The Field of Blood

“So, throwing the silver pieces into the temple, he left and went and hung himself. The chief priests took up the silver pieces and said, ‘It is not authorized that we throw this into the temple treasury because this is a payment for blood.’ And making a plan, they bought with it a field of a potter to bury strangers. Therefore the field is called, “The Field of Blood,” even to this day.”

(Matthew 27:5-8)

 

“Now this man acquired a piece of land from the wages of his wickedness and falling headlong he burst apart in the middle and all of his entrails poured out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own dialect, ‘Akeldamach,” that is the “Field of Blood.”

(Acts 1:18-19)

 

Usually, the first thing that people want to know when they put these two passages back to back is, “So how did Judas die? Did he hang himself or did he fall and burst himself open?” The answer to this question is, “yes,” but let us recount the events to put this into perspective.

First, we have already talked about how these events seem to be taking place at about the same time as Jesus is being questioned. Judas realizes that his betrayal is leading to Jesus’ death and he just cannot deal with the matter. His first response is to return the silver — the blood money — to the priests. They reject the return and so we find him throwing it into the temple. Some of our translations render this, “sanctuary,” but that seems unlikely given the structure of the temple courts. Likely he has met with the priests in the outer courts somewhere, perhaps even in one of the many covered porticos along this wall. If closer to the temple, perhaps this conversation took place in one of the many rooms that surrounded the walls of the inner courts. Either way, it seems that since the priests won’t take his money, it is reasonable to assume from the language here that Judas cast the money in the direction of the temple. Then he left.

The priests realized the problem they had on their hands. Judas did not want the money and they could not keep the money, so they decided on purchasing a plot of land that could be used for charity — a place where travelers, aliens in the land, and others who are otherwise unknown or without family to care for their remains, could be buried. Essentially, this was a form of pauper’s graveyard.

Yet, Matthew’s account seems to imply that it was the priests who bought the property while Luke’s account in Acts, implies that it was Judas. The simplest way to rectify this apparent conflict is to see the priests purchasing the field in Judas’ name, thus all public records would indicate that it had been given by Judas. The money belonged to Judas anyhow, so it would not be too much of a stretch to imagine the priests going down and indicating that a sum of money had been given for such a purchase. Their hands were then clean of the blood money and Judas’ name is thus attached to the plot — it was bought on his behalf just like a real estate agent might handle such a transaction today.

Since Judas chose to commit suicide on this plot of ground, it is clear that he was aware of this transaction. It is also very reasonable to assume, realizing what the priests had done with the blood money, that this would provide a good place for him to commit the act of suicide. It could be seen as an act of spite (the priests would find his body and have the guilt of another death on their hands), an act of cursing (as cursed are those who are hanged on a tree — Deuteronomy 21:23), and as a symbol of his own alienation from the people of God (it was aliens, not Jews, that were to be buried here).

But what about the whole bursting and entrails pouring out language? This event took place on the Friday of Passover. The Priests had their hands full with the various services and sacrifices to be made. The following day was the Sabbath where no work could be done. Thus, Judas’ body would reasonably have been left hanging on the tree for a minimum of 48 hours before anything would be done, probably longer. Shortly after death, the bacteria contained within the digestive tract begins the process of decaying the internal organs. This process causes gasses to build up within the body giving it a bloated look over time. Obviously, this process is speeded up the warmer the weather. Early spring in Jerusalem is not overly warm (around 50 during the day), but the process would take place nonetheless. If one presumes the body of Judas to remain unnoticed for several days or a week, it is likely that his body would have become bloated enough that were someone (in disgust) to cut him down from the tree, his torso might burst and his partially liquified entrails would “pour out” like water. It is a disgusting picture, but such is the path into which our sin brings us.

And thus, the field takes on the name, “Akeldamach” — in Aramaic, meaning “The Field of Blood.” How sin consumes when there is no redemption at hand.

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