On crucifixion and lynching, part 2

Belfast, N. Ireland

In David Tombs assessment, sexualized violence may be one of the most significant correlations between crucifixion and lynching. Citing a few historical records (due to time, he could not share more), brutal sexualized violence – such as castration or genital impalement – were known features of some crucifixions, even during the 1st century A.D. in Palestine. Thus, when I asked David if it was possible that Jesus could have been castrated or experienced impalement, he responded by saying that there is clearly no evidence in the scriptural text to indicate that, but historical context certainly does not preclude it.

Humiliation was a significant aspect of crucifixion. In the case of Jesus, we read that Jesus was paraded through the streets, forced to carry the instrument of his execution (perhaps like if contemporary death row inmates were forced to walk to death row through the main streets of their cities carrying the electric chair on their backs or a syringe in their hand?), then led outside the city walls (physical representation of his marginalization and loss of societal acceptance), raised on a cross for all to see, and in all likelihood, would have been naked. It was a public spectacle, much like lynching. Thus, if the goal is humiliation and demonstrable weakness, would not genital mutilation make sense? Again, the Gospels do not suggest this, but other historical examples indicate its possibility. As David said, crucifixion could very well have been a theater of sexualized violence.

But David’s stronger emphasis is on the existing scriptural descriptions of sexualized violence against Jesus. According to David, the text is clear about sexualized violence, as the Gospels describe Jesus being forcibly stripped at least three times. David asserts, and rightly so I believe, that forcible stripping and beating is most certainly a form of sexualized violence. He suggested the great possibility that the treatment of Jesus was worse than described in the text. As David said, if all that happened to Jesus was as illustrated in the text, then Jesus received a very “gentle treatment” in relation to the normal practices toward Roman prisoners sentenced to crucifixion. Granted, there is no textual evidence to support this, but there seems to be significant contextual evidence that supports such possibilities.

The broader question here is why have Christians rarely discussed this over the last 2,000 years? From my understanding of David’s presentation, very little has been written on this issue throughout history. Among myself and the four others in attendance, we theorized with David about reasons for such silence.

Jon, a fourth year PhD candidate at ISE, suggested that the notion of “redemptive atonement” and the “glory of the cross” probably, for many people, need to be shielded from such shame and social stigmas as sexualized violence. The cross is meant to be seen as triumphant, the argument might go, as it represents the salvation of humanity (or rather that part of humanity that accepts the salvific exclusivity of Jesus). Another John, a part time MPhil student in my program, discussed the idea of the “sanitized blood” of the crucified Jesus, flowing from the crown of thorns and the holes in his wrists and feet, wounds that are, again, symbolic of salvation. To suggest blood flowing from wounds to the groin would taint this image of the “sanitized blood” of Christ that cleanses all sin. I wondered if for many, a literalist reading of the Scriptures would rule out any need for such consideration. “If the text doesn’t say it, it didn’t happen,” or at least doesn’t matter. Historical context might then be considered irrelevant. In my home in the American South, I have often heard the (terribly degrading) adage that any old housewife can pick up the Bible and understand it. Here the argument indicates that “The Bible says what it means and means what it says.” Thus, why talk about the sexualized violence of crucifixion if the Bible doesn’t? Of course, David argues that the Bible does in fact mention it (the forced stripping of Jesus) but we just don’t acknowledge this as sexualized violence.

Thoughts and reactions to all this? I’m not sure exactly what point I wish to convey, other than that I found this seminar quite fascinating and thought I would share some of the information here. To see Christ crucified in the image of black men lynched in the U.S. is powerful for me. Might such analysis cause many of us white Christians in the United States to seriously reflect on our ancestry and racial history and then compel us to consider carefully some of the hate-filled, violent bigotry we might spout and hear regarding Muslims, Arabs, immigrant Mexicans, etc.?


  1. The photo of the two black males is heart breaking. The white man in the left hand corner is smiling. The girl beside him does not look too upset either.

  2. Robert says:

    By sharing you help bring healing.

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