Saturday, January 25, 2020


For the past few months, I have been dwelling on one point: The statement at Luke 6:16, that Judas became a traitor, cannot be used as a piece of evidence against him. It is part of the historical record, that is true, but it is only a record that this accusation was made (the only place in the entire New Testament where Judas is called a traitor) and you can never use an accusation to prove the truth of the accusation. It is a conclusion someone drew, but a conclusion is not evidence of the truth of the conclusion. What a historian wants to know is what is the evidence that supports the conclusion. Luke never tells us. Nor do any of the Gospels.

I have focused on this because it seems like so many scholars, almost all of them, ignore this obvious point and merely assert that Luke 6:16 is one piece of evidence that Judas did something bad. It has a negative ring to it and that’s good enough for them. They have abandoned good, fundamental, scientific reasoning in favor of asserting a prejudiced argument. It is a sign of how biased this field is.

I don’t just mean biased against Jews, I mean biased against ancient peoples. There is a modern assumption that ancient peoples are inferior to us, they are like children compared to us, and therefore different standards of reasoning have to be applied to their inferior mentality. That assumption is so wrong. The ancients were just as rational as we are. They knew the difference between accusations and proving an accusation. Keep that in mind.

There is another way to put this. Being a traitor is not something one can observe (by observe, I mean see or hear). It is exactly like the claim that someone behaved in a hostile manner. Hostility is not an observable phenomenon. You can observe the details that make up the accusation of hostility—e.g., nasty words that were said, shaking a fist, pointing a weapon, throwing a punch, etc.—and hostility would be a conclusion that summarizes this evidence. But without that underlying evidence, hostility is just an empty charge.

The same is true for the charge of traitor. You cannot observe it. You can observe the details that make up betrayal, if it happened, but betrayal itself is a conclusion that sums up the observable evidence. Observable evidence for betrayal would be things like sneaking around, uttering words like “I’ll tell you where he is hiding if you pay me something”, arguments that occurred between the traitor and other members of the group before the alleged betrayal, and even signs of animosity after the event, such as other members of the group cursing out the traitor. All this is missing from the Gospels. Just to give one example: If anyone who knew Judas ever said a bad word about him, all four Gospel authors failed to record it. The negative remarks about Judas come from the Gospel authors, not from any of the persons within the story.

Does this mean that nothing in the Gospels counts as evidence concerning Judas? Not at all. So far I have been dwelling on the negative point that the Gospels give us no evidence for Judas’s betrayal. I have been doing this because distinguishing between conclusions and evidence is such a vital thing to do in any rational discipline and the fact that no one is willing to do it in historical Jesus studies is stunning. It still takes my breath away. If we do not face up to this catastrophic failure of Gospel scholarship, we will get nowhere.

Here are some of the things in the Gospels which can be considered as evidence because they are potentially observable, that is, if they happened and if we traveled back in time: Judas kissing Jesus, Judas leaving the Passover table, Judas returning, Roman soldiers in tow (from John 18:3), Judas and Jesus communicating before Judas leaves.

The peculiar thing about all this evidence is how ambiguous it is. None of it necessarily points in a negative direction. Each piece could have an innocent explanation. I present the true solution in my books (True Jew is the more recent one and much shorter), but here I will present another hypothesis, which is ultimately incorrect, but it shows how constricted has been scholarly thinking in its failure to consider all the possibilities.

Suppose Judas left the table to buy more food for the seder or to give to the poor. John 13:29 reports that is what some of the disciples thought was going on. On his very innocent mission, someone recognizes Judas as a member of Jesus’s group, or perhaps Judas runs into Roman soldiers looking for Jesus. Maybe some of these people followed Judas back to the group’s lodging or they dragged him back. Frightened by what is transpiring, Judas embraces Jesus out of concern for his safety.

I will not here go into any detailed explanation of why this is ultimately wrong and how an even better theory does work. That’s for my books. What I will say here is that this simple theory explains all the evidence I listed above. Of course, so does the theory of betrayal. That is what I mean by the ambiguity of the evidence. The evidence is ambiguous precisely because two opposed, or nearly opposed, theories can explain the same evidence. That is what is so fascinating about the evidence concerning Judas—the potentially observable stuff, not the conclusions. The fact is that none of it points in a definite direction.

It is amazing that when it came to evidence, they had only ambiguous things to report. It also easily explains how some of these things, originally quite innocent, came to be perceived in a negative way for Judas. Perhaps nothing malicious was intended towards Judas. It may have been a case of misperceptions.  I will leave things there for the moment.

© 2020 Leon Zitzer

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