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Judas Iscariot

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Judas Iscariot was one of Jesus's twelve original disciples (compare apostles).

Traditional Christan views

Judas is mentioned only in the Gospels and at the beginning of Acts. According to account given in the Gospels, he carried the disciples' money box and betrayed Jesus for a bribe of "30 pieces of silver" by pointing him out to arresting Roman soldiers.

After Jesus' arrest by the Roman authorities (but before his execution), the guilt-ridden Judas returned the bribe to the priests and committed suicide. The Gospel of Matthew says he hanged himself; the Acts of the Apostles (1:18), however, says that he "purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out". Acts then says his place among the apostles was filled by Matthias.

Modern interpretations

Most modern Christians, whether laity, clergy or theologians, consider Judas a traitor. Indeed the term Judas has entered the language as a synonym for betrayer. However, some scholars have suggested that Judas was merely the negotiator in a prearranged prisoner exchange (following the money-lender riot in the Temple) that gave Jesus to the Roman authorities by mutual agreement, and that Judas' later protrayal as "traitor" was a historical distortion. In his book The Passover Plot, the British theologian Hugh J. Schonfield argued that the crucifixion of Christ was a conscious re-enactment of Biblical prophecy and Judas acted with Jesus' full knowledge and consent in "betraying" his master to the authorities.

Etymology of "Judas Iscariot"

"Judas" is derived from Judah and "Iscariot" may be derived from Hebrew איש כריות, `Ish Kerayoth, i.e. "man of Kerayoth", the Judean town (or, more probably, collection of small towns) of Kerayoth. It may also be a corruption of the Latin Sicarius[?], or dagger-man, one of a cadre of Jewish rebels intent on driving the Romans out of Judea. Although Judas's name became synonymous with "betrayer," he may have turned Jesus in to the Jewish authorities because he felt Jesus had betrayed the rebel movement.

Theological Questions

Judas has been a figure of great interest to esoteric groups, such as many Gnostic sects, because of the apparent contradiction in the idea of "the betrayal of God". The possibilities seem to be these:

  • Jesus did not foresee the betrayal by Judas.
  • He was unable to prevent it.
  • He allowed Judas to betray him.
  • Judas was an informed accomplice in Jesus's planned destiny.

The text of the Gospels suggests that Jesus both foresaw and allowed Judas' betrayal.

Judas in Hymnography

In the Eastern Orthodox hymns of Holy Wednesday (the Wednesday before Pascha), Judas is contrasted with the prostitute who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume and washed his feet with her tears. According to the Gospels, Judas protested at this apparent extravagance, suggesting that the money spent on it should have been given to the poor, though his real concern was that he had not been able to embezzle it. 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 the prostitute'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' 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 and Anti-Semitism

Some scholars of the New Testament suggest that the name "Judas" was intended as an attack on the Judaeans or on the Judaean religious establishment held responsible for executing Christ. The English word "Jew" is derived from the Latin Judaeus, which, like the Greek Ιουδαιος (Ioudaios), could also mean "Judaean". In the Gospel of John, the original writer or a later editor may tried to draw a parallel between Judas, Judaea, and the Judaeans (or Jews) in verses 6:70-7:1, which run like this in the King James Bible:

6:70 Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? 6:71 He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve. 7:1 After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.

In Greek, the earliest extant language of the Gospels, the words Judas -- Jewry -- Jews run like this: Ιουδας (Ioudas) -- Ιουδαια (Ioudaia) -- Ιουδαιοι (Ioudaioi). In Latin, the language of the Catholic Vulgate Bible, they run Judas -- Judaea -- Judaei. Whatever the original intentions of the original writers or editors of the Gospel of John, however, there is little doubt that the similarity between the name "Judas" and the words for "Jew" in various European languages has contributed powerfully to anti-Semitism. In German the same words run Judas -- Judäa -- Jud; in Spanish Judas -- Judea -- judío; and in French Judas -- Judée -- juif. Judas was said to have red hair, which was proverbially called "Judas-colored", and the ancient stereotype of Jews was that they had red hair too: in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice the Jewish money-lender Shylock[?] is said to have been portrayed with red hair on the Elizabethan stage. Judas's betrayal of Christ for money was also seen as a typical piece of Jewish venality and avarice.

Judas in Art and Literature

Judas has become the archetype of the betrayer in Western culture. In Dante's Inferno, he is condemned to the lowest circle of Hell, where he is one of three sinners deemed evil enough that they are doomed to be chewed for eternity in the mouths of the triple-headed Satan. (The others are Brutus and Cassius, who conspired against and assassinated Julius Caesar.)

Some modern works such as Jesus Christ Superstar, The Greatest Story Ever Told[?] and The Last Temptation of Christ also highlight the role of Judas in the Gospel story.

The term Judas itself has become interchangable with the word traitor (see quisling).

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