I'm glad you enjoyed it, Almost Atheist.
Tonight I was reading the book of Acts, and I stumbled across another passage I hadn't noticed before which echoes the wording in Acts 1:18, and which supports the view that this text originally described a condition that led to the fatal consequence of Judas splitting open in the middle -- as opposed to a particular upside-down position. This is the text that describes the death of Herod:
"Since Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord at once smote him, and having become (genomenos) worm-eaten (skólékobrótos), he expired (exepsuxen)" (Acts 12:23).
Compare with Acts 1:18:
"Now this man bought a field with the wages of his wickedness, and having become (genomenos) swollen/headlong (prénés/préstheis), he burst open (elakésen) in the middle and all his intestines gushed out".
In both cases, the untimely death of a grievously impious man is related in similar terms: the use of genomenos (second aorist middle participle) with an adjective that describes the state of the person just prior to death, followed by an aorist indicative verb that relates the death itself. It makes intuitive sense that the "state" mentioned in connection with the death is one that pertains to a contributing condition or ailment, and Acts 12:23 confirms this, mentioning the ailment that led to the death of Herod: becoming eaten by worms. Thus one would expect the adjective with genomenos in Acts 1:18 to signify the ailment that led to Judas' death. "Becoming swollen" naturally fits, whereas becoming in a headlong position does not -- as death is not an expected consequence of assuming such a position.
Here is one other curiosity about prénés "head-foremost, with the face downwards". It occurs in Wisdom 4:17 with reference to the wicked that God would destroy: "He will dash them down to the ground speechless (réxei aphónous préneis), they will be left utterly dry and barren, and they will suffer anguish, and the memory of them will perish". Could this have influenced the choice to use prénés in Acts 1:18, as Judas was certainly one who (in Christian thought) deserved to receive such a punishment? But here is the really weird thing: the Latin Vulgate rendering of Wisdom 4:17 curiously translates prénés as if it were préstheis: "He shall burst them puffed up and speechless (disrumpet illos inflatos sine voce), and shall shake them from their foundations (commovebit illos a fundamentis), and be utterly laid waste, and they shall be in sorrow, and their memory shall perish". I think this has led some to suggest that "swollen" is a possible sense of prénés, but I think this is generally rejected as unlikely. Note also that the Vulgate version has two clauses instead of the single one in the Greek. The clause about shaking them from their foundations reflects the réxei prénés of the Greek, i.e. a sense of toppling the evildoers to the ground. But in the preceding clause (wherein sine voce reflects an original aphónous), prénés seems to also have been read separately as "swollen, inflated" (inflatos). This means that réxei here was taken to mean not "throw down" (as it is in the next clause, in commovebit) but "burst". That's a different verb than in Acts 1:18 (where elakésen "ruptured" occurs), yet the connection between a person being swollen up and then bursting is exactly what is found in the (emended) Lukan text. So.....is it possible that the Latin rendering of Wisdom 4:17 was somehow contaminated by description of Judas' death in Acts 1:18? I find that hard to accept. But the alternative strikes me as pretty difficult to accept as well.
Finally, I just found one other clue that the swelling motif is original to Acts 1:18. In my original post, I discussed how this passage utilized Psalm 69 (cf. v. 20 = Psalm 69:25), which separately was used in the Papias reference to Judas (i.e. the references to the eyes being unable to see and the loins quivering with worms, as well as the parallel use of v. 25 of Psalm 69). Well, if we take another look at the verse that quotes Psalm 69:25, we see that another psalm is quoted in the same passage, i.e. Psalm 109:8, "May another take his place in leadership" (Acts 1:20). If we look that this psalm as a whole, we can find that fits the story of Judas quite well: "They repay me evil for good, hatred for my friendship" (v. 5), "may his [=the evildoer's] days be few" (v. 8), etc. Well, notice what v. 17-18 says:
"He loved to curse, may it come on him. He did not like to bless, may it be far from him. And so he has dressed himself up in curses like a cloak, and it entered him like water into his insides (eisélthen ósei hudór eis ta egkata autou), and like oil into his bones" (Psalm 109:17-18 LXX).
Here is the notion of the evildoer filling up on the inside with curses. It is not hard to see how this may relate to the statement in Acts 1:18 about Judas becoming swollen. We already have in John 13:27 the tradition of Judas being penetrated by evil, i.e. "Satan entered into him (eisélthen eis ekeinon)", and the manner in which the evildoer absorbed curses is reminiscent of the serpent in the Acts of Thomas that sucked up the gall from the young man's wound, becoming swollen in the process, until it burst and died. Since the author cites Psalm 109 two verses later in Acts 1:20, it seems quite possible that Psalm 109:17-18 lies behind the conception in v. 18, i.e. Judas became so cursed for his wicked deed that the curses filled up his insides like water, until his insides (including the intestines) gave way and burst.