Saturday, August 28, 2010

The fate of Judas

I. Introduction

Critics routinely claim the reported suicide of Judas in Matthew and Luke reflect two independent and divergent traditions. But other issues aside, it’s possible that both reports contain literary allusions to the death of the Saulides in 2 Sam 21. I’ve noted the following motifs.

II. Sources

2 Sam 21

1Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the Lord. And the Lord said, "It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death."

3And David said to the Gibeonites, "What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the LORD?" 4The Gibeonites said to him, "It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel."

6let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord." And the king said, "I will give them."

9Then he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before the Lord, so that the seven of them fell together; and they were put to death in the first days of harvest at the beginning of barley harvest.

Mt 27

3Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,

4saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to that yourself!"

5And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

6The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, "It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood."

7And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter's Field as a burial place for strangers.

8For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

9Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "AND THEY TOOK THE THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, THE PRICE OF THE ONE WHOSE PRICE HAD BEEN SET by the sons of Israel;


Acts 1

12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

18(Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.

19And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem; so that in their own language that field was called Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

20"For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

"'May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it';


"'Let another take his office.'

III. Intertextual Motifs

2 Sam 21:

i) Bloodguilt

ii) Hanging

iii) “Falling”

iv) “Mountain”

v) Silver coinage.

vi) Numerology (7 sons)

vii) David

Although Saul literally had seven surviving sons, this figure may also have numerological significance: :”The number seven represents a full number (seven symbolizing completeness) even though many more Gibeonites had been slain by Saul…” J. R. Vannoy, 1-2 Samuel (Tyndale House 2009), 400n3.

Mt 27:

i) Bloodguilt

ii) Hanging

iii) Temple Mount

iv) Numerology (30 shekels)

v) Silver coinage

Judas’ altercation with the priests took place in the temple, which occupied the temple mount. So Judas may well have hanged himself in the vicinity.

In Zech 11:13, the 30 shekels may either be an exact sum or a round number. But in Matthew’s appropriation of Zech 11:13, the figure is typological.

Acts 1:

i) Bloodguilt

ii) Falling

iii) Mt. Olivet

iv) Davidic Psalms

If Judas hanged himself on a cliff around Mt. Olivet, he could fall quite a distance if the rope was cut or scavenger dogs pulled the body free.

In the pericope, Mt. Olivet has reference to the location of the apostles, not Judas. Since, however, this is how the narrative of Judas’ fate is introduced, that association might linger in the mind of the audience–especially if there was already a tradition connecting the death of Judas to that general vicinity.

IV. Conclusion

Taken individually, these common motifs might be coincidental, but given the number of intersecting motifs, this invites the suggestion that both NT accounts were written (in part) to evoke that cautionary, OT precedent.

If so, this OT subtext would tie the two NT accounts together by their shared intertextual allusions to 2 Sam 21, and might, in turn, reflect a common historical and hermeneutical tradition which each writer selectively appropriates.

1 comment:

  1. I've always wondered if the phrase "hanged himself" was possibly a Jewish idiom for "commiting suicide (in whatever form)" because of the infamous case of Ahithopel. If it is, then there would be no contradiction between the accounts of Judas' death in Matthew and Acts.

    Judas, being (as many have argued) a revolutionary may have been trying to force Jesus' hand to finally give in to his (Judas') expectation, requests, and *counsel* that Jesus now (at this time) overthrow their Roman oppressors. His 1. counsel being rejected, 2. his hopes dashed, and 3. his guilt for betraying his innocent friend led him to "hang himself" (i.e. commit suicide) as Ahithophel did.