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Judas Iscariot

One of the twelve apostles; the betrayer of Jesus. The meaning of the name “Iscariot” is uncertain. It is most likely to signify “man of Kerioth” (a place in S Palestine), which would make him probably the only Judean among the Twelve as well as being the bearer of the name of Judah. Others have suggested links with Sychar, Issachar, or Jericho, or a derivation from sicarios, “assassin.” He held a position of importance as treasurer of the group (John 12:6; 13:29) and was close to Jesus at the Last Supper (John 13:21-26). He went to the chief priests to offer to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10f., etc.) and took the opportunity to do so in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:43-50, etc.). Accounts of his remorse and suicide are found in Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:15- 20. The motives which lay behind Judas's action have long fascinated students of the NT. John makes explicit his avarice (12:4-6), but it is likely that he was in one way or another disillusioned with how Jesus was working out His messianic vocation-and acted to put down someone he considered dangerous, or to force His hand to bring matters to a head.

JUDAS ISCARIOT (Gr. Ιουδα-ς Ισκαριώτης), the son of Simon, also called Iscariot (John 12:4; 13:2), was one of Jesus’ disciples and betrayed Him to His enemies. The meaning of the epithet Iscariot is uncertain. It may have been a Hellenized form of אִישׁ קְרִיּוֹת, “man of Kerioth,” to indicate his origin. Other suggested interpretations are “from Kartan,” a town in Galilee (Josh 21:32); or a nickname derived from אסקרטיא (a leather bag, since he carried a bag for money); or from אַסְכְּרָא (strangling) by way of allusion to his death (see Origen, Matthew XXXV); or possibly σκαριώτης, a Sem. tr. of the Latin sicarius, a radical Zealot who carried a dagger. Probably the first-named option is the best.


E. F. Harrison, “Jesus and Judas,” Bibliotheca Sacra 417 (Jan-March 1948), 170-181; F. J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, “The Death of Judas,” in F. J. Foakes-Jackson and K. Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity, Vol. V (1933), 22-30. For an exhaustive treatment, consult J. G. Tasker, “Judas Iscariot,” in Hastings DCG, I, pp. 907-913 (1906).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

One of the twelve apostles and the betrayer of Jesus; for etymology, etc., see Judas.

I. Life.

Judas was, as his second name indicates, a native of Kerioth or Karioth. The exact locality of Kerioth (compare Jos 15:25) is doubtful, but it lay probably to the South of Judea, being identified with the ruins of el Karjetein (compare A. Plummer, article "Judas Iscariot" in HDB).

1. Name and Early History:

2. Before the Betrayal:

3. The Betrayal:

4. His Death:

After the betrayal, Mk, Lu and Joh are silent as regards Judas, and the accounts given in Mt and Ac of his remorse and death vary in detail. According to Mt, the actual condemnation of Jesus awakened Judas’ sense of guilt, and becoming still more despondent at his repulse by the chief priests and elders, "he cast down the pieces of silver into the sanctuary, and departed; and he went away and hanged himself." With the money the chief priests purchased the potter’s field, afterward called "the field of blood," and in this way was fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah (11:12-14) ascribed by Matthew to Jeremiah (Mt 27:3-10). The account given in Ac 1:16-20 is much shorter. It mentions neither Judas’ repentance nor the chief priests, but simply states that Judas "obtained a field with the reward of his iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out" (1:18). The author of Ac finds in this the fulfillment of the prophecy in Ps 69:25. The Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) rendering, "When he had hanged himself, he burst asunder," suggests a means of reconciling the two accounts.

According to a legendary account mentioned by Papias, the death of Judas was due to elephantiasis (compare Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, 5). A so-called "Gospel of Judas" was in use among the Gnostic sect of the Cainites.

II. Character and Theories.

1. Joined the Apostles to Betray Jesus:

Much discussion and controversy have centered, not only around the discrepancies of the Gospel narratives of Judas, but also around his character and the problems connected with it. That the betrayer of Jesus should also be one of the chosen Twelve has given opportunity for the attacks of the foes of Christianity from the earliest times (compare Orig., Con. Cel., ii.12); and the difficulty of finding any proper solution has proved so great that some have been induced to regard Judas as merely a personification of the spirit of Judaism. The acceptance of this view would, however, invalidate the historical value of much of the Scriptural writings. Other theories are put forward in explanation, namely, that Judas joined the apostolic band with the definite intention of betraying Jesus. The aim of this intention has again received two different interpretations, both of which seek to elevate the character of Judas and to free him from the charge of sordid motives and cowardly treachery. According to one, Judas was a strong patriot, who saw in Jesus the foe of his race and its ancient creed, and therefore betrayed Him in the interests of his country. This view is, however, irreconcilable with the rejection of Judas by the chief priests (compare Mt 27:3-10). According to the other, Judas regarded himself as a true servant of Christianity, who assumed the role of traitor to precipitate the action of the Messiah and induce Him to manifest His miraculous powers by calling down the angels of God from heaven to help Him (compare Mt 26:53). His suicide was further due to his disappointment at the failure of Jesus to fulfill his expectations. This theory found favor in ancient times with the Cainites (compare above), and in modern days with De Quincey and Bishop Whately. But the terms and manner of denunciation employed by Jesus in regard to Judas (compare also Joh 17:12) render this view also untenable.

2. Foreordained to Be a Traitor:

Another view is that Judas was foreordained to be the traitor: that Jesus was conscious from the first that He was to suffer death on the cross, and chose Judas because He knew that he should betray Him and thus fulfill the Divine decrees (compare Mt 26:54). Those holding this view base their arguments on the omniscience of Jesus implied in Joh 2:24, Jesus "knew all men"; Joh 6:64, "Jesus knew from the beginning who should betray him," and Joh 18:4, "knowing all the things that were coming upon him." Yet to take those texts literally would mean too rigid application of the doctrine of predestination. It would treat Judas as a mere instrument, as a means and not an end in the hands of a higher power: it would render meaningless the appeals and reproaches made to him by Jesus and deny any real existence of that personal responsibility and sense of guilt which it was our Lord’s very purpose to awaken and stimulate in the hearts of His hearers. John himself wrote after the event, but in the words of our Lord there was, as we have seen, a growing clearness in the manner in which He foretold His betrayal. The omniscience of Jesus was greater than that of a mere clairvoyant who claimed to foretell the exact course of future events. It was the omniscience of one who knew on the one hand the ways of His Eternal Father among men, and who, on the other, penetrated into the deepest recesses of human character and beheld there all its secret feelings and motives and tendencies.

3. Betrayal the Result of Gradual Development:

Although a full discussion of the character of Judas would of necessity involve those ultimate problems of Free Will and Original Sin (Westcott) which no theology can adequately solve, theory which regards the betrayal as the result of a gradual development within the soul of Judas seems the most practical. It is significant that Judas alone among the disciples was of southern extraction; and the differences in temperament and social outlook, together with the petty prejudices to which these generally give rise, may explain in part, though they do not justify, his after treachery--that lack of inner sympathy which existed between Judas and the rest of the apostles. He undoubtedly possessed certain business ability, and was therefore appointed keeper of the purse. But his heart could not have been clean, even from the first, as he administered even his primary charge dishonestly. The cancer of this greed spread from the material to the spiritual. To none of the disciples did the fading of the dream of an earthly kingdom of pomp and glory bring greater disappointment than to Judas. The cords of love by which Jesus gradually drew the hearts of the other disciples to Himself, the teaching by which He uplifted their souls above all earthly things, were as chafing bonds to the selfishness of Judas. And from his fettered greed and disappointed ambition sprang jealousy and spite and hatred. It was the hatred, not of a strong, but of an essentially weak man. Instead of making an open breach with his Lord, he remained ostensibly one of His followers: and this continued contact with a goodness to which he would not yield (compare Swete on Mr 14:10), and his brooding over the rebukes of his Master, gave ready entrance for "Satan into his soul." But if he "knew the good and did not do it" (compare Joh 13:17), so also he was weak in the carrying out of his nefarious designs. It was this hesitancy, rather than a fiendish cunning, which induced him to remain till the last moment in the supper room, and which prompted the remark of Jesus "What thou doest, do quickly" (Joh 13:27). Of piece with this weak-mindedness was his attempt to cast the blame upon the chief priests and elders (compare Mt 27:3,4). He sought to set himself right, not with the innocent Jesus whom he had betrayed, but with the accomplices in his crime; and because that world which his selfishness had made his god failed him at the last, he went and hanged himself. It was the tragic end of one who espoused a great cause in the spirit of speculation and selfish ambition, and who weighed not the dread consequences to which those impure motives might lead him (compare also Bruce, Training of the Twelve; Latham, Pastor Pastorum; Stalker, Trial and Death of Jesus Christ).