John 19:29

John 19:29

Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar
In a place near at hand, as Nonnus observes; not on purpose, for the sake of them that were crucified, either to refresh their spirits, or stop a too great effusion of blood, that they might continue the longer in their misery; but for the use of the soldiers who crucified Christ, vinegar being part of the allowance of Roman soldiers F13, and what they used to drink: sometimes it was mixed with water; which mixed liquor they called "Posca" F14, and was what even their generals sometimes used; as Scipio, Metellus, Trajan, Adrian, and others: vinegar was also used by the Jews for drink, as appears from ( Ruth 2:14 ) and "dip thy morsel in the vinegar", which Boaz's reapers had with them in the field; "because of heat", as the commentators say {o}; that being good to cool, and to extinguish thirst; for which reason the soldiers here offer it to Christ; though the Chaldee paraphrase of the above place makes it to be a kind of sauce or pap boiled in vinegar; and such an "Embamma" made of vinegar the Romans had, in which they dipped their food F16; but this here seems to be pure vinegar, and to be different from that which the other evangelists speak of, which was mingled with gall, or was sour wine with myrrh, ( Matthew 27:34 ) ( Mark 15:23 ) . Vinegar indeed is good to revive the spirits, and hyssop, which is after mentioned, is an herb of a sweet smell; and if the reed, which the other evangelists make mention of, was the sweet calamus, as some have thought, they were all of them things of a refreshing nature: vinegar was also used for stopping blood F17, when it flowed from wounds in a large quantity; and of the same use were sponges; hence Tertullian F18 mentions "spongias retiariorum", the sponges of the fencers, which they had with them to stop any effusion of blood that should be made in their exercises; but then it can hardly be thought that these things should be in common prepared at crucifixions for such ends, on purpose to linger out a miserable life a little longer, which would be shocking barbarity; and especially such a provision would never be, made at this time, on such an account, since the Jews sabbath drew nigh, and they were in haste to have the executions over before that came on, that the bodies might not remain on the cross on that day; for which reason they would do nothing, at this time, however, to prolong the lives of the malefactors; wherefore it is most reasonable, that this vessel of vinegar was not set for any such purpose, but was for the use of the soldiers; and therefore this being at hand when Christ signified his thirst, they offered some of it in the following manner:

and they filled a sponge with vinegar;
it being the nature of a sponge (which Nonnus here calls (blasthma ylasshv) , "a branch of the sea", because it grows there) to swallow up anything that is liquid, and which may be again squeezed and sucked out of it; hence the Jews say F19 of it, (Nyqvm elbv gwpo) , "the sponge which swallows up liquids"; and used it for such a purpose; "and put it upon hyssop"; meaning not the juice of hyssop, into which some have thought the sponge with vinegar was put, but the herb, and a stalk of it: the other evangelists say, it was put "upon a reed"; meaning either that the sponge with the hyssop were put about a reed, and so given him; or rather it was a stalk of hyssop, which was like a reed or cane; and in this country of Judea grew very large, sufficient for such a purpose. The hyssop with the Jews was not reckoned among herbs, but trees; see ( 1 Kings 4:33 ) and they speak F20 of hyssop which they gather (Myuel) , "for wood"; the stalks of which therefore must be of some size; yea, they call F21 a stalk which has a top to it, (hnq) , "a reed", or cane; which observation seems to reconcile the other evangelists with this: and they distinguish their hyssop which was right for use from that which had an epithet joined to it; as, Roman hyssop, Grecian hyssop, wild and bastard hyssop F23: and some writers F24 observe even of our common hyssop, that it has sometimes stalks of nine inches long, or longer, and hard and woody, nay, even a foot and a half; with one of which a man with his arms stretched out might possibly reach the mouth of a person on a cross: how high crosses usually were is not certain, nor was there any fixed measure for them; sometimes they were higher, and sometimes lower; the cross or gallows made by Haman for Mordecai was very high indeed, and the mouth of a person could not have been reached with an hyssop stalk; but such an one might, as was erected for Saul's sons, whose bodies on it could be reached by the beasts of the field, ( 2 Samuel 21:10 ) and so low was the cross on which Blandina the martyr suffered, as the church at Lyons relates F25, when on the cross she was exposed to beasts of prey, and became food for them: so that there is no need to suppose any fault in the text, and that instead of "hyssop" it should be read "hyssos"; which was a kind of javelin the Romans call "Pilum", about five or six foot long, which, it is supposed, one of the soldiers might have, and on it put the hyssop with the sponge and vinegar; but this conjecture is not supported by any copy, or ancient version; the Syriac version, which is a very ancient one, reads "hyssop". The Arabic and Persic versions render it, "a reed", as in the other evangelists; and the Ethiopic version has both, "they filled a sponge with vinegar, and it was set round with hyssop, and they bound it upon a reed"; and so some have thought that a bunch of hyssop was stuck round about the sponge of vinegar, which was fastened to the top of a reed; and the words will bear to be rendered; "setting it about with hyssop": this they might have out of the gardens, which were near this place, or it might grow upon the mountain itself; for we are told F26, it grew in great plenty upon the mountains about Jerusalem, and that its branches were almost a cubit long. Josephus F1 makes mention of a village beyond Jordan called Bethezob, which, as he says, signifies the house of hyssop; perhaps so called from the large quantity of hyssop that grew near it:

and put it to his mouth;
whether Christ drank of it or no is not certain; it seems by what follows as if he did; at least he took it, being offered to him: the Jews themselves say F2, that Jesus said, give me a little water to drink, and they gave him (qzx Umwx) , "sharp vinegar"; which so far confirms the evangelic history.


F13 Julian. Imperator. Epist. 27. p. 161. Vid. Lydium de re militari, l. 6. c. 7. p. 245.
F14 Salmuth. in Panciroll. rerum memorab. par. 1. Tit. 53. p. 274.
F15 Jarchi & Aben Ezra in loc.
F16 Salmuth. ib. par. 2. Tit. 2. p. 83.
F17 Plin. Nat. Hist. l. 31. c. 11.
F18 De Spectaculis, c. 25.
F19 Maimon. in Misn. Sabbat, c. 21. sect. 3. Misn. Celim, c. 9. sect. 4.
F20 Misn. Parah, c. 11. sect. 8. Maimon. Hilch. Parah Adumah, c. 11. sect. 7.
F21 Gloss. in T. Bab. Succa, fol. 13. 1.
F23 Misn. Parah, c. 11. sect. 7. Negaim, c. 14. 6. T. Bab. Succa, fol. 13. 1. & Cholin, fol. 62. 2.
F24 Dodonaeus, l. 4. c. 19.
F25 Apud Euseb. Eccl. Hist. l. 5. c. 1. p. 161. Vid. Lipsium de Cruce, l. 3. c. 11.
F26 Arabes Lexicograph. apud de Dieu in loc.
F1 De Bello Jud. l. 6. c. 3. sect. 4.
F2 Toklos Jesu, p. 17.