Was Judas Iscariot Falsely Accused? Bible verses indicate that his condemnation is based on hearsay.
Jesus’ disciple notoriously betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. (Matthew. 26:14-15; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:4-5; John does not mention of the blood money payment.)
But did Judas actually betray Jesus? How would the authors of the Gospels even know about Judas’ supposed betrayal?
Consider these questions with the assistance of rules of evidence such as hearsay.
Hearsay is generally not admissible in court. Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE 802.) “’Hearsay’ is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.’” FRE 801(c).
Hearsay is excluded from court because it is not credible, which is understandable. For example, if a witness (the declarant) at trial in a criminal case attempts to testify that another witness said they saw the accused committing the crime, but declarant did not actually see it, then the supposed out-of-court statement by the other supposed witness would be excluded as hearsay, not admissible for proving the alleged crime.
Regarding Judas, consider for a moment that the authors of the Gospels (whoever they actually were) would have not have personally witnessed Judas accepting the bribe of silver, nor would they have been present during any such conversations with the “chief priests” mentioned in the first three Gospels (see above). Indeed, the names of the “chief priests” are not even disclosed, giving more reason to doubt the veracity of the damning story told about Judas. The above-referenced narrative about Judas’ betrayal would be excluded from consideration of his alleged guilt. The fact that the book of John does not accuse Judas of taking money to betray Jesus further indicates that the story is not credible.
Also consider that on the night that Judas supposedly betrayed Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane, none of the other disciples went with him after he left the Last Supper. According to the book John:
“Jesus said to [Judas], ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at that table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” (John 13:28-30.)
The initial understanding of the disciples – i.e. that Judas was going on an errand for Jesus regarding the Passover festival which was ongoing – was probably correct. Judas left the Seder (the Last Supper) alone at “night,” meaning no would else could see where he was going or who he was with. The authors of the Gospels presume that he went and found the “chief priests, the scribes, and the elders (Matthew 26:27, Mark 14:43, Luke 22:47), when in fact none of the disciples saw that. The Gospels then say that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, identifying him as the one to arrest. (Luke 22:48.)
Jesus asks, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” (Luke 22: 48.) Notably, Judas does not answer this question. Indeed, there was no time for reasonable discussion because a fight breaks out and Jesus is taken away. The scene would have been chaotic. Indeed, Mark says that Judas tells them (apparently the “crowd with swords and clubs”), “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him at once …” Again, the disciples were not privy to that conversation, which is hearsay. However, they would have seen and heard what Mark reports: “So when [Judas] came, he went up to [Jesus] at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.]” (Mark 14:46.)
The disciples would have only known that Jesus dismissed Judas from the Seder, and that Judas later shows up with a large group of people, who arrest Jesus, after which everyone scattered. The disciples saw Judas kiss Jesus, and say “Rabbi.” The Gospels acknowledge (in John above) that the disciples made their conclusions about Judas after-the-fact, since they didn’t know why Jesus dismissed Judas. They didn’t actually know why he was at the head of the angry crowd either. The condemnation of Judas is based on hearsay, which lacks credibility.
It could just as easily be presumed that Judas was actually sent by Jesus on a legitimate errand and got arrested himself by accident. (Maybe Jesus sent Judas on an errant because he knew that the poor guy was going to get arrested and trigger the chain of events to come.) Interestingly, Jesus was not in Gethsemane when Judas left. The crowd looking for Jesus was just as likely to have found Jesus themselves, and showed up to arrest him with Judas in custody. When Judas went up to Jesus, saying “Rabbi,” which the disciples could have heard themselves, Judas may have simply been paying his respects and kissing Jesus, asking for Jesus’ forgiveness for getting arrested by the angry mob that was about to take Jesus away.
When read critically, excluding hearsay, we can see that Judas may have been seriously misunderstood. Consider also that there is hard evidence to support Judas’ rehabilitation, including the Gospel of Judas, which was written sometime before 180 A.D. This is significant considering that the Gospel of John was written as late at 100 A.D. Thus, oral traditions contemporaneously with the four most accepted “Gospels” were suggesting that Judas had been misunderstood, something that is confirmed by those Gospels themselves, when they are read critically with evidentiary rules.
In The Morning Tree by Austin Reams, Judas himself speaks. A centurion, searching for a gospel written by Jesus, is arrested and finds Judas in the catacombs underneath the Temple in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus was crucified. Ras is allergic to the sun, which makes his misson more difficult. The story picks up after Ras is arrested and thrown into the cell:
CHAPTER XVI – THE MORNING TREE by Austin Reams
Ras kept still for a moment, waiting for the guard to leave. He quickly flung off his clothes, crouching down in defense in the nearest dark corner. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
“You have nothing to fear from me,” said a man.
Ras inspected his surroundings. He was in a dark jail cell, which was little more than a small niche built into the damp wall of a long passageway.
“Did they set you on fire?” said Ras’ cellmate.
Ras laughed and spoke. “No! Why would you ask that?”
The man hesitated, squinting his eyes in the dim light. “Sorry. It’s just that you’re skin looks. . . ”
“Like I’ve been burned,” said Ras. “No, I’ve not been burned.”
“What did they arrest you for? What did you do wrong? Did you fight back? Where are you from?”
“You ask too many questions.”
“I’ve been alone in here for what must be several moons. No one to talk to.”
Ras nodded. He took off his other garments and threw them into the corner.
“You’re a soldier! Are you Roman? Do you know Pilate?”
Ras looked at the man with hot eyes.
“Sorry, but you’re wearing a soldier’s kilt under all that garb.”
Ras leaned his head against the raw cut beams of the cell entrance. I’ve failed you, Jesus. I never came close to finding Nathanael. Many are called, but few are chosen. That’s what you said. Maybe I was not chosen. I’m a mere thief caught in a lie in God’s house.
He sat carelessly on the ground. The man next to him continued to talk and ask questions. Ras ignored him. How did this man get thrown in jail? Too nice, and smiles all the time.
“Why are you in here?” said Ras.
“Blasphemy,” said the man. “Same as you.”
Ras waited for more. But the man said nothing else.
“Blasphemy? That’s it?” said Ras.
The man shrugged, rolling his eyes as though he was thinking about another subject to talk about.
“What did you do, say that Caesar was more handsome than Caiaphas?” Ras gave a hearty laugh.
The man shook his head.
Ras sat up, leaning over his knees. “Well? What then?”
“Blasphemy against God’s temple.”
“What did you say?
The man looked through the beams of the cell, checking to make sure no one was there. “I said Jesus is the Messiah and Jews need not worship God at the temple anymore.”
“And that got you arrested?”
“It got Jesus arrested, too.”
“What do you mean, you’re the one in this cell.”
“It got us both arrested.”
“Wait a minute. What’s your name?”
“Well, Judas, there’s got to be more to it than that. I’ve said Jesus is the Messiah and I’ve not been arrested for it.”
Judas gave Ras a curious look, then glanced at the wooden beams of the cell, which testified to the fact that Ras had been arrested.
“Well, all right, I’ve been arrested, but not for blasphemy,” said Ras. “I’ll say it here and now, ‘Jesus is the Messiah.’ No one is outraged because there are many other prophets out there that say they are the Messiah. Where were you when you said it?”
Ras smiled widely. “With Jesus? You knew him?”
“Yes, of course, I was one of his disciples.”
Ras’ face went hot. Judas betrayed Jesus! He sold Jesus to the chief priests and turned the Messiah over to Pilate to be crucified. In a wave of rage, Ras rushed at Judas, taking him by the neck, throwing the traitor across the cell in an instant, smashing him against the rock wall. Judas careened off the stone surface and landed on his shoulder upside down. He tried to speak in defense, but Ras was relentless. He attacked the man again, pummeling him with his fists and then kneeing him in the gut before hurling him into the beams. The treatment was particularly brutal for Judas, a man who had never been in a fight in his life.
Judas bled from his mouth, holding his side in agony. Nearly crying, he held out his hand to Ras, saying, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Ras hesitated in his rage, his fist pulled back for another blow. “Righteous! You? Righteous? Damn you!” Ras’ fist plowed into Judas cheek, knocking him back against the opposite wall.
The beating was terrible, but Judas did not beg for mercy. He continued to murmur prayers, shivering with pain. He held out his hand again, and said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Anger swelled in Ras. “You are the liar here!”
Ras stomped him in the gut with his hobnailed sandals. Judas gasped for air, rolling over on the floor. Judas tried desperately to catch his breath. He coughed heavily, and said quietly into the ground, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Ras finally listened to the words. Judas was not begging for mercy. I love it when people beg, thought Ras, surprised at his own mercilessness. Brutalizing victims had once made him feel powerful, respected. But suddenly, in the cave, where no one else could see, Ras did not feel mighty or powerful. He felt shame.
Judas rolled over on his back, turning his head back and forth on the ground. “Rejoice and be glad, for my reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before me.”
Suddenly tired, Ras sat back against the beam of the cell. “Some reward you got, Judas. How can you rejoice for betraying the prophet who is the Son of God? Satan holds your reward in darkness.”
Judas regained his strength. Coughing heavily, he sat up, propping himself against the wall. “Betrayed Jesus?”
“You betrayed Jesus! At Passover—the holiest of times. When he needed you the most, Judas. You betrayed him!”
“No, no. That’s not true!”
Ras shook his head with a vicious smile. “No, Judas. It is true. On the first night of Passover you left Jesus. You told the temple guards where he would be. You led them to him, betrayed him with a kiss.”
Judas’ mouth fell open, blood drying on his lips and nose. His head turned from side to side, rocking precariously as though it might fall off his neck. His eyes welled with tears, the edges of his mouth trembling with anguish. “This cannot be. No, no, no. Not this. Not this!”
“This is your own doing, Judas,” said Ras, opening his arm in a wide gesture to the prison cell. “This is where traitors end up.”
“Then why are you here?”
Ras jumped to his feet, rearing his arm back to strike Judas again, who cowered in the corner. Ras dropped his arm to his side. “No, you’re not worth it. I pity you now. The judgment you will suffer before God will be greater than I can give.”
“You mean my reward.”
“Traitors are not rewarded in heaven,” said Ras.
“But I’m not a traitor. Where have you heard this?”
“From your brothers, the other disciples. And others. You left Jesus and the other disciples, only to return later with guards. You betrayed him.”
“No! That’s not the way it was.”
“I’m not.” Judas shook his head. He crawled closer to Ras, pleading as though before a judge. “Listen. You must listen to what happened. We were in Jerusalem for Passover. Things were tense. Jesus went into the temple and stirred up the merchants who were selling birds and other things for sacrifice in the temple. They were set up under the porticos, burning incense, calling out at people to buy what they had. The temple felt more like a market than a place to worship God. Jesus became disturbed. He approached the shouting merchants, walking quickly past them and surveying the birds and small rams and lambs for sale.
“One of the merchants picked Jesus out of the crowd, and shouted, ‘You there! Is it your first time to the temple? Your first pilgrimage, eh?’ he said. You see, Jesus always dressed in a simple fashion. He looked like a man from a small town, like Nazareth, which he was. They thought he was a simple-minded farmer on his first trip to the city. But Jesus shook his head at the merchant. ‘Not your first time to the temple?’ said the merchant. ‘Well then, maybe you’re here to offer a guilt sacrifice, then.’ The merchant motioned Jesus closer to his booth. He held out a small ram. They weren’t supposed to sell rams inside the temple, only outside with the other big animals. ‘Here’s a fine specimen,’ said the merchant. And indeed it was perfect, clean and without blemishes. ‘A very special price for you,’ he said. ‘God will still forgive you at this price.’
“Well, the merchant must have insulted him. Jesus shouted in a voice I’d never heard. His voice was everywhere at once in the temple. The sound of it echoed through my chest. Priests inside the temple itself peeked out into the Court of Gentiles to see what was going on. Jesus said that God could not be cheated. ‘The price for forgiveness is self-sacrifice,’ he said, holding his hands in the air. ‘It cannot be purchased from robbers nor bargained for in the temple! The house of prayer is in man’s heart, that is the true kingdom of God, a house of prayer for all nations. You have turned your hearts to a den of robbers.’
“The crowd stood back from Jesus. He took hold of the merchant’s table and turned it over. Before the guards could take hold of him, several Jews applauded him. Jesus kept shouting at the merchants and turning over more tables, which excited other visitors. They cheered him on. The merchants were enraged, but they weren’t sure what to do. If you did that in a street market, you would be killed on the spot with a knife in the back. But we were in the temple. You could not do that kind thing there. So, the merchants watched in horror as Jesus tore their booths to pieces, and the guards did nothing because most of the other visiting Jews approved of what he was doing. Soon the pilgrims were in an uproar, and the merchants were chased out of the temple and out into the street markets.
“We were not arrested, but there were many who were upset at us. The Pharisees inquired about Jesus. They learned what he was teaching. People were saying that he was the Messiah, but the priests were more upset about the fact that Jesus was saying that the time had come when Jews would no longer worship at the temple. That meant its destruction. Once that came out, the temple guards were told to arrest Jesus on sight.
“Get on with it,” said Ras, interrupting. “You betrayed Jesus that night.”
“No. The night of the Passover, we were all eating together, the other disciples and Jesus. He told us that one of us was going to betray him. We were shocked, and then all of us were thinking, who’s it going to be?”
Ras raised his eyebrows and smiled, pointing at Judas.
Judas shook his head. “No, it wasn’t, I swear. I swear! I kept the common money we used for essential purchases, like food and lodging. Jesus had told me that I should buy things for the Passover festival. On that night, we gathered with him in a house in Jerusalem. He told us to go into the city, where we met a man who knew we were coming.”
“Yes, I’ve heard this,” said Ras.
“Well, we prepared the Passover meal, and Jesus met us and the women at the house later. After we ate and sang Hallel, Jesus told us that one of us was going to betray him, one that had dipped bread into wine with him and eaten it. So, it had to be one of us disciples.”
“And it was you,” said Ras.
“No. After we ate Jesus told me to go buy things we would need for the festival. I left Jesus with the other disciples and went to the market close to the temple. Several guards recognized me there and arrested me. They told me to tell them where Jesus was, but I wouldn’t tell them. No, I would not. The priests were angry with that. The guards beat me up, but I still would not answer their question. I tried to remember what Jesus said about the meek and being run down. He said we would be blessed if we were persecuted. The priests knew that Jesus must be close by, though. The festival was not over, and after all, they had caught me. So they led me through the city, kicking me to tell them if they were close. The hour was late, so most of the streets were deserted. They called out his name in the street. A homeless man, shrouded in a filthy habit, called at us. “Come!” he said.
Ras sat up suddenly. “Did you see his face?”
“No, he was just sitting alone in the street, leaning against a dilapidated building. He said Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane. He had seen him with other disciples there. The guards notified the priests, who joined the temple guards with torches and more guards. They led me there to the garden. ‘Point out which one is Jesus,’ they said. I refused. I would not be the one to betray Jesus.”
“But you were, Judas, you were.”
“No. When we got to the garden, Jesus was there with Peter, John, and the others. You cannot believe how they looked at me, as if I had led the guards there. Once I saw Jesus, I knew the priests would realize which one he was, so I stared at Peter, shaking my head. I could see he did not understand, though. A guard pushed me forward, and Jesus held out his arms to me. ‘Hello, teacher,’ I said like an idiot. He embraced me, kissing me. He whispered in my ear, ‘I know it was not you, Judas. I know.’ I cried and then everything went wild. Peter drew a sword, cut off the ear of a priest’s slave. Jesus shouted at the disciples not to resist. We were outnumbered. The guards grabbed Jesus, and it was all over. The other disciples ran. I would have run, too, but the guards jumped on me. The other guards led Jesus away.”
Ras laughed, shaking his head at the ceiling. “Liars tell the best stories.”
“It’s not a lie. It’s the truth.”
“I suppose that’s the best story you could tell, Judas. In fact, you left Jesus that night and went straight to the temple guards. You betrayed Jesus for a price, and then led them right to the Messiah. Only there the priests do not honor promises of sin, do they? Instead of paying you, they just threw you in here to rot. Whatever punishment you receive, you deserve it!”
Judas shook his head. “It does not matter if you believe me. Jesus knows the truth. That’s what matters to me. Just ask him. That’s all you have to do. What happened to him? Did they release him, or is he down here in another cell?”
“You mean you don’t know?”
“Jesus was crucified, Judas. That’s what you did to him.”
Judas collapsed, weeping. He bent over his knees sobbing, rubbing his forehead against the ground, then raised up his head, begging God to let Jesus still be alive.
“It is true, Judas. They killed him because of you. That’s what your lies have done.” Ras watched the other man several moments before telling him the rest, enjoying his agony Judas. “But he came back, Judas,” he said softly.
“What? Back? What do you mean?”
“He came back to life. He’s still alive. He came back.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s with his father in heaven. And he’s with us here now. He is the Messiah. But I feel sorry for you, the traitor.”
Judas was elated. He danced back and forth in the cell, limping and joyful. “We’re saved, we’re saved!”
“Some of us are,” said Ras. “But don’t be so happy. He’s not going to get you out of this cell.”
“I don’t care. I knew he was the Messiah. I knew it. Now I can die knowing the truth.”
“You’ll die, all right.”
“Both of us, you mean.”
END OF QUOTE FROM THE MORNING TREE
Ras is the same centurion whose servant Jesus healed after delivering the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus told us to “Love your enemies.” (Luke 6:27, 7:1-10.) Ras learns that accusing others and using violence is contrary to Jesus’ teachings. We should love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us. Our world would be a better place if everyone took such lessons to heart and applied them. Imagine that even your worst enemies may have been misunderstood, even Judas.
Article, Copyright © 2020 Austin Reams
The Morning Tree, Copyright © 2006 Austin Reams