Judas Iscariot: Identikit of the traitor of Christ

“But woe unto that man from whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man who was never born!


Today, Holy Thursday, the Christian Church enters the heart of the Paschal Triduum, the heart of the liturgical year, marked by the institution of the Eucharist and the ministry of the priesthood, during the Last Supper, and by the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A key role in the episodes of these days is played by Judas Iscariot, one of the followers of Jesus, who went down in history for betraying him. But who was he?


Who was Judas

Giuda riceve i 30 denari: Giotto, Cappella degli Scrovegni (it.wikipedia.org)

In the canonical Gospels it is called “Iscariot” to distinguish it from Judas Taddeus, also a disciple of Christ. Our Judas, in fact, were among the Twelve following Jesus during his preaching.

John adds, then, that he carried out a task of the highest trust: he was the treasurer, he administered the money of the common cashier of the group of Jesus. He was said to be an greedy man who took money from the fund he managed and who, precisely because of this characteristic, agreed with the high priests to deliver his Master, receiving in exchange the sum of 30 silver money.

And so, having abandoned the table of the Last Supper (Jesus, according to the Gospel of John, dipped a bite of bread, brought it to Judas and said to him, “What you must do, do it soon”), he returned from Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane, kissed him, to make it known to those who had come to arrest him, and betrayed him.

The mystery of the death of Judas

La morte di Giuda, Autun (it.wikipedia.org)

From that moment on the Passion of Jesus began. But what about all this, what about it?
The epilogue of his story is narrated by Matteo and Luca, who have two different versions.

Matthew says that Judas, who learned of Jesus’ condemnation, repented of the betrayal and brought back to priests the famous 30 money. They did not take them back, and then he threw them into the temple and went to hang himself. The priests, having collected the money which, stained by the blood of the traitor Judas and the innocent Jesus, could not be put into the treasure of the Temple, decided, after having gathered together, to buy the potter’s camp, destined for the burial of foreigners. That camp was thus nicknamed the “blood camp”.

The Acts of Luke tell, instead, another story, the one told by Peter to some followers after the Resurrection of Jesus. Judas would buy a piece of land with the money received as compensation for the delivery of Jesus and, rushing forward, he would tear his belly in the middle and all his bowels would spill out. This fact was immediately known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem who, from that day, renamed those lands “blood field”.


Another reading: the Gospel of Judas

Pagina del manoscritto contenente il Vangelo di Giuda (it.wikipedia.org)

Given the episodes in which he is the protagonist, Judas represents in tradition the emblem of the traitor par excellence, deserving of the most harsh condemnations: in Dante’s Inferno, for example, he is one of three souls damned chewed for eternity by Lucifer.

His sin is as great as that of Peter. Both betrayed the Master, but while one, Peter, cried and repented, the other, Judas, never entrusted himself to the Mercy of Christ.

In figurative art, from the most ancient medieval miniatures, through Giotto, the great masters of the Renaissance, to the most modern works, Judas often has red hair and is left, according to a well-known stereotype, full of symbolic meanings that the expert sociologist Michel Pastoreau, has brilliantly traced in his study of colors: Red is a reminder of the blood shed by Jesus in the Passion, but also the color of the fire and flames of Hell.

New scenarios on the interpretation of the figure of Judas were opened in April 2006, a period in which scholars were divulging the translation of a new unofficial text, which suddenly appeared on the antique market between the end of the 1970s and 1980s: the Gospel of Judas.

The text, apocryphal, not included, that is, among the sacred scriptures universally recognized and accepted by the Catholic Church, would trace the profile of a Judah hero, painted, that is, as the most faithful disciple, the one who better understood Jesus and who, handing him over to priests, supported his will. Judas is the spring that triggers the Passion, which allows God’s designs to be realized with the sacrifice of his only-begotten son, a fundamental element for redemption from sins, for the salvation of man.

The text has triggered a real debate over the last few years, but today there is agreement that it lacks historical information. Without going into the complex and unwieldy questions concerning the translation and interpretation of the manuscript text, we can affirm that the Coptic language version found, would be nothing but a translation of the beginning of the fourth century of an older Gnostic Greek script, written between 130 and 170 AD, which would use the name of Judas to transmit hidden teachings to the initiates of the sect.


Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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