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by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Part X

Here we have echoed of what David said in his psalm: “My mouth is as dry as a piece of baked pottery. My tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth.”1 However, the Rabbis made it clear: “When one is led out to execution, he is given a goblet of wine containing a grain of frankincense, in order to benumb his senses, for it is written, Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine for the bitterness of soul.23 To put it bluntly, it was done so that the individual became intoxicated before they died in order to desensitize the pain and consciousness of dying. All four Gospels record this incident. Here in Matthew the Greek word oxos is used, it means “vinegar.” Easton’s Bible Dictionary explains it this way: “The drink offered to our Lord was vinegar (made of light wine rendered acid, the common drink of Roman soldiers) ‘mingled with gall,’ or, according to (Mark 15:23), ‘mingled with myrrh;’ both expressions meaning the same thing, namely, that the vinegar was made bitter by the infusion of wormwood or some other bitter substance, usually given, according to a merciful custom, as an anodyne to those who were crucified, to render them insensible to pain. Our Lord, knowing this, refuses to drink it. He would take nothing to cloud his faculties or blunt the pain of dying. He chooses to suffer every element of woe in the bitter cup of agony given him by the Father (John 18:11).”

While listening to a seminary professor teach on the New Testament, I heard him declared quite authoritatively that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, and that Matthew simply copied a lot of Mark’s material. If that be so, then why would they differ here on the components of the drink offered to Jesus? In the Latin Vulgate and Ethiopic versions, instead of “vinegar,” they read “wine;” and so does Münster’s Hebrew Gospel. In the Arabic version, instead of “gall”, it reads “myrrh.”

Several scholars believe that instead of indicating that the wine was mixed with gall from an animal’s bladder, the ingredient was as bitter as “gall;” such as wormwood, or myrrh, or any other bitter herb, to make it distasteful. But the whole matter becomes mute because as soon as our Lord tasted it He turned His head and rejected the drink. He was bound and determined to suffer every ounce of pain and agony for our healing. As we said before, he refused to die in a drunken stupor.

In Jewish literature, we find a narrative on what happens after a trial ends. Here are some interesting segments that have an uncanny resemblance to what our Lord went through:

Once the trial has ended, he [the convicted] is taken out to be stoned. The place of stoning was outside the court area, as it is written: “Take the blasphemer outside [the camp].4 One man was stationed at the door the courthouse with a signaling flag in his hand, while another was stationed upon a horse at a distance from him, but within his sight. [Thus] if one says: I have a further argument in his favor, he [the one holding the flag] waves the flag, while the man on the horse runs to stop them [from executing the stoning]. And even if he [the convicted man] himself says: I have a further argument in my own favor, he is returned [to court], as many as four or five times, provided, however, that there is substance to his words. If they find an argument to acquit him, they discharge him; but if not, he is taken out to be stoned, and a proclamation precedes him [saying]: “So and so, the son of so and so, is being taken out to be stoned because he committed such and such an offense, and so and so are his witnesses. Whoever knows anything in his favor, let him come forward and state it.” When he was about ten cubits away from the place of stoning, they would say to him; Confess, for such, is the way of all who are executed, that they [first] confess, for one who confesses has a share in the World to Come. Because, we find so in the case of Ahan, that Yehoshua said to him; “My son, please give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and confess to Him.5 And Ahan answered Yehoshua and said; “Indeed, I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel, and thus and thus I have done.” And from where do we know that his confession atoned for him? From the words: “And Yehoshua said; Why have you brought trouble upon us? The Lord shall trouble you on this day6 [meaning], this day you are troubled, but you shall not be troubled in the World to Come. And if he doesn’t know how to confess, they say to him: Say, may my death atone for all my sins. Rabbi Yehudah says: If he knows that he is a victim of false evidence, he may say: May my death atone for all my sins but this one. They [the Sages] said to him: If so, everyone will say so [even if they were not the victim of false evidence] in order to clear himself. When he was four cubits away from the place of stoning, they removed his garments…But the Sages say: A man is stoned unclothed. A post is sunk into the ground with a beam protruding from it [at the top]. He places his hands together, one over the other and hangs him. Rabbi Yose says: The post is leaned against the wall, and he hangs him in the manner that butchers do. He is immediately untied [and let down]. If he is left [hanging] overnight, a prohibition is thereby transgressed, for it is written; “But you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Rather, you should surely bury him on that [same] day, for a hanging [human corpse], is a blasphemy of God.7 That is to say [when people ask] why was he hanged? [It must be] because he cursed the Name [of God], and thus the Name of Heaven is profaned. They did not bury him [the executed person] in his ancestral burial plot [since one may not bury the wicked in the company of the righteous], rather, two cemeteries were prepared by the court, one for those who were decapitated or strangled [whose crime is less severe] and the other, for those who were stoned or burned [whose crime is more severe, as it would not be proper to bury one whose crime is less severe in the company of one whose crime is more severe].8

I wonder if they even gave our Lord the opportunity to recant? I doubt it because they were intent on getting rid of Him permanently. This also helps us understand why Jesus had to be buried in a borrowed tomb since His family was prohibited from burying Him in their family plot, possible the one in which His earthly father Joseph was entombed. Then comes the signature moment.

Verses 35-37: The soldiers nailed Jesus to a cross. Then they threw dice to divide His clothes between them. The soldiers stayed there to guard Him. They put this sign above His head with the charge against Him written on it:THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS..’”

In his book, a Flemish philologist and humanist presented various shapes of instruments in which people were crucified in ancient days. For instance, on page 647 there is a woodcut showing a person being crucified on a single pole. On page 648 a person being impaled on a pole with a sharp end. On page 649 a person on an X-shaped cross. On page 650 a two cross-beamed instrument made out of tree trunks, and on page 661 a two beam cross made of flat beams from a carpenter’s shop.9

Most scholars have accepted the two cross-beamed instrument as the one Jesus was crucified on, something that Lipsius agreed with. However, starting in 1950, the Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower Society started showing the picture of Christ being nailed to a single beam pole. They claimed that “This is the manner in which Jesus was impaled,” thereby giving the false impression that it was Lipsius who claimed, or believed, that Jesus was executed on a single upright stake. But bowing to strong criticism, the Society, in its 1985 Kingdom Interlinear Translation, changed the reading to indicate the cross of Jesus as only “One such instrument of torture … illustrated by Justus Lipsius …”

At the moment of His death, in order to add insult to injury, the Roman soldiers fulfilled the prophecy: They divide my clothes among themselves, and they throw lots for what I am wearing.”10 While some of the soldiers gambled for His robe, some just sat on the ground waiting for Him to die. We may wonder why Matthew says they stayed there to guard Him. It surely wasn’t because Jesus was going anywhere. Rather, they did not want the disciples of Jesus sneaking up to the cross, taking Him down to help Him survive. This was ordered by Pilate. And, just as they guarded the cross, they would also be told to guard His tomb for the same reason.11

1 Psalm 22:15

2 Proverbs 31:6

3 Tractate Sanhedrin, Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 43a

4 Leviticus 24:14

5 Joshua 7:19

6 Ibid. verse 25

7 Deuteronomy 21:23

8 Jewish Mishnah, Fourth Division: Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin, Ch. 6:1-5

9 Justus Lipsius, De Cruce Liber Tres (1629)

10 Psalm 22:18

11 Cf. Verses 54 & 65

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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