Thursday, 7 June 2018

Mark's Judas

Mark 3:19 (Jesus appointed twelve...) and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mark 14:10-21 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus into their hands. When they heard this, they were delighted and promised to give him money. So Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray him...

While they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me will betray me.”  They were distressed, and one by one said to him, “Surely not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who dips his hand with me into the bowl.  For the Son of Man will go as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if he had never been born.”

Mar 14:42-45 Get up, let us go. Look! My betrayer is approaching! Right away, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived. With him came a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and experts in the law and elders. (Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I kiss is the man. Arrest him and lead him away under guard." When Judas arrived, he went up to Jesus immediately and said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him.


Spoiler alert:

If you are committed to an error-free Bible (or “biblical inerrancy”), then this series of posts on Judas might be offensive to you. Sorry about that, although it does kinda depend on what you mean by error and if you see it as is truly antithetical to truth. As time goes on, my commitment to truth and authentic faith just makes me keep pushing. However, where contradictions in the Judas narratives occur (and I guarantee you that they will), because I am not in a drive to point out the historical accuracy of each biblical account, I am also free to ask other deeper questions. Here’s a good one that I have encountered already on the blog: why would you change a story when your resurrected leader insists on righteous and loving living before God?

As I have noted before, it is Bart Ehrman’s early work that provides us a good answer. When Ehrman was probing the reasons as to why Christian scribes would occasionally make changes to the texts they were copying, he realised that there was not malicious intent involved, but rather a deep desire to preserve and safeguard the truth against misconstrual. I'm just going to go ahead and say that word again: MISCONSTRUAL.

This is such a keyword, very much like “misunderstanding”, but better. Essentially, the way I see it, if deeper-level misconstrual is at stake, less significant compromises on historical accuracy can and should be made, especially if a sense of divine commissioning undergirds the text.

My proposal on how to read the gospel writers on Judas is one that invites each up to the stand “in turn” – one after the other – and invite them to share what they consider to be relevant to our knowledge of Judas and the scene of Jesus’ anointing. As we do so, we can reflect upon what the author may be seeking to achieve with the details he includes or leaves out, and when contradictions do occur, what the likelier historical precedent might have been. Since Mark is the obvious first author to invite to the stand, there is nothing yet to contradict, this will be more evident later on.

Mark’s Judas

Surprisingly, perhaps, this earliest account we have of Judas does not really have much to say about him. One thing that that is quite intriguing is the statement “Judas, one of the twelve” is actually repeated in Mark. In all, it occurs seven times between the four canonical authors, twice in each synoptic and once in John. We can speculate that perhaps there was discussion early on about who Jesus’ betrayer was and perhaps some disbelief that the betrayer of the leader of the movement could really have come from within the inmost circle – surely not!

Mark also has an insistence on “Iscariot” – which is a helpful identifier in a context where Judas was a popular Jewish name (note also the tribe of Judah). It may, of course, have been tricky if you were in the Iscariot family in the first century…. UNLESS the Iscariots were actually anti-Christian Jews and thus not favourable among the Christians. So perhaps this deeply Jewish family rejected the Christian sect and actively contributed to their exclusion from the synagogues (see Luke 21:12 and John 16:2). Given how we will see story-telling around Judas commenced even within the Christian canon, I would say that although speculative, this is not an unlikely scenario.

On the theme of Jesus betrayals, Mark goes into just as much detail on Peter’s own denial of his master, their Rabbi, before the second crowing of the cock. Actually, the Peter betrayal stands in a sort of strange juxtaposition against the Judas betrayal and Mark never revisits Judas or concludes what happened to him, he simply seems to set up that although betrayal maybe terrible, it is redeemable. Judas's betrayal is done through some kind of public acknowledgement of Jesus being Judas’ rabbi, while Peter denied it. From now on, the focus moves entirely to Jesus.

So what about the anointing? Where is Judas in that story, isn't he supposed to be hypocritical about the value of the wasted expensive anointing oil so lavishly splashed around Jesus's feet? Nope, not yet:

Mark’s anointing (14:3-9)

In Mark’s anointing, we read: Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, "Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year's wages and the money given to the poor." And they rebuked her harshly. "Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.

Yes, in case you were wondering if the plural discussion of those criticising the anointing act were treated in the plural also by Jesus in his response, Mark’s account has Jesus addressing them in the plural. At this stage of his story, neither Judas nor any of the other disciples have any notable role in the discussion. The story seems nonetheless rooted in history and is located in the house of “Simon the leaper”, a geographic anchor later repeated by Matthew (but not by Luke or John, who change the location).

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