Thursday, October 11, 2012

Crucifixion the Bodily Support - "Biblical Evidence" – Installment 5.

Praetorian with a Celtic Lance. It comes into play in this gospel. 

(Part 5e 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, treating Acts alongside the gospels as its own source, and then will harmonize the whole lot, to see what differences come up.

Previously I looked at the “Biblical Evidences” in Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Acts, and in each case came to the conclusion that the instrument of Jesus’ execution could not be determined because different 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”.

E. John.

Now this gospel, in which the author sets out to establish the deity of Jesus Christ, we have statements from an unknown number of anonymous signed witnesses of some unknown review committee stating that dear reader can believe this to be true because the "eyewitness" (the anonymous author) tells us so and the anonymous review committee says that his testimony is true (John 19:35, 20:31, 21:24). John presents the Jesus of the Christian churches.

E.1. The Son of Man must be lifted up.

Nehushtan, Nebo, Jordan.
Modern Sculpture.
Source: Univ of ND
We have three separate passages where Jesus says that he must be lifted up in the same manner as Moses had lifted up the serpent in the desert. The first instance is when Jesus is visited at night by Nicodemus, and Jesus gives his famous born again / born from above speech (John 3:1-21). Then second instance is when Jesus tells his Pharisaic Jewish opponents point-blank that when they have lifted up the Son of man, they will know that  he, Jesus, spoke not of himself, but what the Father taught him (John 8:12-29). Well apparently the Jews never got the message. Maybe it's because the Romans hoisted him up onto a Priapus stake instead? ;^) The third instance is when Jesus is at the very House of the Holy Place, predicting his own death (John 12: 20-36)
14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

John 3:14-15, NIV

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [the one I claim to be] and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.

John 8:28 NIV

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified....  
32 "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

John 12:23, 32-34
Hermes Ingenui
Roman Copy of 5th C. BCE
original. Source: Wikipedia.
Now observe closely what verbs are used in the Greek for "lifted up." In John 3:14, ὕψωσεν, "he [Moses] lifted up" and ὑψωθῆναι "to be lifted up." In John 8:28, ὑψώσητε, "you [plural] shall have lifted up." In John 12:32, ὑψωθῶ, "I be lifted up." John 12:34, ὑψωθῆναι, "be lifted up." In each instance the context is about not just the physical lifting of the physical person onto a Priapus stake, a simple impaling stake or a pole, or even into a cross, but about the heavenly exaltation of the central character of John's gospel. But first the basic meaning of the basic verb, ὑψόω. The LSJ has it: "lift high, raise up; elevate, exalt; pass. to be exalted, exalted; represent in the 'grand manner'; pass., astron., of planets, mount to the north of the ecliptic; pass., astrol. of planets, attain exaltation." Middle Liddell has it: "lift high, raise up; to raise for oneself; elevate, exalt." Thayer's Greek Lexicon states that in John "the Evangelist himself interprets the word of the lifting up upon the cross, but a careful comparison of John 8:28 and John 12:32 renders probable that Jesus spoke of the heavenly exaltation which he was to attain by the Crucifixion, [and so] the 'lifting up' includes death and the victory over death; the passion itself is regarded as a glorification.
Image of Dionysius built around a pole and exalted.
Source: Renee O'Connor, Major Holidays of Ancient Greece.

So John here seems to indicate that Jesus is to be lifted up and exalted as a god on the gear of his execution. So is it on a cruciform tropaeum like the wax image of Julius Caesar? Or is it on a pole like Dionysius?

The key of what John is trying to get at, of course, from the phrase in John 3:14 "as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert" brings us back to Numbers 21:8-9:
8 And Ha-Shem said unto Moses: 'Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he seeth it, shall live.' 9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it upon the pole (הַנֵּ֑ס (ha·nês)); and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked unto the serpent of brass, he lived.

Caduceus found in Ephesus.
Source: Flickr via
OSS Watch team blog.

Now the basic word for "pole" here is נס (nês), "banner, pole, sail, ensign, standard, signal, sign." Jastrow's Dictionary has it as: "flag, sign, miraculous event, trial, to lift up, wonder, supernatural event." Wiktionary has it as: "(1) miracle; (2) 1. flag, staff, banner; 2. staff, pole, flagpole, 3. (modern) banner, pennant."
The word  נס (nês) is used again in Exodus 17:5, and in Isaiah 11:10, 31:9 and 49:22:
And Moses built an altar and called the name of it Jehovahnissi (יְהוָ֥ה ׀ נִסִּֽי (Yah-weh | nis·sî) = the LORD is my pole/standard).

Exodus 17:15 KJV

And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse which shall stand for an ensign (לְנֵ֣ס (lə·nês)) of the people, to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.

Isaiah 11:10 KJV

And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign (מִנֵּ֖ס (mi·nês)), saith the LORD whose fire is in Zion and his furnace in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 31:9 KJV

Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard (נִסִּ֑י (nis·sî)) to the people and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

Isaiah 49:22 KJV
Coin of Hermes with caduceus.
More coins..
Now if early Levantine Semitic Christianity had the worship of the cross, these verses would have been important to them, just like their Septuagint cousins were to the early Gentile Christians of the Pan-Hellenic world. If I may quote Stephan Huller (who pointed me to the above verses),
We have to remember the context of Semitic Christianity. There seems to be evidence that 'Jewish Christianity' in some form denied Jesus's Cross. I forget the sources here but the notion seems to be reflected in the writings of Paul (1 Corinthians chapter 1 for instance). This pervaded down to Islamic times where orthodoxy confirmed the idea that Jesus was never crucified - the claim is written off as either an invention of Paul or the European Church.
And indeed, there are many Jews who say and still more used to say the Crucifixion was a Pagan invention, that Judaism would have nothing to do with it. They even view the Cross as תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה (ṯō·w·‘ê·vāh) -- an abomination! Something repulsive and abhorrent. But in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Targumin, the Mishnah, the Talmud, you never see the noun נס (nês). Instead you'll find צלב (ṣā·lūv), אבילצ (ṣā·lî-ba), עֵֽץ (‘êṣ), and קיסא (qî-sa). And they generally mean: stake or gallows for the first two, tree or stake for the third, and rough edge or gallows for the fourth. 1

Asklepios with his staff.
Source: Wikipedia.
And the Muslims? They emphatically state in the Qu'ran 4:157 (Pickthall's Translation) that "They slew him not, nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them."2 The only person of whom this was indeed a fact (except the not being slain part) that we know of, is Gaius Julius Caesar. He was slain in Pompey's Theatre, but he was not crucified, but it appeared so unto them. Where? On the First Crucifix. So indeed whatever happened, it appears that indeed the tradition of the passion of Julius Caesar did indeed bleed into that of Jesus Christ. You can see it in the Gospels, you can see it in Paul's lament in Galatians (3:1): "O foolish Galatians! Who bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified (σταυρόω'ed)?" (as in an ancient theatrical production of a sacred drama), and you can even see it in the verb choice itself, all over the New Testament.

But since σταυρός was a pole whether it had a crossarm or not, like נס (nês), it is incumbent to figure out what the first time reader of John from outside the Church would make of this without Christians emphatically telling him their opinion of what it means. Now an ensign could be a flag and it's possible that the snake was "hanged" like a Roman ensign or vexilla. And indeed the early Church Fathers like Minucius Felix (Octavius 29) saw a crux or σταυρός in the Roman Standards and vexillae. They even saw it in the Roman tropaeum. But we have no way of knowing if Moses hanged the serpent that way, for according to the Hebrew Bible, what was regarded as Moses' snake-on-a-pole was absolutely destroyed as an idol and an abomination (2 Kings 18:4). So the only items to compare to would be the Caduceus of Hermes and Mercury and the rod or staff of Asklepios.

Sometimes, the Caduceus of Hermes / Mercury had wings at the top, forming a "T" like a flattop cross; sometimes it did not. The staff of Asklepios resembled a pole or a club. And at the time, Asklepios was the god of healing, like Nehustan, the brass serpent of Moses. The frames for the Roman vexillae resembled crosses. The other Roman standards sometimes had cross-pieces and sometimes they did not.

E.2. Sentencing of Jesus.

Now we fast forward five days or so, and we find Jesus being brought before Pilate's court to be on trial for his life. Straightaway, Pilate cuts to the chase:
29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” 
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. 

John 18:29-32 NIV
Nehushtan as a snake on a pole.
Source: Beth Israel Synagogue,
Roanoke, VA
So here we have a scene in which, the first thing when the 'Jews' brought Jesus before Pilate, is that Pilate asks them what the indictment charges are. They don't offer ANY charge! They just reply that if he was not a criminal, why would they bring him to the prefect?

So an exasperated Pilate tells them to try Jesus themselves by their own law. To which they replied, "We have no right to execute anyone". Well Pilate wasn't asking them to execute him, they were asking them to try him and, if not find him either innocent or guilty, at the very least to bring up charges of indictment against him. Of course, finding him guilty of a capital transgression of the Torah is exactly what was done in the Synoptics, but in an illegal nighttime trial 3 that violated several procedural mizvot, during, of all nights, Passover Eve! And even in the Synpotics, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem still drag him before Pilate. By having the Jewish leaders merely question Jesus in front of Annas and send him on to Caiaphas (John 18: 19-24), instead of actually trying him illegally, is a nice clean up on John's part. He seems to imply that the Jewish officials were simply too damn lazy to actually bring charges against Jesus.

But why did they object? One, they were deprived of the ius gladii in 6 CE when the right to either absolve from, or condemn a man to death was taken from the Jewish Sanhedrin and given to the Roman prefect Coponius 4. Two, according to what goes on later in the story they didn't want to chance stoning him, they want him hanged alive, a penalty applicable only to those who slandered or committed treason against the Jewish nation or who, having already been sentenced to death, escapes and curses his own fellow Jews abroad 5. Third, is to fulfill Jesus' prediction of what death he was to die: to be lifted up like the brass serpent in the wilderness: exalted on a pole or in similar fashion, or on a tropaeum, or on a crux (Priapus stake) that subs for a tropeum (victory cross). And judging by what the non-Jewish reader of the day understands how effigies of snakes were exalted, a simple pole or impale stake is strongly suggested.

E.3. Howling for his death.

And so Pilate questions Jesus, finds no basis to condemn him, and the 'Jews' bully him into sending him to his death. In the end they howl for his death, just like in the Synoptics:
15 “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

John 18:15-16 NIV
And what verbs do the 'Jews' use to denote what kind of death they want him to suffer? The Greek has it as "Ἆρον ἆρον σταύρωσον! (Take him, take him, crucify him!)" But it could just as easliy translate as, "Hoist him, hoist him, pile-drive him!" For αἴρω could also mean for this incident lifting, picking up and taking away or removing in the literal sense; and for doing away with in the figurative sense. And σταυρόω didn't necessarily mean "nail to a cross" (and certainly not to a tropaeum) at the time of writing, but rather "fence with pales, pile-drive, impale."

And what does Pilate do in the end? He hands him over to them (παρέδωκεν: gave, handed over, transmitted, delivered up, surrendered, betrayed) so that he might be crucified (σταυρωθῇ: he might be fenced with pales, pile-driven, impaled).

E.4. And then they pile-drove him.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 

John 19:16b-18 NIV
In John 19, the soldiers (or is it the 'Jews'?) take charge of Jesus. The NIV says soldiers, but most other English versions, the Aramaic, the Greek and Latin simply say "they." 

In John 19:16b, Vulgate we have: "susceperunt autem Iesum et eduxerunt." (Moreover they took to themselves Jesus and led him out.) Old Latin translation: "Acceperunt ergo ih̅m." (In consequence they took to themselves Jesus.)

In John 19:16b, Greek, we have: "Παρέλαβον οὖν τὸν Ἰησοῦν," (So they took to themselves the Jesus,)

So by the rules of antecedent for relative pronouns it appears Pilate is allowing the 'Jews' to crucify Jesus and not have his own soldiers do it. So was John copying Luke? Or the Gospel of Peter? These other two certainly have the Jews carry out the actual execution of Jesus.

Of course, later on in verses 23-24, when Jesus' garments are being gambled over, John seems to be correcting himself and saying the soldiers had carried out the crucifixion after all!

Note that unlike in the Synoptics, in this gospel Jesus carries his own σταυρόν (pole, cross).

Then we get to Golgotha, which as I have shown in the previous article was code for Capitoline Hill, where the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus is located. There is the original in Rome, and in Jerusalem the Temple Mount after 132 CE became in its own right another Capitoline Hill.

"Here they crucified him." How? The Greek states it just as plainly: "ὅπου αὐτὸν ἐσταύρωσαν" (where they impaled him, pile-drove him or fenced him with pales). And the arrangement? "and with him two others---one on each side and Jesus in the middle." Which, of course, would draw attention to him, especially if his execution gear is taller (although the gospels never says anything about the heights of the three σταυροί (execution crosses or upright poles or pales) 6. And of course it would have a sign.

E.5. And where was the sign?
"Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS."

John 19:19 NIV
Again, we have an erroneous translation here. The Greek for "fastened to the cross" is "ἔθηκεν ἐπὶ τοῦ σταυροῦ" (lit.: and put, placed, fixed or planted on top of, or in dependence on, the pole, pale or cross). In other words, merely set the sign on top. This placement of the sign would probably work best with a handheld sign placed or planted on top of a flattop pole, with or without crossarm, or with a frame resembling a St Anthony's Cross (T-type).  It would also work for a mast-yardarm type, or even a Latin Cross (tropaeum) if it's placed on the frame after the lifting, and the titulus (sign) was not of the hand-held type, even though they usually were 7 -- and in a crucifixion procession, the title of the name and charge of the condemned would be more visible if held aloft by a soldier holding its signpost as a handle, as opposed to just hanging from the condemned's neck.

E.6. And what was the charge?

He was crucified for being the King of the Jews! This, of course, would be high treason and acting in a sedition, which were each a crimen maiestatis. In modern interpretation, a Crime against the State. And was he an actor? A Roman jurist would say yes: for as described in John 12:12-19, during the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, seated on a donkey, Jesus accepted the accolades of masses of Jewish people who came out to greet him, including “Hosanna!” (Save!) “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!”

So with this charge, the Romans would certainly not remit any of the most cruel and unusual aspects of the penalty. If anything, they would have singled him out for special treatment.

D.7. The case of the mysterious hyssop.

Now toward the end of his tortuous sojourn Jesus expresses a need for water. And how the soldiers respond to his request is as follows:
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.

John 19:29, KJV
Now what kind of sponge did they use? Most think that it was a clean sponge, but some postulate that the sponge that was used was a filthy Roman toilet sponge! They were used for toilet purposes. The soldiers had to do their business somewhere and clean themselves up afterwards somehow, so they definitely had those kinds of sponges there.

Which means in this case, and possibly even so if it weren't, the vinegar (GreekοξουςLatin Vulgate and Old Latinacetum) would not be posca, watered sour wine fit to drink, but the full-strength vinegar made from such, for primitive sanitation purposes. It is NOT an act of kindness to give a dehydrated person going into hypovolemic shock on a cross, pole or pale some full-strength vinegar! That kind is a diuretic.

And how full did they fill the sponge? Rather completely: the Greek is μεστον "filled full, sated, laden"; the Latin Vulgate had plenum "full, filled, sated, laden"; and the Old Latin, plenam (the same).

For the phrase "put it upon hyssop" we have in the Greek 13περιθέντες υσσωπω "they put around hyssop"; in the Latin Vulgate  circumponentes hysopo "they set, put, placed around"; and in the Old Latin, circumdederunt hysippo "they put, set, placed around, wrapped around, surrounded, enclosed." So the hyssop John is talking about, now known as oregano, marjoram and zatar at the present, may not be a woody perennial from a previous year but rather a shoot that is still herbaceous in the early spring, scarcely 18" high and wholly unable to support a sponge. And John's gospel has no indication whatsoever that the soldier then put the sponge, wrapped around the hyssop, onto a pole-reed or some other stick, as a harmonization with Mark and Matthew would indicate. So it is apparent that the structure Jesus was suspended on in this Gospel was rather short, for the soldier would have lifted the charged sponge to his mouth with his hand.

There's an interesting fact about hyssoped vinegar. Back then, it was used to treat wounds and irritation to the anus. This has been noted by Bill Thayer of the University of Chicago in his comment on Pliny the Elder's Natural History, Book 23. (Nota bene: for anus, Pliny used a euphemism: "seat.")
This text of Pliny, however, provides evidence of something very different: hyssoped vinegar was apparently considered a very strong topical anaesthetic specific for rectal pain. 
In more intelligible detail, here is the connection with the Crucifixion:

Death in crucifixion (see this excellent page) is ultimately caused by asphyxiation. The crucified man hangs from his wrists, and his chest is distended inwards and down. If a foot-rest is provided, this prolongs the torture, since the victim will be able to push himself up and get some air; but this induces cramps and eventually tetany of the arm and leg muscles, which become so painful that he eventually slumps down again — and the cycle continues to exhaustion and final asphyxiation in the down position 8

To this torture, the Romans commonly added a refinement: a sharp spike (called a sedile, a "seat") 9 was fixed on the upright beam in such a place that when the exhausted victim slips back down, it pierces the anus.

Now read Pliny's text again. What the soldier was doing was not giving Jesus a drink of posca using hyssop as a support for the sponge. He was administering a pain-killer to a different place altogether, and the sponge, in accordance with our passage of Pliny, was being used as a swab. The writer of the gospel was standing too far away to see exactly what the soldier was doing and interpreted it wrongly; or some redactor has been prudish. 
Granted, I am not wedded to this alternative version of John 19:29 and neither is Dr. Thayer.  Another version of this verse was circulating about, for in Against the Christians, Porphyry wrote of John 19:29: "Now there was a vessel full of vinegar. Having therefore bound a vessel full of vinegar with a reed, they offered it to his mouth." (Fragment 15, Macarius, Apocriticus II:12). Now it could be possible, although we don't know, that the version Porphyry cites was a sanitized version of the hyssoped sponge scene, or the Canonical version of John 19:29 is the result of people laughing at the Christians, saying something like, We don't let crucified persons drink out of vessels. we use sponges!  

Speaking of offering sponges filled with hyssoped vinegar, the verb for "put it to his mouth" is in the Greek, προσήνεγκαν αυτου τω στοματι "they brought it to, brought it upon, offered it to, presented it to, set it before, applied it to, assaulted the mouth of him"; in the Latin Vulgate, obtulerunt ori eius "they brought it to, brought it before, presented it to, offered it to, incflicted the mouth of him"; and the Old Latin, adplicuerunt ori eius "they applied it, connected it, attached it, brought to, add, put or placed on or near to the mouth of him". These verbs indicate anywhere from bringing the item close enough to his mouth for him to try to reach it unsuccessfully as a means of torment, to bringing it close enough so he could drink, to forcibly irrumating him with it.

Remember, these aren't soldiers under the British Empire during the Victorian Era! Yet often, this verse is interpreted as if they were.

But they did bring it at least close enough for him to drink in this story, for after he drinks some of the vinegar, says "It is finished," (Greek τετελέσται, Latin Vulgate consummatum est, Old Latin perfectum est) leans his head and gives up the ghost.

E.8. Removal from the Structures.

Next we have the lifting the bodies off the execution crosses, poles or pales.
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and [that] they might be taken away.

John 19:31
Example of a tropaeum: a cross adorned
with enemy armor.
The Greek for "remain on the cross" is μείνῃ ἐπὶ τοῦ σταυροῦ (upon, or on the cross, pole, pale), the Latin Vulgateremanerent in cruce (remain on [or by means of 10] the cross, pale, pole), the Old Latinmanerent in crucem (stay, remain, abide, spend the night 11, adhere to 12, upon, joined with  the cross). When ἐπὶ is used with the genitive as is here and verbs of rest on an actual support as it is here, means on or upon or in dependence on (the last like a picture on a wall). So although the Greek allows for simple pole or a flat plane cross or tropaeum, the two Latin phrases each actually has a fuller meaning when the pole or frame is equipped with a piercing spike!

The Greek for "take away" here is ἀρθῶσιν, aorist passive subjunctive 3rd person plural conjugate of αἴρω (ἀείρω), meaning "taken up, lifted, raised up; to take up, hoisted; taken up and carried or brought, taken away, carried off, borne, carried, be done away with, be suspended, be hanged, etc," comparable with the Latin Vulgate tollerentur (same) and the Old Latin auferrentur "take or bear off or away, carry off, withdraw, remove".

One of two things might be inferred here: (1) is that all the suspension devices were low enough to the ground that the bodies had to be lifted to be taken away, or (2) there was a "seat" such that one had to lift the body in order to clear the seat. Everywhere else in the NT, this verb when applied to a physical removal means to lift up or to lift up from the floor or a table and take away.

E.9. Breaking the legs.

So, to take the persons down from the cross (pole, pale), what the soldiers did was break the legs of each of the condemned as a coup de grâce -- a death blow intended to end the suffering of a wounded creature. In the Gospel of Peter, this is made plain: the two thieves don't insult the one crucified with them, but one of them backtalks at one of the executioners. And the execution party decides that this one's legs shall not be broken, so that he shall die in torment. Of course, in a normal crucifixion the executioners probably do not break the legs out of compassion, but more likely out of boredom or because of local authorities' demands -- in the case of Judaea, get the bodies buried before sunset!

And so in the story, the soldiers get their leg-breaking clubs, and:
Then came the soldiers and brake the legs of the first and of the other which was crucified with him.

John 19:32 KJV
The phrase, "which was crucified with him" in Greek is: τοῦ συσταυρωθέντος αὐτῷ "of the one fenced with pales, pile-driven, impaled or crucified with him", the Latin Vulgate, qui crucifixus est cum eo "who was crucified with him" (straightforward) and the Old Latinqui confixus erat illi in crucem "who had been fastened or nailed together (rare), joined (by pressing), pierced through or transfixed with him onto the cross, pole or pale." The Old Latin actually brings out the possibility of the pile-driving and impaling aspects of σταυρόω because of the abridged phrase confixus erat in crucem can have a pregnant construction as follows: "he had been joined onto (with a thrusting or pressing motion, i.e., a piercing) and remains joined on the torture-device" 12 like a piece of styrofoam joined onto an upturned nail.

E.10. Why did they stab him for?

And when the soldiers came to Jesus:
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

John 19:34 KJV
I'm not going to go into any discussion how blood and water or the apparent unusualness of this action, but what the text says about act of the stabbing. The Greek is: ἀλλ’ εἷς τῶν στρατιωτῶν λόγχῃ αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν ἔνυξεν "but one of the soldiers with his lance, spear or javelin pricked, stabbed or pierced the ribs or side", the Latin Vulgate, sed unus militum lancea latus eius aperuit, "but one of the soldiers with a light spear or lance uncovered, laid bare, cut, opened, broke the side, flank or lungs of him", the Old Latin, sed unus ex militibus lancea latus eius inseruit "but one out of the soldiers with a short spear or lance planted, put in or inserted the side, flank or lungs of him."

In a hostile occupied country, a real crucifixion of a condemned man who is popular with the locals would require the soldiers to threaten the use of a spear. A pilum would be useless, because any one could bend the point back and it would be useless. That's because it was designed to embed itself in an enemy soldier's shield and then bend so he can't get it out, rendering the shield useless. Something rigid like a Celtic lance (shown at the top) would be far more useful. But the narrow gaps between the ribs could conceivably prevent a puncture would anything deeper than pricking or stabbing, due to the manner the spearhead tapers out. Tradition seems to back up the idea that Jesus was pricked or stabbed like in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

And the stated reason for this is cited in John 19:37: "as another scripture says: 'They will look upon the one they have pierced.' " (in the Greek, ἐξεκέντησαν: "pierced through, transfixed"; in the Latin Vulgatetransfixerunt: "transfixed, transpierced, pierced through"; in the Old Latinpupugerunt: "pricked, punctured, thrusted". Why is John creating a scene that doesn't exactly match the the sense of the Greek or Vulgate translations of the original Hebrew דָּקַר (daqar) "to pierce, pierce through," which in the nine of the ten other times it appears in the Tanakh, connotes a sense of shame of military defeat or dishonourable death. Jastrow's Dictionary has דָּקַר as "dig, bore, pierce, stab".

And why this scene in the first place??? Could it have been to deflect critics of early Christianity who reminded them that σταυρόω connoted a sense of pile-driving or impalement, even of the kind from which there was no surviving?

And what is the motivation for the soldier to do this in the first place? To me, it comes off as a maltreatment of and a contumely to the dead body, and it sounds like a counterpoint to and a repudiation of Mark 19:39, where the Centurion says, "Truly, this was the Son of God!"

E.11. Removal of the body.

At the end of the day, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pontius Pilate for the body and Pilate grants it. Joseph then takes the body away (John 19:38 -- in the Greek, ἦρεν, "lifted, lifted up and took away, took away"; in the Latin Vulgatetulit, "bears, lifts up, carries, carries off, takes as spoils, takes away, gets, takes"; and in the Old Latinabstulerunt, "took away, borne off, carried off, removed").

Again, what is implied here is that the body was lifted off the cross for some reason.

E.12. The imprint of the nails and the wound in the side.

Before the last of the resurrection appearances Thomas the Twin says to the Ten who claim they have seen the Lord:

"Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe."

John 20:25 KJV
For "the print of the nails" we have in Greek, τὸν τύπον τῶν ἥλων, "the 'image' of the nails"; the Latin Vulgate, in locum clavorum, "into the place of the nails"; and the Old Latin, figuram claborum [sic], "the form of the nails." Odd words to use for the nail wounds, as if they had healed completely except for the actual locations and shapes of the nails, which were still empty except for air. Normal healing would not leave such holes. This is clearly indicative of magical thinking by the writer!

And "thrust my hand in the side", we have in Greekβάλω μου τὴν χεῖρα εἰς τὴν πλευρὰν αὐτοῦ, "cast, put, place the hands of me into the side, ribs of him"; in the Latin Vulgate, mittam manum meam in latus eius, "send the hand of me into the side, flank of him'; and Old Latin, misero manum meam in latere eius, "cast the hand of me in the side, flank of him". Here is it quite obvious that the wound is in the flank, below the ribs and was created by something with much larger spearhead than a pilum. It is also blindingly obvious that when writing this scene, john did not refer back to John 19:34, where the soldier pricked, stabbed or pierced Jesus' side, but 19:37, which refers to Zechariah 12:37 "they shall look upon him whom they have pierced, transpierced, pierced through."

And Jesus appears to the Eleven in an instant, challenging Thomas, saying to him,
Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

John 20:27 KJV
Praetorian holding a Celtic Lance. Note the larger spearhead.
The Greek of "thrust [thy hand] into my side" is rendered as, τὰς χεῖρας σου... βάλε εἰς τὴν πλευρὰν μου, "those hands of yours... send into the side of me;" in the Latin Vulgatemanum tuam... mitte in latus meum, "the hand of yours... send into the side of me;" and the Old Latin, manu tuam... mitte in latere meo, "the hand of yours, send in my side." Again, we have a wound in the side or flank big enough to put a hand or two in: a wound too large to be caused by a pilum. A spear with a large spearhead like a Celtic Lance is needed.

Roasted Fish
Source: Life on Nanchang Lu
Again, what was behind the surface definition of σταυρόω at the time this was written? Even some conservative scholars and apologists like J.P. Holding admit that the gospel of John was written as a response to the Gospel of Mark, either to complement it or in reaction to, as the more liberal critical New Testament scholars. We have already seen in Mark and Matthew that no clue is given on the architecture of the gear of Jesus' execution, save for the previously and still extant meanings of the Greek verb itself: "fence with pales, pile-drive, impale." So the whole spear incident is, apparently, an attempt to quash speculation that Jesus was impaled with a single pointed stake instead of crucified on some kind of gallows, and that any acuta-crux he would have sank down on was not large enough to punch through the abdominal wall.  This is different from Luke's dodges where he said during the Crucifixion the condemned all hanged and after his Resurrection Jesus was ravenously hungry and devoured some fish like those to the left... Bon Appétit! Here in John we have the wound being the entry wound of a lance or light spear, not the exit wound of an impale stake.

E.13. Conclusions.
  1. So what conclusions for the gear of Jesus' execution can we draw from John's gospel here?
  2. Jesus predicted he would be lifted on some kind of pole or 'staff'. It could have a crossarm, but typical representations of serpents on poles or staffs in Antiquity indicated no crossarm whatsoever.
  3. The Roman slaves' penalty of crucifixion / impalement was considered a fulfillment of the predictions. This means at the time the gospel was written, those condemned to be crucified or impaled were sometimes hoisted aloft by a transverse beam called a patibulum, and john intended Jesus to be lifted in this manner.
  4. The use of the verb σταυρόω throughout and configo "fix or fasten together, join, pierce through, transpierce" in the Old Latin indicates that the Greek word brought with it two prior meanings: pile-drive, impale.
  5. Jesus was sentenced to be crucified or impaled by Pontius Pilate. It is unclear if Jews or Roman soldiers carried out the penalty.
  6. The σταυρός (cross, pole, pale) or a part of it was light enough to be worn by the condemned on the way to his suspension.
  7. The titulus was probably carried with its own hand-held post and installed on the very top of the structure.
  8. The charge was the crimen maiestas of being "King of the Jews." This means that Jesus probably would have been subjected to the acuta-crux.
  9. While suspended, Jesus was subjected to abuse with a sponge sated with hyssoped vinegar. Coincidentally, Romans used sponges saturated with hyssoped vinegar was usually used for those suffering injuries to the anus. Also coincidentally, a crucifixion pole or gallows often if not always included a spike which, when the victim hanged in the down position, it pierced the anus.
  10. Breaking the legs apparently guaranteed a quick death. How this happened is not known.
  11. Inserting the stabbing with a spear voids the idea that Jesus was himself impaled on a stake or transpierced by the acuta-crux. This does NOT mean use of the acuta-crux was waived!  
  12. Lifting may have been necessary to remove the bodies off the poles or frames on which the condemned were suspended.
  13. Nails were hammered through Jesus' hands. Nothing is mentioned about the feet.
The type of structure, that John could be describing was probably:
  1. A cruciform structure either of the flattop T-type or a mast-type with the vertical pole taller than the height of transverse above the ground. A Latin Cross type prefabricated out of finished and dressed boards was extremely unlikely if not right out due to its resemblance to the funerary tropaea on which the wax images of Roman Emperors were affixed and the late Emperors themselves were deified with inscriptions.
  2. A set of three poles, the central one shorter and pointed, where the crucified would be suspended by the transverse from the two outer poles and seated on the central one.
Next and last on this topic: harmonization.


Perseus -, Greek Word Study Tool.
Perseus -, Latin Word Study Tool. Numen Latin Word Study Tool.
Notre Dame (, Whittaker's Words., English NT by chapter, John 19 and John 20., Verse-by-verse Bible lookup, John 19 and John 20., Greek - English tables verse-by-verse, John 19 and John 20.
Perseus Digital Library, Latin Vulgate, John 19 and John 20.
Vetus Latina, Iohannes, Electronic Edition, John 19 and John 20 in Old Latin.
Peshitta Aramaic - English Interlinear New Testament (in Syriac) - follow menu at left for John 19 and 20. 


1. David W Chapman goes into a lot detail on this in Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion, particularly his discussion on Hebrew and Aramaic terminology on pages 13-33. PDF Preview,

2. Another reading would be: "And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them."

3.  Gabriel N. Lischak, "12 Reasons Jesus' Trial was Illegal" The Pillar, The Restored Church of God, Part 1Part 2 (Nota bene: religious.) Cf.: Famous Trials / The Trial of Jesus / The Sanhedrin (Univ of Missouri Kansas City Law School) (secular)

4. Josephus, Jewish War 2.8.1 [117] Although it appears the Sanhedrin may have had powers to issue indictments, or perhaps determine the guilt of a person, although for capital cases the latter is very doubtful. (Cf. Emil Schürer, History of the Jewish People in the Age of Christ, pp. 367-370 Google preview)

5. 11QT (Temple Scroll) 64.6-13, ap. Chapman, pp. 125-132:
6 If 7 a man will be a slanderer against my people, and surrenders my people to a foreign nation, 8 then you (pl.) shall hang him on the tree and he shall die. -- by the mouth of two witnesses and by the mouth of three witnesses 9 he shall be put to death, and they shall hang him [on] the tree. If there is in a man a sin bearing a judgement of death and he has fled to the 10 midst of the nations and has cursed my people [and] the sons of Israel, then you (pl.) shall also hang him on the tree 11 and he shall die. And their corpse shall not spend the night upon the tree, but you shall surely bury him that very day, for 12 those who are hanging upon the tree have been cursed of God and men, and you shall not defile the land, which I 13 give thee as an inheritance.
6. Suetonius, Galba 9:20 strongly implies that a crux that is taller than the others and painted white (or plastered) would attract attention to whoever is fixed on it:
And a tutor, who had poisoned an orphan, and an heir to the estate, he crucified (lit.: inflicted with a crux) (et tutorem, quod pupillum, cui substitutus heres erat, veneno necasset, cruce adfecit). On this delinquent imploring the protection of the law, and crying out he was a Roman citizen (implorantique leges et civem Romanorum se testificanti), as if for his solace and honour he was about to alleviate the penalty to some degree, to alter it (quasi solacio et honore aliquo poenam levaturus), he ordered to alter it, and a crux, taller than many among the rest and painted white, to be erected for him (mutari multoque praeter ceteras altiorem et dealbatam statui crucem iussit).
Now according to the Lexica, the last phrase could instead refer to a taller impaling stake, or a taller and stouter acuta-crux (see explication here) a.k.a. sedile, cornu, instead, and not necessarily painted white, but plastered or pargeted instead.

7. The sources I found are (1) Dio Cassius, Roman History 54.3.7 "along with inscriptions disclosing notice of the reason he was to be put to death" (μετὰ γραμμάτων τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς θανατώσεως αὐτοῦ δηλούντων διαγαγόντος); (2) Suetonius, Caligula 32.2 "with a title preceding, which indicated the cause of the penalty" (praecedente titulo qui causam poenae indicaret); (3) Suetonius, Domitian 10 "with this title: 'Disloyal speech - Thracian supporter' " (cum hoc titulo: Impie locutus parmularius); (4) Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.1.44: "a board went before him and on it was written in Latin, 'This is Attalus the Christian.' " (πίνακος αυτόν προώγοντς, ευ δ' επεγράπτο Ρωμαιστι Ουτός εστιν Ατταλος ό Χριστιανός); (5) bas-relief of Vespasian's triumphal procession on the Arch of Titus. Of the five, (1) (2) and (4) appear to indicate a probability that tituli in processions were signs that usually were held and carried by other individuals using a supporting staff or stick, while (3) is silent as to how they were displayed in the condemned's forced march to execution, and the last one (5) clearly shows signs with "ears" (tabs) held aloft on wooden or metal poles during Vespasian's triumph. 

8. Dr. Frederick T. Zugibe, in his live experiments concerning crucifixion, found out that with the arms at a 60 to 70-degree angle from verticle or larger, crucified persons will not asphyxiate on the cross. Zugibe reports:
Despite our extensive suspension studies using sophisticated techniques that showed that there was no difficulty in breathing during suspension on the cross therefore precluding asphyxiation as the cause of death, there is still wide propagation, “polly parrot” style of Barbet’s a priori hypothesis that the crucarius had to rhythmically sag and straighten throughout the whole period of crucifixion in order to expel the air from the lungs.
Experimental Studies in Crucifixion, E-Forensic
9. Also an acuta-crux, as in Seneca's Epistles 101:12: " 'suffigas licet et acutam sessuro crucem subdas' ('You may nail me up and set for my seat a pointed stake.') Est tanti vulnus suum premere et patibulo pendere districtum...? (Is it so great to sink down upon one's own 'wound' and hang stretched out on a patibulum...?)" Nota bene: at Perseus, meet (it may pass) is substituted for licet (it is permitted).

10. The Latin in + ablative noun denotes not only a locative ablative but often an instrumental ablative as well. Examples: in hoc signo vinces (under, with, by this sign you will conquer), ecce lignum crucis in quo salus mundi pependit (behold the wood of the cross on which the salvation of the world hung; or just as valid, behold the wood of torture wherewith the salvation of the world paid out), in nullo potest exire nisi in orationibus et ieiunio (by nothing is it possible to come forth except by prayer and fasting).

11. Sometimes the last has a sexual connotation. The 87th Carmina line 18 of the Priapeia brings a connotation of rape with a blunt object, or more accurately, an unlubricated wooden dildo to crucifixion: parata namque crux stat ecce mentula (and for the cross is ready -- behold! -- the cock is erect). Cf. Martin Hengel, Crucifixion, 1977 Philadelphia Fortress Press p. 67.

12. This sense of manerent "they may adhere to" when used with in + accusative noun connotes: they may adhere onto (with a directional motion) and remain stuck on a thing, unable to escape. Ref. Lewis and Short in, II. C. 7: "Sometimes with esse, habere, etc., in is followed by the acc. (constr. pregn.), to indicate a direction, aim, purpose, etc...; so, esse in potestatem alicujus, to come into and remain in one's power: esse in mentem alicui, to come into and be in one's mind: esse in conspectum, to appear ad be in sight: esse in usum, to come into use, be used, etc." Confixus erat in crucem is of the same sort of pregnant construction.

13 This apparently includes Papyrus P-66, the earliest manuscript that includes John's description of the Cricifixion, although the page that includes the verse is rather fragmentary. It is also in the Sinai Codex, among others.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It Appears Mark Based Jesus' Passion on a Triumph.

Marcus Aurelius sacrificing at the
Fourth Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
Note the three doors have crosses.

Originally posted by Stephan Huller here. Reposted here (I have added the photos and some information at the bottom in notes 1 through 6).
Thomas Schmidt, “Jesus’ Triumphal March to Crucifixion: The Sacred Way as Roman Procession,” Bible Review, Feb 97: 30-37.   

Thomas Schmidt’s thesis in “Jesus’ Triumphal March to Crucifixion: The Sacred Way as Roman Procession,” is that the crucifixion procession is modeled on a Roman triumphal march, with Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa replacing the Sacra Via [sic] of Rome. Schmidt’s rhetorical purpose is to convince us that Mark presents Jesus’ defeat and death, the moment of his greatest suffering and humiliation, as both literally and figuratively a triumph.


1. Schmidt argues, from source criticism, that Mark’s gospel was probably written for gentile Christians living in Rome.
2. Mark’s crucifixion narrative contains a number of striking parallels to the Roman triumphal march. The parallels in Mark follow. 
a. The praetorium – a common designation for the place and personnel of the imperial guard – gathers early in the morning to proclaim the triumphator.  
b. The description of Jesus’ clothing. The triumphator is introduced clad in a ceremonial purple robe and crown. In [Mark], the soldiers dress Jesus in the purple triumphal garb and place a crown of laurel on his head. The crown of thorns is a ceremonial detail, not an historical fact.
Source: Biblical Archaeological Review. 
c. The soldiers’ mock homage of Jesus. The soldier’s accolades are represented by the mock homage in Mk 15.18. The soldiers shout in acclamation of his lordship (“Hail, King of the Jews”) and they salute him as they accompany him through the streets of the city.  
d. Another carries the implement of the victim’s death. Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross parallels the official who walks alongside the bull.  
e. The translation of “Golgotha” – “the place of the head.” Golgotha was the Capitolium (head) to which the triumphator ascended. Jesus’ procession ascends to the place of the head (death), where the sacrifice is to take place. 1, 2, 3 
f. The ceremonial wine poured on the altar. The wine signifies the precious blood of the victim, and links between triumphator, wine and victim signify their connection. The sacrifice is the god who dies and appears as the victor in the person of the triumphator. Jesus does not drink the wine; instead, he pours it out on the altar at the moment of sacrifice. 
g. The acclamation of Jesus as Lord (“The King of the Jews” [Mk 15.26]), and his vice-regents appear with him in confirmation of his glory.) 4
Credit: Biblical Archaeology Review.  
h. The crucifixion of criminals on either side of Jesus is a conscious expression of the mockery of his kingship on the part of the soldiers. Mk tells us that there were 2 bandits – one on his right and one on his left.  
i. The epiphany of the triumphator is accompanied by divine portents (“The curtain of the Temple was torn in two” [Mk 15.38]), confirming that he is one with the gods.)

Mark presents the crucifixion as an “anti-triumph” – with Jesus mocked and killed – to show that the seeming scandal of the cross is actually an exaltation of Christ. Mark’s anti-triumph was composed in reaction to the self-deification of the emperors Gaius (37-41 AD) and especially Nero (54-68 AD).
For Mark, it is the mocked Jesus, not the gaudy Roman emperor, who is the true epiphanic triumphator

I stumbled upon this summary and had to admit - I think the author's right here. This might be useful for mythicists because it presents the story as highly embellished. Again, I think he's basically right about this. I don't know how you argue against what he is saying here.

This too on 2 Corinthians 2:14: 4 5

Here is an article Schmidt wrote for BAR on the subject: 

I think this is one of the most convincing things I have ever read. The problem for me was its literary purpose. Why would Mark develop the narrative this way?

... If, as he claims the gospel was written for a Roman audience, they would have immediately recognized the 'Christ in the place of Caesar' reference. They would also have undoubtedly recognized the irony or some sort of disparaging reference to the ruler of the world. I still accept his identification of the Roman triumph imagery. I just don't see how this could have been written for a Roman audience.

Of course the question would naturally arise - who was written for? Still an open question.

... Here's perhaps the best argument to connect Schmidt's argument with the war of 70 CE. The rebel leader Simon was thrown off the Tarpeian Rock (Latin, Rupes Tarpeia or Saxum Tarpeium) which was a steep cliff of the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum.

You don't have this occurring after the Bar Kochba revolt. 

As such on the one hand you have Jerusalem being renamed Aelia Capitolina. That's significant. But claiming the gospel was written as a triumph procession clearly references an impending military victory where - {in my opinion]- the Romans think they have triumphed but really it was Christ victorious.... ... The idea that the revolt was inspired by Jesus is also implied in the Little Apocalypse (many will come saying 'I am he' etc.) ...

I still think that the revolts (which are never properly explained) may well have some underlying connection to a primitive Palestine faith.

[Only] that where the evidence is suspect, nothing can be said with any certainty. The only thing I am sure of in all my years of looking at this stuff is that Schmidt is right about the context. There can be no doubt and as such the idea that the gospel narrative = history implodes. One can argue that Jesus 'must have been' actually crucified or that there 'must have been' a real Jesus. But the gospel doesn't prove anything because it is obviously arranged to fit a theological contrivance. This is NOT how history unfolded. 
Exactly! That the forced march out of the city to the crucifixion field would lead to a place called Gologotha = Κρανίου Τόπος = Calvaria (Mount Calvary) which are mere diversions to hide the fact that it was Capitoline Hill in Rome or its Jerusalemian equivalent, the Temple Mount (for that is where that other most famous temple to Jupiter Capitolinus was built), shows clearly that whosoever wrote this scene in Mark was at the very least copying off of an Emperor's (Vespasian's?) triumphus and the funeral of Julius Caesar. On the other hand, a crucifixion field would more likely be called an "Akeldama:" a field of blood. Even if crucifixion was relatively a bloodless punishment, as some scholars claim.

Indeed, an early, though out-of-order, depiction of his procession and crucifixion is on the Sarcophagus Domatilla, where Jesus is crowned not with a helmet of thorns, but with a laurel wreath, or maybe a coronet of acapanthus leaves, and he is toting his cross around as if he were Romulus carrying a tropaeum. What's even more strange is that his resurrection is depicted as going directly from his cross, which itself was constructed just like a tropaeum.


1. "Curious. When Hadrian built Aelia Capitolina on the site of Jerusalem, a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus was erected in the place of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem." (S. Huller) There was an identical temple to Jupiter Capitolinus on top of Capitoline Hill in Rome. (Ed-M)

2. Jastrow's Dictionary, גולגול' ,גולגולת (gulgol, gulgoletha): skull, head, capitation tax. Compare with modern Hebrew גולגולת (gulgoleth): skull, head, cranium.

3. From Schmidt's BAR article: "Dionysius of Halicarnassus [The Roman Antiquities, 4.61.2] records the legend that, during the laying of a foundation for a temple on a certain Roman hill, a human head was discovered with its features intact. Soothsayers proclaimed:"
“Romans, tell your fellow citizens it is ordered by fate that the place in which you found the head shall be the head of all Italy,” (and) since that time the place is called the Capitoline hill from the head that was found there; for the Romans call heads capita.
Note crosses on the doors of an earlier, perhaps the
first, temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
Coins do not lie.
4. Nota bene in Vespasian's triumphus in 71 CE for the victory in the Great Jewish War 66-70 CE, his sons Titus and Domitian accompanied him in the ride up to Capitoline Hill, and the three of them performed the culminating ritual sacrifice at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. This follows a tradition of emperors appearing somehow between two others at various points of their triumphs.

5. 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 ESV:  "Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing."

6. Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005, pp..243-244. Although there is more at the link you should read, the key information about a Roman triumph follows:
The term θριαμβεύω is from the noun θρίαμβος, which was a hymn sung to Dionysius (Bacchus) during festal processions, a title of Dionysius, and also a meeting of the Latin term triumphus. Linguistically θριαμβεύειν corresponds to the Latin term triumphare, "to celebrate a triumph" (intransitive) or "to lead in triumph" (transitive). The Roman triumph was a victory procession celebrated by Roman generals on their return to Rome after a successful foreign campaign, although during an empire the privelege of celebrating a triumph became the prerogative of the emperor. There are some who deny that the Roman triumph is the conceptual background to 2:14, but, given the linguistic data mentioned above, and the face that about 350 triumphs are recorded in Greco-Roman literature, it seems antecedently probable that Paul is alluding to this ceremony and its ritual when he uses θριαμβεύω here and in Colossians 2;15, the only other NT use.

Some significant features of this ostentatious pageant may be briefly sketched. At the head of the procession came the magistrates and the senate, followed by trumpeters and some spoils of wars such as vessels of gold or beaks of ships. Then came the flute players, ahead of the white oxen destined to be sacrifices in the temples, along with some representative captives from the conquered territory, including such dignitaries as the king, driven in chains in front of the ornate chariot of the general, the triumphator ("the one honoured by the triumph"), who wore the garb of Jupiter (ornatus Iovis) and carried a scepter in his left hand. A slave held a crown above his head. The victorious soldiers followed, shouting "Io triumphe!" ("Hail, triumphant one!"). As the procession ascended the Capitoline Hill, some of the leading captives (usually royal figures or the tallest and strongest of the conquered warriors) were taken aside into the adjoining prison and executed. Sacrifies were offered upon arrival at the temple Jupiter Capitolinus. Livy informs us of the two purposes of a triumph: to thank the gods who had guaranteed the victory and to glorify the valor of the triumphator.