Pilate summarily dismissed these solemn hierarchs with the curt and contemptuous reply, “What I have written I have written.”
Continuing The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ,
our selection from Life of Christ by Frederic William Farrar published in 1874. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Time: c. 30 AD
Place: Golgatha, a Hill Ouside of Jersulam
When the cross was uplifted the leading Jews, for the first time, prominently noticed the deadly insult in which Pilate had vented his indignation. Before, in their blind rage, they had imagined that the manner of his crucifixion was an insult aimed at Jesus; but now that they saw him hanging between the two robbers, on a cross yet loftier, it suddenly flashed upon them that it was a public scorn inflicted upon them. For on the white wooden tablet smeared with gypsum, which was to be seen so conspicuously over the head of Jesus on the cross, ran, in black letters, an inscription in the three civilized languages of the ancient world — the three languages of which one at least was certain to be known by every single man in that assembled multitude — in the official Latin, in the current Greek, in the vernacular Aramaic — informing all that this Man who was thus enduring a shameful, servile death — this Man thus crucified between two sicarii in the sight of the world, was “THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
To him who was crucified the poor malice seemed to have in it nothing of derision. Even on his cross he reigned; even there he seemed divinely elevated above the priests who had brought about his death, and the coarse, idle, vulgar multitude who had flocked to feed their greedy eyes upon his sufferings. The malice was quite impotent against One whose spiritual and moral nobleness struck awe into dying malefactors and heathen executioners, even in the lowest abyss of his physical degradation. With the passionate ill-humor of the Roman governor there probably blended a vein of seriousness. While he was delighted to revenge himself on his detested subjects by an act of public insolence, he probably meant, or half meant, to imply that this was, in one sense, the King of the Jews — the greatest, the noblest, the truest of his race, whom therefore his race had crucified. The King was not unworthy of his kingdom, but the kingdom of the King. There was something loftier even than royalty in the glazing eyes which never ceased to look with sorrow on the City of Righteousness, which had now become a city of murderers. The Jews felt the intensity of the scorn with which Pilate had treated them. It so completely poisoned their hour of triumph that they sent their chief priests in deputation, begging the governor to alter the obnoxious title. “Write not,” they said, “‘The King of the Jews,’ but that ‘He said, I am the King of the Jews.'” But Pilate’s courage, which had oozed away so rapidly at the name of Cæsar, had now revived. He was glad in any and every way to browbeat and thwart the men whose seditious clamor had forced him in the morning to act against his will. Few men had the power of giving expression to a sovereign contempt more effectually than the Romans. Without deigning any justification of what he had done, Pilate summarily dismissed these solemn hierarchs with the curt and contemptuous reply, “What I have written I have written.”
In order to prevent the possibility of any rescue, even at the last moment — since instances had been known of men taken from the cross and restored to life — a quaternion of soldiers with their centurion were left on the ground to guard the cross. The clothes of the victims always fell as perquisites to the men who had to perform so weary and disagreeable an office. Little dreaming how exactly they were fulfilling the mystic intimations of olden Jewish prophecy, they proceeded, therefore, to divide between them the garments of Jesus. The tallith they tore into four parts, probably ripping it down the seams; but the cetoneth, or undergarment, was formed of one continuous woven texture, and to tear would have been to spoil it; they therefore contented themselves with letting it become the property of any one of the four to whom it should fall by lot. When this had been decided, they sat down and watched him till the end, beguiling the weary lingering hours by eating and drinking, and gibing, and playing dice.
It was a scene of tumult. The great body of the people seem to have stood silently at gaze; but some few of them as they passed by the cross — perhaps some of the many false witnesses and other conspirators of the previous night — mocked at Jesus with insulting noises and furious taunts, especially bidding him come down from the cross and save himself, since he could destroy the Temple and build it in three days. And the chief priests, and scribes, and elders, less awe-struck, less compassionate than the mass of the people, were not ashamed to disgrace their gray-haired dignity and lofty reputation by adding their heartless reproaches to those of the evil few. Unrestrained by the noble patience of the sufferer, unsated by the accomplishment of their wicked vengeance, unmoved by the sight of helpless anguish and the look of eyes that began to glaze in death, they congratulated one another under his cross with scornful insolence: “He saved others, himself he cannot save;” “Let this Christ, this King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” No wonder then that the ignorant soldiers took their share of mockery with these shameless and unvenerable hierarchs: no wonder that, at their midday meal, they pledged in mock hilarity the Dying Man, cruelly holding up toward his burning lips their cups of sour wine, and echoing the Jewish taunts against the weakness of the King whose throne was a cross, whose crown was thorns. Nay, even the poor wretches who were crucified with him caught the hideous infection; comrades, perhaps, of the respited Barabbas, heirs of the rebellious fury of a Judas the Gaulonite, trained to recognize no Messiah but a Messiah of the sword, they reproachfully bade him, if his claims were true, to save himself and them. So all the voices about him rang with blasphemy and spite, and in that long slow agony his dying ear caught no accent of gratitude, of pity, or of love. Baseness, falsehood, savagery, stupidity — such were the characteristics of the world which thrust itself into hideous prominence before the Saviour’s last consciousness, such the muddy and miserable stream that rolled under the cross before his dying eyes.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history