Judas Iscariot is mentioned only in the Gospels and Acts. The name Iscariot probably means “man from Kerioth” (a village in southern Judea) because “from” is used with the name in John (12.4; etc.) and because similar names occur in Josephus.

Only in John is Judas called Simon's son (6.71; 13.2, 26), and Simon is also Iscariot (6.71; 13.26). So was the name Iscariot given to Judas or to his father or to both? Only John says that Judas was “a thief” and “kept the common purse” (12.6; 13.29). Unlike the synoptic Gospels, John does not mention the kiss to indicate the one whom the authorities sought.

Judas was remembered for his betrayal of Jesus, an incident on which the sources agree (Mark 3.19 par.; 14.10–11, 43–45 par.; Matt. 26.25; John 6.71; 12.4; Acts 1.16). The motives for Judas's behavior cannot be precisely determined. Mark and Luke report that Jewish authorities promised Judas money for his action, but Matthew says that they paid him thirty pieces of silver immediately, a particular derived from the Hebrew Bible (Matt. 26.14–16; 27.3–10; Zech. 11.12–13; Jer. 18.2–3; 32.6–15). Judas repented, returned the money, and hanged himself. The authorities used the money to buy the “Field of Blood,” but Acts 1.18–19 reports that Judas himself bought the field with his blood money and that he died as the result of a fall when “all his bowels gushed out.” According to Acts 1.16, 20, his end was predicted in Psalms 69.25 and 109.8.

According to John 13.18, Jesus chose Judas deliberately so that the scripture (Ps. 41.9) might be fulfilled by his betrayal. John agrees with the Synoptics that at the Last Supper Jesus predicted his betrayal by Judas; but John, unlike the Synoptics, does not leave the identity of the traitor in doubt (13.26), since “the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas …to betray him” (13.2, 27). Luke also attributes Judas's action to Satan's influence (Luke 22.3).

Accounts of Judas are varied, inconsistent, and influenced by theological opinions of the writers, the belief in the fulfillment of scripture, and the idea that God brings death to ungodly persons (2 Macc. 9.5–12). It is therefore difficult to assess the historicity of Judas and his action. Why, for example, does Mark not mention the name of Judas in the story of the traitor (14.17–21)? Yet all sources list him among Jesus' disciples and know him as Jesus' betrayer. Perhaps as tradition grew the name of Judas became more infamous and the details of his demise more appalling.

Edwin D. Freed