Friday, February 22, 2013

Judas Fish, Part 1: The Setup

Depending on which Gospel you follow, with Jesus now in the Jerusalem area for His grand finale, we reached the point in Matthew 26:3-4 and Mark 14:1-2 where the Chief Priests, Elders, and Teachers of the Law had gathered and plotted to kill Jesus. But according to John 11:47-53, this wicked congregation met at an earlier time to discuss their dark intents. As we explored in an earlier post, for John and John alone, this murderous meeting was a reaction to the rise of Jesus' great popularity following the resurrection of Lazarus, but none of the other Gospels know anything about that.

Then, again dependent on the Gospel you follow, an unnamed woman, or possibly Jesus' beloved friend Mary, anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, on either His head or His feet, and possibly wiped His feet with her hair. Oh, how confusing the "truth" is at times. Confusing, and rather fishy...

This is Part 1 of a four part series entitled "Judas Fish." The series entries are:

Judas Fish, Part 1: The Setup
Judas Iscariot. Few names in Christendom evoke such hatred, such disgust, such contempt as his name. Judas was the one from Jesus' selected Twelve Apostles who, despite knowing Jesus personally, witnessing Jesus' miracles, and hearing Jesus' divine wisdom first-hand, chose to betray Jesus. The stench of that betrayal has carried through the centuries, but a careful examination instead reveals the pungent odor of rotten fish, as we investigate the story of Judas across the four Gospels in four parts.

Let us start with Mark, the normal source for Matthew and Luke. In Mark 14:10-11, Judas went to the Chief Priests, and they promised to give him money if agreed to help them capture Jesus. Simple. Concise. Baffling.

How could any of the Twelve Disciples, who had been with Jesus through most of His Gospel-recorded life, have any doubt as to who Jesus was? Jesus' miracles and wisdom should have spoken for themselves. Judas seems like either just a fictitious and convenient plot device or an echo of a real history which was about a man who was far less wonderful than the Jesus described in the Gospels; a man who could be doubted even by long-term eye-witnesses.

On the other hand, humans do not always act in logical ways, so we should allow for the possibility that, despite the evidence of divinity, something about Jesus rubbed Judas the wrong way, enough for Judas to play dice with his eternal soul.

Also baffling is how the Gospel writer Mark would have known about this clandestine meeting. Surely this would have been a private affair, so details of the timing and dealing of the meeting are almost certainly made up.

Matthew 26:14-16 takes that fictitious lead a bit farther to tie in a prophesy. His account is essentially the same as Mark's, except that Matthew adds the price of the deal: thirty pieces of silver, a relatively small fee. You may pass this price by without a second thought, but it is meant as a specific prophetic reference. No, it is not a reference to Exodus 21:32, the thirty-shekel fine a bull owner had to pay if that bull killed someone's slave. And it is not likely meant to be a reference to Leviticus 27:4, where God decreed thirty pieces of silver to be the value of a woman. Instead, this botched allusion is most probably a nod to Zachariah 11:12.

If you read the prophesy of Zechariah 11:4-17, you will find that the thirty pieces of silver was what the Jews had given for God, but in a completely different sense. There, God had solicited them to pay Him whatever they thought He was worth, and, when they only offered that paltry sum, He rejected them, and brought about a division between the (long gone by Jesus' time) Jewish nations of Judah and Israel, and promised to raise up for them a foolish shepherd. Not exactly a great tie in to Jesus, huh? But such is the typical nature of Christian "prophesy."

Luke 22:1-6 also extends the fictitious lead, but in a different direction. Luke was an editor who thought things through, and who was not afraid to tweak the story to make it better, at least in his mind. You know the objection discussed earlier about how nearly impossible it would be for someone who really knew Jesus' power and knowledge to betray Him? Luke solves that problem with a simple addition: In Luke 22:3, Satan entered Judas. With Satan inside Judas, controlling Judas, there is no mystery as to how Judas could have betrayed Jesus.

Other than that, Luke's account is essentially the same as Mark's version. Yet Luke also failed to see that there is no way that he could have known about Satan entering Judas, just like he would not have known about the meeting Judas had with the priests.

In John 13:1-2, we do not explicitly find Judas conspiring with the priests, but we do see similar unknowable knowledge that by the time that the Passover dinner had approached, Satan had "already prompted" Judas to betray Jesus.

As opposed to Luke's version, John's wording suggests that possibly Judas was prompted, that is tempted, by Satan instead of being directly controlled by Satan, meaning that Judas had made the choice of his own free will to betray Jesus.

However, John's Gospel uniquely plays up Judas' evil nature more often in the whole Gospel story. In John 6:60-71, Jesus knew that there was a deceiver in the ranks, explicitly called him a devil. In John 12:4-6, Judas was painted as a thief. So overall, John is giving us the impression that Judas was rotten from the beginning.

(The fact that both Luke and John mention Satan with Judas may be significant regarding the origin of their source material. As noted in the previous study on the anointing of Jesus, both Luke and John shared the branch of deviation where the woman anointed Jesus' feet as opposed to His head. However, because of the way John portrays Judas as evil multiple times in his Gospel versus Luke's nearly non-mentioning of him until the point of deception, I suspect that these Satanic influences evolved independently of each other. In fact, Luke's only other previous mention of Judas, as with Matthew and Mark, is when the names of the Twelve Disciples are listed. There, in Luke 6:16, it says that Judas "became a traitor," suggesting a change in his nature.)

So that is the setup. Judas, either on his own, controlled by Satan, or merely influenced by Satan, conspired with the Chief Priests to ransom Jesus' life. The Gospel writers had no shame in recording more than they factually knew, such as the timing and details of the meeting, the extent of the influence of Satan, or the sum of money exchanged that just-so-happened to conveniently tie into a prophesy.

But perhaps this is a hasty judgement. As suspiciously fictitious as these details appear, perhaps they got these details from third-person accounts, or through divine channels. So let us just keep these in mind as we continue in our study of Judas.


  1. I recall that Judas kills himself shortly after this stuff happens, but is there time for him to recount some of these details before he goes off and dies? Perhaps he told the various gospel writers the story, and as he was distraught and sobbing, it came out a bit different each time.

    The other thing I was thinking about while reading this is when you were talking about the 30 pieces of silver trying to match up with something from the old testament. It makes me think of later seasons of poorly thought out TV shows, they have to tie up all the loose ends from early seasons, but they didn't plan ahead so it turns out terrible (battlestar galactica, I'm looking at you)

  2. Yes, Hausdorff, you are remembering correctly that Judas killed himself, and perhaps he did come crying to the Disciples; telling his story full of tears. However, I think, as the series moves on, you will see other issues with the story that considerably reduce the likelihood of that explanation.

    Ha, it probably does seem a bit haphazard to match that prophesy now. :-) I mentioned the other two thirty-shekel verses first just because I thought they were interesting verses in and of themselves. However, we can be fairly certain about the prophesy tie to Zachariah 11:12 based on what Matthew would later describe in the story. Hang with the series, and all will be revealed... ;-)

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