Judas — fact or fiction?

We’ll get back to Luke/Acts eventually. Last week we talked about how the Jewish/Roman war influenced the writing of all the Gospels. We also noted that Mark penned his book in the middle of the conflict … between the fall of Jerusalem and the final battle at Masada (approx 70-72 CE). And we left with two questions related to one of the main characters in Mark: 

  1. What does the name Judas mean? Or to be more complete, what does the name Judas Iscariot mean?
  2. Why is that significant?
  • How many Judas’s are there in the New Testament? Several. Obviously Judas Iscariot. Jesus had a brother named Judas. One of the other disciples was also named Judas. And there was a book in the New Testament written under the name Jude (or Judas), which apparently is not related to any of the other Judas’s. 
  • What about Iscariot? The most mundane explanation for Iscariot is that it might refer to a village named Kerioth where Judas could have come from. Or maybe not. Let’s go with conspiracy theory here. In Jesus’ day, one of the most aggressive of the Jewish rebel groups was called the “Sicarii”, which means “political assassins.” Notice the similarity to Iscariot? Hmmm. Many scholars believe the two are connected.
  • Applying this symbolism to Mark. Bishop Shelby Spong believes that Mark invented the character of Judas Iscariot as a literary tool, not as an actual historical figure. Here’s the logic. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians wanted to make sure the Romans knew they (the Christians) were not part of the rebel Jews. One of the ways to do that was to create a story about how your leader (i.e. Jesus) was betrayed by a rebel Jew. This would demonstrate that both you and the Romans had a common enemy — i.e. the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Plus, to complete the definitions from above, Judas is the Greek spelling of Judah, the traditional name of the Jewish nation.

So file this away in the mental archives. This seems a little circumstantial, and many scholars take the opposite viewpoint that Judas was indeed a real person. But it might give you something to think about next Easter when you hear all about Judas betraying Jesus.

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