Tuesday, April 1, 2014

John 19:1-16a

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, Lenten cycle.  Most recently April 6, 2014.

Summary:  This text drips with irony.  The irony is intended to showcase the moral bankruptcy of the Jewish and Roman leaders, if not ultimately, the entire human race.  Pondering this text forces one to ask:  "Who are we anyway?"

ανθροπος ("human", 19:5)  The classic Latin phrase:  Ecce homo (behold the man) comes from here.  This is a sad image of "the human"; beaten and tortured, wearing his mock royal clothing.  Pilate and John seem to make a statement here about the human condition.  Who are we anyway?

πορφυρουν ("purple", 19:2).  Purple is the royal color; this exclusive dye came from snails, whose production and trade were controlled by the pheonicians.  Ironically, the very traders wore the snail down to virtual/actual extinction!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia  Again, who are we anyway?

εμαστιγωσεν ("flog", 19:1)  The Greek leaves two questions here.  First, whether Pilate himself actually did the beating (which the grammar suggests but would have been inconceivable historically).  Second, how severe was the beating?  The Vulgate, a 4th century translation, does not translate this verb in the most severe sense, although the NET suggests this should be done:
"This severe flogging was not administered by Pilate himself but his officers, who took Jesus at Pilate's order and scourged him. The author's choice of wording here may constitute an allusion to Isah 50:6, "I gave my back to those who scourge me." Three forms of corporal punishment were employed by the Romans, in increasing degree of severity: (1) fustigatio (beating), (2) flagellatio (flogging), and (3) verberatio (severe flogging, scourging). The first could be on occasion a punishment in itself, but the more severe forms were part of the capital sentence as a prelude to crucifixion. The most severe, verberatio, is what is indicated here by the Greek verb translated flogged severely (mastigo,w, mastigooÒ). People died on occasion while being flogged this way; frequently it was severe enough to rip a person's body open or cut muscle and sinew to the bone. It was carried out with a whip that had fragments of bone or pieces of metal bound into the tips."
εποιησεν ("make", 19:6) The Greek literally reads, "Because he made himself into a son of God."  Most translators take this to mean "claimed" or made in the "fashioned" sense.  But again, what an ironic assertion:  No one can make themselves into a son of God.  This comes from above as Jesus points out!

Λιθοστρωτον and γαββαθα ("lithostroton" and "gabbatha", 19:13)  First, a side note.  I find Biblical archeology fascinating because everyone is always trying to prove eveyone else wrong about what they have discovered or not.  It may be that such an insertion into John's Gospel offers a very late dating of John's Gospel.  But my sense is that such debates don't ever get resolved.

Anyway, what is interesting here is that the Greek and Hebrew (or really Aramaic) actually don't match up.  The word gabbatha speaks about the location, but Λιθοστρωτον describes the place as covered with in-laid stones.  In short, a tessellated floor.  Jesus, bloodied, yet innocent, is sentenced on a beautiful stone covered floor.

Καισαρα ("Caesar", 19:12)  For the Jews at this particular juncture to declare, "We have no king besides Caesar" is absurd.  The LORD is King.  This is irony to the point of absurdity.

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