Potter's field

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A potter's field or common grave is a term for a place for the burial of unknown or indigent people. The expression derives from the Bible, referring to a field used for the extraction of potter's clay; such land, useless for agriculture, could be used as a burial site.

Origin[edit]

The term comes from Matthew 27:3-27:8 in the New Testament of the Bible, in which Jewish priests take 30 pieces of silver returned by a remorseful Judas:

Then Judas, who betrayed him, seeing that he was condemned, repenting himself, brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and ancients, saying: "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." But they said: "What is that to us? Look thou to it." And casting down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed, and went and hanged himself with a halter. But the chief priests, having taken the pieces of silver, said: "It is not lawful to put them into the corbona, because it is the price of blood." And after they had consulted together, they bought with them the potter's field, to be a burying place for strangers. For this the field was called Haceldama, that is, the field of blood, even to this day.[1]

The site referred to in these verses is traditionally known as Akeldama, in the valley of Hinnom, which was a source of potter's clay. Obviously, such a strip-mining site would not then be good for agriculture and might as well become a graveyard for those who could not be buried in an orthodox cemetery. This may be the origin of the name.[2]

Matthew was drawing on earlier Biblical references to potter's fields The passage continues, with verses 9 and 10:-

Then what the prophet Jeremiah had said came true: "They took the thirty silver coins, the amount the people of Israel had agreed to pay for him, and used the money to buy the potter's field, as the Lord had commanded me."

This is a free quotation from Zechariah 11:12-13. However Matthew gives the quote to Jeremiah thereby creating confusion. There are two possible reasons for the reference to Jeremiah. Jeremiah also speaks of a "potter's field" in the valley of Hinnom in Jeremiah 19:1-13 as a symbol of despair as mentioned here; and Matthew could have combined the words of the two prophets while only citing the "major" prophet. Secondly, Jeremiah was sometimes used to refer to the Books of the Prophets in toto as The Law is sometimes used to refer to Moses' five books - Genesis through Deuteronomy.

Craig Blomberg suggests that the use of the blood money to buy a burial ground for foreigners in Matthew 27:7 may hint at the idea that "Jesus' death makes salvation possible for all the peoples of the world, including the Gentiles."[3] Other scholars do not read the verse as referring to Gentiles, but rather to Jews who are not native to Jerusalem.[4]

Examples[edit]

Popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Douay-Rheims Bible
  2. ^ R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, Eerdmans (1985), page 386
  3. ^ Craig L. Blomberg, "Matthew," in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 97.
  4. ^ Brown, Raymond. The Death of the Messiah. Yale University Press, Dec 1, 1998 pg. 646
  5. ^ Hidden Truths: Potter's Field
  6. ^ Hart Island; Melinda Hunt and Joel Sternfeld; ISBN 3-931141-90-X
  7. ^ http://www.montrealmirror.com/ARCHIVES/2003/091803/news1.html
  8. ^ "Hart Island", The Morning News

External links[edit]