Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)
When the Roman soldiers left the Praetorium with Jesus, they required him to carry the cross on which he would be crucified; however, Jesus was so weak from flogging and torture that he couldn’t carry the heavy cross through the Jerusalem streets. The soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’s cross through to Golgotha where the crucifixion occurred.
At Golgotha, the soldiers offered Jesus wine mixed with gall. After tasting the drink, Jesus refused it. When Roman soldiers felt pity for a prisoner before crucifixion, they added gall to a vinegar-wine drink and offered it to prisoners. The English word “gall,” in the New Testament, comes from the Greek word chole (Strong’s Concordance #G5521) which literally means poison. After tasting the drink, Jesus refused it.
Then, the soldiers used nails to pound Jesus’ hands and feet into the cross. Jesus continued to wear the crown of thorns. By Roman law, the soldiers were required to write the charges against the accused at the top of the cross so that all who passed by would know the reason for the crucifixion. The inscription on Jesus’ cross was, “The King of the Jews.” The Roman soldiers positioned the cross up-right into a hole in the ground so that Jesus hung from the cross. Two thieves were being crucified at the same time as Jesus, one on each side of Jesus. Jesus was crucified at the third hour of the day, or about 9:00 a.m.
Perhaps pity for the crucified sufferer was not the only reason Roman soldiers offered gall about to be crucified individuals including Jesus. Soldiers were required to guard the crucifixion site and men crucified there until the men were dead. The quicker a man died, the sooner the Roman soldiers could leave the site and return to their garrison.
Composition of Gall?
Controversy exists among Christians and botanist about the source of the bitter substance added to the wine vinegar drink. One proposed substance include juice from the opium poppy which caused pain relief but also hallucination which could lessen the experience of dying by crucifixion. A problem with this drug was that the opium poppy didn’t grow in Israel. I just can’t imagine Roman soldiers paying for an exotic drug for a condemned prisoner. Another drug was from the wormwood plant. Wormwood grew in Israel and had a bitter taste. Wormwood was the basis for an alcoholic drink (absinthe) which could reduce feeling and contact with reality. Roman soldiers wouldn’t share alcohol with a condemned prisoner.
Perhaps, the best source of gall added to the vinegar wine drink was from hemlock (Conium maculatum). Poisonous hemlock is a biennial shrub that grows in Israel. The poisonous hemlock is similar to wild parsley and wild carrots foliage. When farmers see the plant they immediately remove it. Animals and humans who eat the poisonous hemlock plant first become sedated then paralyzed. Finally, they die from respiratory muscle paralysis. In first century Palestine, seeds and leaves of the poisonous hemlock plant were distilled into liquid and added to wine vinegar drink. The hemlock addition made the drink tastes bitter and it became poisonous. A crucified individual who breathing muscles were paralyzed died quicker than one not given poisonous hemlock.
What’s so important about a drink?
After a night of torture and walking through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha, Jesus was dehydrated and thirsty. Yet, Jesus refused the poisonous hemlock-infused drink for two primary reasons. First Jesus did not want to be sedated. He wanted to feel all the agony of the crucifixion which included his father (God) turning his face away from the sins of you and me that Jesus took on the cross. Second, prophets identified that Jesus would die by crucifixion, not poison (reference). If he drank the gall he would have died from poisoning not from the pain of crucifixion.
I asked my minister, “Would it have made a difference to our redemption, if Christ died from poison rather than crucifixion?” In both, scenarios, Jesus was crucified and died. Pastor Mark believes how Jesus died was important. God required his pure, sinless son not to just die but to suffer. God’s plan wasn’t for Jesus to hang on the cross sedated; rather, Jesus was to be alert those six hours. When Jesus agreed to his Father’s plan to be the sacrifice for the sins of mankind, he knew that his Father, the perfect God, couldn’t look on sin; thus, God couldn’t look on Jesus when Jesus took on him sins of all mankind.
What way other than alert, could Jesus lead a thief crucified on one side of him to believe in himself as the Son of God? Remember, God isn’t willing that any individual should perish (reference). If only one sinful person lived on earth and were separated from God, Jesus would have suffered and died for that one person. Save
What would you have done?
From this passage in Matthew, we know what Jesus did – he allowed himself to be crucified without any chemical barrier between himself and his pain and ultimate death. Now, after we knew what Jesus would do and did do, each of us must ask ourselves what are we going to do in response to someone who loves us so much?
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Copyright may 28, 2018; carolyn a. roth