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Supplemental Note on Judas Iscariot

Special attention should be given to the traditions involving Judas Iscariot in the Passion Narrative. He features variously in the first three episodes, as has been discussed in the prior notes of this series. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is one of the most secure traditions in the entire Narrative, and its authenticity as a historical tradition is all but certain (on objective grounds). The reasons for this are:

  • It is preserved in multiple lines of tradition, evidenced at multiple points in the Synoptic and Johannine lines, as well as Acts 1:16-20.
  • Early Christians are unlikely to have invented the idea that Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest followers, nor would it have been readily accepted if it did not derive from a strong and reliable historical tradition.
  • Indeed, there are signs that early Christians (including the Gospel writers) were uncomfortable with the idea and felt the need to explain it (on this, cf. below).

To this we must note that Judas scarcely appears in the Gospels at all apart from his role as betrayer in the Passion Narrative. He is associated exclusively with the betrayal, and there are indications that the fact of his betrayal had a profound affect on early Christian tradition. Consider that in the calling of the Twelve (an early/authentic tradition, to be sure), with the associated list of names (Mk 3:13-19 par), specific information is provided for only two of the Twelve disciples—the first (Simon Peter) and the last (Judas). The reference “Yehudah Ish-Qiryah [i.e. Judas Iscariot], the (one) who gave (Jesus) over…” was a familiar formula among early Christians, some version of which is found in the Gospels practically whenever his name is mentioned.

The Passion Narrative

Within the Passion Narrative itself, Judas appears at several key points, each of which is associated with a distinct tradition. I cite the Gospel of Mark as the simplest version among the Synoptics:

  • Mark 14:10-11 (par Matt 26:14-16; Lk 22:3-6):
    “And Yehudah Ish-Qiryah {Judas Iscariot}, one of the Twelve, went (away) from (there) toward the chief sacred-officials [i.e. chief Priests], (so) that he might give him [i.e. Jesus] along to them. And hearing (this) they were delighted, and gave a message upon (it) to [i.e. announced they would] give him silver.”
    In Mark/Matthew, this passage functions as an excursus between the first and second episodes. In Luke, it follows the introduction and similarly precedes the Passover meal episode.
  • Mark 14:18-21 (par Matt 26:21-25; Lk 22:21-23; also Jn 13:21-30):
    The prediction of betrayal, and the identification of the betrayer by Jesus, which includes a declaration of woe (Son of Man saying). This is part of the Passover meal episode, discussed in earlier notes.
  • Mark 14:43-46 (par Matt 26:47-50; Lk 22:47-48; also Jn 18:2-5):
    Judas comes with a crowd to arrest Jesus; he approaches to kiss Jesus. This is part of the Gethsemane/Garden scene, discussed in the previous notes. Mention should also be made of the declaration by Jesus which climaxes the previous Prayer scene (Mk 14:41-42 par): “…the hour came [i.e. has come]! See, the Son Man is (being) given along into the hands of sinful (men)…See, the one giving me along has come near!”

The last two traditions are found in all four Gospels, though with certain differences, indicating various ways in which the traditions have been developed. Matthew generally follows Mark closely, but adds certain details, including more direct interaction between Jesus and Judas (26:25, 49-50).

Luke has a different order/arrangement of events in the Last Supper scene (22:17-23), so that the prediction of the betrayal comes after the meal (and the words of institution); otherwise, the author generally follows the Synoptic/Markan account. However, this reordering allows the prediction of the betrayal to lead into teaching by Jesus regarding the nature of true discipleship (vv. 24-30)—that is, in contrast to the “false” discipleship of Judas the betrayer. The nature of this betrayal is brought out by Luke in the “Gethsemane” scene, and the arrest of Jesus, which follows (vv. 39-53), in two ways:

  • As Judas comes near to kiss Jesus, Luke is unique in the record of Jesus’ address to him: “Yehudah, you give along [i.e. betray] the Son of Man with a (mark of) affection [i.e. kiss]?” (v. 48)
  • The concluding declaration—”this is your [pl.] hour and the authority of darkness!” (v. 53)—alludes back to verse 14, as well as v. 3, where it is stated that “(the) Satan came into Yehudah {Judas}…” In the Gospel of John, Judas is similarly associated with darkness and the Devil (cf. below).

Development of the Tradition in Luke and John

Within the Gospel Tradition, two explanations were given for the betrayal of Jesus by one of his closest disciples: (1) Judas’ greed, and (2) the influence of Satan. Neither of these are found in the core Synoptic tradition represented by Mark’s Gospel, though there is perhaps an allusion to the first in Mark 14:10-11. Luke’s version at this point (22:3-6) may bring out the idea of Judas’ desire for payment, but only slightly (compared with Matthew’s version, cf. below). However, both Luke and John record specifically the diabolical nature of the betrayal, and the influence of Satan over Judas. In Luke, this is indicated by verses 3 and 53, mentioned above. The presentation in the Gospel of John requires a closer look.

John does not include a specific tradition of the calling of the Twelve such as we see in the Synoptics (Mk 3:13-19 par), but there is a similar sort of reference in 6:66-71, where Jesus declares:

“Did I not gather out [i.e. choose] you the Twelve—and (yet) out of you [i.e. among you] one is a devil!” (v. 70, cf. the author’s explanation in v. 71)

Judas appears again in chapters 12-13, especially the Last Supper episode of 13:1-30. Note the role of Judas here, in comparison with the Synoptic tradition:

  • V. 2: “And (with the) dining coming to be, the Devil [lit. one casting (evil) throughout] already had cast (it) into the heart that Yehuda Ish-Qirya (son) of Shim’on should give him along [i.e betray him]”—the Greek is somewhat ambiguous, but it should probably be understood that the Devil cast the idea/impulse into Judas‘ heart, i.e. that he should betray Jesus.
  • V. 10 (Jesus’ words to his disciples at the foot-washing): “…and you are clean—but not all of you!” (and the author’s explanation in v. 11, compare with 6:70-71, above)
  • V. 18 (a similar declaration by Jesus): “I do not say (this) about all of you—I know (the one)s whom I gathered out [i.e. chose]—but (so) that the Writing may be fulfilled…” (a citation of Psalm 41:9 follows).
  • Vv. 21-30—the expanded role of Judas in the scene of the betrayal prediction:
    • Jesus gives special information to the ‘Beloved disciple’ that he will identify the betrayer by giving him a piece of bread dipped in the dish (vv. 25-26a)
    • Jesus gives (shares) the piece of bread with Judas—described by the narrator (v. 26b)
    • At the moment that Judas eats the bread, it is stated that “then the Satan came into that one [i.e. Judas]” (v. 27, compare Lk 22:3)
    • The exchange between Jesus and Judas (vv. 27b-29), followed by Judas’ exit, i.e. his departure from the the room and the circle of Jesus’ (true) disciples (v. 30a)
    • After Judas’ leaves, we have the simple (symbolic) statement by the author: “And it was night” (v. 30b, cf. Lk 22:53)

In addition to the Satanic influence over Judas, the Gospel of John also indicates his greed, expressed through a distinct development of the Anointing tradition (Jn 12:1-8)—the person who objects to the ‘waste’ of expensive perfume (Mk 14:4; Matt 26:8-9) is identified as Judas (v. 4). Moreover, the author goes out of his way to explain that Judas, despite his noble-sounding objection, really did not care for the poor; rather, he simply wanted to preserve the money in the disciples’ common purse, since he was a thief and often would filch from it (according to the best sense of v. 6b). In 13:29 we find again the tradition that Judas held the common purse of money.

The Development of the Tradition in Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew has developed the Synoptic traditions regarding Judas in a distinct way, at two points:

  • Matt 26:14-16—Judas takes the initiative and asks the Priests “What are you willing to give me…?” (v. 15). Also a specific amount of money is indicated (30 silver-pieces). Both details emphasize the motif of Judas’ greed.
  • Matt 27:3-10—The reaction of Judas to Jesus’ arrest, etc, culminating in his suicide. This is a tradition completely unique to Matthew, and it partially undoes the negative portrait of Judas, by showing him to be repentant/remorseful over his actions. At the same time the suicide (hanging) depicts him as coming to a terrible and wicked end. The idea seems to be that his (apparent) repentance cannot completely undo the evil effects of his betrayal. Yet, the Gospel writer is not so much interested in Judas’ psychology, as in his actions as the fulfillment of Scripture (the difficult citation in vv. 9-10).

The tradition of Judas’ death in 27:5-8 is partially confirmed by Acts 1:18-19, though the specific details differ. The manner of Judas’ death in the latter passage, with its more grotesque description, seems to be in line with other early Christian treatments of Judas which tend to depict him in increasingly evil and ugly terms.

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