Judas Maccabeus, or Judas the Hammer, was perhaps one of the proudest names of Second Temple Judaism. Judas led the revolt that wrestled control of Yehud away from the Seleucids in the second century BCE and established the Kingdom of YHWH, with a new celebration called Hanukkah, still celebrated today by Jews around the world. Any child fortunate enough to be called Judas around the time of Jesus would have carried the pride of the entire Jewish nation in his name.
But that’s not the Judas that we in the Western world typically remember. The name Judas is associated with one who is not only a thief and a traitor, but worst of all, an intimate acquaintance who betrays his closest of innocent friends . . . with a kiss. Just as Judas Maccabee was certainly seen as one of the Greats, a shining example of what it meant to be a Jew, Judas “Iscariot” has been pictured as the lowest of all humanity, and used to create a stereotypical view of “the Jews”, those wicked people who killed Jesus. Fortunately, Christianity was finally forced to begin to look seriously at this anti-Semitic world-view after that ugly little incident with Hitler. Now if someone can just do something with Mel Gibson.
What many don’t realize is that this is only one remembrance of Judas, the victorious view. In fact, it is only one of the several traditions that developed around the “betrayer of Jesus”.
In the second half of the second century CE, the proto-orthodox Christian, Ireneaus, reports this:
“They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas.”
Against Heresies, Book 1, Chapter 31, Verse 1
I’ll return to this, but simply acknowledge here that Ireneaus, writing around 180 CE, identified a sect of Christianity that followed this tradition and held sacred a text that he identified as the “Gospel of Judas”. This group obviously did not share a common view of Judas with Ireneaus. It apparently bothered him so badly that he felt it necessary to write against them. Instead, Ireneaus preferred four particular gospel accounts. It appears that he was the first to isolate and pull together the gospels that he called John, Matthew, Mark and Luke. He called it the four “Pillars of the Church”. These gospels would be the foundation for the “orthodox” movement, his particular sect, but certainly not the only sect.
By looking at these four sources, we can see how the tradition of Judas developed in the second half of the first century CE. The writings of Paul can be no help because oddly enough, Paul never mentions Judas. The first time his name comes up is around the end of the third quarter of the first century, about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple, in the gospel that would later be called the Gospel of Mark (GoMark) where Judas was an obscure disciple whose name is mentioned only three times.
He is included in the appointing of the twelve at GoMark 3:14-19, identified as “Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him”.
The next mention of Judas is toward the end of the gospel, directly following a scene in Bethany, two days before the feast of Passover.
And Judas Iscariot, he that was one of the twelve, went away unto the chief priests, that he might deliver him unto them. And they, when they heard it, were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently deliver him unto them.
No motivation is given for Judas’ decision to betray Jesus. He went to the chief priests, they offered to give him money and he agreed to try to find a way to hand him over to them. The author then makes a reference to the betrayal, but never mentions the name of Judas.
And as they sat and were eating, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you shall betray me, even he that eateth with me. They began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? And he said unto them, It is one of the twelve, he that dippeth with me in the dish.
The third and last time that Judas’ name is mentioned in GoMark is the famous betrayal scene, likely immortalized in the mind of any one who has ever heard the story.
And straightway, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he; take him, and lead him away safely. And when he was come, straightway he came to him, and saith, Rabbi; and kissed him. And they laid hands on him, and took him.
That is where the story of Judas Iscariot ends for the author of GoMark. He simply disappears and is not mentioned again. We are not told what happened to Judas after this infamous kiss of betrayal. He simply walks off GoMark’s stage having played his part, never to be heard from again.
Many questions certainly arose for early Christians, especially when Jesus didn’t return as expected. Our early Christian authors show many of these questions being addressed in their writings. The question of what happened to Judas was apparently one of those questions that some authors chose to address. The only problem is that these different authors answered this question in different ways. The version most familiar to Christians comes from GoMatthew who now mentions his name five times.
GoMark had not provided a motive for Judas’ betrayal. This seemed to bother the author of GoMatthew so his answer was that Judas’ motive was greed. Notice how GoMatthew has reworded the account from his source, GoMark.
Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said, What are ye willing to give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they weighed unto him thirty pieces of silver. And from that time he sought opportunity to deliver him unto them.
The author has Judas specifically ask the chief priests what they will give him. They then gave him thirty pieces of silver. GoMark only said that they had “promised” to give him money after he approached them, but no reference was made to Judas actually being paid.
At the Passover meal, GoMark had Jesus say, “One of you shall betray me, even he that eateth with me. They began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? And he said unto them, It is one of the twelve, he that dippeth with me in the dish”, but never identified Judas by name. This was also apparently not good enough for GoMatthew, so he inserts a specific reference. When Jesus tells them that one of them would betray him, the author of GoMatthew adds:
And Judas, who betrayed him, answered and said, Is it I, Rabbi? He saith unto him, Thou hast said.
We come once again to the famous betrayal scene, the Judas Kiss.
And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priest and elders of the people. Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he: take him. And straightway he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, Rabbi; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, do that for which thou art come. Then they came and laid hands on Jesus, and took him.
Early Christians in the Matthean community must have asked about what had happened to Judas after the betrayal. GoMark had provided no answer. GoMatthew had no problem providing one however, or perhaps inventing one.
Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood. But they said, What is that to us? see thou to it. And he cast down the pieces of silver into the sanctuary, and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the pieces of silver, and said, It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, the field of blood, unto this day.
Judas felt remorse and brought the money back to the chief priests who were unsympathetic. He threw the money down “into the sanctuary, and departed; and went away and hanged himself”. The chief priests then took the money, which they considered to be blood money, bought a field for burying foreigners and called it “the field of blood”. The betrayer of Jesus appropriately dies a humiliating death by suicide; alone and rejected, a complete failure.
This is the story that many of us have been taught since childhood. It was not the story told to the audience who heard the Gospel of Mark. It was the message heard by the audience of the Gospel of Matthew. However, it was not the only story told of the fate of Judas. It wasn’t even the only story in the New Testament accounts, for the author of Luke/Acts also attempted to field this question of early Christianity. He/she chose to tell the story differently. Luke references Judas by name four times, Acts, twice.
The first question answered by the author of Luke/Acts was that of Judas’ motives for betraying Jesus. GoMark had not provided a motive. GoMatthew implied that the motive was greed. Luke/Acts relayed an alternate version and did it by simply adding three words to GoMark’s story. Luke/Acts does not imply that greed drove Judas to betray Jesus; something more sinister was at work.
And >Satan entered into< Judas who was called Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went away, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might deliver him unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he consented, and sought opportunity to deliver him unto them in the absence of the multitude.
What was this motivation for the author of Luke/Acts? Could it have been, oh, I don’t know, SATAN?
Luke/Acts also relays the Passover meal from GoMark. “But behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table” (Luke 22:21). Notice that the account does not identify this person as Judas as GoMatthew had done.
GoMark relayed that Judas had betrayed Jesus with a kiss. For some reason this did not sit well with the author of Luke/Acts, because they felt it necessary to change the story.
While he yet spake, behold, a multitude, and he that was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them; and he drew near unto Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said unto him, Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?
See how the author has phrased this scene? Judas “drew near unto Jesus to kiss him” but the account stops short of saying that the kiss occurred. Instead Jesus stopped him mid-pucker and spoke. Judas is then not mentioned again in GoLuke, but that is not the end of the story for this author. In the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, another story is relayed telling the fate of Judas. This time, however, he does not hang himself.
Peter stands up in a group of about 120 people and begins to speak, referencing Judas:
“Now this man obtained a field with the reward of his iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch that in their language that field was called Akeldama, that is, The field of blood.”
GoMatthew said that Judas returned the money and hung him self. The chief priests took that money, bought a field and called it the field of blood. Acts says that it was Judas who bought the field, but later fell down, “falling headlong”, and exploded, “all his bowels gushed out”. That is why it became known as the field of blood.
So what about the Gospel of John? GoJohn mentions the name of Judas the betrayer of Jesus eight times (compare with GoMark, three: GoMatthew, five: GoLuke, four).
In GoJohn 13, on the night before Passover, “the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him”, the author has Jesus make absolutely sure that the disciples know who it was that would betray him.
Jesus therefore answereth, He it is, for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it him. So when he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. And after the sop, then entered Satan into him. Jesus therefore saith unto him, What thou doest, do quickly.
Jesus is now seen as controlling the events of his own betrayal, telling Judas to quickly go do what needed to be done. Jesus was no longer simply allowing the events to unfold; he is now seen as directing those events. Yet even with this obviously clear statement, the Keystone disciples were clueless regarding the true meaning.
Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus said unto him, Buy what things we have need of for the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. He then having received the sop went out straightway: and it was night.
So what does GoJohn have to say about the Judas Kiss? Well, he never mentions it, never even hints at it. Instead the author relays another story to show that Jesus was the one in charge of the entire situation.
Now Judas also, who betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus oft-times resorted thither with his disciples. Judas then, having received the band of soldiers, and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all the things that were coming upon him, went forth, and saith unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When therefore he said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. Again therefore he asked them, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way:
Jesus steps out to confront those who came to apprehend him. When they tell him who they are looking for, he answers “I am he”. When he speaks, they all fall to the ground. He then asks them again who they are seeking, they repeat his name “Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus states that it is he that they seek. In GoMark 14:50, the disciples fled in fear. GoJohn has Jesus demand that his captors release the others. Judas then once again disappears and is thereafter not mentioned by this author. GoJohn, like GoMark, never tells what happened to Judas after the now kiss-less betrayal.
About the same time the unknown author was writing the Gospel of John, another early Christian was commenting on the fate of Judas. He seems to have been familiar with both traditions relayed in GoMatthew and in GoLuke and appears to have been attempting to harmonize the two contradictory accounts. His name was Papias of Hieropolis. He said that Judas did hang himself, but that someone cut him down before he died. He then goes on to tell a rather colorful and gruesome account of the fate of the disciple that betrayed Jesus. We don’t have the actual account from Papias, only quotations of him by later Christian authors, and oddly enough, those accounts don’t exactly line up either.
“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.”
Fragments of Papias from the Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord, according to Eusebius of the fourth century
“Judas walked about as an example of godlessness in this world, having been bloated so much in the flesh that he could not go through where a chariot goes easily, indeed not even his swollen head by itself. For the lids of his eyes, they say, were so puffed up that he could not see the light, and his own eyes could not be seen, not even by a physician with optics, such depth had they from the outer apparent surface. And his genitalia appeared more disgusting and greater than all formlessness, and he bore through them from his whole body flowing pus and worms, and to his shame these things alone were forced [out]. And after many tortures and torments, they say, when he had come to his end in his own place, from the place became deserted and uninhabited until now from the stench, but not even to this day can anyone go by that place unless they pinch their nostrils with their hands, so great did the outflow from his body spread out upon the earth.”
Papias on Judas, according to Apollinarius of Laodicea in the fourth century
Remember the Gospel of Judas, criticized by Ireneaus in the second century? Well contrary to what many are taught, early Christianity was not a single group of believers with a unified and cohesive belief-set. There were numerous different sects of Jesus people with numerous different traditions, writings and beliefs. The early years of Christianity make the sectarian diversity of today look like a monolithic group, because they didn’t have a Christian New Testament to hold up as a standard. The Gospel of Judas is another in a long line of nearly lost early Christian writings that relayed what this particular group saw as the significance of Jesus.
This group was convinced that Judas was the only disciple who had truly understood Jesus real nature and purpose. Judas was chosen by Jesus to deliver him to the authorities because Jesus could not trust anyone else to do what had to be done. Judas knew that this loyalty would ostracize him, but it was what his lord required of him. Jesus took him aside and showed him the mysteries of the kingdom and told him that he would surpass all the other disciples. Understanding the “divine truth”, Judas then obediently handed Jesus over to be crucified.
The followers of this particular sect of early Christianity did not believe that Judas had hung himself in shame as GoMatthew had claimed; or that he bought a field, fell down and exploded as told by Luke/Acts; or that he bloated up from infection and parasites and was crushed by a chariot like one of the versions from Papias reported. So what did this group believe to be the fate of the one and only faithful disciple of Jesus?
They believed that Judas, for loyally and obediently following the heartbreaking instructions of Jesus, was stoned to death . . . . by the twelve disciples.
Bet you never heard that from a pulpit.