January 19, 2021

A thought from my study

A thought from my study of Mark 15 today. I doubt if it is totally original, but I can’t recall coming across it before.

I’m interested in the flogging of Jesus by Pilate.

Mark 15:15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

Of course, John and Luke make it clearer than Mark that this was done by Pilate with the intention of stopping the plan to crucify Jesus, something Pilate is no doubt afraid will lead to a riot and to personal trouble with Rome. The other Gospels repeat and expand this, and it is at the center of Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” But just what kind of beating are we dealing with here?

Most evangelical preachers have told this story with the impression that Jesus was flogged with a “Cat ‘O Nine Tails” whip that included bone and metal ends on several strands of leather. Such a whip would, according to the story tellers, remove most of the skin it lashed. This may have been popularized among Christians because of the Shroud of Turin, as the wounds on that “body” or image are supposed to bear evidence of that particular kind of whip. This has produced more than one gory “hamburger Jesus” sermon, and the idea that Jesus was whipped until most of the flesh was removed from his body and was flailed until he is hardly recognizable as a man.

It’s quite effective, but I have a question. Aside from the fact that we don’t really know what kind of whip was used and even how many lashes were actually given, how do we fit in this verse?

2 Cor 11:24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.

This is the Apostle Paul, and I have to wonder, if he is talking about a similar kind of lashing, how could it possibly be the kind of lashing that will be portrayed in Gibson’s movie? No one could reasonably survive that once, much less five times. Since Paul does say it is at the hands of the Jews, we might say it is a different, less brutal beating, but he is clear that it is 39 lashes. From all the evidence we have, the beatings are probably similar.

This makes it much more reasonable to me to assume that Jesus was whipped with a more traditional whip and, while obviously brutal and painful, it did not produce all the damage that we hear about in the popular stories or in the movie. Interestingly, the Shroud of Turin does not show evidence of the kind of extensive damage by scourging Gibson will portray, but of something more in line with what I am suggesting. Terrible, but survivable. (I don’t believe the shroud is genuine, btw, but I do believe a real body was flogged to create it.)

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