- The Career of Judas
The statistics on the number of mentions of the name of Judas Iscariot increase according to the chronological order of the evangelists' works: Mark: 3; Matthew: 5; Luke-Acts: 6; John: 6, for a grand total of 22. The more we advance in time, the more details we have about Judas.
- The Existence of Judas
The Septuagint translated the name of one of the twelve sons of Jacob-Israel as Ioudas. Because the names of the patriarchs were so popular in New Testament times, several characters are named Judas, which includes the name Jude, a name modified to avoid association with Judas Iscariot. Etymologically, the name refers to the term "Jew" (Yĕhûdî, Ioudaios). Anti-Semitism has used this fact to make Judas the typical figure of the Jew. Finally, the addition of the numbers associated with the consonants of this name (Yhwdh) made the number "30", which might have contributed to the story of the 30 pieces of silver in Matthew's account.
The sometimes symbolic use of the name Judas has led some biblical scholars to question the existence of Judas Iscariot, and among their reasons are:
- The paucity of data about him
- He would play above all a parabolic role to warn the Christian about the possibility of betraying their master
- The first gospels hardly mention him, and his name is absent from the Pauline epistles and from most of the Apostolic Fathers and Justin
- It would be a fiction of the first Christians to describe their experience of being handed over to the authorities by the Jews
All these arguments are a way of interpreting silence. For example, the NT never makes an association Judas = Jew. Also, there was something embarrassing about Jesus making a mistake in choosing his disciples (which Celsus asserts according to Origen, Contra Celsum 2.11), and thus cannot be a Christian creation. Second, all the gospels mention him in the list of disciples, so this is a very old tradition. Finally, even if his role has been increased over time to fill in certain silences, this does not constitute a denial of the historicity of the character.
Some biblical scholars, while admitting the existence of Judas, do not believe that he played a role in the betrayal of Jesus, since according to the ancient Christian tradition it was God who has given over his Son. But one would look in vain for evidence that it was Christians who invented a story of betrayal. On the contrary, the gospels are unanimous in affirming his role, and various clues in the tradition point to the fact that he never testified to the risen Jesus, that his replacement as one of the twelve was something permanent, and that his fate was associated with the "Field of Blood.
- Attempts to Enlarge the Role of Judas
While some biblical scholars downplay the role of Judas, others have given him much expansion. Examples include:
- The fact that he is called "son of Simon" (Jn 6:7), that he is present in Bethany with Martha, Mary and Lazarus (Jn 12:2-4) and that Mk 14:3 identifies this house in Bethany as that of Simon the leper, some have suggested that Judas was the elder brother of the whole family of Bethany
- Some have identified Judas with the beloved disciple, or it is he who wrote the gospel according to Matthew
- Others have interpreted the indefinite article in the expression that Judas was "one of the twelve" as being in fact the number "one", and therefore affirm that Judas was the first among the disciples; moreover, was he not very close to Jesus at the last supper, and did he not have the important responsibility of the common purse? And even so, was he not of priestly lineage to be able to enter the temple sanctuary and throw away the 30 pieces of silver?
All of these assumptions do not pass the test of critical analysis. For example, if Christian memory has remembered that Judas betrayed Jesus, why would it have forgotten that he was the first of the disciples, and even names Peter as the first in the list of disciples, when Mt 10:3 speaks of Peter with the term protos (first); even John (James' brother) is named more often than Judas. Moreover, the expression "one of the Twelve" cannot refer to the numeral, since it is used for different disciples, as in Jn 20:24 to refer to Thomas. Finally, being responsible for the common purse is not linked to any of the values proclaimed by Jesus.
- Did Judas Participate in the Eucharist?
Proponents of the idea that Judas participated in the Eucharist base their argument on 1 Cor 11:27-30, which would be an echo of Judas:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
However, no gospel account presents a scene where Judas received the bread/body and wine/blood of Jesus. In John, Jesus' last meal is not a Eucharist. In Mk 14:20 - Mt 26:23 ("one of you is going to hand me over, one who eats with me") we do not have here a Eucharistic action that will take place later; but was Judas still at the table at that moment, since he does not seem to be there when they leave for Gethsemane (he will arrive later with those who will arrest Jesus)? It is different in Lk 22:21-23, since the prediction that he will be handed over ("But behold, the hand of the one who hands me over is at the table with me") takes place after the Eucharistic words. On the other hand, Luke never explicitly mentions Judas by name, nor does he allude to any deed that would have been inappropriate, as we see in the words that follow: "You are the ones who stood by me in my trials... and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel" (22:28, 30). This promise excludes Judas, of course, but had he already left the table by then?
In short, we have more questions than answers. And if the evangelists have not left us anything explicit, it is because the question of Judas and the Eucharist was far from their concerns.
- What Did Judas Betray?
Let us first recall that the verb used by the evangelists is paradidomi, which does not mean "to betray," but "to deliver," or "give to" someone. Judas delivered Jesus through two actions: 1) pointing out where Jesus was; 2) pointing out when to seize him; thus Judas would have helped the authorities identify Jesus among the disciples who were there in that isolated place on the Mount of Olives. Some biblical scholars have found this idea illogical, since the authorities were certainly aware of Jesus' whereabouts, and their police could arrest Jesus without Judas' help. The answer is this: during the Passover pilgrimage, there were crowds in Jerusalem, making it difficult to supervise, especially since Jesus did not live in Jerusalem, and according to John (7:30,45-46; 8:59; 10:39-40; 11:54) he was in hiding and had escaped arrest several times. Therefore, we understand the need of the authorities to get help to find where Jesus was, and especially to seize him at the right moment to avoid a reaction from the crowd.
Other biblical scholars have proposed that Judas betrayed his master in another way, specifically by revealing to the authorities words and actions of Jesus that allowed accusations to be made:
- Jesus would have claimed to destroy the sanctuary
- Jesus would have claimed to be the Son of God or the Messiah, breaking the messianic secret
- Jesus hoped to inaugurate the kingdom of God immediately after the last supper
- Jesus celebrated the Passover at an illegal time and in an illegal way
- Jesus would have approved the use of the sword
The most fatal objection to these hypotheses is that, if they were true, Judas would have had to be at Jesus' trial as the main witness.
- What Was Judas' Motive for Giving Over Jesus?
Mark gives us no indication of why Judas did this. Later, the gospels give us two factors that could be a motivation.
- First, according to Mt 26:14-15, Judas said to the chief priests, "What will you give me, and I will deliver him to you? They fixed him thirty pieces of silver." And in Jn 12:4-6, Judas complains about the waste of a precious perfume that could have been sold at a good price to give to the poor, and the evangelist adds about Judas: "that he was a thief and, in charge of the purse, he stole what was put into it." This is how Judas' reputation as a greedy man developed. Unfortunately, it is possible that this portrait of Judas may have developed later, in a movement of denigration, with the principle that the one who could do such a bad thing embodied all evil. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent the idea that Jesus could have entrusted Judas with the responsibility of the common purse.
- Lk 22:3 introduces the scene in which Judas goes to the authorities: "And Satan entered into Judas, called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve." We have a similar passage in Jn 13:2 on the occasion of the last supper: "During a meal, when the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, the thought of betraying him"; and a little further on in Jn 13:27: "It was at that moment, when he had offered him this morsel, that Satan entered into Judas". The fact of calling Judas "son of perdition" (Jn 17:12) goes in the same direction. Thus, for John and Luke, Satan is the main agent of this action of handing Jesus over. But here we are faced with a theological judgment that does not allow us to grasp Judas' perspective.
This meager collection in the NT of Judas motives has not prevented biblical scholars from proposing a multitude of motives that compete with each other in imagination. Let us give some examples:
- Judas would have been scandalized by some of Jesus' words and actions: his claim to be the messiah or Son of God, his illegal celebration of the Passover at an early date, his announcement of the destruction of the temple
- According to Origen, Judas, who was at first a good disciple, opened the way to the devil by his lack of faith and his greed
- Judas would have become impatient with the delay in inaugurating the reign of God, either through zeal or ambition
- Judas would have wanted to force Jesus to show all his power and defeat the authorities by inaugurating the reign of God
- Having lost faith, Judas wanted to have this deceiver arrested
- We should be grateful to Judas, because he forced the powers of this world to act against Jesus, leading him to make salvation possible
- How Did Judas Die? (Acts and Matt; Papias)
- The Acts Account in Relation to Matthew 27:3-10
|Mt 27: 3-10||Acts 1: 16-20. 25|
|When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me." ||16 "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus - 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 "For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'Let another take his position of overseer.'... 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." |
Matthew and Luke in the Acts of the Apostles present us with two very different accounts of Judas' death. Some biblical scholars have tried to defend the historicity of these two accounts and to harmonize them, especially the manner of death (by hanging in Matthew, by falling and having his entrails opened in Acts). In the Church Fathers and in some old Latin translations, it was considered that Judas was not dead when he hanged himself, but when he fell and his body opened in the middle. They also tried to harmonize the differences in the purchase of the field (by the chief priests in Matthew, by Judas himself in Acts). Thus, the idea has been put forward that Judas bought the field by providing the necessary funds, and it was the chief priests who completed the transaction. Such a harmonization distorts the clear meaning of the Acts account, written by Luke while he was totally unaware of Matthew's account.
There was a lot of discussion around the expression: prēnēs (headlong) genomenos (to become) elakēsen (to burst open) mesos (middle), which we translated as: laid prostrate, he burst open in the middle. Discussions have mostly centered on prēnēs: prostrate, headlong, prone. Thus some biblical scholars, on the basis that the adjective prēnēs evokes the verb prēthein (to swell), have translated our expression as: "having become swollen," which would correspond to a medical observation. Unfortunately, never in the medical and nonmedical literature does prēnēs mean: to be swollen; and therefore this argument does not hold water.
All these efforts at harmonization are based on a principle that is foreign to the Bible, i.e., everything that is told must be historical, and therefore if there are two accounts, they must be harmonized. We have already pointed out that the author of Acts, Luke, was unaware of Matthew's account, and so it is impossible to harmonize them. First of all, to understand Matthew's account, one must turn to the OT, especially 2 Sam 15-17, which tells the story of Ahithophel, David's trusted advisor who tried to hand over his master to Absalom and, after his failure, committed suicide by hanging. Similarly, the account in Acts is influenced by two psalms (69:26; 109:8) in reference to the place left vacant by Judas and the need to find a replacement. The text of Wis 4:19 ("Then they will become an infamous corpse, a perpetual disgrace among the dead; he will cast them down, without their being able to speak a word, headlong (prēnēs), he will shake them to their foundations, and they will lie fallow until the end; they will be in sorrow, and their remembrance will perish") may have played a role. Finally, in general, figures representing God's adversary may have served as models, such as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, as recounted in 2 Maccabees 9:5-10, who writes: "No sooner had he finished this sentence than a pain in his bowels without remedy and a sharp colic seized him.
- The Account Given by Papias
In his 4th book on the Logiōn kyriakōn exēxēseis, written well before the year 150, Papias describes the death of Judas. Unfortunately, this book no longer exists, but Apollinaris of Laodicea (310 - 390) quotes the relevant passage. On Acts 1, Apollinaris, after affirming that Judas did not die by hanging, but died as described in the text of Acts, assures his reader that Papias clearly tells what happened:
Judas lived his career in this world as an enormous example of impiety. He was so swollen in the flesh that where a wagon could pass easily he could not pass. Indeed not even his oversized head alone could do so. His eyelids were so puffed, they say, that he could no longer see the light at all; nor could his eyes be detected even by an optician's instrument, so far had they sunk below the outer surface. His private organ was gross and loathsome to behold in a degree beyond shame. Carried through it from every part of his body, there poured forth together pus and worms, to his shame even as he relieved himself. After so many tortures and punishments, his life, they say, came to a close in his own acreage [chōrion]; and this acreage because of the smell has been until now a desert and uninhabited. Indeed, even until this day none can pass by that place without holding the nose with one's hands - so massive was the flow from his flesh and so widespread over the earth.
On Matthew 27, Apollinaris offers us two parts. As the second part is almost identical to what we have just quoted concerning the Acts, let us be interested in the first part, attributed directly to Papias, and which is much shorter.
Judas lived his career in this world as an enormous example of impiety. He was so swollen in the flesh that he could not pass where a wagon could easily pass. Having been crushed by a wagon, his entrails poured out.
Let us ask the question: is the account of Papias independent of the account of Matthew and Acts? In relation to Matthew, we do not perceive any indication of dependence. In relation to the Acts account, we can spot some parallels between Judas being prētheis (swollen) in Papias, and prēnēs (prostrate) in Acts, or in the use of the same word chōrion (acreage); but in the latter case, the idea of acquiring land is absent in Papias, and the word "own" modifies "place" (topos) in Acts, not chōrion as in Papias. It has also been suggested that Papias and Acts were influenced by the psalms (69:26; 109:8), as well as Wis 4:19. Unfortunately, these parallels are really tenuous, so it is better to just say that Papias' account was influenced by the various accounts of the death of wicked men in the biblical and non-biblical world. In short, Papias' account, even in its long form, is probably independent of Acts and Matthew.
In the 2nd century there were three or four different accounts of how Judas died: suicide by hanging (Mt), a body that opens up in the middle and spills its entrails (Lk), a body swollen and crushed by a cart with its entrails spilling out (short form of Papias), the suffering of a disgusting disease that affected all his organs (long form of Papias) Could any of these stories be historical? The long form of Papias is clearly legendary. Luke's account is obscurely brief and may be intended to describe something impossible, an indication that this is the work of Satan, whom he says entered Judas (Lk 22:3). The accident in the short form of Papias is possible, but with the swelling of the body we fall into melodrama. Finally, in Matthew suicide by hanging is possible, but at the same time it must be taken into account that it is the exact parallel of the death of Ahithophel.
As disappointing as the conclusion may seem, we must accept that these accounts are probably not historical. Christians were aware of the tradition of a sudden death of Judas shortly after Jesus' death, without knowing the details. This sudden death may have prompted the idea of God's punishment, and it evoked various scriptural accounts of other deaths that were considered punishments from God. It is this sudden violent death that the various accounts have tried to interpret.
- The Name Iscariot
To distinguish Judas from others having the same name or from Jude, the NT often adds the name: Iscariot. Let us consider the meaning of the word.
- Ways of Writing the Name
The designation of Judas with the word "Iscariot" appears 10 times (Mk = 2; Mt = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 4). There are several ways to write this word. In the following list, it is always preceded by Ioudas :
- Iskariōth: Mark 3:19; 14:10; Luke 6:16
- (ho) Iskariōtēs: Matt 10:4; 26:14; John 12:4
- ho kaloumenos Iskariōtēs: Luke 22:3
- Simōnos Iskariōtou: John 6:71; 13:26
- Simōnos Iskariōtēs: John 13:2
- Skariōth: Codex Bezae and Lat of Mark 3:19
- Skariōtēs: Codex Bezae and Lat of Matt 10:4; 26:14
- apo Karyōtou: Codex Bezae of John 12:4
- Simōnos apo Karyōtou: Codex Bezae of John 13:2,26; Sinaiticus (original hand), Koridethi, and Family 13 (minuscules) of John 6:71
- Simōnos Skariōth: Codex Bezae and OL of John 6:71
In view of these variations, three questions can be raised.
- Which form is original? Iskariōth or Iskariōtes? One might think that Iskariōth is closer to Hebrew, and Iskariōtes closer to Greek, such as the form for roles or professions, e.g. stratiōtēs (soldier). But we have examples where Greek words translated into Hebrew/Aramaic had both forms: -tys and -ōt
- What significance should be given to the readings in Codex Bezae (Skariōth, apo Karyōtou)? Are they an echo of the Hebrew or an attempt by the copyist to interpret the Greek term Iskariōth? The fact that they appear only in John suggests the latter: the copyist would have understood that Iskariōth contains a geographical designation (man of Kariōth). But the Skariōth and Skariōtēs readings appear to be a copyist's interpretation, but the fact that the prefix "Is" was so easily dropped militates against the idea that this prefix refers to the word "man" in Hebrew (ʾîš) and thus that we would be dealing with a geographical designation, i. e. man from Kariōth.
- Does the reading Simōnos Iskariōtou found in John intend to indicate that Simon, the father of Judas, was called "Iscariot"? Some biblical scholars answer in the affirmative, judging that Iscariot was a family name, indicating the place of origin of the person. In this case the name tells us nothing about Judas' career. But other biblical scholars have pointed out that in the Semitic world a name attribute in a sequence of attributes could be placed at the end, and that in the expression "Judas, son of Simon, the Iscariot", Iscariot could refer to Judas. This would confirm the impression that it is Judas who is remembered as Iscariot.
What to conclude? These variations do not help us answer the question of the original meaning of the word. While Judas' father's name was probably Simon, the son was known as Iscariot. The readings with the preposition apo (from) are interpretations by copyists thinking that Judas was from Iscariot. There is no difference between Iskariōth and Iskariōtēs. Finally, since the word Iscariot is associated with Judas as early as Jesus' choice of the Twelve, it may be thought that it is a sobriquet that was assigned to him as soon as he was a disciple.
- Various Explanations
- Minor explanations.
Let's start with the explanations that have few defenders and are implausible.
- The word would come from the root skr/sgr (to stop up), at the source of the word 'askĕra', the hanged man
- The word would come from the root śkr (to hire, to pay) and would be linked to the thirty silver coins
- The word would be an echo of scortea, a leather apron that a messenger wore on his clothes: Judas may have had a leather purse sewn onto his clothes
- "Iscariot" would come from the expression 'isqā' rēût, "He who does business on the basis of friendship", because Judas betrayed Jesus for the sake of money.
- For many, "Iscariot" is derived from a proper name: Issachar, or Jericho, or Sychar in Samaria, or Kartah in Zebulun
- Man of Kerioth.
The most popular explanation is that "Iscariot" is the transliteration of the Hebrew: ʾîš Qĕrîyôt, suggesting that Judas was from Kerioth. This is an old idea, since the Codex Bezae (5th c.) offers us the reading: apo Karyōtou (of Kerioth). But there are serious objections to this hypothesis:
- Why was ʾîš transliterated and not translated as "man" or as a relative pronoun, as in John 21:21: "Philip who was from Bethsaida of Galilee"?
- Is there a city called Kerioth in Judea or Galilee? In Jos 15:25 we find qĕriyyôt ḥeṣrôn which the Septuagint translated as: hoi poleis Aserōn (the cities of Hezron); thus qĕriyyôt here does not refer to a city that would be called Kerioth, but is rather the plural of the feminine word: city (qiryâ). Qĕriyyôt is also mentioned in Amos 2:2 (the Septuagint also translated it as "city") and Jeremiah 48:24,41 where the Septuagint translated it as Keriōth, but here we are in Transjordan, an unlikely place for Judah. Moreover, can we assume that cities mentioned more than 600 years ago and even 1,200 years ago still existed at the time of Jesus?
- It is reasonably doubtful that "Iscariot" comes from the prefix "ʾîš" plus a city name, since the normal way to proceed in Hebrew is to make the city name an adjective, i.e. ʾîš Qĕrîyôtî, or to use the phrase "a certain man of" (ʾîš ḥad min Qĕrîyôt).
The Greek term sikarios appears in Acts 21:38 and refers to sikarion, the Greek translation of the Latin sica (dagger). The Jewish historian Josephus presents the "sicarios" as fanatical revolutionaries who carried out targeted assassinations. Some biblical scholars have therefore thought that the term "Iscariot" would come from "sicarius," especially since the form Skariōth and Skariōtēs are found in the Codex Bezae. In addition, some believe that Judas Iscariot is the same as Judas the Kananitēs (a Sahidic variant of John 14:22) and Judas the Zēlōtēs (contaminated by Simon the Zēlōtēs of Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13); moreover, the Aramaic root qn' (to be zealous) would have given the term Kananitēs. Also, all of this would explain Judas' impatience with the perceived political reign of God and would have led him to act as he did. Unfortunately, there are serious objections:
- Etymologically, should we assume that the first two letters were reversed, so that sika- would have become iska-? But why, since sika is pronounced without difficulty.
- Nothing in what we know of Judas' career suggests that he was a revolutionary in the political world
- And above all, the data offered by the Jewish historian Josephus places the beginning of the Sicarian movement two to three decades after the death of Judas.
- The one who gives him over
The Semitic root sgr/skr in the intensive form (pi'el, hip'il) means: to deliver up, to surrender (translated in the Septuagint as paradidonai, the verb used in the NT to express Judas' deed). Some biblical scholars have seen in this the origin of the word "Iscariot", especially since we have this passage in Is 19:4: "I will deliver (sikkartî) the Egyptians into the power of rough masters". Unfortunately, several objections can be raised. First, the root sgr is much more common than skr, and in that case it is hard to see how the "g" in sgr would have become a "k" in Greek to give Iskariōth. Furthermore, one would have to assume that no NT author recognized the fact that the name Iskariōth meant "the one who gives him over." Also, if during the 30-year period in which the gospels were written it was not known that "Iscariot" meant "the one who gives him over", there is a good chance that the name originally did not mean that.
- The Deceiver
Biblical scholars have proposed that "Iscariot" would come from the Hebrew ʾîš šĕqārîm (man of lies), from the root šqr (deceive). But the Peshitta did not recognize this root when it translated into Syriac Iskariōt. Moreover, how could "Iscariot" have been Judas' sobriquet from the beginning if it was only at the end that he was revealed to be a deceiver? And even then, there is no passage in the NT that calls him a liar or a deceiver.
- The Ruddy-Colored One.
The root sqr is associated with having a brown or reddish complexion. Also, some biblical scholars have believed that "Iscariot" would come from the Aramaic form saqray, sĕqārā', and 'isqārā'. Tokens found in Palmyra bear personal names followed by 'sqr' or 'šqr'. In the 9th century we find a description of Judas as someone with red hair. In Acts 13:1 there is mention of a "Symeon called Niger," i.e. Symeon the Black, and so a name with a color attribute is not impossible. But even if we accept this hypothesis, the fact that Judas had red hair or a reddish complexion would tell us little.
What can we conclude? It is quite plausible that the term "Iscarioth" was already unintelligible to the gospel writers. Since then, we have made little progress, and it is unlikely that new hypotheses will really enlighten us.