Beyond the Synoptics - Judas Armed and Dangerous in John 18:3
- During Passover/Easter week I spent time digging into the troubling text of
John 18:3. John's presentation here of Judas in the betrayal-arrest scene
is surprisingly different from the Synoptics.
For a translation of Jn 18:3 that closely follows the Greek word order, here
is the RSV with annotations:
"So Judas, procuring (LABWN=having-taken) a band of soldiers (SPEIRA=cohort)
and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went
(ERXETAI=he-comes) there with lanterns and torches and weapons."
Here is the contrasting parallel in Mark 14:43 (RSV):
"And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the
twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests
and the scribes and the elders." Matt 26:47
only minor changes from Mark 14:43.
Luke however begins to move away from his predecessors in 22:47, in the
direction that John took in 18:3:
"While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas,
one of the twelve, was leading (PROHRXETO=going-before) them. He drew near
to Jesus to kiss him" (RSV). Luke omits mention of the weapons, I think to
focus more attention on Judas, who is now "going-before" the crowd, not
simply coming "with" them.
I observe these three major "beyond the Synoptics" features in John 18:3:
1. Judas procured or "took" the arrest band, rather than simply coming
"with" them or "leading" them. But what does "take" (LAMBANW) mean? Here
it gets a bit messy. Most of the commentators I've consulted try to
harmonize this word with the Synoptics in one of two ways:
a. Some read LABWN = "guiding"; e.g. D A Carson (following F F Bruce) who
urges us not to be "pedantic" about this verb. However, the meaning "guide"
is not listed for LAMBANW in the BDAG lexicon, which makes me think that
Carson may be illegitimately reading a connotation of the English "take"
back into the Greek LAMBANW that's not really there. Of course this reading
conveniently harmonizes John with Luke, but as Carson gives no other Greek
parallels in support, I find his case for LABWN = "guiding" to be weak.
b. Others go farther and read LABWN as simply = "with" in the sense of
accompanying. This is actually suggested in BDAG (2000, p.583, col b): "the
ptc. can here be rendered by the prep. 'with'...'he came with a
detachment'." Danker gives five supporting reff, of which here are the
i. Sophocles, Trachiniae, line 259, speaking of Heracles (Eng and Grk from
"when he had been purified, he gathered (=LABWN) a mercenary army and went
(=ERXETAI) against the city of Eurytus". This is the closest parallel to
John 18:3, and uses the exact same two verbs in the same order. However, it
does NOT support BDAG's reading of LABWN = "with". Heracles is not simply
"with" or "accompanying" this army, rather he "procured" it and is in charge
ii. Greek Apocalypse of Ezra 6:17 (OT Pseudepigrapha vol 1, p578)
"for the Lord, having taken (=LABWN) a numerous army of many angels, said
(=LEGEI) to the prophet..." (Grk from Tischendorf, Apocalypses Apocryphae
p.31). Same verb, and once again, the Lord "takes" and is obviously in
charge of this (angelic) army, not simply "with" them or guiding them.
iii. Hebrews 9:19 (RSV)
"...he took (=LABWN) the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet
wool and hyssop, and sprinkled (ERRANTISEN) both the book itself and all the
people." BDAG glosses this as "with the blood he sprinkled the people". I
might live with that reading, but only by observing that BDAG, behind the
back, now uses the English "with" in an instrumental sense, not as simple
accompaniment. So far, reading LABWN in Jn 18:3 as "taking and being in
charge of" still stands strong. BDAG's last two reff have the same
instrumental sense as Heb 9:19, so contribute nothing new.
BDAG's suggestion that we read LABWN = "with" may be partly true if we take
"with" as instrumental, but it is NOT true if we take "with" as simple
accompaniment. BDAG however does not make that distinction explicit, and so
encourages a bit of backhanded harmonizing. The first reading (a) above,
that LABWN="guiding", is moving in the right direction, but still not strong
2. A Roman "cohort" (SPEIRA) was part of the group, and the group is an
organized arrest force of soldiers and temple police, not a simple "crowd".
Many take from the "cohort" here the inference that John was not pro-Roman
(or anti-Semitic) after all; i.e. John implicates the Romans from the start
in the death of Jesus right here at the arrest. Whether "cohort" here
indicates a full 600 men or something less, I suggest John may have
different motives altogether: rather than saying something about the
Romans, the "cohort" is really saying something about Judas. Judas is so
important (and evil) that he was in charge not only of the Jewish officers
sent to arrest Jesus, he was even in charge of a Roman cohort!
Quite possibly, John simply transposed the SPEIRA from the mocking scene at
Mark 15:16, which scene John completely omits, to Jesus' arrest here in
18:3. As to John's intent to magnify (if not exaggerate) the role of Judas,
consider the next paragraph.
3. Judas himself, not the band/crowd, "comes with torches and lamps and
weapons". Mark's word order (in 14:43) is "...Judas approaches, one of the
twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs from the high-priests and
the scribes and the elders..." John deftly transposes the word order in
18:3, so that not only (a) Judas "takes" the arrest band in his charge, but
also (b) it is now Judas, not the crowd, who "comes with" the torches and
So John paints Judas with his arms full of torches and weapons -- "armed and
dangerous"! Even if we say John 18:3 really means that the soldiers and
officers are carrying the lamps and weapons, still the writer's word order
indicates that he wants to suggest to the reader that Judas is in charge of
the weapons, no matter who is carrying them. Luke took the weapons out of
his description to concentrate more on Judas, but John brings them back into
his description, putting them in Judas' possession(?) and/or control.
To conclude, Luke begins to move away from Mark/Matt with a negatively
enhanced picture of Judas advancing at the head of the arrest crowd, but
John boldly goes even farther in the direction of magnifying (exaggerating)
the evil power of Judas by putting him in charge of the arresting band and
the(ir) weapons. John balances that by also magnifying in the other
direction the good power of Jesus by giving him authority over the Judas and
his whole band, as (a) Jesus "knew all that was coming upon him" (18:4), and
(b) when Jesus says "I am he" (EGW EIMI) the soldiers and Judas all fall
One final note about Judas in John 18:3. In his passion narrative, John
sets Judas up as the first in a structured list of the six parties
responsible for Jesus' crucifixion. The literary device he uses for each of
the six perpetrators is the sequence <hO=the> + <OUN=then> + <subject of
18:3 "then the Judas (hO OUN IOUDAS)..."
----18:12 "then the cohort (hH OUN SPEIRA)..."
--------18:19 "then the high-priest (hO OUN ARXIEREUS)..."
--------19:13 "then the Pilate (hO OUN PILATOS)..."
----19:23 "then the soldiers (hOI OUN STRATIWTAI)..."
19:31 "then the Jews (hOI OUN IOUDAIOI)..."
This sequence hO+OUN+subject is used only these six times in John's passion
narrative, encompassing all and only the parties responsible for Jesus'
death. And, the list of six even forms a little chiasm, so Judas is not
only the first but he is also connected with the last enemy "the Jews" by
his very name (IOUDAS - IOUDAIOI).
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- To: GPG
In Resposne To: Keith Yoder
On: Judas in John
Keith, I have four reactions to your suggestion.
(1) You have described very convincingly what I have called a
Trajectory Argument for Judas, in which, as I see it, the sequence of
development (increasing detestation of Judas, and specifically of the
horrendousness of his intimate betral) works out to:
Mk/Mt > Lk > Jn.
(2) Drat, I am going to have to add this to my Chapter 1, which I had
been thinking was finished. But nothing is perfect, and presumably
more knowledge is better than less knowledge. There is nothing in that
maxim about sleep, but I guess that's my problem. Thanks for a fine
piece of careful reasoning.
(3) I think I can maybe help you a little bit: Matthew is also angrier
than Mark. It is Matthew's habit to condense Mk slightly, where the
narrative is not affected, and we can see it in the Mk/Mt passages
having to do with the Judas betrayal. Parts in Mt common to Mk are in
Mt 26:14 [Went to the chief priests] and said, What will you give me
if I deliver him to you. / The greed is spelled out in more detail.
Mt 26:15 [For comparison, Mt omits Mk's "and when they heard it, they
were glad," which puts the malicious intent more on the side of the
Mt 26:15 adds the specific sum, Thirty pieces of silver, making the
transaction more concrete. Mk has merely "gave him money." Mt is
fiscally and cinematically more vivid; you can hear the money clink on
Mt 26:25. Judas, who betrayed him, said, Is it I, Master? He said to
him, You have said so. [This interchange is entirely absent in Mk;
again, the camera is working close in on the scene, and readers are
left in no suspense as to who is the bad guy: Mk ends with [and Mt
preserves] the general questioning of all the disciples; Mt's Judas
extension gives a vivid climax. It is no more convincing as a story
than Mt's idea that Judas rode two animals, not one, into Jerusalem,
but it is sure vivid].
Mt 26:49 "Hail [Master]." Judas's greeting is more friendly, and thus
more false, than the simpler one in Mk.
Mt 26:50. Jesus said to him, Friend, why are you here? [not in Mk; the
irony of the salutation "Friend" continues the previous note, and
gives the whole thing an ironic flavor.
Adding this to previous results, I think the result is a very well
defined Judas Trajectory:
Mk > Mt > Lk > Jn
Which of course matches the outcome of the Jesus Trajectory, the
Baptism Trajectory, the Mary Trajectory, and a few others.
(4) I make you a present of anything above that seems good to you. Do
you want to write it up for our imminent journal? We have an NT
vacancy in the first or second volume, both of which are being
finalized as I speak.
Don't sweat details at this point. But if you should be interested,
there is some general description and some author guidelines (nothing
horrendous; no downloading special software as for JBL) for your
Let me know at your leisure what you think.
In any case, congratulations on a week well spent.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
- I hate to muddy the waters even further :) but I feel compelled to make my
own comment on this very interesting discovery. This is my first post here,
so I hope I don't overstep the rules and guidelines.
Let me first say that I strongly encourage Mr. Yoder to pursue this line of
research, even though his (and Mr. Brooks') conclusions turn out to be
somewhat different from mine.
At any rate, this is a marvelous piece of evidence for a hypothesis I have
been working towards for some years now: that all four gospels derive from
an earlier version of Mark's gospel, which was not only responsible for the
chiastic structures still discernible in canonical GMk, both at the pericope
level, and also perhaps the larger narrative level, but was also responsible
for the synoptic narrative structure--a Galilean ministry followed by a
single visit to Jerusalem--as well as most of the Passion Narrative--largely
followed in GJn, despite his deviations from the Markan narrative in the
ministry chapters of his gospel.
The following is going to sound a little baroque, but it is actually rather
straightforward. Try and bear with it--I will be using Jn 18:3 as a perfect
illustration of what I'm talking about.
What I actually think happened is that there were three layers of Mark:
1) a proto-Mark (pMk), with a narrative structure much more like that found
in the earlier chapters of GJn;
2) a deutero-Mark (dMk), in which our familiar Markan narrative was
3) canonical Mark (GMk), which edited dMk for mostly theological reasons,
but sometimes for narrative problems ensuing from the theological
There was also
2a) a proto-Matthew, derived from 2) dMk, and used by both Matthew and
Luke. This proto-Matthew is the Q-gospel--it contained the Q material, but
was also a full-fledged gospel.
Now, both GJn and GMt prominently feature anti-Semitisms. But GJn shows
almost no signs of following GMt, so how could this anti-Semitism have
carried over from one to the other? But it's possible if they shared a
source, and I argue that source was deutero-Mark. So, John's anti-Semitism
is actually not original--he is merely following the lead of one of his
We also see this anti-Semitism reflected in the Gospel of Peter; GPet is
clearly related to GMt, though there isn't space here to show how. Brown
describes in Appendix I to *Death of the Messiah* if you'd like to start
looking into it--suffice it to say that despite Brown's opinion, GPet had to
be a source of GMt. GPet in turn used dMk as a source, from whence it
derived its anti-Semitism.
And, GPet is also how the anti-Semitism of dMk entered GLk in part--because
Luke used GPet--though Luke was just trying to solve a textual problem he
faced. Matthew solved it differently, by favoring the Markan language
here. Luke in general was a bit more deft at splicing his different sources
together than Matthew was.
Here's how it works, using the example of Jn 18:3 that you provided:
--John used primarily 2) dMk here.
--Matthew used primarily 3) GMk here, though he elsewhere used 2a) dMk via
--Luke used both 2a) dMk via GPet and 3) GMk here.
--We see how GJn is not familiar with the canonical Markan account; he
retains older language of a band of soldiers with a leader, in this case
including the anti-Semitic Judas Iscariot.
--GMt derives from the canonical Markan account, where Judas has been
removed as the leader of the soldiers, though Judas does make an
appearance. The account has been rationalized.
--GLk, on the other hand, tries to balance the older account (from
deutero-Mark) with the new one (from canonical Mark). The result is hints
of language from both.
See how neatly this explains the differences?
As for the progression, you see motion from Matthew/Mark's more benign
Judas, to Luke's more suspect Judas, to John's totally culpable Judas. But
it turns out it's the other way around:
--John retains the anti-Semitism of his older sources, because he favors 2)
--Luke preserves it partially, because he balances the 2a) dMk via GPet
version with the 3) cleaned-up version of canonical GMk.
--but it became eliminated in GMk and GMt, because here, Matthew favors the
3) cleaned-up account of canonical GMk. Matthew does preserve some
anti-Semitisms elsewhere via 2a) dMk via GPet.
Chronologically, the sequence actually runs:
1) the proto-Markan version, probably not involving Judas at all
2) the deutero-Mark anti-Semitic original of GJn 18:3, a rewriting of pMk
3) GPet's version of dMk's anti-Semitic version, whatever it was (btw, this
is Cerinthus' gospel)
4) GJn's use of dMk (a reaction to Cerinthus, but retaining the
5) canonical GMk's cleaned-up version (perhaps to make more sense out of
6) GMt, favoring GMk's account here
7) GLk, blending GPet's and GMk's accounts
Fwiw, the Jesus Trajectory, the Baptism Trajectory, the Mary Trajectory are
all likewise misunderstood, but I'll leave that aside for now :) Basically
GJn, as some have suspected, preserves traditions more primitive than the
On a related note, I think the chiastic structure you've identified in GJn
also derives from dMk. Michael Turton's excellent online
work<http://www.michaelturton.com/Mark/GMark_index.html>on chiasms in
Mark indicates that an underlying chiastic structure in the
Markan gospel was tampered with; my dMk was that chiastic author, and my
canonical GMk is the redacted version of dMk. I'm quite pleased to discover
a chiasm here in GJn.
In fact. I think we already know of dMk; it's the Secret Gospel of Mark. I
realize this is a highly controversial claim, but it is the solution to a
myriad of problems. (Fwiw I also think we actually have fragments of pMk,
but I haven't written on this yet.) An important part of my methodology is
the principle that we already have all the texts; in other words, I actually
hypothesize no new gospels. I use only what we already know of, though some
contents must be guessed at, based on the evidence.
Still more controversially, I think the evidence shows that this author
ultimately derived much of his information from a historical source,
reflected one way or another in what is commonly refered to as the Slavonic
Josephus (though should be more properly termed the Old Russian Josephus).
Please note that this is a very different idea than the crazy sort
promulgated by Robert Eisler many decades ago; I am simply arguing for a
Greek (not Aramaic) source for the Slavonic Josephus, redacted from
authentic Josephus (whether Greek or Aramaic) by an early quasi-Christian
author. Whether the author of pMk used this pseudo-Josepus, or whether both
were derived from a similar text, is difficult to say. But I think we can
say with some certainty that they are linked. (BTW, I am not alone in
arguing for an ancient Greek original of the Slavonic Josephus.)
Compare John's account to the Slavonic Josephus' version:
[The Jewish leaders] assembled to the chief priests and said
"Let us go and inform Pilate what we have heard;
And they went and informed Pilate
And he sent and killed many of the people
No Judas at all--and the language echoes the military assault that is
incongruously described in GJn. How else can this be accounted for?
Pseudo-Josephus is obviously not using any canonical gospels. This link may
also explain the odd detail in Jn 18:6 that the soldiers "fell to the
ground" (aphlqon eiv ta opisw kai epesan camai).
Either the canonical account must derive from this account in
pseudo-Josephus, or from an intermediate but related source. If the latter,
I argue this source was pMk, but both may have been used.
I think the anti-Semitic author of dMk, rewriting pMk, simply substituted in
Judas into 18:3 as a scapegoat ringleader of this attack the followers of
the pseudo-Josephean prophet (who is unnamed in the text). I strongly
suspect this same author of dMk invented the character of Judas Iscariot
from the disciple Judas (whom we now call Jude), who played a role in pMk as
interlocutor of Jesus (as hinted at in GJn, with the mention of "Judas--not
Iscariot"). Judas Iscariot represented the Jewish leaders who the dMk
author believed (for whatever reason) betrayed Jesus.
I humbly present more details (including fwiw a critique of Carlson and
Jeffery's work on Secret Mark, as is necessary to defend my hypothesis) on
my small website Synoptic Solutions <http://synopticsolutions.blogspot.com>,
where I continue to roll out what I call the Hyper-Synoptic Solution: a new
solution to the synoptic problem, encompassing not only the synoptics, but
also GJn and apocrypha as well. Ultimately I will be connecting the
synoptics to Josephus, and further on to history.
Readers' comments and criticism there are more than welcome. I can promise
many more website posts there on these matters.
Again, Mr. Yoder, this is an excellent finding, whatever conclusions it
Michael T. Zeddies
Ann Arbor, MI
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