Judas Iscariot is a well-known name. He was a close disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ who betrayed Him and took his own life. Yet there was another man named Judas among Christ’s apostles. What do we know about this Judas?
What are our sources?
Our first and foremost source is the Gospel. Only two Gospel texts refer to him by this name – the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John. The former identifies him as Judas son of James, and the second as Judas, not Judas Iscariot (John 14:22). Evangelists Mark and Matthew say nothing about the second Judas, but they list among the twelve apostles a man named Leveus or Thaddeus, not mentioned in the gospels of Luke and John. Because the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (called this way because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar or sometimes identical wording, as different from the Gospel of John, whose content is largely distinct) are otherwise the same, it was assumed already in the times of the early church that the names Judas son of James and Thaddeus referred to the same disciple. The ancient Christian scholar Origen (died c. c. 253) shared this view, as did Athanasius the Great (died 373), an authoritative commentator of the Bible.
Two thousand years back, many Judeans had several names. For example, Apostle Peter (referred to as Kifa in the original Hebrew text), also had the name Simon. The names Thaddeus and Leveus were also close semantically. Thaddeus originates from the Aramaic תדי (Taday), and Leveus from the Hebrew lēb, both words meaning ‘heart’. Plausibly, they were the apostle’s nicknames, translated as “brave, daring, or manful’.
So who was Judas son of James, also called Leveus or Thaddeus?
As the Church Tradition has long held, he was one of Jesus’ brothers according to the flesh, a term referring to the children of the Righteous Joseph from the previous marriage, the legal father of Jesus betrothed to Mary. Alternatively, he is held to be one of Jesus’ cousins adopted by Joseph. We know the names of these brothers, or cousins from the accounts of evangelists Mark and Matthew – James, Joses, Judas, and Simon. The gospel of John tells us that initially, even his brothers did not believe in him as the son of God (John 7: 5). Eventually, however, Judas believed and entered the close circle of His apostles. Saint Jerome of Stridon, who lived in Palestine for many years, was among the first to offer this conclusion from his meticulous study of the Hebrew text and the local traditions. James, another of Jesus’ brothers according to the flesh, led the Christian fellowship of Jerusalem after His Ascension.
The suggestion that Apostle Judas son of James was Jesus’ brother was disputed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some Western scholars observed that in the Gospels, the brothers of God were named with the apostles, but never among them. Many believed that John the Theologian’s remark about the brothers who did not believe in him applied to the earthly life of the Lord. It was also proposed that the title ‘son of Jacob’ referred to the father of Judas rather than his brother. One weakness of this argument is that in the Epistle of Jude, Judas refers to himself as a brother of James (Jude 1:1)
Ultimately, the Church accepted the view of Saint Jerome as well-grounded and names Apostle Judas the brother of God.
What details about Judas (not Judas Iscariot) can we find in the Scripture?
The details are few. The synoptic Gospels simply name him among the twelve close disciples of Jesus. In the Gospel of John, we read about ‘Judas no Judas Iscariot’ conversing with Christ together with the other Apostles after the Last Supper. Judas (not Judas Iscariot) says, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world? Christ replies, “He who loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him. And we will come to him and will make our abode within him.”
Apostle Jude is also mentioned in another book of the New Testament – the Acts of the Apostles. In Chapter 15 of the Acts, Judas (called Barsabbas) are sent to preach in Antioch (Acts 15: 22). Many in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were inclined to believe that Judas Barabas also referred to the second Judas. Since then, the majority of the scholars have reconsidered their views. Today, it is believed that Judas Barabas was one of the Apostles of the Seventy, called by Christ in later years.
Did Judas write the Epistle of Jude in the Bible?
Indeed, the Church recognises Judas, the brother of Christ and an apostle of the twelve, as its author.
However, the author of the book introduces himself humbly: Jude, slave of Christ and a brother of James. By all signs, he refers to Jacob, son of Joseph the betrothed, first bishop of the apostolic fellowship of Jerusalem. – (Jude 1:1). According to commentators, Judas considered himself unworthy to be called a brother of God because as a young man he refused to share the land that he had inherited from his father with Jesus. We know this from the Byzantine life of James, a brother of Jesus, the only son of Joseph who gave his share of the inheritance to Jesus.
The main aim of the Book of Jude is to warn the readers against listening to false scholars who came to the Christian fellowship only decades after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. “By building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love,” writes the author of the book.
Judas’ epistle has parallels with another book of the bible, the second epistle of Apostle Peter. Sometimes, they use similar language and phraseology. Biblical scholars give different explanations. Some attribute the similarity to the use by both authors of some common source, others believe that one of the epistles relays elements of the other. In any event, few serious scholars doubt the Judas’ authorship of the Book of Jude.
What details of Judas’ later life do we know with certainty?
Almost nothing. Available evidence about his life is too fragmented and often inconsistent.
For example, the Apostolic Constitutions, a fourth-century monument of early church literature, were written too late to be considered the works of the apostles. According to the constitutions Judas, a brother of God, Judas served as the third bishop of Jerusalem, succeeding James and Simeon as leader of the fellowship of Jesus’s disciples. The ‘apostolic archives’ of the fifth and sixth centuries, also write about Judas presiding over the Church of Jerusalem for seven years, “preaching God’s Gospel throughout Judea and Samaria”. According to the Archives, he authored a joint epistle, had two sons, Jacob and Zokir, and departed in Jerusalem with glory.
However, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, an authoritative fourth-century historian on the Church, the third bishop of Jerusalem was not Judas, but Justus, possibly one of the candidates who ran for the office of apostle after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and committed suicide (the lot fell to Mattias, Acts 1:23 – 26). According to the Byzantine description of the life of Apostle Judas, he did not meet his death in Jerusalem. He died in Armenia.
The Russian Orthodox Church accepts this description as canonical. We find it in the June Menaion (the liturgical book used by the Eastern Orthodox Church[note 1] containing the propers for fixed dates of the calendar year). Apostle Judas is commemorated on 19 June (2 July). Yet the life of Judas was written in the middle ages, and its reliability is often questioned. Possibly, it combined details of the lives of several apostles, including Simon the Zealot of the twelve, and Thaddeus of the seventy.
According to the canonical life, soon after the Ascension of Christ, Apostle Judas set out to preach the Gospel in Palestine. He preached throughout Judea, Samaria, Edom and Galilee. He preached for some time in the city of Edessa in Western Syria. According to tradition, King Abgar, who ruled in the city during the earthly life of Jesus, received the image of the Saviour not created by hands from Apostle Thaddeus of the Seventy. Afterwards, Apostle Judas went to preach in multiple other cities of Syria and Mesopotamia, converting many people. Finally, he reached Persia and wrote his Epistle there.
According to the Byzantine description of his life, Apostle Judas died in Armenia c. 80. He arrived at the court of the Armenian King Sanatruch, a relative of Abgar, and converted to Christ Princess Sanducht and several other members of his immediate family. He died on the cross and was pierced with arrows. He ended his life in Arad, According to the Byzantine description, in Saravsan, according to Armenian records and in Berit, according to the Syrian chronicles. The tradition of the Western Church holds that he died in Persia.
Saint Eusebius of Cesaria writes that Judas’ grandchildren followed in his footsteps. They preached their faith in Christ before the Roman Emperor Domitian (81 – 96) and possibly suffered in the persecution of Christians at the end of his reign.
For many centuries, the relics of Apostle Judas have been at rest at Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds