صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

CHAPTER XXXVII.

THE CRUCIFIXIO N.

MARK XV. 206-47.1

Ile ,

accordance with the general custom the sentence of

judge; and in this case therefore by the Roman soldiers, and not, as Luke implies, by the Jews. The proceedings before Pilate may have occupied an hour, or at the outside two hours, and the further preparations cannot have caused any long delay. It is therefore very possible that the crucifixion took place at about nine o'clock in the morning, as is indicated in a note of later origin in the second Gospel. The whole force which the procurator had brought from Cæsarea to garrison the royal fortress, consisting of at least a cohort or battalion, was standing under arms in the court; and a maniple, or company, was now ordered out to keep order during the execution, the whole conduct of which was entrusted to the officer in command.

The procession set out through the gate of the palace and along the street. It was usual on such occasions to go through the most frequented quarters of the city, in order to give the terrible example its greatest possible effect. In front went a herald proclaiming the culprit's offence, which was further set out in painted letters on a white board to be nailed over the head of the cross; and in this case the words were " The King of the Jews.” Then came the condemned man bimself, carrying, as a sign of disgrace, the instrument of torture upon which he was to end his life ; not the whole of it, however, but only the cross-beam to be fixed upon the upright stake. Together with Jesus two robbers, whose execution had been delayed till the feast time, were led out to death.

Nothing is recorded of the progress to the place of execution, except that when the city gate was reached the cross was taken away from Jesus. This was no mark of pity, but only a measure to prevent delay and trouble ; for in spite

1 Matthew xxvii. 31b-61; Luke xxiii. 26-54.
3 Luke xxii. 25.

8 Mark xv. 25.

of the strokes and blows of the executioners Jesus could go no further: his strength failed, and he could bear the beam no longer. A certain Simon, a native of Cyrene in North Africa, who happened to be just entering the city, was compelled by the soldiers to take up the beam and carry it to the place of death. It was naturally against his will that he was pressed into the service; and since the second Gospel calls him the father of Alexander and Rufus, as if these names belonged to well-known Christians, it has been con jectured that Simon, being brought into such close contact with Jesus, afterwards joined the community of his disciples.

All else that we are told under this head is very doubtful, if not distinctly legendary. Thus, Luke tells us that in the crowd which followed the procession there were many women who wept and lamented for Jesus, with cries and gestures of grief. But he turned to them and disclaimed their pity with the words : " Daughters of Jerusalem ! weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and your children. For days of such unutterable woe are coming that the blessing of motherhood shall be held a curse, and the childless woman shall be counted blessed in Israel. Then shall the fugitives, in their despair, cry to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us !' and to the hills, . Cover us!' For if all this comes upon the green tree [upon me], what will not be done to the dry [this abandoned generation]!” There is a tone of lofty earnestness and pity in these words ; but they are not given by either of the first two Evangelists; we are quite unprepared to hear them from Jesus, who had hitherto been absolutely silent, and was now utterly exhausted ; the occasion hardly afforded an opportunity for their utterance, and they give us the impression of having been written after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The later traditions of the Church tell us of a certain woman (Veronica) who was deeply moved with pity, wiping the brow of Jesus with a napkin, and in reward for her compassion finding the image of the sufferer stamped upon it ever afterwards! On the other hand, we are told of a Jew (Ahasuerus) who heartlessly drove Jesus away when he would have rested for a moment on the bench before his house; upon which Jesus condemned him to wander restlessly over the earth without being able to die, till he should return from heaven as the Christ. This was the Wandering Jew, — the Jewish people, condemned for its obduracy to 1 Compare Romans xvi. 13.

2 Compare p. 401.

1

survive when every other ancient people was no more, without a fatherland, -- in exile everywhere, — till the kingdom of God be perfected. Finally, we may mention that from the fourteenth century down to the present day the streets have been pointed out in Jerusalem along which Jesus is said to have been taken. They are known as the Via Dolorosa, or Woeful Way, and lead through the Sheep Gate, between Moriah and Bezetha, past the palace of Pilate (the castle of Antonia), through the Gate of Judgment, to Golgotha;' and the visitor is still shown the very spots at which each detail is said to have occurred.

Though the ancients had no regular places of execution, like our “ Traitor's Hill,” for instance, - yet they always chose some place outside the city gates, and by preference a spot exp to view on every side, conspicuous from a distance, and hard by some frequented thoroughfare. Doubtless these conditions were fulfilled by the place selected on this occasion, which was Golgotha. Its name, which signifies "skull," suggests a bare, round hill, which we must suppose to have been situated just outside the city, at some spot where there would be crowds of passers-by. Its site, however, can no longer be identified. 2 The tradition that points out the present Golgotha, where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands, is groundless.

The destination was soon reached, and the execution begun. We will not outrage the feelings of our readers by describing all the details of what followed, but we cannot pass it by completely. The savage inhumanity of this form of execu-tion, expressly designed to make the criminal die as slowly and painfully as possible, is beyond all description ; and it had further gathered round itself the maximum of disgrace and shame, — for it was reserved for slaves, robbers, deserters, and rioters. Entirely foreign to the Jewish penal code, it had been introduced and freely practised by the Romans in their provinces, as a palpable proof of their supremacy, and an example well calculated to inspire terror. The punishment had now become so familiar to the Jews that the people themselves had instantly suggested it to Pilate in answer to his question, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

The cross had various forms. Sometimes the beams were crossed obliquely, like an X; sometimes they were at right

I See Map IV.
2 See vol. ii. pp. 4, 5; compare Hebrews xiii. 12.

angles, with the upright stake projecting slightly above the cross-beam, thus t; sometimes the cross had the shape of a T; and the most ancient tradition says that this was the case with the cross of Jesus. At the place of execution, the longest and thickest beam, or stake, was fixed upright in the ground, either when the execution took place or beforehand, and was duly secured against swaying. Then the criminal was stripped, his extended arms were secured by strong cords to the other beam, and then long, sharp nails were driven through his open palms deep into the wood. Then the cross-beam was raised above the upright stake, or fixed near the top of it. The sufferer's body was so far supported as to prevent its weight from wrenching his hands away from the nails, and his feet — which nearly touched the ground, since the cross was seldom high — were fixed to the upright beam by a sharp iron bolt. Then the executioner's task was over, and it only remained to keep guard. The scorching heat of the sun, the insupportable thirst, the in flamed and burning wounds, and the strained, unnatural attitude, each of which grew more intolerable every moment while none could be alleviated, the rush of blood to the heart and brain, the unbearable pain and exhaustion, — all these must do the rest. None of the wounds were fatal in themselves, and if no finishing-stroke were given to the victim, it was generally four-and-twenty hours, and sometimes, if his system were strong, two or three days, before his tortures had an end.

And on this occasion, also, every thing was done as usual. The place of execution was lined by soldiers. The three stakes were already there, or were now erected not far from one another. The middle one was for the Nazarene. And here one touch of humanity lightens the hideous spectacle. A Jewish usage prescribed that a numbing potion should be given the victims before they suffered. Jewish tradition states that distinguished ladies of Jerusalem prepared it at their own expense, from strong wine and grains of frankincense. The first Gospel speaks of wine mixed with wormwood, and Mark of wine and myrrh. In any case it was a fragrant drink of numbing and therefore pain-allaying properties. But when the executioners offered the cup to Jesus he refused it, perhaps after tasting it half-mechanically and perceiving from its bitter though pleasant taste the purpose it

1 See Proverbs xxxi. 6, 7.
Matthew xxvii. 34, after an amended version.

was meant to serve. He wished to preserve his full consciousness to the very last, and he felt strong enough in God to bear the worst.

They stripped him of his clothes, which fell to the executioners; he was bound, nailed, lifted up, nailed again. Above his head the board already mentioned was fixed, recording his offence in Latin, Greek, and (if Pilate's writers understood enough of the language) Hebrew. Then the two robbers right and left of him met the same fate.

The soldiers had done their work. Four sentries were left to guard each cross, and were probably relieved at noon, the relays succeeding each other every three hours. The booty was divided by throwing lots from a helmet, to decide who should have the upper and who the under garment. The officer in charge meanwhile paced up and down, and remained upon the place of execution as the responsible agent of the procurator.

There Jesus hung, a prey to unutterable tortures, like tho refuse and the scum of society, laden with its curse! Alas! it seemed as though he were rejected and thrust out by every one; for not a single friend had dared to show his face upon the hill. Ah, yes! there, behind that group of spectators, is a little cluster of faithful Galilæan women, Magdalene, Mary, Salome, and others, - who had come with him to the feast, from the fatherland. Although the glorious expectations of their faith had been disappointed no less than those of the disciples, yet their love never flagged. And when the hearts of all the men had failed them, these faithful women dared to come to the hill of crucifixion, that, if by chance Jesus should turn his eyes around in hopes of meeting some responsive glance of love and pity, he might not look in vain. All honor to their steadfast love!

Alas! his enemies were also there, and did not spare him even now. They felt no reverence for the greatness of his woe; they had nothing but taunts for the utter wreck of his mighty schemes. While many of the spectators looked on in silence, there were some who could not leave him unmolested even now. Passers by railed at him, wagging their heads in sign of contempt and mockery. These were apparently members of the Council and their subordinates in the first instance, who were acquainted with the details of the trial, and turned their poisoned shafts against bim as the unsuccessful reforiner

. See pp. 185, 186, 336, üio.

« السابقةمتابعة »