‘Pseudonym’ meant something different in the first century of the Common Era than in ours. Imitation is the sincerest form of flatters – think of tribute bands, a host of Elvis impersonators, or ‘fan fiction’. The writer claims to be ‘Judas’, brother of James the brother of Jesus, said to have led the Jerusalem church.
As I argued two weeks ago about ‘the Peters’, illiterate Aramean peasants are unlikely to have found this sophisticated Greek literacy. The more plausible story is that a late first century writer is proudly claiming roots close to Jesus.
The pattern is familiar, from the past two weeks in the Peters and the Johns, and will be repeated in the next couple of days in Colossians: good for you for following my gospel, and look out for those who might mislead you.
The worldview of the next bit includes a fully enchanted universe, full of angels and the dramas of biblical figures beyond those written in our scriptures. We may need to re-enchant our flat modern universe, repopulating the gap between our individual selves and the ineffably divine.
The most accessible version of this worldview for me is Milton’s Paradise Lost, improved in my copy by William Blake’s artwork. If God made it all, and us all, then there is no competing God making alien beings to scare us. Instead, good creatures, including trans-personal entities ‘bigger than me, smaller than God’, live out choices of resistance or rebellion. Voila, the battle between fallen angels following one set of leaders and choices, and ‘Michael and All Angels’. The rebel losers are contained and do not now threaten us, for the time being.
I enjoy indulging in speculation about the stories we’ve lost about haggling over the body of Moses, or interpreting the story of Balaam’s ass from Numbers. Cautionary tales include those of Sodom and Gomorrah, or Cain, or Korah – and can be turned into piety just as misleading as the ones Jude warns about.
Some scholars argue that this free-styling about what texts and traditions are holy scripture predate 90CE, when the canon of Hebrew scripture began to crystallize in the consolidation of a post-Temple synagogue or Talmud Judaism.
If you enjoy ‘trash talk’ in sports, you might be inspired by Jude’s pejoratives directed at opponents, whoever they were: waterless clouds, autumn trees, wild waves, or wandering stars. The test seems to be something that fails in its created purpose and meaning – much more, or less, than its homophobic application to particular genital acts in our time.
In this contest, we are offered encouragements and tactical advice: have mercy on the wavering, snatch others from risk, beware your own contagion risks.
22 And have mercy on some who are wavering;
23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.
1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ:
2 May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.
3 Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
4For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
5 Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that the Lord, who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterwards destroyed those who did not believe.
6And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgement of the great day.
7Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
8 Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.
9But when the archangel Michael contended with the devil and disputed about the body of Moses, he did not dare to bring a condemnation of slander against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’
10But these people slander whatever they do not understand, and they are destroyed by those things that, like irrational animals, they know by instinct.
11Woe to them! For they go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, and perish in Korah’s rebellion.
12These are blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds; autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted;
13wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the deepest darkness has been reserved for ever.
14 It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘See, the Lord is coming with tens of thousands of his holy ones,
15to execute judgement on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.
16These are grumblers and malcontents; they indulge their own lusts; they are bombastic in speech, flattering people to their own advantage.
17 But you, beloved, must remember the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ;
18for they said to you, ‘In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.’
19It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions.
20But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;
21keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
22And have mercy on some who are wavering;
23save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing,
25to the only God our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.