June 2, 2023


Two Thousand Years of Christian StrangenessA podcasting scholar sums up the history of pain in two artworks and the lives of three illustrious women. (Tom Holland, FEBRUARY 28, 2023, PloughCast)

In this interview, Plough's Peter Mommsen speaks with Tom Holland, the historian, cricket fan, and podcaster, about how Christianity changed humanity's view of suffering.

Why would a humiliated hero have seemed foreign to the creators of the Laoco├Ân?

For the Greeks and Romans, the ability to withstand excruciating pain was the measure of a man. The classic example is Mucius Scaevola, who according to the historian Livy infiltrates the enemy camp, is captured, is told to reveal what he knows, and as a mark of his contempt for that demand, thrusts his hand into the fire until it's consumed without once letting out a hint of pain. This is the kind of story the Romans adored. The pain endured by a hero becomes the measure of a hero.

Conversely, the pain suffered by, say, a slave who is nailed to a cross is contemptible. There is elevated pain and there is servile pain. The servile pain is to be mocked and despised.

So by definition, the victim of a crucifixion can't be heroic?

The whole point of crucifixion is to humiliate and degrade. It is the punishment seen as paradigmatically suited to a rebellious slave. Not only is it excruciatingly painful and protracted - you could survive on the cross for days - but it's also public. You are hung up there like a piece of meat, and your sufferings are objects of public ridicule. There's nothing you can do to brush away the birds who might peck out your eyes or attack your genitals. You can't stop people from watching your gasps and heaving breath as you struggle to lift yourself up to gulp for air. It's this that makes you serve as a billboard of Roman power.

This is the penalty that is visited on rebels against Roman rule out in the provinces, and so it becomes the fate suffered by Jesus. The titulus, the board affixed above his head by Pilate's orders, says that he is the king of the Jews. And there can be no king of the Jews in a Roman province.

No evangelist would make up such a story. 

Posted by at June 2, 2023 12:00 AM