Friday, March 28, 2003

Judas Iscariot

This is the third post in a series that examines the life of Judas Iscariot. To start at the beginning, click here.

What can we know about Judas Iscariot? There are only a handful of scriptures, but they are sufficient to provide important information.

Basic Facts

Iscariot = Ish Kerioth

The "Iscariot" in Judas Iscariot is not a last name, but a place of origin. It is a transliteration into Greek of the Hebrew Ish Kerioth or "Man of Kerioth" In other words, the place from where Judas came was his main distinguishing characteristic. We sometimes refer to Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth and that is the same concept.

Judas being from Kerioth is possibly important. At least ten out of the twelve disciples were from Galilee, which is north of the Samaritan region. Kerioth was a town in Judea, which is south of the Samaritan region. Geographical displacement and enmity between Jews and Samaritans led to a  separation between the Judeans and Galileans that can be likened to hill folk and city people. The Judeans were near Jerusalem and, therefore, tended to be more educated and part of the ruling class. So, Judas may have had a sophistication about him that the other disciples did not have. Note the attitude of the Judean leadership in the following verse:

They replied, “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!” (John 7:52, The Net Bible)

The Pairings of the Twelve

Let's look at how the twelve were paired when Jesus sent them out:

Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness. Now these are the names of the twelve apostles: First, Simon (called Peter), and Andrew his brother; James son of Zebedee and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:1-4)

The other gospels list the names of the twelve, but Matthew's wording strongly implies that these were the pairs that Jesus sent out. The list gives us another clue regarding Judas' origins. This is because, the pairs are not haphazard.

  • Simon Peter and Andrew were brothers
  • James and John were brothers
  • Philip and Bartholomew (aka Nathanael) were good friends. They are frequently mentioned together.
  • Thomas and Matthew (aka Levi) were possibly brothers1.
  • James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus (aka Judas the son of James)  were possibly father and son2.
  • Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot were also possibly father and son3

I acknowledge some speculation here, but it is not far fetched. Please note the footnote links in the above list. You can click on them to get a fuller explanation of the reasons for my assertions. When you are at the footnote, you can click the number to return.

If Judas was the son of Simon the Zealot4, Judas may have shared his father's political leanings. We can also infer that Judas was one of the youngest of the twelve. Even without the father and son connection, the pairing of the two in Matthew suggests a political affinity. As zealots, Simon and Judas would have had a distinct preference for overthrowing the Roman rule of their country.

How the Gospels Introduce Judas

If there is one bit of evidence to suggest that Judas does not warrant sympathy, it is how he is introduced in each of the four gospels:

Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:4)

and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Mark 3:19)

Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:16)

(Now he said this about Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.) (John 6:71)

Someone reading these works for the first time and who does not know the story, learns from the get-go that Judas must be watched. The gospel John hammers the message home by referencing Judas as a betrayer in 6:71, 12:4, 13:2, 18:2, and 18:5.

At the same time, none of the gospels suggest that he was a traitor all along. Matthew and Mark simply say that Judas "betrayed him." Luke clearly tells us that Judas "became a traitor." John lets us know that, at the point where he introduces Judas, seeds of betrayal exist. I will have more to say about this last point.

Judas Viewed Jesus Differently from the Others

Matthew records the following:

And while they were eating he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” They became greatly distressed and each one began to say to him, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.” Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus replied, “You have said it yourself.” (Matthew 26:21-25)

Matthew records how Jesus announced His betrayal. Each disciple except Judas responded, "Surely not I, Lord?" Judas, however, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" To which, Jesus said, "You have said it yourself." Jesus draws our attention to Judas' words and the only difference between Judas and the others was the use of the designation "rabbi" to refer to Jesus instead of "Lord." And yet, from Jesus' perspective that made the difference. The eleven viewed Jesus has having authority and possibly discerned His divine nature. To Judas, Jesus was still just a teacher. This is not the response of a man who has come to faith. This fact adds a certain chill to Mark's record of the moment of betrayal:

When Judas came, he went to Jesus immediately and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. (Mark 14:45)

That Judas was not a saved man is indicated by these words of Jesus:

So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!” Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?” (John 6:67-70)

Judas Lived a Lie

Compare the following two passages and see if Judas did not somehow put on a good show among the disciples?

Then Peter said to him, “Look, we have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)

(Now Judas said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money box, he used to steal what was put into it.) (John 12:6)

While the others had left jobs, family, and friends to be with Jesus, Judas was stealing and somehow depositing money from the ministry account.


With a few verses and some analysis, we can perceive Judas to:

  1. Have come from Judea and may have felt superior to the Galilean disciples.
  2. He may have had strong feelings about overthrowing Roman rule.
  3. He may have been young.
  4. He never knew Jesus for who He was.
  5. He lived a lie.

With this foundation, we have enough to put together a plausible story of the life of Judas. And that I will begin with the next installment.

Monday: The Good Years

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

1 The reasoning goes like this. 

  • Matthew is also known and Levi. 
  • Mark 2:14 identifies Levi as being the son of Alphaeus. 
  • Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15 refer to James as being the son of Alphaeus as well. So Matthew and James are brothers. 
  • Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15 both list "Matthew, Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus" together. Since the first and last names in this group are demonstrably brothers, the middle name is possibly a brother as well.

2 The reasoning goes like this. 

  • The list in Luke 6 does not mention Thaddaeus, but does mention Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16). 
  • So Judas the son of James and Thaddaeus are the same person. 
  • Thaddaeus is either the son of James the son of Alphaeus, the son of James the brother of John, or the son of some other James? 
  • Proximity of reference suggests James the son of Alpaheus.

3 The reasoning goes like this:

  • John 6:71 refers to Judas as being the son of Simon Iscariot. 
  • Matthew, Mark, and Luke all refer to Simon the Zealot, but do not refer to Simon Iscariot.
  • The gospel of John refers to Simon Iscariot, but does not refer to Simon the Zealot.
  • Simon Iscariot could be Simon the Zealot and that would make him the father of Judas Iscariot.

Note that John's gospel reveals other facts about the disciples missing from the other gospels. For example, it is from John that we know Thomas as Didymus or doubting Thomas.

4 This also suggests why Jesus included Judas into the close knit group. He came with his father.


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