Cahiers du Cercle Ernest Renan, no. 11 (1956)
Edited and translated from the French by R. Salm (April, 2012)
Note: Bracketed editorial additions are in green and signed “R.S.”
Who was the disciple of Beelzebul?
From the foregoing, it is not surprising that the doctors and Levites of Jerusalem suspected that this prophet Jesus—either a Samaritan or a friend of the Samaritans—was an heretic. Scribes and Pharisees accuse him of exorcising demons because he is in league with the prince of demons, Beelzebul (Mk 3:22; Mt 9:34; 12:24), and they say that Jesus is himself Beelzebul (Mt 10:25). Even Jesus’ own family accused him of being out of his mind (Mk 3:21).
In replying (v. 24) “How can Satan drive out Satan?” Jesus shows that he knew perfectly well who his adversaries took him for: he was possessed by Beelzebul; he was even Satan personified.
According to the gospels, then, the devil apparently exercised great influence over Jesus! When the Beloved Disciple asked Jesus “Who is it” who would betray him (Jn 13:25), Jesus replied, “It is he to whom I shall give a morsel when I have dipped it.” Then, dipping a morsel, he gave it to Judas. Immediately after Judas received the morsel, Satan entered him.
At the turn of the era no one doubted that the devil could enter one’s body. One of Jesus’ primary occupations consisted precisely in exorcising those who were possessed. The devil took hold of people in various ways, notably by way of food. One could be sure of this when eating food consecrated to idols.
Hence, the scene which the Fourth Evangelist describes was not abnormal. What is surprising is that Jesus—whose daily task was to chase away demons—was himself the victim of a demon and, most of all, that he himself caused a demon to enter Judas, one of his disciples. Even if the text has been recast,6 it is necessary to determine the intention of the editor.
The devil entered Judas by way of the bread which was given to him by Jesus.7 Alarming as it is, the episode is entirely canonical. The gospels also reveal that Jesus consorted with those of low repute and that he ate with people of questionable integrity. [Mk 2:15-17; Lk 15: 1, etc.] Under these circumstances, is it not reasonable to hypothesize that the Last Supper at which Jesus presided was a meal with those of impure character, with pagans, that he was ‘at the table of demons’? We know from elsewhere that Peter “ate with the gentiles, but… he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision” (Gal 2:12). Peter was at the Last Supper but he would dissociate himself, deny Christ three times, and would not be with him during his master’s last hours. The Gospel of Matthew associates Satan with Peter, not with Judas.
We can understand Judas’ actions. His role was either primitively inspired by a myth, or it was purely a ritual requirement which must be subsequently excused. For how can we hold Judas accountable when Jesus himself placed the demon in him? When Judas was the instrument chosen to carry out a fore-ordained destiny? When at the very moment of betrayal Jesus calls Judas “friend” (Mt 26:50)—while he has just announced that Peter-Satan would deny him (Mt 16:23; 26:34)?
Jesus is often portrayed eating with pagans and, knowing this was considered heretical, he had only himself to blame. Jesus (as also Simon the Magician) had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and so he could sit at the same table as Simon the Magician [read: Simon Peter] and see himself reproached for eating the food of demons. That same reproach (participating in pagan meals) had been leveled against Simon the Magician [read: Simon Peter, Gal 2:12], against hellenist Christians, and against Paul.
One may suppose that preserved in this account is the vestige of an ancient polemic against the primitive gnostic and hellenist savior. Jesus became the victim of cosmic forces which he attempted to overcome, while Judas was given the task of handing him over after having been chosen for that mission and forced into it.
We have seen that Jesus was considered by some to be an adept of the demon Beelzebul. Now, Beelzebul was an ancient god of the Philistines and Canaanites. He was the god of Ekron (2 Kgs 1:2), where the Jews installed themselves after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. We may surmise, then, that this god was transformed into a devil by the partisans of Yahweh, and that Beelzebul had a place in the religious conceptions of Jesus—at least in the opinion of certain Jews.
It is not without interest to recall the actions of Elijah against the god Beelzebul. 1 Kgs 18 recounts how Elijah brought Ahab to the cult of Abraham’s god and how he made the prophets of Baal perish, bringing both rain and end of famine to the land of Samaria (1 Kgs 18:41-46).
The last disciples of Elijah did not think otherwise. Now, we cannot ignore that John the Baptist was considered by his disciples and by Jesus himself as Elijah returned to earth.8 The accusation that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebul conflicts with the tenet that Jesus was himself Elijah returned to earth [and gives ironic meaning to the question, “Can Satan cast out Satan?”—R.S.].
Another polemical passage (interpolated into the Gospel of Luke, 9:53-56) is similar. The corrector of the text wants to make the reader believe that certain Samaritans did not want to receive Jesus. James and John wanted to punish them by calling down fire from heaven as Elijah had done, but in this case it is the partisans of Elijah (that is, of the Christ) who are rejected by the Samaritans.9 Now, Epiphanius reports that there were four sects of Samaritans: Essenes, Sabeans, Gorotheans, and Dositheans.
6. “It is difficult to think that Judas was in attendance at the last supper… The primitive tradition knew only the announcement of the betrayal but not the name of the traitor… The Johannine account… is an ingenious combination…” (M. Goguel, Le quatrième Evangile. Paris: Leroux, 1933:333-34.)
7. This stunning view has, to my knowledge, never been announced before nor anywhere else. Yet it is entirely consistent with the facts as presented in the gospels. As usual, Ory’s analysis is at once profoundly radical and thoroughly scientific.—R.S.
8. See Ory’s remarkable essay, “Hypothesis regarding John the Baptist.” Ory, in fact, identifies the Baptist with Jesus. He writes, “There was only one person present at the baptism…” For Ory, “Jesus” was a spirit who entered the Baptist at baptism. The baptism itself is a euphemism for “enlightenment” in the gnostic sense. The spiritual rebirth of the Baptist took place at that time, which also marked the birth of “Jesus.” This is why the earliest texts (Gospels of Mark and John) lack Jesus’ childhood and adolescence—he was “born” at the time of John’s baptism. The moniker “John the Baptist” is itself a euphemism which Ory treats further in his aforementioned essay regarding John the Baptist.—R.S.
9. We here have evidence of a post-Jesus split within the Samaritan community. On the one hand, Jesus praised the Good Samaritan and may himself have been a Samaritan (see above). On the other hand, the gospel redactor, writing in II CE, portrays some Samaritans as rejecting Jesus and not wanting him to visit their territory.—R.S.