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About Judas: His name; did he betray Jesus?

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Judas Iscariot's first name:

Yeshua of Nazareth became called Jesus Christ, because Jesus is the Greek spelling for Yeshua, and "Messiah" is the Greek translation of "anointed one." So too, Judas was not the real name of the disciple who "betrayed" Yeshua. His actual Hebrew name is Judah, which means "praised." It is Judas in Greek. James Robinson writes "Judah is about as popular a name as one can find in all of Judaism. Indeed, Judaism itself is named after Judah! Judah is, after all, the origin of the word Jew." 1

Judah is also the name of one of the original twelve tribes of Israel. When the kingdom was divided under Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, the southern kingdom was called Judah. Under the Roman occupation, it was named Judaea. Judea remains the name used by Israel today to refer to the occupied West Bank and other areas.

Judah /Judas was a very popular name in first century CE Judea. There are six individuals mentioned in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) with this name. One was a brother of Jesus. The Epistle of Jude was actually written by man who claims to be Judas, the brother of James. This presumably makes him the brother of Jesus mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures.

In an attempt to differentiate between the Judah who "betrayed" Jesus and the Judah who was a brother of Jesus, the translators of the King James Version of the Bible arbitrarily changed his name, and the name of his epistle, to Jude. Most other translations have followed suit, apparently feeling that tradition is more important than accuracy. Of the 30 translations of the New Testament in our group's library, all but two -- The Authentic New Testament by Hugh J. Schonfield and the James Moffatt Translation -- refer to Jude and the Epistle of Jude. The former contains "Open letter to Gentile communities -- Judas" The latter contains "The Epistle of Judas (Jude)." 1

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The meaning of "Iscariot:"

There are many theories but no consensus on the meaning of Judas' last name. It may mean:

bullet "From Karioth" -- a town in southern Judea, a.k.a. Kerioth.
bullet "From Jerusalem"
bullet "Of the Sicarii." The Sicarrii is a name for Zealot terrorists and assassins. 3
bullet "The false one" from the Aramaic ishqaraya.
bullet "The deliverer" from the Hebrew word sakar. 4
bullet etc.

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How has the Christian Church treated Judas?

The Christian Church has been inconsistent in its treatment of individuals from the Christian Scriptures (New Testament):

bullet Mary Magdelene whom Jesus particularly loved and who had the honor of being the first person to visit the tomb where Jesus had been laid (according to the Gospel of John). or was among the first group to visit the tomb (according to the synoptic gospels), has been systematically denigrated as a prostitute.
bullet In various passages of the Christian Scriptures, Jesus is recorded as rejecting his mother and family, referring to Peter as Satan, criticizing his disciples for their lack of understanding of his message, censuring them for sleeping while he prayed, etc. Yet, the Christian church has raised all of them to the level of saints. Mary, Jesus' mother, is held in particular esteem by the Roman Catholic Church and some other denominations where she referred to as co-redemptrix, mediatrix and advocate second only to God in status.
bullet The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has even rehabilitated Pontius Pilate by declaring him a saint, even though he was a Pagan who was responsible for sentencing Jesus to death, for the crucifixion and the massacre of many Jews. 2
bullet Numerous passages in the four canonic gospels describe Judas Iscariot as a betrayer, traitor, devil, thief, and transgressor. According to the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Jesus said "woe to that man" who betrayed him. He also said that it would be better if Judas had never been born. However, Judas has never been rehabilitated by the Church. He remains a pariah, despised by Christians.

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Was Judas a betrayer?

Did Judas truly betray Jesus? There are a number of theories:

bullet Jesus was unable to foresee Judas' actions. This theory is inconsistent with a number of passages in the Christian Scriptures which specifically state that Jesus was aware of Judas' betrayal from the time that Judas became a disciple. It is also inconsistent with most Christian groups' concept of the Trinity and of the omniscience of God.
bullet Jesus knew of Judas' actions in months in advance but was unable to prevent it. This also conflicts with the idea of the omniscience and omnipotence of Jesus.
bullet Jesus knew of Judas' intent to betray him, but chose to allow him to continue because it would allow the God's plan to come to fruition.
bullet Judas and Jesus worked together to make certain that Jesus would be crucified, in order to facilitate God's design for humanity. This is the belief of many Gnostic groups and is the theme of the Gospel of Judas. This conflicts with Jesus' threats of Judas' future punishment found throughout the gospels.
bullet Author William Klassen suggests that Judas did not betray Jesus at all. 5 He suggests that the word "betrayal" found throughout English versions of the Bible is a mistranslation of the Greek word "paradidomi." An accurate translation would be "handed over." Klassen suggests that Judas was only planning to give Jesus over to the Jewish authorities so that they could evaluate his claims. This theory cannot account for the word translated as "traitor" in Luke 6:16. The "traitor" could have been a mistake by the author of Luke, or a copyist's error.
bullet Another possibility is that the story of Judas' "betrayal" and Jesus' subsequent arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial(s), his appearance before Pontius Pilate etc. might be a work of fiction.

All of the canonic gospels have a description of an aggravated assault by Jesus on commercial interests in the Jerusalem temple. This appears in the Gospel of John at the start of Jesus' ministry, and in the synoptic gospels near the end. It is extremely unlikely that Jesus could have assaulted so many people without having been quickly arrested by either the temple guards or the Roman garrison. An individual who did this near the time of Passover in Judea during the first century CE -- when nationalistic feelings were high among the population -- could be expected to be arrested by the Roman army, given a hearing before a junior officer, and promptly sent to Golgotha for execution. If this is what really happened, then there would have been no betrayal by Judas; there might even have been no Judas at all among Jesus' disciples.

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The punishment of Judas:

There are some serious philosophical and theological concerns regarding Jesus' threats that Judas would be punished for his actions:

bullet If Jesus knew of Judas' deception in advance then Judas has no free will and cannot prevent the betrayal from happening. Thus he is not morally responsible for his actions. This would be particularly applicable if Judas was possessed by a demon, as stated in some of the canonical Gospels.
bullet If, as most Christian denominations teach, the death of an innocent man-god, Jesus, was necessary for the salvation of some humans, then Judas would be punished for playing a necessary role in the salvation of humanity. That seems profoundly unjust.
bullet Jesus only suffered for a few hours while he hung on the cross. If Judas is sent to Hell for his deception, then he will suffer punishment for all eternity. Thus, Judas had already suffered much more than Jesus had by the end of the day of his suicide.
bullet Luke 23:34 records Jesus' last words as: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." A case can be made that this granting of amnesty extended to all involved in his execution, including the Roman executioners, Pontius Pilate, and Judas. 3

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References used:

  1. James M. Robinson, "The secrets of Judas: The story of the misunderstood disciple and his lost Gospel," HarperSanFrancisco, (2006), Pages 33-35. Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store.
  2. "Of Black Madonnas and Eunuchs: Ethiopia extends its hands to God," Ukrainian Orthodoxy, at:
  3. Op cit., Robinson, Pages 35 & 36.
  4. "Judas Iscariot,", at:
  5. William Klassen, "Judas: Betrayer or friend of Jesus," Fortress Press, (1996). This is believed to be out of print. Used copies may be available from online book store

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Copyright 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First published: 2006-APR-08
Most recent update: 2006-APR-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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