Easter. The Passion of Jesus XV. Matthew and the Fate of Judas. The Theory of Innocent Blood. Zechariah. Ahitophel again.

Part 16, here.
Part 14, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Matthew and the fate of Judas.

One of the three predictions Jesus made was about the betrayal of a disciple, and that it would be better if he had not been born. Matthew tells us what happened to Judas in the aftermath of the kiss in Gethsemane. As the chief priests et al. are taking Jesus off to see Pilate, Matthew interrupts the story to tell how Judas dies (Mt. 27:3-10). The first thing to note is that not only is Peter following the action, Judas is too. Matthew is vague about this, maybe he’s thinking that Judas is outside the palace.

“When Judas his betrayer saw that he was condemned, and he brought back the thirty pieces of silver (only Matthew gives a number) to the chief priests and the elders, saying, I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.”

Judas repents. He brought back thirty pieces of silver. Innocent blood is a Jewish expression. In the Law, when a judge sentences a person to death, the “blood” of that person is put on the judge. If the person is innocent, that blood sticks to the judge, and he has to answer for it. But if the judge was given false testimony, then he’s not responsible. And the question is, who is the blood of Jesus going to stick to? Much of the Passion narrative is taken up by people trying to figure out a way to avoid getting stained by that blood. The priests won’t take back the money, it’s tainted, Pilate’s wife: don’t have anything to do with this man, and Pilate washes his hands of it. They are all nevertheless stained with it. Then “the people” cry: his BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN.

Now this is important, because it helps found a whole genre of Christian speech (especially the hatred of Jews that develops in Christian practice and literature in later centuries), including Mormon wrestling with the limits of salvation. John 17:12 calls Judas “son of perdition” and the combined rubrics along with Doc. and Cov. 76 and 132 make for conversations within Mormon leadership for many decades. The innocent blood narrative in D&C 132:19, 26 alludes to this rule of the Law. Innocent blood sticks to you, and it can never be washed off.

Matthew has the priests respond to Judas: “What is that to us, see to it yourself. And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he went away and hanged himself. So they took counsel and bought with them the potters field to bury strangers in, therefore that field has been called the field of blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 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 potters field, as the Lord directed me.” There are two sources being used by Matthew. One is LXX Zechariah 11:13: “The LORD said to me, cast it into the treasury, the lordly price at which I was paid off by them. So I took the thirty shekels of silver, and cast them into the treasury, in the house of the LORD.” This is the innocent shepherd of Zechariah. The Hebrew MT has “cast into the POTTERY in the house of the LORD.” The Greek doesn’t like pottery and substitutes treasury. This is typical Matthew, he’s a scholar, he uses the Greek text of the Old Testament, or the Hebrew, sometimes Aramaic apparently, he uses the one that he thinks makes the case or proves the point best. He does this in his infancy narrative. The most famous case is “a virgin shall conceive.” That’s the Greek text (LXX) (Isa. 7:4). The Hebrew text says “young woman.” So he’s making a point. Matthew uses both in the case of Judas. That’s where the potters field comes from. This ties in Jeremiah 19:1-4. Jeremiah is going to get a potter’s flask and go out and break it. “Go buy a potter’s earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests, go out to the valley of ben Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate . . . for they have filled this place with the blood of innocents.”(RSV) This is the place at the bottom of the city where the Kidron valley comes around and it was a depression where they threw the trash, and buried people. So Matthew has thirty pieces of silver into the treasury, another text has into the pottery, so that connects to Jeremiah and going down to where the innocent blood is located. Ben Hinnom (Gehanna) is the traditional site of the field of blood. This is combined with the fate of Ahitophel (recall David’s advisor). The betrayer of David goes and hangs himself, the betrayer of Jesus goes and hangs himself. Money goes to the treasury, it’s used to buy a potter’s field which is the field of blood and this is Matthew and the complicating story from the Old Testament.

However, Matthew’s is not the only story of the death of Judas. There are two more. One is at the beginning of Acts. Peter is talking about getting a replacement apostle because Judas died, but more than died, he betrayed his ministry to the point that he couldn’t function in the hereafter. Luke uses this to jump in and tell us what happened to Judas. “Now this man [Judas!] bought a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.[21] And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akel′dama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms,

‘Let his habitation become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it’;
and ‘His office let another take.'”

The bowels gushing out is a reference to Antiochus Epiphanes (2 Maccabees 9), king of the Assyrians, the first to persecute the Jews over religion.


[21] The post apostolic Church fathers tried to reconcile the two death scenes with things like the hanging rope was severed and Judas fell. It’s still a thing in apolgetics. It’s two different traditions, but the outcome and claim is the same. Judas died very soon after the betrayal, and his payoff did him no good. The innocent blood was a plague impossible to escape, and repentance was useless. His sin was outside the bounds of forgiveness: he was cursed by God. This motif, usually taken from Hebrews 6, was a common theme in Joseph Smith’s preaching in the years following Liberty jail and it was largely directed to Mormons who turned against him.


  1. Clark Goble says:

    Of course the worst part of the cry of whose blood it was is that this was taken up in anti-semitism in a way I’m sure the authors didn’t remotely intend. (Even if there were almost certainly tensions between the two communities when written)

    The contradictions between the deaths of Judas are quite interesting (and there are even more if you throw in the extra-biblical texts)

    How all of this ties up with blood especially as understood relative to innocent blood in the 19th century is also quite interesting. While Brigham Young’s idea of blood atonement has largely been rejected aspects of it still echo in Utah’s death penalty (including why firing squad is still a choice) In some ways the Book of Mormon is also concerned with blood and how it cries. (Say Alma 1:13-14 where Nehor is killed because of the blood of an innocent man) The blood oaths relating to certain things in the 19th century on up to the 1990’s also have a very strong echo of Judas. Penrose, as I recall, attributes to Joseph Smith the idea that Judas was executed by Peter and not a suicide. (Would give a link but all the copies to Penrose’s pamphlet I could find were on anti-Mormon sites) Heber C Kimball, while hardly a great source, has Judas being taken and kicked to death when his bowels come out (following the Luke account). (JD 6:125-6) Heber also ties this to the oaths as understood at that time.

    The son of perdition bit (in the LDS sense) never made sense to me regarding Judas if the apostles didn’t yet have the holy ghost. But if he did know Jesus was God and willingly betrayed him for gain knowing that then that is pretty bad. However the story can easily be read in other ways. However as a type of sons of perdition it’s hard to beat Judas.

  2. The Innocent blood business leaves a complicated trail when combined with Mormonism!

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