Biblical Judas

Catholics have a lot of different stories and traditions associated with their faith, and it can be interesting to explore them all. One particularly fascinating is the story of Judas Iscariot, who is often seen as the ultimate traitor in Christian history. It’s important to remember the story of the biblical Judas, where many people think of him as a traitor, but his story is actually quite complex.

Biblical Judas Iscariot

Judas lived about the year 1 A.D., towards the beginning of the first century. If the theories concerning the meaning of “Iscariot” are correct, he would have been from southern Judah, making him the only Judean among the 12 Disciples; the others were from Galilee. We don’t know where he grew up, but we do know that he joined Jesus during his three-year mission, putting him in Israel around 30 A.D.

The Holy Land was inhabited at the time by Rome, which had recently transitioned from a republic to a huge empire capable of swift conquest. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious authorities of Israel and Jerusalem’s grand temple, but they were subjected to Roman-appointed kings or Roman governors in temporal concerns.

With the Roman occupation, Israel became a cauldron of political upheaval, insurrection, and oppression, making it a dangerous place to live—especially for anybody following a leader like Jesus, who drew so much attention and controversy.

Judas Iscariot
Judas Iscariot

Life Name and background

The name “Judas” (Ὶούδας) is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Judah (יהודה, Yehûdâh, Hebrew for “God is thanked”), which was an extremely common name for Jewish men during the first century AD, due to the renowned hero Judas Maccabeus. Consequently, numerous other figures with this name are mentioned throughout the New Testament.

In the Gospel of Mark 3:13–19, the earliest of all the gospels, which was written in the mid-60s or early 70s AD, Judas Iscariot is the only disciple named “Judas”, Matthew 10:2–4 follows this portrayal.

The Gospel of Luke 6:12–19, however, replaces the apostle whom Mark and Matthew call “Thaddeus” with “Judas son of James”.

Peter Stanford suggests that this renaming may represent an effort by the author of the Gospel of Luke to create a “good Judas” in contrast to the betrayer Judas Iscariot.

Judas’ epithet “Iscariot” (or ) is commonly assumed to be a Greek version of the Hebrew phrase (Î-Qrîyôt), which means “the man from Kerioth,” and distinguishes him from the other people named “Judas” in the gospels.

The statement in John 6:71 in the Gospel of John that biblical Judas was “the son of Simon Iscariot” supports this interpretation. Nonetheless, not all scholars agree with this explanation of the name.

Theology and Betrayal of Jesus

Judas’s betrayal of Jesus can be explained in a variety of ways. When he goes to the chief priests to betray Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, he is given money as a reward, although it is unclear whether money is his motivation. In the Gospel of Matthew, on the other hand, he inquires as to how much they will pay him for delivering over Jesus. The devil enters Judas in Luke’s Gospel and John’s Gospel, forcing him to offer to betray Jesus.

According to the Gospel of John, biblical Judas bemoans the fact that money was spent on expensive oil to anoint Jesus when it could have been spent on the poor, but he also admits to being the keeper of the apostles’ purses and stealing from them. As to one theory, Judas expected Jesus to topple Roman power in Judea.

Biblical Judas is a disillusioned disciple, according to this version, who betrayed Jesus not because he loved money, but because he loved his nation and believed Jesus had failed it.

Another reason is that Jesus was producing turmoil that was likely to escalate tensions with the Roman authorities, so they decided he should be detained until after the Passover when everyone had returned home and the commotion had subsided. One theory is that Jesus allowed the betrayal so that God’s plan might be carried out.

According to the Gospels, Jesus predicted (John 6:64, Matthew 26:25) and permitted Judas’ betrayal (John 13:27; John 13:28).

Another argument is that Jesus was doomed to be crucified regardless of the betrayal. Although some historians reject the translation, a Coptic papyrus document named the Gospel of Judas from 200 AD was translated in April 2006, implying that Jesus commanded Judas to betray him. Despite this, academics agree that the Gospel of Judas is an apocryphal Gnostic Gospel written in the third century that contains no true historical material.

Philosophical writings have been written about Judas.

In his Commentary on John’s Gospel, Origen of Alexandria focused on biblical Judas’ relationships with the other apostles and Jesus’ trust in him before his treachery.

Bertrand Russell’s The Problem of Natural Evil and Jorge Luis Borges’ short fiction “Three Versions of Judas” are two further intellectual views on Judas. They claim that the difference between Judas’ acts and his eternal punishment contains several serious ideological conflicts.

If Jesus foresees Judas’ betrayal, according to Bruce Reichenbach, the betrayal is not an act of free will, and so should not be punished. On the other hand, it is maintained that the fact that the betrayal was predicted does not exclude Judas from acting of his own free will in this matter.

Art and literature

One of the oldest extant English songs, dating from the 13th century, is about Judas.

The guilt for Christ’s betrayal is placed on his sister in the ballad.

Judas is doomed to Hell’s lowest circle, the Ninth Circle of Traitors, better known as the frozen lake, Cocytus, in Dante’s Inferno.

He is one of three sinners who have been deemed bad enough to be destined to an eternity of being chewed in the triple-headed Satan’s mouths (the others being Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar).

Ferdinando Petruccelli della Gattina

In Ferdinando Petruccelli della Gattina’s Memoirs of Judas (1867), he is shown as a leader of the Jewish insurrection against Roman power.

The Apostles, an oratorio by Edward Elgar, portrays Judas as trying to force Jesus to confess his divinity and establish the kingdom on earth.

The author of John Brayshaw Kaye’s poem Trial of Christ in Seven Stages (1909) did not believe that Judas intended to betray Christ, and the poem is a defense of Judas, in which he adds his vision to the biblical account of the trial before the Sanhedrin and Caiaphas.

Judas is bribed by the high priest of Judaea to testify against Jesus, who had been instigating turmoil among the people of Jerusalem, in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita.

Pilate is in misery after authorizing the crucifixion and directs his rage on Judas, ordering his assassination.

In the backdrop of Moscow in the 1920s–1930s, the narrative within a story appears as a counter-revolutionary novel.

Tres versiones de Judas

“Tres versiones de Judas” (English title: “Three Versions of Judas”) is a collection of short stories by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges.

It was published in Borges’ book series Ficciones in 1944 and revolves around the main character’s doubts about the canonical story of biblical Judas, who instead creates three alternative versions.

The cursed title object, a 16th-century Italian marble longcase clock, is unable to function unless the thirty silver pennies of Judas are placed in its hollow weights, according to the narrative “The Judas Clock,” which aired on the Inner Sanctum radio show on April 17, 1945.

At the end of the episode, Berry Kroeger’s character, who plays Judas, recites the fate of Judas from Matthew 27:5 (King James translation).

Representations and symbolism

However the head and lips of Judas were included in the sanctification of the instruments of Jesus’ Passion (the so-called Arma Christi) that gradually accrued in Christian symbolism and art throughout the Middle Ages, the term Judas has entered many languages as a synonym for the betrayer, and Judas has become the archetype of the traitor in Western art and literature.

Judas is mentioned in almost all works that tell the Passion account, and he also features in several contemporary novels and films.

Judas is compared to the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive oil and bathed his feet with her tears in Eastern Orthodox songs on Holy Wednesday (the Wednesday before Pascha).

According to the Gospel of John, Judas objected to this seeming waste of money, claiming that the funds should have gone to the needy.

Following this, Judas approached the chief priests and promised to betray Jesus in exchange for money.

The hymns of Holy Wednesday contrast these two characters, asking followers to follow Mary’s example of repentance rather than the fallen disciples.

In addition, in commemoration of Judas’ treachery, Wednesday is observed as a day of fasting from meat, dairy products, and olive oil throughout the year.

In Spanish culture and by William Shakespeare, Judas Iscariot is frequently depicted with red hair.

The method is similar to Renaissance depictions of Jews with red hair, which was considered a negative feature at the time and may have been used to link Judas Iscariot to modern Jews.

One stained glass window in Yeovil’s Church of St John the Baptist depicts Judas with a dark halo.

Judas is sometimes represented with a dark-colored halo (in contrast to the brighter halos of the other apostles) in paintings depicting the Last Supper to signify his former status as an apostle.

He’s more often than not the only one at the table who doesn’t have one.

Biblical Judas Death

Many distinct tales of Judas’ death, both inside and outside the New Testament, have persisted from antiquity.

Judas was struck with sorrow after learning that Jesus would be crucified and attempted to return the 30 pieces of silver to the priests, but they would not accept them since they were blood money, so he tossed them on the ground and went, according to Matthew 27:1; Matthew 27:2; Matthew 27:3; Matthew 27:4; Matthew 27:5; Matthew 27:6; Matthew 27:7; Matthew 27:8; Matthew 27:9 Matthew 27:10.

After that, he killed himself by hanging.

The priests used the money to purchase a potter’s field, which was dubbed Akeldama (– khaki dama) – the Field of Blood – because it was purchased with blood money.

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