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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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Among both Jews and Romans the common mode of corporal punishment to which offenders were subjected was that of scourging.

1. Jewish scourging.-The supreme Sanhedrin at Jerusalem and the local Sanhedrins connected with all the synagogues were in the habit of punishing by scourging secondary misdemeanours, civil and ecclesiastical. Their authority for the infliction was derived from the statute of the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 25:1-3) which ordained that the misdemeanant should receive a number of stripes not exceeding forty. To ensure that the legal limit was not exceeded, the number was restricted in practice to thirty-nine for one offence. These were administered with a scourge composed of leather strands, the usual executioner being the Chazzan, or attendant, of the synagogue (Luke 4:20).

Among the suffering which he heroically endured, St. Paul records his subjection to this form of severe maltreatment on five different occasions, not one of which is mentioned in the Acts (2 Corinthians 11:24). Jesus warned His disciples to expect the same sort of persecution at the hands of the Jewish authorities (Matthew 10:17), a forewarning which was soon verified. The beating (δέρειν) which the apostles received on the occasion of their second collision with the Sanhedrin was that with stripes (Acts 5:10). During the period of his career as persecutor, St. Paul searched out the members of every synagogue suspected of being believers, and endeavoured to secure their retractation by the use of the same drastic method (Acts 22:19; cf. Acts 26:11).

2. Roman scourging.-(a) Roman scourging is distinguished from Jewish in 2 Corinthians 11:24 f by the fact that the former was inflicted with rods (ἐραβδίσθην). St. Paul suffered this mode of punishment on three occasions. Only one of these inflictions, that shared by Silas, is recorded in the Acts (Acts 16:22). In carrying out the orders of the Roman magistrates, the lictors would seem to have executed their task with merciless rigour (Acts 16:23). According to the Porcian Law (300 b.c.), scourging was forbidden in the case of Roman citizens, this particular penalty being reserved for slaves and foreigners; and to make matters worse, the magistrates acted also ultra vires by failing to investigate the case fully (Acts 16:37). (b) In the absence of lictors, the flagellation was inflicted with a different instrument, consisting of a ‘knout’ or ‘cat’ with ‘lashes of knotted cord, or even wire, which might be loaded with knuckle bones or other cruel aggravations.’ This dreadful weapon was sometimes employed for extorting confession from persons accused of crime. The chiliarch who had St. Paul under arrest ordered the whip (μάστιξ) to be used for this purpose. Arrangements for subjecting the Apostle to the terrible ordeal had been completed by the centurion, but he escaped it by a successful assertion of his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:24-29).

3. Among the heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 some had trial of scourgings (v. 36), the reference being to tortures inflicted by Jewish or heathen persecutors (2 Maccabees 7:1).

Literature-For mode of Scourging and other details, see articles ‘Flagrum’ in Smith’s DGRA [Note: GRA Dict. of Greek and Roman Antiquities.] 3, London, 1901, ‘Scourge’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , ‘Stripes’ in Jewish Encyclopedia ; F. W. Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul, do., 1897, pp. 715-717; T. Keim, History of Jesus of Nazareth, Eng. translation , 6 vols., do., 1873-83, vi. 116 f.

W. S. Montgomery.

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

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Thursday, November 26th, 2020
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