A Roman implement for severe bodily punishment. Horace calls it horribile flagellum. It consisted of a handle, to which several cords or leather thongs were affixed, which were weighted with jagged pieces of bone or metal, to make the blow more painful and effective. It is comparable, in its horrid effects, only with the Russian knout. The victim was tied to a post (Acts 22:25) and the blows were applied to the back and loins, sometimes even, in the wanton cruelty of the executioner, to the face and the bowels. In the tense position of the body, the effect can easily be imagined. So hideous was the punishment that the victim usually fainted and not rarely died under it. Eusebius draws a horribly realistic picture of the torture of scourging (Historia Ecclesiastica, IV, 15). By its application secrets and confessions were wrung from the victim (Acts 22:24). It usually preceded capital punishment (Livy xxxiii.36). It was illegal to apply the flagallum to a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25), since the Porcian and Sempronian laws, 248 and 123 BC, although these laws were not rarely broken in the provinces (Tac. Hist. iv.27; Cic. Verr. v.6, 62; Josephus, BJ, II, xiv, 9). As among the Russians today, the number of blows was not usually fixed, the severity of the punishment depending entirely on the commanding officer. In the punishment of Jesus, we are reminded of the words of Psalms 129:3. Among the Jews the punishment of flagellation was well known since the Egyptian days, as the monuments abundantly testify. The word "scourge" is used in Leviticus 19:20, but the American Standard Revised Version translates "punished," the original word biqqoreth expressing the idea of investigation. Deuteronomy 25:3 fixed the mode of a Jewish flogging and limits the number of blows to 40. Apparently the flogging was administered by a rod. The Syrians reintroduced true scourging into Jewish life, when Antiochus Epiphanes forced them by means of it to eat swine's flesh (2 Macc 6:30; 7:1). Later it was legalized by Jewish law and became customary (Matthew 10:17; 23:34; Acts 22:19; 26:11), but the traditional limitation of the number of blows was still preserved. Says Paul in his "foolish boasting": "in stripes above measure," "of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one," distinguishing it from the "beatings with rods," thrice repeated (2 Corinthians 11:23-25).
The other Old Testament references (Job 5:21; 9:23; Isaiah 10:26; 28:15,18 shot; Joshua 23:13 shotet) are figurative for "affliction." Notice the curious mixture of metaphors in the phrase "over-flowing scourge" (Isaiah 28:15-18).
Henry E. Dosker
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