Rethinking Christianity

What Happened to Judas?

Judas Hangs Himself

Judas Hangs Himself (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Based on biblical accounts, Christians believe that Judas, overcome by guilt for his betrayal of Christ, took his own life. The bible does confirm that Judas ended his life, but the accounts given are contradictory.

In Mat 27:5 the bible says, “And he cast down the pieces of silver into the temple and departed, and went out and hanged himself.”

But Acts 1:18 says, “And falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all of his bowels gushed out.”

Which one is true?

When I read these scriptures in consideration with human nature I draw suspicion that perhaps neither is true. It seems likely to me that Judas’ fate as described in the bible is merely speculation resulting from insinuation and rumors. Since the bible does not contain narrative on Judas after the crucifixion other than to describe his death, I think it is probable that Judas just disappeared from the scene. He left the group and was never heard from again. When I put myself in his position that is what I would have done. I would not have returned to face a group of angry men who blamed me for the betrayal and subsequent death of their rabbi. I would have thought it mortally dangerous to return, and perhaps Judas did as well.

It is human nature to seek closure when there has been a traumatic occurrence or injustice in our lives. We seek to rationalize and justify why it happened, and when it has happened at the hands of another, especially someone whom we have trusted, we will seek vindication by assigning karmic remorse to the perpetrator along with a measure of satisfactory justice.

I think this is what happened with the stories of Judas. I think Judas disappeared leaving the other apostles to draw their own conclusions as to his motive and his eventual outcome. If so, there likely would have been much conjecture and rampant rumors as to what happened to him. Some rumors would have proposed that he was so guilt-ridden that in despair he took his own life. These rumors would have met with satisfaction for some and would have been repeated and elaborated upon with each repetition. This seems a probable explanation as to the differing stories in the bible as to how Judas killed himself. How he committed suicide was just added embellishment.

While the bible accounts of Judas end with his self-inflicted demise, other ancient texts describe Judas’ death differently. The writings of Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, believed to have been written between 110 and 140 ce, detail that Judas died as the result of a horrific condition which caused him to swell grotesquely such that he could not pass where a wagon could. Another version of this account adds that he was crushed by the wagon and his bowels spilled out.

There were others, however, like the Gnostics who rationalized that if Jesus was fore destined to die for the sins of the world then there was no one to blame. In the Gospel of Judas, the text does not say that Judas took his life in remorse. It implies that Judas’ actions were only a part of the divine plan, even that Jesus requested for Judas to be the one to hand him over to those coming to arrest him. This gospel ends with the crucifixion and does not venture into the fate of Judas. I think if the Gnostics had thought that Judas was remorseful over his acts and suffered a punitive death it would have been included in the story just as it was thought so and included in the narratives by the writers of the canonical gospels.

In reading the stories of Judas in the ancient texts I see the results of human speculation and innuendo. In the canonical texts Judas becomes guiltier with each writing eventually even becoming Satan possessed in the book of John, the last gospel written. In the writings of Papias he succumbs to what is implied as a retributory disease. In the gnostic text written in his name, he is simply doing the will of his divine rabbi and implementing the plan of salvation.

My conclusion is that all accounts of Judas’ guilt and subsequent suicide are merely speculation that resulted in embellished rumors that became believed as facts. Reading the Gospel of Judas adds credibility to my conclusion because it shows me that others did not buy into these rumors and adopted their own beliefs as to the fate of Judas. I wonder now if biblical accounts had not tainted Judas as an evil Jew who sought the demise of Christ, and had the gnostic texts conveying a different message not been lost, if Jewish anti-Semitism would have grown into the hateful agenda that it became.

I conclude that the story of Judas conveyed in the bible started as speculation born from a human need to rationalize a tragedy and assign satisfactory justice for a grievous betrayal. In the hands of ancient scribes seeking to minimalize roman involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus, Pilate became someone who reluctantly submits to the will of an angry Jewish mob who sought to kill Christ and Judas became the Jewish agent who initiated the death of Jesus.

What happened to Judas? The physical end of Judas is debatable. But the immortality of Judas is that he became the most vilified man in history, the embodiment of evil, and the justification for a history of atrocities committed against the Jewish people.

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One thought on “What Happened to Judas?

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