THE PASSION AND JUDAS — A CONTROVERSIAL FIGURE

This icon depicts fourteen scenes from the pre-Crucifixion “Passion” (Stradanie) of Jesus:

(Courtesy of Zoetmulder Ikonen: http://www.Russianicons.net)

Though it does not bear an overall title, the little inscriptions by each image identify the various scenes.  As is common in icons, one begins at the upper left corner, moves right, then back to the left side and across again.  Let’s get a quick overview of the images:

Here, “the Jews consult to kill Jesus Christ”:

Here Judas (at left) betrays Jesus to the Jews for 30 pieces of silver:

Here Mary (standing before the other two Marys) implores Jesus “Not to enter Jerusalem”:

Jesus delivers his mother into the keeping of Mary and Martha:

Here is the “Mystic Supper” — the “Last Supper” of Jesus with his disciples:

Here is the “Washing of the Feet” — Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.  Note that Judas, just to the left of the kneeling Jesus, has no halo because of his betrayal of Jesus, in this and other scenes:

Here Judas receives his 30 pieces of silver and informs on Jesus to the Jews:

Here is the “Prayer of the Cup,” the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Here Jesus tells his sleepy disciples to watch and pray:

Here Judas comes with the soldiers who are to arrest Jesus:

Here Judas gives the kiss that identifies and betrays Jesus to the soldiers:

Here the soldiers take the identified Jesus, as Peter cuts off the ear of Malchus:

Here the soldiers bring Jesus before the Archpriest Annas:

Here Annas questions Jesus as Peter denies knowing him three times:

Having done that, let’s focus on one particular fellow in this visual narrative:  Judas.  He is the little guy at left in this image, without a beard.  We see his name written above is head:  IЮДА — IOUDA — “Judas.”

Here he sits at the table of the “Last Supper”:

Judas is easily identifiable at the table, because he has NO HALO; and again, his name is written above his head.  He sits in the foreground between Peter at right, and Bartholomew at left.

Now there is something significant to note in this little image.  You will often hear it said (and read in books) that saints in icons are never shown in a complete side profile.  Well, you can see for yourself, from this image, that it is not always true.  We here see saints Bartholomew, Peter, and Andrew in full side profile.

Now oddly enough, Judas not only causes trouble for Jesus in the story of the passion, but he also has caused, and still causes, a good deal of trouble for biblical scholars, because he is something of a confusing mystery.

Some believe that Judas had no historical reality, but was a fictional creation in early Christian writing.  Why might one believe that?

You may recall that in 66 c.e there was a major revolt of the Jewish people against the Roman authorities at Jerusalem.  This began the Roman-Jewish war, which last from 66 until 73 c.e.   Near the beginning of this revolt, the Romans plundered the Temple in Jerusalem, which only incited further rebellion, and Jewish rebels not only defeated a Roman military legion but also slaughtered some 6,000 Romans.  The matter came to an end with the taking of Jerusalem by Titus Flavius (son of Emperor Vespasian) in 70 c.e. and the destruction of the Jewish Temple, and the last resistance was wiped out at the fortress of Masada in 73 c.e.

Needless to say, Jews were not popular among Romans during this time.  And early Christianity — which was just getting under way — was not yet clearly distinguished from the other segments of belief and antagonistic factions among the Jews.  After the destruction of the Temple, Christians differed from other Jews in believing that the reason for that destruction was the refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah;  non-Jesus-accepting Jews, on the other hand, believed the reason was failure to observe the Torah.

How does all this relate to Judas?  Well, the name Ιουδα — Iouda — (Judas) given the betrayer of Jesus in the New Testament — is just the Greek spelling of the Hebrew name Yehudah — Judah.  In short, a “Jew” (Yehudi) is one from the Tribe of Judah — and the Jews in general are Yehudim (plural form).  So the name “Judas” can be understood to be representative of the Jewish people as a whole in the New Testament — so goes the theory, which posits that this was an early Christian way of taking the blame for the death of Jesus away from the Romans and putting it on “the Jews,” from whom the Christians now wanted to distance themselves.

The earliest Christian writings in the New Testament are those of Paul.  And in all his writing, Paul never mentions that Jesus was betrayed by someone named Judas.  In fact he nowhere says that Jesus was specifically “betrayed.”  In the King James Version, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:23:

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread…”

The Greek word translated “betrayed” by the KJV translators in the 17th century, however, is παρεδίδετο (paradideto), which means “handed over,” rather than specifically “betrayed.”  So Paul — the earliest Christian writer — never mentions Judas, nor does he say specifically “betrayed.”

The theory, then, is that “Mark,” (actually the anonymous writer of the Gospel we call “of Mark) when writing after Paul, decided to introduce a character into the story of Jesus who not only betrayed him, but who could be understood as a representative of the Jewish people as a whole (“Judah”) — again, to take the blame for the death of Jesus away from the Romans, and put it on the Jews.  This decision, so the theory goes, was the New Testament root of the Antisemitism that has caused so much trouble over the last two millennia.

There is much more to this theory, which includes reference to Old Testament texts that look to have provided details of the “betrayal by Judas” story, including the thirty pieces of silver — but I will leave further investigation to those interested in this matter.  It takes us too far afield from iconography.

And speaking of iconography, where else do we find Judas in Eastern Orthodox icons?  We find images of his hanging of himself (actually, Matthew 27:3-8 says he hanged himself, while Acts 1:16-19 says he fell in a field and split himself open) in monastic frescos such as this one from the Gelati Monastery in Georgia (the country, not the state):

The other icon type in which we find Judas, you may recall, is that of the “Terrible Judgment,” which shows the naked Judas sitting in the lap of Satan in Hell:

Often he is shown — as here — still with his bag of silver still in his hand:

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