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The Death of Judas in Ancient Christian Literature Part 3

I think that it is historically likely that Jesus appointed a group of followers known as the Twelve, attested as early as 1 Corinthians 15:5, and predicted that they would sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel in the new eschatological age (Matthew 19:28; cf. Luke 22:30). There may have been different lists in circulation about the names of the members of this group (cf. Mark 3:16-19; Matthew 10:2-4; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). It also seems likely to me that Jesus was betrayed by one of them, which created tensions with the eschatological prediction noted above. The author of Luke 22:30 and Acts 1:21-26 dealt with this by omitting the reference to twelve thrones and by narrating the election of a twelfth apostle. There are three traditions about what happened to Judas after he betrayed Jesus. In the first post, I gave an overview of the traditions in Matthew 27:3-10, Acts 1:18-19, and Apollinaris of Laodicea’s lost commentary on Matthew. In the second post, I summarized Carlson’s view of how much of Apollinaris’s tradition went back to Papias in the early second century and how much reflects his own embellishments in the fourth century.

I go back and forth on whether the author of the canonical version of Luke-Acts was writing independently of Matthew’s Gospel, as argued in the classic Two-Source Hypothesis, or was literarily dependent on Matthew’s Gospel, as argued in the Farrer Hypothesis. I do not find the thesis that the author of Matthew’s Gospel was dependent on the Gospel of Luke persuasive. Whatever one’s verdict on the Synoptic Problem, it seems to me that Acts 1:18-19 preserves a version of Judas’s demise that is independent of Matthew 27:3-10. At the very least, there is independent information about the Aramaic name of the “field of blood.” Thus, there was an early tradition linking the etymology of the name of the field to the fate of Judas. There seems to be an early memory that the money that Judas received was used to purchase the field, though there is a discrepancy about who purchased the field.

Each author has their own theological interests in how they depict Judas’s death. Matthew seems to portray Judas as genuinely remorseful for what he had done and he hanged himself just as David’s counselor Ahitophel had done after he betrayed King David and his advice was not heeded by David’s rebellious son Absalom (cf. 2 Samuel 17:23). The author of Acts narrates a very different and more gruesome type of death for Judas as the one who dared to betray Jesus. I wonder if Judas’s fateful fall headlong in his field, causing his body to burst open, presupposes some of Papias’s oral tradition about Judas’s swollen body? In Papias’s account, Judas swelled up as a penalty for his greed. Finally, Apollinaris built on all three traditions in the fourth century, insisting that Judas survived his attempt to hang himself, developed a physical condition that lead to the swelling of his body, and finally died in great agony in his own field. These are just some rough, preliminary thoughts about how to engage these different traditions about Judas’s death. I remain open to other historical reconstructions from our limited data about what may have happened to Judas at the end of his life.

Update: Ian Paul has a different reconstruction of Judas’s death behind the accounts in Matthew and Acts. He argues that Judas body burst open after he fell down from where he was hanging, that the chief priests bought the field in Judas’s name (hence it was acquired by Judas), and that Matthew and Luke had their distinctive purposes and scriptural intertexts (i.e. there are interesting parallels with Absalom and King Ahab). I wonder how his reconstruction would change if he factored Papias and Apollinaris into the equation (e.g. would he argue that their account is secondary to Matthew and Acts, possibly trying to supply another explanation for what happened to Judas in Acts?).


The Death of Judas in Ancient Christian Literature Part 2

In the last post, I mentioned that we have two different versions of the tradition about the death of Judas that Apollinaris of Laodicea inherited, in whole or in part, in his lost commentary on Matthew’s Gospel. I also added the trigger warning that some details about Judas’s end are quite graphic if you want to skip this post too. The two main versions are found in parallel columns in Arie W. Zwiep’s Judas and the Choice of Matthias on Google preview on pp. 112-116. In the column on the right, Judas did not die from hanging, but continued to walk around as an example of ungodliness because of his physical condition. His body became so bloated that he could no longer pass through an entrance that a wagon could pass though and, after his eyelids and private parts became enlarged and pus and worms covered his body, he died in his own field. In the column on the left, the swelling of Judas’s body (i.e. larger than a wagon) is repeated twice and “it is said” that Judas was crushed by the wagon. Stephen Carlson helpfully groups the witnesses to each version (Papias of Hierapolis Exposition of Dominical Oracles, pp. 42-47):

  • Catena Group 1 (Zwiep’s version B in the right column): catenae on Acts (Catenae in Acta SS Apostolorum), the eleventh-century bishop Theophylact of Ochrida, a twelfth-century Byzantine collection of hagiographies known as the Synaxarion, and the twelfth-century bishop of Amid Dionysius bar Salibi
  • Catena Group 2 (Zwiep’s version A in the left column): catenae on Matthew (Catena in Evangelium S. Matthaei), the tenth-century bishop of Trikka Oecumenius
  • In the process of sorting out the witnesses, Carlson discovers a third form of the tradition attested in a Moscow manuscript edited by Christian Fredrick Matthaei in 1782, an eleventh-century historian George Cedrenus, and a twelfth-century chronicler Michael Glycas (pp. 44-47). The Moscow manuscript credits Apollinaris directly with the tradition about Judas’s bloated body, while Matthaei edited another manuscript with a comment attributed to Eusebius that had Judas die on his bed with his guts spilled out two days after he attempted to hang himself. The wording of George Cedrenus’s tradition has some echoes of Apollinaris. Michael Glycas condemns Papias for claiming Judas lived as an example of ungodliness after Peter reported his demise in Acts 1:17-18.

Carlson reviews the debate over whether Group 1 or 2 better reflected the tradition from Apollinaris (pp. 47-49). Martin Routh argued that Group 2 was the more primitive version and a scribe accidentally passed over the line about Judas being crushed by a wagon by skipping from one line that began with prēstheis (swollen) to the next one that began the same way. Theodore Zahn argued for the priority of Group 1 due to the poor manuscript attestation for Group 2, the unlikelihood that Apollinaris repeated the same lengthy sentence twice, the grammatical difficulties that resulted from the interpolation of the sentence about “the wagon” that crushed Judas, and the tension between Judas being run over by a wagon and his location in his own field. Apollinaris’s comparison of Judas’s body with a hypothetical wagon was misunderstood when “the wagon” was turned into the instrument that killed Judas.

If Group 1 is a closer approximation of what Apollinaris wrote, the next question that Carlson explores is how much of Apollinaris’s tradition went back to Papias (pp. 50-56). He argues that Papias may have written that Judas lived on as an example of impiety and that his body became so swollen that he could not pass through a space where a wagon could, while the rest goes back to Apollinaris. This can be supported by the external evidence, such as Michael Glycus’s more limited quotation of Papias and some of the witnesses that attribute the rest of the tradition to Apollinaris (Group 2 may twice refer to the swelling of Judas’s body because it took over two separate citations from Apollinaris) (p. 50). On internal grounds, Apollinaris’s embellished account seems to have been informed by other oral sources (e.g., “it is said”), while Papias often names his informants (p. 51). Papias wanted to demonstrate that Judas’s greed was punished by his body swelling up, while Apollinaris expanded on Papias’s tradition in his efforts to reconcile Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-19 (e.g., Judas did not die from hanging and he died in his own field) (p. 52). He notes that earlier witnesses to Papias’s work such as Irenaeus and Eusebius did not know Apollinaris’s extended tradition about Judas’s death; Eusebius reproduces a tradition about how Judas hanged himself in Ecclesiastical History 5.16.3 and Matthaei found a scholium attributed to Eusebius which harmonizes Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-19 in a different way than Apollinaris does (pp. 52-54). Finally, Apollinaris may have been influenced by accounts of how the emperor Galerius (ca. 258-311 CE) suffered from the symptoms of Fournier gangrene before his death (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 8.16-2-5; Lactantius, De mortibus persectorum 33) (pp. 54-55).

I find Carlson’s case that Papias’s tradition was greatly expanded by Apollinaris to be fairly convincing. In the next post, I will make some preliminary suggestions about how historians might go about reconstructing what happened to Judas at the end of his life.

The Death of Judas in Ancient Christian Literature Part 1

Jesus chose twelve apostles as a symbol of the twelve tribes of Israel (see Matthew 19:28). The number twelve was so important that, in the first chapter of Acts, the apostles cast lots over whether Matthias or Joseph Justus Barsabbas should become the twelve apostle after the death of Judas (cf. Acts 1:12-26). There are three accounts of the death of Judas. There is a trigging warning as the following passages discuss suicide or offer graphic details about Judas’s fate.

In Matthew 27:3-10, Judas felt remorseful (metamelomai) after betraying “innocent blood” and threw the thirty pieces of silver in the temple. He then left and hanged himself. The chief priests and elders refused to put the blood money into the “temple treasury,” so they purchased the potter’s field to bury foreigners. It was known as the “field of blood” (agros haimatos) “until this day” (heōs tēs sēmeron)Zechariah 11:12-13 seems to be conflated with Jeremiah 18:2-3 to show that this event fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.

In Acts 1:18-19, Judas bought a field with the reward that he earned for his “wickedness” (adikia). He fell “headlong” (prēnēs), his body “burst open” (lakaō) in the “middle” (mesos), and his “intestines” (splanchnon) “pour out” (ekcheō). The field became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem as the “field of blood” (chōrion haimatos), which is the translation of the Aramaic name Akeldama. Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 are cited to interpret this event and explain why the apostles had to elect a twelfth member of their group.

There is a third tradition about Judas’s death in a lost commentary from Apollinaris of Laodicea, which cites and embellishes a tradition about Judas’s death from Papias’s fourth book (cf. Commentary on Matthew 27:5). There are two different versions of what Apollinaris of Laodicea might have written that survive in later Greek catenae or short excerpts from later biblical commentators strung together, so you can read these two versions by checking out Arie W. Zwiep’s Judas and the Choice of Matthias on Google preview on pp. 112-116. See also online summaries here and here and the entry on the “Death of Judas according to Papias” at the e-Clavis Christian Apocrypha. Both versions agree that Judas developed a condition where his body swelled up to such an extent that he could not pass between a space that a wagon could fit through, but they disagree over whether Judas finally died in his own field over this condition or was crushed by a wagon. In either case, there is some overlap with Acts with regards to how Judas’s intestines poured out on to the ground and his field became uninhabitable.

In the next post, I will summarize Stephen’s Carlson’s reconstruction of Papias’s tradition (Papias of Hierapolis Exposition of Dominical Oracles, 40-56). In the third post, I will test out my own historical reconstruction about what may have happened at the end of Judas’s life.

Was Eusebius a Careful Reader of Papias’s Work?

Did Eusebius read Papias’s Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord? The answer is no according to Luke J. Stevens “Did Eusebius Read Papias?” Journal of Theological Studies 70.1 (2019): 163-183. He argues that Eusebius received extracts from Papias’s work from an intermediary, whom he identifies as Pierius of Alexandria, the teacher of Eusebius’s own teacher Pamphilus (181-182). Pierius may have compiled further extracts from other sources such as Hegesippus’s Memoirs, Irenaeus’s Against Heresies, and Clement of Alexandria’s Hypotyposes (173-179). If Eusebius did not know Papias’s work first-hand, then this might explain his ignorance of the following traditions:

  • The martyrdoms of John the Theologian and his brother James, since Eusebius elsewhere presumes that John lived to old age when the Roman emperor Trajan began to rule, does not enlist this argument to distinguish the Apostle John from the Elder John, and contrasts the martyrdoms of the other followers of Jesus with John’s exile to the island of Patmos (166-168).
  • John the Elder’s authorship of the fourth Gospel, which is attested by Irenaeus, Anastasis of Sinai, and George the Sinner (168).
  • John the Elder’s authorship of the book of Revelation (cf. Andrew of Caesarea) (168-169).
  • Papias’s interest in the creation narratives (169-170). Thus, the six days of creation were a type that pointed to Christ and the church (cf. Anastasis of Sinai) and the rule of the angels over the earth was put to an end (cf. Andrew of Caesarea).
  • Papias’s traditions about the Gospels of Luke and John that may be found in the Muratorian Canon, the latter of which have parallels in Clement of Alexandria (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.7) and Victorinus of Pettau (Commentary on the Apocalypse 11.1) (171-172).
  • Virtually everything beyond Papias’s prologue, including some select information that he received from the elders in general or the Elder John in particular or the daughters of Philip (Ecclesiastical History 3.39.9) (172). Stevens argues that 3.39.12 mistakenly attributed the tradition from the elders who knew John about the millennium from Irenaeus’s Against Heresies (5.33.3) to Papias (170-171).
  • In 3.39.17, there is a minimal notice that Papias used 1 Peter and 1 John without going into more detail and an incorrect notice that Papias read a story about a woman accused of many sins before the Lord from the Gospel according to the Hebrews (174-175, 176). Further, Eusebius identifies Hegesippus as a witness to this Gospel without providing any citations from it in 4.22.7 (176).
  • Along with omitting Papias’s other traditions, Eusebius never cites the volumes where he finds his traditions apart from his direct quote of Irenaeus in 3.39.1 (173).

How does Stephen Carlson (Papias of Hierapolis Exposition of Dominical Oracles, 30-32) respond to these points? He observes that Eusebius is the first writer to note the title of Papias’s treatise and that he did identify the exact section of Papias’s work that he was reading, namely the prologue (31). His imprecision about the contents of Papias’s work may be due to relying on his own earlier notes about it, but he gives the impression that he read the whole thing in mentioning how often Aristion and John are named in it (3.39.7) (31). Carlson briefly responds to some of the points raised by Stevens (32, 32n.159):

  • The De Boor fragment on the death of John and James may not be a reliable witness to what was in Papias’s second volume.
  • Papias may not have mentioned the Elder John outside of the prologue (but I wonder how that fits Eusebius’s statement that Papias named Aristion and John frequently in the work?).
  • While Papias may have had a millenarian eschatology (see Carlson’s defence of attributing this tradition to Papias in my earlier post), he may not have explicitly mentioned the book of Revelation. It is Andrew of Caesarea who links Papias’s comment on the end of the angels’ rule over creation with the fall of the dragon from heaven in Revelation 12:7-9 (cf. pp. 57-59).
  • The traditions about Luke and John in the Muratorian Canon may not go back to Papias. Carlson argues elsewhere that Papias may not have communicated anything about the Gospel of John, much less ascribed it to the Elder John (79, 79n.355).
  • Anastasius of Sinai is a late seventh-century witness who attributes his spiritualizing exegesis to several people (John the beloved disciple, Papias, Irenaeus, Pantaenus, Clement, and others, paying no attention to their differing perspectives, and his other citations may be equally careless (cf. pp. 87- 89). Carlson insists that Irenaeus and Eusebius are more reliable witnesses to Papias’s materialistic, not allegorical, hermeneutical approach (32).

Both scholars have advanced strong cases. It is unfortunately that, if Eusebius did have direct access to Papias’s work, he summarized so little of it and had a clear bias against his source in insulting Papias’s intelligence as a millenarian thinker. I hope that this debate will continue further. My slight leaning is towards Carlson’s argument that Eusebius has read Papias’s work, as well as the conclusion that “If Eusebius and Irenaeus cannot be trusted for what they say about Papias, then a fortiori nearly every other witnesses cannot be trusted” (32). For my own arguments that Eusebius’s silence about Papias’s knowledge of the third and fourth canonical Gospels counts against Papias’s use of these Gospels and that it was Irenaeus who confused the Apostle John (whom he assumed was the fourth evangelist) with Papias’s Elder John, see The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 196-199; The Beloved Apostle? The Transformation of the Apostle John into the Fourth Evangelist (Eugene: Cascade, 2017), 58-102. Of course, if archaeologists ever discovered Papias’s lost work or at least further fragments of it that all scholars regarded as genuine, then we may have to re-evaluate everything that we think we know about what texts and traditions were available to Papias!

Did Papias Write about the Martyrdoms of James and John?

I mentioned the De Boor fragments in a seventh-century Byzantine epitome of ecclesiastical histories in a previous post. When summarizing Eusebius’s account of Papias at the end of his third book, there is a note that “Papias in the second volume says that John the theologian and James his brother were killed by Jews” (for the Greek text and English translation see Stephen Carlson, Papias of Hierapolis Exposition of Dominical Oracles, 184-185). The accusation is repeated in a eleventh-century manuscript (i.e. Codex Coislianus 305) of the Chronicle by the monk George the Sinner (ca. 842-867 CE). This malevolent accusation against the Jewish people should be repudiated as it is part of the tragically long history of Christian anti-Judaism and later anti-Semitism. However, there is a question about whether this charge was actually found in Papias’s five-volume treatise.

Carlson argues against attributing this fragment to Papias on pages 71-72. While he admits that the fragment seems to be located quite precisely in Papias’s second “volume” (logos), the problem is that the fragment uses the epitomist’s own anachronistic language from referring to Papias’s second book as a logos to identifying John as “the Theologian” (71) George the Sinner may be dependent on the epitome (71). The earliest witnesses to Papias, Irenaeus of Lyon and Eusebius of Caesarea, are silent about John’s early martyrdom and believed that the Apostle John lived until the reign of the emperor Trajan (71-72). Curiously, Eusebius holds this tradition even after disputing Irenaeus’s identification of the Apostle John with the Elder John, even though it would have strengthened his argument that the Apostle John was not the Elder John if the former had died as a martyr and Christian martyrs were highly esteemed in this era (72). Carlson notes alternative explanations for where this tradition came from, such as that Papias wrote about the deaths of John the Baptist and James the son of Zebedee. In the end, he dismisses all attempts to speculate about the reasons for why the epitomist assigned this fragment to Papias because of the epitomist’s blunders through omissions, additions, or alterations to the sources elsewhere (72).

Other scholars who accept this tradition have argued that Eusebius had suppressed the tradition about John’s martyrdom because it contradicted his deeply-held belief that John had died as an old man in Ephesus (e.g., Martin Hengel, Richard Bauckham, Dean Furlong). Another option was that Eusebius had not read Papias’s entire work, but only select extracts from it, and did not know this tradition (e.g., Luke J. Stevens). In my own earlier work on the reception of the Gospel of John here, I thought that Eusebius may have just ignored what Papias wrote about the Apostle John’s death as one of his farfetched tales. I noted that Papias’s tradition about the execution of James the son of Zebedee is paralleled in Acts 12:2 and that the Apostle John’s martyrdom may have happened at a later point beyond the timeline of the narrative in Acts, but I am open to the option that Papias only wrote about the death of James. In any case, if you want to learn further about the rarer traditions about the Apostle John’s martyrdom, Dean Furlong has a helpful summary of a chapter in his book on this topic here (he entertains the option that the epitomist got the wrong James, because the sons of Zebedee are consistently put in the order of “James and John” and there seems to be some confusion between James the son of Zebedee, James the son of Alphaeus, and James Jesus’s brother).