Exactly how much the Bible intersects with history has been a matter of debate for a long, long time — and it's a thorny subject, with no easy answers. But still, looking at the intersection can make things very interesting. For example, Judas Iscariot might have been a member of an order of assassins.
The names of the apostles were as common in their day as they are in ours. This leads to some confusion when reading the Bible, as it mentions that Judas is the son of Simon. What, we ask, was the fall-out in the group after Jesus was betrayed not just by one of this followers, but by the son of one of the apostles?
Except that's the wrong Simon. Judas was the son of Simon Iscariot, which is why he is often referred to as Judas Iscariot. Whether he is an "Iscariot" is a important issue. Iscariot is not just a family name, or even a "clan" name. The name marks its bearer as one of the sicarii. The sicarii were nationalists, committed to resisting the Roman occupation by assassinating important political figures. Josephus, a historian who lived in the middle of the first century AD, wrote about their tactics. Putting on long robes and holding short daggers called sicae, they'd wait until a Roman official was walking through a crowded area, get close, stab the offical, and then slip away into the crowd, concealing their small weapon. The order was, apparently, very successful in instilling terror in the local ruling population. They even went after local collaborators who worked with the Roman regime.
The sicarii were an older order that had been resisting since the start of the Roman occupation, but they didn't reach their zenith until about 70 AD. If the Biblical Judas represented any real historical figure, the idea that he was an Iscariot is only a theory. But even if Judas is a purely literary figure, making him a member of the sicarii adds political outrage to his betrayal of Jesus. Not only was he betraying his friend, he was betraying his people and reinforcing Roman authority. Or, perhaps making Judas a member of the sicarii is meant to show that a fundamentally violent person cannot be trusted.
Image: Tretyakov Gallery
[Via Life in Year One.]