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Thirty Pieces of Silver

Publishing Date : 11 May, 2015

Benson C Saili

It was the price of a slave. So how could Judas have traded Jesus for a song?

The exact process of the ritualistic resurrection of Lazarus (Simon Zelotes) from figurative as opposed to real death is related in a textual fragment that was originally a component of what has come to be known as the Secret Gospel of Mark.

The fragment was discovered in a monastery at Mar Saba, near Qumran, by Morton Smith, later Professor of Ancient History at Columbia University, in 1958.   It was actually part of the contents of a letter written by the churchman Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) as a reply to his colleague Theodore.

In the letter, Clement confirmed the existence and authority of “Secret Mark” and suggested that it was being kept under lock and key.  


Clement’s letter centred on a “heretical” group known as the Carpocrations, who were inspired by the teachings of Helena-Salome, the consort of Simon Zelotes and the mother of Mary Magdalene, and who had irregularly come into possession of the Secret Gospel of Mark.  It decreed that some of the original content of the gospel of Mark, whose dirty linen the Carpocrations were washing in public,   was to be suppressed because it did not conform with establishment agenda. The basis for this censorship Clement explained as follows:

“Such men (Carpocrations) are to be opposed in all ways and altogether. For even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not even so agree with them.  For not all true things are the truth; nor should the truth which seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth – that according to the Faith. To them, one must never give way; nor when they put forward their falsifications, should one concede that the Secret Gospel is by Mark but should deny it on oath. For not all true things are to be said to all men.”

For not all true things are to be said to all men. No wonder the great Karl Marx said religion was the opium of the masses. What we learn from the Clement rejoinder is that there was originally a more authentic though controversial Gospel of Mark than the doctored one we have today.

Few Christians are aware that when the New Testament was collated at the Nicene Council in 325 AD, the gospel of Mark ended at chapter 16:8, whereby Mary Magdalene and other women depart from Jesus’s empty tomb: there no postmortem appearances of Jesus. Indeed, the gospel of Mark that we find in the two oldest complete or near-complete scriptural manuscripts (dated to the 4th century AD), the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaticus, ends at 16:8. 

All the verses beyond that were later interpolations by church fathers who preferred a particular dogmatic spin.  Writes professor Smith: “Based on this letter (the Clementine response to Theodore),  we can conclude that  the Secret Gospel of Mark was the older and more complete, and the version we have is an edited version with the troubling passages left out by the Church fathers.”  The portions supplied by Clement fit in between MARK 10:34 and 10:35 and the middle of MARK 10:46.

Exactly what did the fragment from the Secret Gospel of Mark say?


The Secret Gospel of Mark tells a story similar to the raising of Lazarus in JOHN 11:1-44. Fragment 1 reads as follows:

“And they came to Bethany. And there was a woman there, whose brother was dead. And she came and fell down before Jesus and said to him: Son of David, have mercy on me. But the disciples rebuked her. And in anger Jesus went away with her into the garden where the tomb was; and immediately a loud voice was heard from the tomb; and Jesus went forward and rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb.

And immediately he went in where the young man was, stretched out his hand and raised him up, grasping him by the hand. But the young man looked upon him and loved him, and began to entreat him that he might remain with him. And when they had gone out from the tomb, they went into the young man’s house; for he was rich.

And after six days Jesus commissioned him; and in the evening the young man came to him, clothed only in linen cloth upon his naked body. And he remained with him that night; for Jesus was teaching him the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. And from there he went away and returned to the other bank of the Jordan.”

Fragment 2 describes what purportedly happened in Jericho thus: “He came to Jericho. And there were there the sisters of the young man whom Jesus loved, and his mother and Salome; and Jesus did not receive them.”

In the two passages referenced above, as well as in the corresponding passage in the gospels (JOHN 11:1-44), there are a number of terms with meanings in the Essenes’ pesher language (the code language intended for initiates only) which are not apparent in the English language. These terms we will attempt to make clear for the  readers though fuller details can be found in the writings of Barbara Theiring.  

Bethany, as you may know by now, was a building at Qumran. Bethany is Bethania in Hebrew and it means “House of the Poor”. The Essenes referred to themselves as a community of “the poor” since in general they did not possess individual property as all property was ceded to communal ownership.   

The woman “whose brother was dead” was Mary Magdalene. It was Mary  Magdalene and her mother Helena-Salome (Martha in the gospels, a title meaning “Lady”) who pleaded with Jesus to revive Lazarus (Simon Zelotes), that is, restore him to the Essene leadership fold after he had been excommunicated following his involvement in the mini-insurrection against Pontius Pilate in November 32 AD. 

The two women feared that Simon, who was “sick”  (in the early stages of excommunication) would “stink” if he remained long in the tomb through not having the means of ritual washing Essenes underwent on a daily basis.  The reference to Lazarus as “brother” implies conventual brotherhood as opposed to a  relational brother, just as “sister” meant  conventual sisters rather than relational sister (in the Catholic Church, a “Brother” or “Sister” is one who “commits him/herself to following Christ in consecrated life of the Church, usually by the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience”.) After his demotion from the papacy, Lazarus was now a brother and not a superior.  

Mary Magdalene was rebuked by the disciples because by urging Jesus to reinstate Simon, she was going against the edict of Jonathan Annas, the new Father of the Essene community.  The “loud voice” that issued forth from the tomb (appealing to Jesus to lift his banishment as part of the ritual) meant a voice of authority. Simon, as the former Essene Pope, was a man of authority still. “Young man” was a technical term for initiates, who at their initiation wore a linen surplice without any undergarment. 

This was the level to which Lazarus had sunk after he had been excommunicated, meaning he would have to work his way up the hierarchy once again once he was reinstated as an Essene. After his excommunication, Simon Zelotes became “rich”, meaning he was no longer an Essene – the “poor” – and therefore was now entitled to private property such as the very house in which he now lived.  “Love him” (a part of the ritual’s jargon) in this context means Simon desired to have a special communion meal presided over by Jesus as the Davidic messiah. 

“The young man who Jesus loved’ meant Simon Zelotes as he typically sat next to Jesus at the special meal of the apostolic band.   Now that Simon Zelotes had been restored to the Essene fold, Jesus as a matter of routine had to instruct him again in “the mysteries of the Kingdom of God” – special knowledge, called Gnosis, which only high-ranking Essene members were privy to.


The release of Simon Zelotes from excommunication not only alienated Jesus from Jonathan Annas, the man who had replaced Simon as Pope, and his ilk but also caused him to fall afoul with the law.  

First, by unilaterally reinstating Simon Zelotes, he was claiming the role of Jonathan Annas, who as the Father of the Essene community had the prerogative to excommunicate (spiritually “kill”) and restore – (spiritually “resurrect”). When Jesus boasted in JOHN 11:25 during a conversation with Helena-Salome, the consort of Simon Zelotes, that “I’m the resurrection and the life”, he was referring to his actions in relation to Simon.  Put differently, Jesus was claiming to be at once the Davidic messiah, Malchus, and the priestly messiah, Zadok, or Melchizedek in short.  It was on grounds of this claim and other associated acts that Jonathan Annas decided to plot against Jesus.  

Second, Simon Zelotes was an outlaw: he was wanted by the Roman authorities for his part in orchestrating the insurrection against Pilate and for the killings that ensued. Thus Jesus’s reinstatement of Simon was certain to be interpreted by Pilate as showing open support for a fugitive from justice, resultantly making him an accomplice in the whole affair.

The three wanted men – Judas Iscariot, Simon Zelotes, and Theudas Barabbas – had been in hiding in the Qumran caves since December AD 32. In March AD 33, they came out of hiding to attend the seasonal council of the leaders of the Essene community that was held at Qumran with a view to observe the Passover and other associated festivals.  All the three had been restored to Essene membership.   

By this time, Judas had already concocted a plan as to how to extricate himself from his predicament. His instrument of redemption in this regard was none other than Jesus. Judas had loathed Jesus for some time now.  Jesus had turned him down as his deputy in a liberated Israel. He had married Mary Magdalene, a commoner and a non-Jew, and he now claimed the roles of both King and Priest. Judas therefore was of the view that not only did Jesus lack wisdom but he was power-hungry and held him (Judas) in very low esteem when he was a respected intellectual and as the Essenes’ treasurer-general was a man of high standing. Not only was Judas the Essenes’ chief scribe but he was the underground leader of the Zealots, the military wing of the Essenes and the most esteemed liberation movement.

In the event, Judas decided to make a pact with Jonathan Annas. He proposed that Jesus replace him as the third culprit among the trio who were wanted by Pilate. Jonathan Annas, who was already alienated by Jesus, readily acquiesced. In return, Judas would not only be struck off the wanted list but he would assume leadership of the 30-man group that John the Baptist had established.  The group actually comprised of 29 men and 1 female, Helena-Salome, to represent the 29-and-half days in the lunar cycle (a woman was regarded as half a man). The group’s symbol was silver, like the silver light of the moon, and was thus known as the Thirty Pieces of Silver. The prospective take-over of the group by Judas is what the gospels mean when they say Judas betrayed Jesus with thirty pieces of silver. There was no money involved whatsoever (in any case, 30 pieces of silver was the price of a slave and it does not make sense that Jesus traded Jesus for such a pittance).