Despite his massive impact on Christianity and its surrounding cultures, little is known about the life of Judas Iscariot before he began following Jesus. Just as his name customarily falls last among the twelve disciples, the importance of Judas's biography trails far behind the significance of his actions. As such, what is known of his life appears a patchwork from various sources, ranging from sacred texts to ancient legends.
As the betrayer of Christ, Judas has become synonymous with sin, deception and treachery. This viewpoint informs the “Golden Legend,” a medieval text about the lives of saints written between 1260 and 1275. This text claims that, early in his life, Judas killed his father and married his mother. However, the text neglects to explain the details of the murder or marriage, and does not mention how this information went unnoticed by Jesus or the other disciples.
Biblical scripture tells very little of Judas's life before becoming one of Jesus's followers. Texts such as John 6:71, 12:4 and 13:26 mention that Judas was the son of Simon Iscariot. The surname Iscariot translates from Greek as “a man from Kerioth.” Kerioth, defined in Joshua 15:25 as a town in the south of Judah, is thought to be the ruins of el-Kureitein, which lies about 10 miles south of Hebron. If Judas was a native of Kerioth, that would make him the lone disciple who was not from Galilee. Like all the disciples, Judas was of the the Jewish faith.
A Disciple of John
In some Christian texts, Judas followed John the Baptist before he became one of the twelve disciples of Christ. In section 177:4.11, the Urantia Book not only positions Judas as a former disciple of John, it also claims that Judas came to resent Jesus for failing to save John. The book purports that this event, which occurred just before Judas became a disciple of Jesus, was a key catalyst for Judas's eventual betrayal of Christ.
The Codex Tchacos, written by the Gnostics of ancient Egypt, contains a a 26-page text entitled the “Gospel of Judas.” Although this text presents a distinctly sympathetic take on the story of Judas -- here, Christ asks Judas to kill him in order to release him from the earthly world -- it offers no information about his life before Jesus. Despite mentions in the Bible, the Codex Tchacos and countless other Christians texts and cultural legends, there is no concrete proof of the existence of a historical Judas Iscariot.
- The Official King James Bible Online: John 6:71
- The Official King James Bible Online: Joshua 15:25
- The Urantia Book Fellowship: Judas and the Chief Priests
- The New York Times: Sealed With a Kiss
- Fordham University: Medieval Sourcebook: The Golden Legend (Aurea Legenda)
- Christ Church Notes: What Do We Know About Judas Iscariot?
- Dictionary.com: Kerioth
- The New Yorker: Betrayal: Should We Hate Judas Iscariot?
- National Geographic: The Gospel of Judas
- Judas: A Biography: Susan Gubar
- Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity?: N.T. Wright
- Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity: Elaine Pagels, Karen L. King
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