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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Akeldama

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AKELDAMA.—The name given in Acts 1:19 to the field purchased with the price of Judas’ treachery. The true reading seems to be ἀκελδαμάχ (B; cf. ἁχελδαμάχ, אA 61, etc.: ἁκελδαιμάχ, D [Note: Deuteronomist.] ; ἁκελδαιμάχ, E [Note: Elohist.] ) rather than the TR [Note: R Textus Receptus.] ἁκελδαιμάχ; and the final aspirate is here of importance, as will be seen.

The two accounts of the death of Judas (Matthew 27:3 f. and Acts 1:18 f.) are hard to reconcile (see Judas, and art. in Expositor for June 1904, by the present writer); but it is sufficient to note here that they are clearly independent of each other. The salient features of the Matthaean tradition are—(a) Judas stricken with remorse returned the money paid to him as the price of his treachery; (b) he hanged himself in despair, nothing being said as to the scene of his suicide; (c) the priests bought with the money a field known as ‘the Potter’s Field,’ which (d) thenceforth was called ἀγρὸς αἳματος, the allusion being to the blood of Christ, shed through the treachery of Judas; (e) the field was devoted to the purpose of a cemetery for foreigners. In Acts, on the other hand, (a) nothing is said of a refunding of the money by Judas; (b) his death was not self-inflicted, nor was it caused by hanging; it is described as due to a fall and a consequent rupture of the abdomen; (c) the held was bought by Judas himself, and not by the priests; (d) nothing is said of its former use as a ‘potter’s field,’ nor (e) of the purpose for which it was used after the death of Judas; (f) the blood which gave its name to the field was that of Judas, by which it was defiled, for (g) the field Akeldama is identified with the place of his death, a fact of which there is no mention in Matthew.

The only point common to the two accounts is that the name by which the field was known in the next generation after Judas’ death was an Aramaic word which was variously rendered ἀγρὸς αἳματος and χωρίον αἳματος by Mt. and Luke. Lk. gives a transliteration of this Aramaic name; he says it was ἁκελδαμάχ, that is, he understands it as equivalent to חֲקִל דְּמֲא, ‘Field of Blood.’ And ἁκελδαμάχ is, no doubt, a possible transliteration of these Hebrew words, for we have other instances of final א being represented by the Greek χ, as, .g., in the equation Σιράχ = סִירָא. But we should not a final χ, although it might be defended, if the last part of the Aramaic title were דָּסָא; the presence of χ suggests rather that the Aramaic title ended with the letters דּמך. Now it is remarkable that דְמַךְ = κοιμᾶσθαι, so that κοιμητήριον ‘cemetery’ would be the exact equivalent of חֲקִל דְמַךְ. And Klostermann (Probleme im Aposteltexte, p. 6 ff.) has suggested that this was really the name by which the field was known to the native Jews, and that we have here a corroboration of St. Matthew’s tradition ‘to bury strangers in’ (Matthew 27:7). This conjecture is confirmed by the fact, which has been pointed out above, that the significance of the name ‘Field of Blood’ was differently understood by Mt. and Luke. When we have two rival explanations offered of a place-name, it is probable that the name itself is a corruption of some other, akin in sound, but not in sense.

The evidence, then, points to the following conclusions. The field which was purchased with the wages of Judas was originally a ‘potter’s field,’ or pit, in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. It may have been (as Christian tradition had it afterwards) the place in the Valley of Hinnom where the potter of Jeremiah’s day pursued his craft (Jeremiah 18:2; Jeremiah 19:2); but of this there is no hint in the NT, for the reference to Jeremiah in the text of Matthew 27:9 is an inadvertence, the passage quoted by the Evangelist being Zechariah 11:13. This ‘potter’s field’ was used as a burial-ground for strangers, and so was called דְּמַךְ חֲקִל = œmeterium. Within half a century the name became corrupted to חֲקִל דָּמָא ‘the Field of Blood,’ the allusion being variously interpreted of the blood of Christ and the blood of Judas.

There is no good reason to doubt the identity of the modern Hakk ed-Dumm, on the south bank of the Valley of Hinnom, with the ‘Akeldamach’ of Lk. and the ἀγρὸς αἵματος of Matthew. The early pilgrims, e.g. Antoninus (570) and Areulf (685), describe its site with sufficient accuracy, and so do the later mediaeval travellers.

Tradition has distinguished Akeldama, the field purchased with Judas’ thirty pieces of silver, from the scene of his death—a distinction of sites which though inconsistent with Acts 1, is compatible with Mt., as has been pointed out above. Thus Antoninus places ‘Akeldemac. hoc est, ager sanguinis, in quo omnes peregrine sepeliuntur’ (§ 26), near Siloam; but the fig-tree ‘on which Judas banged himself’ was shown him on the N. E. of the city (§ 17). Arculf seems to place the latter upon the Hill of Evil Counsel (§ 18), where it is shown at the present day; but the tradition has not been constant, the ‘elder-tree’ of Judas having been pointed out to Sir J. Maundeville (in 16th cent.) near Absalom’s pillar.

The best description of Hakk ed-Dumm, and of the buildings which remain of the old charnel house, will be found in an article by Sehick (PEFSt [Note: EFSt Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1892, p. 283 ff.). It is quite possible, as he says, that this was once the site of a potter’s cave; and clay used to be taken, up to quite recent times, from a place a little higher up the Hill of Evil Counsel. This burial-place was much used in Crusading times; indeed, it came to be regarded as an honour to be buried in Akeldama, so completely were the old associations of horror forgotten or ignored.

J. H. Bernard.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Akeldama'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/akeldama.html. 1906-1918.

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