The Judas Theory

While reading John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, (a book which every human should read, immediately,) I stumbled upon a brief mention of a theory about Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, that I found very interesting and insightful. My first response was, of course, to blog about it. In thinking about how to approach it, I thought it might be really cool to do it in a first-person, fiction, short-story form, from the perspective of Judas himself. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that I suck at fiction writing. It is definitely not for me. I wrote the first post, thought it was corny, but posted it anyway with the hope of improving. I didn’t. I wrote the second one and it never got past “Save Draft” on account of sheer lameness.

So this is my reconciliation. I’m going to present the idea and the implications of it like every other blog post. I’m going to leave the more creative writing to the Jon Platters of the world and just do my thing and be happy with it.

The theory about Judas comes in a few parts. The first, foundational part of the theory is the Judas was a zealot. In first century Judaism, there were various sects within Judaism, including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots. In the gospels, we hear primarily of Jesus clashing with the Pharisees, but Jesus was clearly in opposition to all of these forms of response to Roman rule; in fact, authors like Yoder and Claiborne do an excellent job in explaining Jesus’ ministry through the lens of these groups and its implications. Fascinating stuff. The Zealots were the group that chose to respond to Jewish rule violently. They rallied people together, attacked Roman soldiers, vandalized, pillaged, all for the sake of subversion, and all in the name of the Lord. This sounds extreme, but how extreme is it really? With an Old Testament full of tales of battle and triumph, David of Goliath, Gideon’s small army over the Mideonites, would it be that odd to believe that God was on your side against a violent, oppressive, pagan Roman Empire?

A few things support this theory. In the biblical witness, we are told Judas’ fuller name, Judas Iscariot. Many scholars translate “Iscariot” literally as “Dagger-man”. Iscariot wasn’t a surname; 1st century Judaism didn’t operate under our framework of first name/last name. Even his primary name, Judas, is evidence of this theory. In intertestamental literature, (books written between the Old and New Testaments,) Jewish history speaks of man Judas Maccabeus, a war hero for Israel who fought bravely, boldly and most successfully against the enemies of God’s people. Judas Maccabeus  was of high historical importance, and it was rather recent history; less than 200 years before Jesus. To name a child Judas would’ve carried strong significance, and when you combine it with “the dagger-man”, it seems difficult to separate him from the expectations and fulfillment of a war hero. Its probable that “dagger-man” was an earned name.

Apart from the etymological evidence, the gospel of Matthew pairs Judas with Simon,who is listed specifically as a Zealot. By association, Matthew may have been implying a connection. The works of the first-century historian Josephus, though not “biblical”, speak of Judas in these ways.

Most scholars, whether they affirm it or not, certainly recognize the probability of Judas having been a Zealot. The next part of the theory is much more speculation than historical conclusion, but I submit it nonetheless. The theory says that Judas, when he betrayed Jesus, was not just giving Jesus up for the sake of the money, not because Satan made him do it, not because he was possessed by a demon, and certainly not because God made him do it. Rather, they think that Judas was trying to initiate a confrontation between Jesus and the authorities so that the war could begin.

Think about it: Around this time, having rode into Jerusalem (on a donkey?) and predicting his own death, Jesus would have very much frustrated Judas’ perception of a royal, military Messiah. Judas had witnessed Jesus perform ridiculous healings and miracles, and was there when Peter professed him to be the Christ, the Messiah. Judas would have had the expectation that Jesus would be a military hero, and that Judas himself would have a starring role as one of Jesus’ closest companions. General Judas. Has a nice ring to it.

I wonder if when Judas kissed Jesus on the cheek if he whispered something in his ear, like, “It’s time” or “Here we go”. But like everyone at the time of Jesus, he misunderstood Jesus’ mission. Judas must have been really confused when Jesus taught to love your enemy. Maybe he missed that teaching… And he would’ve been especially upset to hear that Jesus was going to die at the hands of his enemies. The Jewish people had enough dead heroes. Like Judas Maccabeus.

The story also demonstrates that one person got the “violent revolution” memo. Simon Peter pulls out a dagger and cuts off the ear of a guard. But Jesus immediately rebukes him and demonstrates the kind of radical enemy love that is so subversive that it doesn’t make any sense. I can’t imagine the look on Judas’ face when Jesus immediately stopped the impending battle, helped his enemies, and allowed himself to be beaten and taken. Is it any surprise, for a man who had staked his whole life on the idea that God wanted to wage a Holy War on Rome, in the midst of the enemies of God proving victorious even over the Messiah, that Judas would hang himself. The whole purpose of his life seemed for nothing in that moment. Through Judas’ eyes, Rome had finally proved that it was more powerful than even God. The Caesars had claimed Lordship long before, but for the first time, for Judas, they were right.

What do you think are the implications of this? Any critiques?

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3 thoughts on “The Judas Theory

  1. Somehow, I hit the “submit comment” button too soon! Sorry about my curt response…

    You’ve raised some good points here, Kevin. I do think there’s a Satanic element to the story, and when people perform evil deeds – or in Judas’ case, premeditate them – they are opening themselves up to influences that go beyond the everyday.

    The evidence you give for Judas being a zealot is also intriguing, though inconclusive.

    Good job, BTW, on the marathon. Did you finish?

    Take care,

    Dr. Crofford

    1. Definitely. I think if you want to speak of the role that evil may have played in this scenario, there’s certainly a place for it in the right contexts. I was more looking at his motivations. And your assessment of the evidence being intriguing but inclusive is spot on.

      And thanks, yes I did. It was a lot of fun and I felt great about it.

  2. My mistake. I will correct my language, but I think my point stays the same. The fact that only one gospel attributes it to this, and the tendency of scripture to use Satan as a scapegoat to solve the problem of evil (a topic for another time) leads me to believe that Satan did not actually enter into Judas.

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