A “Noun-Epithet” Formula for Judas Iscariot?

ncd04475I’m currently researching Judas Iscariot from the perspective of orality and memory study, which has recently been influential in historical Jesus circles (e.g., James Dunn, Dale Allison, and Anthony Le Donne, to name a few). These scholars have analyzed how oral transmission and memory work in predominantly oral cultures, and have applied those insights to the decades between Jesus’ ministry and the composition of the written Gospels.

One key mark of oral tradition is the use of the so-called “noun-epithet” formula. These were first identified in regards to Homeric poetry: “wide-eyed Athena,” “swift-footed Achilles,” and so forth. These “character tags” that would be repeated most of the times a character’s name was mentioned and served many purposes, including emphasizing key details, helping with the performer’s memory, and aiding the audience’s understanding.

Turning, then, to Judas, I’ve noticed an interesting feature: apart from the narrative of Judas’ betrayal itself, nearly every reference to Judas Iscariot in the Gospels employs a noun-epithet formula. Thus, in Matt 10:4, 26:25, 27:3, Mark 3:19, John 6:71, 12:4, 18:2, and 18:5, a reference to Judas is followed by the epithet “the one who (would) betray(ed) him.” The Greek verb παραδίδωμι (“to hand over, betray”) features in all of these verses. The one exception is Luke 6:16, in which Judas is instead labeled a “traitor.” In any event, this suggests that, assuming an oral model of the Gospel traditioning process along the lines of what Dunn has proposed, the identification of Judas as “the one who betrayed [Jesus]” is an early and widespread feature of early Christian memory. What is most interesting in this case is the parallels between the Synoptic tradition (especially Matthew) and the Fourth Gospel. These are widely held to be independent streams of tradition, and so the consistency of this parallel is all the more striking. We are likely in touch with very, very early tradition.


About krhughes14

Smyrna, Georgia
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