I do not believe in Santa Claus. I have serious concerns about existence of the tooth fairy. I am able to add to this list one other individual. I do not believe Judas (as depicted in the Gospels) is a real person. Long before the Gospel of Judas emerged as a complete document around 2006, I thought the Judas of history to be part and parcel of God’s divine plan of salvation. If Jesus had to die and someone was to betray him, then Judas played a role in the drama like anyone else. Judas was not a bad guy. If anything, I believed him to be doing what had to be done, most likely at the personal direction of Jesus. If you really hold to a prophetic understanding of Jesus’ ministry and death (and the idea Jesus knew someone would betray him), how can Judas’ actions be shocking? Instead, they are a foregone conclusion that those who ascribe omniscience to Jesus must readily admit Jesus saw coming. How can Judas’ betrayal be seen as anything other than one step along the road to Jerusalem, planned an orchestrated by Jesus from Palm Sunday onward? This is the understanding I held for many years and is essentially the same idea reflected in the mid-2nd century text known as the Gospel of Judas. In this work, Judas is not the stock caricature of evil we have always assumed or the gospels have portrayed him to be.
So why Judas? Jesus was going to die at this Passover. Anyone could have arrested him at any time after the events of this tumultuous week. There was no need for an inside man. Jesus had been in and out of the temple all week long. Judas’ act of betrayal was physically and spiritually irrelevant. If Jesus was going to die, why blame his arrest on any one person in particular? If Jesus’ death is inevitable, why would we blame the one man who initiates the actions that culminate in God’s divine plan? Jesus would be arrested and history would unfold.
However, someone had to be blamed. Jesus was an innocent man and despite the early church’s readings of Hebrew prophecy; plan or no plan, someone was going to be the fall guy. Since there wasn’t a real Judas (as we understand him), one was going to be created. This is what occurred.
Paul, the earliest Christian writer (who’s putting pen to papyrus around 50 CE) says nothing about Jesus’ betrayal or anyone named Judas. In retelling the story of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection, he never mentions Judas or Jesus’ betrayal by his closest disciples. Instead Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11 that Jesus is handed over. Jesus is arrested. This we know. It didn’t take a betrayer to do this. They knew where he was staying outside the city. It was no secret. Someone in authority gave the order to find him. Doesn’t it seem odd that Paul would leave out an important fact like Judas, something that has grown to define our idea of the Passion Stories?
In 1st Corinthians 15:1-6, Paul continues to pass along the earliest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection (within 20 years of Jesus death) to the church in Corinth. Paul writes, “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 Peter (Cephas) then to the 12.” How many people did Jesus appear to after the resurrection? Peter and the 12. That would mean Judas (if there were a historical betrayer) was still with the group immediately following Jesus’ death. (Note, Paul doesn’t use any names.) Wouldn’t Judas’ have already been persona non grata by this time? Had Judas truly betrayed Jesus in the garden and received his 30 pieces of silver (and the disciples gone in hiding) Judas would be long gone. Shouldn’t they have already been down to 11? If we accept the traditional chronology and Paul’s veracity, Judas was present when Easter occurred. This is what the earliest Christian communities believed and Paul was teaching. This couldn’t be more different than the distortions which appear in the gospels that became the Judas myths we perpetrate each Easter. Paul was not aware of traditions developing in the early church of Judas as a traitor.
New traditions were changing history to fit specific theological agendas as Christianity moved away from Judaism and became a faith of Gentiles. That’s how this new tradition chose such a common name for its evil story. Judas, stands in for the entire Jewish nation, whom Matthew’s gospel held accountable for the execution of Jesus. Judas is the Greek spelling of the word “Judah”; Judas is Judah, Judah is Judaism. In creating a villain named Judah (Judas), we are seeing the roots of anti-Semitism, as the divide between Christianity and Judaism grew in the 2nd and 3rd century CE. The versions of Judas’ story in the gospels became well adapted lies to fit a version of reality which never occurred. Yet, as decades passed from the original events, no one was alive to question their authenticity.