Jesus died around 30 AD. We know this because Pontius Pilate ran Judea for the Romans from 26 to 36 AD. However, the first gospel to be written, the gospel of Mark, did not appear until around 40 years later. During this 40-year period called "the oral period," there were no known written Christian sources other than Paul, who wrote his letters between 50 and 64 AD, and he gave almost no biographical details about Jesus. He wrote nothing about Judas Iscariot.
Many people watched the recent TV show about the recently discovered Gospel of Judas on the National Geographic channel. The show was primarily concerned with the authenticity of the ancient papyrus document; however, the textural analysis is much more interesting and relevant.
This is supposed to have been written by the disciple who betrayed Jesus to the Roman authorities. In this long-lost gospel, Judas claims that he was asked to do this deed by Jesus himself. The papyrus has been dated to around 300 AD. It is a later copy of an earlier document, since its existence has been known ever since it was mentioned by Bishop Irenaeus in 180 AD, even though an actual copy was not found until 1970, when it was discovered in the Egyptian desert with a group of other documents.
It may actually be a sort of "DaVinci Code" of its time, a fun read with a grain of Gnostic truth in it for early Christians.
Biblical scholars have always been puzzled by Judas because "Judas Iscariot" doesn't have any real meaning. In those days, nobody had last names: Jesus was "Jesus, son of the carpenter," or you were identified by where you came from. The Hebrew for "son of" is "ben" (in Arabic, it's "bin" which is why we hear so many names like "Bin Laden").
"Judas" simply means "Jew" and "Iscariot" has no meaning--it's neither a place nor the name of a person. In his brilliant books about Jesus and Paul, English historian A.N. Wilson suggests that the name might actually be "Judas scarius," ie. "the knife man," and it may indicate that Jesus and his band were guerilla fighters against the Roman occupation.
In Bloodline of the Holy Grail, Laurence Gardner writes, "Anohter well-born nationalist leader of renown was Judas, chief of the Scribes. The Dead Sea Scrolls were produced under his tutelage and that of his predecessor, the fierce Judas of Galilee, founder of the Zealot movement. Apart from his academic scholarship, Judas the Apostle was the tribal head of East Manasseh and a warlord of Qumran. The Romans had a nickname for him: to them he was Judas Sicarius (a sica was a deadly, curved dagger). The Greek form of the nickname was Sikariotes and its corruption to Sicariote was, in due course, further corrupted to become Iscariot."
All this reminds me of the story a friend of mine once told me. When she was a young girl, her grandmother would sit with her while her mother worked as a waitress at night. The grandmother insisted she study the Bible, instead of the romance fiction she was longing to read. In those days, Bibles often had the words spoken by Jesus words printed in red so she said, "I only read the red words."
Ever since, she has often heard preachers insisting that "Jesus said this" or "Jesus said that." She told me, "I always stand up and say, 'No, he didn't--he never said that!' I've gotten kicked out of a lot of Sunday schools over the years."
Whoever Jesus was, he remains my all-time favorite shaman. In order to celebrate the Easter holiday on Sunday, I have tickets for a comedy show, because Jesus had such a great sense of humor. Besides, ever since I almost died, I find I no longer need to go to church, because church comes to me. My Easter message to you is this: if you stay alert, I guarantee you'll notice that it comes to YOU, too.
UPDATES: Readers have been kind enough to write to correct my amateur Biblical scholarship. I've been told that "Iscariot" might refer to Kerioth ("ish qeriyot" in Hebrew), a town in Judah twenty-three miles south of Jerusalem and seven miles from Hebron. This means that Judas was the only non- Galilean in the group of disciples.
Another reader wrote: "This is where a little bit of Hebrew comes in handy (being Israeli, it's more than a little). The Hebrew for Judas Iscariot is Yehuda Ish Krayot. Ish meaning a man, in this context implies someone from Krayot, plural for Kirya, meaning town. Today a number of towns near Haifa are collectively known as the Krayot. I don't know where Yehuda hailed from, but he seems to have been from an area known as 'the towns,' and people then would have known the location."
Yet another reader wrote: "There is one more possibility as to where Judas' "last" name came from: A copyist error may have transposed two letters and Judas' name actually did identify him as a member of the party of the Sicarii. This comes from the Greek word for a group of fanatical nationalists who thought that the only good Roman was a dead Roman. Judas Iscariot could have been Judas the Terrorist, from the Roman point of view. This possibility could partially explain why Judas betrayed Christ--because Jesus didn't "fight" the Romans physically, and Judas was disappointed in him.
Thanks again to all of you!
NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.