Was Jesus Actually Scourged Before Pilate?

Continued from Part 9

The rest of the story

John’s claim that Jesus was “scourged” during the trial before Pilate (John 19:1) leaves open the extent of injury incurred by Jesus at the hands of the Romans.  Generally, the normal Roman thoroughness, when it came to torture, would have left no doubts of torture being inflicted. Jesus would have bled profusely and would have had great difficulty standing on his feet. 

Yet, Jesus is portrayed as confronting Pilate without any kind of impairment due to pain or discomfort being hinted at in the text (John 19:11).  It must be assumed that if Jesus was scourged before sentencing, as reported (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15, John 19:1) he was not tortured as severely as was the normal Roman practice.  Furthermore, the Gospels make no mention of any scourging taking place at the site of the crucifixion.  According to the Gospels, Jesus did not undergo the scourging and suffering that is normally associated with crucifixion and may not have been scourged at all.

Christian attempts to explain away the absence of any mention of the effects of scourging on Jesus are in the nature of afterthoughts to clarify an inexplicable omission.  Knowing the New Testament propensity to describe a persecuted Jesus, it stands to reason that the evangelists would be anxious to describe a scourged Jesus.  Surely, the evangelists would not leave it up to their readers to take for granted that horrible physical torture had been inflicted upon Jesus.  If Jesus was bloodied or injured as a result of scourging, the Gospels would surely have recorded it. That this was not done leads us to the assumption that his trial and sentencing left him unscathed with his outward appearance unchanged—even his clothing remained unbloodied by the encounter.  One would have to assume that, at worst, his was a superficial symbolic scourging that left no outward marks.  There are simply no accounts of a scourged-ravaged Jesus.

The Gospels themselves furnish proof that this was the case.  Normally, the condemned would be bound or nailed to the crossbeam of the cross.  In some cases, he dragged it.  As the condemned made his way to the execution site he was continuously whipped.  But not Jesus!

Moreover, Jesus was not led naked through the streets.  The usual Roman procedure was to have the condemned led naked to the place of execution and being scourged as he went.  Matthew (his information derived from Mark) and Mark claim Jesus was scourged; nevertheless, they have Jesus dressed again before he is taken to the crucifixion site.  Jesus is finally deprived of his clothing only at the place of execution (Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:24).  Perhaps, on account of Jewish sensibilities concerning public display of nudity, the Romans made a concession on this point, in Judea.  The Gospel narratives maintain that Jesus was given his own clothing to wear when he was led to the place of execution.  They claim the Roman soldiers “put his own outer garments on him” before he was led to the place of execution (Matthew 27:31, Mark 15:20).  This unequivocally shows that Jesus was not naked as he walked to the execution site, but was dressed in his own clothes.

Confirmation that Jesus’ scourging was superficial (if it happened at all) is found in this claim that he was given his own clothes to wear to the execution.  On arrival at the execution site the clothes he wore, both his outer garments and his inner garment, were not bloodstained and torn by the whiplash of the blows struck as the condemned marched to his execution.  If his clothes were blood-soaked and torn they would have been of no substantial value to the soldiers.  The author of John writes:

The soldiers therefore, when they had crucified Jesus, took his outer garments [himatia] and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the inner garment [khitona]; now the inner garment was seamless, woven in one piece.  They said therefore to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be;” that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “They divided my outer garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (John 19:23-24; see also Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34)

If Jesus wore clothing on a scourged ripped-raw body, the clothing removed from him would be shredded and soaked in blood.  For what purpose, except to fulfill Psalms 22:19, would the soldiers divide up such bloodied and totally torn clothing?  The presumption must be that the clothing he wore to the execution site was in good, usable condition.  It follows that Jesus’ physical condition was not greatly altered by what the evangelists call a “scourging.”   Conversely, the tale of the parting of the garments could be a fabrication.  It could be that there was neither a scourging nor aparting of the garments.

Victims of crucifixion were attached to the crossbeam by being tied or nailed, and then the crossbeam was raised, with the body affixed to it.  The crossbeam was then inserted into a slot cut into the vertical beam (starous) permanently set in the ground.  There are no Gospel descriptions of the crucifixion that mention whether Jesus was tied or nailed to the cross.  Information that Jesus was nailed to the cross is culled by some from alleged post-resurrection episodes.  But, the claim that Jesus was nailed to the cross is never explicitly stated in the Synoptic Gospels.  In Luke 24:39 the allegedly risen Jesus is made to say, “See my hands and my feet,” which can imply the imprint of nails or of rope burns.  This verse is the only New Testament passage concerning the crucifixion to mention Jesus’ feet.  John 20:25, 27 explicitly mention imprints of nails being present in Jesus’ hands.  The presence of “the risen Jesus” in this scene illustrates the fictive mythological aspects of this episode.  The question is, on the one hand, to what extent does it reflect an historic description of the means by which Jesus was attached to the cross and, on the other hand, to what extent does it reflect the early church’s myth making use of the Septuagint’s version of Psalms 22:17, which says:  “They have dug [into] my hands and my feet”?

As mentioned above, the Synoptic Gospels say that Jesus did not carry the crossbeam for most of the way to the execution site.  They maintain that following Jesus’ sentencing:  “as they came out [of the governor’s palace], they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name:  him they compelled to bear his cross” (Matthew 27:32; see also Mark 15:21 and Luke 23:26).  This would show that Jesus’ hands were neither bound nor nailed to the crossbeam since it was easily transferred to Simon of Cyrene.  Only John insists that Jesus bore his cross by himself (John 19:17).

© Gerald Sigal