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Freemantle, A. (1950). The Oedipal Legend in Christian Hagiology. Psychoanal Q., 19:408-409.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19:408-409

The Oedipal Legend in Christian Hagiology

Anne Freemantle

Judas has always been accepted as the most perfidious of human beings, type and symbol of the traitor for all time. In the 'ages of faith' he was also saddled with the crime of Oedipus. Medieval legend has it that he came to Jesus to gain forgiveness from him for having, unwittingly, killed his father and married his mother. The story is best told in Jacobus de Voragine's The Golden Legend. This was for centuries a record 'best seller'. It was written about 1260 and contained a life of a saint for every day in the year. From its first appearance until the Reformation, it was the most popular book extant: after the Reformation, it went into complete eclipse in English-speaking countries until rediscovered by revivalist-minded episcopalians in the nineteenth century.

The story is told in the entry for February 24th, the feast day of St. Matthias, who, after the death of Judas, was chosen by lot to succeed him as one of the twelve Apostles. In Jerusalem lived a man named Reuben (St. Jerome says his name was Issachar), of the tribe of Dan, with his wife Ciborea. One night, after they had had intercourse, as Ciborea slept she dreamed she had of that night's begetting a son 'so evil that he would be the downfall of our race'. When she told her husband, he was furious, but she said, 'If in nine months I bear a son, mark my words'. She did, in nine months to the night, and she and her husband, not wishing to kill the child, put him in a little basket and set it on the Jordan River. Baby and basket were carried out to sea, to an island called Iscariot, whose childless queen, walking by the seashore, picked up the boy, hid him for nine months, and then gave out that he was hers. Later, she had a son of her own, and when the children grew up to play together, Judas was always rough and cruel to his little brother. The Queen could not bear to see it, and one day confessed the whole story to her husband. Judas, learning the truth, was so enraged that he killed his foster brother and fled to Jerusalem. There he became a 'boon companion' of Pontius Pilate. One day Pilate, seeing some apples in a nearby orchard, exclaimed that he would like them to eat. Judas sneaked out to rob the orchard.

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