Tuesday, May 28, 2019
Following Judas: 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.