2009-05-17

That Villainous Pilate (and Centurion) in the Gospel of Mark

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

It is easy to read the spare text of the Gospel of Mark through the details elaborated in the subsequent Gospels of Matthew, John and Luke. If we can isolate Mark’s text from these others, however, and try to read it as if for the first time, looking for interpretations that are bound exclusively within its own pages and without any reference to other gospels (after all, if it was the first gospel then we need strong arguments to justify reading it through the eyes of later gospels), a very unorthodox gospel emerges.

One example, I think, is Mark’s treatment of Pilate.

The popular image of Pilate, derived largely from the later gospels and apocryphal works, is that Pilate was pressured against his will and better judgment to authorize the crucifixion of Jesus.

But that’s not what I think I actually read in the Gospel of Mark.

The custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover

The umbrella impression most Christians have re the Passion narrative includes the detail that it was the custom for the Roman governor to release a prisoner at Passover time. This is a reasonable conclusion, but it does not come from Mark’s gospel.

In the gospel of John the reader is informed that it was a Jewish or state custom.

But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? (John 18:39)

Luke’s gospel carries on the idea that it was apparently a state custom.

(For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.) (Luke 23:17)

Mark’s gospel, however, where the story began, says this “custom” was really a personal custom of Pilate alone. It reminds one of the ability for which many Roman potentates were renowned (and by which means they often climbed the ladder to more power), the ability to please crowds.

Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. (Mark 15:6)

Matthew, the first to copy Mark, more or less adhered to Mark’s narrative on this point, although he impersonalized Mark’s personal pronoun reference to Pilate to the generic “governor”.

Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. (Matthew 27:15)

Desiring to free Jesus

Then we come to Pilate’s threefold approach to the crowd asking them if he really wants him to crucify Jesus or someone else. In the gospels of Matthew, John and Luke, Pilate’s inner struggle is conveyed clearly enough.

Matthew 27:19-26

Matthew even introduces Pilate’s wife who has a dream she has to convey to her husband in the midst of his judicial hearing of Jesus. We are not told if Pilate cringed in embarrassment or was shaken just a little. The author’s intent is to inform the audience of the mounting pressures on Pilate to release Jesus, and it is clear that Pilate in his heart knows Jesus is innocent, and deep down does not want any responsibility for the death of Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel Pilate washes his hands to publicly declare his innocence and to make clear that the blood of Jesus is entirely the responsibility of the Jews:

When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.

But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.

1. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.

2. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.

3. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.

When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.

Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

Thus Pilate finally succumbs because the crowd “made a tumult” that he could not resist.

It might be noteworthy, furthermore, that Pilate did not act until after the crowd insisted that they alone took the responsibility of the blood of Jesus upon themselves and their future generations, completely (in their own minds at least) exonerating Pilate.

Matthew’s account might well be interpreted as an early attempt to inject a lethal dose of anti-semitism into the gospel story. Poor Pilate, pressured by his own judgement, his wife’s dream, and the crowd’s “tumult”, finally caved in.

John 18:38-19:16

John’s gospel likewise has Pilate making a threefold appeal to the crowd to release Jesus. The first two times Pilate was attempting to make it clear to the crowd that he judged Jesus to be innocent.

The third time, however, Pilate was in real fearful earnest. On hearing that he might be a Son of God, Pilate’s heart was fully behind his words in seeking Jesus’s release.

But then the Jews “cheated” by blackmailing him with a lie. He would be guilty of treason if he did not crucify Jesus, they threatened.

1. And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. . . . Will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews? Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. . . .

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. . . .

2. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. . . . And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him.

Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him.

The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; . . . .

And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar.

When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat . . . .

3. and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priest answered, We have no king but Caesar.

Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.

Luke 23:13-24

Luke’s gospel likewise portrays a threefold effort on Pilate’s part to release Jesus, and also explicitly states that Pilate was “willing” (link to online Greek lexicon)/wanting/determined to release Jesus.

1. And Pilate . . . Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: . . . . And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas:

2. Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him.

3. And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: . . . . And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.

And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.

Alas, the crowd raised their voices so loudly that Pilate was intimidated and caved in. (One wonders if secular records of a Pilate who was recalled to Rome on account of his vicious treatment of large masses are speaking of another character altogether.)

Or desiring to please the crowd?

With the Gospel of Mark, on the other hand, if we can read it apart from the above, we see something altogether different, I think.

The mere fact of a threefold effort or act is so common throughout literature, biblical, folk, ancient, modern, that it cannot of itself inform us of the intent of a character. Peter’s threefold denial in the gospel is a sign of the totality of Peter’s failure. Why not consider the possibility of the same meaning behind Pilate’s threefold approach to the crowd?

A passage in Mark’s gospel, omitted from subsequent gospels, explains that Pilate knew that the chief priests charged Jesus with a capital crime because they envied him. So in Mark’s gospel Pilate not only judges Jesus to be innocent, but even sees through the motives of those wanting him dead. Pilate acts in the full knowledge of both Jesus’ innocence and the criminal motive of his enemies. This makes Pilate guilty at more than one level. He is not merely pressured against his desire to save an innocent man; he is cynically folding to the whims of evildoers.

What excuse can Pilate have for even taking the case of Jesus to the mob if he knew that the Jewish leaders were toying with both him and the crowd out of sheer envy?

Pilate certainly gives the mob a chance to release Jesus. He calls on them to give him a reason to crucify him. They don’t. No matter, Pilate chooses to “please the mob”. If later gospels said Pilate wanted to release Jesus, the first gospel said Pilate wanted to please the crowd.

Pilate in Mark’s gospel was a typical Roman potentate who knew how to please crowds with bread and circuses. The lives, let alone just deserts, of those who were at stake to entertain Roman crowds meant nothing.

Mark 15:9-15

1. But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.

But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.

2. And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? And they cried out again, Crucify him.

3. Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.

And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. (the link is to Greek lexicon definition)

There is none of the pressure on Pilate in Mark’s gospel that we are used to reading in the later gospels. No disturbing dreams, no hand-washing, no fear of a riot, no lying blackmail, no loud shouts that hurt his ears. The only places we read of these, along with an explicit desire or willingness to release Jesus, are in the gospels of Matthew, Luke and John. They are alien to Mark.

Mark’s gospel, in fact, defiantly stands in opposition to those who build on it when it explicitly says that Pilate’s desire was not to release Jesus but to please the mob, and that without any hint of pressure to do so. Is the reader meant to think “bread and circuses”?

The Roman centurion too

Mark Goodacre’s blog had a recent discussion on the origins of the interpretation that the Roman who stands against the cross of Christ does not utter a Christian confession (Truly, this man was a Son of God!) so much as a scoffing taunt (So this was a son of god? Yeah right!).

The details can be read from an article online by Earl Johnson Jr., Mark 15,39 and the So-Called Confession of the Roman Centurion. An earlier article of Johnson’s discussing the technicalities of the grammar is not freely available, but a summary of the main point is included in this online article.

This interpretation of the Roman centurion makes sense. All that he sees as he stands “opposite” Jesus (another significant image that has negative associations elsewhere too), according to Mark’s gospel, is the dying sound of Jesus and his last breath. Pilate is later very surprised to hear that Jesus has died so quickly, and relies on the centurion’s observation to confirm this report.

That one who was supposedly reputed to be a son of a deity should die so quickly was cause for a hardened Roman centurion to scoff at the claim.

Only in Matthew and Luke does the centurion witness the miraculous portents surrounding the death of Jesus, thus enabling him to respond “in faith”. In Mark, he merely witnesses yet one more death, only quicker than most.

Jews and gentiles, all alike in guilt

I am always in two minds about the Gospel of Mark’s links with Paul’s theology, but Mark’s gospel does at this point appear to have another point in common with what one reads in Romans 3:9:

What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin

Mark’s gospel portrays Jews and gentiles as equally culpable at the crucifixion.

Jesus in Mark’s gospel has no friends in his last hours. Jews have turned against him, disciples have betrayed, deserted and denied him, women who once served him now stand afar off, and gentiles too, from the representative of the empire down to the centurion at the cross, toy with him as a “crowd-pleaser” and mock him.

No exceptions.

This picture only changed after subsequent gospel authors opted to single out the Jews for principal blame. This meant, of course, incipient exoneration of gentiles, beginning with a well-meaning but weak-willed Pilate (like Peter?) and a Roman being the first to confess the true identity of Jesus at the critical hour.

Pilates exercise session:

from a teacher of Pilates http://www.pilatespersonaltraining.co.uk/For-Health-Professionals.php

24 Comments

  • rey
    2009-05-18 07:57:46 UTC - 07:57 | Permalink

    On the centurion’s confession:

    The text clearly says that the centurion “saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost,” Mark 15:39 suggesting that something in the cry elicited the response “Truly this man was the Son of God.” What was this cry like? Mark 15:37 “And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.” The death on the cross would be by asphyxiation, right? Jesus would have died by losing the strength to pull himself up and breath any longer. But here, he cries out with a LOUD VOICE then instantly gives up the ghost the next moment. Well, that’s not a normal death by asphyxiation. Rather, that is clearly Mark’s very low-key presentation of the same idea that we find in John 10, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” The sarcastic view is clearly totally pwned.

  • 2009-05-18 08:09:39 UTC - 08:09 | Permalink

    Basically, people who can’t breath can’t cry out with a loud voice, and unlike the average modern reader, the centurion would probably know that.

  • 2009-05-18 08:37:45 UTC - 08:37 | Permalink

    Yet we know it wasn’t asphyxiation all the way, since the gospel authors also seem to know that people hanging from crosses could carry on conversations with their mothers to sort out future living arrangements for them (John), discuss the proper attitude other crucified victims ought to display towards one of their colleagues sharing their fate (Luke), recite passages from the Psalms. So on top of all of this a shout before finally expiring hardly seems out of the realms of possibility. (Ancient novelists were rarely very sharp with such naturalistic details as you point out, and which makes a mockery of the above accounts.)

    But what comes out in Mark’s text is the unprecedented quickness of Jesus’ death. It is the shout that signals this, and it forms some sort of inclusio with the loud cry of the expelled demon at the beginning of the gospel. Jesus’ spirit likewise exits with a loud cry.

    This suddenness of Jesus’ death is what astonished Pilate, and for which he turned to the centurion for confirmation. Jesus death was unnatural in that it was so quick. Crucifixion was meant to torment victims for up to days, IIRC, before death came.

    So Jesus’ death, as sudden as Mark’s ending itself, was as much an anti-climax to his worldly audience as was his grand entrance after baptism. After being announced as the one to usher in God’s ways with great fanfare according to the prophets, he merely disappears into the wilderness and collects a bunch of fishermen to follow him. The death is yet one more of a string of ironies in Mark. To the world, Jesus exits as the weakest of men.

    • 2009-05-19 10:17:45 UTC - 10:17 | Permalink

      Yet we know it wasn’t asphyxiation all the way, since the gospel authors also seem to know that people hanging from crosses could carry on conversations with their mothers to sort out future living arrangements for them”

      I think you’re being a tad silly. Of course a person on a cross would be able to carry on a conversation for a while before finally suffocating. But eventually, he would suffocate from losing the strength to pull up. To ease the pain in his feet, he would slouch in which position he would be unable to breath. To breath, he would lift up and the pain in his feet would be excruciating. Eventually, he would lose the ability or the will to keep this up, and suffocate. Although it makes sense to be able to speak for a while even with labored breathing, it makes zero sense to be able to give a loud shout at the very moment of finally succumbing to suffocation. Clearly, therefore, Mark intends this as showing that Jesus was not truly killed but chose the exact moment when he would leave the body. And, clearly Mark intends that the centurion “seeing how he so cried and gave up the ghost” makes this confession of him being the Son of God because he sees that they didn’t kill him but that he chose the exact moment when he would leave the body.

      • 2009-05-19 10:59:45 UTC - 10:59 | Permalink

        If so, then you are claiming that Jesus really died by suicide.

        If death was certain but he chose to take his own life before the natural moment, then that’s suicide, just as surely as the Masada episode, or the cases of terminally ill patients who controversially choose to end their lives by their own volition today.

        By taking the “I lay down my life” saying literally we deny its real meaning. Soldiers don’t literally “give” their lives or lay them down (expressions we often hear at war memorial services). They are killed. The “gave up” or “lay down” part only applies as far as their willingness to put themselves at risk, or in a few cases, certainty, of that happening. This is how the same expression is meant of Jesus. Otherwise we would be able to compare Jesus to a soldier who takes a suicide pill at the moment he is about to be executed.

        Would anyone’s faith, or any doctrine of any church, be affected if it could be shown that the centurion was scoffing at Jesus?

      • Friedreich Zumpf
        2015-12-19 19:38:53 UTC - 19:38 | Permalink

        @ rey

        Your proposal dangerously approaches one of the versions of the doecetic heresey, where the Christ, with a cry, abandoned Jesus in extremis, to die alone, bereft of hope, on the cross.

  • 2009-05-18 05:58:09 UTC - 05:58 | Permalink

    “Mark 15:7 And there was one called Barabbas, [lying] bound with them that had made insurrection, men who in the insurrection had committed murder.

    Mark 15:8 And the multitude went up and began to ask him [to do] as he was wont to do unto them.

    Mark 15:9 And Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

    Mark 15:10 For he perceived that for envy the chief priests had delivered him up.

    Mark 15:11 But the chief priests stirred up the multitude, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.

    Mark 15:12 And Pilate again answered and said unto them, What then shall I do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?

    Mark 15:13 And they cried out again, Crucify him.

    Mark 15:14 And Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out exceedingly, Crucify him.

    Mark 15:15 And Pilate, wishing to content the multitude, released unto them Barabbas, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. ”

    JW:
    An excellent observation that “Mark’s” Pilate is closer to a crowd pleaser. I think what “Mark” is going after here though is his usual Ironic literary contrast (which I think is still compatible with your observation).

    Clearly, Jesus Barabbas is being ironically contrasted with Jesus Bar Abba. The author has also extended the ironic contrast to Jesus Bar*’s audience. After the formulaic 3 time demand to release Barabbas and crucify Bar Abba, the Nazites are restless, Pilate agrees to release a leader of a riot in order to prevent a riot.

    I have Faith here that “Mark’s” presentation of a Roman authority releasing an insurrectionist against Rome to the insurrectionist’s cohorts because the cohorts threatened to riot if he did not (not really a coveted reputation I suspect) one of the more intentionally fictional stories contained in “Mark”.

    • 2009-05-18 06:41:59 UTC - 06:41 | Permalink

      My take is that Mark is using this section of the gospel to dramatize the “dissension“(link to other translations and contexts of the word) in the natural order of the cosmos — a murderer is released for a life-saver, dark at noon, the powers to sustain order are overturning natural order — a theme that began back with the tearing apart of the heavens and the expulsions of the demons.

      The threatened riot idea is only introduced by Matthew as a further excuse to exonerate Pilate a little. He declared his innocence after he saw a riot was threatening.

      Mark is not nearly as true to the sources of his pericopes as his later editors such as Matthew. Example: Matthew brings out the Daniel/Darius parallels that are there in Mark, but not there consistently. Whether Mark was deliberately recrafting them for his own themes, or whether he was using material that came to him but whose provenance he failed to recognize, is another question.

  • 2009-05-18 22:27:31 UTC - 22:27 | Permalink

    I think the centurion is very much a sincere comment. Yet again, the literary style of ironic contrast is a guide. “Mark’s” Jesus explains that you have to “watch” the Passion to understand it. At Da Garden Jesus instructs the boys to be on “watch” the formulaic 3 times. Just like they were, oh I don’t know, say guards. They don’t listen to him and so are not on watch for the crucifixion (they’re not there). The centurion is on watch, it’s what he does. Therefore, he watches the crucifixion and understands that it is the crucifixion that makes Jesus the son of god. The centurion, who knows nothing of Jesus or Judaism is ironically contrasted with the Disciples who know everything about Jesus and Judaism. The connection is “watch”.

    The reason Goodacre can not understand “Mark” here is because he thinks it’s true which is perhaps the biggest irony of all. You can only understand what “Mark” meant if you understand that it’s not the truth.

    • 2009-05-19 06:54:58 UTC - 06:54 | Permalink

      Yet the text of Mark 15:39 says not that the centurion was watching, but that he stood “against/opposing” Jesus (see the other uses of enantios here). Of course the word can be taken as “standing in front of” but here the word, I think, is suggestive of more than that. The centurion and Pilate come together to confirm the unexpectedness of the timing of Jesus’ death. They were no more ready for it than any of the other characters. The only ones ready, who were expecting it (watching), were the readers/audience. Was the centurion really “watching”? More like he was there to see the crucifixion was carried out.

      • 2011-04-26 14:30:00 UTC - 14:30 | Permalink

        Neil: “Was the centurion really ‘watching’?”

        The more I read Mark’s Gospel, the more I see it in my head as a play of the sort in which all the action is spatially condensed. It’s as if everything in the Passion fits on a tiny high school auditorium stage. So the trial, the scourging, the three hours of darkness, the rending of the temple curtain, Jesus’ expiration with a loud shout — they all occur not in geographic space, but in mythical “stage space,” where everyone can see and hear everything that happens.

        Yes, the centurion is watching. We are all watching, the actors on stage as well as the “readers” in the audience.

        I think we’re supposed to imagine the centurion saw everything that we readers/listeners saw, and that he says what we badly want somebody to say out loud. I know Mark was a subtle, sophisticated author, and that deep irony was by no means beyond him, but I think his contemporary audience would have interpreted the centurion’s confession as a long-awaited catharsis. I can even imagine it as an applause line when the story was read aloud.

        As Norman Perrin put it, “[T]he centurion’s confession of Jesus as the Son of God is the climax of Mark’s christological concern. It is the first and only confession of Jesus by a human being that is not immediately corrected or reinterpreted…”

        The confession doesn’t make sense from a historical perspective, but dramatically and rhetorically it’s a bombshell. I tend to trust Mark’s authorial sense when it comes to suspense and cathartic release, and I’m willing to bet that the audience response to the centurion’s line was exactly what he intended. I’m picturing those grannies in my old church who used to stand up and cry out during fire-and-brimstone sermons, raising a tear-stained handkerchief in spiritual solidarity…

  • 2009-05-19 11:28:18 UTC - 11:28 | Permalink

    “If so, then you are claiming that Jesus really died by suicide.”

    I think the idea is that he is inherently immortal from being the Son of God (1st Timothy 6:16), and therefore he could not die until he decided to let himself die, so he could have suffered on the cross forever and not died basically. That’s how he had the strength to make the loud cry right before dying of asphyxiation — he couldn’t die of asphyxiation without giving asphyxiation his divine nod. This certainly fits with both Mark 15:37-39 and John 10:17-18.

    • 2009-05-19 11:34:19 UTC - 11:34 | Permalink

      After all, Luke gives us the words of this cry in Luke 23:46 “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” This cry is basically him giving his body permission to die. It is so represented by both Mark and Luke even though Mark does not bother to give the words.

      • 2009-05-19 14:59:11 UTC - 14:59 | Permalink

        Fair enough. So John’s beloved eyewitness disciple was wrong then when he said: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.”

        And Jesus never got to know what it’s like for a human to face death, as something every other human must face with a sense of utter powerlessness. And Jesus was only pretending when he prayed his heart out to avoid, if possible, death and suffering, because those human reactions to sharp things and blood loss and exhaustion from trying to keep his body breathing were something he really chose to let his body suffer.

  • 2009-05-19 22:29:08 UTC - 22:29 | Permalink

    The ironic contrast of the guard is well established here:

    “And when the centurion, who stood by over against him, saw that he so gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.”

    The centurion is way up close in the Orchestrated seats.

    “And there were also women beholding from afar: among whom [were] both Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;”

    The followers of Jesus “watch” the crucifixion from afar way up in the Baalcony. That’s why the centurion gets it but the Jews don’t. According to the Palestinians it was all because those cheap Jews got their tickets from Half-Price Tickets.

    • 2009-05-20 21:59:33 UTC - 21:59 | Permalink

      “Well established” is a bit strong. If Mark had intended to convey that this was the centurion’s role then he could have expressed it less ambiguously. As it stands, from what I read of Earl Johnson’s discussion of the grammar, it is far from clear that the centurion (a) acknowledged Jesus as “THE” son of god, and (b) acknowledged that Jesus “IS” the son of God. He could easily have removed ambiguity in both cases had he wished.

      If we are looking for irony there is ample to be found by comparing the silence and crying out of Jesus in his last hours with the multiple crying out and silence motifs in the opening chapter.

      I don’t understand why Mark would single out one of the several Romans who are directly responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion to confess Jesus in less than unambiguous language when the gospel is pitched elsewhere at the exclusively superior insights of the audience.

  • Pingback: When Jesus went out with a loud voice . . . . « Vridar

  • Pingback: Joseph of Arimathea – recasting a faithless collaborator to a disciple of Jesus « Vridar

  • Pingback: That Villainous Pilate (and Centurion) in the Gospel of Mark « Vridar « Arkansas Pilates

  • Pingback: Arkansas Pilates » Comment on That Villainous Pilate (and Centurion) in the Gospel of …

  • Pingback: Tactics of Religious Innovation: Deuteronomy and Gospels « Vridar

  • 2011-04-26 11:40:36 UTC - 11:40 | Permalink

    This is a bit late, but here goes. Another bit of irony in Mark are the insults heaped upon Jesus.

    15:29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,

    15:30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!”

    15:31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.

    15:32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

    So we have the set of three: the commoners, the clergy, and the criminals all joining in on him in unison. They all challenged him to come down from the cross or dismount it – Greek verb katabainw here – although though they know he can’t, even if the ropes and nails were to let go, for he was also mounted!

    For the Romans designed crucifixion to be an <especially humiliating form of impalement. The cross was basically a post with a crossarm at the top and a stout thornlike spike installed at the end of a short horizontal timber midway up.

    The criminal would be tied with ropes or nailed through his forearms, wrists or palms to the crossbeam on the ground, lifted into place, and then tied or nailed through his heels to the main post. The executioners would complete the process by installing the spike directly below the condemned's anus, perhaps penetrating it. When the criminal is too exhausted to stand, he would hang down… and impale himself on the spike. And sometimes the criminal would not be able to clear the thing when he stood on the heel-nails again.

    • 2011-04-26 12:08:03 UTC - 12:08 | Permalink

      Interesting point. The stress is on humiliation and irony, as you point out. (Mel Gibson missed the point with his stress on torment.) And the message of this humiliation is its polar opposition to the exaltation of Jesus that is taking place and that only the spiritual (those who understand the ‘parable’) can see.

  • 2011-04-26 11:43:35 UTC - 11:43 | Permalink

    Here are two links on Roman crucifixion for more information.

    Did the Romans crucify women?

    Puzzuoli Graffito with Vivat Crux as a watermark.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *