The story of Judas Iscariot in the gospels provides the reader with a fascinating picture of how the plot and details of the narratives were gleaned from the OT and embellished in different ways. The evangelists and the tradents that preceded them looked to the OT (and other affiliated literature) for information on what happened to Jesus, employing a haggadaic method of biblical interpretation similar to how rabbis and authors of pseudepigraphs in the Second Temple era expanded the brief stories of the patriarchs in Genesis with reams of new detail and legendary episodes -- through the means of exegesis aimed to penetrate beyond a plain reading of the text to "fill in the blanks" of what must have happened. The authors of the gospels also scoured through the OT to discover what was supposed to happen to Jesus and wrote their stories accordingly. Thus, time and again, we find that language used in these narratives borrows phrases and motifs verbatim from older OT stories. And since multiple authors often told the same story through the use of different OT texts, the differences between the differing versions of the same story can be traced back to the underlying source materials.
This post will focus especially on the death of Judas Iscariot, but first we must examine how narratives of the betrayal and arrest were composed and how the character of "Judas" was based on a number of models from the OT.
I. THE BETRAYAL PLOT WITHOUT JUDAS
It has often been noted that the passion narrative in the four gospels follows the typical court conflict plot found in folktales throughout the ANE. The plot usually progresses in this manner: (1) The hero enjoys honor and success, (2) The hero is put into danger, often because of a conspiracy by jealous rivals, (3) The hero is sentenced to either death or prison, (4) The hero is unexpectedly saved from harm, often in a supernatural way, and (5) The hero's honor and privilege is restored or even enhanced, while his rivals are punished often with death. In the case of the passion narrative found in the four gospels, (1) Jesus enjoyed much success in his ministry, (2) A conspiracy is established between the religious authorities jealous or angered by Jesus and one of his confidants (Judas), who hands Jesus over to them, (3) Jesus is sentenced with death and is in fact put to death, (4) Jesus is then miraculously raised from the dead and delivered from his fate, (5) He is raised to the right hand of God with higher status than he had before, while Judas himself takes his own life.
There are many narratives from the ANE that follow this plot. Ludlul Bel Nemeqi, a story dating to the twelfth century BC, concerns a courtier in the court of Kassite king Nazimaruttash (1307-1282 BC) named Shubshi-meshre-Shakkan who was quite successful until his personal gods began to abandon him and the other members of the court developed a grudge against him and began to plot to have him removed. Shubshi-meshre-Shakkan then experienced a series of woes that rival those of the biblical Job, as his rivals slander him with lies, and he comes near death until Marduk comes to rescue him and vindicates his good name and punishes the conspirators. Another especially influential story is the Old Aramaic tale of Ahiqar, written in the mid-sixth century BC, i.e. during the Babylonian exile. It relates the experience of the Aramaean sage Ahiqar who was a scribe for the Assyrian kings Sennacherib (705-681 BC) and Esarhaddon (681-669 BC). The oldest version of the story (dating to the fifth century BC) is polytheistic and thus not Jewish per se, tho it was known to the fourth-century BC author of Tobit (cf. Tobit 1:21-22, 2:10, 11:18, 14:10) who used it in telling the backstory of an Israelite named Ahiqar. In this tale, the scribe's nephew Nadin plotted to remove his uncle from his position and falsely accused him of treachery. The enraged king then sentenced Ahiqar to death but the executioner has pity on the scribe and executes a slave in his place, and the truth is discovered in the end and Nadin then dies a gruesome death.
The court conflict genre appears many times throughout the OT, and usually involves someone in the court of a king or official. The Joseph novella in Genesis 37-50 contains two such stories. Joseph was a favored son of Jacob (37:1-4) but his brothers became jealous of him and they conspired to sell him off to slavery making him as good as dead (37:5-11). They then execute their conspiracy and Joseph is condemned to his ignoble fate (37:12-20). But he is then delivered from his status as a slave and is accorded great power and honor (37:21-36, ch. 42-50), while his brothers must become subject to him. A second conflict tale is embedded within this longer narrative. Joseph has found success as a priest's personal attendant and he was put "in charge of his household and all his possessions" (39:1-6). But the priest's wife tried to seduce him and when she is spurned, she conspires to tear down Joseph's status and falsely accuses him of rape (39:6-18). As a result, Joseph is condemned to jail with an uncertain future (39:19-23). But thanks to God's blessing he is delivered from this fate (39:19-40:23) and is restored to honor with even greater status (41:1-57).
Another example is the story of the conspiracy against King David in 2 Samuel 14-17. David was the acknowledged king of Israel but his son Absalom launches a war against him aimed at removing him from the throne (ch. 14-15). To accomplish this, Absalom conspires with one of David's most trusted counselors, Ahithophel, to launch a surprise coup-de-tat (15:10-12). David's strength is then turned to utter weakness as he flees while Absalom is proclaimed as king (15:13-23) and Ahithophel pursues him seeking his assassination (ch. 16). But David has victory in the end, Ahithophel commits suicide (17:23) and Absalom dies a terrible accidental death (18:9-10). A third example is found in the Suffering Servant parable in Deutero-Isaiah (ch. 52-53), the figure of the Servant being a metaphor of the faithful Jews who suffered during the Exile. He first "grew like a sapling" (53:1), but then was "rejected by men" and despised by many (v. 2-3) and subjected to torture and sufferings (v. 4-5) after being taken away for sentencing despite being innocent (v. 9). Then he was "struck down in death" and buried (v. 8-12). But then at last, he "shall be lifted up, exalted, and rise to great heights" (52:13-15). A fourth example, or rather pair of examples, can be found in Daniel. In ch. 3, the Three Young Men are the prosperous administrators for King Nebuchadnezzar (cf. 2:49, 3:12), but "certain Chaldeans came forward to lay information against the Jews" (v. 8), and the youths are sentenced to death in the fiery furnace (3:12-23). But they are divinely delivered from death (v. 24-25), and restored to power (v. 30). In ch. 6, Daniel was the trusted advisor for King Darius the Mede, who was so successful that the king considered putting him over the affairs of the entire kingdom (6:5). The other advisors were overcome with jealousy and conspired to entrap Daniel with a regulation that would force his downfall (6:6-10). Thus ensnared, Daniel was sentenced to death in the lion's pit (v. 11-19). But an angel came down to deliver Daniel from death (v. 23-24), and the advisor was released from the pit. The men who accused him were thrown to the deaths into the pit (v. 25) while Daniel himself prospered the rest of his days (v. 29). A fifth example of court conflict is found in Esther, written around the third century BC, which concerns a Jewish administrator in the court of King Xerxes I named Mordecai who had a cousin exalted as queen (2:19). But both then become threatened by a court official named Haman who became outraged that Mordecai would not bow to him (3:1-9) and thus planned a pogrom against the Jewish people (3:10-15). But in the end, Haman himself was hanged and the Jews became honored throughout the land (4:1-8:14, 8:15-10:3). Many other examples exist in Jewish literature: the story of Susanna in the Greek versions of Daniel, the trials of Tobit in Tobit 1:18-22, the persecution narrative in 3 Maccabees 1-7, the Tale of Bagasraw in the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q550), and even the conflict between the "virtuous man" and the "godless" in Wisdom 2-5. All these stories follow the same stereotypical plot.
It is therefore not surprising in the slightest that the NT passion narrative would make use of such a time-honored (if not cliched) plot. It is unclear whether such a plot was known to our earliest source, Paul. Since he is alluding to already "received" and known traditions, he only mentions that Jesus instituted the Eucharist "on the same night that he was betrayed/handed over (paredideto)" (1 Corinthians 11:24). This is the same word that occurs throughout the gospels to refer to the "betrayal" of Jesus and specifically occurs with reference to Judas Iscariot (cf. Mark 3:19, 14:18, 21, 42, 44; Matthew 26:14-16, 21, 23-25, 46, 48), who is sometimes dubbed as ho paradous auton "the one betraying him" (Mark 3:19; Matthew 26:25, 27:3). But though paradidomi can have a connotation of "betrayal" (i.e. handing someone over to another who intends to harm him), it often does not (such as in Matthew 11:27, "All things have been given over to me by my Father") and it usually indicates only the transfer of one thing to another person's possession. So Paul's use of the term does not necessarily imply a betrayal plot. In fact, the term is used elsewhere in the gospels to refer to other people handing Jesus over. Mark 10:33 states that "the chief priests and scribes will condemn him to death and hand him over (paradósousin auton) to the Gentiles" and similarly 15:1 claims that they "bound Jesus and led him off and handed him over (paredókan auton) to Pilate the governor". So Paul's use of the term could have well assumed a scenario in which the Jewish authorities, angered by Jesus' teaching and statements about being "Lord" or "King", captured him and delivered him up to the Gentile authorities (tho cf. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8, which has a more cosmic view of the rulers who "crucified" Jesus).
These texts in Mark in fact suggest that the earlier tradition was that Jesus was "betrayed", or "handed over" by the religious authorities to be tried and convicted by Pilate and/or King Herod (as both figures appear in the passion narratives). First of all, there is a clear OT basis for the statement in Mark 15:1, which construed the recipient of the "handing over" as governmental authorities (in this case, the Assyrians who receive cultic items from the Israelites):
Hosea 10:6 LXX: "And having bound (désantes) it [the calf of the House of On] for the Assyrians, they carried it away (apénegkan) as gifts to king (basilei) Jarim".
Mark 15:1: "They bound (désantes) Jesus and led him away (apégagon) and handed him over (paredókan auton) to Pilate the governor (hégemoni)".
A similar passage in Hosea referring to the handing over of the people themselves to the Assyrians uses paradidomi, the key word in our discussion, and closely parallels Mark 10:33:
Hosea 8:10-11 LXX: "They have gone up to the Assyrians, Ephraim has been strengthened against himself, and they loved gifts. Therefore they shall be handed over to the Gentiles (paradothésontai en tois ethnesi)".
Mark 10:33: "The chief priests and scribes will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles (paradosousin auton tois ethnesin)".
The similarity of wording is not just a coincidence. That it shaped early Christian statements about the "handing over" of Jesus can be seen in the explicit quotation of Hosea 10:6 LXX in Justin Martyr (Dialogue of Trypho, 103) and Irenaeus (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 74-77). In both cases, this text is quoted as evidence that Jesus was sent bound to King Herod (via Luke 23:7-12, a story added to the older Markan narrative) as a "gift". The use of paradidomi in Mark 10:33 also clearly alludes to Hosea 8:10-11 LXX. So the exegetical tradition that shaped the use of paradidomi here is rooted in texts that refer to the transferral of Jewish people or Jewish items to Gentile authorities. In the Jesus story, this corresponds to the handing over of Jesus to Pilate (and secondarily to King Herod). In the case of Judas however, he is presented as handing Jesus over to Jewish leaders -- not to the Gentiles.
The court conflict plot delineated above still works with the Jewish authorities as the conspirators -- in fact it works even better. There is a classic problem with the Judas betrayal story that has bedeviled interpreters for centuries. Why did the priests and Pharisees have to resort to hiring an "inside man" to bring Jesus to them and even to identify him to them when, as Jesus himself points out, "I was within your reach day after day as I taught in the temple" (Mark 14:49). Judas' role is extraneous since it was always within the power of the religious authorities to seize Jesus publically (as Jesus himself states). Judas also does not "fulfill" the scriptures in Hosea. What is more, all throughout Mark we hear of the plotting of the Pharisees, scribes, Herodians, etc., "discussing how to destroy him" or "looking for a way to arrest Jesus by some trick and have him put to death" (3:6, 11:18, 14:1-2, 55). This is exactly how the conspirators behave in the court conflict tales. Compare Daniel 6:5: "The governors and satraps started hunting for some matter by which they could discredit Daniel, but they could find nothing to his discredit". In other words, if it weren't for Judas the whole narrative leads us to expect that the religious leaders would play the role of the "jealous" plotters, who would betray a fellow Jew to the Gentile rulers to be killed. In other words, the conspiracy would have been between the Jewish leaders and the Gentile leaders, not between the former and a Judas Iscariot.
This too corresponds to a key messianic text that was very influential: Psalm 2:1-2 LXX, which asks: "Why did the Gentiles (ethné) rage, and the peoples (laoi) imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers (arkhontes) gathered themselves together against the Lord, and against his Christ (khristou)?" This text is explicitly quoted in Acts 4:24-28 and applied to Jesus' passion, with the "Gentiles and peoples" representing the Gentiles and "the peoples (laois) of Israel" (Acts 4:27c), and the "kings and rulers" representing "both Herod and Pontius Pilate" (Acts 4:27b), conspiring "against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed". The use of arkhontes throughout Acts to refer to the Jewish religious authorities also shows that they are in view here (cf. Acts 4:1, 5-8, 14:5, 16:19). Such a tradition of a conspiracy is echoed in other early writings. Justin Martyr, for instance, wrote:
"And we have thought it right and relevant to mention some other prophetic utterances of David [i.e. Psalm 2:1-2] besides these, from which you may learn how the Spirit of prophecy exhorts men to live, and how he foretold the conspiracy which was formed against Christ by Herod the king of the Jews, and the Jews themselves, and Pilate, who was your governor among them with his soldiers" (1 Apology 40:5-7).
At this point, Justin goes on to cite Psalm 2:1-2. Irenaeus, on the other hand, presents the conspiracy as principally between Herod and Pilate:
"And again David says thus concerning the sufferings of Christ: 'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people imagine vain things? Kings rose up on the earth, and princes were gathered together, against the Lord and his Christ'. For Herod the king of the Jews and Pontius Pilate, the governor of Claudius Caesar, came together and condemned Him to be crucified. For Herod feared, as though He were to be an earthly king, lest he should be expelled by Him from the kingdom. But Pilate was constrained by Herod and the Jews that were with him against his will to deliver Him to death, for they threatened him if he should not rather do this than act contrary to Caesar, by letting go a man who was called a king" (Proof, 74).
Unlike Justin, Irenaeus shows influence from the canonical passion narrative which attempts to portray Pilate as innocent of a nefarious conspiracy to kill Jesus. Paul's arkhontón tou aiónos "rulers of this age" in 1 Corinthians 1:7-8 may also reflect the use of arkhontas in Psalm 2:1-2. One early text that also has a more cosmic perspective that describes the handing over (paradidomi) of Jesus to a ruler by the "children of Israel" can be found in the Ascension of Isaiah (early second century AD):
"And after this the adversary envied him and roused the children of Israel, who did not know who he was (compare 1 Corinthians 2:8), against him. And they handed him over to the ruler, and crucified him, and he descended to the angel who is in Sheol. In Jerusalem, indeed, I saw how they crucified him on a tree, and likewise how after the third day he rose and remained for many days" (Ascension of Isaiah 11:19-21)
Here the jealous party is Satan, a cosmic adversary, who conspires with the "children of Israel" who hand Jesus over to a "ruler"...is the "ruler" meant to refer to Satan or a human ruler (e.g. Pilate or Herod)? The text is not clear. Note that in Mark 15:10, Pontius Pilate "realizes that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over [to him]", a handing over by human Jewish authorities to a human Gentile authority (in accord with Hosea 8:10-11).
In short, Paul's use of paradidomi in 1 Corinthians 11:24 does not require a figure of Judas Iscariot and in fact in 15:5 Paul claims that Christ "appeared to the Twelve," seemingly ignorant of the gospel references to the "Eleven" and the death of Judas prior to the resurrection. There is much evidence in Mark, in the OT texts that underlie the use of the term (Hosea 8:10-11, 10:6 and Psalm 2:1-2), and in other early extracanonical texts, that the conspiracy plot was between Jewish religious authories in general and the Gentile authorities, or between Herod and the Gentile authorities, or even between Satan and the "children of Israel" who handed Jesus over to a "ruler". The figure of Judas intrudes on this plot in several ways. The "handing over" of Jesus was originally conceived (on the basis of Hosea 8:10-11) as having the Gentiles as the designated recipient, yet Judas does not hand him over to Gentiles but to the religious authorities who then hand him over to the Gentiles (only the latter "fulfilling" Hosea). The plot is also complicated by a contrivance ... Jesus was available for the scribes and priests to arrest him "day by day in the Temple" (as Jesus himself says in Mark 14:49) so Judas was not needed to arrange a surprise "handing over", and neither was Judas really needed to identify Jesus as he proceeds to do in Mark 14:44. Since Paul states that Jesus was "handed over" on the night of the Eucharist institution, there must have been an early tradition that related the two in some way (e.g. Herodians seizing Jesus as the disciples departed from observing the Last Supper, cf. Acts 12:1-4 regarding Herod's arrest of Peter; this chapter closely parallels the passion-resurrection narratives). Yet Judas does play an integral role in the canonical passion narrative in Mark and the other gospels dependent on it. There are at least two main reasons for this. The first is political. Mark clearly has a Gentile -- if not specifically Roman -- audience (see the Latinisms in 4:27, 5:9, 15, 6:37, 12:42, 15:16, 39, 44-45, the named Roman character in 15:21, and the careful explanations of Jewish customs and concepts in 3:17, 5:41, 7:3-4, 11, 34, 10:46, 15:42) and the gospel was generally thought to date after the events of AD 70. The notion of a conspiracy between Pilate and the Jewish authorities (whether Herod and the Herodians or the religious authorities) to execute an innocent man (as expected by Psalm 2:1-2 and in its early interpretations starting with Acts) would have then been toned down and the Markan narrative goes to extraordinary lengths to absolve Pilate of all guilt and portray him as a good man convinced of Jesus' innocence but who permits the execution to quell a possible riot (15:1-15). A member of the inner circle of Jesus would then be recruited by the author of Mark to carry out the unseemly conspiracy, allowing Pilate to be an innocent party to the conspiracy (in contrast to Psalm 1:1-2). By maintaining a secondary handing over of Jesus to Pilate, the author is also able to still fulfill the texts in Psalm 2 and Hosea.
But there was also a second reason why Judas exists in the narrative. The reason is actually supplied explicitly by the author. Jesus comments directly on the logical problem posed by the subplot involving Judas: "I was among you teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me" (Mark 14:49). But Jesus then gives the real reason: "This is instead to fulfill the scriptures". That is to say, the author has complicated his narrative with an admittedly contrived subplot in order to make other OT passages (specifically, other OT stories in the court conflict genre) apply to Jesus. Naturally, then, the story of Judas was constructed from material found in these other stories. In the next section, we'll take a closer look at how the character of Judas was based on an array of other OT passages.
II. THE OT ORIGINS OF JUDAS AND HIS BETRAYAL PLOT
As was the custom at the time, the author of Mark tried to discover the real story of how Jesus was "betrayed" by reading the OT and making deductions based on the assumption that these OT texts have antitypical fulfillment in Jesus. This is not too much unlike how the Society today uses OT stories like Noah's Flood or the Exodus to infer how Armageddon will occur, or how the rabbis developed haggadaic legends through biblical interpretation. As mentioned in the last section, one of the most important texts read messianically was Psalm 2. Thus Psalm 2:1-2 was explicitly applied to Jesus in Acts 4:25-28 and Revelation 19:19, Psalm 2:7 was explicitly applied to Jesus in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5, 5:5, and Psalm 2:9 was applied to Jesus in Revelation 2:26-27, 12:5, 19:15. Without question this psalm was highly influential in how early Christians construed Jesus as the Christ.
Yet this psalm was traditionally attributed to King David, as can be seen in Acts 4:25 which refers to "the Holy Spirit speaking through our ancestor David" before quoting the psalm itself. Two other Davidic psalms are applied directly to Jesus in Acts 2 (v. 25-28 = Psalm 16; v. 34 = Psalm 110). In the case of Mark, Jesus is repeatedly described in Davidic terms. He is acknowledged as the "son of David" in Mark 10:47-48 and 12:35, Jesus explains his behavior in Mark 2:25-26 on the basis of what David did in 1 Samuel 21:2-7, Psalm 110:1 is applied to Jesus in Mark 13:36 as something "David himself said moved by the Holy Spirit", and Jesus is even proclaimed as the arriving king in Mark 11:9 as the king of "the coming kingdom of our father David". And while Psalm 2 was widely interpreted by both Jews and Christians as having a messianic horizon, it was also acknowleged as a psalm about David's own installation as king of Israel. This is especially due to the fact that there is an intertextual link between Psalm 2 and Nathan's prophecy about David's legacy in 2 Samuel:
2 Samuel 7:13-14: "I will be a father to him and he a son to me; if he does evil I will punish him with the rod such as men use, with strokes such as mankind gives. Yet I will not withdraw my favor from him".
Psalm 2:7-9: "Let me proclaim Yahweh's decree; he has told me, 'You are my son, today I have become your father. As and I will give you the nations for your heritage, the ends of the earth for your domain. With an iron rod you will break them, shatter them like potter's ware".
Note that in Psalm 2:7 David says that this is something that Yahweh has told him about himself. Thus David is a warrior king who wields an iron scepter against his enemies. So with this in mind, who are the Gentiles and "princes plotting against Yahweh and his Anointed (= khristos in LXX)? The Gentiles that David is victorious over are clearly the Jebusites (1 Samuel 5:6-12), Philistines (5:17-25, 8:1), the Moabites (8:2), the Aramaeans (8:3-10), and the Ammonites and Edomites (8:12-13). All of these nations were given into David's hand. But the LXX text also refers to the "peoples" (laoi), a term applied to the "peoples of Israel" in Acts 4:27, and "the rulers who have gathered themselves together against the Lord and his anointed". What conspiracy was there against David? None other than the one in 2 Samuel 14-17 in which prince Absalom plots with other officials and Israelites to usurp David's kingdom.
So it is not surprising that the author of Mark used this very narrative as a model for the story of Jesus' betrayal and arrest. The author of John has also recognized the Davidic typology here and embellishes the Markan narrative with further details from 2 Samuel 14-17. In 15:13-23, David is told that Absalom has sent men to seize him and so he leaves Jerusalem at night (cf. 17:1) with a small retinue of his servants (= Mark 14:26) and they go to the Mount of Olives (15:30 = Mark 14:26). On the way, they pass through the wadi Kidron which is where Jesus and his disciples go in the Johannine version of the story (15:23 = John 18:1). At the Mount of Olives, David prays to God and weeps and this is exactly what Jesus does as well (15:30-32 = Mark 14:32-34). David is accompanied with Ittai the Gittite who refused to leave him and who, like Peter, swore an oath to never forsake him (2 Samuel 15:19-31 = Mark 14:27-31):
2 Samuel 15:21: "Wherever my lord the king may be, for death or life, there your servant will be too".
Mark 14:29-31: "Even though they all fall away [and become scattered], I will not. If I must die with you, I will not deny you".
David also tells two of his companions, Abiathar and Zadok, that he is ready to accept whatever fate God gives him and declares, "Let him do to me what seems good to him," while Jesus tells God in his prayer: "It is not what I want but what you want that matters" (2 Samuel 15:25-26 = Mark 14:36).
If 2 Samuel 14-17 was used as the basis of the narrative plot involving Jesus' flight into Gesthemane and his arrest by the Jewish authorities, then the betrayer would have to be a confidant of Jesus -- for David was betrayed by Ahithophel, his own trusted consellor (15:12). He approached Absalom just as Judas approached the chief priests and "elders" in Mark, and he suggested the following plan:
"Ahithophel said to Absalom: 'Let me choose twelve thousand men and set off this very night in pursuit of David. I shall fall on him while he is tired (kopión) and dispirited (eklelumenos ergazomenos); I shall strike terror (ekstasó) into him, and all the people who are with him (pas ho laos ho met' autou) will take flight (pheuzetai). Then I shall strike down (pataxó) the king alone and bring all the people back to you, as a bride returns to her husband. You seek the life of only one man (psukhén andros henos su zéteis), so all the people will be at peace (panti tó laó estai eirene)'. The suggestion appealed to Absalom and all the elders of Israel (presbuterón Israél)" (2 Samuel 17:1-4).
This scene is strikingly similar to the one in Mark 14. Judas Iscariot takes an armed crowd of men "with swords and clubs from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders (presbuterón)" to apprehend if not harm Jesus (v. 43). The scene is at "night" and the disciples are so tired they are falling asleep (14:37, 40-41). Jesus is "sorrowful even to death" (v. 33-34) and felt "stunned" (ekthambeisthai, compare the "terrified" of 2 Samuel) and "sorely troubled" (adémonein, compare the perilupos "deeply grieved" of 2 Samuel). Just before Judas arrives, Jesus says that he will be struck down by quoting the words of his adversary: "I shall strike down" (pataxó) the shepherd and all the sheep will be scattered (diaskorpisthésontai)" (Mark 14:27). And indeed: "They all (pantes) forsook him and fled (ephugon)" (14:50). And if these parallels were not close enough, John 11:49-50 has Caiaphas say: "It is prudent for you that one man should die for the people (heis anthrópos apothané huper tou laou), so that the whole nation (holon to ethnos) should not perish" (= 2 Samuel 17:3). This again draws on 2 Samuel further than Mark did.
The author of Mark however has noticed an intertextual link between 2 Samuel 17:2 and Zechariah 13:7 (which share much of the same vocabulary), and thus explicitly quotes the latter text in Mark 14:27. This is necessary for his plot because the men loyal to David in 2 Samuel, such as Ittai the Gittite, did not forsake their duty, so the proper scripture fortelling the desertion of the disciples lies elsewhere. But Zechariah provides more than mere confirmation that the men loyal to Jesus would desert their "shepherd". The shepherd in ch. 13 builds on the figure of the "good shepherd" in ch. 11 who contrasts with the "worthless shepherd who deserts his flock" (Zechariah 11:17), and this latter figure serves as another model for the character of Judas Iscariot. The worthless shepherd abandons his flock by selfishly selling them to slaughterers for a quick profit so that he can declare, "Now I am rich!" (11:5). The shepherd had been tasked with the responsibility of caring for the sheep, but he has sent them to the slaughter. Since Deutero-Isaiah portrays the Suffering Servant as a sheep sent to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7), and since Mark also draws on this text (cf. Mark 14:61, 15:27-28) as a type for Jesus, it is not hard to see that the "sheep" sent to slaughter in Zechariah 11 was thought to represent Jesus. Zechariah therefore provides the motive for Judas' deed -- greed. Thus Mark 14:10-11 states: "Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. And when they heard it they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him". This use of Zechariah improves the plot taken from 2 Samuel, which failed to ascribe any motive to Ahithophel. Finally, Zechariah 11:17 has the following woe for the worthless shepherd: "Alas for the worthless shepherd who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm wither entirely and may his eye be totally blinded!" Similarly, Jesus declares a terrible woe to Judas just before he betrays him: "Alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It is better for that man if he had never been born" (Mark 14:21).
The author of Matthew (who incorporates about 80% of the text of Mark into his gospel) recognized the allusions to Zechariah in Mark and thus followed its lead in developing the story of Judas further. Mark did not give any information on the amount of money Judas received, but Matthew rewrites Mark 14:10-11 in the following manner: "Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and said, 'What will you give me if I deliver him to you?' And they paid him thirty pieces of silver (triakonta arguria). And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him". This is exactly how much the worthless shepherd received for handing the sheep over to the slaughterers: "I said to them, 'If you think it right, give me my wages; if not, never mind.' And they weighed out my wages: thirty pieces of silver (trikonta argurous)" (Zechariah 11:11 LXX). Note that the author of Matthew has turned the scene into a dialogue, just as it is in Zechariah. But that is not all. Yahweh next instructs the worthless shepherd to throw the money into the Temple treasury: "But Yahweh told me, 'Throw it into the treasury, this princely sum at which they have valued me.' Taking the thirty pieces of silver (elabon tous trikonta arguros), I cast them into the temple of the Lord (enebalon autous ton oikon kuriou), into the treasury, and I threw away (aperhipsa) my staff" (Zechariah 11:12-13 LXX). Judas did exactly the same thing, out of remorse over his actions:
"When Judas, his betrayer saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver (estrepsen ta triakonta arguria) to the chief priests and the elders ... and throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple (rhipsas ta arguria eis ton naon) he departed" (Matthew 27:3, 5).
The Judas character in the gospels drew further on the figure of Ahithophel through presumed allusions to him in the Psalms. David was regarded as the author of most of the psalms, and so any references to treachery by his closest confidants could be construed as references to Ahithophel, who betrayed him in such a manner. Psalm 41:7-9 LXX is one such text. David laments: "All my enemies whispered against me and devised bad things for me....For even the man of my peace in whom I trusted, who ate my bread (esthión artous mou), has magnified himself against me with treachery". Who else could David be talking about other than Ahithophel? In fact, the rabbinical midrashism make this identification explicit. Here David's traitor is described as eating David's bread, a metaphor surely for intimacy, but this motif is literalized through Judas' presence at the Last Supper. Thus in Mark 14:18-20 Jesus identifies the betrayer as "one who is eating with me (esthión met' emou)" and "one who is dipping [bread] into the dish with me", and John 13:26 makes the connection even more intimate by having Jesus give the morsel to Judas, and v. 18 even explicitly quotes Psalm 41:9 as being fulfilled in this final meal. Another Davidic psalm that could be read as referring to Ahithophel is Psalm 55:11-12: "Were it an enemy who insulted me, I could put up with that; had a rival got the better of me, I could hide from him. But you, a man of my own number, a colleague and a friend, to whom sweet conversation bound me in the house of God".
What about the kiss Judas gives Jesus? Where did that come from? This motif alludes to not Absalom-Ahithophel story but to another episode about rebellion against David in 2 Samuel 20. In many ways, this story is a repeat of the earlier event. Sheba son of Bichri takes the role of Absalom and starts a rebellion, again inducing "all the men of Israel" to desert David and follow Sheba as king. David again tries to muster faithful men to support him, saying, "Sheba son of Bichri is more dangerous to us than Absalom ever was" (20:6). He therefore delegates this task to Amasa who goes off to summon the Judahites on David's behalf but Amasa fails to return with the men and it becomes apparent that he has become a traitor and switched loyalties to Sheba (v. 5-8). So David then sends Joab and Abishai to pursue Sheba instead, and on their way they encounter Amasa (v. 8). Joab was Amasa's brother and approached him kindly with a kiss in a similar way that Judas approached Jesus:
2 Samuel 20:9-10 LXX: "Joab said the Amasa, 'Are you okay, my brother?' And with his right hand (kheir hé dexia) he seized (ekratésan) Amasa by the beard to kiss him tenderly (kataphilésai). Amasa paid no attention to the sword (tén makhairan) Joab was holding, and Joab struck (epaisen) him with it in the belly and spilled his entrails to the ground (kai exekhuthé hé koilia autou)."
Mark 14:45-47: "He immediately went to him saying 'Rabbi!' and kissed him tenderly (kataphilésen). And they laid hands (tas kheiras) on him, and seized (ekratésan) him. But then a certain one of those who stood by drew his sword (tén makhairan) and struck (epaisen) the slave of the high priest".
The literary connection between the two passages is very clear here: (1) the same unusual intensive verb kataphileó "kiss tenderly" occurs in both, (2) at the same time the kiss occurs a hand (kheir) "seized" (ekratésan, in the same form of the verb krateó) the kissee, (3) a sword (makhairas) "strikes" (epaisen, in the same form of the verb paió) someone, and (4) bodily harm results. The arrest episode is thus built out of material from 2 Samuel 17:1-4 and 20:9-10.
There is thus just one thing left: the name Judas Iscariot. The origin of the name Judas is to be found not in the David cycle but in the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 which was another court conflict tale with parallels to the passion narrative. Here Judah comes up with the idea to sell Joseph as a slave for some pieces of silver:
"Then Judah (Iudas in LXX) said to his brothers, 'Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do any harm to him.' .... Now some Midianite merchants were passing, and they drew Joseph up out of the well. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and these men took Joseph to Egypt" (Genesis 37:26-28)
Here Judah plots to betray his brother and sell him as a slave for pieces of silver which number twenty in Genesis 37:28, whereas the price of a slave in Exodus 21:32 is mandated to be "thirty pieces of silver" (arguriou triakonta) -- exactly the amount in Zechariah 11:11. The reference to the "thirty pieces of silver" in Matthew thus alludes simultanously to Zechariah and to Genesis 37 by way of the Law in Exodus 21:32, and subtly portrays Jesus as being "sold as a slave" to the chief priests. This is made explicit in Matthew 20:27-28: "Anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave (doulos), just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life (dounai tén psukhén) as a ransom (lutron) for many". The "ransom" here is a metaphor of monetary payment which is associated with: (1) Jesus' death and (2) Jesus' status as a "slave". Both themes link back to Joseph being sold as a slave for payment and Judas' selling of Jesus to the chief priests, resulting in Jesus' death.
As for the name "Iscariot", its etymology and origin is much more obscure because it varies in form substantially between texts and manuscripts, including Iskariótés (Matthew 26:14), Iskarióth (Mark 3:19, 14:10, Luke 6:16), ho apo Karuótou "the one from Karuot" (in Codex D in John), and Skariótés and Skarióth in other manuscripts. The latter forms resemble Greek sikarios "bandit, assassin", while the forms in Codex D assume that Iscariot pertains to a place name. Thus Iscariot is commonly derived from Hebrew 'ysh-qrywt "man of Kerioth". Kerioth was a Moabite town that was the recipient of prophetic curses in Jeremiah 48:24, 41 and Amos 2:2. On the other hand, the name can reasonably reflect Aramaic 'shqry' "false one, liar, traitor". On top of all that, the tribes of Judah and Issachar are adjacent to each other (i.e. Iudas Issakhar in LXX) in Deuteronomy 27:12, and the following curse occurs a few verses later: "Cursed is the man who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person" (v. 25). It is not certain which of these possibilities are most relevant, and it is possible that the name in its various forms reflects several different etiologies.
So nearly every feature of the Judas story can be traced back to OT texts. This also includes the gruesome stories of Judas' death in early Christian tradition, which is a natural conclusion of the court conflict tale. But what is interesting is that there were at least two irreconcilable stories about Judas' death, and the differences are due to the fact that each respective story draws on a different set of OT exegetical traditions.
III. THE DEATH OF JUDAS IN EARLY CHRISTIAN TRADITION
Mark lacks a story that relates what became of Judas. It was up to later evangelists to work this out. As we saw above, Matthew added a story about Judas returning his money to the Temple priests in 27:3-5 which drew on the scene described in Zechariah 11:12. This deed was followed by a suicide by hanging:
"Throwing down the pieces of silver in the Temple, he departed. And then he went and hanged himself (kai apelthón apégxato)" (Matthew 27:5).
This fate is exactly the same as what Ahithophel underwent, with the same wording used in the OT narrative:
"He saddled his donkey, went (apélthen) to his city, gave his last instructions to his household, and hanged himself (apégxato)" (2 Samuel 17:23 LXX).
The author of Matthew then tried to explain what happened to the money. The priests realize the money is tainted and say to each other: "It is against the Law to put this into the treasury (korbanan); it is blood money" (27:6). This evokes the scene in Zechariah 11:12 in which the thirty pieces of silver were supposed to be deposited into the Temple treasury. The evangelist then mentions what happened next: "So they discussed the matter and bought a potter's field (agron tou kerameós) with it as a graveyard for foreigners, and this is why the field is called the Field of Blood (agros haimatos) today. The words of Jeremiah were then fulfilled: 'And they took the thirty silver pieces, the sum at which the Precious One was priced by the children of Israel, and they gave them to the potter's field (edókan auta eis ton agron tou kerameós), just as the Lord directed me' " (Matthew 27:7-10).
Here the author is consciously basing his story on an OT text. The problem is that no such passage exists in Jeremiah or anywhere else in the OT. Essentially the author has conflated two separate readings of Zechariah 11:13 and combined them with a few motifs from Jeremiah 18-19 and 32, freely rewrote the whole thing as a Jeremianic prophecy, and then claimed that the event happened in order to fulfill this prophecy that the author of Matthew composed years later. The key is that the MT has the shepherd throw his thirty pieces of silver "to the potter" ('l h-ywtsr), which yields the Greek eis ton kerameusin which is adapted in Matthew 27:10 and is followed by the KJV, NIV, and several other modern translations (cf. plastés in Aquila). But the more preferred amended text is 'l h-'wtsr "to the treasury/minter" which is followed by the LXX (literally "founder"), by the reading eis ton korbanan in Matthew 27:6, and by the JB, JPS, NWT, and other modern versions. So the two versions of Zechariah 11:13 relate Judas' intended deposit of the silver pieces "into the [Temple] treasury" to the priests' deposit of the money "into the potter", i.e. they gave the money to a potter to buy his field. These two elements were then mixed up with two passages in Jeremiah. Yahweh instructs the prophet in Jeremiah 18:1-2 to "get up and go down to the potter's house" and he obeys and "went down to the potter's house". Then in ch. 32 the prophet purchases a field from his cousin Hanamel with "pieces of silver" and buries the deeds of purchase therein:
"I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and paid him the price, seventeen shekels of silver. I drew up the deed and sealed it, and ... gave Baruch these instructions: Take these deeds, the sealed deed of purchase and its open copy, and put them in an earthenware pot, so that they may be preserved a long time" (Jeremiah 32:10-11, 14).
Here is where the author of Matthew gets the motifs about the purchase of a field and the use of "pieces of silver" in its purchase. But notice that there is no field in ch. 18 and there is no potter in ch. 32. These are thus two completely independent passages that have been linked together by the evangelist. But what there is in ch. 32 is a reference to an "earthenware pot," this is what probably linked the two passages together in the author's mind. Neither in any of these two passages is there any mention of a "field of blood" or the burial of people on the lot. These motifs enter into the picture when a third Jeremianic text is added: 19:1-13. There the prophet takes an earthenware pot (presumably not the same one as in ch. 32), goes down into the Hinnom Valley and breaks it, declaring that the kings of Judah "have filled this place with the blood of the innocent" and "this place will no longer be called Topheth, or the Hinnom Valley, but the Valley of Slaughter" (19:4, 6), and it will serve as "a burial ground for lack of other space" (v. 12). Here is where the motifs of "blood" and "place set aside as a graveyard" come from. In the LXX, "cemetary" occurs in place of "valley", so that the area is renamed "cemetary of slaughter" (poluandrion tés sphagés). That the author of Matthew is alluding to Jeremiah 19 can be also seen in the following verbal parallelism:
Jeremiah 19:6 LXX: "On account of this (dia touto), days (hémerai) are coming in which they will not heretofore call (ou kléthésetai eti) this place Downfall and Cemetary of the sons of Hinnom, but the Cemetary of Slaughter".
Matthew 27:8: "...on account of which (dio) the field is called (eklethé) the Field of Blood to this very day (heós tés sémeron)".
The link between this text and the other two is provided by the breaking of the "earthenware vessel" (relating back to the potter in the previous chapter and the earthenware vessel in ch. 32), and there is an notable connection to Jesus by the reference to the "blood of the innocent". But despite these parallels, there is no "prophecy" at all in Jeremiah or elsewhere that resembles what is written in Matthew 27:9-10. This is a novel creation by the evangelist, constructed out of material from various unrelated passages in Jeremiah and Zechariah. What is important to remember is that Matthew does not claim that Judas bought this field (for he left the money behind in the Temple) and he does not claim that Judas killed himself at this field (indeed, the narrative suggests that he was dead by the time the priests bought the field).
The story is entirely different in Acts. The author seems to know a tradition related to the one in Matthew (perhaps derivative of it) but not necessarily the same story. The two tales are in fact irreconcilable. We read first in Acts 1:18 that Judas "bought a field with the money he was paid for his crime" and v. 20 explains that the field is called Bloody Acre, or Hakeldama in Aramaic. This parallels the mention of the purchase of a field in Matthew 27 and its name as "Field of Blood". But in Matthew, Judas left his money behind at the Temple and it was up to the priests to decide what to do with it. Hence the purchaser of the field in Matthew was not Judas but the priests. Matthew moreover does not claim that Judas hanged himself in a field. The field was apparently purchased after Judas committed suicide (if the narrative order is indicative). In Acts, Judas was the one who bought the field and so this was the place where he killed himself. The name "Field of Blood" is thus explained in Acts as the place where Judas met a bloody end, whereas in Matthew the name is explained by the fact that it is serves as the burial place for foreigners. So we are clearly dealing with two different stories.
The manner of Judas' death is also different in Acts. In Matthew, Judas dies by hanging himself in imitation of Ahithophel in 2 Samuel 17. But in Acts he dies what seems to be an accidental death along the lines of how Amasa was killed in 2 Samuel 20:
2 Samuel 20:9-10 LXX: "Joab said the Amasa, 'Are you okay, my brother?' And with his right hand he seized Amasa by the beard to kiss him tenderly. Amasa paid no attention to the sword Joab was holding, and Joab struck (epaisen) him with it in the belly and spilled his entrails (kai exekhuthé hé koilia autou) to the ground".
Acts 1:18: "He fell headlong (prénés genomenos, lit. "He became headlong") and burst open (elakésen) in the middle, and all his entrails spilled out (kai exekhuthé panta ta splagkhna autou)".
In the OT story, the traitorous Amasa died by being "struck" (epaisen) in the belly resulting in his entrails spilling out (exekhuthé), whereas Judas died by being "burst open" (elakésen) in his midsection resulting in all his entrails spilling out (exekhuthé). Here we have a clear model for the tale in Acts. But the event itself is nevertheless notoriously obscure. Exactly what made Judas burst apart in a bloody mess? Clearly he was not struck by a sword as Amasa was and this motif was already appropriated in Luke 22:50, on the basis of Mark 14:47. The key apparently is the odd phrase "became headlong" (prénés genomenos), which is usually understood as an act of falling headfirst. On this basis, many people have attempted to harmonize Matthew with Acts and construe Acts 1:18 as describing a botched hanging... the rope broke and Judas fell to the ground, perhaps on some rough rocks which made his guts spill out. But we have already seen that the two accounts are irreconcilable and presume rather different situations. And Acts of course mentions nothing of a hanging. But such a harmonization was indeed proposed from the mid-second century AD onward when gospel harmonies began to be created. So the odd phrase prénés genomenos "became headlong" may in fact be a corruption designed to faciliate harmonization between the two contradictory accounts. And indeed the evidence does strongly point in this direction.
Not all manuscripts of Acts 1:18 have "became headlong", various Syriac, Georgian, and Armenian versions instead have the phrase "became swollen". The Georgian and Armenian versions derive from the Old Syriac which itself was a translation of an earlier but no longer extant Greek archetype that circulated in the second century AD in the East. The phrase "became swollen" would have been préstheis genomenos in Greek which closely resembles the prénés genomenos extant in Greek manuscripts. In addition to the physical similarity between the words, "became swollen" makes much better sense of the text...Judas became swollen to such an extent that his midsection burst open. Apparently for these reasons, the 1984 Reference Edition of the NWT suggests "becoming swollen up" as an alternative translation in a marginal note. The possibility that préstheis is a later variant however has in its favor the overwhelming Greek manuscript evidence which all attests the word prénés (as far as I know, only John Chrysostom attested préstheis in Acts 1:18, and his work only survives in an Armenian translation). Usually such evidence would be very weighty. And yet a remarkably early witness of préstheis does exist -- in fact, the earliest known witness for either variant. Papias of Hierapolis, who wrote in c. AD 140 and based his work on still earlier oral traditions, relates a fascinating third version of how Judas died which is clearly independent of the Lukan version in Acts:
"Judas was a terrible, walking example of ungodliness in this world, his flesh was so swollen (préstheis) that he was not able to pass through a place where a wagon passes easily, not even his bloated head (tés kephalés ogkon) by itself. For his eyelids, they say, were so swollen (tosouton exoidésai) that he could not see the light at all, and his eyes could not be seen, even by a doctor using an optical instrument, so far had they sunk below the outer surface. His genitals appeared more loathsome and larger than anyone else's, and when he relieved himself there passed through it pus and worms (ikhóras kai skólékas) from every part of his body, much to his shame. After much agony and punishment, they say, he finally died in his own place, and because of the stench the area is deserted and uninhabitable even now; in fact, to this day no one can pass that place unless they hold their nose, so great was the discharge (ekhórésen) from his body (dia tés sarkos autou) and so far did it spread over the ground (epi tés gés)" (Papias, Expositions on the Oracles of our Lord, fr. 18).
The tale is highly embroidered with fanciful detail but this is due to the fact that Papias stood very close to the stream of early Christian story-telling (in fact, he said that he preferred the living stories told by the elders than written gospels) and wrote about a generation after the author of Acts. The especially important fact is that the whole story revolves around the hideous inflating of Judas' body and thus supplies an independent witness to the existence of traditions about a "swollen" (préstheis) Judas. The tale shares some features in common with the Lukan story: (1) the use of préstheis to refer to a progressive swelling of Judas' body, (2) the discharge or spilling out of material from his body to the ground where he died, and (3) the site where he died remains a notorious place for the local inhabitants. This shows that Papias' story and the one reported by the author of Acts are variants of the same tale. And yet Papias clearly does not know the Lukan version per se because (1) worms and pus emerge from his body rather than entrails, (2) Judas lingers on for some time to be tortured by his worsening condition and apparently remains in Jerusalem where he struggles to pass through alleyways, and (3) there is no mention of a field. The embellishments interestingly are also the result of biblical exegesis. For instance, the Davidic Psalm 69 played an important role in shaping early passion narratives (cf. 69:4 is cited in John 15:25, 69:9 is quoted in John 2:17 and Romans 15:3, 69:21 is quoted in Matthew 27:34, 48, 69:22 is used in Romans 11:9-10) and 69:25 is specifically applied to Judas in Acts 1:20: "May their camp be reduced to ruin". Interestingly, v. 23 is applied to the same enemies as v. 25 and it states: "May their eyes be darkened and go blind (skotisthétósan hoi ophthlamoi autón tou mé blepein), make their loins shake continually". Similarly, Papias described Judas as losing his eyesight ("he could not see the light at all and his eyes could not be seen") and having problems with his loins, i.e. his genitals squirming with worms exiting his urethra continually. The phrase about Judas being buried "in his own place" which remains "deserted and uninhabitable (érémon kai aoikéton) even now" also reflects Psalm 69:25: "Let their habitation be desolate (érémoné) and let nobody dwell (mé estó ho katoikón) in their tents". So the process of haggadaic storytelling attested throughout the gospels continued for at least another generation or two as Papias demonstrates. And the relevance of Psalm 69 to BOTH Acts 1 and Papias is further evidence that both stories are closely related in some sense. So Acts 1:18 should be best read as: "He became swollen and burst open in the middle and all his entrails spilled out".
The motif of "swelling" (préstheis) also rests on an exegetical foundation. The most striking parallel is the death of Nadin in Ahiqar, a book that as you may recall includes a court conflict tale closely paralleling OT stories employed in the composition of the NT passion narrative. The description of Nadin's demise is as follows:
"When Nadan heard that speech from his uncle Ahiqar, he swelled up immediately and became like a blown-out bladder. And his limbs swelled and his legs and his feet and his side, and he was torn and his belly burst asunder and his entrails were scattered, and he perished and died" (Ar. Ahiqar 7:56-57).
This has all three features of the text in Acts 1:18: (1) A "swelling up" of Judas' body, (2) his midsection "bursting apart", and (3) the spilling out of his entrails. Hence both Ahiqar and 2 Samuel 20 probably lie behind this passage. An earlier allusion to the Ahiqar tale can be found in Tobit which notes that Nadin "went down to everlasting darkness in punishment for plotting against Ahiqar's life" (Tobit 14:10). The description of the vile death of King Herod the Great in Josephus also shares features with Ahiqar as well as with Papias: (1) large tumors growing around the feet and the belly, (2) ulceration of the entrails, and (3) worms infesting his genitals (cf. Antiquities 17.6.5). Another important Jewish story employing the "bursting" motif can be found in Bel and the Dragon (late second century BC):
"Daniel took some pitch, some fat and some hair and boiled them up together, rolled the mixture into balls and fed them to the dragon; the dragon swallowed them and burst (dierrhagé)" (Daniel 14:27).
This story serves as the basis of a later legend in the Acts of Thomas (late second century AD) which has direct relevance to the figure of Judas Iscariot. Apostle Thomas healed a young man who had been lethally bitten by a black snake (drakon) and he induced the snake to identify who it really was. The snake tells Thomas: "I am the son of him who spoke with Eve and through her made Adam violate the commandment of God ... I am he who caused Judas to take the bribe when he was made subject to me, that he might deliver up the Messiah to death" (Acts of Thomas 31:8-10, 21-23). The idea here is that Judas was controlled by a devil, and one may recall John 6:70 in which Jesus asserts that Judas "is a devil" and 13:27 which states that "Satan entered into him (eisélthen eis ekeinon)". This raises the possibility that the legend of Judas bursting apart has something to do with Satan dwelling inside of him. Like the prophet Daniel, Thomas compells the snake to swallow poison (i.e. its own venom) and it explodes as expected:
"The serpent came near and set his mouth upon the wound of the young man and sucked forth the gall out of it. And by little and little the colour of the young man which was as purple, became white, but the serpent swelled up (ho drakón ephusato). When the serpent had drawn up all the gall into himself, the young man leapt up and stood, and ran and fell at the apostle's feet. But the serpent, having become swollen (phusétheis), burst and died (elakésen kai apethanen). His venom and gall were shed forth, and in the place where his venom was shed there came a great gulf, swallowing up that serpent therein. And the apostle said to the king and his brother: 'Take workmen and fill up that place, and lay foundations and build houses upon them, so that it may be a dwelling-place for strangers (hina oikésis genétai tois xenois)' " (Acts of Thomas 33:15-25).
Here we find a scene similar to that in Daniel LXX (i.e. a drakon swallows a substance that makes it burst). The Syriac version of Bel and the Dragon states that the dragon "burst and died," which interestingly is what is found in the Acts of Thomas (which is widely thought to have Syrian provenance like other Thomasan literature). In the case with Acts 1, we are given a three-part description that Judas swelled up (préstheis; compare phusétheis "(become) inflated"), burst apart (elakésen in both), and entrails spilled out (rather than the simpler "died" in Acts of Thomas). Since this is the same devil that controlled Judas Iscariot according to the author, it is curious that the snake inhabited by the demon dies in a similar way to our amended text of Acts 1:18. There is yet another allusion to Judas in the Thomas' instructions to the king. The site where the snake died is to become "a dwelling-place for strangers" (oikésis genétai tois xenois), and this is an exegetical allusion to Matthew 27:7 which similarly states that land bought with Judas' blood-money is to become "a burial-place for strangers" (taphén tois xenois). By making this the same plot of land where Judas died, the author's reading of Matthew is clearly influenced by Acts 1. So, as would be expected for a book in the second half of the second century AD, the Acts of Thomas combines motifs from both Matthew and Acts (as well as Greek Daniel), with hints of John, but the story it knows about the death of Judas seems to be one that construes his death as resulting from a "swelling up"...just as what is attested in Papias and the versional text of Acts. Since we know that the original préstheis lingered on in the East and underlies the word choice in the Old Syriac and the Armenian and Georgian versions dependent on it, it is not surprising that another book with a Syrian provenance is aware of the tradition.
So we see that two very different stories emerged by the late first century AD on the death of Judas. One tradition, as reported by Matthew and drawing on an assortment of material from 2 Samuel 17, Zechariah and Jeremiah, claimed that Judas returned his blood money to the Temple priests before Jesus was even executed and hanged himself (as did Ahithophel); the Temple priests then used the money to purchase an unrelated plot of land to use as a cemetary for strangers. Another tradition, as reported by the author of Acts and drawing on material from 2 Samuel 20, Psalm 69, and Ahiqar, does not construe Judas' death as a suicide but as divine recompense (as David prayed for in Psalm 69) for Judas' sin. In this tale, he did not return the money but used it to purchase an acre of land for himself, but Judas' body miraculously expanded (I suppose like Aunt Marge from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) until he burst and his intestines spilled out (like Nadin and Amasa). This occurred on the acre he purchased and that is why it is called "Bloody Acre" (the explanation of the name in Matthew is altogether different). Note that despite the differences, there are some common features such as the purchase of land with Judas' money and its name. This does not necessarily mean that Luke is revising the story Matthew; the differences seem to outweigh the similarities and the incorporation of the Aramaic name Hakeldama may be a sign that the author is drawing on a separate oral version of the Matthean story. On the other hand, these commonalities may be meager accommodations by the Lukan author to Matthew, failing to successfully harmonize two separate traditions. Then there is the version of Papias which reports a more grotesque version of the story in Acts but also lacks all the features that Acts 1 shares with Matthew (e.g. the purchase of land, the blood money, the name Hakeldama), and so is not dependent on Acts per se but on an oral version circulating independently. Papias' version is embellished with details from the same OT text (i.e. Psalm 69) that is used in the Lukan version, suggesting that both stories flow from the same exegetical story-telling tradition. Finally, we saw that the Acts of Thomas appropriates features from the Judas traditions in Matthew, John, and Acts, and uses the Bel and the Dragon story in Greek Daniel in a way that reflects a knowledge of the same "swelling up" tradition in Papias and what we have proposed to be the original text of Acts. But also in the second century AD, we know that préstheis "swollen" was altered to prénés "headlong". Technically, it is possible that this was done by the author himself in another accomodation to Matthew and the presumed presence of préstheis in the second-century Syrian archetype of Acts was due to accomodation to the original oral tradition about a "swollen" Judas that still circulated. But this seems unlikely because if the author really wanted to accomodate his story to the one in Matthew he would not have used such an awkward phrase as prénés genomenos (which does not actually say that he "fell", but merely became upside down) without even mentioning that there was a hanging in the first place. Rather, the scribal alternation was more likely made very soon after the completion of the autograph, perhaps even in the first generation of copies.
IV. LATER HARMONIZATIONS BETWEEN THE TRADITIONS IN MATTHEW AND ACTS
The theory proposed here is that an early copyist familiar with Matthew misinterpreted Acts 1:18-19 as a reference to the hanging mentioned in Matthew and thus misread préstheis as prénés. This would have then constituted the first post-Lukan harmonization between the two accounts and in fact it would prove to be key element that would faciliate further harmonizations by later generations of interpreters. But knowledge of the "swollen" tradition did not die either. Either from other copies of Acts or the story reported by Papias, these early harmonizations would occasionally include details that betray their origins in the tale that Judas became préstheis.
The earliest known (incomplete) harmony of the four gospels was produced by Justin Martyr by the middle of the second century AD and his two apologies and Dialogue incorporate portions of it. His student Tatian the Syrian revised it and published it as the Diatessaron around AD 170-175 (cf. Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4.29.6, Epiphanius, Haer. 46.1.8-9). Unfortunately, the complete text has been lost but it survives in the work of various "witnesses" who either quote it or revise it. The Arabic version of the Diatessaron (as published by Roberts-Donaldson) does not harmonize the two canonical stories of Judas' death and simply incorporates the passage from Matthew unchanged. However the Arabic version is heavily revised and frequently substitutes original Diatessaronic readings with standard ones from the gospels. Ephrem the Syrian (who died in AD 373) published a commentary on the Diatessaron in the same original language used by Tatian, and Ephrem does attest a harmonized reading:
"Judas went off and hanged himself and he died. And when the rope broke, he fell and burst asunder" (Ephrem Syrus, Commentary on the Gospel of the Mixed; Latin text in Mosinger, p. 240).
This harmonization is clearly faciliated by the phrase prénés genomenos "become headlong" in the Greek, and if this reading is original to Tatian, then we have suggestive evidence that this variant was in existence by the mid-second century AD. This ambiguous phrase (which merely describes an upside-down position) however is replaced by the improved "fell" (cecedit in the Latin version of Ephrem). And in order for a hanged person to fall, the rope must break. So the two disparate accounts are glued together via the invention of an event mentioned in neither: a breaking of the rope.
The harmonized reading was itself the subject of further legendary expansion. After citing the Diatessaron, Ephrem gave his own comment: "Others say that Judas went inside, shut the door, and barred himself inside. No one opened the door to see what was inside, until his body was decomposed and all his entrails had gushed out" (Ibid.). This story presumes that Judas survived his hanging, and this logically could not occur unless the rope broke. The story also seems to incorporate some material from the story of the death of Ahithophel in 2 Samuel: "He went forth to his house (apelthen eis ton oikon autou) in his city, and enjoined his house (eneteilato tó oikó autou), and he hung himself and died" (17:23). If entellomai is read as pertaining to the literal house (e.g. putting the house itself in order), and if the hanging is moved to the front in the order of events, then we would have a pretty close parallel: Judas (1) hanged himself, (2) "went forth to his house," (3) made the house secure, and (4) "died". What is more, the LXX text of 2 Samuel 17:23 in the Codex Alexandrinus replaces taphó "grave" with oikó "house" in the postscript: "He was buried in the house of his father". This phrase may have played a role in the legend that Judas shut himself in his own house and was buried on his own land. And the tradition here that Judas died in his own house also reflects the much older tradition found in Papias that Judas died "in his own place". The details about the entrails gushing out obviously are derived from Acts.
In the third and fourth centuries AD, the harmonization construing Judas' bursting as occurring during an act of hanging exerted an even greater influence on the text of Acts 1:18. Although prénés genomenos would have been in place very early in the second century, it was still an ambiguous if not confusing description. So just as Tatian (as cited by Ephrem) modified the text by changing "became headlong" with "fell", later copyists and translators also altered the text to improve the harmonization. Jerome (AD 331-420) produced the Latin Vulgate translation in the 380s and he rendered Acts 1:18 in the following manner: "[Judas] bought a field with the money of iniquity and hanged himself (suspensus), and he burst in the middle (crepuit medius), and all his entrails were scattered (et diffusa sunt omnia viscera eius)". Here Jerome eschewed the inadequate "became headlong" for the clearer, harmonisitic "hanged", and did what the author of Acts failed to do: mention an act of "hanging" in the text. Note that there is no mention of Judas' body falling; the text implies that Judas' body exploded while still hanging from the tree. Then around AD 404 Augustine published his account of a debate he had with a Manichaean priest named Felix. Putatively representing what he read from his own copy of Acts during the debate, Augustine wrote:
"He fastened [a rope] around his neck (collum sibi alligavit) and, falling on his face (dejectus in faciem), burst asunder in the midst (disruptus est medius)" (Augustine, Acta Contra Felicem Manichaeum, 2.10-11).
This version combines the hanging of Matthew with the "bursting asunder" of Acts in another way. The hanging itself is implied by describing Judas "fastening [a rope] around his neck" (a necessary feature of suicide by hanging), and "becoming headlong" is reinterpreted as "falling on his face", where an act of falling is made explicit by the word dejectus. Friedrich Blass suggested that Augustine had used the Old Latin version of Acts which had an affiliation with the Western Text, and inferred that the latter already had in the third century the following interpolation: kai edésen ton trakhélon autou "and he fastened his neck". The main textual witness for this gloss is Theophylact, whereas the Codex Bezae adds only autou, possibly as a vestige of the longer phrase. Theophylact also has prénés pesón "fell headlong" which is a clear improvement on prénés genemenos "become headlong," and which parallels the Old Latin attested by Augustine.
Eusebius (AD 275-339) is quoted as giving an especially complicated scenario a century earlier:
"Judas went (apelthén) and lifted himself up by ropes (epértisen heauton en tó skhoinió) where he had thrown the pieces of silver down. But the ropes at the House of God burst apart (rhageisés) and he fell to the ground (eis gén epesen). He was not killed immediately even though his entrails had gushed out (khuthentón tón splagkhnón), and he was placed into a bed. Two or three days later, he breathed his last from having fallen (ekpeptókós) from his bed, at which time he burst apart in the middle (rhagnai meson) and died (apothanein)" (Eusebius, fr. in Matthaei Scolia in Acts, 2.304).
This account innovatively locates the hanging within the Temple precincts, right next to where Judas had thrown the money (utilizing the scene in Matthew 27). But then the ropes "burst apart" (evoking Judas' own bursting later on) and Judas "fell" (epesen) to the ground -- using a word that improves on the prénés genomenos "become headlong" of Acts 1:18 (just as Tatian (?), Ephrem, and Augustine did). As a result, his "entrails gushed out," again alluding to Acts. But the author is also employing a tradition that Judas went to a house and died a few days later (= Papias and Ephrem), so he must invent two falling events and two injury episodes....one after falling from the rope and another after falling from his bed.
So far, all these harmonizations utilize a form of Acts 1:18 that has prénés "headlong," but a scholia of John Chrysostom (AD 347-407) cites a version of Acts 1:18 that had préstheis:
"He [Peter] describes also the sentence under which he [Judas] suffered. 'Being swollen up,' he says, 'he burst in the middle and all his entrails were poured out '. He does well to relate, not the offense but the punishment, in order to comfort those who were afraid of the Jews. This is how he fell to the ground and burst with his entrails gushing out. He shut the doors behind him before he hanged himself and he remained on his gallows all throughout Friday and Saturday. He then began to swell to such an extent that his weight broke the rope that suspended him, and he fell, burst asunder, and was poured out. The stench of the putrifying heap of entrails attracted the children of Jerusalem to come and witness his infamous demise" (John Chrysostom, in Arm. Catena Conybeare, p. 150).
This is an ingenious synthesis that combines the original version of Acts 1:18 with the already harmonized scenario (constructed from Matthew and Acts) of a fall from a hanging. Here Judas hangs himself in his house behind closed doors. This element is clearly parallel to Ephrem Syrus which is not surprising since Chrysostom used Ephrem's commentaries. The hanging presumably kills Judas (hence, no delayed death as in the fragment of Eusebius) but he hangs suspended for two days as his body grows in size. Eventually the weight becomes too much and the rope snaps, causing Judas to fall crashing to the ground and the impact ruptures his stomach causing entrails to pour out. This version is fascinating because it reintroduces the "swelling" theme that had been displaced by misreading préstheis as prénés. In the early harmonizations, the rope snaps only because it is the only way to get Judas falling while hanging. But no reason was ever given for the rope snapping. Here Chrysostom gives the rationale: the rope snapped because Judas swelled up, increasing his weight. He also makes reference to the "stench" and passersby, which incorporates motifs found also in Papias' story.
Further use of the "swelling" tradition can be found in the commentary written by Theophylact in the seventh century AD, who shows direct influence of the Papias tradition:
"Some say that Judas, being covetous, supposed that he would make money by betraying Christ, and that Christ would not be killed but would escape from the Jews as many a time he had escaped. But when he saw him condemned, actually already condemned to death, he repented since the affair had turned out so differently from what he had expected. And so he hanged himself to get to Hades before Jesus and thus to implore and gain salvation. Know well, however, that he fastened his neck with the rope (ethéke men ton trakhélon autou eis tén agkhonén) and hanged himself (kremasas heauton) on a certain tree, but the tree bent down and he continued to live (tou dendrou klithentos epezése), since it was God’s will that he either be preserved for repentance or for public disgrace and shame. For they say that due to dropsy he could not pass where a wagon passed with ease; then he fell on his face (prénés pesón) and burst asunder (elakésen), that is, was rent apart, as Luke says in the Acts" (Theophylact, Commentary in Matthew, 27)
This passage seems to harmonize Matthew with both Luke and Papias. Theophylact proposes a creative motive for Judas' suicide: he killed himself so that he could be in Hades before Jesus and thus be saved. This notion depends on the descensus ad infernos myth that claims that Christ descended to Hades between the crucifixion and resurrection to bring salvation to the dead (with a "harrowing of hell"). Not only is this an ingenious motive for Judas' suicide but also explains the tradition that Judas survived his hanging (found in Ephrem and Eusebius): it was God's way of preventing Judas from achieving his goal. The idea that Judas survived his suicide is also demanded by a harmonization between Papias and Matthew (even though there is nothing about a hanging in Papias per se, he could not be walking about after his hanging unless he survived). And indeed, Theophylact does allude to Papias for he mentions the bit about the wagon and he associates this tradition about Judas' "swelling up" with the tradition in Acts. And yet, he does not know the same version of Acts that Chrysostom knew for it contained prénés. As mentioned earlier, it is probable that Theophylact used a version of that Western Text that underlies the Old Latin used by Augustine.
The ninth century Syrian bishop Ishodad of Merv reported another harmonistic tradition that Judas escaped his hanging:
"They say that when Judas hanged himself either the rope was released and he escaped, or else someone saw him hanging and saved him. This happened by the providence of God because the disciples would not be falsely accused of hanging him and also because it would have been appropriate for the one who betrayed the Lord to die publically. So he lived on and saw the resurrection of his Lord, and heard that he had come to his disciples many times, and that he had ascended to heaven. Then he came to where many were gathered together and he fell to the ground in the midst of the city and burst asunder" (Ishodad of Merv, Commentary on Acts, 1:18).
Like Theophylact, Ishodad ascribed Judas' escape to divine providence and suggests yet another reason for the escape from death: A successful suicide could have led to the charge that the disciples murdered him in revenge. The survival of Judas from his hanging also allowed Ishodad to harmonize Matthew with Paul for he astutely noticed that 1 Corinthians 15:5 mentioned a resurrection appearance to "the Twelve", and so if Judas survived his hanging he very well could have seen the Lord. Eusebius and Chrysostom claimed that Judas lived on for a few more days, but Ishodad has him alive even after the ascension weeks later. Acts 1:3 places the ascension 40 days after the resurrection and very shortly afterward Peter is described giving his speech wherein he referred to Judas' death as having already occurred (v. 15-22). So if Ishodad was being consistent, Judas' death would had to have occurred about the time the disciples returned to Jerusalem (v. 12) or a matter of days after (v. 15).
To conclude my survey of the evolution of the tale of Judas' death, I will turn to the twelfth-century bishop Dionysius bar-Salibi who wrote commentaries on the gospels in the 1150s and 1160s. He summarized a whole series of theories about Judas' death, some harmonistic and some not:
"Matthew says: 'He went and hanged himself,' but Luke in the Acts writes that he 'burst asunder in the midst and all his entrails gushed out'. Both are correct, for there was a strangling and bursting involved in his death and each of the evangelists write of one but not the other. After he threw down the pieces of silver in the Temple, he fastened a rope around his own neck on a plank of wood in his home but the rope loosened before he choked to death. Others say that the rope actually broke and that for days he became sick and swelled to such immense proportions that a wagon could not hold him and his head was painfully inflated and that his eyelids were so swollen that he could not see out of them. And Papias said that his genitals were enormously enlarged and that putrid substances, abominable stench, and worms proceeded from them. Epiphanius also says that he lived as much as four days after his hanging and that he was split in two when his entrails gushed out. Others say that he simply died from his disease and they did not bury him because it was customary not to bury people who hang themselves. But over time he began to stink terribly and the offensive odor bothered the inhabitants far and wide, forcing them to take him away for burial. They placed him on a bier and when they lifted him up, he fell down and burst apart, causing all his entrails to gush out. It is said by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles: 'Let his habitation be waste.' That is to say, after they had buried him, the stench of his house offended the local residents and they were forced to take away the stones and other building materials from his house. This made his habitation waste, that is Scariot, and uninhabited. His house used to be located in Jerusalem" (Dionysius bar-Salibi, Commentary in Acts, 1:18).
This assortment of legends includes some older material such as the material in Papias and Epiphanius (apparently not otherwise extant) but also incorporates some newer ideas on how Judas met his end. The first story he mentions explicitly describes the hanging as occurring inside Judas' home just as John Chrysostom believed, but instead of dying in the course of the hanging Judas survives to live out the rest of his days in agony. The second story is that of Papias (harmonized to the hanging story through the rope-breaking motif) and the third is a survival tale related by Epiphanius in which Judas lingered on for four days -- long enough to have seen the resurrected Lord. The fourth story however is new and quite novel: Judas burst asunder when the local inhabitants tried to bury him. The theme of stench emenating from Judas' house of course dates back to Papias and is explicitly related to the same exegetical tradition (Psalm 69:25) that itself inspired the the "Bloody Acre" in Acts 1 and the stench in Papias....except that Papias construed the fulfillment of Psalm 69:25 as the depopulation of the neighborhood around Judas' house due to the stench (compare how the stench attracted people to the house in Chrysostom's tale), whereas Psalm 69:25 was fulfilled in Dionysius' story by having the local inhabitants literally destroy Judas' house. This again is another example of how OT texts continued to shape stories about Judas hundreds of years later. The author gives an obscure etymology of the name "Iscariot" from a word meaning "waste", which does not correspond directly to any word I'm aware of, tho perhaps Aramaic 'shqry' "liar, traitor" may somehow be involved here. The tearing down of Judas' house also recalls the building of houses on the site where the Judas snake died in the Acts of Thomas.
Thus is the story of how Judas emerged as a central character designated to "hand over" Jesus to the authorities (created explicitly so that certain scriptures can be "fulfilled," despite the contrivance as Mark 14:49 admits), whose life was composed out of various bits throughout the OT (most related to King David, with Zechariah connected to David through the plot described by Ahithophel in 2 Samuel 17:1-4, and with Jeremiah connected to Zechariah through the "potter" theme, and with Genesis 37 connected to Zechariah through the betrayal for "pieces of silver" theme), and whose death was similarly put together by the authors of Matthew and Acts by appealing to different OT texts. Then the text of Acts underwent a slight alteration to help it fit better with Matthew (the original being much closer to the story related independently by Papias), and then later writers tried their hands at creating a mind-boggling number of harmonizations of the texts ... each drawing on different legendary elements and scenarios, and eventually even harmonizing the gospels with Paul and providing rationales for the suicide attempt itself and for the rope breaking (which itself was not a part of either canonical story). Taken together, the story of Judas provides a rich panorama of Christian story-telling that did not begin centuries after the NT was completed but was the process through which the NT gospel stories were themselves composed.