The Treachery of Judas
Jesus and his group had been successful in closing off the Temple grounds and driving out the Money Changers. This they had done because, in their view, only that corruption of God's Temple was preventing God's return in power, and his driving out the Romans, the hope on which Jesus' hope to be Israel's Davidic Messiah rested, and the end to which everything he and his companions did in Jerusalem pointed. But their success in Cleansing the Temple did not bring on the Return of God. In other words, the thing had fizzled, and there they were in Jerusalem, safe for the moment in their safe house, but in danger of discovery and arrest.
Judas, one of the group ("Iscariot" implies that he had been a member of the Sicari terrorist group, and knew his way around) figured that the effort was a bust, and he determined to get at least something out of it. He ratted Jesus out to the Temple authorities:Now after two days was the Passover and the Unleavened Bread, and the Chief Priests and the scribes sought how they might take him with subtlety, and kill him, for they said, Not during the feast, lest haply there shall be a tumult of the people . . . And Judas Iscariot . . . went away unto the Chief Priests, that he might deliver him unto them. And they, when they heard it, were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently deliver him. And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover, his disciples say unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and make ready that thou mayest eat the Passover? And he sendeth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water; follow him, and wheresoever he shall enter in, say to the master of the house, The Teacher saith, Where shall I eat the Passover with my disciples? And he will himself show you a large upper room furnished and ready; and there make ready for us. And the disciples went forth and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them. And they made ready the Passover. (Mk 14:1-16)
All this has been arranged in advance, complete with signs and countersigns, but only Jesus knows. For security reasons, no one else has been told the times and places. But now, when the preparations actually have to be made, security is necessarily broken, and betrayal becomes possible. This is the opportunity for which Judas has been waiting. He himself plays a major role in the eventual arrest, which takes place not at the upper room, but afterward, where the party have gone to pray. (For all this we seem to have an eyewitness, who figures in the story as a Naked Young Man). At some point, not narrated by Mark, Judas leaves the meal (this moment is filled in by the later Gospel writers, from one of whom the painter above has taken his inspiration) and reports the location to the Chief Priests. The arrest takes place in this way:And straightway, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, . . . and with him a multitude with swords and staves, from the Chief Priests and the scribes and the elders. Now he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he; take him and lead him away safely. And when he was come, straightway he came to him and saith, Rabbi, and kissed him. And they laid hands on him and took him. But a certain one of them that stood by drew his sword, and smote the servant of the High Priest, and struck off his ear . . . And they all left him and fled. (Mk 14:43-50)
As time went on, Christian hatred of Judas for his nefarious betrayal rankled and grew. Each successive Gospel makes him out to be even worse than the one before. Not only so, but they make his betrayal all the worse by making him not merely one of the attack party, but one of Jesus' inner circle, which by those times was known as the Twelve. In reality, Jesus in his lifetime had only five disciples (they are the ones called individually in Mark: Peter and his brother Andrew, John and Jacob Zebedee, and Levi of Alphaeus). By going to early tradition preserved outside the Gospels, we find that it was just those five who had fled back to Galilee after Jesus' death, and quietly resumed their occupations, thinking never to see Jesus again. Judas was probably the sixth man, recruited at the last minute to make up the six necessary to secure the Temple entrances while the money changers were being ejected. As the one less committed to the rest of Jesus' program, he was the obvious one to know when the time had come to change sides.
It was to make his betrayal seem all the more awful that Mark, whenever he mentions Judas in this part of the story, insists that he was "one of the Twelve." Back when the Twelve were chosen, in Mk 3:19, Judas was mentioned as one of them, and it was specifically said that he would later betray Jesus. Yet in the Last Supper and Arrest parts of the story, it is emphasized that Judas was one of the Twelve. Look here:
- . . . and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. (Mk 3:19)
- . . . and Judas Iscariot, he that was one of the Twelve . . . (Mk 14:10)
- . . . and straightway, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the Twelve . . . (Mk 14:43)
Why this constant insistence that Judas was one of the Twelve? Why the perpetual reminders in the Arrest story? Nobody else in Mark is treated this way (we are not reminded, for example, that Peter was one of the Twelve). Probably because Mark had to make that point against those in his audience who knew perfectly well that Judas was not one of the Twelve. Making him one of the Twelve was very useful, though. It was a way of fanning hatred among the readership. And that hatred reached serious proportions. Here is an example. Already in the first century, there appeared a legend that Jesus, during the three days he was buried, visited Hell and preached to the spirits of the dead, who were converted and thus left Hell. In one account, only three especially loathsome criminals were left behind in Hell:. . . Joseph of Arimathea buried the body of Jesus. Death came into Amente (the underworld), asking who the new arrival was, for he detected a disturbance. He came to the tomb of Jesus, with his six sons in the form of serpents. Jesus lay there (it was the second day) with his face and head covered with napkins. Death addressed his son the Pestilence, and described the commotion which had taken place in his domain. Then he spoke to the body of Jesus and asked, Who are you? Jesus removed the napkin that was on his face, and looked in the face of Death, and laughed at him. Death and his sons fled . . . Then Jesus mounted into the chariot of the Cherubim. He wrought havoc in Hell, breaking the doors, binding the demons Beliar and Malkir, and delivered Adam and the holy souls. Then he turned to Judas Iscariot and delivered a long rebuke, and described the sufferings which he must endure . . . Jesus rose from the dead, and Death and Pestilence came back to Amente to protect it, but they found it wholly desolate. Only three souls were left in it: those of Herod, Cain, and Judas . . . (The Book of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, by Bartholomew the Apostle; paraphrase)
In a still later one, even Judas is allowed to be saved, if only to deny Satan the satisfaction of scoring even that one victory over Jesus:. . . Judas had repented and given back the money, and seen Jesus and pleaded for forgiveness. Jesus sent him to the desert to repent, bidding him fear no one but God. The Prince of Destruction came to him and threatened to swallow him up, and Judas was afraid and worshipped him. Then in despair he thought to go and ask Jesus again for pardon, but he had been taken away to the praetorium. So he resolved to hang himself and meet Jesus in Amente. Jesus came and took all the souls but his. The powers of Amente came and wept before Satan, who said, After all, we are stronger than Jesus, he has had to leave a soul with us. Jesus ordered Michael to take away Judas' soul also, that Satan's boast might be proved vain . . . (The Acts of Andrew and Paul, paraphrase).
Such is the human heart. It turns out that it is much easier to unify a group by hatred than by anything else. In Judas, we see that principle in operation.
Now that we know that Judas was the extra man in the Temple assault party, we can see why he was the one who betrayed Jesus. He was not really one of the Jesus inner circle, those who had absorbed his teachings as well as his Messianic plan. No, he was in it for his own exclusively nationalistic reasons. When that hope did not pan out, he went with what, for him, was the next best option; making a little money on the side by turning in the group leader. Nothing could be more intelligible.
And as for the others, we will presently find evidence confirming that the rest of the party, who fled when Jesus was arrested, numbered exactly five. The original Five Disciples, you see, minus only Judas from the Jerusalem assault party.
Of course there was a logical flaw in all this campaign of hatred against Judas.
In certain Christian circles, it had come to be thought that people were saved, not by any evil that they had repented of, or by any good that they had done, but by accepting the idea that Jesus' death itself saved them, compensated for their sins, and ransomed them from Hell. Someone finally realized that, Hey, if that is true, then Judas was not after all the worst criminal in history. On the contrary, he was the greatest benefactor the world has ever known, and why? Because without his betrayal, Jesus would never have been arrested, and his death (interpreted as the saving sacrifice) would never have occurred, and the whole late Plan of Salvation would have gone smash. For that Plan to come into existence, it was necessary that Jesus' escapade in the Temple should fail, and that Jesus should die. Logically necessary.
And so it came to pass that, sometime in the 2nd century, there was written a Greek text called the Gospel of Judas. It proved that Judas alone had understood Jesus, and that his subtle understanding had made possible the whole Plan of Salvation. A 4th century copy of this text, translated into Coptic, was recently discovered, and widely published, and created the usual media sensation, so characteristic of our times.
For Further Reading