Judas Iscariot

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"The Kiss of Judas" is a traditional depiction of Judas by Giotto di Bondone, c. 1306. Fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

In the New Testament, Judas Iscariot (died April 29–33 C.E.) is one of the twelve original Apostles of Jesus, infamously known as the betrayer of Christ. Christian writings widely condemn Judas as a traitor and the primarily culprit responsible for identifying Jesus to the authorities resulting in his crucifixion. It is said that Judas betrayed Jesus for a sum of 30 silver pieces. He eventually committed suicide after realizing his mistake. He is depicted as being impulsive, tormented by greed, and unable to understand Jesus' message.

Despite his notorious role in the Gospel narratives, Judas is still somewhat of an ambivalent figure in Christian history. Judas' betrayal, for instance, set in motion the events that lead to Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection, which, according to traditional Christian theology, brought salvation to humanity. Gnostic texts actually praise Judas for his role in triggering humanity's alleged salvation, and view Judas as the best of the Apostles.[1] Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church has never officially stated that it believes Judas is in Hell for his actions. The Vatican only proclaims individuals' Eternal Salvation through the Canon of Saints. There is no 'Canon of the Damned', nor any official proclamation of the damnation of Judas.[2]

Contents

Etymology

"Judas" is the Greek form of the common Hebrew name Judah (יהודה, meaning "praised"). The Kingdom of Judah is the origin of the words Judeans, Judas, and Jews. Some scholars of the New Testament suggest that the name "Judas" was intended as an attack on the Judaeans or on the Judaean religious establishment held responsible (mistakenly) for executing Christ. The English word "Jew" is derived from the Latin Judaeus, which, like the Greek Ιουδαίος (Ioudaios), could also mean "Judaean." In the Gospel of John, the original writer or a later editor may have tried to draw a parallel between Judas, Judaea, and the Judaeans (or Jews) in verses 6:70-7:1, which run like this in the King James Bible:

6:70 Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? 6:71 He spoke of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve. 7:1 After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.

In Greek, the earliest extant language of the Gospels, the words JudasJewryJews run like this: Ιούδας (Ioudas)—Ιουδαία (Ioudaia)—Ιουδαίοι (Ioudaioi). In Latin, the language of the Vulgate Bible, they run JudasJudaeaJudaei. Whatever the original intentions of the original writers or editors of the Gospel of John, however, there is little doubt that the similarity between the name "Judas" and the words for "Jew" in various European languages has contributed powerfully to anti-Semitism. In German the same words run JudasJudäaJuden; in Spanish JudasJudeajudíos; and in French JudasJudéejuifs.

Over time Judas came to be seen as the archetypal Jew.

What Iscariot signifies is unclear, except for its Greek suffix, which is the equivalent in English to "-ite" or "-ian." There are two major theories on the meaning of this name, each of which must satisfy certain expectations in order to be credible:

  • The first of the two main etymologies, which is the one accepted by the majority, and is credited to Jerome (c. 347-420 C.E.), derives Iscariot from Hebrew איש־קריות, Κ-Qrîyôth,1 that is "man of Kerioth," the Judean town (or, more probably, collection of small towns) of Kerioth, not otherwise related to any person or event in the New Testament, nor mentioned in any document of the period, but referred to in the book of Jeremiah. In a similar vein, קריות may be simply the plural of קריה "small city," in which case we have something like "of the suburbs," i.e., it may be the case that Judas Iscariot is nothing more specific than the Jew from the suburbs. As Aramaic was the main language of the time, and all other New Testament characters have Aramaic surnames and nicknames, this Hebrew Judaean name could have marked out Judas as different from the Galilean disciples. A birthplace is sometimes offered at the Karioth that is mentioned only once, in a long list of cities in the time of Joshua (Joshua 15:25), concerning which The Classical Gazeteer tactfully remarked "of uncertain position" [2] Karioth is not mentioned in any text of the centuries before or after Judas Iscariot.
  • In the second main etymology, "Iscariot" is considered to be a transformation by metathesis of the Latin sicarius, or "dagger-man." The Sicarii were a cadre of assassins among Jewish rebels intent on driving the Romans out of Judea. It is possible then, that this Latin name might have been transformed by Aramaic into a form more closely resembling "Iscariot." But many historians maintain that the sicarii only arose in the 40's or 50's of the first century, so Judas could not have been a member.[3][4] While Judas may or may not have actually been a sicariote, the term may have been used for him pejoratively. Therefore, if Judas is largely synonymous with Judean and if Iscariot means Sicarius, then Judas Iscariot would mean Judean Assassin. However, one factor arguing against "Iscariot" deriving from Judas' betrayal of Jesus is the reference in John 6:71 to Judas as son of Simon the Iscariot. In light of this, Iscariot appears to be a family name, or at least something that could be applied also to his father.

Because of Judas' role in betraying Jesus Christ, the name Judas—which was common during the time of Jesus - has almost entirely fallen out of use as a name among Christians, though its Hebrew equivalent Yehuda remains common among Jews, and the etymologically equivalent name Jude is not unknown among Christians.

Role as an Apostle

Judas Iscariot 1891 by Nikolai Ge

Judas is mentioned in the synoptic gospels, the Gospel of John and at the beginning of Acts of the Apostles. According to these accounts, Judas carried the disciples' money box and betrayed Jesus for a bribe of "thirty pieces of silver" by identifying him with a kiss—the "kiss of Judas"— to arresting soldiers of the High Priest Caiphas, who then turned Jesus over to Roman soldiers.[5]

Judas was a common name in New Testament times. Judas Iscariot should not be confused with Jude Thomas (Saint Thomas the Apostle), or with Saint Jude who was also one of the twelve Apostles. Another New Testament Judas, Jesus' brother Judas, is referred to in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. He may be the same person as Judas son of James (his different father would be explained by the Roman Catholic theory that Jesus' so-called "brothers" were really his cousins), or, in view of the statement in John 7:5 that "even his brothers did not believe" in Jesus, he may be someone else. John 14:22 indicates that Jesus had a disciple called "Judas (not the Iscariot)," probably Judas son of James or possibly Thomas. The latter identification is less likely, since Thomas is not called Judas anywhere else in the New Testament. The suggestion that Judas son of James is the same person as Judas the Zealot is linked to the theory that the name Iscariot refers to the Sicarii (see above).

The death of Judas in Biblical accounts

There are two different Canonical references to the end of Judas' life:

  • The Gospel of Matthew says that, after Jesus' arrest by the Roman authorities (but before his execution), the guilt-ridden Judas returned the bribe to the priests and committed suicide by hanging himself. The priests could not return the money to the treasury so they used it to buy a plot of ground in order to bury strangers. [3]
  • The Acts of the Apostles (1:18) says that Judas used the bribe to buy a field, but fell down, and burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. This field is called Akeldama or Field of Blood. The Book of Acts, Chapter 1 goes on to describe how his place among the apostles was subsequently filled by Matthias.

These two contradictory accounts of Judas' death suggest that at least one of these must be false. This was one of the points that caused the apologist C. S. Lewis, for example, to reject the view "that every statement in Scripture must be historical truth." [6] Still, those who subscribe to Biblical inerrancy have attempted to reconcile the differences in the following way:

The traditional Christian explanation is that Judas hanged himself in the field, and afterwards the rope snapped, and his body burst open on the ground.[4] These views do not explain why the author of Acts makes no clear reference to such a vivid event as a suicide, nor why the accounts differ in their details of what happened to the money. The Matthew account says Judas returned it and the priests used it to buy a field called the Potter's Field as a burial ground for strangers, whereas the Acts account says Judas used it to buy the field he died in.

Many modern scholars would argue that the Matthew account is a midrashic exposition that allows the author to present the event as a fulfillment of prophetic passages from the Old Testament books of Zechariah and Jeremiah. They argue that the author adds imaginative details such as the thirty pieces of silver, and the fact that Judas hangs himself, to an earlier tradition about Judas' death.[7]

Theological questions

Judas has been a figure of great interest to esoteric groups, such as many Gnostic sects, because of the apparent contradiction in the idea of "the betrayal of God." Several interesting questions have been raised about the role of Judas in God's plans for human salvation: Why did Jesus allow Judas to betray him? Did Jesus fail to foresee the betrayal? Was Jesus unable to prevent the betrayal? Did Jesus willingly allow the betrayal to go ahead? Did Jesus actively try to cause the betrayal to happen? Why is it that the 'villainy' of Judas becomes greater and more pronounced as one reads from Mark to John?[8]

Saint Irenaeus (c. 120- c. 203 C.E.) records the beliefs of one Gnostic sect, the Cainites, who believed that Judas was an instrument of the Sophia, Divine Wisdom, thus earning the hatred of the Demiurge. His betrayal of Jesus thus was a victory over the carnal world. The Cainites later split into two groups, disagreeing over the ultimate significance of Jesus in their cosmology.

Origen (c. 185–c. 254) knew of tradition according to which the greater circle of disciples betrayed Jesus, but does not attribute this to Judas in particular, and Origen did not deem Judas as a thoroughly corrupt person (Matt., tract. xxxv).

The early anti-Christian writer Celsus deemed literal readings of the story to be philosophically absurd, especially because Jesus knew about the treason in advance, and told of it openly to all the disciples at the Passover meal, as well as singling out who the traitor would be without attempting to stop him.

The text of the Gospels suggests that Jesus both foresaw and allowed Judas' betrayal. In April 2006, a Coptic papyrus manuscript titled the Gospel of Judas dating back to 200 C.E., was publicly revealed to suggest that Jesus may have asked Judas to betray him [5]. While this seems quite at odds with the Gospel of John, where Judas is portrayed as an arch villain, the Gospel of Mark is much more ambiguous and could be considered to be fairly consistent with the stance of the Gospel of Judas on this question.

Philosophical questions

Judas is also the subject of many philosophical writings, including The Problem of Natural Evil by Bertrand Russell and "Three Versions of Judas," a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. They both allege various problematic ideological contradictions with the discrepancy between Judas' actions and his eternal punishment.

  • If Jesus foresees Judas' betrayal, then it may be argued that Judas has no free will, and cannot avoid betraying Jesus. If Judas cannot control his betrayal of Jesus, then he is not morally responsible for his actions. The question has been approached by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae, which differentiates between foreknowledge and predestination, and argues that the omnipotence of the divine is not sufficient grounds for eliminating the existence of free will.
  • If Judas is sent to Hell for his betrayal, and his betrayal was a necessary step in the humanity-saving death of Jesus Christ, then Judas is being punished for saving humanity. This goes hand-in-hand with the "free will" argument, and Aquinas's Summa deals with the issue of free will in demons and other beings instrumental in the life of Jesus that are nevertheless damned. This becomes a moot point in some denominations that denote Hell, not as a place of everlasting torture, but as non-existent state of the dead and the common grave of mankind.
  • If Jesus only suffered while dying on the cross, and then ascended into Heaven, while Judas must suffer for eternity in Hell, then Judas has suffered much more for the sins of humanity than Jesus, and his role in the Atonement is that much more significant.
  • Does Jesus' plea, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do," (Luke 23:34) not apply to Judas? Is his atonement insufficient for Judas' sins?
  • It has been speculated that Judas' damnation, which seems to be possible from the Gospels' text, may not actually stem from his betrayal of Christ, but from the despair which caused him to subsequently commit suicide. This position is not without its problems, but it does avoid the paradox of Judas' predestined act setting in motion both the salvation of all mankind and his own damnation.
  • What if Jesus knew he was going to die? Presumably he did. Was his purpose for coming not to cleanse the world of its sins? Perhaps Judas was all part of His master plan. Was Satan working through Judas? Since Satan failed in his temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, this may have been his second act of betrayal to God.

The damnation of Judas is not a universal conclusion. The Roman Catholic Church only proclaims individuals' Eternal Salvation through the Canon of Saints. There is no 'Canon of the Damned', nor any official proclamation of the damnation of Judas.

Motivation of Judas

Judas returns the silver coins to the priests.

Was the monetary value of 30 pieces of silver the only motivating force for Judas' actions considering that 30 pieces of silver was also the price one paid for a slave that had been gored by an ox in Old Testament Law? After seeing Jesus' popularity declining, was Judas' motivation for handing Jesus over an attempt to force the hand of God into action? Jesus often spoke of creating a kingdom and saving his people. This was a reference to a spiritual kingdom not known to any of Jesus' followers until after the day of Pentecost. Furthermore, the Bible notes that Satan entered into Judas, so to speak, shortly before the events leading to Jesus' crucifixion, so it is possible Judas may not have been acting entirely according to his own will at the time. Many times Judas saw Jesus escape capture and stonings. Judas might have been trying to spur Jesus into a war with the Romans by telling them where he was.

The last reading may be plausible if the etymology of "Iscariot" (see below) is in fact related to Sicarii, a sect of the Zealots committed to the violent overthrow of Rome. If Judas was a Sicarius (which may or may not be historically possible), then it's possible that he saw Jesus as the Messiah in the fashion expected by the Zealots: a military leader who would defeat and cast out the Romans. If this scenario was the case, then Judas may well have been trying to force Jesus into a position where he had to reveal himself as the divinely appointed warrior-king who would destroy his enemies.

Modern interpretations

Most modern Christians, whether laity, clergy, or theologians, still consider Judas a traitor. Indeed the term Judas has entered many languages as a synonym for betrayer.

However, some scholars[9] have embraced the alternative notion that Judas was merely the negotiator in a prearranged prisoner exchange (following the money-changer riot in the Temple) that gave Jesus to the Roman authorities by mutual agreement, and that Judas' later portrayal as "traitor" was a historical distortion.

In his book The Passover Plot the British theologian Hugh J. Schonfield argued that the crucifixion of Christ was a conscious re-enactment of Biblical prophecy and Judas acted with Jesus' full knowledge and consent in "betraying" his master to the authorities. Schonfield's hypothesis recognizes the fulfillment of prophecy in Judas' recorded actions without acknowledging that the prophecies were really fulfilled in history.[10]

A similar interpretation became well known to the general population through Martin Scorsese's controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Kazantzakis' original conception was that Judas Iscariot's only motivation in betraying Jesus to the Romans was to help him, as Jesus' closest friend, through doing what no other disciple could bring himself to do. This portrayal shows Judas obeying Jesus' covert request to help him fulfill his destiny to die on the cross, thus making Judas the catalyst for the event later interpreted as bringing about humanity's salvation. This view of Judas Iscariot is curiously reflected in the recently discovered and translated third or fourth-century text, the Gospel of Judas.

Representations and symbolism of Judas

Judas in hymnography

In the Eastern Orthodox hymns of Holy Wednesday (the Wednesday before Pascha), Judas is contrasted with the prostitute who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume and washed his feet with her tears. (Tradition identifies the prostitute with Mary, sister of Lazarus, although some identify her as a separate person.) In fact, the Bible never explicitly says that she is a prostitute. According to the Gospels, Judas protested at this apparent extravagance, suggesting that the money spent on it should have been given to the poor. After this, Judas went to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus for money. The hymns of Holy Wednesday contrast these two figures, encouraging believers to avoid the example of the fallen disciple and instead to imitate the prostitute's example of repentance. Wednesday is also observed as a day of fasting from meat, dairy products, and olive oil throughout the year in memory of the betrayal of Judas. The prayers of preparation for receiving the Eucharist also make mention of Judas' betrayal: "I will not reveal your mysteries to your enemies, neither like Judas will I betray you with a kiss, but like the thief on the cross I will confess you."

Judas in the Gospel of Barnabas

According to medieval copies of the Gospel of Barnabas, it was Judas, not Jesus, who was crucified on the cross. It is mentioned in this work that Judas' appearance was transformed to that of Jesus', when the former, out of betrayal, led the Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus, who by then (according to this text) had ascended to the heaven. This transformation of appearance was so identical that the masses, followers of Christ, and even the Mother of Jesus, Mary, initially thought that the one arrested and crucified was Jesus himself. The Gospel then mentions that after three days since burial, Judas' body was stolen from his grave, and the rumors spread of Jesus being risen from the dead. When Jesus was informed in the third heaven about what happened, he prayed to God to be sent back to the earth, and so he descended and gathered his mother, disciples, and followers and mentioned to them the truth of what happened, and having said this he ascended back to the heavens, and will come back at the end of time as a just king.

Recent discoveries: Gospel of Judas

Main article: Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas is a second century Gnostic gospel, written in Coptic, which was discovered in the twentieth century and publicly unveiled in 2006. The Gospel portrays the apostle Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, in a more positive light than can be found in the New Testament accepted by Christianity.[11] According to the traditional canonical Gospels, Judas betrayed Jesus to the Great Sanhedrin, which officiated over his crucifixion. The Gospel of Judas interprets this act of betrayal as one performed in the spirit of obedience to the instructions of Jesus. This positive portrayal conforms to the Gnostic notion that the human form is a prison, thus Judas helped to release the spirit of Christ from its physical constraints. Moreover, the Gospel of Judas suggests that the other disciples did not know Gnostic teachings, and it asserts that the true Gospel was given only to Judas Iscariot:

"Knowing that Judas was reflecting upon something that was exalted, Jesus said to him: Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal. For someone else will replace you, in order that the twelve disciples may again come to completion with their God."

The Gospel of Judas goes even further, showing Jesus in various instances criticizing the other disciples for their ignorance and their followers of immorality. When they tell Jesus about a vision, he points out its true meaning as follows:

"Those you have seen receiving the offerings at the altar — that is who you are. That is the God you serve, and you are those twelve men you have seen. The cattle you saw brought for sacrifice are the many people you lead astray before that altar. (…) will stand and make use of my name in this way, and generations of the pious will remain loyal to Him."

The authenticity of the Gospel of Judas is disputed. Although the papyrus upon which it is written has been carbon-dated to approximately the third-fourth century C.E., and the text is what is to be expected from a writer in the second century, there are tell-tale signs that it could be a modern hoax, perpetrated by a scholar familiar with Gnostic writings with access to ancient materials.[12]

Judas in Art, Literature, and Popular Culture

Cathédrale Saint-Lazare, Autun. Judas hangs himself

Judas has become the archetype of the betrayer in Western culture, with some role in virtually all retelling of the Passion story. In Dante's Inferno, he is condemned to the lowest circle of Hell, where he is one of three sinners deemed evil enough that they are doomed to be chewed for eternity in the mouths of the triple-headed Satan. (The others are Brutus and Cassius, who conspired against and assassinated Julius Caesar.)

  • Judas is the subject of one of the oldest surviving English ballads, dating from the thirteenth century, Judas, in which the blame for the betrayal of Christ is placed on his sister.
  • Edward Elgar's oratorio, The Apostles, depicts Judas as wanting to force Jesus to declare his divinity and establish the kingdom on earth. Eventually he succumbs to the sin of despair.
  • In the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas is shown as a man who loves Jesus and believes his teachings, but fears that the emergence of a new religion will spark a political uprising which the Romans will brutally suppress. Torn between his love of Christ and his fear that the Romans "will crush us if we go too far," he regretfully betrays Jesus. Inspired by the Bob Dylan lyric "You'll have to decide/Whether Judas Iscariot/Had God on his side," the play casts Judas in a sympathetic light. Later in the lyric, in a reflection of Judas' achieving pariah status, he sings that he will be "Damned for all time!"
  • In Robert Graves' King Jesus, it is posited that Judas knowingly plays his part in engineering Jesus' death—but for humanity's salvation, not for his own profit. The Residents' song "Judas Saves" from the album Wormwood: Curious Stories from the Bible has the same thesis, probably lifted from Graves' novel.
  • In Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper an overturned salt cellar lies in front of Judas (a reference to the superstition that spilling salt is bad luck).

Notes

  1. Gospel of Judas
  2. According to one Catholic writer, if he had not committed suicide but repented of his actions it would still have been possible for him to become a great saint, just like Saint Peter who denied Christ three times. Garry Wills, a New Testament scholar, believes that Jesus rescued Judas from Hell, as part of the Harrowing of Hell. Thus, the damnation of Judas is not a universal conclusion in the Roman Catholic Church.
  3. Raymond E. Brown (1994). The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave: A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels, Vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday/The Anchor Bible Reference Library. ISBN 0385494483), 688-692.
  4. John P. Meier. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 3, (New York: Doubleday/The Anchor Bible Reference Library, 2001. ISBN 0385469934), 210
  5. These "pieces of silver" were most likely intended to be understood as silver Tyrian shekels.
  6. letter to Clyde S. Kilby, 7 May 1959, quoted in Michael J. Christensen, C. S. Lewis on Scripture, Abingdon, 1979, Appendix A
  7. David A. Reed, Biblical Theology Bulletin (Summer 2005)
  8. This is a common occurrence; in general as one progresses from Mark to John, there is often a sense of moving from a simple recountal to theology. One hypothesis put forward by textual analysts is that Christianity itself was developing in that time (in terms of both audience and theology).
  9. Dirk Grützmacher. The "Betrayal" of Judas Iscariot: a study into the origins of Christianity and post- temple Judaism. (Edinburgh: 1998 (Thesis (M.Phil)—University of Edinburgh, 1999)
  10. Hugh J. Schonfield. The Passover Plot. (Element Books, 1998. ISBN 978-1852308360)
  11. In fall 2006, however, Biblical scholar Louis Painchaud argued that Gospel actually suggests that Judas was possessed by a demon. See À PROPOS DE LA (RE)DÉCOUVERTE DE L’ÉVANGILE DE JUDAS One scholar on the National Geographic project now believes the document shows how Judas was fooled into believing he was helping Jesus. CBC News. [1] Judas no hero, scholars say. 4 December 2006.
  12. Arthur, Richard L., "The Gospel of Judas: Is it a Hoax? Journal of Unification Studies 9 (2008): 35-47.

References

  • Brown, Raymond E. 1994. The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave: A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels, Vol. 1 New York: Doubleday/The Anchor Bible Reference Library. ISBN 0385494483
  • Christensen, Michael J. C. S. Lewis on Scripture, Abingdon Press, 1979, Appendix A
  • Ehrman, Bart D. The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed. Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0195314601
  • Grützmacher, Dirk. The "Betrayal" of Judas Iscariot: a study into the origins of Christianity and post- temple Judaism Edinburgh: Thesis (M.Phil) University of Edinburgh, 1999.
  • Kasser, Rodolphe Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst (eds). The Gospel of Judas. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2006. ISBN 978-1426200427
  • Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 3, New York: Doubleday/The Anchor Bible Reference Library, 2001. ISBN 0385469934
  • Page, Gregory A. Diary of Judas Iscariot of the Gospel According to Judas Kessinger Publishing, 1942.
  • Pagels, Elaine and Karen L. King. Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity. Viking Adult, 2007. ISBN 978-0670038459
  • Robinson, James M. The Secrets of Judas: The Story of the Misunderstood Disciple and His Lost Gospel. San Francisco: Harper, 2006. ISBN 978-0061170645
  • Schonfield, Hugh J. The Passover Plot. Element Books, 1998. ISBN 978-1852308360
  • Wills, Garry. What the Gospels Meant. New York: Viking Adult, 2008. ISBN 0670018716
  • Wright, N. T. Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity? Baker Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0801012945

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