Judas- who will never be forgiven

For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have despised Judas Iscariot – the disciple who sold Jesus for a bag of silver coins. But even the worst noncombatants have fans. In the…

For nearly 2,000 years, Christians have despised Judas Iscariot – the disciple who sold Jesus for a bag of silver coins. But even the worst noncombatants have fans. In the first centuries after the death of Jesus, the followers of Judas provoked others with murder and sexual violence.

Among Christians, there is hardly any insult that comes close to “Judas”.

For nearly 2,000 years, the name has been used for the worst frauds, those who flout even the most self-evident principles – just as the disciple Judas did when he sealed Jesus’ fate with the famous kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane, according to the Bible.

With enormous work, it was possible to save most of the Gospel of Judas. About 90% of the manuscript was found to be readable.

The gospel was almost useless when repairs began.

Villain or forgotten hero?

It really got attention when the American magazine National Geographic revealed the “Gospel of Judas” in 2006.

A rediscovered writing from the 4th century now made it possible to read a new representation of the events leading up to the crucifixion.

“Anti-Bible”, some said, but the church took the gospel with considerable skepticism.

“They will all stand in your shadow, for you sacrifice the man I have put on.”
Excerpt from the Gospel of Judas: Jesus talks to Judas about the betrayal that will make him the greatest of the disciples.

But even the worst traitors have followers, as the story of Judas shows.

In the first centuries of Christianity, his followers had a separate congregation and he was praised in a publication called the Gospel of Judas. There he is said to be the most important of all Jesus’ disciples.

Shortly before his martyrdom on the cross, Jesus is said to have told him in confidence that the other disciples were standing in his shadow.

In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus gives Judas absolution from his deeds.

Disciples carefully chosen

Despite the frequent use of Judas’ name as a pejorative, historians of religion have little information about the fallen New Testament disciple.

The surname – Iscariot – most likely refers to his origin in Kerioth, a town in southern Judea.

The Bible does not tell how Judas got into the group of disciples, but Jesus chose his followers very carefully.

“Come and follow me and I will let you men hunt.”
Jesus with the hunters Andrés and Símon Pétur.

From the accounts it can be seen that Jesus divinely knew who he should choose and in the same way the chosen ones knew that they should follow him.


The Bible tells how Jesus met the two brothers, Andrew and Simon (later Simon Peter), where they were fishing in the Lake of Gennesaret. He told them to put down the fishing net.


“Come and follow me and I will let you men hunt,” he said.


According to the Gospel of Matthew (4. 19-20), the brothers left their jobs and families to follow him.


Judas is mentioned about 40 times in the Gospels, and just like the other disciples, he joined the itinerant preacher Jesus who taught them.


“He appointed the twelve who were to be with him and he could send out to preach, with authority to cast out evil spirits,” as it says in the Gospel of Mark (3, 14-15).


Judas stole from the treasury

At the time of Jesus, the Jewish lands of Judea and Galilee were occupied by the Romans, who did not care much about the daily lives of the people in the province of Palestine – but on the other hand collected huge taxes that plunged some into bottomless debt.


Many young men who saw no future for themselves joined the itinerant preachers who traveled the country at that time. These men left their families and renounced all their inheritance; instead, the congregation became a kind of family, where people kept the group together and shared what little they had.


Jesus’ small group lived by this arrangement, and the role of shepherd fell to Judas.

“He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief
The Evangelist John about the thief Judas.

The information about this is one of the few things the Bible says about Judas, and this information serves the sole purpose of describing his folly. Judas stole something from the box.

The evangelist John tells that in the week before the fateful Easter, Jesus and the disciples were invited to a meeting in Bethany, which is now a suburb of Jerusalem.

Before the meal, a woman anointed Jesus’ feet with sweet-smelling ointment. The ceremony was traditional and a sign of submission, but Judas thought the woman was misusing the ointments and got upset.

“… the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointments. Then Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples who later betrayed him, says: Why were these ointments not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?

But he said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief: and because he had the bag, he took what was put in it.” (chapter 12, verses 3-6) .

A little money was not enough for the greedy Judas.

“I committed a sin. I betrayed innocent blood”, said Judas to the high priests.

Life for 30 silver coins

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to celebrate Pesach (Jewish Passover), he began a purposeful battle against the city’s Jewish chief priests.

The very day after his arrival in the city, Jesus overturned the stalls in the courtyard of the temple and then he preached to the inhabitants and warned the scribes.

Judas knew that the high priests and the officers of the temple guards had had their fill of this religious rebel – and now he lost the possibility of getting hold of a considerable amount of money.

“He went and talked with the chief priests and the guards about how he should deliver Jesus to them,” says Luke (22, 4).

The high priests contributed 30 pieces of silver – not a lot of money by the standards of the time in Jerusalem, the money would have been enough for a slave or a slave. But Judas was happy with the purchase “From now on he looked for an opportunity to betray him” (Matthew 26, 16).

“I committed a sin. I betrayed innocent blood”. But they replied, “What about us?” It’s up to you to see to it.”
According to the New Testament, Judas repents of his betrayal.

The opportunity came when Jesus and the disciples were having dinner.

“Truly I say to you, one of you will betray me,” Jesus said plainly (Matthew 26, 21). As if to deflect suspicion, Judas innocently asked:

“Rabbi, is it not I?” (Matthew 26, 25).

Judas knew that Jesus would later that evening go to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He therefore left the group early and went after the men who were to arrest Jesus.

While Jesus was praying, the disciples fell asleep repeatedly. When he woke them up for the third time, he had terrible news: “He who is near will betray me.” (Mark 14, 42).

Before Jesus could finish speaking, Judas approached him and greeted him with a kiss.

This loving greeting was a predestined sign, and now armed men stepped forth from the darkness. They took Jesus with them for questioning, first by the chief priests and then by the Roman governor in Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, who sentenced him to death.

The silver coins were of no use to Judas. While Jesus hung on the cross on Good Friday, Judas ended his life in shame. He repented of his actions and returned to the temple to return the money.

“I committed a sin. I betrayed innocent blood”. But they replied, “What about us?” It’s up to you to see to it.”

In his desperation, Judas threw the money into the temple. The chief priests picked them up but would not put them in the treasury, because they were blood money.

Judas accepted the consequences of his actions: “Then he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27, 4-5).

Battle of doctrines

According to the New Testament, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day (Easter Sunday) and the disciples were able to see him. The next 40 days were spent in religious instruction before the Son of God ascended into heaven.

However, the time was not enough to create a fully developed religion, and in the following decades there were many different interpretations of the words and actions of Jesus. People who had met the Savior – or just heard about him – put forward their own theories about the Christian faith.

One such man was Simon, nicknamed “The Magician”.

“Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, they shall receive the Holy Ghost.”
Simon the magician tried to buy the Holy Spirit from the apostles.

About 60 AD he attracted great attention for his miracles (or magic tricks) in the town of Samaria north of Jerusalem. The residents were so impressed that they called him “the power of God.”


At that time, some of the inhabitants had believed and were baptized, but they did not have the Holy Spirit in them. That is why the apostles Peter and John came there to lay their hands on the baptized.


The “Magician” immediately realized that with the Holy Spirit the apostles possessed much more powerful magic than himself and he attempted to buy the Spirit:


“Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, they shall receive the Holy Ghost.”


But according to the Acts of the Apostles (8, 18-21), the apostle Peter rejected his request:


“Your silver will never prosper, nor you yourself, since you thought to acquire God’s gift for money. You have no share or part in this, because your heart is not sincere towards God.”


These words contained a deeper prophecy than Peter could have suspected, for historians of religion now consider Simon “the Magician” the first known mystic or “gnostic.” The word comes from Greek and means insight. From their intuition, the mystics calculated that there must be two gods:


  • The God of the Old Testament who had created the earth. The god who had created such a corrupt world, full of injustice, hunger and disease, had to be evil in the opinion of the mystics.


  • The other god, the true god, had created the universe. The mystics sought to leave their earthly enclosure to reach this god in the heavens.


In the years after Jesus’ death, his disciples managed to spread their teachings to parts of Palestine, Turkey and Greece, but the mystics also gained a large number of followers. And some of them had a use for Judas in this new religion.

In the fourth century, the Church Fathers evaluated all manuscripts written by followers of Jesus.

The true gospels selected

The number of gospels forced the church leaders to take the reins. Out of about 40 gospels, only four made it into the New Testament.

After the death of Jesus, his followers spread an enormous number of accounts of his life. Around 180 AD at least 40 gospels passed between people. Some authors had taken liberties and invented writings that they wrote in the name of some apostle.

For selection purposes, Bishop Irenaeus chose four gospels that he believed to be true. Irenaeus had seen where sticking to only one gospel could lead individual congregations. That is why he chose the Gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew and John out of the whole number.

This decision of his was confirmed by the church fathers when they determined the content of the new testament towards the end of the 4th century.

A total of 27 publications received favor before their eyes, but the occult books were among those that were blown away.

Decisions made in the Iron Age govern services in churches today.

Judas resurrected as a friend of Jesus

The mystics saw it as their mission to fight against the evil god and all that he had created. Among them were the Ten Commandments, where Jews were forbidden to eat pork, commit murder and commit adultery.

From the perspective of the mystics, the Ten Commandments contained quite an arsenal that could be used against the evil god. As a result, those who were most ardent in the faith ate pork, killed people, and committed fornication in order to reach the true god.

In the Tanak (the Jewish version of the Old Testament), the mystics found various weapons against the evil creator; for example, the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden and Korah who tried to rebel against Moses, when the Jews fled slavery in Egypt.

More publications went into the trash

The First Gospel of James is about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her parents are too old to have children, but an angel visits them.

The Infancy Gospel describes the growth of Jesus. He has no self-control as a child and many people expect death from miracles. In the end, he brings everyone to life.

The Epistles of Peter tell about the apostle Peter, including his conflict with Simon “The Magician” and later his crucifixion in Rome.

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene describes her as Jesus’ closest disciple. It is claimed that he loved her more than the others.

The impostor Judas was given a special place among mystics because he helped Jesus escape from his earthly shell.


The Christian mystical variant found its way to Alexandria, the great port city in Egypt that supplied the Romans with grain.


Ever since the days of King Ptolemy (about 280 BC) there had been both a university and a huge library in the city. Alexandria teemed with learned men and they welcomed all new philosophical ideas.


In the harbor city, the mystics found peace at a time when Christianity was divided: only a hundred years after Jesus’ death, his followers were divided into a number of disaffected sects and schisms that wrote their own gospels and fought against each other. What Jesus had actually said and what was pure fiction became increasingly unclear.


Around this time, congregations began to choose the first priests and bishops; one of them took on the task of saving the true doctrine: Irenaeus who was a bishop in the Roman city of Lugdunum (now Lyon) wrote about 180 AD. a five-volume work on heretics.


He listed hundreds of sects, including Carpocratians who worshiped a picture of Jesus which – according to them – was painted by Pontius Pilate.


Irenaeus’ heretical treatise also mentioned the fanatical mystical sect of the Cainites who worshiped the fratricide Cain of the Old Testament.


“They claim that an angel prompts them to all kinds of sinful and abominable acts,” wrote Irenaeus.


The Cainites received inspiration for this questionable lifestyle from the fallen disciple Judas, according to the bishop:


“They say that Judas, the betrayer, had a special knowledge, that he alone and not the others knew the truth and therefore took the mystery behind the betrayal upon himself. They say that all things in heaven and on earth are redeemed. In support of this theory, they cite a fictional story they call the Gospel of Judas.”


Irenaeus’ description of the Gospel is one of the few things historians of religion know about this Judas congregation that turned the faith on its head by worshiping Christianity’s worst traitor. But despite all the Church’s warnings, the Cainites managed to increase the number of their followers.


In the 4th century, Salamis, bishop of Cyprus, still had to warn against their influence.


“They claim that Judas knew all about these matters. They also indicate that he was one of the family. According to them, he had gained more recognition than others. This goes so far that they have published a publication they call the Gospel of Judas.”

Anti-Semitism because of Judas

Wicked, heartless and greedy – since the Middle Ages Judas the traitor has been used as an excuse for the persecution of the Jews.

For centuries, anti-Semites have used the biblical character Judas to explain and justify their hatred of the Jews. According to the Bible, the impostor received 30 pieces of silver for pointing to Jesus—a statement that has supported the theory that Jews are both greedy and unscrupulous.

The church father Hieronymus, who at the turn of the century translated the Bible into Latin, established that the curse of Judas also rested on all Jews.

“Who do you think are the sons of Judas?” The Jews – for the name Iscariot stands for money and ransom,” he wrote.

In medieval art, Judas was often depicted wearing yellow clothes, the color assigned to Jews by the church. Red hair is also characteristic and since ancient times it has been associated with various negative characteristics in people’s behavior.

The argument that the Jews executed Jesus is still used by anti-Semites around the world, and that accusation – supported by the words of the Bible – has been used to justify persecution, murder and, most importantly, the Great Holocaust.

The biblical account of Judas is, Israeli writer Amos Oz said in a 2017 newspaper interview, “the Chernobyl of anti-Semitism in the West.”

Done, Judas

It was not until the end of the 4th century that these mystic heretics were silenced by threats and death sentences.

The mystics’ last hope of salvation consisted in burying the Gospel of Judas in the desert of Egypt or hiding copies in caves. One copy of the Gospel of Judas ended up in a tomb near the village of Qarara, 250 km south of Alexandria.

There this precious manuscript was to lie until the world was ready to understand Judas.

But that day never came and no one had any idea about the hiding place anymore. For the next 15 centuries, Judas played the role of the worst villain in the history of Christianity.

Pope Leo I, who was in office in the mid-5th century, called Judas “the worst and most unlucky man that ever lived.”

Throughout the Middle Ages, Judas was often used as a motif in frescoes and was also featured in Passion Plays – which the Church used to depict Jesus’ suffering and death. In the 14th-century Italian poet Dante’s Divine Comedy, which tells of heaven, hell and purgatory, Judas is found in the lowest part of hell.

There was no indication that Judas would ever be forgiven. But then news appeared that no one had expected.

The Gospel of Judas was kept in a freezer in Ohio

For more than 1,600 years, the Gospel lay motionless in an Egyptian tomb. The papyrus coffins did not begin to darken until after the tomb was opened.

In the 1870s, Egyptian farmers found the Gospel of Judas in a cave tomb, but it was decades before conservators and textual experts were finally allowed to save these half-darkened papyrus coffins.


The farmers sold the manuscript to an antiquities dealer in Cairo, Abdalla Arian, who for years tried to sell it for three million dollars. Out of sheer frustration, he rented a safe from Citibank on Long Island, New York.


For 16 years, the manuscript languished in the storage room. Finally, Swiss art dealer Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos Arian made an offer of $200,000. Although the scroll was now in poor condition, she resold it to papyrus merchant Bruce Ferrini in Ohio in 2000.


Ferrini’s check for $1.5 million bounced, but he refused to return the manuscript. Instead, he kept it in the freezer, where both papyrus and ink were further damaged.


After a long struggle, Nussberger-Tchacos finally got the Gospel back from Ohio and now brought the remains of the manuscript to the Maecenas Foundation in Switzerland, where they teamed up with National Geographic to save this Coptic text and translate it.


Book with 62 pages

Originally, the Gospel was 31 leaves in a leather binding. Carbon dating shows it was written between 220-340 AD. The text is in Coptic, but probably translated from Greek.


Difficult repairs

When the Gospel of Judas finally came into the hands of the custodians, it looked like cake batter and was in more than a thousand fragments. Each individual piece was preserved for the text experts to put together like a puzzle.


The content

The manuscript describes the conversations between Judas and Jesus who said that he would be hated forever for the betrayal. And then Jesus prophesies: The evil creator and his tyrannical creation will collapse.

The gospel found

On April 9, 2006, the lost Gospel of Judas was published without notice in the American magazine National Geographic. Then experts had spent many years repairing and translating the faded papyrus manuscript found in the tomb at Qarara – and finally Judas got to speak:

“These are the secret messages that Jesus gave to Judas Iscariot during a period of eight days, three days before the Jewish Passover.” This is how the introduction to the Gospel read.

The manuscript briefly covers the history of the years that Jesus had worked as an itinerant preacher accompanied by the disciples.

“All the disciples said, ‘We are not strong enough.’ But then the spiritual one lacked courage – everyone except Judas Iscariot.”
Excerpt from the Gospel: Jesus points out to the disciples that they believe in the wrong god.

What was emphasized here was what had happened between Jesus and Judas in the last few days. According to the Gospel, Jesus chose him to give him an insight into great wisdom. In contrast to the other disciples whom Jesus makes fun of, Judas knows the true nature of Jesus; he knows that Jesus has a relationship with the Godhead.


And Jesus answers: “Come with me, away from the others and I will give you insight into the secrets of the kingdom.”


Asked for help in his death

In these conversations, Jesus tells of “a great and invisible spirit, whom no eye has seen, no heart has understood, and who has not yet been given a name.”


He suggests to Judas that ever since the days of Adam and Eve, people have used the body as an earthly casing that only lives for a limited time. Only those who know the wisdom and secrets can free themselves from this carnal sheath and become a pure spirit.


Jesus is now ready to leave the earthly body, but in order to gain redemption, he needs the help of Judas. This role should give Judas a very special position among the disciples.


“They will all stand in your shadow, because you sacrifice the man I have put on,” says Jesus, who clearly faces his death with the utmost calmness.


However, Jesus makes no secret that the others will not support Judas’ actions. “You will be shouted down and ostracized,” he says bluntly. And in a dream Judas sees the other disciples stoning themselves.

“The scribes of the temple went to Judas. what are you doing here Are you not a disciple of Jesus? He responded according to their wishes. Then Judas received money and handed him over to them.”
Excerpt from the Gospel of Judas: Judas betrays Jesus.

The Gospel ends with Judas leaving Jesus and going to the temple. There he meets the scribes and they ask if he is not one of Jesus’ disciples:

“After that Judas received money and handed him over to them.”

Betrayed by his own gospel

The publication of the Gospel of Judas in 2006 was a real sensation. Many saw the publication as a kind of biblical alternative that could increase understanding and shed new light on the teachings of Jesus and the events of Easter. But there was something that didn’t work out:

In the Gospel, the insight that Judas had is reported and Jesus’ body is spoken of as a perishable cover. This showed that the Gospel originated among the mystics, and thus no weight could be given to what was said after Jesus.

When the attention died down and the dust settled, Judas was back in his old role – as the worst villain of the last 2,000 years.

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