All the different forms of the story of Judas’s death are folkloric elaborations recounting his death in a stereotypical literary form, otherwise know as the horrible death of a notorious persecutor.
So Luke describes the demise of Herod Agrippa I, using a genre well known in Greek literature…The gruesome details are supposed to enhance the account of the death deserved by those who despite God (or the gods).
J. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (Doubleday 1998), 220, 491.
There are some basic problems with Fitzmyer’s skeptical assessment:
i) The Bible is not like a classic Western where the villain automatically receives his comeuppance in his life. Indeed, the Bible often portrays the wicked prospering in this life. Their just deserts await the afterlife.
ii) Even if Luke used a standard literary genre to depict the ignominious deaths of Judas and Herod Agrippa, that doesn’t reduce it to folkloric legend. That would only mean he depicted their actual death according to stock literary conventions. They still died an ignominious death, reflecting divine judgment.
iii) Finally, sometimes the bad guys do come to a bad end. Sometimes a notorious infidel dies a gruesome death. That can happen in real life. For instance:
AUSTIN, Tex., March 15— The five-year hunt for the atheist leader Madalyn Murray O'Hair is over, a forensics expert hired by the government said today, confirming that bones dug up at a remote ranch were those of Ms. O'Hair and two of her family members.
Ms. O'Hair, 76, who played an important role in one of two 1960's United States Supreme Court decisions banning mandatory prayer in public schools, disappeared in 1995 with her son Jon Garth Murray, 40, and her granddaughter, Robin Murray O'Hair, 30.
Officials said they believed the three were killed and dismembered in an Austin storage locker and their bodies dumped at a remote ranch in Real County, 90 miles west of San Antonio. One of the men suspected of involvement in the case, David R. Waters, 53, accompanied the authorities to the grave site in January as part of a plea bargain.
At a news conference today at the United States attorney's office here, David M. Glassman, chairman of the anthropology department at Southwest Texas State University, described a grisly scene at the ranch, with bodies burned and stacked haphazardly across each other after the legs had been removed. Based on anthropological, medical and dental studies of those remains, he said, Ms. O'Hair and her family members had been identified.
How Ms. O'Hair and her granddaughter died could not be determined, Dr. Glassman said, but Mr. Murray, who was found with his arms tied and a plastic bag around his head, showed signs of blunt force trauma to the skull that might have led to his death.
Evidence presented at his trial indicated that the authorities believed Mr. Karr, Mr. Waters and a third man, Danny Fry, kidnapped Ms. O'Hair and her family in September 1995 and extorted $610,000 from them over a month before they were killed.
If the fate of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, replete with lurid tabloid details, were recorded in the Bible, doubters like Fitzmyer would chalk that up to legendary embellishment.