The Gospel Stories of the Betrayal of Jesus by Judas are not Consistent
In this chapter Asher Norman makes four main points to attack the Gospel record on Judas Iscariot:
- He compares the betrayal of Jesus by Judas as portrayed in the Gospels to ‘the betrayal of a demigod’ which he says is ‘a common theme among mystery-cult pagan religions at the time of Jesus.’
- He also says that the fact that the disciple who betrays Jesus is called ‘Judas’ is an attempt to ‘imply that the entire Jewish people were ‘god killers’’, which has been the source of much hatred and anti-Semitism throughout Christian history.
- He says that story of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas is ‘highly conflicted and therefore lacks credibility.’
- He says there are He also claims that the newly discovered ‘Gospel of Judas’ ‘transforms Judas from an ‘evil betrayer’ into a trusted and devoted ally and directly contradicts the canonised Gospels.
Let us look at these issues in order.
1. The story of Jesus ties in with ‘mystery pagan religions’.
This is a common accusation of anti-Christian sceptics today. One of the major proponents of this view was a movie called ‘Zeitgeist’ which has attracted millions of viewers on the Internet. I have done a review of this movie and the issues it raises ‘Answering Zeitgiest’ to which I would direct any readers who are interested in this subject.
This film begins with the proposition: ‘Christianity along with all other theistic belief systems is the fraud of the age.’ What Asher does not tell his Jewish readers is that proponents of the Christianity as a ‘recycled mystery pagan religion’ generally have the same view of Judaism. The two major sources of ‘Zeitgeist’ are Raymond Massey, a 19th century English writer, and Archarya S, the pen name of D Murdock, author of ‘The Christ Conspiracy’. Massey was a spiritualist and an initiate into the order of Druids, who also studied Egyptology. Massey’s work is widely discredited by serious Egyptologists.
Archarya S believes in UFOs and alien encounters and makes a huge number of untrue claims in her work. For example she writes, “In reality, it is no accident that there are 12 patriarchs, 12 tribes of Israel and 12 disciples, 12 being the number of the astrological signs.” In fact the division into the 12 zodiacal signs was the product of Babylonian astronomy in the fifth century BC, long after the events recorded in Genesis took place. She also claims the Israelites were moon worshippers based on Psalm 8, 104, Isaiah 47 and 66. Three of these passages speak about worshipping the Lord who is the creator of all things and Isaiah 47 speaks of judgment about to fall on the Babylonian, not Hebrew, astrologers! For further information go to www.risenjesus.com ‘A Refutation of Acharya S’s book, The Christ Conspiracy by Mike Licona.’
The question I ask in my article is: ‘Did the pagan myths come first and the Christians invent the Gospel story to fit in with them? Or do the modern pagans take the Gospel story and try to make the pagan myths fit in with it? All the evidence points to the latter conclusion.’ For reasons for coming to this conclusion go to the article itself.
2. Judas the Jew and anti-Semitism.
We have to accept that the account of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus has been used by the professing church to whip up anti-Semitism. True believers in Jesus are deeply sorry for hatred of the Jews in the name of Jesus and would deny that this is in any way compatible with genuine faith in Jesus as Messiah. We would also deny that this was in any way the intention of the writers of the Gospel who were all Jewish themselves (with the probable exception of Luke).
Judas’ name in Hebrew is Yehuda or Judah, one of the sons of Jacob, from whose tribe was to come the royal line of David and the Messiah (Genesis 49.10). The words Judea, Jew and Judaism and their equivalents in other languages derive from Judah. Where the name Iscariot comes from is more debatable. The most likely possibility is that it means ‘Ish Karioth’, a man of Karioth, a town in Judea, which would have marked Judas out as being different from the Galilean disciples of Jesus. Another less likely possibility is that it is connected to the ‘Sicarii’, the dagger men, a group of zealots dedicated to driving Romans out of Judea.
The connection by name between Judas and the Jewish people became a source of anti-Semitism by the Middle Ages. Throughout Europe it was common for boys to be given the names of the disciples of Jesus in the form common to their languages – Peter, Andrew, James, John etc. No Christian boy would ever be called Judas, although Jewish boys would be called Yehuda. As Christendom left people in gross ignorance of the truth most people assumed that Peter, Andrew, James and John were all nice Gentile Christians, whereas the only Jewish disciple of Jesus was Judas the traitor. Often paintings depicting the disciples showed only Judas having obviously Jewish features. In reality all the disciples of Jesus were Jewish and would have been known by their Hebrew names, Kephas (Peter), Yakov (James), Yohannan (John), etc.
3. The story of Judas is contradictory in the Gospels.
In this section Asher Norman makes eight points, three of which are trivial and five of which refer to the alleged contradiction between Matthew 27.3-10 and Acts 1.15-26 which are more serious and we will comment on.
His first (trivial) point is that John 13.27 and Luke 22.3 contradict Mark 14.10 and Matthew 27.3-10. The reason for this is that John and Luke say the devil made Judas betray Jesus whereas Mark and Matthew do not mention the devil. As we have noted elsewhere the four Gospels were not written in collusion and in places one writer adds a detail which another misses out. Since the New Testament attributes evil actions to the work of the devil, the fact that Mark and Matthew do not mention the devil does not mean they disagree with Luke and John about the ultimate origin of Judas’ action (influence of the devil). They just did not choose to insert this into their Gospels.
His second (trivial) point is that John conflicts with Matthew, Mark and Luke, by saying that Judas himself suggested that he receive a bribe for betraying Jesus whereas the other Gospels say the priests proposed the bribe. I guess in this Asher is hoping that none of his Jewish readers will look up the verse in John (John 13.29) which he cites for this alleged objection, because it has nothing to do with accepting money to betray Jesus: ‘For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.’
His third (trivial) point is that Jesus named Judas as the betrayer in John and Matthew, but did not in Mark and Luke. As with point one this says nothing of any significance. It would only be a point worth making if Jesus named a different disciple as the betrayer in Mark or Luke.
His remaining five points all revolve around the apparent difference between Matthew and Acts in saying what happened when Judas committed suicide and was buried. We will look at them in one section.
One peculiarity of Asher Norman’s attack on the Gospels is that he keeps referring to the place where Judas died as ‘Blood Acre.’ In fact both Matthew and Acts refer to this place with its direct translation from the Hebrew ‘Akel dama’ as ‘Field of Blood.’ (Matthew 27.8, Acts 1.19). The passage in Acts spells this out so no one can miss the point: ‘And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.’ Quite why he obscures this very clear Hebrew reference in both accounts is unclear, but it certainly makes his research look lacking in credibility.
Now to look at the issue surrounding Matthew and Acts. In Matthew 27 Judas throws the 30 pieces of silver into the Temple sanctuary and goes away to hang himself. The chief priests then buy the potter’s field as a burial place. In Acts 1.18-19 Peter is addressing the disciples and saying briefly what happened to Judas and what to do about replacing him as one of the twelve disciples. Peter describes Judas as having purchased the field himself ‘and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.’ So we have two descriptions of what happened to Judas – that he hanged himself and that he burst open in the middle and his entrails gushed out.
Arnold Fruchtenbaum gives an interesting explanation of this apparent discrepancy in his book ‘Messianic Christology’ (page 153-4). Judas committed suicide at the end of the first night of the Passover, before the first day of the Passover when the Passover sacrifice would be offered. According to Jewish law if there was a dead body within the walls of Jerusalem then the city would be considered defiled and the morning sacrifice could not be offered. However if the corpse is taken and thrown into the Valley of Hinnom, then the city would be cleansed and the sacrifice may be offered up. In order for this to happen Judas’ body was thrown over the walls into the valley as a result of which his entrails gushed out. So Matthew is right that Judas hanged himself and Acts is right that his body burst open when it was thrown over the walls into the valley below.
Another explanation is that the body was left in the hot sun during the Passover season which brought on rapid decomposition until it fell to the ground and burst open. An early church tradition is that Judas hanged himself from a tree that leaned over a ravine and when the branch broke he fell to a messy end. We do not have any more relevant information and cannot obtain it.
Concerning the issue with who bought the burial place, Arnold Fruchtenbaum again has an interesting answer to this one. ‘What were the Chief Priests to do with the 30 pieces of silver? The money was wrongfully gained so it could not be put back into the Temple treasury. Such money could either be returned to the owner or used for the public good. Since Judas was already dead it could not be returned to him so it had to be used for the common good. So a field was purchased in the name of the deceased Judas Iscariot by the chief priests as a burial place. The first person to be buried there was Judas himself. So Matthew is right when he says the chief priests bought the field. Acts is also right that Judas Iscariot was the legal owner since the field was bought posthumously in his name.’
There is also an issue in Matthew about the connection between this event and prophecy which Asher Norman draws attention to.
Matthew 27.9-10 attributes the betrayal of Jesus to the prophecy of Jeremiah not Zechariah. ‘Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the LORD directed me.”
However Jeremiah does not refer to 30 pieces of silver, though Zechariah 11.12-13 does. Jeremiah 32.6-9 has a reference to Jeremiah buying a field at Anathoth for seventeen shekels of silver. However this passage is about a land transaction Jeremiah made, which is not connected in Matthew’s prophecy to the events surrounding Judas and the Potter’s Field.
The real connection to Jeremiah is not chapter 32 (as is often given in the footnotes of the New Testament) but chapter 19. The explanation of this is to be found in David Baron’s commentary on Zechariah page 409-412. He shows how Matthew’s quote is a composite reference to both Zechariah 11.12-13 and Jeremiah 19. Jeremiah 19 is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the first Temple by the Babylonians. Jeremiah uses the symbol of the broken pot to connect the Potter’s Field with the Valley of Hinnom which was to be known as the valley of Slaughter. In so doing he is making a prophecy of the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians when the Valley of Hinnom, which is just outside the walls of Jerusalem, would become the place of slaughter.
Zechariah 11 is a prophecy of the destruction of the second temple by the Romans. The Valley of Hinnom was again to become a ‘Field of Blood’ (Acel dama). The two passages in Jeremiah and Zechariah are connected by a common theme – the coming destruction of the temple and the reason for it. The reason for the fall of the first temple and the Babylonian captivity was the disobedience of Israel to the Torah and the rejection of the message of the prophets. The reason for the destruction of the second temple and the greater dispersion of Israel was to be the rejection of the Messiah and His message by the religious leaders.
Judas’ act of betrayal and its use by the Sanhedrin in arranging the crucifixion set the stage for this event to take place 40 years later as a judgement of God, after the message of the Gospel had been proclaimed by the disciples of Jesus and rejected by the religious leadership in Jerusalem. When the Romans broke through the walls of Jerusalem in AD 70 there was such an appalling slaughter that there was no more room to bury the dead in the Valley of Hinnom which became the Field of Blood (Akel Dama).
From God’s point of view the reason for this calamity was the consistent rejection of Jesus as Messiah by the Jewish religious leadership. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus with the connivance of the chief priests was a sign of this. Significantly the money given to Judas was taken from the fund for buying sacrifices for the Temple. In fact it bought the final sacrifice for sin through the blood of the Messiah Jesus. To those who accepted the meaning of this sacrifice, Jewish and Gentile, it became the source of forgiveness and eternal life. This offer went out even to those who had been responsible for the death of Jesus who could be saved through repentance and faith in His name (Acts 3.11-26). To those who rejected it, the sacrifice of Jesus became the source of judgement and damnation. In Hebrew the Valley of Hinnom is gei hinnom from which comes the Greek ‘Gehenna’ which is the word used in the New Testament for hell.
One final point on this subject is Asher Norman’s point 5 in which he says that Acts 1.22 and Matthew 27.5 conflict with each other over whether or not Judas was repentant before he killed himself. Apparently Acts 1.22 says he was not repentant. I am sure Asher is hoping that no one will look up Acts 1.22 because it has nothing to do with whether or not Judas was repentant. Maybe he has made a mistake and meant to refer to Acts 1.25, which is the only verse remotely related to this issue. All it says about Judas is, ‘Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.’
As far as Matthew is concerned, I think he probably means Matthew 27.3, not 5, when he speaks of Judas being repentant. The whole passage says, ‘Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful (Authorised Version ‘repented himself’) and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.’ Matthew 27.3-5.
It is interesting that Matthew does not use the usual New Testament word for repent in the Greek here (metanoeo) but a less usual word ‘metamelomai’. The latter word is also used in Matthew 21.29 of the son who changes his mind and goes to work in his father’s vineyard. This does not have the same force as metanoeo / repentance and implies a remorse of the kind experienced by a wrong doer who is found out and regrets what he has done. If Judas had understood true biblical repentance he would not have hung himself, knowing that he could have confessed his sin and received pardon through repentance and faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Acts describes Judas as one who fell by transgression and went to his own place. It is not totally clear whether Peter meant the grave in Akel Dama (Field of Blood) or hell by this phrase. Either way there is no contradiction between Matthew and Acts.
The Gospel of Judas.
The ‘Gospel of Judas’ published on April 6th by the National Geographic Society has been a subject of media attention throughout the world with claims that it is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever. This Coptic translation of an original Greek text written around AD 150-180 was discovered in Egypt in the 1970s. It then circulated amongst antiquities dealers before languishing in a safe deposit box in New York until 2000. In a deteriorating condition it was then sent for translation by Rodolphe Kasser, one of the world’s leading Coptic scholars.
The text (which has several parts missing) tells of an alleged conversation between Jesus and Judas three days before the Passover when Jesus was crucified. It fits in with ideas already well known from the second century of the Christian era, known as Gnosticism.
In the Gospel of Judas, ‘Jesus’ says to Judas ‘Come, that I may teach you about secrets no person has ever seen.’ He also laughs at the prayer of the other disciples who are working for the ‘other god’ while Judas has reached a higher level of spirituality than them. Jesus tells Judas that he ‘will exceed all’ and that he ‘will sacrifice the one that clothes me’. In doing this Judas makes the release of Jesus’ spirit back to the heavenly realm possible.
This is a typical piece of Gnostic teaching. Gnosticism held to the belief that salvation comes through ‘gnosis,’ the Greek word for ‘knowledge.’ It is about becoming an insider on the secrets of the universe. Gnosticism puts forward a view of the true God in conflict with an evil God, who in some forms of Gnostic teaching is associated with Jehovah / Yahweh / Adonai of the Old Testament. One of the bad things this evil God did was to create the world with its present imperfections.
The pure spiritual realm is where the true God is, but none of us can get to him directly. The problem, according to Gnosticism, is that we live in a world that is evil and our bodies and everything associated with them are evil. Certain spiritually superior people were able to escape from the evil influence of the body and discover the spark of divinity within them. ‘Jesus’ in Gnosticism becomes a facilitator to this discovery by revealing secret knowledge to the elect.
Asher Norman may seek help in his cause of attacking the New Testament from the Gnostic ‘Gospel of Judas’, but he should also consider that the Gnostics often associated the Hebrew Bible and the LORD as revealed in the sacred text as something evil.
For more on this subject go to my article Rehabilitating Judas Iscariot.
In conclusion we would affirm that the New Testament account of Judas’ betrayal is consistent.
Judas played a role in the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. The Gospels show that the chief priests were alarmed at the growing popularity of Jesus’ movement and the crowds that were following him, especially as a result of the resurrection of Lazarus and the triumphal entry to Jerusalem. They were afraid that His movement could really take off during the Passover week (John 11.47-50) when there would be crowds of pilgrims in Jerusalem. They were also aware that they could not arrest Him publicly for fear of causing a riot (Matthew 26.5). Judas led them to where Jesus was alone with the disciples at night where he would be easy to arrest without drawing the attention of the crowd. When he saw what happened with the crucifixion of Jesus, he regretted what he had done and hanged himself.
In doing this he acted alone as a wrong headed individual who appeared to be a disciple of Jesus, but in fact was not. His example should never be used by those who believe in Jesus to damn and persecute the Jewish people. If we can learn anything about treachery from the story of Judas it is that the traitor may be found amongst those who profess to be disciples of Jesus and therefore in the Christian churches.