Unknown.

Jesus Christ: His person--His authority--His work (Volume 3) online

. (page 9 of 13)
Online LibraryUnknownJesus Christ: His person--His authority--His work (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


who feel the responsibility of Jesus' death weighing
upon their race, and who try to disculpate their ances-
tors. In the Babylonian Gemara they have dared to
Avrite that Jesus was hanged on the evening of the Pass-
over; that during forty days before the execution the
Sanhedrin caused his execution to be proclaimed, de-
claring that he was to be put to death for having se-
duced Israel, and that whoever had anything to say in
his defence was invited to say it ; and that not one de-
fender presented himself. Talm. Babyl. Sank. 6, 2.
(See Lightfoot, Horce, etc., p. 490.)

1 " Crudelissimum teterrimumque supplicium," Cic.
Verr. 5, 64.



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 167

that the Romans refused death by the
sword. 1 It was also inflicted upon slaves
when they became guilty of some particu-
larly atrocious crime.

The penalty being Roman, the execu-
tion must be Roman; commanded by
Romans, done by Romans, with a military
escort. Jesus was thus to be abandoned
"to the wicked," as they said in those
days.

In ancient times there were no execu-
tioners, properly speaking. Oriental sover-
eigns, who were every day commanding
decapitations, constantly kept executioners
near them, among their guards, 2 and the
Romans put their condemned to death by
means of soldiers. Those of Jerusalem
pertained, as has been said, to the auxil-
iary troops, always very ill made up ; and
it was to this brutal soldiery, habituated
to cruelty, indifferent to suffering from
constantly witnessing it, and inaccessible
to the sight of moral greatness and submis-
sion, that Jesus was given up.

1 Jos. Ant. Jud. 17, 10, 10; 20, 6, 2; D. B. J. 5, 11,
1; Apulius, Metam. iii. 9; Suetonius, Gdba, 9; Lam-
prid. Al. Sev. 23.

2 Mark vi. 27.



168 THE DEATH AND

His robe and mantle, which had been
taken from him when he was huddled in
the red chlamys, were given back to him,
and they set forth with two thieves, whose
execution was to take place at the same
time with his.

It was between eight and nine in the
morning when the very small and insignifi-
cant procession of the three condemned
men went out from the Tower of Antonia
by the great iron gate which closed its
entrance ^ through which they passed, each
one bearing his cross, or dragging it over
the pavement of the Roman road. The
day had long since begun, and of the in-
habitants of Jerusalem, some were at their
necessary tasks, others were quietly giving
themselves to the repose obligatory on this
day. The little company can hardly have
attracted much attention; and we may
imagine that those who met the three
condemned men did not so much as turn

1 Jesus cannot have gone directly from the Prasto-
rium to execution. Once condemned, he must have
been led by inner doors into the Tower of Antonia,
which joined the Preetorium. There were the centu-
rions, the soldiers, and the two thieves, who, since their
condemnation, had been imprisoned in the tower. Acts
xxi. 34 passim.



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 169

to look after them. Two scoundrels and
a madman who were to be done away
with, — what was there interesting in
that? Simon of Gyrene, who was coming
toward them, would no doubt have gone
on his way, indifferent to the procession
that he had just passed, if the soldiers had
not requisitioned him;i and those critics
are very ill advised who think that an
execution of this kind could not be carried
out by the Romans on the morning of the
15th Nisan because of the feast. ^ A
mounted centurion went first, accompanied
by only four soldiers ; the party then con-
tained merely eight persons in all. The
written scroll to be placed above the head
of each condemned man was carried before
him as they went.^ We have three differ-
ent texts of that of Jesus. The shortest,
which is also the oldest, is the most prob-

1 It is true that Luke speaks of a great crowd (xxiii.
27), but this is one of the amplifications usual with this
author.

2 It has also been said that Simon of Cyrene was
coming out of the fields, and that men did not work in
the fields on feast days. But the text simply states
that Simon the Cyrenian was coming in from the coun-
try, and says nothing about work.

3 It is not so said, but it was always done.



170 THE DEATH AND

able, "King of the Jews."^ Instead of
writing Seducer, or Rebel, Pilate made a
point of making the Jews ridiculous to
the end, to revenge himself on them for
insisting that he should condemn the
Nazarene. The Sadducees sent to ask him
to modify the inscription ; he refused point
blank.

The condemned, carrying their crosses,
walked behind the soldiers who bore the
inscriptions. Wood was scarce in Judea,
and a certain number of these "trees of
justice," always the same, were certainly
kept in reserve and used several times
over. Perhaps a troop of vagabonds fol-
lowed the condemned with insults ; behind
them came St. John and a few women,
timid, anxious, overcome with fatigue and
sorrow.

The event which has made the world
new was, on the day that it occurred, only
an obscure crime, a hurried execution,
a petty wrong, carried out as rapidly as
possible, and passing almost unperceived in
a city of sixty thousand inhabitants, not
one of whose daily habits it in the least
disturbed.

1 Mark xv. 26. Cf. Luke xxiii. 38.



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 171

Usually executions took place at Gol-
gotha, outside the wall, northeast of the
city, upon a bare hillock in the midst of
an open common. Jesus, worn out by the
fatigues and suffering of the previous
night, probably faint with hunger, perhaps
less robust than his companions in wretch-
edness, was incapable of carrying his
cross to the end. He had not even the
strength to drag the two thick beams, after
the usual custom of the condemned.

The first comer, an unknown individual
who was coming in from the fields, and
whose name was Simon of Gyrene, was
called to his aid. The soldiers roughly
requisitioned him, with the coolness of
conquerors in a conquered country. In-
deed it was necessary, for they themselves
would not have carried the cross; the
Romans never carried the accursed tree.
To this duty, imposed upon Simon, we
no doubt owe our knowledge of the last
hours of Jesus.

When they finally arrived at the place
of execution it was nine o'clock. ^

Before nailing the condemned to the

1 This is the hour given by Mark, and the most
probable one. See above, p. 92.



172 THE DEATH AND

cross an attempt was made to deaden their
sensibilities ; the Jews had introduced this
custom to mitigate the atrocious sufferings
of the victims' last hours by dulling their
consciousness, at least in part. They were
given wine mingled with strong aromatics,
which benumbed them.^ Jesus tasted the
beverage and at once refused it; he de-
sired to retain consciousness to the very
last, and at the cost of greater suffering to
keep full possession of himself.

The soldiers planted the three larger
beams in three of the numerous holes
which they found already made, serving
for any crucifixion. The further proceed-
ings might be in one of two ways: the
smaller piece of wood, which was to be
placed horizontally across the top of the
other, lying still on the ground, the exe-
cutioners might lay the victim down, and
extending his arms, nail or fasten the
hands to the two extremities of this beam,
then raising the whole, fix it transversely
at the top of the larger. Or they could
adopt another way : the smaller beam might
be first placed in position, and when the
cross was completed and set upright, they

1 Babyl. Sank. 43a ; Prov. xxxi. 6.



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 173

could fasten or nail the condemned man
to it.i

The cross not being high it was easy
to proceed thus; and it is probable that
the latter method was most often adopted.
They must have nailed the hands while
the feet of the victim, who was standing
upright, were still upon the ground; then
they lifted the feet a little and fastened
them to the lower part of the upright.
When fixed in position and nailed, they
barely escaped the ground.

When the feet were nailed the knees
were naturally bent outward, and in order
that the weight of the body should not
tear the hands, the former was supported
by a billet of wood upon which the victim
was half seated.

The three crucifixions were very easily
and quickly performed. The soldiers no
doubt accomplished their horrible task
mechanically, with the calm indifference
of those who often do the same thing.
Jesus uttered no complaint; he kept per-
fect silence. Yet in the early part of his
suffering he said, and the words are cer-

1 Jos. D. B. J. 7, 6, 4 ; Cicero, Verr. 5, 66.



174 THE DEATH AND

tainly authentic, "Father, forgive them,
for they know not what they clo!"^

What he must have been suffering at
this moment is indescribable. The wounds
in his hands and feet were giving him
acute and atrocious pain; the blood was
trickling from them drop by drop to the
ground. It is true that this hemorrhage
was soon checked; but then a sort of
numbness took possession of his limbs and
a violent fever began to rage.

The pannicularia,'^ that is, the personal
effects of the victims, the little that they
left behind them, were given to the execu-
tioners. They shared among themselves
the garments of Jesus, and drew lots for
his seamless robe. All these small details,
minutely related, presuppose an eye-wit-
ness. The Fourth Gospel states that St.
John was there, as well as the mother of
Jesus, who had the courage to be pres-
ent at her son's execution, accompanied
by the Galilean women; the presence of
Simon the Cyrenian, who has already
been mentioned, appears to be also most
probable.

1 Luke xxiii. 34.

2 Dig. 47, 20; De bonis damnat. 6.



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 175

When all the preliminaries were com-
pleted, the soldiers seated themselves to
watch their three victims ; ^ jokes, puns,
coarse insults rained upon the unhappy
sufferers. Jesus especially was the butt
of the most odious witticisms.

What were his dying words? Here
again the Gospels are not entirely in
accord, but nowhere are their divergences
more natural. The last words of cele-
brated criminals are almost- never pre-
served in authentic form; usually the
accounts of the most trustworthy eye-wit-
nesses differ sensibly. The reason is per-
fectly simple : the emotion, the agitation,
the grief of the friends who are present
prevent their hearing clearly or remember-
ing accurately ; and on the other hand the
hatred of enemies often distorts these last
farewells.

The fact is that we do not know pre-
cisely what were the last words of Jesus.
His recommendation of his mother to St.
John and of St. John to his mother is
most touching; and as it is found in a
Gospel which is directly connected with
the apostle John we have no reason for

1 Matt, xxvii. 36. Cf. Petr. Satyr. Ill, 112.



176 THE DEATH AND

doubting its authenticity. According to
Luke, one of the malefactors was con-
verted, ^ but Matthew and Mark positively
state that the thieves insulted Jesus with
the others.

Little by little darkness came over his
soul; he felt himself sinking in an abyss
of despair, and passed through a moral
agony so black that even the face of his
Father was veiled from him. The cer-
tainty that had never left him for a single
instant, sustaining him in all his trials,
the assurance that he was one with the
Father and the Father with him, that he
was accomplishing his will, doing his
work, that he was going down into only
such depths as his Father bade him pass
through, and suffering only what the
Father willed that he should suffer, — this
certainty vanished, and he cried out, " My
God! my God! why hast thou forsaken
me ? " 2 The horror and terror that such a

1 Luke xxiii. 39-43.

2 Matt, xxvii. 46 ; Mark xv. 34. There is no room
to doubt the authenticity of this utterance. Who indeed
could have invented it ? Preserved in its Aramaic form
in our Greek Gospels we have it just as Jesus uttered it,
just as the witnesses heard it : " Eli, Eli, lama sahach-
thani?"



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 111

cry indicates are unspeakable. Jesus be-
lieved himself to be forsaken by his
Father!

It has been questioned whether he was
not simply repeating the Twenty-second
Psalm to fortify himself, but without
strength to go beyond the first verse. One
would be glad to believe it, but the
hypothesis of despair is too plausible not
to be made.

Why, then, did he utter such a cry?
Because he had expected a miracle that
did not take place? Did he doubt his
mission, the love of the Father; he who
had never doubted either? These ques-
tions remain unanswered, and we can only
bow with pitying and anguished heart
before the intensity of moral suffering
which such words reveal, adding to them
no word, and sincerely sorry for those who
have the courage to discuss this dying cry,
and draw dogmatic conclusions from it.

One of the tortures of the infernal agony
of the cross was a burning thirst which
devoured the sufferer. The desire to
drink became with Jesus so intolerable
that he exclaimed, " I thirst ! " ^ A soldier,

1 John xix. 28.
12



178 THE DEATH AND

more humane than the others, went to the
leather bottle of jposca ^ which he ordinarily
used. It had a sponge; he dipped it in
the liquid, and sticking it on the end of a
reed he lifted it to the lips of Jesus, who
could thus drink a little. ^

His despairing cry had lasted only for
the space of a lightning flash; he had
regained all his serenity. But the life of
the body was rapidly becoming exhausted ;
death was approaching with long strides;
and in his increasing physical weakness
his moral strength was continually re-
newed. The conviction that he was ful-
filling his mission again became entirely
his, and there on the cross he recovered
that sense of perfect communion with his
Father which made up to him for all the
rest.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon;
six hours, therefore, that the victims had
been hanging on the cross, and their

A Posca was tlie name of a mixture of water and
vinegar which the Roman soldiers always had with
them on their expeditions, among which were included
capital executions. (Spart. Vie cVAdrien X. ; Vulcatius
Gallicanus, Vie d'Avidius Cassius, 5.)

2 Matt, xxvii. 48; Mark xv. 36; Luke xxiii. 36;
John xix. 28-30.



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 179

sufferings had hardly begun, for men
often lived several days in tliis appalling
condition. Men of good constitution died
only of hunger, and in general death was
produced simply by the arrested circula-
tion resulting from the abnormal position
of the body; but Jesus succumbed to
sudden death. All at once he uttered a
terrible cry; a blood-vessel had broken in
his heart, ^ his head was seen to fall upon
his breast; he was dead.

What had been his last words ? Accord-
ing to Luke's Gospel,2 he had said,
"Father, into thy hands I commend my
spirit." According to another text,^ he
had cried, "It is finished." We shall not
choose between these two utterances ; both
of them are true. Jesus had indeed fin-
ished everything; his work was complete
and perfect, lacking nothing. And it was
certainly to his Father that, dying, he
committed the care of his soul, that soul
that never, save perhaps for a single

1 The hypothesis of the rupture of a blood-vessel is
the only one that explains how death could have oc-
curred so suddenly and so promptly.

2 Luke xxiii. 46.

3 John xix. 30. Matthew and Mark say only, " He
cried with a loud voice."



180 THE DEATH AND

moment, had ceased to be profoundly
united to his Father.

The two malefactors were, however, still
full of life, and their lives would appar-
ently have been considerably prolonged,
perhaps for several days, if the day had
not been Friday. At six o'clock the
Sabbath would begin, and the Law^ for-
bade that a body, living or dead, should
remain upon the cross on the day of
rest.

The Romans had no motive for refusing
to respect this custom. It was necessary,
then, to finish the wretches who still lived,
make certain that Jesus was really dead,
and hasten to take down the bodies from
the crosses.

To put an end to the thieves, they were
subjected to a second torture, — the break-
ing of the legs (crurifragium'). In gen-
eral this was not done ; when it was desired
to give the finishing stroke to one cruci-
fied, they struck him on the head, or they
pierced him through the heart, to bring on
immediate death. The crurifragmm was
a special torture, distinct from that of the

1 Dent. xxi. 22, 23 ; Josh. viii. 29, x. 26 f. ; Jos. D.
B. J. 4, 5, 12 ; Mishna, Sank. vi. 9.



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 181

cross, and generally applied to slaves and
prisoners of war; it was not necessarily
mortal, but it here appears that it sufficed
to cause the immediate death of the two
malefactors, for their bodies were taken
down from the cross before six o'clock
and thrown into the common sewer, or
some other shameful place destined for the
burial of suicides.^ This was the Jewish
law. According to Roman law, the three
bodies would have remained upon the
crosses till they were eaten by birds of
prey.2

When the soldier came to break the legs
of Jesus he saw that this was useless, as
he was already dead; still, for greater
security, he gave him the true finishing
stroke, piercing his side with a lance in
the region of the heart.

What became of the body? As has
been said, it could not remain upon the
cross to be eaten by birds, because upon
this point the Romans let the Jews have
their own way. The latter would cer-

1 Mislina, Sanh. vi. 9.

- Horace, Epistles, 1, 16, 48; Juvenal, 14, 77 ; Lucan,
6, 544; Plautus, Miles Gl. 2, 4, 19; Artemiclorus, Onir.
2, 53 ; Pliny, 36, 24 ; Plutarch, Life of Cleomenus, 39 ;
Petronius, Sat. Ill, 112.



182 THE DEATH AND

tainly have thrown the body of Jesus into
the sewer with that of the other malefac-
tors if they had been masters of it, for it
was to their interest to make aw^ay even
with his body; they woukl not really be
done with this man until nothing was left
of him, not even his corpse. If they gave
it honorable burial, people would come to
visit his tomb. Legends would very soon
cluster around his sepulchre; and it is
probable that Annas and Caiaphas were
very greatly chagrined when they learned
that the body of Jesus was not to be given
over to them.

In fact the Roman law permitted and
even commanded that the body of an exe-
cuted man must be delivered to any one
who claimed it ; ^ and one of the unknown
friends in Jerusalem (we have already met
with several), a secret disciple, a certain
Joseph Ha-ramathaim,2 begged the body
from Pilate. It was the more readily
accorded that he was a well-known person-
age, a member of the Sanhedrin, rich and
esteemed. Nicodemus joined him. They

1 Digest, xlviii. 24, De cadaveribus pumtoriim.

2 Joseph of Arimathea. Matt, xxvii. 57 ; Mark xv.
43 ; Luke xxiii. 50 ; John xix. 38.



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 183

desired to embalm the body, not accord-
ing to the Egyptian manner, for indefinite
preservation, but after the Jewish fashion,
which consisted simply in wrapping it
around with small bandages with myrrh
and aloes.

There was need of haste. It was draw-
ing near to six o'clock, and if this hour
arrived before all was finished, the Sabbath
would be profaned. To complete their
task before six o'clock, they resolved
upon a provisional burial.^ Joseph of
Arimathea had lately prepared a tomb for
himself in a garden belonging to him,
only a few steps from Golgotha.

There was no time to lose. Nicodemus
and he drew out the nails supporting the
bleeding body, that it should not fall on
being taken down; their pious hands
washed and wiped the wounds before
wrapping it in a winding-sheet which they
had brought with them. Then they car-
ried it away, followed by faithful friends,
the Galilean women uttering the strident
cries which were a necessity at funerals,
however sincere and profound might be
the grief. All was done most hastily; it

1 John xix. 41, 42.



184 THE DEATH AND

may be said that the burial too was
hastened.

The tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was
a grotto forming a small chamber ; in the
farthest wall an alcove had been hewn out
and surmounted by an arch.

The men extended the body in this
alcove and closed the entrance with a
stone which was set in a groove, and so
large that it was very difficult to handle it.

The Sabbath began at the very moment
when all was finished, and those who had
taken part in it dispersed, after having
promised one another to return early Sun-
day morning to finish the still incomplete
embalming.

Every one returned home, hurrying to
light the Sabbath lamp. Around the sepul-
chre where no one remained night grad-
ually came down, and the great silence of
the tomb set in.

The doleful day was over, everything
had returned to its usual order ; things had
resumed their course, if indeed they had
been interrupted.

The three deaths which have just been
described were three casual executions,
such as had occurred the day before, such



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 185

as would be repeated on the morrow; and
the entire Jewish people with perfect
tranquillity prepared for the Sabbath rest,
which would be all the more profound
that it fell upon one of the days of the
Feast.



186 THE DEATH AND



CHAPTER XI

THE RESURRECTION NARRATIVES

The Gospel Narratives

T TP to this point, except in minor de-
tails, we have made no critical
studies. We have almost exclusively con-
fined ourselves to setting forth historic
certainties. Side by side with this narra-
tive of events we have had an essential
purpose, — to learn what was going on in
the soul of Jesus, what was the order of
his thoughts before and during his min-
istry. This work is completed in the very
imperfect degree in which it may be done.
At present a study of an entirely differ-
ent order is imj)osed upon us; a minute
study which the reader may consider as
an appendix to our work,^ but a necessary
appendix, since we have to treat of ques-
tions such as this : What took place dur-
1 See Preface, p. xi.



RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST 187

ing the days that followed the burial of
Jesus, and what are we to understand by
what is called his Resurrection?

Let us begin with a very important
preliminary remark: the question of these
chapters is of an historic fact. We admit
that its consequences are immense; they
have taken on colossal proportions. But in
itself there is simply a fact of the past to
establish (if indeed it is possible to estab-
lish it), nothing more and nothing less;
and to establish it according to the ordi-
nary methods of historic criticism as our
age has brought them to light and made
them potent. Our means of knowledge,
our requirements and our processes of
meeting these requirements, have been
made new within a hundred years. Well,
let us make use of these processes, let us
put forward these requirements and study
this fact of history, weighing the pros and
cons without the least a priori.

It is the more necessary to say this,
because in no case has a priori been given
freer course than in this question of the
resurrection of Jesus. "This must have
happened. It is altogether impossible that
that did not take place." Let us leave



188 THE DEATH AND

these ways of proceeding, carefully guard-
ing against them. It is truly strange that
men continually assume to know what
must have taken place instead of seeking
for what actually did take place ; and that
they always conclude that facts must have
been thus and so, instead of simply dis-
covering what they were.

On Sunday morning, April 9th of the
year 30 (if our method of reckoning is cor-
rect), a little before sunrise, the tomb was
empty. It was the women who had been
present at the burial who made known the
disappearance of the body. They had
come, as had been agreed, as soon as the
Sabbath was ended, to proceed with a sort
of embalming more complete than that of
Friday evening, which had necessarily
been insufficient.

Their desire to embalm a body already
in the tomb appears to have been in no
sense extraordinary. It seems, therefore,
that for persons who died on Friday even-
ings, at an hour when it was impossible to
give the usual care to the body without
profaning the Sabbath, the necessary atten-
tions were given on Sunday morning at
the tomb itself. It needed only to roll



1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13

Online LibraryUnknownJesus Christ: His person--His authority--His work (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 13)