Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The fallacious 'paradidomi'

Today I want to speak about the verb 'paradidomi' since there have been a number of discussions about this verb left in the comments of previous posts. What can and can't it tell us about Judas?

I want to say up front that my reading of Judas and this verb has nothing whatsoever to do with the angst between so-called liberal and conservative scholars. In fact, I resent this sort of labeling because it is nothing more than theology rearing its head in the academy. Scholars aren't "liberal" or "conservative". In our field, whether a scholar is "liberal" or "conservative" is not an academic designation, but a theological designation (is the person in favor of progressive, evangelical, fundamentalist, etc. Christianity).

When I read internet perspectives on my work, particularly my views on the Gospel of Judas, I am stunned how often I am labeled a conservative, when all I am is a historian doing her job recovering the best history possible given the sources with no apology for Christianity. My views on the Gospel of Judas are actually "liberal" by strict definition, since they go completely against the status quo and the established tradition that scholars have held for hundreds of years - that Judas in the Gospel of Judas should be a Gnostic and a hero. He is not.

Nor can the arguments about the term 'paradidomi' exonerate him from the biblical sources. What is the argument? That 'paradidomi' means only "hand over" and not (necessarily) "betray."

How is this argument made? By turning to NT references to the word such as Paul's use of it in 1 Cor 11:23-24 (where Paul says: "For I received from the Lord that which I also handed over to you"); Rom 8:32 (God "handed over" Jesus for us all); etc. Once it is established that 'paradidomi' means 'to give or hand someone or something over to someone else' the coast is clear to make the argument that Judas may not have been such a bad guy historically, especially since the NT gospel writers each portray the reason for Judas' 'handing over' of Jesus quite differently. Guess no one really knew and they were just scapegoating a good guy (or a guy that didn't exist at all).

Now here is the problem. 'Paradidomi', like most words, has a range of acceptable meanings and uses. You have to know the context of most words to know which meaning is intended. In fact its several definitions across Greek literature include: 1. to transmit or impart as a teacher, or hand down legends or information; 2. to give a city or a person into another's hands, such as surrender and treachery; 3. to allow or permit someone to do something.

So how do the NT gospel writers use the verb contextually in their telling of Judas' story? Mark 14 has Jesus say to the twelve at the table, "one of you will hand me over." The disciples begin to grieve ('lupeô') when they hear this statement. Then Jesus damns the man who will hand over the Son of Man: "Damn that man by whom the Son of Man is handed over! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born." Mark's story clearly uses the word in its treacherous sense. Judas is doing a terrible thing by turning Judas in. He is a disciple who is a turncoat.

Matthew's version (c. 26) isn't any better. Relying on Mark's story, he transmits the same use of 'paradidomi': The disciples grieve when they hear that one of them will hand Jesus over; this man is damned, better not to have been born. And - here is the difference - verbally identified as Judas!

Luke's version (c. 22) is equally scathing. He begins by telling us that Satan entered Judas who then went to talk to the high priests about how he would 'hand over' Jesus. So the word is now connected to the action of the chief demon and ruler of this world. Jesus later says at the table that one among them will hand him over. He damns the man who will turn him in.

John's version doesn't rely on the synoptics. He tells us as early as c. 6 that Jesus knew when he choose the twelve that one of them was a devil. This one is identified by John as Judas who would hand him over. Thus in c. 13 we learn that the devil had already put into Judas' heart the plan to hand over Jesus. Jesus predicts Judas' plan to hand him over as fulfilment of scripture that "He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me." Once Judas eats the morsel served by Jesus, Satan himself enters Judas and he goes out to do the deed. Judas' connection with Satan the ruler of the world is even more pronounced during the Farewell Discourse when Jesus says that he has run out of time to talk to them because "the ruler of this world is coming" in reference to Judas' plan to come to the garden and hand over Jesus to the authorities. This is all portrayed by John as part of God's plan to overthrow the ruler of this world.

My point is that in every one of these Judas cases, 'paradidomi' means treachery and betrayal. The contexts could not be more explicit.

The fact that each author gives a different motivation for Judas' betrayal says nothing more to us than all our authors knew that Judas had done something so bad that they felt the need to explain why he would have done such a terrible thing. So they suggest money, demon possession, and "it was part of God's plan" as answers.

As far as the Sethian Gnostics who wrote the Gospel of Judas - they were very faithful to scripture. Judas Iscariot was identified by them with Satan, the ruler of this world, whom they also called Saklas and Ialdabaoth.

So the next time you read about how 'paradidomi' exonerates Judas, think again, because it is a fallacious argument.


mikeduncan said...

My apologies if this covers previously trod ground - I could not locate the previous posts that you refer to.

Paul's usage of the word predates and complicates the gospel usage. In 1 Cor, he states Jesus was handed over, but not the agent of the action, and he gives no context of betrayal by any of the twelve whatsoever. In Romans (8:31-32 and 4.25), God is the agent of the handover, and in Galatians 2:20, Jesus handed himself over. I am hard put to extract "betrayal" from either of those agents, and the 1 Cor passage can only be read as "betrayal" by using the later gospel accounts.

In other words, the Greek in Christian usage doesn't acquire an edge until Mark's gospel, and that edge, initially rather dull and lacking in detail, is progressively sharper as other gospels add their takes.

There is something to the argument, but only if Paul is in the mix. It's not fallacious as much as incomplete. And that's without getting into how Judas functions differently in the various narratives, or why Paul seems ignorant of the Judas tale.

April DeConick said...

Paul does not mention Judas at all. In these cases, the meaning of the word is not "betray" but according to their context would mean to offer or give over, all perfectly fine in terms of range of meaning. The use of the word by Paul in these contexts is not the same thing as its application to Judas in the gospel stories.

Jerome said...

This topic has fascinated me for a long time.

And I think it's obvious that the Gospel writers are transmitting a story line in which Jesus was BETRAYED by Judas.

But Paul, our earliest Christian writer, seems to simply indicate that Jesus was HANDED OVER by God to Death in order to shatter Death. He doesn't mention Judas at all and he uses paradidomi another 15 times (I think) in his letters and he ALWAYS means 'handed over by God' in these case (I mean, we can assume that he doesn't mean 'betrayed by God', right?)

So why would it be different in that one sentence referring to Jesus' last evening?

Pastor Bob said...

First self identification: I am a Christian (and Evangelical) pastor.

Dr. DeConick I fail to see how your work on Judas makes you liberal, conservative, capitalist :) or anything else! The Gospel of Judas is what it is. Scholars argue about what Jesus said about Judas in that gospel and I fail to see how your translation and interpretation makes you anything but a scholar trying to say what she sees. And I don't have a right to an opinion because I can't read Coptic.

As to Judas in the New Testament I fail to see how Paul comes into play. As has been pointed out Paul doesn't mention Judas. We can guess as to why but the truth is we don't know. Therefore Paul's use of paradidomi really isn't an issue here.

So like it or not when Judas is mentioned in connection with the death of Jesus in the New Testament he is condemned.

Jerome said...


I still find it very interesting though that the earliest known Christian author does NOT mention a betrayal by Judas, assuming such a betrayal happened.

And I guess the fact that this alleged evil, evil traitor is called 'Judas' ( = 'Juda' = 'the Jews') by later, Greek or Greek leaning, authors is simply a coincidence?

Pastor Bob said...


I am suggesting that we cannot know why Paul does not mention Judas. We can guess, and many have. Some suggest that Paul never heard of Judas. I could suggest that the story doesn't fit into Paul's arguments. But we cannot know. Arguing from a lack of evidence is always dangerous.

As to your suggestion of a connection between the name Judas and the Greek word for Jew I would suggest first that you are using the Greek word for Judah, not Ioudaios, the word for Jew. Beyond that There are other people named Judas among Jesus' followers, including one of his brothers named Judas who aren't condemned.

Jerome said...


But you agree that each time Paul uses paradidomi it's meant in the sense of God delivering Jesus to Death?

So the only exception to this would be the one sentence Paul writes about Jesus' last night.

But I don't see why one should then assume that Paul meant 'betray' in this one case. It rather seems like Paul saw Jesus' capture by the Romans (or even Jews) as necessary in God's plan to deliver Jesus to Death in order to shatter it.

As for the name: well, an unfortunate coincidence then because the equation between Judas and Jews was quickly made and has had its unfortunate impacts ever since ...

Geoff Hudson said...

I wonder if the priests (the "in" crowd after Vespasian) knew the term "a Judas" - someone who, from the priests point of view, would sell out to the Romans. Judas Maccabeus made a deal with the Romans, after Alcimus the high priest threatened to pull down the sanctuary. (Ant.12.10.6). Before Vespasian during the time of Nero, the "in" crowd were the prophets who were supporters of the sanctuary.

The business of appointing a replacement for Judas in Acts is obviously fabricated -"the scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as a guide for those who arrested Jesus...it is written in the book of Psalms, 'May another take his place of leadership.'" Indeed! Judas along with Jesus was fabricated.

Geoff Hudson said...

"Guess no one really knew and they were just scapegoating a good guy (or a guy that didn't exist at all)."

The editorial work on the pauline epistles was done first - before Judas was created in the Gospels.

Pastor Bob said...

Jerome, I realize this doesn't matter to the discussion but I think there is at least one place Paul uses paradidomi that is not a reference to God handing Jesus over. That is in I Cor. 5. Paul talks about a man who having sex with his mother or step mother and says that when the church gathers he will be with them in spirit and the man should be handed over to Satan. I haven't checked the Greek but would think that paradidomi would be the appropriate word there.

In any case a quick scan would show whether Paul uses the word in other places.

Jerome said...


But even there he used paradidomi in the sense of 'handing someone over' to Satan in this case, to Death in Jesus' case.

Paul's story line and theology does not need a betrayer.

mikeduncan said...

I can see putting Paul aside from the argument if all we had was the usage in Romans and Galatians, because those instances don't refer explicitly to a passion storyline and thus can be interpreted as Paul's theological statements alone. But if Paul knows something of a passion narrative, as he seems to in 1 Cor (unless one holds that passage is an interpolation), and yet uses the same verb to denote what happens to Jesus after the meal, then the possibility opens that Mark's usage of the verb and attribution of a handover to a human agent, rather than God/Jesus, represents a shift in the storyline in a space of less than twenty years - maybe less than ten, given the usual dates for Romans and Mark. It is not a necessary interpretation, but it is a possibility that further complicates the gospels.

I'd clear this up with Paul and the author of Mark, but my time machine is in the shop.

Leon said...

That is quite wrong about paradidomi. It is used often in the NT and it is never translated as betray except for Judas. We read hostility into some very ambiguous clues in Mark and Matthew. There is no context, especially not in Mark, that would allow us to translate paradidomi as betray. We are reading the negativity into Mark's text. We are rewriting his highly ambiguous tetx. Even some of the later Gospels are quite ambiguous.

Leon Zitzer

Leon said...

Dr. DeConick is doing what most scholars do. She is assuming her conclusion, her theory (betrayal) and imposing it on the texts. To do this, she has to rewrite the ambiguous evidence in the Gospels into unequivocally negative evidence. Her rule is the standard scholarly rule: Evidence or interpetation of evidence that exonerates Judas must be erased or suppressed and incriminating evidence must be exaggerated or invented. Thus:

1) Dr. DeConick conveniently omits that there is a perfectly good Greek word for betray, prodidomi, and the Gospels never use it for Judas.

2) To make a strong case for paradidomi as betray, you would have to provide examples of it meaning betray as used elsewhere. Neither DeConick nor any other scholars has such examples (as far as I know).

3) The fact that paradidomi is rendered as betray for Judas and for no one else is an indication of theology, not historical scholarship.

4) Even if we assume that paradidomi could sometimes mean betray, we know that most of the time it does not. Therefore, one has to justify translating it as betray for Judas rather than convey, which is its ordinary meaning.

5) It is not possible to justify this when Mark is missing every single feature of a story of betrayal. He gives no motive (unless you read it into the text), no conflict between Judas and Jesus or other disciples, and perhaps most significantly, no one condemns Judas or curses him out after the deed is done. It's all missing.

6) How is it rational to go from "Mark is missing every single feature of a betrayal story" to "therfore, Mark is relating a betrayal"? It simply isn't.

7) If anyone who knew Judas ever said a bad word about him, all 4 Gospels failed to record it. This is a strong exonerating point which all scholars erase and thus refuse to note.

8) The very few and most negative comments about Judas (like demonizing him and calling him thief) are comments made by the later Gospel authors (Lk and Jn). They are not said by anyone speaking within the Gospels. And even Mark and Matthew don't say these things.

9) If, e.g., someone in the Gospels called Judas a devil, then you might have a small piece of evidence against him. But this is missing from all the Gospels.

10) The fact that the last two Gospel authors make some negative comments about Judas proves he developed into a traitor. But we know that already. That is not the issue.

11) The issue is where is the really good evidence that Judas was originally regarded as a traitor. It isn't there. None of it. The fact that the worst things said about Judas are very late comments by two authors and not by anyone who knew Judas is one good sign he was originally innocent.

12) "The devil made him do it" is one of the worst pieces of evidence anyone could offer. In a profound way, it actually points towards his innocence. Can you see why? It's very obvious. If you cannot see it, that shows how prejudiced this field is.

13) In any other field of study, it would be self-transparent why demonization is evidence for innocence. But exonerating interpretations are erased by DeConick and other scholars.

14) Mark 14:21 — it would be better had he never been born. I should first say that woe in Hebrew (hoy) is more often an expression of compassion or love, not condemnation. To translate it as damn, as DeConick does, is wrong and a sign of her deeply conservative theology.

The considerable exonerating evidence for Judas (and Jewish leaders) constitutes the real forbidden gospel.

Leon said...

Since my computer died, I have to use the library where I am limited in time. I apolgize for posting again. Just a couple of points to finish up:

15) The wish that someone not be born in Hebrew means that something terrible was done to that person, not that the person did something bad. In Judas' case, being falsely accused of betrayal would fit the bill nicely. It is exactly the kind of thing that would make Jeremiah wail that it is better not to be born than to endure such a fate.

16) Even if the not-born-lament could also signify that Judas did bad, the point is that it could equally well, if not more likely, mean that he was done wrong. It is absolutely incorrect to represent that Mk 14:21 could only mean something negative regarding Judas. It is ambiguous evidence. But Dr. DeConick erases this and rewrites the evidence to make it seem purely negative. She erases exonerating interpretations.

17) If you are looking for unequivocally negative evidence in Mark to support the theory of betrayal, it does not exist. It is all ambiguous.

18) The considerable exonerating evidence for Judas (and Jewish leaders) constitutes the real forbidden gospel.

19) By the way, the case for Judas' innocence does not depend on paradidomi. Paradidomi is just one piece in a larger pattern of evidence.

I do not expect to convince Dr. DeConick or a majority of scholars. It is not that easy to combat prejudice in scholarship. It is well-nigh impossible to have a rational conversation about this with scholars. I write to protest the bias in the way that scholars relate the evidence.

No self-respecting prosecutor would ever take this case against Judas, especially when you consider that a really good case for his innocence can be mounted. Dr. DeConick should ask her prosecutor husband whether a jury would ever convict Judas on such appallingly weak evidence.

If someone you loved was convicted of a crime on evidence like this, you would be horrified. Scholars do it to Judas because they figure he is long dead and will not rise to complain about it.

Betrayal is pure theology. There is no historical evidentiary case for it. A case that depends on rewriting the evidence can never be considered a good one.

Leon Zitzer

pearl said...

Leon,... must be synchronicity. After reading about all the “damning”, I had a conversation with a friend just yesterday about “woe” ( “ouai” in Greek).

I should say that I have no vested interest in proclaiming the figure of Judas as either damned or exonerated, nor do I have interest here in assessing scholarly biases. However, at least concerning “woe”, it is true that this can be interpreted as mournful pity as well as malediction, depending on context. I’m not convinced that ambiguous “ouai” can be counted on in the early synoptic gospel passages cited to unequivocally support cursing or damnation across the board.

Geoff Hudson said...

When is Leon going to twig that Judas is purely symbolic? And that he is made symbolic by a Flavian writer who wanted a villain to betray his Jesus.

Jerome said...

Seems like my objections against paradidomi as betrayal have some substance then ...

Great posts, Leon!