Thursday, February 26, 2004
Tim at e-Church has a nice Lenten series of reflections, including pointers to some classic art.
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If you want to read the Gospel accounts behind the Passion, here they are (from Jesus' prayer in the garden of Gethsemane through the crucifixion):

  • Matt 26:36 - 27:61
  • Mark 14:32 - 15:47
  • Luke 22:40 - 23:56
  • John 18:1 - 19:42

You might also find it helpful to read the Composite Gospel Index arrangement of the different accounts by visiting the Pericope Browser: the passion covers roughly #306 through #340 (click on the grey areas on the left to see the texts in parallel: this only works for Internet Explorer, though).

(I need a version with anchor tags so i can link to these pericopes directly: or better, RDF resources. By the way, re-reading John's account this morning showed me that i've got the wrong label for #316: the scene here has already shifted to Caiphas' residence, as the context makes clear).

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One of the challenges of understanding the New Testament 2000 years later is that it often briefly alludes to concepts that were painfully familiar in their context but are mostly unknown to us. The Gospels only say a few words about the scourging of Jesus, which is one of the most gruesome aspects of the Passion movie:

  • "Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him." (John.19.1)
  • "... and having scourged Jesus, [Pilate] delivered him to be crucified ..." (Matt.27.26, Mark.15.15)

This abridged description from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia helps to put the practice of scourging into its proper perspective:

Scourge: A Roman implement for severe bodily punishment. Horace calls it horribile flagellum. It consisted of a handle, to which several cords or leather thongs were affixed, which were weighted with jagged pieces of bone or metal, to make the blow more painful and effective. It is comparable, in its horrid effects, only with the Russian knout. The victim was tied to a post (Ac 22:25) and the blows were applied to the back and loins, sometimes even, in the wanton cruelty of the executioner, to the face and the bowels. In the tense position of the body, the effect can easily be imagined. So hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted and not rarely died under it.

Eusebius draws a horribly realistic picture of the torture of scourging (Historia Ecclesiastica, IV, 15). By its application secrets and confessions were wrung from the victim (Ac 22:24). It usually preceded capital punishment (Livy xxxiii.36). It was illegal to apply the flagallum to a Roman citizen (Ac 22:25), since the Porcian and Sempronian laws, 248 and 123 BC, although these laws were not rarely broken in the provinces (Tac. Hist. iv.27; Cic. Verr. v.6, 62; Josephus, BJ, II, xiv, 9). As among the Russians today, the number of blows was not usually fixed, the severity of the punishment depending entirely on the commanding officer. In the punishment of Jesus, we are reminded of the words of Ps 129:3. Among the Jews the punishment of flagellation was well known since the Egyptian days, as the monuments abundantly testify.

De 25:3 fixed the mode of a Jewish flogging and limits the number of blows to 40. Apparently the flogging was administered by a rod. The Syrians reintroduced true scourging into Jewish life, when Antiochus Epiphanes forced them by means of it to eat swine's flesh (2 Macc 6:30; 7:1). Later it was legalized by Jewish law and became customary (Mt 10:17; 23:34; Ac 22:19; 26:11), but the traditional limitation of the number of blows was still preserved. Says Paul in his "foolish boasting": "in stripes above measure," "of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one," distinguishing it from the "beatings with rods," thrice repeated (2Co 11:23-25).

Henry E. Dosker

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I'm still mostly speechless after the deeply moving experience of watching the Passion of the Christ last night with our small group. I'm sure many people will be reflecting (and blogging) on this important movie, and i urge you to see it for yourself rather than deciding based on others' opinions.

As numerous reviewers have pointed out, the movie is graphic and grisly in depicting Jesus' sufferings. However revolting these scenes are, though, they're completely different in character from the typical carnage of a slasher film or a war movie like Saving Private Ryan. Instead, they brought me to a much deeper reflection on the words of the Scriptures:

"But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53.5)

In our Christian culture, we talk a lot about the blood of Christ, so much so that it can become a metaphorical image for us. I left the movie feeling overwhelmed by the reality of what the blood of Christ really meant then, and what it means to me now.

As far as the much-publicized charges of anti-semitism: Gibson's portrayal follows the Gospel accounts quite closely, and so taking this accusation to its logical end would leave you making that charge against the New Testament itself (something too politically incorrect for most to say publically, though perhaps they believe it). Certainly the larger context of the New Testament denies any racist notions of the Jewish people as "Christ killers": for example, Peter's speech in Jerusalem declares "And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers." (Acts 3.17) Brian McLaren also has some helpful comments about the allegations of anti-semitism.

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