Governor Pilate succumbed to the demands of the Jewish religious leaders and ordered Jesus crucified. He turned Jesus over to his soldiers to complete the crucifixion (Matthew 27.27-30). The company of soldiers stationed in Jerusalem likely was composed of diverse nationalities; however, probably none were Jews. The soldiers took Jesus to the Praetorium, a barracks area with a large court yard used for practice drills, i.e., sword, javelin. There, the soldiers gathered their entire company and proceeded to mock and torture Jesus.
One humiliation was taunting Jesus with the claim that he was a king. The soldiers were loyal to Rome and acknowledged no king but Caesar.
- They stripped Jesus of his clothes and put a scarlet robe on him (Matthew 27.27-31). Some scholars contended that the scarlet robe was a cloak worn by Roman soldiers when they were at state functions.
- They put a reed in Jesus’s hand. The reed symbolized the scepter (rod) carried by ancient rulers.
- They spit on Jesus in parody of giving him a kiss which in ancient times was part of the welcome given a ruler or a person in authority.
The soldiers took the same reed used to mock his supposed kingship and struck Jesus on the head” (Matthew 27.30 ESV). The soldiers scourged, or flogged, Jesus (Mark 15.15).
From Matthew’s gospel, readers conclude that the same reed was used to mimic a scepter and to strike Jesus on the head. In the ancient Near East, scepters had several designs to include a crook at the end, a left and right-sided division and design, and a simple narrow flute-type design (http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/). In the Middle Ages Christians cattails in artwork of as an allusion to Jesus. Paintings by Flemish artist Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599 – 1641) of Jesus’ mock trial have him with a cat-tail in his hand as a scepter.
Roman soldiers had access to a number of different reeds that grew in Judea around Jerusalem. The reed that resembles an ancient Near East scepter and is sufficiently sturdy to use to strike an individual on the head is the cattail (Typha angustifolia also known as the Typha domingensis (Flowers in Israel.com). Not coincidentally, the cattail is very similar to a scepter (mace) used in ancient Egypt
Cattails are a perennial, growing to nine feet tall. Flowers, which give the plant their identifying characteristic are near the top of stalks and typically brown in color. Often flowers are described as resembling sausages. Flowers are present between January and June; consequently, cattails with the broad flower head was available for the Roman soldiers to use in torment of Jesus.
Cattails cannot grow in the shade. Cattail prefers wet soil and grows in water. Flowers are either male or female, but both sexes are found on the same plant. Flowers are pollinated by wind. Stalks which bear flowers are greenish and often appear lighter in color than leaves. Flower stocks are jointless and stiff; and could have easily served a dual purpose in the torment of Jesus, both a scepter and the “reed” used to strike Jesus on the head.
What a heart-breaking situation. The same individuals, i.e., soldiers, that Jesus came to save humiliated and beat him using a plant from God’s creation. As I internalize this event in the Praetorium, I imaging that I would be more hurt by the mocking than by the beating.
Reflection: Do you ever humiliate Jesus?
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copyright May 28, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth