Session 12 THE DEATH OF JUDAS
THE VALLEY OF SLAUGHTER
The location of the Ben Hinnom (or Gehenna) Valley is not in question; for centuries it has been the name of the gulch on the south side of the old city of Jerusalem. This, too, is the location where the potter in Jeremiah’s time was working, undoubtedly chosen for the convenience in that area of his needed clay.1 (Please consult your map from session #9)
This is also clearly the location of the area in which the worship of the heathen god Molech led to the killing of innocent children. 2 Kings 23:10 provides the good King Josiah’s activity in cleaning out this evil worship site: “And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech.” 2 (All quotes from the English Standard Version) Josiah, who reigned as King from 640–609, actually heeded Jeremiah’s warning and was a righteous king. But when he died, the kings which followed him returned to the worship of the evil god Molech.3
It should be noted that the slaughter of “innocent children” which Jeremiah 19:4 condemns (“…because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents….”) is a theme picked up by Matthew 27:4 (Judas speaking with the Jewish leaders: ““I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us?”)4 Such comparison of the theme of “innocent blood” emphasizes that Matthew, in saying “Jeremiah” while quoting Zechariah, was being purposeful and not sloppy. Through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, he knew precisely what he was saying. The Septuagint phrase (Jeremiah 19:4) αἱμάτων ἀθῴων (haimaton atho-on, meaning “blood of the innocent”) is rather clearly on Matthew’s mind (27:4) αἷμα ἀθῷον (haima atho-on, meaning “innocent blood”) because of the close way in which they both express “innocent blood” in the Greek. Even if you don’t know Greek, you can see how many of the letters are exactly the same!
“Valley of Slaughter” is not synonymous with “Field of Blood,” but it takes very little imagination to put the two together. That Matthew was thinking along this line is supported by his use of the Septuagint Greek Old Testament instead of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, and how the Greek phrase shown above (“blood of the innocents”) is so similar to the phrase he wants to use, “innocent blood.”
THE FIELD OF BLOOD
Although Matthew knew that the Hebrew text of Jeremiah also says “blood of the innocents” (דַּ֥ם נְקִיִּֽם), it is his choice of the Greek text which helps us understand how he wishes to tie the “Valley of Slaughter” to “The Field of Blood” (which Luke also refers to as Akeldama—“Field of Blood” in Aramaic חקל דמא). Matthew is writing his Gospel in Greek, and when Matthew uses the words from the Greek Old Testament it makes this a more startlingly similar phrasing.
Is “Valley of Slaughter” and “Field of Blood” the same place? Apparently, Matthew wants us to think that it is!5 There have been suggestions that Luke was writing about a completely different story in Acts 1:15-20, and that Luke was writing about a completely different field!6 Remember that Luke was writing to Theophilus, apparently a non-Jew who had some interest in the story of Jesus. For Luke to quote the Old Testament would have been a wasted effort unless Theophilus knew the Old Testament well. Matthew, on the other hand, writes his Gospel to Jewish people with the express purpose of showing that Jesus was—in every respect and in every deed—a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. In both Zechariah and Jeremiah, Matthew sees a fore-shadowing of the heinous deed of Judas the Betrayer. Jewish readers would instantly pick up the reference.
When Matthew and Luke refer to “the field of blood,” it seems pretty obvious that they are referring to the same place.
Matthew is now prepared to tie the Field of Blood into The Potter’s Field.
1 Clemens Kopp, The Holy Places of the Gospel, New York: Herder and Herder, 1963, pages 361-365, has provided adequate evidence to support this claim. For additional information you may also consult Gustaf Dalman, Sacred Sites and Ways: Studies in the Topography of the Gospels. London: SPCK, 1935, pages 331f.
2 Little doubt is left when 2 Kings is coupled with Jeremiah 19:6 “therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.” Additional information is also available by consulting the article “Molech, Moloch” by J. Gray, Volume 3, page 422ff, Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962.
3 Zedekiah was the reigning king when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, and was in fact so stupid that he challenged King Nebuchadnezzar. This brought about the siege of Jerusalem and its fall. Zedekiah’s eyes were blinded and he was hauled off to Babylon. You can read about this in 2 Kings 24 and 25. The Bible condemns him as an evil king: 2 Kings 24:19 says “And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.”
4 A separate study could easily be made on the theme of innocent blood, and the way the Jewish leaders had no qualms about killing their own children or the Son of God, but that is a different topic.
5 McConnell points this out: “Whether this field is called a potter’s field on the basis of historical tradition, or for some other reason remains an open question. To Strengthen this allusion to the Jeremiah text or texts, Jeremiah’s name is included in the introductory formula. It would appear most probable that this quotation has been formulated on the basis of traditional facts known about Judas.” Richard S. McConnell, Law and Prophecy in Matthew’s Gospel: The Authority and Use of the Old Testament in the Gospel of St. Matthew, D. Th. Thesis (Basel: Friedrich Reinhardt Kommissionverlag, 1969) p. 132.
6 One of those who suggest this is H.E. Del Medico, The Riddle of the Scrolls, trans. H. Garner. New York: Robert M. McBride Co., 1959. On page 96, he argues that Greek Christians would have no interest in a “potter’s field” since their tradition (based upon Luke) had no mention of a potter. If there was some confusion in the first century about whether Matthew and Luke were writing about the same thing, that doesn’t negate the truth about what Matthew was saying. Conversely, we have Van Tilborg arguing in favor of Matthew’s rendition thusly: “Matthew has not only rewritten the traditional narrative in a historifying direction; he also wanted to perfect the scriptural argument and in the behaviour of Judas he saw an opportunity to more directly implicate the leaders of the Jewish people in the death of Jesus. They knew that they were dealing with ‘innocent blood’; they took all responsibility [sic] upon themselves when they left Judas to his fate. From an editorial point of view the stress in the pericope is on Matthew 27:4. The betrayal of innocent blood is a hamartia [SIN} and this is the theme which is further elaborated in Matthew 27:15-26.” Sjef Van Tilborg, The Jewish Leaders in Matthew. Leiden: E.M. Brill, 1972, p. 89.