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Re: Roman crucifixion shameful?

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    ... Jim: Granted that the Romans were renowned for devising cruel & inhumane means of execution that have only been surpassed by the Spanish Inquisition,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 1998
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      Jim West wrote:
      > At 06:35 PM 5/31/98 +0100, you wrote:
      > >Hi,
      > >
      > >Isn't there some evidence that non-Jews thought of crucifixion as 'way up
      > >there' on the unpleasant ways to die list. (cf Hengel, Crucifixion)
      > >
      > Yes- but it was not the only miserable way to die. Further, the notion that
      > it was the most shameful way to die begs the question, doesn't it? It
      > wasn't. To suggest that it was the most shameful way to die means that ther
      > must have been a good, decent way to be executed as a prisoner, right? But
      > no death is a good death when you are a Roman prisoner, and no way to go is
      > worse than another. Would you, for instance, rather be crucified and die
      > slow, or be disemboweled and die slow? Some choice, eh?
      > >And on the sayings material - why don't you start the discussion off?
      > >
      > Alright- lets start with a simple one: John 3:16. I take this not as a
      > word of Jesus but as an editorial remark by the author of the Gsopel. Are
      > all in agreement?

      Granted that the Romans were renowned for devising cruel & inhumane
      means of execution that have only been surpassed by the Spanish
      Inquisition, Puritan witch trials & the ethnic cleansing techniques of
      "enlightened" 20th c. dictators. Yet crucifixion seems to have held a
      special horror for Roman subjects & was therefore used effectively by
      the Roman military to quell protests & uprisings & to let Roman soldiers
      vent their frustrations on the hapless victims. Josephus & Philo both
      testify to this. Whether the victims & their families regarded this type
      of death as more shameful than being fed to lions or turned into living
      torches is another matter.

      I concur with the majority on CrossTalk that there is no good evidence
      to support a generalization of Paul's application of the Deuteronomic
      curse to crucifixion in the minds of contemporary Jews. The very fact
      that Paul has to tell the Galatians this is a good sign that this was
      not general knowledge. Moreover, Paul's cites the Deuteronomic text not
      to suggest that Jesus' crucifixion was shameful but to try to prevent
      the Galatians from adopting Torah prescriptions. This is a rhetorical
      ploy & should therefore not be read a neutral description of Jews'
      attitudes toward crucifixion.

      As for the question of a "good death" for Roman prisoners: the answer is
      of course there was. The Romans distinguished between honorable deaths &
      dishonorable deaths. To die with honor was to die fighting, with a sword
      in one's hand. Gladiators were prisoners who were given the right to
      fight & the Romans' cheered them on just as we do our sports teams.
      Sparticus was a heroic fighter in Roman eyes which made his rebellion
      all the more dangerous. His execution by crucifixion was designed to
      render him helpless & not let him die with honor. Josephus' descriptions
      of the suicides at Masada compared with his descriptions of those
      crucified during the siege of Jerusalem shows that at least some
      aristocratic Jews held there was a real difference in how one died.
      Moreover, one cannot credit this merely to Josephus' view of Rome's
      brutality. His account of Alexander Jannaeus' crucifixion of the
      Pharisees betrays the same horror at this type of execution even if the
      executioner was a Jew.




      Mahlon H. Smith,
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion
      Rutgers University
      New Brunswick NJ

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