Did Judas Hang Himself or Did He Fall?

According to the New Testament, after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, he felt remorse so he killed himself. We have two accounts of this action, which were written by (or attributed to) Matthew and Luke. Skeptics often point to the two accounts of Judas’ death to claim the New Testament contains conflicting information, yet instead the two accounts are easily reconcilable and provide us with an undesigned coincidence. Accordingly, this article reconciles the passages and offers responses to skeptics’ likely opposition.

Matthew 27:3-8 ESV

“Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders,  saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’  And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.  But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.’  So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.'”

Acts 1:16-19 ESV

“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong[d] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.  And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)”

Reconciliation

Akeldama is a hilly area with rough terrain, as can be observed in the following modern photo:

Akeldama

Notice that the account by Matthew says he hung himself, while the account by Luke says he fell to the ground. The reconciliation is that he hung himself before falling to the ground. It is likely that Judas hung himself from a tree and after his body began to decompose, either the tree limb broke or someone cut the branch from which he was hanging down to remove his body, causing Judas to fall to the ground. Since his body had likely decomposed, his body would have burst open as described by Luke.

Opposition 1: He fell headlong

Skeptics will note that Judas fell “headlong,” which is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as either (1) falling with “great speed or without thinking;” (2) head-first or (3) very quick or quickly without considering what you are doing. Given Judas’ condition at the time of the fall, the options are reduced to either or both a quick fall or one which was head-first. The Greek word that has been translated to English as “headlong” is πρηνής or “prenes,” which is also translated as “swelling up.”

Judas could have hanged himself in several ways. He could have: (1) drop hanged himself, which he could have done by securing a rope to his neck from a branch and dropping from (or jumping off) for a quicker and less painful and death; (2) suspended himself from a branch, which he could have done by hanging the noose from the tree, wrapping it around his neck, and kicking away whatever he used to elevate himself; or (3) hanged upside down, which is known as inverted hanging. Inverted hanging may be the most painful because the death would be prolonged. Judas could have fastened the rope to his feet and suspended himself from a branch. The weight of his lower body organs would eventually crush his heart and collapse his lungs, leading to death.

Given the hilly terrain of Akeldama, Judas may have fallen or landed headlong using any of the three options. If he fell “headlong” and had been “swelling up,” we can determine that he either fell headlong, landed headlong, or fell and landed headlong. The Greek translation could be interpreted several ways. In other words, this so-called contradiction can easily be reconciled in multiple ways.

In fact, the two passages give us a much more vivid picture of Judas’ suicide. Only taken together do we come to understand that Judas hung himself and eventually fell, with his body bursting open, likely due to its decomposition. Without Matthew, we would not have learned of the fate of the 30 pieces of silver and what it meant when Luke indicated in Acts that Judas “bought the field.” Without Acts, we would not have learned of Judas’ final moments following his death. This is an example of an undesigned coincidence.

Opposition 2: Matthew says the Pharisees bought the field, while Luke says Judas acquired the field.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Zechariah (11:12-13) prophesied as follows:

“Then I said to them, ‘If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.’ And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.  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.'”

This account parallels the accounts from Matthew, where the Pharisees used the 30 pieces of silver to purchase a potter’s field, and Acts, where Judas acquired  the field. The Pharisees would have considered the money “blood money,” so it’s likely that they bought the field in Judas’ name rather than their own. In both cases, the money Judas had “earned” by betraying Jesus funded the Field of Blood where he committed suicide.  In other words, we again have reconciled the passages, resulting in no provable contradictions.

Thank you for your time.

11 Replies to “Did Judas Hang Himself or Did He Fall?”

    1. Very nice.

      Do note that the past tense of “hang” when describing a person is “hanged.” Yesterday you hung a picture on the wall, but yesterday they hanged the murderer on the gallows.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Almost any discrepancy can easily be rationalized away into the mutually acceptable domain of minds in need of reconciling what aparently divides them, save that with which they deeply disagree, such as this thought which I have sentenced to its dense incarceration in these words. Historically Christianity has so often ratonalized murder away into frigid acceptance by the heart of its belief that its belief is superior to all, and all in the name of Jesus, that on a subject such as this I am a cynic.

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  2. When the 30 pieces of silver is mentioned in the Gospel, the whole thing becomes prophecy. And there is no reason to presume that the event really happened. Remorse can be strong enough to make his ‘head hang down’, as in “Hang down your head, Tom Dooley, hang down your head and cry.”

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  3. “The Field of Blood”
    Judas was hired by the Jewish leaders to escort them to Jesus’ location so that they might arrest him. He was paid 30 shekels of silver. Upon their arrival, Judas kissed Jesus in order that the leaders would know precisely which man, among the others there, was Jesus. Jesus was arrested and thus began the final leg to his time here on earth; he was quickly convicted and sentenced to death. Upon hearing of the fate of Jesus, Judas became remorseful, even to the point of wishing to end his own life as well. After receiving the reward money, Judas then proceeded to purchase a field (a field in which he would eventually burst asunder). It’s not clear whether he purchased the land for the purpose of ending his life, or whether it was purchased before he realized Jesus had been convicted and sentenced to death. Regardless, this was his private land in which he would ultimately take his last breath. I am presuming that the property was set near a cliff in order for the body to have had the distance needed to cause such damage and death. But, the “fall” of Judas could have taken place from atop some other very high point on his property.
    After he learned of Jesus’ conviction, Judas went to his property and somehow fell “headlong,” -then, landed on his side or on his stomach causing a severe rupture which caused his bowels and blood to gush out on to the ground. This account seems to indicate that Judas jumped off or was PUSHED off a cliff and subsequently splattered below. This cliff however, would have to have had some pretty good height to it. Why, because if one falls at a lower distance, head first, there will be no time or momentum to cause the body to change its direction from headlong to a sideways landing. Unless of course, the body direction was changed by hitting the side of the cliff or some other object as he fell. He may have hung himself above a cliff and the rope snapped or the tree branch broke or the body may have slammed into a boulder on the way down. Was this even a suicide? Who was there to witness this headlong event? And why point out that Judas went headlong? Could it be that a group of angry disciples seized Judas and threw him off a cliff to his death? Perhaps he was first stoned where he received many head injuries and then thrown off a cliff? All speculation. This account alone, however, without considering Matthew’s account, indicates that Judas purchased some land with the betrayal money, went to his property where his death would occur. Then, by his will or someone else’s, he found himself in the air falling head first, and during the fall, his body was turned in such a way that his stomach hit the ground first -causing the massive injury and blood. After this event, the field became widely known as “Aceldama,” which is an Aramaic word meaning “The Field of Blood.”
    The above was the account according to Luke. But Matthew tells us a different tale. Simply put, Matthew wrote that Judas, out of remorse, went to the temple and threw the reward money, all of it, back at the Jewish leaders who hired him to locate Jesus. Judas then went off somewhere and hung himself at some undisclosed location. Matthew continues. The chief priests took this, “blood money” and purchased a field in which strangers could be buried in. It is never said that Judas killed himself in this field and the text certainly closes the option that Judas purchased this field himself with the 30 pieces of silver; It is the leaders who in fact bought this land AFTER the suicide and then buried Judas there after he was discovered.
    Matthew
    1. Judas returned the cash to the priests
    2. Judas killed himself
    3. The priests purchased the field and buried Judas there
    Luke
    1. Judas took the cash and purchased a field
    2. The cash was gone, having paid the original land owner
    3. Judas killed himself
    These accounts make it abundantly clear that there were at least two varying stories being told as to how this field came to be known as “The Field of Blood.” Which means, Either Matthew or Luke has given the world incorrect information, which in turn means, the Holy Bible is not completely inerrant. No biggie, just a contradiction of a non-essential nature. But for those of you with inerrancy blocking your path to a simple understanding, oil yourself up before you squeeze through the Hoop of Reconciliation my dear Christian friend. Get it settled in your mind that there is nothing to be seen here except 100% agreement between these texts; allow the cognitive dissonance to seep in and seal your faith with a kiss.

    -Keith Bujack
    ——————————————————————

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