In the opening chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we find a rather different version. First, it is Judas himself who purchases the field with the money he received ("the reward of his wickedness"), and not the priests. Secondly, Judas does not hang himself. He does not even seem to commit suicide, nor does he express any regret for betraying Jesus. Rather, the text provides the following mysterious sentence: "and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels rushed out" (Acts 1:18). What does this mean? What caused him to fall so violently that his belly exploded? What message does the author of Acts wish to communicate through this grizzly (perhaps "visceral" is the most apt word) scene? The Greek text of the verse reads as follows:
- καὶ πρηνὴς γενόμενος ἐλάκησεν μέσος, καὶ ἐξεχύθη πάντα τὰ σπλάγχνα αὐτοῦ.
I find Most's interpretation fascinating but wonder if there might be a better answer. Another solution to this question might be found in an alternative reading of the verse in question which inserts the word πεπρησμενος ("swelling up") instead of πρηνὴς γενόμενος ("falling headlong"). This reading has been accepted by many NT scholars (see W. Bauer, Lexicon, s.v. πρηνής). This would mean that Judas' belly became distended to the point that it burst open. Could it be that the author of Acts was thinking of another biblical passage in which a betrayer is punished by means of a swollen belly that eventually leads to death? The best candidate for this is the Sotah ritual, an elaborate examination meant to convict a woman suspected of adultery (Numbers 5:11-31). The important verse for our purposes reads as follows:
- "If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse." (Num 5:27)
- ...καὶ πρησθήσεται τὴν κοιλίαν καὶ διαπεσεῖται ὁ μηρὸς αὐτῆς καὶ ἔσται ἡ γυνὴ εἰς ἀρὰν ἐν τῷ λαῷ αὐτῆς
- "...and her belly will be swelled up and her thigh will fall to pieces, and the woman will be a curse among her nation."
I think this similarities are too numerous to ignore. The author of Acts constructed this vignette of Judas' death with the Sotah ritual in mind. His goal was not simply to vilify Judas but to demonstrate his guilt in an objective manner. The Akeldama episode serves as Judas' trial. The fact that he is tried in the manner of an adulterous woman demonstrates that Luke-Acts is not only interested in satanizing Judas (Lk 22:3), but also in feminizing him (Lk 22:47-8)
What these two versions of Judas' death have in common is that they are aetiological in nature. That is, they are intended to explain the origin of a name, in this case a place name (toponym). The name of the place associated with these two stories, Akeldama (Greek - Ἁκελδαμάχ) comes from two Aramaic words, field (חקל) and blood (דמא). Presumably, the original reason for this name was the reddish color of the soil. This is somewhat similar to the name of the "red ascent" (Maale Adumim) and the "red inn" (Khan el Ahmar) which are located on a stretch of the Jericho-Jerusalem road famous for its exposed pink limestone (see picture below). Both stories of the demise of Judas make the case that redness of the soil in Akeldama is due to the spilling of human blood; for Matthew it is Jesus' blood, while for Luke it is Judas' blood (not to mention his intestines).