Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What drink was offered to Jesus on the cross?

Image: Mosaic depicting a drinking game.

What drink was offered to Jesus on the cross?

I was tutoring my boys in Latin on Monday morning. We usually read a section of William Stearns Davis' A Day in Old Rome (Allyn and Bacon, 1925, 1966) in each session. Yesterday’s reading was on the wine drinking customs of the ancient Romans. I was struck by this statement:

Common soldiers, slaves, and plebeians of the lowest classes have a special beverage all their own, namely posca, which is simply vinegar mixed with enough water to make it palatable. It probably forms a really refreshing drink, if one can acquire the taste for it (p. 108).

A footnote adds:

Posca was probably the drink in which the sponge was steeped, that was extended to Jesus as He hung on the cross.

This then sent me back to the Gospel accounts:

Matthew 27:34 They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall [oxos meta choles memingmenon]: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.

Matthew 27:48 And straightway one of them ran and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar [spongon, plesas te oxous], and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.

Mark 15:23 And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh [esmyrnismenon oinon]: but he received it not.

Mark 15:36 And one ran and filled a spunge, full of vinegar [gemisas spongon oxouos] , and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down (Mark 15:36).

Luke 23:36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar [oxos] (Luke 23:36).

John 19:29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar [oxous meton]: and they filled a spunge with vinegar [plesantes spongon oxous], and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar [to oxos], he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.


The offering of a vinegar drink (Greek to oxos, perhaps indeed, the posca mentioned by Davis) to Jesus at his crucifixion is mentioned in all four Gospels. It is multiply attested.

Matthew and Mark are unique in that they mention two offerings and in their note of his refusal at the first offering. It is not implausible, however, to harmonize these with the other accounts.

John notes the offering was just before his final statement, “It is finished” and death.

Though noting the similarities in the accounts above, it should also be recognized that each account is unique. The closest parallels are between Matthew and Mark. Still, even the language of Matthew and Mark differ. Luke’s is the most minimal. This argues against the idea of literary dependence among the Gospels and toward independent development based on common tradition.


1 comment:

Andrew said...

A few thoughts I had on this: The descriptions given in the Gospels seem to indicate that at least three different offerings of drink to Jesus took place. It is the last one, the vinegar, that fulfills the prophecy in Psalm 69.21. And it seems like this was the last prophecy that still had to be fulfilled at that point, since this is the one that's mentioned more consistently by Gospel writers.

The fact that other offerings of drink were made before this last one might indicate a kind of temptation toward Christ to fulfill prophecies in a way that is less than complete, since the drink offered in those other instances didn't match the exact description given. Jesus' refusal to drink it might then be compared to when the Lord refused to accept the temptation in the wilderness. In that case, the temptation by Satan toward Christ was explicitly premised on the idea of seemingly fulfilling other prophecies about Christ, but in the "wrong" way. These other drink offerings might potentially be viewed in the same light, and it's possible that the people giving these offerings were being moved to do so by some other influence.

Furthermore, it is interesting that the vinegar mixed with gall mentioned by Matthew was tasted but Jesus did not drink it, while the wine mingled with myrrh mentioned by Mark was not received. Recall the prophecy at the last supper, "Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God." The fact that wine was offered, as mentioned by Mark, might further indicate a temptation to violate this prophecy had occurred here as well.

I agree that accounts like this in the Gospels make attempts at arguing literary dependence between Gospels incredibly convoluted and unwieldy. The obvious and immediate explanation is that each account came from a direct eyewitness.