In the Old Testament Joseph, who prefigured Christ, was
betrayed by his older brother, Judah -- the father of the tribe whence
came King David and through which the Messianic prophecies were
fulfilled -- when Judah sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt for so many
shekels of silver (see Genesis 37-38, and also Psalm 68:2-29 and Acts
From that tribe of Judah came Our Lord, Who was betrayed by another
Judah, a man who is more commonly known as Judas Iscariot ("Iscariot"
refers to Kerioth, a town in Judea). This Judas handled the money for
the Apostles and became offended by the extravagance of Mary Magdalen's gesture of
love toward Jesus:
John 12:1-8 1
Jesus therefore, six days before the pasch, came to Bethania, where
Lazarus had been dead, whom Jesus raised to life. And they made him a
supper there: and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that were
at table with him. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right
spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped
his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the
Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray
him, said: Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and
given to the poor? Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor;
but because he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things
that were put therein.
Jesus therefore said: Let her alone, that she may keep it against the
day of my burial. For the poor you have always with you; but me you
have not always.
after this, Judas met with the chief priests to betray Our Lord for
thirty pieces of silver. Here is St. Matthew's version of History:
And when Jesus was in Bethania, in the house of Simon the leper, There
came to Him a woman having an alabaster box of precious ointment, and
poured it on His head as He was at table.
And the disciples seeing it, had indignation, saying: To what purpose
is this waste? For this might have been sold for much, and given to the
And Jesus knowing it, said to them: Why do you trouble this woman? for
she hath wrought a good work upon me. For the poor you have always with
you: but me you have not always. For she in pouring this ointment upon
my body, hath done it for my burial. Amen I say to you, wheresoever
this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she
hath done, shall be told for a memory of her.
Then went one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, to the
chief priests, And said to them: What will you give me, and I will
deliver him unto you? But they appointed him thirty pieces of silver.
pieces of silver was Our Lord betrayed, as prophecied by
I will not feed you: that which dieth, let it die: and that which is
cut off, let it be cut off: and let the rest devour every one the flesh
of his neighbour. And I took my rod that was called Beauty, and I cut
it asunder to make void my covenant, which I had made with all people.
And it was made void in that day: and so the poor of the flock that
keep for me, understood that it is the word of the Lord. And I said to
them: If it be good in your eyes, bring hither my wages: and if not, be
quiet. And they weighed for my wages thirty pieces of silver.
explains how this vile betrayal happened: a devil entered into Judas:
And Satan entered into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot, one of the
twelve. And he went, and discoursed with the chief priests and the
magistrates, how he might betray Him to them. And they were glad, and
convenanted to give him money. And he promised. And he sought
opportunity to betray him in the absence of the multitude (see also
already knew this would happen, as we know from this earlier exchange
with His Apostles, after He revealed that we must eat His Body and
drink His Blood. He knew what Judas would do with the free will God
gives to all men:
The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life. But there are
some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning, who
they were that did not believe, and who he was, that would betray him.
And He said: Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to Me,
unless it be given him by my Father.
After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with
Him. Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away?
And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the
words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that Thou
art the Christ, the Son of God (see also John 12:26-29 and Matthew
Jesus answered them: Have not I chosen you twelve; and one of you is a
devil? Now he meant Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for this same was
about to betray Him, whereas he was one of the twelve.
After the Last
Supper (commemorated tomorrow, on Maundy
Thursday), Judas led the high priests to Jesus in the Garden of
Gethsemani, and let them know Who He is by greeting Him with the words,
"Hail, Rabbi" and kissing Him. Jesus responded, "Judas, dost thou
betray the Son of man with a kiss?" (Matthew 26:48-49).
After Jesus's arrest, Judas returned to the chief priests and threw the
thirty pieces of silver at them, repenting of his deed. The priests
consider it blood money, so refuse to put it in the Temple's coffers.
They instead buy a potter's field -- the "field of blood" -- to be used
for burying strangers. Judas went and hanged himself, and his body
burst open like the potter's vessel that Jeremias spoke of as a symbol
of faithless Israel:
The word that came from Jeremias to the Lord, saying: Arise, and go
down to the potter's house, and there thou shalt hear my words. And I
went down into the potter's house, and behold he was doing a work on
the wheel. And the vessel was broken which he was making with clay with
his hands: and turning he made another vessel, as it seemed good in his
eyes to make it.
Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Cannot I do with you as
this potter, saith the Lord? behold as clay is in the hand of the
potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. I will suddenly speak
against a nation, and against a kingdom, to root out, and to pull down,
and to destroy it. If that nation against which I have spoken, shall
repent of their evil, I also will repent of the evil that I have
thought to do to them. And I will suddenly speak of a nation and of a
kingdom, to build up and plant it. If it shall do evil in my sight,
that it obey not my voice: I will repent of the good that I have spoken
to do unto it.
Thus saith the Lord: Go, and take a potter's earthen bottle, and take
of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests: And
go forth into the valley of the son of Ennom, which is by the entry of
the earthen gate: and there thou shalt proclaim the words that I shall
And thou shalt say: Hear the word of the Lord, O ye kings of Juda, and
ye inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of
Israel: Behold I will bring an affliction upon this place: so that
whoever shall hear it, his ears shall tingle: Because they have
forsaken me, and have profaned this place: and have sacrificed therein
to strange gods, whom neither they nor their fathers knew, nor the
kings of Juda: and they have filled this place with the blood of
innocents. And they have built the high places of Baalim, to burn their
children with fire for a holocaust to Baalim: which I did not command,
nor speak of, neither did it once come into my mind.
Therefore behold the days come, saith the Lord, that this place shall
no more be called Topheth, nor the valley of the son of Ennom, but the
valley of slaughter. And I will defeat the counsel of Juda and of
Jerusalem in this place: and I will destroy them with the sword in the
sight of their enemies, and by the hands of them that seek their lives:
and I will give their carcasses to be meat for the fowls of the air,
and for the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city an
astonishent, and a hissing: every one that shall pass by it, shall be
astonished, and shall hiss because of all the plagues thereof. And I
will feed them with the flesh of their sons, and with the flesh of
their daughters: and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend
in the siege, and in the distress wherewith their enemies, and they
that seek their lives shall straiten them.
And thou shalt break the bottle in the sight of the men that shall go
with thee. And thou shalt say to them: Thus saith the Lord of hosts:
even so will I break this people, and this city, as the potter's vessel
is broken, which cannot be made whole again: and they shall be buried
in Topheth, because there is no other place to bury in. Thus will I do
to this place, saith the Lord, and to the inhabitants thereof: and I
will make this city as Topheth. And the houses of Jerusalem, and the
houses of Juda shall be unclean as the place of Topheth: all the houses
upon whose roots they have sacrificed to all the host of heaven, and
have poured out drink offerings to strange gods.
Woe to Judas!
Jesus said of him at the Last Supper, "The Son of man indeed goeth, as
it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall
be betrayed: it were better for him, if that man had not been born"
(Matthew 26:24). His name is synonymous with betrayal, and Dante, in
Canto XXXIV of his "Inferno," places him in the very lowerst circle of
Hell, being devoured eternally by a three-faced, bat-winged devil:
When we had
gotten far enough along
that my master was pleased to let me see
the creature who was once so fair of face
he took a step aside, then brought me to a halt:
'Look there at Dis! And see the place
where you must arm yourself with fortitude.'
Then how faint and frozen I became,
reader, do not ask, for I do not write it,
since any words would fail to be enough.
It was not death, nor could one call it life.
Imagine, if you have the wit,
what I became, deprived of both.
The emperor of the woeful kingdom
rose from the ice below his breast,
and I in size am closer to a giant
than giants are when measured to his arms.
Judge, then, what the whole must be
that is proportional to such a part.
If he was fair as he is hideous now,
and raised his brow in scorn of his creator,
he is fit to be the source of every sorrow.
Oh, what a wonder it appeared to me
when I perceived three faces on his head.
The first, in front, was red in color.
Another two he had, each joined with this,
above the midpoint of each shoulder,
and all the three united at the crest.
The one on the right was a whitish yellow,
while the left-hand one was tinted like the people
living at the sources of the Nile.
Beneath each face two mighty wings emerged,
such as befit so vast a bird:
I never saw such massive sails at sea.
They were featherless and fashioned
like a bat's wings. When he flapped them,
he sent forth three separate winds,
the sources of the ice upon Cocytus.
Out of six eyes he wept and his three chins
dripped tears and drooled blood-red saliva.
With his teeth, just like a hackle
pounding flax, he champed a sinner
in each mouth, tormenting three at once.
For the one in front the gnawing was a trifle
to the clawing, for from time to time
his back was left with not a shred of skin.
'That soul up there who bears the greatest pain,'
said the master, 'is Judas Iscariot, who has
his head within and outside flails his legs.
'As for the other two, whose heads are dangling down,
Brutus is hanging from the swarthy snout --
see how he writhes and utters not a word! --
'and from the other, Cassius, so large of limb.
But night is rising in the sky. It is time
for us to leave, for we have seen it all.'
Legend, written in A.D. 1275 by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of
Genoa, recounts both fascinating, fantastical medieval legend and the
true History regarding Judas in its section "Of St. Matthias." The
writer clearly differentiates between legend and verified truth with
his words "Thus far it is read in the history which is not authentic,"
so you can easily discern:
It is read in a
history, though it be named apocrypha, that there was a man in
Jerusalem named Reuben, and by another named Simeon, of the kindred of
David, or, after S. Jerome, of the tribe of Issachar, which had a wife
named Ciborea, and on the night that Judas was conceived his mother had
a marvellous dream whereof she was so sore afeard. For her seemed that
she had conceived a child that should destroy their people, and because
of the loss of all their people her husband blamed her much, and said
to her: Thou sayest a thing over evil, or the devils will deceive thee.
She said: Certainly if so be that I shall have a son, I trow it shall
be so, as I have had a revelation and none illusion.
When the child was born the father and mother were in great doubt, and
thought what was best to do, for they durst not slay the child for the
horror that they should have therein, neither they wist not how they
might nourish one that should destroy their lineage. Then they put him
to a little fiscelle or basket well pitched, and set it in the sea, and
abandoned him to drive whither it would. And anon the floods and waves
of the sea brought and made him arrive in an island named Scarioth, and
of this name was he called Judas Scariotes.
Now it happed that the queen of this country went for to play on the
rivage of the sea, and beheld this little nacelle and the child
therein, which was fair, and then she sighed and said: O Lord God, how
should I be eased if I had such a child, then at the least should not
my realm be without heir. Then commanded she that the child should be
taken up, and be nourished, and she fained herself to be great with
child and after published that she had borne a fair son. When her
husband heard say hereof he had great joy, and all the people of the
country made great feast. The king and queen did do nourish and keep
this child like the son of a king.
Anon after, it happed that the queen conceived a son, and when it was
born and grown Judas beat oft that child, for he weened that he had
been his brother, and oft he was chastised therefore, but alway he made
him to weep so long that the queen which knew well that Judas was not
her son, and at the last she said the truth, and told how that Judas
was found in the sea. And ere this yet was known Judas slew the child
that he had supposed to be his brother, and was son to the king, and in
eschewing the sentence of death he fled anon and came into Jerusalem,
and entered into the court of Pilate which then was provost. And he so
pleased him that he was great with him, and had in great cherety and
nothing was done without him.
Now it happed on a day that Pilate went for to disport him by a garden
belonging to the father of Judas, and was so desirous to eat of the
fruit of the apples that he might not forbear them. And the father of
Judas knew not Judas his son, for he supposed that he had been drowned
in the sea long tofore, ne the son knew not the father. When Pilate had
told to Judas of his desire, he sprang into the garden of his father
and gathered of the fruit for to bear to his master, but the father of
Judas defended him, and there began between them much strife and
debate, first by words and after with fighting, so much that Judas
smote his father with a stone on the head that he slew him, and after
brought the apples unto Pilate, and told to him how that he had slain
him that owned the garden. Then sent Pilate to seize all the good that
the father of Judas had, and after gave his wife to Judas in marriage,
and thus Judas wedded his own mother.
Now it happed on a day that the lady wept and sighed much strongly and
said: Alas! how unhappy that I am! I have lost my son and my husband.
My son was laid on the sea, and I suppose that he be drowned, and my
husband is dead suddenly, and yet it is more grievous to me that Pilate
hath remarried me against my will. Then demanded Judas of this child,
and she told him how he was set in the sea, and Judas told to her how
he had been found in the sea, in such wise that she wist that she was
his mother, and that he had slain his father and wedded his mother.
Wherefore then he went to Jesu Christ, which did so many miracles, and
prayed him of mercy and forgiveness of his sins. Thus far it is read in
the history which is not authentic.
Our Lord made Judas one of his apostles and retained him in his
company, and was so privy with him that he was made his procurator, and
bare the purse for all the other, and stole of that which was given to
Christ. Then it happed that he was sorry and angry for the ointment
that Mary Magdalene poured on the head and feet of our Lord Jesu Christ
and said that it was worth three hundred pence, and said that so much
he had lost, and therefore sold he Jesu Christ for thirty pence of that
money usual, of which every penny was worth ten pence, and so he
recovered three hundred pence. Or after that some say that he ought to
have of all the gifts that was given to Jesu Christ the tenth penny,
and so he recovered thirty pence of that he sold him, and nevertheless
at the last he brought them again to the temple, and after hung himself
in despair, and his body opened and cleft asunder and his bowels fell
out. And so it appertained well that it should so be, for the mouth
which God had kissed ought not to be defouled in touching, and also he
ought not to die on the earth because all earthly creatures ought to
hate him, but in the air where devils and wicked spirits be, because he
had deserved to be in their company.
Today and during
the Sacred Triduum, the Matins and Lauds of the Divine Office are often
sung in a haunting service known as the Tenebrae service ("tenebrae"
meaning "shadows"), which is basically a funeral service for Jesus.
During the Matins on Good Friday, one by one, the candles are
extinguished in the Church, leaving the congregation in total darkness,
and in a silence that is punctuated by the strepitus meant to
evoke the convulsion of nature at the death of Christ. It has also been
described as the sound of the tomb door closing. During the Triduum,
the Matins and Lauds readings come from the following day's readings
each night because the hours of Matins and Lauds were pushed back so
that the public might better participate during these special three
days (i.e., the Matins and Lauds readings heard at Spy Wednesday's
tenebrae service are those for Maundy Thursday, the readings for Maundy
Thursday's tenebrae service are from
Good Friday, and Good Friday's readings are from Holy Saturday's Divine
Legend says that the tree upon which Judas hanged himself was the Cercis
siliquastrum -- a tree that is now known as the "Judas Tree." It
is a beautiful tree, native to the Mediterranean region, with brilliant
deep pink flowers in the spring -- flowers that are said to have
blushed in shame after Judas's suicide.
1 St. Matthew attributes
this prophecy to Jeremias in Matthew 27:9, "Then was fulfilled that
which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: And they took the
thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was prized, whom they
prized of the children of Israel." It is assumed that he was reading
the prophecies of Jeremias and Zacharias together because of the
latter's allusions to Israel being as a piece of clay in a potter's
hands (Jeremias 18:1-10, Jeremias 32:6-9, Jeremias 19:1-13) and how
this relates to Israel's fate as typified by Judas's body bursting