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The Fate of Judas

July 28, 2011
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We finally have gotten to the chapters of the crucifixion in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. We were already in the chapter that starts the crucifixion account in John, because the chapters in that book are not divided according to the pattern that was designed for the other three. These are just arbitrary division that only came about centuries after the books were written. They do, though, have a way of organizing my analysis, because I almost always read the passages in editions that contain these divisions.

It’s a bit daunting to try to post about these crucifixion passages, because I don’t know if I can divide them, although this is a lot of material. But enough worrying; I’ll just start. The first point is kind of an intermission, because it’s actually about Judas’s death. There are two different versions, one in Matthew and one in the Acts of the Apostles.

The accounts are very different, but in fact, there is one remarkable similarity. Remember, there is no account of Judas’s s death in Mark. Therefore, the similarity cannot be explained by any extant written document. The similarity is not such that I would expect a common written source anyway, although I don’t know much about judging the likelihood of that kind of thing.

Since Acts may very well be from the same author as Luke—certainly the books’ first verses are from the same source—this may be yet another of those Matthew-Luke Passion Story similarities. (This case, of course, involves no agreement against Mark, but is certainly of a different nature than most of the Matthew-Luke sayings-and-parables material that is independent of Mark.)

First, though, let’s just take a look at the Matthew-Acts similarity about the death of Judas. Then we can decide for ourselves whether it comes close enough to the Matthew-Luke material to even possibly be in the same category. It only has to do with a field bought by the money Judas was given for betraying Jesus, besides the obvious similarity that Judas did not long survive his act of betrayal.

Even if this similarity seems very impressive to you, note the many dissimilarities between the two accounts. Matthew implies that Judas hanged himself immediately after his regret for his betrayal of Jesus. Acts doesn’t imply that Judas’s death was the very day of the crucifixion, although it is said to be before Pentecost is implied to have been within a couple weeks of Jesus’s crucifixion. Acts doesn’t even say that Judas ever regretted his decision to betray Jesus.

Nothing so far contradicts the counterpart passage. Likewise, Acts doesn’t specifically say that Akeldama, the field from Acts, was any other field than the potter’s field, as told in Matthew. The use of the purchased field in Matthew, “a burial place for foreigners,” coincides well with “Field of Blood,” the meaning Acts gives to “Akeldama.”

However, here are the three biggest differences between the Matthew and Acts passages: Acts doesn’t say, as Matthew does, that Judas committed suicide. Further, Judas’s method of death in Acts doesn’t fit well with suicide: “he fell headlong [in the field he had just bought].” It also doesn’t seem able to coincide with the hanging method recorded in Matthew.

The third and most significant difference is the direct contradiction about whether Judas bought the field, as in Acts, or whether the Jewish priests bought the field, as in Matthew.

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