Society remembers not only its heroes but its villains, people who have distinguished themselves through monstrous cruelty or evil. It is not in a history text or work of fiction but in the Bible that we find the arch type of all such reprobates—Judas Iscariot.

We think of Judas as an unholy trinity of betrayer, traitor, and thief, as unforgettable as he is unforgiveable. That is the traditional view of him. Yet Soren Kierkegaard shrewdly reminds us that “one will get a deep insight into the state of Christianity in each age by seeing how it interprets Judas.” Perhaps we have made Judas into an Iago figure, a tragic caricature of a solitary monster. Did he act freely, or was he predestined? Such quibbling has blurred his significance.

It is true that Judas Iscariot was a man apart. A native of Kerioth, he was the only one of the twelve apostles who was not a Galilean. The Gospels mark him as a thief and as the betrayer of Christ. Yet surely he was no more endowed with the frailties of the human condition than others who followed Jesus. Thomas was the skeptic; Matthew the fraudulent tax collector; Peter the impulsive; James and John the vengeful “sons of thunder”; and then there is that great host described anonymously as “publicans and sinners.” Perhaps Judas was not like them; for no man commits suicide casually. What kind of titanic struggle led this man to end his life in despair?

It would not be far wrong to suggest that by the time the Gospel narrative brings us to the last week in Jerusalem there are only two people who have any clear grasp of what is going on. Each one knows that the Kingdom is to be established; yet they perceive it differently. Each man faces a great anxiety. Both men are concerned for this world’s ...

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