Friday, November 1, 2013

An Allusion in Search of a Narrative: Betraying Jesus

The tradition about Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus, may be a simple case of early Christian creative fiction.  The earliest mention of betrayal comes in a liturgical text associating "the night on which [Jesus] was betrayed" with the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-25).  No further description is given and no betrayer named.  Paul did not know the stories about Judas' betrayal of Jesus in the early Christian gospels, which in his day had not yet been written.  Paul's passing allusion to a cryptic betrayal was a mystery in search of a narrative to clarify it.
A generation or so later (around 70 C.E.), Mark's Passion Narrative (chaps. 14-16) begins with a plot by the chief priests and scribes to arrest Jesus "by stealth" for they were afraid of starting a riot (Mark 14:1-2)—one assumes their fear derived from the popularity of Jesus with the crowds (Mark 11:18-19).  Judas Iscariot is portrayed as an insider in Jesus' circle who offered "to betray him," and the chief priests offered him an unstated amount of money for the service (Mark 14:10-12).  What was being betrayed is unclear. One assumes that Judas promised to disclose a place where Jesus could be arrested away from the crowds, for it happened that way (Mark 14:32-50).  Judas came with a rabble organized "by the chief priests, scribes and elders," to Gethsemane and betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  Jesus, however, was a public figure and his whereabouts were clearly known (Mark 11:15-13:1), as Jesus himself complained at his arrest (Mark 14:49), alluding mysteriously to an unnamed scripture being "fulfilled."  It strains credulity to think that his whereabouts out of the public eye could not easily have been known without an informer.  Judas' motives are unknown.  He asked for nothing, although the priests promised him an unspecified amount of money.  What happened to Judas is also unknown.  Mark apparently lost interest in continuing his story.
Sometime after Mark was written, the Judas tradition underwent significant developments.  In Matthew the chief priests and elders plot to take Jesus "by stealth and kill him" (Matt 26:3-4). Judas volunteers to betray Jesus, asking for an unspecified consideration in return: "What will you give me if I deliver him to you?" (Matt 26:14-15), and they paid him "thirty pieces of silver."  Matthew, prompted by what he regarded as a "prophecy," has turned Mark's unstated amount of money into "thirty pieces of silver" (Zechariah 11:12; cf., Exodus 21:32)—as the "prophecy" foretold.  Judas came with a rabble organized by the chief priests and elders to Gethsemane, and betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Matt 26:47-50).  Later, conscience-stricken, Judas repented, returned the thirty pieces of silver to the temple, and hanged himself (Matt 27:3-5).  The chief priests, regarding the thirty pieces of silver as "blood money," purchased a potter's field, which according to Matthew, fulfills a prophecy (Matt 27:7-10) in Zechariah 11:13 (not Jeremiah!).  In so doing, Matthew made an unfortunate association between Judas the betrayer of Jesus and the good shepherd of Zechariah chapter 11.
Sometime later, unaware of Matthew's narrative, Luke described Judas as the "pawn" of Satan.  Under the influence of an evil power, Judas did not come to the chief priests and scribes seeking money, 22:3-6, but simply offered to betray Jesus because Satan had "entered into" him (Luke 22:3).  He was given money, but that was not his motive (Luke 22:4-6). His motive was not rational but demon inspired.   Judas then led the crowd to the Mount of Olives, and among them were officers of the temple, chief priests, and elders (22:39, 47-54).  Luke completes the story of Judas in his second volume (the Acts of the Apostles).  Under the influence of what Luke regards as "prophecies" (Psalm 69:26; 109:8), he describes the death of Judas (Acts 1:16-20) as falling, breaking "open in the middle," and his bowels gushed out.
At the end of the first century in John's story there is no indication of money for information. Judas has become the helpless puppet of the Devil; Jesus knew ahead of time what Judas would do (John 13:11), and described him as a devil (John 6:70-71)—not simply "demon possessed," as Luke does. John cites a "prophecy" about a specific act of betrayal (Psalm 41:10), apparently unknown to the other evangelists. The character of Judas is castigated as only pretending to be interested in the plight of the poor, for he was really a thief (John 12:4-8), who betrayed his friends by taking money from the group's money box (John 12:6; 13:29). Twice it is said of Judas that the devil put it into his heart to betray Jesus (John13:2, 27).  While the chief priests and Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus (John 11:47-53), there was no collusion between Judas and the priests to accomplish it.  Judas, prompted by Jesus (John13:27), procures a "band of soldiers" (John 18:2-3) and leads the band of soldiers with their captain and officers of the Jews to a garden to seize Jesus (John 18:1-12).  Judas' fate is not described in John.
The Pauline allusion to an ambiguous betrayal has found four different narratives in a half century: (1) a dubious idea that an insider provided unnecessary information in exchange for financial considerations, shaped by figurative readings of unstated "scriptures" (Mark); (2) an enhancement of Mark's narrative, shaped by figurative interpretations ("prophecies") of Hebrew Bible (Matthew); (3) an enhancement of Mark's narrative attributing the betrayal to demonic possession, shaped by figurative interpretations ("prophecies") of Hebrew Bible (Luke); a mythical narrative of the transmogrification of Judas into a devil, shaped by figurative interpretations ("prophecies") of Hebrew Bible (John).
Where is the history in these imaginative fictions?  All four are clearly shaped by early Christian hermeneutic.  In Luke and John the betrayal is accomplished by the superstition (the ancient pre-scientific worldview) that the world is inhabited by demons.  Mark's depiction of Jesus as a public figure is a serious obstacle to the idea that an informer is even necessary.
What are your thoughts?
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


Roger Ray said...

Seeing Judas as a literary creation is like having found Waldo in a Where's Waldo puzzle. Once you see Judas as a interlocular created to represent a role in the passion play, it is impossible not to see him that way. Just as Plato used a real historical character, Socrates, and surrounded him in his dialogues with literary creations who represented a particular philosophical position, Mark brilliantly creates Judas to represent Judah to represent the whole of Jerusalem based Judaism in its treacherous, kissing cousin relationship with the Judaism of the Galilee. Peter, James and John were historical but Judas comes to represent all of the Jews who did not come to the defense of Jesus when he was killed by the Roman government.

I realize that there is reasonable speculation that Jesus may have actually been stoned by a Jewish mob and nailed to a tree but even Paul seems to be insist on a tradition of a cross, the Roman execution tool. So, it seems most likely to me that Mark is bringing together the historical memory of Jesus having been executed by Rome with the interpretive sense that the Jerusalem Jewish authorities were approving of or colluding in his demise.

While it is unavoidable that there was a significant rift between the Judaism practiced in the Galilee and the temple focused Judaism of Jerusalem, the part of the evolving Jesus tradition that I wish you would try to address with us is the apparent fact that even with that rift, and even with the fact that Jesus was killed in Jerusalem, that Peter, James and John set up their fledgling church organization in Jerusalem. Why would they have not gone back to Capurnaum or moved to Tiberius? Given the hostility between the parties, it would have seemed that Jerusalem would have been among the most hostile places for them to take up residence.

Charles Hedrick said...

Good afternoon, Roger.
You say that Judas the figure is an invention developed out of the ancient southern kingdom of Judah? In the NT the area was referred to as Judea. Judah does not appear in the NT for that region, so your transmogrification does not seem to work well.

What leads you to your theory that Mark invented Judas to represent "all the Jews who did not come to the defense of Jesus"?

With regard to your question, why did Peter and the other leaders of the Christian community stay in Jerusalem after the crucifixion: the data seem to show that they were not very different from the Jews at Jerusalem.

Luke's second volume (Acts--many now date Luke/Acts into the second century) reflects that idea. In Acts 8:1-2 apparently Hellenistic Jewish Christians are driven out of Jerusalem but the Apostles (i.e., the Twelve; see Acts 1:15-26) remained. Later Herod Agrippa (King of Judea 41-44) laid violent hands on "some" of those in the church and for some reason killed James (and perhaps John), and arrested Peter (Acts 12:1-25). Peter miraculously escaped but James the Lord's brother stayed in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). Later Barnabas and Saul return to Jerusalem. So this second assault seems to have been targeted and not a general persecution of Christians.(Acts 12:25).

Likely a better indication of the safety of Christians in Jerusalem can be found in Galatians. After his conversion (+/- 50 C.E.) Paul does not go up (from Damascus) to Jerusalem to confer with the Apostles (Gal 1:17). Then after three years he did go up to Jerusalem to visit Peter and James, the Lord's brother for 15 days. Fourteen years later he returns to Jerusalem where the Jerusalem church (Jewish Christians) appears to be doing well (Gal 2:1-10). Sometime later Paul and Peter had a disagreement over purity issues when certain people (Gal 2:11-14) came from Jerusalem causing Peter to revert to Jewish practices, which Paul was not observing. So Jerusalem is not a hostile place for Jewish Christians.

The bottom line to all this is that the Jewish Christians appear to be perfectly comfortable in Jerusalem because they did not think of themselves as a new religion, but as a sect within Judaism. Even Paul had not recognized the handwriting on the wall at this early period (See Romans 9-11).

Charles Hedrick said...

I must say a bit more about Judas being an invented character. It is becoming apparent that we read 1 Cor 11:23 ("the night on which he was betrayed") as we do because we know the Judas traditions in the gospels. Robert Miller (editor of The Fourth R) points out in an exchange off-line that the Greek verb in 1 Cor 11:23 is a "divine passive," meaning that the use of a passive in this instance is a pious avoidance of using the divine name in the statement (it appears in the gospels and is still a pious Jewish practice). Hence Bob is arguing that 1 Cor 11:23 is a case of God "handing Jesus over" for crucifixion. I was a bit skeptical, but then I stumbled across Rom 4:24-25, which reads "[Jesus] who was delivered over for our sins." In the context it is a clear instance that God is the one doing the "delivering over" in this passage and not some anonymous betrayer. Basically the Greek word used in this situation does not have as a root meaning the sinister idea of betrayal (and anyway there is another perfectly Greek word that does), even though it is translated that way in the gospels when describing the actions of Judas.
Miller also points out that in 1 Cor 15:3b-5 (a traditional formulation that Paul is reciting) the early Christian tradition knows the Twelve as a special Group in the past history of the Christian movement and Miller argues that since the tradition reports a resurrection to this group, the tradition does not know a story about one of the Twelve being a traitor. In Galatians Paul discusses the "Pillars" of the church, Peter, James and John, but he never uses the number Twelve to refer to a special group, except in the traditional report in 1 Cor 15:3b-5. Paul does not appear to know Luke's story about the appointing of Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:21-26). The character of Judas was likely an invention of the early church to counter the argument that the death of Jesus was an accident. In Acts 2:22-23 Luke gives the counter argument to the accident argument when he says that the death of Jesus was always in the plan of God, and it came about by God giving him over to die in our behalf.

Jim Deardorff said...

Hi Charlie,

The mystery of the cryptic betrayal in 1 Cor 11:23-25 is well explained by that being the heart of an insertion a half century or so later, after the Communion words were known from the Gospels (particularly Matthew). Previously, the discussion at 1 Cor 11:20 Paul was not discussing “the Lord’s supper,” but rather “a dinner of the Lord” (as in the Greek) (they weren’t behaving properly at the meal). So this appeared to be an obvious place for a later redactor to insert the Communion words, causing the discrepancy to appear for you to notice.

A betrayer or informer was needed partly for the reason you suggested – to let the chief priests know a good time when the public wasn’t around. The other reason is the usual one – it was nighttime and quite dark out, perhaps no moonlight either (and no city lights). Someone was needed then to point Jesus out in the dark to the chief priests and to be able to distinguish him from the other twelve or eleven. The arresting party should have brought some lighted lamps .with them, you might think. If so, the chief priests may not have known him well enough to recognize him in dim light – it’s certain scribes and Pharisees who would have heard him teach.

There are a lot of reasons to suspect that Judas Iscariot was not the informer and the one who committed suicide (but not the Gospel of Judas). I’ve mentioned some of them below, ending with the mention of 6 writings (including Paul, 1 Cor 15:5) that mention the twelve disciples (not eleven) after the Savior rose from the tomb. I’ll send that as another comment.

Jim Deardorff said...

Here’s the Part II, Charlie:

It has been pointed out by C. Guignebert and others that it doesn't really make sense that Judas would have betrayed Jesus for a paltry 30 pieces of silver since, as treasurer for the Twelve, he could have pilfered more than this on various occasions.

It is most improbable that the chief priests would simply hand over 30 pieces of silver to one of the twelve disciples of Jesus without first hearing from the disciple as to why he was disgruntled with his lord. They would obviously first wish to judge whether he was seemingly sincere in his willingness to betray his teacher. It is also improbable that a disciple would ask for an audience of chief priests to ask them for money without any prior announcement by them that a "blood-money" award was being offered, and equally improbable that an associate of Jesus would even be granted an audience alone with the chief priests.

Mt 26:25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, "Is it I, Master?" He said to him, "You have said so."
Some who see this verse as Jesus' affirmation that Judas was the betrayer have criticized it for not having provoked any consternation or action among the other eleven disciples. Would they have continued to eat calmly on? This criticism is usually circumvented by assuming this conversation between Judas and Jesus was whispered. (If so, however, how did a non-Judas author ever learn about these whispered words to later write about it?
There is an overemphasis on Judas as betrayer here, along with Mt 10:4 (and again in 27:3). This redundantly suggests that the betrayer had actually been someone other than Judas
Judas would have had to leave the other disciples well before Mt 26:35 in order to round up the chief priests who would gather together the arresting party.

Judas had supposedly been looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus for some time and so have him be condemned. So, after succeeding, would he suddenly feel remorse and decide to commit suicide? Judas would not have been in with the councilors to see for himself the beating Jesus underwent by the councilors. Learning about it second hand would not likely have provided impetus for suicide. But if the actual betrayer had been a Pharisee with access to the Council, who had known Jesus, then it coujld all make sense. The blame for the betrayal and suicide could then be falsely shifted to Judas, and that story would be propagated within the Synagogues for decades, and be the accepted story when the Gospel of Matthew was written long afterwards.

In Mt 27:3-5, Judas is said to have returned the thirty pieces of silver, to the chief priests, then exchanged some words with them, and then threw the money down in the Temple. This continues to look like careless editing of an original source account by the writer of Matthew.

In 1 Cor 15:5 Paul did refer to "the twelve (after the third day)," likely indicating that he had known better than to believe the rumor that it was the disciple Judas Iscariot who had committed suicide. In Jn 20:24 the reference is also to “the twelve” when it should have been “the eleven.” Similarly in Rv 21:14. Also, the “Sophia of Jesus Christ” refers to the twelve disciples “after he rose from the dead.” Same with the “Apocryphon of John.” Same with the “Gospel of Peter”, last paragraph.

Charles Hedrick said...

Thanks Jim,
You are always provocative! But I am doubtful that hypothetical historical speculation on literary narrative from which very little history can be demonstrated helps much to clarify ancient historical events (if they even existed). But it is fun to do and everyone does it. The tendency in this activity is to historicize (i.e., en-flesh and breathe life into) what are actually paper characters--to read their minds and provide actual motives for their paper activity, and all the time we know next to nothing about the historical events and the figures that are portrayed in dogmatic narrative generations later.