Papias on Judas Iscariot, as reported by Apollinaris of Laodicea

Few will be aware that there is a passage in Cramer’s catena ascribed to Apollinaris of Laodicea which quotes from the fourth book of Papias on the fate of Judas.  Indeed there are two passages; one from the catena on Matthew (on ch. 27), and another from the catena on Acts (on ch. 1), although in fact it is the same passage quoted at different lengths.  The text of one can be found here

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:

and then one of two versions:

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.


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.

The Greek of both may be found on pp.22-30 of Lake’s The Beginning of Christianity (thanks to Andrew Criddle for the reference).  Lake comments that further research in the catenas would probably allow the text to be improved; one may wonder whether anyone has done so since.  He continues:

It will be seen, however, that these versions differ in one very important point. In the catena on Acts the whole story is attributed to Papias; but in the catena on Matthew the quotation from Apollinarius  which contains the extract from Papias ends with the statement that Judas was crushed by a wagon, and a new extract from Apollinarius then begins and gives a more elaborate and gruesome account of the swelling up and death of Judas. These two versions do not agree;  in one the wagon is the cause of death, in the other it is part of the comparison and only mentioned to show the extent to which Judas was swollen. The question is whether the crushing by a wagon or the longer version ia really that of Papias.

The matter cannot be settled with certainty, but J. Rendel Harris has tried to bring the balance of probability to the side of the attribution of the longer version by pointing out in the American Journal of Theology, July 1900, p. 501, that Bar Salibi in his commentary on Acts quotes the passage about the [Greek], and definitely ascribes it to Papias. It is extremely improbable that Bar Salibi used the catena of Andreas, so that this is independent evidence that the passage was taken from Papias by Apollinarius.

If so, Papias described Judas as living after the betrayal, and dying from a disease so terrible that his estate remained unoccupied. Among the symptoms mentioned was extreme swelling, so that a place where a wagon could pass was too narrow for him. This comparison gave rise to  a secondary form of the story which represented Judas as crushed by a wagon. …

On  the other hand, general probability would perhaps suggest that the shorter version is likely to be original If so, the gruesome details and the changed form of the longer version is due to a desire to pile up horrors and to make the death of Judas similar to that of other notoriously evil men, such as Herod the Great or Nadan in the story of Ahikar. To me this seems somewhat the more probable hypothesis. Whichever view be taken, Papias clearly represents a tradition different both from Matthew and from Acts.

Lake continues, examining a lot of early and interesting witnesses on the various explanations of the death of Judas, and how these were harmonised.

It would be nice to know what Dionysius bar-Salibi says.  Note that here again we have a 12th century Syriac author being used as a witness to an ancient text!


28 thoughts on “Papias on Judas Iscariot, as reported by Apollinaris of Laodicea

  1. I can see that it’s badly written. So much so, in fact, that I can’t be bothered to try to find out what, if anything, the writer is trying to say. Sorry.

  2. Joan Acocella is interested in what she calls “rehabilitation” of Judas Iscariot. See her other article:

    She focuses on the Gnostic find – the so called “the Gospel According to Judas”. It has been received by anti-Christians with particular agenda with much enthusiasm. I remember that a document about it a few years ago was all over the place in satellite channels. It is just another tool by which they hope to destroy Christianity.

  3. I actually did my MA thesis on Papias’ death of Judas. Fascinating stuff. It’s delightful that ancient writers were as juvenile as many of us are today.

  4. Thanks for the info Chris – is your thesis online anywhere?

    Dioscorus, I gather there is someone agitating about this text, but I’m afraid I can’t take it seriously.

  5. Actually, this catena on Papias via Apollinarius is quoted by two authors as coming from Papias, so I don’t know if it should be labeled purely as a catena. The entire quotation is given by Theophylact on his Exposition on the Acts of the Apostles PG125 p519 and the first paragraph is not attributed to Apollinarius.

    Oecmenius does the same but omits the last section on his Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles PG118 p57.

    A scholia compiled by Matthai gives a shortened variation of the first and second paragraph and attributes it to Apollinarius, but does not mention Papias.

    Zigabenus suposedly quotes a slightly different version of this passage, but it does not appear in any edition I have checked PG129 p.705 and Matthai p1085. Lastly, another quote omits the last sentence and is attributed to Apollinarius and given in Anecdota Graeca volume 2 p464 This one page is annoyingly omitted by the Google scan so I scanned it myself.

    Interesting to note the reference to Bar-Salibi. I’ve been working on tracking down the fragments of Papias and will post them on my blog soon.

  6. Tom,

    I’m glad you’re running with this. A digest on the web of all the versions and sources would be a very useful thing to do! It would be nice to get it clear in our heads.

    Sorry your comment didn’t appear immediately – the anti-spam feature picks up on urls.

    Matthai is not familiar to me — who is this?


  7. I’m not convinced that this comment by Papias implies that he had a diametrically different idea about the fate of Judas than what is pictured in Matthew and Acts.

    Different, yes. But here’s what I picture: seeking a harmonization of Matthew and Acts, Papias reads Matthew 27:5 and thinks, “Matthew does not say that Judas hanged himself /and died./ A person can hang himself and, by luck, survive. That must be what happened.” Then he turns to Acts 1:18 and interprets the Greek PRHNHS GENOMENOS to mean “became extremely bloated.”

    All that is left for Papias is to explain how the extremely bloated Judas Iscariot burst open, and this is done by introducing the wagon.

    Btw, when will that translator finish Ad Marinum? It’s only four French pages in Zacagni’s paper!

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  8. Thanks for your interest in the translation. The epitome of Ad Marinum is only four pages, and was done long since. But there is also the Ad Stephanum, and the mass of Greek catena fragments published in Migne. All these have been translated, but he is currently revising the lot. Target date for delivery of the final version is mid-October. He’s on holiday during August, as indeed am I.

    There are also 12 fragments of Syriac, and a bunch of Coptic fragments. 11 of the 12 bits of Syriac are done; only 3 of the Coptic fragments. But I’m targetting later this year for publication.

  9. What is interesting here-and ironic also-is that the works of Papias, seemingly portrayed as rather ignorant and lacking because of his chiliasm, seem to have been widespread and in the hands of quite a few church fathers. Too bad that the five books have not survived. Apollinaris, the wayward child of the Chalcedonians.

  10. I think the point of this story is not that Judas couldn’t fit in a street a wagon could pass through, but, he couldn’t fit in a street which a wagon was passing through – i.e. the wagon couldn’t pass by him without hitting him (he could not evade it, probably partly a lack of agility); hence he was run over. d

  11. How could this possibly be reconciled with the acts-Matthew accounts, for the shorter version?

  12. They don’t need to be reconciled, they are different versions of what happened, which is normal in history. At a later date you can’t tell which, if any, are closest to what happened, so you just appreciate all of them as accounts that have come down.
    In fact Papias’ account fits well with the Acts one where Judas’ guts burst open. If anything it’s the Matthew one that’s the one that doesn’t fit.

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