New Testament Characters in Historical Sources

Herod Agrippa I

"Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James, the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also...And he (Herod) went from Judea to Ceasarea and stayed there"                 (Acts 12:1-3, 19). 


"So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. And the people kept shouting, "the voice of a god and not of a man". Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died" (Acts 12:21-23). 

"Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Caesarea, which was formerly called Strato's Tower and there he exhibited spectacles in honor of Caesar. ... a certain festival. At this festival a great number of people were gathered together... and all his flatterers cried out that he was god!


And then...


a severe pain arose in his belly, striking with a most violent intensity, therefore he looked at his friends and said: "I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life... When he said that, his pain became violent. Accordingly, he was carried into the Palace... After five days he departed his life, being fifty four years of his age".                                                                                                                                                                                                                           (Josephus Flavius, Antiquities 19.8.2 -343-361)


(to be continued)  

Judas Iscariot

 Judas was one of the closest disciples to Jesus of Nazareth. The inner circle (khaboora)  was comprised of 12 men who were called Apostles (or Messengers). Their mission was to bring the teachings of Jesus to the world, but one of them betrayed Him.


The name Judas appears in English, translated perhaps to differentiate him from Judah, one of Jesus' step brothers; however, in fact it is the same name. The first mention of the name was referring to one of the sons of Jacob the Patriarch. The Tribe of Judah was the only one to survive until the time of Jesus.                                  

"For it is clear that our Lord descended from the tribe of Judah" (Hebrews 7:14).


Therefore, we call the modern Jewish people Jews and their religion is Judaism.


Judas Iscariot (his last name probably means the man from Krayot) was the only non-Galilean among the disciples of Jesus. Perhaps he felt isolated and possibly even unwelcome in the group by the other disciples. Also, he was from the province of Judea and perhaps he belonged to a most extreme wing among the religious group of Pharisees, the Zealots.


We should note that among Jesus' disciples, there was at least one zealot named Simon, referred to as the Zealot. The Zealots were a group of fanatical people with extreme views on Jewish independence and freedom from foreign occupation at any price. This group was expecting a Messiah who would lead a revolt against Rome, conquer their oppressors and reestablish the Kingdom of Judah.


The event of Judas' betrayal is documented in many places of the New Testament.

"Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus       to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money.  So        he  watched for an opportunity to hand him over" (Mark 14:10-11).

"Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons” (John 18:2-3).


"Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:16).


Paul  was not a witness of these events, but his account says,

"For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread..." (I Corinthians 11:23).

It is possible that the meaning of the Greek word "betray" in the original version is that God is giving Jesus over to his suffering.

Professor Ehrman reflects, "the common notion that Judas simply told the authorities where they could locate Jesus apart from the crowd may be right, but why would they need an insider for that kind of information? Judas might have divulged something else, some information that the authorities could use to bring Jesus up on charges. It is striking that in the reports of Jesus trials, He is charged with calling Himself such things as the Messiah, the Son of God, and the King of the Jews” (Mark 14:61, 15:2, John 18:33, 19:19).


In the public teachings of Jesus, He never calls himself such things. In the earliest source, when someone does calls him the Messiah, He hushes it up (Mark 8:30). Where did the authorities get the idea that he called Himself such things? This might have been exactly what Judas betrayed to the authorities! We know that Jesus taught His Disciples privately things that He did not say in public. Did Judas betray insider information?"


Bargil Pixner in his book, 'With Jesus in Jerusalem',  says,

"... At the house of the high priest, very different deliberations were in progress. "The chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some slay way to arrest Jesus and kill Him. ‘But not during the feast or the people may riot’ (Mark 14:1-2). Thus it was very convenient for them when a disciple of Jesus came to them and agreed to hand over this dangerous Galilean. They offered him thirty denarii for his plan”.


What may have brought Judas to this action?
It was hardly his worry about money. Jesus' reproach at the meal in Bethany may have triggered thoughts of revenge in him. But the main rationale behind his action must have been something more profound... 

I believe he was also, like his fellow Disciple Simon, a Zealot or very closely connected to the Zealot movement and their way of thinking. After all, the other apostles were not remote from these ideas either. Gradually, Judas may have realized that Jesus had no intention to fulfill the Zealot's ideal of the triumphal Messiah. This Jesus was too gentle for him and did not show any design of rising as a commander to lead the people of Israel against heathen supremacy into freedom. He was the one who rather shrank back from taking up arms; three times he speaks of his imminent death.... It was a pity, because this man possessed great miraculous power and the people ran after him. He, Judas, had to do something to rouse Jesus from lethargy...."


Professor Bart D. Ehrman in his work , The Historical Jesus,  discusses his view of Judas’ betrayal,
"Jesus was almost certainly betrayed by one of his followers, Judas Iscariot. What is not clear, though, is what it was that Judas betrayed or why he acted as he did. It seems unlikely that he was hired simply to inform the authorities of Jesus' whereabouts, because they could have obtained this information without paying for it. The surviving traditions contain hints that Jesus may have divulged insider information that was available to him as one of the twelve disciples and that was used against Jesus at his trial."


(to be continued)