In a headline that almost seems 2,000 years too late, prosecutors on Tuesday (Nov. 23) announced the arrest of Judas for participation in the deadly insurrection at the Capitol. The traitor hoping to violently bring about a new kingdom allegedly participated alongside fellow members of the far-right militia Oath Keepers.
Okay, so it wasn’t the biblical Judas. But the Justice Department did file charges against a Broadway actor who’s been playing Judas in the traveling staging of Jesus Christ Superstar. James Beeks, whose stage name is James T. Justis, gave voice to Judas in recent weeks across the country — and apparently earlier this year in D.C.
“I’d sell out the nation,” Judas declares in the play as life imitates art.
Beeks aka Justis aka Judas has also been a Michael Jackson impersonator and even donned during the attack on the Capitol the King of Pop’s jacket emblazoned with the word “Bad” on it (from Jackson’s 1987 tour by that name). Wearing the self-declaration “bad” while storming the Capitol is a bit of over-the-top cosplay one might expect from a tribute artist. He also has posted Instagram photos of himself wearing the “Bad” jacket while standing by a Jesus Christ Superstar poster of him as Judas.
No word yet on if he said anything when arrested. Perhaps he tried out some lines from the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera: “I came because I had to … I have no thought at all about my own reward. I really didn’t come here of my own accord. Just don’t say I’m damned for all time.”
The case against Judas is pretty solid, other than finding the silver coins. In addition to discovering the “bad” cloak in Judas’s closet, federal investigators also found cell phone data putting him at the Capitol, car rental records and cash withdrawals on the route from his home to D.C., and footage comparing his ear in a YouTube video to the ear sticking out from behind a mask on the “bad” man in the Jan. 6 footage. Forget the kiss; Judas was betrayed not by lips but by an ear. As investigators followed leads, they even attended two of his shows in November, which is a pretty fabulous receipt to turn in for reimbursement.
The actor really got into his part as the fallen disciple. Last month, apparently before he knew of his impending arrest, he talked about the role of Judas as the interviewer asked him about playing Judas amid “the current social unrest” since “part of the story of Jesus is about rebellion against authority.”
“I don’t look at it as Judas being a bad guy. I think he is a hero. I am honored to be the archetype of Judas and to give him a voice,” the actor declared. “Technically, Judas should be celebrated instead of booed. I fell in love with the character and feel he has been given a bad turn.”
“I want people to look at Judas in a different light and from different perspectives. He wasn’t a bad guy, and was only doing what he had to do,” the actor added. “However that is translated into today’s society, I hope it would be looked on as a good thing. Tim Rice asks, ‘What did Judas do in these times? What did Judas see?’ Judas had a vision and a plan.”
What would Judas do in these time? Storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 isn’t too bad of an answer.
As Judas and his fellow insurrectionists stormed the Capitol that day, chants rang out: “We want Trump!” and “Our House!” The cries echoed those from the mob 2,000 years earlier: “We want Barabbas!” and “We have no king but Caesar!”
While it’s true that the real Judas felt remorse and killed himself before the bloodthirsty mob rooted for Barabbas the insurrectionist, perhaps Judas’s betrayal came as he realized Jesus wouldn’t bring about the violent overthrow of the Romans as many expected the Messiah to do. The biblical writers don’t give us insights into Judas’s motivations, but they do make it clear that Barabbas and the two men crucified on either side of Jesus were insurrectionists. Thus, while Jesus refused to participate in a violent overthrow attempt of the government, he was crucified between two Proud Boys or Oath Keepers.
The contrast between the insurrection of Barabbas and the way of Jesus adds to the moral confusion we saw on Jan. 6 as the violent mob even carried Bibles, Christian flags, and “Jesus 2020” signs. It’s like we still miss the message. Much like Judas in the rock opera. After his death, the voice of Judas in the modern time rings out near the end to say he still doesn’t understand Jesus: “Why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication.”
But that misses the point. Even if Jesus came today, we’d still execute him. MAGAchurches across the country would sell him for a bit of silver while cheering for insurrectionists like Barabbas. Some would even play the part of Judas.