The Judas Goat: the Substitution of Christ on the Cross
By Tracy R. Twyman
One of the central tenets of the theory put forth in the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, is that Jesus did not really die on the cross, but that the crucifixion was a hoax perpetrated by Jesus and his closest disciples, in order to fulfill scriptures prophesizing the death of the Jewish Messiah. The hypothesis presented was that Jesus was crucified, but was given a toxin to make him appear dead, so that he could be taken down from the cross early. This was provided as an explanation for the sightings of Christ after his death (the so-called “Resurrection”). If this scenario had indeed occurred, it would have made it possible for Jesus to live on with his wife and his children (his royal heirs), and to participate personally in the establishment of the early Christian movement. A clue implying that this did in fact occur can be found in one of the Stations of the Cross at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Rennes-le-Chateau, France, in which Jesus is shown being carried into the tomb at night, contrary to scripture. According to the theory, this station actually depicts Jesus’ still-living body being removed from the tomb by his fellow conspirators.
Mentioned in passing by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail is another version of this theory, one long held by Muslims and heretical Christian sects throughout the centuries. This theory posits that it was not Jesus but a substitute that died on the Cross. Apocryphal scriptures bear witness to the adherence of this belief. In the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, one of the Nag Hammadi scrolls, it states:
“I did not succumb to them as they had planned… And I did not die in reality but in appearance, lest I be put to shame by them… For my death which they think happened [happened] to them in their error and blindness, since they nailed their man unto their death… It was another, their father, who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. It was another upon whom they placed the crown of thorns… And I was laughing at their ignorance.”
The Koran states something similar:
“…they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them.”
Also, according to Holy Blood, Holy Grail, other Muslim writers describe Jesus as “hiding in a niche in a wall and watching the crucifixion of a surrogate.” The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail do not go on to speculate about who that substitute may have been, and seem to prefer the idea that Jesus, while crucified, was taken down from the cross alive, rather than that there was a surrogate. But Muslim and heretical Christian traditions whole-heartedly embrace the substitution story, and name the sacrificial victim as none other than Judas Iscariot, the most expendable, presumably, of all of Jesus’ apostles. Some of the groups who have held this belief include the Manicheans and the Basilides. In addition, in the sixteenth century, something purporting itself as The Gospel of Barnabas was published. Most scholars summarily dismiss it as a “forgery.” However, it does testify to the unusual beliefs that certain Muslim sects and Christian heretics held regarding the crucifixion. In this version of the story, after Judas had made the decision to betray Jesus, God sent angels to take Jesus “out of the world… in the third heaven.” Meanwhile, he transformed Judas’ appearance into a likeness of Jesus, just as the soldiers arrived to arrest him. It states:
“When the soldiers with Judas drew near to the place where Jesus was, Jesus heard the approach of many people, wherefore in fear he withdrew into the house. And the eleven were sleeping. Then God, seeing the danger of his servant, commanded Gabriel;, Michael;, Rafael;, and Uriel, his ministers, to take Jesus out of the world. The holy angels came and took Jesus out by the window that looks toward the South. They bare him and placed him in the third heaven in the company of angels blessing God for evermore.
“Judas entered impetuously before all into the chamber whence Jesus had been taken up. And the disciples were sleeping. Whereupon the wonderful God acted wonderfully, insomuch that Judas was so changed in speech and in face to be like Jesus that we believed him to be Jesus. And he, having awakened us, was seeking where the Master was. Whereupon we marvelled, and answered: You, Lord, are our master; have you now forgotten us?
And he, smiling, said: Now are you foolish, that know not me to be Judas Iscariot! And as he was saying this the soldiery entered, and laid their hands upon Judas, because he was in every way like to Jesus. We having heard Judas’ saying, and seeing the multitude of soldiers, fled as beside ourselves. And John, who was wrapped in a linen cloth, awoke and fled, and when a soldier seized him by the linen cloth he left the linen cloth and fled naked. For God heard the prayer of Jesus, and saved the eleven from evil.”
Once everyone had been tricked into believing that Judas was Jesus, the substitute was made to suffer every pain and humiliation that has traditionally been attributed to Jesus. All the while Judas protested, and proclaimed his true identity, but he was thought to be mad, and that only increased the suffering inflicted upon him:
“The soldiers took Judas; and bound him, not without derision. For he truthfully denied that he was Jesus; and the soldiers, mocking him, said: Sir, fear not, for we are come to make you king of Israel, and we have bound you because we know that you do refuse the kingdom. Judas answered: Now have you lost your senses! You are come to take Jesus of Nazareth, with arms and lanterns as [against] a robber; and you have bound me that have guided you, to make me king!
Then the soldiers lost their patience, and with blows and kicks they began to flout Judas, and they led him with fury into Jerusalem. John and Peter followed the soldiers afar off; and they affirmed to him who writes that they saw all the examination that was made of Judas by the high priest, and by the council of the Pharisees, who were assembled to put Jesus to death. Whereupon Judas spoke many words of madness, insomuch that every one was filled with laughter, believing that he was really Jesus, and that for fear of death he was feigning madness. Whereupon the scribes bound his eyes with a bandage, and mocking him said: Jesus, prophet of the Nazarenes; (for so they called them who believed in Jesus), tell us, who was it that smote you? And they buffeted him and spat in his face.
When it was morning there assembled the great council of scribes and elders of the people; and the high priest with the Pharisees sought false witness against Judas, believing him to be Jesus: and they found not that which they sought. And why say I that the chief priests believed Judas to be Jesus? No all the disciples, with him who writes, believed it; and more, the poor Virgin mother of Jesus, with his kinsfolk and friends, believed it, insomuch that the sorrow of every one was incredible.
As God lives, he who writes forgot all that Jesus had said: how that he should be taken up from the world, and that he should suffer in a third person, and that he should not die until near the end of the world.”
The Gospel of Barnabas seems to imply that the sacrifice of a substitute on behalf of Jesus was in fact the true fulfillment of scripture regarding the Messiah, as it states:
“Wherefore he went with the mother of Jesus and with John to the cross. The high priest caused Judas to be brought before him bound, and asked him of his disciples and his doctrine. Whereupon Judas, as though beside himself, answered nothing to the point. The high priest then adjured him by the living God of Israel that he would tell him the truth.
Judas answered: ‘I have told you that I am Judas Iscariot, who promised to give into your hands Jesus the Nazarene; and you, by what are I know not, are beside yourselves, for you will have it by every means that I am Jesus.’ The high priest answered: ‘O perverse seducer, you have deceived all Israel, beginning from Galilee even to Jerusalem here, with your doctrine and false miracles: and now think you to flee the merited punishment that befits you by feigning to be mad?
As God lives, ‘ you shall not escape it!’ And having said this he commanded his servants to smite him with buffetings and kicks, so that his understanding might come back into his head. The derision which he then suffered at the hands of the high priest's servants is past belief. For they zealously devised new inventions to give pleasure to the council. So they attired him as a juggler, and so treated him with hands and feet that it would have moved the very Canaanites to compassion if they had beheld that sight. But the chief priests and Pharisees and elders of the people had their hearts so exasperated against Jesus that, believing Judas to be really Jesus, they took delight in seeing him so treated.”