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Akeldama (The Potter's Field)

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Did Judas Hang Himself on this Spot?

Location - Jerusalem

Map Coordinates - 31.768294, 35.233222

Merged Gospels story - 272

The Name.

Akeldama is an Aramaic word that is translated “field of blood". That was the name given to this site after the death of Judas Iscariot. Before his death this area was called the Potter’s Field, because the soil in the region contains a type of clay suitable for making pottery.

Eusebius in the third century AD is the earliest source to identify this site of Akeldama, which made it a popular burial site for Christian pilgrims, especially in the Crusaders period (12th-13th century AD).

Two Reasons Why This was Called the Field of Blood.

Reason #1. Christian tradition connects this place with Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The Gospel of Matthew describes how Judas returned the money to the Temple authorities before hanging himself. Deeming it as blood money, and therefore illegal to put into their treasury, the Jewish rulers used it instead to buy a field as a burial ground for foreigners. Thus, the place acquired the name "the Field of Blood” (Matthew 27:8).

Reason #2. According to Acts 1:18-19, Judas

“…acquired a field with the reward of his unjust deed, and falling headfirst he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. This became known to all who lived in Jerusalem so that in their own language they called that field Akeldama, that is, 'Field of Blood.'"

The implication in Matthew is that the location’s name refers to the blood of Jesus, whereas in Acts the name refers to the blood of Judas. Both allusions are Scriptural.

How did Judas die?

The Gospel of Matthew says Judas was filled with remorse after betraying Jesus, and that he took his own life by hanging himself in this area. What seems to be a contradiction in the way that Judas died (comparing Matthew 27:3-9 and Acts 1:18) is explained by the fact that after dying Judas’ body simply rotted away, and that his decomposing corpse, having been eaten by birds or maggots, fell to the ground and burst open.

The Hinnom Valley.

In the Old Testament period, this valley was where some of the ancient Israelites “passed children through the fire” (sacrificed their children) to the Canaanite god Molech (see 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2-6). Later, the valley was used for incinerating the corpses of criminals and unclean animals, and to burn garbage from the city. Due to these practices and the vivid imagery that the place evoked, Jesus used Gehenna as a symbolic description of hell (Matthew 10:28, Mark 9:47-48).

The Akeldama Tombs.

The Gospel of Matthew tells us that the field was purchased to be a burial ground for Jewish (and ultimately Christian) pilgrims who came to Jerusalem, but who did not survive prior to returning home. It continued to be used as a burial place for non-Jews up to the first quarter of the 19th century.

One of the tombs found near the monastery is believed to be that of Annas, head of the high priestly family that included Caiaphas, and who presided at the trial of Jesus.

The Crusader Charnel House.

One of the large ruins at this site used to be an underground charnel house built during the Crusader era. A charnel house is a structure that is used to store human remains, in this case, Crusader soldiers who died in the hospital located at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher compound. That hospital included the crypt of the Church of John the Baptist.

The Monastery of Saint Onuphrius.

In 1874 the Greek Orthodox Church built a monastery on this site, named after Saint Onuphrius from Egypt. Onuphrius was a saintly monk in around the 4th century, famous for his long-flowing beard, which was his only garment apart from a loincloth of leaves.

Saint Onuphrius

This monastery now stands on the place where Judas is believed to have hanged himself. It was constructed over the remains of an earlier church building, and is occupied by a small community of Greek Orthodox nuns. The monastery chapel is in a former burial cave, with holes in the walls where bodies were laid.

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