Friday, May 31, 2019

Following Judas: The Judas of the Apocrypha

4. The Judas of the Apocrypha

Before delving in to the descriptions of Judas in the Apocrypha, it is important to establish what is meant by that term.  Apocrypha refers to works, usually written, of unknown authorship or of doubtful origin.  Generally, it concerns the works not selected for inclusion in the Bible by the particular governing body.

Confusingly, it can be a broad term in Biblical sense, referring to the deuterocanonical works (or second cannon works), the pseudepigrapha, or falsely attributed works, and other writings.  A portion of the total apocrypha, the Deuterocanonical works can be found in the Bibles of certain Christian denominations.  Catholic and Orthodox traditions in particular include a portion of the apocrypha. 

As with everything, there are levels to the value of apocryphal texts.  There are esoteric writings and objects, like those by the Gnostics, that are treated as heretical and of little value.  There are writings of questionable value or spurious writings, which have little value to the church.  Then there are writings, like the often collected "Apocrypha" which, while not viewed as a source of doctrine, are nonetheless viewed as beneficial.  Like modern Christian literature and scholarship, the are instructive but not controlling.

It's in this framework that we can approach the apocrypha surrounding Judas.  Some of it may have instructional value.  Others may have no probative value beyond curiosity.  Nonetheless, it will provide a context from writings closer to the time of Judas's life and death.

Judas is mentioned or discussed in only a handful of apocryphal texts.  The story of his early life is included in the Syraic Infancy Gospel.  His involvement in Jesus's ministry is more greatly expounded in the Gnostic Gospel of Judas.  And his death is a focus in the Gospels of Nicodemus and Barnabas, each adding their own variations.

A. The Syraic or Arabic Infancy Gospel

The Syraic Infancy Gospel is one of the texts among the New Testament apocryphal writings concerning the infancy of Jesus and seems to be partly based on the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Protevangelium of James.  There are only two surviving manuscripts of the text dating from 1299 AD and the 15/16th century in the Arabic language.  These surviving manuscripts show influence from the Qu'ran, as even the earliest manuscript post-dates the events of Islam by almost 700 years.  Given the connection, it raises questions as to how much the Gospels influenced the Qu'ran or the Qu'ran influenced this work.

Regarding Judas, this Infancy Gospel includes a story likely from local legend, revealing a very early connection between Jesus and Judas.  In the work, it is said that Judas as a boy was possessed by Satan, who caused him to bite himself or anyone else present.  In one of these attacks, Judas bit the young Jesus on the side that would eventually be pierced in the Crucifixion.  By touching Jesus, Satan was exorcised and Judas was freed from his influence.

"35. Another woman was living in the same place, whose son was tormented by Satan. He, Judas by name, as often as Satan seized him, used to bite all who came near him; and if he found no one near him, he used to bite his own hands and other limbs. The mother of this wretched creature, then, hearing the fame of the Lady Mary and her son Jesus, rose up and brought her son Judas with her to the Lady Mary. In the meantime, James and Joses had taken the child the Lord Jesus with them to play with the other children; and they had gone out of the house and sat down, and the Lord Jesus with them. And the demoniac Judas came up, and sat down at Jesus' right hand: then, being attacked by Satan in the same manner as usual, he wished to bite the Lord Jesus, but was not able; nevertheless he struck Jesus on the right side, whereupon He began to weep. And immediately Satan went forth out of that boy, fleeing like a mad dog. And this boy who struck Jesus, and out of whom Satan went forth in the shape of a dog, was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him to the Jews; and that same side on which Judas struck Him, the Jews transfixed with a lance."

While this does provide more background information, it provides little in the way of new motivation for the betrayal.  It further ties Judas into possession, with him being plagued from childhood.  It does provide motivation for Judas to join Jesus's ministry and follow him, as it would be appreciation for the healing Jesus provided.

B. The Gospel of Judas

The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel text, whose content consists of conversations between Jesus and his disciples, particularly Judas Iscariot.  The newly discovered text is very controversial for several reasons, including its Gnostic theology and Coptic language.  The main controversy of its text revolves around the theory that Jesus asked Judas to betray Him in order to fulfill His destiny and the scriptures.  If this is true, it would make Judas a saint and not the sinner and traitor believed by the mainline church.

The text is believed to have been composed in the second century by Gnostic Christians, exact author unknown, and is reflected in the late-2nd-century theology.  The only known copy in existence has been carbon dated between 220 and 340 AD.  In contrast, most scholars agree that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written between the date of Jesus' death (around AD 33) and AD 90.

We do, though, have other historical evidence of the Gospel of Judas.  There is a reference to a Gospel of Judas in the works of early Christian writer Irenaeus of Lyons, who called the text a "fictitious history," condemning it in his Adversus Haereses, written about 180 AD.  Twentieth Century writers like Rev. J. Tixeront, have cited St. Irenaeus's works as pointing to the text.   "Besides these Gospels, we know that there once existed a Gospel of Bartholomew, a Gospel of Thaddeus, mentioned in the decree of Pope Gelassius, and a Gospel of Judas Iscariot in use among the Cainites and spoken of by St. Irenaeus."

The codex itself has an interesting history.  It was written on papyrus and presumed composed in a Gnostic monastery in Egypt.  Although other copies may have been made, they were likely lost in St. Athanasius's fourth century campaign to destroy all heretical texts.  In order to protect this text from that campaign, it is believed a Gnostic monk or scribe buried copies of certain texts in an area of tombs in Egypt.  These texts were not discovered until the late 1970s, found bound together in a single codex with other .  This particular text was unearthed by a farmer in 1978.  He found a small container like a tomb box in a cave near Beni Masar, Egypt.  The codex was sold to an antiques dealer in Cairo, who then turned to sell it to a couple of scholars at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.  This deal deteriorated, leading to the text being stored in a safe in New York for 16 years.  In that time, the condition of the manuscript worsened, to the point where a Zurich based antiquities dealer, Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos acquired it, leading to the start of its first translation in 2000.  National Geographic was brought in to assist in the preservation and translation in 2004.

Over the next five years thousands of pieces of papyrus were placed back together, and attempts at translation into English.  The restored original is now housed in Cairo's Coptic Museum.  Because of the age of the document and ill-treatment of the text, much of it is illegible.  There are gaps and holes in the codex, with entire lines missing.  Some parts of the translation were, at best, educated guesses, while others were filled in based on context.  Accordingly, there are still many outstanding questions about the manuscript and its contents, as well as many critiques of the translation itself.

To understand the Gospel of Judas and the peculiarities of its text, it is important to understand Gnosticism.  Gnosticism is a modern name for a variety of ancient religious ideas and systems, originating in Jewish-Christian environments in the first and second century AD.  These systems believed that the material world is created by an emanation or work of a lower god (demiurge), trapping the divine spark within a human body.  This spark, our divine nature, could be liberated through gnosis, spiritual knowledge acquired through direct experience.

According to Gnosticism, the supreme God is a luminous being of light who exists on an imperishable realm.  This God is unknowable and is not the creator of the material universe.  At the beginning of time, God created a group of angels and lower gods, or archons, who were willed to come into being to rule over chaos and the underworld.  An inferior spirit from this group, the demiurge, is the creator of the material world.  All matter, all of the material world is evil; the non-material, the spiritual is good.  To achieve salvation and to break through to the spiritual, one only needs knowledge or gnosis, thus sin is irrelevant.  Only ignorance matters and Gnostic texts are designed to point away from ignorance to the true knowledge.

Jesus, under Gnosticism, was the son of the true God, not one of the lesser gods, and his mission was to show that salvation lies within man.  Through embracing the internal God, then man can return to the imperishable realm.  In the Gospel of Judas, eleven of the disciples Jesus chose to spread his message are presented as misunderstanding the central tenets of his teaching and were obsessed with the physical world of senses.  The author of this text references practices as animal sacrifice and the belief in a bodily resurrection as evidence of this misunderstanding.

Judas is presented as the exception, the one who can understand this higher purpose and knowledge.

"1. Jesus appeared on earth to perform miracles and wondrous acts in order to save humanity.  Because some conducted themselves in a righteous way and others continued in their sins, he decided to call the twelve disciples.

2. He began to talk to them about the mysteries that lay beyond this world and what would happen at this world's end (at the end).  He often changed his appearance and was not seen as himself but looked like a child (some translators have apparition or spirit) when he was with his disciples.

3. He came upon his disciples in Judea once when they were sitting together piously (training their piety - training in godliness).  As he got closer to the disciples he saw they were sitting together, giving thanks and saying a prayer over the bread (Eucharist/thanksgiving).  He laughed.

4. The disciples asked him, "Rabbi, why are you laughing at our prayer of thanks?  Have we not acted appropriately"  He said, 'I am not laughing at you. It is just that you are not doing this because you want to.  You are doing this because your god (has to be/will be) praised.'

5. They said, 'Rabbi, you are the (earthly/only) son of our god.'  Jesus answered, 'How do you know me?  (Do you think you know me?)  I say to you truly, no one among you in this generation (in this race) will understand me.'

6. His disciples heard this and became enraged and began mumbling profanities and mocking him in their hearts.  When Jesus saw their inability (to understand what he said to them (their stupidity), he said) 'Why did you get so upset that you became angry?  Your god, who is inside of you, (and your own lack of understanding guides you and) have instigated this anger in your (mind/soul).  (I challenge) any man among you to show me who is (understanding enough) to bring out the perfect man and stand and face me.'

7. They all said, 'We are strong enough.'  But in their (true being) spirits none dared to stand in front of him except for Judas Iscariot.  Judas was able to stand in front of him, but even he could not look Jesus in the eyes, and he turned his face away.

8. Judas said to Him, 'I know who you are and where you came from.  You are from the everlasting (eternal) aeon (realm or kingdom) of Barbelo (Barbelo's everlasting kingdom).  I am not worthy to speak the name of the one who sent you.'

9. Jesus knew that Judas was capable of understanding (showing forth/thinking about) something that was glorious, so Jesus said to him, 'Walk away (step a distance away) from the others and I will tell you about the mysteries of God (the reign of God/kingdom of God).

10.  It is possible for you to get there, but the path will cause you great grief because you will be replaced so that the twelve may be complete with their god again.'  Judas asked him, 'When will you tell me how the great day of light will dawn for this generation (race)?  When will you explain these things'  But as he asked these things, Jesus left him."

These are the first clear mentions of Judas being set apart.  As the one who can face the greater truth and ask the deeper questions.  Through Jesus's response, we get hints of the separation Judas will have from the other disciples and the ultimate fate that he will suffer.

There is also a clear indication here that Judas will be replaced in the twelve ("so that the twelve may be complete").  This will also be a theme in the book.  That Judas is the thirteenth.

"22.  Judas said, 'Rabbi, you have listened to all of those others, so now listen to me too.  I have seen a great vision.'

23.  When Jesus heard this he laughed and said to him, 'You (are the) thirteenth spirit (daemon), why are you trying so hard/why do you excite yourself like this?  However, speak up, and I will be patient with you.'  Judas said to him, 'In the vision I saw myself and the twelve disciples were stoning me and persecuting me very badly/severely/strongly.  And I (was following you  and I) arrived at a place where I saw (a large house in front of me), and my eyes could not (take in/comprehend) its size.  Many people were surrounding it, and the house had a roof of plants (grass /green vegetation), and in the middle of the house (there was a crowd) (and I was there with you), saying, 'Rabbi, take me in (the house) along with these people.'

24.  He responded and said, 'Judas, your star has misled you.  No person of mortal birth is worthy to enter the house you have seen.  It is a place reserved for the saints.  Not even the sun or the moon or the day (light) will rule there.  Only the saints will live there, in the eternal kingdom with the holy angels, always (some have the text as - 'will be firmly established with the holy angels forever').  Look, I have explained to you the mysteries of the kingdom and I have taught you about the error of the star; and (I have) sent it (on its path) on the twelve ages (aeons).'

25. Judas said, 'Rabbi, could it be that my (spiritual) seed will conquer the rulers of cosmic power (could also be rendered: 'is under the control of the archons or rulers of cosmic power'?)'

26. Jesus answered and said unto him, 'Come (with me so) that I (may show you the kingdom you will receive.  I will show you what is to come of you and this generation), but you will be grieved when you see the kingdom and all its race (of people).'  When Judas heard Him he said to him, 'What good is it if I have received it seeing that you have set me apart from that race?"  Jesus answered him and said, 'You will become the thirteenth, and you will be cursed by the other generations, and you will come to rule over them.  In the last days they will curse your ascent to the holy (race/kingdom).'"

Here again, there are mentions of Judas as the thirteenth.  In a clearer passage, Judas even reveals he had a vision of the twelve stoning and persecuting him.  The text is presented as if jealousy of this secret knowledge is what will lead the twelve disciples to this.  Jesus in his responses to Judas seems to both indicate that Judas can never enter the holy place, and that he will ascend to the holy place.

That leads to one of the greatest problems with the text.  The gaps in the text and the difficulty of the translations lead to the lines having multiple and often contradictory meanings.   This gives light to the greatest critiques of the translation.  Look for example, at Jesus's response in line 23, calling Judas either the thirteenth spirit or thirteenth daemon or thirteenth demon.  April DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, would focus on this difference in her op-ed in the New York Times regarding the National Geographic translation.  According to DeConick, "the universally accepted word for 'spirit' is 'pneuma'" which was not used here.  The text here used 'daimon' which in Gnostic literature "'daimon' is always taken to mean 'demon.'"  That puts a radically different spin on the interpretation.  Judas then is a demon set apart and kept from the holy generation.  Not a spirit that would be accepted as a part of it.

"42.  Judas said to Jesus, 'Look at what those who have been baptized in your name do?'  Jesus said, 'Truthfully I tell (you), this baptism done in my name (are done by those who do not know me.  They sacrifice in vain to the god of this world.  I baptized no one, for those baptized here have their hope here and those who follow me need no baptism for they will come) to me.  In truth (I) tell you, Judas, (those offering) sacrifices to Saklas (do not offer sacrifice to the Great) God (but instead worship) everything that is evil.  'But you will exceed all of them.  For you will sacrifice the man (the body that clothes/bares/contains me).  Already your horn has been raised, your anger has been ignited (your wrath has been kindled), your star has shown brightly, and your heart has (prevailed/been made strong/pure).


44.  Then Judas raised his eyes and saw the radiant cloud and entered it.  Those standing below him heard a voice come from the cloud, saying, (The return of the) great race (is at hand and the image of the Great One will be established in them because of Judas' sacrifice)."

Here we have a greater reference to the part that Judas will play.  That Judas will liberate Jesus from his earthly body and free the Christ spirit, through what we know of as his betrayal.  This will allow Jesus to fulfill His purpose.

The text then has Judas enter a cloud. It is this portion which is seen as Judas receiving the fullness of divine knowledge. Here, supposedly, Gnosis was imparted to him and he knew the mysteries.   From there, the text enters into an abrupt transition to one paragraph on the act of the betrayal.

"45.(But the scribes waited for Judas, hoping to place a price on the head of Jesus.)  Their high priests whispered that he had gone into the guest room for his prayer.  But some scribes were there watching closely in order to arrest Jesus during the prayer, for they were afraid of the people, since he was accepted by everyone as a prophet.  They approached Judas and said to him, 'Why are you hear?  You are Jesus' disciple.'  Judas answered them in the way they wished.  And he was given an amount of money and he handed Jesus over to them."

One paragraph devoted to the actual act, with none of the expected details.  This is in line with Gnosticism.  The actual act is not as interesting as the motivation, the knowledge behind the act.  What information is offered about the act does not contradict the accepted events of the betrayal.

While the Gospel of Judas purports to provide insight into the motivation and the reasoning behind Judas's betrayal, it is a frustrating read and of seeming little value.  The text is so incomplete and the translations are so contradictory that the entire meaning of the entire meaning of the passage is up for debate.  Scholars based on early translations believed the text portrayed Judas in a positive light, as a noble hero who sought great knowledge and sacrificed his legacy to play a pivotal role in helping Jesus fulfill his destiny.   Later scholarly work believes it portrays Judas in a negative light, almost an easily manipulated pawn.  Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia believes it shows Judas being duped into believing he was helping Jesus.  There is no consensus on this issue.

Perhaps the most symbolic problem with the text can be summed in the issues with the translation of the word apophasis in a key phrase in the text at 33:1.  The National Geographic society initially translated the word as "declaration," leading to "The secret word of declaration by which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot."  Scholars like Andre Gagne, Professor at Concordia University in Montreal believe the more appropriate translation of that Greco-Coptic term is "denial," rendering "the secret word of the denial by which Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot."  This would render the story as the denial of the true salvation for Judas.

Declaration or denial.  That's a wide gap.

C. The Gospel of Nicodemus

The Gospel of Nicodemus, or the Acts of Pilate, is an apocryphal gospel claimed to have been derived from an original Hebrew work written by Nicodemus, an associate of Jesus.  Though the title "Gospel of Nicodemus" is medieval in origin, sections of the book date back farther.  The resulting work has been dated back to the middle of the fourth century AD.  The book contains two sections with an appendix.  The first contains the trial of Jesus; the second concerns the resurrection.  The appendix purports to be a written report made by Pontius Pilate to Claudius.  This Acta Pilati has reference back to the mid-first century.  Justin Martyr made reference to the Acts of Pontius Pilate in his apology letters, dating that reference back to between 138 and 161 AD.

The references to Judas are not included in all translations of the Gospel of Nicodemus.  Instead, certain translations include a story of a roast cock or chicken and how it played a role in the Judas's betrayal or death.

Some versions include a version in which Jesus Christ orders a the cooked bird to follow Judas to report how Judas betrayed him.

"It happened on the day of the Holy Supper that Lord Christ was served a roast cock, and when Judas left to sell the Lord, he ordered the cock to rise and follow Judas, and the cock did accordingly, then reported to Lord Christ how Judas betrayed him, and because of this it is said to be allowed to follow him to Paradise."

In other versions, the bird is cooked by Judas's wife and provides the impetus for Judas to go through with his suicide.

And so Judas went home to get a rope for the hanging, and he found his wife roasting a cock on embers. Instead of getting down to it [the cock], he told her: ‘Stand up, woman, and give me a rope because I want to hang myself’  His wife then told him: ‘Why do you say so?’ And Judas says: ‘I want you to know that I betrayed my master, Jesus, to the villains really unjustly so that Pilate will put him to death. But he [Jesus] will resurrect on the third day, and then woe betide us!’ Then the woman tells him: Don’t you say this or even think of it, because Jesus will resurrect as you say only if this cock roasted on embers is able to give sound’. As soon as she uttered these words, the cock spread its wings, and screams three times. Now Judas got even more astounded, and immediately tied a knot on the rope, hanged himself, and breathed his last." (Tischendorf 1876: 290)

Here, the miracle of the resurrected bird is what solidifies Jesus' return for Judas.  It is this fact that pushes Judas over the edge to hang himself.

From this version, we at least learn that Judas potentially had a wife, at least according to legend.  Variations of this legend are also included in the Book of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Batholomew the Apostle and other Coptic legend.

It is an interesting story, but only adds a bit of a miracle to the story that we already know.

D. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (by Bartholomew)

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (by Bartholomew) is a piece of Coptic apocrypha that exists in three partial manuscripts.  It exists in the Coptic language only and in fragments only.  The fragments reside in the British Museum.

Of particular interest here, is a section in which Christ, upon his death, descends into Hell or Amente.  In Amente, Christ found and confronted Judas.

"In Amente Christ found Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Him, and said to him, 'Tell me, Judas, in what way didst thou profit by betraying Me to the Jewish dogs?  Assuredly I only endured sufferings of all kinds in order to fulfill [the will] of My Father, and to redeem [add set free] My creatures whom I had fashioned.  As for thee, woe be unto thee with twofold woes.'

In one of the manuscripts, the passage above is followed by "rebukings innumerable and cursings most terrible", and it is said that the "lot of Judas is with his father the Devil."  According to this text, Christ did not forgive Judas fore betraying Him and instead the text has a whole page devoted to the description of the awful things that befell Judas after his death.  Angels in the train of the lord hurled him headlong, and his mouth was filled with thirty serpents, personifications of every vice and every kind of evil.  He was cast out into the outer darkness and utter oblivion will cover him forever.  This is further confirmed in the text when Jesus rises from the dead, removing all souls from Amente except Herod, Cain, and Judas.

Here we do see a confirmation of Judas's damned state.  A fulfillment of Jesus's warning that it would have been better for him to not have been born.  This kind of punishment seems to lend creedance to the idea that Judas's betrayal was something born within him.  A choice that Judas made deserving punishment.

All of the above apocryphal texts can be read in a kind of harmony, depending on the interpretation of the Gospel of Judas.  Other apocryphal texts, like the Gospel of Barnabas present an entirely different story.  As if of a different religion altogether.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Following Judas: The Judas of Prophecy

3. The Judas of Prophecy

In attempting to understand Judas in the Gospels, it becomes important to look at the underlying prophecies in which he had a part in fulfilling.  There are no prophecies that relate specifically to the man Judas Iscariot.  The prophecies of the Old Testament relate to the role of the betrayer of the Messiah.  They still provide context for the role Judas was to fulfill and support for a predetermination viewpoint.

The prophecies can be broken down into three Psalms from David, a tale from Zechariah, and a proclamation from Jeremiah.

A. The Psalms

The provisions in the Psalms all appear as laments from David.  Appearing in three specific Psalms, Psalm 41, Psalm 55, and Psalm 69.  Psalm 41 and Psalm 69 are directly quoted in relation to Judas, while Psalm 55 contains descriptions of a close friend as a betrayer.  This will be a common thread in the Psalms, the idea of a close friend as enemy, and is the important role Judas will play in the disciples.

1. Psalm 41
Psalm 41 was penned by David and acts as a liturgical end to the first book of Psalms.  In it, David writes about his enemies and how even close friends are betraying him.  Verse 9 writes "Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me."  This would be quoted by Jesus when he identifies his betrayer at the Last Supper.  Judas would be the one to share Jesus's bread with him.

It is believed that Psalm 41:9 was written to refer to Ahithophel, a counselor to King David, who is seen as anticipating Judas's betrayal of Jesus.  Ahithophel has many similarities to Judas.  A close friend and counselor to the King, who deserted and betrayed him, and then hanged himself upon seeing that his revolt would not succeed.

"I said, 'Have mercy on me, Lord;
    heal me, for I have sinned against you.'
My enemies say of me in malice,
    'When will he die and his name perish?'
When one of them comes to see me,
    he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
    then he goes out and spreads it around.

All my enemies whisper together against me;
    they imagine the worst for me, saying,
'A vile disease has afflicted him;
    he will never get up from the place where he lies.'
Even my close friend,
    someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
    has turned against me."
Psalm 41:4-9

2. Psalm 55
Psalm 55 was likewise penned by David and serves as a lament in which the author grieves because he is surrounded by enemies, including one of his closest friends who has betrayed him.  This psalm is a maskil or instructional piece.  Many believe that David penned this psalm following Absalom's rebellion, and that like Psalm 41, the enemy here refers to Ahithophel.

"If an enemy were insulting me,
    I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
    I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
    my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
    at the house of God,
as we walked about
    among the worshipers."
Psalm 55:12-14

"My companion attacks his friends;
    he violates his covenant.
His talk is smooth as butter,
    yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
    yet they are drawn swords."

While Psalm 55 is not directly quoted, the picture of David's troubles as the type Christ will suffer and Ahithophel's treachery a figure of Judas's have led to it being seen as part of the overall Messianic prophecy.

3. Psalm 69
Psalm 69 contains the clearest Messianic prophecies of the three.  In a strict reading, there is nothing that would directly connect to Judas.  However, verse 25 is quoted by Luke in Acts to reference the Field of Blood where Judas Iscariot committed suicide.  "May there place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents."

"You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
    all my enemies are before you.
Scorn has broken my heart
    and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
    for comforters, but I found none.
They put gall in my food
    and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

May the table set before them become a snare;
    may it become retribution and[b] a trap.
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
    and their backs be bent forever.
Pour out your wrath on them;
    let your fierce anger overtake them.
May their place be deserted;
    let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
For they persecute those you wound
    and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
Charge them with crime upon crime;
    do not let them share in your salvation.
May they be blotted out of the book of life
    and not be listed with the righteous."
Psalm 69: 19-28

With the Psalms then, the clearest insight they give us into Judas is through the type of Ahithophel.  Through Ahithophel and the language David uses around him, the betrayer of the Messiah would be a close friend and confidant, who would betray the Messiah and turn to his enemies, and who would end his own life.  We see this pattern repeated in Judas, though this still does not address any motivation.  With Ahithophel, his motivation to betray David seems to have been pride - pride in his counsel and wisdom, and retribution for the times David had overlooked it.  This aspect does not directly parallel with Judas, from the indications we have in the Gospels.

B. Zechariah

Zechariah in Chapter 11 pens a parable comparing a good and bad shepherd.  This chapter and tale is part of the first oracle from Zechariah outlining the course of God's providential dealings with his people down to the time of the coming Messiah and are an early version of apocalyptic literature.

The Bad Shepherd clearly has parallels to Judas, including the thirty pieces of silver paid to him for revoking his covenant, and then an instruction for the thirty pieces to be thrown to the potter, where they are thrown in the house of the Lord.

"This is what the Lord my God says: 'Shepherd the flock marked for slaughter.  Their buyers slaughter them and go unpunished. Those who sell them say, "Praise the Lord, I am rich!" Their own shepherds do not spare them.  For I will no longer have pity on the people of the land,' declares the Lord. 'I will give everyone into the hands of their neighbors and their king. They will devastate the land, and I will not rescue anyone from their hands.'

So I shepherded the flock marked for slaughter, particularly the oppressed of the flock. Then I took two staffs and called one Favor and the other Union, and I shepherded the flock.  In one month I got rid of the three shepherds.

The flock detested me, and I grew weary of them and said, 'I will not be your shepherd. Let the dying die, and the perishing perish. Let those who are left eat one another’s flesh.'

Then I took my staff called Favor and broke it, revoking the covenant I had made with all the nations.  It was revoked on that day, and so the oppressed of the flock who were watching me knew it was the word of the Lord.

I told them, 'If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.' So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.

And the Lord said to me, 'Throw it to the potter'—the handsome price at which they valued me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the house of the Lord.

Then I broke my second staff called Union, breaking the family bond between Judah and Israel.

Then the Lord said to me, 'Take again the equipment of a foolish shepherd.  For I am going to raise up a shepherd over the land who will not care for the lost, or seek the young, or heal the injured, or feed the healthy, but will eat the meat of the choice sheep, tearing off their hooves.

'Woe to the worthless shepherd,
    who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm and his right eye!
    May his arm be completely withered,
    his right eye totally blinded!'"
Zechariah 11:4-17

With these mentions, there is a question regarding whether this passage is what was intended to be referenced in Matthew in the account of Judas's death, "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, 'And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me."  This passage does not correspond to any known version of the Book of Jeremiah, but does seem to relate to this story here in Zechariah.

Many explanations have been given for this apparent discrepancy.  Early writers like Jerome and John Calvin concluded that the mention of Jeremiah is an error.  Others attempt to explain it away as arising from a Jewish practice of citing the Major Prophet in a scroll group to refer to the whole scroll group, to the exclusion of other Minor Prophets in the same.  Finally, more recently, scholars have attempted to point to a series of passages in Jeremiah, which are discussed below.

Either way, the parallel to the bad shepherd provides more specific prophecies that Judas fulfilled.  We have clearly the payment and return of thirty pieces of silver.  That they are thrown down in the house of the Lord.  And the connection between the potter and potter's field.

C. Jeremiah

In trying to connect the writings of Jeremiah to the quotation in Matthew, scholars look to three passages:  Jeremiah 18:1-4, 19:1-13, and 32:24-25 and 43.  Chapters 18 and 19 deal with the potter and the clay and a burial place.  Chapter 32 focuses on the the burial place and an earthenware jar, as well as on the punishment that the land will bear.  Tied together, they paint the same picture as that in Zechariah.  Of a land purchased with silver and cursed from that time.

"The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, 'Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.' Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel.  But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make."
Jeremiah 18:1-4

"Thus says the Lord, 'Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests.  Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you, and say, "Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle.  Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; therefore, behold, days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter.  I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth.  I will also make this city a desolation and an object of hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its disasters.  I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life will distress them."'

'Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you and say to them, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial.  This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants,' declares the Lord, 'so as to make this city like Topheth.  The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled like the place Topheth, because of all the houses on whose rooftops they burned sacrifices to all the heavenly host and poured out drink offerings to other gods.'"'"
Jeremiah 19:1-13

"And Jeremiah said, 'The word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, 'Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.'"’  Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the Lord and said to me, "Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

I bought the field which was at Anathoth from Hanamel my uncle’s son, and I weighed out the silver for him, seventeen shekels of silver.  I signed and sealed the deed, and called in witnesses, and weighed out the silver on the scales.  Then I took the deeds of purchase, both the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions and the open copy;  and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the sight of Hanamel my uncle’s son and in the sight of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, before all the Jews who were sitting in the court of the guard. And I commanded Baruch in their presence, saying, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Take these deeds, this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, that they may last a long time.' For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.'"'"
Jeremiah 32:6-15

"'See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see.  And though the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians, you, Sovereign Lord, say to me, "Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed."'"
Jeremiah 32:24-25

"'This is what the Lord says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them.  Once more fields will be bought in this land of which you say, "It is a desolate waste, without people or animals, for it has been given into the hands of the Babylonians." Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord.'"
Jeremiah 32:42-44

 From these passages, we see the purchase of the field with silver, the Valley of Hinnom discussed where the Field of Blood is traditionally located, the shedding of innocent blood, and the renaming of the place for burial.  It is a longer read, but could be the overall blended passage referenced in Matthew to refer to Judas's death and the subsequent creation of the potter's field in prophecy.

Again, we see the consequences of Judas's betrayal fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament.

D. Conclusion

The prophecies of the Old Testament show us how Judas filled his role in the Gospels.  He would be a friend to the Messiah as one of His close disciples.  He would betray the Messiah, specifically for thirty pieces of silver.  And those thirty pieces of silver would be used to by a cursed field. He would commit suicide and hang like Ahithophel and/or would spill out his guts on the ground like broken pottery.

While this shows his actions and life fitting into prophecy, it gives little guidance into character or motive.  It does seem to lend credence to a foreordained life and betrayal, but raises questions as well.  Was Judas the only one who could fulfill these prophecies and thus was he trapped, created as the sole betrayer?  Or could any of the other disciples or any other person chosen filled the role?  We see in the Gospels that the other disciples fled and Peter even denied Jesus, but could anyone else have betrayed him?  Or was that Judas's role alone to fulfill, set from the foundation of time?

Were his actions set by prophecy or did his choices and actions fulfill them?

To get deeper into motivation, a look through the excluded text is advised.  The books in the Apocrypha and other excluded texts provide more insight and often diverge in great ways.  Through an exploration of them, we can add a historical and contextual color to the story of Judas found in the Gospels.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Following Judas: The Judas of the Gospels

2. The Judas of the Gospels

Within the Gospels, we find the traditional narrative of Judas.  Woven through those four book, with a little footnote in the Book of Acts, we see Judas listed as a disciple in the calling of the twelve, and from there, generally the next mention of Judas comes at his betrayal.  Only the book of John offers a little more insight into Judas's life and motivation by discussing two earlier instances involving Judas and foreshadowing his betrayal.

Still, in the Gospels, we get our first insights into possible motivation for Judas's betrayal: possession, predestination, and greed.   These will prove key theories in developing a picture of Judas, his character, and his motivation.

A. The Call

"Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeaus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."
Matthew 10:1-4

"And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.  And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.  He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."
Mark 3:13 -19

Matthew, Mark, and Luke each include a section of the calling of the twelve disciples, listing them all by name, along with various name changes and identifying characteristics.  Each text has slight variations that provide interesting insights into the larger puzzle.

From all of the texts, we see that Judas Iscariot is listed as one of the twelve who were given authority by Jesus.  This included the authority to drive out impure spirits and demons, to heal every disease and sickness, and to be sent out to preach.  With Judas included on this list, he presumably had the power of the Spirit in him and he still betrayed Jesus.    This makes his betrayal even more surprising.

Further, all three have some variation of referring to Judas' betrayal.  Matthew and Mark refer to him as "Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.," using the Greek παραδίδωμι, or to give over or to hand over.  Luke uses the variation, "who became a traitor," using the Greek γίνομαι προδότης or become a betrayer/traitor.

The Gospel of Luke adds on interesting wrinkle.  In Luke's account, Thaddeus is referred to as Judas the son of James.  So we have a good Judas in Thaddeus and a bad Judas, the Iscariot.  It is a reference to how common the name was at the time, a Greek rendering of the Hebrew name Judah, or "God is praised."  Particularly in light of the Maccabean rebellion and its hero, Judah or Judas Maccabee.

"In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.  And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor."
Luke 6:12-16

B. John's Background
1. Jesus's Knowledge

The next mentions of Judas in the chronology of Jesus's life come from John.  The other Synoptic Gospels do not include these accounts, though they provide the two key clues to Judas' character.

The first comes in the sixth chapter of John after Jesus has performed the feeding of the five thousand and had then revealed to them that He was the bread of life which they should be consuming.  After this teaching and the difficulty that many had in understanding it, many of the large crowd of followers that had amassed began to leave.   Jesus then turned to his disciples.

"After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  So Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you want to go away as well?'  Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.'  Jesus answered them, 'Did I not choose you, the twelve?  And yet one of you is a devil.'  He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him."
John 6:66-71

The way Jesus refers to Judas here is very interesting.  We first have a clear indication that Jesus chose Judas.  The Greek word here is ἐκλέγομαι or eklegomai, where we get "election" from, and meaning "to pick out or choose for oneself."  We also have clear indication that Jesus knows at this point that Judas will betray him, here at an early point in his ministry.  A reference to the omniscience of God and Jesus's inclusion in that knowledge. 

This raises so many questions.  Was Judas chosen specifically only to betray Jesus?  Was there something in his character that would signal him for this particular fate?  If so, why would he be included in the power and authority provided in the call above?

It implicates broader questions of omniscience and predeterminism.  Does knowledge equal determining, setting in stone?  Was Judas chosen because Jesus through omniscience knew he would betray Jesus?  Or was it predetermined, set in stone, that Judas would be the betrayer; that he was created solely for that purpose?

These questions cannot be sufficiently answered and likely never will be.  John's gospel will continue to provide the most material for this struggle.

2. Mary's Ointment
The next mention of Judas is in connection with Mary's use of an expensive oil to wash Jesus's feet with her hair.

"Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.  Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?'  He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.  Jesus said, 'Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial.  For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.'"
John 12:1-8

Judas here is named as the keeper of the purse for the disciples and identified as a thief.  This brings in greed as a potential motivation.  John will later use this information as context that allows Judas to slip away from the Last Supper and complete his betrayal.  Likewise, Matthew will reference greed as a possibility in Judas's encounter with the chief priests.

C. The Plot with the Chief Priests

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain reference to Judas plotting with the chief priests to betray Jesus.  In the accounts, Judas is the one who goes to the chief priests, they are glad and offer him money, and then he looks for an opportunity to effect the betrayal.  Matthew's account makes Judas's greed apparent, with Judas asking the chief priests, "What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?"

"Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, 'What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?' And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.  And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him."
Matthew 26: 14-16

This furthers greed as a motivating factor for Judas's betrayal.  The idea that thirty pieces of silver would be sufficient motivation to complete the act.

Luke's account introduces the idea of possession.

"Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve.  He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them.  And they were glad, and agreed to give him money.  So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd."
Luke 22:3-6

According to this text, if the possession is taken literally, it is Satan who uses Judas to betray Jesus to the chief priests.  Under some interpretations this would be the first of two possessions, here and then on the night of the Last Supper.  We even see this idea in John's discussion of the preparations for the Feast of the Passover.   When Jesus is going to was the disciple's feet, there is a mention that the devil "had already put it in the heart of Judas Iscariot" to betray Jesus.

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist."
John 13:1-4

Some interpretations see this as a metaphorical possession.  A turning over to one's sin.  Being set on a path that must be seen through to completion.  Some interpretations try to bridge the gap, indicating that Judas had set himself on this path and that is what allowed the possession to occur in the first place.

Regardless, whether these citations refer to a literal possession or a metaphorical hardening of the heart, the result is the same.  By this time, Judas has been turned over to his sinful ways, blind to and cut off from the power of the Spirit.  His decision and fate has been set.

D. The Last Supper

Matthew, Mark, and John all contain a report of a specific exchange at the Last Supper in which Jesus reveals that someone will betray him.  In all three versions, the disciples begin to question who it will be and Jesus indicates that it will be "He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me" or "he to whom I will give this morsel of bread."

Matthew then continues and has Judas ask Jesus specifically if he will be the betrayer.  Jesus replies "You have said so."

"When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.  And as they were eating, he said, 'Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.'  And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, 'Is it I, Lord?'  He answered, 'He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.  The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed?  It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.'  Judas, who would betray him, answered, 'Is it I, Rabbi?'  He said to him, 'You have said so.'"
Matthew 26:20-25

Mark 14:17-21 is the virtually identical, but omits the exchange with Judas.

John, though, goes farther and provides a little longer exchange between Jesus and Judas.  He provides mention of the second possession of Judas, and Jesus then told Judas/Satan, "What you are going to do, do quickly."

"After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.'  The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.  One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus' side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.  So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, 'Lord, who is it?'  Jesus answered, 'It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.' So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.  Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, 'What you are going to do, do quickly.'  Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.  Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, 'Buy what we need for the feast,' or that he should give something to the poor.  So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night."
John 13:21-30

We also see from this exchange that the other disciples question this exchange, but Judas's status as treasurer provides cover, keeping from realizing who the betrayer is.  If that question had ever bugged you before, there is a bit of an answer.  The other disciples thought Judas was buying more food, or giving to the poor, or generally handling something else needed with the money.

The passage in Matthew does provide one haunting paradox, particularly in light of the questions of possession and predestination.  Questions regarding how much control Judas had in the situation.  How much the betrayal was his choice.  In Matthew 26:24, Jesus says, "woe to that man whom the Son of Man is betrayed?  It would be better for that man if he had not been born."  We see this as a mention of how severe Judas's punishment will be.  But if Judas's betrayal was foretold and predetermined to be his path, is he being punished for his choice, his actions or for his role?  Likewise, there is an inherent paradox with Judas's role and this statement.  Without a betrayer, would Jesus be able to fulfill his purposes, "as it is written of him?"  Was the betrayal necessary, or would Jesus have suffered and acted as a sacrifice regardless?  In other words, were Judas's actions necessary and unavoidable, leading to his condemnation, or were they his misguided choice?

It's a question that many have struggled with.  Erasmus believed that Judas was free to change his intention, but Martin Luther argued that Judas's will was immutable.  John Calvin believed that Judas was predestined to damnation, but that "it will be no more right, because God himself willed that his son be delivered up and delivered him up to death, to ascribe the guilt of the crime to God than to transfer the credit for redemption to Judas."

To me, this paradox strikes at the heart of the divide between Calvinists and non-Calvinists.  To the heart of the question of predestination.

F. The Priestly Prayer

John adds more fuel for this question with his inclusion of Jesus's priestly prayer in Gethsemane.  In the prayer, while Jesus is praying for his disciples, he mentions that none have been lost, except for the son of destruction or son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

"All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.  And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.  While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled."
John 17:10-12

This again adds to the idea that Judas's purpose as a disciple was to betray Jesus.  Sentence construction would indicate that both "not one has been lost" and "except the son of destruction" were both necessary for Scripture to be fulfilled.  In the next section, this idea of prophecy and the Judas of the past will be explored.

G. The Betrayal in the Garden

All four gospels contain an account of Judas's betrayal in the garden.  All of them recount the detail that Judas approached Jesus, bringing a crowd with him, called him "Rabbi," and greeted him with a kiss, the sign he had established with the priests.

"While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.  Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, 'The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.'  And he came up to Jesus at once and said, 'Greetings, Rabbi!'  And he kissed him.  Jesus said to him, 'Friend, do what you came to do.'  Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him."
Matthew 26:47-50
"And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.  Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, 'The one I will kiss is the man.  Seize him and lead him away under guard.'  And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, 'Rabbi!'  And he kissed him.  And they laid hands on him and seized him."
Mark 14:43-46

"While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.  He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, 'Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?'"
Luke 22:47-48

"When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.  Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples.  So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.  Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, 'Whom do you seek? ' They answered him, 'Jesus of Nazareth.' Jesus said to them, 'I am he.Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.  When Jesus said to them, 'I am he,' they drew back and fell to the ground.  So he asked them again, 'Whom do you seek?' And they said, 'Jesus of Nazareth.'  Jesus answered, 'I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.'  This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: 'Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.'"
John 18:1-9

H. His Death

Only Matthew and the book of Acts include accounts of Judas's death by suicide.  The two accounts seem contradictory, but there have been attempts at harmonization.

According to Matthew, Judas was overcome with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the priests, in recognition of his sin.  In this passage, Judas truly seems repentant.  He is so overcome, he hangs himself, which according to some, is what he is truly damned for, for the act of taking his own life.  The priests then use the returned blood money to buy a potter's field.

"Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, 'I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.'  They said, 'What is that to us?  See to it yourself.'  And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.  But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, 'It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.'  So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers.  There ore 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.'"
Matthew 27:3-10

According to Luke through the book of Acts, it is Judas himself who buys a field and it is there he falls headlong upon, bursting open such that his bowels spill out.  Attempting to reconcile the two, some have argued that when Judas hung himself, the rope snapped or the limb snapped, leading him to fall from that position headlong onto the ground, bursting his body open.  Combining and fulfilling both.

"In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 'Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.  For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.'  (Now this man acquired 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 own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)  'For it is written in the Book of Psalms,
"May his camp become desolate,
    and let there be no one to dwell in it";
"Let another take his office."'"
Acts 1:15-20

In whatever manner he died, Judas seems to have been moved by remorse and regret for his actions. And it's this Judas that has led to the fascination of many.  That has led to many different theories regarding his actions.  Why would someone determined to betray Jesus be remorseful at his crucifixion and death?  What could explain that change of attitude?  This is what will be explored through looking at the Judas of history.

I. Conclusion

These accounts in the Synoptic Gospels are what provide us the most complete context of Judas's life and yet they still leave open so many questions.  As seen above, Judas's actions in the text amount only to his questioning of Mary's use of nard, his plot with the chief priests, his leaving the Lord's Supper and later betrayal in the garden, and his death.  There is so much of his life left unrevealed.  

Likewise, in terms of motivation, we are left with a few answers.  The texts offer possession and predestination and greed as possible sources.  Possession and predestination lead to much heavier questions of theology.  Ones that cannot be answered here.

Greed fits, but only seems to carry so far.  Greed provides a motivation to seek out the chief priests and to see what they would offer.  But it does not account for Judas's later remorse.  It's clear Judas had a desire to plot with the chief priests and that he has a desire to be paid, but he seems to have a different outcome in mind. As if the idea that Jesus could be captured and executed did not enter his mind.  

It's this background that has pushed theorists into many other sources, including looking at the very foundational sources of the prophecies fulfilled in the Gospels.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Following Judas: Introduction

1. Introduction

Judas Iscariot is one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in the Bible.  Though he is a central character in the gospel story, we know actually very little about him.  American Bible Scholar John P. Meier summarizes what we know like this, "We only know two basic facts about [Judas]: (1) Jesus chose him as one of the Twelve, and (2) he handed over Jesus to the Jerusalem authorities, thus precipitating Jesus' execution."

From the text that we have, we actually do know a little more.  We know he was an apostle of Jesus, we know he was the treasurer or purse keeper, and we know he betrayed Jesus.  We have two accounts regarding his death, but we know nothing about his life before becoming an apostle.    The Gospel of John names him as the son of Simon Iscariot, but we no nothing about the rest of his family.  Iscariot even adds more questions as it could refer to a location, a group of rebels, or an epithet.

Through the Synoptic Gospels, through prophecy, through the Apocrypha, through history, and through literature, we are painted many different pictures of an often conflicting image of Judas.  From enlightened to possessed, from zealot to coward.  We are led to believe that at least, for a time, Judas was an earnest apostle and devoted follower of Jesus Christ.  Which would seem to raise one ultimate question:


Why would he betray Jesus?  What would lead him there?

How could someone who had been empowered by Jesus to do such great things end up betraying him?

How can one so close be so far gone?

How can one be so close to Jesus, to God dwelling among His people, and still go astray?  How can someone betray everything about the one they seemed to devote their life toward?

Today, we use the name Judas as a synonym for betrayer.  We can see this throughout our literature and our language.  Bob Dylan would write about his being called Judas for switching to electric, "The most hated name in human history.  If you think you’ve been called a bad name, try and work your way out from under that."  And yet, it is simply the Greek form of Judah, a celebrated name in the Old Testament, a common name at the time in the New Testament, and one that means "God is praised."

I would argue that there are many of us today that continue to follow in Judas's footsteps.  That many are active in churches and ministries and would seem so close to God, but are in fact so far off the mark.  We're betraying him in a hundred variations of ways, and often without any thought or recognition.

This series over the coming days will explore the variations sources of information we have for Judas's life and motivations, as well as digging into theories that have been offered to explain that fundamental question.  In doing so, it will hopefully show us ways in which we are betraying Jesus in our own lives and how to combat those impulses.

Show us ways in which we too are Following Judas.

What follows is a series of blog posts exploring the texts we have on Judas and the interpretations that have come from it.  Through these, I think we can see several ways in which we all are, at times, following in Judas's footsteps.  So close, and yet so far.

Please note, while I have been researching these, I anticipate that there are things that I've overlooked.  I'm not sure if my research was extensive enough, as it always seemed to be uncovering new avenues to explore.  This is something I plan to keep tinkering with and adding additional information as I come across it.  It is presented now as a bit of a work in progress.  A rough draft of a thesis on how Judas could betray and why we do the same thing.

Please take it in the spirit of exploration and learning that it is offered.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day 2019

"HAIL sons of generous valor,
Who now embattled stand,

To wield the brand of strife and blood,
For Freedom and the land.

And hail to him your laurelled chief,
Around whose trophied name

A nation's gratitude has twined
The wreath of deathless fame.

Now round that gallant leader
Your iron phalanx form,

And throw, like Ocean's barrier rocks,
Your bosoms to the storm.

Though wild as Ocean's wave it rolls,
Its fury shall be low,

For justice guides the warrior's steel,
And vengeance strikes the blow.

High o'er the gleaming columns,
The bannered star appears,

And proud amid its martial band,
His crest the eagle rears.

And long as patriot valor's arm
Shall win the battle's prize.

That star shall beam triumphantly,
That eagle seek the skies.

Then on, ye daring spirits, 
To danger's tumults now,

The bowl is filled and wreathed the crown,
To grace the victor's brow; 

And they who for their country die 
Shall fill an honored grave. 

For glory lights the soldier's tomb, 
And beauty weeps the brave."
Joseph Rodman Drake, To the Defenders of New Orleans

May we never forget.  Happy Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Mission Van Zandt

This Sunday is one at Stonepoint we have previously called Stonepoint Serves.  We take one Sunday out of the year and do not just go to church, we remember that we are the Church.

This Sunday, we meet for one "service" where we will sing a couple of hymns/choruses and say a prayer, and then that's it at the building.  From there, we will go out and spend the morning serving and meeting needs in the community.  Yard work, small construction projects, painting, whatever needs we can address.  Journey Groups (small groups/Sunday School-like classes) will work together.  Other members will be broken up into groups.

It's about giving back to the community.  About making the community better.  About serving and meeting the needs that we can see or are brought to our attention.  About feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting in the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.

This year, it's gone beyond our church.  It's Mission Van Zandt involving churches around the area.  It's part of a larger weekend of service. On May 25 and 26, area churches across denominational lines will be actively helping meet the needs of the community through service projects.  It's an opportunity for the Church as a whole to be about the Lord's business.

For if we just sit in pews, Sunday after Sunday, without anything outside the walls, where will we have gotten?

"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’

And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’

Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, I was naked and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

And they too will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’

Then the King will answer, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’"
Matthew 25:31-45

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Top 10 Favorite Disney Attractions

In the middle of vacation planning mode and that always gets me excited.  I'm the planner.  I look for all the things to do, all the best places to eat, the regional food that I really want to try, etc.  And when we're visiting theme parks, that means I'm researching all the rides and attractions and creating my priority list of can't miss, want to, and never rides.

With the Disney parks, I can practically create that list from memory.  I know the layout of the stateside parks by hand and know exactly what I have to ride and do.  There's always new food to try, but my favorite attractions are pretty set.

In that vein, I thought I would share today my top 10 favorite Disney attractions.  Most still operational (RIP Great Movie Ride), and most in the best version to experience them (looking at Everest sideways).  I've noted the best park to experience them at, as there are differences in the cloned rides.  Otherwise, this gives a pretty rounded experience of the variety of attractions that Disney offers.

So, without further ado, my list of my Top 10 Favorite Disney Attractions, in order of creation:

  • Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyland (1967) - Walt's masterpiece.  This contains everything he worked toward.  Extensive audio-animatronics.  Beautiful effects.  Fully transportive environments, especially in the siege of the fort - the simple effect leading to smoke and clouds on the night sky is so amazing.  The Disneyland location is the best stateside with the two drops to get under the train station and the collapsing building section.  
  • The American Adventure, EPCOT (1982) - Disney's best audio-animatronic show.  Disney does Americana better than anyone and this is no exception.  Ben Franklin and Mark Twain telling the story of American history.  This may get bumped up a few notches just for the Voices of Liberty pre-show.
  • Great Movie Ride, Disney Hollywood Studios (1989) - This one is here simply for my love of movies.  A ride through an audio-animatronic extravaganza filled with classic movies is right up my alley.  Yes, the live actors could be kind of hokey and yes, Disney did this ride no service by ignoring maintenance and broken effects.   The Wicked Witch animatronic remains one of the most impressive that Disney has ever created.  And the ride serving as a perfect thesis for the park has not been matched.  While the Mickey ride should be good, this one is missed.
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Disney Hollywood Studios (1994) - Perhaps the best all-around attraction that Disney has ever put together. Especially the Florida version with the 5th Dimension room.  The grounds and decor are so beautifully derelict.  The nods to Twilight Zone episodes are wonderful Easter eggs.  And the experience on the ride with greater than gravity freefall is a lot of fun.
  • Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Disneyland (1995) - Another top notch attraction from Disney.  The enhanced motion jeep allowing a vehicle on a flat surface to seem like it's travelling over bumps and dips is incredible.  The effects with fire, projections, set pieces, and the boulder all make this a very thrilling ride.  The music from the films just elevates that experience.  Add in one amazing queue and you have probably the best ride at Disneyland.
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris, Disney Animal Kingdom (1998) - For the signature ride at Animal Kingdom, Disney Imagineers took a different approach. They finally realized Walt Disney's dream for the Jungle Cruise, by creating a ride where the guests would encounter live animals.  And they were able to engineer some pretty close encounters.  Clever rockwork and perspective hides protection gaps between the guests and the animals so you truly feel like you are on a wild safari.
  • Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Disney Hollywood Studios (1999) - A very simple concept.  A roller coaster timed to classic rock.  And it works so effectively.  My favorite combination is "Love in an Elevator."  That song plays such that when you get to the final stop, the last bars of the song just echo off the walls.  
  • Soarin' Over California, Disney California Adventure (2001) - The functionality of the ride is so simple, it's amazing.  Designed from an erector set, the ride allows you to simulate the feeling of hang gliding over locations from across California, ending at Disneyland at night.  The ride is a gentle and beautiful experience with an incredible score.
  • Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (Yeti - A Mode), Disney Animal Kingdom (2006) - When everything is working, this is the best roller coaster on Disney property.  I was fortunate in my first ride to see the Yeti in A mode.  The largest and most complicated audio-animatronic Disney ever created, the Yeti at 25 feet tall would lunge out at your car and try to grab it as you pass through the final section of the coaster.  It was a terrifying sight.  The Yeti in B Mode, or "Disco Yeti," where movement is simulated through a strobe light, not so much.  It's still a fun coaster, but is excellent when it's all functional.  Hopefully, they will finally crack how to fix the mountain before too long.
  • Radiator Springs Racers, Disney California Adventure (2012) - This is where all of Disney's tricks come together to make one impressive new ride. Part dark ride with large scale impressive animatronics, part thrilling race through imagineered rockwork, the ride is all fun.  Beautiful attention to detail in recreating the Cars universe, combined with the simple thrill of driving with the top down and feeling the wind on your face.  One of Disney's best recent offerings.
That's my list.  For those of you that have visited, what are your favorite attractions?

Friday, May 24, 2019

To the Graduating Class of 2019

In Wills Point, tonight represented the end of the school year.  The last day of class, with graduation tomorrow morning.  My thoughts go to the wisdom that many will try to impart through commencement speeches, while the newly free minds will be focused on one thing and one thing only: walking across that stage so that everything is finally finished.

Like last year, I know of no reason why I would ever be asked to give a commencement speech, but were such an occasion ever to present itself, this is what I was say.  (I should note that, again, the speech itself probably gives good reason why I'll never be asked to do so.)


Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, administration and faculty, graduating class of 2019, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you tonight.  It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here and to join in this celebration and transition in your lives.

Though I realize it was [unpronounceable] years ago when I was in your position, that time seems to have galloped by. In that spirit, I will try to keep these comments brief, and hopefully a little entertaining, so that we can get to the part of the ceremony that everyone is truly here for.

When you look at the years in which you all have come of age, it's pretty incredible.  A majority of you were never alive when the Twin Towers stood, and we have been at constant war throughout your entire life.  You have also lived through years where school shootings and violence have been a common occurrence, with Columbine occurring a good two years before most of you were born.

You are the social media generation, with MySpace and Facebook coming online when you were toddlers.  As such, you have grown up in an era when your entire life is an open book online, for all its good and ill.

You've also come through school as we have increasingly attacked the foundation of your education.  Added test after test.  Expected teachers to do more with less, seeing them still work magic.  And seen cuts after cuts to different programs in your schools.

With this in mind, I have an initial message that I would like to pass along that I feel needs to be said:

You are stronger and more formidable than anyone has believed.  And your generation has demonstrated more determination to change the world than any of the immediately preceding ones.

And it's because of that determination, I have a few things I'd like to ask you to consider, so that you do better than all us previous generations combined.

  1. Get a trade - no doubt you have heard a lot of advice regarding college and how everyone needs to go to college. While college is great, it's not for everyone and there is a great need for people to go into various trades.  Trade schools are a great way to get practical education in a variety of fields that are in demand.  For electricians and technicians.  For welders, for machinists, mechanics, and operators.  For builders.  For fixers.  For makers.  Do not undervalue the importance of skilled labor.  And if that is your calling or your gift, please consider it.
  2. Stay involved - It has been refreshing to see the youth voices in politics and political issues and we need you to stay involved.  We need you to be good citizens.  To stay updated on current events.  To be active voters, demonstrators, protesters, organizers, contributors, donors, voices.  There are complete systems we need new voices in to completely restructure.  There are causes that need to be championed.  There are rights, institutions, and traditions that need to be protected.  And we're counting on you to be involved.
  3. Take care of the planet - there is a lot of talk about how much time we have to save the planet before it becomes too late.  And whether that time can be measured in single years, decades, or centuries, it is important for us to be better stewards of the place that we call home.  Our ocean is filling with trash and plastic.  There are tens of thousands of species that are facing extinction each year.  And we're running out of basic elements that have long factored into our biosphere like helium.  The good news is that the solutions to help solve these crises that we are facing will come from your generation.  It's a terrible inheritance, but it is one that we all need to be committed to facing.
  4. Set better priorities - The last thing we need for you to do is make corporations and shareholders more money.  We've seen the results of that and we know where that path leads.  Instead, create better art.  Make life better.  Enact better policy.  Solve the work-life balance through better companies and better policies.  Raise and educate kids better.  Have better relationships.  No one at the end of their life wished they spent more time at work.  They might wish they had done something greater or more fulfilling.  Seek that out instead.
  5. Treat the world as your neighborhood - With the great strides in communication and travel, there is no reason to not be a greater citizen of the world.  Go see and learn about other countries.  Experience life somewhere else.  Learn a new language.  Engage with different cultures, different races, different religions.  Take the time to see how similar we truly all are.  
  6. Be kind - finally, be kind.  Always, be kind.  Be charitable and kind.  We live in an ugly world and you have seen more of the ugliness through media and social media than any of us.  We don't need to do anything to add to the ugliness.  So why not combat it.  Add to the kindness.  The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying "The purpose of our life needs to be positive.  We weren't born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others.  For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic human qualities - warmth, kindness, compassion.  Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful - happier."  Let that be our motto.
I know that is a pretty heavy list and it is a very lofty goal.  But I can assure you, it is worth it.  We need you and we believe in you.  Tonight represents a transition in which you close an early chapter of your book and start off on a wild new adventure.  And I know that among you, that adventure is going to lead to exciting new discoveries, to great change, and needed healing.  It will bring challenges and surprises.  

Please don't give up.  We're counting on you.

You got this.