The Lost Gospel
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Judas Iscariot

c. 30 A.D.

In this study for the Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci portrays Judas an older man. In the other depictions, artists show Judas clutching a sack of money, presumably the 30 coins he received for the betrayal.
In this study for the Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci portrays Judas an older man. In the other depictions, artists show Judas clutching a sack of money, presumably the 30 coins he received for the betrayal.
Photograph copyright Alinari Archives/Corbis

Judas is reviled in history as the disciple who betrayed Jesus to his death. Some scholars contend that the name Judas Iscariot derived from "Judas"—a man from Judah in the southern part of ancient Israel—and Iscariot, derived from ish ("man" in Hebrew) and Kariot, a village near present day Arad, Israel. In another interpretation, Judas' treachery made him so hated that he may not be known by his proper family name, but a subsequent corruption of the Latin sicarius, meaning "murderer" or "assassin."

Prior to that fateful night in Jerusalem he had been Jesus' friend, a trusted disciple described in the Gospel of John as the group's treasurer. But New Testament scriptures relate that Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Why he did so may be unknowable. Greed is often believed to be the motive, though the Gospel of Luke suggests that Judas was possessed by some devil.

The Gospels say that Jesus knew his betrayal was imminent and announced to those gathered at the Last Supper that one of those present would betray him. Soon afterward, Judas fulfilled this prophecy by leading armed men to a garden on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, where Jesus was praying. There, Judas identified Jesus with the kiss that would seal both men's fate and initiate the Crucifixion and resurrection that lie at the very heart of Christian belief.

The New Testament Gospels disagree on the details but leave no doubt that Judas came to a bad end. He may have hung himself, tormented by guilt, as reported in Matthew. But in Acts, he is described as throwing himself down violently in a field, rending his stomach with a fatal wound.