🔼The name Iscariot: Summary
- Man Of Kerioth, City Slicker
- From (1) the noun איש ('ish), man [of], and (2) the noun קריה (qiryah), city or federation.
🔼The name Iscariot in the Bible
There are two persons named Iscariot in the Bible, although they are obviously related:
- Most famous Iscariot is Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus (Matthew 10:4). The gospel writers called him Iscariot to distinguish him from the other disciple named Judas, who was a son of James (Luke 6:16). Judas Iscariot is most famous for revealing the identity of Jesus Christ to the masses, but his participation in the grander plan of salvation was essential and foretold (Acts 1:16, John 6:64). Dante famously placed Judas in the deepest pit of hell to be eternally mauled by the one who had entered and motivated him, but very early in the history of Christianity Judas' act became understood to have been in obedience to Scriptures and consequent instructions of Jesus. This idea was expressed in what became the Gospel of Judas, which itself was carried largely by gnostic thought. Gnosticism, however, comes from a school of thought which is obviously divorced from the Biblical model of reality.
- The other Iscariot is Simon Iscariot, the father of Judas (John 6:71).
The name Iscariot occurs 11 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name Iscariot
There is a wide bouquet of explanations of the name Iscariot, but the most plausible is that it is Greek a transliteration of a Hebrew name or epithet, and that Hebrew name consists of two elements. The first element is the common Hebrew noun איש ('ish), meaning man:
The verb אנש ('anash) appears to emphasize the weakness of the human individual and mankind's consequent tendency to clan up and have strength in numbers first and then in social stratification. It either means to be weak or even to be sick, or it swings the other way and means to be friendly and social. It yields the important noun אנוש ('enosh), man or human male individual who is weak yet social.
In the Bible, societies are feminine (and maternal) and although some scholars insist on a whole other but identical root, the noun אשה ('isha) means woman or wife. And again perhaps from a whole other root or perhaps the same one, the noun איש ('ish) means man, or rather man of; man in some specific function such as "man of war" or "man of the earth." It's also the common word for husband.
Since societies form around central fires (or the "purifying light" of wisdom, which is where the metaphor comes from), the noun אש ('esh), fire, may also derive from this verb.
The second part of our name appears in the Old Testament as Kerioth, which was a town situated on the southern border of the territory of the tribe of Judah, close to the border with Edom. The name Kerioth is a plural of the noun קריה (qiryah), meaning city, which comes from the verb קרה (qara), meaning to meet or get together:
Root קרר (qarar) means to cool off in a thermodynamic sense: to go from hot gas to cool liquid to a cold solid. Socially this would describe warring tribes "cooling off" into culturally compatible peoples and liquid trading networks and ultimately the formation of cities and solid nations. Intellectually, diverse viewpoints might congeal into local conventions and ultimately a global standard.
Adjective קר (qar) means cool. Nouns קר (qor) and קרה (qara) mean cold. Noun מקרה (meqera), meaning coolness.
Noun קיר (qir) is one of a few words for wall. It might relate to the root because bricks are congealed mud, and a wall is bricks pieced together (non-standard bricks take some puzzling and pounding). The noun קרקע (qarqa') means floor; earth trampled into a compact state. The verb קרקר (qarqar) means to forcibly compact, to pound down.
Verb קרה (qara), and its by-form קרא (qara'), mean to near, to meet or to happen upon. Noun קורה (qora) describes a rafter or beam; the things that come together to form a roof, and which obviously relate to bricks pieced into a wall. Verb קרה (qara) means to piece beams together and noun מקרה (meqareh) means literally place of beams; beam-work.
Nouns קרה (qareh) and מקרה (miqreh) mean chance or accident, fortune or fate. Noun קרי (qeri) means opposition, contrariness. At a social level, chance meetings and opposition are the very rafters that carry society's roof.
For this same reason, the nouns קריה (qiryah) and קרת (qeret) are the words for city and federation of cities.
Verb קרא (qara'), which is identical to the by-form of the previous, means to call or call near. Adjective קריא (qari') means called or summoned. Noun קריאה (qeri'a) means proclamation. And noun מקרא (miqra') means convocation or called assembly. The noun קרא (qore') describes a partridge; literally "a caller."
The name Iscariot means Man Of Kerioth, or even Man Of The Cities or City Slicker. Since Judas Iscariot is the notorious bad guy of the New Testament, it's tempting (but not necessarily fruitful) to read portent and meaning in his name. There's nothing wrong with living in or being from a city; although the first Biblical city was built by Cain (Genesis 4:17) the last one is built by God (Revelation 21:2).
But perhaps it's significant that Judas' last name derives from the noun קריה (qiryah), which in turn derives from the verb קרה (qara), meaning to meet or get together. This word for city is quite rare; the much more ordinary Hebrew word for city is the feminine noun עיר ('ir; follow the link for an all-revealing study on this word).
Judas Iscariot was from the kind of city that was known for a convergence of human effort. This convergence can be either achieved by what the Bible calls agape, or love, or it is achieved by economic considerations. Paul wrote that the "love of money" is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), and although the phrase "love of money" is usually explained by liking money very much, it probably describes the pseudo-convergence of people that money motivates. Love drives people to pool their resources in order to better mankind, but money drives people to pool their resources to become even more lonely and heartless than they first were. Note also that the name Cain, he who "invented" the city, is clearly reminiscent of financial economy; see our article on that name for the details.
It's probably no coincidence that Judas was the troop's money-handling secretary (John 13:29), and that he was called a thief irrespective of his being a traitor (John 12:6). And it's probably also significant that it was he who handed Jesus over to the masses.
Jesus is not only the Savior in the theological sense, he's also the same as the Word of God, by which and through which everything was created (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16), and as such he also represents science and all kinds of knowledge (whereas the love of Christ transcends all knowledge; Ephesians 3:19). Human society as it is today could not have reached its unprecedented level of cooperation and scientific understanding of creation if it hadn't been funded by the financial sector. And although we should always count our blessings, we should also realize that the great failings of the world today could come to pass when the love of Christ became our economy's "opportunity cost".
But on the other hand: with the thirty pieces of silver that Judas received for his deed the field called Hakeldama was purchased (Acts 1:19). Had Judas been a true Iscariot, he would have bought an apartment building.