Who Were the Eleven?

A few nights ago, my wife and I were discussing the role and aftermath of Judas, so I went to the Scriptures and determined to clarify my position on Judas. This is part 3 of a 3 part series (starting here) in which I examine Judas according to the Scriptures. This is, as always, open to discussion.

Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him– but some of them doubted! (Mat 28:16-17 NLT)

So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples– and everyone else– what had happened. (Luk 24:9 NLT)

And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter. ” (Luk 24:33-34 NLT)

Matthew seems to be referring to Thomas, the quintessential doubter, and not cannot really be used to to say that Thomas was not with the Apostles in Galilee. Luke, on the other hand lists Eleven Disciples hidden away in a room on the First Day of the Week. In Verse 36, Christ appears in the room, with the Eleven.

But, who were the Eleven? Thomas, if we believe John, was missing:

One of the disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. (John 20:24-26 NLT)

Roger Pearse notes that Papias, who by Tradition, was a disciple of the Apostle John (as was Blessed Polycarp) noted a different (perhaps) ending for Judas. He cites a 4th century apologist who wrote:

Judas did not die by hanging, but lived on, having been cut down before choking. And this the Acts of the Apostles makes clear, that falling headlong his middle burst and his bowels poured forth. And Papias the disciple of John records this most clearly, saying thus in the fourth of the Exegeses of the Words of the Lord:

and then one of two versions:

Judas walked about as an example of godlessness in this world, having been bloated so much in the flesh that he could not go through where a chariot goes easily, indeed not even his swollen head by itself. For the lids of his eyes, they say, were so puffed up that he could not see the light, and his own eyes could not be seen, not even by a physician with optics, such depth had they from the outer apparent surface. And his genitalia appeared more disgusting and greater than all formlessness, and he bore through them from his whole body flowing pus and worms, and to his shame these things alone were forced . And after many tortures and torments, they say, when he had come to his end in his own place, from the place became deserted and uninhabited until now from the stench, but not even to this day can anyone go by that place unless they pinch their nostrils with their hands, so great did the outflow from his body spread out upon the earth.

the other being:

Judas lived his career in this world as an enormous example of impiety. He was so swollen in the flesh that he could not pass where a wagon could easily pass. Having been crushed by a wagon, his entrails poured out.

Matthew gives the account this way:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.” “What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.” Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself. The leading priests picked up the coins. “It wouldn’t be right to put this money in the Temple treasury,” they said, “since it was payment for murder.” After some discussion they finally decided to buy the potter’s field, and they made it into a cemetery for foreigners. That is why the field is still called the Field of Blood. This fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah that says, “They took the thirty pieces of silver– the price at which he was valued by the people of Israel, and purchased the potter’s field, as the LORD directed. ” (Mat 27:3-10 NLT)

We have distinctive Matthean ques here, namely the action, the result, and the why. The money, thirty pieces of silver, were used to be a potter’s field, according to the words of the prophets. For Luke, the story goes,

(Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means “Field of Blood.”) (Act 1:18-19 NLT)

In my opinion, there is not much difference between the Lukan account and that of Papias – no differences which cannot be attributed to an author’s method, especially given that the parenthetical does not mean that it took effect immediately. Further, in a real sense, Judas’ money did purchase the field of blood, so the difference between Matthew and Luke is narrowed. We do know that regardless of anything else, Judas was no longer numbers among the Apostles by the Day of Pentecost.

There is the matter, though of Matthew’s version which describes Judas as going out and hanging himself. In the text, it is seen as something almost immediate, right? In the Synoptics, we have the accounts that Jesus appeared on Resurrection Day to the Eleven Disciples, but in John, we find that Thomas was not present and did not meet Christ for eight days. Is this a contradiction between the Synoptics and John? Or could Judas have found his way for a few days with the disciples and then to die, as Papias would say, eaten alive by infection of his aborted hanging?

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66 Replies to “Who Were the Eleven?”

    1. Bill….you my know presuppositions. Judas is etched pretty early in the minds of Christians – including Ignatius who would have heard of him from John who surely knew Judas. Unless we assume that first John created him and was able to sell the character enough that a large group of people bought him, then Judas was real.

      If we remove the theological aspect of it, Judas could have been the Roman’s reason for arresting Jesus, so as not to arouse the people. Blame the Jew Judas!

  1. Judas was a historical figure. There is no reason for the earliest Christians to have made up a story that one of the twelve betrayed Jesus. They were mainly Jewish Christians so it wasn’t, contra Jesus mythers, anti Jewishness. Goodness they would probably have made up a story in which Jesus chose twelve Gentile disciples if they were anti Jewish.

  2. You know I don’t do presuppositions Joel, just evidence 🙂

    Where is Judas in the 1st century texts? I think Judas is a post-70 pun, giving the Jews the blame as usual.

    Do you also consider Barabbas to be a historical figure? Why would anybody be called “son of the father”? What kind of non-informative name is that? No, Barabbas is likewise a fictional figure. After the fall of Jerusalem the Gospel authors are saying that the Jews had the choice between the peaceful “son of the Father”, Jesus, and the revolutionary fake messiahs of the revolt. Needless to say the Jews made the wrong choice in the eyes of post-70 Christians.

    1. Bill, I consider the Gospels to be somewhat authoritative on some of this. Considering that he is part of both the written and the oral tradition, he was indeed real.

      As far as Jesus Bar-Abba, I would tend to think that he was another Messianic figure, noting John’s description of him.

      1. Concerning Judas: Unfortunately we have no access to the early oral tradition so I think you are just speculating that he was known in the oral tradition.

        Concerning Barabbas: Hmmm, the people are getting the choice between two Jesus’s and they are both known as “son of God/Father”, one is some sort of rebel and the other is peace-loving. Hmmm, what’s going on here? What would be the best explanation for the data? Perhaps whoever composed the first version of this story is trying to say something?

        When I first realized the Gospel authors weren’t writing history but were actually telling stories that actually meant something I really started to appreciate the Gospels. Before they were just a bunch of unbelievable fantasy tales, but now that they have been released from their historical pretensions I can truly enjoy them. I don’t really care that Jesus (if he really was a historical figure) didn’t do or say most of these things, I’m more interested in what the author is trying to say.

        I think my favorite narrative element is the parable of the sower. Just look at how the description and interpretation of the seed that fell on rocky ground corresponds perfectly with Peter’s behavior in Mark’s Gospel (of course petros=rock). I you haven’t already read it I can recommend Mary Tolbert’s “Sowing the Gospel”. There can be no doubt that the correspondence was intended by the author.

        1. Bill, I see the development of the written tradition as the successor of a well-developed oral tradition, hence the Synoptics.

          If you don’t see Jesus as a historical figure, the gospels are little more than codified philosophy. When Jesus becomes a historical figure, then we have to deal expressly with him (or Him) and how the Gospel (his)story.

          1. Yes, but as I said you have no access to the oral tradition, so this is just speculation. The virtual silence on the historical Jesus in the earlier epistles does not make one very confident about the presumed “oral tradition”.

            I did not say I don’t accept Jesus as a historical figure. I’m on the fence on this one. I listen to Jesus mythicists as well as to historical Jesus proponents, but I don’t consider the evidence clear either way. There’s a lot of data to chew on regarding this and I’m sure there’ll come a day when the pendulum swings far enough in one direction for me to pick a side on this one.

            I do consider it rather irrelevant though. Even if he was a historical figure I’m still convinced he didn’t do or say most of what is attributed to him. I suppose you might say that I look at the NT Gospels a bit like you look at the non-canonical Gospels.

            The Gospels are much more for me than just codified philosophy. They are key texts to the marvelous world of early Christianity. I don’t know a subject more interesting from a historical perspective than the development of Christianity in the first and second centuries.

          2. So, your speculation, based on what? reveals to you that nothing really happened? Sorry, Bill, but I think that Christianity itself is evident that Jesus is a historical figure as were the Apostles. Further, regardless if oral tradition was codified, we have very early texts indicating that communities – various communities – had sprung up and interpreted the Jesus figure for themselves. So, we do have what many believe are eyewitness accounts of the historical Jesus. Further, we have eyewitness accounts to those eyewitness accounts in figures such as Ignatius, Polycarp and Papias as well as their successors.

            Considering that James, which I believe to be pretty early, is a letter written to a local community in the Jewish Wisdom Tradition, there is no need to mention a historical Jesus. yet, just a few years later, when Paul is writing for a different reason, we find them mentioned, and as the oral tradition moved into a need for written – we have the Gospels.

            Evidence is a tricky thing, Bill, especially when you set the bar so high as to be impossible to achieve. What evidence do we have of Socrates? Aristotle? Shakespeare? Or us, two centuries from now? Following the culture, we have outstanding evidence – even evidence from non-biblical sources – of a historical Jesus. Whether or not you choose to accept that the Gospels present a written form of the oral tradition is your choice, of course, but believing that they are not evidences within themselves mystifies me.

          3. My speculation?? No, I was talking about your speculation (concerning oral tradition that you presume prior to the Gospels). I don’t assume or deny specific oral tradition prior to the Gospels. I don’t like to speculate. Sure, some of it may be oral tradition, just as some may be authorial creations. I do not preclude one or the other option just because of some biased presupposition.

            I understand that my agnosticism regarding the historical Jesus mystifies you. Fine, but are you familiar with the mythicist case? Have you read works by Doherty, Wells and the other Jesus mythicists? From what you write I can’t believe you have. I’m not going to argue their case here (they’ve written many books on this issue so it’s better you just read them). Mind you, just to make this clear, I’m NOT saying I agree with them, but their case is much stronger than you realize.

            Evidence is indeed a tricky thing. You need to at least read Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle” and understand WHY he argues that Paul is talking about a mythical Christ, before being mystified by my historical Jesus agnosticism (I think you should also read Price’s “incredible shrinking son of man” and something by G.A. Wells on this subject). Given your extreme conservatism there’s about 0 % probability that they will convince you, but at least it’s likely you’ll be less mystified 🙂

          4. Bill, I understand their arguments, but I am mystified what with the evidence of history once can still question the historicity of Jesus

          5. When I finally see some good criticisms of their arguments I might start to favor the historical Jesus view. Unfortunately the only ones who I’ve seen try to refute them are Christian apologists and frankly their arguments are always full of holes. I’ve recently ordered a few more mythicist books to see how they have developed their views. I’ll let you know what I think.

  3. That some doubted is also unlikely to have been made up. In fact Matthew would NOT have made it up. This demonstrates not only that some didn’t believe Jesus had risen (and not just one otherwise why ‘some’) but that some of them did believe. And we know which ones believed because they appear in later tradition whereas actually quite a few, don’t.

    1. That’s very true, Steph. No, I don’t think Matthew made it up, and I think that Matthew is speaking in a manner to denote conflated time.

      1. Matthew certainly contains developed tradition but ‘conflated time’? I’m sure you don’t mean that that explains why he has ‘some’ instead of ‘one’ because that sort of development isn’t likely to have occurred – it’s in the wrong direction.

  4. Hi Bill, Just flicked down your discussion because it’s very late at night … In September, T&T Clark will release a book which I think you’ll enjoy. It’s called Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Perspective of His Life and Teachings. The author, Maurice Casey, is not a Christian and he’s a biblical historian. One of the things I persuaded him to do was give space to respond directly to Jesus mythers. And I think for the first time, they get a proper and independent bollocking 😉 . Not only does he refute main arguments with proper argument and evidence but the rest of the book demonstrates their thesis to be false.

    They are as biased as the most apologists. The gosels are a mixture of early and development tradition and storytelling but Joel, you’re skating on thin ice (and I know what that’s like!!!) if you hold John to be authoritative 😉

    1. Yeah – I know how you feel about John, poor old John, Steph! 🙂

      Bill, I’ll buy you that book when it comes out! Maybe we can have a dialogue with it?

      1. Ah, but if you read this book you should be fair and read the original works by the mythicists as well. I think it’s sad that Christians only read works that attack certain positions without actually reading the original works (because often you’ll find the original postions misrepresented or that critical arguments are not engaged). I’m not saying you do that, but I must wonder how many books you’ve read written by the mythicists themselves.

      2. I see I misread your comment. I thought it was directed to Steph. You won’t need to buy me the book, I’ll do it myself. I’d love to debate that book with you, but then let’s throw in Robert Price’s “Jesus is dead” (fun title don’t you think?) I’ve already ordered the book anyway (as well as “the end of biblical studies” (not a mythicist book, but a fun title for sure) by Hector Avalos and the Jesus Legend by G.A. Wells). To be fair we perhaps should also have a proponent of the mythical Jesus view debate with us, because I am unfortunately neutral in this debate. What kind of debate would it be if you wrote something and I just say “I agree”. Although…..the two of us agreeing on anything would be pretty amazing!!

        btw I also came across this book called “Why I became an atheist: A former preacher rejects Christianity.” I think it’s written by a good friend of yours 🙂 Should I get this? I don’t think I will. Contrary to what you probably believe I’m not that much interested in the whole atheism/theism debate (just like I’m not too interested in debating the existence of Nessie or bigfoot or alien abductions or crop circles 🙂

        1. No! Don’t get that book!

          But the time that Casey’s book comes out, I will attempt to read a few titles which you suggest, then we can debate his book. Also, I’ll open up the blog to you to write posts instead of comments, if you want.

          1. Thanks Joel, I´ll look forward to it. You really can´t let me write posts on your blog. You have a ´very conservative´ label to live up to!

          2. Nah, Bill, I would welcome it. I like honest dialogue, and while I don’t agree with you a lot, I believe that you are an honest person and well thought. I believe that dialoguing with those with whom we disagree with – and dialoguing on an equal basis – yields benefits. I have found that I have learned more from those I disagree with rather than that agree with me.

          3. I’ll tell ya some funny things Joel … it’s funny how Price (actually all the Jesus mythers) fire at fundamentalist ‘scholarship’ and leaves out all decent critical scholarship, and takes the bible as a whole so the whole lot is bunk because it’s got a whole lot of obviously implausible material. He leaves out main points such as Aramaic, and the sort of things that would not have been made up by the early church, and invents interpolations by claiming ‘inclusios’ and the like, the sort of ‘evidence’ claimed by ‘Q’ scholars in their circular arguments for an original document. He also claims parallels to NT material from pagan religions which lack main features and are not alike at all. But Maurice confronts specifics directly and piles on the evidence. Price is very amusing reading when you’re not already a sucked in Jesus myther. It’s almost as if he’s deliberately conning his audience, because he, unlike most other published Jesus mythers, actually has a phd, and one in the discipline of religion, and should know better. 😉

          4. Price is not the only one to ignore Aramaic sources, most scholars do. They are not yet convinced there were (lost) Aramaic sources behind the Gospels. We´ll have to wait and see what for effect Casey has on NT scholarship. Will we suddenly see scholars abandon the two source theory en masse?

            Anyway, I don´t really understand why earlier Aramaic sources would be evidence for a historical Jesus. Couldn´t these sources have been original compositions by Aramaic speaking Christians? Could you summarize the argument for me? Otherwise I can wait till his book comes out and see how convincing he is.

          5. You want me to summarise his book?! Wow. There’s more than just Aramaic to evidence of Jesus of Nazareth, so you’ll just have to wait. The reason alot of scholars, including Price and other mythers, leave it out, is mainly because they don’t understand the language. This helps motivate development of theories which deliberately avoid the possibility. Of course demonstration of Aramaic sources alone does not demonstrate the existence of a historical Jesus.

            We don’t expect Kloppenborg and co to drop “Q” – too much money and too many careers invested in it. Did Witherington drop the James Ossuary autheniticity? No – he’d disappoint too many readers who had bought his books. But I know that there are alot of people and scholars out there who are very skeptical about a single document “Q” but will use the term for convenience, and there are also those who are attracted to the Farrer hypothesis but wonder what sources Matthew used or whether Luke might have other sources. But that’s my job to demonstrate a chaotic hypothesis and that will follow Maurice’s book.

          6. Thanks Steph. I happen to be one of those who support the Farrer hypothesis. I look forward to Casey’s new book.

          7. Ha – although he’d liked Goulder and read Goodacre etc etc, he still maintained independece but I originally convinced Maurice that Luke knew Matthew (acknowledged in book). Historical plausibility given time frame, reasons for leaving stuff out and not liking it and certain possibilities of repeated material due to remembering it. I don’t think he copied it, there is too much reason for him not to want, or need to use it and too much evidence and plausibility for other sources. I think it is a sign of the most honest scholarship that is willing to change its mind.

          8. You won’t have a problem refuting Price, Joel, once you’ve read Maurice’s book. The ‘evidence’ Price appeals to is exposed as totally implausible and shows a complete lack of understanding of a number of crucial things. There’s quite alot that will make you laugh in astonishment.

    2. Steph, I know you’re something of a Casey fan. 🙂 I remember some strong words of approval from you for his other works (on the proposed earlier aramaic sources behind Mark and Q). I’ve read those books. I’ll definately take a look at his new work as well.

      1. Bill that’s very silly. We are very close friends and live under the same roof. We share our work with each other. I had drawn the same conclusions as Maurice when he had begun publishing on it. Similar minds from similar perspectives.

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