Revisiting the Death(s) of Judas: Triggerman’s Novel Approach

INTRODUCTION

Earlier this year I wrote a short piece on the Matthean and Lukan versions of the death of Judas (Matthew 27:3-10, Acts 1:18-19).[1] In it I argued that the two accounts are fundamentally incompatible and that the standard attempts to reconcile them fall flat for a number of reasons. Recently, blogger Triggerman wrote a piece on what he thinks is going on in the Lukan version entitled “Alleged Bible Contradiction: How Did Judas Kill Himself?” Though it is well-written and contains much with which I agree, it is fundamentally flawed for a variety of reasons that I will explain later in this post. Before I dive in, I recommend readers click the link to Triggerman’s post and read for context. 

A SUMMARY OF TRIGGERMAN’S PIECE 

Following his introduction wherein he asserts that if people would merely “slow down and think about” the alleged contradiction in question that it “would never even be considered one,” as well as a brief excursus on the meaning of the word “contradiction,” Triggerman begins by laying down the basic groundwork for his view with three facts about the Bible to which I also assent: it is an anthology, not a single book; the chapter and verse divisions are later additions to aid readers and to full appreciate a single statement or verse one must consider the larger context; and we should “engage with the text thoughtfully.” Lamenting the frequency with which critics ignore these facts, Triggerman notes that when dealing with the Matthean and Lukan accounts those critics will present the full context of the Matthean account – an account which Triggerman thinks “is meant to recount strict facts” (emphasis author’s) – while completely ignoring the context of the Lukan. This, he opines, is tantamount to cheating.

Vs. 18-19 as Lukan Insertion

The author then moves on to consider Acts 1:18-19 in its narrative context and observes that vs.18-19 are marked in most English translations as parenthetical to the Petrine monologue that began in v.16.  Compounding this, Triggerman says, is that v.19 contains a translation of an Aramaic term to Greek and “so it’s difficult to tell if the entire parenthetical is Luke interjecting into the narrative or if everything up to the translation is meant to be representative of Peter’s own statement” (emphasis author’s). Further, the original Greek would not have had punctuation marks to indicate what material is parenthetical. However, on the assumption that vs.18-19 are Lukan insertions and assuming “Luke is dependent on Matthew and Mark as sources, as Markan priority suggests,” then Luke “is simply being poetic in his explanation of why Judas needs to be replaced” (emphasis author’s). Triggerman bases his conclusion on “common rhetorical rules regarding speeches in literature” employed by ancient authors. Thus, “Luke isn’t expecting his original audience to take this as being a literal description of events…nor is it contrary to Matthew’s matter-of-fact presentation” (emphasis author’s). The Lukan audience would have already had the Matthean account in its background knowledge and would have known Luke was providing an interpretation of that event. 

V. 19 Alone as Lukan Insertion

Triggerman then wonders what the implications would be if the single parenthetical of vs.18-19 was actually two independent parenthetical statements. In that spirit, Triggerman adjusts the punctuation of vs.18-19 in the ESV such that v. 19 is marked as a separate though connected thought to v.18. To the possible objection that he is doing little more than “fudging” things to aid his position, the author offers his reasoning for doing so. He observes that v.18 in Greek doesn’t begin with “now” as in the ESV but with a form of houtos, a masculine demonstrative pronoun that could be rendered “this man.” Following the demonstrative pronoun, the text features “the consequential phrase ‘men oun’ and a verb that seems best to be understood reflexively due to the use of the middle voice.” Hence, Triggerman suggests a possible translation of v.18a as, “This man certainly got a field as a reward for his unrighteousness.” The benefit of seeing v.18 as part of Peter’s speech and not as a Lukan parenthetical insertion is that it “would provide a contrast between was intended for Judas as a disciple and what he actually received for his betrayal” (emphasis author’s). Furthermore, this would parallel Peter’s citation of the psalms as well as “imagery from the Old Testament of the destiny of those who do evil.” As for v.19, Triggerman thinks it is a “historical reflection” that is “chronologically and narratively displaced in the context of the statement being made” and thus is “a unique parenthetical” (emphasis author’s). He then reaches the following conclusion regarding the whole of vs.18-19. 

If it is the case that this is simply Peter speaking rhetorically, or a speech constructed by Luke for rhetorical purposeswithin his narrative, then any attempt to reconcile them in literal, historical terms – as so many have tried to do – is simply foolish and will wind up doing damage to both texts. (Emphasis author’s.)

The Challenge

Following a dismissal of “possible rejoinders” to his views, Triggerman contends that to dismantle his approach one must demonstrate that he has mishandled the larger Lukan context, made an error with regards to Lukan style or grammar, or exhibit some inconsistency with regards to rhetorical categories. Then, in the context of a discussion of inspiration and inerrancy, he writes, 

If we take Markan priority seriously (I don’t) then we are presupposing that Luke is redacting (editing) multiple threads, including Mark and Matthew in his work. I would argue that, if this was true, it doesn’t mean that Luke changed anything. In fact, it means just the opposite: it means that Luke chose to do something creative with it in his narrative and saw other Old Testament parallels that Matthew didn’t or couldn’t work into his narrative. (Emphasis author’s.)

But what if the Acts of the Apostles was written before 65CE? In that case, Triggerman argues, Luke and Matthew are recounting events accurately, but they are “true in different ways” (emphasis author’s).[2] Luke records the “that” of Judas’ demise while Matthew records the “how.” 

THE TRIGGERMAN APPROACH: DOES IT WORK? 

While Triggerman’s novel view is fascinating and I find much in it with which I agree, it is nevertheless problematic throughout. 

Misunderstanding Markan Priority 

Twice in his piece, Triggerman asserts that Markan priority entails Luke’s usage of Mark and Matthew. This, however, conflates Markan priority with a hypothesis built upon the foundation of Markan priority. As a solution to the Synoptic Problem, Markan priority asserts 1) that of the three Synoptic Gospels to have been written, Mark’s was the first, and 2) that both the Matthean and Lukan authors utilized the Markan Gospel as a source. In and of itself, Markan priority says nothing about the order in which the other Synoptics were written. It could be that Luke wrote before Matthew or that Matthew wrote before Luke or that they wrote at the exact same moment in time. Regardless of their order, Mark’s Gospel has chronological priority.

Upon the basis of Markan priority a number of hypotheses have been proposed to account for the literary sources of the Synoptics. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the Two Source Hypothesis (2SH).[3] In this model, both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source as well as a sayings source referred to as Q (hence the “Two Source Hypothesis”). Material common to Matthew and Luke but not to Mark is known as “the double tradition” and that material 2SH posits is derived from Q.[4] Thus, fundamental to 2SH is the notion that Matthew and Luke wrote independently of one another. 

Another hypothesis which rests upon Markan priority is the Farrer Hypothesis, named for the late New Testament scholar Austin Farrer. Farrer’s view was that there was no such animal as Q and that there are clear indications that Luke wrote his Gospel using material from both Mark and Matthew.[5] While this view does not enjoy the consensus that 2SH does, it does have some noteworthy scholars supporting it including Duke University’s Mark Goodacre.[6]And it is this hypothesis – the Farrer Hypothesis – that Triggerman seems to be conflating with the underlying principle of Markan priority. 

Is Luke Being “Poetic” in v.18? 

It is upon the Farrer Hypothesis, then, that Triggerman argues Luke is redacting the Matthean account of Judas’ demise. The argument seems to be that if Luke has Matthew before him with its pericope of Judas’ death by hanging, then the description found in v.18 cannot be literal. The assumption here seems to be that Luke must agree with Matthew and so he cannot be contradicting the Matthean account. But why should we assume that? Further, why should we assume that a redactor must agree with his sources? We have clear evidence that this isn’t the case from other scenes among the Synoptics and so why not here? 

For example, in the Markan narrative Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6) takes place after Jesus has returned to “the other side” of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 5:21) where he heals a woman with hemorrhages (vs.25-34) and raises the daughter of the leader of the synagogue from the dead (vs.35-43). But Luke places the rejection scene at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:16-30), long before the events of Mark 5:21-43 (see Luke 8:40-56). This change to the narrative is not insignificant and has the effect of changing the tone of Jesus’ ministry. Whereas the Markan scene functioned as the impetus for Jesus’ expanding his ministerial vision beyond the local scene, Luke’s “repositioning and reshaping of the passage [has] the effect of making a wider audience the focus of Jesus’ messianic calling from the very beginning.”[7] This move, in fact, serves Lukan rhetorical purposes in that Luke’s vision of Jesus and his ministry is global in nature and the sermon the Lukan Jesus preaches in the Nazarene synagogue mentions two episodes involving Gentiles (Luke 4:25-27), demonstrating this expansive outlook.  

Clearly, then, Luke had no qualms with both expanding a narrative (as he does with the Markan rejection pericope) and moving it to somewhere else for his own literary aims. Had he agreed with the Markan (and, for that matter, the Matthean) chronology regarding the when of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth, he would have no doubt retained it. That he doesn’t suggests a disagreement with the Markan author. And so under the assumption that Luke used the Gospel of Matthew, why couldn’t it be that Luke didn’t agree with the Matthean account of Judas’ demise? Couldn’t it be that Luke had a tradition concerning Judas that differed from Matthew’s? Indeed, it is very likely.

Competing Etiologies

Besides discussing the fate of Judas Iscariot, both the Matthean and Lukan narratives also discuss a field known as the “Field of Blood.” In Matthew, the explanation for the name is that it was on account of the blood money (Matthew 27:6) with which it was purchased that it was designated “the Field of Blood.” The Lukan narrative offers a different explanation: “This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood” (Acts 1:19). What is the “this” that “became known”? In context, it is the information shared in v.18, namely that Judas, “falling headlong…burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.” In other words, it wasn’t simply the “Field of Blood” but the “Bloody Field” on account of Judas’ gruesome death. 

We thus have two competing etiologies for “Field of Blood.” Triggerman has already conceded that the Lukan etiology of v.19 “seems to be a historical reflection” and it is this concession that makes his view on v.18 so problematic. If the demise of Judas recorded in v.18 is merely “poetic,” then the etiology of v.19 makes no sense whatsoever. The reason the Field of Blood is so named according to Luke is because of the bloody death of Judas within it. For v.19 to be a historical reflection as he contends, Triggerman must concede that v.18 is a historical reflection as well. If he does so, he is right back to square one for the Matthean and Lukan accounts concerning Judas’ demise appear to be contradictory. And given the fact that he has already discounted such solutions as the idea that the Lukan narrative is recounting what happened to Judas post-mortem, Triggerman’s only option is to admit that there is, in fact, a contradiction. 

CONCLUSION

By glossing over the implication of v.19 with regards to v.18, Triggerman has failed to account for all the textual data. The naming of the field “the Field of Blood” demands that what happened to Judas in v.18 be taken as a historical event and, therefore, Luke could not have been writing poetically concerning Judas’ fate. Having discounted other explanations for the apparent contradiction and acknowledging that on a historical level the Matthean and Lukan accounts do not square up with one another, Triggerman is left with no other conclusion than that these two accounts are actually contradictory. 

Welcome to the team, Triggerman!


[1] See “The Death(s) of Judas” (5.4.19), amateurexegete.com.

[2] Triggerman seems to be saying that if Luke was writing before 65CE and depended upon Matthew (which means the Matthean Gospel was even earlier) then both were close to the events they recorded and are more accurate than if they were written long after those events (as the scholarly consensus asserts).

[3] For an overview of the Two Source Hypothesis, see Craig A. Evans, “The Two Source Hypothesis,” in The Synoptic Problem: Four Views, Stanley E. Porter and Bryan R. Dyer, editors (Baker Academic, 2016), 27-45.

[4] On the existence of Q and what it likely contained, see John S. Kloppenborg, Q, the Earliest Gospel: An Introduction to the Original Stories and Sayings of Jesus (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008).

[5] See Austin M. Farrer, “On Dispensing with Q,” in Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R.H. Lightfoot, D.E. Nineham, editor (Blackwell, 1955), 55-88.

[6] Mark Goodacre, The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Trinity Press International, 2002).

[7] L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 326. 


Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

2 thoughts on “Revisiting the Death(s) of Judas: Triggerman’s Novel Approach

Add yours

  1. Good response. Both accounts seem motivated to some degree. Matthew wants to show that Judas was remorseful and so killed himself; Luke that Judas was an evildoer whom God struck down. This, I think, just adds to the likelihood that these texts share no relationship, or are purposely contradictory remembrances of Judas.

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