Monday, February 26, 2007

Did Judas Really Betray Jesus?

Many modern biblical scholars and theologians make arguments that the Judas betrayal story in the New Testament was a later addition to the developing Jesus saga, and was not a real event in Jesus's life. To support this assertion, scholars point to several facts.

To start, no one is quite sure what the word "Iscariot" refers to. Normally, the suffix "iot" would have implied that Judas was from a placed called Iscaria. "Iot" is a suffix akin to "ian" or "ite". However, no such ancient town or village is known to have existed.

A more popular suggestion is that "Iscariot" was a reference to the Sicarii, which were a group of assassins in 1st century Judea intent on driving the Romans out of Jewish lands. In her book "Mary Called Magdalene," Margaret George abides by this theory and fictionalizes Judas as a Sicarii who is drawn in among the followers of Jesus.

The problem with this theory is that the Sicarii didn't seem to appear until about 50 C.E., 20 years after the events of Jesus's death. Judas, therefore, couldn't have been a Sicarii, unless the term was applied perjoratively to him later.

It is possible that Judas was a fictional character all together. The 12 apostles included 3 men named Judas...Judas son of James, Judas Iscariot, and Judas Thomas Didymus. Judas Thomas is more commonly known as just Thomas, and Judas the son of James (i.e. St. Jude) is also called Thaddeus, and sometimes Judas the Zealot. This last reference could imply a link with the Iscarii argument - perhaps Judas the Zealot and Judas Iscariot (the Iscarii) were the same person.

In addition to the problems of Judas's identity, there are numerous textural indications that the betrayal story was legendary in nature.

The earliest documents in the New Testament are the letters of Paul. Nowhere in Paul's letters does he ever refer to Jesus's arrest and crucifixion resulting from a betrayal, by Judas or anyone else. He never mentions Judas by name, and he never mentions any sort of betrayal story.

Furthermore, and perhaps even more significantly, Paul specifically refers to an appearance of the resurrected Jesus to "Peter and then to the 12." That's an important line, because, according to the betrayal stories, Judas killed himself after the betrayal, and thus Jesus's appearance were "to the 11" (see Matthew 28:16, Mark 16:14, Luke 24:9, and Luke 24:33 for references to "the 11). By stating that the resurrected Jesus appeared "to the 12," Paul is making it clear that he was not aware of any betrayal story, or any concept that Judas wasn't still with "the 12" when Jesus was resurrected.

Additionally, the details of the betrayal vary wildly among the gospels.

Mark, the first gospel, says Judas decided to betray Jesus. Jesus then predicts, during the Last Supper, that he will be betrayed, but doesn't say by whom. Judas then brings the soldiers to the Garden of Gesthemene and betrays Jesus with a kiss. Judas is never mentioned again by Mark.

In Matthew, the second gospel, written some 10-15 years after Mark, the writer adds in the 30 silver pieces detail. This is the only gospel to mention 30 silver pieces. Additionally, Jesus specifically calls Judas out at the Last Supper and names him as the betrayer. He then later describes Judas as being torn with remorse, giving the money back, and hanging himself. The writer says that the Jews took the money and used it to buy a potter's field, in order to bury foreigners. This, he says, fulfilled a prophecy in Jeremiah that talks about buying a potters field with 30 pieces of silver. Clearly (to my mind, anyway) Matthew added these details on his own, in an effort to argue that Jesus's life fulfilled scripture - which is something he does again and again in his gospel.

Luke, the third gospel, says that "Satan entered" Judas, causing him to betray Jesus. At the Last Supper, Jesus does a lot of talking, but does not predict any betrayal by anyone. When Judas leads the guards to Jesus, he tries to kiss Jesus, but Jesus stops him and asks him if he's betraying him with a kiss. Jesus is then arrested. Judas is never mentioned again in Luke's gospel. However, the same writer wrote Acts, and in Acts, Judas is described as going and purchasing a field, and then falling there headlong. In doing so, his body burst open and his intestines spilled out.

The final gospel, John, also states that the "devil prompted" Judas to betray Jesus. Jesus then predicts his betrayal, and names Judas specifically. In John's version, Jesus then tell Judas to go do what he has to do, and Judas leaves the gathering. Jesus then goes on to give about 4 chapters' worth of teachings, there at the table. After the supper, Judas leads the guards to Jesus, and Jesus surrenders himself without Judas doing anything -- no kiss, no nothing. Judas is not mentioned again by John.

So for details, you have the following:

- All 4 gospels agree that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus (which is about the only thing they agree on).

- 2 gospels say Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. 1 gospel says Judas tried to kiss Jesus, but Jesus stopped him. 1 gospel says Jesus gave himself up willingly, and Judas doesn't even attempt to kiss him.

- 2 gospels say Jesus specifically named Judas as his betrayer at the Last Supper. 1 gospels says Jesus predicted he would be betrayed, but did not name who. 1 gospel says nothing about a prediction by Jesus.

- 3 gospels say Judas betrayed Jesus for money. 1 of those gospels goes on to specify 30 silver pieces. 1 gospel does not say anything at all about money being involved, and instead implies Judas did it because the devil made him.

- 3 gospels imply Judas remained at the Lord's Supper until they all left. 1 gospel says he got up and left after Jesus named him as the betrayer.

- 2 gospels say nothing about what happened to Judas after the betrayal. 1 gospel says Judas was torn with guilt, gave the money back, and committed suicide by hanging himself. The money he gave back was then used by the Jews to buy a potter's field. 1 gospel says nothing about Judas feeling guilty, giving the money back, or committing suicide, but instead implies that Judas used the money to buy a potter's field himself, then had an accident in the field and died a horrible death in which his body burst open.

Some apologists might argue that the varying details prove it is a real story -- eyewitnesses, after all, always have different memories (Lee Strobel argues this point in his book "The Case for Christ"). The problem with this argument is that these same apologists don't question the memories of these writers at all when recording the details of Jesus's teachings, etc. If God inspired the words of the bible - as evangelicals prolciam - then God could have gotten the details about Judas's betrayal right.

The final point scholars make is one that I find very intriguing and interesting. The argument is that Judas's very name suggests mythological and metaphorical origins for the betrayal story.

The names Jude and Judas are etymologically equivalent to the name of the Jewish nation -- Judah, or Judea. Thus, Judas, with a name representing the entire nation of the Jews, was filled with Satan and betrayed and rejected Jesus. Considering the Christian perception that the callous Jews rejected Jesus, how convenient that the betrayer of Jesus was named for the Jewish nation.

To put this point in perspective, imagine if someone in central Missouri began preaching against the oppressiveness of the American political system. He began traveling around the country with a large retinue, teaching that Americans were fat, greedy, self-centered, and spiritually empty. He spoke out against the authority of the American government. Eventually, the government began to take notice of him and decided he needed to be jailed, to stop his damaging movement. They enlisted one of his closest companions to betray him so that they could arrest him. This companion just happened to be named none other than AMERICUS. Who could be more patriotic, loyal, and representative of American values than someone named AMERICUS, and who more appropriate to betray this anti-American leader than someone named AMERICUS?

Thus, Judas's very name seems almost too convenient to assume that the betrayal stories are entirely, if at all, accurate.

As for my personal beliefs, I think Judas was probably a real person, perhaps someone who fell out of favor with the disciples after Jesus's death, and then later became a scapegoat and the subject of betrayal legends. I also wonder if his name was actually Judas, and not something else.


Anonymous said...

Without going into the amazing detail and length of your recent musing, I simply add that there are other schools of thought. Iscariot probably means "the man from Kerioth" the town Kerioth Hezron, 12 miles south of Hebron, in Judah. He was probably the only disciple from there, with the others all coming from Galilee. Also, it is Judas, son of James or Thaddaeus, not the Zealot. That would be Simon the Zealot, a description of his religious zeal or a reference to his membership in the the party of the Zealots, a Jewish revolutionary group violently opposed to Roman rule over Palestine. And you can also look at the purpose of each of the gospels to explain a few things. Matthew is the one gospel that is specically written to Jews. Therefore, he sets out more than any other writer to prove that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah.

Scott said...

Yeah, I know of the Kerioth connection. Didn't I mention that in my thread? I know I had it in there originally, but I may have edited it out. Anyway, Kerioth is a town mentioned in the book of Joshua. To my knowledge, this passing reference in Joshua is the only reference in all of ancient literature to such a town - and it predates the life of Judas by about 500 years. Even if we can assume that it did exist, "Iscariot" and "Kerioth" are only somewhat similar in terms of spelling and transliteration. I know who Simon the Zealot is. Judas son of James, aka Thaddeus, is also referred to as Judas the Zealot in some apochryphal writings. Bruce Metzger, a biblical scholar who you might be familiar with, says Judas the Zealot was probably a reference to Simon the Zealot, but others have suggested that it is a reference to Judas, Son of James. Either way, the idea that St. Jude and Judas Iscariot are the same person is purely speculation. If I implied it was anything other than that, it was unintentional. As for Matthew, yes, it is a gospel written for Jewish Christians who were experiencing backlash from Orthodox Jews in the wake of the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. He was encouraging them to hang tough, as it were, and also attempting to write an apologetic showing why Jesus was who the Christians claimed he was -- i.e., tying Jesus's life to Hebrew scripture. Unfortunately, it appears that he made stuff up in order to acheive that goal.

Anonymous said...

My dearest brother Scott,

Good article. I kindly suggest you to learn gematria to find out which Judas had betrayed Jesus. Verses can be manipulated, intentionally added, change, and so on for any vested interests, buf the gematria value of names and their hidden meaning cannot be changed.


Scott said...

Thanks for the suggestion, my friend, but I don't find gematria of any value in critical biblical scholarship.

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