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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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VINEGAR (ὄξος, acetum) was credited with manifold efficacy by the ancient physicians.* [Note: HN xxiii. 27 ff.] Nor was the medicinal its sole use. It served as the drink of the lower orders, especially slaves; [Note: Mil. Glor. iii. 2. 23.] and it was the only refreshment allowed to soldiers while engaged in active service. ‘The vigilant humanity of Julian,’ says Gibbon, [Note: and Fall, ch. xxiv. See Wetstein on Matthew 27:34.] ‘had embarked a very large magazine of vinegar and biscuit for the use of the soldiers, but he prohibited the indulgence of wine.’

It is twice mentioned in the story of the Crucifixion. The quaternion of soldiers (cf. John 19:23) charged with the execution had with them a jar of their posca, as it was termed; and, when they had accomplished their laborious task, they refreshed themselves from it. The bystanders, led by the exultant priests, were meanwhile mocking the meek Sufferer and deriding His Messianic claim. ‘He is King of Israel,’ they cried: ‘let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe on him.’ The soldiers heard the taunt and joined in. (Luke 23:35-43 = Matthew 27:39-44 = Mark 15:29-32).

Again, after He had uttered His cry of desolation: Eli, Eli, lama ‘ăzabhtâni (see Dereliction), Jesus moaned, ‘I thirst’; and one of the bystanders, probably a Roman soldier,§ [Note: So Jerome, Euth Zig., on the ground that Jews would have understood the Hebrew Eli.] moved by pity, took a sponge and, dipping it in the posca, put it on the end of a hyssop reed. His comrades interfered. Ignorant of Hebrew, they took Eli for the name Elias, and supposed that Jesus was invoking the help of one of that name. ‘Hold!’|| [Note: | Mt.’s ἄφες may be the Hellenistic sign of Imperat. (modern Gr. ἄς): cf. Matthew 7:4 = Luke 6:42; but its construction as an independent Imperat. is equally permissible (cf. Epict. iv. i. 79) and yields a better sense, besides being favoured by Mk.’s ἄφετε.] they cried. ‘Let us see if Elias is coming to save him.’ But the man persisted in his humane purpose, and held up the sponge to the parched lips (Matthew 27:45-50 = Mark 15:33-37 = John 19:28-30).

St. Mark’s account is much confused. It represents the offering of the vinegar as an act of mockery, in opposition to both St. Matthew and St. John, and the cry, ‘Hold,’ etc., as uttered, without any apparent provocation, by the man with the reed. There is here an example of the style of modification which the Evangelic tradition—in this instance correctly reproduced by St. Matthew—suffered in the process of oral transmission: (1) The interference of the bystanders was omitted; and (2) ἄφες, suitable when addressed to one man, was altered to fit the new conception of the situation into ἄφετε.

It is nothing strange that Jesus accepted the posca after refusing the ‘myrrhed wine’ (Mark 15:23 = Matthew 27:34). He refused the narcotic (see Crucifixion), He accepted the refreshment.

David Smith.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Vinegar'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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