Mount Ephraim and Benjamin
An uninhabited area outside Jerusalem where Judas Iscariot committed suicide and was buried (Acts 1:19). The name "Akeldama" is derived from the Aramaic expression haqel demai ("field of blood"), which came to be attached to the location through its connection with Judas Iscariot (on the form, see F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and R. W. Funk. 1961. A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago ß39.3). Klostermann (apud Lake 1965:13) suggests that the translation of the Aramaic in the Acts account was generated by later Christians eager to promote their perspective and that the phrase originally referred to "field of sleep" and was a euphemism for a cemetery. Klostermann's position is rejected by Kirsopp Lake, who questions the etymological argument that substitutes the word for "blood" with the word for "sleep." Lake also suggests that there is no usage of the term "field of sleep" meaning cemetery in associated ancient literature (Lake 1965: 13). The transliteration provided in Acts 1 is superior. Acts 1:18 identifies Judas as purchasing this property with the blood money acquired from the priests for betraying Jesus. Judas' purchase of the land, however, was effected only after his suicide, by the proxy of the priests (Matt 27:3). The plot they purchased with the blood money was reportedly the potter's field in which Judas had committed suicide (Matt 27:5). The potter's field was subsequently set aside as a cemetery for foreigners.
The place known as the potter's field could have been either the possession of a specific potter or a place that acquired that name through its association with potters. The significance of the previous ownership of the land arises in that the purchase of the potter's field is reported by Matt 27:10 to be a fulfillment of a prophecy of Jeremiah. This citation, however, appears to be a combination of Zech 11:12-13; Jer 18:2-12, Jer 19:1-13, and Jer 32:6-9.
The description of Akeldama as the potter's field has contributed to locating the site. The OT frequently associates the S side of Jerusalem with potters. The area beyond the Potsherd Gate (Jer 19:2) in the Hinnom Valley was the location of Jeremiah's demonstration of the smashing of a newly purchased clay jar to proclaim the coming events of the Babylonian expansion. The Potsherd Gate is equated with the Dung Gate (Neh 2:13) in the Tg. Yer. It is maintained by many that it attained its name because it overlooked a pottery dump. In Jeremiah's message he implies that the name of the location would change from Topeth or Valley of Ben Hinnom to the "valley of slaughter" following the Babylonian advance (Jer 19:6). This final description is close to the later Aramaic name.
The Hinnom Valley S of Jerusalem is argued to be the location of Akeldama. This valley was desecrated in the eyes of pious Jews from the time of Kings Ahaz and Manasseh, who promoted Molech worship there (2 Kgs 23:10). In the 1st century A.D. the valley was used as a refuse dump for the city of Jerusalem (see Mark 9:47). These aspects would have contributed to the non-occupation of the site. The priests would have been able to purchase the land there at a relatively low price, and foreigners not concerned with Jewish religion would have had no problems with being buried in that location.
In the 4th century Jerome affirmed a S location of Akeldama in opposition to Eus., who held that it was N of Jerusalem. The traditional site is located on a level space on the S side of the Hinnom Valley, just before it joins the Kidron Valley. A ruined structure 24 m by 17 m is located on the site today. This structure was used as a communal burial place for centuries. Today a Greek monastery stands near the site and carries the name. This site cannot be conclusively shown to be the actual site of Akeldama.
Bibliography: Lake, K. 1965. The Beginnings of Christianity. Pt. I: The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. 4, ed. F. J. Foakes Jackson and K. Lake. Grand Rapids.
Robert W. Smith, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ad v. "Akeldama" (extract)
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 57)
This is the 'field of blood' (Acts 1:19), bought with the 30 silver coins of Judas Iscariot (Matth. 27:6-8). The mosaicist seems to have followed Eus.On. 38:20f. who wrongly located the place 'north of Mount Zion', but corrected himself in 102:14-16 and was corrected by St. Jerome. The real Akeldama (Der Abu Tor), mentioned by nearly all Christian pilgrims and Early Fathers, is situated in the Valley of Hinnom (Wadi ar-Rababa) south of Jerusalem. It was for a long time a cemetery for pilgrims.
Map Section 5 Place Sources