For some of you, the content of this post may be old hat, but for others it may be new information. Anyway, today while reading through the Fragments of Papias in the Apostolic Fathers, I came across a tradition that asserts that Judas did not die of suicide. Here's the logic:
We read in Mt 27.5-6 that "he [Judas] threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, 'It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.'" According to Matthew, Judas did hang himself, but it is not clear that this was the cause of his death. Matthew only tells us that Judas, at some point, was successful in suspending himself in the air. We also read in Acts 1.16-18 that Judas, the one who robbed from the ministry purse, the one who betrayed Jesus, and the one who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus, "acquired a field with the price of his wickedness" and "falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his innards or bowels were exposed (some translation say "gushed out")."
Some have attempted to pit Matthew against Luke but there is no need to do that. In fact, if one takes Matthew at his word that Judas did hang himself, then Luke's account about the stomach splitting open and the innards becoming exposed, corroborates quite nicely. For most readers of the Bible, this is the extent of their knowledge about Judas's hanging, in fact, they have typically concluded from this that he died. Lights out. End of story.
However, Papias, a bishop in the ancient city of Hierapolis, had much more to say about this. He wrote:
Judas did not die by hanging, but he survived after being taken down, before he had choked to death. The Acts of the Apostles signifies this as well: 'Falling headfirst he burst forth in the middle, and his intestines became exposed/poured out.'
That's the first part of what Papias says. Notice here that the emphasis on the falling is twofold: 1) Judas fell headfirst, which caused his head to split in the middle, and 2) That Judas's bowels/stomach parts also became exposed. Here's the second part of what Papias says (following Ehrman's translation in LCL, Frag. 4.1-3):
But Judas went about in this world as a great model of impiety. He became so bloated in the flesh that he could not pass through a place that was easily wide enough for a wagon--not even his swollen head could fit. They say that his eyelids swelled to such an extent that he could not see the light at all; and a doctor could not see his eyes even with an optical device, so deeply sunken they were in the surrounding flesh. And his genitals became more disgusting and larger than anyone's; simply by relieving himself, to his wanton shame, he emitted pus and worms that flowed through his entire body. And they say that after he suffered numerous torments and punishments, eh died on his own land, and that land has been, until now, desolate and uninhabited because of the stench. Indeed, even to this day no one can pass by the place without holding his nose. This was how great an outpouring he made from his flesh on the ground.
According to Papias, Judas did not die from the hanging but later of some other cause, likely health related and quite possibly induced from his wounds conceived during the hanging.
This raises many questions and concerns for me. Beyond questions of the importance of the Apostolic Fathers, it brings up issues such as the enduring debates about where Judas may spend eternity. Judas may be a moot figure in the debates about suicide, for example. Also, is it likely that in all of his pain and shame, he repented? Some have tried to pit Matthew and Luke and Papias against one another, however, it is clear that Papias knew of Judas's story (and Luke's account) and he had no problem squaring all the details. Thus, why is it that modern commentators must try to force their interpretive agendas into the discussion, discounting Papias's ancient testimony, or casting doubts and aspersions on either his word or Matthew's or Luke's? To me, such moves typically say more about the interpreter than they do the ancient witnesses. Anyway, I found this interesting and worth mentioning.
One last note: I find it entirely frustrating that those who've set about to interpret the Apostolic Fathers (AF), insist on using different chapter/verse numbering systems. Even more, I could not see how in the world Lightfoot and others could render the Greek of the fragment so as to say that Judas's head was crushed by a wagon wheel (αλλα μηδε αυτον μονον τον της κεφαλης ογκον αυτου.). To me, this seems like stretching the Greek and forcing a very odd gloss on the word ογκον (from whence we get our word "oncology"), which typically means "bulk of the head" or "weight, burden, impediment." To render this as "crushed" makes little sense to me! Indeed, Ehrman's translation seems most natural: "not even his swollen head could fit." The picture is of Judas with a split head that has been bandaged and wrapped so much that he cannot easily duck under a typical door frame without trouble.