Here I must side with Bertil Gärtner against Maccoby, who rejects this interpretation in favor of "the Sicarius." Gärtner passim; Maccoby, 1992, 135). He is the sacred executioner. But to play this role to the fullest, he should be Jesus' brother, too, and he is. He is the Judas numbered among Jesus' siblings in Mark 6:3. More specifically, he is even a twin brother, Didymus Judas Thomas, Judas the Twin. And of course Judas must be one of the disciples as well, in order to be within striking distance when the moment comes.
But as Luke knew (and as Schmithals and Günter Klein knew even better), there remains a problem counting out one of the Twelve if there is to be a subsequent college of twelve apostles. How can they all have been appointed by the Risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:5) if one of them had already hanged himself? Judas was simply bifurcated into "Judas Iscariot" and "Judas not Iscariot" (John 14:22). A few manuscripts omit "not" in John 14:22. If this should chance to be the original reading, suppressed by harmonizing scribes for obvious reasons, then here we would actually be witnessing a stage in the ongoing doubling of Judas. Perhaps the two resultant Judases counted as numbers twelve and thirteen, with Thaddaeus as one of the first eleven. But later, somehow Thaddaeus was assimilated to Judas not Iscariot. This left the famous gap, which Lebbaeus and Nathaniel might have been attempts to fill. Speaking of odd manuscripts, a few have the reading "Judas the Zealot" at Matthew 10:3 (in some Old Latin manuscripts) and at John 14:22 (in some Sahidic manuscripts). This, too, would be significant in the same way "Simon the Zealot" was, the epithet indicating, for neo-Girardian exegesis at any rate, mimetic rivalry: Judas the Jealous.
If twins are literary/mythic personifications of the mimetic doubling in periods of sacrificial/social crisis, Girard observes, the scapegoat (the monstrous double of society as a whole) can just as well be a product of or a partner in incest, just like Oedipus. It is an equivalent image for the horrific effacing of differences and boundaries. We see the logic of the mytheme spinning itself out in the growth of the Judas tradition. Late in the megatext, in The Golden Legend, we find Judas married to his mother (Kermode, 95), having killed his father (Maccoby, 1992, 106), just like Oedipus, and for the same reason. In the thirteenth-century Ballad of Judas he is living incestuously with his sister (Maccoby, 1992, 107).
And if Judas is the "monstrous double" of Jesus, we might take a second look at the intriguing guess of some exegetes that the epithet "Son of Perdition" in John 17:12 means the same thing it does in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. This makes Judas the Antichrist, surely the monstrous double of Jesus! Finally, as a mimetic twin of Jesus, he might be expected to seek the same fate as Jesus. And he gets it. As Maccoby points out, not only does Judas die hanging from a tree like Jesus (Matthew 27:5), but if one factors in Luke's variant in Acts 1: 18-19, where Judas' manner of death is left vague but involves a rain of his blood soaking into the ground, we can hear an echo of the underlying myth on which Jesus' crucifixion was built: the sacrificial deaths of Attis, Abel, (and, one might add, Baal) to fertilize the ground with their blood. (This mytheme is still faintly visible in John 19:41a, "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden.") Thus it was not only guilt but tell-tale mythic coloring that was transferred to Judas the Twin. Could it be that Luke's and Matthew's versions of the death of Judas differ because each has tried in his own way to break the parallel between Jesus and Judas, Luke omitting the hanging (=crucifixion) element but retaining the Field of Blood as the place of death, while Matthew retained the hanging but removed the death from the Field of Blood by substituting a different account, cobbled together from readings of two versions of Zechariah 11:13, and with it a different, and safer, etymology?
Some traditions report that it was Judas who died on the cross in Jesus' stead, having been miraculously transformed into his likeness. Abu Ja'far al-Tabari (died 923 C.E.) quoted Ibn Ishaq as relating how "Some of the Christians allege that it was Judas Iscariot who was made [Jesus'] semblance to them and that they crucified him despite his saying, 'I am not one of his companions! I am the one who pointed him out to you!'" (Robinson, 131). It is striking that such Christian docetism survived long enough in remote areas for Muhammad to have picked it up from Christians when they converted to Islam. And so here is a Christian tradition according to which Judas' mimetic rivalry with his Lord came to an ironic fruition. The point is actually rather important. The choice of the scapegoat by the mob is usually random, much like the picking of Simon of Cyrene out of the crowd to carry Jesus' cross (and think again of Basilides' reading: Simon had been picked at random to be crucified!). It could be anybody because in the crisis of reciprocal violence none is particularly more guilty or innocent than anyone else; indeed, these terms have for the time being lost their meaning. The scapegoat is, however, still falsely accused since he cannot be totally and uniquely responsible as charged. But it could as easily be anybody.
And this means it could just as easily have been Judas as Jesus! This is another implication of their being mimetic twins. Girard makes this point in discussing the Oedipus story. Oedipus has concluded that the plague in Thebes is a divine judgment for the murder of Laius, his predecessor on the throne. The task is now to smoke out the regicide and punish him. Of course Oedipus himself is eventually disclosed as the murderer, albeit an unwitting one. But, says Girard, this identification of Oedipus as the culprit was not inevitable, at least not in whatever real set of events the story reflects. The blame for the death circled like a vulture for a while. Initially Oedipus tried to pin the blame on Tiresias and Creon, but he couldn't make it stick. They returned the blame to him, and they did manage to make it stick. Did Oedipus "in fact" commit the deed? He himself is willing to admit he did, but this only means he allowed himself to be persuaded of their version of events. He knew he killed some old man, but at the moment he did not know his identity. It may or may not have been Laius: who knows? But the tail has finally been pinned on the donkey, and that's where it will stay. Oedipus is elected as the scapegoat to save Thebes. "Having oscillated freely among the three protagonists, the full burden of guilt finally settles on one. It might very well have settled on another, or on none... The attribution of guilt that henceforth passes for 'true' differs in no way from those attributions that will henceforth be regarded as 'false,' except that in the case of the 'true' guilt no voice is raised to protest any aspect of the charge. A particular version of events succeeds in imposing itself; it loses its polemical nature in becoming the acknowledged basis of the myth, in becoming the myth itself" (1972, 78). Judas is forever vilified as a thief (John 12:6), but remember that Jesus was numbered among the thieves (Mark 14:48;15:27), too. And if Judas was called demon-possessed (John 13:27; Luke 22:3), so was Jesus (John 8:48). Neither set of invectives counts as any more than that. One stuck, the other didn't. Or should we not say, the charges stuck first to Jesus, the primary scapegoat, then were reapplied to Judas, the secondary scapegoat.
To take it one step further, the supposed possession of Judas by Satan may be seen as yet another distancing device to shift some measure of the blame from Judas as the sacred executioner. "The condition called 'possession' is in fact but one particular interpretation of the monstrous double... Some presence seems to be acting through him-a god, a monster, or whatever creature is in the process of investing his body" (Girard, 1972, 165). Thus Satan becomes the monstrous double of Judas, and a tertiary scapegoat in his behalf. In the Coptic fragments of the Gospel of Bartholomew we read that it was Judas' nagging wife who put him up to his mischief (Maccoby, 1992, 91).
It only remains to tie up a surprising loose end. If the panicky words of Judas quoted by Ibn Ishaq ("I am not one of his companions!") should remind one of Peter's denials (Mark 14:66-71), this may be no accident, because Peter and Judas would seem to be doubles of one another, too. If Judas Iscariot is Judas the Zealot, and if Simon Peter is Simon the Zealot; if Judas is one of the brothers of Jesus, and if Simon is another, then we might take another look at the epithet "Judas of Simon Iscariot" (John 13:2), which could as easily denote "Judas, brother of Simon" as "Judas, son of Simon" (Maccoby, 1992, 134-135). But Simon Peter the False One? Peter Iscariot? That would aptly describe the cowardly denier of Mark 14:66-71 who afterwards breaks into weeping just as Judas afterward repented (Matthew 27:3). And compare John 6:66-71 with Mark 8:27-33. In Peter van Greenaway's novel The Judas Gospel (1972), a secret Dead Sea Scroll, a Testament of Judas, reveals that it was Peter, not Judas, who sold Jesus out, and that Peter successfully framed Judas for the deed. Is that possible? Was Peter, like Hother, a secondary scapegoat later replaced by Judas, a tertiary scapegoat (like Loki)?
Partners in Mime
Judas and Simon Peter may be the most obvious cases of mimetic twins among the disciples, but the Gospels do not hesitate to cast the whole group of them in the role. Almost like a Greek chorus, the disciples often speak as one with the voice of mimetic desire. They are forever squabbling over who is the greatest, or will be the greatest. And they pin their hopes of greatness on the coat tails of Jesus ("If only I can touch the hem of his garment...!"). They generously leave the central throne for Jesus but bicker over the seats of honor alongside him. Mark pictures them always dumbfounded, rebuked for misunderstanding just when they thought they'd got it straight. It all fits Girard's framework perfectly. The mimetic double seeks to be just like his model, but as he closes in, the model tries to keep some distance, sets up some obstacle. "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master; it is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher, and the slave like his master" (Matthew 10:24-25a). "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" (Mark 10:38). And see 2 Kings 4:11-37; Mark 9:14-29, and various tales of Aesclepius, Asclepiades, and Pancrates where the disciples prove utterly incapable of mimicking the feats of the master. Or think of Joshua who first says to the people, "Therefore fear Yahve, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness" (Joshua 24:14) and then casts this in their teeth: "You cannot serve Yahve, for he is a holy god; he is a jealous god; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins!" (Joshua 24:19). The puzzled disciple finds himself in a double bind (Girard, 1972, 179; Adolf Holl, Jesus in Bad Company, 1972, 48-49, shrewdly points out, following Scheler, how Christians have inherited the same predicament. They worship a Jesus who made ethical demands they cannot follow, not being a god like him! Thus Jesus appears to have borne away not only our sins, but our righteousness as well.).
Increasingly frustrated, the imitator gradually slips from adoration of the model into a love-hate relationship with the model, who is increasingly perceived as a competitor and an obstacle, until unalloyed hatred finally emerges. "By a strange but explicable consequence of their relationship, neither the model nor the disciple is disposed to acknowledge the inevitable rivalry. The model, even when he has openly encouraged imitation ["If any one would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me."], is surprised to find himself engaged in competition. He concludes that the disciple has betrayed his confidence by following in his footsteps. As for the disciple, he feels both dejected and humiliated, judged unworthy by his model of participating in the superior existence the model himself enjoys" (Girard, 1972, 146). "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man."
"Conflictual mimesis will inevitably unify by leading two or more individuals to converge on one and the same adversary that all wish to strike down" (Girard, 1978, 26). The disciples of Jesus have been imitators of Jesus and thus rivals of one another, and as Jesus continues to frustrate them, what is their next step going to be? Girard should expect them to unite against him. No more bickering about who is to be greatest! We will not have this man to reign over us! They share harmonious fellowship once again as they jointly devour the flesh and blood of their erstwhile master, their scapegoat, the lamb of God who took away their sins. Theodore J. Weeden (Mark: Traditions in Conflict, 1971) argued that Mark portrays the disciples finally becoming the enemies of Jesus, betraying, denying, abandoning him, not even visiting his tomb. I believe that a neo-Girardian scrutiny of the Passion will make that description seem mild indeed. In what follows I will attempt to show how Girard's methods should disclose an earlier version in which it was none other than the disciples of Jesus who conspired to kill him. Of course, Girard himself would rend his garments in outraged horror at the suggestion. It is my suggestion, based on his method. So the hands are the hands of Girard, but the voice is the voice of Price.
We Esteemed Him Smitten of God
Sifting through the mosaic tiles of the Passion narratives, I believe the neo-Girardian investigator would have to conclude that it was the anointing in Bethany that proved to be the back-breaking straw. Here the disciples first recognized their idol's clay feet. A shocking lapse convinced them that they held more firmly to his radical ethos than he himself did. "It doesn't help us if you're inconsistent. They only need a small excuse to put us all away!" (Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar). The inconsistency? With the inflexible pedantry of the small-minded zealot, "some" (Mark 14:4) on the scene objected to the waste of the fancy oil: "Why was the ointment thus wasted? For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and [the proceeds] given to the poor" (Mark 14:4b-5). Isn't this the very policy Jesus had urged on so many others? The issue is not quite that they were being holier than Jesus; rather, they were being more like Jesus than Jesus! And consider the resultant double bind. Jesus has been caught out. This discovery convinces them that they are better than Jesus in living out his ethic. Mimesis seems to have gained its object! But in the same moment, they must mourn the loss of their idol. As their idol has proven to be less than perfect, their victory is cheapened by the knowledge that they have only surpassed someone who was really no better than them all along! And so how far have they come? They scorn the model not only for disappointing them but also for depriving them of the goal they thought they had been pursuing and finally gained.
But can we be so certain that those objecting from the peanut gallery were disciples? That was apparently Matthew's inference, since his version has "the disciples" as the carpers (26:8). Who else would likely have been present on the scene? Besides, in Mark 6:37, the miraculous feeding, it is also the disciples who speak indignantly about giving something worth great amounts of denarii to the hungry.
It could be that the identity of the critics was known to Mark but that he suppressed it, implying that Judas was the only disciple to take umbrage, since it is he who directly goes to the priests to make his offer. Matthew leaves the disciples as the culprits, but he has tried to soften the blow in another way. Jesus' host on the occasion, according to some source at Matthew's disposal, was one "Simon the leper." By now our Girardian instincts are sufficiently honed to detect here another version of Simon Peter. It is Simon Peter's house. Why disguise him as a leper? Such an identification serves no apparent narrative purpose--unless we are being subtly directed to Numbers 12:1-15, a story in which Miriam and Aaron dare to criticize Moses on account of a woman, his Cushite bride. For her meddling, Miriam is turned into a leper. Is Simon made a leper by Matthew because he dared criticize Jesus on account of a woman? I wouldn't be surprised.
Luke has concealed Simon Peter's identity under a different mask. He has made him into Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-40ff). Exegetes have noted that this would be the single instance of Jesus addressing a Pharisee or other outsider by name. And yet he elsewhere calls Simon Peter by name (e.g., Luke 22:31; Matthew 16:17; 17:25). While no evangelist minds very much having Jesus rebuke Peter, this time Luke feels things have gone too far: Simon has seemingly lost his faith in Jesus altogether. "If this man were a prophet..." So it must be some other Simon. That's the ticket.
It is by no means difficult to see how the disciples might have taken offense at Jesus' saying "You always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me" (Mark 14:7). The heartless arrogance of this saying has always troubled pious readers, all the way back to the late-first, early-second century, when the Didache warned its readers to eject as a false prophet any itinerant who said under divine afflatus, "Give me money," which is pretty much the same sentiment. The Mark 14:7 saying is only the caption of the scene of extravagant anointing. The actions spoke just as loudly. Note that Luke has clumsily tried to change the subject, redirecting the reader's attention to the supposed bad character of the woman. It becomes an incoherent mishmash of themes from other tales in which Jesus forgives sins. As Girard says, "The only feasible or even conceivable response seems to be that the version of the myth we are analyzing is not the first" (1982, 68). My Girardian guess is that after this incident, it is not Judas alone who moves to engineer the death of Jesus, but his apostolic compatriots as well.
I would next like to deal with a set of four pericopae which seem perhaps to reflect scapegoat themes, though they do not bear directly on Jesus as the scapegoat. What are they doing here? Perhaps, as elsewhere in the gospels, it was simply a vague but discernible kinship of theme which accounted for them being included in the general vicinity of Jesus' own Passion.
The first episode is that of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). Once we see a crowd menacing a blind beggar, a doubly good choice for a scapegoat, and the beggar calling out for mercy, we know the game is afoot. Who knows but that originally the story told not of the recovery of Bartimaeus' sight, but rather his narrow escape from an angry mob? Like the man in the Garden who just managed to escape by the skin of his teeth, glad enough to leave his only garment behind, given the alternative, Bartimaeus pitches aside the superfluous ballast of his threadbare coat to run for his life.
We must cast our net wide: could it be that the similar story of Jesus' healing a blind man outside of Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26) was another version of the Bartimaeus tale? "And some people brought to him a blind man." That has an ominous ring about it, reminiscent of the pariah pericope John 7:53-8:11, that of the woman taken in adultery. "The Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery." They meant to carry her out dead. Is the blind man of Bethsaida being scapegoated, too? If so, somehow he gets off the hook, but Jesus tells him not to take any chances: "Do not even enter the village."
The second adjacent scapegoat episode is Matthew 21:18-20, the cursing of the fig tree, along with 21:33-39, the parable of the wicked tenants. It only takes a wee bit of reshuffling to make the parable a story in which strife breaks out among the share croppers themselves, who then gang up on a figure marginally associated with the vineyard. The man they kill does not work there but is the son of the absentee landlord. His death puts an end to their strife. He is driven outside the gates to be killed, like the ancient Greek pharmakos, or, following Mark 12:8, he is killed and then cast forth. And if we add the story of the fig tree, we might even detect a trace of some earlier version of Jesus' own death in which he was blamed for a wasting agricultural disease a la Joel 1:11-15, where vinedressers and withered fig trees are mentioned in the same breath.
Next we may briefly consider Matthew's parable of the guest without a wedding garment (22:2,11-14). Before the rejoicing of the wedding feast could begin in earnest, had there once been a need to choose someone for a scapegoat, in this case marked out by his poor dress? If so, it would be a reflection of the marriage festival custom of the Niquas in which the marriage is sealed by the scars won by relatives of the bride and groom in a battle during the ceremony. Often the ritual violence culminates in the pre-arranged death of a slave during the general melee. The slave is a perfect scapegoat to banish the inter-familial tensions since he is helpless and will have no one to avenge his murder (Girard, 1972, 248). Neither did the poor man in Matthew 22, who no doubt wondered why he had been hustled in at the last moment at all. He found out the hard way.
Finally, there is the conundrum put to Jesus by the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-33, the parable of the woman with seven husbands, if I may venture to call it that. Girardian exegesis, it seems to me, ought to grow suspicious at the picture of the woman surviving when all seven husbands have come to a bad end in rapid succession. Is she Lady Bluebeard? Perhaps the shroud is on the wrong corpse here. We might speculate that in an earlier version, the seven husbands were all very much alive, and it is the death of the woman which is at issue. Instead of bringing this riddle to Jesus, suppose in the original version, it was the woman herself who was brought--by the seven men. Suddenly we are dealing with something that sounds remarkably like the adulteress pericope again. Shrewd popular exegesis long ago suggested that no one took Jesus up on his invitation to cast the first stone, provided one was sinless--because all of them had sinned with her! Plug in here, if you will, the interchange between Jesus and a very similar character in John 4:16-18, "'Go call your husband and return here.' The woman answered him, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right to say, "I have no husband." The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband.'" Perhaps these previous "husbands" were someone else's husbands. Perhaps the seven "husbands" of the woman in Matthew 22 were not that woman's husbands either. As in the "cast the first stone" pericope, perhaps the group of seven had come to resent one another for their common dalliance with her. The only way to heal the breach between the rivals was to eliminate that which stood between them: her. Just as Girard was able to corroborate his reversal of the myth of the Curetes and baby Zeus (that originally they conspired to destroy him, not to protect him) by comparing it with a surviving parallel in which the Titans do gang up on an infant god to kill him, I have tried to reconstruct an original scapegoat version of the woman with seven husbands by comparing it with the related story of the woman taken in adultery.
You're Entitled to One Last Meal
As to the Last Supper, we can dispense with two notable but fairly simple items quickly. The first is the Words of Institution. It is clear enough, on any critical reading, that here we are dealing with a ceremonial etiology. As Loisy noted long ago, the very words "This is my body, this is my blood" imply a ritual context in which a celebrant explains the meaning of the various items of the liturgy. The case is not entirely closed, as witness Chilton's discussion in The Temple of Jesus (150-154), but I would see the words as part of a post-Jesus liturgy. The question then becomes, what was the sacrificial violence that first gave rise to this masked liturgical commemoration? Here the veil is rather thin: it is the death of Jesus. But note that it must be the death of Jesus as a collective murder, only later sanctified as a sacrificial ritual. The key is the added word, "Drink ye all of it." Girard explains, "The sacrificial ceremony requires a show of collective participation, if only in purely symbolic form. This association of the collectivity with the sacrificial victim is found in numerous instances-notably in the Dionysiac sparagmos... All the participants, without exception, are required to take part in the death scene" (1972, 100). The reason, even if no longer understood, is to reflect the logic of the original mob lynching. The entire group must take part, or the violence will remain on the level of "bad," i.e., secular and personal, violence. In concrete terms, a murder in which only some participate would leave itself open for vendetta against the individual killers and their families. But if the whole collectivity has taken part in it, what are you going to do? Vengeance is short circuited, and peace returns. The direction for all present at the eucharist to commune echoes the unity of the disciples in their murder of Jesus. This may sound far-fetched, but as Maccoby says (1992, 94) it remains true today that Christians are quite happy for Jesus to have died, no matter how much they may mourn the same event. But that is the whole logic of the scapegoat, isn't it?
In Luke's version of the Supper scene he has Jesus quote Isaiah 53:12 (Luke 22:37), "he was reckoned among the transgressors." Here is the tip of a large iceberg, the early Christian use of the Deutero-Isaianic Servant Song. Let us simply note that one could ask no better evidence, not that the Gospels expose and debunk the scapegoat myth as Girard says, but just the reverse, that they embrace it whole-heartedly. This application of Isaiah 53 to Jesus plainly presupposes Christians looking back at the days when they ("we") acted wrongly, albeit in good faith, thinking Jesus to be a villain condemned by God. It was only later that they "realized" the savior had been innocent all along, that it was the secret plan of God that he should die to bear away the sins of his contemporaries. In the early Christian singing of the Servant Song we see, as Girard should lead us to expect, only the second transfer, that of guilt away from the scapegoat and onto the community of faith who erred in ignorance. Of the first transfer, the attribution of the community's ills to the scapegoat as if they were his, we hear only echoes. Do they yet know that they had victimized the innocent scapegoat by piling their sins high on his back? No, they know only that they had been wrong in imagining him to be suffering from his own sins. They believe it is only now, retrospectively, that the vicarious dimension of his suffering has become known. In other words, the scapegoating character of the act of generative violence has been suppressed and is now safely forgotten.
The designation by Jesus of his betrayer must occupy us next. We usually read John's account of Jesus giving the sop to Judas in answer to the query of the Beloved Disciple and Peter, as if Jesus already knew who would betray him and is telling the secret in pantomime so as to prevent any disturbance. And that is no doubt the Fourth Evangelist's intention. But Maccoby (1982, 125) believes he can sniff out an earlier version in which Jesus engineered being handed over to the authorities (much as in Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ). In giving the sop to Judas he was making the decision as to who would do the dirty work. While this suggestion is attractive, I cannot help thinking that for Jesus to hand the sop to Judas, implying that it was Jesus' own decision to make, represents a redactional attempt to cover up an earlier version, still visible in Mark 14:20 ("It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the same dish with me") and Matthew 26:23 ("He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me"), in which Jesus had left it to chance, much as in Acts 1:26, where the apostles cast lots to determine Judas' replacement. (It is even possible that the Acts scene is a rewritten version of the Last Supper scene.) Since chance, like God, moves in mysterious ways, it is employed like Gideon's fleece to let God express his will (cf. 1 Samuel 6:7-9). It is to open up a zone of indeterminacy, breaking the link of human cause and effect, so that God may have a window of intervention. "The victim is chosen by lot [whose] expulsion will save the community" (Girard, 1972, 314).
But in Jesus' case it is not precisely the victim who is chosen, but rather the sacred executioner. I suggest, along Girardian lines, that the lot is being cast here (by a method only disclosed afterward so as to prevent any attempt to influence the outcome) in order to choose by divine providence who is to make the choice of victim. Again, this would be needful to ensure the victim was taken by surprise and could not flee forewarned, as he could had the lot elected him there on the spot. But wasn't Jesus already the chosen victim of the scheming twelve who were sick of him? According to my reconstruction of the anointing scene, yes. But as Girard is the first to admit, the same originary event leaves its traces in many and various myths. As de Maupassant observed, it is difficult to keep one's deceptions consistent with one another. And here in the dipping in the dish scene I am wagering that what we have is another version of the story in which mimetic rivalries have developed between the disciples themselves as well as between them and Jesus. In all the bickering over which was the greatest, one might as easily point to James and John (Mark 10:41) as the lightning rods of controversy (Mark 3:17), and thus the best choices for elimination (Mark 10:39). But then there was Peter with his tiresome claims to primacy. Best to cast out some scorner so dissension would go out. At the very least it ought to provide a deterrent to further arguing! People still remembered the story of Korah (Numbers 16; Jude 11), after all, but maybe they needed a reminder.
It turns out to be Jesus, as he discovers too late in the Garden. "Friend, why have you come?" (Matthew 26:50). Oh. That's why. Perhaps Judas himself did not know until that moment. "The one I kiss is the man; seize him" (Matthew 26:48). As many exegetes have noticed over the years, it makes no sense at all to suppose that the guards have come to arrest Jesus not knowing what he looks like! The whole reason for the clandestine arrest is supposed to be that Jesus is so popular that everyone knows him! Maccoby takes this incongruity to denote the later and superfluous addition of Judas to a scene in which originally he did not figure. Likely enough. But it could also be that the authorities simply want to make an example of someone, and the choice is up to Judas, who can make no choice till the moment comes. When it does, he kisses Jesus, pretty much at random, and the matter is settled.
Why then does the canonical version have both the death of Jesus and the role of Judas in bringing it about preordained, locked into a divine plan? "The original act of violence is unique and spontaneous. Ritual sacrifices, however, are multiple, endlessly repeated. All those aspects of the original act that had escaped man's control--the choice of time and place, the selection of the victim--are now premeditated and fixed by custom" (Girard, 1972, 102). In precisely the same way, the liturgical recitation of the Passion of Jesus came to have a preordained character since everyone already knew what happened, and this expectation entered the story itself, making all the events part of a divine script, both within and without the narrative world.
Messiahs by the Sackful
Medieval Muslim commentators on the Passion of Jesus, which they understood in a docetic framework, had their own clever explanation as to why Judas had to tell the guards which of these men was the notorious Jesus. As soon as Judas and his goon squad arrived, Allah transformed all the disciples into the physical likeness of Jesus! Thus the need to ask, "Will the real Jesus please stand up?" In the confusion, Jesus himself ascended into heaven, leaving only a choice among counterfeits. And it was one of them, in some versions Judas himself, who wound up on the cross (Robertson, 127). What is interesting about this version from a Girardian standpoint is that it provides an unparalleled example of the mythic concretization of mimetic doubles into literal, physical doubles, and on a large scale. "If violence is a great leveler of men and everybody becomes the double, or 'twin,' of his antagonist, it seems to follow that all the all the doubles are identical and that any one can at any given moment become the double of all the others" (Girard, 1972, 79). "According to Freud, the crowd of doubles stands in absolute opposition to the absolute specificity of the hero" (Girard, 1972, 203), but Girard would modify this sketch at a significant point: the hero (actually, the victim) stands opposed to a crowd of doubles who are his own doubles as well, since in the crisis of reciprocal violence, all distinguishing marks have faded away. Girard prefers the formulation of Freud according to which we have "'A crowd of people all with the same name and similarly attired'" (Girard, 1972, 212). That is said strikingly well in the Islamic version of the arrest.
The End is Just a Little Harder When Brought About by Friends
But let us hypothesize another version of the arrest in the Garden in which no Judas figures. Judas, after all, would have to be a later addition, as a secondary scapegoat to shift the deicidal blame from the shoulders of the community as a whole. Suppose there was an earlier account in which the disciples simply turned on Jesus en masse, ambushing him as the Senators did Julius Caesar. Here we must take our hint from Girard's comparison of the Curetes myth with the myth of the infant Dionysus. The Curetes appear in the extant version as a phalanx of armed warriors forming a circle around the godling to protect him. But comparison with the Dionysus myth, in which the Titans close around Dionysus and dismember him, leads Girard to infer that originally the Curetes did the same. It was only later that the story was cleaned up by the simple expedient of making the Curetes Zeus' bodyguards instead of his assassins.
In the Gethsemane scene we have similar elements. Jesus is with a crowd, his disciples, at least some of whom are carrying weapons. Suddenly Jesus is menaced by a weapon-brandishing crowd. The only ones actually said to employ any weapons in the ensuing melee are Jesus' disciples. Jesus sees that resistance is futile and allows himself to be led away peaceably, though he is stung by the feeling of betrayal. Of course when we fill in specific details as the evangelists do, we see that the armed disciples only sought to protect Jesus from arrest by an invading second group. But perhaps that is not the only way to fill in the blanks.
Surprisingly little would change if the story were to be rewritten as that of Jesus' being ambushed and apprehended by his own disciples. And as a neo-Girardian, I am suggesting that the alteration went in the other direction. Attackers have been converted into protectors. In Matthew, Mark, and John, there is no preparation whatever for the sudden appearance of the disciples' swords. Presumably this would have fit better a version in which the weapons came as just as much a surprise to Jesus as to the reader. It would make more sense, then, for Jesus to say to the "crowd" of disciples, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me" (Mark 14:49). Matthew (26:55) has changed the crucial phrase to "Day after day I sat in the temple teaching," which seems to mean merely "You knew where to find me." Perhaps Matthew realized Mark's text could be read as meaning something else, something he did not like.
If we picture the group of disciples as the murderers of Jesus, as I believe consistent Girardian exegesis would require, then must we write off the series of trials before the Sanhedrin and Pilate as forming no part of the original? Not quite. As for Jesus' trial (or hearing, or interrogation) before the Sanhedrin, it bears clear marks of having been, not invented, but transformed. Most likely, playing by Girardian rules, the group before whom Jesus is brought is once again his own disciples. For one thing, this would at a single stroke rid us of the vexing problem of the Sanhedrin holding a capital trial on Passover eve, an incongruity that already has many scholars willing to dismiss the whole scene as mud-slinging fiction anyway.
Is the role of the chief villain Caiaphas a complete fiction, too? Again, no. His priestly miter is on the wrong head, though. His vestments do not quite fit their wearer, any more than Saul's armor fit David. If we lift the turban from over the concealed brows, we recognize a familiar face, for "Caiaphas," at least here, is yet another double of "Cephas," Simon Peter, binding and loosing as he sees fit. The "real" Peter, the Simon Peter persona, who from the standpoint of a later piety cannot be imagined leading a drumhead court marshal against the Christ, is nonetheless on the scene. He has been moved from center stage, but not very far! We find him only a few yards away, in the high priest's courtyard. But even there he is an understudy, playing essentially the same role, only toned down. He is still among the "wrong crowd," (and this much, of course, Girard does see, in The Scapegoat, chapter 12). Eric Auerbach, in Mimesis, urged us to draw the contrast between Jesus on trial inside and Peter on trial (though in a lower court!) outside. But I am urging a comparison between Caiaphas inside and Cephas outside. Just as Caiaphas condemns Jesus to death, so does Cephas: "I do not know the man!" Do we not here catch an echo of Jesus' own sentence of doom upon his enemies? "Depart from me; ye cursed; I never knew you!"
John, trying to supply some narrative verisimilitude, has Peter admitted to the priestly quarters by the Beloved Disciple because the latter is known to the high priest. "It's okay; he's with me." What on earth is going on here? Anyone is going to have to strain pretty far to catch this fly ball! C.S. Griffin even identified the Beloved Disciple as Judas himself (Judas Iscariot, the Author of the Fourth Gospel, 1892, in Maccoby 1992, 138; also Kermode, 91-92)! That would certainly explain the Beloved Disciple's chumminess with the powers that be. But through Girardian lenses, we can spot another intriguing possibility. The detail of the Beloved Disciple whispering to the bouncer is a vestige of the earlier version in which this disciple, simply as a disciple, belonged to the group before whom Jesus was being tried, because he was being brought before the disciples!
Similarly, recall how Matthew and John make Joseph of Arimathea a secret disciple of Jesus, John adding Nicodemus to the list. Of course the two evangelists are trying to make sense of what seems to them a contradiction: how could the man anxious to see Jesus properly buried be a member of the group that condemned him? But the incongruity arose only once that group was transformed from the disciples into the Sanhedrin. According to the scapegoat theory, it is quite natural that the crowd of murderers should come to take a more sympathetic view of the scapegoat after his death, since his death did heal their divisions. Joseph was another vestige of the stage when the killers were the disciples. His name even recalls that of another famous biblical scapegoat betrayed by his (nearly a) dozen brethren.
When Jesus is libeled by "false witnesses" who claim they heard him threaten to destroy the temple, most scholars already see something amiss. As noted above, this feature is widely recognized as an attempt to defuse an apologetical bomb. To use Crossan's felicitous term, it is "damage control." Jesus must have said something of the kind, though Christians soon came to wish he hadn't. Or at least they were chagrined that earlier Christians had made Jesus appear to say it. I am suggesting that originally the scene showed the disciples themselves bringing Jesus' words back to haunt him. His words are returning to him worse than void. (Paul also raises the theoretical possibility of apostles being "false witnesses" in1 Corinthians 15:15. In the case of the Pillars, he seems to have deemed it no mere theoretical possibility!)
To these accusations Jesus replies, "Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them. They know what I said" (John 18:21). Presumably they are present to be asked, but not the way the scene reads now. It may once have read differently. Similarly, when Jesus answers the inquisitor's question "Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?" and he answers, "You say that I am," is it possible he is answering Peter, who indeed did say so, back at Caesarea Philippi? That might make more sense than the mess exegesis usually makes of Jesus' answer.
When we read in Mark 14:64 that "they all condemned him as deserving death," I take it to mean all the disciples, and for the reason Girard gives: the murder must be agreed to by all. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Gentlemen, if we do not hang together, we shall all most assuredly hang separately." (Or was that a community formation? Of course it was: that's the whole point!). Mark, a later reteller of the tale, tries to get the disciples off stage before the Sanhedrin scene can begin. He softens "They all condemned him as deserving death" to "They all forsook him and fled" (Mark 14:50), but "they" were simply actors running for their dressing rooms to change for the next scene. And of course he has attributed the condemnation to the disciples' "monstrous doubles," the Sanhedrin. It is the disciples who condemned, and who mocked and beat Jesus (Mark 14:65). The irony is all the more poignant if it his erstwhile disciples who mock his prophetic abilities and who "received him" (cf. John 1:12)--with their fists.
Was there a second trial, before Pilate? Probably not. As many have noted, the trial as depicted in the gospels is pretty much a doublet of the Sanhedrin trial, and the beating by the guards is the same. So it all reduces to the kangaroo court of the disciples. As outrageous as a neo-Girardian account may seem, remember that the Pilate passages seem to many scholars to invite radical surgery just as urgently as the Sanhedrin texts. If it is hard to imagine the Sanhedrin holding a trial on the eve of Passover, is it any more likely for Pontius Pilate to lift a finger to try to save Jesus, much less to let Barabbas, a known insurrectionist, go free?
And that is far from the only problem. Behind the Gospel of Peter and Luke's special Passion material there seems to lie an independent tradition that ascribed the condemnation and execution not to Pilate, but to Herod Antipas. (Talmudic tradition even associates the death of Jesus with Alexander Jannaeus!) If the simple fact of the matter were that Jesus had died at Pilate's command, how could such a confusion ever have arisen? Perhaps the story began with something as vague as the statement of
1 Corinthians 2:8 according to which "the rulers of this world" put Jesus to death. Or perhaps it began with the disciples doing him in! In any case, it may begin to look like the place of Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate in the Passion is no more secure than that of Herod the Great and Quirinius in the Nativity.
It is common to suggest that the blame for Jesus' death has been passed from the Romans, whom Christians thought it best not to offend, to the Jews. But scholars are finding it increasingly difficult to produce a plausible reason that either Jewish or Roman authorities should have wanted Jesus dead. Perhaps that is because neither of them did. The Romans may as easily have been the secondary scapegoat used by early Christians to shift the blame from themselves. And that should come as no surprise, the scapegoat game being what it is. Girard remarks that "there is reason to believe that the wars described as 'foreign wars' in the mythic narratives were in fact formerly civil strifes. There are many tales that tell of two warring cities or nations, in principle independent of one another--Thebes and Argos, Rome and Alba, Hellas and Troy--whose conflicts bring to the surface so many elements pertaining directly to the sacrificial crisis and to its violent resolution that it is hard not to view these stories as mythic elaborations of this same crisis, presented in terms of a 'fictive' foreign threat" (1972, 249). I suspect that the presence of Roman authority in the Passion is a mythic cover-up of precisely this kind.
Better Him Than Me
The Barabbas incident, however, demands separate treatment. It does not stand or fall with Pilate's involvement. Hyam Maccoby's reconstruction of the scene, however, does involve Pilate. Maccoby ventures that an earlier version of the story depicted not a weak and vacillating Pilate, trying to pass the buck, but rather a cruel Roman such as we know Pilate to have been. He did not offer a choice to the crowd but only rejected their pleadings--for the release of Jesus! This was in the days before Christians chose Jews to take the blame for Jesus' death. Once Jews were retroactively drafted as Christ-killers, however, the story could not be left showing Jews in a sympathetic light. The solution, Maccoby hypothesizes, was to bifurcate the Jesus character into Jesus the Nazarene and Jesus Barabbas, and to have the Jews ask for the release of the wrong one. The original identity of the two Jesuses is broadly hinted, again, in the coincidence of the two names. In some Old Latin manuscripts, translated from earlier Greek originals than we possess, Barabbas appears in Matthew 27:16, 18 as "Jesus Barabbas," and so the New English Bible renders it. And of course, "Bar-Abbas" looks suspiciously like "Son of the Father."
But there are other possibilities which present themselves once we dissolve the historical character of Barabbas. We would have to ask, on Maccoby's reading, why the "wrong" Jesus is still "Jesus the Son of the Father." This is still too close. Is it possible to take the text as an early piece of docetism? Could it have meant that the right Jesus escaped crucifixion? The result is not too far from the Christian traditions reported by Ibn Ishaq. But then why would the "wrong" Jesus still be called "the Christ?" Note that Pilate refers to him in Matthew 27:17, 22 as "Jesus who is called Christ," a term that admits of some ambiguity, reminiscent of Josephus' reference to "Jesus the so-called Christ," or of Luke 3:23, "the son, as was supposed, of Joseph," or Romans 8:3, "sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh." Perhaps this means the same thing the Koran says: "They did not kill him and they did not crucify him but a semblance was made to them" (4:157).
Docetic interpretations of this sort are by no means incompatible with the Girardian perspective. The extant version of the myth of Zeus and the Curetes seems to have undone the death of the god featured in the hypothesized earlier version. Compared with a version of the Akedah Isaac hypothesized by several scholars (Bin Gorion, Sinai und Garazim, 1926, in Maccoby, 1982, 74-86; Spiegel, 57), in which Isaac actually died and was raised, the present canonical version of Genesis 22 would also qualify as a docetic rewrite in order to protect the sensibilities of later readers.
But there are a couple of other elements in the Barabbas story suggesting a different neo-Girardian version. One is the clear depiction of a crowd howling for the blood of Jesus. Where such a scene meets us, a scapegoat reading cannot be far behind. Maccoby rightly says that later Christians could not brook a scene where Jews clamored for the release of Jesus. My own suggestion that the story depicted Jesus' own disciples calling for his death (whether from Pilate or not) seems equally hard to accept, though for different reasons--except that this has been the traditional reading until recently! Most readers have always understood the ugly crowd at the Praetorium to be the same crowd who had hailed Jesus at his entrance to the city only days before. And this was, as the Gospels clearly state, a group of disciples and admirers of Jesus. "Ecumenically correct" exegesis has recently wanted to see the crowd as an unruly bunch of local pool-hall rowdies and hooligans ("base fellows," Judges 19:22) in an attempt to distance this crowd from Jews or Jerusalemites in general, so as to shield the latter from Matthew's chilling imprecation in 27:25. (Whether this maneuver is motivated by interfaith sensitivity or by face-saving apologetics, I will leave the reader to decide.) Girard himself identifies the Praetorium crowd with that in the Triumphal Entry, but he does not make the final step: it was Jesus' own disciples who put him to death.
The element that Jesus had been "delivered up out of envy" (Mark 15:10) also has Girardian resonances of mimetic desire. Suppose we try one of Girard's reversals and posit that in the earlier version the choice being made here was not which will live, but rather which will die. And was the choice originally between only two candidates? Not necessarily. The two Jesuses, remember, are mimetic twins, mythic ciphers for a condition where, things having degenerated to a spiral of reciprocal violence, everyone is everyone else's twin. The victim might as well be anyone, chosen from the whole group. "Everything suggests a crowd whose intentions were initially pacific [as on Palm Sunday-RMP]; a disorganized mob that for unknown reasons (of no real importance to our argument) came to a high pitch of mass hysteria. The crowd finally hurled itself on one individual; even though he had no particular qualifications for this role [i.e., was no more guilty than anyone else], he served to polarize all the fears, anxieties, and hostilities of the crowd. His violent death provided the necessary outlet for the mass anguish, and restored peace" (Girard, 1972, 131).
King for a Day
It is in the scene of the mock coronation and veneration of Jesus, and his shameful display before the crowd, that scholars have seen the clearest evidence of Jesus' death as a ritual scapegoat. In the Roman Saturnalia as in the Babylonia Sacaea (and many other such rites all over the world, as Frazer and Girard describe) someone, often a condemned criminal, is chosen to be wined and dined, waited on and honored, as King of the Wood, King of Fools, etc. After this, he is summarily executed. Girard rejects Frazer's theory that such "corn kings" were meant to mime the passing of the seasons. This imagery did admittedly enter the picture later, as a secondary association, but, Girard says, the origin of the ceremony must have been the act of generative violence, the collective murder of the scapegoat. This is the only way to explain the unique ambivalence of these rites. Why is the mock king venerated as sacred and yet reviled as a criminal and unclean? Girard explains: "the king is both very 'bad' and extremely 'good'; the historical alternation of violence and peace is transferred from time to space" (1972, 268). That is, the ritual mock king stands for the ancient scapegoat who was regarded simply as a villain at first, and shown no honors, and subsequently venerated posthumously. And just as the slain scapegoat is retrospectively understood as a martyred savior, the later mock king ritual cannot help but view the whole story of the scapegoat retrospectively. Thus they already treat the scapegoat-surrogate with a measure of reverence "up front," before they kill him. Kill him they must, but this time they know who it is they are about to kill.
Now how are we to relate the mock king rites to the mockery of the thorn-crowned Jesus? There are a few options, each with different implications. If we remained blissfully ignorant of the various history-of-religions parallels, we might be satisfied to take the Gospels at face value: Jesus has absurdly claimed to be king, and the rowdy guards mean to show him his folly. But the close resemblance of the Gospel Passion to the parallels makes this too simple. Are they just coincidence? The mockery of a poor man with delusions of royalty is not unattested. In fact, some source or earlier version of Luke seems to be quoting verbatim from Diodorus Siculus (34:2, 5-8), who has a character mocking a slave with royal pretensions: "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." But there is no elaborate mock king charade here.
Not even Philo's account of the mock king Carabas (Against Flaccus VI.36-39) helps here. "There was a certain madman named Carabas..., the sport of idle children and wanton youths; and they [the Alexandrian mob], driving the poor wretch as far as the public gymnasium, and setting him up there on high that he might be seen by everybody, flattened out a leaf of papyrus and put it on his head instead of a diadem, and clothed the rest of his body with a common door mat instead of a cloak and instead of a scepter they put in his hand a small stick of ... papyrus... and when he had been... adorned like a king, the young men bearing sticks on their shoulders stood on each side of him instead of spear bearers..., and then others came up, some as if to salute him, and others as though they wished to plead their causes before him... Then from the multitude... there arose a... shout of men calling out 'Maris!'. And this is the name by which it is said that they call the kings among the Syrians; for they knew that Agrippa was by birth a Syrian, and also that he was possessed of a great district of Syria of which he was the sovereign."
Insofar as this rowdy display seems to be a spontaneous prank, like that of Jesus' Roman mockers on the traditional reading, it happens not to be directed at any royal claims of poor Carabas himself, for he made none, but at the actual kingship, just created by Caligula, of Herod Agrippa I. The crowd staged this embarrassment for the benefit of Agrippa who was on his way through Alexandria at the time. And, of course, Carabas was not killed. Had Jesus' mockery been parallel to that of Carabas, we should expect the Roman legionaries to have displayed him brazenly before Herod Antipas, whom Luke does place in Jerusalem at the time, to mock him. But nothing is said of this.
If one seizes on the eerie similarity of the name Carabas to that of Barabbas, as some have understandably done, then the only conclusion is that they represent two local variants of the title always given to a mock king in one of those rituals, and that brings us to the next option. Paul Wendland and Sir James Frazer speculated that the Gospel account is substantially accurate, and (implicitly) that Jesus was simply the poor joker pressed into service to play the mock king in a barracks Saturnalia party or to impersonate Hamaan in a hypothetical Purim adaptation of the Babylonian Sacaea festival. Though Christian apologists have bristled over this identification, it is at first hard to see why. One would think the whole argument a member of the same species as that which tries to vindicate Matthew's accuracy by demonstrating that the Bethlehem star was really a supernova or a planetary alignment. The theory would seem only to add historical plausibility to the Gospel accounts by providing both historical parallels and a sensible motivation for the soldiers' action. In fact, for some reason not explained very well, Girard himself disdained Frazer's view at least partly because it implied the Passion accounts were first-hand testimony (1978, 169)! What is so disturbing here?
I suspect the problem is that in this case apologists could no longer argue, as Nils Dahl did (25-26), that Jesus must have claimed (at least implicitly) to be the Messiah or he never would have been executed as "king of the Jews." But on the Frazer/Wendland theory, Jesus' death as a mock king would imply nothing at all about any Messianic claims of Jesus. The royalty business would simply be a function of the cruel ritual in which he had been forced to participate. Why would this make any difference to Girard either way? Because if Jesus had merely been forced to play a role in a traditional ritual, this would seem to compromise the picture of his death as that of a scapegoat. Girard agrees Jesus was put to death as a scapegoat; he claims, however, that the Gospels do not accept the scapegoat mechanism but rather expose it. The problem is that the mock king ritual is too far removed from the original scapegoating act it commemorates. Its mock king is merely playing the dramatic role of the scapegoat of the past. His own death is not that of an actual scapegoat. Rather, it is the "managed violence" or "sacred," "good violence" of the sacrificial system founded on the originary violence of long ago. And Girard wants Jesus himself to have died as a scapegoat, not just playing one.
Girard's view would not exclude the possibility that Jesus actually did die at a time of sacrificial crisis, but that the Gospel accounts stem from a subsequent Christian ritual transformation, a Christian mock king ritual. But there would appear to be no reason to think Christians ever practiced repeated rites of human sacrifice--other than symbolically in the eucharist, which involves no mock king element. Even the later liturgical Passion Plays provide no help, since they are simply dramatizations of the supposed events of the Passion, including the mockery as king of the Jews; that is, they already presuppose the transformation of Jesus' scapegoat death into its disguised form. They do nothing to effect that transformation.
Is there another option? Some of Frazer's contemporary critics reacted to his speculations a bit too vehemently, apparently confusing his ideas with those of the Christ-Myth school. To this Frazer responded thusly: "The doubts which have been cast on the historical reality of Jesus are in my judgment unworthy of serious attention" (Downie, 54). But it might not be so outrageous to link Girard's theory to the Christ-Myth theory. Girard is happy to cite and to interpret the most ancient and fantastic myths (and the tragedies based on them) as dim reflections of actual scapegoat incidents. He does not for a minute suppose that there was a historical Pentheus, Balder, Oedipus, Romulus, Dionysus, or Zeus lying behind the myths, only that these myths (and dramas) stem ultimately from real events about which we can no longer know anything specific. I am trying to treat the Gospels as Girard treats these other sources, especially the dramas. These attempted to rehistoricize their mythic sources in order to provide verisimilitude by showing the kind of thing that might have happened, drawing on the customs of their own day. Just as Girard imagines that Sophocles may have adapted elements of Athenian pharmakos rites to flesh out his Oedipus cycle, the evangelists may be imagined to have borrowed details of current Saturnalia rites to embellish a myth of Jesus the scapegoat savior, since the rite would be known to their readers and was at least the same kind of thing. Thus it would have lent a measure of verisimilitude to the dramatized myth.
I should imagine that for the purposes of Girard's methodology, it hardly matters whether there had been a historical Jesus any more than there had been a historical Oedipus. I am not even sure that Girard's actual views of the Gospels as a revelation of the scapegoat mechanism (not, as I argue, an example of it) would require a historical Jesus, even though Girard everywhere speaks of Jesus himself as the revealer. I suppose a fictional expose of the scapegoating mechanism would be as genuine a revelation as a historically based one. He says "the revelation of the founding victim was first achieved in this text" (1978, 443, emphasis mine).
Baptized in the River Lethe
Girard talks quite a bit about the willful forgetting on which sacrificial religion is built, the suppression of the originary violence done to the scapegoat. He claims that the Gospels have at last revealed the ruse, that "to this day... that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away" (2 Corinthians 3:14). And yet it seems to me that Girard himself is guilty of trying to draw the veil back over the corpse of the scapegoat, after having stripped it off for a moment, in that he will not see how the Gospels embody the scapegoating mechanism instead of exposing and exploding it. Indeed, the religion of the Cross and the brutalized victim would seem to be the ultimate epitome and triumph of what Harry Emerson Fosdick once called "the butcher shop religion of the fundamentalists." And to pervert the scapegoat theory into an apologetic for the very thing it tries to expose is a tragic irony indeed. One might compare Girard with a man who found himself dizzy, teetering on the edge of the yawning abyss he has uncovered, and then carefully backing away. He claimed to have found the abyss and could even point out the location, but as he had been careful to draw the lid back over it, he had made it once again impossible to see--until one fell into it unsuspectingly, as people had for many centuries.
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By Robert M. Price