Throw it to the potter

Today I’m translating into Cebuano the scripture readings in the Royal Hours of Holy Friday.

I've read them from Protestant Bibles in the past but this year we’ll be using the versions in the Orthodox (LXX) Bible. A few of the readings need updating to match the Greek text.

One of the readings is Zechariah 11:10-13. The connection is clear enough: Judas feels remorse for betraying Christ, and returns to throw his 30 pieces of silver back to the priests of the temple. English Bibles either translate יָצַר literally as “potter” (“Throw it to the potter”) or else they paraphrase: “Throw it in the temple treasury.”

The connection of “potter” and “temple treasury” is not especially clear. But the Greek version of the text gives some insight:

And the Lord said to me: Place them in the crucible, and I will observe whether it is genuine, as I have been proven for them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, into the crucible.

That word crucible, or smelting-furnace, refers to a place where things are melted down — and, incidentally, where counterfeits are revealed.

The passage begins in the future tense: The prophet says, in behalf of the Lord, “And I will take my staff, ‘Beauty,’ and I will cast it away, in order to scatter my covenant that I made with all the peoples.”

I could paraphrase the next part as, "Give me what I am worth! And they valued me at 30 pieces of silver." It’s in that context that the prophet is told, “That amount they said I was worth? Melt it down. Test it, and now we’ll see if even that much is genuine.”

This passage now makes rather more sense to me as part of the Royal Hours of Holy Friday.

Fr Silouan Thompson


  • The Online Etymology dictionary notes an ancient connection in Greek between cemeteries and ceramic workers:

    Potter's field "piece of ground reserved as a burying place for friendless paupers, unknown persons, and criminals" (1520s; early 14c. as potter's place) is Biblical (Matthew xxvii.7), a ground where clay suitable for pottery was dug, later purchased by high priests of Jerusalem as a burying ground for strangers, criminals, and the poor. [Purchased with the coins paid to Judas for betraying Jesus; these being considered blood money it was then known in Aramaic as Akeldema, "field of blood."]

    The ancient Athenian city cemetery also was a "potterville" (Kerameikos), and there seems to have been an ancient association of potters' workshops with burial places (Argos, Rhodes, etc.; see John H. Oakley (ed.), "Athenian Potters and Painters," vol. III, 2014). Perhaps both were kept away from the inhabited districts for public safety reasons (disease on the one hand and on the other firessparked by the kilns).