Pp Mark 15:21-23, Luke 23:26,33, John 19:17
There are so many questions posed by these three verses - which have been answered in great detail by Church tradition rather than by what’s written in the Bible - that one has to strip them away to arrive at the simple truth of what the testimony of the eyewitnesses is actually saying.
We’ve already noted on previous web pages that the site of the trial before Pilate can be placed either in Herod’s Palace on the west side of the city or Antonia Fortress attached to the north-west boundary of the Temple, though I’ve opted for the traditional site of the Fortress in my notes.
When we come to the route from the scene of the trial to the place of crucifixion, there’s even more of a problem because both sites of the crucifixion - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb - are purely speculative and neither may be the authentic site. The former of these seems to have been accepted as authentic because of the succession of remembrance which is assumed by ancient histories of the first three hundred years after the ascension, from the time of those believers who fled the city shortly before its destruction in 70AD (it had probably been continually in use under the Roman rule over the city) and carried on through the believers in Hadrian’s time and onwards down to the time when the site was first accepted as being the place midway through the fourth century. Jerome, at the close of that century is also cited as writing that the site had been built upon when Hadrian erected a marble statue of Venus here and it was this which was clearly identifiable in Constantine’s day. They also found a piece of the true cross when excavating for the tomb and it miraculously healed many - the find being a miracle in itself for the timber would have been expected to have rotted away in the space of those centuries.
The latter site of the Garden Tomb was proposed by Gordon in the Victorian age - I’ll look at both these sites briefly below.
But, if there were just two possible sites of the trial and two of the crucifixion, that would make four possible routes! The main problem, however, is that one would have imagined that the place of crucifixion would be close to a Roman stronghold in case a Jewish crowd might try to release those being executed - even though the Scriptures note the presence of Roman soldiers (Mtw 27:54), the normal band was comprised of just four according to commentators though I have no idea where they get their information from. We do read the inference that there were four Roman soldiers present from John 19:23 but did this include the centurion (Mtw 27:54) and was the number present watching over each of the three being executed, making twelve?
A military reinforcement, however, would have been necessary had such a liberation of the executed been attempted.
Therefore, the lengthy routeway of the Via Dolorosa west from Antonia to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would site Golgotha equidistant between the two possible praetoriums of the Fortress and the Palace - and the position of the Garden Tomb would locate it a fair distance north and west of the Fortress. Both places are unlikely, therefore, but I’ll deal with them below. All I want to mention of note here is that the traditional routeway west from the Antonia Fortress to the place where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands is both dubious and likely at one and the same time.
What would most put off the genuine believer, I feel, is the way that events have been added at certain points along the routeway to bring to life an otherwise uneventful and straightforward journey. Even though I’ve visited Jerusalem, I never felt drawn to visit either the Via Dolorosa or the Church at its end (the latter I deliberately chose not to go to because I thought I’d be sickened by the decadence of wealth that I’d heard was there) but I note from an old guide book that, of the fourteen ‘Stations of the cross’, numbers two to nine deal with the journey.
Logically, Jesus taking up the cross is the first of these but even here there’s some doubt as to whether He should be thought of as carrying the cross or the cross beam which would be attached to the vertical post (the Greek word used in the narratives may just mean a single post). Commentators who maintain a position which runs against the traditional view cite no ancient authority which conclusively proves it - perhaps we should give the benefit of any doubt to tradition at this point. Even so, for the cross to be strong enough to support the weight of a man and not to break in two, it must have been fairly substantial and, consequently, heavy.
The two Scriptural incidents are positioned at stations five and eight - the beginning of the carrying of the cross by Simon of Cyrene (Mtw 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26) and the pronouncement of Jesus upon the generation of Jews (Luke 23:27-31). That Jesus fell under the weight of the cross before Simon was compelled to carry the cross is a logical insertion into the procession and the first occurrence is fixed at station three (but, even so, it’s sixty metres away) but why second and third falls are recorded along the Via Dolorosa is difficult to make much sense of (stations seven and nine)
Two entirely fictitious accounts of incidents occur at stations four and six. The former is the point at which Jesus is supposed to have met His mother and there’s now a sixth century mosaic which marks the site where she allegedly stood when she came face to face with her Son. We may suppose that Mary had been following the fate of Jesus from early on that morning - though whether she was at the Passover meal the previous evening is impossible to ascertain. She may have come with haste to the city from Bethany that morning having heard of the arrest early, but that there was a specific meeting of the two is more the product of someone’s imagination than able to be proven. Mary is best included in the multitude of people who were following, along with the women who were bewailing and lamenting Him (Luke 23:27 - Jesus’ ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ should be taken to represent all those present and not to be a comment that only Jerusalemites were present) if she has to be included.
All we actually know is that she was present at the cross and she could possibly have arrived after Jesus had been crucified (John 19:25).
Station six is by far the most incredulous (and some would go so far as to say ‘nauseous’). Here, Veronica (who was Veronica? Her name doesn’t even appear in the Bible!) supposedly gave Jesus her handkerchief so that He could wipe His brow. Veronica was then given back the hankie and, miraculously, it retained the image of His face on it - now preserved in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome where it’s been kept since 707AD. Oh, and there’s also the house of Veronica here which is obviously authentic (cough) - perhaps she was hanging her washing out when the procession went by and she took the handkerchief from her clothes line? But there’s no basis to see such a residency located here in the first century city.
And that summarises the stations of the cross as far as they relate to the journey from Antonia Fortress to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The reader will no doubt have observed that tradition has omitted the additional event where Charlton Heston offered Jesus a cup of cold water as the character Ben Hur - but you can’t have everything. In a few centuries there’ll probably be a ‘station 7a’ or something which will denote the exact spot where it happened but, for now, the authorities have chosen not to authenticate the Hollywood legend. I really think they should, don’t you?
Concluding, the routeway from the place of the trial to the place of the crucifixion was a well-known and well-worn path. If they were travelling through the city of Jerusalem’s narrow streets, the Roman soldiers were laying themselves open to a possible attack upon their very small band from Jews who would have wanted to release the condemned and who could have escaped through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways that tunnelled through the city. It seems better to propose a site for Golgotha which takes the soldiers’ pathway directly out from the city walls but close enough to a place from which Roman reinforcements could be quickly despatched if required and that, as they journeyed, they met Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21)
‘...who was coming in from the country...’
The routeway, therefore, is unlikely to have been the traditional Via Dolorosa that’s been fixed and more likely to have been a path which has long since been built on. Zondervan concludes their article on the Via Dolorosa by commenting that, although the exact routeway cannot be established with any certainty
‘...the events of that fateful Good Friday [it was only ‘Good Friday’ in hindsight - to the disciples it would have been ‘Wretched Friday’] become more vivid when contemplated in the context of the old city of Jerusalem’
That being true, it does also go a long way to confusing the issue when traditions are added which undermine the simplicity of the Gospel record and which decorate the procession with buildings which may not have lined the routeway.
Mtw 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26
Simon is another of those characters who appears in the Gospel record but of whom we know nothing either before or after the event. Markcole comments that
‘The indefinite Greek participle...“one”, suggests that Simon himself was not known to the christian church...’
but some commentators have rather tenuously provided a link to Rom 16:13 where we read of
‘...Rufus, eminent in the Lord...’
and thought that, because it’s just Mark’s Gospel who records that Simon was the father of both Alexander and Rufus and that because Mark’s normally associated with Peter who was in Rome at this time, that he was known to be a believer.
Unfortunately, the names were so common in the first century as to render the theorising virtually irrelevant. Marklane, however, notes that, in 1941, Israeli archaeologists discovered a burial cave used in the first century by Cyrenian Jews and that one of the ossuaries uncovered was inscribed twice in Greek with the words
‘Alexander, son of Simon’
It appears that no ossuary of either Rufus or Simon bearing similarities to the Gospel description were discovered along with them. There’s no certain indication that Simon became a believer, just as many who encounter Jesus in the present day forget their experience and turn their back on His demands - only a few ever decide to commit themselves to following him and we should, perhaps, see Simon turning away from the event once he’d rendered the service which he was compelled to do.
Mark 15:21’s statement that Simon was
‘...coming in from the country...’
is certainly a curious fact to record and, along with the unique record of the names of his sons, may be another indication that Mark was aware of more about the character than either Matthew or Luke were. The statement does imply that Simon had only just got to the city gates when his service was required by the Roman soldiers or, perhaps, that he hadn’t yet reached the city and was met by the group as they were journeying towards the place of execution. The phrase translated by the RSV (Mtw 27:32 - see also John 19:17) as
‘As they went out’
is, as Mattask observes, more likely to mean
‘...after the city gate had been left...’
though there is the outside possibility that it could be referring to the leaving of Antonia Fortress. The likelihood, though, is that it was very early on in the procession that the band of soldiers and condemned men exited into an unwalled area in their journey towards Golgotha.
Certainly, the multitudes who are mentioned in Luke 23:27 are reported as ‘following’ the three condemned men and it would appear that Simon was passing them by when he was compelled by the soldiers to take the beam from off Jesus’ shoulders and bear it to Golgotha. I doubt whether the multitudes following would have been very close to the execution party in case they got caught up in the proceedings and the picture of a people-lined street in most of the films made of this incident seem to be less factual than the simplicity and implication of the Gospel records - but more atmospheric, it has to be said. And opportunity for Veronica to offer the use of her hankie.
The Cyrenians were a well known people to the Jews and there was a large Jewish settlement there during the first century. The city of Cyrene is described by Zondervan as the
‘...chief city of the ancient district of North Africa called Cyrenaica or Pentapolis’
and that the city was populated by Greek colonists in the seventh century BC. The Jews scattered by the military campaigns against Jerusalem in the sixth century are likely to have journeyed here and settled as the start of the Jewish presence who became predominantly Greek speaking. The surrounding area was very fertile and lay seventeen miles inland on a plateau, but fell into ruin by the fifth century AD through both civil uprisings and the overuse of the soil.
Archaeological excavations have revealed a Temple to Apollo which had been rebuilt several times and numerous Roman structures such as a theatre and bath. It was also known as a centre of great learning and was renowned as a medical centre throughout antiquity.
The Cyrenian Jews were certainly a mobile group of people judging by the record of them in the NT. Simon of Cyrene appears here coming in from the surrounding region - which may indicate that he hadn’t celebrated the Passover meal the previous evening in the city of Jerusalem. However, that men of Cyrene were present on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10) would suggest that many of their number took seriously the charge of the OT law to be present in Jerusalem for the three festivals.
But there appear also to have been resident Cyrenians - not only because the above noted discovery of a burial cave points in this direction but because they appear in dispute with Stephen at a time when they wouldn’t have been expected to have been in the city for a festival (Acts 6:9).
When the persecution arose and many of the believers were scattered, there were significant numbers of Cyrenians to be made specific mention of who arrived at Antioch and who began preaching the Gospel (Acts 11:20), Lucius of Cyrene presumably being one of their number who was recognised as being either a prophet or teacher (Acts 13:1 - or both).
Finally, the word from which the RSV gets ‘compelled’ (Strongs Greek number 29) is interesting here for it hints at the normal Roman procedure of securing manpower, animals or possessions when the affairs of the state of Rome demanded it. Vines defines the word as
‘...to despatch as an angaros (a Persian courier kept at regular stages with power of impressing men into service)...’
The same Greek word is used in Mtw 5:41 (the only other occasion is in Mark 15:21 which is the parallel passage to Mtw 27:32) where I noted that the word is better rendered
‘...“to compel someone to render service” and is a loan word from the Persian language from the days when the Royal Courier had authority to press gang help in the despatch and delivery of the king’s decrees and important messages.
‘But, as Matfran notes, the practice was assimilated into many an occupying army’s rights over the subjugated people and the word came to be used as
‘“...a specific term for the Roman soldier’s practice of ‘commandeering’ civilian labour in an occupied country”
‘though it appears that the Roman application was primarily in causing someone of an occupied country to bear the load of the ruling army rather than, as in the Persian Empire, to assist in whatever task was deemed necessary even to the point of having their animal taken from them for the continued journeying of the king’s mail and business’
This ‘press ganging’ was a normal part of everyday life in the first century and Simon, no doubt, knew that it was an obligation that he couldn’t resist. The probability - which isn’t even hinted at in the Gospel text - is that Jesus was now in such a condition as not to be able to adequately carry His own wooden crossbeam or cross to the place of execution.
When it’s remembered that Jesus had had little or no sleep through the night and had already been scourged once and beaten numerous times by various soldiers, it’s hardly surprising that He would have been in any other state.
It would be wrong to assert, however, that Jesus couldn’t carry the cross - it would be more accurate to state that He couldn’t convey it to Golgotha as quickly as the Roman soldiers would have liked.
Mtw 27:33, Mark 15:22, Luke 23:33, John 19:17
One wonders why the site of Golgotha has become so important to be accurately determined - after all, the effect of the crucifixion isn’t experienced by individuals when they manage to arrive at the authentic site and avail themselves of the presence of God there, but when the truth about themselves is acknowledged following the conviction of their own personal sin and unclean state before God - and this is a matter of the heart and not of physical proximity to a geographical location.
Perhaps it’s because, as humans, we like to have our ‘special’ places and to imagine the area as it must have been like in the dim and distant past - something into which we can fix our belief. I guess that something like this must be the reason why the Shroud of Turin (the alleged burial cloth of Jesus - I’m not a believer) has proved so popular down through time.
But the venerating of such items quite obviously pulls away from a pure and sincere devotion to Jesus Christ and relies more in the expected holiness of the object rather than in a dynamic and living relationship with God in the here and now which is devoid of spiritual crutches.
There’s such a body of literature available which deals with the site of the crucifixion that I don’t wish to add to them in any great manner except to, perhaps, give some pointers which are derived from the Gospel texts - after all, if we discard the witness of the Scriptures, we might as well site the place anywhere we want and maintain adamantly that the crucifixion took place there.
The name ‘Golgotha’ means ‘a skull’ and not ‘skulls’ as has sometimes been asserted. This appears to be immediately significant simply because it’s unlikely to be thought of as having been given the name because it was a place of execution but, rather, because it had the appearance of a skull. NIDBA suggests that one of the options as to the giving of the name was that
‘...skulls were left there...’
but not only is the word singular but it seems wholly unlikely that the Jews would have tolerated such a thing. There would have been a need to have them buried or entombed rather than to leave them lying about the place and the existence of human remains here is more than unlikely when one realises that the Jews wouldn’t have taken it lightly.
The best option seems to be, therefore, that the area looked like a skull and was given its name subsequently - a double meaning coming about because it also doubled as the place of execution. But, again, the word ‘skull’ is misleading and is the translation of a Greek word in all four references (Strongs Greek number 2898) which is better rendered ‘cranium’ (the AV in Luke 23:33 renders the word ‘Calvary’ which is a transliteration from the Latin rendering of the passage). Markcole notes that
‘With deference to some topographers, who see plainly two staring eye sockets in their chosen hill as proof of identification [Gordon’s Calvary/the Garden Tomb], in Hebrew and Greek the chief impression left by a skull was its roundness and smoothness, to judge by etymology. When the American troops nicknamed a bloodstained hillock in Korea “Old Baldy”, they came closer to the sense of both languages’
What one would be expecting to find if one had visited the site in the first century, then, would have been a bare expanse of Rock which resembled the top of a person’s skull - bare because, if it had been covered by vegetation, the smoothness of the place would have been difficult to have been associated with it.
We also know that it must have been a common place of execution located outside the city walls but in a prominent place for all to be able to see. NIDBA comments that the place was
‘...seemingly on a hill...’
because of the testimony of Mark 15:40 which notes that
‘There were also women looking on from afar...’
and the elevation would have been necessary, it’s asserted, for this to have been possible. But, as the crosses would have been elevated themselves, presumably, above the level of the surrounding countryside, this need not be inferred from the text. And, besides, the women could have been on a higher piece of ground which caused them to be able to look over the crowds gathered.
I also noted in the introduction that one would have expected the place to have been easily reachable in a short space of time by soldiers stationed at either the Antonia Fortress or in Herod’s Palace in case there was some Jewish attempt to have the condemned victims liberated from their ordeal by their comrades or friends. This is supposition, I admit, but it would have the effect of precluding both the traditional sites as being authentic for they’re situated just too far away from the strongholds to their east and west.
But there are some pointers in the text and it’s to these which we must now turn. Some of these may already be accepted as obvious but I list them here nevertheless. Mtw 27:32 states that the band of men ‘went out’ and Heb 13:12 notes that
‘Jesus...suffered outside the gate...’
The place of crucifixion clearly must be taken to have been outside the city walls which were in existence at that time. But it couldn’t have been a great way from Jerusalem for John 19:20 records that
‘...the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city’
Just what ‘near’ might be to the writer is far from certain, however, but we should expect that we’re not to think of the three crosses on a bare hilltop as pinpricks in the distance when viewed from the city walls. John 19:41 is clear in its statement that
‘...in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden...’
and that would cause us to think of the place as not greatly settled in. It virtually discounts the site from being located at any point from north-east clockwise round to the south-west of the city because of the steep sided ravines which were present here immediately outside the contemporary walls. Either north or north-west are the more probable.
Mtw 27:39 speaks about
‘...those who passed by...’
and this infers that it was very near to a well used route so that as many Jews as possible could have witnessed the end of the insurrectionists being executed, but also that any attempt at a liberation of the victims would be less likely - if crowds were massing together, a means of escape would be the more unlikely than some secluded spot where no one would witness the attack. It’s tempting to think of the place as being one of the major routeways out from the city - and possibly a route which went directly away from Jerusalem. Justification for this is in Mark 15:21, for the exiting soldiers compelled Simon who was ‘coming from the country’. It hardly seems plausible to suppose that he was using a local path which skirted the outside of the city walls.
The two main contenders for authenticity are Gordon’s Calvary/the Garden Tomb (Protestant) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Catholic).
Gordon’s Calvary has much going for it for it’s certainly outside the known walls of the city, has a known first century garden close by and may have been clearly visible from an ancient routeway which runs nearby - it’s also shaped like a skull rather than a cranium which may be more of a disproof than positive attribute (see above). However, it falls down by reference to John 19:20 which speaks of the site being near to the city even though, when visitors to the site stand overlooking the Arab bus station which nestles at its foot, the city walls are clearly visible.
In Jesus’ day, the line of the walls were not those which can be seen now but were a minimum of 250 metres further south-west and away from the site - they were only extended to a position of today’s Damascus Gate between 41-54AD by Herod Agrippa I. I guess it depends just how one interprets John’s ‘near the city’ but, at getting on for one fifth of a mile and cut off from a quick march by Roman reinforcements from either Antonia or the Palace, the site has to be regarded as doubtful.
The site located by the present day Church of the Holy Sepulchre can also be objected against (and not just because of its gaudy interior) because of the lack of relevant evidence. Perhaps the most obvious objection is the meeting of Simon as he was coming in from the country, for the present church seems to have been so close to the ancient city wall as to have been virtually on top of it.
Some may also object that the site is clearly within the walls of present day Jerusalem but Kathleen Kenyon excavated a small piece of ground in her 1967 dig in the city and drew the conclusion that it remained a very good possibility that the current site did lie outside the walls of Jesus’ day. NIDBA also seems to have a bias towards this site and notes that, in 1976, Dr Christos Katsimbinis excavated at the site and uncovered
‘...a 10.7m...high mound of grey rock which in the time of Jesus would have stood outside the city’s north wall’
From the description given in this book, one would presume that it could have come to have been known as ‘the Skull’ but the author goes on to note the existence of two small caves which would have given
‘...the rock a skull-shaped appearance’
That is, a skull with eye-sockets. This piece of evidence, as we saw above, is more likely to disprove the site as being authentic and seems to be a genuine attempt at making it undermine Gordon’s Calvary as being unique in appearance.
The most logical place for it to be located, however, would be to the east of the Damascus Road which led out of the city in Jesus’ day - one which would have been well overlooked by the Roman Garrison in the Fort of Antonia - or very slightly to the north of Herod’s Palace (the Palace being situated by the present day Jaffa gate) which, again, would have been clearly visible should reinforcements have been necessary.
Perhaps the only positive thing we can say is that the Via Dolorosa is almost certainly the wrong route! All such traditions that tie down locations are irrelevancies, however. The one fact of Christ’s crucifixion (whether on a T, X, † or | shape - it really doesn’t matter) and of His substitutionary death for mankind is of sole importance. All other details fade into insignificance before the achievement of the cross.
The Church has turned Golgotha into a star-studded location with gold, precious gems, guided tours and special souvenir brochures. In Jesus’ day, it was an unvenerated place of execution, the place of the climax of the life of the Christ who died in obscurity. He wasn’t raise on some elevated man-made platform with flashing neon lights but died in a backwater of the Roman Empire in a mundane, everyday place in the midst of common and ordinary men.
It’s God’s presence which makes a piece of ground holy - and shrines raised in the memory of events are only fossilised remains of past visitations rather than places where God still chooses to move. Although I would baulk from any attempt to remove either of the two sites from the city, a dynamic and living relationship with God in the here and now through the application of the work of the cross is what’s of importance and not the erection of buildings to fossilise a previous visitation.
Mtw 27:34, Mark 15:23
Having arrived at Golgotha, the soldiers (interpreted as such from the word ‘they’) offer Jesus wine mixed with gall to drink but, having tasted it (Mtw 27:34), He refuses it (Mtw 27:34, Mark 15:23). Although this verse seems to be straightforward, it provides the commentator with the need for some harmony with Mark 15:23 where the substance mixed with the wine is said to be myrrh rather than gall.
Firstly, though, we need to understand what this ‘gall’ was. Zondervan defines the substance as
‘The poisonous herb [which] has been described as “venom from a snake”, so bitter and poisonous was it thought to be’
This immediately gives the commentator some difficulty for it has to be wondered why the soldiers would ever have offered something which was inherently poisonous and given it to Jesus when their aim would have been to crucify Him and not offer a way to escape the execution.
The solution, however, comes by looking at the use of the word (Strongs Greek number 5521) in the OT LXX version along with its one further use in the NT. As far as I can tell (and my searching through the LXX may be imprecise), the Greek word (and a related one) occurs eleven times in both Greek Old and New Testaments combined (Deut 29:18, 32:32, Job16:13, 20:14, Ps 69:21, Prov 5:4, Lam 3:15, 3:19, Jer 8:14, 9:15, Acts 8:23) and it’s never used to speak of a literal plant. Rather, the word seems to be indicative only of bitterness. For instance, Jeremiah speaks of himself (Lam 3:15) as being
‘...filled...with bitterness...sated...with wormwood’
and calls upon God (Lam 3:19) to
‘...Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall!’
And, in Acts 8:23, Peter speaks to Simon the magician and observes that
‘...you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity’
It’s clear, therefore, that the Greek word is used to represent some sort of affliction or bitterness in the life of an individual or group of people and we shouldn’t take it as being used in any other literal manner. What at first glance becomes a difficulty of harmony (though some would conjecture that the wine offered to Jesus contained both gall and myrrh) is actually shown to represent different concerns by each author.
Matthew seems more careful to represent the taste of the herb which was mixed with the wine - and probably as a fulfilment of the first part of Ps 69:21 where Mtw 27:48 will be seen to be a fulfilment of the second half - while Mark reproduces the name of the substance which was added.
Inspired by Prov 31:6-7, the Talmud reports (Sanhedrin 37a) that the noble ladies of Jerusalem were in the habit of offering such a drink of wine mingled with frankincense to those who were about to be executed that the senses might be deadened and that the pain of crucifixion might be lessened. This substance seems to have been quite a strong narcotic and commentators pointing towards its application here note, as Matfran writes, that Jesus
‘...was determined to undergo His fate in full consciousness’
and so refused it. But the Talmud, quoted in Matmor, informs the reader (my italics) that
‘When one is led out to execution, he is given a goblet of wine containing a grain of frankincense in order to benumb his senses...’
and the italicised words would, perhaps, be expected to have been rendered
‘When one is about to be executed’
for the substance is here being offered to Jesus moments before the crucifixion is to take place. Neither do these ladies appear in the narrative anywhere and, though we shouldn’t undermine the witness of the Talmud through the silence, what’s being offered here to Jesus has been shown to represent bitterness. For these reasons it seems better to take the mixed wine as being part of the soldiers’ mockery of Jesus rather than something which they’re passing on to the victim to ease His pain. Even so, when Jesus realises what the substance is, he refuses to drink it.
Markcole, however, still sees the wine and myrrh as being some sort of anaesthetic while Marklane cites Materia Medica 1.64.3 written by Dioscorides Pedanius during the first century who notes that myrrh had narcotic properties and could be used as such. It must remain possible, therefore, that the wine mixture was offered to the victims as some sort of pain relief and, perhaps, even as a hallucinogenic. But that the two thieves - who would also have been offered the wine - make perfect sense when they speak from the cross (Luke 23:39-43 - and they would probably have readily taken such a liquid), the likelihood remains that it was part of the soldiers’ mockery of their prisoner.
Besides, if Jesus knew that such a substance was to be offered to Him (the report of the Talmud suggests that the practice was regular and not just offered to certain criminals who the noble ladies favoured) and knew that He had to keep His head clear for the work which stared Him in the face, why would He even so much as tasted it (Mtw 27:34)? It seems best, therefore, to take the substance as part of the soldiers’ mockery of their three prisoners, for it would have been likely that it would have been offered to each one in turn.
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