Chapter 22k - Scourging Mystery

Continued from Chapter 22j

53:5: “The chastisement of our [the nations] welfare was upon him [Israel], and with his wounds we were healed.”

The scourging mystery

[W]ith his wounds we were healed.” Christians claim this refers to Jesus receiving “stripes,” that is, being scourged prior to his crucifixion. But, was Jesus scourged prior to his crucifixion?

And, if he were scourged, how did this “heal” anyone? It is commonly assumed that Jesus underwent great suffering and blood loss as a result of being scourged by the Romans prior to his crucifixion. This sentiment is based on an erroneous understanding of the Gospels. According to Matthew, Mark and John, Jesus was scourged prior to his crucifixion. Matthew and Mark relate that at the end of the trial Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, “scourged and delivered him [Jesus] to be crucified” (Mark 15:15, Matthew 27:26).

That is, Pilate scourged him after sentencing. John writes that Pilate scourged Jesus in the course of the trial (John 19:1), before he brought him out to face “the Jews” once more (John 19:4-5). Some Christians have tried to harmonize the different Gospel versions by claiming there was a double scourging. But Luke has a completely different development of the scourging narrative. The scourging in Luke’s version of Passion events presents a  problem in that Jesus does not undergo scourging at any time prior to or after his arrival at the execution site. Luke alludes to scourging but there it is offered as an alternative punishment to crucifixion. It would be a beating that would be the full penalty; that is, more like a warning than a sentence. According to Luke, Pilate said: “I will punish him and release him” (Luke 23:16) and “I have found nothing deserving of death in him; I will therefore punish him and release him” (Luke 23:22). In the end, Luke’s Jesus never undergoes scourging, although he allegedly predicts his own scourging: “For he will be delivered up to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged him, they will kill him; and the third day he will rise again” (Luke 18:32-33). Scourging appears to have been a customary preliminary administered to those about to be crucified.

The condemned, usually stripped naked, was beaten and mocked all the way to the execution site. In addition, he was bound or nailed to the crossbeam (patibulum) either before starting on his way or on arrival at the place of execution. He was required to carry or drag the crossbeam all the way to the execution site. Such procedures were apparently not followed when the Gospels’ Jesus was led to his death. After the Roman soldiers abused and mocked him (Matthew 27:30, Mark 15:19) they “put his own clothes on him” (Mark 15:20, see also Matthew 27:31) and the Synoptic Gospels maintain that he did not carry the crossbeam for most of the distance (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26).

The crossbeam mystery

According to the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus was unable to carry the crossbeam the entire distance to the execution site and the Roman soldiers pressed one Simon of Cyrene into service to carry it the rest of the way (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26). Why was Jesus unable to carry the crossbeam the full distance? It has been suggested that Jesus had become so physically weak from the scourging that he simply could not continue under the weight of the crossbeam. The soldiers, it is presumed, pressed Simon into service to prevent Jesus from collapsing of exhaustion before they could execute him. The theory seems to gain support from the short time that it took for Jesus to die once he was crucified (Mark 15:44, John 19:33). How weak could Luke’s Jesus have been when, relieved of the burden of the crossbeam, he is said to have turned to the “daughters of Jerusalem” and to have spoken to them at some length (Luke 23:28-31). But, of course, this is in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus never undergoes scourging!

The Johannine mystery

According to John’s version of the story, Jesus carried his own crossbeam the entire distance. Some Christians maintain that Simon is not mentioned in John because in Johannine christology there is no room for Jesus needing or accepting help from human beings. This is tantamount to saying Johannine christology is derived by rejecting any fact that would deny the making of the Johannine christological myth.

© Gerald Sigal