Left, Short whip (flagrum) with lead balls and sheep bones tied into leather thongs. Center left, Naked victim tied to flogging post. Deep stripelike lacerations were usually associated with considerable blood loss. Center right, View from above, showing position of lictors. Right, inferomedial direction of wounds.

Health of Jesus

The rigors of Jesus' ministry (that is, traveling by foot throughout Palestine) would have precluded any major physical illness or a weak general constitution. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus was in good physical condition before his walk to Gethsemane. However, during the 12 hours between 9 PM Thursday and 9 AM Friday, he had suffered great emotional stress (as evidenced by hematidrosis), abandonment by his closest friends (the disciples), and a physical beating (after the first Jewish trial). Also, in the setting of a traumatic and sleepless night, had been forced to walk more than 2.5 miles (4.0 km) to and from the sites of the various trials. These physical and emotional factors may have rendered Jesus particularly vulnerable to the adverse hemodynamic effects of the scourging.

Scourging Practices

Flogging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, (28) and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt. (11) The usual instrument was a short whip (flagrum or flagellum) with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals. Occasionally, staves also were used. (8,12) For scourging, the man was stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post. (11) The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two soldiers (lictors) or by one who alternated positions. (5,7,11,28) The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the lictors and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death. (8) After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim. (11) Medical Aspects of Scourging

As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim's back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. (7) Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. (27,25) Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. (12) The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross. (3)

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