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Flagellation (in the Bible)


The Mosaic Law regulated the conduct of society in a threefold way by enacting legislation concerning the conduct of its subjects as individuals, as citizens, and as members of a religious society. The basis of penal legislation was strict retribution (Ex 21.24; Lv 24.17; Dt 19.21). Flagellation was prescribed in two cases that involved sexual crimes (Lv 19.20; Dt 22.18). Judges were permitted to use their own discretion in imposing the sentence of flagellation (Dt 25.1). The number of blows was limited to 40 (Dt 25.3). The Mosaic Law did not specify the instrument to be used. It was presumably the šēbe (rod) or the šô (whip, scourge). The latter was either a singlelash whip or a multilashed flagellum. The varied references to scourging indicate that the practice was well known among the people. It was limited to crimes that did not embrace capital punishment. The sapiential books

contain numerous references to the use of the rod [Ps 2.9; 88 (89).33; Prv 10.13; 13.24; 14.3; 22.15; 23.13; 26.3;29.15]; the Hebrews did not "spare the rod" in the correction of children.

In Assyrian law flogging was a common penalty. The number of stripes varied according to crimes, but usually numbered between 20 and 100. Babylonian law as found in the Code of hammurabi (par. 202) prescribed it only for the striking of a superior and limited it to 60 stripes. Egyptian task masters are often pictured with a rod or a flagellum.

Roman law limited beating by rods to citizens. Slaves and noncitizens were subjected to scourging. The whips were constructed from leather or chain lashes. Frequently the ends were armed with small leaden balls or metal objects. A similar object seemed to be in the mind of Roboam, who stated: "My father beat you with whips (šôîm ), but I will beat you with scorpions (aqrabbîm )" (1 Kgs 12.11, 14). The latter were the metaltipped ends of the flagellum. The Romans inflicted scourging on recalcitrant slaves, on political prisoners withholding information, and on criminals condemned to death by crucifixion. They also meted out death by scourging either intentionally or accidentally.

According to Lk 23.16, 22; Jn 19.1, Pontius Pilate imposed flagellation on Jesus as an attempted substitute for crucifixion, not as a prelude to it; but his plan was thwarted. According to Mt 27.26; Mk 15.15, the flagellation of Jesus occurred after the imposition of His death sentence. Actually, the scourging proved to be a prelude to the crucifixion, not a substitute for it. But Pilate's initial move led to confusion regarding the sequence of events in Matthew and Mark and to the erroneous conclusion of some exegetes that Jesus was scourged twice. That Christ suffered at the hands of the Roman soldiers leaves the number of blows struck a matter that cannot be settled. Had He suffered at the hands of the Temple police, His punishment likely would have been limited to the customary 40 blows less one, such as St. Paul suffered on at least five occasions (2 Cor 11.24). The other Apostles had received the Jewish flagellation at least once (Acts 5.4041).

Bibliography: j. blinzler and g. mesters, "Geisselung," Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner 10v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 4:608610. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 786788.

[g. t. kennedy]

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