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The Reality of Christ’s Passion

February 12, 2009

I keep looking this stuff up because I keep wanting to believe that Christ did not suffer as badly as The Passion of the Christ movie claims he did.  I had never thought anything about a Roman whip.  I just thought it was straps of leather and they whipped him and caused some slight lacerations.  I think this mentality is also very present for those of us growing up with the 60’s – 80’s movies of Christ’s Crucifixion where there is a notable absence of excessive blood… probably for censorship sake.  I think I keep wanting it to be that way instead of the way it really was.  A great priest once told a story about a camping man who was attacked by a bear, but before being seriously injured or killed, his dog jumped in the way and fended the bear off so the owner could get away. However, the dog was killed. The owner said, ‘It is painful to be died for. Even by a dog.’
That is why I don’t want it to be as bad as it was. It’s painful to be died for. Especially in such a cruel way by an innocent sacrifice for my Salvation. Painful. Take a look.

Roman scourging practices

The Romans would, according to custom, scourge a condemned criminal before he was put to death. The Roman scourge, also called the “flagrum” or “flagellum” was a short whip made of two or three leather (ox-hide) thongs or ropes connected to a handle as in the sketch above. The leather thongs were knotted with a number of small pieces of metal, usually zinc and iron, attached at various intervals. Scourging would quickly remove the skin. According to history the punishment of a slave was particularly dreadful. The leather was knotted with bones, or heavy indented pieces of bronze.

Sometimes the Roman scourge contained a hook at the end and was given the terrifying name “scorpion.” The criminal was made to stoop which would make deeper lashes from the shoulders to the waist. According to Jewish law (discipline of the synagogue) the number of stripes was forty less one (Deut. 25:3) and the rabbis reckoned 168 actions to be punished by scourging before the judges. Nevertheless, scourging among the Romans was a more severe form of punishment and there was no legal limit to the number of blows, as with the Jews. Deep lacerations, torn flesh, exposed muscles, and excessive bleeding would leave the criminal “half-dead.” Death was often the result of this cruel form of punishment though it was necessary to keep the criminal alive to be brought to public subjugation on the cross. The Centurion in charge would order the lictors to halt the flogging when the criminal was near death.

Flogging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt. For scourging, the man was stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post. The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two soldiers or by one who alternated positions. The severity of the scourging depened on the disposition of the lictors and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death. After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim.

Medical Aspects of Scourging
As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls (attached to the leather straps) would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and the Subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross.

Scourging of Jesus

At the Praetorium, Jesus was severely whipped. (Although the severity of the scourging is not discussed in the four gospel accounts, it is implied in one of the epistles [1Peter 2:24]. A detailed word study of the ancient Greek text for this verse indicates that the scourging of Jesus was particularly harsh.) It is not known whether the number of lashes was limited to 39, in accordance with Jewish law. (Probably not since the Romans had no limit on the number of lashings.) The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a state of medical shock. The physical and mental abuse by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious to crucial.

shroud front shroud back

A horrific replication of the body based on the wounds seen on the Shroud.


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