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Haceldama is the name given by the people to the potter's field, purchased with the price of the treason of Judas.
In Aramaic hagel dema, signifies "field of blood". The name is written in Greek Akeldamá, and very often Akeldamách, to render by the letter ch the guttural sound of the final aleph. St. Peter said in his discourse (Acts, i, 18-19): "He [Judas] indeed hath possessed a field of the reward of iniquity, and being hanged, burst asunder in the midst: and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: so that the same field was called in their tongue, Haceldama, that is to say, The field of blood."
Judas seeing that Jesus was condemned, relates St. Matthew (xxvii, 3-8), threw down the thirty pieces of silver in the temple and went and hanged himself. "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 stangers. For this cause, that field was called [Haceldama, that is,] The field of blood, even to this day" (the bracketed words are added by the Vulgate). According to the Acts this blood was that of Judas, according to St. Matthew it was that of Christ. It is not impossible that the people should have so designated the potter's field, for both reasons. In saying that Judas acquired a field with the reward of his crime, St. Peter undoubtedly did not intend to say that the traitor purchased a field in order to commit suicide therein. Since there was question of replacing the fallen Apostle, St. Peter by an oratorical motion recalled his tragic death and the acquisition of the field where he perished, which was the sole reward of his treason. St. Matthew, on the contrary, writes as an historian, and relates the manner in which the prophecies were fulfilled (Zach., xi, 12-13; Jer., xxxii, 2, 15, 43; vii, 32).
It is permissible to conjecture from these two accounts, that after the potter's field was polluted by the suicide of the traitor, the proprietor hastened to rid himself of it, at any cost. In this manner the chief priests were enabled to buy it for thirty pieces of silver or thirty shekels, equivalent to about twenty dollars. It seems to correspond to "the potter's house" of Jeremias (xviii, 2-3), which further on (xix, 1-2) is spoken of as being in the valley of the Son of Ennom, south of Jerusalem. The same prophet declares (vii, 32) that in this valley, "they shall bury in Topheth, because there is no other place" owing to the Moloch worship being practised there. In his "Onomasticon" (ed. Klostermann, p. 102, 16) Eusebius makes the "field of Haceldama" lie nearer to "Thafeth of the valley of Ennom". But under the word "Haceldama" (p. 38, 20) he says that this field was pointed out as being "north of Mount Sion", but this was evidently through inadvertence. St. Jerome corrects the mistake and writes "south of Mount Sion" (p. 39, 27).
Tradition with regard to this place has remained the same throughout the centuries. In fact, the Pilgrim of Piacenza who was known by the name of Antoninus (c. 570) went from the pool of Silo "to the field of Akeldemac", which then served as a burial-place for pilgrims. Arculf (c. 670) visited it to the south of Mount Sion and makes mention also of the pilgrims' sepulchre. In the twelfth century, the crusaders erected beyond the field, on the south side of the valley of Ennom, a large building now in a ruined condition, measuring seventy-eight feet in length from east to west, fifty-eight feet in width, and thirty in height on the north. It is roofed and, towards the southern end, covers several natural grottoes, which were once used as sepulchres of the Jewish type, and a ditch is hollowed out at the northern end which is sixty-eight feet long, twenty-one feet wide, and thirty feet deep. It is estimated that the bones and rubbish which have accumulated here form a bed from ten to fifteen feet thick. They continued to bury pilgrims here up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Haceldama (Hagg ed Dumm), has been the property of the non-United Armenians since the sixteenth century.
Schick, Palestine Expl. Fund, Quarterly Statement (1892), 283-9; Conder and Warren, The Survey of Western Palestine, Jerusalem (London, 1884), 380.