(Part 5b of the series: Crucifixion the Bodily Support)
What sort of gear was the instrument of Jesus' execution?
I am treating the four gospels as separate, and then will harmonize the whole lot, to see what differences come up.
Previously I looked at the “Biblical Evidences” in Mark, and came to the conclusion that the instrument of Jesus’ execution could not be determined because four possible types could match its functions as described in predictions beforehand and by the prior meaning of the Greek verb that was used to denote “crucify”.
There are several passages in this tale that give us clues as to what the gear of Jesus' execution was imagined to be.
B.1. "He must take up his pole."
The first passage occurs in Matthew chapter 10, as Jesus sends out the Twelve to preach round about Galilee and gives them authority to drive out devils and heal the sick. He segues into the cost of discipleship and they might be arrested and even killed. And then he says families will break up because of the sword he will bring upon the Earth, finishing up with saying that those who love their biological family more than him are not worthy of him. Then he says this:
Here again, as in Mark, σταυρὸν would probably mean "pole" as in the patibulum or crossarm of a two-beam or two-pole cross, simple or single-horned, or as in an impaling stake, or as in a simple pole, to which one is nailed or otherwise fixed and left to die. Of course, the last type of pole would have to be of a small enough thickness and short enough length to be portable. This, of course, precludes the Jehovah's Witnesses' stake because it’s too long and far too big in diameter. A heavy two-beam cross made of 6 x 6 or larger dimensional lumber is also precluded.… and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew 10:38-39 NIV
The second passage occurs in Matthew 16 and the scene there is identical with the scene in Mark chapter 8. Jesus predicts his death that he must suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the Torah, and be killed and rise again the third day. Peter objects and Jesus sternly reprimands him. And again he tells the whole crowd of disciples around him,
Again, the Greek for “cross” is σταυρὸν, "pole". And the author indicates that he knows that taking up one’s “pole” is the beginning of one’s death march, escorted by his executioners.“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Matthew 16:24, 25 NIV
B.2. "Grant that these sons of mine may sit."
Again, Jesus makes his second prediction that he will be condemned to death, be handed over to the goyyim, who will mock him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. This time they will crucify him (as opposed to just killing him in Mark 10). And then he will rise again on the third day.
And then we go right into the scene between Jesus and Mrs. Mary Zebedee the mother of James and John, the Sons of Zebedee.
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
“What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
Matthew 20: 20-23 NIV
And then after this Jesus calls the other ten, who are indignant, together and told them if they wish to be great ones among themselves and their followers, they must be their subjects' servants, not the other way around. He then concludes this with another premonition of his death, "that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Now the reference to "the baptism that I am baptized with" and "the cup I shall drink" is an allusion to his up-coming sufferings. Otherwise, why does he ask, "Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” at Gethsemane? Because the cup is the cup of suffering that he must drink during his illegal trial before the Sanhedrin, his legal trial before Pilate, his floggings and tortures and even the crucifixion. And the baptism? It could very well be his death, for in Romans 6:3, we have Paul asking his readers if they knew that those who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. After all, baptism back then was immersion and if the person dunking you didn't lift you back up, you'd drown... and be immersed in death, not just water.
Now what about the ones sitting at his right and at his left when Jesus comes into his glory? Well notice he said if one wished to be great, one has to serve. Which means his ultimate service is "giving his life for many." Which means of course, he is foreshadowing his crucifixion with two highwaymen, that is, two armed robbers, one on either side, so that when he comes into his glory, it will be on an Roman execution pole, as I have explained in more detail in my article about Mark.
And what is this about sitting (καθίζω "to sit, cause to sit, take one's seat, settle, sink down") at his right and at his left? Again, what Maecenas preferred and Seneca rebuked his verse for (Epistles101:10-14) applies here, as I have also gone into further detail previously.
What Mrs. Zebedee was asking of Jesus for her two sons, and didn't know it, and they didn’t know it either, was for them to "sit on" or rather "ride" the crosses, poles or pales the two armed robbers were going to "sit on." For they were already told that they were going to take their seats on actual royal thrones in the World to Come, judging the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:16-30).
B.3. "And then they fenced him with pales"
Some scholars like Martin Hangel (Crucifixion, p. 25) state that the Gospels contain the most detailed accounts of a crucifixion. They do not. All they have is a simple statement that they did. Not how.
And what Matthew says, seems to be copied line-for-line from Mark:
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Matthew 27:26-35 NIV
Notice they have a lot of detail about what went on before. Flogging, delivering the prisoner over to the soldiers, mocking him, leading him out to be crucified, making someone else, that is, Simon of Cyrene carry his cross (σταυρὸν - pole), arriving at Golgotha (Κρανίου Τόπος, lit.: Place of the Cranium), the refused offering of a tincture of wine and gall, and then they crucify him (καὶ σταυροῦσιν αὐτὸν). And after that they gambled over his clothes.
No details are given how Jesus was crucified. Just the use of the verb σταυρόω "impale on [a] cross", according to the Greek-English Lexicon in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. And of course, we have the LSJ which defines σταυρόω as: "to fence with pales" and Thucydides The Peloponnesian War 7.25.7 defining the verb as: "to drive piles".
So we have not a single clue as how the Roman Soldiers crucified Jesus, except the basic definition of the verb σταυρόω. Not one clue as to the nature of the structure of Jesus' execution.
And instead of a tincture of wine and myrrh, Matthew says the Roman soldiers gave Jesus a tincture of wine and gall (χολῆς “bile, cuttle-fish ink, a disgust”). The author of Matthew is invoking Psalm 69:21 as a prophecy here: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
B.4. Where was the Sign?
Now after they crucified Jesus, where did the Roman soldiers install the sign bearing his name and charge of crimen maiestatis?
And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.
Matthew 27:36, 37 NIV
The Greek for verse 37 is: "καὶ ἐπέθηκαν ἐπάνω τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ τὴν αἰτίαν αὐτοῦ γεγραμμένην ΟΥΤΟΣ ΕΣΤΙΝ ΙΗΣΟΥΣ Ο ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΤΩΝ ΙΟΥΔΑΙΩΝ." Transliterated as: "And they put* over the head of him of the accusation of him written**: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS." Now the titulus was placed above his head, and the Greek implies it was placed on something that would keep it there.
* also placed, laid, applied
** also inscribed, engraved, scratched
** also inscribed, engraved, scratched
B.5. And Who Were with Him?
If you recall Matthew 20: 20-23, Mrs. Zebedee came up with her two sons James and John to Jesus and asking that they get to sit beside him one at his right and the other at his left, naively thinking that he was speaking of the sitting on his throne in the World to Come. In reply, Jesus said it was outside of his power to grant their request, for the seats were reserved for those for whom it was prepared. This, of course, was an illusion to his crucifixion.
And who were the two to sit at his right and at his left, for whom it was prepared?
That is right, the two robbers. And if they were "seated" on poles (σταυρούς) under lesser charges (armed robbery) what about the one crucified under the charge of high treason as "The King of the Jews?" He has to sit, too. Remember, the acuta crux "pointed stake" that Tertullian called a sedilis excessu "projection of a seat" was there not to alleviate the suffering of the crucified, but to aggravate it by introducing horrible pain… and completely humiliating the condemned, utterly. If the Romans dealt this part of the extreme punishment to those convicted with lesser charge, they certainly would have subjected with this thing those in the same group convicted of a greater charge.Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
Matthew 27:38 NIV
B.6. The Mockery.
Then there are the insults heaped on Jesus.
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Matthew 27:39-44 NIV
The part of the insults that I will focus on is the taunts "save yourself! Come down from the cross!" (σῶσον σεαυτὸν… καὶ κατάβηθι ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ) in verse 40 and "He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross" (βασιλεὺς Ἰσραήλ ἐστιν. καταβάτω νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ) in verse 42. In verse 40 the Greek transliterates as: - "save yourself,… and come down from the pole." The relevant line in verse 42 transliterates from the Greek as: "King of Israel he is. Let him come down now from the pole."
Now, in the Koine Greek the verbs, shown for "come down" are conjugated from καταβαίνω. As I have said before, in the Scott-Liddell Greek-English Lexicon, if one were to replace "horse" (ἵππου), "carriage" (ἁρμαμάξης) or "chariot" (δίφρου or ἁρμάτων), the verb καταβαίνω means "dismount," meaning, of course, that there is a strong possibility that Jesus has to dismount the pole somehow so he can step down from it, because he, too, is "mounted" or "stuck" on it, in mid-air. Note Matthew like Mark does not mention the use of nails at all. When one compares this with Matthew 20:20-23 and the remarks of Seneca, it is fairly obvious what is happening here.
B.7. The Deposition.
Again, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the body of Jesus, and Pilate orders the body released. And so, Josephus takes down the body, wraps it up and lays it in an unused tomb just like in the other three gospels, except Matthew states Joseph carved it out of the rock for his own use. The removal of the body from the execution pole or frame is as follows:
Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.
Matthew 27:59, 60 NIV
The Greek for “took” is λαβὼν, a conjugate of λαμβάνω, “take, lay ahold of to take or receive, grasp, seize, carry off as a prize of booty.” So the implication here is Joseph may be doing this for the Sanhedrin. Which is also implied by what follows the next day when the Sanhedrin approaches Pilate and ask that the tomb be guarded. It is obvious they were somehow informed that he was placed there. Who else could have informed them in this story, except Joseph of Arimathea? Or are we to assume that the Sanhedrin had spies watching them, when Matthew, like Mark, mention only the women who followed Jesus as the ones who were watching? Or that the women themselves were the spies?
And so here is where I draw my conclusions on what Mark is saying about the gear of Jesus' crucifixion:
- It was a pole (or beam) one could wear.
- It was designed so one could sit, sink, or settle onto it.
- It could have been designed so that a sign could be placed on top or alternatively the sign was placed on a separate pole immediately behind it.
- The use of σταυρόω indicates that a "fencing with pales", or a "pile driving (impalement)" is going on, or both.
- An impaling stake with a separate pole right behind, for the sign.
- An ordinary pole with a spike the condemned had to sit on.
- A two-beam or two-pole cross with the same kind of spike.
- An overhead beam supported on two poles, from which the condemned hanged, with a stake in the middle on which the condemned was impaled.
Next up: Luke and Acts.