Judas Iscariot: The Insidious Symbol of Jewish Evil
Judas Iscariot: The Historical Transformation from a Disciple of Jesus to the Symbol of Jewish Evil
There are several problems and discrepancies[i] surrounding the Gospel accounts involving the character named, Judas Iscariot, and these are discrepancies which simply cannot be rectified logically. Despite these various problems and discrepancies surrounding Judas Iscariot, nevertheless it is an historical fact that Judas Iscariot ended up becoming the Church’s insidious anti-Semitic symbol of Jewish evil.[ii]
The Christian perception of the Jews and Judaism down through the centuries has been summed up from the Gospels’ portrayal of Judas Iscariot with Christianity historically portraying this relationship as being Judas Iscariot (Judaism) on one side and Jesus (Christianity) on the other side. This is a very gross misrepresentation of the truth. As Peter Stanford states,[iii] “Furthermore, the Jew was associated with Judas, Christ’s betrayer, and Judas with the Devil. In an illumination from the German eleventh-century Gospel Book of the Emperor Henry III, Judas is seen at the Last Supper with the Devil, as a black imp, in his mouth.”
Some scholars question whether or not Judas Iscariot actually existed historically,[iv] which derives from the vast amount of scholarly debate as to the true meaning of the name, Judas Iscariot.[v] For example, was Judas Iscariot one of the “Sicarii,” or was Judas Iscariot from some location referred to as “Iscariot?”
Yet, fabricating a name, Judas Iscariot, is highly doubtful as coming from the later Church especially if the “Iscariot” is derived from the name of the fierce Sicarii. It is similar to the names “Simon the Zealot” or “Judas the Galilean” or “Paul of Tarsus” or even “Jesus of Nazareth.” Nicknames were used by the Jews not only as a description of one’s origins, but also to describe one’s background, character, or philosophy and beliefs.[vi]
So let us now look at some of the problems and discrepancies surrounding the Gospel accounts involving Judas Iscariot. Now, Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19 clearly state that Judas Iscariot was given the same purpose and capabilities as the other eleven disciples.[vii]
William Klassen points out that since all of Jesus’ disciples were given the same purpose and capabilities according to Matthew and Mark then how can this square with John 6:64; 6:70?[viii] For John 6:64 clearly states that Jesus knew all along that Judas Iscariot would “betray” him, and in John 6:70 Jesus refers to Judas Iscariot as, “a devil.” The question that needs to be asked is that since all of Jesus’ disciples had the same purpose and capabilities including the “casting out of demons,” (Matthew 10:8; Mark 3:15; Luke 9:1-2) then how could John 6:64, 6:70 be true?
For if Jesus “knew” that Judas Iscariot was “a devil” (John 6:64, 70), and Judas Iscariot was sent forth with the other disciples to, “cast out demons,” this then would be a direct contradiction to Jesus’ own words, “how can Satan cast out Satan,” (Matthew 12:26; Luke 11:18)![ix] Something is totally amiss in regards to the portrayal of Judas Iscariot in John’s Gospel! For in Matthew 26:50 Jesus clearly refers to Judas Iscariot as his “friend!”[x]
We next find that both Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30 has Jesus telling all of his disciples, including Judas Iscariot, that they would be sitting as judges at the end of days, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.[xi] Dale C. Allison interprets this as meaning, “ruling,” and not “judging,”[xii] while James Dunn interprets this as indicating a “reconstituted Israel”[xiii]
Now, James 1:1 starts off with the address, “To the twelve tribes in the dispersion,”[xiv] and combining this with what is stated in Revelations 7:4-8,[xv] then one must conclude that it is an historical fact that Jesus did indeed tell all of his disciples, including Judas Iscariot, that they would be either “ruling” or “judging” over the twelve tribes of a “reconstituted Israel!”
There are some scholars though, who question whether or not Jesus actually stated anything about the disciples judging the twelve tribes,[xvi] while other scholars are emphatic in their belief that Jesus’ statement regarding this matter is in fact historical.[xvii] Therefore, the question begs to be asked, does this mean that Judas Iscariot is going to be one of these twelve judges just as Jesus is reported to have stated despite a supposed “betrayal” of Jesus by Judas Iscariot?
This is a very important question to ask for the simple fact that in 1 Corinthians 15:5 Paul states that the risen Jesus was seen by all twelve disciples, meaning that the risen Jesus was even seen by Judas Iscariot prior to the death of Judas Iscariot![xviii] Furthermore, in the non-canonical Gospel of Peter 59 it states, “We, the twelve disciples of the Lord, were weeping and were in sorrow.”[xix]
In regards to 1 Corinthians 15:5, James McLeman asks,[xx] “If, in one case, twelve were involved, does this imply an appearance after Judas’ successor was appointed, or is it a slip, or were the twelve not yet known as Apostles?”[xxi] Yet, in answer to Mclemen’s question of whether the twelve were “not yet known as Apostles,” Matthew 10:2; Mark 6:30; Luke 6:13 all clearly indicate that the twelve were indeed already known as “Apostles.”
Virtually every scholar agrees that Paul’s letters were all written prior to any of the Gospels being written. Thus, what is found being stated in Matthew 28:16 concerning only eleven disciples going to Galilee can only mean that the excluding of Judas Iscariot from this narrative indicates that the Gospel depictions of Judas Iscariot were a late developing insidious Church concept. For the replacement of Judas Iscariot, found in Acts 1:15-26, only occurred after the account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven noted in Acts 1:9-11.[xxii]
Now, in regards to the “betrayal” of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, Josef Blinzler lists several possible reasons for this “betrayal.”[xxiii] Yet, the most accurate reason given for this “betrayal” is found in Acts 1:18, which as it is generally translated out reads that Judas Iscariot “burst open” “spilling his guts.”[xxiv] Now, Papias told a story about Judas Iscariot that claimed that after Judas Iscariot had “betrayed” Jesus, Judas Iscariot “swelled up” until “his innards” poured out.[xxv]
Yet, the best interpretation of the Greek context of Acts 1:18 provides the meaning, “began babbling,” or “speaking the truth,” that Jesus was the Messiah. We have heard the phrase, or even used the phrase, “spilled his guts,” in regards to telling others the truth about something that was supposed to be kept “secret,” or “held in confidence.” This term derived from the Ancient Greeks, beginning around 500 BCE, from the use of “pebbles,” (Greek, psephos, a word used in Acts 26:10[xxvi]), to cast “secret votes” during jury trials.
If the bowl in which the psephos were placed was inadvertently overturned, then this “secret voting” would be revealed, or, if someone inadvertently vocalized how they had voted, such actions brought about the terms, he “spilled the pebbles,” or he “spilled his guts.”[xxvii]
This then, is precisely what Acts 1:18 actually means! For if we look at Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:21, Jesus “sternly ordered and commanded” all of his disciples, “not to tell anyone” that he was indeed the Messiah,[xxviii] (see also Mark 1:24; 1:34; 3:11-12; 1:43-44; 5:43; 7:36; 9:9; Matthew 8:4; 9:30; 12:16; 17:9; Luke 4:41; 9:36).
This order was given to all twelve disciples, including Judas Iscariot. Yet, this was precisely what Judas Iscariot went and did – he told others that Jesus was the Messiah![xxix] This then, holds squarely in line with what was taught in Pharisaic Jewish law at the time of Jesus. For as it states in the Mishnah, Abot 1:10, “Love work and hate mastery, and make not yourself known to the government.”
Now, under Jewish law at the time of Jesus, it was expressly forbidden to repeat something to others that had been expressly told should not be repeated, or told to others, (Yoma 4b). But, if someone were to give their permission to repeat what had first been expressly told “privately” not to repeat to others, this then was not a violation of Jewish law. Therefore, when Jesus expressly says to Judas Iscariot, “Do quickly what you are going to do,” (John 13:27), Jesus had thus given Judas Iscariot permission to repeat what had been told to Jesus’ disciples “privately,” thereby nullifying any violation of Jewish law![xxx]
Another problem regarding Judas Iscariot surrounds Mark 14:50-51, which appears to indicate that an unnamed “young man” “betrayed” Jesus, which some scholars relate to the prophecy of Amos 2:15 (2:16 in Christian Bibles).[xxxi] For who is this “young man,” especially since all four Gospels, (Matthew 26:36; Mark 14:32; Luke 22:39; John 18:1), tell us that Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with only eleven of his disciples (since Judas Iscariot had supposedly already gone to gather the arresting party)! For Jesus and only eleven disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane immediately after Jesus and only all twelve disciples had eaten the Last Supper, (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Luke 22:39).
So, who was this “young man,” and how was he able to follow Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus and only his twelve disciples had just eaten the Last Supper? For Mark 14:11 indicates that Jesus had made “clandestine arrangements” for the Last Supper while Judas Iscariot was off arranging for Jesus’ “betrayal.”[xxxii] This problem derives from Mark 14:11 stating Judas Iscariot is visiting the High Priest while the actual Last Supper arrangements are not made until two verses later, Mark 14:13-16. So, how would Judas Iscariot himself have even known where this “clandestine Last Supper” was being held much less this unnamed “young man?”
Could this unnamed “young man” have been the individual who owned the house in which the Last Supper was held? Yet, if such “clandestine” arrangements had been made while Judas Iscariot was away making his “betrayal” arrangements, then would we not find that Mark 14:17 stated that, “one of you has already betrayed me”? But the wording of Mark 14:17 is “will betray me,” which indicates that the supposed “betrayal” arrangements of Judas Iscariot had not yet been made. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus clearly knows what will happen, even though the wording in Mark’s Gospel indicates that it had already happened! Something is totally amiss in regards to this entire account in Mark’s Gospel!
Going further with this matter, John 18:15-16 clearly states that a certain “unnamed” disciple of Jesus is “known to the High Priest,” and thereby, “went with Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest.” This “unnamed” disciple then “brought Peter in.” So, who could this “unnamed” disciple possibly be who was “known to the High Priest”? Could this be the same “unnamed” “young man” from Mark 14:50-51? Helen K. Bond believes that this “unnamed” disciple is none other than Judas Iscariot.[xxxiii] Yet Bond’s reasoning for making this determination is highly questionable!
Thus, if this one “unnamed” disciple was “known to the High Priest,” then the question begs to be asked, why were all of the other disciples of Jesus also not “known to the High Priest” as a result of this seemingly intimate relationship between this “unnamed” disciple and the High Priest? Is it thus, possibly being hinted at that this “unnamed” disciple was in fact some disciple other than Judas Iscariot? For Matthew, (by way of his name Levi), was a Levite and most probably a Temple tax collector who then quite possibly would have been “known to the High Priest”!
Therefore, for any scholar to use the claim “that Judas did betray Jesus is almost certain,”[xxxiv] simply because it is claimed to have “multiple attestation,” does not take into consideration all of the discrepancies and other factors and facts surrounding these supposed “multiple attestations!” If a matter has no congruency within supposed “multiple attestations,” then that matter cannot be considered as being “almost certain.” We can only be certain through these “multiple attestations” that Jesus was “betrayed” by someone, but we cannot be certain as to whom it was that “betrayed” Jesus, or even about what happened to that particular individual after they “betrayed” Jesus!
Regarding the Gospel accounts of what Jesus is reported to have said at the Last Supper in regards to Judas Iscariot, some scholars have pointed to Psalm 41:10 (41:9 in Christian Bibles), and Proverbs 21:6 as the basis for the evangelists’ words.[xxxv] These scholars are correct in assuming that these words were placed onto the lips of Jesus by the evangelists and not something which Jesus actually spoke.
For taking these two verses one at a time, the common translation in Christian Bibles of Psalm 41:10 (41:9 in Christian Bibles), this verse is generally rendered as saying, “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted the heels against me.” But the better rendering of the actual Hebrew of this verse in regards to the overall context of Psalm 41 is, “Even everyone’s well-being He confirmed to my trust, therein consumed, I did battle with the deceivers.”[xxxvi]
Likewise, in regards to Proverbs 21:6, which is commonly translated as, “Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” Yet again, the actual better rendering of the contextual Hebrew of Proverbs 21:6 should actually be understood to say, “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor: they lead to death.”[xxxvii] The point being made is that the matter of a “betrayal” of Jesus by Judas Iscariot is a late development by the Church as an insidious symbol of Jewish evil!
We now have the problematic matter of the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, first discovered in Coptic in the 1970’s near Beni Masar, Egypt, long thought to be lost.[xxxviii] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.31.1, even mentions the Gospel of Judas Iscariot.[xxxix] But, why would there even exist a Gospel of Judas Iscariot if in fact Judas Iscariot had been a “betrayer” of Jesus? Yet, the better question is, if Judas Iscariot died shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion, then how could Judas Iscariot have gained any followers such as Peter, or Paul gained in order to write a Gospel of Judas Iscariot?
There is a major problem though, with the use of the English words “betrayed,” or “betrayal” in regards to the accounts of Judas Iscariot. For the Greek words, paradidemi, or paredidoto are better understood to have a meaning of, “to hand over,” or “handed over.”[xl]
William Klassen points out that only Luke’s Gospel, (Luke 6:16), uses the Greek word for “traitor,” (prodotes) in regards to Judas Iscariot![xli] Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 indicates that he knows of this “handing over” of Jesus, but Paul does not seem to know who specifically was involved in this “handing over” of Jesus, nor does Paul even refer to this “handing over” as being some sort of a “betrayal.” In fact, in Romans 8:32 Paul seems to indicate that it was God Himself who “handed over” Jesus to the arresting party.
Yet, in 1 Peter 2:23, it seems to indicate that Jesus “handed over” himself to the arresting officers. In essence then, there really is no indication of an actual “betrayal,” per se, in contrast to the common perception of such! For Mark 14:44 indicates, by way of the Greek wording, that Judas Iscariot wanted the arresting officers to take Jesus away “safely,” as if to emphatically ensure that no harm was to come to Jesus.[xlii] Therefore, could this be the reason why Judas Iscariot gave Jesus a “kiss” as Jesus was being arrested?[xliii]
John’s Gospel, more than the Synoptic Gospels, seems to indicate that Jesus had foreknowledge that someone would “hand him over.” In fact, as already noted above, John 6:70 implies that Judas Iscariot had been “chosen” from the very beginning as the one who would “hand over” Jesus.[xliv] So, if Jesus did have foreknowledge of a “handing over” by Judas Iscariot, and Judas Iscariot had been “chosen” from the very beginning to “hand over” Jesus, then how can Judas Iscariot be portrayed as being “evil?”[xlv]
For Acts 2:23 clearly states that this was God’s plan all along. So, if, according to Christian theology, Jesus was supposed to be “handed over” by Judas Iscariot to die for our sins, then how can Judas Iscariot be viewed in any other way than as one who was fulfilling God’s will? Therefore, Judas Iscariot should not be portrayed as an insidious symbol of Jewish evil![xlvi]
[ii] Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, p. 29; Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, p. 42; Joel Carmichael, The Death of Jesus, p. 19.
[v] Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, pp. 128-140; Josef Blinzler, The Trial of Jesus, p. 60; Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, pp. 145-146, n. 5, p. 187; N. T. Wright, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus, p. 45; Joel Carmichael, The Death of Jesus, p. 19; William Klassen, Judas, pp. 29-34.
[viii] William Klassen, Judas, pp. 1-2.
[ix] Arland J. Hultgren, Jesus and His Adversaries, pp. 100-106; Morris Jastrow, Jr. and J. Frederick McCurdy, “Baal-Zebub,” Jewish Encyclopedia; Kaufmann Kohler, “Beelzebub or Beelzebul,” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[x] William Klassen, Judas, pp. 46, and 103-104.
[xi] Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 101-102; Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence, pp. 199-208.
[xii] Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 141-145.
[xvii] Albert Nolan, Jesus before Christianity, p. 106; Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, p. 152; Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted, pp. 159-160; Gerard S. Sloyan, The Crucifixion of Jesus, p. 50.
[xviii] Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, pp. 24-25; Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, pp. 15-16; Anastasios Kioulachoglou, “Judas’ Death and its Timing,” The Journal of Biblical Accuracy.
[xxii] Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, pp. 87-88.
[xxiii] Josef Blinzler, The Trial of Jesus, p. 59.
[xxiv] See Edgar J. Goodspeed, Problems of New Testament Translation, pp. 123-126.
[xxvi] See Strong’s Greek-English dictionary #5586; BDAG Greek-English Lexicon, p. 1098; Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, p. 901.
[xxvii] Annelisa Stephen, “Voting with the Ancient Greeks: One of the Earliest Artistic Depictions of Voting, 490 B. C.” November 6, 2012; Jeremy James Patterson, “Elections: How the Greeks and Romans did them and why lots can be better than votes,” University of St. Andrews, Ancient and Modern Rhetoric.
[xxix] Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, pp. 162-165; Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, p. 122; Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament, Box 16.10, p. 272; Chester McCown, The Search for the Real Jesus, p. 250.
[xxxi] Hyam Maccoby, Revolution in Judaea, pp. 152-153.
[xxxiii] Helen K. Bond, Caiaphas, pp. 134-135.
[xxxiv] Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament, p. 271.
[xxxv] Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, pp. 26-27.
[xxxvi] See Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, and A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for this better rendering of the contextual Hebrew.
[xxxvii] See Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, and A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for this better rendering of the contextual Hebrew.
[xxxviii] Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, p. 3.
[xxxix] Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, p. 63.
[xl] Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, p. 24; Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity, pp. 131-132; Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, pp. 15-16; Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament, p. 215; William Klassen, Judas, pp. 22-23, 44, 47-58, 62-74, 77-78, and 202-203; Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, pp. 1399-1401.
[xli] William Klassen, Judas, p. 116.
[xlii] Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, pp. 23, and 166.
[xliii] Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, pp. 37, and 42.
[xliv] Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, p. 64.
[xlv] Hyam Maccoby, Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil, pp. 70-71 and n. 4, p. 179.
[xlvi] Bart D. Ehrman, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot, p. 138 and n. 10, p. 186; N. T. Wright, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus, pp. 48-49.