Judas – Iscariot, Sicariot

Let’s pull some pieces together from the Gospels:

The disciples were forbidden to carry money – but Judas kept the movement’s money. He had a special relationship with Jesus, and a special place in the movement.

Zealots, being egalitarian and recognizing only God as their Lord, called each other “Friend”. Judas is the only disciple addressed as “Friend” by Jesus.

Judas led the Romans to Jesus, but not necessarily of his own free will. He died violently immediately afterward. He was found hanged (Matthew) and with his belly split open and his guts spilled out (Acts). The Romans claimed it was suicide.

Judas is called “Iscariot” in the New Testament. That name is obscure in meaning, and there have been suggestions that he must have come from the town of Karioth. Unfortunately, there is no record of exactly such a town name. In ‘The Gospel According to the Romans’ I suggest that the name is a deliberate corruption of “Sicariot”, to disguise the name of this very important person in Jesus’ story. A sica is a curved knife, the weapon of choice of urban guerrillas. A “sicariot” is a “dagger man”.

Jewish Sica

“Sicariot” was the common derogatory term for a Zealot, the armed resistance against the Roman occupation of Israel. Other terms used by the Romans were “thief” and “robber”.

When Paul tried to spread his new religion into the Roman population at large, links between Jesus and the Zealots were problematic. Distortion and misdirection were necessary in a retelling of the story from which the Romans were largely omitted. Judas was too well-known to ignore; but at least his name and his role could be shifted, from Jesus’ friend the “Sicariot”, to Jesus’ betrayer the “Iscariot”.

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Who were the Zealots?

The Zealots were the armed resistance to the Roman occupation of Israel, and caused uprisings throughout a 200 year period. They terrorized collaborators, assassinated leaders, robbed caravans and killed legionaries whenever they could, operating as urban and rural guerrillas with their trademark curved dagger, the sica. They were sicariots, dagger men.

Zealots - robbers, or freedom fighters?

The Romans called them sicariots, robbers, thieves and brigands. But they would hardly call them heroes, patriots and freedom fighters, would they?

Once a generation or so a Zealot leader would arise who would lead a full-scale revolt – capture a city, massacre gentiles, loot arms and treasure, and finally be crushed when the Romans sent in a couple of Legions.

In 6 CE when Jesus was about 12, Judas of Galilee captured Sepphoris (or Zippori), the capital of Galilee only four miles from Nazareth. The Romans defeated his ragtag forces and crucified 2,000 of them. (Jesus’ father Joseph is not heard of after that event.)

After Jesus led his unsuccessful uprising in the Temple at Jerusalem, he was caught and crucified between two “thieves”. Neither theft nor blasphemy was punished with crucifixion; only rebellion was. When the Romans labeled Jesus “King of the Jews” they were echoing his claim from his ride into Jerusalem on his donkey, and clarifying why they were crucifying him. The two “thieves” were also important enough to be crucified.

A fourth was arrested and released: Barabbas, identified as “a robber”. “Bar-abbas” is a strange name – it means “son of a father”, “son of his father”, or “Son of the Father”. He was a Zealot, anyway. In “The Gospel According to the Romans” I suggest a couple of different reasons for his release.

The Zealots were active for another 100 years, until the final destruction of Jerusalem in the Bar Kokhba Revolt.