Skip to comments.The Passion of the Christ, and of Mankind: Brutality in Rome, Iraq, and the World
Posted on 04/08/2004 7:29:20 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
We went to see The Passion of the Christ this week. I leave discussions of the theology of the movie to others. This is about the brutality shown. And about mans inhumanity to man, then and now. There are lessons for Iraq policy today in the ancient images from that movie.
First we cover the history of flogging and crucifixion in the Roman Empire. Flogging consisted normally of forty lashes. It was a severe but limited penalty, mostly in the Roman Army. It was used in the same way under the British Admiralty Rules in the 18th Century.
The purpose of flogging was to deliver a punishment the victim would always remember and fear. It also sought the same two reactions among the onlookers. But the victim was expected to recover in a matter of days. A trained soldier, like a trained sailor, was a valuable commodity, not to be lost unnecessarily. Flogging to the point of death was a separate and very rare punishment under the Romans. That was eliminated by the British.
Crucifixion was a common Roman method of execution. Tens of thousands of people were executed in that way. Under Roman law, it was reserved for the most serious crimes. Crucifixion was applied only to lower categories of criminals, and never to citizens of Rome.
The movie is true to the Biblical accounts, that Pontius Pilate ordered a near-fatal flogging of Jesus as a substitute for the death penalty that the Pharisees initially sought. In the end, though Pilate proclaimed, I find no fault in this Man, the crucifixion was ordered in addition to the flogging. Although some critics of the movie claim the flogging scenes are unnecessarily brutal, what is shown is forty lashes. The others are not shown, though if my Latin is correct, a total of 120 lashes were delivered.
There is one historical inaccuracy in the movie. In crucifixions, the nails were not driven through the palms of the hands; they were driven through the wrists. The reason was that the hands were not sufficiently strong to hold the body up for the many hours until death resulted. It is interesting that the Shroud of Turin, widely believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus, correctly represents His crucifixion.
Some claim that the Shroud is a fake, made in about 1100 AD, based on carbon dating of a patch made on it at that time. The thousands of presentations of the crucifixion made in the first millennium after Christs death all had the wrong depiction of the nails in the hands. But the negative image on the Shroud shows, correctly, nail wounds in the wrist.
Victims of crucifixion usually died in a matter of hours from blood loss, shock, asphyxiation or exhaustion. When the victims lasted too long under this punish nt, their knees were broken. Then they could no longer support their weight with their legs. This is depicted accurately in the movie for the two others who were crucified with Jesus. Once their knees were broken, they asphyxiated quickly because they could no longer draw breath.
This was a punishment that was applied to criminals who were less than citizens, less than human. Torture and brutal murder have always been used as elements of public policy by some leaders in all eras of history. Far from being unusual, the use of great brutality to eliminate enemies and to intimidate the general population was commonplace in most societies at the time of Jesus.
Genghis Khan was, if you will, an ordinary politician using the ordinary methods of his craft for his times. So were the Pharisees, the Spartans, the Persians, the Romans, the Vandals, the Goths, the Aztecs, the Maya, the Nazis, the Fascists, the Khmer Rouge, the Communists in every nation they have controlled. etc. One point about the Pharisees: though they controlled Jewish society at the time, their views did not represent the views of all Jews of the time, any more than Al Qaeda represents the views of all Muslims today.
For all the brutality common to most human societies throughout history, the 20th century was the most brutal in history as measured by the numbers of people murdered. Fewer societies used mass murder as a method of public policy in the 20th century, but those who did had the technology to expand mass murder beyond all prior limits. Such tactics still exist in the 21st century.
There is a known list of nations today that are controlled by those who believe that brutality and mass murder are legitimate tools for population control. Some but not all of these nations are the remaining Communist governments: China, North Korea, and Cuba.
Early in American history we had both a correct label for societies based on brutality and murder, and a distinction in our diplomatic relations. Such societies were described as barbarians. And nations dominated by such people were diplomatically recognized de facto rather than de jure. This accepted the truth that a government which had shot its way into power and maintained that power with brutality was in fact a government. But such a government lacked the legitimacy of one which abided the minimal limits of civilized behavior and therefore was a government in law.
We have abandoned that distinction in our international relations. We treat all governments as if they were legitimate. We act as if all of them can and should be negotiated with, as if they were rational actors on the international scene. That same false pretense is also applied to the United Nations, where a majority of the member nations are dictatorships who use brutality to maintain their power.
The commonplace brutality of two thousand years ago shown in The Passion of the Christ has a non-theological lesson for today.
There was a time in American history when we had the luxury of ignoring barbaric nations. In large measure they could be confined within their borders, and then the murders were their problems, not ours. That was not an absolute rule. It was two hundred years ago that we began our war against the Barbary Pirates, Muslims based mostly in Tripoli engaging in piracy against ships on the high seas.
In a sad prequel to current events, the United States had to go it alone against the Barbary Pirates. The European powers chose to continue their policy of buying off the pirates by paying tribute to them. It was only the United States which chose to end the piracy by taking out the ports from which they came. And we did so.
The challenge today is very similar. Given the advances in transportation and the technology of mass murder, the option of confining barbarians within their national boundaries. The task isnt just to fight against terrorism, its to destroy all the national bases of terrorism. It is now, for the first time in human history, to bring all the governments of the world into a state of minimal civilization.
It is a very minimal standard we must accomplish. It is to force all governments who deal in brutality as a matter of course either to change their policies and give up brutality, or to fall and be replaced by civilized governments. The recent about-face of the Libyan government is an example that this result can be accomplished without firing a shot. But it cant be accomplished without the apparent willingness to use force, if necessary. And, exactly as happened two centuries ago in dealing with the Barbary Pirates, what we do now should not and cannot be constrained by the views of nations such as the French.
Neither old Europe nor the United Nations will ever have the clarity of thinking or the honesty to recognize and deal with this global problem. The nations of new Europe are our allies in this effort and will remain so, because their memories of the jackboots of barbarians on their necks are within this generation and therefore fresh.
Likewise, some other nations around the world, like Japan, are our natural allies in this effort. But never will a majority of the worlds nations actively support this effort, until their governments either change or fall. That, too, is part of the definition of the global problem.
In The Passion of the Christ we saw in the minds of the Pharisees and the actions of the Roman soldiers the very face of mans inhumanity to man. We see that same face many places in the world today. The passion, or suffering, of mankind is unfinished business. Today, it is no less than a contest between the few civilized nations and a small but vicious tide of barbarians. The contest is well begun. It is one we cannot set aside until it is done.
That is the non-sectarian lesson from The Passion of the Christ.
Lastly, The Passion is the most brutal movie Ive ever seen. I recommend it to all who havent yet seen it. However, I dont recommend it for anyone who had difficulty with the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. If that was difficult for you, this movie will be impossible to endure.
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About the Author: John Armor is an author and columnist on politics and history. He currently has an Exploratory Committee to run for Congress.
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©) 2004, Congressman Billybob & John Armor. All rights reserved.
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Don't take small children to see The Passion, either.
Careful now, todays Jews are the direct descendants of the Pharisees.
This maxim applies in a number of areas -- theology, race relations, American Indians, the Irish.... Though come to think of it, the Irish tend to commit the same sins in each new generation, so the chain IS unbroken. (And don't get on my case for the Irish remark. I'm part Irish also.)
John / Billybob
If you are suggesting that, then I am guilty of holding slaves, since many of the scholars I rely on were, in fact, slave-owners.
I rest my case. John / Billybob
Not really. After the annihilation of the Jews in 70 and 135AD and the resultant Diaspora only Pharaseeism survived. The Sadducee's did not survive, the Essenes did not survive, only the Pharisees survived by moving the Jewish center of worship from the temple to the synagogue.
All Judaism practiced today was first transmitted Rabbi to pupil, Rabbi to pupil in an unbroken chain from then to now. Most Christians do not understand that the Pharisees Christ railed against have direct linear descendants in the Rabbis and Jews of today.
That's why I cautioned you on the comparison of Al Qaeda to Pharisees.