Re: Judas

Jim Oxford (
Thu, 19 Dec 1996 10:30:00 -0500

At 12:39 AM 12/19/96, Lee Matheny wrote:

>Hello everyone,
>I have lurked because I have just started studying Greek and feel too
>newbie to understand most posts let alone add to the discussion. However,
>I have a question, how can the greek be used to reconcile the death of
>Judas. I have looked at the greek in both Acts 1:18 and Matt., Papias'
>writing, and the lexicons, parsing etc. The word describing "hanging" in
>some of my reference works says that extrabiblical sources meant to choke
>in anger? Also, if Matt. was written in Hebrew first, could this have an
>effect? Just thoughts. If this has exceeded the limits, I apologize. take
>care. lee
>ps. please be patient, I am only now learning my paradigms.


I'm not sure "the greek" can be used to reconcile (harmonize?) the various
accounts concerning the death of Judas, for the vocabulary employed in
describing Judas' death in each of them varies greatly. "Theories,"
however, have been proffered attempting to harmonize these accounts, e.g.,
that Judas first hangs himself (Matt 27), then falls headlong into a field
(Acts 1). Other scholars believe that there were various traditions
concerning the death of Judas available to Matthew, Luke, and Papias at the
time when they composed their writings, and that they drew upon the
particular tradition that suited the interests of their writing. In Matt's
gospel, Judas dies under a curse (hanging) (Willem van Unnik); in
Luke-Acts, Judas misuses his money and possessions and consequently dies in
a field that he has purchased (Luke Timothy Johnson); in Papias, Judas dies
the death of an arch villan, where the description of his bowels bursting
open, the grotesque size of the genitals, the presence of worms in the
urine, and the body's malodorous stench all echo the description of the
death of notorious villans like Herod the Great (cf. Josephus' Antiquities
16.5.168-71; see also Josephus' Wars 11.4.451-53). Still, some scholars
believe that Matt and Luke share a common source (the commonality of blood,
the field, etc.) and have manipulated this source for their own purposes.
Have a look at Kirsopp Lake's "The Death of Judas," 22-30, in The
Beginnings of Christianity (reprint Baker Book House 1979); also William
Klassen's Judas, 160-76 (Fortress, 1996).

Concerning the greek word "APAGXW" in Matt 27, based on my research, I
would argue that it means "to hang," not "to choke," though certainly death
by asphyxiation is the end result in either case. If you have a look at
other contexts where this word occurs, e.g., Tobit 3.10-11 and Josephus'
Antiquities 12.4.255-56, it seems to me that "hanging" is implied.
Moreover, based on the context of Matt 27, how would the logistics of Judas
"choking" himself actually work themselves out? It seems more likely that
"hanging" is envisioned.

My dissertation topic is on Judas and suicide in the ancient world. I
would appreciate any feedback or insights from the participants here via
email on this topic.

Jim Oxford
PhD candidate in religion
Baylor University