A traditional interpretation is simply to harmonize the two accounts together, the so-called ‘weak rope’ theory: Judas hung himself, but the rope (or the branch the rope was hanging on) soon broke off and his body plummeted from a considerable height that it (literally) burst.
But I’d like to point out something interesting (although it doesn’t really involve reconciling the two accounts). You would notice that Judas in Matthew hangs himself just like Ahitophel (David’s advisor who betrayed him by defecting to David’s son Absalom) in 2 Samuel 17. So there’s also a symbolic connection: Judas, who betrayed Jesus, the “Son of David” (a favorite title of Matthew’s) dies in his gospel just like Ahitophel, the quintessential traitor who betrayed King David!
Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your counsel. What shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house, and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself a stench to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom non the roof. And Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. Now in those days the counsel that Ahithophel gave was as if one consulted the word of God; so was all the counsel of Ahithophel esteemed, both by David and by Absalom. Moreover, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace.” And the advice seemed right in the eyes of Absalom and all the elders of Israel.
Then Absalom said, “Call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say.” And when Hushai came to Absalom, Absalom said to him, “Thus has Ahithophel spoken; shall we do as he says? If not, you speak.” Then Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the counsel that Ahithophel has given is not good.” Hushai said, “You know that your father and his men are mighty men, and that they are enraged, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. Besides, your father is expert in war; he will not spend the night with the people. Behold, even now he has hidden himself in one of the pits or in some other place. And as soon as some of the people fall at the first attack, whoever hears it will say, ‘There has been a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.’ Then even the valiant man, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will utterly melt with fear, for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man, and that those who are with him are valiant men. But my counsel is that all Israel be gathered to you, from Dan to Beersheba, was the sand by the sea for multitude, and that you go to battle in person. So we shall come upon him in some place where he is to be found, and we shall light upon him as the dew falls on the ground, and of him and all the men with him not one will be left. If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel will bring ropes to that city, and we shall drag it into the valley, until not even a pebble is to be found there.” And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring harm upon Absalom.
…] When Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and went off home to his own city. He set his house in order and hanged himself, and he died and was buried in the tomb of his father.
By the way, there’s actually a third version of Judas’ death, this time coming from the Church Father Papias (ca. AD 100), as recorded in a gloss attributed to bishop Apollinaris of Laodicea (d. 390).
Judas did not die by hanging, but lived on, having been cut down before choking. And this the Acts of the Apostles makes clear, that falling headlong his middle burst and his bowels poured forth. And Papias the disciple of John records this most clearly, saying thus in the fourth of the Exegeses of the Words of the Lord:
[INDENT]Judas walked about as an example of godlessness in this world, having been bloated so much in the flesh that he could not go through where a chariot goes easily, indeed not even his swollen head by itself. For the lids of his eyes, they say, were so puffed up that he could not see the light, and his own eyes could not be seen, not even by a physician with optics, such depth had they from the outer apparent surface. And his genitalia appeared more disgusting and greater than all formlessness, and he bore through them from his whole body flowing pus and worms, and to his shame these things alone were forced [out]. And after many tortures and torments, they say, when he had come to his end in his own place, from the place became deserted and uninhabited until now from the stench, but not even to this day can anyone go by that place unless they pinch their nostrils with their hands, so great did the outflow from his body spread out upon the earth.[/INDENT]
Or in another version:
Judas lived his career in this world as an enormous example of impiety. He was so swollen in the flesh that he could not pass where a wagon could easily pass. Having been crushed by a wagon, his entrails poured out.
1:18-19 Judas did not die by hanging (see Mt 27:5), but lived on, having been cut down before choking. And this the Acts of the Apostles makes clear, that falling headlong his middle burst and his bowels poured forth. And Papias the disciple of John records this most clearly, saying thus in the fourth of the Exegeses of the Words of the Lord. (Apollinaris of Laodicea Catena on Matthew) Some say that Judas in his greed believed that he himself could gain the silver by betraying Christ, without Christ actually being slain, as He would escape from the Jews as He had done on many occasions. But when Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned and already sentenced to die, he repented that the affair had not turned out as he had planned. Whereupon he hanged himself thinking to precede Jesus into hades and there to plead for his own salvation. Nevertheless, know that while he did put his neck into the noose and hanged himself from a tree, the tree bent and he survived, as God wanted to save his life, either so that he could repent, or to make an example of him and to shame him. They say that Judas later became so bloated from dropsy that he could not pass through an opening that a wagon could easily pass through; and then falling face forward he burst asunder, or ruptured, as Luke says in the Acts of the Apostles. (Theophylact Commentary on Matthew) **possessed a field: **Judas did not possess the potter’s field, but he furnished the price to buy it, giving back the thirty pieces of silver. see Mt 27:6-10 (John Stephen Menochius) We often say in common, that we have done what happens in consequence of any action of ours, though it was not in our first intention. (Augustin Calmet) **Haceldama: **in their tongue, that is, the Aramaic or Syro-Chaldaic the language in use after the captivity (Bishop John McEvilly)
As others have said, he probably hung himself and later fell to the ground, bursting open in the process. After all, Acts does not say that the bursting was the cause of his death; and after hanging in the sun for a while, he’d naturally get a bit bloated.
Yes, as others have pointed out, his hanging preceded his bursting.
Here is a plausible explanation:
He hangs himself on Thursday evening, or Friday and his hanging corpse is not discovered until Saturday. Jewish law (See Deuteronomy) forbade “cutting a man down from a tree” (paraphrasing the verse) on the Sabbath. Therefore, his body hung for some time, possibly in the heat of the Palestinian day, and bloated with the gases created during decomposition…then on Sunday when he was cut down, his bloated body literally popped like a balloon when it struck the ground, spilling his insides on the ground.
It’s actually a common trope in Jewish tradition to describe a wicked man’s death in almost hyperbolic (read: very icky) terms, to highlight that what they are suffering isn’t just any normal sickness, but a punishment sent by God for their sins. The granddaddy of this is Deuteronomy 28:15-57, where various people who disobey the Law are threatened with various curses. For another example of a maggot-ridden death, you have Luke describing Herod Antipas in Acts 12:23 as being “eaten by worms.” Josephus also describes Herod the Great’s final illness in very excruciating terms:
But now Herod’s distemper greatly increased upon him after a severe manner, and this by God’s judgment upon him for his sins; a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly, as it augmented his pains inwardly; for it brought upon him a vehement appetite to eating, which he could not avoid to supply with one sort of food or other. His entrails were also ex-ulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his colon; an aqueous and transparent liquor also had settled itself about his feet, and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly. Nay, further, his privy-member was putrefied, and produced worms; and when he sat upright, he had a difficulty of breathing, which was very loathsome, on account of the stench of his breath, and the quickness of its returns; he had also convulsions in all parts of his body, which increased his strength to an insufferable degree.
It states that Judas flung down the money and left to hang himself.
It was the chief priests (as stated in that scripture) that said it was not lawful to put them in the treasury as it was “blood money”. So, they (the chief priests) decided to buy the potter’s field to bury strangers in.
[quote=Acts 1:15-20]15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers[d] (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends,[e] the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong,[f] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,
‘Let his homestead become desolate,
and let there be no one to live in it’;
‘Let another take his position of overseer.’
You would have me believe that “This man” refers to the high priests? In the context of that passage? Seriously?
Judas flung it down, but the chief priests refused to accept it. They took the money that was Judas’ and bought the potter’s field. Because it was Judas’ money, Judas was the purchaser.
Mt. 27:6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 27:7 So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.