“Old Judas”


"Old Judas was a traitor and the worst of his kind. He had a bag of money that he carried all the time." The singer details Judas's betrayal of Jesus, and his death, wonders why Jesus chose such a disciple, and warns others against love of money.


The statement that Judas had "a money bag" seems to be based on John 13:29. where Judas is said to have what the NRSV calls "the common purse," and also John 12:6. This also refers to Judas having the common treasury, and refers to him as a thief who steals from it. 12;6 is also the verse in which, after the anointing of Jesus's feet, he complains that the money was not given to the poor. (In the version of the story of the anointing in Mark 14:3-9 and parallels, it is not Judas who questions the behavior, but the crowd in general).

There is no evidence that Judas had been a thief prior to his involvement with Jesus, except for songs such as "Judas" [Child 23].

It is not really clear whether Judas betrayed Jesus for a high price or a low. Only Matthew tells the story (Matt. 26:15), and the text says literally "thirty of silver" -- hence thirty silver coins, but it it not clear which sort of silver coins. If, as is likely, we are meant to think of the Greek denarius (which was a silver coin massing 3.8 grams), the price -- while not "lordly" as in the source in Zech. 11:13) -- was not trivial; it represented a month or more of income for a hired worker. And it was allegedly enough to buy a field near Jerusalem, where land prices must have been high (Matt. 27:7).

In Matthew 27:3-4, Judas tries to return the money before his death. The song tries to reconcile the two incompatible versions of his death; Matt. 27:5 says he hanged himself, clearly dying in the process, with no broken ropes involved; his death by violent disease, in a field he himself bought, is told in Acts 1:18-19). - RBW


  1. Shellans, pp. 87-88, "Old Judas" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Roud #7336
  3. BI, Shel087


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1959 (Collected by Shellans from John Daniel Vass)
Found in: US(SE)