Is the Betrayal of Jesus by Judas Historical?

Is the Betrayal of Jesus by Judas Historical? July 1, 2021

In the closing stages of writing my latest book, The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story [UK] (please grab yourself a copy!), I had a few test readers. One was David Austin, down in Australia, who has provided a few guest articles for your delectation. Here is another one – thanks muchly to him (as I am insanely busy researching the hell out of the Pentateuch):

Is the Betrayal of Jesus by Judas Historical?

I am proposing a controversial hypothesis, that is, I believe the character of Judas Iscariot in the Gospels is fictional, and thus his betrayal of Jesus is likewise fictional.

All four gospels mention Judas Iscariot, but since most scholars believe Mark’s gospel was the first written, and subsequent gospels used Mark as a template for their gospels, this fact is hardly surprising, and does not add any credibility to the narrative.

A lot of Mark’s narratives are considered by many scholars to be dubious or fictitious and probably designed to illustrate some theological agenda. For instance, many believe that the Trial before the Sanhedrin, the Barabbas incident, and the “Empty Tomb” were all inventions of Mark, carried over into later Gospels.

One clue to Judas fictive origin comes from Paul’s epistles where the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 reads:-

 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters[c] at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.[d] Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me”

Here, he specifically mentions “the Twelve”, so he seems totally unaware that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus & then committed suicide.

Additionally, in 1 Corinthians 11:23 Paul says:-

 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread…..”

Scholars have disputed the word “betrayed”, as elsewhere it is translated as “handed over”. It seems some translators have retroactively inserted this meaning into Paul’s epistles from their knowledge of the later gospels. “Handed over” could refer to the Chief Priests handing over Jesus to the Romans as they considered him a “trouble-maker” threatening the status quo of the understanding between the Jewish hierarchy and the Romans which allowed many of their traditions to continue under Roman rule.

There are differences in the Gospels, as to Judas’s motive for betrayal.

Mark:- Judas went to the Chief Priests and offered to betray Jesus, and they promised him money, but no mention of how much and whether they paid him straight away (“promised” seems to indicate he would get paid after the betrayal).

Matthew:- Judas went to the Chief Priests and asks “what will you give me if I betray him to you”, and they paid him “30 pieces of silver” before his betrayal.

Luke:- “Satan” apparently entered Judas and he went to the Chief Priests to betray Jesus and they “agreed” to give him money, but no mention of how much and when it was to be paid.

John:- Again, “Satan” apparently enter Judas, and he left the “Last Supper” to betray Jesus but no mention of how this was done.

There are two versions of what happened to the “30 pieces of silver”:-

According to Matthew 27:3-8 Judas Iscariot is filled with remorse, and returns the money by throwing it into the temple, and then leaves to hang himself. The Chief Priests use the “blood money” to purchase land, and call it “The Field of Blood”.

However, in Acts 1:17-20 Judas uses the money, himself, to buy the land, and then apparently “falling headlong,[a] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” The field is later called “The Field of Blood’”

So who, exactly, bought the land?

Some scholars have suggested that Judas is supposed to personify “the Jews” as the evil opposition to Jesus since Judas is the Greek version of “Judah” which could relate to the “Kingdom of Judah”, part of Jewish Palestine.

It is important to consider the context of when the Gospels were written.

Mark (considered to be the first gospel) is normally dated to 70 CE, which was after the devasting Jewish war of 66 – 70 CE when the Roman army overran the city of Jerusalem, destroying the Temple, and consigning the population to exile or slavery.

Some early Christians interpreted this defeat as “The Wrath of God”, and punishment for the Jews for not accepting Jesus as the “true” Messiah.  Thus, the blame for Jesus’s death was placed directly on the Jews, and this attitude pervades the Gospels.

With this in mind, it seems to me that, the whole Judas Iscariot narrative is an invention of the Gospel writers needing a “scapegoat” for the capture & execution of Jesus.

In reality, there were probably twelve disciples who were loyal to Jesus, and Jesus was just arrested for being a “trouble-maker” and summarily executed. If this was not the case, it looks as if Jesus exhibited very poor judgement when he picked his Disciples (not a good look for “The Son of God”).

As a side note, the Gospel writers can’t agree on the names of the twelve disciples:-

Matthew has the disciple “Matthew” whom he also calls “Levi”.

Mark, Matthew & Luke have a disciple called “Bartholomew” which John doesn’t mention, but instead has one called “Nathaniel” (unknown to Mark, Matthew or Luke). Are we to suppose that “Bartholomew” and “Nathaniel” are the same person, or was “Bartholomew” replaced by another person named “Nathaniel”?

Mark & Matthew have a disciple named “Thaddaeus”, but Luke & John never mention such a disciple, but have “Judas” (not Iscariot) unknown to Mark & Matthew. Again, are we supposed that “Thaddaeus” and “Judas” are the same person, or was “Thaddaeus” replaced by another person named “Judas”?

It is all very confusing from a god that Paul describes as:-

“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”

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