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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 1:13-20).
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 ointment.
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.
Immediately 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 poor.
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.
For thirty pieces of silver was Our Lord betrayed, as prophecied by Zacharias:
Zacharias 11:9 -12
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.
St. Luke 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 John 13:2).
But Jesus 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 26:25).
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 tomorrow night, on Maundy Thursday, 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 tell thee.
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 Himself 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 — the circle made for traitors — 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.’
The Golden 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, fifteen candles are extinguished in the Church, leaving the congregation in total darkness, and in a silence that is punctuated at the end by the strepitus — a clattering, banging sound 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 Office).
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 open, etc.