Judas [Child 23]

DESCRIPTION: Judas is sent on an errand by Jesus. As he does so, he is cheated (by his sister!) of thirty pieces of silver. He therefore betrays Jesus to get his money back.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: c. 1300 (ms. Cambridge Trinity College B 14.39, f. 34a, also sometimes called ms. Trinity Cambridge 323)
KEYWORDS: Jesus betrayal
April 6, 30 C.E. - most likely date for the arrest of Jesus (the crucifixion took place the following day)
FOUND IN: Britain(England)
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Child 23, "Judas" (1 text)
Leach, pp. ,108-109 "Judas" ( text)
Friedman, p. 56, "Judas" (1 text plus interlinear modern English translation)
OBB 97, "Judas" (1 text)
Morgan-Medieval, pp. 126-127, "Judas" (1 text, even more "adapted" [read "messed up"] than the others in this anthology)
Niles 16, "Judas" (3 texts, 2 tunes, of which only the first could possibly be this ballad, and even it looks suspicious)
ADDITIONAL: Kenneth Sisam, editor, _Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose_ Oxford, 1925, pp. 168-169, "Judas" (with notes on pp. 256-258). This is now considered the best transcription of the original manuscript, replacing Skeat's transcription quoted by Child.
Maxwell S. Luria & Richard Hoffman, _Middle English Lyrics_, a Norton Critical Edition, Norton, 1974 pp, 196-197, #2033 (no title) (1 text)
Brown/Robbins, _Index of Middle English Verse_, #1649
DIgital Index of Middle English Verse #2768

Roud #3964
cf. "Judas and Jesus" (listed by Niles as a version of this ballad)
cf. "Oh, Judy, My Judy" (listed by Niles as a version of this ballad)
NOTES: Many scholars have made attempts to locate "the earliest English Ballad." Some examples of such claims are "Edward the Martyr" and "Merie Sungen the Muneches Bennen Ely (Merry Sang the Monks of Ely)." This is F. J. Child's candidate -- and, while his is not the last word, "Judas" certainly has a better claim than either of the other songs mentioned.
The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is told in Matt. 26:14-16, 47f.; Mark 14:10-11, 43f.; Luke 22:3-6, 47f.; compare also John 13:2, 27, 18:2f. The story of Judas betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver is found only in Matt. 26:15, with the sequel in 27:3-10 (it is based on Zech. 11:12-13, which also mentions thirty pieces of silver, although in a completely different context). The notion of Judas as treasurer and thief occurs only in John 12:4-6, (13:29).
The manuscript containing this piece is known by two catalog numbers, Trinity College (Cambridge) 323 and Trinity College (Cambridge) B 14.39. The former is the number in the continuous manuscript catalog; the latter in the classified catalog; the prefix "B" places it among the theological manuscripts (as opposed to "R" for historical manuscripts or "O" for manuscripts from the Gale collection; James, p. vii).
Even though this piece exists only in the Trinity College manuscript, it should not be assumed that Child's transcription is authoritative. The text in volume 1 was printed without reference to the manuscript, which had been temporarily lost (according to James, p. 438, "It had been accidentally removed from Cambridge [in 1863] among the books belonging to a former Fellow who was ceasing to reside in College, and the box in which it had been packed remained unopened until his death"). The book was returned in 1896.
As a result, Child's original publication, a reprint of a printed edition, contains many orthographic inaccuracies (e.g. concerning u/v, i/j, and the use of th rather than the runic thorn |> -- as well as seven conjectural emendations replacing s with h). It also omitted the duplicated lines at lines 8, 25, 30. Also, the manuscript was written without stanza divisions and with (at best) imperfect word divisions, all of which are editorial. In addition, the script is sometimes unclear. And finally, the copyist may not have been perfectly familiar with the dialect of the original.
Child later printed a corrected version, giving the readings of the manuscript verbatim (as read by Skeat). However, modern ballad scholars have almost always followed at least one of the imperfections of Child's original text (omitting duplicated lines, modifying the thorns, exchanging u and v, using Child's h instead of s, etc.)
Scholars should keep in mind that even Child's corrected text, so badly reproduced by later scholars, is open to reinterpretation. Sisam, pp. 168-169, prints a text which differs in hundreds of particulars from Child's original version. It shows several differences even from Child and Skeat's manuscript collation:
* five places where the editors break words differently,
* Sisam also notes that in line 22 omits "Crist" was originally written by the scribe but then marked for erasure. This MAY indicate comparison of two texts of the ballad.
* Sisam also considers line 27 to be intact; Child implies it is defective.
* two major variants (in line 6 Sisam reads "cunesman" for "tunesman"; in line 16, "top" for "cop")
(If you are wondering how anyone could confuse a "c" with a "t," recall that we are talking about a thirteenth or early fourteenth century manuscript. At that time, the letter "c" was written much as it is now -- but a "t" looked a bit like a lower-case Greek tau: It was a circular stroke, like a "c," with a horizontal line at the top. There were also forms of script in which both looked much like a modern cursive "a." For samples, see Thompson, pp. 474-479 and especially Moorman, pp. 27-29. Many other letters of the time have strong horizontal strokes as well, so it can be hard to tell, say, "ht" from "hc." In a manuscript with few word divisions, this can cause much difficulty. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there appear to be no quality online scans of the manuscript to let you look for yourself.)
Chambers, p. 151, observes that "Mr. Kenneth Sisam's transliteration... seems more precise than Child's." Chambers therefore reprints Sisam's text. Chambers also notes that the "piece seems to be written in a mixture of septenar and Alexandrine [16-syllable] lines, of which there are other thirteenth century examples." There are indeed quite a few romances which can't seem to decide how many syllables belong in a line, but it's obviously a rare thing in a ballad. (Of course, some of that may be textual corruption. Or, as one of the web pages I read while searching for a facsimile suggested, "Judas" as we have it may be an abridgement of a longer version, which might have had a more regular meter.)
Sisam's notes (pp. 256-258) are twice as long as the ballad itself; they are well worth consulting, as they give much more background information than Child.
Chambers, p. 153, thinks the ending so abrupt that he suspects the last part of the poem may have been lost. He also questions whether "it can properly be regarded as a ballad"; he strongly questions its "popular" nature. (As do I.)
Chambers notes that there is another piece of a similar style in the "Judas" manuscript concerning Twelfth Night, which was roughed out by the scribe before being written; he speculates that the scribe may have been the author of the Twelfth Night item -- and hence perhaps of "Judas" as well. (This appears to be the "Story of Herod and the Magi," which looks like a folk poem; it begins "Wolle ye iheren of twelte day.")
I mention this possibility, but it strikes me as unlikely. There are several reasons for this. According to a passage I found in the Google Books edition of Elaine M. Treharne, Old and Middle English c.890-c.1400: an anthology (p. 406?), perhaps as many as five scribes worked on the manuscript, which contains works in Latin and Anglo-Norman French as well as Middle English. James himself indicates clearly that multiple hands were involved, although he does not say how many; if anything, the estimate of five seems low. The number of lines per page varies substantially, and there are even a few cases of different numbers of columns per page! Many of the pieces in the manuscript cannot have been composed by the scribe, since the 40 or so English items include the well-known "Say Me, Wight in the Broom," which exists in another copy, and "When the Turuf Is Thy Tour" ["When the turf is your tower"], a translation of a Latin poem on death. What are the odds that four or more scribes would copy older works while the fifth added his own poems?
Trehame also says that the language of the book "may point to an origin in West Worcestershire," which strikes me as a little too strong a localization. It also seems to contradict Skeat's opinion (James, p. 439) that the scribe was a Norman, although Normans of course were found in various places in England. The manuscript itself is a vellum codex, rather small (7.125"x5.375"), which has been bound with a later (XIV/XV century) manuscript, MS Trinity 324 (or B.14.40). The second manuscript seems far less significant; an online catalog (http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/mwm/browse?type=ms&id=11) says it contains "very little English." The small size may indicate a volume intended for private use.
James, p. 443, notes that "Judas" (his item #17 in the manuscript) is in the same hand as his item #4, "The Life of St. Margaret." The items which precede and follow are in different hands. The Judas scribe also wrote the following:
James's #5, a poem in French and English, "Ihesu crist le fi3 marie cil ke tut le munde fist,.
James's #6, a poem in French and Latin, with some of the Latin in red, "Seinte mari moder milde mater saluatoris."
James's #13, in part, about two dozen short notes, mostly English poems of three to twelve lines although portions are in Latin. "Say Me, Wight in the Broom" is one of these, but apparently not by the "Judas" scribe.
The contents of the book are very much a jumble. If there is an overall plan, it is not evident. Perhaps it is just a collection of loose sheets from a monastery. Although some of the other pieces might be "folk" (one is listed as the "Hymn of the Five Joys"; another has been dubbed "Look on Me with Thy Sweet Eyes"; there is also the famous "I Sing of a Maiden"), they do not look to be truly ballad-like.
As for the content of the poem itself -- the Bible gives very little family information about Judas (or any of the apostles). Matthew, Mark, and Luke have nothing at all about Judas. John, however, sometimes times refers to him as "Judas of Simon Iscariot" (i.e. Judas [son] of Simon Iscariot); so John 6:71, 13:12 (13:26 seems to have "Judas, [son] of Simon, Iscariot", although there is great variation in the manuscripts at this point).
The meaning of "Iscariot" is unknown. The best conjecture (Brown, p. 298) is that it is a transliteration of Hebrew "ish Q(e)riyyot," "man of Kerioth." Indeed, we find some manuscripts calling him so -- in John 6:71, although the vast majority of manuscripts, including the great Vatican codex and the two early manuscripts P66 and P75, call him "Iskariot," the Codex Sinaiticus and the Koridethi Codex call him "Judas from Kerioth." Even more interesting is the reading of the Codex Bezae, which calls him "Judas Skarioth." In John 12:4, it is Bezae which calls him Judas from Kerioth; so also in 13:2, 13:26; in 14:22 Bezae has "Judas, not the [one] from Kerioth" where other manuscripts read "Judas not (the) Iscariot." In Mark 3:19, for "Iscarioth," Bezae has "Skarioth"; in the parallels in Matthew 3:4 and 6:16, Bezae again has "Skarioth." And so forth (data from Aland). Moffatt actually went so far as to translate "from Kerioth" in the early editions of his "New Translation" (so, e.g. John 6:71; Moffatt, p. 511), although he later revised this.
Even if Judas Iscariot is Judas from Kerioth, it is not certain where that town is; Brown (following many earlier commentators) thinks the town is Kerioth in Judah, but Westcott, p. 112, suggests that it should be Kerioth-Hezron. (Note that "Kiriath" is the Hebrew word for "town" or "city," so "Kiriath-Baal," e.g., is "Baal's Town.")
Because Judas, according to John, is the son of Simon, and Mark 14:3 says that the feast where the sinful woman washed Jesus's feet with her hair was at the home of Simon the Leper, and John 12:3 makes the woman involved Mary sister of Lazarus, one scholar speculated that Judas was the older brother of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha (Brown, p. 448). This would presumably mean that it was either Mary or Martha who stole the cash Judas had earlier stolen!
None of this is particularly useful, but it shows that speculation about Judas began quite early -- Sinaiticus is from the fourth century, Bezae probably from the fifth, and some of these variants are supported by translations which may have been made earlier still. Later legends are common; see the list on pp. 201-202 of Simpson/Roud. So it is little surprise to see a piece such as this arise. But there seems to be no other source for this tale of Judas and his sister.
Niles claims that his informant ("Mayberry Thomas," of Tennessee) had seen this piece in broadsheets, but there is no evidence of this, and many scholars hold that Niles made up his text 16A based on the old British text. - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.0
File: C023

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.