The Judas Enigma: Legendary Fiction and the Unbelievability of Judas Iscariot
Throughout history almost every culture’s folklore has had a trickster or devil character. These are the mischievous problem causers who often pull the wool over our eyes, challenge the protagonist, and give us a good yarn. It’s true that no hero would be complete without his opposite and rival force, that is to say their infernal foil. Without Wiley E. Coyote the Road Runner would just be aimlessly jogging around the desert with nobody to meep meep! at. Without Loki the Norse god Thor would just be a disgruntled dude with a big hammer. Without the Joker Batman would just be the most mentally unbalanced superhero of all time. Without Tom there would be no Jerry. Interestingly, I feel this is where Christianity lacks the most; in its desperate need for there to be one true villain. Rather, the antagonists’ role is divided up between historical figures like King Herod the Great, Pontius Pilate, and the more mythological characters of Judas Iscariot and Satan.
I consider Judas Iscariot a fictional character simply because all we do know is that he maybe was an Apostle to Jesus Christ, but everything about him and his story of betrayal falls into the realm of the fictitious. Historically speaking we do not know whether anyone, let alone Judas, actually betrayed Christ or not. The Bible may say Judas did, but here is where part of the problem lies. The Bible isn’t always internally reliable and should not be trusted as the definitive word without further investigation of the uncovered evidence. So let us look at what some of the evidence is and what it reveals about the Judas figure of Christian storytelling traditions. As we shall see, these added insights will also prove that Judas Iscariot is a fictional character, at the very least a legendary figure without historical ties.
Gnostic Christian tradition as well as Islam suggests Judas died in place of Christ upon the cross, that in actuality it was Judas Iscariot who died for mankind’s sins. This coincides with the idea that Jesus had a twin brother, which the Gospel of Thomas, a third century Gnostic text, names Judas Dydimus as the apostle Thomas. According to Biblical historian and New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman, in his book Lost Christianities, he affirms, “The name Thomas is an Aramaic equivalent of the Greek word Didymus, which means “twin.” Thomas was allegedly Jesus’ identical twin, otherwise known as Jude (Mark 6:3), or Didymus Judas Thomas.”[i] If true, it would be easy to see how all the confusion arises as to whether Judas (Thomas the twin) or Jesus really did or did not die on the cross. Yet most Christians deny these apocryphal accounts of the Christian story as it is not canonical, so let’s keep these conflicting variations in mind as we consider the various accounts as rigorously as possible.
The bulk of these divergent accounts of Judas’ death are contained in the Christian scriptures, and another resides in Christian oral tradition. If we include extra biblical Christian sources such as the long lost Gnostic text of the Gospel of Judas, then of Judas Iscariot’s deaths there are a total of five separate death scenarios including:
1) Death by hanging.
2) Death by plummeting to the bottom of a field and meeting his demise.
3) Death by getting run over by a chariot and being split in two in gory detail.
4) Death by a riotous stoning by the other disciples.
5) Judas dies upon the cross in place of Jesus (as mentioned about in the Didymus Judas “Twin” debacle above).