The Italian writer, Dante Alighieri, wrote possibly the greatest Italian literary masterpiece of all time, the Divina Commedia, sometime in the fourteenth century. In the first part of his epic poem, Inferno, Dante’s semi-autobiographical lead character, accompanied on his journey by the pre-Christian Era Roman poet, Virgil, descended into the depths of the earth, right to the nine circles of hell, with the sign at the entrance ominously warning, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
Passing through each of the circles, the depravity and punishment that he saw meted out to the sinners (consisting of eminent historical personalities such as Helen of Troy, Pontius Pilante, Pope Nicholas III and the Prophet Mohammad, among others) grew more terrible by the moment. Traversing past each of the circles, rings and bolgias, he felt that no worse punishment could ever be imagined for these eternally damned souls, and yet, he was proven wrong each time. Reaching the ninth and final circle, he saw that it was inlaid with another four concentric circular section.
Reaching the final circle, he finally saw Satan, imprisoned from the waist down by frozen ice, which despite its best efforts, it would never be allowed to break free off. “With six eyes did he weep, and down three chins, trickled the tear drops and the bloody drivel”, was how Dante pitifully described Satan initially. Yet, the three-headed, six-winged and six-eyed beast was chewing Brutus and Cassius (co-conspirators in the murder of Julius Caesar) with the mouth of his left and right head respectively.
Most striking however, was the person Satan was chewing with his middle head, while continuously slicing it with its sharp claws, until all the skins are stripped free, until the spine are visible to the naked eye. Judas Iscariot - An eternity of pain administered by the Prince of Evil himself, for the greatest sinner the Western world has ever known.
The fact that Dante saw it fit to crown Judas, the man behind the term, ‘The Kiss of Judas”, as the greatest sinner of all, is testament to the enduring vilification that he has been subjected to for nearly 2,000 years. Judas Iscariot, the name that will eternally be associated with the word betrayer and traitor, forever condemned for the crucification and eventual murder of the Son Of God. His crime was so great, his character so depraved, his treachery knew no bounds.
He was once one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, alongside Bartholomew, Peter, Andrew, Philip, James of Zebedee, John, Thomas, Matthew, James of Alpheus, Thaddaeus and Simon, who abused his privileged position and the trust conferred on him. Interestingly, according to Christian apocrypha, the twelve apostles were meant to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and to rule over them in the Lord’s stead, which makes these twelve Apostles as potential rulers, Kings in waiting. Perhaps the prospect of becoming the King of Judea was too tempting the man. On the other hand, were there other forces, factors and plans at play here?
It was at the Garden of Gethsemane, an olive grove located on the east of Jerusalem, where Jesus and his twelve Apostles went to after the Last Supper. Jesus, already aware of the events that were about to unfold that night, had earlier dropped several hints to his Apostles over the course of the evening to prepare them for the fact, yet, He did nothing to prevent it from happening. It was part of the greater plan towards ensuring the salvation of humanity itself, as Christians the world over would eventually discover. Christ sacrificed himself to atone for the sins of man, allowing them the opportunity to once again walk in the path of salvation.
Jesus left his Apostles to pray in solitude twice that evening, and upon returning from the third, Judas, who had left earlier, returned, accompanied by a mob of temple priests, Sanhedrin officials and soldiers. Judas approached Jesus and planted a respectful kiss on him, as was proper etiquette at the time between students and teachers.
After a short exchange, where Jesus identified himself twice to the arresting party, the soldiers advanced to arrest Him. At this point, Simon drew his sword and attacked the party of soldiers, and only the intervention of Jesus prevented a greater bloodbath. In fact, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). As it is, one of the priests, Malchus, had his ears sliced off by Simon, but Jesus healed it under the watchful eyes of everyone. Jesus berated Simon for the violence and agreed to follow the arresting party peacefully. Amidst the outcries of His Apostles and attendants, He said, “How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Matthew 26: 54).
Jesus was then brought before the High Priest Caiaphas immediately after his arrest, for reasons unknown, though speculation has centered on Caiaphas requesting Him to retract His claims of divinity, to protect the populace against the Roman’s aggression, who are becoming fearful of a rebellion starting among the visibly restless populace.
Soon after, they took Jesus to the court of the Sanhedrin (a Jewish council of wise) to attend his hearing, another irregularity, considering the Sanhedrin had no judicial authority other than an advisory role for the Romans. The next morning, they took Him to the Prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, for his sentencing. After some debate between Pilate - who was extremely wary of how his decision may affect the greater population - and Caiaphas, Jesus was sentenced to death by crucification and in an unexpected twist of event, the murderous criminal Barabbas was given a pardon by Pilate as demanded by a feverish, manipulated crowd. As we all know, The Son of God was crucified and died soon after, resurrection notwithstanding.
Conventional biblical canons states that upon hearing of Jesus’ sentence and his subsequent death, Judas, consumed with guilt and sorrow, threw away the pouch containing the 30 silver coins, his fees from the Temple priesthood for betraying Christ’s location, and hung himself to death shortly after.
Thus, Judas, despite his final remorse, will forever has his name etched as the archetypical traitor, uttered in contempt throughout the ages.
For a character as important and influential as Judas, there is surprisingly little available about the man. We know that he probably originated from Hebron, and his father is named as Simon. He was also the de-facto treasurer of Jesus’ movement and the only native Judean among the 12 Apostles.
Some have conjectured that he is a member of the Sicarii, a band of violent Judean nationalists, intent on driving the Romans out of Judea and establishing an independent nation. Expanding further, scholars have speculated that the Sicarii initially viewed Jesus as the prophesized Messiah who will unite all Judeans and bring about a revolution. Judas somehow managed to infiltrate into the inner circle of Christ but eventually became disillusioned with Jesus’ non-confrontational policy. The arrangement for Jesus’ capture was made in the hope that it will be the catalyst for the Judean people to take arms against the Roman invaders.
Other theories attempting to explain the incident includes:
However, a number of contradictions arise in relation to Judas in the Christian scriptures that warrant a closer scrutiny.
The Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Acts appears to contradict each other in relation to the death of Judas.
There have been some who have attempted to justify this discrepancy with a simulation of how Judas could have simply fallen from a tree that he hung himself from, thus causing his innards to spill owing to the great impact of the fall. Setting that theory aside, the passages above brings us to another curious point – just where did Judas died?
In the passage from the Book of Act above, Judas had apparently purchased a piece of land using his ill-gotten 30 silver coins. The passage from Matthew, on the other hand, had clearly pointed out that he had returned the coins to the priesthood out of remorse.
However, the most telling aspect of Judas’ death though, lies in the following passages from the Corinthians and the Book of Act.
To put things into proper perspective, Cephas was Peter, who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus together with the TWELVE Apostles (which obviously includes Judas), three days after Judas’ supposed death! In addition, the replacement of Judas by Matthias as one of the twelve Apostles, would not take place for another forty days yet.
A passage from the Islamic scripture, the Al-Quran, provides yet another astounding theory on what actually transpired then.
The Quran claims that Judas took Jesus’ place and was the one actually crucified!
There are those who believe that instead of labeling Judas as a traitor or betrayer, he should be hailed as a hero instead, for his part in the salvation of the human race. The following passages shed some light on the claim.
The passages above clearly imply that either Judas was preordained to play the role of a betrayer, or that Satan has taken control of Judas. In each instance, Jesus was aware of both Judas’ role in the plan and/or his demonic possession, and yet, did nothing to prevent it from happening. In either case, this exonerates Judas’ as he was merely a pawn in the greater scheme of things, helpless in the face of destiny. However, there is another missing piece of the puzzle that we have yet to consider.
In 1970, a Greek black market antique dealer, Nicolas Kotoulakis, smuggled a 62-page leather-bound codex out of Egypt to Geneva. The codex was believed to have been discovered sometime during the 1950s in Al Minya, Egypt, by a local black market trader. Initial inspection by scholars reveals that the document could potentially be one of the earliest apocryphal gospels in existence. However, the manner that it was procured prevented any respected institution from coughing up the $3 million dollars asking prize.
Nevertheless, a private auction held in Geneva in 1983 allowed a young Yale theological doctoral candidate, Stephen Emmel, the opportunity to inspect the codex, which by now had been officially named as the Codex Tchacos. The interest generated by Emmel’s observation eventually led to the codex being acquired by a Basel-based private firm. Subsequently, the contents of the codex were revealed in 2004 in Paris, during a theological conference. An extensive array of test were conducted on it by numerous leading professionals before it was conclusively declared as originating from as early as two centuries after Christ’s death. However, the most important detail discovered was located right towards the end of the codex, a short text identified as Euangelion Ioudas, or, The Gospel of Judas.
In 2006, The Gospel of Judas was publicly unveiled and met with immediate skepticisms and outright claims of forgery from all corners, which is understandable as the contents are inflammatory, to say the least. Even the highly respected National Geographic, who produced a documentary on the Gospel, was not spared the ridicule.
The Vatican, through the Roman Catholic Church of Rome, released a statement that was viewed as highly unusual by Vatican observers. Excerpts of the statement below shows that the Vatican views the Gospel as a complete fabrication, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“The Vatican, by word of Pope Benedict XVI, grants the recently surfaced Judas' Gospel no credit with regards to its apocryphal claims... Judas, according to Pope Benedict XVI "viewed Jesus in terms of power and success: his only real interests lied with his power and success … He was a greedy man: money was more important than communing with Jesus; money came before God and his love."
So, what was it inside the Gospel of Judas that made the Vatican, among many others, turn incredibly aggressive, against all norms?
Perhaps a few passages from the Gospel can shed some light. Unlike other more well known gospels, the Gospel of Judas does not employ a narrative method of writing. Instead, it consists mainly of dialogues between Jesus and His Apostles. Some of the more telling passages from it are as follows:
The implications of the passage excerpts here are stunning, to say the least. A reading of the Gospel of Judas will reveal that Judas was, in fact, a close, if not the closest confidante’ of Jesus, and was being prepared by Jesus to assume the role of the ‘bad guy’, with a promise of rewards that at least equals to what God had promised Abraham two millennia earlier. The first-person narrative evokes the kind of awe one rarely gets from reading a religious book.
The dream that Judas’ alluded to have had, may also explain what actually transpired to the man, specifically, concerning his death, which has become one of the most questioned aspects of modern biblical studies. However, the repercussion of accepting this version of his death, of being stoned by his fellow Apostles, opens a completely new line of argument.
While the concept of Judas merely following Jesus’ instructions in the matter of His arrest, has long been touted by scholars, the Gospel of Judas has without doubt, provided us with the single most conclusive evidence of the fact. Jesus have been planning for the event, and can be seen prepping Judas for the inevitable confrontation.
While we may not see it in our lifetime, we can rest easy knowing that in a few generations, as the Gospel of Judas becomes more accepted by the masses, and even possibly by the religious community, Judas will finally be able to redeem his honor, and his kiss, may no longer carry a stigma of evil.