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Judas Iscariot: Profile & Biography of Judas Iscariot

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Apostle Judas

Apostle Judas

Who was Judas Iscariot?:


Every story needs a villain and Judas Iscariot fills this role in the gospels. He is the apostle who betrayed Jesus and helps the Jerusalem authorities arrest him. Judas may have enjoyed a privileged position among Jesus’ apostles — John describes him as the band’s treasurer and he is often present at important times. John also describes him as a thief, but it seems implausible that a thief would have joined such a group or that Jesus would have made a thief their treasurer.

What does Iscariot mean?:


Some read Iscariot to mean “man of Kerioth,” a city in Judea. This would make Judas the only Judean in the group and an outsider. Others argue that a copyist error transposed two letters and that Judas was named “Sicariot,” a member of the party of the Sicarii. This comes from the Greek word for “assassins” and was a group of fanatical nationalists who thought that the only good Roman was a dead Roman. Judas Iscariot could have been, then, Judas the Terrorist.

When did Judas Iscariot live?:


The gospel texts offer no information on how old Judas might have been when he became one of Jesus’ disciples. His fate after betraying Jesus is also unclear: Matthew says that he hanged himself, but this isn’t a story that is repeated in all the gospels.

Where did Judas Iscariot live?:


All of Jesus’ disciples appear to have come from Galilee, but Judas is the one case where that might not be true. One of the possible interpretations of the name Iscariot is “man of Karioth,” a city in Judea. If this interpretation is correct, that would have made Judas the only Judean in Jesus’ group.

What did Judas Iscariot do?:


Judas Iscariot is known as the companion of Jesus who betrayed him — but what and how did he betray? That isn’t clear. He points out Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is hardly an action worthy of payment because Jesus wasn’t exactly in hiding. In John, he doesn’t even do that much. Judas doesn’t actually do anything except fulfill the narrative and eschatological need for the Messiah to be betrayed by someone.

Why was Judas Iscariot important?:


Judas Iscariot was important in the gospel stories because he filled a necessary literary and theological role: he betrayed Jesus. Someone had to do it and Judas was picked. It’s questionable whether Judas even acted of his own free will. There was no option for Jesus not to be executed because without his crucifixion, he could not rise again in three days and thus save humanity. To be executed, though, he had to be betrayed to the Jewish authorities — if Judas hadn’t done it, someone else would have.

God picked Judas, though, and he did as he was supposed to. There was no other option available to him — was there? Not according to the apocalyptic determinism which runs through all the gospels, and especially Mark. If that is the case, then it’s difficult to imagine how or why Judas can even be criticized, much less condemned.

Mark accuses Judas of being motivated by greed. Matthew agrees with Mark but Luke claims that Judas was led astray by Satan. John, on the other hand, attributes the motivation to both Satan and a penchant for theft. Why would Mark attribute the motive of greed to Judas when he isn’t approached by the priests offering money?

It’s possible that we are to conclude that Judas assumed that betraying Jesus would be worth a lot of money. Some have speculated that Judas was actually betraying Jesus out of disappointed expectations that Jesus would lead an anti-Roman rebellion. Others have argued that Judas could have thought he was giving Jesus the “push” necessary to launch a rebellion against the Romans and their Jewish followers.

Judas is also important because he is someone whom the gospel authors can easily portray in a negative light, despite how implausible it is that Judas could have acted otherwise from within the theological assumptions of the Christian system. All of the apostles are depicted has having been unfaithful to Jesus or failing in some manner, but at least they were always better than Judas.

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