59: The Bag Men


This is, for many, a Holy Week. A time for celebrating being passed over by the forces of darkness and evil, or for celebrating a resurrection and recollecting a life lived without blemish. During which moments, it occurred to me that a passage from Mr. Ruskin about one of the historical events that makes this week so annually noteworthy might be of use. As we’ll see, the nearly two thousand year old event which attracted his attention–in “Work” (another woefully under-read wonder!), a lecture delivered in London in 1865–continued to be of great concern in his time. It retains that disturbing quality today.

Two more comments will make the passage easier to read. First, as surely you have learned from many past posts, Ruskin was convinced, as am I (his writings being more than incidental in such convincing!), that the vast majority of our troubles have been and are still being caused by the historic and still-striding feet of the Bag Men. Second, Judas was a Bag Man.

We do great injustice to Iscariot in thinking him wicked above all common wickedness. He was only a common money-lover, and, like all money-lovers, did not understand Christ; could not make out the worth of him, or the meaning of him. He never thought he would be killed. He was horror-struck when he found that Christ would be killed! Threw his money away instantly, and hanged himself. (How many of our present money-seekers, think you, would have the grace to hang themselves, whoever was killed?) No, Judas was a common, selfish, muddle-headed, pilfering fellow; his hand always in the [money] bag of the poor, not caring for them. Helpless to understand Christ, he yet believed in him, much more than most of us do, had seen him do miracles, thought he was quite strong enough to shift for himself, and he, Judas, might as well make his own little bye-perquisities out of the affair. Christ would come out of it well enough, and he have his thirty pieces.

Now that is the money-seeker‘s idea all over the world. He doesn‘t hate Christ, but can‘t understand him—doesn‘t care for him—sees no good in all that benevolent business; makes his own little job out of it at all events, come what will. And thus, out of every mass of men, you have a certain number of bag-men, your “fee-first” men, whose main object is to make money. And they do make it. Make it in all sorts of unfair ways–chiefly by the weight and force of money itself, or what is called “the power of capital”: that is to say, the power which money, once obtained, has over the labor of the poor, so that the capitalist can take all [of the] produce for himself… That is the modern Judas‘s way of “carrying the bag,” and “bearing what is put therein” [John 12:6].

[John 12: 6: King James’ Version (1611; Ruskin’s version): [Judas had said such seemingly empathetic things] “not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.”

[John 12: 6New Revised Standard Version (1998): [Judas had said such seemingly empathetic things] “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He kept the common purse and used to steal what was put in it.”

May the rest of your holy week be that!



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2 Responses to 59: The Bag Men

  1. Deborah Lind says:

    Jim, Thank you for sharing Ruskin’s reflections on Judas. I agree that Judas reflects our often selfish but also fiscally responsible side (as you know from my sermons). If you would like another perspective on Judas, read the recently translated “Lost” Gospel of Judas. In that document Judas’ actions are not betrayal but in response to Jesus’ request.

  2. jimspates says:

    Thanks for this, Deb. I knew nothing about this recently discovered Gospel of Judas. I did some scrolling (!) through web sites that tell us about it. Here are two links I found useful. Anyone: Do let us know what you think after having a visit to these or any others you find: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/05/judas-gospel/cockburn-text/2 and


    To which, I would add this: Whether Judas was a Bag Man or not, there are plenty of others who fit Mr. Ruskin’s unsettling description of the breed–and we all continue to suffer from their pilfering every day.

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