Judas is a most enigmatic figure, certainly more so than Pontius Pilate or King Herod. The mystery behind his character may even equal that of Jesus himself.

The Iscariot part of his name has traditionally thought to refer to Kerioth, a town in Judea, the southern kingdom. Since Galilee is in the northern kingdom, and Jesus and the other apostles were from Galilee, this would make Judas a bit of a black sheep, him being the only Judean there. But since there is no mention of Judas not being of Galilee like the others in the Bible, this is not a particularly satisfying answer. Some have reflected that Iscariot may be a corruption of Sicariot, the first two letters simply having been transposed. This would make him a member of the Sicarii. The Sicarii were Jewish zealots who bore daggers and pledged to do whatever they must to free Israel from Roman rule. They would assassinate Romans and Jews who they thought were disloyal to the cause, stabbing them in the back and then running away.

So why did Judas do as he did? If he were a zealot, would he not be the least likely to get into bed with the Romans? There are many schools of thought on the reasoning of Judas.

The only answer given by the Bible itself is found in John 12:5 and 12:6. Jesus is being soothed by the very costly ointment of Mary Magdalene, and Judas asks, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" The narrator then says that, "This he said not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein." This suggets that Judas was some kind of thief who took the money gathered by Jesus' ministries. Greed would be reason enough for such a man.

Others have suggested that Judas did these things because he sought to spur Jesus into action. If Judas were indeed a zealot, clearly he would be looking for a messiah of a military nature--not the spiritual messiah Jesus was acting as. It does not seem entirely unreasonable of Judas to get Jesus in trouble with the Romans, since if Jesus really were the son of God, surely he would fight back against any threat and prevail. You know. . .lightning bolts from your fingers. And angels of death. And so on.

Of course, regardless of his reasoning, by Christian thought, Judas had to turn Jesus in, the crowds had to choose Barabbas, and Pontious Pilate had to have Jesus killed--Jesus was the lamb who was condemned to die so that man could be saved. He was Azazel's scapegoat. If Judas had not acted so ignominiously, mankind would have been (and, again, by Christian thought) never given the option of salvation.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote a most excellent piece entitled Three Versions of Judas. As Borges so often designs it, the short story masquerades as a critique of a fictional author's work. The work being discussed in Three Versions of Judas suggests that God did not come to Earth in the form of Jesus, for the death of Jesus was far to noble and honorable--one day upon the Cross, and then an eternity of honor, love, and bliss. Instead, posits Borges' fictional author, God came to Earth in the form of a character who suffered far more ignominiously and far more horrible, for a greater suffering, a suffering that would last throughout the ages, was required for man to be saved--God came to Earth in the form of Judas. It is a very interesting, very strange short story. I suggest you read it, if you can. In fact, I suggest you read all of Borges work. It is really quite spectacular.

So, finally, what became of Judas after all this business? In The Gospel of St. Matthew, Judas threw the money at the priests to whom he had turned Jesus in to and then "went and hanged himself" (Matthew 26:5). Matthew goes on to say that the priests took the thirty pieces of silver and bought a piece of land called "potter's field," where strangers were buried in. He adds, "Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day."

Acts of the Apostles tells a different story--It says that Judas took his thirty pieces of silver and bought a field, feeling no remorse at all. It then goes on to say of his ultimate demise, "falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out" (Acts 1:18). Ouch.

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