Judas as Severus Snape

I was having a conversation with my ACU colleague Trevor Thompson about the NT characterization of Judas. During that conversation Trevor compared Judas to Severus Snape.

The comparison has to do with the Greek word paradidomi. Literally, paradidomi means "to hand over." The word is used a little over 120 times in the NT, and 44 of those references are applied to Judas. In the uses outside of Judas the meaning of paradidomi is generally rendered as the morally neutral "to hand over." But when applied to Judas the translations shift to the morally loaded rendering of "betray." But what if, as some scholars have suggested, we kept consistent and rendered paradidomi as "to hand over" in the Judas episodes? How might that affect how we read the story and understand Judas?

This question is made more interesting when we examine how the gospels treat Judas. The two earliest gospels--Matthew and Mark--tend to have rather neutral takes on Judas. Matthew and Mark tend to see Judas simply one instance among the collective betrayal of all Jesus's followers. But in the later gospels, Luke and John, Judas is a more sinister character, even diabolical. (For a summary of all this see my post here.)

And things get even more interesting when we look at Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Judas where Judas is seen as aiding Jesus, helping Jesus get to the cross so that Jesus could escape his body.  (Gnostics had a dim view of human corporeality.)

And while seeing Judas as a hero might seem far fetched to many conservative Christians, there is an ambivalence surrounding his actions. Specifically, if salvation is reduced to Jesus's death on the cross, if all that is really important about Jesus is that he gets killed, then how do you not avoid seeing Judas in a somewhat sympathetic light? By handing Jesus over isn't Judas participating in our salvation? On the human level Judas's actions are a "betrayal," but on another level Judas is, apparently, a critical player in the drama of the crucifixion as he is the one who "hands over" Jesus to the Jewish authorities. For the death of Jesus to occur (and salvation inaugurated) the "handing over" is the critical part. Whether or not that "handing over" was a "betrayal" is, from one perspective, largely irrelevant. Thus the ambivalence. The "handing over" is sort of bad and sort of good, depending upon how you look at it.

Which brings us to Severus Snape.

[Spoiler Alert]

At the end of The Half-Blood Prince (Book Six in the Harry Potter series) Snape is revealed, finally in the eyes of readers, as the Judas we've always suspected him to be. Snape kills Dumbledore.

But all this is turned on its head in the final book, The Deathly Hallows, when we, in the last moments of Snape's life, discover that Snape's betrayal was actually a part of Dumbledore's plan. And the plan had a salvific purpose as it was meant to save the soul of Draco Malfoy.

In the end, Snape's "betrayal" was sort of a bad thing and sort of a good thing, depending upon how you look at it.

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32 thoughts on “Judas as Severus Snape”

  1. Thanks, Richard, for this. I have wondered for many years if Judas might be unfairly stuck with eternal infamy, when from a literary standpoint, he is the necessary engine of what are seemingly the narrative's pivotal events: capture, crucifixion, and ultimately resurrection. If that is the case, then Judas actually makes a very great sacrifice, giving up his own salvation to secure that of all mankind. Please understand: I offer these thoughts as a non-Christian, unhabituated to doctrinal norms, and I intend no offense. But purely as a matter of story analysis, these questions seem reasonable and worthwhile.

  2.  No offense at all. It's what makes Judas a compelling character, historically and/or from a literary perspective.

  3. A couple of differences, I think important strike me.  1.  Dumbledore requested Snape's cooperation, which Snape ultimately granted, though under protest.  Jesus didn't ask Judas to play that role--Judas decided that on his own, and when it comes to questions of betrayal, intent is extremely important.  2.  Dumbledore asked Snape to kill him *in order* (at least in part) so that he could avoid suffering--he didn't want to be left to the wand and inventions of Bellatrix LeStrange.  Jesus, on the other hand, accepts his suffering and does nothing to avoid it.

    That said, I appreciate the post.  The question of Judas is a terrible one.  The worst of it, in my opinion, is that had Judas not despaired, I think Jesus would have restored him as he restored Peter after Peter's betrayal.  

  4.  I have also asked those some questions, Lgasper, and I have always been a Christian (in some form or fashion....)  If you are not familiar with the story, "On A Pale Horse" by Peirs Anthony has many of those same questions in them.  (The basic premise is a man kills Death, and the must take over the job of Death.  All sorts of fun moral questions arise)

    I wonder also if hatred for  Judas comes more into focus because it is easier on one level to have a single person to point at and claim "At least I am not like Judas!"  The Romans and/or the Jews likely hit too close to home, but a single individual I can point at and put myself higher than that.

    Just wondering...

  5. Great points. The comparison here is, I'll admit, a bit of a stretch. The main thing I'm guesturing at is the ambivalent nature of betrayal in both cases.

    And I agree, the saddest part of it all is Judas's despair and suicide. I also find Snape's life, and particularly his death, to be extraordinarily sad.

  6. Great post, Dr. Beck.  I have long wondered about this apparent problem of Judas.  I never felt too comfortable with the way C.S. Lewis treated him by calling him "simply evil" regardless of the implications of his actions.

    Yet, I wanna dig deeper, specifically in regards to the line, "Specifically, if salvation is reduced to Jesus's death on the cross, if all that is really important about Jesus is that he gets killed..."  I think it's obvious you're referring to the problems specifically poignant to those who hold to a substitutionary atonement theory (which you apparently do not hold), but can you offer more thoughts on the role of Judas for those not holding to this atonement theory?

    Specifically for those holding to a Christus Victor atonement theory, it seems to me that the point is not simply to get Jesus killed.  Even Jesus prayed that the "cup might be taken from [him]."  If salvation is about the conquering of death (and not simply about the death of Jesus per se), then how does this change how we see Judas?  If the point is not just death but the living of life as if death were not, then perhaps we need to further explore Jesus' interactions with the disciples in this light.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  I'm still thinking through the implications myself.

  7. What I'm thinking of here is of a Girardian view of the passion and crucifixion. In PSA the blood of Jesus has some magical properties that appease a god. The goal then, in this view, is to get that blood split. This creates the ambivalence I talk about in the post as Judas helps get the blood out of Jesus's veins so that the magic can pour forth.

    In a Giardian frame the blood of Jesus is, well, horrific. It shouldn't be split and anyone aiding and abetting that blood-letting is implicated in the violence. And as the gospels tell the story, that's everyone. Judas. The disciples. The mob. The Temple authorities. Rome. Basically everybody. The only thing that makes all this "a good thing" is that the process is transparent, an unmaking, an exposure. Something hidden from the foundation of the world--the work of the satan--has brought into the light: Human complicity in violence and masking that violence with "the sacred" (the language of god and morality and political necessity).

    In this view, Judas is revealed to be a bad guy. But so is everyone else. And that revelation--and we are all engaged in scapegoating violence--is the revelation that saves us.

  8. Incidentally, there is an interesting convergence between PSA and this Girardian view. In classic PSA people often say "my sins nailed Jesus to the cross." If I recall, in Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ Gibson inserted his own hand as the hand that nailed Jesus to the cross.

    What's interesting here is that a Girardian frame agrees with this. Human sin (and the way we are all implicated in this sin in the gospels) does nail Jesus to the cross. Quite literally and directly. More literally and directly than PSA typically thinks about it. In a Girardian frame nailing somebody to a cross is the epitome of sin.

    Sin = Nailing People to Crosses.

    In small ways and large.

  9. Thanks for the framing!  I like what you have here, but I'll have to spend more time thinking about it.  I've been thinking a lot about the de-centering of death with respect to our theologies in light of a Christus Victor atonement and how our ethics are shaped in light of "living as if death were not".  I'm confronted daily with differently theologies that don't sit well with me because they seem to fall prey to complicity with a cosmology of scarcity and death, which I think inevitably assumes that life is inherently a zero-sum game and flies in the face of the meaning of the resurrection.  Thus, I think your work "Slavery of Death" is incredibly important, along with the works of Becker, psychoanalytic theory in general, and I think there's a need for at least Jamesian pragmatism as well.

  10. Judas being cast as pure evil was one of the (many) missteps of medieval Christendom. Dante portrayed him as the worst of all sinners (Divine Comedy, I can tell you from experience, is way overrated).

    But I think that the reason for a villifying (rather than ambivelant) view regarding Judas in Christianity was in order to have a convenient scapegoat. Judas, representing "Jews", was the one you could love to hate (never mind that at least two of the other apostles were also named "Yehudah/Judah"), instead of Rome, Caesar, and the Powers and Principalities. It was convenient to translate his action as "betrayal" and not the ambivalent "handing over", just like it was convenient to translate one of the Old Testament prophecies from "young woman" to "virgin." When Christianity became the footstool rather than the bane of Rome, it got perverted.

  11. Your post made me think of Peter Rollins' parable "The Last Supper" from "The Orthodox Heretic."  In his commentary Rollins says, "Judas here is a symbol of all our failures, and Christ's actions demonstrate his unconditional acceptance.  Judas helps to remind us of Christ's message that he cares for the sick rather than the healthy, and that he loves and accepts us as we are."

  12. I've never read ANY Harry Potter, but the language of being "handed-over" is made even more profound when one considers Paul's explanation on the Eucharist in 1 Cor. 11. The words "received" and "handed on" appear there too. They are the same word. The NT gives us a picture that Jesus going to the cross was much more a gift than a betrayal.

  13. Dr. Beck-

    Sometimes, I feel like some theological bloggers are talking about their controversial, epic, and far away topic as if they just came down from the mountain. (Moses and all that...they're still glowing, and we humble, human readers have no idea how to even relate). You on the other hand, bring some extremely deep thoughts and make it readable. Convicting. Thought-provoking. And even a little revolutionary. Thank you. Thank you for helping a 22 year old think about things that matter.

  14. Thanks Emily, you're very kind.

    I think what it is is that I'm a teacher at heart. I have a passion for explaining things.

  15. Sean, I stopped reading when you said you hadn't read Harry Potter. A travesty!

    But given that I'm a Christian and committed to a life of forgiveness...I continued reading. I'd not pondered that link with the Eucharist. I'll be mulling over that nugget.

  16.  Jesus did not request Judas's cooperation? That depends on how the words are considered. Was Jesus looking for volunteers? It is hard to read it that way, but sometimes it feels so. I do not read it in the original language. Similar to the JC Superstar interpretation, while I must acknowledge that interpretation is not Christian. All say that if there is a volunteer program, that the volunteer will have a harsh place in history, and in a personal way.
    It would also make Christ's death a suicide in a way to have someone hand him over.
    Yeah, I am not on either side on this.

  17. If you're interested in thinking about the role of Judas, and are prepared for serious, heart-wrenching reading, may I recommend Shusaku Endo's "Silence"?  While fictional, it's based on the real events surrounding the persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan, where Christians were tortured into denouncing their Christianity by stepping on images of Christ or the Virgin Mary.

    Eventually, it becomes a long reflection on John 13:27b - "Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’"

    It's hard reading, emotionally, but the payoff at the end is well worth it. Just have tissues handy.

  18. And as the gospels tell the story, that's everyone. Judas. The disciples. The mob. The Temple authorities. Rome. Basically everybody.
    I might point out that the women, particularly Mary Magdalene, did not hand over Jesus within the story (at least not from what we can tell). :) Food for thought.

    Hi Richard, I am new to non-violent atonement theory and one of your posts on the topic was one of the first things I read (at the suggestion of a friend) when I began questioning. I appreciate your work and contributions on the topic. I haven't fully wrapped my head around it all yet, but what I understand so far definitely resonates.

    As to the topic at hand...it strikes me that Judas, like Jesus, also became the scapegoat and the sacrifice in this dynamic drama. If the gospel of Judas is true, then perhaps Judas committed suicide for different reasons than shame. Perhaps we read too much into it from wrong assumptions. 

  19. I first started thinking along these lines abut a year ago when I read "Simply Jesus," by N.T. Wright.  In it, he suggests the possibility that Judas was the only one of the disciples that actually understood Jesus' mission, and that his death and ultimate resurrection had to happen to complete his mission.  That blew my mind.  I have no problem believing that to be true,  but I do wonder that if it is true, why would Judas kill himself?

  20. Great point about the women.

    The scapegoating of Judas has an interesting and sad history. I wrote a bit about it here:


  21.  Thanks for the push as I've got the book, just never settled in to read it. (I struggle a bit with fiction, even great fiction.)

  22. Hi Richard.  Been a fan of the blog for a while.  Never wrote though, just enjoyed reading.  
    I was first struck with an alternative view of Judas from Peter Rollins book "The Fidelity of Betrayel" and since have often wondered that when we get to "heaven" will Judas be there.  The reason I think this begins with Jesus in Matt. 26:24 and how He says "woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."  I used to think Jesus said this because Judas had it coming and was going to get it or that he was just worthless and shouldn't ever have been born.  But as I got to know Jesus more, I began to think that maybe Jesus knew what Judas was about to go through and knew what his ending would be and that was why He said "it would have been better if his betrayer would have never been born".  Jesus knew Judas was about to go through hell for realizing he "betrayed innnocent blood" and through the guilt and remorse would cause him to hang himself.  I thought this could be why Jesus greeted him in the garden as "friend".  Maybe an attempt on Jesus' part to instill a little hope in Judas? I don't know.  Then I'm struck by how Judas actually goes to the high priest and sorta repents, "I've sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood" and their response was "Who cares, thats on you now".  With the weight of that on Judas he does what he does. I just think that if Jesus would have seen Judas somewhere following the arrest, He would have given Judas a look where Judas would've know He was just playing a part in something bigger than himself and it was going to be ok.  Maybe I'm wrong.  Just thinking.  

  23. I like the idea that Jesus's address of "friend" is an act of forgiveness. And Jesus's blanket "Father forgiven them, they know not what they do" has to include Judas.

  24. I was recently thinking about Gollum as a Judas character. It seems to be a better and more intentional fit than Snape.

  25. Whoa this is really interesting! I think one important difference is Judas's and Snape's motivations. Judas does it because he wants money, or he's not happy with Jesus not trying to get political power- and then after Jesus is sentenced to death, Judas regrets his actions and kills himself. Snape was secretly a good guy the whole time, but sacrificed his reputation (everyone hated him and thought he was evil) in order to keep Harry and the other characters safe- and he definitely did not regret his actions.

  26. "But what if, as some scholars have suggested, we kept consistent and rendered paradidomi as "to hand over" in the Judas episodes?"

    The exercise of replacing the word
    “betray” with the word “deliver” should help readers overcome
    the bias created by the pejorative connotation of the word “betray.”
    Then, when they read the words of Jesus, “Judas, do you deliver the
    Son of man with a kiss?,” they may more likely understand that
    Jesus was not speaking of treachery, too, but irony alone. The
    difference is the difference between misunderstanding and understanding.

    Excerpted from my blog post at:


  27.  Consider this exchange:

    Jesus: One of you shall deliver

    Judas: Master, is it I?

    Jesus: You have said.

    Does not, “You have said,” mean,
    “Yes, you shall deliver me”?

    Can it be ruled out that the words of
    Jesus were an instruction given to Judas?

    After the exchange, could it be said
    that Judas followed Jesus, if he refused to deliver him, and thereby
    proved that Jesus was mistaken, when he said that he would deliver

    In particular, if Judas adopted the
    words of Simon Peter, “Lord, this shall not be unto you,” as his
    next response in the exchange, then does Jesus not respond as he did
    to Simon Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan”?Excerpted from my blog post at:http://www.inmyownname.com/search?updated-max=2013-01-18T18:40:00-05:00&max-results=1

  28.  As he was not remiss before – preparing the twelve
    for what they would experience when he sent them out to preach the
    good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, so he was not remiss
    now – preparing the one for what he would experience when he sent
    him out to deliver him. The woe that Judas experienced was comparable
    to the Passion, and Jesus made that comparison to prepare him for it.
    Subsequently,  as Jesus knew it would, that woe led Judas to repentance unto
    salvation – Judas crucified his old man.
    Excerpted from my blog post at:http://www.inmyownname.com/search?updated-max=2012-10-01T00:12:00-04:00&max-results=1

  29. “Hanged Himself,” Or “Choked

    In Matthew, the word translated “hanged
    himself” is apanchomai.
    Figuratively, it means choked up, as with grief.

    Matthew 27:5 might be translated
    something like, “And he cast down the pieces
    of silver in the temple, withdrew himself, and departed all choked up
    with grief.”

    Matthew, in this manner, leaves us with
    a word picture of Judas suffering the woe which Jesus foretold: “woe
    to that man by whom the Son of man is delivered.” (Matthew 26:24)“His Bowels Gushed Out,” Or “He

    In Acts, the word translated “bowels”
    is splanchnon. Elsewhere in the New Testament, it is always
    translated figuratively. The bowels were regarded by the Hebrews as
    the seat of the tender affections (compassion, for example).

    Judas Saw That Jesus Was Condemned

    Judas' bowels yearned upon seeing the
    condemnation of Jesus. As the events of the last day progressed, his
    grief overwhelmed him.

    Acts 1:18b might be translated
    something like, “falling prostrate, he burst
    into weeping, and he wept himself into a state of exhaustion.”

    Acts, too, leaves us with a word
    picture of Judas suffering the woe which Jesus foretold: “And truly
    the Son of man goes as it was determined, but woe unto that man by
    whom he is delivered!” (Luke 22:22)Excerpted from my blog post at:http://www.inmyownname.com/search?updated-max=2013-01-28T04:08:00-05:00&max-results=1


  30.  A Trespass Against Jesus

    Shortly before the last supper, the
    supper at which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, Judas made a
    covenant to deliver Jesus to the chief priests, after the devil put
    it into his heart. (Matthew 26:14-15; John 13:2) Thereafter, he
    looked for an opportunity to deliver him. (Matthew 26:16) The making
    of the covenant to deliver Jesus was a trespass against him. (John

    After The Trespass, The Ball Was In
    Jesus' Court

    Judas alone among the twelve was lost
    and in danger of destruction. (John 17:12) If Jesus was true in his
    declaration that he came to save that which was lost (Matthew 18:11),
    and if Jesus was true in his declaration that he should lose nothing,
    but should raise it up again at the last day (John 6:39), then the
    time had come at last for Jesus to act (John 13:1) – it was the
    beginning of the last day.

    Beyond raising up Judas, much work
    remained: He had still to be arrested, tried and condemned, killed,
    and buried – all before the end of the day. What he would do, he
    would need to do quickly.

    How Would Jesus Respond To A
    Trespass Against Him?

    Jesus taught his disciples how to
    respond if a brother should trespass against them. (Matthew 18:15-17)

    Excerpted from my blog post at:http://www.inmyownname.com/search?updated-max=2013-01-17T02:06:00-05:00&max-results=1

  31.  "Paradidomi" (A Poem)

    The men who wrote the KJV

    wrote well but not inerrably.

    “Betray” was not “paradidomi.”

    He only said, “deliver me.”

    The word “betray” should not have

    a gospel word or found therein.

    Though one's described in all but one,

    the word's not used by God's own son.

    Against him, “heel was lifted up.”

    He said it once at their last sup.

    Not once before, not once again,

    not with “betray” he named the sin.

    He washed the heel, and it was clean.

    So after that, don't call it mean.

    He said to him that he'd “deliver.”

    It was God's plan for his life's giver.Blog post at:http://www.inmyownname.com/search?updated-max=2012-07-29T10:33:00-04:00&max-results=1

  32.  For the last 17 years, I've cared for a
    colony of cats. Some of them have been beautiful. Some of them have
    had sweet dispositions. Kittens are ever adorable. I think I've loved
    them all.

    However, at any moment during those years, I could have
    told you which cat I loved. It was the one stranded in a tree. It was
    the one with symptoms of upper respiratory infection. It was the one
    suffering seizures multiple times a day. It was the one suffering the
    last stage of kidney failure. I could go on.

    When the hour came for him to depart
    out of this world, only one of his apostles was lost and in
    peril of perdition. I have little doubt that, at that hour, the
    disciple whom Jesus loved was Judas Iscariot.

    Blog post at:


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