Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah,
v.2, Act 4, scene 1 - #33. Jesus Crucified, Part One: The Setting, pp 933-981

(detailed summary)

Jesus Crucified, Part One: The Setting
(Mk 15: 22-27; Mt 27: 33-38; Lk 23: 33-34; Jn 19: 17b-24)


In this section, Mark presents seven items: the name of the place, the initial offering of the wine, the crucifixion, the division of the garments, the time (3rd hour), the inscription on the accusation, the two bandits; Matthew drops the time, Luke drops the initial offering of the wine and the time, just like John. It is agreed that the crucifixion took place at the place called the Place of the Skull, which was outside the walls (now the second wall), near the city gate and a busy road, and very close to a garden where tombs were found.

Mark, followed by Matthew, shows us two scenes where wine is offered to Jesus (Luke and John do not have the first offer). It is probably an addition of Mark to the source he receives. Why is this? In fact, it often happened that people offered wine to the condemned in order to ease their suffering. Here, Mark speaks of the addition of myrrh, a way to perfume the wine, a gesture of refinement, while Matthew speaks of gall, in reference to Psalm 69:22 about the righteous sufferer. But Jesus will not drink, because for Mark, Jesus had decided to take on the suffering to the end. In the same way, Mark is the only one to write that Jesus was crucified at the third hour (9 am), in contradiction to John for whom Jesus was still before Pilate at noon. We are probably looking at a creation of Mark who wants to mark out the day according to the hours of prayer of the Roman community; no other Gospel follows him on this point.

The crucifixion was the most ignominious death there is, a punishment reserved for the lower class, slaves and foreigners, which has been widespread in the Greco-Roman and Jewish world for some centuries. The cross consisted of two beams, a vertical beam which remained in place, and to which a notch was made, either at the top with a V-shape, or on the side, near the top, in order to insert the cross beam carried by the condemned man. This cross usually stood at a height of 7 feet. How was Jesus tied to the wood of the cross? In spite of the silence of the Gospels, we can think that Jesus' hands were nailed, provided we accept that, technically, it was not the hands that were nailed, but the wrists, because the hands could not support the weight of the body and would have been torn. The two feet were probably put one on top of the other and nailed with a single nail.

The four Gospels speak of the division of Jesus' personal clothing, using the language of Psalm 22:19. John, breaking the psalm down into two parts, adds a second division, that of his seamless tunic that was not torn, a possible allusion to the fact that the Roman soldiers were unable to break what belonged to Jesus, the unity of God's Messianic people. Historically, it is likely that Jesus was completely naked when he was put on the cross.

The four Gospels tell us that an inscription bearing the charge was placed on the cross above Jesus' head. This practice was common and was intended as a deterrent. The content of this inscription varies according to the Gospels, Mark presenting us with the shortest, and probably the oldest formula. As for John's inscription, more elaborate and solemn, written in three languages, historically implausible, it has a theological purpose: a prophetic and imperial proclamation about Jesus.

Once again, the four Gospels agree to place two co-crucifiers with Jesus, bandits according to Mark, Matthew and John, criminals according to Luke. It is impossible to know for which crime they were convicted, or if there were more than two of them. For the evangelists, placing these two bandits beside Jesus illustrated the unworthiness of the situation to which the innocent Jesus was subjected.

A separate analysis must be made of the word of Jesus asking the Father to forgive his adversaries, for not only does it appear only in Luke, but the manuscripts are not unanimous in reporting this prayer. After a long analysis, one must admit that it is easier to accept that this passage was written by Luke and later removed by copyists for theological and anti-Semitic reasons, than to see it as an addition of a copyist who took the trouble to imitate Luke's style and thought.

  1. Translation
  2. Comment
    1. The Name of the Place (Mark 15: 22; Matthew 27: 33; Luke 23: 33a; John 19: 17b)
      1. Golgotha or Skull-Place
      2. The Site in Jerusalem
    2. The Initial Offering of Wine (Mark 15: 23; Matthew 27: 34)
      1. Mark's Use of This Gesture
      2. Matt's Use of This Gesture
    3. The Crucifixion (Mark 15: 24a; Matthew 27: 35a; Luke 23: 33b; John 19: 18a)
      1. Crucifixion in General
      2. On What Type of Cross Was Jesus Crucified?
      3. How Was Jesus Affixed to the Cross?
    4. The Division of Clothes (Mark 15: 24b; Matthew 27: 35b; Luke 23: 34b; John 19: 23-24)
      1. The Division and Psalm 22
      2. The Untorn Tunic
    5. The Third Hour (Mark 15: 25); The Soldiers Keeping Guard (Matthew 27: 36)
      1. The Third Hour
      2. Mark's Second Reference to Crucifixion
      3. The Soldiers Keeping Guard (Matthew 27: 36)
    6. The Inscription and the Charge (Mark 15: 26; Matthew 27: 37; Luke 23: 38; John 19: 19-22)
      1. The Gospel Reports
      2. The Episode in John
      3. Gospel of Peter
      4. Historicity of the Inscription
    7. Two Bandits or Wrongdoers (Mark 15: 27; Matthew 27: 38; Luke 23: 33c; John 19: 18b)
    8. "Father, Forgive Them" (Luke 23: 34a)
      1. Meaning of the Verse
      2. The Authenticity of the Verse

  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, in green words from Gospel of Peter found elsewhere.

    Mark 15Matthew 27Luke 23John 19Gospel of Peter
    22 And they bring him to the Golgotha place, which is interpreted Skull-Place;33 And having come to a place called Golgotha, which is called Skull-Place,33a And when they came to the place named Skull, 17b He came out to what is called the Place of the Skull, which is called in Hebrew Golgotha,
    23 and they were giving him wine with myrrh, but he did not take it.34 they gave him to drink wine mixed with gall; and having tasted, he did not wish to drink.
    (for the parallel, see below in v. 27)(for the parallel, see below in v. 38)33b there they crucified him and the wrongdoers, the one on the right, the other on the left.18 where they crucified him and with him two others, here and there, but Jesus in the middle.10. And they brought two wrongdoers and crucified the Lord in the middle of them. But he was silent as having no pain.
    [34a But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."]11. And when they had set the cross upright, they inscribed that "This is the King of Israel."
    24 And they crucify him; and they divide up his clothes, throwing lots for them as to who should take what.35 But having crucified him, they divided up his clothes, throwing lots.34b But dividing his clothes, they threw lots.12. And having put his garments before him, they divided them up and threw as a gamble for them.
    36 And having sat, they were keeping (guard over) him there.
    25 Now it was the third hour, and they crucified him.
    26 And there was an inscription of the charge against him, inscribed "The King of the Jews."37 And they put up above his head the charge against him, written "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."[38 For there was also an inscription over him: "The King of the Jews, this (man)."]19 But Pilate also wrote a notice and put it on the cross. Now it was written, Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews."
    20 So many of the Jews read this notice because the place where he was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.
    21 So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, "Do no write ’The King of the Jews,’ but that fellow said, ’I am King of the Jews.’"
    22 Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written."
    23 So the soldiers, when they crucified Jesus, took his clothes and made four parts, a part to each soldier; and (they took) the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, from the top woven throughout.
    24 So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but let us gamble about it (to see) whose it is," in order that the Scripture be fulfilled, They divided up my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they threw lots. So then the soldiers did these things.
    27 And with him they crucify two bandits, one on the right and one on his left.38 Then there are crucified with him two bandits, one on the right, and one on the left.

  2. Comment

    In Mark, seven items can be identified.
    1. Name of the place
    2. Initial offering of wine
    3. Crucifixion
    4. Division of clothes
    5. Time (unique to Mark)
    6. Inscription of the charge
    7. Two bandits

    Matthew copied six of these items in the same order. Luke copies items 1, 3, 7, 4 at the beginning, then item 6 later. John's account includes 5 items, items 1, 3, 7 at the beginning, then he expands on items 6 and 4. Despite the similarities with Mark, John draws independently on an ancient tradition that Mark also knew.

    1. The Name of the Place (Mark 15: 22; Matthew 27: 33; Luke 23: 33a; John 19: 17b)

      Mark uses a historical present tense ("they bring him") and will continue to do so in v. 24 and v. 27. Matthew and Luke use erchesthai (having come), and John uses exerchesthai (he came out). It is not clear why Mark chose the verb "to carry" (pherō): Was Jesus so weak that he had to be supported to go to the crucifixion site?

      1. Golgotha or Skull-Place

        • The Semitic term for the place of crucifixion is Golgotha (this term is closer to the Aramaic Gulgultā’ than to the Hebrew Gulgōlet), and the Greek term is kranion, both meaning skull (The Latin equivalent is calvaria, calvary). As is his custom, Luke eliminates the non-Greek terms.

        • All the shapes in the name point to a site that looks like a skull, because it was a rounded mound rising from the surrounding landscape. Pilgrims in the 4th century referred to the Calvary they visited as a small hill (monticulus), and what remains of it today is located in a church and rises to about 14 feet high. This elevation allowed the Romans to serve as a warning to the population.

      2. The Site in Jerusalem

        • Jesus was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. But where exactly? This question is related to the question of his burial, because according to John, Jesus was put in a nearby tomb. There has been much debate about the value of the site chosen by the architects of Constantine who, basing themselves on local tradition, built around the year 325-335 this great sacred enclave constituting the Basilica of the Martyrion, a holy garden with a colonnaded rotunda centred on the tomb (called Anastasis) and a detached Calvary, considered to be the hill of Golgotha. What remains of the Crusader reconstruction in 1099-1149 is generally referred to as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

        • A central point in this debate concerns the question of the city walls throughout history. The second northern wall existed at the time of Jesus (see map of Jerusalem). Is the site of the Holy Sepulchre outside this wall? Archaeological excavations since World War II have confirmed that this site was outside the wall and had been used as a quarry since the 8th or 7th century BC and had been partially filled in the 1st century BC to serve as a garden and burial place. Moreover, this site is not far from the Garden Gate of the north wall and fits well with the description of John 19:41 ("Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in that garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been put"). What is now Calvary rises 35-40 feet above the floor of the quarry, a mound that must have been visible from the walls. Finally, traces of tombs carved into the rock of this mound have been found. In short, the excavations strengthened the arguments for the traditional site.


    Church of the Holy Sepulchre and evolution of the buildings on the site of Golgotha
    according to National Geographic Magazine, December 2017 issue.

Next chapter: Jesus Crucified, Part Two: Activities at the Cross

List of chapters

Year 30 and location of the Holy Sepulchre
Year 135 and location of the Holy Sepulchre
Year 325 and location of the Holy Sepulchre
Year 1149 and location of the Holy Sepulchre
Year 2000 and location of the Holy Sepulchre

Some chronological data on the Holy Sepulchre

30Jesus is crucified and buried outside the city wall
41-44A new wall is built, and the tomb of Jesus is now in the city
313The Edict of Milan legalizes Christianity
614Persians damage the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
1009An Egyptian caliph orders the destruction of all churches
1048Completion of the restoration of the Byzantine Church
Around 1200During the Crusades, Jerusalem often changed hands
1555The aedicula is rebuilt
1719The dome of the rotunda is restored
1810The aedicula is restored
1927Major earthquake damages church and aedicula

  1. The Initial Offering of Wine (Mark 15: 23; Matthew 27: 34)

    First of all, one thing must be clarified right away. For Mark/Matthew shows us two scenes where Jesus is served a drink, first at the beginning when the Roman soldiers present him with oinos (sweet wine) mixed with myrrh or gall, and at the end after Jesus' cry of distress before dying, when someone from the audience puts oxos (a hard, bitter, vinegar wine) on a sponge and holds it out to him with a reed. Luke shows us only one scene where soldiers, mocking Jesus, present him with oxos, a scene parallel to the second scene in Mark/Matthew. It is the same with John, where Jesus is presented with a sponge soaked in oxos at the end of a hyssop branch. Let us note that only John specifies that Jesus drank from it.

    Thus, only Mark and Matthew offer us this initial scene around wine (oinos). The question then arises: did the pre-Gospel tradition contain two scenes where Jesus is offered a drink, which Luke and John would have simplified independently, or on the contrary, only one, that of the wine with vinegar at the time of Jesus' death? If it is the latter case, we will have to explain why Mark would have added this scene of the wine mixed with myrrh at the beginning.

    1. Mark's Use of This Gesture

      • There is a certain likelihood in the scene where a condemned man is offered a sip of wine to numb the pain (see Proverbs 31:6-7: "Give strong drink to the one who is about to die, wine to the one who is full of bitterness: let him drink, let him forget his misery, let him not remember his misfortune"). Mark adds that this wine was mixed with myrrh. Why this addition? Myrrh does not contribute to the anaesthetic effect of the wine. Pliny (Natural History 14.15: #92) gives us the answer: "The finest wine in ancient times was the one that was spiced with myrrh scent".

      • But then why do Roman soldiers, who mocked Jesus, want to offer him the finest wine? Perhaps there is an ironic reference to the common practice when dealing with the condemned. But the very fact that Jesus refuses to drink is very revealing: Mark presents this offer of the soldiers as a trial, because in Gethsemane Jesus had already made the decision to drink the cup to the dregs, and to accept to drink this wine mixed with myrrh to ease his pain would be tantamount to renouncing this commitment.

    2. Matt's Use of This Gesture

      • Matthiew modifies Mark's text to refer to Psalm 69:22: "For food they gave me gall (cholē), in my thirst they gave me vinegar (oxos)". Thus, Mark's expression "wine having been mixed with myrrh", becomes with him "wine having been mixed with gall" to evoke the first part of the verse, while the second part of the verse will be used later for the second scene where Jesus is offered oxos to drink. Yet the Psalm spoke of cholē and oxos synonymously, both drinks being unpleasant and offered out of spite. But it is Matthew's practice to take a passage of Scripture with two synonymous words to create two separate affirmations (see Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem in Mt 21:15 where the donkey and the colt used synonymously by Zechariah 9:9 become two separate animals). Here the reader of Matthew recognizes that, as God foretold by the psalmist, the righteous are mistreated by their enemies. And if Matthew's Jesus refuses to drink after tasting, it is because he recognizes in the taste of gall that he is being mocked. Let us note that the presence of gall in wine is not impossible, because it was customary in ancient times to add a pungent taste to wine, whether it was gall, myrrh or absinthe.

      • It is likely that in the oldest tradition there was only one scene in which the thirsty Jesus was offered this common vinegar drink (oxos) as a gesture of mockery. This tradition has been preserved in John and in the second scene of offering wine at Mark/Matthew. So it was Mark who would have added this first wine offering scene, following the common practice for convicts, and according to his habit for doublets, in order to create inclusive parallels between the beginning and the end. But this especially served his theology about Jesus accepting his fate until the end. Matthew, seeing it as a reference to Ps 69:22, introduced the word gall here. Luke, for his part, according to his habit of simplifying things, saw the doublet and eliminated this first scene.

  2. The Crucifixion (Mark 15: 24a; Matthew 27: 35a; Luke 23: 33b; John 19: 18a)

    1. Crucifixion in General

      • The term "cross" can bias our understanding by presenting us with the image of two bars crossing each other, whereas the Greek stauros and the Latin crux do not necessarily have this meaning: one could put to death by impaling, hanging, nailing or tying someone.

      • The first archaeological traces refer to the crucifixion of pirates and date from the 7th century BC in the port of Athens. With Alexander the Great, at the end of the 4th century, crucifixion became a common Hellenic practice. It is through the Punic Wars of Rome against the Carthaginians, relatives of the Phoenicians, that crucifixion would have spread throughout the Roman world. Plautus (250-184 BC) is the first author to give us a description of it, a punishment intended for the lower class, slaves and foreigners (hence Philippians 2:7: "But he (Christ) emptied himself, taking the form of a slave"). Cicero describes it as the most cruel and disgusting punishment (In Verrem 2..5.64, 66: #165.16). Seneca speaks of the "cursed tree" (Epistle 101.14) and Josephus of "the most pitiful of the dead" (Jewish War, 7.6.4: #203).

      • The practice of crucifixion is also known in the Jewish world, for Alexander Jannaeus had 800 prisoners executed in the 1st century BC. During the Roman occupation, it had become common practice: the governor of Syria had 2,000 Jews crucified in the year 4 BC. While Jesus is the only known case in the first prefecture (6-40 AD), there are several attestations for the second prefecture (44-66 AD).

      • How did the first artists depict the crucifixion? The symbol of the cross (without the body) appears in the catacombs of the 3rd century. As for the representation of the crucified Jesus, there are only half a dozen portraits from the 2nd to the 5th century. The oldest, from the 2nd century, carved on a small jasper stone, shows us a crucified man, naked and tense, without spectators, and perhaps the work of a Gnostic who wanted to mock the Orthodox Christian faith in the death of Jesus. There is this representation from the same period on a cornelian piece (figure 1), discovered in Romania (Costanza), where Christ appears superhuman although he is twice as tall as his disciples who surround him. Finally, let us mention the graffiti of the 3rd century. (figure 2) found at the Domus Gelotiana of the imperial palace of the Palatine Hill in Rone, a school of page: the God honoured by the Christians is mocked by representing him in the form of a donkey.

      The crucified of Costanza
      Figure 1: The crucified of Costanza
      The crucified of Palatine
      Figure 2: The crucified of Palatine

    2. On What Type of Cross Was Jesus Crucified?

      • The question arises because Seneca (De consolatione ad Marciam 30.3) describes different crosses: "I see crosses there, not just of one kind but fashioned in many different ways: some have their victims with head down toward the ground; some impale their private parts; others stretch out their arms on the crossbeam". Similarly, Josephus (Jewish War 5.11.1: #451) mentions that Titus had prisoners crucified in different positions, some nailed to a simple straight beam (figure 3), with their hands nailed above their heads. An image from the 5th century on the portal of Santa Sabina depicts the crucifixion in the form of a scaffold (Fig. 4).

        Crux simplex by Justus Lipsius
        Figure 3: Crux simplex by Justus Lipsius
        Crucifixion, Santa Sabina Portal
        Figure 4: Crucifixion, Santa Sabina Portal

      • As two criminals were crucified with Jesus, one imagines individual crosses. Although X-shaped crosses (crux decussata, curved) existed, the fact that Jesus had to carry the crossbeam eliminates this possibility. If a vertical beam was already planted instead of the Skull, the crossbeam could be fixed in two ways:

        1. By making a V-shaped notch at the top of the vertical beam, allowing the transverse beam to be inserted, giving the whole the shape of a T (crux commissa). This is assumed in the Letter of Barnabas 9, 8 and Justin (Dialogue 91.2).
        2. By making a horizontal cut in the side of the straight beam, at a certain distance from the top, into which the transverse beam was inserted, giving the shape † (crux immissa), as the plus (+) sign in mathematics, but elongated. This is assumed by Irenaeus (Adversus haereses 2.24.2) who adds a seat or rest for the buttocks. And this is the traditional representation of Jesus on the cross.

      • How high could the vertical beam extend? The cross could sometimes be low enough for animals to ravage the feet of the crucified, which could be as low as 30 centimetres above the ground. Suetonius (Galba 9:1) tells of a man who was crucified at a higher height than the others to make fun of his claim to be a Roman citizen. Since all three Gospels mention that a reed or hyssop branch must be stretched out to make Jesus drink, imagine a beam about 7 feet high.

    3. How Was Jesus Affixed to the Cross?

      • Usually, the arms were first either attached or nailed to the cross beam before the cross beam was lifted with forked poles (furcillae) and then inserted into the notch of the vertical beam. On the subject, Pliny (Natural History 28.11.46) refers to a rope paraphernalia (spartum). Philo (De posteritate Caini 17: #61), for his part, refers to men crucified and nailed to a tree. Mishna Shabbat 6:10 speaks of nails of a crucified man (see also Plautus and Seneca who refer to nails).

      • What about Jesus? Unfortunately, the Gospel accounts do not specify whether Jesus was tied or nailed. The only indication is scenes after his resurrection: "See my hands and feet; it is I!"(Luke 24:39), which seems to allude to the nail marks, and "Put your finger here: these are my hands; put out your hand and put it in my side" (John 20:27), which seems to refer to the nail marks in the hands. Ignatius (To the Smyrnaeans 1:2) states that Jesus was really nailed, while Ephrem (Commentary on Diatessaron 20:31) speaks of nails in the hands and feet being tied. Biblical scholars have questioned the historical value of all these details, knowing that the account of the crucifixion could have been influenced by Psalm 22:17 (LXX): "they pierced my feet and hands". Surprisingly, no evangelist has exploited this psalm in this sense, even though the psalm will be quoted explicitly in the second century.

      • It can be concluded that it is plausible that Jesus' hands were nailed, provided we accept that, technically, it was not the hands that were nailed, but the wrists, because the hands could not support the weight of the body and would have been torn. Moreover, the Hebrew yād refers not only to the hand, but also to the forearm. What about the feet? We have little data on the feet of the crucified. But the discovery in June 1968 of eight ossuaries in a tomb at Giv‛at ha-Mivtar, in Jerusalem, containing the bones of 20 people provided us with extremely valuable data : In one of the ossuaries were the bones of a man in his late twenties named Yehohanan, who is believed to have been crucified a few decades before the year 70; the arms appear to have been attached (not nailed) to the crossbeam, but the feet were nailed to either side of the vertical beam, the nail passing first through an olive plate (to prevent the foot from being removed), then through the heel of the foot, and finally over the surface of the beam. This fact, a contemporary of Jesus, should remove the skepticism regarding the proposition that Jesus' feet could have been nailed. the different postures of the crucified

      • It is noteworthy that the oldest portraits of Jesus on the cross ignore the nails on the feet (see for example figure 4 above). It was only with time, and especially with the interest in blood, that nails appeared. Some Church Fathers speak of 4 nails (the 2 hands, the 2 feet). But Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, would have found only three, and this number would have become standard (Gregory of Nazianzen, Bonaventure). Thus, Jesus' feet would have been placed one on top of the other, and a single nail would have pierced them.

      • Let's end by talking about two objects that could have been present at the cross, not to reduce suffering, but to prolong it. For inasmuch as the crucified one could have a point of support allowing him to breathe better, he could live longer, rather than being suffocated by the pressure of the weight of his body. First there was the suppedaneum or footrest, which was sometimes attached to the bottom of the vertical beam, as seen in the graffiti of the Palatine (Figure 2). This is the origin of the Russian cross with this additional angled crossbeam . But there was also the sedile, the buttock support or pēgma, i.e. a block of wood to support the buttocks; this was convenient to remove weight for the short period of time the crossbeam was raised or lowered. But, given the speed with which Jesus died, these two objects were probably not present.

  3. The Division of Clothes (Mark 15: 24b; Matthew 27: 35b; Luke 23: 34b; John 19: 23-24)

    After the crucifixion of Jesus, the Gospels recount the scene of the sharing of his garments. These are his personal clothes, not the clothes of mockery (Mt 15:20a and Mt 27:31a explicitly mention that he was given his clothes after the scene of mockery). So was Jesus totally naked on the cross? The Romans used to crucify criminals totally naked (see Daldianus, Oneirokritika 2.53). The Gospels are not specific, and probably did not know. John, who is so precise on every piece of clothing, gives us the impression that Jesus had nothing on him. But would the Romans have made an exception for Jesus, knowing the horror of the Jews for nudity (see Jubilees 3:30-31; 7:20 or Mishna Sanhedrin 6:3 or Sipre 320), and therefore allowed him to wear a loincloth. The oldest images depict him totally naked (see earlier the crucifixion of Costanza, Figure 1), and several sculptures on precious stones depict him naked. Meliton of Sardis (On the Pasch 97) writes that his body was naked and unworthy of a simple piece of clothing, which is why the sky darkened so that he could not be seen. This view is accepted by Church fathers such as John Chrysostom and Ephrem the Syrian. Data is lacking for a definitive conclusion, but current data favors complete nudity.

    1. The Division and Psalm 22

      • Remarkably, the four evangelists use similar language to describe the sharing of Jesus' garments. To what extent does this come from the Psalm 22: 19 (LXX)?

        Line 1(1) They divided up
        (2) my clothes (pl. himation)
        (3) among themselves
        Line 2(4) and for
        (5) my clothing (hismatismos)
        (6) they threw
        (7) lots.


        With the exception of John, the evangelists do not explicitly quote the Psalm, but nevertheless copy its main items:
        Mark 15: 24b# 1, 2, 4, 6, 7
        Matthew 24: 35b# 1, 2, 6, 7
        Luke 23: 34b# 1, 2, 6, 7
        John 19: 23b-24a# 2

        We are faced with a curious situation: the Synoptics use half of the vocabulary of the psalm without naming it, whereas John, who nevertheless quotes the psalm, hardly uses his vocabulary in the description of the scene. All this probably comes from a pre-evangelical tradition that Mark takes up, copied by Matthew and Luke, and that John takes up in his own way, explicitly quoting the psalm. Above all, while the two lines of the psalm are parallel and are in fact one and the same action, the second line accomplishing the first, John makes two episodes, one with the clothes (himation), the other with the clothing (hismatismos), i.e. the tunic; he wants to clearly affirm that all Scripture is fulfilled.

      • But John goes further than the psalm by specifying that his clothes were divided into four parts, one for each soldier. This detail could come from a pre-Johannic source and not a Synoptics one. In any case, it seems that a section of four soldiers (Greek: tetradion; Latin: quaternion) was common. And one of the four could be an officer, such as a centurion. This detail has a certain plausibility, as it plays no theological role.

      • Is it plausible to give the condemned man's clothes to his guards? The Digest of Justinian (48.20.1) refers to Hadrian forbidding the executioners to demand the condemned man's clothes, and Tacitus (History 4.3) describes a slave who is crucified while wearing his rings. It is possible that this attitude of the 2nd century is softer than that of the 1st century. As for the drawing of lots, the Synoptics use the expression from Psalm 22:19. Some biblical scholars have wondered whether the soldiers really would have brought dice with them for the drawing of lots. But the game could be reduced to guessing the number of fingers raised behind the opponent's hand.

    2. The Untorn Tunic

      • John 19:23-24 gives great importance to chitōn (tunic), which he identifies with the himatismos (clothing) of Ps 22:19, and which is different from the four-part garments. This tunic is a long robe worn directly over the skin. John specifies that this tunic was seamless (arraphos). What does this mean? Was this an unusual garment? Was it of a special quality? Many fathers of the Church saw it as an unusual garment emphasizing either the majesty of Jesus or his poverty.

      • Biblical scholars have discussed the meaning of this seamless tunic, seeing it as a reference to either the story of Joseph and his brothers or Moses. But of all the hypotheses, two appear plausible.

        1. We would have here an allusion to the robe of the high priest who, according to Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 3.7.4: #161) wore a chitōn, not composed of two pieces, sewn on the shoulders and on the side, a long piece of woven cloth. It should be noted that all that John and Josephus have in common is the word chitōn. According to this interpretation, after having presented Jesus as king, John would now present him as a priest. This interpretation is new and absent from the history of the interpretation of this passage.

        2. John would present here a symbol of unity, because he explicitly writes that the tunic was not torn (schizein). This symbolism is present in 1 Kings 11:30-31 when the prophet Ahijah took the new mantle (himation) that he had on him and tore it into twelve pieces, to symbolize the breaking up of the kingdom of David. In fact, John often comes back to the question of unity: "(Jesus was about to die) that he might gather together in unity the scattered children of God" (11:52); "that they might all be one"; "As you, Father, are in me and I in you, may they also be in us" (17:21); "though there were so many (153 fish), the net was not torn (schizein)" (21:11). Thus, the evangelist would mean that the Roman soldiers failed to break what belongs to Jesus, the unity of God's messianic people. This is the interpretation favoured by Church fathers such as Cyprian or Alexander of Alexandria.

        It is impossible to make a definitive decision between these two interpretations, but the latter is the more plausible. But, let's not forget, this tunic is taken off from Jesus.

  4. The Third Hour (Mark 15: 25); The Soldiers Keeping Guard (Matthew 27: 36)

    1. The Third Hour

      • This detail came to us only from Mark. It is the first mention of the hour, others will follow: the sixth hour (noon) when darkness will spread (15: 33), the ninth hour (3 p.m.) when Jesus will cry out loudly (15: 34). Matthew and Luke omit this detail, thus rejecting the fact that Jesus would have been crucified at nine o'clock in the morning. Already John 19:14 tells us that Jesus was still standing before Pilate at noon. All attempts to reconcile the chronology of Mark and John were unsuccessful. It is better to accept that they are incompatible. The only point of agreement is the noon hour, which may come from the pre-Gospel tradition, and which each evangelist used in a different way. Mark's version that Jesus was crucified as early as nine o'clock (and therefore spent six hours on the cross) seems unlikely due to Mark's own data, since as evening approached Pilate was surprised that Jesus died so early (15:44).

      • If the mention of the third hour is an addition of Mark, how can it be explained? The biblical scholars have proposed two explanations.

        1. Mark would adopt an apocalyptic thought where there is a chronological determinism: God has fixed everything, seasons, years, hours. Thus, we would have here the indication that God closely watches over the events surrounding the death of his son.

        2. We would have here a liturgical framework: in the Roman community of Mark, these hours correspond to the different moments when the community was in prayer, especially during the commemoration of the Lord's death. Moreover, the Acts refers to these moments of prayer: the prayer of the ninth hour (3:1), the sixth hour (10:9), the third hour (10:30). And according to Jewish custom, the site of Golgotha, a place associated with the death of a martyr, had to be honored.

        The hypothesis of the liturgical setting is attractive, but it remains a hypothesis.

    2. Mark's Second Reference to Crucifixion

      • "Now it was the third hour, and they crucified him" (15:25). It is a repetition of 15:24 "And they crucify him", and will be repeated again in 15:27 "And with him they crucify two bandits". Various hypotheses have been put forward as to the reason for these repetitions. We must better accept the fact that we have here another example of Mark's free and unconstrained style.

      • Matthew and Luke independently omit 15:25. Why? It is not the first time that these two evangelists have dispensed with Mark's repetitions (they did the same with Mark 14:35-36, the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane which is repeated). Moreover, it is possible that the mention of the third hour appeared to both of them as an innovation in contrast to the tradition they knew, or that the liturgical setting to which it would refer did not exist in their community.

    3. The Soldiers Keeping Guard (Matthew 27: 36)

      "And having sat, they were keeping (guard over) (tērein) him there there". Here we have Matthew's vocabulary (he is the only one to use tērein in the passion stories). There is a certain plausibility to this note. For example, Petronius (Satyricon 111) describes a soldier watching thieves being crucified so that they would not be taken down from the cross. And Matthew is consistent with what he has already told us about the soldiers with whom Peter sits to see the outcome of the trial (26:58). For him, these soldiers are important, because they can testify not only about the crucifixion, but also about his death (27:54) and the empty tomb (28:4); this is independent testimony.

  5. The Inscription and the Charge (Mark 15: 26; Matthew 27: 37; Luke 23: 38; John 19: 19-22)

    All four Gospels agree that the charge was put in writing. Mark and Luke speak of inscription (epigraphē), with Mark adding a redundant formula: "inscribed" (epigegrammenē). John speaks of a sign (titlos), which refers to both the painting and the message, and which could also designate titlos as the royal title, an idea not totally absent from John. The purpose of this inscription or sign was to inform the general public and to have a deterrent effect. Evidence from outside the New Testament suggests that this practice was common, but not necessary, and that there was considerable latitude in the wording of the charge and the manner in which it was displayed: it was sometimes carried in front of the condemned man walking to the place of execution, or it was hung around his neck. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, a herald proclaimed Jesus' crime.

    1. The Gospel Reports

      • Mark doesn't say where the inscription was put. Luke writes: "over him", and Matthew: "above his head". By harmonizing all these versions, the majority of artists have imagined a crux immissa: †, with the inscription above Jesus' head. It is possible that this is what the evangelists imagined, but we do not have an independent example. Even so, it would be difficult to understand why the evangelists would invent something that would not have been plausible to their audience in the 1st century.

      • On this inscription we have the only words about Jesus written during his lifetime. According to the context, these words would have been written by Roman soldiers, and there is no indication that they were written to mock. Anyone looking for exactly what was written on the inscription will be a little disappointed at the variation of versions:
        MarkThe King of the Jews
        MatthewThis is Jesus, the King of the Jews
        LukeThe King of the Jews, this (man)
        JohnJesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews
        Gospel of PeterThis is the King of Israel

    2. The Episode in John

      • For John, it was Pilate who originated the content of the sign, even though we can imagine that it was the soldiers who physically wrote it. The evangelist takes the opportunity to prolong the debate that began during the trial. Having been forced to condemn someone he knew to be innocent, the Pilate of John has the very content of the accusation from the chief priests put on a public notice, throwing their own action in their faces. And ironically, to those Jews who said they had no king but Caesar, Pilate now imposes his authority: what has been written, has been written; they have been caught at their own game.

      • John's formulation of the content of the sign is the most formal and solemn, and gave rise among artists to the famous INRI, the acronym taken from the Latin phrase: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum. And this solemnity is heightened by the indication that the sign was trilingual. For some biblical scholars, this indication was a pledge of historicity. It is legitimate to question it: it is reasonable to think that the soldiers would not have bothered to transcribe the charge in three languages. Of course, one could find inscriptions in several languages, such as the one forbidding entry into certain sections of the temple, written in Greek and Latin according to Josephus (The Jewish War 6.2.4: #125). But these were formal inscriptions.

      • What then is the role of this solemn inscription in John's mind? In the Synoptics, it will be the occasion to make fun of Jesus. But in the fourth Gospel, Jesus is truly king, even though his kingdom is not of this world. Now, the pagan Pilate, who had no authority over Jesus except that which came from above, came to make a formal proclamation about the truth. And the proclamation of IĒSOUS NAZŌRAIOS is on the same level as the solemn proclamation of "Tiberius Caesar", the imperial and royal side being enhanced by trilingualism. For the Christian listener, this proclamation colors the continuation: the king of the Jews, the one who said in Gethsemane at the time of his arrest: "I am". In the same way the three languages had a meaning: Hebrew was the sacred language of the Scriptures of Israel, Latin that of the Roman conqueror, Greek that of the message about Jesus proclaimed and written. Thus, just as Caiaphas unknowingly proclaimed a truth about Jesus ("It is in your interest that one man should die for the people", Jn 11:49), so Pilate, without knowing it, makes a prophetic and imperial proclamation about Jesus.

    3. The Gospel of Peter

      The content of the inscription according to this noncanonical Gospel is different: "This is the King of Israel". This is not a political title like that of King of the Jews. For the Christian who wrote this Gospel, Jesus is truly the king of Israel, and through this inscription the Jews find themselves proclaiming the truth, even though they mock Jesus' claims.

    4. The Historicity of the Inscription

      Some biblical scholars have dismissed the historicity of the inscription on the grounds that it was a Christian proclamation about Jesus. This probably applies to John, but not to the Synoptics, and in particular Mark who presents us with the most original and simple inscription. The fact that the title "The King of the Jews" is totally a Christian creation is not plausible: this title never appears later on in Christian confessions, and the very fact that Jesus at his trial says: "It is you who says so", shows that it is inadequate. On the other hand, nothing prevents us from thinking that a Roman prefect, during an extra ordinem procedure in a small area of a Roman province, applied ordinary jurisprudence concerning the crime of lese-majesty. Any claim to royalty would trigger a violent reaction from Rome, as seen after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BC when Varus, the Roman governor of Syria, carried out mass crucifixions against those who proclaimed themselves kings and their followers. There is no serious objection to the historicity of the publication of the charge for which the Romans executed Jesus.

  6. Two Bandits or Wrongdoers (Mark 15: 27; Matthew 27: 38; Luke 23: 33c; John 19: 18b)

    • Mark uses a present tense verb "they crucify" to make inclusion with 15: 24 "they crucify him", a way of packaging the list of preliminary items. Furthermore, Mark and Matthew placed the mention of the two criminals at the end of the preliminary items, while Luke and John placed them at the beginning, in the same sentence that announces the crucifixion of Jesus at the Skull place, as a completely accidental reality. Nevertheless, all the evangelists agree to mention "two others" crucified with Jesus, and to situate their position relative to Jesus. And that is all we know. This conciseness opened the door to the imagination of the Church Fathers who sought to paint different portraits of the crucifixion of the other two and gave them names.

    • Why did the evangelists insist on including these two figures in their narrative? The simple answer is to see it as a way of illustrating the unworthiness of the situation to which the innocent Jesus is subjected: being associated with bandits, as alluded to in Gethsemane (Mark 14:48). Moreover, in Mark and Matthew, the two bandits will later join the concert of those who express their derision of Jesus (Mk 15:32b; Mt 27:44). In Luke, it is a second mention that prepares the major episode of 23:39-43. In John, their role is quite different: they will emphasize the fact that, contrary to what is done to them, Jesus' legs will not be broken, thus fulfilling Scripture.

    • Is there any connection between the presence of these two thieves and Isaiah 53:12 ("He was counted among the criminals")? In terms of vocabulary, there is no similarity between the description of the two co-crucifiers and this passage from Isaiah. Only Luke referred to this passage earlier, at Jesus' last supper (22:37), and here there is no indication that he refers to it. Moreover, one of these criminals will appear later in a favorable light, and not as Isaiah's (lawless) anomos. Thus, no connection can be seen between the scene of the criminals and Isaiah 53:12.

    • What is the crime of these co-crucifiers? Mark and Matthew speak of bandits (lēstēs). However, this term is never used for Barabbas who was associated with an insurrection. Even the term of malefactors was not used by Luke for Barabbas. Despite the fact that Mark mentions the presence in prison of many people because of a recent riot, there is nothing to associate our two criminals with it. And first of all, were there other people crucified in addition to these two criminals? The Gospels remain silent. Their emphasis is on their archetypal role, in order to place Jesus at the center, in the middle of them. Note that calling them "bandits" makes them violent people, not just thieves.

  7. Father, Forgive Them" (Luke 23: 34a)

    This word of Jesus in Luke is part of what is commonly called: the seven last words of Christ; one belongs to Mark/Matthew, three to Luke, and three to John.

    1My God, my God, for what reason [to what purpose] have you forsaken me?Mk 15: 34 || Mt 27: 46
    2Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doingLk 23: 34a
    3Amen, I say to you, this day with me you shall be in paradiseLk 23: 43
    4Father, into your hands I place my spiritLk 23: 46
    5Woman, look: your son... Look: your motherJn 19: 26-27
    6I thirstJn 19: 28
    7It is finishedJn 19: 30

    Note also that, at the beginning of this section, we identified seven items in Mark, five of which are listed by Luke. Of Luke's five items, four appear here in v. 33 and 34 and are arranged in this sequence:

    1. At the Skull place they crucify Jesus and the two criminals (1. the name of the place; 3. the crucifixion; 7. the two criminals).
    2. Jesus prays for forgiveness
    3. They share the clothes of Jesus (4. The sharing of clothes)

    As can be seen, we have here a triad, the beginning and end of which are a reprise and an abridgement of Mark, and the centre a unique affirmation to LuKe. For some biblical scholars this triad is typical of Luke's style.

    1. Meaning of the Verse

      • This prayer comes unexpectedly in the midst of hostile actions towards Jesus. In the expression "forgive them", the word "them" is referring to whom?. Earlier we said that although Luke has not yet mentioned the Roman soldiers, he had to assume that for his readers it was the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus. It must therefore be assumed that "them" was referring to the Roman soldiers who, without knowing it, were crucifying the sons of God. However, Luke does not present the Romans as the only ones responsible for the death of Jesus, for the initiative came from the chief priests and all the leaders, and it was the people at the end who shouted, "Crucify him". And in Acts (3:17; 13:27) it was the whole population and their leaders, according to Luke, who acted out of ignorance. Thus, "them" refers to both the Romans and the entire Jewish people.

      • "for they do not know what they are doing". How can it be said of the chief priests that they did not know what they were doing when they heard Jesus' preaching and rejected it? In Luke's mind, it is likely that no matter how much evil they were trying to accomplish, they had not really grasped God's goodness and His plan (see Lk 19:42). It is probably in this perspective that he presents Paul to us, saying: "For I, then, felt that I had to use every means to fight against the name of Jesus the Nazarene" (Acts 26:9).

      • But if we act without knowing, do we deserve punishment and do we need forgiveness (see Lk 12:48: "But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating")? What is the position of Judaism concerning fault and punishment? Consider the following texts:

        • Nombres 15: 25: "The priest shall make atonement for the whole community of the Israelites, and they shall be forgiven, because it was inadvertently done".
        • Testament from Benjamin 4:2: "The good person... shows mercy to all, even though they are sinners".
        • Philo (In Flaccum 2: #7: "For a person who goes astray because of ignorance of a better way, allowance may be made; but the person who with knowledge does what is wrong has no defense but is already convicted in his conscience".

        All these texts show that Judaism does not have a unanimous position on the subject: sometimes the emphasis is on forgiveness, sometimes on judgment for the guilty.

    2. The Authenticity of the Verse

      • This verse is absent from several important manuscripts such as Papyrus 75 (early 3rd c.), the Codices Vaticanus (4th c.), Bezae (5th c.), corrected Sinaiticus (4th c.), and Koritheti (9th c.), and the old Syriac translation Syrsin (3rd c.). On the other hand, it is present in other important manuscripts such as the original Codices Sinaiticus (4th c.), Alexandrinus (3rd c.), Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th c.), Bezae 2nd correction (5th c.), and Regius (9th c.). Since both sides of the manuscript have great value, one cannot decide on authenticity based solely on the testimony of the manuscripts. One finds oneself with the following options:

        1. Jesus really said this word that only Luke would have kept, but a copyist would have later eliminated it, finding it unacceptable.
        2. Jesus really spoke this word and it circulated in an independent tradition, a tradition that Luke was unaware of, but which was known to a copyist of the 2nd century who took the liberty of inserting it into Luke's Gospel, knowing that it was in harmony with his thought.
        3. Jesus did not really utter this word, but Luke formulated it assuming that it reflected the thought of Jesus, but would later have been taken out of his Gospel by a copyist who found it unacceptable.
        4. Jesus really spoke this word, but it was only formulated by Christian thought after the writing of the Gospels, and inserted by a copyist into Luke's Gospel, knowing that it was in harmony with his thought.

        To decide this issue, let's do a close analysis

        1. The sequence

          This prayer of Jesus interrupts the sequence that goes from the crucifixion of Jesus ("they crucified him") between the two criminals to the sharing of clothes, so that it appears as a foreign body. But it is not unusual for Luke to insert something of his own making in the middle of the material borrowed from Mark. At least, that's what the copyist who inserted this verse thought.

        2. The style

          The subject of the action moves from "they" (v. 33) to "Jesus". The verb is in the imperfect ("was saying"), a continuous past tense that Luke uses from time to time. Then comes the vocative "Father", without any Semitic modifier or translation, a peculiarity of Luke (10, 21; 11, 2; 22, 42; 23, 46); the Jesus of Luke prays three times saying: "Father" (see also 22, 42 and 23, 46). As for the expression: "forgive... for" (aphes... gar), it is exactly the same expression used in the Lucan version of the Lord's Prayer (11:4). Likewise, the "what they are doing" appeared earlier in 6:11: "they were conferring about what they might do to Jesus". And the idea of forgiveness is constantly present in the Gospel of Luke (15:20 "the prodigal son"; 19:10 "Zacchaeus"). In short, if this verse is a copyist's addition, he has been careful to imitate Luke's style.

        3. Other proposals on its origin

          1. This would come from the Christian perception of the ignorance of Jesus' enemies, reflected in 1 Corinthians 2:8: "For if they had known (the wisdom of God), they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory". But the reason for ignorance is even more pronounced in Acts: "But brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your rulers" (3:17; see also 13:27). In this case, it is simpler to admit that this prayer comes from Luke himself.

          2. Could the Christian reflection on Isaiah 53:12 ("while he bore the sins of the multitudes and interceded for the criminals") be at the origin of this prayer? If so, it cannot come from Christians of Greek origin like Luke, for they read this passage, not in the Hebrew version, but through the Greek translation of the Septuagint, which says instead: "and he bore the sins of many, and was delivered because of their iniquities". What about Christians of Jewish origin who read the Hebrew version of Isaiah 53:12? The noncanonical Gospel of the Nazarenes, known in these circles around the period of the 2nd-4th century, contains this prayer of Jesus and affirms that this prayer is at the source of the conversion of 8,000 Jews. Hegesippus of Jerusalem (reflective of Jewish Christianity in the 2nd century) tells the story of the martyrdom of James, Jesus' brother, who is said to have said on dying: "Lord, God, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". Thus, Christians of Jewish origin knew this prayer of forgiveness. The question arises: was it the prayer of James that led Christians to put this same prayer in the mouth of Jesus, or the other way around?

          3. We have a scene similar to the martyrdom of James in the stoning of Stephen, when Stephen cries out as he dies, "Lord, do not impute this sin to them" (Acts 7:60). And as James of Hegesippus claims to have seen the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, so Stephen had earlier said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). There seems to be a connection between the two scenes. But Stephen is of Greek origin, anti-temple, and thus his account undermines the idea of the origin in Christian-Jewish circles of the prayer for forgiveness. It could even be added that the prayer for the executioners is not characteristic of the accounts of Jewish martyrs, as the various books of the Maccabees show (2 Maccabees 7:14,19,31,35-36; 4 Maccabees 9:30; 10:11; 11:3). On the other hand, forgiveness for the persecutors spread throughout Christianity in the first two centuries: "Offer prayers in response to their blasphemies" (Ignatius, Ephesians 10:2-3; "We pray for our enemies and seek to persuade those who hate us unjustly" (Justin Martyr, Apology 1:14).

          4. Is it possible that the influence of martyrdom stories with the forgiveness of the executioners, such as Stephen's, could have led the copyists to subsequently put this prayer into the mouth of Jesus, thus increasing the atmosphere of martyrdom in the passion story? Two things can be said in response to this. On the one hand, among the passion narratives, Luke's is the most martyrological, so that this prayer on forgiveness fits in perfectly. On the other hand, it is Luke's approach to transfer many elements of Mark's passion story into the account of Stephen's death (blasphemy, false witnesses, hostility towards the sanctuary, the role of the high priests). And he wants to bring the figure of Stephen closer to that of Jesus (both die saying: "receive my spirit"). Thus, it is legitimate to think that it is the account of Jesus' prayer that influenced everything else.

        4. Why would copyists have omitted this passage?

          There are two possible reasons.

          1. The verse was too favorable to the Jews. Indeed, Christians lived in the conviction that the Jews continued to be hostile and to persecute them. Throughout the first two centuries there is a whole series of testimonies of their attack on Christians.
            • 1 Thessalonians 2:14: "You suffered from your countrymen the same treatment they (Christians of Judea) suffered from the Jews".
            • John 16, 2: "You will be expelled from the synagogues. Moreover, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is worshipping God."
            • Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 20.9.1: #200) tells how the high priest Annania II had James, the brother of Jesus, stoned to death.
            • The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp (12:2; 13:1) speaks in the second century of the usual zeal of the Jews against Polycarp.
            • Justin (Dialogue 133) writes: "You hate us and kill us... as often as you can get the authority to do so".

          2. It was difficult to admit that the Jews, who acted so deliberately against Jesus, did not know what they were doing. So how could they be forgiven without the expression of true repentance. And the continuing persecution of Christians by the Jews was a sign that their repentance was not for tomorrow. This is the context in which the copyists may have decided to remove this verse on forgiveness. A writer like John Chrysostom (Adversus Judaeos 6:2), in the 4th century, reflects this context: "After you have killed Christ... there is no hope for you, no correction, no forgiveness, no excuse". Copyists who shared this theology of church members may have felt authorized to excise v. 34a of Luke's Gospel.

      • In conclusion, we must recognize that it is easier to accept that this passage was written by Luke and later removed by copyists for theological reasons, than to see it as an addition of a copyist who took the trouble to imitate Luke's style and thought. In the second century, we would have found few copyists who wanted to see Jesus praying for the forgiveness of the Jews.