Hour of the Crucifixion

Delivered by Pilate into the hands of soldiers, He is led without the city to a place called Golgotha, bearing His cross. Falling exhausted under the burden, the soldiers compelled Simon of Cyrene, whom they met, to bear it with Jesus. To some women following Him and weeping, He speaks words of admonition, and foretells the judgments about to come upon Jerusalem. After He had been affixed to the cross, they gave Him wine mingled with gall, but He would not drink. Two malefactors were crucified with Him, one on the right hand and one on the left. As they were nailing Him to 'the cross, He prays to His Father to forgive them. The inscription placed over His head displeased the Jews, but Pilate refused to change it. The soldiers who kept watch at the foot of the cross, divide His garments among themselves.

John xix. 16-24.
Matt, xxvii. 32-38.
Mark Xv. 21 -27.
Luke xxiii. 26-34.

It was, according to John, (xix. 14,) " about the sixth hour," a>pa Se (oo-et Ckt?/, when Pilate sat down in the judgment seat to pronounce final sentence. But this seems in direct opposition to Mark, (xv. 25,) "And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him." Against John's statement, is that also of all the Synoptists, that there was darkness from the sixth hour over all the land till the ninth hour, (Matt, xxvii. 45 ; Mark xv. 33 ; Luke xxiii. 44.) This darkness did not begin till Jesus had been for some time nailed to the cross. Many efforts have been made to harmonize this discrepancy.1 That change of punctuation which places a period at the word " preparation," (in John xix. 14,) and joins "of the Passover" with "hour," making it to read, " And it was the preparation, and about the sixth hour of the Passover," has been already spoken of in another connection. It is forced and untenable. Some would change " sixth " into "third," and thus bring John into harmony with Mark, regarding the former as an error of copyists.2 But the weight of authority is in favor of the present reading.3 Lightfoot finds a solution in his interpretation of Mark, who does not say, " it was the third hour when they crucified Him," but "it was the third hour and they crucified Him." It notes that the fathers of the Sanhedrim should have been present at the third hour in the temple, offering their thank offerings. " When the third hour now was, and was passed, yet they omitted not to prosecute His conviction." This is wholly unsatisfactory. Some would make the " preparation" of John, 7rapao-Kcvrjy to denote not the whole day, but that part of it immediately preceding the Sabbath, or from 3-6 P. M. Thus John's meaning would be, it was the sixth hour before the commencement of the preparation, or about 9 A. M., which would agree with Mark. Others would read it, "about the sixth hour, or noon, the preparation time of Passover day commenced."

1 For a full account of early opinions, see Bynaeus, iii. 178.

2 Bynaeus; Robinson, Har. 226, who refers to Gtriesbach and Wetstein; Luthardt, Bloomfield.

s Teschendorf, Alford, Greswell, Wieseler, Meyer.

Both these constructions are arbitrary. Some would make the term hour, wpa, to be used by John in a large sense. The day was divided into four periods of'three hours each, and to each of these periods was the term hour applied. Thus the first hour was from 6-9, the third from 9-12, the sixth from 12-3, the ninth from 3-6. The third hour of Mark was from 9-12. During this period, and probably at the beginning of it, Jesus was crucified. John, in his statement, refers to the end of it.1 But this is unsupported by usage. Many suppose that John reckons the hours according to the Roman mode, from midnight. Thus his sixth hour would be 6 A*m. Some, as Jones, so modify this as to make the sixth hour to continue till nine. In regard to this, Newcome remarks,2 " That the Romans ever reckoned their hours in the manner that we do, from midnight or from midday, is destitute of proof. Though other matters were regulated by the civil computation, the hours were counted according to the natural day, from six in the morning to six in the evening, and again from six in the evening to six in the morning." Wieseler, (414,) who admits that the Romans in general reckoned from sunrise, yet finds an exception in this case, because the 15th Nisan, as distinguished from the Passover, began at midnight, (Exod. xii. 29.) Upon this one day John could reckon the hours from midnight. But this is certainly most improbable, and the Roman computation being the same with the Jewish,' nothing is gained. Greswell, therefore, after Townson, makes John to reckon after our own mode, from midnight ; but this does not fit the other notices of time in his Gospel, and it is scarcely possible that all could have been done by so early an hour.3

1 So Godwyn, Moses and Aaron, 81; Campbell, notes in loco; Krafft, 147.

9 Har. notes in loco.

3 See, however, Ewald, (v. 483), who makes Jesus to have been brought

to Pilate an hour before sunrise, (John xviii. 28, irpcDi,) the sentence given at 6 A. M., (John xix. 14,) and the crucifixion at 9, (Mark xv. 25.)

We conclude, then, that the sixth hour of John was the twelfth hour with us, or midday. But it is to be noted that he says, "about the sixth hour," ws Cktt?,1 which implies that he gives no exact note of the time. It is rendered by Norton, "it was toward noon," and this very well expresses the meaning. Mark's words, " It was the third hour, and they crucified Him," need not be taken as a specific designation of the hour when He was nailed to the cross, but as marking the time when, the sentence having been pronounced, He was given up to the soldiers, and the preparatory steps to the crucifixion began. Our exact divisions of time were wholly unknown to the ancients.2

If the Sanhedrim held its second session about sunrise, as the statements of the Evangelists lead us to suppose, the events subsequent down to the crucifixion, must have occupied several hours. The time when Jesus was led to the hall of judgment is noted by John, (xviii. 28,) " and it was early," -qv 8e -rrpm. If this denote the fourth watch of the night, it was from 3-6 A. M. The usual hour for opening judicial proceedings among the Romans was 9 A. M., and probably Pilate now a little anticipated the time. The crucifixion itself wvas during the interval from nine to twelve.

The place of the crucifixion will be hereafter considered when we inquire where the Lord was buried. From Heb. xiii. 12 it appears that the cross was placed without the gate ; and from the Evangelists, that it was called Calvary, or in the Hebrew, Golgotha, meaning the place of a skull; and that it was not far from the public street. Jesus was conducted thither by the soldiers, Pilate not having lictors, to whom such duty specially belonged.

1 Teschendorf. 2 see pauly, Real. Encyc., ii. 1017, art. Dies.

According to Roman custom, He bore his own cross; but, wearied by the labors of the night, and faint from the scourging and abuse of His enemies, He sank beneath the burden. At this juncture, meeting a man of Cyrene, named Simon, they compelled him to assist Jesus in bearing it, (Luke xxiii. 26.) According to some, he bore it alone. Probably he was met just as they were going out of the city gate, and he was entering in, (Matt, xxvii. 32.) Of this Simon little is known, except that he was a Cyrenian, and the father of Alexander and Hufus, (Mark xv. 21.) Many suppose him a slave from the fact that, while so many Jews must have been present, they were passed by, and he was seized upon to perform this degrading office.1 The reason, however, of his selection may simply have been that, chancing to be close at hand when Jesus sank down from weariness, they compel him to assist. Others suppose him to have been a disciple, and on that account selected; but this fact could scarcely have been known to the soldiers. That he subsequently became a disciple is more probable. Following the Lord upon the way to the place of crucifixion was " a great company of people and of women, which also bewailed and lamented Him," (Luke xxiii. 27.) These women do not seem to have been those who followed Him from Galilee, but those of the city, or the parts adjacent, who had seen Him, or heard Him, and now sympathized with Him.2

1 So Meyer.

3 For a minute account of the Lord's progress from the judgment hall to the cross, along the Via Dolorosa, and the traditionary incidents, see Hofmann, 371. " Whether the Via Dolorosa receives a right designation or not, we do not know. It was up part of its ascent, or that of its neighborhood, that, in all probability, Christ bore His cross," (Wilson, i. 425.) Robinson finds in the fourteenth century the earliest allusion to the Via Dolorosa, (i. 233, note.) For full details as to the traditional stations along this way, see Tobler, Top. i. 262, &c. But if the trial of the Lord was at the palace of Herod on Mount Sion, He could not have passed along the Via Dolorosa.

It is uncertain whether the cross was placed in the ground before the victim was nailed to it, or after; but the former is most probable.1 With Jesus were crucified two malefactors, respecting whom we know nothing, but who may have been companions of Barabbas.2 An early tradition makes them to have been two robbers, named Titus and Dumachus, whom Jesus met in Egypt; and it is said that He then predicted that both should be crucified with Him.3 His position between the two was probably owing to the malice of the priests; though the soldiers may have done it in mockery of his kingly claims. Greswell, (iii. 246,) from John xix. 32, 33, conjectures that the crosses of the two malefactors looked to the west, but that of Jesus to the east. Tradition makes His to have looked to the west.4

The offering of vinegar mingled with gall (Matthew and Mark) seems to have been before the nailing to the cross. The object of this was to stupefy the victim, so that the pain might not be so acutely felt. This, however, was a Jewish, not a Roman custom, though now permitted by the Romans.5 Lightfoot (on Matt, xxvii. 34) quotes from the Rabbins, "To those that were to be executed they gave a grain of myrrh, infused in wine, to drink, that their understanding might be disturbed, or they lose their senses, as it is said, ' Give strong drink to them that are ready to die, and wine to them that are of sorrowful heart.' " This mixture the Lord tasted, but, knowing its purpose, would not drink it. He would not permit the' clearness of His mind to be thus disturbed, and, in the full possession of consciousness, would endure all the agonies of the cross. Meyer and Alford find a contradiction between Matthew and Mark, because the former speaks of " vinegar mingled with gall;" the latter, of " wine mingled with myrrh."

1 Friedlieb, Arch. 142; Greswell, iii. 245.

2 As to the abundance of thieves and robbers at this time, and its causes, see Lightfoot on Matt, xxvii. 38.

3 Hofmann, 176. 4 Hofmann, 376. 5 Friedlieb, Archaol. 140.

But it is well said by Alexander, that " as the wine used by the soldiers was a cheap sour wine, little, if at all, superior to vinegar, and as myrrh, gall, and other bitter substances are put for the whole class, there is really no difference in these passages."

Lightfoot supposes that it was not the usual mixture, wine and frankincense, or myrrh, but, for greater mockage, and out of rancor, vinegar and gall. Townsend2 supposes that three potions were offered him: the first, vinegar mingled with gall, in malice and derision, which He refused; then the intoxicating draught, which He also refused; then the sour wine, or posca, which He drank. Another supposition is, that benevolent women gave him the wine and myrrh, and at the same time the soldiers brought the vinegar and gall.

Crucifixion was a punishment used by the Grecians, Romans, Egyptians, and many other nations, but not by the Jews. It was indeed permitted by the law to hang a man on a tree, but only after he had been put to death, (Deut. xxi. 22, 23.) Upon this, Maimonides, quoted by Ainsworth, remarks: " After they are stoned to death, they fasten a piece of timber in the earth, and out of it there crosseth a piece of wood; then they tie both his hands one to another, and hang them near unto the setting of the sun." The form of the cross varied. Sometimes it was in the shape of the letter X. This was called crux decussata. Sometimes it was in the shape of the letter T. This was called crux commissa. Sometimes it was in the form following: -J-. This was called crux immissa.

1 That x°^> gall, is used in the Sepiuagint for various kinds of bitter stuffs, see Winer, i. 350; Friedlieb, Arch. 141. a Part vii. note 23

Tradition affirms that the cross on which the Lord suffered was of the latter kind; and early painters have so represented it.1 The upright post, or beam, was by no means lofty, generally only so high as to raise the person a few inches from the ground. Midway upon it was a little projection, sedile, upon which the person sat, that the whole weight of the body might not fall upon the arms, and they thus be torn from the nails. The arms were sometimes tied with cords, perhaps to prevent this pressure upon the nails, or that the nailing might be the more easily effected. The head was not fastened. Whether the feet were generally nailed, has been much disputed.2 That the Lord's feet were thus nailed, may be inferred from Luke xxiv. 39, 40. Appearing to the Eleven upon the evening following His resurrection, He said to them: "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when He had thus spoken, He showed them His hands and His feet." This showing of the hands and feet could not be simply to convince them that His body was a real body, and not a mere phantasm; but had also the end to convince them of His identity. " It is I myself; and in proof of this, look at the prints of the nails remaining in my hands and my feet." John (xx. 20) says, "He showed unto them His hands and His side." From both narratives, it follows that He showed them the wounds in His hands, His side, and His feet. That, at his second appearing to the Eleven, He spake to Thomas only of His hands and His side, is to be explained as giving all the proof that that sceptical apostle had demanded, (v. 25.)

1 Hofmann, 372. See Bynaeus, (iii. 225,) and Didron's Christian Iconography, (Trans, i. 374,) for a discussion of the various forms of the cross.

2 In neg., see Paulus, (Handbuch, iii. 669,) who discusses this point at great length; Winer, i. 678; aff., Friedlieb, 144; Meyer on Matt, xxvii. 35. Alford, " not always, nor perhaps generally, though certainly not seldom."

Alford gives a little different explanation: " He probably does not name the feet, merely because the hands and side would more naturally offer themselves to his examination than the feet, to which he must stoop." That the feet were nailed, has been the current view of commentators.

It has been questioned whether the feet of the Lord were separately nailed, or one nail was used for both. According to Hofmann, most of the painters have represented the feet as lying one over the other, and both penetrated by the same nail.3 Didron (Christian Iconography) observes: " Previous to the thirteenth century, Christ was attached to the cross by three or four nails indifferently. After the thirteenth century, the practice of putting only three nails was definitively in the ascendant." On the other hand, early tradition speaks of four nails.3 It is possible that the crown of thorns remained upon His head, as represented by the painters. Matthew and Mark, who both speak of taking off the purple robe, say nothing of the soldiers removing the crown of thorns.

The prayer, " Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," given only by Luke, (xxiii. 34,) was probably spoken while the" soldiers were nailing him to the cross, or immediately after. It doubtless embraced all who took part in His crucifixion—not only the soldiers, who were compelled to obey the orders given them, but the Jewish priests and elders, and the Roman governor—all who had caused His sufferings. The garments of the crucified belonged to the soldiers as their spoil. After the four appointed to this duty had divided His garments, they sat down to watch the body.

It was customary among the Romans to affix to the cross an inscription, Titaos, atrta, in order to point out to all the nature of the offence.

1 Tholuck, Stier, Lange, Ebrard, Evvald, Olshausen. 3 See, however, Friedlieb, Archaol. 145, note. 3 See Winer, i. 678; Sepp, vi. 833; Ellicott, 353.

Whether it was borne before the criminal, or upon his neck, or was attached to the cross, is uncertain ; but, on reaching the place of execution, it was set up over his head. As this inscription is differently given by the Evangelists, it has been conjectured that it was differently written in the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.1 Pilate, who as judge prepared the inscription, took occasion to gratify his scorn of the Jews, who had so thwarted him; and his short and decisive answer, when he was requested by them to change it, shows the bitterness of his resentment. Jones sees in this a providential acknowledgment of Jesus, by public authority, as King of the Jews. Greswell supposes this request may have been made before the arrival at Calvary.

1 See Pearson on Creed, art. 4; A. Clarke on Matt, xxvii. S7.