(Eleanor Parker) On ‘Spy Wednesday’ of Holy Week, a 13th-century English poem with an unusual story about Judas’ betrayal

The Wednesday of Holy Week, sometimes called ‘Spy Wednesday’, is traditionally considered to be the day on which Judas went to betray Christ for thirty pieces of silver. There’s a fascinating Middle English poem about Judas’ betrayal, dating to the end of the thirteenth century, which gives us an unusual take on the story: Judas is forced into betraying Christ to regain money which has been stolen from him.

The poem tells how Judas is sent by Jesus to buy food for the apostles with thirty pieces of silver, but on the way he meets his sister, who berates him for supporting a false prophet. She lulls him to sleep, and when he wakes up the silver has been stolen. Judas, in despair at having lost the money Jesus entrusted to him, is taken before Pilate, who asks him what it will take to make him betray his lord. Judas says he will never betray Christ, except to regain the thirty pieces of silver. The poem doesn’t tell us what happens next – a very pregnant pause – but the scene cuts to Christ and the apostles dining together. Christ tells them that one of them has betrayed him, and Judas denies it. Peter speaks up to deny it too, but Christ tells him “Peter, I know you well; you will forsake me three times before the cock crows”.

Read it all and make sure to read and ponder the translation of the poem.

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Posted in Church History, Holy Week, Poetry & Literature, Theology

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