Because of his supposed role in betraying Jesus, Judas Iscariot has been immortalized as the quintessential traitor.
The story of Judas is repeated as one of the most dastardly betrayals ever to have taken place—one of the Twelve who sat at the feet of Jesus, eating and sleeping with him, and then at the very end, turning on him. Here's how the passage in the Gospel of Matthew reads:
And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. (Matthew 26:47-50)
One question that seems pertinent: Who would pay Judas money to point out Jesus, when everyone in town already knew who he was? As the gospel story goes, he had just ridden on a donkey through town while everyone yelled “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” He had spent the last three years preaching to people, healing them, even raising a few of them from the dead! Crowds flocked to see him everywhere he went, pressing to get close to him. If that were the case, then why couldn't this mob find Jesus themselves?
Even his enemies, the Jewish leaders, knew who he was. They had Jesus under 24-hour surveillance in order to catch him doing something against their law, and they confronted him on a daily basis. If the gospel account is true, there isn't a person in Jerusalem who didn't know who Jesus was, where he hung out, or what he looked like. He even said himself that everything he did was out in the open.
So weren't there even a few guys among the mob that the chief priest and elders had stirred up who knew Jesus by sight? And would a turncoat like Judas really betray the Son of God with such melodramatic flair as to say, “Hail, Master!” and give him a kiss? It seems more likely that he would just hang back with the leader of the pack and say, “That's him—the one with the herringbone tunic.”
The scene seems so contrived. Just as melodramatic is the way in which the remorseful Judas threw his money on the floor of the temple after he supposedly came to his senses and realized he'd betrayed an innocent person. After that, the gospel of Matthew says he went out and hung himself. On the other hand, the book of Acts says that Judas cast himself into a field and his bowels gushed out, which is an obvious contradiction. But don't worry, the biblical literalists have a “logical” solution to this conflict. Judas apparently tied the rope to a tree and jumped off a cliff to hang himself, but when he jumped, the rope broke, and ker-splatt! His innards gushed out.
Matthew's version, in fact, reveals another major gaffe—this one of monumental proportions, because it involves the author of the Bible (i.e., God) getting confused when referencing his own work. Check out this passage from Matthew 27:
Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me. (Matthew 27:3-10)
Not only does the prophecy quoted here have nothing to do with Judas' betrayal (it's talking about a civil war that divided the single nation of Israel into the separate nations of Israel and Judah), but the passage is not in “Jeremy,” or Jeremiah, but it is found in the eleventh chapter of Zechariah!
And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the LORD. And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD. Then I cut asunder mine other staff, even Bands, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. (Zechariah 11:10-14)
So the tale of the Judas the traitor seems to have been written to fit a misquoted prophecy that wasn't even remotely related to the betrayal, perhaps because the Easter story needed a villain.