The Death Of Judas

The Death Of Judas

This page attempts to illustrate various problems concerning the bible's account of Judas' death. Almost all of what is on this page appears elsewhere (see links), but the author thought it worth while to have a single page dedicated to all of the problems concerning Judas' death.

The relevant verses in Matthew are:

3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." 7 So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me." RSV Matt 27:3-10

The relevant verses in Acts are:

15 In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, 16 "Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. 18 (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akel'dama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, `Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and `His office let another take.' RSV Acts 1:15-20

Judas' Cause Of Death

This is the most obvious contradiction. In Matthew Judas hung himself, but in Acts he fell headlong and his bowels gushed out. Attempts to reconcile this contradiction, such as this one typically assume that both things happened: Judas hung himself, the rope broke, and Judas fell headlong with his bowels gushing out on impact. Also, there is the assumption that Matthew was concerned with the original cause of death whereas Acts was concerned with the ultimate cause of death.

First, it should be noted that Judas fell headlong. So, an explanation is needed as to why Judas' body rotated 180 degrees upon the rope breaking. Judas could have hung himself from a tree branch that protruded over a cliff in order to all the fall sufficient distance so that his body could flip, but that seems odd as it would not have contributed to the hanging unless Judas meant for the rope to break. In fact it would have made it needlessly difficult as Judas would have had to climb out onto the protruding branch. It could be that as Judas fell he crashed into something, such as another tree branch, that caused his body to flip. This is possible, but it would make more sense for Judas to simply choose the lowest branch that he could find that was sufficiently high. A branch with a branch underneath it would have only gotten in the way.

Various assumptions can be made about the organization of Matthew and Acts in order to justify placing the hanging part of the death in Matthew and the falling part of the death in Acts. Perhaps Matthew preferred to talk things in the air whereas Acts preferred to talk about things on the ground. Such assumptions seem arbitrary and contrived unless they are vindicated by the rest of the text.

Regardless of what is assumed about the organization of Matthew and Acts Judas died only once. Either Judas died when he hung himself and then later fell, or he was still alive when he fell and died when he hit the ground. In either case either Matthew or Acts neglected to mention how Judas actually died. Appeals to the idea that the authors of Matthew and Acts each knew what the other would write and wished to not be redundant are difficult to defend in light of the amount of repeated material in the rest of the Net Testament; particularly the synoptic gospels.

Purchaser Of The Field of Blood

Another contradiction has to do with the purchaser of the field of blood. In Matt 27:7-8 the priests purchased the field. In Acts 1:18-19 Judah purchased the field. Attempts to reconcile this contradiction, such as this one, often quibble over the verb by which Judas came into possession of the field In Acts 1:18. The verb is translated in various ways:

Verb Translations
acquired NAS NRSV
bought RSV
got Darby
obtained ASV WEB
purchased AKJV KJV YLT

The Greek verb is "ktaomai." It seems that it means to come into possession of something. So, "acquired" is a reasonable literal translation. When money is the means by which the thing was acquired, as in this case, "bought" seems like a reasonable translation. So, all of the translations are reasonable.

It may be tempting to think that what is meant in Acts 1:18 is that Judas acquired the field in some abstract sense by indirectly giving the money to the priests who then bought the field. But in Matt 27:5 Judas threw the money down in the temple, so we can't assume that Judas was concerned with what happened with the money after he departed. Also, according to Matthew, Judas died before the priests bought the field. So, in no sense did Judas acquire the field in his lifetime.

Finally, notice that Acts 1:20 (" ... Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it ..." RSV) reinforces the idea that Judas purchased a field which neither he, nor anyone else, got to live in. It seems awkward to apply the "his" in Acts 1:20 to the priests in Matt 27:7, who used the field as a graveyard.

How The Field Of Blood Was Named

In Matt 27:7-8 we see that the field of blood was named because it was purchased with blood money. In Acts 1:18-19 it seems likely that the field of blood was named as a result of Judas' bloody death as Acts 1:19 immediately follows the bloody description in Acts 1:18. There is no mention of "blood money" in Acts.

How Judas Is Portrayed

One of the more striking differences between Matthew and Acts is the overall way that Judas is portrayed. It Matthew Judas is portrayed as being filled with remorse upon realizing what he had done, returning the money that he presumably felt he did not deserve, and then committing suicide. In Acts Judas is portrayed as buying a field with the money that he kept, and then dying a humiliating and grotesque death. The only adjective that is clearly applied to Judas in Acts 1:15-20 is "wicked" (RSV), which is found in Acts 1:18.

In other words, Matthew systematically portrays Judas in a more favorable light than Acts. If one were only to read either Matthew or Acts one would end up with a very different impression of Judas' character.

Let me suggest a possible reason why there may have been a motivation for some of the bible's authors to portray Judas in a more favorable light than others. There may have been some debate as to how evil Judas was. On one hand Judas was chosen by Jesus in order to help fulfill Old Testament prophecy and make salvation possible, but on the other hand Judas betrayed Jesus for money. If this is the reason why Matthew and Acts portray differently it is consistent with the major themes of Matthew and Acts.

Matthew is interesting in the law, particularly in how prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus as can be seen by searching for "fulfil" and "prophet." Consider when Judas betrays Jesus in Matthew:

46 "Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." 47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him." 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, "Hail, Master!" And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, "Friend, why are you here?" Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56 But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples forsook him and fled. 57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Ca'iaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. RSV Matt 26:46-57

Note that Jesus refers to Judas as "friend", and that Jesus could have intervened but didn't so that "the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Compare this to Acts which has Christians selflessly martyring themselves for Jesus as one of it's themes:

58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60 And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. RSV Acts 7:58-60

So, it seems likely that Matthew, who greatly values prophecy fulfillment, would have been more partial to Judas than Acts, which greatly values unwavering loyalty to Jesus. Consequently the difference in the way Judas is portrayed in Matthew and Acts is what one might expect.

Jeremiah's Prophecy

Matt 27:9 implies that Judas' death fulfilled a prophecy that Jeremiah gave:

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, RSV Matt 27:9

But there does not seem to be such a verse anywhere in Jeremiah. By far the closet verses are in Zechariah:

12 Then I said to them, "If it seems right to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them." And they weighed out as my wages thirty shekels of silver. 13 Then the LORD said to me, "Cast it into the treasury"--the lordly price at which I was paid off by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver and cast them into the treasury in the house of the LORD. RSV Zec 11:12-13

Note that the above combines several relevant elements. Someone is payed thirty shekels which he then casts into the treasury in the house of the LORD. Also, the Septuagint (the questionable Greek translation of the Old Testament that the New Testament authors quoted) has a "potter" in the house of the LORD receiving the thirty shekels. So, it seems likely that Matthew quoted the wrong book.

But the larger problem is that Matthew had a tendency to find prophecy fulfillment in Old Testament verses, such as Matt 27:9, in spite of there being no indication that the original author intended it as a prophecy of something in the distant future. For more on this see "Prophecies: Imaginary and Unfulfilled" The prophecies mentioned in Acts 1:20 are also questionable

Conclusion

As far as biblical problems go the ones presented in this article are not the most insurmountable. What is difficult to explain is the number of problems in relatively few verses. In other words, even if it is determined that the problems presented in this article are only apparent problems, as opposed to actual problems, there is still the issue as to why there are so many apparent problems in so few verses.

Links

Comments

Thank you for this

Thank you for this informative information explaining the deffinitions relating to Judas death.
Mike

post on Judas...

The following was originally posted anonymously in the Emacsish section of this website on Sat 10/18/2008 at 14:16. I've moved it here since it refers to to the essay above. The essay above was original on a different website and was linked to by Infidels.org.

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I found your post on Judas very rigorous and intellectually honest. I like to think of myself as intellectually honest (Professor at UT) and a Christian (became a follower later in life and previously thought Christianity had little intellectualism).

Your closing point is that the stories with Judas seems to contradict themselves and given other contradictions it makes the case greater. Yes, there are tons of alleged contradictions, but there are no iron clad proven ones. It is actually quite remarkable that there can be books over different periods, with such harmony. Yes, a cursory read will uncover many things and the list can be big but unlike other documents a deeper read reveals a richness not seen. I have investigated some 'alleged errors (one considered to be one of the hardest 2).

you may not find great exegesis on the internet but extremely bright scholars have been examining all of these accusations for centuries so most of the deep discussion is in old books. I put my quick thoughts below. I found the blog link below to have a more rigorous (though quick) look than many Christian websites that were superficial in their treatment.

I guess my main point is that someone will naturally go to look at the hardest alleged discrepancies in the bible there is a selection bias and each of these should be looked at individually and one should be proven to be wrong. If an account seems contradictory but can be reconciled it points to the fact that a) the authors were not relying on each other to write the story and b) the event actually happened as said. Many names in Luke (http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/arch-nt.html) were thought to contradict history in 1800s but now they are shown through more recent digs to be exactly historically correct.

john
http://thisblogchoseyou.wordpress.com/2008/05/24/the-death-of-judas-is-t...
my very brief outline.
1. judas threw money to the priests. 'blood money' in text.
2. They couldn't put the field in the priest's name. no one would want or allow it in their name (these are the guys who wash their hands X times), so they put it in Judas's name
3. Judas hung himself on the cliff over the field that rumor has he hung himself.
4. His body became ripe there (I can tell you a ripe deer or hog swells terribly).
5. At some point the rope broke or rope was cut and his body burst headlong and exploded on impact.
6. Priests hadn't bought the field yet, but thought, hey, let's buy the field where the poor dude hung himself.
Of course, it could be 6 and then 4... he could have hung himself on the field they bought in his name. This might seem too odd of coincidence but if he knew that the field was what they did with the 30 pieces. He may have gone to see it become overcome with grief and killed himself there. Note that each book is only a few pages to cover 3 or 33 years of Jesus's life. they are purposely brief and the standard of writing was to convey only the pertinent points. Not like they were writing a legal contract today.

Re: post on Judas...

Thanks for your thoughtful feedback on my article.

Regarding "iron clad" arguments - I'll happily admit that you can never absolutely prove a contradiction written in a natural language, such as English. Take the the text "The sky is blue. The sky is red." Maybe there was a delay in time such that the later assertion was at sunset. Maybe the sky was just the right shade of purple where it makes sense to say it contains both blue and red. By being creative you can reconcile any two assertions. So I hope I didn't give the impression that I had proven anything in an "iron clad" way.

What to me is more compelling is when there is different texts not only have apparent contradictions but there are different themes that tie them together (how disloyal Judas was vs. how he was a necessary agent to bring about prophecy, in this case). It seems less likely that the apparent contradictions would happen to be consistent with some theme.

I've heard the theory that Judas first hung himself and then somehow fell headlong into the field. Putting aside for a moment that there would have to be some mechanism to flip him over as he fell (a branch as some have suggested) the reason this seems implausible to me has to do with how people communicate.

People communicate efficiently by taking into consideration what the listener knows. People communicate by providing the most relevant details that the listener does not know. Consequently it seems odd to me that in one case the the writer thought the part about Judas hanging himself made the relevant threshold whereas his falling headlong did not. But then the other writer, for some unknown reason, had just the opposite opinion about what was relevant. Not only would each writer have to have different opinions about which part of Judas dying (his hanging or his falling headlong) was more relevant but they each would have had to known that their explanation would give their readers an oddly incomplete picture of what happened.