Debt and Sin in the Middle English “Judas”

Irina A. Dumitrescu 1
  • 1 Southern Methodist University


In the thirteenth-century English “Judas” ballad, Judas is sent to buy the Passover meal, loses his coins, and in desperation, sells Jesus to Pilate for the necessary money. This article argues that the poem’s chain of unequal exchanges evokes contemporary concerns about usury and its abuse of the needy, and that the ballad’s portrayal of Judas incurring a debt for which Christ is the payment also dramatizes Anselm of Canterbury’s theory of redemption. The ballad fuses mercantile and theological ideas of debt into a compact and pedagogically accessible exploration of sin.

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A renowned journal of English philology, Anglia was founded in 1878 by Moritz Trautmann and Richard P. Wülker. It is thus the oldest journal of English Studies in existence. Anglia publishes essays on the English language and linguistic history, on English literature of the Middle Ages and the modern period, on American literature, on new literatures in English, as well as on general and comparative literary studies.