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The Death of Judas

Posted by RIP Joe Bloe , 08 March 2012 · 1,747 views

It's getting close to Easter, and I'm reminded of that famous biblical contradiction regarding the death of Judas.

In Matthew 27:5 it is stated that Judas,
"went and hanged himself."

But Acts 1:18 says Judas died when,
"falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and his bowels gushed out."

It certainly looks like we are being told two contradictory stories, but all Christian Apologists agree there is a logical explanation. All of them say that Judas hung himself from a tree and the branch broke, causing him to hit the ground where his belly split open, and his bowels gushed out.

But wait a moment. Matthew doesn't give even the slightest hint about where Judas was hanged. It could have happened inside a house with a rope tied to the rafters, yet every apologist seems determined to have Judas hanging from a tree. Check out the crazy logic used by Gleason L. Archer as he tries desperately to get Judas outside and into the forest. He begins by pointing out that Judas "hanged himself" and then goes on to explain that the phrase comes from the Greek,

(apenxato - the aorist middle third person singular from apancho, a verb used with that specific meaning ever since the fifth century B.C.). This establishes the fact that Judas fastened a noose around his neck and jumped from the branch to which the other end of the rope was attached.

Do you see what he did there? He started with some information about the ancient Greek language, knowing full-well that his audience would bow to his expertise and nod along with whatever he had to say on the subject. And then, while they were still nodding in agreement, he casually introduced the word "branch", thus giving his readers the image of tree in their mind - and his readers go along with him because he has already told them it is an established fact !

But it's not an established fact at all, and it raises the question: Why are the apologists so keen to see Judas swinging from a tree?

Well if the suicide had taken place inside a house, Judas would have fallen only a few feet to the floor when the rope broke, and it is unlikely that would create enough force to burst open his belly - so the whole scene had to be shifted outdoors in order to make the apology work.

And not just anywhere outdoors either. In his "Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible" John Haley says,

"Judas suspended himself from a tree on the brink of the precipice overhanging the valley of Hinnom, and the limb or the rope giving way, he fell, and was mangled as described in Acts."

All that detail from "went and hanged himself" !

There is method in his madness, however, because now, with Judas hanging over a precipice; when the rope breaks he will plummet to the valley floor and probably hit the ground with enough force to split open his belly. In fact Haley goes on to quote a Professor Hackett who actually travelled to the valley of Hinnom, found the spot where Judas committed suicide (how he found it is not mentioned) but having found it, he took out his tape measure and discovered that Judas could have fallen anywhere from 25 to 40 feet and he,

"may have struck upon some pointed rock, which entered his body, and caused his bowels to gush out."

Darned clever people, those apologists - teasing all of that information from "went and hanged himself".

More than a hundred years after Haley, another apologist (Gleason L. Archer Jr) told the same story in his "Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties". He wrote,

"...the tree from which Judas suspended himself overhung a precipice. If the branch from which he hung himself was dead and dry"

...a strong gust of wind would have been enough to break the branch and drop the body "with great force" into the chasm below.

And the clincher for both Haley and Archer? The big detail that tells them that this is most certainly the place where Judas hung himself? There are trees growing there today! Which means there were probably trees growing there 2,000 years ago - what more proof do you need?


Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible - John W. Haley (pages 343,344)
Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties - Gleason L. Archer Jr (page 344)

So let's forget about the apologists and see if we can work out what is really happening:

In the first place it is worth noting that the very early Christians had never heard about Judas betraying Jesus and killing himself. For example, in 1 Corinthinans 15:5, Paul says that after the resurrection Jesus appeared to "the Twelve", so Judas was not yet dead, and apparently not regarded as a betrayer either. He was still with the apostles and apparently still being treated as an equal; certainly not ostracized.

Twenty years later, however, when Mark wrote his gospel in 70AD, he was saying that Jesus was betrayed, but made no mention of the death of Judas.

And ten years after that, when Matthew wrote his gospel in 80AD, we learn for the first time that Judas saw the error of his ways and committed suicide during a fit of remorse.

  • In 50AD Judas was a fully-fledged apostle with not a stain on his character.
  • In 70AD he was the apostle who betrayed Jesus.
  • In 80AD he was the betrayer who died at his own hand.

We can see the legend growing bit by bit as each book is written.

As it happens, Matthew was famous for trawling through the Old Testament, reinterpreting the stories he found there, and applying them to Jesus. It was Matthew, for example, who invented the story of the virgin birth. He took the text from Isaiah 7:14,

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

And rewrote it in Matthew 1:23 as,

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel.

We know it is an invention because 30 years earlier Paul actually went to the trouble of pointing out that there was nothing miraculous about the birth of Jesus. In Romans 1:3 he wrote,

Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.

So now we know Matthew's technique, and we know that he was the first biblical author to mention the death of Judas, which means we can be pretty sure that he got the story from the Old Testament and lo and behold, there it is in 2 Samuel 17:1-23:

Ahithophel was King David's favourite advisor, but when Absalom rose against David, Ahithophel changed sides and advised Absalom on the best way to defeat David's army. As it turned out, Absalom decided not to take the advice, and Ahithophel finally saw the error of his ways, and went home and hanged himself.

The similarities are obvious:
  • A king is betrayed by a friend
  • The friend sees the error of his ways
  • Is overcome by remorse
  • And hangs himself

Ten years later, in 90AD when Luke wrote the book of Acts, he pulled the same stunt. He noted that according to Mark 14:44, Jesus was betrayed with a kiss so he went looking for a similar Old Testament story and found it in 2 Samuel 20:1-10,

And Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him. But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand; so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground.

Luke would have been unaware that Matthew had already said that Judas had hung himself, so he didn't hesitate to include the disembowelment story in his book of Acts. He didn't care whether it was true or not; all he wanted was a story to tell the mugs in the pews - and he just knew that the Christians would go for this one. Murder, mayhem, and bloody gore - religion thrives on it.

For a long time these contradictory stories about the death of Judas were of no consequence because Matthew was writing for one group of Christians and Luke was writing for a completely different group. Neither group had any contact with the other, and so the discrepancy remained undiscovered. It was only centuries later, when both books appeared side by side in the New Testament, that the contradiction was revealed for all to see.


  • Phil likes this

Cousin Ricky
Mar 08 2012 04:00 PM
On 1 Corinthians 15:5: Matthias would not count as one of the 12, because he wasn't chosen until after the ascension.

On Matthew 1:23: More precisely, "Matthew" took his virgin birth story from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 7:14, which is a mistranslation of the original Hebrew, which mentions no virgin. Would the Christian god inspire someone off a bad translation?

Unfortunately, many Bibles continue to use the erroneous translation of Isaiah, because it fit what the translators believed was supposed to be there.

This is for the lurkers, as I'm sure you already know these.
RIP Joe Bloe
Mar 08 2012 06:11 PM
There are so many details that could (should?) be mentioned, but there just isn't enough time or space.

For example, in the same verse that mentions the death of Judas (Acts 1:18) we are also told that Judas used the thirty pieces of silver to buy a field, but Matthew says Judas threw the coins onto the floor of the temple and stormed out in a huff.

[And the apologists actually waste whole lifetimes trying to harmonize this rubbish]
This was interesting and informative. After reading your article Joe, I did some research on the death of Judas, and came away scratching my head. I found too many explanations, by apologists, trying to reconcile the inconsistencies, of the death of Judas. Finally, I just gave up, and decided it was just another Bible discrepancy.

[And the apologists actually waste whole lifetimes trying to harmonize this rubbish]

I almost feel sorry for them. As believers, they have no choice, but to attempt to reconcile biblical discrepancies. It seems a pity.
Good article Joe........may use parts of it myself some day.