THE SCOURGING OF JESUS CHRIST

Several people have asked me why I described the pre-crucifixion scourging of Jesus Christ in such bloody and graphic terms; especially in light of the fact that three of the Biblical Gospels merely cover it with a single sentence and one doesn’t cover it at all:

Mathew Chapter 27:26: “Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified.”

Mark Chapter 15:15: “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.”

John Chapter 19:1: “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.”

Luke omits mentioning the pre-crucifixion scourging altogether even though Jesus himself prophesized that he would be scourged: Luke 18:32-33.  There are two instances in Luke where Pilate says he will have him flogged and then released, 23:16 & 23:22 but the Jews shout him down both times and demand his crucifixion instead.

The sparse descriptions in the Gospels do not detract from the evilness of the act itself. Scourging was a horrible heinous travesty on any man condemned to receive it and it was meant to humiliate the victim in the worst way possible. When the Gospels were written in the First Century, the ancient audience was quite familiar with what scourging entailed. It was unnecessary for the Gospel writers to include detailed accounts of the act itself as just the word scourge evoked terrible memories and visions in the minds of those who heard it. Today, when modern men and women read the word scourging or hear it in church during the Easter Season their minds might conjure a whipping but most have no inkling of the vile abomination that the word actually represents.

The scourging victim was stripped of all clothes and tied to a tall post with his hands above his head exposing his unprotected back, buttocks, legs and even neck to the whips of his torturers.

Two soldiers, usually legion auxiliaries, administered the flogging; one on each side with alternating strikes. The instrument used was a whip called a flagrum or flagellum by the Romans. They came in many different configurations but the most vicious and the one most likely used on Jesus consisted of three or four braided leather thongs secured to a wooden handle. Each of the thongs was fitted with alternating lead balls and sharp pieces of bones tied at various intervals. The inherent weight of the lead balls which was increased proportionally to the viciousness and strength of the individual scourger would cause ugly contusions of the skin and would drive the sharp bones deep in the flesh of the victim. The results would be horrific lacerations from the pieces of bone ripping through the flesh like miniature grapnels leaving a bloody mutilated backside of torn and hanging flesh. Pain was intolerable, blood loss was profuse causing hypovolemic shock, and the remaining part of the skin became cold, clammy, and with a bluish cast.

Scourging was an integral part of the crucifixion process and was used as a determinate for the length of time the victim would be on the cross. If the victim was to hang for a long period, the flogging was light. If the victim was scheduled to die quickly because of time restraints like those in Jesus’s case, the flogging was severe. The Jewish hierarchy had requested he die before the Sabbath started at sunset.

If you wish to read scholarly accounts of the Passion Narrative, I refer you to The Death of the Messiah, a two volume set of exemplary books by Raymond E. Brown.  The scourging of Jesus is covered in Sections 34 and 35 of Volume 1. The crucifixion is covered in great detail in Volume 2. These books are the most in-depth outstanding tomes on the subject that I or anyone else has had the privilege to have read.

 

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