Unit 16 – The Crucifixion And Burial Of Jesus

Unit 16 The Crucifixion And Burial Of Jesus

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Unit 16

The Crucifixion And Burial Of Jesus

16.01 The Crucifixion

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Chapter 01

The Crucifixion


16.01.00.A. THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. (2)

16.01.00.A. THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876.  Historically, prisoners were nailed first to the cross-beam because the post was already secured in the ground. Four soldiers then lifted the cross-beam and set it on the top of the post, after which the prisoner’s feet were nailed to the sides of the post. Therefore, the typical artistic rendering of Jesus nailed to the crossbeam and post, as shown above, is inaccurate. The dying process was so severely painful, that the English word “excruciating,” meaning “out of the cross,” originated from it.

16.01.01 Introduction

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16.01.01 Introduction

Scourging was the legal preliminary to crucifixion.[1]  The pain of this affliction was so severe that prisoners often died in the process. In the case of Jesus, the severity of the scourging was so severe that He was unable to carry His cross to the crucifixion site.  Furthermore, not only was He scourged, but He was mocked by soldiers who played the ancient “King’s Game” as described below.

[1]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 2:277.



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16.01.02 Jn. 19:1; Mt. 27:27-30 (See also Mk. 15:16-19)




Jn. 1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had Him flogged.


Mt. 27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into headquarters and gathered the whole company around Him. 28 They stripped Him and dressed Him in a scarlet military robe. 29 They twisted together a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and placed a reed in His right hand. And they knelt down before Him and mocked Him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 Then they spit on Him, took the reed, and kept hitting Him on the head.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had Him flogged.”  Prisoners who were to be crucified were first flogged, although floggings were not always followed by a crucifixion.[1]  Josephus recorded  that Florus,  procurator of Judea in A.D. 66, had  many  people  brought  before  him,  “Whom  he  first chastised  with  stripes and then crucified.”[2]


At this point it may be worthwhile to consider who the soldiers were who performed this action. The fact is that the Jewish nation was the only nation in the Roman Empire where men were not required to serve in the military. A number of rebellions and a basic understanding of Jewish beliefs were all the Romans needed to realize that Jews within their military units could be potentially dangerous. Soldiers of the Tenth Roman Legion came from a number of different countries; but none from any Jewish community.


Floggings or Scourgings

There were two kinds of floggings, a/k/a scourgings: Jewish and Roman.

  1. The Jews flogged a criminal only 39 times (Deut. 25:1-3). When the Jews scourged the Apostle Paul five times, he survived because he received 39 stripes each time. These were not floggings unto death. It is often said by some modern commentators that when scourging Jesus, the lictors took alternate turns thirteen times for a maximum of thirty-nine stripes (forty minus one; cf Deut. 25:1-3).  When the Apostle Paul was scourged by the Jews, he was whipped thirty-nine times (2 Cor. 11:24).  However, the limit and method of stripes was in accordance with Jewish law. Two-thirds of the lashes were to be placed on the back and one-third on the front. All striking took place with the recipient bent over a post or stretched out between two pillars.[3]
  1. The Romans, however, had no limit to their floggings and a prisoner would often die under the scourge (see 16.01.02.A). When they flogged Jesus, Isaiah’s prediction was fulfilled when said that He no longer resembled a man.

The differences between Roman and Jewish are described in further detail below.  But it is because of the brutal Roman scourging that Jesus received, that Isaiah said that He no longer could be looked upon.

2b He didn’t have an impressive form

            Or majesty that we should look at Him,

            No appearance that we should desire Him.

3 He was despised and rejected by men,

a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.


He was like someone one people turned away from;

He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.

4 Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,

and He carried our pains;

But we in turn regarded Him stricken,

struck down by God, and afflicted.


Isaiah 53:2b-4


13 See, My Servant will act wisely; He will be raised

                and lifted up and greatly exalted.

14 Just as many were appalled at You —  

His appearance was so disfigured

              That He did not look like a man,

And His form did not resemble a human being —


Isaiah 52:13-14

Roman and Jewish Floggings or Scourgings[4]

Technically, a beating was known as a fustigation, a flogging was known as a flagellation, and a scourging was known as a verberatio.[5] Because the definitions of these terms overlap, the punishments imposed upon prisoners were seldom written precisely.  What is known is that the pain and agony was horrific.

The act was performed by two soldiers, known as lictors, one on either side of the criminal, who was either tied over a post or stretched with chains between two stone pillars.  The short flogging whip, known as a flagrum or flagellum, consisted generally of a round wooden handle to which three strips of leather were attached, each about three to five feet long. Attached to each leather strip were three or more iron barbs, some sharp bones, lead or iron balls and, therefore, was known as the “cat ‘o nine tails.”  When the criminal was flogged the barbs and bones would literally tear the flesh like fish hooks. The lictors struck the back, buttocks, and legs.  When they pulled back with the wooden handle, the barbs tore the flesh, exposing ribbons of bleeding, quivering muscle tissue, sometimes removing chunks of flesh while the prisoner screamed in agony.   At this point the pain was so intense that the criminal often passed out or died while tied to a post. Water was then thrown on him to determine if he was dead or alive.  If still alive, he was revived so the process could be continued. The water shocked the body, and even more so if it was salt water from the Mediterranean or Dead Sea.  Everyone who endured this punishment had the muscle tissue of the entire back and buttocks exposed.

As previously stated, the Romans had absolutely no respect for the Jews or Jewish laws, and in fact, most hated them.  Therefore, it is unknown how many times the Romans applied the scourging to Jesus, but the fact that He died within six hours of being crucified and that His appearance was grossly disfigured (Isa. 52:13-15), gives clear evidence that His scourgings exceeded thirty-nine.  According to those who examined the Shroud of Turin, the traditional cloth that covered the body of Jesus while He lay in the tomb, He was scourged approximately 120 times. Furthermore, the lictors who played “the King’s Game” earlier, most likely scourged Jesus all the more because they were aware of His Kingdom teachings. Little wonder then, that with the huge loss of blood and pain endured beyond what other executed prisoners endured, Pilate was surprised by His quick death.

The large amount of blood loss at this point, along with the intense pain brought on by circulatory shock, generally determined how long the criminal would survive on the cross.[6] Jesus was at this point weakened by physical punishment.  He was abandoned by friends and disciples and suffering from the lack of food, sleep, and water. His mental condition was as painful as His physical condition. At this point He endured His greatest blood loss. The cross was so cruel that the Romans themselves eventually came to the same opinion and abolished its use in the year 315.


16.01.02.Q1 Should the false Jewish witnesses have been scourged?

According to Oral Law of the Pharisees, if the testimony of a false witness led to an innocent person being scourged 39 times, that false witness was subject to 80 scourgings. But Jesus was before the Sanhedrin and the Sadducees who had their own penal code that was considerably harsher than that of the Pharisees.[7]  The Sadducees demanded that false witnesses be put to death while the Pharisees permitted punishment by eighty scourgings.[8] There apparently was no law concerning a false witness whose testimony resulted in a Roman scourging. The false witnesses who testified against Jesus appear not to have been punished at all. According to the Oral Law, which the Pharisees defended so dearly, if several witnesses said:

We testify that such-a-one is liable to suffer the forty stripes, and they are found (to be) false witnesses, they must suffer eighty stripes by virtue of the law, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16) and also by virtue of the law, “Then do to him as he intended to do to his brother” (Deut. 10:10).

Mishnah, Makkoth 1.3

The Oral Law further condemned false witnesses to death, if the result of their testimony caused the death of an innocent victim. Clearly, the false witnesses who stood before Caiaphas should have received death sentences, and at least, they should have been punished with 80 stripes.

If yet others came and proved false the evidence of these others, and yet others came and proved their evidence false, even if (there came) a hundred (pairs of witnesses to prove false the evidence to them that went before), they must all be put to death.  Rabbi Judah says: This would be a conspiracy: but the first pair alone are put to death.

Mishnah, Makkoth 1.5[9]

Yet a mere four decades later, those who condemned Jesus were condemned by their own law.  When the Romans destroyed the temple, they massacred the leading Pharisees and every Sadducee.


16.01.02.A. A  RECONSTRUCTED ROMAN FLOGGING WHIP WITH IRON BARBS.  A whip with iron spurs was an instrument of immense brutality.  It consisted of a turned wooden handle with three long leather thongs, each with three or more knots.  In each knot was a bone or iron barb.  The objective was to scourge the prisoner and have barbs and bone hooks tear into flesh. Jesus would have been whipped many times with a flogging/scourging whip like this one.  It should be noted that the Romans did not have any limitation to scourging. The restriction of thirty-nine lashes was the legal limit observed only when Jews scourged (without the spurs) other Jews.[10]  Reproduced by Thomas C. Moore. Photograph by the author.

16.01.02.B. AN ILLUSTRATION OF A CRIMINAL BEING FLOGGED by T. DeWitt Talmage, 1881 (3)

16.01.02.B. AN ILLUSTRATION OF A CRIMINAL BEING FLOGGED by T. DeWitt Talmage, 1881.  A criminal was stripped, tied to a post, and then scourged. The Romans had specific directions on how to flog or scourge a prisoner in order to create the maximum pain and suffering.

 16.01.02.Q2 What was the game King of a Day?

Soldiers had a cruel way of tormenting their prisoners before crucifying them. They dressed each of them like a king and mockingly worshiped and obeyed him. It was so popular throughout the empire that their game was known as King of a Day or the Game of the King. The latter game generally connected with the Feast of Saturn, or whenever a prisoner was to be executed.   The feast lasted four or five days, during which time a prisoner was chosen to be the king of the feast.  During the feast, he could do whatever he desired, although with some limitations.  He was given a crown, a red vest, and a staff.  He pretended to be a king and enjoyed the proverbial wine, women, and song.  However, at the end of the feast, he had to kill himself on the altar of Saturn and his possessions were distributed. Scholars believe the dice game inscribed in the floor and the actions of mockery by the soldiers were associated with that game.[11]  A similar game was found to have been inscribed in a pavement stone in Sepphoris.  The shorter version was known as King for a Day. It too was a game of mockery, but at the end of the day the prisoner was crucified.

“Headquarters and gathered the whole company.” The headquarters was the Praetorium or possibly the courtyard that surrounded the Praetorium. The whole company of soldiers was those soldiers who were members of a single unit and standard called a manipulus.[12]

Soldiers mocked Jesus – scarlet robe

“Dressed Him in a scarlet military robe.” They “put a scarlet robe on him[13] and mocked him, as if He were an emperor.  Roman soldiers understood loyalty and devotion to Caesar, emperor of Rome.  Therefore, when they heard Jesus speaking of Himself as a king and His theme of the Kingdom of God, they mocked him accordingly.  His reputation followed Him to this persecution and death. They placed a scarlet soldier’s robe on Him that imitated the king’s robe (Mt. 27:28).[14]  This robe was not a full-length garment, but one that draped over the shoulders and barely came down to the waist. They stripped Jesus of His garments.  Nothing could have been more humiliating before these mocking soldiers than wearing only a loincloth, assuming it was not taken off, and a short scarlet robe that hardly covered the upper torso.  They purposefully made Him look ridiculous so they could mock Him.

There are several references to the scarlet robes worn by kings and military commanders. The earliest is thought to have been written in 440 B.C. by Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.), the world’s first historian.  He wrote how Darius, a young army officer, was excited to acquire a scarlet robe of the Samian exiles.[15]

Then, taking the purple robe, he [Darius] asked them what it was, and how it had been made. They answered truly, telling him concerning the purple, and the art of the dyer- whereat he observed “that the men were deceitful, and their garments also.”

Herodotus, The Histories 3:139[16]  

Well, deceitful or not, the original owner of the scarlet robe gave it to Darius, and when Darius ascended to the throne, he wore the robe and rewarded the one who gave it to him.  Another reference to a small royal purple or scarlet robe was mentioned at the time of the Maccabean Revolt. Note the honor given to the one who was given the robe.

King Alexander to his brother Jonathan, greeting.  We have heard about you, that you are a mighty warrior and worthy to be our friend.  And so we have appointed you today to be the high priest of your nation; you are to be called the king’s friend (and he sent you a purple robe and a golden crown) and you are to take our side and keep friendship with us.

1 Maccabees 10:18-20[17]

When Jonathan received his purple robe and crown, he received his kingdom.  The Romans mocked Jesus with a robe and crown concerning the Kingdom of God that He had preached. Concerning the phrase, “crown of thorns,” the term crown (Gk. stephanos 4735) denotes a victor’s crown or king’s crown. Since every king wears a crown as a symbol of his office, power, and prestige, Jesus was also given a crown of thorns and mocked again.  His crown was made from the branches of a thorny tree that produces thorns two to three inches long.  The points are extremely sharp and to make a crown is still an arduous and sometimes painful task. In the Old Testament, thorns are symbolic of punishment[18] and the Adamic curse (Gen. 3).  The crown of thorns reflects the Adamic curse that Jesus took upon Himself.

As a crown, its mockery was a reflection of when an emperor took official position in the government. On coronation day, a new monarch was honored with a golden crown, or a winning athlete receives a crown of olive branches upon his head.[19] Cyril of Jerusalem made this observation regarding the crown of thorns:

Adam received the sentence, “Cursed is the ground in your labors; thorns and thistles will it bring forth to you.”  For this cause Jesus assumes the thorns, that He may cancel the sentence; for this cause also was He buried in the earth, that the earth, which had been cursed, might receive a blessing instead of a curse.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures[20]

The crown of thorns not only inflicted mockery and shame, but also pain.  When the long thorns pricked through the nerves around the skull, the result was a pain in the form of a lightning bolt.  It was so severe, that some prisoners who were not condemned to death, but received the crown, committed suicide.[21]


16.01.02.C. A CROWN OF THORNS.  The author made a crown of thorns from a thorny tree growing near the Dead Sea.   Its woody thorns are rigid and easily puncture the skin.  A crown like this was placed upon Jesus. Photograph by the author.


“Placed a reed in His right hand.” Some translations use the word cepter or staff in place of reed. Regardless, what was placed in His right hand was symbolic of authority.  Furthermore, the right hand was also symbolic of authority as well as blessing. Centurions and other officials often carried a staff or vinestick as a sign of rank.[22] Clearly, this was part of a planned mockery – one that many others suffered through was well.

The mocking of prisoners and the disadvantaged

Prisoners and others, who were disadvantaged for whatever reason, were in an absolutely powerless position and were often mocked, as if they had ultimate royal power and authority. The mockery of Jesus was similar to what many others faced. Below is an account of a mentally-challenged man who was mocked as being a king – an effigy of King Agrippa.

According to Philo of Alexandria, on July 28, A.D. 38, Herod Agrippa visited Alexandria, Egypt on an imperial mission from the Roman Emperor Caius Caligula.  When Agrippa arrived, he was grossly insulted by some teenagers, and the Roman governor of Egypt, Aulus Avilius Flaccus, did nothing to punish them.  In essence, Flaccus said that a group of teenagers (called “youngsters”) took a mentally ill man named Karabas, dressed him up like a king, and played a cruel game of honoring him as if he was Herod Agrippa. In fact, the Egyptian governor seemed to enjoy it.  Philo wrote the following account:

36 Now there was a lunatic named Karabas, whose madness was not of the wild and savage kind, against which neither the madmen themselves nor those in their vicinity can protect themselves, but of the more relaxed and gentler variant.  He spent both day and night naked on the streets, not discouraged by heat or cold, a plaything of the children and the youngsters who were idling about.


37 Together they drove this poor man into the gymnasium and placed him there on a platform so that he could be seen by everyone.  On his head they spread out a piece of papyrus for a diadem and clothed the rest of his body with a doormat for a robe; and someone who had seen a small piece of native papyrus lying on the street, gave it to him for a scepter.  


38 And then, as in the theatrical mime, he had been dressed up like a king and received the insignia of kingship, young men, bearing sticks on their shoulders as if they were carrying spears, stood on either side of him in imitation of bodyguards.  Then others approached him, some as if to salute him, others as if to plead their case before him, again others as if to consult him about the affairs of the state.


39 Then there arose a strange sound from among the multitude of those standing around him:  They called him “Marin” – which is said to be the world for “Lord” in Syriac – for they knew that [King] Agrippa not only was by birth Syrian but also ruled as a king over a great part of Syria. 


40When Flaccus heard, or rather saw all this, he should not only have arrested the madman and put him in prison, in order to prevent him from giving opportunity to the revilers to insult their superiors, but he should also have punished the ones responsible for dressing him up like that, for they had dared in both deeds and words, both openly and indirectly, to insult someone who was a king and a friend of Caesar, someone who had been honored by the Senate of Rome with the praetorian insignia.  But not only did he not punish them, he did not even think fit to restrain them, but he gave license and impunity to all whose who were so malevolent and malicious, and he pretended not to see what he did see and not to hear what he did hear. 

Philo, Against Flaccus 36-40[23]

However, on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, Rome was not about to tolerate the laxness of Flaccus. Early in October of A.D. 38, Emperor Caligula sent a Roman officer to arrest Flaccus. The mockery of Karabas was obviously not focused on him alone, but also on King Agrippa. Likewise, the mockery of Jesus was not focused on Him alone, but also upon all those who were His followers, as well as upon the God of the Jews.


“Kept hitting Him on the head.” To hit anyone on the head, meaning the cheek, signified the greatest dishonor, insult, and humiliation. Those who did so to a king or someone in the king’s family were certain to be killed; it was a capital crime.

[1]. See also 14.01.04.Q2, “What was the difference between Jewish and Roman scourges?”

[2]. Josephus, Wars 2.14.9.

[3]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 173-74.

[4]. For further study of the crucifixion process and how the ancients understood it, see Hengel, Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross.

[5]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 387.

[6]. Edwards, Gabel, and Hosmer. ”On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.” 1457.

[7]. Megillah, Taanith 10;  Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 127.  This may explain why the Sadducees were before Pilate demanding a crucifixion before Pilate, and the Pharisees are not mentioned.

[8]. Mishnah, Makkoth 1.3 and 1.5; See 15.03.07.

[9]. Parenthesis by Danby, ed., Mishnah.

[10]. Liefeld, “Prison, Prisoner.” 4:869-70; Knapp, “Prison.” 3:975.

[11]. Information is from a placard in the Convent of the Sisters of Zion.

[12]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:231.

[13]. John identifies the color as being purple (19:2). This is not a conflict, as at times the royal colors of scarlet and purple are blended, and the identification is in the eyes of the observer. The colors were seldom pure scarlet or pure purple.

[14]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 37; Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 384.

[15]. An event in ancient Greek history.

[16]. The History of Herodotus Trans. by George Rawlinson.  http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.3.iii.html  Retrieved November 30, 2013.

[17]. First and 2nd Maccabees belong to a classification of extra-biblical books known as the Apocrypha. These two literary works are deemed highly reliable historically. See 02.02.03 “Apocrypha” for more information.

[18]. Num. 33:55; Judg. 2:3; Prov. 22:5.

[19]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners. 261-62; Vos, “Crown.” 1:1039-40; Raffety, “Crown.” 1:831-32.

[20]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 76.

[21]. Dauer, How Jesus Died: The Final 18 Hours. (Video).

[22]. Juvenal, Satire 8:247; Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 2:527.

[23]. Boring, Berger, and Colpe, eds. Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament. 303-304. See also http://www.bible.org/docs/nt/books/mar/jewishb.htm, Retrieved July 25, 2001; as well as http://books.google.com/books?id=PQu2usF-cEYC&pg=PA46&lpg=PA46&dq=philo+against+flaccus&source=bl&ots=6L1PfsYRCz&sig=_JvE_QHJrUtqMlFGUpuFX3FIK6s&hl=en&sa=X&ei=43lrUPidFo2B0QGz_IGoDw&sqi=2&ved=0CEoQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=philo%20against%20flaccus&f=false Retrieved October 2, 2012.


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16.01.03 Jn. 19:4-6




4 Pilate went outside again and said to them, “Look, I’m bringing Him outside to you to let you know I find no grounds for charging Him.”

5 Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

6 When the chief priests and the temple police saw Him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

Pilate responded, “Take Him and crucify Him yourselves, for I find no grounds for charging Him.”


“Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe.”  The crown and robe together were symbols of kings, obviously used now in mockery.  Kings and wealthy aristocrats  wore fine linen and purple or scarlet garments to display power, wealth, and prestige.


Purple dye was made from the secretions of four seashells creatures[1] that lived along the eastern Mediterranean coast. The dye masters of Tyre created variations of purple or scarlet by mixing the secretions. Since a large number of creatures[2] were needed for the production of a small quantity of dye, the process was labor intensive and expensive.[3] This not only was insulting to Jesus, but also to the Jewish people.


When the chief priests and the temple police saw Him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” The passage clearly states those who called for the crucifixion were the chief priests (Sadducees) and their police assistants.   Pilate again brought out Jesus and told the crowds that he found Him innocent, the fourth such announcement.  By this time Jesus had been beaten severely and was exhausted from repeated punishments. When Pilate said, “Here is the man,” it was to strike a chord of compassion and pity among the Jews when they looked upon a Man who had already suffered so much.  However, the Sadducees were void of any compassion or pity.  Again, Pilate said, “I find no basis for a charge against him,” the fifth declaration of innocence.  But they just wanted Him crucified.

[1]. The four types of molluscs are known by the names of helix ianthina, murex brandaris, murex trunculus, and purpura lapillus.


[2]. It has been estimated that 8,000 molluscs were needed to produce 1 gram of dye. See Irvin, “Purple.” 1057.


[3]. Irvin, “Purple.” 1057. According to Josephus, large quantities of purple (or scarlet) fabric were required for the temple curtains which were replaced every few years (Wars 6.8.3 (390). Some scholars believe that the purple (or scarlet) robe placed on Jesus (Mt. 27:28) was a soldier’s cloak.



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16.01.04 Jn. 19:7-11




7 “We have a law,” the Jews replied to him, “and according to that law He must die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was more afraid than ever. 9 He went back into the headquarters and asked Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus did not give him an answer. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You’re not talking to me? Don’t You know that I have the authority to release You and the authority to crucify You?”

11 “You would have no authority over Me at all,” Jesus answered him, “if it hadn’t been given you from above. This is why the one who handed Me over to you has the greater sin.”


“He made Himself the Son of God.” The Jews had a serious problem with anyone who claimed deity, especially if claimed by a Jew.  Such claims brought to mind the horrific experiences two centuries earlier by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (170-165 B.C.)  who not only claimed to be a god, but unmercifully persecuted the Jews.[1]  Furthermore, to claim deity was a violation of the Mosaic Law, since no man was to be worshiped.  Obviously, if Jesus was God, He was be worshiped.  The Romans, on the other hand, did not have such a problem with divine humanity.


Emperors considered themselves gods, just as the pharaohs of Egypt had done centuries earlier.  Any son of an emperor was considered to be a son of a god.  Pilate most certainly looked at the homely Jesus and knew He was not a son of an emperor.  To Pilate, for a man to call himself such was sheer folly, yet he knew Jesus had character traits that were most honorable. No doubt, he must have considered what would happen to him if he did condemn this Holy Man to die. Furthermore, his wife warned him of a dream and said that he should have nothing to do with this Jesus. His life was in turmoil and there seemed to be no easy escape.  He failed to have the courage to do what was right.

[1]. See Chronological History from 200 B.C. (03.04.15) to 162 B.C. (03.04.24).



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16.01.05 Jn. 19:12-15 Before Pilate in the Antonia Fortress, adjacent to the Temple




12 From that moment Pilate made every effort to release Him. But the Jews shouted, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar!”

13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside. He sat down on the judge’s bench in a place called the Stone Pavement (but in Hebrew Gabbatha). 14 It was the preparation day for the Passover, and it was about six in the morning. Then he told the Jews, “Here is your king!”

15 But they shouted, “Take Him away! Take Him away! Crucify Him!”

Pilate said to them, “Should I crucify your king?”

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


The Jewish leaders had an exhausting night and now it was 9:00 in the morning. With Passover nearly upon them, they were relentless and modified their tactics.  Previously they sailed twice to Rome and complained to the emperor about the cruel treatment and persecution afforded them by Pilate.  He did not want to hear this current accusation because he feared that they would again sail to Rome and tell the emperor he had released a dangerous revolutionary who called himself “king.” This would most certainly cost him his throne. One radical Jew, however innocent, was not worth the risk.


You are not Caesar’s friend.”  The phrase, “friend of Caesar” [1] was by no means a casual acquaintance.  It was a technical term, philokaisar, used to honor loyal senators, prominent soldiers, and outstanding administrators.[2]  It was a term envied by every Roman official. This title was reserved for those whom Caesar honored, and such an individual was destined to have a bright future in the empire.  It meant that a special allegiance existed with the most powerful man on the face of the earth.[3] What the religious leaders were essentially saying was, “If you let this man go free, you are not Caesar’s friend” and, at this time, that was pure blackmail. Not to have been a friend of Caesar reflects the frequent manipulation of the treason law for political ends in Roman public life. It reflects upon the notable political Latin term ­­– Caesaris amicus – to enforce its point.[4]  Philo used the same term in the same manner in his works In Flaccum.[5]  Obviously, it was a very serious accusation.


The Sanhedrin manipulated and played upon the emotions of Pilate.  They knew that in the previous year he had come under heavy scorn from Emperor Tiberius because he placed some shields with engraved images on the walls of Herod’s palace.[6]  These engraved images offended the Jews. Their outrage was so strong that eventually Rome heard of the commotion.  The Romans wanted only peace and taxes; they cared little about religion.  Hence, Pilate was commanded not to offend them needlessly or he would face possible dismissal.  The Sadducees, knowing that Pilate feared dismissal, accused him of not being, “a friend of Caesar.”[7]  His fear of Rome would prove to be greater than his fear of God or the Roman gods.


The tyranny of Pilate did not escape the pen of Philo, who recorded some astounding actions of the Roman governor.  In his work titled, Legation to Caius, he related a story of the shield that had an image engraved on it, which Pilate attempted to hang in the temple. This was the cause of great confrontation between the Jews and Pilate, and he was willing to use Roman might to accomplish his goal. However, the Jews were willing to die en masse to protect their religion, maintain their tradition, and thereby forced him to rescind his decree.  There is no question that he would have eagerly killed them except that he feared rebuke from the emperor.  Consequently, he vented his anger against the Jews in every other conceivable manner. Therefore, immediately after this account, Philo attributed rape, murder, insult, and inhumanity to Pilate.  He states:


But this last sentence exasperated him in the greatest possible degree, as he feared that they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to the other particulars of his government, in respect of his corruption and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending and gratuitous and most grievous inhumanity.

Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 38[8]    


In light of statements like this, it is amazing that Pilate even considered kindness toward Jesus.  No doubt this unusual kindness was noticed by Jewish believers when they reflected upon the time their leaders had Jesus crucified and realized that one of the most wicked governors could not find fault with Him. This only increases the guilt of those Sadducees, scribes, and elders who were instrumental in His death.


To add pressure on Pilate, the wealthy Herodians made numerous voyages to Rome where they “wined and dined” with various aristocrats.  Since they were close friends with family members of Caesar, there was a constant indirect line of communication from Jerusalem to Rome.[9] Little wonder then that Pilate had to be very careful about what he was to do with Jesus. He was deeply dependent upon and devoted to Rome, and this issue was the fatal point for Jesus.[10]  Pilate was unwilling to do what he knew was right.


Roman law required a minimum of a ten-day waiting period between the verdict and the execution of a prisoner, but Pilate submitted to the pressures of the Sanhedrin and ordered Jesus crucified immediately. His weakness and cruelty was evident when he chose to cave in, rather than to risk a riot.[11] On this day, he became a friend of Herod, as well as the Sanhedrin. It is remarkable to what extent the Romans attempted to be fair in this situation.  Biblical readers frequently obtain a view of the evils of Rome, but seldom recognize any of their attempts at fairness and justice. The Romans, for example, permitted the Jews to maintain and enforce their own religious laws, as confirmed in John 18:31a.


As stated previously, a major reason why Pilate appeased the Sadducees was that in A.D. 26, Sejanus, his friend and benefactor in Rome, was instrumental in having him appointed to the position of prefect (governor) over the Jews.  Thereafter, Sejanus caused political tension in Rome and eventually became involved in a plot to overthrow Caesar. By the time Jesus was on trial, the Roman senate was investigating all persons related to him, including Pilate. Consequently, Pilate feared for his life and position and did not want to lose his amici Caesaris, or “friendship with Caesar” and face execution.[12] That was in the year A.D. 30, when Sejanus was at the height of his power and the emperor’s life was in chaos. Therefore, when the Jews cried out that Pilate was no friend of Caesar, Pilate reflected upon the political turmoil in Rome and all those who had already been executed, imprisoned, or committed suicide.[13]  He walked a fine line in Roman politics and reigned from A.D. 26 to 36, the second longest of all rulers, but eventually he paid for his sin.


All those in the highest level of government were concerned about a possible overthrow of the government. To make matters worse, Sejanus hated the Jews with a passion and all those investigating him knew it. Pilate knew that the Jews had, in years past, sent delegations to Rome to complain about their governors.  So for them to sail to Rome and to complain about Pilate could easily have tied him in a close connection with Sejanus. Note the words of Philo.


159 Therefore, all people in every country, even if they were not naturally well inclined towards the Jewish nation, took great care not to violate or attack any of the Jewish customs of laws. And in the reign of Tiberius things went on in the same manner, although at that time things in Italy were thrown into a great deal of confusion when  Sejanus was preparing to make his attempt against our nation; 160 for he knew immediately after his death that the accusations which had been brought against the Jews who were dwelling in Rome were false calumnies, inventions of Sejanus, who was desirous to destroy our nation, which he knew alone, or above all others, was likely to oppose his unholy counsels and actions in defense of the emperor, who was in great danger of being attacked, in violation of all treaties and of all honesty. 161 And he sent commands to all the governors of provinces in every country to comfort those of our nation in their respective cities, as the punishment intended to be inflicted was not meant to be inflicted upon all, but only on the guilty; and they were but few. And he ordered them to change none of the existing customs, but to look upon them as pledges, since the men were peaceful in their dispositions and natural characters, and their laws trained them and disposed them to quiet and stability.

Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 24:159-161[14]


Therefore, to be a friend of Caesar in that year was very important; and if one was Jewish, its importance was nearly a life or death matter. There is no equal in Western politics to which this could be compared.


However, the long arm of Roman law eventually caught up with Sejanus. In October of A.D. 31 he was tried and executed for attempting to subvert the emperor.[15] Thereafter, peace returned to Rome and the phrase, “friend of Caesar” carried little or no weight. If the crucifixion of Jesus would have occurred in A.D. 33, there would have been no need to make this statement.[16]


“Stone Pavement.” The location of Pilate’s judicial bench – the stone pavement that in Hebrew is Gabbatha, is the subject of debate. Some scholars believe it was in the Antonio Fortress while others believe it was in the western part of Jerusalem where Herod had his palace.[17]


We have no king but Caesar.”  This statement has often been overlooked as an identifier of those who stood before Pilate. The Pharisees, who were extreme legalists, would never have said this. For three years they argued with Jesus about the details of the Law, and even in anger and hatred, they would not have denied their Shema (Deut. 6:1). However, the Sadducees, who were completely Hellenized and always had been faithful and loyal to the Romans.


Since the Sadducees controlled the temple and the Sanhedrin, they were the official leadership of the nation and the Jewish people. This statement was the official declaration that the Jews rejected the God of Abraham, the Messianic hope, and accepted the Roman, self-deified Caesar as their king. The leadership abandoned their long-held view that God alone was their king (1 Sam. 12:12); that only the Lord God of Israel would rule over the children of Abraham (Jg. 8:23). Ironically, the day the Sadducees, and probably some of the School of Shammai as well, made this declaration, was the day they were supposed to praise God for their deliverance from Egypt and affirm their faithfulness to Him. For them to say that Caesar was their king was also to say that he was their lord and god. An astonishing announcement!  The renunciation of Israel’s profession to have no king but God, as made in the Passover hymn Nismat kol hay[18] is precisely why Josephus said that the Zealots continuously rebelled against the Romans.[19] What an irony!


While it is difficult to imagine that they would abandon their cultural and theological heritage, they did precisely that to rid themselves of Jesus. They continued in their Jewish traditions, their hearts were obviously nowhere focused toward the God of their forefathers.



16.01.05.Q1 What other issue may have been a challenge for Pilate?  

Often Bible students have become so engrossed in the “Jesus” events of the Passion Week, that the possibility that anything else was going on that could have affected Pilate is simply never considered. Jesus was little more than one more case he had to struggle with.  He wanted to crucify Barabbas and his two rebel friends, but the Sadducees demanded he be freed, leaving his co-conspirators to die a horrible death.


Along with all the matters of state that any governor had to deal with, throughout the years Jesus ministered there was increased interest in astrology and magic. According to the Chronicle of the Year A.D. 354, Tiberius executed forty-five sorcerers and eighty-five sorceresses, in the years A.D. 16 and 17.[20] These would have been barely more than a decade prior to the ministry of Jesus. In the year A.D. 32, shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, twenty-five were executed with a third of those guilty for conspiracy with Sejanus in the previous years. It is believed that the law that was applied was the Lex Cornelia de sicariis et veneticis, capital punishment by burning alive for those who murdered by poisoning.[21] The number of people charged increased annually, until the year 32 when Tiberius had the most cases of any year during his reign.[22] One of those is mentioned by Tacitus who wrote of a woman by the name of Numantina. She was accused of casting incantations and spells on her husband causing him to become insane. For this she is believed to have been charged with Lex Cornelia.[23] There can be no question that the religious leaders must have accused Jesus of being a sorcerer before Pilate.  If they made that announcement to the people,[24] then they probably did so at this time.  As previously stated, in light of the other charges against various individuals, it is utterly amazing that Pilate was so incredibly compassionate with Jesus.  It also highlights the false accusations the Sadducees had against Him as a sorcerer.

[1]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 418; Bruce, New Testament History. 32-33; See also 03.06.25; 15.04.02.

[2]. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 369.


[3]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 431-32; Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 215.

[4]. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. 47.


[5]. Philo, In Flaccum. 2.40.


[6]. Some scholars argue that this occurred in the year A.D. 31-32, which, in this writer’s opinion, would have been after the death of Jesus.  See Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 719-21.


[7]. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 468-69; See John 19:12; 03.06.25; 15.04.02; 16.01.05.

[8]. Yonge, C. D., ed. and trans. The Works of Philo. Legation to Caius also known as “On the Embassy to Gaius,” a chapter of The Works of Philo. 784.

[9]. Dauer, How Jesus Died: The Final 18 Hours. (Video).


[10]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 432-33; Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 199-201.

[11]. Farrar, Life of Christ. 433-34; Harrison, A Short Life of Christ. 199-201.

[12]. Maier, “Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of Crucifixion.” 3-13.

[13]. For more information on this important point, see 03.06.25 and 15.04.02 as well as 03.06.25, “A.D. 22-31 Sejanus, the Arch Enemy of Tiberius Caesar” in Historical Backgrounds.


[14]  This information was repeated by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History 2.5, but he mentioned Philo as his source.


[15]. Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 720-23.


[16]. Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 720-24.


[17]. Wieand, “Gabbatha.” 2:373; Payne, “Gabbatha.” 2:618.


[18]. Rensberger, “The Politics of John.” 406.


[19]. Josephus,  Antiquities 18.1.6 and Wars 2.8.1; 7.10.1.


[20]. Welch, “Miracles, Maleficium, and Maiestas in the Trial of Jesus.” 373.


[21]. Dickie, Magic and Magicians. 147.


[22]. Welch, “Miracles, Maleficium, and Maiestas in the Trial of Jesus.” 373.


[23]. Tactius, Annals of History. 4.22.


[24]. See 09.01.03.Q1 “What was the significance of the Beelzebub discussion?”



Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 16.01.06 PILATE WASHES HIS HANDS

16.01.06 Mt. 27:24-25 



24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starting instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!”

25 All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released  Barabbas to them. But after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified.

The accusers presented alleged offenses, but could not convince Pilate that Jesus was guilty of any crime. The progression of Pilate’s attempts to release Jesus is noteworthy.

  1. First he attempted to ignore the case
  1. Then he tried to release Jesus in light of the Passover tradition of releasing a condemned prisoner.
  1. Then he had Jesus scourged believing this would satisfy the Jewish crowd.
  1. After three successive failures, he attempted his last appeal.

Finally, Pilate surrendered to Caiaphas and his hysterical mob. Since there was no defense, Pilate pronounced execution by crucifixion.[1] He thentook some water, [and] washed his hands.”  This was the sixth and final declaration of innocence concerning the charges against Jesus of Nazareth.  The washing of hands was a common ritualistic act that declared innocence when a life was lost by accident.  The washing of hands was already at this time an ancient symbol among many cultures for declaring innocence involving the death of a person.  Some fourteen centuries earlier, Moses recorded the atonement for an unsolved murder that included the elders of the town washing their hands over the broken neck of a heifer (Deut. 21:6-9). David did likewise in Psalm 26:6 and 73:13. As Pilate would eventually learn, his guilt could not be washed away because he was guilty.

He then announced, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”  However, that statement did not release him from the consequences and responsibility for his decision.   He failed to stand up for what was right, but instead, caved in to the pressure of a minority group. Even his wife had warned him. He could have given Jesus His freedom, exiled Him from the country, or invoked any number of other options, but he didn’t. It is ironic that pagan justice was more just than the justice of the Jews, who were to represent the love and justice of God.


Furthermore, Josephus stated that Pilate attempted to abolish Jewish laws, set up statues at night without the knowledge of the local religious leaders, and used temple money to bring water into Jerusalem.  Pilate eliminated his opponents by having his soldiers wear street clothes, surround the opponent in a crowded street, and at a given signal, they stabbed him. The soldiers would then keep on walking and disperse.[2] It was a tactic used by the Zealots, whom the Romans called Sicarii. Clearly, Pilate disliked the Jews and their religion. Overall, he failed to offer them consideration afforded by other Roman prefects. He frequently reflected the beliefs and lifestyle of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who ruled some two centuries earlier.

Pilate may have claimed innocence by the washing of his hands, but God did not see it that way.  The rest of his life was in constant turmoil.  He met his demise as the result of his response to a Samaritan “rebellion.” Some scholars believe it was a messianic movement while others say that a certain imposter claimed to have found some artifacts that were hidden by Moses.  Regardless, in A.D. 36 Pilate sent his troops to the Samaritan village of Tirabatha and the result was a huge slaughter of innocent people.[3] The Samaritans complained to Vitellius, telling him that the whole matter was not a rebellion, but a harmless religious movement. Furthermore, Pilate’s soldiers killed many refugees.

When the senseless killing became known in Roman circles, Pilate was ordered by Vitellius, the legate of Syria, to sail to Rome and defend himself. However, by the time he arrived, Emperor Tiberius had died. Nonetheless, he was removed from office.[4] According to Eusebius, Pilate was exiled and committed suicide, although another account says he suffered death under Emperor Nero.[5] The account of Pilate’s last days as recorded by the early church father Eusebius is as follows:

It is proper also to observe how it is asserted that this same Pilate, who was governor at our Savior’s crucifixion, in the reign of Gaius (Caligula), whose times we are recording, fell into such calamities that he was forced to become his own murderer, and the avenger of his own wickedness.  Divine justice, it seems, did not long protract his punishment.  This is stated by those Greek historians who have recorded the Olympiads in order together with the transactions of the times.

            Eusebius, Church History 2.7.1[6]


16.01.06.A. INSCRIPTION OF PILATE AND TIBERIUS.  A monument with an inscribed reference to Pilate and Tiberius was discovered in 1961 for a building known as the Tiberius.  It was the dedication stone of the Roman theater in Caesarea Maritima built by the architectural genius, Herod the Great.  Photographed by the author at Caesarea. The inscription completed (below) by the Israel Museum.

This damaged inscription is the only one found that refers to Pilate.  Notice that his title was “Praefectus Iduaeae” or Prefectus Judaea. Until this time, scholars believed the official title of Pilate to have been “procurator.”[7]

[Dis Augusti]s Tiberieum

[-Pon]tius Pilatus

[praef]ectus Idua[ea]e

[fect, d]e[dicavit]



His blood be on us and on our children.” In the rage and anger of mob hysteria, the Jews (namely the Sadducees and their friends) eagerly cursed themselves and their future generations.  The power of words by mere mortals is, at times, more dynamic and powerful than can possibly be imagined. Forty years later the entire Sadducean leaders and their families were slaughtered by the Romans as the temple was destroyed. Furthermore, two thousand years of history demonstrate that this curse has followed them throughout the world.


The fact remains that Jesus still had an immense following of people who desired to see Him become the political-messiah who would bring national independence and greatness as King David had done. The gospels place the blame for the death of Jesus upon the national leadership of the Jewish nation, as well as the Romans. Reasons for His death are historical, theological, and spiritual, but not racial.


Pilate had a devotion for doing whatever pleased himself, with little or no regard to anyone else, and especially the Jews. This is clearly evident in a letter written by Philo around the year A.D. 41.  Philo, discussing the attempted placement of a statue of Gaius Caligula in the temple, inserted a description of Pilate. Philo said that,

[Pilate used] briberies, insults, robberies, outrages, wanton injuries, constantly repeated executions without trial, ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty.

 Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 302  


Philo continued his description of Pilate as one who willingly accepted bribes, committed unjust acts of violence, and shamefully treated many. In fact, the Jews looked upon the days of Herod the Great with regret as life had become much more difficult under Pilate.[8] However, the long arm of justice eventually caught up with him. Shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, Rome became uneasy with the job performances of both Caiaphas and Pilate. The corruption and cruelty of these two men became more than the Emperor Gaius and Roman Senate could tolerate. So sometime around late A.D. 36, according to Josephus,


[The Syrian governor, Vitellius] ordered Pilate to return to Rome to give the emperor his account of the matters with which he was charged…[9]


[and] he removed from his sacred office the high priest Joseph, surnamed Caiaphas, and appointed in his stead Jonathan, son of Ananus the high priest.[10]

Josephus, Antiquities 18.4.2, 3 (89, 95b)


By the summer of A.D. 37, both men were removed from office. Nonetheless, the fact is that Pilate was one of the most corrupt and cruel procurators Israel ever had.  Yet it is incredible that a monarch of such depraved character had to admit that he could find no fault in Jesus.[11] Both gospel writers noted the triadic insistence for two reasons:

  1. Pilate really did come before the crowd and declare Jesus was innocent and,
  1. The triadic structure which Pilate gave, communicated to the Jewish people that this was

the most emphatic insistence that he could give to declare innocence of Jesus.

In summary, up until this time there were three major errors committed by Pilate which profoundly influenced his decision concerning Jesus.

  1. In A.D. 26, shortly after he arrived in Caesarea, he entered Jerusalem with Roman military standards with the busts of the emperor on them. This violated the Jewish commandment of not having graven images. Every previous prefect had the images removed before marching troops into Jerusalem, but Pilate lacked that sensitivity. For five days and five nights the Jews protested. When Pilate realized the Jews were willing to die for their law, he withdrew his standards in humiliation.[12]
  1. He took funds from the temple to finance the completion of a new aqueduct that was begun by Herod the Great. This caused a huge protest among the Jews which Josephus estimated to have been in the tens of thousands. Many were severely injured, dozens killed either by the sword or being trampled upon by horses. The protest ended with a bloody legacy. There can be little doubt that word of this event reached Rome.[13]
  1. He placed votive shields with the emperor’s name richly engraved and gilded, in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem to the honor and memory of the monarch.[14] It is believed that Herod Antipas and his brother Philip[15] successfully presented complaints before the emperor against Pilate for having set up these offensive shields.[16] Hence, they were removed and hung in the temple of Augustus in Caesarea.[17]

The power of Pilate over the people was broken. Pilate had lost all three confrontations and some historians believe that Caesar was aware of them. From that time on the Jews knew how to extort concessions from him.  Philo, a Jewish philosopher who lived in Egypt, said that the Jews threatened to report the misdeeds of Pilate to the Emperor.[18] Obviously, later the leading Jews essentially blackmailed him into crucifying Jesus, as he feared they would go to Rome and file a complaint with the emperor. His career was clearly on the line. Ironically, his final misjudgment was a massacre of many Samaritans a few years later that ended his stay in the Middle East.


In addition, there are two other points to consider.

  1. In the year 35 or 36, a few years after the ministry of Jesus ended, there was a false prophet in Samaria. The prophet said that he claimed to know where Moses had hidden certain artifacts on Mount Gerizim and crowds of people came to see them. At this point, Pilate commanded his soldiers to kill and crucify many in the crowd.[19] This was his final act of violence against innocent people. Vitellius, the legate of Syria ordered him to report to Rome and explain his actions, after which he was banished in exile.
  1. Pilate had a general attitude of disrespect toward the Jewish people, so much so, eventually it was part of the consideration to have him removed from office. Concerning him, Philo said the following charges were made against him:

Corruptibility, violence, robberies, ill-treatment of the people, grievances, continuous executions without even the form of a trial, endless and intolerable cruelties.


Philo, De Legatione ad Cajum 38:299-305

And so ended the career of Pilate.  Tradition says it was in exile that he committed suicide.

16.01.06.Q1 What happened to those who opposed Jesus (see also 03.05.18.Q1)?


All those who opposed Jesus met horrific deaths, just as did those three men who previously desecrated the holy temple.[20]  Divine judgment followed those who were involved in both the planning of the crucifixion and the final act. Note the following brief accounts:

  1. Herod the Great rebuilt the temple but lived a violent and decadent lifestyle, abused the Jewish people and introduced as much Hellenism as he could into the culture. His body began to decay while he was still living. Furthermore, by the end of the first century, the entire Herodian dynasty was gone.
  1. The entire family of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, was destroyed during the First Revolt as the Romans attacked the Holy City. A vicious mob dragged one young man through the streets of Jerusalem until the skin on his back was shredded off, and he was beaten to an agonizing death.
  1. The entire Sadducean religious party was destroyed with the temple.
  2. As stated above, Pilate met his demise as the result of his horrific response to a Samaritan “rebellion,” that was merely a religious movement. Consequently, in A.D. 36 he was exiled and then committed suicide.[21]
  1. Herod Antipas was deposed and died in exile.
  1. The Sanhedrin no longer met in the temple’s Chamber of Hewn Stone, but was relocated to the Hill of Evil Counsel nearby.[22] It was disbanded around the year 360.[23]

God’s judgment was also on those who violated His holy temple. See 03.05.18.Q1 “What happened to those who violated the second temple?”

On an interesting side note, due to Roman persecutions against Christians, many early church leaders blamed all the Jews rather than the Sadducees and Romans for the crucifixion of Jesus. A few went as far as to speak highly of Pilate, even though church liturgy clearly stated that it was Pilate who sent Jesus to the cross. In fact, Tertullian who was one of the early church fathers around A.D. 200, referred to Pilate as being “Christian in his conscience.”  The Greek Orthodox Church canonized Pilate’s wife Procula, and the Ethiopian Church recognizes June 25 as “St. Pilate and St. Procula’s Day.”[24]

[1]. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament. 25.

[2]. Josephus, Antiquities. 18.3.1-2.

[3]. Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 721-22.

[4]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.4.1-2; also 09.03.08 and 15.04.05.

[5]. Josephus,  Antiquities 18.4.1-2; Farrar, Life of Christ. 432-36.

[6]. Elwell and Yarbrough, Readings from the First-Century World. 44; Farrar, Life of Christ. 433.

[7]. Zondervan’s New International Version Archaeological Study Bible. (2005 ed.). 1714.

[8]. Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 1033.

[9]. Judea and all the Jewish lands controlled by Pilate, Herod Philip, and Herod Antipas, were part of the larger district of Syria, of which the capital was Damascus.  Therefore, Pilate reported to Vitellius, governor of Syria, who reported to Emperor Gaius.

[10]. Ananus held the title of high priest even though he was retired and no longer functioned in that office. It was a title of honor that was held throughout life.

[11]. Lk. 23:4; 13-16; 22; Jn. 18:38b; 19:4; 19:6.

[12]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.1 (55-57); Wars 2.9.2-4 (169-177); Philo, Embassy to Gaius 301-02.

[13]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.1 (55-57); Wars 2.9.2-4 (169-177); Philo, Embassy to Gaius 301-02.

[14]. Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius 24:159-61; Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 469.

[15]. Their brother Archelaus was no longer in the land after A.D. 6. Some scholars question if it was these two brothers (Antipas and Philip) who argued before the emperor, since Herod the Great had three other sons who did not inherit lands to govern: Herod the son of Mariamne, Herod the son of Cleopatra, and Phasael the son of Pallas. It is possible two of these brothers went to Rome and argued against Pilate. See Josephus, Antiquities 17.1.3; Wars 1.28.4; Philo On the Embassy to Gaius 30.


[16]. Schurer, A History of the Jewish People First Division, 2:40-42; Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:284.

[17]. Geikie, The Life and Words of Christ. 1:296.

[18]. Quoted by Barclay, “Matthew.” 2:358-59.

[19]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.4.1.

[20] See also 03.05.18.Q1 “What happened to those who violated the second Jewish temple?”

[21]. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.7.

[22]. How interesting it is that today the United Nations is located on this hill.

[23]. Parry, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Talmud. 37.

[24]. Yamauchi, “Concord, Conflict and Community.” 170.


Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 16.01.07 JESUS IS LED OUT

16.01.07 Mk. 15:20; Jn. 19:17 (See also Mt. 27:31)



Mk. 20 When they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the purple robe, put His clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.


Jn. 17 Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.

Throughout the  Roman world, men who were destined to the cross carried the cross-beam to the site of crucifixion completely naked.  This was done to add to their humiliation. However, in Israel men were dressed which was probably a concession to Jewish sensitivities about nakedness.[1]

“Led Him out.” The Roman soldiers who led Jesus to the cross knew they were violating Roman justice. Yet they had to obey Pilate or their careers, and possibly their lives, would have been threatened.  In the Old City of Jerusalem is a narrow winding street named the Via Delarosa, meaning the “Way of Suffering.” Nearly every tourist group today walks down that narrow winding street.  Tradition says it is the path that Jesus walked from the Antonio Fortress to Calvary.[2]  However, history records that the city was destroyed and rebuilt many of times.[3] Therefore, the authentic Via Delarosa is under many tons of rubble and no one knows where it was. Even the beginning and ending points are debated.

16.01.07.A. A WALL MURAL OF A FIRST CENTURY JERUSALEM STREET SCENE 16.01.07.A. A WALL MURAL OF A FIRST CENTURY JERUSALEM STREET SCENE. The author stands in front of a painted mural of a typical street scene in first century Jerusalem (see 02.04.01.V).  The street was colonnaded with shops on both sides of the street. Jesus would have carried His cross along a street like this, as the Romans wanted everyone to see what happened to anyone who dared to rebel against the empire. Photograph by Paivi Heinrich.

It was common practice that those who were to be crucified were forced to walk through the busiest streets to give maximum exposure to the event.  Punishment by crucifixion had nothing to do with just punishment, but was to instill a horrific fear in anyone who was thinking of starting a rebellion. Note the following comment by Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. 35 – c. 100) who is generally referred to just as Quintilian.[4]

When we crucify criminals, the most frequently used roads are chosen where the greatest number of people can look and be seized by this fear.  For every punishment has less to do with the offense than with the example.


Quintilian, Declamations 274.13

The concept of using crucifixion to manipulate the decisions of others was used by General Titus when he began his onslaught against Jerusalem in the First Revolt.  His Tenth Legion had surrounded the city, his war machines were in place, and any Jews who were captured were crucified so that those who stood upon the city walls could see their loved ones and neighbors dying in excruciating agony. Josephus said that the purpose was to induce the Jews to surrender. Of those captured, he said,

…They were accordingly scourged and subjected to torture of every description, before being killed,[5] and then crucified [them] opposite the walls.[6] Titus indeed commiserated their fate, five hundred or sometimes more being captured daily; on the other hand, he recognized the risk of dismissing prisoners of war, and that the custody of such numbers would amount to the imprisonment of their custodians.  But his main reason for not stopping the crucifixions was the hope that the spectacle might perhaps induce the Jews to surrender, for fear that continued resistance would involve them in a similar fate.


Josephus, Wars 5.11.1 (450)[7]

It should be noted again that crucifixion was not a permitted form of execution for a Roman citizen. In fact, the great orator Cicero essentially said that the thought of it should be far removed from the mind of a citizen.[8] However, if a Roman citizen, such as Sejanus, was tried and found guilty of treason, he would have experienced another form of execution. The Apostle Paul benefited from this Roman law.

“Carrying his own cross.”  Jesus is often incorrectly portrayed as dragging a cross that consisted of a post and crossbeam. He did not drag His cross, He carried the crossbeam, known as the patibulum. The post was already secured in the ground.  It was common practice in the Roman world to have the criminal carry his crossbeam to the site of the crucifixion.[9] At times so many were crucified that some criminals were crucified on olive trees to which a cross beam was attached if two branches did not suffice.[10]


16.01.07.B. A SCULPTURE OF JESUS DRAGGING HIS CROSS. He is shown falling down due to the heavy load. This is the traditional image that has transcended the centuries.  Yet Jesus did not drag or carry the entire cross as shown, but only the heavy crossbeam to the crucifixion site where the post was already in the ground.  Photographed along the Via Delarosa by the author.

The description of the horrific method of crucifixion was preserved for us in the second century B.C. when the Roman comedian wrote his work titled the Mostellaria.  In this comedy, a person is said to,

Carry a crossbar (patibulum) through the city, which was then attached to an upright stake (crux).”


What was his name?  Who? Mostellaria[11]       

The English word cross comes from the Latin word crux,[12] which was the upright stake.  This account agrees with the custom of the first century in Judea.  The weight of the entire cross would have been too heavy, even for a Roman soldier to carry.


Finally, the imagery of Jesus carrying His crossbeam is reflective typology of Isaac carrying his wood for the burnt offering.  Isaac, however, was spared from being a human sacrifice; Jesus was not.

“Skull Place … Golgotha.”  This is an excellent example of the differences between Western and Eastern (Jewish) thinking.

  1. The Western opinion is that the “skull place,” or the “place of the skull” as some translations read, is a hill that looks like a human skull.
  1. The Eastern or Jewish oipinion is that the “skull place” is where many people have died.


It was called such, not because of the appearance of a skull, but probably because so many crucifixions were held there. In such designated locations,[13] crucifixion posts were often permanent fixtures.  It probably has a colloquial meaning was “the place of crucifixion.” When Jesus carried His cross, in true Roman tradition, He carried only the crossbeam because the post was already secured in the ground.

Today there is a small hill at the Garden Tomb that has the obvious appearance of a skull, but that is not to say it had the same appearance in the first century, nor is it necessarily the place where anyone was crucified. It should be noted that this region is considered to be one of the most active earthquake regions of the world.  Therefore, the hill that has the appearance of a skull most likely was merely a hill in the first century.

The gospels do not mention a specific hill or mount, but simply mention that the name of the crucifixion site is the skull. To translate the skull place, or  Golgotha, as the place of dead men’s skulls is not correct. Rather, it was the place of death. The name is translated correctly as follows:[14]

  1. In Aramaic Gulgoltha
  1. In Hebrew Gulgoleth (translated as “skull” in Judges 9:53; 2 Kings 9:35)
  1. In Latin Calvaria
  1. In Greek Kranion
  1. In English Calvary (from the Latin Calvaria)

[1].  During the Jewish civil war (90-88 B.C.), Jannaeus crucified 80 women in Ashkelon whom he suspected of being witches. He stripped them naked and, for the sake of modesty, nailed them facing the cross where they died. About 800 Pharisees were also crucified at the time, by other Jews. See 03.05.10. The Book of Jubilees 3:30-31 and 7:20 indicates that a loin cloth was used at times, but not always, when Jews were crucified.

[2]. The tradition is of Crusader origin.  They created many such traditions and identified “traditional sites” of various biblical events to appeal to wealthy European tourists.

[3]. Some historians have estimated 17 destructions since A.D. 70.

[4]. http://virtualology.com/rhetoricaltheory/quintilian.org/ Retrieved October 26, 2013;  See also Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 697.

[5]. Throughout the Old Testament Period, nearly all those who were “hung on a tree,” were executed first.  The hanging of the body was for public observation only. For example Deuteronomy 21:22-23 assumes an already executed person was hung on a tree.  See also Dead Sea Scroll 4QpNah fr 3-4 1:6-8.  In this case, Titus followed a pattern used by many ancient cultures. Some Islamic governments still practice this today, as did Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority who hung the bodies of suspected Israeli collaborators from poles and water towers.

[6]. The term “opposite the walls” means that the crosses were placed in a position “opposite of the (city) walls” so those on top of the city wall could witness the bodies of friends and family members.  The observers probably believed that the crucified victims were still alive at the time.

[7]. This narrative is an excellent example of a historian’s bias. While Josephus presents accurate details of the event, he rarely states anything negative about the Roman generals and commanders. After all, when he was writing his books, he enjoyed luxurious retirement and a villa in Rome, and he was not about to ruin that by criticizing those who were supporting him. See also Webb, “The Roman Examination and Crucifixion of Jesus.” 697-98.

[8]. Cicero, For Rabirius on a Charge of Treason 5.16. Marcus Tullius Cicero (107-44 B.C.) was a Roman lawyer, politician and philosopher whose death came by an assassin.

[9]. Nelesen, Yeshua; the Promise, the Land, the Messiah. (Video Tape 2).

[10]. Mackowski, Jerusalem City of Jesus. 6; Torrance, “Cross, Crucifixion.” 1:343.

[11]. Cited by Wilkinson, Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It. 150.

[12]. Caba, “Crucifixion: History and Practice.” 12.

[13]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 25, page 2.

[14]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:144;  Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 393.


Bill Heinrich  -  Dec 19, 2015  -  Comments Off on 16.01.08 SIMON OF CYRENE

16.01.08 Mk. 15:21-22 (See also Lk. 23:26; Mt. 27:32)



21 They forced a man coming in from the country, who was passing by, to carry Jesus’ cross. He was Simon, a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22 And they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means Skull Place).


Jesus carried the heavy crossbeam through the crowded streets of Jerusalem.  Thousands who had seen Him perform healings and other miracles could not believe their eyes. The Man who was loved by the multitudes was being crucified on the eve of Passover.  Soon they would learn of the significance of that connection. But in the meantime, Jesus struggled through the streets of the Holy City and stumbled to the ground.  Some medical scholars believe this was possibly due to an early stage of shock.[1]

Simon of Cyrene (modern Libya) was a proselyte Jew, who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and just happened to be near the procession when Roman soldiers ordered him to carry the crossbeam for Jesus.  There was no reason given as to why he was selected.  Since he was, however, from North Africa, he most certainly was Jewish African and for this reason, he may have been drafted into service.[2] Josephus recorded that there was a Jewish colony in Cyrene.[3]

According to the Oral Law, the act of carrying the crossbeam defiled him. The irony is that he was prevented from celebrating Passover, the sole purpose for which he had traveled across the Mediterranean Sea to Jerusalem.  However, according to an early church tradition, this act was also the point of his conversion. Eventually he and his sons became leaders in the Jerusalem church (cf. Rom. 16:13).[4]

Verse 21 states that “They forced” Simon to carry the cross for Jesus. The word forced is from the Greek term aggareuein, meaning to compel.[5]  The origin of the word is Persian, who authorized their couriers to force anyone into service for them, if assistance was needed. In this case, Simon had no choice but to obey the Roman soldiers or risk death.

Simon, a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus.” Mark presents a piece of unique evidence which supports the theory of a mid-first century writing of his gospel.  In this passage, Mark refers to a certain man identified as Simon, the father of two sons.[6]  His sons are mentioned here and nowhere else in Scripture. If they were significant individuals, their names would, most certainly, have been remembered for generations and mentioned by the early church fathers or in extra-biblical books.  However, the fact that they were essentially “nobodies” indicates that the gospel was probably written in the lifetime of the two sons, even though the father may have passed on.  Since obscure names are soon forgotten, Simon and his sons must have been influential in the Jerusalem congregation prior to the destruction of the temple.[7]  It is noteworthy that the Christian faith spread quickly to Cyrene as found in Acts 11:20 and 13:1, and Simon of Cyrene was probably very much involved in that work.



16.01.08.A. THE BURIAL OSSUARY OF ALEXANDER, THE SON OF SIMON OF CYRENE. In 1942 a remarkable discovery was made.  The Ossuary containing the bones of Alexander, the son of Simon, who carried the cross of Jesus was found in a cave-tomb in the Kidron Valley. Ossuaries varied in size, barely long enough to hold the longest human bone – the thigh bone. Hence, sizes were approximately 12 inches wide by 15 inches high by 24 inches long.  Photo courtesy of the Israel Museum.

[1]. Dauer, How Jesus Died: The Final 18 Hours. (Video).

[2]. Powers. “Treasures in the Storeroom.” 47-48.

[3]. Josephus, Against Apion 2:44.

[4]. Macartney, Great Interviews of Jesus. 130; Torrance, “Cross, crucifixion.” 1:343; Pentecost, 478;  Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion. 647.

[5]. Barclay, A New Testament Wordbook. 15.

[6]. When this ossuary was discovered, another ossuary was discovered with the name Sara inscribed upon it. Scholars believe she was the sister to Alexander. See Evans, “Excavating Caiaphas, Pilate, and Simon of Cyrene.” 338-40.

[7]. When archaeologists discovered the burial cave that contained this ossuary, they also found 13 intact pottery vessels that clearly dated the last use of the tomb to pre-destruction Jerusalem. Powers, “Simon of Cyrene’ Tomb Connnection.” 17:4, 4.

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