Judas Iscariot

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Jesus' Apostles

  • Judas is the Greek form of the name Judah, which is a common name in Judaism. Judah means "God is praised." The name can also be rendered as Jude.
  • Iscariot, however, is another matter. Its significance is truly unknown.
  • He was surely identified in this way to distinguish him from other men who shared his name: Jesus's brother (Mark 6:3), the other disciple, not Iscariot (John 14:22), the author of the book of Jude (who remains unknown).
  • Some scholars have argued that in Hebrew, it would mean "man of Kerioth." That would suggest Judas came from a village known as Kerioth. Joshua (15:25) does mention a town by that name, but no one can be sure it even existed in the time of Jesus (1200 years later). It was part of Judea, so maybe Judas came from Judea. Another reference to Kerioth can be found in Jeremiah (48:24), but it is located in Moab. Did Judas come from there?
  • Both are unlikely since all the other disciples were chosen while Jesus was in Galilee.
  • Another suggestion has been that "Iscariot" sounds like sica, the Latin word for "dagger," which might be related to the Sicarii, a cadre of Jewish dagger assassins. If so, then Judas would most likely have been a Zealot who tried to overthrow the Roman Empire. But since this group was unknown until the 40s or 50s CE, the timing is problematic.
  • A third option is that Iscariot is related to saqqar, the Hebrew word for "liar." Many think that matches his character.
  • Option four is that th word "Iscariot" can be traced back to the Aramaic word 'isqar, which signifies a ruddy complexion. That would suggest this firebrand was a red head.
  • Finally, the word could mean "to deliver," based on similarities to Aramaic roots. Or, it could refer to the method of his death – by hanging – since it could also be connected to an Aramaic word for choking.
  • Obviously, none of these have been found to be definitive.
  • Judas is referred to several times in the Gospels and the book of Acts.
  • All agree that he was one of Jesus' twelve disciples. That means he was one of Jesus' inner circle.
  • He is always mentioned last in the apostolic lists of names and always with the notation that he was the one who betrayed Jesus.
  • Yet, there is nothing in the gospels to suggest that he was set aside or treated differently from any of the twelve.
  • He was called by Jesus, authorized, and sent out to heal and preach as part of the twelve, and presumably he was just as successful as any of them.
  • Mark gives no motivation for Judas' betrayal. Matthew indicates that he did it for the money.
  • In Matthew, the betrayal follows immediately after an unnamed woman anointed Jesus' head with expensive ointment. It suggests that Judas was filled with greed and agreed to betray him for thirty pieces of silver – the going rate for a male slave.
  • Matthew also suggests this act was in fulfillment of scripture.
  • Because Luke has the anointing earlier in his gospel, he does not connect the betrayal with greed. Instead, Luke claims that Satan entered into Judas. Immediately after, Judas conferred with the chief priests. In other words, this was all part of a Satanic plot.
  • John includes additional details, although the basics are all there. Jesus does not choose his disciples in this Gospel, but Judas is assumed to be one of them. Early on, Jesus claims one of them is "a devil," indicating that he knew from the outset that Judas would betray him. This shows that Judas was quite evil.
  • Though there is no Last Supper in John, Jesus is with his disciples, and explicitly identifies Judas as the one who will betray him by saying, "The one to whom I give this piece of bread." He gives the bread to Judas, and tells him, "What you are about to do, do quickly."
  • Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.
  • In many languages, the word Judas is synonymous with betrayer.
  • Yet, some scholars are uncomfortable with these assumptions, and have tried to explain why Judas betrayed him.
  • The first answer follows Matthew's explanation—he did it for the money.
  • Another is that he might have been disappointed in Jesus for not overthrowing the Roman government.
  • Another is that Satan entered him or he really was "a devil."
  • Scholars argue whether Judas was part of God's final plan. The texts say plainly that Jesus foresaw what would happen. Could Judas have acted against God's plan, and does that make him culpable for the crime?
  • How do we understand free will in this matter?
  • The Gospel of Judas suggests Jesus asked him to betray him.
  • Traditional theology affirms that Judas set in motion the salvation of mankind (as well as his own damnation).
  • Others say he repented (in Matthew) and was mercifully forgiven.
  • Modern scholars think he might have been a negotiator, who tried to keep Jesus safe after his violent acts in the Temple.
  • Others believe the whole story was invented by Mark with anti-Semitic overtones.
  • Regardless, the story of Judas has been variously represented in art, literature, and music, suggesting that the final judgment has yet to be made.

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