Updated: Aug 14
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Like most of you, I have been eager to see how The Chosen would portray Judas Iscariot, the last and most notorious of the twelve disciples. Finally, in Episode 8 of The Chosen Season 2, we got what we've been waiting for. While we still only have a little bit of data about Judas, I'm excited to reflect on what we can already learn about how The Chosen is adapting his character.
Judas in Episode 8 (Recap)
Episode 8 begins with two businessmen persuading an old man to sell them his land under the pretense that they will turn it into a burial site. Soon, however, we discover the real reason why the businessmen are buying the property: to access a valuable salt mine that they've secretly discovered under it. Initially, the younger businessman (later revealed to be Judas) has some remorse over deceitfully buying the property for far less than its actual value. With tragic irony, Judas expresses a longing to do something more meaningful than making money, something that will be remembered forever. Judas' mentor, the older businessman, dismisses Judas' concern over ethics, and points out that, with the profit they've made, they now have the leisure to focus on whatever they want, including more meaningful activities.
As Judas and his mentor are discussing these matters, a few of Jesus' disciples are nearby, fruitlessly attempting to persuade a property owner to let them use his hill for the Sermon on the Mount. Just when it seems like all is lost, Judas overhears their conversation and uses his persuasive skills to convince the owner to let them use the area - after all, Judas and his mentor point out, a religious gathering would be profitable for business in the long run. Later, Judas' mentor uses this event to show him how valuable their persuasive abilities can be and they decide to go see the big sermon that they've made possible. While there, Judas ends up finding his way back stage, where the disciples thank him profusely for his help and he watches with awe as Jesus heads out to preach his sermon.
Why did Judas betray Jesus? [What does the Bible say?]
While the Gospel accounts all agree that Judas betrayed Jesus in exchange for money (30 pieces of silver to be exact), Bible Artists and interpreters have long puzzled over his deeper underlying motivation. And there are a several good reasons why we might wonder about what Judas was really after:
It's hard to believe that someone could know Jesus intimately and see all of his miracles and yet give him up for nothing more than petty cash.
Judas quickly regrets his decision. After attempting to return the money, he goes and hangs himself (Matthew 27:3-10). This seems to suggest that Judas had a complex interior life and wasn't just a superficial thief in search of easy money.
If you compare the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John, Judas' betrayal of Jesus seems to be prompted by how Jesus allows a woman to "waste" a lavish gift of ointment on his feet as a preparation for his burial (Matthew 26:6-16, John 12:1-8)
All of that being said, the Gospel writers are not shy about pointing to greed as a persistent flaw in Judas' character. John tells us that Judas regularly stole money from the proceeds of the disciples (John 12:6). Clearly money was a major reason why Judas betrayed Jesus - it just might not have been the only reason.
Why did Judas betray Jesus? [What does Bible Art say?]
While the Gospels tend to focus on Judas' greed, many adaptations of the Gospels will give less attention to greed and focus more on other, speculative motives that might have driven Judas to betray Jesus:
Frustrated Political Ambition: In some adaptations, like Cecil B. DeMille's King of Kings, Judas is ambitious and initially expects Jesus to bring about a political kingdom that will benefit him. When it becomes apparent that Jesus isn't the Messiah he expected, Judas betrays Jesus out of frustration and/or to make the most he can out of his failed hope.
Fear: In some adaptations, like Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas is afraid that Jesus is getting out of control and creating too much friction with Rome. He betrays Jesus to prevent him from causing greater problems for their people.
Spiritual Insight/Obedience: Some adaptations like The Last Temptation of Christ attempt to re-contextualize Judas' actions, not as a betrayal, but as an act of obedience designed to help Jesus fulfill his purpose. This interpretation of Judas has its origin in the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Judas.
Possession: Some adaptations, like The Passion of the Christ, focus on Satan's role and portray Judas as spiritually tormented.
Why will Judas betray Jesus in The Chosen?
We've got a few more seasons of The Chosen ahead of us before we reach the passion narrative, and so there's a possibility that Judas' character will go in some unexpected directions before his fateful decision. That being said, I think there's reason to believe that Dallas Jenkins is playing the long game in how he sets up the primary characters (cf. the resonance between Mary Magdalene's introduction to Jesus in The Chosen Season 1 Episode 1 and their reunion at the resurrection). So, based on what we've seen, I anticipate Judas' betrayal of Jesus will play out according to one of the following scenarios:
1) Devil on the Shoulder: After the opening scene of Season 2 Episode 8, when we met Judas and his conniving mentor, my wife turned to me and asked, "Is that guy [the mentor] supposed to be the devil or something?" While I don't think she was right in a literal sense, in a metaphorical sense I think she might be on to something.
Books are able to explore the internal conflict of a character directly by giving us an inner monologue. In visual mediums, however, these internal conflicts need to be externalized into an interpersonal conflict. You see this all the time in Rom Coms. Internally a protagonist may be struggling between her desire for money and her desire for a simple life, but the movie will externalize her struggle into conflict between two potential lovers, her wealthy boyfriend and the folksy suitor in her hometown. In its most blatant form, the move to externalize internal conflict takes the form of a shoulder angel trying to persuade a character to do good and a shoulder devil trying to seduce him into evil.
My guess is that Judas' internal spiritual conflict will be externalized into a conflict between the influence of his shady mentor (representing pragmatism, greed, & comfort) and Jesus (representing Judas' desire for a greater purpose). Judas will move back and forth between the two, and at times it will look like he might even abandon his old mentor. Ultimately, however, the mentor will win out, convincing Judas that following a poor beggar like Jesus just isn't realistic (perhaps the anointing of Jesus' feet will play a role in that conflict). The mentor himself will then initiate and broker the deal with the priests to betray Jesus and pressure the impressionable Judas into accepting it. And who knows? Maybe my wife will actually end up being literally correct and we'll see Satan possessing the mentor before actually entering into Judas himself.
2) Blackmail: Even if Judas' mentor ultimately loses the battle for Judas' soul, I could still see him playing an important role in bringing about his downfall. Although the mentor presents himself as someone who cares for Judas, there's good reason to believe that his only true loyalty is to his own profit. I could imagine a situation where he begins extorting Judas, threatening to reveal some of his shady dealings or something like that. Initially Judas tries to pay him off by stealing money from the purse of the disciples (cf. John 12:6) - and this is why Judas gets so mad about the woman wasting the very expensive ointment on Jesus' feet. Eventually though, the purse is not enough, and so either the mentor brokers the betrayal of Jesus or Judas actively concocts the plan in order to secure enough money to make a "final" payment. Of course, Judas realizes too late that his mentor isn't done with him yet and no payment will ever be final - and that realization precipitates his grief over betraying Jesus and his suicide.
3) Saving a Friend: Maybe I've been over-demonizing the mentor. Perhaps, instead of directly instigating Jesus' betrayal, he will serve as an indirect cause. I could see a scenario where the mentor gets in hot water for all of the schemes that they've been performing. In that case, Judas might begin stealing in order to try to help his friend get out of trouble. Ultimately, the betrayal for 30 pieces of silver could be done in order to get enough to save his mentor for good and/or because the priests are aware of his mentor's trouble and are using him as leverage.
I'm sure there are other possible scenarios but it seems quite likely that we'll see some of the elements in the three scenarios above - or perhaps a combination of all three of them. Given the prominence of the mentor in our introduction to Judas' character, what seems most clear to me is that the mentor will play a significant role in Judas' story and ultimately in Judas' decision to betray Jesus. Of course, as my predictions about the last half of The Chosen Season 2 will attest, I don't have anything like a perfect record of predicting what Jenkins has up his sleeve.
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If you liked this post, I've done several other posts on The Chosen that you might want to check out, including explorations of how the show adapts key biblical characters and guides on how to lead your youth group in discussing each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1 & 2. You may also be interested in some of my other content on adaptation and youth ministry.
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 2***
James & John in The Chosen ***Season 2***
Mary Magdalene in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 2 Update***
Exploring the Chosen with Youth [Guides for Youth Leaders]
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Season 2 Reflection P2: What was The Chosen Season 2 about? (Plots & Theme)
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara
Posts on the Nature of Adaptation
Youth Ministry and the Arts