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The Passion according to Judas

The Passion according to Judas

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 15, 2006):
If there was anything of worth in all the discussion organized by the National Geographic Society for their release of their volumes and so forth on the newly available Gospel according to Judas, it was this:

A few scholars interviewed on various programs noted explicitly what has always been obvious at least to me, the near identity (not in English but most everywhere) of Judas and Judaeus.

One scholar yesterday quoted Augustine as having been the first to put it explicitly which he gave only in an English translation:

Augustine wrote that "Peter was the paradigmatic Christian while Judas was the paradigmatic Jew". Now of course in Latin this would come off as Judas was the paradigmatic Judaeus and who would fail to see the truth of that.

There was also, again good for the public, discussion of the vile depictions of Judas as Jew in Christian iconography through the ages.

Many have said that this whole Judas Gospel is a lot of irrelevancy. Perhaps and indeed the business of Gnostic Gospels and other writings has become a business but the concept of Christian Judenhass and its presence during this season made the numerous programs on this matter important in my opinion and I am not hopeful that they will in the long run do much to change the undoable.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 15, 2006):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] One question--does this have any bearing on the music???

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 15, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] On the Bach Passion absolutely yes. It is not my habit to post on offtopic matters.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 15, 2006):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] In what ways?

Alain Bruguieres wrote (April 15, 2006):
Thanks to Iman de Zwarte's precious indications I was able to listen to fragments of the Matthaeus Passion OVPP by Netherlands Bach Society. Fragments only for lack of time, if only I could record it for later use! (BTW does anyone know how to record the stream? - off list please if it's illegal!). Deeply moving performance. I also find it hard to believe that the choruses are only OVPP (or even TVPP...).

As for Yoël's remark, whenever I listen to 'Sind Blitze...' I have a strange feeling that Bach doesn't wholly adhere to the wrath expressed here.Almost all pieces in SMP (BWV 244) are very pathetic (making it much harder than usual to adopt a detatched, 'mathematical' point of view - although there's plenty of structure in there!) but the anger expressed against Judas sounds rather theatrical and not as much heart-felt as the rest. This is highly subjective, of course. Perhaps I'm simply not receptive to this feeling. Any opinions about that?

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 15, 2006):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] This is an extraordinarily complex and sensitive question which would require the expertise of historians and exegetes.

I would identify four strands to the question:

1) The Gospel Passion narratives in their historical context of the debate between First Century observant Jews and Jewish Christians.

2) The Patristic theological debates among 3rd - 5th century Christians and the subsequent sociological consequences.

3) The theological debate among Luther and his contemporaries and its relation to anti-Semitism in 16th - 18th Germany.

4) The literary structure of the libretto of the St. Matthew Passion and Bach's setting of it.

In reading earlier postings on this site, I would say that none of us has the expertise to bring a suitably scientific scholarship to bear on the first three strands. The best modern scholarship on 1) and 2) is Raymond Brown's "The Death of the Messiah". I would like to be advised on the best modern anaysis of 3).

I would suggest that we should restrict our discussion to 4), the internal relationship between biblical and poetic texts and their realization in musical form. Even this will require us to be exercise prudence and sensitivity in the way we formulate our postings.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (April 16, 2006):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
"Augustine wrote that "Peter was the paradigmatic Christian while Judas was the paradigmatic Jew". Now of course in Latin this would come off as Judas was the paradigmatic Judaeus and who would fail to see the truth of that."
As someone who is rather knowledgeable about Latin---I fail to understand how the statement that Augustine made would come off in Latin as the parpdimatic Judaeus.

Would you please give the original Latin statement?

Teddy Kaufman wrote (April 16, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< One question--does this have any bearing on the music??? >
As Yoel claimed- definitely yes.

The SJP (BWV 245) libretto could not be ignored in view of its anti semitic "flavors".

Personally, during the past 30 years enjoying JSB' both instrumental and vocal music- my approach has been to evaluate the music both for its musical qualities as well as understanding its background. To my mind,there is no way that Bach employed this libretto without accepting its content.

In this context, I wish to cite Michael Marissen (perspectives on the St. John Passion and the Jews -The Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies - ) as follows:

"Among Martin Luther's best-known writings today is his screed "On the Jews and Their Lies," from 1543. There Luther suggested sanctions for Jews who would not embrace his Christianity: burn their places of worship, destroy their homes, seize their prayer books and Talmudic writings, and finally expel them from areas of Europe. (Lutheran church bodies have officially repudiated Luther's anti-Jewish writings.)

"Now that Bach's indebtedness to Luther has come to be widely acknowledged, listeners could easily assume that Bach harbored hostility to Jews and, accordingly, that his music projects such hostility. Throw in his engagement with the Gospel of John, with its continual harping on "the Jews" as inimical to Jesus, his followers and truth in general, and one might reasonably wonder whether there is even room for discussion.

"Indeed, the debate surrounding Bach's St. John Passion has grown more heated in recent years: witness the media frenzy surrounding student objections to performances at Swarthmore College in1995, and by Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival.

"Many music lovers maintain that Bach's librettos can simply be ignored, that his vocal music is to be valued for its timeless, purely musical qualities (qualities that do in fact largely account for the repertory's wildly successful migration from the church to the concert hall). Devotees often go on to insist that Bach himself would have agreed with the notion that great music is best heard for its own sake.

"But Bach's job in Leipzig was to be a "musical preacher" for the city's main Lutheran churches. Before taking up his duties in 1723, he easily passed grueling examinations on theology and the Bible, administered by church authorities and the theological faculty of the University of Leipzig. It is worth noting in this connection that we have an estate list of titles from Bach's large personal library of Bible commentaries and sermons; Bach's own copy of the Calov Bible Commentary, with the composer's many handwritten entries, also survives.

"So we can be sure that in preparing his musical setting, Bach had a thorough knowledge of the Gospel of John and its Lutheran interpretation. His St. John Passion libretto consists of the Luther Bible's literal translation (from Greek into German) of John 18-19 in the form of recitatives and choruses, along with extensive commentary in the form of interspersed arias and hymns.
"John contains many references to "the Jews," and no attentive reader can fail to notice that they are overwhelmingly negative. In this Gospel, the cosmos is engaged in a battle. On one side, there are God the Father, Good, Heaven, Light, and Jesus and his followers. On the other, Satan, Evil, the World, Darkness and "the Jews" (the usual translation for John's "Ioudaioi"). Many dualisms of this sort are found in other contemporary religious writings, like the Dead Sea Scrolls."

"...In spite of John's notion that Jesus "is the lamb of God who takes away the world's sin" (1:29), and in spite of the Gospel's puns and their implications, the sad fact remains, as Samuel Sandmel observed in his book "A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament," that "in its utility for later Jew-haters, the Fourth Gospel is pre-eminent among the New Testament writings."

Unfortunately, I am conviced that even accepting the recently discovered "The passion according to Judas", it will not "in the long run do much to change the undoable" (Yoel).

Julian Mincham wrote (April 16, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
<< One question--does this have any bearing on the music??? >>
Teddy Kaufman wrote:
< As Yoel claimed- definitely yes. >
Teddy thanks for this response to my question (which was not judgmental--merely asking for information)

I think that I want to add something to what you have written--but I want to consider it a little more first.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 17, 2006):
Teddy Kaufman wrote:
".....Many music lovers maintain that Bach's librettos can simply be ignored"
In other words, the offensive bits in the Bible can be ignored!

It's certainly high time (but is it `doable'?) that a literal interpretation of the Bible, and all other religious texts, be consigned to history, as a `growth phase' of humanity, if you will. Why was it necessary (and still is, apparently) to deify Jesus, in order that his message might be heard? Was it because of the competition from pagan gods and philosophies, and in our time, from other religions? Is the message any less powerful, if the messenger is not God, or if the messenger is fallible, as in the case of Mahomet? The mystery of a loving God in an apparently God-forsaken universe is, after all, the important thing - a mystery which has inspired men to great art as manifested in, for example, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (a different religion), Amiens cathedral, and the SMP (BWV 244) and SJP (BWV 245) - trivializing the differing claims of competing religions, a competition that will by the way drive the currently economically and militarily inferior Islamic world to distraction, remembering Islam's great success in the early centuries of its mission. Within Christianity, the irony is that Arius and his followers probably had a firmer grip on reality, in the early years of the formulation of the Christian creed, than the eventually triumphant Nicene Creed, which emphasized Jesus as God, under the auspices of the emperor Constantine.

BTW, thanks for the link to the Vaughan Williams SMP (BWV 244). Listen to music example #20 (ie, click on the 20th pair of orange quavers) for an example of the variety of expression that a piano can bring to the secco recitatives. Not that this is necessarily my preferred realisation, just that we have a demonstration of the potential for an interesting musical presentation of the secco recitatives, for those listeners who are not prepared to accept historical practice as the only basis for a pleasing musical experience of these sections of the SMP (BWV 244). Also note the OVPP performance of one of the chorale settings!.

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 17, 2006):
[To Teddy Kaufman] I think that the list is well off if we do not investigate associated issues. The associated issues I refer to include 1:) anti-smeitism in the 20th Century; 2: anti-semitism inherent in Christianity as most recently pontificated by Professor Daniel Goldhagen; 3) Today's scholarship concerning the early Church (which has its critics of John); 4):Was Bach a religious clone of Luther.

Each of these subjects and things related require thought, empathy and knowledge. I rather like all of these qualities and I have seen them on this list. The subjects concerned, however, have always have a musical center. I hope things remain the same.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 17, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] I would like to suggest two further principles of which we should be aware of and sensitive to in our examination, judgement and assessment of past masterpieces.

The first is illustrated by a historical event I turned up when doing some research on radio comedy development some years ago. In 1931 (when the BBC was a mere 9 years old) it developed a discussion show about current events. Four men (typically!) were invited to discuss events and the proposal for the programme's title was 'Stag Party" Apparently this title was not permitted by the upper eschelons of the BBC--on the grounds, believe it or not, of its sexual innuendo. Stags, in the rutting season, indulge in sexual antics; and this was thought not to be an appropriate image to broadcast into genteel drawing rooms in 1931.

And yet--in the same year the most popular variety programme was called (apologies for use of an offensive term, but that is the precise point) 'The White Coon's Concert Party'

And not a single person complained about the use of such an offensive racial term!!

This indicates that over even relatively short periods sensibilities change radically and it can be distorting, rather than illuminating to apply the sensibilities of our age to cultures and works of the past. Shakespeare portrayed Shylock and Othello within the sensibilities of his time--they were flawed men but not total stereotypes. Bach portrayed biblical characters within the sensibilities of his time and with the authority of his church. Whilst it is of interest to explore the aims and intentions of both masters, we must be careful not to graft our own values onto them.

Secondly there is the issue of certain fields of contemporary or recent research. The ideas currently around about Judas' role as an accomplice rather than a betrayer are very interesting. They might well throw a different light upon the gospels for us and later generations. But I do not think that Bach would have been aware of them and I do not see how they can illuminate anything about the nature, style, structure or expression of his music.

Ergo, it follows that some research is illuminative of past masterpieces and some is not (my original question posed the issue of pertinance and illumination of the music ; it was not questioning the matter of general interest). Much modern research (about C18 musical and religious practices) has illuminated the ways in which we play and hear Bach's music. It has reulted in a transformation in Bach performance practice and has been the centre of much discussion on this list. But I do not hear the SJP (BWV 245) any differently because of a possible new light thrown on the role of Judas because this idae would have been irrelevant to Bach's culture.

So the two caveats I suggest are 1) that we should be careful about imposing our particular sensibilities upon the cultures and masterpieces of the past because to do so presents a danger of distortion and 2) that there is a distinction to be made between research which is illuminates the music and that which does not, notwithstanding its own intrinsic interest.

I return to the original question which was not'is this an interesting issue?' but 'does thisl inform or illuminate the music?' Because if it does, I want to hear about it. This is, after a all, a 'Bach Cantata' list which, I assume, puts the music at the centre of discussion.

Teddy Kaufman wrote (April 17, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
"I think that the list is well off if we do not investigate associated issues... I refer to include: ... anti-semitism inherent in Christianity ... The subjects concerned, however, always have a musical center".
In this regard, I would wish to cite Prof. Paula Fredriksen ("The Gospel of John and Christian Anti-Judaism" - ) as follows:

" One of the surest historical facts we have about Jesus' life is his death. Sometime around the year 30, on or near Passover, Jesus was executed by the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate. The stories about Jesus familiar from the New Testament appear to have been written sometime after the year 70, approximately forty years after his death, in the wake of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in the course of the Jewish War (circa 66-73). The names by which we know the Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John - were ascribed over the course of the late second century. And the canon as we know it only appeared around 200. The passage of time, the growth and development of traditions, and two events of momentous consequence - the destruction of the Temple, and the demographic shift within the Christian movement from almost exclusively Jewish to predominantly Gentile - thus stand between the consolidation of the New Testament gospel tradition and the death of Jesus of Nazareth. When assessing these texts as history, we need to keep these things in mind.

"The figure of Jesus we meet in the Fourth Gospel stands apart from the Galilean exorcist and teacher presented in Mark, Matthew and Luke. John's Jesus first appears not in a manger in Bethlehem, nor by the banks of the River Jordan with the Baptist. He stands, rather, "In the Beginning," at the creation of the universe, in the evangelist's revisioning of the opening verses of Genesis.

"In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God; through him were all things made." - Jn 1:1-3

"This divine principle, God's Logos or Word, entered the cosmos that he had made, actually becoming flesh and dwelling with humanity in order to bring the power to become children of God to those who receive him (1:10-12, 14). John's prologue establishes all the major theological themes that contour this Gospel's singular presentation of Jesus. Jesus is God's cosmic Word; he is from Above and descends into human history (vv. 10, 14); he supersedes both John the Baptist (vv. 6-7) and Moses (v. 17); he is rejected by his own people (v. 11); and he is the sole and exclusive way to God the Father, since only he, the Son, has seen God (v. 18).

"Theology indeed dominates story throughout John's presentation of Jesus' mission. What Jesus does seems subordinate to what Jesus says. Through ironic dialogue with other characters (as with Nicodemus in chapter 3, for example) or through his great bel canto soliloquies ("I am the Good Shepherd," 10:11; "I am the Resurrection and the Life," 11:25), Jesus' speech relates the religious message of John's gospel. And that message is most often presented through antitheses, the contrasting of paired ideas: Above/Below; Light/Darkness; Spirit/Flesh; Knowledge/Ignorance; Sight/Blindness. On this point, we come to our theme for Bach's St. John Passion and, indeed, for Christian traditions about the Crucifixion and responsibility for the death of Jesus. "Children of God," stand at the positive pole of one contrasting pair; but at the other, clustered with darkness, flesh, and ignorance in the lower world, stand the "children of the Devil" (8:44), Jesus' opponents, the Ioudaioi:

"The term Ioudaioi in Jesus' lifetime and earlier primarily designated an ethnic group related to a geographical area: Ioudaioi meant "Judeans," people living in or originating from the region of Judea. Implicit in the term was a religious designation. People from Judea worshiped the god of the Judeans; just as people from Athens worshiped the gods of the Athenians, and so on. A community of faith or a particular religious group was not the word's primary referent. In the context of John's gospel, for the most part, this original meaning still stands. The evangelist depicts people in the north, Galileans and even Samaritans, as Jesus' sympathetic hearers (4:45; 7:39); by contrast, the Ioudaioi in the south, in Jerusalem and Judea, challenge, taunt, and threaten.

"But by the time Christianity became primarily a Gentile religious movement; by the time the gospels were assembled as a collection; and certainly by 312, when Rome in the person of Constantine the Emperor became a chief support of the Church, this had changed. Ioudaioi (Latin Iudaei) no longer meant "Judeans"; it now meant "Jews." And thus the identity of Jesus' opponents in John's Gospel changed too. The residents of Judea became "Jews" - any and every Jew, in every place, at any time, who by refusing to convert to the Christianity of the new majority was in essence complicit in the death of Christ. This teaching was to have a long influence. Not until 1964, during Vatican II, did the Roman Church repudiate this construction of Jewish "guilt."

"Scholarship in the last century has increased historians' awareness of the degree to which all four New Testament Passion accounts are shaped by the theological and literary concerns of their respective authors. Critical comparisons of Matthew, Mark and Luke (the three "Synoptic," or "see-together" gospels) reveal telling differences between their different versions; comparisons with John only multiply these. Mark and Matthew feature two Jewish trials the evening after the seder, and showcase the High Priest's charge of blasphemy. Luke has only one trial, and he drops both the High Priest's role and the charge of blasphemy. John has no Jewish trial at all, but simply a brief and informal questioning before Annas and then Caiaphas; and the action for him occurs the night before the night of the seder. Consideration of these differences serves to underscore the Gospels' function as community-building documents. They offer religious proclamation, not simple history.

Modern translators, faced with the Greek text of John, have two choices, neither good. To translate Ioudaioi as "Judeans" is truer to the term's meaning in John's lifetime and, certainly, in Jesus'; but such a translation cuts the text off from the centuries of traditional commentary that form its environment of interpretation in subsequent Christianity. To translate the word as "Jews" rejoins the text to the Church, but invites and encourages the sort of anti-Judaic and indeed anti-Semitic readings that have blighted and bloodied Christian relations to Jews and Judaism from late antiquity to the twentieth century.

"Perhaps the best we can do is approach John's text with an educated appreciation of its complex history and with a full awareness of its dangers if heard uncritically. And perhaps the glorious music that this Gospel inspired can serve as a means past its dangers, to a sense of the divine love that John himself insisted was the essence of his - and Jesus' - message."

Paula Fredriksen is the William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture at Boston University. A graduate of Wellesley College, she earned a Diploma in Theology from Oxford University and her Ph.D. from Princeton University. Prior to joining the Boston University faculty, she taught at Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Pittsburgh. In 1994-95 she was the Lady Davis Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Professor Fredriksen specializes in the social and intellectual history of Mediterranean Diaspora Judiasm and ancient Christianity, from the Late Second Temple period to the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 17, 2006):
Teddy Kaufman writes:
"Perhaps the best we can do is approach John's text with an educated appreciation of its complex history and with a full awareness of its dangers if heard uncritically. And perhaps the glorious music that this Gospel inspired can serve as a means past its dangers, to a sense of the divine love that John himself insisted was the essence of his - and Jesus' - message."
Well put!

Douglas Cowling wrote (April 17, 2006):
The Sermon and Bach's Passions

Teddy Kaufman writes:
"Perhaps the best we can do is approach John's text with an educated appreciation of its complex history and with a full awareness of its dangers if heard uncritically.And perhaps the glorious music that this Gospel inspired can serve as a means past its dangers, to a sense of the divine love that John himself insisted was the essence of his - and Jesus' - message."
Although I'm loathe to venture far afield in the history and exegesis of the biblical texts, it would be very interesting to see the homiletic context of Bach's Passions. In both the SJP (BWV 245) and SMP (BWV 244), Bach uses a literary construct in which the violence done to Christ is theologically linked to the sin of the contemporary listener. There are few more memorable moments for a choral singer than to sing the violent buffeting chorus, "Weissage", followed immediately by the repentant chorale, "Wer hat dich so geschlagen".

Was this literary construct a staple of preaching in 18th century Leipzig? Did the sermons which stood in the very centre of Bach's Passions develop the individualistic piety we see in the composer's librettos or were there anti-Judaic and anti Semitic themes drawn from Luther's writings and popular prejudice? Do we have examples of Passion preaching from Bach's period? What kinds of sermon collections were in his library?

Teddy Kaufman wrote (April 17, 2006):
Julian wrote: "does this inform or illuminate the music? Because if it does, I want to hear about it".
To my mind, definitely yes. Since the 'Bach Cantata' list puts the music at the center of discussion, the knowledge and understanding of the background of each composed vocal piece is crucial. Moreover, just listening to the music without following the text is meaningless to me. Please, consider the great amount of efforts Aryeh puts in the translations of the Cantatas to various languages - in order to enable non speaking German amateurs to enjoy the magnificent music of Bach .

Furthermore, the text itself evokes great emotional effects on the listener, and personally, I have encountered some problems with both the BWV 42 and SJP (BWV 245) texts, which by no means I can ignore or overlook their provocative and insulting content.

An additional aspect to be considered is the definite correlation between the text and the musical score. To my mind and modest understanding (I am an ordinary freak of Baroque music), in many instances the text and its meaning dominate the musical score as was highlighted by Craig Smith (Artistic Director, Emanuel Music discussing the Cantata BWV 42, as follows:

"... Our cantata here has a very different shape. The events of Easter are represented by a large da capo sinfonia. Common wisdom has it that this is a first movement of a concerto grosso, now lost. While, of course, this may be true, the work is so perfectly suited to its task here, and has such an unusually warm and gentle demeanor, that it is hard to imagine that it wasn't written for this spot. There is also a strong sense as one progresses through the movement that the obbligato oboes and bassoon represent the two Marys and Jesus on Easter morning. The movement opens with a soft-edged and lovely tutti. The opening quarter note by the violins has a wonderful 'lighter than air' lift to it that sets the tone for the whole movement. The two oboes and bassoon play rich obbligati, relating to each other in a vocal, human way. Sometimes the oboes are in opposition to the bassoon; sometimes one oboe will be alone while the other allies with the bassoon. The B section is even more rhapsodic. Against leggiero tutti strings the three winds each plays a cantabile melody, finally joining in a rapturous trio.

"After such heavenly music it is almost painful to leave it, but Bach plunges us into the continuation of the story with a pulsing and ominous bass line that underpins the tenor's narration of the fear and paranoia that plagued the disciples after Jesus' death. The last line describes how, in this suspicious atmosphere and behind locked doors, Jesus was, all of a sudden, in their midst. In one of the supreme dramatic moments in all of Bach, the dark hollow texture of the pulsing bass reverts to the glowing strings of the opening sinfonia. The two oboes play at first a gorgeous cantabile imitative melody followed by a darting, almost playful, pattern that is an uncanny portrayal of the state of grace that Jesus provided for the disciples. The voice part is conversational, almost casual sounding. It is a kind of combination of the rhetorical and the lyrical that would dominate 19 th Century German operatic writing. Notice how the jagged and broken lines describing the "where two or three are gathered " then meld into the ravishing cantabile on the words" in Jesus precious name." The A section of this da capo aria is on a large scale, imbued with an expansive generosity of spirit. The B section is surprisingly tough and arid sounding. The warm, full orchestra is replaced by a vaulting and aggressive solo bass line. In the midst of this section there is an eccentric little bass figure that appears out of the blue. Its purpose is completely mysterious until we hear that it refers to the opening bass line of the following duet for soprano and tenor.

"With the advent of the soprano-tenor duet #4 it becomes clear that Bach is using the maximum contrast to propel his story. The warm sinfonia was followed by the hollow recitative. The same warm opening texture was revived for the A section of the alto aria with the barren sound reintroduced in the B section. After the recapitulation of the A, the duet #4 reintroduces the continuo-dominated sonority. Here the spiky and bare-bones line of the cello and bassoon is intensified by a thumping and insistent independent bass line. It is clear that Bach had both a harpsichord, figured in the cello part, and an organ, figured in the bass part. Over this elaborate bass, the voices, pitched high and sounding somewhat hysterical, sing their jagged and paranoid line. All of the richness of the "Easter" harmony is replaced here by a lurid, twilight chromaticism. The lines are astoundingly jagged and awkward.

"The transition from the glow of Easter to the fearful "what happens next" quality of the days after Easter, is here complete. The secco bass recitative speaks of fear of reprisals, and has one of the most distasteful examples of a kind of knee-jerk anti-Semitism in all of Bach. The aria for bass has brilliant obbligati for two solo violins. Here we have Jesus as the great military leader. The violins play striking and aggressive arpeggio figures against a marching bass line. All of the subtle rhetoric of the alto aria and the angularity of the duet are here replaced by straight-ahead virtuoso operatic writing for the bass. If this aria is more conventional in character than all that has come before, it is one of the great brilliant pieces of vocal writing in all of Bach.

"Bach ends this gigantic and great cantata with one of the profoundest of all his chorale harmonizations. The large double chorale by Luther,"Verleih uns Frieden-Gib unsern Fürsten" was used several months earlier to close the cantata BWV 126. In that context it was a plea for peace after one of the most savage of all of the cantatas. Here it relates to the end of the cantata and reminds us how far we have come from the gentle grace of the opening sinfonia. The harmonization is of unparalleled richness. There are subtle changes in character between the two chorales. The bass line of the opening is almost always in a downward motion that is replaced in "Gib unsern Fürsten" by upward lines. The harmony of the 2 nd chorale gains a kind of radiance both by use of pedal points, and in the grand sweeping lines of the "Amen."

"In Cantata BWV 42 we have from Bach a whole new kind of inward drama, a drama of the soul, that he virtually invented. The contrast of an inward state of grace with outward fear and danger is central to early Chris; it has never been more profoundly characterized than in this cantata."
In view of the above mentioned aspects, there is no doubt in my mind that it definitely "does inform or illuminate the music".

Neil Halliday wrote (April 18, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
"In both the SJP (BWV 245) and SMP (BWV 244), Bach uses a literary construct in which the violence done to Christ is theologically linked to the sin of the contemporary listener. There are few more memorable moments for a choral singer than to sing the violent buffeting chorus, "Weissage", followed immediately by the repentant chorale, "Wer hat dich so geschlagen".
That "Weissage" chorus also presents an amazing appearance on the page, with every one of the 22 staves (2x11) containing different material consisting of truncated passages tossed from one ensemble to the other, obviously designed to produce an effect of 'violent antiphony'. Even the continuo lines of each group are different (requiring at a minimum 2 organs, 2 harpsichords, 2 cellos, 2 violones and 2 bassoons to perform the continuo alone).The amount of labour required to design and write down music such as this must be phenomenal.

Santu de Silva wrote (April 19, 2006):
I have long felt that Judas has been made a scapegoat for something that was hardly a serious matter of 'betrayal'. (A) It seems clear that Jesus fully expected to be taken into custody on that occasion -- at least the gospels give this impression. (If the gospels cannot be relied upon, then we have no basis for condemning Judas at all.) (B) If Jesus wanted to escape, knowing full well that Judas was on his way to the authorities, there was either (i) opportunity to escape, or (ii) no opportunity. If the former, why didn't they? If the latter, how can you blame Judas, since a manhunt would have turned Jesus up anyhow?

If Jesus had succeeded in evading the authorities, the history of the Christian Faith would have been very different. It seems as if Judas's betrayal was instrumental in the ultimate success of the Church (assuming that the Church is what Jesus wanted). Reasonable things to say about Judas: 1. He was trapped into betraying Jesus. 2. He did humanity a service.

I used to think of this kind of reasoning as puerile when I was a kid, but the fact of the matter was that there was no refuting these arguments. Someone once told me that "God is so great that he can take a deed as dastardly as that of Judas, and create something wonderful from it." But not so great as to be able to absolve Judas of his crime, or rehabilitate his reputation. Apparently God may care about mankind, but not about the reputations of individuals. As far as I'm concerned, the less we talk about Judas, the less embarrassing for Christians of all denominations.

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 19, 2006):
[To Santu de Silva] As its utter conjecture to ponder what actually happened in Judea and Galilee around 30 CE and as it is likewise purely conjecture to try to ascertain what Bach thought about it, I suppose one could look at what is said in John. Obviously this is no warranty of literal truth but Christian believers commonly were and are influenced by Scripture. What should be clear enough is that the role played by both the Sanhedrin and Judas were preordained parts in a far larger drama. (The following comes from, a fine site for those curious about theology.)

In John 11:46, in the immediate aftermath of raising Lazarus leaders of the Sanhedrin ponder on the implications: note they worry about the Roman response to the teachings of Jesus,

11:45 Then many of the people, who had come with Mary and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in him. 11:46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and reported to them what Jesus had done. 11:47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, "What are we doing? For this man is performing many miraculous signs. 11:48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation."

11:49 Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, "You know nothing at all! 11:50 You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish." 11:51 (Now he did not say this on his own,103 because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, 11:52 and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.) 11:53 So from that day they planned together to kill him.

11:54 Thus Jesus no longer went around publicly among the Judeans, but went away from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples. Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, and many people went up to Jerusalem from the rural areas before the Passover to cleanse themselves ritually. 11:56 Thus they were looking for Jesus, and saying to one another as they stood in the temple courts, "What do you think? That he won't come to the feast?" (Now the chief priests and the Pharisees118 had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus119 was should report it, so that they could arrest120 him.)

Below is part of John's rendition of the Last Supper: very different than found in the other Gospels. It should be quite obvious that Judas is by no means a free agent.

13:18 "What I am saying does not refer to all of you. I know the ones I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture, 'The one who eats my bread has turned against me.' 13:19 I am telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I am he. 13:20 I tell you the solemn truth, whoever accepts the one I send accepts me, and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me."

13:21 When he had said these things, Jesus was greatly distressed in spirit, and testified, "I tell you the solemn truth, one of you will betray me. 13:22 The disciples began to look at one another, worried and perplexed to know which of them he was talking about. 13:23 One of his disciples, the one Jesus loved, was at the table to the right of Jesus in a place of honor. 13:24 So Simon Peter gestured to this disciple to ask Jesus who it was he was referring to. 13:25 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved leaned back against Jesus' chest and asked him, "Lord, who is it?" 13:26 Jesus replied, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread after I have dipped it in the dish." Then he dipped the piece of bread in the dish and gave it to Judas Iscariot, Simon's son. 13:27 And after Judas took the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "What you are about to do, do quickly." 13:28 (Now none of those present at the table understood why Jesus said this to Judas. 13:29 Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him to buy whatever they needed for the feast, or to give something to the poor.) 13:30 Judas took the piece of bread and went out immediately. (Now it was night.)

I suppose I can understand why non-Christians don't like the message in John. Although it is deepest and most symbolic of the four Gospels, it simultaneously leaves precious little room for metaphor. What later became the core Christian beliefs are clearly here and are repeated over again: Jesus is the son of God; those that belief in this revelation will find eternal life; those that don't believe won't; it is the duty of believers to spread the word. Personally I think these values are present throughout the New Testament, but those that want to view Jesus as, for instance, a politically inspired zealot eager to bring down wicked Roman rule, have to look elsewhere. The non-believer might enjoy the parables etc found in the synoptic Gospels (although I can't think of a more moving moment in the New Testament than Jesus' calming the crowd, telling them "who is without sin should cast the first stone") but in John one is confronted continually with matters of divinity, of the Father and Son, of judgement, of eternity, of Christianity.

Thomas Shepherd wrote (April 19, 2006):
[To Santu de Silva] Completely off the subject of Bach and his works, what about:

Doug Cowling wrote (April 19, 2006):
[To Santu de Silva] Folks, I think we should keep this string as an OFF-TOPIC. There's not enough scholarly apparatus being brought into play. We are on very difficult terrain here that requires extraordinary sensitivity. Can we get back to Bach?


Joel Figen wrote (April 19, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] Finally! And while I totally concur, I can't resist one little comment, since I've been silent until now:

For me, the fact that bach was religious is simply a small fact about a great artist. It doesn't begin to explain him or help us understand his art or his soul. If it did, then every religious person would be a Bach, and Bach himself would be in no way interesting. Bach was religious, Tchaikovsky was homosexual, Beethoven was deaf. So stipulated. And <yawn>.

Music transcends all of that. The spirituality of Bach reflects in his music, regardless of whether the ostensible subject matter is sacred or secular. To be seduced by the churchy aspect of his work is to miss the whole point. One might as well fall in love with a painter's model. Bach transcends churchiness and transforms it into something that anyone can appreciate, even an atheist, without having to become religious. Music and theology have in common that their subject matter is by nature ineffable (to the extent that music can be said to have subject matter.) Sometimes a simple awe (or even an aw shucks) is a much better response than endless verbiage. As some sage or other put it, "He who speaks does not know." As for me, I don't care to hear what any of you think about ultimate matters, at least not through this forum. Music is the subject under discussion.

Now, I wouldn't mind a little discussion of bach's religion, if we also gave similar attention to other aspects of his life. I've rarely seen a word herein about his dietary preferences, his politics, his health, his family life, the colors he chose to surround himself with, what sort of mental operations he employed while composing, how much coffee he drank, and so on and on.

And let's be frank: Bach's religion was a standard and expected part of his civic life, not too different from being in the PTA or the Republican Party would be today. We might praise a religious life today, in these times of religious freedom (or some of us might condemn it...) But does that translate into Bach's time and place? I'd say not, at least not without a lot of careful consideration. Bach's freedom to accept or reject religion was rather small. If he had decided suddenly to become a Buddhist, his music would not have been performed,and further penalties might have accrued. Under those conditions, the fact that he produced imperishable music rather than perishable sermons is significant in a way that the religious content itself is not. Bach's libretti, for instance, would have little or no impact without the notes. In fact they tend to be a little embarrassing. It's what Bach did with them that gives them what life they possess. That breath of life is music. (And the secular libretti are at least as bad...)

So anyway, back to music, ok?

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Bach's Health [General Topics]

Alain Bruguieres wrote (April 19, 2006):
[To Joel Figen] Very nice contribution. Thanks!

Raymond Joly wrote (April 20, 2006):
[To Joel Figen] I am afraid Joel Figen exaggerates a bit. Nobody in his right mind ever suggested that Bach's Lutheran faith "explained" him or his genius or, more ludicrously, that any religious person is a potential Bach. But this Cantatas Website will teach anybody that he strived as long as he lived to express as forcibly as possible ideas and feelings grounded in religion; this intention of his is made manifest in such definitely musical matters as choice of voices, instruments and keys, and formal devices of the most varied and eloquent kinds. That does not explain why he was a genius instead of a tedious sermonizer, but I am reluctant to praise anybody for making beautiful sounds while brushing aside what he is talking about, especially when he selected his sounds precisely to emphasize some meaning. Does one have to be a believer in Christian mythology to enjoy Bach (my
very phrasing proves that I am not)? Of course not. Music "transcends" such time-bound precise meanings, as our friend writes. Bach would be of no concern to us if he had just preached some theory about salvation. What he did was to conquer his anguish, stand up and fling his music in the face of human viciousness, suffering and death. But do not try to understand him without knowing with what mental equipment he experienced the human

And, please, do not buy pseudo-transcendance. That is, let us not behave as if we were out of History and above it, able to pluck Bach (or Shakespeare or Beethoven or Faulkner) out of it in order to bring them over into that blessed paradise of early 21st-century atemporal "aesthetic experience", no less a historically determined peculiar construct as Saxon Lutheranism around 1730.

Joel Figen is right when emphasizing that all sorts of other historically grounded considerations might be brought to bear on our discussions. Let us do that. As to Bach having had no choice regarding religion, for instance, maybe that is right, with reservations. But how free does fellow Figen think he is? Does he really believe he can be fully understood without taking in the 99% of his discourse he, like anybody else, is just relaying from the society he lives in? Few of us are Bachs, able to bring down the figure to 97.

Julian Mincham wrote (April 20, 2006):
Joel Figen wrote:
< .. It was intended as a request for more music discussion and less religion. >
I'm not getting involved in any disagreement over tone or perceived offence------but I do support the above statement.

Teddy Kaufman wrote (April 20, 2006):
[To Raymond Joly & Joel Figen] As Plastic & Burn Surgeon I would offer my most conscientious and diligent services in order to properly approach the untoward effects of the flames.

I agree it is time to return to further discuss the magnificent Bach's music.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 20, 2006):
Teddy Kaufman wrote:
< Modern translators, faced with the Greek text of John, have two choices, neither good. To translate Ioudaioi as "Judeans" is truer to the term's meaning in John's lifetime and, certainly, in Jesus'; but such a translation cuts the text off from the centuries of traditional commentary that form its environment of interpretation in subsequent Christianity. To translate the word as "Jews" rejoins the text to the Church, but invites and encourages the sort of anti-Judaic and indeed anti-Semitic readings that have blighted and bloodied Christian relations to Jews and Judaism from late antiquity to the twentieth century. >
I have just been reading the thread and would like to note that:
On 21 March, 2003 I attended a performance of the Johannes-Passion (BWV 245) at Princeton University and posted a longish item elsewhere. The very end of the post concerned a pre-concert lecture by Michael Marrisen (I assume that my "Michal" in the original post is one of my usual typos). At all events this was a two voice per part performance by the Dryden Ensemble and I naively had expected the pre-concert lecture to concern this musical practice. Instead I found myself at a lecture concerning these matters. Dr. Marrisen, as I recall, is a professional lecturer at such events.
The end of my post from March 22, 2003 follows:
Finally I would like to mention the pre-concert lecture which was by Michal Marrisen and, as one would expect, was his attempt to make palatable the severe Judenhass inherent in the Gospel of St. John. I believe that we are all with his attempts to show that Bach lay the "guilt" more on the individual Lutheran of Bach's congregation(s) more than on the historical "Ioudaioi" for which the lecturer went through the attempts to maintain "Judaeans" and not "Jews".

But he did not accept that. And indeed his spoken lecture used "Judaic" often where his re-printed NY Times article uses "Jews". Finally he did not do well in adducing the forces of light and truth vs. those of darkness and lie in the current USA vs. Iraq affair as an analogue to the Judenhass inherent in the Gospel of John. References to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Weltanschauung of the sectarians would have been far more appropriate.
Finally I must say that I am rather amazed at some of the personal exchanges here. Considering the Judenhass in all passions is necessary and happily some persons are concerned these days with that problem.

It is necessary amongst other reasons because this list does not discuss music as one would e.g. on an opera list. This list has always been concerned with preaching Bach's inherited Lutheran-Christian theological message and that message in embedded in a long, ugly history.The political references of Dr. Marissen are not something that I want to adduce except they were there. I hope not to bring discussion in that direction.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 20, 2006):
Passion / Judeans

< Finally I would like to mention the pre-concert lecture which was by Michal Marrisen and, as one would expect, was his attempt to make palatable the severe Judenhass inherent in the Gospel of St. John. I believe that we are all acquainted with his attempts to show that Bach lay the "guilt" more on the individual Lutheran of Bach's congregation(s) more than on the historical "Ioudaioi" for which the lecturer went through the attempts to >maintain "Judaeans" and not "Jews". >
Back on June 10 2004 I suggested a short essay-resource in that regard, from a book; my comments are in the web archive on: for that date.

...But this year that resource is now easier to get to directly, through some improvements. It is a gospels translation that attempts to preserve that distinction about "Judeans" instead of "Jews".

Bring up the book at: use the "search inside this book" feature for "judeans", then scroll down to the entry for "on page 194". The mini-essay comprises pages 194-5, on display.

And the other uses of "Judeans" through that book are of course available through that same search. John's gospel chapter 18--the Passion narrative--begins on page 237 from that search. Chapter 19 ends on page 242. One might have to come into it from two different search points, as the "next page" browsing link goes only two pages forward at limit.


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