“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders”
Matthew 27:3

Rembrandt van Rijn, “Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver”, 1629

May be, because we live in an epoch of money-monarchy where the alchemy humans practice transforms life into money, some of us are inclined to be critical of the financial totalitarianism and even feel a slight skepticism about Matthew’s 27:3 story. Of course, this skepticism in no way means that it is possible to doubt the Matthew’s truth. The doubt can be related only to the importance of the returning of the money. First of all, Judas “ saw, that he was condemned, and he didn’t want to be hated by the people and, god forbid, to lose eternal life and so on, and for this “noble” reason decided “to restore back the benefits from God. Secondly, for people who as we see today “making business” all the times risk is part of the game – “Today I won, tomorrow I lost and day after tomorrow I will try to win again!”, etc. That’s how some people have always lived and especially today much more people live like this with much more intense, insistent and “productive” dedication.) In this sense Judas is far from being original. Manipulation of people and circumstances through money always includes betrayal of somebody.

And still, the reality is reality and to return thirty pieces of silver is, indeed, not easy. Observing today’s people making life through making money (as if permanently buying their living, every day, every hour, every minute) we understand the predicament of Judas – his sweet hopes and its catastrophe and his acceptance of the inevitability of losing money for the sake of larger/bigger benefits – there is Eternity – yes, life sometimes is very tough.

Triviality of Judas’ behavior is the point here – betrayal for the sake of self-enrichment and courageous and shame-eating decision to return the money (for the sake of his own benefit again) makes the whole event not interesting enough. The semantic punctum is that the return of money is even worse than the getting it. It’s like the second of two betrayals – this time it’s betrayal of his chance of becoming rich. Two betrayals do not work against one another, to the contrary, they add to each other. Judas ends with being judged as a double betrayer – of the sacred belief and the importance (for many people – “sacredness” of self-enrichment). In other words, Judas is left with nothing. Of course, somebody will say that he returned himself eternity. But what kind of eternity can it be for Judas? Just to sit and think about his two betrayals. Today, for example, nobody will be left with such an idiotic result. Modern billionaires always will be left with financial eternity (Watch Fassbinder’s “The Third Generation”).

Rembrandt van Rijn, “Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver”, 1629

May be, the reason that the sketch “Judas Returning…” (The first picture above) seems so inarticulate and so not clear – is that Rembrandt was a bit lost in its meaning. But in his painting (the second picture immediately above) certainty of the situation, it seems, is related to the realistic depiction of the characters and not because of what’s going on. The “High Priest” is pompous and proud of himself in both works – the sketch and the painting. But in the painting the entourage of the rabbis is, as if, confused and behave as if they want to stop Judas from returning the reward-money. It appears that they don’t feel themselves completely comfortable – they, probably, prefer Judas to feel completely responsible for Christ’s Crucifixion (to stay with/hang on to the money). Perhaps, they are now discussing that it’s too late and impossible to change the result and to accept money back. Indeed, it’s logically impossible for them to agree to repossess the money. History is not a playmate. History is playful, but it’s final. History is changeable because its steps change the reality. But it’s final because with its each step the very direction of history has been changed. Judas can return the money, but the priests cannot refuse it – they are doomed forever to keep it. Even if they throw Judas out of gates, even if they spank him or throw the money back at him history will say that he returned it.

Judas is… ahead of the “priests”. He has his will though it won’t change much for him. But they don’t have a will about what’s happened, because they are murderers, while Judas is just a betrayer. But look how arrogantly monumental are the posture of Chief Priest’s head and expression of his face. Among the other priests pretty busy with their self-aggrandizement the Priest of the priests is the most super-human. In comparison with him Judas’s final and painful humility makes him a repented sinner – just a human being.

Rembrandt (1606-1669) was only 23 when he made his sketch and painting on the topic.

Note: In the sketch (the first picture) Rembrandt has drawn a lot of impressive and sometimes controversial details, but their analysis will demand special effort in future.