The Seldom Discussed Scandal Of Crucifixion

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It is written:

Hebrews 12:1-2-Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

While working recently on my newest book, Old Apologetics For A New Age: Volume Two-The Inspiration Of The Bible, I came across some very disturbing references to the ways that crucifixions were often carried out in the ancient world. Many of us are familiar (at least to some degree in part to Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion Of The Christ) of the terrible events which made up Crucifixion. So terrible was the agony of Crucifixion that a new word was invented to describe the pain of such-“excruciating” (literally, “out of the cross”).

Yet as horrible as the physical abuse of Crucifixion was, there was also quite often an element of sexual abuse that many are unaware of.

“To explore this question further, it is helpful to distinguish between sexual abuse that involves only sexual humiliation (such as enforced nudity, sexual mockery and sexual insults) and sexual abuse that extends to sexual assault (which involves forced sexual contact, and ranges from molestation to penetration, injury or mutilation). The Gospels clearly indicate that sexual humiliation was a prominent trait in the mistreatment of Jesus and that sexual humiliation was an important aspect of crucifixion. If this is the case, the possibility of sexual assaults against Jesus will also need to be considered. In the absence of clear evidence to decide this one way or another, I will suggest that what has proved so common in recent torture practices cannot be entirely ruled out in the treatment of Jesus. Crucifixion in the ancient world appears to have carried a strongly sexual element and should be understood as a form of sexual abuse that involved sexual humiliation and sometimes sexual assault. Crucifixion was intended to be more than the ending of life; prior to actual death it sought to reduce the victim to something less than human in the eyes of society. Victims were crucified naked in what amounted to a ritualized form of public sexual humiliation. In a patriarchal society, where men competed against each other to display virility in terms of sexual power over others, the public display of the naked victim by the ‘victors’ in front of onlookers and passers-by carried the message of sexual domination. The cross held up the victim for display as someone who had been–at least metaphorically–emasculated. 17 Depending on the position in which the victim was crucified, the display of the genitals could be specially emphasized. Both Josephus and the Roman historian Seneca the Younger attest to the Romans’ enthusiasm for experimentation with different positions of crucifixion. 18 Furthermore, Seneca’s description suggests that the sexual violence against the victim was sometimes taken to the most brutal extreme with crosses that impaled the genitals of the victim. This practice might never have been the case in Palestine–and there is no evidence that suggests it happened to Jesus–but at the very least it suggests the highly sexualized context of violence in which Roman crucifixions sometimes took place. The sexual element in Roman practices was part of their message of terror. Anyone who opposed the Romans would not only lose their life but also be stripped of all personal honour and human dignity. It is therefore not surprising that the Gospels themselves indicate that there was a high level of sexual humiliation in the way that Jesus was flogged, insulted and then crucified. From evidence of the ancient world it seems that flogging the victim in public while naked was routine. Mark, Matthew and John all imply that this was also the case with the flogging of Jesus. 19 Likewise, as noted above, crucifixion usually took place while the victim was naked and there is little reason to think that Jesus or other Jews would have been an exception to this. 20 If the purpose was to humiliate the victim, full nakedness would have been particularly shameful in the Jewish context. 21 Furthermore, prior to crucifixion, Jesus was handed over to a cohort of Roman soldiers to be further humiliated (Mark 15.16–20; Matt. 27.27–31; John 19.1–5). 22 All the Gospels apart from Luke report that the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus by placing a crown of thorns on his head (Mark 15.17; Matt. 27.29; John 19.2) and clothing him in a purple (Mark 15.17; John 19.2) or scarlet garment (Matt. 27.28). 23 The texts also mention that the soldiers spat at Jesus (Mark 15.19; Matt. 27.30), struck him with a reed (Mark 15.19; Matt. 27.30), and mocked him with verbal taunts (calling him king: Mark 15.18; Matt. 27.29; John 19.3) and symbolic homage (kneeling before him, Mark 15.19; Matt. 27.29). 24 Based on what the Gospel texts themselves indicate, the sexual element in the abuse is unavoidable. An adult man was stripped naked for flogging, then dressed in an insulting way to be mocked, struck and spat at by a multitude of soldiers before being stripped again (at least in Mark 15.20 and Matt. 27.31) and reclothed for his journey through the city–already too weak to carry his own cross–only to be stripped again (a third time) and displayed to a mocking crowd to die while naked. When the textual presentation is stated like this, the sexual element of the abuse becomes clear: the assertion is controversial only in so far as it seems startling in view of usual presentations.” (Jayme R. Reavers, David Tombs, and Rocio Figueroa, When Did We See You Naked? Jesus As A Victim Of Sexual Abuse, 576-612 (Kindle Edition); London, England; SCM Press)

These scholars believe that there is evidence of such abuse in the case of Jesus’ Crucifixion. John recorded:

John 19:2-5-And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. 3  Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands. 4  Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.” 5  Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!”

We read:

“…he continues, ‘Seneca … declared that “bad army officers and wicked tyrants are the main sources of rapes of young men”’, p. 34. In this context even the widely held assumption that the soldiers forced Jesus to wear scarlet/ purple clothing for solely political mockery might be reconsidered. Dressing a male victim in bright clothing might also have been a prelude to sexual assault. See also Trexler, Sex and Conquest, p. 34.” (Jayme R. Reavers, David Tombs, and Rocio Figueroa, When Did We See You Naked? Jesus As A Victim Of Sexual Abuse, 836-840 (Kindle Edition); London, England; SCM Press)

Whether or not such was part of the Crucifixion of Jesus, we must remember that Jesus has fully embraced all of our pain and the multiple trauma of this world in which we live.


Hebrews 2:17-18-Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

Yet what amazes me in this regard especially is that (no matter the nature of the abuses that Jesus endured), He still prayed for His abusers:

Luke 23:34-Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.

These are the words to the chorus of a hymn that a friend and I made up a few years ago.

In The Cross…My Savior Died…

On The Cross…Jesus Was Crucified….

By The Cross…He Bears My Shame…

Through The Cross…Hope Lives Again!

Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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