Boromir and Judas Iscariot: A Lord of the Rings Good Friday Blog

Boromir

Easter is one of the two biggest celebrations for the Christian Church, the other being Christmas.  One being the remembrance of the birth of Christ, the other being his death and resurrection.  Both were so important to the early church that it was deemed necessary to set aside a larger period of time to celebrate.  The four weeks leading up to Christmas were dubbed Advent and they were set apart for preparing one’s mind and heart for the birth of Jesus.  Likewise the 40 days leading up to Easter were set apart and dubbed Lent, in order to help Christ’s disciples prepare themselves for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  While Christmas culminates in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, both celebrating the same event – Jesus’ birth, Easter culminates into a weekend celebrating two major events in Jesus’ life, his death and resurrection.  While I understand the significance of celebrating both events (death and resurrection[1]), I have often wondered about the Christian labeling of Good Friday.  What is it about a day, set aside solely for the remembrance of a man’s death that makes it “Good?”

Judas KissLurking in the background of the Good Friday story is the betrayal of one man, Judas Iscariot, the keeper of the money bag.  Judas, for 30 pieces of silver, betrayed Jesus to the authorities which ultimately resulted in Jesus’ death on that day so long ago that is now commemorated as “Good Friday.”  How, in any world, does the act of betrayal leading to an innocent’s death result in a day that is considered good?  How, in any world?[2]

Well, being the nerd that I am, allow me to explore this question from that perspective, the viewpoint of a different world, the world of Middle-earth. In that world, there is a man who also betrayed his friends, if only for a moment.  Boromir, son of Denethor, is the eldest and heir to the stewardship of Gondor.  He has a younger brother named Faramir, but Boromir is much more his father’s son than Faramir.  Both Boromir and Denethor crave the power of control and neither have any desire to set that power aside, ever.  It is this lust for power that makes Boromir susceptible to the One Ring’s allure in Lord of the Rings.  Boromir is often seen as the weakest link in the Ring’s Fellowship as it was he who gave in and tried to take the Ring by force from Frodo.  Because of this momentary lapse in judgement at Amon Hen, he is sometimes considered a failure, but I wonder, whether Boromir’s involvement in the Fellowship of the Ring was a mistake or an essential act of providence.[3]

There is no doubt that Boromir’s actions were more in line with Sauron’s mind than with Gandalf and his company’s.  There is also no doubt that it was Boromir’s lust for power, or in the very least his enjoyment of it, that brought about his downfall.[4]  However, what if Boromir had not given in to the temptation of the Ring and, like the other respectable members of the company, had remained firmly set against using the ring for his own means?  What if that pivotal moment had not happened at Amon Hen?

Because of Boromir’s act, Frodo and Sam are forced to leave the company, Frodo because he realizes that eventually all the members of the company would give in, and Sam because of his undying loyalty to his master.  If Boromir had not attempted to forcibly wrest the Ring from Frodo, we have no proof that Frodo would have had the courage to set out on his own and enter Mordor stealthily, which was essential for success.  If Aragorn and/or Gandalf had joined Frodo on this quest, Sauron would have detected them instantly and known they were a threat.

But this is not the only effect of Boromir’s betrayal.  With the company divided and searching for Frodo, he was left alone to defend Merry and Pippin, essentially redeeming himself according to Gandalf.

Poor Boromir!  I could not see what happened to him.  It was a sore trial for such a man: a warrior, and a lord of men.  Galadriel told me that he was in peril.  But he escaped in the end.  I am glad.  It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake.[5]

However, this left him outnumbered and Merry and Pippin were captured, only to ironically be safely ferried to Fangorn Forest where, again essential to the Fellowship’s success, they rouse the Ents and cleverly bring their awesome power to bare against Isengard and Helm’s Deep.  Without this providential event, surely the free peoples would have fallen at Helm’s Deep.  “So between them our enemies have contrived only to bring Merry and Pippin with marvelous speed, and in the nick of time, to Fangorn, where otherwise they would never have come at all!”[6]

The Ents take down Isengard, which had it not fallen, Aragorn would never have gotten his hands on the palantír which proved an essential tool in fooling Sauron into turning his eyes away from Frodo and Sam, and launching his attack on Minas Tirith before his preparations were complete.

Further, Merry and Pippin’s capture draws Aragorn to pursue them resulting in his “chance” meeting with Éomer and the opportunity to begin the awakening of Rohan.  He also meets Gandalf in his pursuit, who helps free Théoden from Wormtongue’s guile, which in turn wipes out Saruman’s threat to Rohan, enabling the Rohirrim just enough time to send the army that saves Minas Tirith.

If Boromir had not been part of the Fellowship, he would not have been tempted by the ring and given in.  And none of these things could have happened if Boromir had not succumbed, at least for a time, to the temptation of the ring.  This one failure of Boromir was essential to the successful defeat of evil as no other single event in the book was.  Almost like Judas Iscariot’s failure being essential to the defeat of evil in our world.  This one act was pivotal for setting the crucial events, which had to take place, into motion.

So, as scripture says, these things must come to pass, but woe to he who brings them about (Matt. 26:24; Mark 14:21; Luke 22:22).

While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me–one who is eating with me.” 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?” 20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”  (Mar 14:18-21)

In the same way that Boromir was essential to moving the plot forward and pivotal in bringing down the plans of Sauron, so was Judas Iscariot’s actions essential in moving the plot of salvation forward and bringing down the plans of the evil one.  In the same way that the Ring’s evil plan over-reached itself and brought about its own destruction, so the evil one’s plans over-reached himself and ironically brought about his own defeat.  Maybe that’s why they call it “Good Friday.”

[1] The Gospel of Mark, at least, never mentions Christ’s death without immediately drawing attention to his resurrection.

[2] You can read about Judas’ story in Matthew 26:14-47; Mark 14:10-46; Luke 22:3-48; John 18:2-5.

[3] Providence often refers to God’s leading in this world, however it can also at times be God’s taking of an evil act, though not planned by him, and using this act to bring about his will.  It is this theme that Tolkien enjoys playing with in his novel.  We’ll explore this in a larger Middle-earth context in a later blog.

[4] I will discuss this in a future blog.

[5] Gandalf at the borders of Fangorn Forest in Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, p. 485.  HarperCollins, 1995 Edition.

[6] Ibid, p. 486.

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