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Last Easter, the newspapers got very excited about the publication of a book called The Lost Gospel of Judas. And if you know the difference between a Valentianist and Sethian, then a new Coptic codex from the third century is indeed a very exciting discovery. If, like me, you couldn't define 'Coptic' or 'Codex' with any confidence, then it isn't. Perhaps the most interesting question arising from the book was 'How did National Geographic manage to convince the press that it could possibly be the kind of thing that their readers would be interested in?'
While the newspapers were full of this, and while the Pope and the Archbishop were preaching sermons upholding the 'orthodox' account, I decided I had better check my Bible and see what the canonical Gospels actually say about Judas Iscariot. I thought I knew the story. Judas saw things only in terms of worldly power; he was greedy and sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver; he led the priests to the garden of Gethsemane and identified Jesus to them by kissing him; he was filled with remorse, threw the silver back in the priests' faces, and hanged himself.
2: The Woman With the Jar
3: Why do the Priests need a betrayer?
4: 'One of you will betray me'
5: How many thrones?
6: What does Judas do?
7: Thirty pieces of silver
8: Where have we got to so far?
9: The feast of unleavened bread
10: The fourth Gospel
11: The Elephant in the Upper Room
- Matthew uses the neutral word 'deliver up' to describe Judas action; Luke says unambiguously 'traitor'.
- Matthew says that Jesus and Judas called each other 'friend' and 'master'; Luke omits this.
- Matthew says that Jesus let Judas kiss him; Luke says that he didn't.
- Matthew says that Judas got no benefit from his fee, was filled with remorse, and killed himself; Luke says that he kept the money, invested it in real estate, and then exploded.
- Luke describes what Judas did as 'his iniquity'.
- Matthew says that Jesus said that all twelve disciples would sit on twelve thrones; Luke omits the word 'twelve'.
- Matthew's account of the Last Supper depicts a strange ritual in which each of the disciples take it in turns to ask Jesus if they are the betrayer, and Jesus selects Judas. Luke merely says that the disciples talked among themselves, before having one of their perennial squabbles about who was the greatest.
- Matthew implies that Judas is provoked into his actions because of something which happened when the woman anointed Jesus; Luke omits this story, and instead tells us that he was prompted by Satan.
- There is only one point at which Matthew seems to present Judas in a worse light than Luke: Matthew says that Judas asked the priests for money; Luke says that they volunteered it. But Matthew is presumably making a theological point 'The Priest's regarded Jesus as not having much value – he was only worth the price of slave, just as God was only worth the price of a slave at the time of Zechariah' rather than recording a piece of historical data.