Three Versions of Judas

Short story by Jorge Luis Borges

"Three versions of Judas" (original Spanish title: "Tres versiones de Judas") is a short story by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. It was included in Borges' anthology, Ficciones, published in 1944. Like several other Borges stories, it is written in the form of a scholarly article. The story carries three footnotes and quotes many people, some of which are real (like Antônio Conselheiro), some have been concocted from real life (like Maurice Abramowicz, who was once his classmate, and later became a deputy for the Swiss communist party, but is made a French religious philosopher in the story) and some are completely fictitious (like Jaromir Hladík, who is a character from his own story "The Secret Miracle").

The story is similar in theme and subject to the subsequent short story "The Sect of the Phoenix".


Plot summary

The story begins as a critical analysis of works of a fictitious writer Nils Runeberg. Nils Runeberg lives in the city of Lund, where he publishes two books: Kristus och Judas (1904) and his magnum opus Den hemlige Frälsaren (1909) . Borges analyses these two works (three if the revised edition of Kristus och Judas is counted separately) and discusses their heretical conclusions without providing the "dialectic or his (Nils Runeberg) proofs". The story ends with the death of Nils Runeberg. He dies a death of anonymity which was undeserved considering the controversial nature of his texts.

The three versions of Judas

Borges' fictitious writer Nils Runeberg presents to the world three versions of Judas Iscariot using his two books.

  • In the first version of Kristus och Judas, Runeberg says that it was Judas who was the reflection of Jesus in the human world, and as Jesus was our savior sent from heaven, Judas took up the onus of being the human who led Jesus down the path of redemption.
  • Amid extreme criticism in the story, Runeberg is forced to rewrite his book. In the second revision of Kristus och Judas, Nils changes his arguments and claims that Judas sacrificed the most. In Borges' own words, "The ascetic, for the greater glory of God, degrades and mortifies the flesh; Judas did the same with the spirit. He renounced honour, good, peace, the Kingdom of Heaven, as others, less heroically, renounced pleasure He thought that happiness, like good, is a divine attribute and not to be usurped by men."
  • In his final book Den hemlige Frälsaren, Runeberg comes up with the argument that as God in human shape would be "made totally man, but man to the point of iniquity", committing a sin would also not be beyond Him. More importantly, Runeberg states that a sacrifice limited to only one afternoon on the cross does not compare with the sacrifice of accepting shame and revulsion for the rest of history. Thereby, Runeberg concludes finally that He chose Judas as his incarnation. "God became... more
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