Sunday, June 26, 2016

Who Was Judas Iscariot? (Part 3)

Part 1 is available here, and Part 2 here.

AP: We simply cannot say "Judas probably never existed." We have to be able to explain the plausibility of why different traditions about the man arose over time. Overall, therefore, it seems reasonable to say that the extant record of this character contains the core of who he actually was in history. And to this core each evangelist added his own perspective/twist. Obviously there are some differences in the accounts, and these differences either shape or warp the contours of the character. Either way, they make him into someone he was really not.

The Gospel of Mark presents Judas as the prototype of an unfaithful friend. His betrayal is presented with a reference to (not a citation of) Ps. 41:9: "Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me." The passage in Mark reads as follows: "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray me—in fact, one who is eating with me" (14:18).

The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes Judas' greed as a motive for his betrayal of Jesus. "Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, 'What are you willing to give me to betray him to you?' And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him" (Matt. 26:14-15). Matthew also presents the disciples in a negative light in the pericope of the woman who anoints Jesus before his death: "But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor"(Matt. 26:8-9). And, of course, in the Gospel of John (12:4-5), states that the murmuring among the disciples was actually done by Judas. And compare the responses of Peter and Judas. Matthew says Judas "felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders" (Matt. 27:3). But Peter, Matthew says, "wept bitterly" (Matt. 26:75). Judas' sin is presented as unforgivable. That explains why Jesus is said to have pronounced a curse on him: "Woe to the man by whom the Son of Man will be delivered; it would be better were he never even born" (Matt. 26:24). This is the foundation of the terrible death of the traitor. Matthew says he went out and hanged himself (Matt. 27:5), which likens him to an infamous Old Testament character named Ahithophel, the enemy of King David, who hanged himself (2 Sam. 17:23).

The Gospel of Luke returns to the motive of greed (Luke 22:5). It also shows how, even though Jesus' ministry had been free from any Satanic attacks (remember how Jesus was able to cast out demons), his Passion is when the devil returns and takes a stand against the Savior. Judas has active role in the crucifixion of Jesus, and he is presented as an agent of the devil in handing Jesus over to be crucified.: "Satan entered Judas who is called Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve" (Luke 22:3). And part two of Luke's record, the Acts of the Apostles, has no mention of Judas' remorse, which we do find in Matthew. It presents a very different end to the life of the traitor, painting a much more graphic scene than any of the other authors. Peter says in his first speech: "Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out" (Acts 1:18). Obviously, though not explicitly stated, this presentation of Judas' suicide is very negative.

The shaping/warping of Judas in these last passages needs to be considered more closely. One possible explanation is they are expansions of other messianic-prophetic texts. It is clear that we have two very different versions of the death of the traitor. Both cannot be historically accurate.
1. There is remarkable unanimity among scholars in noting how the death of Judas by hanging is an event that recreates/parallels the episode involving Ahithophel, who betrayed King David and then hanged himself out of remorse (2 Sam. 15:1-37; 17:23). There are striking parallels between the story of the Old Testament and the Gospels: David, when his friend and adviser Ahithophel betrayed him (2 Sam. 15:12), crosses the brook Kidron (2 Sam. 15:23; cf. John 18:1) and goes up to the Mount of Olives. There he weeps with his head covered and his feet bare (2 Sam. 15:30 = the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane); then, apparently, David begins to pray (15:32 = prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane). David, having compassion for the fate of others, ordered Zadok and his men to return to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15:27 = John 18:8: "Let these go there way"). Finally, Ahithophel sees his plans against David fail and hangs himself (2 Sam. 7:23 = death by hanging Judas).
2. The version of Judas' death found in Acts is probably inspired by the story of the death of the wicked king Antiochus Epiphanes IV (2 Macc. 9:9-12). This passage describes Antiochus has being swarmed with worms and having his flesh rot off his body while he still lived. It was so gross that the army was sickened by the smell of his rotting flesh.
3. Another example is the expansion of the words of Jesus in Matt. 26:31-32 and the payment of thirty pieces of silver as payment to Judas in the same Gospel (27:6-10): "Then Jesus said to them 'All of you will fall away because of me tonight, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. But after I have risen, I will go before you into Galilee.'" "The high priests picked up the coins and said, 'It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, because they are the price of blood. And, after reaching an agreement, they bought with them the Potter's Field, as a burial place for strangers. That is why that field is still called today 'Field of Blood'. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 'They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel, and they paid them for the Potter's Field, as the Lord commanded me' (Jer. 32:6-9 + Zech. 11:12-13).
Basically all scholars agree that Matt. 26:31-32 is a formulation created by the author based on Zech. 13:7. In other words, this passage was used to put together some words that Jesus never actually spoke because they contain an absolute prediction of his resurrection, which never crossed the mind of the historical Jesus. Scholars also agree that Matthew constructed the scene of the thirty pieces of silver. The Evangelist joined the mention of "Shepherd" in Zech. 13:7 (Prophet = Jesus) with Zech. 11:7 and 12 (which also mentions the shepherd). The mention of the field is taken from Jer. 32:8ff.

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