Catholic World Report has been kind enough to run a piece I drafted in a sudden fit of inspiration about the true locus of the violence of the crucifixion. Hint: It’s not the physical torture. Excerpts:
Everybody in the ancient world knew what crucifixion entailed. It’s not like Jesus was the only person crucified. The Hasmonean king of the Jews, Alexander Jannaeus, once crucified 800 Pharisees who had crossed him (pun not intended—honest) for the entertainment of his guests. Upon crushing Spartacus’ revolt Crassus crucified 6000 slaves up and down the Appian Way. The Jewish historian Josephus records that at one point during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 Titus crucified 500 Jews per day; “their number was so great that there was not enough room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies.” And while crucifixion has fallen out of fashion in the modern West, it retains its fascination for us, precisely because of its extreme nature.
Shame is meant to separate. Shaming is shunning. And thus the cross isn’t incidental or accidental or arbitrary, as some misguided theologians like Occam have thought. It’s necessary, but what’s necessary about it is not the physical suffering it inflicts upon Jesus, but what it reveals about the human race’s attitude of utter hatred towards God—Jew and Gentile conspire to murder God’s Son, making us guilty of deicide—and even more, how it separates Jesus from both humanity and God so that he experiences utter Hell for us. For what is Hell, ultimately, if not separation from all love?