Judas-how did he die and who bought the field?

Acts 1:18-19—”How did Judas die and who bought the field?”

There are two puzzling questions related to the death of Judas when we compare Matthew 27:3-8 with Acts 1:18-19:

How did Judas Die?

Matthew says that Judas “went and hanged himself” while Acts says, “falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” The traditional interpretation is that Judas hung himself from a high tree branch, which eventually broke and he fell down headlong and his stomach was punctured. Indeed it would be hard to interpret Acts any other way, for the stomach would not rupture unless it falls from a great height onto rocky terrain (as that surrounding Jerusalem). We can safely assume that the body hung for quite some time, as Judas hung himself just before the Sabbath, and removing a hanging corpse was forbidden on the Sabbath.

Other commentators have noted that the Greek term “hang himself” (ἀπάγχομαι) can also refer to simply being overcome with emotion or doubled over in grief, as in the English phrase “all choked up.”

Who bought the field with the silver?

We can combine the two accounts as follows: Judas tried to return the silver (blood-money) to the priests in the temple, but they refused to take it, so he left it there and went out and hung himself on a remote plot of land outside the city. Now the priests were in a fix—they had the now dead Judas Iscariot’s money which they couldn’t donate to the temple, since it was tainted blood-money, so they didn’t know what to do with it. Likewise, the person who owned the remote land where Judas hung himself was horrified and scared by the fact that such a gruesome death had happened by such a guilty man on his own property, so he probably wanted to get rid of the plot. The landowner and priests cut a deal which relieved both of them—the ‘unclean’ money was used to buy the ‘unclean’ land as a graveyard for foreigners, so the tainted money was dealt with and the unclean ‘haunted’ land was gotten rid of. Since the land was bought with Judas’ money, the priests would have naturally written it in his name, sort of like a waqf or trust. This is why Luke writes in Acts that “this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness,” because the field was acquired in his name. Luke begins by saying that Judas ultimately acquired1 a field with the money; then he describes how he acquired the land—by defiling it with his gruesome suicide, making it loathsome to the landowner.

  1. The term κτάομαι used here can equally be translated “bought” or “acquired”.

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