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Yet Other Accounts Of the Death of Judas

I try not to repeat blog posts from just a couple of years ago, but in this case I can’t resist.  In the last post I talked about the two accounts of Judas Iscariot’s death in the New Testament, one in Matthew and one in Luke, and argued that even with their intriguing and important similarities, there were also striking differences, some of which, in my judgment, simply cannot be reconciled.   But we have other accounts from Christian antiquity that are at least equally interesting, even if more obviously legendary.  Still, they are worth considering and thinking about; it’s not at all clear that the authors of these accounts thought they were as humorous as most readers today do.

One of these accounts is reasonably well-known to biblical scholars, from the writings of Papias (we’ve talked a lot about him over the years on the blog; just do a word search for Papias and you’ll see).  Almost *nobody* knows about the other — including New Testament experts —  except for a few specialist scholars.

Papias was a proto-orthodox church author who wrote a five- volume book called An Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord in about 120-130 CE (it is hard to know exactly when) This must have been a very large book indeed (five volumes!) and to our very great regret, it has been lost.  We don’t have it.  All we have are snippets of quotations from it by later church fathers, starting with Irenaeus (around 180 CE) and especially the church historian Eusebius (early fourth century).

We aren’t sure why exactly the book was not copied for posterity.  My guess is that most readers didn’t much like it.  The later church fathers didn’t think highly of Papias, in part, it appears, because he held to a literal understanding of what would happen at the end of time, that there would be literally a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth.  This is a view called Chiliasm, and it was rejected by later church fathers who realized that in fact the end was not coming “soon” with a literal return of Jesus from heaven to set up a kingdom here on earth.   Anyone who thought so was a theological simpleton.

But Papias whole-heartedly advanced this view, and this may be why later writers (and scribes) thought his work was unsophisticated and possibly naïve.  Eusebius at one point says that Papias was a “man of very little intelligence.”  Not exactly an endorsement.

In any event, among the few quotations we have of Papias in later authors is one that deals with the death of Judas.  It doesn’t coincide  ….

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Did the Gospel Writers Invent Barabbas? Readers’ Mailbag
But How Did Judas Die?



  1. Avatar
    Thespologian  June 9, 2020

    The ultimate question being whether the chicken visited Chicken Hell before it rose up to crow.

  2. Avatar
    lbjorke  June 9, 2020

    Wow. As I’ve said before, humans place a huge emphasis on assigning blame. Poor Judas.

  3. Avatar
    jogon  June 9, 2020

    The Papias example makes me laugh with regards to what apologists claim about accurately preserved oral traditions and how people couldn’t get away with inventing things!

    • Bart
      Bart  June 10, 2020

      And remarkably, they so often appeal to Papias himself when it’s a topic that he addresses that they are most concerned about (Did Matthew really write Matthew, e.g.)

  4. Avatar
    pwandersen  June 9, 2020

    The Acts version of his death was repeated 300 years later when Arius was killed before he could enter the church in Constantinople, half a decade after his excommunication following the Council at Nicaea. The story that the church put out was that he burst open and his intestines spilled out onto the ground.

    • Avatar
      pwandersen  June 9, 2020

      Forgive me, I misstated the date of Arius’s death.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 10, 2020

      Interesting. Where is that described?

      • Avatar
        pwandersen  June 10, 2020

        Chapter XXXVIII, The Death of Arius, in The Ecclesiastical History by Socrates Scholasticus, Book I
        “The Legend of Arius’ Death: Imagination, Space and Filth in Late Ancient Historiography,” by Ellen Muehlberger and others.

        Rowan Williams’ Arius: Heresy and Tradition goes more fully into the Arian Controversy that led to the Council of Nicaea but glosses very quickly over details of his death on page 81.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 12, 2020


        • Avatar
          Apocryphile  June 12, 2020

          The version I read was a bit more prosaic, but probably closer to the truth – he was simply discovered dead on the latrine – the gory details being an effect of a probable cancer of the bowels. Of course, this was immediately seized upon by his doctrinal enemies as a sign of God’s wrathful displeasure.

      • Avatar
        Kirktrumb59  June 10, 2020

        Supposedly, Socrates of Constantinople (“Socrates Scholasticus”) in his “Historia Ecclesiastica” (the Latin for the Greek title). This guy was apparently born in 380 CE, > 40 years after Arius’ death.
        “….As he approached the the place called Constantine’s Forum….a terror arising from the remorse of conscious seized Arius, and with the terror a violent relaxation of his bowels: he therefore inquired whether there was a convenient place near, and being directed to the back of Constantine’s Forum, he hastened thither. [THITHER!!} Soon after a faintness came over him, and together with the evacuations his bowels protruded, followed by a copious hemorrhage, and the descent of the smaller intestines: moreover portions of his spleen and liver brought off in the effusion of blood, so that he almost immediately died.”
        And how. Some remorse! I’m certain that this is 100% accurate.
        The bellies of William the Conqueror and Henry VIII (a real mess, so it’s recorded, around the coffin) are said to have exploded after death as, among other things, punishment for their sins.

  5. Avatar
    fishician  June 9, 2020

    A roasting chicken comes back to life. In the Acts of Peter he brings a smoked tuna back to life. Sounds like some of the early story tellers had a food fixation! Maybe writing stories on an empty stomach?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 10, 2020

      Oh yeah. Janet Spittler has written a book about animal stories in teh Apocryphal Acts….

  6. Avatar
    tadmania  June 9, 2020

    Ha!! At times, I think the most ummmm……. imaginative of these stories seem more humorous, horrific, or implausible mainly due to their novelty. Lots of passages in the Bible are just as strange. What a world we have made…….

  7. Avatar
    Poohbear  June 9, 2020

    The disciples in John 21 asked about Judas but Jesus said “… what is that to you? You follow me.” They demonstrated how little they knew about the situation.
    It attests to Jesus’ tremendous authority that sometimes the disciples were afraid to ask him questions.
    A literal kingdom is interesting. Zechariah (520-518 BC) speaks of this earthly Messianic reign. But the Jews would mourn when they see their Messiah King was the lowly man they once pierced.
    Half that prophecy has come true in Jesus.
    It’s hard to tell what is literal and what is symbolic in the bible. Many erudite “scholars” up to the 19th Century saw the return of the Jews to Israel as being symbolic. They openly mocked the idea – the Jews were scattered all over the world, Palestine belonged to Islam and the Jews had become secular and nationalist to their host nations.
    That prophecy has come true also.
    The bible shocks modern sensibilities. In assessing its claims we need a little honesty, reflection and humility – none of us really are that clever.

    • Avatar
      RICHWEN90  June 10, 2020

      A lot of Shakespeare is rather shocking. Think “Titus Andronicus”. If the Bible is solely a product of human imagination, and of “ordinary” rather than divine inspiration, it fits well enough into the canon of human literature. it reads like a product of human imagination and ordinary human inspiration, at least to me. No one in the Bible seems to know more than we would expect them to know, based on their culture and civilization. As a document, It seems consistent with bronze age imagination and fantasies and social structure. I’d expect divine inspiration to produce a document that is not mired in the bronze age, not mired in the ignorance of its time. I don’t find even the remotest hint, anywhere in the Bible, of anything that transcends the merely human. It’s just not there.

  8. stevedemarco
    stevedemarco  June 9, 2020

    After reading these two later accounts of Judas’s death, it just shows how people back then had an active imagination. Someone would read an account of Judas’s death in the gospels and then imagine a scenario of what led up to that death and make their own version. Makes me wonder if the two different accounts of Judas’s death in the synoptics really happen or not? Is it possible that they were exaggerated stories too? Maybe Judas never committed suicide? Maybe someone came up with a story, before the gospels were written, with the idea that Judas was so grief stricken after what he had done that he needed to end his life. In Mark and in Signs it never mentions an account of Judas committing suicide.

    • Avatar
      robgrayson  June 10, 2020

      Steve, I suggest you read the two or three posts about Judas that preceded this one: they deal with the very kinds of questions you’ve raised here.

      • stevedemarco
        stevedemarco  June 12, 2020

        The closest thing I could find in the other Judas posts was when Dr. Ehrman said, in “But how Judas Die”, that the Judas death is only found in Matthew and Acts and not in Mark, Luke, and John. I’m unable to find a argument that suggest that Judas’s suicide was fabricated. Maybe you can help me. Please share you thoughts?

  9. Avatar
    Phillipos98  June 11, 2020

    Sorry for asking a completely untelated question Dr. Ehrman.
    Do you still think Jesus said something about the destruction of the Temple or have you changed your mind on that?

  10. Avatar
    Bennett  June 11, 2020

    This story about the roasting chicken sounds like some of the old mediaeval stories and songs. This one, based on the Legend of St. Stephen, uses the same theme (see below). I wonder if the story in the song originated in the Judas story you referenced. The lyrics are from the song “King Herod and the Cock”

    If this be true, king Herod said,
    That you being telling me,
    This roasted fowl that’s in the dish
    Shall crow full fences three.*

    Well the fowl soon feathered and thrustened well,
    By the work of God’s own hands,
    Three times that roasted cock did crow
    In the dish where he did stand.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 12, 2020

      yes, they may be related to each other; the Judas / Roast chicken story is in a medieval manuscript, and it may have been known to the author of the Legend of St. Stephen, or vice versa.

  11. Avatar
    Dabar  June 13, 2020

    I am relatively new on this forum/blog – taking advantage of free membership – so Thank You DR Bart.

    This of course is a long shot – not sure if that make sense – never heard about it either. Just my theory.
    We all know from history that if someone for any reason was seen as a threat to the ruling powers was simply quietly murdered and then this murder was covered: for example as suicide. Judas came back to give the money back, said he was wrong and that he gave up an innocent man – maybe they have seen him as a future threat…he wont be a good witness on trial anymore…
    Just maybe my silly thoughts…

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2020

      The Romans normally didn’t do it secretly, but very publicly and painfully, to keep others from engaging in the same kidn of behavior.

      • Avatar
        Dabar  June 14, 2020

        Thanks for answer. I was thinking about Pharisees. Judas took money not only to show them Jesus, but mainly to be the key witness in the trial against Jesus – to testify that Jesus said that he claimed: “I am the Son of God”. But now as he is not anymore reliable witness, that actually he can say otherwise when subpoenaed… So he is a dangerous man now who can cause them embarrassment.
        Did they really pay only for a “kiss on the cheek”? NT writers just show us the “better christian version”. Again maybe just thinking too much…:) Any signs in the ancient Palestine that Jews killed in secrecy? Apologise for being a pain with my silly answers


        • Bart
          Bart  June 15, 2020

          No, my point is that they did not pay for a kiss on the cheek. I dno’t see why Judas would be seen as dangerous for doing what he was asked and paid to do, in your scenario. Dangerous to whom? In any event, the Pharisees were not present at the betrayal or the trial….

          • Avatar
            Dabar  June 17, 2020

            My apologies but this is not what I meant? (English is not my mother-tongue:) so maybe that’s why I was misunderstood… I will send you my theory via email if you don’t mind (and of course I don’t expect any respond as I know you are very busy)
            Best regards

          • Bart
            Bart  June 18, 2020

            Go ahead and rephrase it hear so others can benefit from it, and from my response.

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 13, 2020

    I love the title of the second version “Judas and the Roasting Chicken.” You made my day.

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