In the Gospel of Matthew, it is said that when Judas Iscariot threw the 30 pieces of silver into the Temple, this fulfilled a prophecy mentioned by prophet Jeremiah:
“Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
The problem with this verse is that this quote is not found anywhere in prophet Jeremiah’s writings in the Old Testament, and it looks similar to the verses 12 and 13 of the 11th chapter of Zechariah’s book, with certain inaccuracies.
(See Zechariah 11:12-13).
To solve this issue, scholars have put forward different theories.
1 – COPYIST MISTAKE
Some argue that the abbreviated form to write Jeremiah and Zechariah are very similar, with only the initial letter varying in the name, written in Greek, Ιριου (Jeremiah- J’iah) and Ζριου (Zechariah – Z’iah); and they assume that a later date copyist may have by mistake, replaced the Z by the J, rendering the reading as “Jeremiah” instead of Zechariah.
The problem to this hypothesis, is that the manuscripts having the name Jeremiah are too numerous to be born from the error of a single scribe. To reach that extent, the error would have to be committed several times by many scribes at different places and times, which seems highly improbable.
2 – NAME OF THE SCROLL
Others think that the expression is generic, meaning, that the author of Matthew’s Gospel referred to the whole scroll of the Prophets by the generic name of “Jeremiah”, which included the Book of Zechariah where the words quoted by Matthew are mentioned. One example of this, they say, it is when Jesus refers to the Ketuvim (Writings), as “Psalms”, since the Psalms head the list of books in the Scroll of the Writings; as containing messianic prophecies (See Luke 24:44).
This hypothesis also faces some difficulties. When Lord Jesus mentioned that He was fulfilling the prophecies contained about Him in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, He may not have been referring to the Ketuvim under the name Psalms, but only to the book of Psalms, since this book is the one containing messianic prophecies in the writings, with the exception of Daniel, who He may have considered as part of the Prophets and not of the Ketuvim. In any case, even is this assumption is correct, the book of Jeremiah does not head the Scroll of the Nevim (Prophets), but the Book of Joshua (Former Prophets) and the Book of Isaiah (Later Prophets);therefore, to use Jeremiah as a generic name for the Scroll of the Prophets is highly unlikely.
3 – WRONG VERSION
The Syriac manuscripts do not have any name mentioned in Matthew 27:9-10, but says only “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet”. Since it is generally accepted that Syriac versions have been less manipulated than the western Greek versions, some scholars suggests that originally no mention of an specific prophet was written in the original Greek, and that both names, Jeremiah, and Zechariah (Some Greek manuscripts have the name Zechariah instead of Jeremiah in Matthew’s quote), are later scribes additions and not part of the original.
4 – ORAL TRADITION
Others suggests finally that since Matthew says “been spoken” and not “been written”, his quote may come from an oral tradition known to the Jews during his time, and that they would have been aware of that prophetic tradition.
The two first theories seem to be unlikely and highly coincidental for the above mentioned reasons.
What it seems to be is that originally, the prophecy mentioned by Matthew may have existed originally in Jeremiah, since the context of betrayal for personal gain and the consequent punishment fits the situation of destruction of the Temple in 587BCE. These words were later repeated by the author of Zachariah and applied in his prophecy of chapter 11, in similar but not exact words, under divine inspiration, to a similar historical situation during the Persian control. St Matthew would have known this, and quoted the prophecy in its original version spoken by Jeremiah, and repeated by Zechariah, which is now lost in the modern Old Testament versions.