Judas Iscariot [re-post]

What did the Apostles know about Judas after he betrayed Jesus? Consider: The Apostles were in a state of terror driven panic.  At the height of His popularity, their teacher had been betrayed, seized, tried, killed, and buried.

They were afraid they might be next (so afraid they were in hiding; indeed, one had gone so far as to deny three times he even knew Jesus).

So I’m guessing the immediate whereabouts & activities of Judas Iscariot were not high on their list of priorities.

72 hours later, all this changed, of course.  In the weeks following the Resurrection leading up to the Ascension, the other 11 apostles were either still in hiding or secretively making their way to Galilee.

There were doubtlessly rumors & reports of Judas, probably some from sympathetic Pharisees who decried Annas’ & Caiaphas’ kangaroo court.

It’s doubtful Judas wanted to renew contact with them.

So we’re left with two Biblical accounts of what happened to Judas:  Matthew 27: 3-10 and Acts of the Apostles 1: 15-19.

There are two non-Biblical accounts as well:  The Gospel of Judas describes him as being stoned to death by the other apostles (an understandable reaction, but where did they find the time?); while the early church historian Papias is said to have reported an oral tradition where Judas became obese, so obese that he could not pass through the same opening that a chariot could, and was subsequently run over and crushed by a chariot, his bowels gushing out.*

What we don’t have is a clear time line for any of this.

Is Matthew 27: 3-10 something that actually happened between the time when the Pharisees handed Jesus over to Pilate (Matthew 27: 1-2) and Pilate’s inquiry began (Matthew 27:11) or a flash forward to what happened afterwards?

Because while it’s logical & plausible that Judas might have suffered almost immediate remorse & returned to the temple to throw the money back at the Pharisees, it’s a bit of a stretch to assume they immediately schlepped out to buy a potter’s field with it.

In Acts 1: 18, does Peter literally mean Judas bought a field w/the 30 pieces of silver?  If so, that’s a direct contradiction to Matthew’s account.

Or did Peter mean it figuratively, that the field was acquired w/the money paid Judas, not that Judas completed the transaction himself?  Seems to make more sense that way.

Back to Matthew’s account: Did Judas go and hang himself immediately (“strangle” according to Young’s Literal Translation)?  Or did he wait until the crucifixion itself, or the burial?  Or later?

It makes a difference in reconciling “hanged [strangled] himself” and “falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out”.

The Pharisees were in a hurry to get Jesus good & dead prior to the start of Passover.  Jerusalem came to a dead halt from sundown Friday through dawn Sunday (excepting Roman activity, and that was kept to a minimum to prevent unnecessary friction).

That’s 36 hours.

If Judas did go off and strangle himself at roughly the same moment Pilate’s inquiry began, he had an additional 10 to 12 hours before sundown.

Assuming he found a relatively private place, and knowing most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be preparing for Passover, Judas had at least 36 hours to hang around dead before being discovered.

36 hours.

In the hot Judean sun.


Here’s a NSFW link to the Australian Museum’s page on the process of forensic decomposition after death.

Suicide by hanging does not always mean the body is completely suspended; often times the victim attaches a cord or sash to an object within arm’s reach and simply sags down, cutting off the air & blood supply to the brain.  A lot of prison suicides are accomplished by attaching a towel or torn strip of cloth to the cell bars, then sagging beneath them.

One sees -- no pun intended -- how the line between hanging oneself and strangling oneself is easily blurred.  Translators hundreds of years and thousands of miles removed from the incident might not be able to make the distinction.

If Judas’ body was sagging against the cord, feet touching the ground, the body would have a natural inclination to pitch forward once the cord was cut.  40 hours or more of decomposition (remember, we have no time line as to when his body was discovered, only that it was eventually discovered) and one has all the necessary elements to make Acts 1:18 not only possible but downright unavoidable.

Papias’ account?  Well, we don’t know what he wrote, only what somebody wrote about what he wrote, so he may have been recounting a garbled oral tradition (Did Roman soldiers find Judas?  If so, was there a chariot involved?  Did the oral tradition confuse the post-mortem swelling of a body w/obesity?  Who knows; we don’t have Papias’ version to work with).

The Gospel of Judas?  Well, that work is problematic and has been problematic for nearly 2,000 years.

It’s part of the Gnostic tradition, and while we won’t go into all the details of Gnosticism here, we can say early (i.e., 2nd century) church leaders regarded it as historical fiction (if one is charitable) or a hoax (if one is not).  The Gospel of Judas exists now only in fragments & scattered pages.  What little there doesn’t jibe with the other Gospels and seems more like an attempt to co-opt a new & fast spreading religious teaching to a pre-existing mysticism.




*  The problem with this, obviously, is that we don’t know what Papias actually wrote since that document is long missing; he may have been reporting it as something that he believed actually happened, or he could have been recounting it as an oral tradition of unsure authenticity.

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