Judas Iscariot part 4

by John Thomas Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

part 4
The Historical Judas
Many scholars accept the story of Judas as he fits into the criterion of 'embarrassment.' In other words, the traditions surrounding Judas must have been known because none of the gospels attempted to cover it up. An additional argument is that a betrayal story was not necessary to get Jesus to the cross. In Jerusalem during Passover, the priesthood, and the Roman army, would be alert to anyone with a following, preaching a kingdom that was not Rome. The story of Judas, then, appears as something extraneous and therefore had to be explained.
Without Judas, Jesus would not have died as an atoning sacrifice. Scholars and theologians debate what motivated Judas, often involving attempts to psychoanalyze him. He is often described as a member of the revolutionaries, the Zealots. When Jesus did not call for a revolt against Rome, in his disappointment, he turned him over to the authorities.
Part of the debate involves the motivation of Jesus. Jesus knew he would die; he predicted it throughout the ministry. Did he deliberately choose Judas for his role in "handing him over"? In this sense, is it fair to blame Judas when the death had already been determined? Or is the story of Judas an after-the-fact rationalization of a historical act of betrayal?
A minority view holds that Judas is not a historical character but symbolic of the Jews who rejected Jesus as a 'messiah.' However, there are other people named Judas in the New Testament who have positive attributes: Jesus' brother Jude (Judas), the prophet, Judas Barsabbas (Acts 15:22-33), and John also mentioned a Judas, not Iscariot, in one of his stories (John 14:22).
The Apocryphal Judas
Over the centuries, details concerning Judas accrued in "apocryphal" literature, which did not make the canon. Papias of Hierapolis (60-130 CE) in Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord claimed that Judas received God's wrath in his physical body. It became so bloated that he could not pass through the streets without hitting the buildings. His eyes were so swollen that a doctor could not find them; his genitals swelled and were full of pus and worms. Judas finally killed himself, placing his insides on the ground, and even a hundred years later, people could not walk by and avoid the stench.
In the Gospel of Nicodemus (c. 4th century C.E.), Judas, now feeling guilty, went home to his wife, who was cooking a chicken. He told her he planned to kill himself because Jesus would rise from the dead and punish him. His wife laughed and said that Jesus could not rise from the dead any more than this chicken could. The chicken was then restored to life and began to grow. Judas then ran and hanged himself.
Judas in Hell
The ancient world had a concept of 'noble death,' where suicide was honored as an effort to remove shame. However, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) made suicide a sin for Christians, and he was the theologian who trapped Judas in Hell for eternity. If Judas had not hanged himself, he could have been forgiven. His suicide placed him beyond all hope for reconciliation.
In Dante's Inferno, Judas and Cassius, and Brutus are at the center of Hell, where the monstrous three-headed Satan devours them for eternity. Judas is the central figure, with his back clawed by the fallen angels.
The Gospel of Judas
In 2006 C.E., the National Geographic Society announced the discovery and translation of The Gospel of Judas. Historians had been aware of the Gospel of Judas because a 2nd-century C.E. Church Father, Irenaeus, had written against it in his Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies). The Gospel of Judas is categorized as a Gnostic gospel, which portrayed Jesus in a different light than the canonical gospels in the 2nd century C.E.
The Gospel of Judas
Most of this gospel consists of a dialogue between Jesus and Judas, where we learn that Judas is the only disciple who perceives who Jesus is. This Gnostic Jesus was sent into the world to enlighten humans that salvation can be found through embracing the eternal God within themselves. Much of the dialogue between Jesus and Judas occurs while observing the eleven others. In an almost mocking fashion, Jesus points out that the eleven can only perceive through the material senses, such as salvation found in martyrdom or believing in the resurrection of the body. In this gospel, Jesus tells Judas to betray him so that he can return to the Father.
The Modern Judas
In 1970 C.E., the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, opened on Broadway. The original cast had Ben Vereen as Judas, and the movie (directed by Norman Jewison) cast Carl Anderson in the role. As Judas emphasized Judas as a sympathetic victim in the divine plan, he was casting a black man. In this version, Judas fears that Jesus' preaching will get them all killed. When his pleas to Jesus have no effect, he goes to the priests to have Jesus arrested but to spare the others. "For the sake of the nation, this Jesus must die." It ends with Judas descending from heaven after his suicide with a choir of angels. The final song by Judas indicates his continuing bewilderment:
Every time I look at you, I do not understand
Why did you let the things you did get so out of hand.
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar,
Do you think you are what they say you are?
In 1988 CE, Martin Scorsese produced The Last Temptation of Christ, based upon the 1955 C.E. controversial novel of Nikos Kazantzakis. Both the novel and film present Jesus struggling with doubt and resisting God's plan for him. Harvey Keitel was cast as Judas. In this version, Judas is a member of the Zealots who repeatedly tried to get Jesus to lead a revolution. There is a close relationship between Judas and Jesus, who convinces Judas to turn him over to the authorities so that he can obey God's plan.
The last temptation occurs when Jesus is on the cross and is shown a vision of what his life would be like if he did not die. The future life includes marriage to Mary Magdalene and their children. In the vision, an aging Judas rebukes Jesus because everyone now condemns Judas, but for the wrong reason. If Jesus does not die, Judas cannot be understood for his part in salvation. In the end, Jesus decided to die.
The Bible offers differing accounts of Judas's death. The Gospel of Matthew describes him hanging himself after realizing the depths of his betrayal. On the other hand, the Book of Acts describes his death more as spontaneous combustion.
Culture Club/Getty Images
According to another canonical source in the Bible, the Book of Acts (written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke), Judas did not kill himself after betraying Jesus. Instead, he went into a field, where "falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out" (Acts 1:18). This spontaneous-combustion-like process was a common form of death in the Bible when God himself caused people's deaths.
Judas's betrayal, of course, led to Jesus's arrest, trial, and death by crucifixion, after which he was resurrected, a sequence of events that—according to Christian tradition—brought salvation to humanity. However, the name "Judas" became synonymous with treachery in various languages, and Judas Iscariot would be portrayed in Western art and literature as the archetypal traitor and false friend. Dante's Inferno famously doomed Judas to the lowest circle in Hell, while painters like Giotto and Caravaggio, among others, immortalized the traitorous "Judas kiss" in their iconic works.

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