This blog will talk about the scourge or whip used to administer punishment during Biblical times. We will also talk about the scourging of Jesus before He was taken to the cross. Please be aware that this blog will discuss in graphic detail the process of Roman scourging and the suffering of Jesus. It may not be suitable material for all readers.
The scourge, also known as a flogger or whip, has a long history during Biblical times. It was used to control flocks and herds. It was used as a symbol of position and power, like the scepter. (Pharaohs carried scourges into battle.) It was also used to administer punishment in many cultures in the ancient world. (Note: Some cultures continue to use scourging or caning to administer corporal punishment today.)
Under Mosaic Law, scourging was one of the punishments to be used for violating the Law. As an example, scourging was one of the punishments administered for committing adultery. Under Mosaic Law, God limited this punishment to 40 lashes. It became Israelite tradition to limit this to 39 lashes so that the Law would not be accidentally exceeded. Thirteen lashes were typically administered to each shoulder and 13 on the chest as punishment.
Scourging was also used by the Israelites as a form of purification. Women were occasionally scourged to drive away the demons of infertility. Men were more heavily scourged to drive out demons as well. Slaves were commonly scourged.
Scourging or the “rebels’ beating” was often administered to anyone defying Israelite Law or tradition, often without trial. Jesus delivered a “rebels’ beating” to the merchants when He cleared the Temple.
As with all things, the Romans refined and elevated the techniques of scourging as a form of punishment. One of the things the Romans did was attach pieces of metal, bone, wire or hardened clay to the strands of the whip so that it would rip open the skin. In Latin, the root words for “scourge” mean to “flay the flesh.” Under Roman Law there was no limit to the number of lashes that could be administered. This form of punishment was so brutal and feared that Roman law did prohibit its use for any citizen of Rome. Those sentenced to crucifixion were often scoured to maximize the pain inflicted and to hasten death. It was not unusual for prisoners to die under the lash or from blood loss rather than the process of crucifixion.
The Roman garrison in Jerusalem was composed of the Roman 10th Legion. These soldiers were not generally Roman citizens, but mercenaries from Thrace. They were known as the most brutal of all the Roman Legions. Specialists in the Legion were assigned to carry out punishments and executions for the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. They excelled at their jobs.
The Scourging of Jesus
Pilate did not want to sentence Jesus to death by crucifixion but only to a scourging. It was only at the insistence of the Sanhedrin that he imposed this ultimate punishment. That does not mean that Pilate was not imposing a death sentence. It was very common that prisoners sentenced to scourging died under the whip. Although Pilate was not limited to 39 lashes, he imposed this limit in recognition of Israelite practice.
For the Legionnaires administering the lashes, this was not only their job but also sport. This is shown by the mocking of Jesus as he was scourged. Each soldier administering lashes would try to out-do the others in ripping skin and causing pain. The picture at the top of this blog, taken from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ, only hints at the damage that would have been inflicted. Following His scourging, Jesus was literally a dead man walking.
Why should we know this?
Jesus was fully human, a mortal man. He suffered as any man would suffer under this form of punishment. The Romans fully intended for scourging and crucifixion to be the MOST painful, torturous and humiliating form of punishment possible. They were completely successful in their efforts.
But here is the key, my brothers and sisters.
Jesus went through all of this both willingly and with full knowledge of how He would suffer. He did so at the will of The Father as blood sacrifice for us, for our sins.
Give praise. Give thanks. I need say no more.
Alive in the Word