Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Name "Iskarioth" (Iscariot)

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Name "Iskarioth" (Iscariot)

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Given the recent discovery and publication of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas1 and renewed interest in the historical figure of Judas Iscariot, it may be timely to analyze again the suggestions made concerning the epithet of the betrayer of Jesus. As William Klassen has noted, "the last word has not been said or written about the meaning of this word."2 There is little scholarly agreement about what exactly the epithet means, despite the etymological explanations offered to account for it.3 Bart D. Ehrman notes that "some of the best scholars have concluded that we simply don't know what Iscariot means."4 It is then a little daunting to begin an assessment of the arguments thus far proposed. I offer here a suggestion only with considerable caution.


The name of Jesus' apostle and betrayer is found as ... in Mark 3:19 ..., B, C, L, ..., et al.); 14:10 ..., B, C*vid); and Luke 6:16 (p4, )*, B, L, 33, Marcion, itd: Inscarioth); as a manuscript variant in Matt 10:4 (C and l150); and as an addition in Luke 22:47 (D, 0171vid, [f1] pc [l]). It appears as ... in Matt 10:4 and John 12:4, and as a variant in Mark 3:19 (A, K, W, Π, 0134, f1, f13 et al.); 14:10 (A, C2, K, W, X, ..., Π, f1 et al.); 14:43; and Luke 6:16 ()c, A, K, W, X, Δ, Θ, Π, Ψ, f1, f13 et al.). In Luke 22:3 it is written that Satan entered ..., and in Matt 26:14 likewise Judas "is called" by this name: ....

In some versions of Mark 14:10-the basis of Matt 26:14 and Luke 22:3-there is a definite article, reading ..., 565, 892); if this reading is original, then it may be that the derivative developments are independent amplifications of this definite article.

John 6:71a has ..., though the manuscript tradition that here has ... (K, Δ, Π, f1, et al.) brings the epithet in line with John 12:4 as relating to Judas rather than his father, a designation also indicated in the reference to a "Judas not the Iscariot" in John 14:22 (...). Elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel (John 13:2, 26) the name appears as ..., prompting clarification in some manuscripts (John 13:2: p66,), B, W, X; John 13:26: p66, A, K, W, Δ, Π*, f1, f13 et al.).

Overall, this appears to indicate that Judas was designated by a Hebrew or Aramaic name transliterated as ... and rendered in Greek form as .... The manuscripts show more of a tendency to standardize the epithet in Greek form rather than to retrieve or preserve the Hebrew or Aramaic form. The definite article appears as emphasis to distinguish this Judas from others called by the same name, hence the amplifications of Matt 26:14; Luke 22:3; and John 14:22.


Several proposals have been made to explain the epithet. The main suggestions that would account for ... are the following:5

1. The epithet translates Hebrew twyorIqf ..., meaning "a man from Qarioth", this place being attested in Eusebius, Onom. 120.1; cf. Jer 48:24, 41; Amos 2:2. The interpretation has been supported by Paul Billerbeck, Julius Wellhausen, Donatus Haugg, and Gustaf Dalman.6 As a variant of this proposal, the epithet is taken to mean "a man of towns," a town-dweller-the town in question being Jerusalem (so Günther Schwartz).7

2. The epithet is a Hebrew or Aramaic version of Latin sicarius, meaning "robber" or "assassin," from the word sica, meaning "dagger." This derivation was proposed by Friedrich Schulthess, using a suggestion of Wellhausen, and in particular by Oscar Cullmann.8 This would indicate that Judas was an insurgent.

3. The epithet should be read as meaning "the liar" or "the false one," perhaps ... i, from the Aramaic and Hebrew root rq#. This root derivation of the word was suggested by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, who proposed an underlying Hebrew form ..., "man of lies,"9 though C. C. Torrey argued for Aramaic.10 This makes it a pejorative epithet applied to Judas by the disciples of Jesus after his betrayal. …

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