Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah,
v.2, Act 4, scene 1 - #32. Transitional Episode: Jesus Led Out to be Crucified, pp 910-932

(detailed summary)


Transitional Episode: Jesus Led Out to be Crucified
(Mk 15: 20b-21; Mt 27: 31b-32; Lk 23: 26-32; Jn 19: 16b-17a)


Summary

In this sequence, Jesus is led by Roman soldiers from the praetorium to the place of his execution, located outside the city wall but near a busy road, in order to act as a deterrent to the population. As Jesus is too weak to carry the crossbeam of the cross usually attached to his arms, probably because of his scourging, a passerby, a Jewish farmer from Cyrene, who returns from the fields at noon, whose sons seem to be known to the Christian community in Rome, is compelled to help. John is alone in ignoring this scene, even though it was probably present in the ancient common tradition he knew, and this for Christological reasons: for him, Jesus freely gives his life without being forced, and he does not need help.

Luke interrupts Mark's sequence to introduce a set of his own, a set that includes the figure of Simon and the two criminals present in Mark, but adds the figure of a multitude of the people and women who beat their breasts and complain about Jesus' fate, and to whom Jesus announces the destruction of Jerusalem. This set bears the mark of Luke's vocabulary, although he probably uses a collection of Jesus' words, also known from the noncanonical Gospel according to Thomas, as well as passages from the OT, such as Hosea 10:8b. At the core of the dark hours of the passion Luke presents us with sympathetic figures, such as Simon who walks behind Jesus like a disciple, and those women who feel sorry for him, according to his theology of love and forgiveness.


  1. Translation
  2. Comment
    1. Leading Jesus Out; the Carrying of the Cross; Simon the Cyrenian
      1. Leading Jesus out
      2. Carrying the Cross; Simon the Cyrenian
      3. The Absence of Simon in John
    2. Jesus Speaks to the Daughteers of Jerusalem (Luke 23: 27-31)
      1. The Framework for This Scene
      2. The Multitude and the Women (Luke 23: 27)
      3. The Fate of the Daughters of Jerusalem and Their Children (Luke 23: 28)
      4. Jesus' Pronouncement in Luke 23: 29
      5. The Pronouncement Continiued (Luke 23: 30)
      6. The Pronouncement Terminated (Luke 23: 31)
      7. Two Wrongdoers with Jesus (Luke 23: 32)
  3. Analysis

  1. Translation

    Words of Mark shared by the other evangelists are underlined. Words in blue indicate what is common to Luke and Mattew, in red words of John shared by other evangelists.

    Mark 15Matthew 27Luke 23John 19
    20b And they lead him out in order that they might crucify him;31b And they led him away to be crucified. 26a And as they led him away, 16b So they took Jesus along;
    21 and they compel a certain passerby, Simon the Cyrenian, coming in from the field, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to take up his [Jesus’] cross.32 But coming out, they found a Cyrenian man by the name of Simon; this fellow they compelled to take up his [Jesus’] cross.26b having taken hold of Simon, a certain Cyrenian coming in from the field, they put upon him the cross to bring behind Jesus.17a and carrying the cross by himself, he came out...
    27 Now there was following him [Jesus] a large multitude of the people and of women who were beating themselves and lamenting for him. 28 But having turned to them, Jesus said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Rather for yourselves weep, and for your children 29 because, behold, coming are days in which they will say, ’Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the breasts that have not fed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ’Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ’Cover us.’ 31 Because if in the green wood they do such things, in the dry what will happen?" 32 But others also were being led off, two wrongdoers, with him to be put to death.

  2. Comment

    1. Leading Jesus Out; the Carrying of the Cros; Simon the Cyrenian

      1. Leading Jesus out

        1. "They lead him out" (Mark), "they led him away" (Matthew/Luke), "So they took Jesus along" (John). Who is this "they"? In Mark and Matthew it is clearly the Roman soldiers. It is less clear in Luke and John, where we could see the Jewish authorities. But, after analysis, we can affirm that they are also Roman soldiers. We do not find here the anti-Judaism of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter where it is the Jewish people who bring Jesus.

        2. "out". What is being referred to? As we were in the praetorium, we can guess that we are leaving the praetorium. But no evangelist specifies the place of execution. We know that Jerusalem was a city with walls. There's a general impression that the crucifixion took place outside the walls. According to the evangelical data, this place was close to a road, because one meets passerbys there, like Simon who has just returned from the countryside. Matthew uses the words "led him away", which indicates the action of going out of the city. John 19:20 is more explicit when he writes that the place "was near the city" and that nearby was "a garden". Finally, the epistle to the Hebrews (13:11-13) goes in the same direction by stating that Jesus "suffered outside the gate" (see the map of Jerusalem).

        3. These indications correspond to what we know of Jewish and Roman customs.

          • Leviticus 24:14 / Numbers 15:35-36: the blasphemer was to be stoned outside the camp, an instruction later understood as meaning outside the city (1 Kings 21:13), and which is confirmed by the account of Stephen's stoning to death (Acts 7:58).
          • Quintilian (Declamationes 274) calls for the crucifixion of criminals near a busy road as a deterrent to most people.
          • Plaute (Cabornaria 2) states that the criminal had to carry the crossbeam (patibulum) of the cross through the city before being attached to the cross.
          • Plaute again (Miles gloriosus 2.4.6-7; #359-360) specifies that the person carrying the crossbeam of the cross must perish outside the gate.
          • The discordant voice of Meliton of Sardis (On the Pasch, 72, 93-94), saying that Jesus died in the middle of the city, is understandable, since he writes in the second half of the 2nd century, when a third wall, enlarging the city, had already been built by Herod Agrippa I (41-44 AD) and the Roman city built on the site of Jerusalem at the beginning of the 2nd century encompasses the site of the crucifixion.

      2. Carrying the Cross; Simon the Cyrenian

        1. Mark/Matthew uses the verb airen ("to take up, pick up"), Luke pherein ("to bear, bring"), and John bastazein ("to carry"). The object of this action is always the cross. Usually, the vertical part of the cross (stipes, staticulum) remained in place for the execution, and the condemned man had to bring the transverse part (patibulum, i.e. the piece that makes it possible to bar a door, or the yardarm of a ship) that was put on his neck and attached to his arms. By synecdoche, the cross was associated with this crossbeam. This is how the listener of the Gospels was to understand it.

        2. There has been much discussion among biblical scholars about the figure of Simon, with some claiming that the figure of the disciple was invented. But they would look in vain for a reference to a walk in the footsteps of Jesus. The Synoptics give us the impression that Simon was completely unknown before this scene, since we speak of a "certain", and that he was forced ("they compel him") to carry the crossbeam. The Greek word aggareuein (to compel) is borrowed from Persia, where it has the meaning of forcing someone to perform a government service. Tradition has it that Simon later became a Christian, as his sons seem to be known to the Markan community.

        3. Some biblical scholars have seen a problem in this scene: how could the Romans allow another to carry the cross of a condemned man? Indeed, according to Plutarch (De sera numinis vindicta 9, #554) any criminal condemned to be executed must carry his cross, and according to Artemidorus Daldianus (Oneirokritika 2.56) anyone who is nailed to a cross must first bring it to the place of execution. A plausible answer comes from the fact that Jesus may have been so weakened after his scourging that the soldiers feared he would die on the way. This hypothesis would be confirmed by Pilate's surprise at the speed of his death.

        4. "the Cyrenian". Cyrene was the capital of the Roman district of North Africa, called: Cyrenaica, in Libya. Josephus reports (Against Apion 2.4: #44) that Ptolemy I Soter (300 BC) established Jewish settlements in Libya to solidify Egypt's hold over the region. According to Acts 6:9, there was a Cyrenian synagogue in Jerusalem, and further on (Acts 11:20) we learn that there were Christian preachers in Cyrene, and that Lucius of Cyrene and Simon Niger (Acts 13:1) were community leaders in Antioch. So it is not surprising to find a Cyrenian Jew like Simon in Jerusalem and that he later became a Christian.

        5. "coming from the field (agros: field, countryside)". It is assumed that Simon came back from the farm, although this is not explicitly stated. How can Mark introduce this fact, when Jesus ate the Easter meal with his disciples the day before and logically the feast continued the next day, when no work could be done? But if we trust the evangelist John, that day was not the Passover, but the day before the Passover, and it was customary to finish work around noon that day. Note that Mark only put Jesus' last supper in a Passover context, not what followed.

        6. "the father of Alexander and Rufus". Alexander is a Greek name, while Rufus is a Roman name (common among slaves). Some biblical scholars have associated the latter name with Rufus in the epistle to the Romans (16: 13). As is often the case, the less data we have, the more fertile the imagination is. This is how Simon's two sons appear in the Coptic accounts of The Assumption of the Virgin and The Acts of Peter and Andrew. According to Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses 1.24.4) the Gnostics said that Jesus exchanged his appearance with Simon, so that it was Simon who was crucified, while Jesus was laughing.

      3. The Absence of Simon in John

        In John, Jesus himself carries his cross. In an attempt to harmonize the different accounts, artists have portrayed a Jesus carrying the front of the cross and Simon carrying the foot, as Lk 23:26 might lead us to believe. This is a misunderstanding of Luke for whom Simon alone carries the crossbeam of the cross, giving Jesus the freedom to turn around and talk to people as he pleases. In a similar attempt at harmonization, some have hypothesized that Jesus first carried his cross and then, having become weak, would have needed help. John completely eliminates this hypothesis, since Jesus carried his cross from the moment he left the praetorium (19:17). It is better to accept the idea that John's Christology has no room for a Jesus who needs help. For Jesus freely gives his life for him and no one can take it away from him. He remains sovereign until the end. Thus John would have deliberately eliminated the figure of Simon to emphasize the authority and control of Jesus, even at the time of his crucifixion.

    2. Jesus Speaks to the Daughteers of Jerusalem (Luke 23: 27-31)

      1. The Framework for This Scene

        Cadre de Luc 23, 26-32

        Here Luke uses Mark 15: 20b to give a framework to a development he wants to insert, first with "And they lead him out" which serves as an introduction in the form "And they led him away (apagein)", v. 26a" and with "in order that they might crucify him" which serves as a conclusion in the form "to be put to death", v. 32b" (Note that it is pure coincidence that Matthew and Luke have the same verb apagein, noted in blue, for this verb is used extensively by Mark in his passion narrative, and it is the latter who deviates from his custom to imitate the Septuagint in reference to Lev 24:14 and Num 15:36 on blasphemy).

        In this context of vv. 26a and 32b, Luke introduces us to a development that begins with Simon presented in the attitude of the disciple, for he walks behind Jesus and follows him on the way to the cross. It is typical of Luke to offer us scenes where people, in contact with Jesus, experience a change. Simon prepares us for all these other positive figures (the good criminal, the centurion). With this development, Luke makes up for the shortcomings of his story: in fact, having eliminated the scene of the scourging, it is no longer clear why Jesus does not have the strength to carry his cross himself; so, by taking care of the cross, Simon allows Jesus to teach along the way.

      2. The Multitude and the Women (Luke 23: 27)

        • "Now there was following him [Jesus] a large multitude of the people ". While at the trial before Pilate the multitude of the people was hostile, Luke gradually gives him a more favorable role which will culminate in v. 48 with the crowd going home beating their breasts.

        • "and of women who were beating themselves (their breasts)". At the heart of this multitude is a group of women who seem to be performing an act of religious piety by weeping for someone who is about to be executed. Although the act of mourning a condemned man was often forbidden by Roman laws, it is unlikely that they were applied to all minor cases in the various provinces. Luke's vocabulary can be found in Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 6.14.8: #377) when he describes the lamentations over Saul's death.

        • Who are these women? Luke calls them "daughters of Jerusalem". They appear as figures sympathetic to Jesus, and it is tragic that their compassionate weeping cannot prevent the fate of a city that kills the prophets. They represent an aspect of Jerusalem, the city that welcomed Jesus in a triumphal entry in 19:37-40, and now accompanies him in tears on his way out to be executed (Matthew and John use the expression "daughters of Jerusalem" in the triumphal entry, Luke reserves it for this dismal exit).

      3. The Fate of the Daughters of Jerusalem and Their Children (Luke 23: 28)

        • "TBut having turned (strapheis) to them". The verb strapheis is a characteristic of Luke who often uses it to introduce a word of Jesus. Here, this word is addressed to women as representatives of the city and the whole nation, as it is observed in the OT (2 Samuel 1, 24; Zephaniah 3, 14; Zechariah 9, 9).

        • "do not weep for me. Rather for yourselves weep". We find the same atmosphere as Jeremiah 9:16-19 where the prophet invites the mourners to lament the fate that awaits the people. The message is that no matter how intense the lament, nothing will be able to spare Jerusalem and its people from the destruction to come. Jesus does not reproach anyone or try to convince anyone, he only complains to the representatives of the people about the misfortunes that are coming, the last complaint of a whole series.

        • "for yourselves weep, and for your children ". This sentence is not far from that of Matthew 27:25: "His blood be on us and on our children", but without accepting responsibility for this death as in Matthew. But the idea is the same: the descendants of this generation will also have to suffer the consequences of this punishment. Luke's vocabulary here is consistent with what is found elsewhere in his Gospel:

          • " so that this generation may be asked to reckon with the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the foundation of the world" (11:50).
          • "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you, how many times have I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you have not wanted to!" (13, 34-35)
          • "When he was near, at the sight of the city, he cried over it... Yes, days will come upon you, when your enemies will surround you with entrenchments... They will crush you and your children in the midst of you on the ground, and they will not leave in you stone upon stone, because you did not recognize the time when you were visited" (19:41-44).
          • "But when you see Jerusalem besieged by armies, then understand that its devastation is at hand... Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains... Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse in those days!" (21, 20-24)

      4. Jesus' Pronouncement in Luke 23: 29

        • "For behold, days are coming when they shall say." Where did Luke get this story? From a special source of passion? From a collection of Jesus' words that were circulating? Or did he simply compose this story in the style of the Septuagint? Note that the expression "behold (idol)" followed by "days are coming" is found in many passages of the Septuagint: Jeremiah 7:32; 16:14; Amos 4:2; Malachi 3:19 (4:1). It is also found elsewhere in Luke himself, but in the future (days will come): 19:42; 21:6. But the future is also present in the Septuagint.

        • "Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the breasts that have not nourished". An attempt has been made to bring this passage closer with parallels to the Old Testament, in particular Isaiah 54:1 ("Shout for joy, barren one, you who have not given birth; shout for joy, you who have not given birth, shout for joy, you who have not given birth"). But the latter is set in a context of joy. It is better to consider passages such as Wisdom 3:13 ("Blessed is the barren woman who is without blemish, who has not known a guilty union"), Qohelet 4:3 ("And happier than both of them is he who does not yet live and see the iniquity that is done under the sun"), and especially the Syriac version of 2 Baruch 10:5b-10, written only a few decades after Luke's Gospel: "Blessed is he who is not born or who, after being born, dies." Thus, Luke probably used themes that were known and adapted for catastrophes like the one that awaited Jerusalem.

        • The noncanonical Gospel according to Thomas presents an interesting parallel with two passages from Luke.

          Gospel according to Thomas – Logion 79Luke
          A woman from the crowd said to him, "Blessed are the womb that bore you and the breasts that nourished you". He said to [her], "Blessed are those who have heard the word of the Father and have kept it in truth.11, 27 While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" 28 But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"
          For there will be days when you will say, 'Blessed are the womb that has not conceived and the breasts that have not suckled.'"23: 29 because, behold, coming are days in which they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the breasts that have not fed.'

          It is therefore possible that the beatitude of Lk 23:29 comes from a collection of Jesus' words as used in the Gospel of Thomas, and that Luke would have split (11:27-28 and 23:29), as he did earlier in Lk 2:14 ("Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to the objects of his mercy"). ") and 19:39 ("Blessed is he who comes, the King, in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!"), two verses that were probably part of a preLucan hymn.

          In short, Luke's story does not draw from a special source of passion, but rather from a collection of words that he reshapes following the model of the Septuagint.

      5. The Pronouncement Continiued (Luke 23: 30)

        • "Then we'll start saying to the mountains: 'Fall on us' and to the hills: 'Cover us'". Here we have an echo of Hosea 10:8b: "Then they will say to the mountains, 'Cover us', and to the hills, 'Fall upon us'". For Hosea it was the city of Samaria, for Luke it is Jerusalem. This passage from Hosea was well known in the first Christian communities, as we can see in Revelation 6:16. In Jewish symbolism, the mountains were seen as the witness of the covenant between God and his people ("Hear, mountains, the judgment of the Lord, give ear, O foundations of the earth: for the Lord is on trial with his people, he is pleading against Israel", Micah 6:1).

        • The expressions "shall begin" or "shall begin to say" is part of the Lucan vocabulary. Thus, we are in front of the editorial work of Luke who is inspired here by the prophet Hosea.

      6. The Pronouncement Terminated (Luke 23: 31)

        • "For if they do this to green wood, what will happen in the dry?". This sentence has two limbs, a condition ("if"), and the consequences if that condition is met. This structure is well known from Proverbs, where we go from the "least" to the "greatest": "If the righteous here below receives his wages, how much more the wicked and the sinner", Proverbs 11, 31.

        • What does the green wood or the dry wood refer to? The image of green, dry wood is known in the Bible (see Ezekiel 17:24, "I, the LORD, dry the green tree and make the dry tree blossom"). But to understand its meaning here, it is better to consider the context: there are two periods, the present and the future, i.e. the period when Jesus is crucified and the period when Jerusalem will be destroyed; the wood should not be interpreted allegorically. Rather, we compare the beginning of a tree's life when it is green, and the moment when it becomes old and dry.

        • In the two phrases we have identified, who is the subject of the action? In the conditional part, who is "they" ("if they do this to green wood")? The reader of Luke will probably understand that it is the opponents of Jesus, the chief priests and the leaders of the people. In the section on consequences, we have a passive form ("what will happen in the dry", literally: the dry what will be). Usually, in a passive form it is God who is the subject of action, because in the Jewish world one avoids pronouncing the name of God; it is God who will be responsible for the catastrophe that awaits Jerusalem later on, during the period of dry wood.

        • Jesus is saying: If the Jewish leaders and the people treat me this way in this good time when the Romans do not force them, how much harder they will be treated in the bad time when the Romans suppress them.

      7. Two Wrongdoers with Jesus (Luke 23: 32)

        • "Then they also led two other wrongdoers with him (to) be executed". We find here a vocabulary that Luke often uses: agein (to lead), de kai (then, also), heteros (other), kakourgos (criminal), anairein (to execute), even if we are in front of a rewriting of Mark's story.

        • But Luke introduces us earlier than Mark the two criminals who will be crucified with Jesus, probably wanting to prepare us for that great scene where one of them will join Jesus on the same day in paradise. Let us note that Luke uses the word malefactor (kakourgos), and not the word bandit (lēstai) as in Mark, which had a pejorative connotation because of its association with the Jewish revolt of the 60s and 70s.

  3. Analysis

    We must reject the idea of some biblical scholars that the figure of Simon was created from scratch to offer the example of a disciple who follows Jesus to the end. For Simon's action was not voluntary, it was forced. In the same way, in Mark/Matthew he does not walk behind Jesus as a disciple. And if he does not appear in John, it is only for Christological reasons: in the fourth Gospel Jesus freely gives his life without being forced.

    As for the scene of Jesus' encounter with the multitude of the people and the girls of Jerusalem, it seems that Luke drew from a collection of Jesus' words, in particular the passage on the beatitudes, while drawing inspiration from certain texts of the Old Testament, especially Hosea 10:8b. The whole bears the mark of Luke's vocabulary and thought.

    It should also be noted that a triadic structure is observed here, which is repeated several times in Luke: Simon, the multitude of the people and the women, and the two criminals (later it will be the centurion, the crowds beating their breasts and the women looking on from a distance). The figures of this triad are taken from Mark, except for the middle one, which is typical of Luke. Finally, this triad is sympathetic to Jesus, at least one of the criminals. Here we can see the Lucan theology of God's love, forgiveness and healing at the very heart of the passion narrative.

    As for the oracle about the coming woes, addressed to the daughters of Jerusalem, we have already related it to the text of Matthew ("his blood is on us and on our children"). Even though it states that the people responsible for the death of Jesus will be punished, including the people of the next generation by the destruction of Jerusalem, the tone is less harsh than in Matthew's, because the word is addressed to women who lament the fate of Jesus, and therefore do not deserve this punishment. And the presence of people sympathetic to Jesus suggests that God, who knew how to touch the heart of Simon, and as well that of one of the criminals and the centurion, will no doubt be touched Himself by the weeping of the daughters of Jerusalem. It is therefore a much more nuanced picture that Luke leaves us.

Next chapter: Jesus Crucified, Part One: The Setting

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