The Great Conspiracy?

Of all the people in the New Testament, none is presumably as despised and hated as Judas Iscariot. His first name has become synonymous with snitching and betrayal. This is shown, for example, in the Danish Dictionary (DDO) where the word "judas" as a noun is made synonymous with "traitor". Dictionary of the Danish Language (ODS) goes on to describe a judas as a false, unfaithful person, a traitor. Farlex, The Free Dictionary has the same definition of the word "judas" in English as DDO has in Danish. The concept is thus, as one might expect, common in several languages, and is common in Christianity.

In fact, snitching is perhaps the best term for what Judas did according to the standardized interpretation of the Gospels. DDO has the following definition of the word "stikker" (snitch): "person who (against payment) informs on or betrays others, who have performed or are performing a prohibited act, to the authority dealing with such cases."

But was Judas Iscariot actually the horrible traitor and snitch that the Gospels want us to believe he was? In this article I wil ltake a closer look at this.

What the Gospels tell us

Let me, as usual, start by looking at what the canonical gospels say about Judas. Matthew mentions him by his full name in two places. The first time is at the beginning of chapter 10, where the names of the 12 apostles are listed. "These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him". (Matt. 10.2-4) Already, when the apostles were chosen, the evangelist foreshadows the betrayal that was to come later. The next time Matthew mentions Judas is in chapter 26, where he just mentions the betrayal."Then one of the Twelve — the one called Judas Iscariot — went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over." (Matt. 26.14-16) Later in the same chapter, Judas is mentioned again, though without mentioning his nickname. In connection with the Last Supper Matthew has: "Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?" (Matt. 26.25) and in verses 47 and 48 in the same chapter it is stated: "While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.”" The final time Matthew mentions Judas is in the next chapter, where you can read: "When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood." (Matt. 27.3-4) Although the nickname Iscariot is mentioned only in two of the statements in Matthew, the context makes it quite clear that it is the same Judas that is mentioned in the other quotes.

The last Supper by Carl Bloch, late 19th century. Judas is leaving the Last Supper. Notice the red hair.

Mark also mentions, in connection with the election of the apostles, that Judas was the one who later betrayed Jesus "These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him." (Mark 3.16-19), and in chapter 14, he can tell: "Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over." (Mark 14.10-11) Mark also mentions Judas' role in the arrest of Jesus: "Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”" (Mark. 14.43-44). Mark, on the other hand, knows nothing about the fact that Jesus already during the Last Supper pointed at Judas as the traitor.

Luke agrees with both Matthew and Mark when it comes to the list of apostle names. In Luke's version it says, "Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor." (Luke 6.14-16). Luke, on the other hand, is a little more detailed than his fellow synoptics when it comes to the betrayal itself: "Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present." (Luke 22: 3-6) In Luke, it is Satan himself who is seducing Judas, which perhaps exempts Judas himself from some of the responsibility. Luke also knows the story of Judas' role in the arrest: "While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”" (Luke 22.47-48)

That Judas was a traitor is one of the things in which the Gospel of John agrees with the Synoptic Gospels. John has no list of the names of the apostles, yet manages to "predict" Judas' betrayal. This is already happening in connection with Jesus speaking to the "12" about the "bread of life". To a question from Simon Peter follows: "Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)" (John 6.70-71). Also in the twelfth chapter, it is mentioned that Judas is to become a traitor. This happens in connection with the anointing of Jesus in Bethany prior to the entry into Jerusalem: "Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." (John 12: 3-6) In this case John even uses the opportunity to state, partly that Judas did not (like the other disciples) care about the poor, and partly that Judas was a thief and stole from the shared purse. In chapter 13 John continues, after Jesus foretold that one of the apostles would betray him and when they asked him who it was: "Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him." (John 13.26-27). Interestingly, according to John, Satan didn't possessed Judas until after he had been mentioned as a traitor by Jesus himself, in contrast to the story in Luke. Judas is also involved in the arrest of Jesus: "Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons." (John 18.2-3).

One of the books of the New Testament that I have not referred to much so far is Acts. When I have not used this scripture much (yet) it is because, it mostly deals with the time after Jesus' death and resurrection. However, this book also contains information about Judas: "In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.” (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: “'May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ‘May another take his place of leadership" (Acts 1.15-19).

The Gnostics and the Gospel of Judas

So far the scriptures, at least the canonical ones. From these writings it is clear to every reader (and listener) that Judas is the horrible traitor, who is the sole cause of Jesus' arrest, conviction and execution. However, there are other writings than the canonical ones. Especially one of the so-called apocryphal writings is interesting in this connection, namely the so-called Gospel of Judas. The Gospel belongs to a group of books called "the Gnostic Gospels", and there are in fact also traces of Gnosticism in eg the Gospel of John. The gospel probably dates from the middle of the second century, and can therefore not be written by Judas himself, but it contains some conversations between Jesus and Judas Iscariot.

The Gnostics believed that there was a higher deity who was good, while there were also a number of lesser gods, one of whom was the one who created the earth, as described in the Old Testament. This god was thus a lesser deity (or sometimes called 'a false deity'), but it was him that both the Jews and later the Christians worshipped, while the Gnostics themselves worshipped the highest divine power, which had no form and which was completely outside human comprehension or sphere of understanding. This divine power or wisdom did not interfere with life on earth, but was merely a creative force. This force had no name unlike the lower deities, but the Gnostics used terms such as "the all-encompassing", "the perfect", etc. Much has been said and written about the Gnostics, and already Irenaeus wrote about them in 180 in his work " Against heresy", where he also mentioned the Gospel of Judas and other Gnostic writings that any true Christian should abstain from. There were also many different Gnostic sects, and it should be mentioned that most had the common feature that faith should be based on personal insight and recognition, not on precepts from a church, which was perhaps the main reason why Bishop Irenaeus did not approve of them*. The Gnostic scriptures found today are divided into several groups, and the Gospel of Judas belongs to the so-called 'Sethian group'. Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve, and the Gnostics regarded him as the first flawless and perfect soul and thus the first immortal.

* It is not known with certainty whether the Gospel of Judas mentioned by Irenaeus is the same as we know today or whether another Gospel of Judas existed in the time of Irenaeus.

First page of The Gospel of Judas. From

The oldest existing copy of the Gospel of Judas dates from sometime between 220 and 300 AD, and it is written in Coptic, but it is believed today that it is based on an older version of the Gospel written in Greek, perhaps as early as 130. The manuscript was found in 1970s but was first translated around 2000. When the manuscript was originally found there were 31 pages with wrtings on both sides, but today only 13 pages remain so we know only a very small part of the text. What happened to the remaining pages I don't know.

According to this gospel, Judas was not a villain, but rather a hero! He was the only one of the apostles who understood the deeper meaning behind the parables that Jesus told, other statements that he made and the things he did including his 'miracles' (more in
The Miracles of Jesus Explained) . When he "betrayed" Jesus to the high priests, the Romans, or whoever it was, he did so by agreement with Jesus, and as I shall return to below, there are in fact traces of such an agreement in the canonical gospels as well.

The highest power was an imperishable and eternal cloud of light and this power created the lesser deities as well as the angels who in turn created other things. Yahweh created the Earth and its inhabitants to have someone who could worship him, and from this comes the somewhat strange first of the commandments that God gave Moses: "And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.“You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20.1-3). This commandment would be quite superfluous if there were no other gods to have. Later, in chapter 34, Moses receives new commandments after breaking the tablets with the original ones. Here, the corresponding commandment has: "Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Ex. 34.14). It seems as if the creator God is not only selfish, he is also malicious, which the Gnostics also believed.

At least some Gnostics believed that the human body was a prison that kept the soul confined and only at death was it set free, and that was what Judas helped Jesus achieve by his actions. These Gnostics believed that there were two kinds of realms. These people, of which Judas was one, had no rulers, not even the lower deities; they were strong and holy and had rebelled and defeated the God of the Bible, and they were only accountable to the highest power. The second group were the mortal souls, who obeyed the God of the Bible and who therefore had no possibility of achieving salvation. Among these "rebels" were Judas Iscariot, but also Cain, who rebelled against his parents and God by killing his brother, and the serpent who lured Adam and Eve astray was also an immortal soul and thus one of those who would be saved as it rebelled against the false God, Yahveh.

The Gospel of Judas claims to be secret, but many of the Gospels did. It was to be understood in such a way that their message was intended only for a closed circle of believers, who would understand not only the words but also the hidden messages in the texts themselves. According to the gospel, Judas was specially chosen by Jesus: "You will surpass them all, because you will sacrifice the man (the body) who envelops me". At another time Jesus says to Judas "Go away from the others, and I will tell you about the mysteries of the kingdom" and later "Look! Now I have told you everything. Raise your eyes and look at the cloud and the light inside it and the stars who surrounds it. The star that shows the way is your star." From this, it is obvious that Judas is more than the other disciples.

Above I have mentioned two explanations of how Judas met his death, either he commited suicide by hanging himself or he fell down from something, landed on his head and "exploded". The Gospel of Judas does not mention Judas' death, as it is primarily a dialogue between Jesus and Judas, but Judas tells Jesus at one point that he had a dream in which the twelve other apostles stoned him to death! The number 12 is interesting, as the other Gospels only reach 12 apostles by counting Judas and only after his death is a successor appointed. However, the Gospel of Judas in several places call Judas "the thirteenth", "And Jesus says to him: "You will be the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other creatures - and you will come to rule over them. In the last days will they curse your ascension to the saints."" Judas is thus one of the immortal souls, who is rewarded extra because his actions help to release the soul of Jesus from his body.

That Judas is specially chosen becomes quite clear later in the gospel, where it says, "Jesus said, 'Come, I can teach you secrets that no man has seen. For there is a magnificent and boundless kingdom, whose borders no angel have seen in what realm there is a magnificent and invisible spirit ". This magnificent and invisible spirit has created himself and then everything else, including something called "the luminous" who are angels and lower deities. The gospel continues with very gnostic statements about light that creates more light, that creates light again and so on and so on and eventually an "angel", Nebro, comes to earth, with a helper Saklas. According to the gospel, "Nebro" means rebel, and he was rebel against the highest power. At the instigation of Nebro, Saklas and some angels create Adam and Eve. The known part of the gospel ends with Judas (without the help of anyone) handing Jesus over to the high priests and receiving payment for it, but the amount is not mentioned.

Much more could be said about this gospel, who also hints at Jesus being able to shapeshift, which explains why he often was able to disguise himself from the disciples so they only recognized him, when he choose to reveal himself, but that a story for another time and another article in another series.

What was Judas called, and what was the meaning of the name?

What do we know about Judas? We do first and foremost know that he was the son of Simon. In the article "Jesus and the Band of Rebels" I have discussed this, and here it is clear that the person who is partly called Simon Canaanites and partly Simon Zelotes ("Canaanites" and "Zelotes" mean the same thing, namely that he was zealous for the law"), is father of Judas, and in John the family relationship is even clearer as he links the son's nickname to the father and speaks of Simon Iscariot, see e.g. above. This, in turn, is almost all we can deduce with certainty about Judas. Everything in addition is speculation, but speculation that should be mentioned.

Judas Iscariot by James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894. Brooklyn Museum, New York.

One of the speculations that is often brought forth is the question of the meaning of the nickname "Iscariot". The name has previously usually been interpreted as "The Man from Kheriot". Kheriot is a town in Judea, where Judas was supposed to come from. However, this is very uncertain for several reasons. First, the way the nickname is used. In all the places in the New Testament where a person is identified by the name of a town, he is called "this and that from or of the name of the city". This applies, for example, to Joseph of Arimathea and Simon of Cyrene. In cases where the nickname is just mentioned, it describes in all other contexts a characteristic distinction of the person, eg Simon Baryonam (Simon the Uncontrolled) and James and John Boanerges (James and John, actually "Sons of Wrath" even if in many translates the nickname as "Son of Thunder"). I discussed the same issue in the article "Was Jesus married - and to whom" in connection with Mary Magdalene. The second reason for the uncertainty is that the gospels (at least the synoptic gospels) largely agree that most of Jesus' disciples and at least the apostles, are from Galilee, so it is unlikely that Judas was from Judea (which he may have been anyway, as I believe the synoptic gospels locates too many events and people in Galilee even if they actually took place or belonged in Judaea).

Another, newer but now very widespread interpretation of "Iscariot" is that it could be a distortion of "sicarii", assassin or "stabber". The Sicarii were an ultra-violent faction within the Zelot movement. During this period, the Jews were not allowed to carry weapons, but were allowed to carry hygiene items. The Sicarii then developed a technique in which they hid razors in the wide sleeves of their robes. The Orthodox Jews had and still have a ban on shaving, so it is believed that the knife was not used for shaving, but only for killing. The presumably Egyptian razor used by the Sicarians had a short but wide blade and was very sharp, and could quickly be pulled out of the sleeve and cut the throat of an enemy. Some sources will know that the weapon of choice was a long, slender dagger, but that would have been difficult to get out and hide again fast enough in my opinion. For the Sicariis, enemies was both the the Roman occupying forces as well as the Jews who collaborated with them. However, this interpretation is hampered by the fact that it is assumed that the Sicarii movement did not exist in Jesus' time, but only arose in the mid-40s or early 50s, ie 10-20 years after Jesus had been crucified. The meaning of the nickname is therefore still uncertain. Personally, however, I am a supporter of the Sicarii interpretation, and the fact that the Sicarii movement did not exist under that name until after Jesus' death does not mean that it did not already exist earlier. There may well have been such assassins, and when the Gospels were written down at a later time, the term was common and therefore used.

There are also other interpretations of the nickname, such as that it should mean "the liar" or "the false", or that it should mean "the red", which may harmonize with the Spanish Catholic tradition of portraying Judas as red-haired. Others believes that it can mean "he who delivers something", in this case Jesus to his enemies and finally someone find that it may derive from a mixture of Greek and Aramaic, and should mean "suffocation" or "strangulation" and allude to the manner of Judas' death, so that the nickname would have been assigned posthumously. Against the latter speaks that other apostolic nicknames clearly derive from their lifetime.

But if the meaning of the nickname is not known with any certainty, we do at least know what Judas first name was, or do we? Nor is this certain. Some modern scholars believe that the name Judas was created as a symbol, so that Judas simply represents the betrayal and guilt of the whole of Judaism, and that Judas is thus the "ancestor" of or reason for anti-Semitism. The very name Judas or Judah, as it is in Aramaic, was also the name of one of the sons of Jacob in Genesis, who (along with his brothers) betrayed his brother Joseph and sold him to Ishmaelite slave traders for money: "Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt." (Gen. 37.26-28). Then he lied to his father and told him that Joseph was dead. Later, Joseph "came to life again" when he became the "judge" of his brothers, as the right hand of the Egyptian pharaoh, and one day revealed himself to them: "Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers." (Gen. 45.1).

Others believe that Judas never existed at all. His name has not only changed, but he has been "invented" by the evangelists to put the blame for Jesus' death on the Jews. As a reason for this, it is stated that the Gospels speak of "the twelve" even after Judah's death, and that he is not mentioned in the earliest sources, namely the Letters of the New Testament. The first is quite easy to explain, see the article "Jesus and the Band of Rebels" once more, as the number may not have been 12 at all, but that this number was chosen to create a relationship with the twelve tribes of Israel. Even if there were 12, the term would probably still stick, even if the number was reduced to 11 for a short period of time. The Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, was also still called "The Seventy", even though there were actually 71 members at the time of Jesus. The second can be explained by the fact that there was no reason for Paul or the other authors of the epistles to mention Judas, since they do not cencern the events before Jesus died, but only after. 1st Corinthians mentions that Jesus was betrayed: "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11.23-24)

Personally, I'm convinced that Judas was simply called Judas or Judah, which was a very common name in Jesus' day. Even one of Jesus' brothers was named Judas, also one of the other disciples was named Judas and a later envoy from the Jerusalem congregation was Judas Barsabbas (son of the Sabbath?). Whether Judas was Iscariot's only name is another matter, but his name was Judas, I'm sure.

Do we know anything else about Judas?

Actually not that much as he is not mentioned very much in the gospels except in connection with the betrayal. His father was Simon, as mentioned above, but we know nothing of his mother and other family members. In fact, only two things are mentioned about him, namely, that he was the treasurer of the disciples, and that he was a thief; both in the Gospel of John, see above.

Later stories know both about how Jesus called Judas as a disciple and that Judas was already in Satan's power at that time, but that still does not say much about the man himself.

Why would Judas betray Jesus?

Again, a lot of explanations have been given for this matter. The best known and most obvious is that Judas was actually a greedy thief and did it for the sake of money. Matthew knows that he received 30 pieces of silver for his "deed" (Matt. 26:15). He later regretted it and threw the money back to the high priests, who eventually bought a field for them, which was set up as a burial ground. According to Mark he gets a promise of being paid some money to betray Jesus, but the amount is not mentioned. The same applies to Luke, where an agreement on payment is made, but without an amount. John knows nothing of any payment. Acts knows he got money, but not how many. According to Acts, Judas himself bought a field for the money, but he fell, his body burst open and he thus killed himself, either by accident or with intent.

Judas is paid the 30 pieces of silver. 16th century fresco in the Saint Sébastien Church, in Planpinet, France

So only Matthew knows about "the 30 pieces of silver", and he mentions that it had to be so, so that the action could fulfill a prophecy - which, incidentally, can not be found in known versions of the Old Testament. Jeremiah, to whom Matthew refers, has a story about a man who buys a field from his cousin for 17 silver shekels: "I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver". (Jerm. 32.9) But it is the man himself who buys a field, the high priests are not involved, the amount not 30 shekels and there is nothing indicating neither suicide nor betrayal. The Book of Zechariah comes a bit closer with the amount as there is a story of 30 silver shekels, but it is also not about betrayal, buying a field or the like, but of The Lord getting mad at his "flock": "I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter” — the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord." (Zech. 11.12-13). So it is not possible to identify the prophecy that Matthew refers to, and Matthew, in his gospel, actually refers to many Old Testament prophecies that can't be found today. So unless Matthew has had access to an edition of the Old Testament that we do not know today, his prophecy references may very well be self-invented in many cases.

However, there are two other evangelists who believe that the betrayal was done for money, but since both Luke and Matthew have based their gospels on Mark, they may have gotten the story from him, and then embroidered further on the story themselves. John, who has written independently, doesn't know the story. Whether Matthew is right or not, it is very difficult to get a sense of how much money was involved. In the time of Moses, one could buy 400 liters of barley seeds for 50 shekels, which is equivalent to 240 liters for 30 shekels. However, there has probably been some inflation between Moses and Jesus, so the value of a shekel was considerably less. So is relatively small amount for a man who had access to a lot of money. If it was typical that the disciples were donasted values ​​equivalent to one pound of nard ointment, there was a lot of money in the coffers (nard ointment was considered more expensive than gold). Now, however, the amount need not be given in shekels even if that's the unit the Gospel use, or at least modern editions. It might have been Roman denarii. In that case, the amount corresponds to a monthly salary for a day laborer at Jesus' time. Still not much for the cashier who was even accused of stealing from the shared money purse. In an old printed edition of the New Testament, which I unfortunately no longer own, no unit of currency was used, just "silver money", but in the comments "silver money" was explained as "Greek staters", a coin which was in use in Greece and Greek influenced areas like Judaea until AD 50. In that case, the amount corresponds to around four months' salary for the day laborer; better, but still not much. Finally, it may be Roman talents, and then it's something that rocks, as a Roman talent equals 3,000 shekels or 300 denarii. In that case, the reward was 9,000 denarii or the wages of a day laborer for almost 25 years. If that were the case, it might be worth it for Judas. On the other hand, 30 talents of silver would weigh about 90 pounds, so it would be difficult to carry, and even more difficult to throw it back to the high priests.

If money was not the reason, then what was it? Luke and John believe that Satan was at play and had possessed Judas, so in reality it was Satan who betrayed Jesus, not Judas, but that explanation is probably hard to find support for by people from the modern world besides among very strong believers in the scriptures. Better is the explanation that Judas expected of Jesus to be the anointed king, who was to deliver the Jews and expel the Roman occupying forces from the area. So when he betrayed Jesus, it was to set this task in motion. According to this theory, Judas believed that with Jesus himself arrested, he would cause his followers to revolt, and it was never Judas' intention for Jesus to be crucified. From this point of view, the reason Judas commits suicide is either that Jesus ended up being executed, which he felt guilty about, or that he (Judas) gave up his fight when he discovered that his actions did not lead to the desired result.

It has also been suggested that Judas actually believed that Jesus was the Son of God and believed that his action would "force" Jesus to use his power and work one or more miracles that could free the Jews from Roman oppression. Alternatively, the interpretation of the Gospel of Judas, is that it was not the Jews that Judas would save, as no salvation was possible for them as "mortal" souls. But rather Jesus, whom he would help to free the soul from the prison of the body. If the latter had been the case, there would have been easier methods than a crucifixion to achieve the same result. He could have killed Jesus himself. Not least because the crucifixion would require Jesus to be convicted first, and although it was likely, it was not certain.

And finally the Quran. According to this, Jesus was not crucified at all, because Allah took him into Heaven before he was arrested. In return, he changed Judas' appearance so that he resembled Jesus so well that no one, not even his own mother, could tell the difference. Therefore, when the guards arrived in Getsemane, it was not Jesus but Judas who was arrested, and it was also Judas who later, in the shape and image of Jesus, was crucified and died on the cross. (Quran 4.157). The translation of the passage is controversial and Judas is not mentioned directly, but it is common among Muslims to assume that it was he, who got the likeness of Jesus. The apocryphal Gospel of Barnabas also knows this story and in this case there is no doubt that it is Judas who takes the place of Jesus. When Judas' body was stolen from the tomb on the third day, Jesus returned from the 3rd Heaven and explained to his mother, the apostles, and his other followers what had actually happened, after which he returned to Heaven. The Gospel of Barnabas probably dates from the Middle Ages and may have its information from an interpretation of a version of the Qur'an.

 A conspiracy between Jesus and Judas?

That there was some kind of agreement or understanding between Jesus and Judas about 'the betrayal' can, in my opinion, be read both between and on the lines of two of the canonical gospels, and incidentally also in a single place in Acts. I normally begin with Matthew, but let me wait a bit with this gospel in this case. In Mark and the Gospel of Luke, Jesus only says that he will be betrayed by someone who dines with him, and that could only be one the 12 apostles as this conversation took place during the Last Supper, when no one else were present as far as we know today. On the other hand, it is clear that Jesus had to leave if not the world, then at least the disciples to fulfill something foretold, for example in Luke: "The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!" (Luke 22.22). Why 'woe" the man if it is already decided what will happen?

Judas hang himself. 16th century fresco in Tarzhishte Monastery, Strupets, Bulgaria

And then on to Matthew. In this gospel it says, "And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said so.”" (Matt. 26: 21-25). In this gospel it seems as if Judas is surprised that it should be he who was the traitor, and the passage can be taken as an accusation, not least the phrase "but woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed." Later in the Danish translation of the same gospel, it sounds more like an agreement: "He who betrayed him had agreed a sign with them and said: It is he whom I kiss; seize him! He immediately went to Jesus, greeted him with a ' Rabbi! ' and kissed him. Jesus said to him, 'My friend, now you have done your thing'" (Matt. 26: 48-50) Here it clearly looks as if Jesus is thanking Judas for keeping his part of an agreement. In the English translation from Biblica Online, the text in the same verses, this hint of cooperation is less clear but still hints at that both Jesus and Judas knew what was going on: "Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend." In King James' Bible it seems as Jesus is surprised or at least don't know why Judas leads his enemies to him, even if he had predicted this at the Last Supper: "Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him."

I believe that the Danish translation is closest to the truth.

The Gospel of John is even clearer: "“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’" (John 13.18) and later "Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night. When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him." (John 13:26-31) According to John, Jesus handed the bread directly to Judas, and didn't wait for Judas to dip it with him. Leaving aside the passage about Satan possessing Judas, the two passages together clearly sound like an order to Judas to do something that he and Jesus had agreed upon in advance; and Judas immediately begins to carry it out. That the 11 other apostles must have been a little slow-witted if they thought that Jesus had asked Judas to give something to the poor, or shop for the feast, is a completely different matter. It's of course possible that they didn't understand what was going on, as they may not have been in on the plot - at least not all of them.

In Acts, the author is in no doubt that Judas betrayed Jesus and was cruelly punished for it, see above, but later it says: "So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”" (Acts 1.24-25). Of course, it can be interpreted as that Judas has gone to Hell, but the sentence can also be interpreted literally, namely that Judas has left the group of disciples and other followers (perhaps with Jesus) to travel somewhere, eg Galilee, where Jesus later meets the apostles again, see the article on the

So all in all I'm pretty sure. that the betrayal was in fact agreed on between Jesus and Judas in advance. Perhaps there have been people more with knowledge of the agreement, and Jesus chose Judas only at the last minute, which may explain his surprise in Matthew compared to Jesus' direct appointment of him in John.

But what then was it that was agreed upon? It's actually not clear, but I'm convinced it was not about Jesus being killed and thus his soul freed from his earthly body, as the Gospel of Judas suggests. Nor was it to make Jesus act or work miracles. The two latter explanations only work if there was no agreement. No, I think the purpose was that Jesus should actually be saved from death, but that the Romans should believe he had died, so they would stop their persecution of him. How this should happen in practice, I have discussed in the article on The Trial of Jesus. Judas thus, in my opinion, belonged to the absolute inner circle around Jesus. They have presumably been related to one another, perhaps uncle and nephew, cousins or maybe related in another way. In this inner circle, it may have been believed that if the battle against the Romans were to continue, it would be necessary to ensure the survival of Jesus, while the Romans believed that he was dead, and you could hardly make them believe that if you just came and told them so. But if you could make them believe that they themselves had executed Jesus, it would be a completely different story. And that was what the great conspiracy was all about. To make the Romans believe they had crucified Jesus, and it required a courageous effort, not just by Jesus, but also by the one who had to do the dirty work in casu Judas Iscariot. I will tell more about the conspiracy theory in a future article.

How did Judas end his life?

That's actually a good, but actually not very important question. The Gospel of Barnabas let Judas be crucified instead of Jesus. Matthew lets him hang himself and and Acts let him fall down, without stating from what or where, but so hard that all his entrails fell out. The Gospel of Judas, or the parts of the gospel that we know today, says nothing about Judas' death. The different explanations are so far apart that they can't all be true, although attempts have been made to reconcile at least the explanations in the Gospel of Matthew and Acts, by claiming that Judas hanged himself and when the body had hung so long that it had fallen into decay, it crashed down and the entrails fell out. However, the stories about the field that were purchased do not fit together either, and I think both stories are literary additions or explanations, either made by the authors of the two writings or by later editors, who wanted to add a moral to the story: "See what happened to the traitor," in which case they overlooked the fact that without Judas, Jesus would not have been crucified and thus had taken the sins of all people on his shoulders. If he hadn't died. he had not been resurrected, and then there had been no basis for Christianity at all.

Personally, I think Judas probably traveled away after 'betraying' Jesus, perhaps together with Jesus (to Galiliee and on to somewhere else, or perhaps alone. It would hardly be too good an idea to stay in Jerusalem if the Romans were to discover that he had cheated them and that Jesus was not crucified at all anyway. Then he had probably been hanged on a cross himself.

- Return to Jesus page -
- Return to English pages -