Why Did Judas Identify Jesus with a Kiss?

Hershel Shanks’s First Person in the January/February 2014 issue of BAR

I’ve been reading a new book titled Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem “On the Life and the Passion of Christ”: A Coptic Apocryphon by the Dutch scholar Roelof van den Broek.1 In case it has escaped your attention, it provides a new translation of an eighth-century Gnostic gospel in Coptic from Egypt that has been in the Morgan Library in New York since 1908, a gift of J.P. Morgan.

This text explains why Judas Iscariot identified Jesus with a kiss so that the Roman soldiers could arrest him, as related in three canonical gospels (Matthew 26:48; Mark 14:44; Luke 22:47). According to this late Gnostic gospel, that was the only way the Roman soldiers could be sure they had the right man. The reason was that Jesus could change his features:

“How shall we arrest him,” the Jews ask, “for he does not have a single shape, but his appearance changes. Sometimes he is ruddy, sometimes he is white, sometimes he is red, sometimes he is wheat-colored, sometimes he is pallid like ascetics, sometimes he is a youth, sometimes an old man, sometimes his hair is straight and black, sometimes it is curled, sometimes he is tall, sometimes he is short.” They “have never seen him in one and the same appearance.”

Jesus could also become completely incorporeal. Jesus explains that, if he wished, he could escape crucifixion in this way.

The idea of a shape-changing Jesus is not new. It goes back as far as Origen in the third century. According to Origen, Jesus would appear differently to people who saw him at the same time.
 


 
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Van den Broek is careful to note that he is not suggesting that Jesus was in fact shape changing but only that some people in early Christian times may have thought he was.

This brings to mind another recent find with an unusual claim about Jesus—that he had a wife! In a papyrus fragment the size of a credit card, Jesus is speaking in the first person and refers to “my wife.” This Coptic fragment appears to have come from a Gnostic gospel of the fourth century and has been studied by Harvard Divinity School’s Karen King, who holds the oldest endowed academic chair in the United States. She has written a lengthy scholarly article on the fragment—dubbed the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”—that was accepted for publication by the prestigious Harvard Theological Review (see article.) Like van den Broek, King was careful to state (repeatedly) that this gospel fragment “provides no reliable historical information” as to whether Jesus was married, only that “some Christians depicted Jesus as married.” The claim that Jesus was married “arose over a century after the death of Jesus in the context of intra-Christian controversies over sexuality, marriage and discipleship.”

King was also careful to consider the possibility that the gospel fragment, which came from the antiquities market at least 30 years ago, was a forgery: “We took into serious consideration whether this was a genuine ancient text or a modern forgery,” she wrote. Two leading experts found that it was authentic, and various tests were applied. After her own study, King concluded that “although the authenticity is not absolutely settled beyond any question, we are sufficiently confident to offer our results here.”

After word got out that the fragment referred to Jesus’ wife, the Harvard Theological Review changed its mind about publishing King’s article. It had been scheduled for publication in January 2013. Under what pressure, we do not know, but the fact is that publication was postponed indefinitely—until the results of some unnamed tests by some unknown entities confirm the authenticity of the fragment. The magazine refused to divulge who would be conducting the tests or what they were. They referred to “various reports” that were expected, indicating that more than one test was to be made. The results of the tests, we were told, would be “ready for publication—hopefully early to mid-summer [2013].”a As of this writing, no information about these tests has been released, and the authorities still refuse to divulge who is doing the testing and what the tests are.

Why the difference between the reaction to King’s article, on the one hand, and van den Broek’s book, on the other? One refers to Jesus’ wife, and the other describes Jesus’ ability to change his appearance drastically. Is one more blasphemous than the other?

Several reasons have been suggested. Perhaps the question of Jesus’ sexuality is a more sensitive topic. Or perhaps the difference is that King’s analysis became public before it was published in the Harvard Theological Review, while the public learned of van den Broek’s shape-changing Jesus only after his book had been published. Or perhaps it was the fact that King’s gospel fragment “contains the first known statement that explicitly claims Jesus had a wife,” while references to Jesus’ shape-changing abilities were widely known previously in the scholarly community. Or maybe it was because there is no question about the authenticity of the document describing the shape-changing Jesus (it was bought from a monastery).

In any event, scholars are advised to step carefully when dealing with certain notions about Jesus held by some early Christians.
 


 
Read more about the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” papyrus fragment and how the scholarly community has responded to recent tests conducted to determine its authenticity.
 

 

Notes

1. Roelof van den Broek, Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem “On the Life and Passion of Christ”: A Coptic Apocryphon (Leiden: Brill, 2013). Its retail price is $140.

a. See Strata: In Their Own Words: “Stop the Presses: Report on ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Due Out Mid-Summer,” BAR 39:04.
 


 
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  1. RAY says

    ARE WE TO expect something dofferent from Hershel Shanks? Hardly. The gnostic gospel is too remote in time from the life of Christ. If Hershel were more interested in comprehending the theologocal foundations of Christianity, he would study the Synoptic Gospels. A good starting point to understamd would be to read the theologians, Barth, McQuarry and especially the amazing scholar, RAYMOND BROWN. If your intent is to search to undermine established religion, then pursue the fringe and far removed interpretations. Sam old saw from Hershel.

  2. Hal says

    It makes me think of the Cherubim, but 4th century Gnostic?

  3. Axel says

    Ray, the article is not about Jesus or the gospels but about first millennium “Christian” communities. I’ve placed the quotation because they themselves considered themselves Christian just like all the other sects and heretics and schismatic churches do and did through time. They all may be irrelevant to your personal belief (which is in itself irrelevant to me, sorry) but they are a genuine and valid object of historical research. They are also relevant to the history of the accepted main stream church because it reacted to and formed around them through time aquiring many otherwise unintelligible traits.

  4. Yury says

    I think explanation could be much more simple. Judas didn`t want to be known as a traitor, so he and soldiers came sneaky and he just came to greet Jesus alone, afterwards soldiers came as he pointed out who is who, but Jesus cleared all by revealing his intentions. About the kiss, Jesus told them to greet each other with a kiss, so no big deal about it. It could be just a joining of last disciple to the rest of group and a greeting kiss.

  5. Thomas says

    There is a simple explaination for both of these “stories” (Jesus’ wife, shape shifter Jesus). Consider the work of liberal sycophants today. They make things up to advance their world view and agenda. Examples? Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Misquotes Ambassador Michael Oren on Israel, then denies she said it even though video footage of her statement exists) and Barack Obama (The Lie of the Year 2013, You can keep your plan, you can keep your doctor, period). People with these moral values have existed since the beginning of time. Why should anyone be surprised that some of their writings have survived the millenia? Doesn’t make them any more true than Obama’s lie.

  6. Qelilah says

    I agree with Thomas that the kiss was a standard greeting. But, the kiss for the Romans was to let them know that the one who Judas kissed would be Jesus. This shows that to the Romans, all Jews looked alike. Jesus looked like his brothers in the faith. Many were from the same tribe and a few were relatives. To differentiate and to not look suspicious, a kiss would suffice. BUT, Jesus knew it for what it was, a betrayal.

  7. Kurt says

    Kisses could be hypocritical. Absalom, shrewdly seeking power, kissed men who drew near to bow down to him. (2Sa 15:5, 6) Treacherous Joab’s kiss meant death to unsuspecting Amasa. (2Sa 20:9, 10) Also, it was with a deceitful kiss that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ.—Mt 26:48, 49; Mr 14:44, 45.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/s/r1/lp-e?q=judas%20kissed
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200273189

  8. Helen says

    I had always figured that the soldiers who were there were not Roman but Temple Police. I tht the Romans showed up after Jesus’ arrest when He was dragged before Pilate by the religious authorities who could not execute Him themselves.

    As to blasphemy, Jesus having a wife would not rise to that level; Jesus the shape-shifter would LOL

  9. Gary says

    Every Jew I know says that it is not possible for Jesus not to have a wife, most likely in his early teens, like every other good Jew of the time. There were communities that took vows of celibacy and did not marry, but they were not all that entrenched in the villages and towns, they more or less lived apart. Jesus being married or not is really a moot point. Sex between married partners is not put down anywhere in the Old Testament as being defiling, unless you just live for it to the exclusion of other things (i.e., selfishness = error). The idea of marital sex being a bad thing is a somewhat more recent interlocution in Christianity.

  10. Krzysztof says

    RAY is pointing it: R.E.Brown (RC religious, pavel vi Biblical Pontifical Commision) and others have made alredy classic texbooks: ex.the Birth (DEath ) of the Messiah, P.Meier: A Marginal Jew,…
    Plenty of Biblical Dictionaries on Synoptic details. But ..this GEneration is illtarate likein Jesus’s time; he was learning from the same OT fragments as others and what he learned, the rest -not!
    What is the value of 5th century apocrypha comparing to Gospels of Paul’s letters or To Hebrew letter. There are already quite exciting details in Gospels that we do not need or only to confirm it.
    One the most ….scandalous (for noble theological fools ) is that: Jesus did not claim to be God (Mark 10:18,others)yet; the title, the son of God has a sense because he prayed to God as Father; of course, logical and philosophical background of Trynitarian controversies is a mystery for the debating; why phislosphy? Terms like: God, relation, cause,etc. are of philosophy and a fool on it who maybe heard just sth cannot grasop it; therefore, you have so called “mystery” of Trinity- sure for …hermenutical and bilical foools!

  11. Jamie says

    I really enjoyed this article. The argument is 100% on point, and so is the evidence.

  12. ROBERT says

    When it comes to religion and politics people disregard facts,science,proof,photographs and reality. I have noticed that many readers are so invested in their personal beliefs that they can’t accept a truth regardless of the validity of the facts. If an expert says the world is round and the Church says it’s flat, then millions believe the world is flat and want to kill the non believers. I have a naval chart from when the world was flat. It is very helpful because you can tell where to turn your vessel around before you sail off the earth. I could say the Church was correct because I have a naval chart from the period or I could claim GOD reshaped the Earth later or I might rely on a monk who spent thousands of hours trying to determine how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. I have come to the conclusion that since many stories in the bible are there to send a message to the reader from the author and the author was not present or in some cases alive at the time, this story was to create a picture of Jews being traitors and backstabbers. This bible story has worked well to create a bad picture of jewish character which is untrue and unfounded. However, is has worked very well for the past 2000 years, so the author achieved his goal to denigrate Jews.

  13. Alfredo says

    I have read a lot of stupid things in my life. This is right at the top of the list…

  14. James says

    Too bad we cannot relate Judas’ pointing our Jesus in the dark more simply to either the darkness itself or to Isaiah 53:2: “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” That is, he looked ordinary like everyone else. ???

  15. David E says

    CJB John 21:25 But there are also many other things Yeshua did; and if they were all to be recorded, I don’t think the whole world could contain the books that would have to be written! (Joh 21:25 CJB)

    If we assume that the written word of God is inspired and controlled by God down to the word or even letter, then the ramifications of John 21:25 are astounding. The canonical gospels would as a result be a witness to only a minute fraction of the incidents and events that occurred in the life of Yeshua. It seems that initially the eye witnesses shared their memories orally and these accounts were passed on orally for decades and became collected into favorite oral collections. Did this collection of oral accounts contain any of the incidents and events that actually occurred but are missing from the canonical written witnesses? Do any of the non-canonical written accounts contain any of this huge volume of missing information? If only Paul Harvey could come back and tell us “the rest of the story”. The canonical gospels do not require that the Christ lived and died a virgin. That is assumed based on the continuing false judgment of Adam/Eve that sexual anatomy and function were shameful. A little does leak out in the scriptures about Peter’s mother-in-law but not about wife and kids. Because they are not mentioned does not mean they did not exist. As with archaeology, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    My own understanding leads to a faith that does not require the Hebrew/Christian scriptures to be controlled by God anymore than necessary to provide a sufficient witness to the judgments, acts and way of the Creator, scattered among the much more voluminous witness to the judgments, acts and way of man. The Creator has no problem calling and using imperfect humans to provide both a witness to the way of God mixed in with a witness to the way of man. Israel could have been a loving example to the world of God’s simple way of love and liberty but they chose to be like other nations and be an example of man’s burdensome way of might makes right hate and tyranny. The actions of the servants of God in both the Moses, and the Christ, mediated covenants were far from perfect and by simple logical reverse engineering their judgments preserved by God in the scriptures were also far from perfect. The Christ pointed out that one of the main problems with the servants of God, from Moses, David, the scrribes and Pharisees to the future (at that time) Apostles and leaders of the Jewish and Christian organizations, was the tendency to bury the simple light way of the Creator.under the heavy burden of the micromanaging commandments of men. It is interesting but it is not significant as to whether the Christ had a sexual relationship or could morph from one physical body to another. What matters is the way of love of the “Law of Liberty” that, like the sun and the rain from God, we are to respect the equal unalienable rights of all humans and understand that if a behavior does not significantly harm another or infringe on his/her equal rights it is lawful according to God’s “Law of Liberty”..

  16. Barbara says

    I am grateful for this article for it depicts a true description of How Jesus is to this day. Although it is claimed Mother Mary appears more often than does Jesus, the truth is the opposite. Although is not new that Jesus can change appearances, as it is written in the New Testament, that after the Resurrection Jesus appeared differently to his disciples on several occasions. The ability to change physical appearances, is why People throughout the ages did not recognize that Jesus appeared to them and spoke to them, and to this day, Jesus appears all over the world to people. For Jesus does not seek anyone’s acknowledgement of His identity, rather he desires the person understands the message he left with them. To the People He appears frequently to, they know he always changes His outer appearances, but His radiance never changes and His radiance is one of Love Personified. Moreover, it is not only in our every day lives, He can appear, He can and does also appear in our Dreams as well. He can be even invisible and we still can perceive Him. Most People expect to see a bearded tall, slender man with holes in his wrists, but Jesus is extremely modest, in that he most often never reveals Who He is, and that is partly why He is so wonderful. For He said He will never leave Us, and He is true to His word.

  17. David says

    1 Corinthians 11:11, if understood in the correct light, seems to add plausibility to the concept that Jesus could perhaps have been married. Moreover, if we are created in the image of God, it would seem unusual to assume He does not have a body, or that He has a body like ours (in the same image) but does not really use it. On the other hand, if we have bodies created in His image and His body is therefore like ours (as we know Jesus’ was), why would He not be married. Therein He would be able to teach the Perfect Example of how to be in a righteous marriage. There is nothing blasphemous about such concepts if they are true – but have been corrupted or lost over the ages. In fact, current belief could be what is actually blasphemous if corruption or loss of truth did happen over the centuries.

  18. Matt says

    Wow. The “gospel of Jesus’ Wife” was pretty conclusively debunked (just Google it; the forger copied a transcription error from a Coptic text online). Makes you wonder what else they’re peddling here…

  19. Christopher says

    Jesus was not arrested by Roman soldiers. It is not until John 18:28 that the Jewish Rulers give Jesus over to the Romans. Even then, the Jewish Rulers would not so much as set foot in the praetorium so as to avoid defilement because it was the passover. The Jewish Rulers would not have gone about in the company of Roman soldiers at this time or allowed Roman soldiers into the court of Caiaphas or indeed have had any authority to order them about. The Romans had no interest in Jesus as evidenced by Pilate’s repeated attempts to have the matter dismissed or transferred out of his jurisdiction.

  20. Charles says

    Love some of these comments for their near pontifical certitude.

    Why can’t we just accept that if we cannot know these pop-up events as they appear ex nihilo (!) to be literally true after all of these centuries of scribal errors, scribal editing, and scribal opinionated spins du jour, strong personalities with alpha male positions each in their designated turn exerting influence where deemed appropriate – on and on and on over these centuries…….after all of this time, why can’t we just move on?

    Why perpetuate this endless conjecture? Isn’t this is the value of archeology? That scruffy object in our dusty hand is at least 91.72% factual. Leave it at that. Admire the curve of the vase. Why create uncertainty? What’s held in our hand is certainly not ex nihilo. (…sorry…)

  21. Danail says

    The critical moral state of the world today requires the successive dethronement of all its false values and destructive illusions. On the agenda is the epochal Jesus phenomenon.
    It is important to come to know and reconsider a number of things connected with him.
    What is the attitude of the great Galilean towards women? Was he married?
    Was his appearance changeable?
    Was he really betrayed? …
    Among the many questions, there is one the solution of which is of paramount importance to the destiny of life on the face of the Earth – Is Jesus a God?
    Although the church hides important information, the canonized New Testament writings provide abundant material for one careful investigation of the person and the work of Jesus, defined as Christ.
    It is not impossible that Mary Magdalene has been in love with him but the Gospel of the sensual John lays another trail. Between teacher and disciple an uncharacteristic of the Jews closeness has alluded. (John 13:23-25; 20:2 and 21:7,20)
    After the unconvincingly presented resurrection, Jesus is fearsome and unrecognizable to his disciples (Luke 24:37,16; John 20:14 and 21:4).
    He is morally elevated when preaching mercy towards the enemies (Matthew 5:44-46; Luke 6:35,36) and quite low in his anger and malice towards his opponents (Matthew 3:7; 12:34 and 23:33; Luke 19:27).
    Jesus has been well known to both the Jews and the Romans (John 18:20; Matthew 26:55; Luke 19:47).
    It is only the new teaching that has needed a traitor in order to remove God’s principles of Moses’ time from the universal consciousness, and in their place to implant the faith in Jesus.
    The name Judas has been mercilessly fired against the Jews and those values of the Jewry, which that have Divine origin.

  22. Sfoxdale says

    I don’t see how a “shape-shifter” Jesus would be heretical. If Christians consider Jesus to be the Son of God, and, therefore, part deity himself… then why would anyone consider it outlandish for him to have such powers? So, he can change water to wine, materialize food, walk on water, heal blind people, lepers, cripples (et. al.), expel demons, raise dead people, and then rise from the dead himself… but somehow it’s heretical to say that he could shape-shift?

    Plus, doesn’t it say in the accepted bible itself that, after he came back to life, he appeared to people in different forms? Maybe he really was a shape-shifter, but the accepted bible just didn’t really mention it until this point. Or, maybe, to different people he appeared in different forms that would be more appealing to them.

    Maybe being agnostic is somehow crippling my vision in the subject, but I really fail to see the controversy here; at least with the shape-shifting part of it.

  23. PureFaith says

    Seriously though, if that little piece of text about the so-called “wife” is not modern forgery, why can it not be a piece of ancient forgery? Maybe someone who hated Jesus Christ back in the days wrote that to deceive people. I mean come on if people can claim themselves to be Jesus Christ today and attract followers then of course it could have happened in the earlier times, after Jesus left earth.

  24. Jose says

    Shape shifting, married or not..the message is the important thing

  25. Jeff says

    @Axel response #3 The article’s headline is implying that it has an actual and factual answer to the question “why did Judas Identify Jesus with a kiss?” Then it uses a 3rd – 8th century sources as “evidence” to back it up.. Backpedaling and saying the article is about 3rd to 8th century history is ridiculous. Legendary development has certainly crept in to describe Jesus as a “shape sifter.” The author has not proved his point.

  26. morel says

    There is a misunderstanding about Judah. How through kissing Jesus did he not have been transformed spiritually by God’s grace ? It is therefore impossible for Judah to have betrayed Jesus and the truth is Judah actually had never betrayed … but people do not understand some hidden reality.

  27. Holly says

    This is stupid and is Gnosticism. The reason why is because the Gnostics did not like the body. They thought that the body was evil so of course they thought he could change shape. The Gnostics only liked the spirit, not the body. But the fact is that we as people are people. We not a soul and a body although we have both. They are wholly integrated through out entire being.

  28. Mike says

    1. The police did not have a photograph of Jesus. Ponder how the presence of photography for the past 150 years or so has enhanced our ability to visualize the President, public figures, and criminals.

    2. Luke 4:28-30. This passage has always left me thinking that perhaps some sort of supernatural hocus pocus was taking place, where Jesus might have performed some sort of disappearance act. Or something…… I don’t know. But we no with certainly that Jesus did at times ascend to heaven, from heaven, glow, and that sorta thing…… But the kiss doesn’t suggest to me any sort of Star Trek trickery. The cops didn’t have a photograph.

    [quote] 28And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30But passing through their midst, He went His way. [/quote]

  29. Mike says

    Or maybe Judas was, er, simply a progressive champion for inclusion and diversity.

  30. Dennis says

    ……… but somehow it’s heretical to say that he could shape-shift?……..
    __________________________________________________________

    It is quite clear even in the synoptic gospels that Jesus changed forms, so that even his own disciples did not recognize him…

    John 21:4-5…4But when day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach: yet the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. 5Jesus therefore saith unto them, Children, have ye aught to eat?..

    Luke 24:15-16…15And it came to pass, while they communed and questioned together, that Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. 16But their eyes were holden that they should not know him……

    Luke 24:31—31And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.

    And there is every evidence that Jesus had a special relationship with Mary Magdalene.

    Mark 16:1-2 1And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint him.

    You would not think that some random female disciple and the Mother of Jesus (yes this opens the other controversy about Mary being a virgin all her life which is equally stupid) would be the ones going to anoint the body would you?

    John 11:28-30…28And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Teacher is here, and calleth thee. 29And she, when she heard it, arose quickly, and went unto him. 30(Now Jesus was not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met him.)

    Now why would Jesus ask specifically for Mary, and why would her sister do this secretly? Why is it that the first person he appeared to was not the disciples, and not even Peter who was specifically appeared to separately? Nothing definitive, but it sure is interesting and certainly suggestive that Mary Magdalene and Jesus had a special relationship.

  31. Shannon says

    Jesus (Yahshua)’s wife is the “Church”….and who are the “Church”?… but his people that are of light, love, and righteousness (not the concrete buildings). Case closed. It’s spelled out clearly in the BIble and it’s sad that educated people of this level choose to ignore all of that and make it some Gnostic gospel of Christians who believe he had a wife. Just so they can write long, published, respected articles that discredit him but bring them more power, prestige, and of course money. It’s so very clear…forgery or not.

  32. Shannon says

    I believe I should clarify and say we are all the Bride/wife of Christ but collectively we are his church.. so we believers are the “wife”.

    Revelation 19:7-9
    Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”

    Ephesians 5:25-27
    Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

    ….and many other supporting verses.


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