Translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 18: 17
So they took Jesus and he went out to the so-called Place of the Skull (Golgotha in Aramaic), carrying his own cross. There they fixed him to the cross, and two others with him, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate also had a title written and put on the cross. It said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Judaeans.” This title was read by many Judaeans for the place where Jesus was fixed to the cross was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. So the chief priests of the Judaeans said to Pilate, “Don’t put, ‘The King of the Judaeans’ but ‘He said, I am the King of the Judaeans.’ Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
When the soldiers had fixed Jesus to the cross, they took his outer clothing and divided it into four parts, a part for each soldier; but his tunic was seamless, woven in one piece throughout, so they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it but cast lots for whose it shall be” – that the Scripture should be fulfilled that says, “They divided my outer clothing amongst them and for my inner clothing they cast lots”. So that’s what the soldiers did.
I have kept the traditional translation of the Greek stauros = execution stake because the latter is a little clumsy, but it remains important to remind the reader that Jesus was not killed on a ritual object, but on whatever kind of stake had been roughly put together for this occasion. Crucified people were exposed to the elements, naked and humiliatingly unable to control their bodily functions. They died of heart failure or suffocation often after many hours of terrible pain. It was a punishment reserved by the Romans for foreigners and slaves. The biblical writers are very sparing in their description of Jesus’ ordeal, giving minimum information. It seems possible in spite of this narrative, that none of the disciples witnessed this event.
The detail of the title on the cross is confirmed up in the other gospels. It may indicate that Jesus was put to death as a messianic pretender. That is certainly the logic of John’s gospel; the one who has spoken of another dimension is very firmly nailed down in the dimension that belongs to Caesar.
The “seamless robe” of Jesus seems to be invented by a misunderstanding of Psalm 22, where the dividing and the casting lots refer to the one action. The psalm had been used in the tradition of Jesus’ death for many years before its use in this gospel. It may have appealed to this author because the robe of the high priest was seamless.