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Biblical Villians: Judas - a devil or a scapegoat?
The Big Picture
The name Judas Iscariot is synonymous with betrayal, treachery and disloyalty to this day. It has been used to promote blatant antisemitism and has contributed to various efforts to exterminate the Jewish people from the face of the earth and wipe out a race as well as a religion. It is the ultimate story of a trusted friend turning on his master - an act which ultimately leaded to the death of both the friend and the teacher. The story has been told world-wide, and Judas has gone into history shamed, blamed and hated for the kiss that supposedly turned Jesus over to the authorities, eventually resulting in his crucifixion.
Is this bad reputation truly deserved? Is the myth still alive and well, and is it an accurate portrayal of events as they happened? Did they really happen at all? The contradictory stories paint a partial picture, but a complete concept is far from congruent. Most people don't scratch beneath the surface to examine the circumstances and scenario from a deeper standpoint. Underneath the surface lies an often disturbing slew of questions that are not easily answered. This man has been demonized and associated with the devil himself, but is this reputation deserved? Or is this just a case of mistaken identity and misplaced blame where none should have fallen? The story of Judas maybe just beginning - 2000+ years after the man or the monster is supposed to have betrayed his lord, teacher and friend in that pivotal moment of the christian story.
If you have been taught the story of Jesus' arrest, trial, passion and ultimate resurrection, you have heard the name Judas Iscariot. He is easily one of the most recognizable villains in any mythology known to the modern man. He is a traitor, a hypocrite and a liar - or is he?
While it might seem easy to turn to the Bible itself for answers, the reality is vastly different than one may think. The story of Judas is not as clear as many believers would like to claim. It is not consistent throughout the four gospels - in fact, it gets progressively worse. The Judas Iscariot portrayed in the first gospel that was written that was included in the contemporary cannon of scripture, Mark, is a vastly different character than the Judas portrayed within the story found in other gospels. He becomes darker, more treacherous, more evil with each telling of his story. The image that we're left with overall is hardly the one that was probably foreseen by the original followers of Jesus - none of whom wrote a gospel themselves.
In Mark's gospel, Judas was simply human. In John's gospel, Judas was greedy. In Luke's gospel, Judas was apparently possessed by Satan himself. Regardless of which version you believe, Judas went to the high priests and agreed to turn Jesus over to them, as they were seeking to arrest him (mostly due to the riot he started in the temple earlier in the week). The high priests gave him 30 pieces of silver. Judas was dismissed by the communion supper by Jesus himself, and later caught up with Jesus and the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas identified Jesus with a kiss. Jesus was then arrested, tried and eventually executed as a result.
The story of Judas doesn't end with Jesus' arrest, however. According to the gospel of Matthew, Judas tried to return the money as he began to regret his decision. The priests refused. He then hung himself from a tree, and the money was then used by the priests to buy a potter's field. According to Acts, however, Judas fell and his bowels spilled out. Modern apologists try to rationalize this contradiction by saying that Judas hung himself. After he was dead, he fell from the rope and that's when his bowels spilled out. Regardless of the multiple attempts to rationalize these two very different versions of death, it is unlikely that both could have happened.
Additionally, Matthew makes an obvious blunder in his reference to Judas' betrayal. He specifically mentions that Judas' death was a fulfillment of prophecy found in Jeremiah. This was a big blunder - the passage that he was referencing was not in Jeremiah at all - it was in Zechariah. This blunder not only pointedly shows the real truth about the New Testament writer's intentions when they portrayed the story of Jesus. They desperately wanted to link Jesus to the Old Testament in order to verify his status as the Messiah. Matthew didn't check his references as he usually did by referring to the previous gospel of Mark. He attempted to link the OT to the story of Christ's betrayal - and he failed.
Also a contradiction can be found in an area previously discussed. The writers of the four gospels disagree about Judas' motivation. Greed is a far cry from being possessed by the devil himself. Claiming that Judas was possessed by Satan was a later effort to vilify him further - and make him the scapegoat for the blame surrounding Jesus' death - an event that needed to occur for the plan of salvation to take place.
So what was Judas' true motivation? Scholars have disagreed for centuries. If he was genuinely the person responsible for the disciple's money, 30 pieces of silver seems a small sum to justify turning over your teacher to the leaders who desired his death.
Perhaps Judas was attempting to prompt Jesus into action. Judas' view of the Messiah was a warrior that would successfully liberate the Jewish people from the control of Rome - as the Messianic prophecies still held by the Jews dictates to this day. The fact of the matter is that Christians pick and choose passages out of the OT to verify Jesus' Messiah-ship. The Jews have a whole different set of Messianic prophecies, which is why the majority of them do NOT accept Jesus as the promised Messiah. Additionally, the writers of the gospels were desperate to link Jesus to prophecy - they were infamous for picking and choosing passages to fit events - or even alter the portrayal of the events to make them fit with what they considered prophecy. At least two of the gospel authors were familiar with Jewish scripture. When you have read a book and have a thorough knowledge of it, you can tailor your own work to fit - even if that means it is not an actual portrayal of what happened. Thus the prophecies they desperately tried to put Jesus' stamp on are tainted.
Thirdly, the gospel of Judas portrays a very different chain of events. It claims that Judas was Jesus' most trusted disciple, and that Jesus gave him a task to do in order to makes sure that his ultimate sacrifice would take place as planned. Therefore Judas' betrayal was not a betrayal at all - it was an act that was instigated and decided upon by Jesus himself.
Believers have equated Judas with eternal damnation throughout history. How could the disciple ultimately responsible for the savior's death ever be forgiven? Did Judas truly have free will and the ability to choose for himself? If Jesus foresaw his betrayal, what choice did he truly have? Therefore, is it fair that this man be damned eternally for an action that he had no choice but to make?
Regardless of which version you follow, the key fact remains - had Judas not betrayed Jesus, Jesus would not be able to fulfill his purpose. While the priests had plotted to kill him for quite some time, they were unable to do it on their own. They were fearful that his arrest would trigger a riot due to his popularity. Without Judas' help, Jesus may never have faced the cross - and therefore the apparent salvation of mankind may never have transpired. According to the gospels, Pilot was reluctant to put the man to death. He had to be prompted by the priests repeatedly (which actually goes directly against every historical fact we know about the man) and ultimately agreed under the condition that his hands be clean of Jesus' blood. Judas' apparent remorse indicates that he didn't fully realize the scope of what his actions would cause. I find it unfair to judge a man who's actions were predetermined - and without whom the christian religion could have never transpired. He has an intentional bad reputation - one that is not deserved.