The thirty pieces of silver

Although the story of Judas receiving money appears in Mark 14:10-11=Mt 26:14-16=Lk 22:3-6 and Acts 1:16-20 it is only in Matthew that the sum is given as thirty pieces of silver (Matthew inserts the sum into his quotation from Mark).

Judas repays the thirty pieces of silver to the chief high priests in Matthew’s version (Mt 27:3-10). Note however a very different story in Acts 1:16-20 where Judas himself buys the field.

Matthew appears (in the Greek text) to directly cite a prophecy of Jeremiah but the text quoted is much more like Zech 11:12-13, and it is impossible to believe that Matthew was mistaken in the original text. Zechariah’s prophecy is of riveting significance however. It is about the breaking of the covenant between God and all his peoples, and the breaking of the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. Zechariah receives his wages of thirty pieces of silver for a true prophecy and throws them in the treasury (or to the potter). He is then commanded to take once more the implements of a worthless shepherd and it would appear, condemned for deserting his flock?

Can it really be that Matthew is justifying the split between the early Church and its Jewish origins which occurred before 66 AD? The split is historical, but the New Testament is silent on it. Some claim that this is because all the text of the New Testament reached its present form before 66 AD. Whatever date these writings have, it is clear that the Constantine’s Council of Nicaea in establishing the current canon carefully removed all writings that included controversy. Accordingly the New Testament is generally silent over this split, the subsequent Jewish uprising against Rome, or its bloody suppression by Nero in which over 1 million people were killed according to Josephus.

It is tempting to think that this extremely oblique reference in Matthew’s gospel was hidden (through its reference to Jeremiah) and so preserved for us.

On Zechariah: From Q we have in Lk 11:51= Mt 23:35 in an extremely puzzling reference. Of all the righteous blood that has been split, Jesus singles out two: Abel and Zechariah, implying that Abel is the first and Zechariah the most recent. The former is famous of course. The second seems (in the RSV footnote) to refer to a Zechariah the son of Jehoiada (2 Chr 24:21), whereas it seems more obvious to identify the prophet Zechariah here, since Zech 1:1 gives his father as Berchiah. One solution is simply to translate the father’s name in Mt 23:35 as the Blessed as Alexander does.


Malcolm Crowe, Glasgow, 11 June - 12 October 1998.