Session 3 THE DEATH OF JUDAS
I am clearly aware that some of this is difficult to understand. Read it several times if necessary and take your time! Call me if you are stumped!
THE FIELD OF BLOOD
The one obvious feature of both the Matthew text and the Acts of the Apostles text is the mention of the “Field of Blood” (Ἀγρὸς Αἵματος in Matthew and Χωρίον Αἵματος in Acts.) You don’t need to be a Greek scholar to notice that those two phrases ARE NOT THE SAME, even though they are the same words in English!
Why the difference? We can only make an educated guess: these two phrases are essentially synonymous, and the location of this place was referred to in different ways by the people living in the area. Matthew uses Ἀγρὸς which is “agros” in English letters. We get “agriculture” and “agri-business” from this Greek word (the Latin for “field” is “agro” which the Romans borrowed from the Greeks). The primary meaning is “a field used for agricultural purposes.”
In Acts, the writer Luke uses the word Χωρίον (Chorion) which means “a field or plot of ground.” It is possible (not certain) that this Greek word is the source of our English word “chore,” the primary meaning of which is given by Webster’s as “the regular or daily light work of a household or farm.” Luke’s choice of wording leans towards a section of land which does not necessarily lend itself to agriculture, whereas Matthew’s choice is more farmland oriented. The distinction is slight at best; the wording has little significance.
There are a couple of other comparisons between Matthew and Acts which could be made. In both cases, Judas “bought” this field with his betrayal (although after the fact). And in both accounts, people knew that the purchase is connected to Judas Iscariot.
But clearly the point of comparison is “Field of Blood” so let’s focus on that field!
A BURIAL PLOT FOR STRANGERS
An interesting detail in Matthew but not found in Luke is that the “Field of Blood” was purchased with Judas’ “blood money” in order to have a place to bury strangers and visitors who died while on their pilgrimage to the Temple. Jeremias provides us with the reason such a cemetery was needed: the population of Jerusalem at the time of the Passover could grow by as much as 100,000 additional people!1 In a crowd that large, a few people are bound to die unexpectedly and need burial.
THE POTTER’S FIELD
Luke tells us “The Field of Blood” is called (Ἁκελδαμάχ), a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic language, חקל דמא, “ah-kell DAH-mah” (it means “field of blood” in Aramaic) and says that this name was widely known to the people of Jerusalem.
Matthew doesn’t mention “Aceldama” nor does he mention that it is a well-known spot to the Jerusalem inhabitants. But he provides us a different detail about this “Field of Blood:” he calls it “the potter’s field” (τὸν Ἀγρὸν τοῦ Κεραμέως) and he calls it the “potter’s field” twice—verse 7 and again at verse 10 when he quotes the Old Testament. Remember that the Gospel of Matthew is focused on explaining to the Jewish people that everything which happened to Jesus was a fulfillment of the Old Testament. Thus, when Matthew uses the term “potter’s field,” he is not making that fact up but is using that phrase to remind the people of something in the Old Testament.
It is up to the readers—including US—to figure out what Matthew is referring to in the Old Testament. Christian people, unfortunately, are often very ill-informed about the Old Testament, but Matthew’s readers would pick up the hint quickly!
IS THIS JEREMIAH OR ZECHARIAH?
Matthew (ESV) tells us, 27:8-10: Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Oops! Matthew misspoke—the quote is definitely Zechariah, isn’t it? Well, sort of! Look at the words of Zechariah 11:12-13 Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter.
It isn’t a “quote” from Zechariah,2 but it certainly is a ”strong reference” to Zechariah. We have 1) 30 pieces of silver and 2) a mention of a potter! And these two items are together in one reading. The 30 pieces and the potter are not words found together anywhere else in the Bible. The only other place which mentions “30 pieces of silver” is Exodus 21:32, the Law about paying for an accidently killed slave, but Exodus does not refer to a potter. Matthew must have meant Zechariah! Is this an error?3
Perhaps I might make a suggestion: Matthew was very aware that this quote was from Zechariah, because it would have been well-known to his audience. But he says “Jeremiah” deliberately, because he wants the reader to put something in Jeremiah together with Zechariah. When the two prophets are compared, something comes to the surface as a surprise!
Now we just have to figure out what is so important in Jeremiah that Matthew wants us to read.
(Many of the footnotes are primarily for the use of Pastors who wish to study further.)
1 Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 1969 Philadelphia: Fortress Press, page 84
2 It appears that the original Greek clearly states “Jeremiah.” The only serious reference to “Zechariah” in Greek texts is in the translator’s marginal notes in the Harclean version of the Syriac New Testament, by Thomas of Harqel, 616 A.D., an apparent attempt to inform the reader that Thomas had spotted the problem. See Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland, under “Introduction” for additional information. In other words, “Jeremiah” cannot be a Manuscript error. There are no known manuscripts which say “Zechariah!”
3 Metzger says that “Jeremiah” is supported by every important manuscript, although a few manuscripts have skipped the name altogether because it is an obvious problem. Page 66, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce M. Metzger. Corrected edition 1975. London, New York: United Bible Society.