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Judas Iscariot -- Overview
Judas Iscariot is mentioned only in Christian sources (Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts, and John), where is consistently indicated as "the betrayer" of Jesus.
- One of the Twelve, the Betrayer. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke mention Judas Iscariot in the lists of the Twelve, which all end with "Judas Iscariot, who betrayed [Jesus]" (Mk 3:19; see also Mt 10:4; Lk 6:16). The Gospel of John (which does not provide any list of the Twelve) also introduces Judas as "one of the Twelve who was about to betray [Jesus]" (Jn 6:71). John also adds that the name of Judas' father was "Simon" (Jn 6:71; 13:2.26).
- The money-keeper. According to John, Judas was the treasurer of the group: "Judas kept the common purse" (12:5; 13:29).
- The thief. The Gospel of John charges Judas of being "a thief". When "Mary took a pound of costly perfume... and anointed Jesus' feet" (Jn 12:3), Judas openly complained that "the perfume could have been sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor" (12:5). John claims that Judas "said this not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief... and used to steal what was put into [the common purse]" (12:6). Jesus replied: "You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me" (12:8).
- Betrayal of Judas. The Gospels of Mark and Luke claim that it was "the chief priests" who promised Judas some money, when he contacted them. "Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him" (Mk 14:10-11; see Lk 22:4-6)). For the Gospel of Matthew it was Judas who asked for money and made a bargain with the chief priests. "What will you give me if I betray him to you? They paid him thirty pieces of silver" (Mt 26:15).
- Last Supper -- The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke claim that Jesus announced to the disciples that one of them would betray him, and cursed the betrayer: "Woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!" (Mk 14:21). According to Mark and Luke, the identity of the betrayer was not revealed. Matthew and John, on the contrary, claim that Jesus identified Judas. According to Matthew, "Judas, who would betray him, answered, Is it I, Rabbi? He said to him, You have said so. (Mt 26:25). According to John, Jesus since the beginning "knew who was to betray him" (Jo 13:11) and explicitly indicated Judas, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it. So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot... and said: Do quickly what you are going to do. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, Buy what we need for the feast, or that he should give something to the poor (Jn 13:26-30).
- Possessed by the Devil. According to the Gospels of Luke and John, the betrayal of Judas should be attributed to the intervention of the Devil. They differ on the timing of the possession. According to Luke, "Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot" (Lk 22:3), before he went to the chief priest. According to John, when Judas joined the other disciples for the last supper, "the Devil had already put it into [his]... to betray [Jesus]" (Jn 13:2), but "Satan entered him, [only] after he received the piece of bread" from Jesus (Jn 13:27).
- Arrest of Jesus. The opportunity to size Jesus came at night when Jesus went "to a place called Gethsemane" (Mk 14:32). According to Mark, Luke and Matthew, "Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived" and identified Jesus with "a kiss" (Mk 14:43-45; Mt 26:47-50; Lk 26:47-48). The gospel of John also has Judas leading the guards, but omits the detail of the kiss; it was Jesus, who "knowing all that was happening to him, came forward" (Jn 18:3-5) and identified himself.
- Death of Judas. The Gospel of Matthew, the Acts of the Apostle and Papias offers three different accounts of the death of Judas. The story of the repentance and suicide of Judas is only in Matthew. "When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, I have sinned by betraying innocent blood... Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself" (Mt 27:3-5). With the money the chief priests "bought the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day" (27:7-8). According to Acts, it was Judas himself who "acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and his his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language: Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood" (Acts 1:18-19). The two sources read the event in light, and as the fulfillment, of two different biblical passages: Zechariah (Matthew) and Psalms (Acts). Papias claims: "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." The Gospels or Mark and John are silent about the whereabouts of Judas after the death of Jesus.
Since the lack of evidence outside the Christian tradition makes it virtually impossible any attempt at a historical reconstruction of the life of Judas Iscariot, scholarly discussion is limited to details of the tradition. For instance, some interpret the name "Iscariot" as "man of Karioth" (which will make Judas the only apostle from Judea), or "man from Issachar"; others have suggested that it could be a corrupted form of sikarios ("assassin").
Gabriele Boccaccini, University of Michigan
Judas Iscariot -- Highlights
Judas Iscariot -- Sources
Mark 3:19 (NRSV) -- [Jesus appointed the Twelve, including]] Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Mark 14:10-11 (NRSV) --  Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.  When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Mark 14:43 (NRSV) -- Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders.
Matt 10:4 (NRSV) -- [Jesus appointed the Twelve, including]] Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
26:14-16 (NRSV) --  Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests  and said, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver.  And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
26:47-50 (NRSV) -- 47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him." 49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you are here to do." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
Matt 27:3-10 (NRSV) -- 3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."
Luke.6.16 (NRSV) -- [Jesus appointed the Twelve, including]] Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Luke.22.3 (NRSV) -- 2 The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people. 3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; 4 he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. 5 They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.
Luke.22.47-48 (NRSV) --  While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him;  but Jesus said to him, "Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?"
Acts 1:15-26 (NRSV) --  In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said,  "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus--  for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry."  (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 "For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'Let another take his position of overseer.' 21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us--one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection." 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.
John 6:70-71 --  Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil."  He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
John.12.3-8 -- 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
John.13.2 -- 2 During the supper, the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.
John 13:21-31 (NRSV) -- 21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me." 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples--the one whom Jesus loved--was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" 26 Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do." 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival"; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.
John 18:2-9 (NRSV) -- 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" 5 They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." 8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, "I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me."
"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."
The term Judas has entered many languages as a synonym for betrayer, and Judas has become the archetype of the traitor in Christian art and literature. Modern fiction has produced a more complex figure, by speculating freely on the motives of his "betrayal."
Many attempts has been made to absolve Judas from any charge, claiming that he acted according to the instructions he received from Jesus. This view of Judas Iscariot is reflected in the recently discovered Gospel of Judas and was also featured in Robert Graves's novel King Jesus, Michael Moorcock's novel Behold the Man, Morley Callaghan's novel A Time for Judas, José Saramago's novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt's novel The Gospel According to Pilate and in Gerald Messadié's novel Judas le bien-aimé.
Very popular has also become the interpretation of Judas as a zealot (or better a sikarios), sometimes in relation with Barabbas. This view was taken by Ferdinando Petruccelli della Gattina (1867), and also featured in the movie King of Kings (1959), in Taylor Caldwell's 1978 novel I, Judas and in the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth by Zeffirelli.
Gabriele Boccaccini, University of Michigan