1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Judas Iscariot
JUDAS ISCARIOT (Ἰούδας Ἰσκαριώτης or Ἰσκαριώθ), in the Bible, the son of Simon Iscariot (John vi. 71, xiii. 26), and one of the twelve apostles. He is always enumerated last with the special mention of the fact that he was the betrayer of Jesus. If the generally accepted explanation of his surname (“man of Kerioth”; see Josh. xv. 25) be correct, he was the only original member of the apostolic band who was not a Galilean. The circumstances which led to his admission into the apostolic circle are not stated; while the motives by which he was actuated in enabling the Jewish authorities to arrest Jesus without tumult have been variously analysed by scholars. According to some (as De Quincey in his famous Essay) the sole object of Judas was to place Jesus in a position in which He should be compelled to make what had seemed to His followers the too tardy display of His Messianic power: according to others (and this view seems more in harmony with the Gospel narratives) Judas was an avaricious and dishonest man, who had already abused the confidence placed in him (John xii. 6), and who was now concerned only with furthering his own ends.
As regards the effects of his subsequent remorse and the use to which his ill-gotten gains were put, the strikingly apparent discrepancies between the narratives of Matt. xxvii. 3, 10 and Acts i. 18, 19 have attracted the attention of biblical scholars, ever since Papias, in his fourth book, of which a fragment has been preserved, discussed the subject. The simplest explanation is that they represent different traditions, the Gospel narrative being composed with more special reference to prophetic fulfilments, and being probably nearer the truth than the short explanatory note inserted by the author of the Acts (see Bernard, Expositor, June 1904, p. 422 seq.). In ecclesiastical legend and in sacred art Judas Iscariot is generally treated as the very incarnation of treachery, ingratitude and impiety. The Middle Ages, after their fashion, supplied the lacunae in what they deemed his too meagre biography. According to the common form of their story, he belonged to the tribe of Reuben. Before he was born his mother Cyborea had a dream that he was destined to murder his father, commit incest with his mother, and sell his God. The attempts made by her and her husband to avert this curse simply led to its accomplishment. At his birth Judas was enclosed in a chest and flung into the sea; picked up on a foreign shore, he was educated at the court until a murder committed in a moment of passion compelled his flight. Coming to Judaea, he entered the service of Pontius Pilate as page, and during this period committed the first two of the crimes which had been expressly foretold. Learning the secret of his birth, he, full of remorse, sought the prophet who, he had heard, had power on earth to forgive sins. He was accepted as a disciple and promoted to a position of trust, where avarice, the only vice in which he had hitherto been unpractised, gradually took possession of his soul, and led to the complete fulfilment of his evil destiny. This Judas legend, as given by Jacobus de Voragine, obtained no small popularity; and it is to be found in various shapes in every important literature of Europe.
For the history of its genesis and its diffusion the reader may consult D’Ancona, La leggenda di Vergogna e la leggenda di Giuda (1869), and papers by W. Creizenach in Paul and Braune’s Beitr. zur Gesch. der deutschen Sprache und Litteratur, vol. ii. (1875), and Victor Diederich in Russiche Revue (1880). Cholevius, in his Geschichte der deutschen Poesie nach ihren antiken Elementen (1854), pointed out the connexion of the legend with the Oedipus story. According to Daub (Judas Ischariot, oder Betrachtungen über das Böse im Verhältniss zum Guten, 1816, 1818) Judas was “an incarnation of the devil,” to whom “mercy and blessedness are alike impossible.”
The popular hatred of Judas has found strange symbolical expression in various parts of Christendom. In Corfu, for instance, the people at a given signal on Easter Eve throw vast quantities of crockery from their windows and roofs into the streets, and thus execute an imaginary stoning of Judas (see Kirkwall, Ionian Islands, ii. 47). At one time (according to Mustoxidi, Delle cose corciresi) the tradition prevailed that the traitor’s house and country villa existed in the island, and that his descendants were to be found among the local Jews.
Details in regard to some Judas legends and superstitions are given in Notes and Queries, 2nd series, v., vi. and vii.; 3rd series, vii.; 4th series, i.; 5th series, vi. See also a paper by Professor Rendel Harris entitled “Did Judas really commit suicide?” in the American Journal of Philology (July 1900). Matthew Arnold’s poem “St Brandan” gives fine expression to the old story that, on account of an act of charity done to a leper at Joppa, Judas was allowed an hour’s respite from hell once a year. (G. Mi.)
- Other forms make him a Danite, and consider the passage in Genesis (xlix. 17) a prophecy of the traitor.