Judas

Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' twelve apostles, betrayed his master to the authorities. This act led to the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

What the Bible tells us about Judas:

  • Judas was one of the 12 disciples closest to Jesus
  • Judas offered to betray Jesus to the religious authorities
  • They agreed to pay him 30 pieces of silver for doing so
  • Jesus knew that Judas was going to do this, but took no action to stop him
  • Judas led soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was praying
  • Judas kissed Jesus to identify him
  • Afterwards Jesus' death, according to Matthew's gospel, Judas regretted his actions, returned the money and hanged himself
  • Other versions say that he didn't return the money and died by accident

In fact the books of the Bible don't offer a consistent account of what Judas did, but the list above includes the events that most people associate with Judas.

What happened to Judas afterwards - According to the Gospel of Matthew

Matthew says that Judas committed suicide.

There are various interpretations of this story:

  • Judas killed himself in horror at his betrayal of Jesus
  • Judas killed himself because he had betrayed everyone who had stayed loyal to Jesus and so made himself an outcast from his peer group
  • Judas killed himself in order to redeem himself from his bad act (this was an accepted use of suicide in the first century)
  • Judas killed himself in order to focus the blame on those who had paid him to betray Jesus

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.

He said, 'I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.'

But they said, 'What is that to us? See to it yourself.' Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

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.' After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

Matthew 27:3-8

According to St Luke in Acts

Luke suggests that the death of Judas may have been an accident, but some writers think that the passage below refers to Judas falling from the rope that he used to hang himself - perhaps as a result of bodily decay.

Now this man [Judas] acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong [or swelling up], he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.

This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.

Acts 1:18-19

According to Dante's Inferno

In Dante's Inferno Judas is found in the lowest circle of hell, which is reserved for traitors. Judas is labelled as the worst traitor of all, and doomed to suffer the greatest torment possible.

Judas is stuffed head first into the centre of Satan's three mouths, condemned to spend eternity being chewed by the Devil. (The other two mouths of Satan, if you're interested, are chomping on Brutus and Cassius, the killers of Julius Caesar.)

At every mouth he with his teeth was crunching
A sinner, in the manner of a brake,
So that he three of them tormented thus.

To him in front the biting was as naught
Unto the clawing, for sometimes the spine
Utterly stripped of all the skin remained.

"That soul up there which has the greatest pain,"
The Master said, "is Judas Iscariot;
With head inside, he plies his legs without.

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy - Inferno, Canto 34

According to Papias

Papias, a 2nd century bishop, gave Judas a sad departure from this world, but passed no opinion as to what happened to him thereafter.

Judas, walked about in this world a sad example of impiety; for his body having swollen to such an extent that he could not pass where a chariot could pass easily, he was crushed by the chariot, so that his bowels gushed out.

Papias, From the Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord

Why Judas betrayed Jesus

There are several theories as to why Judas betrayed his master. The only motive shown in scripture is greed, but the gospels also say that Judas was possessed by Satan, and acted as he did to fulfil prophecies.

A range of other reasons, most of which make Judas seem less blameworthy, are also worth looking at.

  • Judas was motivated by greed
  • Judas was possessed by the Devil
  • Judas had to fulfil a prophecy
  • Judas' betrayal was a necessary part of God's salvation plan
  • Judas had a political motive
  • Judas was disillusioned and angry
  • Judas didn't intend a 'betrayal'

Let's examine these reasons further:

Judas was motivated by greed

Three of the gospels say that Judas went of his own accord to the authorities and asked them to pay him for betraying Jesus:

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, 'What will you give me if I betray him to you?' They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

Matthew 26: 14-16

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

Mark 14: 10-11

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

Luke 22:3-6

John's gospel makes the point that Judas was a dishonest and greedy man.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

John 12: 4-6

There are some problems with accepting that Judas' principal motive was greed:

  • The amount is too small - enough, as the Bible relates, to buy a field: If Judas' only motive was greed, why didn't he ask for more?
  • If Judas was greedy and dishonest why had Jesus - the most perceptive of men - chosen him to be one of the twelve?
  • If Judas was greedy and dishonest, why had Jesus given him the job of looking after the money?
  • If Judas was greedy and dishonest, why had he joined up with such a penniless group as the twelve, who didn't seem to provide any obvious money-making opportunities?

The Victorian art critic John Ruskin argues that Judas was not only greedy and dishonest, but stupid as well, and that is why he acted as he did:

Stupidity is always the basis of the Judas bargain.

We do great injustice to Iscariot, in thinking him wicked above all common wickedness. He was only a common money-lover, and, like all money-lovers, did not understand Christ;-could not make out the worth of Him, or meaning of Him.

He never thought He would be killed. He was horror-struck when he found that Christ would be killed; threw his money away instantly, and hanged himself.

...Judas was a common, selfish, muddle-headed, pilfering fellow; his hand always in the bag of the poor, not caring for them.

Helpless to understand Christ, he yet believed in Him, much more than most of us do; had seen Him do miracles, thought He was quite strong enough to shift for Himself, and he, Judas, might as well make his own little bye-perquisites out of the affair. Christ would come out of it well enough, and he have his thirty pieces.

John Ruskin, The Crown of Wild Olive

Judas was possessed by the Devil

Both Luke and John say that Judas was possessed by the Devil and imply that this was a reason for his behaviour.

Luke seems to suggest that Judas' actions may have been entirely the result of this possession; that he was, in effect, carrying out Satan's wishes:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them.

Luke 22:3-4

John, on the other hand, suggests that Judas was a bad man before Satan entered him to inspire the final betrayal:

For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.

John 6:64

'Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.' He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

John 6:70-71

...he [Judas] was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it

John 12:6

John also seems to make it clear that it was Satan who gave Judas the idea to betray Jesus.

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.

John 13:1-2

However in another passage John suggests that Satan entered Judas rather later.

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, 'Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.' The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.

One of his disciples-the one whom Jesus loved-was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, 'Lord, who is it?'

Jesus answered, 'It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.' So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him.

John 13:21-27

You might think that if Satan had taken over Judas, then he is not to blame for his actions; Jesus did not think that way:

'For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!'

Luke 22:22

The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.'

Matthew 26:24

Judas had to fulfil a prophecy

According to John, Jesus chose Judas as a disciple in order to fulfil a prophecy:

I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfil the scripture, 'The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.'

John 13:18

The prophecy comes from Psalm 41:

Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted,
who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.

Psalm 41:9

Jesus makes the point again before going to Gethsemane.

While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.

John 17:12

Similar points are found in other gospels.

This doesn't provide a motive for Judas' action, and although some say that it explains why Judas had to do what he did, others argue that Judas, like all human beings, had free will, and could have chosen not to do it.

Judas' betrayal was a necessary part of God's salvation plan

Another theory says that if Judas had not betrayed Jesus the Crucifixion would not have taken place, there would have been no Resurrection and the founding events of Christianity would not have occurred.

the treachery of Judas was not accidental; it was a predestined deed which has its mysterious place in the economy of Redemption

Jorge Luis Borges, Three Versions of Judas

This isn't necessarily true: all Judas does is enable the authorities to find Jesus at a particular time and place - and given Jesus' very public actions during the preceding days the authorities should have had little difficulty in apprehending him without the help of Judas.

Nor does it serve as a motive for Judas unless he was aware of what needed to happen to Jesus for the plan of salvation to be fulfilled, and there is no clear statement of this in the gospels.

Judas had a political motive

Some writers argue that Judas had a strong political motive, and had seen Jesus as the Messiah who would liberate the Jews from being ruled by the Romans.

But although Jesus had had several opportunities to lead a populist direct action movement, he had not taken them up.

It's possible that Judas intended to force Jesus' hand by revealing him to the authorities so that Jesus would have to declare himself to be the political leader of the Jews and use the popular support demonstrated during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the basis of an earthly liberation movement.

There is no scriptural evidence for this.

Judas was disillusioned and angry

An alternative view is that Judas was so disappointed that Jesus had not declared himself the Messiah and taken action to lead the Jews, that he decided to betray him as an act of revenge for what he saw as Jesus' political betrayal of his more Nationalist followers. This theory is not directly supported in the gospels.

John Dart sets this theory out clearly:

I think we must ask another question: 'Did Judas feel betrayed by Jesus?' I think the answer is, 'Yes.'

Remember that Jesus' incarnation, as the long awaited Messiah, was very different from what the Jews expected and felt was promised in their scriptures.

When you think of the crowds shouting, 'Crucify him,' you realize that they felt betrayed by Jesus as well. Remember St. Paul himself said that 'we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews...'

Jesus had become a stumbling block for Judas. Judas felt betrayed by Jesus, before he betrayed Jesus in turn.

John Dart, Judas the Film: Storytellers Then and Now, Journal of Religion and Film, 2004

Judas didn't intend a 'betrayal'

One scholar has argued that Judas never intended to betray Jesus. Professor William Klassen says that the idea of betrayal is based on a mistranslation and that Judas intended not to 'betray' Jesus, but to 'hand over' Jesus to the authorities.

And this can be developed to suggest that Judas intended to bring Jesus and the authorities together in order to resolve their differences.

If Judas didn't intend a betrayal then that would explain his suicide when he became aware of the catastrophic consequence of his action.

The Gospel of Judas

A manuscript called the Gospel of Judas, written in the 2nd century was translated from a 5th century copy in the first decade of the 21st century, although its existence had long been rumoured.

Early comments on the manuscript suggested that it portrayed Judas in largely positive, even heroic, terms. The manuscript was said to show that Jesus asked Judas to betray him, so that Jesus could be freed from his physical body and the plan of salvation could be fulfilled.

Judas was instructed to sacrifice Jesus the man - "you will sacrifice the man that clothes me" - and was warned by Jesus that he, Judas, would be hated by future generations as a result.

More recently, other translators have come up with a different take which portrays Judas as a demon who betrays Jesus, possibly in order to further the interests of a different, and evil God, and who is doomed never to reach heaven.

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