The Apostle who betrayed Jesus. The name Judas (Ἰούδας) is derived from the Hebrew yehudah (Judah), the name borne also by St. jude thaddeus. Iscariot (Ἰσκαριώτης and Ἰσκαριώθ) is usually explained by the equivalent of the Hebrew 'îš-qerîôt (man of Carioth); a town of uncertain site in southern Judah called Carioth-Hesron is mentioned in Jos 15.25. Judas was the son of a man named Simon (Jn 6.72; 13.26). Apart from these vague notifications nothing is known about the origin of the man who betrayed Jesus.
Apostleship and Treachery. The New Testament says nothing about the vocation of Judas. His name is simply mentioned with the rest of the Twelve Apostles, always at the end of the list (Mk 3.19; Mt 10.4; Lk 6.16). Undoubtedly he joined the other Apostles on their missionary journeys (Mk 6.7; Mt 10.1; Lk 9.1–2).
No Evangelist gives a character study of Judas. The attempt to determine the crises that led to his defection deals with half knowledge. In Jn 12.6 it is said that Judas was a petty thief and that his hand dipped into the common purse for personal advantage. It seems most probable, however, that the major crisis for Judas was the same as that faced and overcome by the other Apostles, the revelation of a suffering Messiah. This is seen most clearly in Mk 8.31–33. Peter's profession of faith in Jesus as Messiah is followed by Jesus' revelation that "the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be put to death…." The effect of this statement on the Apostles was appalling. There was no place in their thinking for a suffering Christ. As David's descendant He must be a glorious political king. Peter was so certain of this that he took Jesus aside to remonstrate with Him. And then, even worse, Jesus taught the twelve that, not only was He to suffer, but they, too, must follow Him, each with his own cross (Mk 8.34–35). The last half of Mark's Gospel centers on the confusion and fear of the Apostles with regard to Jesus' future suffering (Mk 9.8–11, 30–31; 10.32–34, 43–45; 13.9–13). Judas's courage and faith must have been too weak to accept such a challenge. He traded in his apostleship for the small comforts he could obtain from the common fund.
The seeming waste of perfume at the Bethany anointing disturbed a number of the Apostles (Mk 14.3–9; Mt 26.6–9), but in Jn 12.1–8 Judas is singled out as particularly offended by it. Perhaps this was the final straw for him. Mark immediately follows this incident with the statement: "And Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray him to them" (Mk 14.10). Judas promised to inform the Sanhedrin of a time and place in which Jesus could be seized apart from the crowd: "The chief priests and the Scribes were seeking how they might seize him by stealth and put him to death; for they said, 'Not on the feast, or there might be a riot among the people"' (Mk 14.1–2).
The opportunity arrived during the last supper. Jesus was separated from the crowds, and He would soon move down to the olive trees at Gethsemani; night would mask the movement of the Sanhedrin forces. Jesus' response to Judas's plotting was a feeling of intense sorrow. It was one of His own community, one of His particular friends, who was betraying Him. Our Lord's words to and about Judas at the Last Supper are a personalization of Ps 40 (41).10: "Even my friend who had my trust and partook of my bread has raised his heel against me." It is this sad truth that is the common element in the varying traditions of Mk 14.20; Mt 26.23–25; Lk 22.21; Jn 13.18–26.
Judas's embrace of Jesus was a tragically clever move to point out Jesus in the darkness of Gethsemani. Luke cannot bring himself to state that Judas actually kissed Our Lord (Lk 22.47–48).
Only in Mt 27.3–5 is the story told how Judas rid himself of the blood money by hurling it into the Temple. Matthew's precise specification of the 30 pieces of silver is probably a symbol. Thirty shekels was the assessed value of Zechariah's good shepherd of Yahweh's flock (Zec 11.12–13), and according to Ex 21.32 it was a fine imposed on the owner of an ox that killed a slave.
John's Gospel emphasizes the relationship between Judas and Satan. As the Passion story begins and the conflict between Christ and Satan, between light and darkness, becomes imminent, Judas is the instrument of Satan (Jn 13.2, 27). Judas leaves the supper room to inform the authorities of Jesus' whereabouts that evening; as he does he moves off into the kingdom of darkness: "Now it was night" (Jn 13.30).
Death. There are different accounts of Judas's death in the early Christian writings. According to Mt 27.5 (of which passage there is no parallel in Mark or Luke) he hanged himself. In Acts 1.18 Peter is quoted as saying that Judas fell forward or swelled up (the Greek expression πρηνὴς γενόμενος is of uncertain meaning) and burst open. Papias (early second century) is quoted by a certain Appolinaris as saying that "His [Judas's] flesh became bloated (πρασθεíς) to such an extent that he could not walk through a space where a wagon could easily pass. Not even the huge bulk of his head could go through" [Papias Fragment 6, Partes Apostolici, F. X. Funk, ed. (Tübingen 1901) 1:360–362]. In this respect Papias agrees with Acts.
Probably both traditions are symbolic. The hanging death mentioned by Matthew refers to 2 Sm 17.23, which says that Achitophel, companion of David and a traitor to him, went and hanged himself. In Jewish tradition Achitophel was the classic example of a traitor. Jesus himself (Jn 13.18; Mk 14.18) applied to Judas Ps 40 (41).10, which the rabbis had long understood as referring to Achitophel. hitophel. Matthew's tradition, therefore, brands Judas, in life and in death, as another Achitophel. He must have died the miserable type of death destined for traitors.
Acts and Papias give us a symbolism based, seemingly, on Wis 4.18–19, which says that sinners shall "become dishonored corpses …; for he shall strike them down speechless and prostrate [or swollen: πρηνε[symbol omitted]ς]." This tradition states that Judas's death must have been that of a typical sinner. Both Matthew and Acts give, therefore, not the historical circumstances of Judas's death, but its theological meaning.
Bibliography: j. blinzler and j. h. emminghaus, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 1957–65) 5:1152–54. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 1231–33. r. b. halas, Judas Iscariot: A Scriptural and Theological Study of His Person, Deeds, and Eternal Lot (Washington 1946). j. dupont, "La Destinée de Judas prophetisée par David," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly (Washington 1939–) 23 (1961) 41–51.
[n. m. flanagan]