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The Bertrayal of Jesus by Judas

We have strong reasons to believe that the story of Judas' betrayal is not historical.

The Motive of the Betrayal

According to all four gospels Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot one of his twelve disciples. The account of the betrayal in Mark is given below:

Mark 14:10-11 (Matthew 26:14-16; Luke 22:1-6)
And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them. And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.

Mark 14:43-46 (Matthew 26:47-50; Luke 22:47-48,54)
[After Jesus prayers at Gethsemane]
And immediately, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely. And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed him. And they laid their hands on him, and took him.

Anyone reading the story with an open mind will note that the whole story of Judas betrayal does not sound natural or believable. For instance, what good does the Judas kiss do? Jesus must have been a very well recognized face in Jerusalem for he had debated with the chief priests, teachers and the elders just the day before and he had preached in front of large crowds in the Jerusalem Temple courts. So obviously the kiss was not used for the arresting party to recognize Jesus. [1] But then, what other use could the kiss have?

The confusion underlying the betrayal of Judas is further compounded by the fact that we are not told why he wanted to betray his master. Some apologist had made the obvious suggestion that it was greed. But this is most unlikely for it would have been more profitable for Judas to actually abscond the common fund (remember that Judas was the treasurer of the group) than to sell his master for the little amount the gospels made it out to be. Other suggestions include that ambition and jealousy. But nothing in the gospels can tell us what his ambitions were or who he was jealous of. [2] Some apologists have even suggested that Judas fearing the imminent arrest of Jesus, due to his quarrels with the chief priests and teachers of the law, actually betrayed his master to rid himself of this very fear! [3] All these suggestions remain unconvincing. As Guignebert commented:

We are confronted by nothing but...arbitrary suppositions unsupported by any trustworthy passage. The very number of them [i.e. the explanations of the apologists-PT] is sufficient to discredit them, and they merely vie with another in flights of imagination. Even if we combine all motives, ambition, jealousy, fear and failing confidence, and dress them out in high-sounding epithets, we cannot deduce from them any well-founded and therefore acceptable conclusions. The interminable discussions which we have touched on appear lamentable futile. The betrayal remains purposeless, useless and unintelligible...[4]

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Alternate Tradition of Betrayal

It seems that the story of Judas betrayal was not universal in the early tradition. Paul in I Corinthians 11:23 said that Jesus was betrayed on the night of the last supper but did not mention who it was. In fact it is very likely that Paul's sources tell him that the traitor was not one of the twelve. For he stated explicitly that Jesus appeared to the twelve after his resurrection:

I Corinthians 15:5
...And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve...

Now if Paul knew about Judas' betrayal he would certainly have said Jesus appeared to the eleven. The fact that the disciples elected another to replace Judas (Acts 1:26) is of no account here for the election was conducted after Jesus was lifted into heaven (Acts 1:9-11), i.e. after his resurrection appearances. The account of the election in Acts is, of course, of the same tradition of the Lukan story of Judas' betrayal hence its historicity cannot be determined. [5]

There is a further problem with the story of the betrayal in the gospels. The evangelists tried to show us that Jesus knew beforehand who his betrayer was. Matthew, for instance, showed Jesus confidently telling Judas that he is the traitor:

Matthew 26:21,25
And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me."...Then Judas, the one who would betray him said, "Surely not I, Rabbi." Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."

For all the foresight the evangelist attributed to Jesus they seemed to have forgotten a passage from Q that implies that all his twelve disciples will be rewarded. The passage in Matthew probably give the original rendering in Q, for he makes Jesus tell his disciples:

Matthew 19:28
"I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the son of man sits on his throne in heavenly glory, you who have followed me will also sit on the twelve thrones; judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

Unless we have here another case of Matthew making one of the disciples sit on two thrones, like he makes Jesus do with two donkeys, we have here an obvious reference to the idea that Jesus promised each and everyone of his twelve disciples a throne. It is worth noting that Luke probably realized the basic incompatibility of the above passage from Q with the Judas betrayal. For he altered the saying ever so slightly to avoid the pitfall Matthew fell into:

Luke 22:29-30
"And I confer onto you a kingdom; just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The passage in Luke, by omitting the word twelve, sounds less natural than the one in Matthew. This serves to confirm our idea that Matthew's passage, at least as far as the last line was concerned, is the original reading in Q.

Thus the passage in Matthew corroborates the suggestion above that there was an alternative early tradition that did not include the traitor among the original twelve disciples. [6]

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The Contradictions between Acts and Matthew On Judas' Death

We are not even certain how Judas met with his death for there are two different and incompatible accounts of his death and its relation to a place known as the Field of Blood. According to Matthew, Judas hanged himself:

Matthew 27:3-5
When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver [a] to the chief priests and the elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

The book of the Acts of the Apostles however said nothing about a hanging but suggested that Judas died by throwing himself off a precipice which disemboweled him: [8]

Acts 1:18-19
Now this man [Judas] bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akel'dama, that is, Field of Blood.

Not only is there discrepancy as to how he died, there is also the divergence in what Judas did with the money. Matthew said he threw the money into the temple and left while Acts said that he used the money to buy a field. In Matthew it was the chief priests and elders who used the money to buy the field which ended up with the same name, The Field of Blood:

Matthew 27:6-10
But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me."

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Mistake in Old Testament Reference by Matthew

Matthew 27:6-10
But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me."

There is still another mistake in the passage above. Matthew had attributed to Jeremiah a passage that was actually in Zechariah 11:12-13! [9] This obvious mistake in reference gave a lot of problems to the apologists for an inerrant Bible. It is amusing to look at the convoluted attempts Christians throughout history had tried to reconcile this mistake.

St. Augustine in his work De Consensu Evang (III 7) said that Matthew knew very well that the sentence came from Zechariah, but he also knew that he was writing at the dictation of the Holy Spirit, and he dared not take the liberty of correcting it. And why did the Holy Spirit dictate an inaccuracy? To show that all the prophets were equally inspired and that it did not matter whether what was said by one was ascribed to another!! [10]

Such nonsensical medieval explanations had forced modern apologists to try and come up with a better one but to no success. An example of a modern explanation for this discrepancy is the one given by the early twentieth century fundamentalist R.A. Torrey:

There is no record in the book of Jeremiah, of his having uttered this prophecy, but there is no reason whatever to think that we have in Jeremiah all the prophecies he ever uttered, and Zechariah may easily have access to prophecies of Jeremiah not recorded in the book of Jeremiah. [11]

With such special pleading, even Hitler's Mein Kempf can be explained away as an inerrant word of God!

There is actually a very natural reason why Matthew made the mistake of reference that he did. The first part of this reason is that Matthew had an erroneous translation of the Septuagint with him. As scholars had pointed out, the original reading in Hebrew of Zechariah had the priest casting the money into the treasury. The Hebrew word for treasury (owtsar) and potter (yatsar) were written very similarly. Matthew had with him an erroneous translation of the Old Testament which translated what should have been treasury to potter. [12] In fact the original phrase in Zechariah, correctly translated, reads thus:

Zechariah 11:12-13
Then I said to them, "If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them." And they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver. 13: Then the LORD said to me, "Cast it into the treasury" --

The second part of the mistake was that the word potter led Matthew to the book of Jeremiah., which talks about Jeremiah buying a field and then keeping the deed in a pot.

Jeremiah 32:9,10,14
And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle's son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances...Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Take these evidences, this evidence of the purchase...put them in an earthen vessel (i.e. pot).

The above mistake by Matthew is actually quite revealing. For it shows us, as clear as the case with the two donkeys during the triumphal entry, his modus operandi. He had confused two separate Old Testament passages and used these two to construct the story about Judas’ actions subsequent to his betrayal. [13]

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The Old Testament: The Source of the Judas Story

It is also highly probable that both Matthew and Luke got their story on Judas’ death not from any historical sources but from an oracular reading of Old Testament passages. We have shown elsewhere that the early Christians looked upon the whole of the Old Testament as a source for the events in Jesus’ biography. Thus events which were not even connected directly with any expectation of the messiah are interpreted by them to refer to events in Jesus’ life.

Thus the Matthean story of Judas hanging himself has a close parallel in the Old Testament (II Samuel) about another betrayal, in this case one that didn’t succeed. It concerned Ahitophel, a renowned sage who betrayed David by going over to Absalom, who had rebelled against the Jewish king. However, his counsel was not accepted by Absalom. As a result, Ahitophel went home and hanged himself. (II Samuel 17:23) The Greek word used by Matthew here (Matthew 27:5), apegxato (aphgxato, he hanged himself), is exactly the same as that in the Septuagint for II Samuel 17:23.

We find that a passage from Psalms (attributed to David) about this episode had also been used as an achetype in the story of Judas’ betrayal. [14]

Psalm 41:9
Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, [a reference to Ahitophel-PT] which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.

This is where the story of Judas’ betrayal and his sharing of the last supper with Jesus came from. Added to this, Matthew even had Jesus calling Judas "friend" (Matthew 26: 50) when latter came with a contigent to arrest him. Thus we have the "friend" whom Jesus "ate bread" with who "lifted his heel" against him-all coming from this one verse in Psalm 41.

The gospel of John in fact had Jesus referring to the above passage in Psalm explicitly:

John 13:18,21
I am not speaking of you all; I know whom I have chosen; it is that the scripture may be fulfilled, `He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.' ...When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me."

Luke’s story about Judas’ death is taken from the story of the treachery of Joab also in II Samuel:

II Samuel 20: 9-10
And Jo'ab said to Ama'sa, "Is it well with you, my brother?" And Jo'ab took Ama'sa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Ama'sa did not observe the sword which was in Jo'ab's hand; so Jo'ab struck him with it in the body, and shed his bowels to the ground, without striking a second blow; and he died.

In words used in Luke for Judas’ death, exechuthe (execuqh) “his intestines spilled out” (Acts 1:18), is exactly the one used in the Septuagint for the passage above. Note that the act of Joab coming close to kiss Amasa is an early archetype of the Judas kiss. [15]

Normally it is in their mistakes and anachronisms that we see more clearly the source of the story as the Old Testament. As Uta Ranke Heinemann, in her book Putting Away Childish Things, pointed out, the literal translation of Matthew 26:15 would have the high priests "weighing out" (esphran, esperan) thirty "pieces of silver" (arguria, arguria). However this is a major anachronism, for the pratice of weighing out pieces of silver and the use of silver pieces as money was no longer current during the time of Jesus.

In Jesus' day there were gold and silver denarii...-but no coin or currency known as "pieces of silver". These had gone out of circulation around 300 years before. Equally anachronistic is the "weighed out." This was customary in Zechariah's time, but by Jesus' day had long been replaced by minted silver coins. (Pinchas Lapide, Wer war schuld an Jesu Tod? [1987] pp23-24)[16]

Thus in this anachronism Matthew reveals his source for the Judas myth, not historical recollections of eyewitnesses, but oracular readings of Old Testament prophecies.

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a.While Mark 11:10-11 only mentioned that the chief priests promised Judas money, Matthew was more explicit about the actual amount:

The detail of the thirty pieces of silver is first introduced in:
Matthew 26:14-16
Then one of the twelve-the one called Judas Iscariot-went to the chief priests and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Keeping in mind the two asses that Matthew had Jesus riding on, and as most critical theologians admit, this additional detail of thirty pieces of silver, in the Judas story is unlikely to be historical, since the words are a direct quotation from Zechariah: [7]

Zechariah 11:12
They weighed out my wages thirty shekels of silver.


1.Guignebert, Jesus: p454
2.Ibid: p455
3.Craveri, Life of Jesus: p359
4.Guignebert, Jesus: p455
5.Ibid: p457
6.Craveri, Life of Jesus: p274-275
7.Craveri, Life of Jesus: p358
Fenton, Saint Matthew: p413
Guignebert, Jesus: p455
8.Howell-Smith, In Search of the Real Bible: p21
Riedel, The Book of the Bible: p529
9.Craveri, Life of Jesus: p358
Fenton, Saint Matthew: p432
10.Craveri, Life of Jesus: p358-359
11.Torrey, Difficulties in the Bible: p115
12.Craveri, Life of Jesus: p360
Guignebert, Jesus: p456
13.Helms, Gospel Fictions: p115-116
14.Ibid: p106, 116
Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things: p125
15.Helms, Gospel Fictions: p117
16.quoted in Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things: p126

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