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Friday, April 17, 2009


Given the stories in the news lately about torture - The wages of torture: Bush bears the blame for use of torture to question terror suspects - I was interested to see a post at Professor Mark Goodacre's NT Blog ..... The Horrors of Crucifixion and Amnesty International. Here's what he wrote - hope he doesn't mind me posting it in its entirety .....


This week in my Historical Jesus class we came to one of the topics that I never particularly enjoy teaching, not because it is lacking in interest but because it is such a profoundly disturbing topic. If there is one thing that we know about the Historical Jesus with a degree of certainty, it is that he died by crucifixion. If we don't know that, we really don't know anything. But if we do know that, what are the details of what we know about crucifixion in general?

When discussing Jesus' crucifixion, I like to explore the archaeological and the literary evidence for ancient crucifixion. That means drawing attention to the blood-curdling accounts from Seneca, Cicero and Josephus, among others, with help from Martin Hengel's little book, and adding to those Joe Zias's work on Crucifixion in Antiquity. When I showed the students a picture of the heel bone of Jehohanan, the sole archaeological evidence of a crucifixion victim, with the nail still embedded, there was an audible sense of horror at what must have been involved in that crucifixion. It brings home to students the unspeakably cruel nature of the punishment.

If, like me, you are a sensitive person, discussing forms of ancient torture with some degree of detail is not a pleasant experience. There is an anxiety in drawing attention to something so horrible from the past. When I was teaching this a few years ago, I found myself making some kind of remark about the cruelty, the sadism of the ancient figures we were discussing. And then I paused for a moment. The conceit of the academic who studies antiquity allows the indulgence of separating oneself from the past. The distancing is, of course, necessary and often desirable if one is to understand the past. But appreciation of the horrors of antiquity can at the same time awaken us to similar horrors in the contemporary world. And here there is something we can do about it. Why not use the reminder of evil in antiquity to stimulate us to action about the evil in the contemporary world?

Like 2.2 million others, I am a member of Amnesty International and I attempt, often inadequately, to make my small contribution to ending human rights abuses around the world.

I don't often discuss politics on this blog. It's not the blog's topic, and I am not expert enough to provide incisive political comment. I leave that to those who are more skilled and knowledgeable than I. But on occasions like this, with the reminder of such inspeakable human cruelty, I break with protocol, as I do in the classroom too, and share my own commitment to joining those who campaign for internationally recognised human rights for all.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

67 years ago my father, a young airman in the Navy failed to return from a wartime flight out of Alaska. I never had the chance to know my father, but from what I have been told he fought to protect us from the enslavement and cruelty of the Axis nations. Today I wonder if his death was wasted.

I am appalled to see the headlines that a "prominent Lawyer" says that the recently released memos show that because "there was no permanent physical or psychological damage, there was no torture. Have you ever had your breath cut off so you can't breath? Do you really believe that you wouldn't have nightmares after something like that? If such action has no lasting effects, why not use it as punishment for bad behavior in Children? Huh, anyone trying that would be in jail in no time, but because it was done to someone else, outside the US, it was perfectly all right and not torture.

The people of the United States were enraged by similar actions of both the enemy and our own troops in the Korean and even the Vietnam war, where is their outrage today?

Well gee whiz, if it makes us a bit safer it is perfectly all right. After all, they were terrorists, weren't they? Who needs a trial for them, they must be guilty. And this certainly gives us the right to drop bombs on civilians, on wedding parties, to shoot into crowds, doesn't it? And why shouldn't we act the same way as the terrorists do, we can claim the moral high ground cause they did it first, can't we?

Do we have to rely on Amnesty International for our moral guidance? Where are our moral leaders? Where are they leading us? Or are they afraid to speak out for fear on insulting someone.

Crystal, I am so angry, so saddened over the response by our country, by our Church, by our leaders, that have literally shed tears this day.

I know that there are good people in the world, I have met them, I have been guided by them. I am glad to have found someone that is willing to speak out.

And Jack, yes from time to time I also rant and rave :).

Love and Hugs, and may we all find peace.

Mike L

4:10 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

I think this is a subject worth ranting about. As David Foster Wallace wrote in something I posted earlier ....

"[...] can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib .... Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? ..."

To use torture to protect America destroys America as we know it.

5:01 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

But Mike, you are NOT ranting But Crystal, where are the others. I mentioned this on another blog you know, and just got cut off. Mike is a help to me. I am so filled with anger now---yes at the 'torturers--but more so at the cowards who won't speak out. I checked the other day and your blog is mentioned all over the place. Where are you guys? Jack

7:15 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I'm not sure what you mean.

7:46 PM  

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