Everyday epiphanies from Milton's Eden and beyond

Judas-NOOO! (R.I.P. Vine)

Something that really struck me in Book X was Milton going out of his way to explain that the serpent is innocent:

Are to behold the Judgement, but the judg’d,

Those two; the third best absent is condemn’d,

Convict by flight, and Rebel to all Law

Conviction to the Serpent none belongs (81-84).

It seems pretty obvious that the physical serpent played no role in the temptation of Eve but that it was Satan who possessed him who takes the blame. However, I’m wondering if/how this speaks into the common interpretation of Judas the Iscariot and his betrayal of Jesus. The gospels say that “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27) much like we see Satan entering the serpent in Paradise Lost, but we see Judas feel terrible about what he has done and eventually commit suicide from the agony. It is commonly accepted that while Satan was guiding Judas to sell Jesus off to the Romans for His crucifixion, he is ultimately responsible for the decision and will be judged accordingly.

This now goes into the territory of free will vs. predestination, but what I’m really asking is what warrants judgement; is it because the serpent is an animal that it has no control or responsibility as opposed to Judas who is a rational being with a soul? It makes sense, but just how much Judas was able to resist Satan despite the possession is something I’ve always wondered.

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4 Comments

  1. The idea of Judas’ predestination and complex role that he plays in the death of Jesus (thereby carrying out a sacrifice which we led to believe must occur). Hyam Maccoby in his book “Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil“ uses the anthropological phrase of a “Sacred Executioner” to describe this role that an individual plays in religions which is simultaneously understood as the will of God(s) and denigrated

  2. This brings up an interesting point, why did the serpent get punished? God being an all powerful being and such, I would have to imagine punishing Satan was not outside the reach of his power, so why did he just punish the snake instead?

  3. These are intriguing questions (also I for sure clicked on this post because I love this vine). I think you are coming close to the answer when you suggested perhaps its the matter of animal without a soul versus human with soul and rational mind. My guess is that Milton believed humans have a certain “freeness” to them and as the frequent quoted sections states a, “sufficiency to have stood”, ie., as you suggest, the rational to keep them afloat. Now this seems confusing because if they were sufficient to have stood, if Judas as the example you gave was sufficient to have resisted temptation, why was he so easily fooled by satan. Now perhaps what we need to draw the line between is temptation versus possession. We know falling into temptation leads to, well, a fall, but does a full on possession result in the same.

  4. I think this is a really good point! I feel like your comparison especially is very apt. I’m inclined to believe that Milton was simply kinda “stuck” with the Bible’s depiction of the Fall, and really didn’t have a great way to reconcile this detail with the rest of his world, so he just didn’t elaborate on it much. That said, I feel like it is a really interesting exercise in thought to try and find a way to fit it into the religious and philosophical paradigm that Milton crafted in the epic. I think I might expand my thoughts on that in my blog post actually. This is a really excellent post, as always.

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