Acts 1:18-19, The Many Stories of Judas

With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.

//Bible writers often seem to take liberty with facts, relaying a story more for its meaning than for its historical accuracy. This often leads to what we consider contradictions in the Bible, because we have such a habit of reading the Bible literally. But this expectation of historical accuracy is unfair to the flavor of the Bible. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the tale of Judas, where we have two completely different stories, but with a similar portrayal and moral, ending in a possible factoid … a Field of Blood.

Let’s begin with Luke’s tale, as it seems just a bit more plausible. As in Mark and John, here Judas receives an untold amount of money for betraying Jesus. Afterward, Judas purchases a field with the money, but divine justice catches up with him. He falls in the field, spilling his guts (quite literally), so they name it the Field of Blood.

Matthew tells an entirely different story. In Matthew’s version, Judas receives exactly thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus, which is clearly meant to bring to mind the story of the rejected shepherd in Zechariah. (Matthew mistakenly attributes the “prophecy” of thirty pieces of silver to Jeremiah, but it was Zechariah.) Lets look at that story now, to see where Matthew is going with this line of thought.

Zechariah 11:12-13, I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”–the handsome price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter.

Zechariah’s shepherd takes the money and throws it into the temple, the “house of the LORD.” So, Matthew revises his story of Judas. Please don’t ask why Judas is playing the “shepherd” role instead of the bad guy; I don’t know. But Judas no longer purchases a field with his money. Filled with regret, he brings the money back to chief priests—exactly thirty pieces of silver, of course—and throws it down in the temple.

In Mark’s Gospel, the story of Judas provides a literary reference to 2 Samuel, where Ahithophel is the betrayer of David … just as Judas betrayed Jesus. In that story, Ahithophel hanged himself, and so Matthew reports the same end for Judas.

But that presents a problem for Matthew. How, then, to account for the field of blood? Matthew finds another solution; in his version, the returned money is used by the chief priests to buy the “Potters Field” because it is “blood money.” Thus the field comes to be known as the Field of Blood.

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