Holy Friday: The Potter’s Field

The Holy Friday Vespers service in the Orthodox Christian tradition is known for the reading of ‘The Twelve Passion Gospels.’ In the Fifth Gospel reading (St. Matthew 27:3-32), we hear:

Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned by betraying innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? You see to it! Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood. And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the LORD directed me.
Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, Are You the King of the Jews? So Jesus said to him, It is as you say. And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, Do You not hear how many things they testify against You? But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.

In the Royal Hours on Holy Friday, we read in the prophecy of Zecharariah (11:10-13):

And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people. And it was broken in that day: and so the poor of the flock that waited upon me knew that it was the word of the LORD. And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.

I’d best not comment on the Harry Potter reference today; here, however, is a commentary on the Prophecy of Zechariah and its relevance for the Passion Gospel and most well-known ‘Potter’ reference in Christian scripture. From David Guzik’s Enduring Word.com:

Zechariah 11: 12-14 — The shepherd is paid with contempt.

Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”; that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter. Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

a. Give me my wages: Zechariah is “play-acting” this prophecy, employing himself as a shepherd over a flock. Now he asks his employer for his wages, and they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.

b. That princely price they set on me: Zechariah speaks sarcastically here. Thirty pieces of silver was not an insignificant amount, but it was the price of a slave (Exodus 21:32). It was the lowest they could pay, and it said to Zechariah “we think of you as a slave.”

i. This speaks prophetically of Jesus, who was contemptuously betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15 and 27:3) – the price of a slave.

ii. Matthew 27:9-10 says: Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” This is a problem because clearly Zechariah records the passage mentioned in Matthew 27:9-10. There are generally three solutions offered for this problem:

Some think it is an error but not by Matthew – an early copyist made a mistake. Perhaps Matthew wrote Zechariah, but an early copyist put Jeremiah instead. Some think that Jeremiah spoke this prophecy and Zechariah recorded it. This may be the word spoken by Jeremiah, but recorded by Zechariah. Some think that Matthew refers to scroll of Jeremiah, which included the book of Zechariah

c. Threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter: Curiously, Zechariah says that the thirty pieces of silver were thrown into the house of the Lord but that they were also given to the potter. This is an exact fulfillment of what Judas did with his thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 27:3-10).

The money to betray Jesus – His purchase price – went to buy a potter’s field (Matthew 27:7). A potter’s field was a piece of useless land where he threw his broken, damaged, and rejected pots. Jesus really did purchase the potter’s field – the place where broken, rejected, and useless people like us are scattered.

d. Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel: After the exchange of the thirty pieces of silver the staff of Bonds (unity) is broken. This was fulfilled when Israel was scattered by the Romans after their rejection of their Shepherd Jesus.

John, again.

‘Potter’ is assonant in English with the Latin word for ‘Father,’ Pater. Mr. Guzik’s difficulty with the seeming confusion in St. Matthew’s Passion narrative of the prophecies of Jeremiah and Zechariah about a Potter neglects the other famous Potter reference in scripture which is in Jeremiah, chapter 18:

The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.

May your reflections on Holy and Great Friday be edifying and uplifting.


  1. nikenipter says

    John, this is one of the most thought-provoking posts in the history of your blog. These verses touch on some of the prime arguments in the debate between Calvinists (Like J. K. Rowling’s Church of Scotland, according to every reference I have found.) and Armenians. The Potter did in the year 70 of the Christian era scatter the power of the Holy People as and when predicted by the Prophet Daniel.

    Given the whole tenor of the Potter saga with its focus on the “chosen one” and the choices he makes while being conformed to the image of Christ. And remembering it’s the choices he makes that “shows” (not made) him who he is. I think the most important reference to “Potter” in Scripture is found in the ninth chapter of Romans:

    (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

    What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that My Name might be declared throughout all the earth.

    Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

    I can’t wait to read your thoughts on these Scriptures.

  2. A few comments:

    1. I’ve always been a bit hesitant to think that Rowling was thinking of any Scriptural reference to a “potter” when choosing Harry’s surname, but we really can’t be sure one way or the other.

    2. Being a Calvinist (albeit, not a Dort-5-pointer), my eyes would have popped right open to see solid evidence of a Calvinist undertone to the Harry Potter stories. But I’d be completely shocked if it were ever revealed that J.K. Rowling is a Calvinist. It seems to me that on the crucial question – fate/prophecy vs. free will – Rowling comes down firmly not only on the side of free will, but on the side of supernatural prophecy not even mattering. Dumbledore tells Harry that the prophecy is important because Voldemort chose to make it so. It was Voldemort’s choice, not the prophecy itself, that mattered.

    If one were going to pursue a Calvinist reading of Harry Potter, it could probably be done. There are a lot of extraordinary “coincidences” that work in Harry’s favor, especially in the final book. Harry seems almost predetermined toward goodness, and Voldemort predetermined toward evil. In fact, those two characters might read well in the context of the verses quoted by nikenipter. You’d also have to conclude that Dumbledore’s commentary on love, choice, and prophecy – which seems to me to be the central lesson, and the key element of everything Dumbledore wants Harry to become – is completely wrong. You could go there, but it’s not very emotionally satisfying and makes that conversation between them something of a cruel joke or even a pointless misdirection.

    Romans 9 is a tough passage, and I fear a conversation about it could lead in some scary directions which would distract terribly from the purpose of this site. I’ve been in a lot of discussions about Romans 9, and for whatever it’s worth, I’d suggest there are appropriate forums for a debate on that passage, and this probably isn’t one of them. Not sure if that’s what’s being requested, or if you’re just asking for a discussion on whether or not this text might have been on Rowling’s mind when choosing Harry’s surname (to which I would reply, “Probably not.”)

  3. Lily Luna says

    I don’t have any particular insights into scripture, so I’ll ruminate on an obvious blood payment in the HP series: Harry’s Triwizard Tournament winnings. Although Harry works hard in the tournament, he wins because Crouch, Jr. has rigged it to make him win so he can be forced to the graveyard and unwillingly assist Voldemort in his rebirth. Wormtail forcibly takes Harry’s blood. Harry wins the money (rather than shares with Cedric) because Wormtail kills Cedric. The winnings are thus blood money, which both Cedric’s parents and Harry rightly reject. Harry forces the gold on Fred and George to use as seed money for their joke shop (and buying Ron new dress robes). On one level, the joke shop is not a potter’s field. On the other hand, Fred and George use some of the money to develop the portable swamp that turns a Hogwarts corridor temporarily into a wasteland and wreak havoc all over the school, where later in the Battle of Hogwarts the debris of destroyed statues and walls is scattered, people lie bloody, injured or dead, and Fred himself dies. Or, ignoring the joke shop, you could say that the Quidditch field, where the maze was located, is the Field of Blood and that Harry does very poorly on it in his fifth year (wins the first match and then is banned “for life” after punching Malfoy and bloodying him) and again in his sixth year (first match he wins only because he psychs out the Slytherin seeker at the last moment; second match he loses when McClaggen cracks his skull open; third match he misses after bloodying Malfoy with Sectumsempra and getting detention with Snape).

  4. revgeorge says

    Plus, isn’t it a misunderstanding to say Rowling is a Calvinist because as I now understand it she doesn’t belong to the Church of Scotland but to the Scottish branch of the Church of England?

  5. Lily Luna, an interesting, if somewhat bizzare book, that speaks to your point about authors controlling what happens in books & the characters therein but also about characters being able to transcend their own reality is Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder.

    It’s essentially a primer in philosophy throughout the ages but with a twist at the end. I’ve only read it once but it’s kind of stuck with me. One of my professors at seminary had us read it.

    Of course, if you like visual, there are a couple of Star Trek Next Generation episodes that talk about this point, too. “Elementary, Dear Data” & “Ship in a Bottle.” Then, of course, there’s another personal favorite of mine, The Truman Show.

  6. Lily Luna says

    With respect to Travis’ penultimate paragraph and without commenting on Calvinism per se:

    I think Rowling wants to highlight the importance of free will and choice over fate, but her books suffer, as all books suffer, from the fact that they are written by an author, someone who controls what happens in the books. Coincidences happen, events happen because Rowling planned them that way. In fact, Rowling is firm that the entire series was planned. She is not one of those authors who sits down and sees where the characters take her.

  7. Lily Luna says

    Thank you for the suggestions. Also a propos is Pirandello’s hillarious play “Six Characters in Search of An Author” about six characters that an author creates and then abandons (deciding not to write the play after all). The characters come to the stage where the company is supposed to be rehearsing another Pirandello play and beg the manager and actors to stage them to give them eternal life. There are lots of great lines and stage directions in this play, both on the topic of authorial control and on acting a work vs. reading it.

  8. revgeorge says

    Arabella, yes, that last part on the water really is one of the best parts of the movie. Of course, The Truman Show isn’t perhaps the best example of a character in a story with an author becoming self aware & leaving the story since in the story both Truman & Christoph are real people. Now if Truman realized he was a character in a movie about his voyeurized life & him finding his way out of it then that would definitely be interesting. Bizzare but interesting.

  9. Arabella Figg says

    Love, love, love The Truman Show, RevGeorge. So much symbolism, especially in the last part when Truman is on the water. Very much about light/darkness (and the symbolic juxtapostion of the two), and transcendance. How crushing to realize your entire world/life is a manufactured lie for voyeurists, and how courageous is Truman’s determined emergence from it. I wonder how he coped with the chaos of the real world.

  10. John & all HogPros,

    My reflection and thoughts for all of us who are but “clay” in the hands of the “potter” (LORD), is for us to search the scriptures, to serve as “nobel” vessels in a world in need of the alchemical “gold”, from which we gain meaning and purpose.

    One of the greatest pursuits of our day is the pursuit for purpose in life.

    I remember reading a few years back about a man named Isaac Singer, Nobel Peace Prize winner for literature. In the article his very successful life was described in some detail and it appeared that he had lived a very full and rewarding life. But at the end of the article, Isaac Singer made a statement which I’ve never forgotten. He said, “But you know the same questions bother me today which bothered me fifty years ago.” And number one among these questions was, “Why was I born?” No doubt Mr. Singer is not alone in his unfulfilled quest for purpose and meaning in life.

    In fact Dr. Karl Jung, the famous psychologist made the statement not long ago that “Purposelessness is the neurosis of our day.” Yet God has provided a totally satisfying answer to the question of purpose. But it is important to note that this answer is “according to HIS OWN purpose.”

    Until we are willing to live life for HIS purpose then we will chafe at His answer for it cuts across the grain of our natural desire for personal HAPPINESS. God’s purpose (prothesis) for our lives is not personal HAPPINESS but personal HOLINESS (Christ-likeness) Rom. 8:28,29.

    Christos Anesti!

  11. Lily Luna says

    Thanks for explaining The Truman Show, Arabella. I never saw it. Hmm . . . escaping from a world that is a manufactured lie. Sounds like The Matrix and sequels. Also a bit like John Christopher’s series about the tripods.

  12. David wrote: “Christos Anesti!”

    John responds: “Alithos Anesti!”

  13. Red Rocker says

    revgeorge, your words rung a bell. I Googled Emma Thompson’s Stranger Than Fiction and realized that’s the movie you’re thinking of. Will Ferrell plays an IRS auditor who gradually becomes aware of a voice in his head which is dictating his actions – and his future. He eventually understands that the voice is that of a famous author, played by Thompson, who is writing his life. He tries to find out if “his” life is a drama or a comedy. He also discovers that she has doomed him to die; and discovers that the story “reads” better if he does indeed die. The ending tries to reconcile the needs of a good story with the need of the character to survive. I haven’t seen it – not being a Ferrell fan – but it certainly sounds intriguing.

  14. Red Rocker says

    Can’t resist adding a comment about The Truman Show which is one of my favorite movies, ever. My favorite part is the dialogue between Truman and Christoph, at the end, which makes me think of a dialogue between an imperfect deity and his perfect creation. I also loved the parts where Christoph watches Truman, and the look of possession and love on his face, much the look of an imperfect deity looking upon his perfect creation.

  15. revgeorge says

    Red Rocker, I wasn’t thinking of any movie in particular when I made that comment. As far as I knew, there hadn’t even been anything like that done. But I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that something has been done. I’ll probably never see that movie, though, since I’m also not a big Ferrell fan.

    In regard to Christoph, he seems like the kind of parent who is distant from their child but yet won’t allow the child to grow up and become their own person. It seems like he’s become emotionally invested in Truman but not enough to actually love him in reality; only behind the screens as it were.

    Truman, I wouldn’t say is perfect, but he is the only fully real person in the story. Others show glimpses of reality but strangely it’s people from the outside who are trying to break into the unreality of the program. Primarily Slyvia but also the nutters who try to just get themselves on tv, the guy who parachutes into the show or the guy who jumps out of the Christmas box. Besides Truman they are the most real people in the story. Strange.

  16. Arabella Figg says

    Here, in a nutshell, is the way I see the Truman show and its ending. Cristolph represents Satan, who bathes the world with his false light. Once Truman is clued in to something wrong, beginning with the crash of the (ironic and iconic) spotlight, he begins to seek the Truth, and Cristolph’s manipulations increase. Truman, however, has been truly “enlightened” and struggles with what is binding him in metaphoric darkness.

    When the townspeople search for him, lights flood the darkness. His friends are his enemies and co-conspirators with Christolph.

    On the water, Christolph tries, in a silky voice of warm compassion, to lure Truman to cling to the perceived safety of the false illusion he has created for him. He “loves” his creation, no matter how warped it is, as long as he can control him. Yet we see him at the switchboard, cold and cruel. He sees Truman as a soul he can barter. He preys on Truman’s worst fears to dissuade him from freedom.

    Truman will not be deterred and eventually (and literally) hits the perimeter of the manufactured, false world, where he gets out of his boat and ascends to a small door. He faces his last choice in the film–stay in the safe, perverted light or pass through the dark doorway into the unknown and freedom—you could call the door a birth canal. He chooses the doorway and freedom. In a sense, Truman has been blind in the light, but now he sees in the darkness. This is what I meant about the juxtaposition of light and dark and their meanings.

  17. Arabella Figg says

    I made an error in saying “Christolph loves his creation.” Christolph didn’t create this young man. He chose Truman as an infant and placed him in his own created false world/world view that was a “true man’s” prison. He doesn’t love Truman; he would kill him for ratings…and tries. Liar, murderer–false god Christolph conducts Truman’s life as his own wicked concerto–“Cue the sun!” Truman is a moldable and disposable commodity.

    Only when Truman Burbank walks through the artificial Hollywood prison wall, beautifully painted in deceptive celestial tones, is he free.

    This film speaks to so many levels, including media/entertainment and culture, that I’ve mostly only approached what I see as a spiritual metaphor.

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