Session 7                                   THE DEATH OF JUDAS

IS THE ORIGINAL BIBLE TEXT FOUND IN AQUILA?

Aquilla got thrown out of the Christian church for practicing astrology.  When he decided to convert to Judaism, he took it very seriously.  Under the tutelage of the Rabbis, he gained sincere respect for the Old Testament texts and translated them with extreme care.  Even though he became anti-Christian (would you like to guess why?), he would not alter the text!  Thus, what we have in the Aquila-column of Origen’s Hexapla (his six-column parallel-Bible) is an exacting translation of the Hebrew text with which Aquila was familiar.1  Origen tells us that Aquila “was a slave to the letter; whatever was wanting in the Hebrew text was not to be found in Aquila.”2

Here is the factor which draws us to Aquila:  in Zechariah 11:13, the Septuagint translation and the translation by Symmachus both have the words “The Lord said to me, ‘Throw it (the 30 pieces of silver) into the furnace.’”3   But Aquila’s translation says this:  The Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter.’”4

What this means, in simple terms, is that Aquila had in his possession a Hebrew text nearly 1000 years older than our standard Hebrew text (“The Masoretic Text”), and—just like our Hebrew and English Bibles today—his text said “throw it to the potter!”  This demonstrates that “throw it to the potter” is a VERY old reading, nearly as old as the Septuagint reading “throw it into the furnace.”  The age of either reading cannot settle the issue.

There is only one way to settle the issue:  we must have the original scroll upon which Zechariah wrote—and we don’t.  And we probably never will.  But we have three strong arguments that “potter” was the original text:  1) “Potter” is the more difficult reading, and a copyist would more likely change it to something that makes more sense, such as “furnace.”  2)  Aquila’s translation proves that “potter” has been around as the correct reading for nearly as long as “furnace.”  3) “Potter” occurs twice in the passage, so if this is a mistake by a copyist, it would have had to occurred twice!

The conclusion is that Zechariah 11:13 originally said “The Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter.’”5  We reject the Septuagint version “throw it into the furnace.”

WHAT DOES “THROW IT TO THE POTTER” MEAN?

A variety of suggestions have tried to explain what God meant when He told his prophet Zechariah to take the 30 pieces of silver and “throw it to the potter!”

Some theologians have refused to accept the evidence, and have simply denied that God said “Throw it to the potter.”6  That is the equivalent of suggesting that there is no problem because I choose to believe that the problem doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t change the fact that there certainly is a problem with the word “potter.”

Gundry has been more forthright in accepting “potter” as the correct reading.  He says:  “Perhaps it is best to think that the prophet was to throw the money to the potter who sold vessels for offerings of grain, wine, and oil in the Temple precincts (much as the sellers of sacrificial animals and fowl) merely to get rid of it as quickly as possible and in a public way.”7  Therefore the expression becomes “an expression of contempt.”

At least we can credit Del Medico with an active imagination in coming up with his suggestion.  He makes the assumption that “the potter’s field” in Matthew and “the field of blood” in Acts are two different fields.  Once this is assumed, he makes additional assumptions which lead him to conclude that the tourists who came to Jerusalem didn’t care much for Matthew’s version with its “potter’s field”; the tourists preferred the “field of Blood” in Acts 1:18-19.8  Too much “assuming” going on here!

DID ZECHARIAH UNDERSTAND?

Zechariah 11:13   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. 

There is one thing that is unarguable:  Zechariah had no doubt about what God meant when he told him “Throw (the money) to the potter!”  The Old Testament Prophet did exactly that.  He went to the Temple and threw the 30 pieces of silver to the potter.  We may never know if the potter was at the Temple in some official capacity or if he was just one of the many worshipers that day. 

Thus, it is highly unlikely that Gundry is correct; the phrase cannot simply mean a term of contempt.  Whoever he was, the potter who was in the Temple that day ended up dodging silver bullets thrown by the prophet.  Did Zechariah understand the meaning of his actions?  We are not told.  We are simply told in the Bible that the prophet did exactly what God asked of him.

We may have answered the question “What was the original Zechariah text?”  But now we have to return to Matthew and ask the big question:  why did Matthew quote Zechariah but say the quote was from Jeremiah?

1 Aquila’s Greek text can be found in Origenis Hexaplorum Quae Supersunt sive Veterum Interpretum Fragmenta, 2 Vols, edited by Fridericus Field (1875),  Reprinted in 1964 by Kraus Reprint, Ltd.  See page 1026.  

2  Henry Barclay Swete, An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, 1902:  Cambridge University Press; reprint edition New York:  KTAV Publishing House, Inc. 1968.  Page 31

3  καὶ εἶπε Κύριος πρός με· κάθες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ χωνευτήριον 

4  πρός τον πλαστήν.  According to Liddell and Scott, the definitive classical Greek dictionary, “plasten” means “moulder, modeler in clay or wax, sculptor, brickmaker.”  In other words—“potter!”  Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th edition.   Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1940.  Page 1412.

5  There is additional evidence against the Septuagint reading, including its use of multiple verbs in the Greek text.  For those wishing to follow this further, please see my article “The Potter’s Field and the Death of Judas,” Concordia Journal, November 1982, p. 215.  Origen’s fifth column in the Hexapla had a purpose which has been lost through the omission of his apparatus in the copying process.  The standard LXX text is available at https://biblicalgreek.org/translate/lxx/ 

6  Among these are C.C. Torrey, “The Foundry of the Second Temple at Jerusalem,” Journal of Biblical Literature 60 (1936):247-260, and Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, trans. David E. Green (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1975).

7  R.H. Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1967, p. 124.

8  J.E. Del Medico, The Riddle of the Scrolls, trans. H. Garner (New York:  Robert M. McBride, Co., 1959)  page 194.  Del Medico is trying to tie the story of Judas into the Dead Sea Scrolls, even though it doesn’t fit, but this was the nature of many theological enterprises in the decades following the discovery of “new information” at the Dead Sea.  What was never appreciated by many of these theological forays is that the people living in the Qumran community were not mainstream but theologically on the fringe.  What was discovered may have told us a great deal about these separatists, but this had little to do with “normal people” living within the first century society.