For our first entry here for Traitor’s Month, we have
Judas. Due to his role in the Bible as the betrayer of Jesus, his name has
become synonymous in a multitude of language and cultures with betrayal and
greed, and so therefore this should be an interesting place to start off from.

Traditionally, Judas is seen as the worst of the worst
for his role in the gospels for betraying Jesus – the Messiah – in the
canonical gospels of the Bible. This has naturally resulted in him being hated
in Christianised countries. The kiss of betrayal that Judas gives Jesus is an
event is popular amongst painters such as Hans Holbein the Younger, and again
has the effect of cementing the negative image of Judas as the betrayer into
the minds of the public. Interesting, is the fact that Jesus is aware that
Judas is going to betray him before the event actually happened. This is
reference in passages in the Bible such as “Judas Iscariot, one of his
disciples (he who was about to betray him)” (John 12:4), which make it clear
that Jesus knew that Judas would betray him. This raises the issue of free will
versus predestination, and the fact that if Judas was predestined to commit the
betrayal, should be really be blamed for something which he could not help?
Elsewhere in the Bible, there is reference to a demon entering Judas – “during
supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot,
Simon’s son, to betray him” (John 13:2) – which raises this issue further.

The existence of the Judas legends also gives us an
interesting side to Judas. Wolf mentions that the first one in the Latin form existed
in the twelfth century, and tells the story of how Judas’ father had a vision
that his son would kill him. Judas was then left in a forest to die, but was
found by shepherds and raised in Scariot when he eventually came to be under
the service of Herod. Following Herod’s orders, Judas went to fetch fruit from
a nearby garden and ended up slaying its owner, who turned out to be his
father. To make matters worse, he was then married off to the lady of the
house; namely his mother. When they had realised what had happened, they sought
the forgiveness of Christ who they had heard could absolve people of their
sins, which is how Judas came to know Jesus. Another variation of the legend,
dated in the late twelfth century or the early thirteenth century, has the
mother of Judas setting her son adrift at sea when she has a dream that he would
be the one who would destroy the Jewish race. Judas is taken in by the childless
queen of the Scariot Island, wherein he ended up abusing and eventually slaying
her natural-born son that she had conceived not long after taking him in. The second
half of the story remains the same, with Judas being under the command of
Pontius Pilate rather than Herod and Judas going alone to seek forgiveness from
Christ. The parallels here with both Oedipus and Moses are interesting to say
the least. From the thirteenth century the Judas legend could be found in England,
France and Italy and spread on to great Western Europe, then on the
Scandinavia, Ireland and Scotland in the fourteenth century, before finally
coming to countries such as Russia, Finland and Poland at a later date.

The discovery of the so-called “Gospel of Judas”, which
was first unearthed in the 1970s and rediscovered and republished in 2003, also
gives an interesting aspect to the figure of Judas. A fragmented document
discovered in Egypt and thought to be composed in the second century by Gnostic
followers of Judas; it paints the figure of Judas in a very different light
than what is found in the canonical books of the Bible. Judas instead has a
special relationship with Jesus and is the only one of the apostles and
followers of Him who properly understands the message that He is trying to
teach. This is that God exists as a luminous cloud of light, and first created
a group of angels and lower gods who were responsible for creating the Earth. The
corruption of the world is explained by the fact that these angels were
imperfect creature, and so therefore their own creation – the world – was
imperfect in return, full of pain, suffering and death. The head angel was
Adamas, who then had a human body created for himself and became Adam – the
first man. This resulted in man forgetting their divine origin, and so Jesus
was sent as the son of the true God to remind people of the divinity within
them. Most importantly, the document says that Judas handed over Jesus to the
Roman authorities on Christ’s own orders; essentially presenting the fact that
it was not a betrayal after all. Although the document is more useful as a
representation of the beliefs of the Gnostics in the second century rather than
one with theological merit, it presents an interesting image of Judas.


Baum, F.P., ‘The Medieval Legend of Judas Iscariot’, PMLA, 31, 3 (1916), 481-632.

The Gospel of Judas,

Wolf, K.,
‘The Judas Legend in Scandinavia’, The
Journal of English and Germanic Philology
, 88, 4 (1989), 463-476.


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