I’m of the opinion that every Christian girl goes through a period of time when she gets obsessed with Judas’s betrayal of Jesus and tries to figure out what the heck he was thinking. I did it when I was twelve and have revisited the subject every few years.
The interpretations are varied, but you can break the possibilities down into a few categories. First, either Judas wanted Jesus to die, or he didn’t.
If Judas didn’t want Jesus to die, then we assume Judas wanted to provoke Jesus into some kind of action, or else he figured Jesus was dangerous and would be sent off to prison to cool his jets for a while. (And it wasn’t unknown for the Romans to put a popular figure under “house arrest” for ten or twenty years until his following died down and the next “flavor of the month” showed up.)
If Judas did want Jesus to die, then we assume he was either money-hungry or else he felt massively betrayed by Jesus and sought to return the favor.
The Bible itself is unclear on this, ironically. The accounts differ as to whether Judas was money-hungry (John) or possessed by Satan (John again) or distraught when he found out about Jesus’s sentence (Matthew) or went off and bought a field with the money and died in a freak accident (Acts of the Apostles.)
The strangest point, on which all the accounts are in agreement, is that Judas didn’t testify against Jesus. You’d think that would have been part of the price, no? His testimony would have been valuable to Jesus’s enemies.
It sounds to me almost as if the apostles themselves never figured it out, and I’m sure there were multiple discussions on the subject.
The highly pensive point is, “There’s a little bit of Judas in everyone” and none of us would be above betraying God over something. Like the woman sitting next to George Bernard Shaw, we’re “only haggling over the price.” But I’m more interested in the practical point here: what was he really thinking?
Because it’s a huge turnaound: you join up with someone, believe he’s the Messiah, witness healings, eat divinely multiplied food, watch him raise the dead, worked healings and exorcisms yourself in his name!, and then you go to a bunch of your enemies and say “Hey, got any spare cash?” I can’t see it. First off, if money was the driving issue, Judas would have been able to find other ways of making it. I hear tax collectors pulled down good salaries. Certainly abandoning all you have to follow an itinerant preacher around the countryside isn’t the subject of all those “Make Money Fast” emails I get in my spambox.
A month ago, Ivy pointed out something to me from the Talmud that brought me up short, because I suddenly realized we may actually have the key to Judas’s actions, only we’re going to find it not in what Judas did, but in how Jesus reacted.
Stay tuned. We’re about to have some theological fun (or, we’re about to wrap our brains into pretzels on the next episode of CSI: Biblical Jerusalem.)