This is an intro post on Bart Ehrman's The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot (OUP, 2006). Someone at OUP noticed my post on Misquoting Jesus and was kind enough to send me a copy of Lost Gospel to review. My advice: buy it. Buy three or four and give them to friends. Okay, first read my comments, then decide for yourself. But Ehrman writes well and is very informative — without forcing his naturalistic, historical framework on the reader — so you can hardly go wrong with any of his books. In this post, I'll sketch out his review of Judas in the canonical gospels. In a later post I'll get to the new material drawn from the recently discovered Gospel of Judas manuscript.
Reviewing how Judas is portrayed in the four canonical gospels isn't simply a matter of collecting references and stringing them together. Each evangelist wrote the episodes in which Judas appears as each wrote their entire gospel, with a particular view of Jesus, his mission, and his teachings in mind. Ehrman writes,
To make sense of how each of the Gospel writers portrays Jesus, it is important to understand more broadly how they portray Jesus and his disciples. As it turns out, the distinctive emphases of each Gospel come to be reflected in what they have to say about Judas.
This approach is not a natural move for Mormons. Perhaps Talmage's Jesus the Christ is to blame for this. It is the classic LDS "harmony of the gospels," harmonizing not just the four gospels but the entire cosmic narrative from Preexistence (Jesus isn't even born until Chapter 8) through the Second Coming. Granted, the book was written almost a century ago, but it's still unfortunate that it contains almost no discussion of the gospels as individual narratives. The LDS Bible Dictionary doesn't do much better: incredibly, it does not provide separate entries for each gospel! Instead, the character and perspective of each gospel is summarized in one paragraph in the "Gospels" entry (that's one paragraph for all four, not one paragraph for each gospel). So the average LDS reader should benefit from Ehrman's background discussion of the canonical gospels in Chapters Two and Three. I'll summarize that material below.
Mark portrays Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, but no one in Mark's narrative ever comes to this knowledge (the idea is sometimes termed the "Messianic Secret"). This persistent misunderstanding by the disciples is mirrored by Judas (who is, after all, one of them). Judas does betray Jesus in Mark by telling the Jewish leaders where to find him at night, but Judas' motivation in doing so (in Mark's text) is murky. In Mark, Judas failed Jesus, but so did Peter (who denied him three times) and the disciples in the garden (who fell asleep in Jesus' hour of greatest need).
Matthew carries over Mark's account but tweaks it in significant ways. He provides an explicit motive for Judas: greed in the form of thirty pieces of silver. Luke adds a demonic component to the actions of Judas: "Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot" (Luke 22:3), tying back to Luke's foreshadowing during the temptation in the wilderness episode, after which "he [the devil] departed from him [Jesus] for a season" (Luke 4:13). And John adopts a fully polarized worldview of light and darkness, good and evil, in which Jesus is a fully divine being from the very first verse and talks publicly and constantly about his identity and mission. The contrast with Mark could not be more stark. Not surprisingly, Judas is described as fully evil: "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (John 6:71). In John, just as Jesus was divine even before birth, so is Judas evil, "a devil," even before his betrayal.
The best known discrepancy regarding Judas is between Matthew, where Judas "went and hanged himself" (Matt. 27:5), and Luke, where, in a field he purchased with the reward money, Judas "burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out" (Acts 1:18). Then Luke uses the story to segue into the selection of a new apostle, Matthias (who is never heard from again after his selection).
In a later post I'll summarize Ehrman's comments on the new Gospel of Judas document.