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The Death of Judas in the NT

In this and the next couple of posts I will be talking about what we know was in Papias’s five-volume book, now lost, Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord.  As I previously indicated, the only reason we have any clue about the matter is that later church fathers quoted a few passages from the book.  Would they had quoted more!  But what they give us is very tantalizing.

The first passage I want to discuss involves the death of Judas Iscariot.  To make sense of what Papias has to say, I need to provide some context.

Many people don’t realize that Judas’s death, after he betrayed Jesus, is not mentioned in three of our Gospels:  Mark, Luke, and John.   It is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, however, and just as important, in the book of Acts, written by the same author who produced the Gospel of Luke (so, well, let’s call him Luke).   What is striking is that the descriptions of Judas’s death in these two accounts are at odds with one, even though there are, at the same time, some striking similarities.

Matthew’s account (ch. 27) is the one more people are familiar with….

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  1. Avatar
    mjordan20149  June 2, 2015

    I have read that some scholars see a parallel the passages in Matthew and Acts mentioned above and the death of Absalom in 2 Samuel. Judas was hanging (by his own hand) and Absalom was hanging (by his hair) That may be a bit far-fetched, but Matthew, in particular, seems to have been involved in using references from the Hebrew Bible to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah-the new Moses, and/or in this case, the new King David.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2015

      Yes, that is sometimes argued. It seems to me that there would have been a more explicit parallelism if that’s what the author wanted — but who knows?

  2. Avatar
    ALIHAYMEG  June 2, 2015

    Oh wow…that was such a tease. Lol!

  3. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  June 2, 2015

    Is it just a coincidence that Matthew and Luke are the only two authors that decide to include a nativity story and a story about the death of Judas?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2015

      I’d say it was — they seem to have had different sources for each.

  4. Avatar
    gabilaranjeira  June 2, 2015

    Plus, they both had access to Q… Do these coincidences have any relevance to you?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2015

      It’s interesting. They seem to have had access to sources with similar concerns. pretty interesting.

  5. Avatar
    fishician  June 3, 2015

    As a former fundamentalist I had to deal with such issues. But the problem I couldn’t get around: perhaps there are ways to reconcile different accounts but why was it necessary? Doesn’t God want us to know His plan and what really happened? If He was willing to sacrifice his own son why wouldn’t He give us a straightforward account of what happened? Faith is hard enough; why would a loving God put literary and logical obstacles in our way? It seems His test is to sort out those who naively believe versus those who really think about such things. Does the Supreme Being favor blind faith over intelligent analysis? And if so, why?

    • Avatar
      samkho  June 3, 2015

      Maybe it’s not God’s priority Do we care if cockroaches believe us exist or not? It is human self-centeredness that make them assume God’s existence revolves around their lives.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 4, 2015

    You have summarized this quite well and very clearly. I look forward to the third account. I think the essence of this blog gets repeated over and over with one side contending that there are contradictions in the Bible and the other side finding very creative ways to reconcile every contradiction usually contending that the given contradiction is just adding additional material, or is giving another perspective, or is about incidental details, or illustrates that there was no collusion among Biblical authors. The best that I can tell there is no way to reconcile these two camps since one side can always argue that God can do anything. Thomas Paine in “Age of Reason” summarized the impossible resolution of these two sides long ago and then focused his Biblical questions on all of the divine violence and divine-ordered violence in the Bible which is also an important question.

  7. Avatar
    mary  June 4, 2015

    In Mathew 27 verse 7, does it mean that the field they bought was previously called the “field of blood” because it had been a field that unknowns (strangers) were buried in. People with unmarked graves?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 4, 2015

      NO, it means that they bought it in *order* to bury strangers in it; it was the field of blood because it was purchased with blood money.

  8. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 4, 2015

    I remember reading, in some one of Bart’s books, two outrageously silly legends about Judas – one, specifically about his death. I don’t recall what the sources were. Can’t wait to learn whether one or both came from Papias – if so, it might explain why his contemporaries didn’t have a high opinion of his intelligence!

    • Avatar
      JeanB  June 5, 2015

      Maybe it was from the Mormons
      “Jesus said to his disciples, “Ye are the salt of the earth; and if the salt loses its saving principle, it is then good for nothing but to be cast out.” Instead of reading it just as it is, almost all of you read it just as it is not. Jesus meant to say,” If you have lost the saving principles, you Twelve Apostles, and you that believe in my servants the Twelve, you shall be like unto the salt that has lost its saving principles: it is henceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.” Judas lost that saving principle, and they took him and killed him. It is said page 126 in the Bible that his bowels gushed out; **but they actually kicked him until his bowels came out.**

  9. Avatar
    PaganWagan  June 5, 2015

    Judas according to my mother: he found a tree and hanged himself.
    Judas according to the blue-eyed Irish priest who spoke in perfect Tagalog: he bought a farm so he could hang himself from a very specific tree, the chico, just like the one outside the chapel (nodding sagely).
    Judas according to the stupefying senakulo version: he goes into his bedroom, finds a noose dangling from the ceiling, sings a long farewell, drops to his knees and dies. Drops to his knees!

  10. cheito
    cheito  June 7, 2015

    DR Ehrman:

    This is a letter I wrote to DR Brown:

    What about the truth concerning contradictions in the Bible? Do you deny that there are interpolations, alterations, contradictions and outright forgeries within the list of books we call the inspired word of God today?


    I must go where the truth leads me.

    Attempting to harmonize the accounts recorded in Matthew and Luke regarding Judas’ death, is delusional and a sin against the Lord’s truth.

    Matthew and Luke are to be interpreted literally. Do you agree? If so, then I conclude that one of these sources, (as we currently have them), or possibly both, are not accurate historical accounts.

    If words have any meaning, it’s as clear as day to me, that we have contradictory reports by Matthew and Luke relating to how Judas died, Where he died, who bought the field, for what purpose the field was bought, was the field bought when Judas was alive, or after he died, why they called the field, “field of blood.” and some other questions.

    Furthermore, Matthew asserts, erroneously, that this happened to FULFILL what was was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. (Actually Matthew was quoting Zechariah 11:13, unless there’s a prophecy written by Jeremiah about Judas betrayal that we don’t have.)

    What Zechariah 11:13 states is not what’s documented in Matthew’s narrative. Matthew is completely misstating what is recorded in Zechariah 11:13.

    Let’s compare Matthew 27:9-10 and Zechariah 11:13.

    According to Zechariah 11:13 the Lord said to him, “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.”

    Who is the Lord speaking to in Zechariah 11:13?

    Note that Zechariah says, “the Lord said to him.”

    Who is him?

    Was the Lord speaking to Zechariah?
    Or was He speaking to Judas?

    Would the Lord tell Judas who betrayed Him: “Throw it to the potter, that magnificent price at which I was valued by them.”

    Also, the latter part of Zechariah 11:13 states: “So I took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the LORD.”

    Note that this person obeyed the Lord and took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.

    So was it Judas who obeyed the Lord and took the thirty shekels of silver and threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord?

    Or was it Zechariah or maybe someone else?

    Where did the Lord ordered this person to throw the thirty shekels of silver according to Zechariah?

    According to Zechariah this person threw them to the potter in the house of the Lord.

    According to Matthew 27:5, What does Judas do with the silver pieces? Where does Judas actually throw the pieces of silver?

    According to Matthew 27:5 Judas “threw down into the temple of the Lord” the silver pieces, not to the potter.

    Who is this potter in the house of the Lord that Zechariah refers to?

    How do you get a potter’s field from Zechariah 11:13? Zechariah mentions nothing about buying a potter’s field with the 30 shekels of silver as Matthew asserts. Zechariah says nothing about the Lord instructing some of the sons of Israel, or some individual, to buy a potter’s field with the pieces of silver as Matthew 27:9,10 states.

    Also, according to Matthew, Judas changed his mind about betraying Jesus and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, but they were unsympathetic to his remorse, so Judas went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

    Acts doesn’t mention anything about Judas regretting his betrayal of Jesus, nor about returning the thirty pieces of silver and throwing them into the house of the Lord.

    Acts states something totally different, i.e., Judas himself bought the field with the price of his wickedness. (Acts 1:18)

    The natural reading of Acts is that Judas bought the field while he was still alive and that he died on that same field.

    The literal interpretation of Matthew is that the chief priest bought the field after Judas went and hanged himself.

    Both accounts can’t be historically accurate!

    So who bought the field?
    Was it Judas?
    Was it the Chief priests?
    Was Judas still alive when he bought the field?
    Or was Judas dead when the field was bought by the chief priests?
    Was it just a field as Acts states? (Acts 1:18)
    Or a potters field as Matthew records? (Matthew 27:7)
    What is the original rendering for the words, “bought the field”?
    Was this potter’s field bought to bury strangers as Matthew declares?
    Was Judas a stranger to the chief priests and elders?

    The author of Matthew states that the potter’s field was called “the field of blood to this day.”

    For what reason was it called “the field of blood?”
    Was it because the chief priests bought it with the thirty pieces of silver which was considered blood money according to Matthew?

    Or was it because after Judas bought it, He died on that same field and it became known to the inhabitants of Jerusalem according to acts?

    Judas threw the thirty pieces of silver into the temple, departed and hanged himself. The chief priests used the silver and bought a potters field to bury strangers according to Matthew.

    So how could the chief priests buy this field if Judas had already bought it according to Acts?

    How could Judas die on the potter’s field bought by the chief priests If according to Acts Judas bought this field Himself while still alive?

    Acts also implies that Judas dies on this field after buying it, but according to Matthew Judas dies before the chief priests buy the field.

    If Judas bought the field with the price of his betrayal as Acts records, how could he have “thrown down the pieces of silver into the house of the Lord? How could anyone not see that these are two different accounts?

    DR BROWN, I do believe that we have the words of God within the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament, and the Apostles of the new Testament. However, I don’t believe that all the books we have in the canon accepted in the United States, nor in the canons accepted elsewhere in the world, are the inspired words of God.

    During Jeremiah’s lifetime, he testified that the words of the living God had been perverted by the priests and scribes. He said, “the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.”

    Which words of the living God was Jeremiah referring to? The Torah? The prophets?

    The word Jeremiah spoke to his generation came directly from God’s mouth. Just as Peter’s and Paul’s words came directly from the mouth of the Lord.

    Do you deny that there are interpolations, alterations, contradictions and outright forgeries within the list of books we call the inspired word of God today?

    Do you deny that the tradition, that “Matthew the Apostle wrote the gospel of Matthew is fallacious?

    Do you really believe that God commissioned Matthew to write this book as he charged Jeremiah to write His words in a book?

    Do you really believe that teaching of Matthew is the word of the living God, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

    Was the author of Matthew an ‘eyewitness’ as Peter, John, and Paul were? (I include Paul, because Paul states in Galatians, and in 1 Corinthians, that His Gospel was not from man, and that Christ after His resurrection, also appeared to him as He had appeared to Peter and to the rest of the Apostles.)

    Is it not disingenuous to proclaim the synoptic Gospels is the inerrant word of God?

    Will you ignore these questions DR BROWN?

    Are you willing to go where the truth leads you as you challenge others to do?

    Sincerely with all due respect,

    Joe Rodriguez

  11. cheito
    cheito  June 8, 2015

    DR Ehrman:

    My letter was ignored By DR Brown and His staff…

  12. Avatar
    jhague  March 15, 2016

    I know we might have to speculate some but since Judas “betrayal” was announcing that Jesus will be the king of the Jews, does that mean Judas likely did not receive 30 pieces of silver? Does it also mean that Judas probably did not die as a result of this happening? I assume that Judas stating that Jesus will be the king of the Jews was meant as a declaration of power, not a betrayal to turn Jesus over to the authorities. Why would the authorities need someone to kiss Jesus before they could arrest him?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 15, 2016

      No, it wouldn’t necessarily mean either of those two things. They both would have to be considered as possibly historical events (or not). The kiss: same thing.

  13. Avatar
    jhague  March 15, 2016

    Do you think that it’s historical that Judas received 30 pieces of silver from the Jewish authorities, that he kissed Jesus to turn him over to the authorities and that he died in some fashion due to these events?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 16, 2016

      I doubt the 30 pieces of silver and the kiss, but am open to the idea of him dying soon afterward.

  14. Avatar
    jhague  March 16, 2016

    I doubt the silver and kiss also. Do you think he died soon afterward by taking his life due to what happened to Jesus?

  15. Avatar
    Lawyerskeptic  July 5, 2019

    You wrote, “And it was called the field of blood for two reasons: blood money and Judas’s own blood!” That is exactly what I would expect them to say, but I cannot find anyone who has actually made this claim. Please don’t go to any extra trouble, but can you point me to any conservative who makes this claim?

    It seems to me that this also creates a fifth problem. In Matthew, Judas threw down the money and went to hang himself – with no indication that he waited for the priests to purchase land suitable for his suicide.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2019

      I’m not saying this is what conservative Christains say (though I’m not denying it either!); I”m saying that this is why, historically, it was called this, Matthew having one reason and Acts another. And yes, there are other major discrepancies between the two accounts: it’s an intriguing exercise for anyone to do!

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