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He is infamously known for his kiss and betrayal of Jesus to the hands of the chief Sanhedrin priests in exchange for a payment of thirty silver coins. Though there are varied accounts of his death, the traditional version sees him as having hanged himself out of remorse following his betrayal. His place among the Twelve Apostles was later filled by Matthias.
His name is often used to accuse someone of betrayal, and is sometimes confused with Saint Jude Thaddeus.
In the Greek New Testament, Judas is called Ιούδας Ισκάριωθ and Ισκαριώτης. "Judas" (spelled "Ioudas" in ancient Greek and "Iudas" in Latin, pronounced yudas in both) is the Greek form of the common name Judah (יהודה, Yehûdâh, Hebrew for "God is praised"). The Greek spelling underlies other names in the New Testament that are traditionally rendered differently in English: Judah and Jude. The significance of "Iscariot" is uncertain. There are several major theories on etymology:
Mark states that the chief priests were looking for a sly way to arrest Jesus. They decided not to do so during the feast since they were afraid that people would riot; instead, they chose the night before the feast to arrest him. In the Gospel of Luke, Satan enters Judas at this time.
According to the account in the Gospel of John, Judas carried the disciples' money bag. He betrayed Jesus for a bribe of "thirty pieces of silver" by identifying him with a kiss — "the kiss of Judas" — to arresting soldiers of the High Priest Caiaphas, who then turned Jesus over to Pontius Pilate's soldiers.
There are a few descriptions of the death of Judas, two of which are included in the modern Biblical canon:
The existence of conflicting accounts of the death of Judas has caused problems for scholars who have seen them as threatening the reliability of Scripture. This problem was one of the points causing C. S. Lewis, for example, to reject the view "that every statement in Scripture must be historical truth". Various attempts at harmonization have been suggested, such as that of Augustine that Judas hanged himself in the field, and the rope eventually snapped and the fall burst his body open, or that the accounts of Acts and Matthew refer to two different transactions.
Christian Apologetics claim that these seemingly contradicting facts are in fact the result of mistranslations, and contextual misunderstandings. They claim that, as is often the case with biblical errors, the English translations simply do not refer the same message as the original Greek and Hebrew.
The Book of Acts' claim that Judas "Fell headfirst" is a simple transcription error away from meaning instead: "becoming swollen". This would explain Judas having "burst asunder in the midst and all his organs spilled out" being a result of hanging for some time.
Modern scholars tend to reject these approaches stating that the Matthew account is a midrashic exposition that allows the author to present the event as a fulfillment of prophetic passages from the Old Testament. They argue that the author adds imaginative details such as the thirty pieces of silver, and the fact that Judas hangs himself, to an earlier tradition about Judas' death.
Matthew's description of the death as fulfilment of a prophecy "spoken through Jeremiah the prophet" has caused difficulties, since it does not clearly correspond to any known version of the Book of Jeremiah but does appear to refer to a story from the Book of Zechariah which describes the return of a payment of thirty pieces of silver. Even writers such as Jerome and John Calvin concluded that this was obviously an error.
More recently, scholars have suggested that the Gospel writer may also have had a passage from Jeremiah in mind, such as chapters 18:1–4 and 19:1–13 which refers to a potter's jar and a burial place, and chapter 32:6–15 which refers to a burial place and an earthenware jar. Raymond Brown suggested, "the most plausible [explanation] is that Matthew 27:9–10 is presenting a mixed citation with words taken both from Zechariah and Jeremiah, and ...he refers to that combination by one name. Jeremiah 18–9 concerns a potter (18:2–; 19:1), a purchase (19:1), the Valley of Hinnom (where the Field of Blood is traditionally located, 19:2), ‘innocent blood’(19:4), and the renaming of a place for burial (19:6, 11); and Jer 32:6–5 tells of the purchase of a field with silver." Randel Helms gives this as an example of the 'fictional and imaginative' use by early Christians of the Old Testament: "Matthew's source has blended Jeremiah's buying of a field and placing the deed in a pot with Zechariah's casting of thirty pieces of silver down in the temple and the purchase of the Potter's Field. The story of Judas's actions after the betrayal is one of the most revealing examples of the early Christians' fictional and imaginative use of the Old Testament as a book about Jesus. "
There are several explanations as to why Judas betrayed Jesus. A prevalent explanation is that Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14–16). One of Judas's main weaknesses seemed to be money (cf.John 12:4–6). A possibility is that Judas expected Jesus to overthrow Roman rule of Israel. In this view, Judas is a disillusioned disciple betraying Jesus not so much because he loved money, but because he loved his country and thought Jesus had failed it. According to Luke 22:3–6 and John 13:27, Satan entered into him and called him to do it.
The Gospels suggest that Jesus foresaw (John 6:64, Matthew 26:25) and allowed Judas's betrayal (John 13:27–28). One explanation is that Jesus allowed the betrayal because it would allow God's plan to be fulfilled. Another is that regardless of the betrayal, Jesus was ultimately destined for crucifixion. In April 2006, a Coptic papyrus manuscript titled the Gospel of Judas from 200 AD was translated, suggesting that Jesus told Judas to betray him, although some scholars question the translation.
Judas is the subject of philosophical writings, including The Problem of Natural Evil by Bertrand Russell and "Three Versions of Judas", a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. They allege various problematic ideological contradictions with the discrepancy between Judas's actions and his eternal punishment. John S. Feinberg argues that if Jesus foresees Judas's betrayal, then the betrayal is not an act of free will, and therefore should not be punishable. Conversely, it is argued that just because the betrayal was foretold, it does not prevent Judas from exercising his own free will in this matter. Other scholars argue that Judas acted in obedience to God's will. The gospels suggest that Judas is apparently bound up with the fulfillment of God's purposes (John 13:18, John 17:12, Matthew 26:23–25, Luke 22:21–22, Matt 27:9–10, Acts 1:16, Acts 1:20), yet woe is upon him, and he would have been better unborn (Matthew 26:23–25). The difficulty inherent in the saying is its paradoxicality: if Judas had not been born, the Son of Man will apparently no longer go "as it is written of him." The consequence of this apologetic approach is that Judas's actions come to be seen as necessary and unavoidable, yet leading to condemnation.
Erasmus believed that Judas was free to change his intention, but Martin Luther argued in rebuttal that Judas's will was immutable. John Calvin states that Judas was predestined to damnation, but writes on the question of Judas's guilt: "surely in Judas' betrayal, it will be no more right, because God himself willed that his son be delivered up and delivered him up to death, to ascribe the guilt of the crime to God than to transfer the credit for redemption to Judas."
It is speculated that Judas's damnation, which seems possible from the Gospels' text, may not stem from his betrayal of Christ, but from the despair which caused him to subsequently commit suicide. This position is not without its problems since Judas was already damned by Jesus even before he committed suicide (see John 17:12), but it does avoid the paradox of Judas's predestined act setting in motion both the salvation of all mankind and his own damnation. The damnation of Judas is not a universal conclusion, and some have argued that there is no indication that Judas was condemned with eternal punishment.
The betrayal of Jesus by one of his disciples is widely regarded by scholars as authentic, based on the criterion of embarrassment: it is considered unlikely that the early church would have invented this tradition, since it appears to reflect badly on Jesus.
In his 1965 book The Passover Plot British New Testament scholar Hugh J. Schonfield suggested that the crucifixion of Christ was a conscious re-enactment of Biblical prophecy and that Judas acted with the full knowledge and consent of Jesus in "betraying" him to the authorities. The book has been variously described as 'factually groundless', based on 'little data' and 'wild suppositions', 'disturbing' and 'tawdry'.
Theologian Aaron Saari contends in his work The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot that Judas Iscariot was the literary invention of the Markan community. As Judas does not appear in the Epistles of Paul, nor in the Q Gospel, Saari argues that the language indicates a split between Pauline Christians, who saw no reason for the establishment of an organized Church, and the followers of Peter. Saari contends that the denigration of Judas in Matthew and Luke-Acts has a direct correlation to the elevation of Peter.
In his book The Sins of Scripture, John Shelby Spong says 'the whole story of Judas has the feeling of being contrived'. He writes, "the act of betrayal by a member of the twelve disciples is not found in the earliest Christian writings. Judas is first placed into the Christian story by the Gospel of Mark (3:19), who wrote in the early years of the eighth decade of the Common Era." He points out that some of the Gospels, after the Crucifixion, refer to the number of Disciples as "Twelve", as if Judas were still among them. Comparing the three conflicting descriptions of Judas's death — hanging, leaping into a pit, and disemboweling — with three Old Testament betrayals followed by similar suicides, he suggests that these were the real source of the story.
Spong's conclusion is that early Bible authors, after the First Jewish-Roman War, sought to distance themselves from Rome's enemies. They augmented the Gospels with a story of a disciple, personified in Judas as the Jewish state, who either betrayed or handed over Jesus to his Roman crucifiers. Spong identifies this augmentation with the origin of modern Anti-Semitism.
Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby, suggests that in the New Testament, the name "Judas" was constructed as an attack on the Judaeans or on the Judaean religious establishment held responsible for executing Jesus.
Bart Ehrman, though suggesting that the betrayal by Jesus is "about as historically certain as anything else in the tradition", argues that what was betrayed was not the whereabouts of Jesus, but his private teachings.
Judas has been a figure of great interest to esoteric groups, such as many Gnostic sects. Irenaeus records the beliefs of one Gnostic sect, the Cainites, who believed that Judas was an instrument of the Sophia, Divine Wisdom, thus earning the hatred of the Demiurge. In the Hebrew Bible, the book of Zechariah, the one who casts thirty pieces of silver, as Judas does in the Gospels, is a servant of God. His betrayal of Jesus thus was a victory over the materialist world. The Cainites later split into two groups, disagreeing over the ultimate significance of Jesus in their cosmology.
During the 1970s, a Coptic papyrus codex (book) was discovered near Beni Masah, Egypt which appeared to be a 3rd- or 4th-century-AD copy of a 2nd-century original, describing the story of Jesus's death from the viewpoint of Judas. At its conclusion, the text identifies itself as "the Gospel of Judas" (Euangelion Ioudas).
The discovery was given dramatic international exposure in April 2006 when the US National Geographic magazine (for its May edition) published a feature article entitled The Gospel of Judas with images of the fragile codex and analytical commentary by relevant experts and interested observers (but not a comprehensive translation). The article's introduction stated: "An ancient text lost for 1,700 years says Christ's betrayer was his truest disciple". The article points to some evidence that the original document was extant in the 2nd century: "Around A.D. 180, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon in what was then Roman Gaul, wrote a massive treatise called Against Heresies [in which he attacked] a 'fictitious history,' which 'they style the Gospel of Judas.'"
Before the magazine's edition was circulated, other news media gave exposure to the story, abridging and selectively reporting it.
In December 2007, a New York Times op-ed article by April DeConick asserted that the National Geographic's translation is badly flawed: For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a "daimon", which the society’s experts have translated as "spirit". However, the universally accepted word for "spirit" is "pneuma" — in Gnostic literature "daimon" is always taken to mean "demon". The National Geographic Society responded that "Virtually all issues April D. DeConick raises about translation choices are addressed in footnotes in both the popular and critical editions". In a later review of the issues and relevant publications, critic Joan Acocella questioned whether ulterior intentions had not begun to supersede historical analysis, e.g., whether publication of The Gospel of Judas could be an attempt to roll back ancient anti-semitic imputations. She concluded that the ongoing clash between scriptural fundamentalism and attempts at revision were childish because of the unreliability of the sources. Therefore, she argued, "People interpret, and cheat. The answer is not to fix the Bible but to fix ourselves." Other scholars have questioned the initial translation and interpretation of the Gospel of Judas by the National Geographic team of experts.
According to medieval copies (the earliest copies from the 15th century) of the Gospel of Barnabas it was Judas, not Jesus, who was crucified on the cross. This work states that Judas's appearance was transformed to that of Jesus', when the former, out of betrayal, led the Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus who by then was ascended to the heavens. This transformation of appearance was so identical that the masses, followers of Christ, and even the Mother of Jesus, Mary, initially thought that the one arrested and crucified was Jesus himself. The gospel then mentions that after three days since burial, Judas's body was stolen from his grave, and then the rumors spread of Jesus being risen from the dead. When Jesus was informed in the third heaven about what happened, he prayed to God to be sent back to the earth, and descended and gathered his mother, disciples, and followers, and told them the truth of what happened. He then ascended back to the heavens, and will come back at the end of times as a just king.
This Gospel is considered by the majority of academics, including Christians and some Muslims (such as Abbas el-Akkad) to be late and pseudepigraphical; however, some academics suggest that it may contain some remnants of an earlier apocryphal work (perhaps Gnostic, Ebionite or Diatessaronic, redacted to bring it more in line with Islamic doctrine. Some Muslims consider the surviving versions as transmitting a suppressed apostolic original. Some Islamic organizations cite it in support of the Islamic view of Jesus.
The term Judas has entered many languages as a synonym for betrayer, and Judas has become the archetype of the traitor in Western art and literature. Judas is given some role in virtually all literature telling the Passion story, and appears in a number of modern novels and movies.
In the Eastern Orthodox hymns of Holy Wednesday (the Wednesday before Pascha), Judas is contrasted with the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume and washed his feet with her tears. According to the Gospel of John, Judas protested at this apparent extravagance, suggesting that the money spent on it should have been given to the poor. After this, Judas went to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus for money. The hymns of Holy Wednesday contrast these two figures, encouraging believers to avoid the example of the fallen disciple and instead to imitate Mary's example of repentance. Also, Wednesday is observed as a day of fasting from meat, dairy products, and olive oil throughout the year in memory of the betrayal of Judas. The prayers of preparation for receiving the Eucharist also make mention of Judas's betrayal: "I will not reveal your mysteries to your enemies, neither like Judas will I betray you with a kiss, but like the thief on the cross I will confess you."
Judas Iscariot is often represented with red hair in Spanish culture and by William Shakespeare. The practice is comparable to the Renaissance portrayal of Jews with red hair, which was then regarded as a negative trait and which may have been used to correlate Judas Iscariot with contemporary Jews.
In paintings depicting the Last Supper, Judas is occasionally depicted with a dark-colored halo (contrasting with the lighter halos of the other apostles) to signify his former status as an apostle. More commonly, however, he is the only one at the table without one.
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Judas has become the archetype of the betrayer in Western culture, with some role in virtually all literature telling the Passion story.
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