His name is also associated with a Gnostic gospel, the Gospel of Judas, that exists in an early fourth century Coptic text. Judas has been a figure of great interest to esoteric groups, such as many Gnostic sects, and has also been the subject of many philosophical writings, including The Problem of Natural Evil by Bertrand Russell and "Three Versions of Judas", a short story by Jorge Luis Borges.
The term Judas has entered many languages as a synonym for betrayer, and Judas has become the archetype of the betrayer in Western art and literature. Judas is given some role in virtually all literature telling the Passion story, and appears in a number of modern novels and movies. Most modern Christians, whether laity, clergy, or theologians, consider Judas a traitor. Some scholars have embraced alternative notions that Judas was merely the negotiator in a prearranged prisoner exchange that gave Jesus to the Roman authorities by mutual agreement or acted with Jesus' knowledge and consent to ensure the re-enactment of Biblical prophecy, and that his later portrayal as "traitor" was a historical distortion. Others see Judas as a literary invention reflecting divisions among early Christians or an attempt by Biblical authors to distance themselves from Judaism after the first First Jewish-Roman War.
"Judas" (spelled "Ioudas" in ancient Greek and "Iudas" in Latin, pronounced ˈyudas' in both) is the Greek form of the common name Judah (יהודה, Yehûdâh, Hebrew for "God is praised"). The same Greek spelling underlies other names in the New Testament that are traditionally rendered differently in English: Judah and Jude.
The precise significance of "Iscariot," however, is uncertain. There are two major theories on its etymology:
Because of Judas' role in betraying Jesus, the name Judas—which was common during the time of Jesus—has almost entirely fallen out of use as a name among Christians. The Hebrew equivalent "Yehuda" remains common among Jews, and the etymologically equivalent name "Jude" is not unknown among Christians.
Mark also states that the chief priests were looking for a "sly" way to arrest Jesus. They determine not to do so during the feast because they were afraid that the people would riot; instead, they chose the night before the feast to arrest him. Satan enters Judas at this time, as described by the Gospel of Luke.
According to the account given in the Gospel of John, Judas carried the disciples' money bag and betrayed Jesus for a bribe of "thirty pieces of silver by identifying him with a kiss—"the kiss of Judas"—to arresting soldiers of the High Priest Caiaphas, who then turned Jesus over to Pontius Pilate's soldiers. These "pieces of silver" were most likely intended to be understood as silver Tyrian shekels.
Yet another account was preserved by the early Christian leader, Papias: "Judas walked about in this world a sad example of impiety; for his body having swollen to such an extent that he could not pass where a chariot could pass easily, he was crushed by the chariot, so that his bowels gushed out."
In the Gospel of Judas, it is implied that the other Apostles stoned him to death for his perceived betrayal.
Raymond E. Brown gave the contradictory accounts of the death of Judas as an example of an obvious contradiction in the Bible texts: "Luke's account of the death of Judas in Acts 1:18 is scarcely reconcilable with Matt 27:3-10. This problem was one of the points that caused C. S. Lewis, for example, to reject the view "that every statement in Scripture must be historical truth". Various attempts at harmonization have been tried since ancient times, such as that Judas hanged himself in the field, and afterwards the rope snapped, and his body burst open on the ground, or that the accounts of Acts and Matthew refer to two different transactions.
Modern scholars tend to reject these approaches stating that the Matthew account is a midrashic exposition that allows the author to present the event as a fulfilment of prophetic passages from the Old Testament. They argue that the author adds imaginative details such as the thirty pieces of silver, and the fact that Judas hangs himself, to an earlier tradition about Judas's death.
Matthew's reference to the death as fulfilment of a prophecy "spoken through Jeremiah the prophet" has caused some controversy, since it clearly paraphrases a story from the Book of Zechariah which refers to the return of a payment of thirty pieces of silver. Many writers, such as Augustine, Jerome, and John Calvin concluded that this was an obvious error. However, some modern writers have suggested that the Gospel writer also had a passage from Jeremiah in mind, such as chapters 18 and 19 which refers to a potter's jar and a burial place, and chapter 32 which refers to a burial place and an earthenware jar.
Judas Iscariot is mentioned only a few times in the canonical gospels. The apostle whose name is generally rendered in English as Saint Jude was actually named Judas son of James, and outside the New Testament the apostle Saint Thomas is sometimes called Judas Thomas Didymus. Some people have speculated that Judas Iscariot is the same as one or both of these people, and have advanced as support for their theory the fact that some manuscripts refer to Judas son of James as Judas the Zealot, which they link with the theory that the name Iscariot refers to the Sicarii. However, the list of the Twelve in Luke 6:15,16 clearly treats Thomas, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot as three separate people and the list in Acts 1 treats Thomas and Judas son of James as still alive at a time when Judas Iscariot is dead.
John 14:22 indicates that Jesus had a disciple called "Judas (not the Iscariot)," probably Judas son of James or possibly Thomas. The latter identification is less likely, since Thomas is not called Judas anywhere else in the New Testament, but it is supported by many writings in the Syriac church which refer to him by this name. The most famous writings naming "Thomas" as Judas are perhaps the Gospel of Thomas and the Acts of Thomas. Thomas itself simply means 'twin' and was thus this individual's nickname rather than his actual name.
Another New Testament Judas, Jesus' brother Judas, is referred to in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. He may be the same person as Judas son of James (his different father would be explained by the Roman Catholic theory that Jesus' so-called "brothers" were really his cousins), or, in view of the statement in John 7:5 that "even his brothers did not believe" in Jesus, he may be someone else. In any case, Judas was a common name at the time of the New Testament.
According to a 2006 translation of the manuscript of the text, it is apparently a Gnostic account of an arrangement between Jesus and Judas, who in this telling are Gnostically enlightened beings, with Jesus asking Judas to turn him in to the Romans to help Jesus finish his appointed task from God.
In December 2007, a New York Times op-ed article by April DeConick asserted that the National Geographic's translation is badly flawed: 'For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a "daimon," which the society’s experts have translated as "spirit." Actually, the universally accepted word for "spirit" is "pneuma" — in Gnostic literature "daimon" is always taken to mean "demon."' The National Geographic Society responded that 'Virtually all issues April D. DeConick raises about translation choices are addressed in footnotes in both the popular and critical editions'.
Irenaeus records the beliefs of one Gnostic sect, the Cainites, who believed that Judas was an instrument of the Sophia, Divine Wisdom, thus earning the hatred of the Demiurge. In the Hebrew bible, the book of Zechariah, the one who casts thirty pieces of silver, as Judas does in the Gospels, is a servant of God. His betrayal of Jesus thus was a victory over the materialist world. The Cainites later split into two groups, disagreeing over the ultimate significance of Jesus in their cosmology.
Origen knew of a tradition according to which the greater circle of disciples betrayed Jesus, but does not attribute this to Judas in particular, and Origen did not deem Judas to be thoroughly corrupt (Matt., tract. xxxv).
The early anti-Christian writer Celsus deemed literal readings of the story to be philosophically absurd, especially because Jesus knew about the treason in advance, and told of it openly to all the disciples at the Passover meal, as well as singling out who the traitor would be without attempting to stop him.
The text of the Gospels suggests that Jesus both foresaw and allowed Judas' betrayal. In April 2006, a Coptic papyrus manuscript titled the Gospel of Judas (see above section) dating back to 200 AD, was translated into modern language, to add weight to the possibility that according to early Christian writings, Jesus may have asked Judas to betray him. While this seems quite at odds with the Gospel of John, where Judas is portrayed as an arch villain, the Gospel of Mark is much more ambiguous and could be considered to be fairly consistent with the stance of the Gospel of Judas on this question.
"The ascetic, for the greater glory of God, degrades and mortifies the flesh; Judas did the same with the spirit. He renounced honor, good, peace, the Kingdom of Heaven, as others, less heroically, renounced pleasure."
The damnation of Judas is not a universal conclusion. The Roman Catholic Church only proclaims individuals' Eternal Salvation through the Canon of Saints. There is no 'Canon of the Damned', nor any official proclamation of the damnation of Judas.
However, some scholars have embraced the alternative notion that Judas was merely the negotiator in a prearranged prisoner exchange (following the money-changer riot in the Temple) that gave Jesus to the Roman authorities by mutual agreement, and that Judas' later portrayal as "traitor" was a historical distortion.
In his book The Passover Plot the British theologian Hugh J. Schonfield argued that the crucifixion of Christ was a conscious re-enactment of Biblical prophecy and Judas acted with Jesus' full knowledge and consent in "betraying" his master to the authorities.
A similar interpretation became well known to the general population through Martin Scorsese's controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Kazantzakis' original concept was that Judas Iscariot's only motivation in betraying Jesus to the Romans was to help him, as Jesus' closest friend, through doing what no other disciple could bring himself to do. This portrayal shows Judas obeying Jesus' covert request to help him fulfill his destiny to die on the cross, thus making Judas the catalyst for the event later interpreted as bringing about humanity's salvation. This view of Judas Iscariot is reflected in the recently discovered and translated mid-second century text, the Gospel of Judas.
The book The Sins of the Scripture, by John Shelby Spong, investigates the possibility that early Christians copied the Judas story from three Old Testament Jewish betrayal stories. He writes, "...the act of betrayal by a member of the twelve disciples is not found in the earliest Christian writings. Judas is first placed into the Christian story by Gospel of Mark (3:19), who wrote in the early years of the eighth decade of the Common Era". He points out that some of Gospels, after the Crucifixion, refer to the number of Disciples as "Twelve", as if Judas were still among them. He compares the three conflicting descriptions of Judas's death - hanging, leaping into a pit, and disemboweling, with three Old Testament betrayals followed by similar suicides.
Spong's conclusion is that early Bible authors, after the First Jewish-Roman War, sought to distance themselves from Rome's enemies. They augmented the Gospels with a story of a disciple, personified in Judas as the Jewish state, who either betrayed or handed-over Jesus to his Roman crucifiers. Spong identifies this augmentation with the origin of modern Anti-Semitism.
Theologian Aaron Saari contends in his work The Many Deaths of Judas Iscariot that Judas Iscariot was the literary invention of the Markan community. As Judas does not appear in the Epistles of Paul, nor in the Q Gospel, Saari argues that the evident anti-Twelve language indicates a split between Pauline Christians, who saw no reason for the establishment of an organized Church, given the imminence of the Parousia, and the followers of Peter. Peter leaves the Gospel of Mark--the first gospel in which Judas appears--in absolute disgrace, no longer the "Rock," but rather as Simon. Saari contends that the denigration of Judas in Matthew and Luke-Acts has a direct correlation to the elevation of Peter in these texts (see, for example, the bestowing of the keys to the kingdom upon Peter, which is special-M material). Saari argues (much as Elaine Pagels does in her work Beyond Belief) that early Christian gospels record the conflicts of communities over Christological and theological concerns. Highly provocative, Saari's theory challenges conventional notions concerning Judas Iscariot.
In Greek, the earliest extant language of the Gospels, the words Judas — Jewry — Jews run like this: Ιούδας (Ioudas) — Ιουδαία (Ioudaia) — Ιουδαίοι (Ioudaioi). In Latin, the language of the Vulgate Bible, they run Judas — Judaea — Judaei. Whatever the original intentions of the original writers or editors of the Gospel of John, however, there is little doubt that the similarity between the name "Judas" and the words for "Jew" in various European languages has helped facilitate anti-Semitism. In German the same words run Judas — Judäa — Juden; in Spanish Judas — Judea — judíos; French Judas — Judée — juifs, and Swedish Judas - Judéen - judar. He has also been seen as parallel to Judah, son of Jacob, by such writers as Charles Fillmore and John Shelby Spong.
Judas has become the archetype of the betrayer in Western culture, with some role in virtually all literature telling the Passion story. In Dante's Inferno, he is condemned to the lowest circle of Hell, where he is one of three sinners deemed evil enough that they are doomed to be chewed for eternity in the mouths of the triple-headed Satan. (The others are Brutus and Cassius, who conspired against and assassinated Julius Caesar.)