By Bart D. Ehrman (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006, pgs. 198)
Chapter Three: Judas in Later Gospel Traditions
In surveying all the early traditions about Judas, it is the contention of Dr. Ehrman that oral traditions about Judas circulated for a number of years and resulted in some very different and conflicting presentations about Judas.
The Book of Acts presents Judas as a guide to those who arrest Jesus. However, all was done according to the divine plan, with God the Father understood to be in control of all events. Next, Ehrman points out differences in the account of Acts and in the Gospel of Matthew.
In both, a field is purchased. In Matthew, Judas throws down the money and the priests arrange for a field to be bought in his name. Acts 1:18-19, indicates that Judas purchased the field. it is easy to resolve this conflict by pointing out that the priests never really took back the money, they ordered servants to purchase the field in the name of Judas with his money. So the result in either case is the same– Judas owns a field.
In Matthew, Judas hangs himself, but in Acts, Judas somehow falls headfirst and bursts open. One possible explanation is that Judas does hang himself and after several days the rope breaks under the increased weight of his bloated, spoiling, gaseous body; and it naturally bursts open in the fall. Not a very pleasant thought, but quite possible.
In the Gospel of John, Professor Ehrman stresses that Judas is presented as having a choice between God and the Devil. He chooses to be the devil’s “money grubbing thief”, connected with darkness, and representative as the ‘prototypical Jew’. Ehrman seems to contend that the Gospel of John is anti-Semitic, even though everyone involved in it was Jewish. The worst one can say in this regard, is that some have misinterpreted the Gospel as being anti-Semitic from the context of the Middle Ages on.
In the betrayal account in John, Judas is merely a guide to those looking for Jesus, and Jesus identifies himself here in a miraculous way- “I am he”. This of coarse, is an argument from silence since it does not really present to us what Judas actually said or did during that arrest event.
Many Bible teachers point out that it could well be that none of the Gospels really give us a thorough view of the events in question, but merely record some circulating oral traditions. All of the Gospels combined together may give us a more complete view of what really happened.
In the next section, Ehrman gives us some very interesting accounts of Judas in the writings of the Church Fathers, and in the apocryphal gospels. In one, “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas”, Jesus and Judas are playmates as children in Bethlehem. In this section, Dr. Ehrman presents different traditions about Judas which circulated in the Church from the first century all the way through the Middle Ages. One problem I see here, is the equivalence that Ehrman gives to all these early accounts about Judas.
Nevertheless, this is a very good summary and a comprehensive presentation of all the traditions extant about Judas Iscariot. In his next chapter, Dr. Ehrman presents all the early references to the Gospel of Judas, including the famous presentation by Irenaeus. To be covered in our next article-Part 3.