Michael J. Alter is the author of the copiously researched, 913-page volume, The Resurrection: a Critical Inquiry (2015). I initially offered 59 “brief” replies to as many alleged New Testament contradictions (March 2021). We later engaged in amiable correspondence and decided to enter into a major ongoing dialogue about his book. He graciously (and impressively!) sent me a PDF file of it, free of charge, for my review.
Mike describes himself as “of the Jewish faith” but is quick to point out that labels are often “misleading” and “divisive” (I agree to a large extent). He continues to be influenced by, for example, “Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad” variants of Judaism and learns “from those of other faiths, the secular, the non-theists, etc.” Fair enough. I have a great many influences, too, am very ecumenical, and am a great admirer of Judaism, as I told Michael in a combox comment on my blog.
He says his book “can be described as Jewish apologetics” and one that provides reasons for “why members of the Jewish community should not convert to Christianity.” I will be writing many critiques of the book and we’ll be engaging in ongoing discussion for likely a long time. I’m quite excited about it and am most grateful for Mike’s willingness to interact, minus any personal hostility.
I use RSV for all Bible verses that I cite. His words will be in blue.
CONTRADICTION #81 Contradictory Chronology When Judas Concocted His Plan
John’s chronology contradicts the synoptic narratives as to when Judas formed or first conceived his plan to betray Jesus. (p. 447)
Matthew thus states that Judas designed his plan immediately after the incident which took place in the house of Simon the leper at Bethany.
The episode of Simon the leper anointing Jesus while he was in Bethany is recorded in Matthew 26:6-13. This event occurred on Tuesday, two days before the Passover meal preparation. . . . It was now, immediately after this rebuking incident recorded in verses 14 and 15 that Matthew states that Judas went to the chief priests and asked what he would receive in exchange for delivering Jesus. Therefore, Matthew had Judas concocting his plan to betray Jesus before the Last Supper. (p. 448)
So far, we have no disagreement. But they’re never far away!
Mark 14:3-9 records the same incident. However, Mark differs from Matthew in several details: (1) the ointment was identified as spikenard, (p. 448)
It “differs” in that it offers details that Matthew doesn’t include. It’s not contradictory. Matthew has “very expensive ointment” (26:7), while Mark describes it as “ointment of pure nard, very costly” (14:3). That’s like one person saying he bought his wife a gift of “very expensive perfume” and his wife telling her girlfriends the brand name of the perfume. Are the two contradictory? No. Both are true and in harmony with each other.
(2) some of the disciples were described as indignant, (p. 448)
This isn’t even a difference from Matthew, which also describes “the disciples” as “indignant” and additionally saying (similarly to Mark), “Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor” (Mt 26:8-9). Again: differing detail and no contradiction.
and (3) the value of the ointment was declared to be “more than three hundred pence.” (p. 448)
Great and “so what!” But at least this is an actual difference (though of course not a contradiction).
After Jesus spoke to the disciples, Mark 14:10 substantiates Matthew’s text: “And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.” Therefore, Mark 14:10-11 also has Judas arranging to betray Jesus on Tuesday, two days before the Last Supper. (p. 448)
Thus, on the issue of timing of Judas’ consultation with the Jewish authorities, Alter agrees that Matthew and Mark are in agreement. It was two days before the Last Supper.
Luke 22:3-6 also records that Judas’s arrangement to betray Jesus occurred on Tuesday. (p. 448)
Cool. So Alter agrees that all three Synoptic Gospels concur on this.
John 12:1-8 substantially embellishes the text, making Judas appear progressively more heinous and odious than the synoptic narratives: (p. 448)
In light of Alter’s view that the evangelists are deceiving liars, we can interpret “embellishes” as adding untrue, made-up additional fictional elements. But as always, this is sheer arbitrary speculation from a hostile observer, with no hard evidence. What John adds is not contradictory to the Synoptics.
(1) he had Judas being the solitary disciple who challenged the anointment with three hundred pences worth of spikenard, . . . (p. 448)
If indeed John had specified that Judas was the “solitary” disciple protesting, then it would actually be a contradiction (!!!) of Mark’s and Matthew’s parallel accounts. But of course he doesn’t do that. He simply states “Judas Iscariot. . . said, . . .” (12:4). We see nothing there about “only Judas” or “Judas alone” or “Judas was the solitary disciple who said . . .” or “Judas and no other disciple” said . . ”
(2) he editorialized that Judas’s opposition to the anointing by Mary was not by any love for the poor but because he was at one time a thief and the purse bearer of the society, which had gathered around Jesus. In addition, John 11:1 and 12:3 identifies the previous anonymous anointer as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus. (p. 448)
All of which elaborates upon the other accounts without contradicting them . . .
Then, John 13:2 declares: “And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” (p. 448)
As explained in Reply #20, this expression of a present tense is an outdated inaccurate rendering of the KJV. Virtually all modern translations indicate this intention to have been a past event, which is, of course, harmonious with the data from the Synoptic Gospels, summarized above.
Up to this exact moment John’s Judas had not held a conference with the chief priests and the Pharisees. (p. 449)
This is untrue. John doesn’t specifically mention it, but he doesn’t deny it, either (which would be one scenario that would establish a contradiction). What he does is allude to the fact that Judas had by then fully intended to betray Him (13:2). As we find out from the information provided by the Synoptics, this had occurred two days earlier.
As a matter of fact, John 13:27-30 narrates that it was none other than Jesus who told Judas during this meal to go and buy some things for the feast or that he should give something to the poor:
Jn 13:27 And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.
Jn 13:28 Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him.
Jn 13:29 For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.
Jn 13:30 He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. (p. 449)
Alter completely botches the plain meaning of this text. Jesus, in saying “do [it] quickly” (Jn 13:37) is referring to Judas’ actual betrayal, which was to occur within a matter of hours. John 13:28-29 describes the disciples’ misunderstanding of what Jesus was saying to Judas (13:28: “no one at the table knew why he said this to him”). Further preceding context, additionally, proves beyond doubt what Jesus meant. He was referring to Judas going out to do his dirty deed:
John 13:21-27 When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in 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 lying close to the breast of Jesus;  so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.”  So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?”  Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.  Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Finally, John unequivocally demonstrates that his gospel contradicted the Synoptics. John 18:28-29 narrated that the arrested Jesus was brought before Pilate. Presumably, as a matter of civility or consideration, Pilate left the judgment hall to meet the Jewish leadership and Jesus. John explains the reason that the Jewish leadership would not enter the judgment hall: “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.” In other words, if the Jewish leadership entered the judgment hall, they would have been defiled (i.e., made themselves ritually unclean) and would not be able to partake of the passover. It makes no sense that the Jewish leadership would have been concerned about becoming ritually unclean and consequently disqualified from eating the passover if the Passover meal had already occurred. (p. 449)
Without getting into the many theories about the Last Supper as related to Passover, I merely note that the fear of defilement in Gentile houses went beyond just Passover. Thus (contrary to Alter’s final sentence) it does “make sense” that the Jews would have refused to enter the praetorium apart from the consideration of Passover alone:
Bengel’s Gnomen: John 18:28. Αὐτοὶ) they themselves.—ἳνα μὴ μιανθῶσιν, lest they should be defiled) as Pilate’s house was not cleared out of leaven: Deuteronomy 16:4, “There shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coasts seven days.”—φάγωσι τὸ πάσχα, that they might eat the Passover) So 2 Chronicles 30:22, ויאכלו המועד, “They ate the feast seven days.”
Pulpit Commentary: This defilement by entrance into the house of a Gentile was not an enactment of the Law, but was a purely rabbinic observance (Delitzsch, ‘Talmudische Studien,’ 14. (1874); ‘Zeitschrift fur die gesammte Luth. Theol.’). We find it operative in Acts 10:28, . . .
I found what looks like just the thing to understand this issue of ritual purity and defilement in first-century Judaism, in relation to the Romans and Gentiles in general: “Notions of Gentile Impurity in Ancient Judaism” (Jonathan Klawans, Journal of the Association for Jewish Studies, Volume 20 , Issue 2 , November 1995 , pp. 285 – 312). Unfortunately, I couldn’t access all of it for free, but the references are present. One of them reads:
Another important New Testament verse to consider is John 18:28, which states that there were Jews who refused to enter the praetorium lest they be denied and not be able to eat the Passover sacrifice. It should be noted that according to John 18, Matt. 27, and Mark 15, the praetorium is where Jesus was beaten. One can assume that any number of bloody activities took place there, and that there would have been a fear of contracting corpse impurity.
Photo credit: Judas (Johann Zwink) in passion play, Oberammergau, Germany (1900) [public domain / Library of Congress]
Summary: Michael Alter sought contradictions in the NT’s portrayal of the chronology of Judas’ evil plans in vain. Perhaps if he keeps observing the logical fallacies in his arguments, he’ll be more cautious.
Tags: alleged Bible contradictions, alleged Resurrection contradictions, Bible “contradictions”, Bible “difficulties”, Bible Only, biblical inspiration, biblical prooftexts, biblical skeptics, biblical theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, Holy Bible, inerrancy, infallibility, Jewish anti-Christian polemics, Jewish apologetics, Jewish critique of Christianity, Jewish-Christian discussion, Michael J. Alter, New Testament, New Testament critics, New Testament skepticism, Resurrection “Contradictions”, Resurrection of Jesus, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, Judas, motives of Judas, chronology of Judas’ evil plans