Smitten and Afflicted

Psalm 22 is quoted by Jesus on the cross and referred to multiple times by the authors of the Gospels. The details within it referring to the crucifixion are uncanny and haunting. One wishes it were simply metaphorical and allusionary, but knowing the torture and death of Christ paints it all black.

David writes “they have pierced my hands and feet–I can count all my bones–they stare and gloat over me” (vv16-17). This turned out to be no mere symbol for Jesus. Flagellatio, Roman scourging, was performed by soldiers “using the most dreaded instrument of the time, called a flagrum, or, in the words of Horatio, “the horrible flagellum””, as M.D. and forensic pathologist Federick Zugibe reports in his forensic inquiry The Crucifixion of Jesus (19). The flagrum was not a simple whip, but contained three or more tails on its end, each finished with metal balls, pieces of bones or other tenderizing and lacerating objects. One flagrum with rounded bits of lead was discovered at the Roman city Herculaneum in 1709 which was preserved after that city was destroyed by a volcano eruption in A.D. 79. Continue reading