That Judas Iscariot was an Apostle is common knowledge, likely one of the most famous, or better infamous of the disciples of Jesus. Rarely does one pass through life without knowing the story of the Apostle that betrayed the Lord Jesus. The story of Judas has been told repeatedly in Sunday School sessions and in classrooms. Who was this figure and why should his story be known?
Many look at the life of Judas and say, "There is a betrayer who also committed the ultimate sin of suicide by hanging himself, so wrought with sorrow was he for his actions." Further exploration is obviously necessary to uncover the thoughts behind such a statement. Some have gone as far as describing Judas as "The most infamous traitor in the history of Western civilization (Paffenroth). He is a figure in religion that might in some people incur feelings of hostility and hatred, loathing for his betrayal of their savior. Others however, might describe Judas as a mystery. Judas is likely the one character that displays the most humanity, makes so many mistakes in fact that likely he is a character that the average person can most closely relate to. It is important when considering the life of Judas to take all views into consideration.
To start, the most common and popular view is of Judas Iscariot as the "bad guy." Over the course of time Holy Week has been a time where in churches across the world, many Christians hear and interpret the Word of God as saying that Judas is "pure evil," as they listen to readings that portray the lonely apostle as a "man of greed who would betray his Lord for money" (Spong, 258). One source of conflict when considering the story of Judas Iscariot is the interpretation of the meaning of his last name, "Iscariot." Many scholars of the bible have pointed out that the word Iscariot is indicative and formed from the town of Kerioth, where it has been said that perhaps Judas originated from, however other point to the meaning of Iscariot as literally interpreted from the word sicarious, which means "political assassin" (Spong, 259).
Judas first becomes implicated as the traitor of Jesus in Mark. Judas was identified (Mark 14:10-11) simply as one of the twelve apostles, with the implicating words "the one who betrayed him" (Spong, 260). The book goes on to reveal that Judas motivation in betraying Jesus was money offered to him by the chief priests, however this is a point of conflict because some argue that money was offered to Judas only after the act was completed (Spong, 260).
In the simplest version of the story of Judas Iscariot, Judas after the Last Supper led a band of "police" to Gesthemane where he identified Jesus by kissing him on the cheek, causing his subsequent arrest and crucifixion (Columbia, 2002). According to the Gospel of Matthew, this sequence of events was followed by Judas' own suicide, in repentance and remorse for the betrayal of his lord and savior.
There are many that believe however, that the story of Judas told over and over again in Christian schools and religious classes is nothing more than a myth. Some go as far to say that Judas Iscariot is an anti-Semitic person or myth created as a propaganda tool to bash the Jewish people and culture. This is because Judas was the only Jewish descendant of the twelve Apostles, and of course the individual implicated in the betrayal of Jesus (Columbia, 2002).
Many biblical scholars have argued in support of this theory. Some interpret Judas name as "Judah" from the Greek, meaning "Jewish Kingdom" (Latin, 1). Biblical interpreters have suggested that the story of Judas was created to take the blame of Jesus' death away from the Romans and place it on the Jewish people. This theory is backed vocally by Episcopal Bishop James Spong, who wrote the book "Liberating the Gospels" and "Resurrection, Myth or Reality," both of which are explored in this paper. Spong and other literary and religious critics and scholars argue that it is very important to re-examine the story of Judas Iscariot, and suggest that there was no real person of that name at all in biblical times. There have been tremendous strides and great effort of late to separate and determine the history of historically-based facts about Jesus and the mythical and theological aspects of the story of his life (Latin). Many would also argue that it is difficult to take even the Gospels and Holy Bible at face value, as they potentially have been written and re-written as well as interpreted by too many human parties over time, as humans are very likely to influence materials and add their own thoughts and agendas.
Religious scholars have since concluded, upon exploring the details of the story of Judas, that the person Judas and the story of his traitorous behavior and treason actually came about approximately 40 years after Jesus' death (Latin). During this period of time there was great strife among religious leaders and argument over whether Jesus was actually the Messiah or deliverer, or just a prophet and historical persona. According to Robert Funk, founder of a group titled the Jesus seminar, Judas was created as a symbol for all Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah and savior (Latin). Funk argues that the story of Judas "Subsequently served as the basis for gentile anti-Semitism." Scholars such as Spong and Funk also state that of the sayings that are attributed to Jesus, only 20% are true, which follows the thought process that many of the gospels and stories of the bible have been man-handled and altered over time (Latin).
Critics of the story of Judas as traitor, such as Spong and Funk have often been attacked for their liberal views and questioning of the words of Christianity. However, Spong argues that the bible should be used as a historical and literary tool full of symbolism that can be interpreted and if applied appropriately, teach many things, but is not to be taken literally word for word (Spong, Latin). Even the apostles and disciples themselves do not have a straight answer, or at least the same idea as to why Judas would betray Jesus. As discussed earlier, in Mark readers are told only that Judas sold the Lord and betrayed him for money only. Matthew states a similar concept, however concludes that it was Judas who approached authorities and suggested he turn Jesus in for thirty pieces of silver, not the other way around. John says that Judas was a common thief and criminal, and stole from the other apostles (Spong, 260-265).
The stories continue to differ. Matthew goes on to say that Judas felt guilty over his betrayal, returning the thirty pieces of silver to authorities and then hanging himself. However in the Book of Acts, this concept is challenged stating that Judas actually used the money to buy a field, and then killed himself on it (Latin). Spong also argues a very good part, if Jesus was so well-known at the time and considered dangerous, why would authorities require Judas or anyone for that matter to point him out? (Latin).
Another argument religious scholars including Spong have stated is that early Christian leaders at the time of the Gospels, in an attempt to gain favor with the Romans by blaming the Jews for Jesus death instead of the Romans (Latin). Jews during this time were enemies of the early Christian movement (Latin). For centuries it has been stated, as mentioned above that Judas was a representative of "Judah," the Jewish nation, that he was the only one of the apostles not from Galilee (Latin).
Isaac Asimov argues in support of the anti-Semitic notion of the creation of Judas in his work, "Guide to the Bible." He says, "strongly anti- Semitic individuals have argued that only the Judeans were the true Jews in the modern sense and that the Galileans were converted Jews." (Latin). This statement implies that the Jews are wicked and evil, and that only the Galileans are virtuous, the inherent wickedness of the Jewish people explains the betrayal by the Jewish Judas (Latin).
Luke also elaborates on the telling of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, in yet another interpretation. Luke claims and asserts (Luke 22:3) that Judas is in fact "possessed" of Satan. Luke indicates that it is Satan that enters Judas and causes him to conceive the evil act of betraying Jesus. Luke goes on to say that Judas did not betray Jesus for money, as Matthew or Mark implied, but rather simply out of the evil desire to betray Jesus and throw him at the hands of officials (Spong, 263). John also supports this interpretation, claiming the act of betrayal was the "work of the devil" (Spong, 265).
There are interesting similarities between the Christian interpretation of the story of Judas and many stories prevalent in…