Matthew Chapter 27:1-10

There remains this very long chapter, and one shorter one in this gospel. This chapter describes the events of what Christians call Good Friday. The narrative is clear that Jesus died on the day before the Sabbath, so that clearly indicates a Friday. Of course, this assumes that we can trust the narrative. As we shall see, once again, there may be reason to be suspicious. There was less commentary on the previous chapter, and I suspect that will be true for large chunks of this one. Although, one never knows.

1 Πρωΐας δὲ γενομένης συμβούλιον ἔλαβον πάντες οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ κατὰ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ὥστε θανατῶσαι αὐτόν:

2 καὶ δήσαντες αὐτὸν ἀπήγαγον καὶ παρέδωκαν Πιλάτῳ τῷ ἡγεμόνι.

Having become morning, all the high priests took a conference together and the elders of the people upon Jesus in which way to kill him.  (2) And binding him and they handed him to Pilate the Leader.

Once again to point out a fairly glaring internal inconsistency within the story as presented. Last chapter, we were told that the high priests were afraid of the crowd, so they cautioned themselves against arresting Jesus during the Festival. But, here it is, the first full day of Passover, and what are they doing? Deciding, not to arrest him, but how to kill him.

Brief grammatical note: the “to kill” is an aorist infinitive. The aorist is pretty much the standard past tense. In English, the infinitive describes an action that will occur at some point after the time of the narrative. “They discussed how to kill him”. In temporal relation to the discussion, the killing has not occurred. But since the tense of the infinitive is past, it describes an action having occurred prior to the writing. It gets a bit tricky–nigh on impossible–to preserve the full sense of the Greek in such situations. Also, whenever you get to a commentary, and the commentator makes a big deal about explaining the nuance of the aorist, put your skeptical goggles on. The aorist is a standard past tense. I tend not to be terribly impressed with the explanation of why they aorist is so significant. Sometimes it seems that commentators like to toss out the expression “aorist tense” because it sounds so exotic to speakers of post-Latin languages, which includes English since it developed at the same time as the post-Latin languages. The tense worth discussing is the optative, but I believe there are only two of these in the NT. I’m concurrently reading The Anabasis, and the optative crops up all the time. 

“Leader” is the standard Greek word for Leader. Agamemnon is described in several places as the “leader of the Argives”. This signifies that he was the military commander-in-chief, even if not the king of the entire force of the Hellenic-speaking force. It is also appropriate to use the term for “leader of the chorus” at a play, or as a term for The Emperor. The Great Scott indicates that it is used in the NT to refer to the Roman governor. I have to admit ignorance of this. I didn’t get far enough into The Antiquities in Greek to come across the term for Pilate, nor did I read The Jewish War in Greek, so I don’t actually know what Pilate’s title would be in Greek. Shame on me. 

The point, though, is that the term is less than technical. In which case, the question becomes “why use the non-technical term?” There are two reasons, I suppose. The first is that Matthew did not know the term, or that he did not think his audience would know the term. True, there could be literary considerations; perhaps he just liked the sound of the word in this context.  But if either of the first two describe the reality, this throws at least a small monkey-wrench into the machinery of my argument that Matthew was a pagan writing for pagans. Would they not have known the proper title? Perhaps, and I admit that this word cannot be dismissed; rather, it has to be explained if I am to consider my argument credible. One suggestion is that I can never remember if Pilate was the Prefect or the Procurator. The title changed after Pilate, and I can never remember which came first. Matthew may have known that the current title was not accurate, and perhaps he could not remember the previous title, so he fudged with a generic. It’s not like educated children had a civics class in which they discussed the development of the Roman governing apparatus in the Near East. Someone truly educated, like Suetonius or Tacitus or even Josephus would probably have known, but I doubt that any of the evangelists were educated to anything close to that level. The evangelists probably had HS diplomas, but the other writers had Ph.Ds.

1 Mane autem facto, consi lium inierunt omnes princi pes sacerdotum et seniores populi adversus Iesum, ut eum morti traderent.

2 Et vinctum adduxerunt eum et tradiderunt Pilato praesidi.

3 Τότε ἰδὼν Ἰούδας ὁ παραδιδοὺς αὐτὸν ὅτι κατεκρίθη μεταμεληθεὶς ἔστρεψεν τὰ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν καὶ πρεσβυτέροις

4 λέγων, Ημαρτον παραδοὺς αἷμα ἀθῷον. οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Τί πρὸς ἡμᾶς; σὺ ὄψῃ.

5 καὶ ῥίψας τὰ ἀργύρια εἰς τὸν ναὸν ἀνεχώρησεν, καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπήγξατο.

Then Judas the betrayer seeing him that he was condemned, repentant returned the 30 pieces of silver to the high priests and elders, (4) saying, “I sinned giving over innocent blood”. They said, what is it to us? You will see.” (5) And throwing the silver into the Temple, he left, and going away he [did something]. 

Of course, we all know that Judas hanged himself. But the Greek is not really pellucid on that. One NT Greek dictionary says there is no definition available; another translates it as “to strangle” & such, and Strong’s Words agrees with this. Liddell & Scott have nothing, and I looked via a number of different stem changes. The Latin, OTOH, is reasonably clear: laqueo se suspendit. The last two words are pretty much “hanged/hung himself”, and the laqueo is like a snare, so it’s a reference to the noose. So once again St Jerome bails us out.

And while we’re talking about words, there is the ‘innocent blood’. Some manuscript traditions have this reading as ‘just blood’. Here, the ‘just’ is the word that gets translated as “justify” most frequently. Personally, I think that this may be the more accurate reading since it is harder to, well, justify. After all, “innocent blood” is obvious; “just blood”, perhaps not so much. Be that as it may, “innocent” seems to be the more common word. All of my crib translations use “innocent”.

And while we’re on the aorist, note the “I sinned over innocent blood”. The natural way to express this in English is “I have sinned”. All my crib translations translate it this way. Indeed, even the Latin, “peccavi”, is the perfect tense: I have sinned. However, the Greek is an aorist, denoting completed action. Ergo, “I sinned”.

Got to tell this story. One of the British generals was trying to capture the Indian city of Sindh. The Home Office got a telegram from him with a single word. “Peccavi”. IOW, “I have sinned (Sindh).” Love that story, but I’m a Classics geek, so there you go. And there’s the whole imperialist theme there, too, which isn’t something to promote, but sometimes you have to push the envelope a bit.

3 Tunc videns Iudas, qui eum tradidit, quod damnatus esset, paenitentia ductus, rettulit triginta argenteos principibus sacerdotum et senioribus

4 dicens: “Peccavi tradens sanguinem innocentem”. At illi dixerunt: “Quid ad nos? Tu videris!”.

5 Et proiectis argenteis in templo, recessit et abiens laqueo se suspendit.

6 οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς λαβόντες τὰ ἀργύρια εἶπαν, Οὐκ ἔξεστιν βαλεῖν αὐτὰ εἰς τὸν κορβανᾶν, ἐπεὶ τιμὴ αἵματός ἐστιν.

7 συμβούλιον δὲ λαβόντες ἠγόρασαν ἐξ αὐτῶν τὸν Ἀγρὸν τοῦ Κεραμέως εἰς ταφὴν τοῖς ξένοις.

8 διὸ ἐκλήθη ὁ ἀγρὸς ἐκεῖνος Ἀγρὸς Αἵματος ἕως τῆς σήμερον.

9 τότε ἐπληρώθη τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἰερεμίου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος, Καὶ ἔλαβον τὰ τριάκοντα ἀργύρια, τὴν τιμὴν τοῦ τετιμημένου ὃν ἐτιμήσαντο ἀπὸ υἱῶν Ἰσραήλ,

10 καὶ ἔδωκαν αὐτὰ εἰς τὸν ἀγρὸν τοῦ κεραμέως, καθὰ συνέταξέν μοι κύριος.

The chief priest taking the silver said, “It is not worthy to put this in the Korban, since it is blood honour.” (7) Taking a conference they bought the Field of Potters as a burial for strangers. (8) Because of this the field was called the Blood Field until this day. (9) Then was fulfilled the writing of the prophet Jeremiah saying, “And the took the thirty silvers, the honour of having been honoured, the one they honoured from the sons of Israel. (10) And they gave this to the field of the potters, accordingly the lord arranged to me.”

A bunch of things here. First, we probably should address the translation of Verse 9. This is obviously pretty literal, probably to a fault. The word is << τιμὴ >>, and it’s a really key concept of Greek thought. The problem is, perhaps, that it doesn’t work so well in the context of Hebrew thought. Some form of the word is repeated three times in Verse 9, so I repeated it three times. The base meaning of timē is honour. In particular, it’s the honour due someone, especially to the gods, and to each god. Poseidon felt that Odysseus did not give him proper honour, so Poseidon saw fit to punish Odysseus on his journey home from Troy. In the English versions of this verse, it is rendered as “value”, at least some of the time. Honour and value may have be related in some ways, or may overlap, but they are not the same thing. In English, “value” has too much of a monetary implication that is almost (but not quite) missing from the Greek. The point is that Matthew is trying to shoehorn the words of Jeremiah into a meaning that is not entirely natural.

We’ve run across the term “korban” before, exactly once to be exact. This was in Mark 7:11, when Jesus accuses the Pharisees of not truly honouring their father and mother because they declared their goods “korban”. I didn’t understand the term at all back then, but now I have some inkling, at least. The word is probably usefully rendered as “sacred”; the Pharisees declared their goods to be sacred, dedicated to God, so they weren’t available to be used in support of father and mother. So too, here, the blood money cannot be used for sacred purposes. 

The Field of Potters. The Greek is keramaos, and you should be able to see the word “ceramic” in there. This is backed up by the Latin ‘figulus’, which is a potter. So the field was bought from the pottery section of the city, or probably adjoined this quarter, or was related in some way to the local manufacture of pottery in Jerusalem. This act has given the name “Potter’s Field” to English, meaning a burial place for the indigent. Here, however, it was for foreigners who did not have ancestral ties to the area, so they did not have family burial grounds.

6 Principes autem sacerdotum, acceptis argenteis, dixerunt: “Non licet mittere eos in corbanam, quia pretium sanguinis est”.

7 Consilio autem inito, emerunt ex illis agrum Figuli in sepulturam peregrinorum.

8 Propter hoc vocatus est ager ille ager Sanguinis usque in hodiernum diem.

9 Tunc impletum est quod dictum est per Ieremiam prophetam di centem: “Et acceperunt triginta argenteos, pretium appretiati quem appretiaverunt a filiis Israel,

10 et dederunt eos in agrum Figuli, sicut constituit mihi Dominus”.



About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on October 29, 2016, in Chapter 27, gospel commentary, gospels, Matthew's Gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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