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In fact, there are multiple discrepancies between these two verses, what did really happen?

Matthew 27:5-8

5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
6 And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.
7 And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
8 Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.

Now compare that to what the book of Acts says about this:

Acts 1:18-19

18 Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.
19 And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.

If you read these two passages carefully you will notice that they seem to disagree on the following points (my paraphrase):

  1. Matthew says Judas didn't use the money at all but rather threw it down the temple's floor (in fact, the priests used the money to buy a field), but Acts says that Judas himself bought a field with the money he 'earned' from his betrayal.
  2. Matthew says that Judas died by hanging himself, but Acts says that Judas died by 'falling headlong' in the midst of the field he bought and 'burst asunder', spilling his guts out.
  3. Matthew says that the field was called the 'field of blood' because it was bought with 'blood money', but Acts says that the field is called 'field of blood' because when Judas fell and died he spilled his guts and blood over the field.

These seem to be two completely different stories. How can these to different accounts be reconciled?

  • Another rendering of "hanged" is "strangled." Strangling was a common form of suicide in those days, but often didn't "finish the job," so there was a practice in those days of standing at the edge of a cliff or wall and strangling yourself so once you passed out you would plummet to your death. The whole process would legitimately be called "strangling himself" and could easily be (mis)translated into English as "hanging himself." – Jas 3.1 Nov 9 '13 at 17:58
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    @Jas3.1 It would be awesome if you provided some references to look up your proposed answer – sergeidave Sep 20 '15 at 23:00
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Attempts to harmonise the two accounts should not use the salami technique of arguing. This means that all discrepancies should be addressed in the same argument, which must also be internally consistent. The important discrepancies are:

  1. Judas through the money down in the Temple and the priests bought the field of blood; OR Judas, no doubt pleased by his sudden wealth, went himself and bought the field of blood (and was clearly not suicidal);
  2. Judas committed suicide, OR Judas fell down and died (by misadventure?)

I propose that unless both discrepancies can be harmonised, then it is not satisfactory to attempt to harmonise just one. In that case, we must accept that at least one of the two accounts is fictional, and choose one - or acknowledge that we do not know how Judas died.

I also want to avoid suppositions or speculation, in favour of biblical hermeneutics. While it is vaguely possible that when Judas hanged himself he broke his neck, this is an unusual outcome; an even more improbable outcome would be that the consequent fall would result in his innards gushing out. In any case, why would each author report only half the story, and neither of them report that Judas' neck was broken?

My answer is that we do not know how Judas died - two different authors wrote what they thought would be the most satisfyingly disgusting death possible, one by suicide and the other in a revolting manner. The account in Acts 1:18, with Judas' bowels gushing out, brings to mind Acts 12:23, where Herod died a somewhat similar and equally a satisfyingly disgusting death.

I support this by pointing out that New Testament scholars have demonstrated that Luke's Gospel was substantially based on Mark's Gospel, which means that this author, who actually wrote anonymously, knew nothing about the life and mission of Jesus apart from what he learnt in Mark. The prologue of Luke's Gospel supports this, as he says that the gospel contains what he and his community most surely believe and that this came down to them from other sources that must once have included eyewitnesses. Now, if the author of Luke knew nothing about Jesus other than what he gleaned from Mark's Gospel, then he could not have known about the lonely death of a traitor. In the same way, Matthew's Gospel was substantially based on Mark's Gospel, containing some 90 per cent of the verses in Mark, and the very need for its anonymous author to carefully copy material from that source demonstrates he knew nothing about the life and mission of Jesus other than what was to be found in Mark. His death of Judas was a suicide, but (if true) a surely lonely suicide, not witnessed by anyone who could have passed on this information.

John Shelby Spong, author of Jesus for the Nonreligious, points out that Judas is a variant of Judah, and that in Genesis 37:26-27, it was Judah who sought money and received 20 pieces of silver; in Zechariah 11:14 the king was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, which he hurled back into the temple just as Judas did in Matthew; in 2 Sam 15:12-17:23 Ahithophel hanged himself when his betrayal of King David was discovered,just as Judas did in Matthew. The 'field of blood', common to both accounts, also comes from the Old Testament.

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I. Howard Marshall gives a concise statement of the options for harmonization in his commentary:

It is quite possible that Matthew or Luke is simply reporting what was commonly said in Jerusalem, and that we are not meant to harmonize the two accounts. If we do try to harmonzie (sic) them, the following possibilities arise: (1). Judas hanged himself (Matt.), but the rope broke and his body was ruptured by the fall (possibly after he was already dead and beginning to decompose); (2). What the priests bought with Judas’s money (Matt.) could be regarded as his purchase by their agency (Acts); (3). The field bought by the priests (Matt.) was the one where Judas died (Acts).

Marshall, I. H. (1980). Vol. 5: Acts: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (69). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Marshall's three points address the first two differences you note (whether successfully or not depends I suppose on the reader).

As for the third difference about the origin of the names, it's possible for multiple stories to contribute to the giving of some name or sobriquet. For example, it's plausible that my nephew might be named both for me as well as for his great-grandfather who shares the same name. It would be equally valid to claim that he is named after his uncle as it would his great-grandfather.

Likewise, it seems plausible under Marshall's harmonization that the people of the day remembered the blood money and the bloody death of Judas both being connected with this field and so it became soon known as the Field of Blood. It would be perfectly valid were someone to ask how it got the name and be told that it was bought with blood money.

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  • Points by @Soldarnal are persuasive. Please also consider that if Judas were an obese man at more than 200 lbs., and his "long drop" hanging were more than 5 feet, then he would have decapitated himself. His obese body, falling "headlong" (or top-down), would burst open upon hitting the ground. Please click here for an historical discussion of this eventuality in capital punishment. – Joseph Mar 31 '13 at 1:41
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(1). Judas hanged himself (Matt.), but the rope broke and his body was ruptured by the fall (possibly after he was already dead and beginning to decompose); (2). What the priests bought with Judas’s money (Matt.) could be regarded as his purchase by their agency (Acts); (3). The field bought by the priests (Matt.) was the one where Judas died (Acts).

-Marshall offering a possible reconciliaion. Which makes sense. This does not prove that Matthew and Luke had different understandings of the events surrounding Judas' death. However, it does prove that they do not necessarily contradict each other.

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Or it is possible Judas had a lot of help "hanging himself". If you want to hang a person,, and make sure he absolutely dies, or dies in total disgrace, you slit him from neck to naval before kicking him over the ledge. When the rope jerks, his bowels would burst forth and spill onto the ground. I would think those who conspired and paid off Judas would not want this loose end running around. It's not a stretch. And maybe as a spite or to cover their tracks the temple priests purchased the field under Judas's name,, or dedicated it to his name. I wouldn't call this a contradiction. Even two witnesses to the same incident will recall details differently. The bible contains the word of God but it also contains a lot of history, documentation of accounts from people who saw or heard of specific incidences relating to Israel and that bloodline.

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  • It would be easy for those who didn't witness the killing, who later walked by and saw a man hanging, to just casually say "he hung himself". – Dustin Thomas Sep 21 '17 at 19:52
  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. Speculation about this matter really doesn't help to resolve the problem with the two accounts. There are a couple of excellent answers in this question about the Potter's Field that you might find valuable. – enegue Sep 22 '17 at 0:09
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...καὶ and πρηνὴς swollen γενόμενος that you turned ἐλάκησεν burst μέσος (the) middle...

...and swollen that he turned, burst the middle...

...and swollen that he have become, broke the waist...

πρηνὴς = swollen We came to this conclusion based on three factors:

  1. The corresponding verb πρηνὴς that occurs in Vulgate Wisdom 4.1 is Inflates (i.e. swollen / exaggerated).

  2. According to the information indicated in the critical apparatus: (2) A Different Tradition is represented in the Armenian version and the Old Gregorian version; These describe Judas’s end Thus: "being Swollen up he Burst asunder and all his bowels gushed out." What the Greek may have been from which this Rendering was made problematical. Papias, who According to Tradition was a disciple of the apostle John, described Judas’s death with the word

  3. Testimony of Κώστας (KOSTAS) Where it says that: being a Native Greek Speaker who is strongly involved in the Ancient language, I consider it as highly unlikely - if not Impossible - that «prenes» Ever had either the meaning or the connotation of swealling up! …

ἐλάκησεν = burst (meaning of leaving with noise)

μέσος(o) means, in Greek has the main significance of the center of an object, or of something. It may have a “waist”connotation when accompanied by the verb.

Acts 1:18 Now this man acquired a field of the price of unrighteousness, and swollen that he made broke his waist, and all his bowels were poured out. . Matthew 27:5 ...himself suffocated. (which may have been: he strangled, he hanged, etc.)

John 13:29 "...since Judas was in charge of the money..."

Now, if Judas returned the coins to the archpriests, how did he buy the field with this injustice? Or is it for this one?

Injustice he wrote: John 12:6 ".... He said this not for the sake of the poor, but because he was a thief and, bringing the bag, stole what was thrown into it..."

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