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A Student Thinking Outside the Box

September 14, 2007

Today I met with a student, who is writing his first essay about the tradition of contradictory interpretations of the death of Judas Iscariot.  Even people who proclaim that the Bible is the literal, infallible, inerrant word of God that does not contradict itself have difficulty explaining the disparity between the accounts in Matthew and Acts.

To refresh, in Matthew Judas remorsefully returns his bounty for having Jesus arrested and then goes out and hangs himself (27:5).  The account in Matthew then says that the chief priests took his money and bought a field, which became known thereafter as the Field of Blood, where foreigners are buried.

In Acts, the author notes in a parenthetical aside that Judas purchased the field himself, and one day while enjoying his new property, Judas somehow spontaneously combusted (or falls headlong, or swells up, depending on how one understands it), and his bowels gushed out all over the middle of the field.

It’s hard to say what this even means, but one thing we do know is that either Luke messed up on his history or Matthew got a few details wrong along the way.  In terms of historical veracity, it’s likely that they both did, but that’s another story.

This scene has stumped many biblical exegetes.  My student has cleverly decided to use Haley’s Bible Handbook as an ironic lynchpin to discuss how some glosses on this passage attempt to somehow reconcile the two stories.  Perhaps the most notable of these, or at least the most familiar, is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  In that dispicable film, Gibson depicts a raving-mad Judas in a field running around, which happens to have a cliff with a tree growing over the side of it.  Judas runs and hangs himself, thus accomadating the image that he was in a field and that he hung himself.  Surprisingly, and thankfully, Gibson has spared us the visual spectacle of Judas’s bowels.

So I tip my hat to my student.  He’s honing in on one of the great idiosyncracies of the NT!

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