Maurice Casey has explained the motive of Judas Iscariot, his level of literacy, his religious interest, his worship customs before he met Jesus, and along the way has proved the historical factness of Mark’s account of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. This is all included in Jesus of Nazareth.
Firstly, the key to understanding Judas’s motive lies in understanding his place of origin. Casey begins by explaining that his point is only a “may have been”, but by the time he finishes his explanation all such qualifiers have disappeared.
The last man in Mark’s list is Judas Iscariot. . . . This means that his name was Judah. His epithet [of Kerioth]. . . locates him as a man from a village in the very south of Judaea rather than Galilee. It is accordingly probable that he could speak and read Hebrew as well as Aramaic. His origins may have been fundamental to his decision to hand Jesus over to the chief priests, for he may have been more committed to the conventional running of the Temple than the Galilaean members of the Twelve. (pp. 191-2)
Some biblical scholars have argued that the absence of any motive appearing in the earliest narrative of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus is one of the signs that the story is fictitious. It does not cohere with the rest of the narrative. Even the need for a betrayer is not apparent. No reason is given why the priests could not have had Jesus arrested without him.
But Casey believes that Mark clearly thought he had explained everything, including the motive.
Mark assumed that he had provided enough information for his audiences to see this. . . .
He [Mark] thought . . . that he had said enough for people to see what Jesus’ opponents thought the problem was, and it was enough to cause one of the Twelve to change sides and betray his Master. . . .
It . . . ought to be obvious that Mark did his best to create a coherent narrative from the traditions which reached him, which were incomplete. (p. 426-8)
So “to understand Judah’s motives”, Casey explains, “we must leave Christian tradition behind and understand him as a faithful Jew.”
He joined the Jesus movement because he saw in it a prophetic movement dedicated to the renewal of Israel. Jesus chose him because he was a faithful Jew, dedicated to God and to the renewal of Israel, and with the qualities necessary to take a leading role in the ministry of preaching and exorcism. (p. 426)
So what was it about Jesus that worried Judah?
Like other faithful Jews, he was troubled by Jesus’ controversies with scribes and Pharisees during the historic ministry. Exactly what he objected to, we have no idea. Perhaps he tithed mint, dill and cumin, and felt the decorated monuments of the prophets were quite magnificent. Perhaps it was something else — it must have been something which did not seem contrary to the prophetic renewal of Israel. While such details are conjectural, the main point is surely secure — Judah was troubled by these controversies, and he did not undergo an overnight conversion. (p. 426)
“No doubt about which event was the final straw” —
I had always thought the final straw for Judas as told by Mark was the waste of the precious ointment used for anointing Jesus. The disciples were indignant and complained that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. It was at that point that Judas went out to betray Jesus. But no, Casey sees it differently.
For Casey, the seriousness of what Judah undertook, and “the point at which he went to the chief priests”, leaves us in “no doubt” that the trigger was the Cleansing of the Temple. After all, a “faithful member of normative Judaism” believed religiously in the right of the priests to run the temple, and the scribes to interpret the scriptures.
From Judah’s point of view, it was accordingly quite wrong to run the Court of the Gentiles, and upset the arrangements duly made by the chief priests and scribes for the payment of the Temple tax and the purchase of offerings most used by the poor. Moreover, Judah was from Judaea. He will have worshipped in the Temple long before there was a Jesus movement for him to join. How he came to be in Galilee we have no idea. Equally, we have no idea as to whether he had long-standing contacts with the Temple hierarchy. He is likely to have been concerned at what Jesus said when preaching in the Temple on previous visits. (p. 426)
“From Judah’s point of view” —
He was a faithful Jew doing the will of God from beginning to end, and when a most regrettable conflict became unacceptable, his only master was God. Moreover, Mark assumed that he had provided enough information for his audiences to see this.
It is surprising that Casey appears to have been the first since the early Church to have seen what Mark “underlined”.
Mark underlined the connection between Jesus’ action in the Temple and the final action against him.
How did he do this?
- After the Cleansing of the Temple Mark says the chief priests and scribes sought a way to destroy Jesus.
- Mark then has Jesus and the temple authorities dispute Jesus’ authority — “a question which was bound to trouble many faithful Jews.”
- Jesus delivers a parable against the priests and the priests respond by seeking to seize him.
- Later again Mark tells us they could not arrest him for fear of the crowd.
- Then Judah went of his own volition to the priests to arrange to hand Jesus over.
That is the clear connection.
Historicity is no doubt
Casey laments that some scholars (he singles out Hyam Maccoby) reject the historicity of all of this betrayal story. One reason they do so is the name of Judah being, of course, related to “Jew” itself. The anti-semitism in the choice of name is scarcely subtle.
But even though in later gospels such as that of Luke in which Satan is said to have entered Judas, this does nothing to undermine
Mark’s entirely practical story, which has a perfect setting in the life of Jesus and which neither the early church nor Mark had reason to create. (p. 427)
Casey goes on to dismiss Maccoby’s point that Paul fails to mention Judas at any point. This is easy. Just as Paul had no reason to mention “Jesus of Nazareth” in his letters (Casey speaks of “the supposed absence of Jesus himself from the Pauline epistles”), he had even less to mention Judas. This is an argument that taps easily off a glib keyboard, but like seed sown in rocky soil it does not endure the close scrutiny of light of day.
Nor is Casey moved by Paul’s references to the Twelve, and other Gospels limiting the number to eleven after the betrayal
because ‘the Twelve’ had to be ‘the Twelve’ for as long as the group existed, to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel . . . The early Pauline tradition was not concerned to change “the Twelve”, whereas Matthew and Luke wrote stories when the remaining Eleven were narratively important to them. None of this is sufficient to undermine the accuracy of Mark’s story, because this has such a perfect setting in the life of Jesus. (p. 427-8)
Once again we see Casey deploying his double-barrelled criteria to establish the historical truth of Mark’s account of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus: perfect setting and no reason Mark would make it up.
So not even all the Old Testament allusions throughout Mark’s tale that call to mind the Psalms and story of David and the Prophets — the betrayal of a Davidic anointed (messiah) by a close advisor, the kiss, the thirty pieces of silver — is enough to turn on a light in Casey’s mind that the author was casting Jesus as a fulfilment or anti-type of the traditional biblical man of God who is regularly betrayed by those closest to him.