Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Judas Significance Across the Gospels

JUDAS IS A significant biblical figure: the archetypal and infamous traitor, with whom no-one wants to be associated (although many would gladly associate their enemies with him!). But how significant is he? Today is a statistical response to that question. First, let us propose a methodology: count the number of words per Judas narrative, count the number of words in the books holding those narratives and divide the former by the latter to arrive at a percentage. That percentage is the amount of space given specifically to Judas by the gospel writer relative to their total. Since part of Luke's Judas narrative occurs in Acts 1, I have added Acts chapter 1 to Luke's total words.

So we arrive at the somewhat surprising following pie chart:

Because I have been studying the Judas narratives for a while, I was not too surprised to see how dominant John was when I crunched the numbers. The reason for a bigger focus for John can be accounted for in two ways, each connected to the other (and some folks aren't going to like the second one particularly).

Firstly, John ascribes the complaints at the scene of Jesus' anointing directly to Judas (and no-one else), which adds a bulky extra sub-chapter to his narrative. Secondly, since it is widely agreed that John is the latest of the gospels to be written, it is possible (and in my view very likely) that the villainy of Judas grew over time (see here for links to how the story developed by the early second century in Papias' time), requiring more gory details to fill out just how evil a character he was. John's Judas emphasis is the clear "winner" despite having no suicide scene - why might that be? Precisely because for Judas to "regret what he had done" (see Matthew 27:3) might decrease his villainy ratings. In the above hyper-linked post to Papias' account of Judas' death, I did not emphasise that strongly enough: Like John, Papias does not have a change of heart (Satan is in him, right?), and it his evil that slowly destructs his body until he disgustingly explodes! Even Papias accounts, however, require careful textual criticism to try to account for significant variations on the Judas narrative cited.

What is most surprising is Luke, who not only does include a suicide scene but still manages to emerge a distinct fourth, even behind the commonly-presumed brief Mark. Why might that be? First of all, remember this data representation is a significance comparison per author. Luke is a lengthy writer and my tally of English words (based on the NET version) for Luke plus Acts chapter 1 is 25570. Luke actually gives the same number of words to his Judas narrative as Mark does - 210 to Mark's 220. He simply has many other things to tell us about, especially about Jesus! I believe that had he had access to Matthew or John, he may well have opted to include more details.

I suppose I can also confess advance surprise by Matthew. Not on the basis of this particular comparison, but because I do not see from the Judas narrative comparison I am doing a clear awareness of Luke's account by Matthew, which I used to assume based on my meta-view of the gospel composition process. That is in part because of my understanding of how the trifold baptismal formula arose in Mat 28, as a response to a misconstrued Jesus baptism evidenced in Luke-Acts. So it is fascinating to see how these different studies tie in together, as looking in detail here helps me adjust my larger overall perspective. Two examples in Matthew then that are surprising to me: if Matthew were aware of Luke then why would he allow for regret on Judas' part and why would he omit Luke and John's insistence that Judas had become Satan's operative?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks very much for your feedback, really appreciate the interaction.