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Judas Iscariot (died April 29–33 CE, Hebrew יהודה איש־קריות Yəhûḏāh ʾÎš-qəriyyôṯ) was, according to the New Testament, one of twelve original apostles of Jesus, and the one who ultimately betrayed him.
Traditional Christian views
Judas is mentioned only in the Gospels and at the beginning of Acts. According to the account given in the Gospels, he carried the disciples' money box and betrayed Jesus for a bribe of "thirty pieces of silver" by pointing him out to arresting Roman soldiers. The "pieces of silver" were most likely silver Tyrian shekels, the only coins accepted at the Temple of Jerusalem.
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". This field is called Akel Dama or "Field Of Blood." Acts 1 goes on to say that his place among the apostles was filled by Matthias.
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.
Irenaeus records the beliefs of one Gnostic sect, the Cainites, who believed that Judas was an instrument of the Sophia, thus earning the hatred of the Demiurge. His betrayal of Jesus thus was a victory over the carnal world. The Cainites later split into two groups, both praising Judas over Jesus Christ, but disagreeing over the significance of Jesus in their cosmology.
The text of the Gospels suggests that Jesus both foresaw and allowed Judas' betrayal.
Judas is also the subject of many philosophical writings, including The Problem of Natural Evil by Bertrand Russell and Three Versions of Judas , a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. They both allege various problematic ideological contradictions with the discrepancy between Judas' actions and his eternal punishment.
- If Jesus foresees Judas' betrayal then Judas has no free will, and cannot avoid betraying Jesus. If Judas can not control his betrayal of Jesus, then his punishment and portrayal as a traitor in western culture is undeserved
- If Judas is sent to Hell for his betrayal, and his betrayal was a necessary step in the humanity-saving death of Jesus Christ, then Judas is being punished for saving humanity
- If Jesus only suffered while dying on the cross, and then ascended into Heaven, while Judas must suffer for eternity in Hell, then Judas has suffered much more for the sins of humanity than Jesus, and his role in the Atonement is that much more significant
The Bible also states that on the cross Christ forgave those that had contributed to his death, saying that they "know not what they do." However Judas seems to have not been included in this pardon.
Most modern Christians, whether laity, clergy or theologians, still consider Judas a traitor. Indeed the term Judas has entered the language as a synonym for betrayer. However, some scholars have embraced the alternative notion 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 portrayal 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. Schonfield's hypothesis recognizes the fulfillment of prophecy in Judas' recorded actions without acknowledging that the prophecies were really fulfilled in history. This interpretation became well known in the general population by the controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ.
Etymology of "Judas Iscariot"
"Judas" is the Greek form of the common name Judah (יהודה, Yehûdâh, Hebrew for "praised"). What "Iscariot" signifies is unclear, other than its Greek suffix -otes, like English "-ite" or "-ian". No territory "Iscaria" has ever existed. There are two major theories on the meaning of this name, each of which must satisfy certain expectations in order to be credible:
One etymology (accepted by the majority) derives "Iscariot" from Hebrew איש־קריות, Îš–Qrîyôth, that is "man of Kerioth", the Judean town (or, more probably, collection of small towns) of Kerioth, not otherwise related to any person or event in the New Testament, nor mentioned in any document of the period. As Aramaic was the main language of the time, and all other biblical characters have Aramaic surnames and nicknames, this Hebrew Judaean name would have marked out Judas as different from the Galilean disciples.
In the other, "Iscariot" is considered to be a transformation of the Latin sicarius, or "dagger-man". The Sicarii were a cadre of assassins among Jewish rebels intent on driving the Romans out of Judea. It is possible then, that this Latin name might have been transformed by Aramaic into a form more closely resembling "Iscariot". Whether Judas actually was a sicariote or even a sympathizer may never be known. The term may have simply been used pejoratively.
"Iscariot" could also be derived from the Aramaic sheqarya' or shiqrai, indicating a person who is a fraud; "the false one" would usually be written as ishqaraya. It could also have been derived from the Hebrew sachar. It also has been theorised that Iscariot could mean deliverer, derived from the Hebrew sakar.
Because of Judas' role in betraying Jesus Christ, the name Judas—which was common during the time of Christ—has almost entirely fallen out of use as a name among Christians, though its Hebrew equivalent Yehuda remains common among Jews, and the etymologically equivalent name Jude is not unknown among Christians.
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 have 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.
Over time Judas came to be seen as the archtypal jew. He 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.
A few modern critics of European culture aver that in paintings and art of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, while the other apostles are portrayed as powerfully built Northern Europeans, Judas was given stereotypically Jewish characteristics. Specific examples of such portrayals in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, however, are hard to come by.
A more modern example, however, can be found in John Fiester's monument clock, the Apostolic Clock. Judas is half the height of the other eleven apostles, hunched over, and possesses an exaggerated nose. The notes provided at the Hershey Museum, where it is on display, claims the artist made Judas shorter because he considered him to be less of a man than the other apostles, not because of anti-Semitism.
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.)
Jorge Luis Borges' short story Three Versions of Judas gives several interpretations of Judas' story, one of which concludes that Judas is the true savior of humanity.
Bob Dylan's song "With God on Our Side", contains the following lines that refer to Judas Iscariot:
- In a many dark hour
- I've been thinkin' about this
- That Jesus Christ
- Was betrayed by a kiss
- But I can't think for you
- You'll have to decide
- Whether Judas Iscariot
- Had God on his side.
Rick Wakeman's album Criminal Record includes a 10 minute epic cut called Judas Iscariot.
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