In the camp of the Roman troops, Pilate, the governor, sits in the praetorium building to judge Christ, who called himself the king of the Jews. Christ is condemned to death. As he is being led out and pacing through the camp, the soldiers fall on him and play cruel jokes on him: they crown him, give him coronation robe and sceptre; they make the crown of thorns; the mantle is real purple (πορφυρᾶ), the scepter a reed (κάλαμος). They do this, we emphasize, because Christ called himself king.
We assume that this is indeed what happened. Because the process has nothing internally unbelievable. But the question is whether the legionnaires resorted to this cruelly theatrical mockery that preceded the execution entirely of their own free will, or whether certain popular beliefs inspired them. Whether they were transferred there from Gaul, Spain, Germania, or some other part of the empire, they were no doubt influenced by Greco-Roman traditions and ways of life. In this sense, various scholars have combined various things, the credible and the unbelievable  . It seems to me that what is absolutely correct has not yet been said.
Some will probably shy away from relating parts of the passion story, which are the subject of his devotional immersion, to the very trivial circumstances of life at that time. But the story of Christ’s passion is firmly woven into the history of humanity as a whole, and so it is understandable that we seek to follow the inconspicuous threads that connect it to its immediate surroundings, to the life of profane reality. You will only gain credibility as a result.
The Sakaen. The poor as king. Saturnalia.
In search of analogies one is of course up to the[p. 190]reached Scythians. The Sakers (Σάκαι) were a Scythian people north of Persia. In Babylonia and among the Persians, a festival named after them, the Sakaen (Σάκαια), was celebrated, which the Greeks repeatedly report on. The orator Dio of Prusa knows more about this than others and gives his audience the sensational account: In order to celebrate the festival according to the rite, a criminal sentenced to death was needed. The criminal is set on the king’s throne, is clothed in the king’s regalia, and is allowed to live lavishly, even to attend the king’s concubines; but then he is undressed, whipped and burned. It is the principle of the last meal before the execution. But who can seriously find agreement in this with the Gospel narrative? And what do the customs of the Romans and Greeks have to do with the Sakaeen? Above all, however, there is the unavoidable suspicion that the speaker Dio is fantasizing here or is just telling someone else’s fables. Others already have this rightly said. Because the oldest, most reliable reports about the Sakäen know nothing about human sacrifices at this bacchanalian festival.
In antiquity, becoming a king was the dream of the poor. That’s fairy tale tone. “I shall be called king,” dreams the starving fisherman Gripus at Plautus, when he finds gold in his net; “I want to be a citizen of Athens, no, I want to be an archon, no, I want to become a king!” This is also the dream of the oppressed slave of the popular philosopher Teles  . We are told with emotion how Alexander the Great once saw a veteran of his army lying in the snow and wasting away and how he magnanimously put him on his throne to save him . Even more dynamic is the story of the Cyprian Alynomos, the noble but impoverished man who lives alone in a garden. There the kingship in Paphos will be settled. Alexander the Great has Alynomos searched for. The little man was watering a bed with water and[p. 191]was terrified when the king’s envoys found him. He is led in front of Alexander in a simple smock. He immediately clothed him in purple and made him king of Paphos. “Thus fortune makes kings,” exclaims Plutarch, telling us this; “Only the suit is changed, and one does not hope or expect it oneself.”
Only the suit is changed! Disguise! masquerade! It would be understandable if the Volkstheater had occasionally brought such dream kings onto the stage.
Let us therefore first recall the Saturnalia of Rome, which corresponded to a Greek festival of Kronos (Κρόνια); it is a detour we are taking, but it will not prove useless. In this blissful carnival of old Saturnalia, the great festival of gifts in December, when for seven days a year the slaves were considered free and the poor considered rich, there was also a fool king who was chosen by lot  .
Lucian is our chief witness, and he speaks of a double kingship. First it was the god Saturn (Cronos), who appeared at the festival itself and was represented by someone from society, and not as a morose old man, but lively and vigorous and, most importantly, in royal regalia . There is also no doubt that Kronos-Saturn, with whom the witty Lucian entertains himself and his readers in Scripture No. 70, is not the god himself, but the god’s mask, i. H. the festival king Kronos, portrayed by a human in masquerade, who, when he wants to make the sad man happy, does not appear to him in a dream like the gods usually do, but physically grabs his ear from behind and shakes him properly, with whom also comfortably have the funniest conversations and who also receives and writes letters there (the first of these letters is addressed to Kronos by “I”). What Lucian is doing is nothing more than a carnival newspaper in which Prince Carnival-Kronos is the main character. same[p. 192]His Majesty then also enacts laws for the festival there, which the rich are to set up on a pillar in their atriums; in addition the dire threat: whoever transgresses the laws, this king will make a priest of Cybele and a eunuch  .
Every year King Kronos could be seen in all cities, big and small, also in the field camps and barracks. But his tasks included not only getting drunk, playing dice and making love, but also creating festival kings who were somehow subordinate to him (ἄρχοντας καθιστάναι 70 1, 2). It is said that by drinking and throwing dice he bestows victory and makes the one who asks him rightly become king , so that the one who has been elevated to rulership can command everyone to do everything, one to perform a satyresque dance, the other to insult himself as vile and mean, the third to perform three times with the musician in his arms run around the house m. Alas, says Kronos, this kingship which I bestow is short; but mine doesn’t last any longer  .
The Saturnalia king as a dolt.
It can be assumed, however, that Kronos, i. H. the festival kings created by lot and the king Kronos himself certainly often coincided in one person  . Be that as it may, in any case, many a poor rogue from the mass of the people often saw themselves raised up to be kings in funny disguises in this way, until their splendor died out with the festival. So it was like a theater play in which the feasting and carousing audience took over the roles themselves, a mummery in which the first best, no matter how miserable he was, as king and main character became the object of parodic homage and consistently very harmless jokes  .
Finally, however, it should be noted that Seneca seems to have compared the reign of the Emperor Claudius with such a foolish role. Seneca says that this Claudius behaved like a ” Saturnalicius princeps ” throughout his life  . Of course, this can only be said that Claudius was an emperor ( princeps ) who ruled the Saturnalia[p. 193]loved. But it is certainly more genuine, because it is more pointed, if we understand: he always behaved like a Saturnalia king  . That is to say: his servants and freedmen cheated on the Emperor, and in the immeasurable merriment he forgot all his duties. But if this is correct, then the character of the role of the Saturnalia king is further clarified: we find that for him the character of the dolt or “stupidus” – for this was Claudius – was essential.
Apparently these good-natured and trite jokes are of no use to us in our cause. Any analogy to the mockery of Christ is absent. There is also no physical abuse. The festival was not about a criminal sentenced to death; and the King of Saturnalia rightly called himself King of Saturnalia, Christ wrongly called himself King of the Jews in the opinion of his tormentors.
In any case , what is said to us about the year 300 AD in the files of St. Dasius on the matter should be left aside as implausible and bogus  . In order to bring paganism into disrepute, the Christian narrators of martyrdom dreamed up horror stories about human sacrifices: when the soldiers in the army camp celebrated the festival, the Saturnalia king, after having enjoyed all the joys of life for a few days, had himself slaughtered by the gods have to. So the course of events suddenly becomes similar to that at the Sakäen Festival, which Dio is fabled about. But antiquity really knows nothing of this. It is tendentious invention.
Lets move on. That masquerade, with which the people of Rome and Greece embellished their celebration of fraternity and which often made the poor and humble king for a few days, could now really be brought to the theater. We have proof of that. Philos writing against Flaccus cp. 5 f. is a witness. Here is what happened in Alexandria, Egypt.
Jew-hatred was a force in Alexandria. Nevertheless, and although he had been warned, the king of the Jews, Agrippa I, went from Rome to the excitable city. Immediately, however, Janhagel’s lust for mockery fell upon him whenever he was seen in the street, and the Roman prefect Flaccus did not move; he didn’t let the street police intervene. When Agrippa appeared in the gymnasium, the young people grabbed a naked, i. H. poorly dressed and idiotic people (μεμηνώς τις) named Karabas, who was the laughing stock of the street urchins, picked him up from the street, put him on a dais, crowned him by putting an open scroll on his head in a diadem, hung a carpet on him as a coronation robe and finally gave him a piece of a shaft of papyrus reed instead of the scepter, that lay discarded on the pavement. But that happened, says Philo, in imitation of the mimes in the theater (ὡς ἐν θεατρικοῖς μίμοις). Because these people did not have finer education (βραδεῖς κ παλὰ παιδείεσθαι), but with the poets of the most common folk tissue they went into teaching (ποιηταις μίμων καὶ διδασκάάοις χρώμενοι) .
The fool as king in mimus.
A papyrus shaft as a scepter! a scroll for a crown! You really did see such disguises on stage back then. But we may also assume that what Philo adds further imitates the same plays, even if Philo does not expressly say so. Because the report goes on. So Karabas stood as king. Young people (at least on the same podium) lined up around him as a follower and acted out a scene; they paid homage to him (ἀσπάζεσθαι) and then approached him for legal and administrative decisions. But the crowd formed a circle around the group, as if around the Pulzinell box, and suddenly the audience shouted: “Maris!” Maris means, says Philo, in Syriac “the Lord”. Agrippa himself was a Syrian.
We may assume that such scenes as the one described[p. 195] in popular farce or mimus were popular at the time. From this a scholar  drew the obvious conclusion that the soldiers in the Gospel also knew this same folk farce and that in the mockery of Christ this farce was reproduced and acted out by them. The Passion of the Lord a theatrical scene! Christ a victim of parody and mime!
Indeed, farce loved parody; he was also fond of improvisation, and in order to imitate royal pomp he could content himself with substituting crown, cloak, and scepter with such inferior objects as might be offered; that seemed funny and touching at the same time. Accordingly, Christ also receives the reed from the soldiers instead of the scepter, but thorns are used for the crown, which we can assume were closest to hand. The agreement is obvious.
But we mustn’t overlook the differences either, and anyone who thinks they can really adequately explain the biblical story from Philo is wrong.
The pseudo-king Karabas, of whom Philo speaks, is also asked to do justice. However, it remains doubtful whether this was really done in his own mockery. We don’t even know how the plot unfolded in such royal mimus. Nor does Philo tell us  . But it is conceivable, and for the time being the most obvious assumption, that the poor man’s dream of happiness, of whom I spoke, was simply realized and that the embarrassment of a person like Alynomos was portrayed, who, picked up from poverty, suddenly spoke justice in purple and should rule. Since mimus was often an impromptu game, the king’s regalia was also improvised, as I said, and the first item that came along was used.
In any case, with Philo it is not Karabas himself that is the target of mockery, but Agrippa. Only in view of the presence of King Agrippa did the carabas scene take on a more poignant punchline[p. 196]satire and served the purpose of mockery. That is clear. Agrippa should recognize himself in the pathetic wretch. “Even Agrippa is nothing but such a miserable regent by blissful grace, who understands nothing about ruling and judging!” That was the meaning, that was the point of the matter.
If we try to imagine the play, of which the Karabass scene was only an imitation, it certainly had no point against the Jews of Alexandria  . For nowhere is there any hint of this. But otherwise the play was certainly lacking in trend and much more touching than raw  : its subject is a poor fellow who, as he perhaps secretly wished, or even quite against his will, suddenly becomes king, but who proves to be a stupid person and finally, relieved, sinks back into nothingness.
So this mimus need not have been essentially different from the royal masquerades of the Saturnalia carnival. On the contrary! There is no doubt that the kings of Saturnalia were not always dressed in gold and costly fabrics in the simpler circles and in the small towns, but that, just like we see with the Karabas, in order to increase the fun, they were dressed in genuine carnival-like carelessness was content with inferior and parodic aids. Above all, note that, according to Philo, the Karabas who represents the king is an idiot or imbecile. The dumbest person is chosen; he was just the most suitable for this role. Just as we have previously established the character of the dolt and stupid for the king of Saturnalia, more precisely the character of the “fatuus ” or idiot, also expressly associated with “king” in the proverb; I mean the proverb that Seneca starts from in his Claudius satire: aut fatuum aut regem nasci oportere : “One can only be a true king or a true dullard by birth!” But Emperor Claudius,[p. 197]the Saturnalia king was even both in one, fatuus and rex  .
But the resemblance between Karabas and the Emperor Claudius goes even further. The real merits of this regent are of course not considered here, but only the view that prevailed about him in his own family, in the noble world of Rome and, when Claudius died, also in Seneca. According to this, Claudius was ” fatuus “, feeble-minded and insane from birth  , like Karabas. But he had no chance of becoming king and lived most of his life in secret and despised , like Karabas. Against his own will, he is then raised to the rank of monarch, like Karabas. But he behaves like a silly king of Saturnalia, just as Karabas must have behaved in accordance with his nature in the mimus scene. According to Seneca’s expression  , Claudius, as the Saturnalia king, extended the Saturnalia throughout the year; i.e. H. his regiment of fools never came to fruition. Who will deny that there is no essential difference between the idea of the Saturnalia king and the simple-minded king in Philo’s Mimus, but rather a close connection?
If we finally look back and compare the gospel account again, there is now more than one difference. For in the Bible Christ himself wants to be king, and that is why he is mocked. In Philo Karabas himself does not want to be king at all, and that is why the scorn of his fellow players is not directed at him, but only at King Agrippa, who is looking on. The difference is obvious. However, he makes the correspondence between the Karabass scene and the gospel account, which was noted earlier, completely illusory.
In addition, there is the second and more significant difference, namely that the mimus evidently lacked any cruder action. The cruel comedy culminates in the gospels[p. 198]that the soldiers, who were kneeling before Jesus and greeting him: “Hail, King of the Jews!” suddenly spit on him and hit him on the head with the certainly very strong reed, which serves as a sceptre. In the scene Philo gives, nobody thinks about raping Karabas. We must therefore emphatically absolve the Greek mimus of all guilt: his model certainly gave no cause for the Christ Passion.
Accordingly, there is still no evidence as to why it is that the same person who is adorned with royal adornments is also the object of mockery, yes, even of chastisement and torment.
One will find further searching worthless and futile. The history of Scripture, short and poignant as it is, is self-explanatory. The action grew out of the situation. Without a doubt! So why more analogies? And yet what we read becomes more comprehensible, it loses its incoherence, as it were, and is grounded in contemporary history when we remember other things and seek further instruction from the Romans themselves. We do not ask mimus, but history.
” Sardi venales “. Vitellius’ end.
I am thinking first and foremost of the “ Sardi venales ” of Rome, as strange as they sound and as buried as their memory is among historians. When the Etruscans were defeated, when Veii, the most powerful enemy in Rome’s vicinity, was conquered, a symbolic action became customary in Rome at the Capitoline Games  , which were never organized by the state but by a private society in October, and have been held annually since then repeated it was an auction scene. From the crowd of slaves for sale, an old man ( senex deterrimus ) who was as wretched as possible was selected, dressed in the royal Etruscan garb together with a golden ” bulla ” and so princely dressed for sale from the forum to the capitol via theSacra via led. So it was King Veiis himself, in tragicomic travesty, on whom[p. 199]the arrogant people of the victors “full of scorn”  amused again and again. How easily the mockery could have found the formula: “Hail, King of the Etruscans!” In reality, the stupidity of this king is again emphasized here (as with Karabas and Emperor Claudius)  ; otherwise we only hear that a barker ( praeco ) greeted the mocking king and his entourage with the exclamation ” Sardi venales “, i. H. “Here you can buy sardines!” The Etruscans derive from Sardis in Asia Minor.
However, there was no physical abuse. For one did not have King Vejis in front of oneself, but only his mimic image. Both clothing and mockery are actually present here, as can be seen; according to Plutarch’s testimony, this mocking king was actually seen in Rome every year up to his time, i. H. up to the year 100 AD and later  , i.e. just at the time when the Gospels were written, and we are already beginning to understand how it came about that the “King of the Jews” Jesus Christ was also clothed and his taunt was made by the warriors of the very people where such brutal masquerading was part of the annual festival program.
However, a few decades after Christ’s Passion, the death of Emperor Vitellius takes place in Rome. Then we hear  : Vespasian’s troops are advancing against Rome’s walls. Vitellius is defeated. He has thrown off his purple and hides on the Palatine, dressed in rags, to escape to Terracina at night. The enemy soldiers, however, who do not recognize and fight against his empire, look for him and find him soiled and stained with blood. They tear his dress from his body, tie his hands behind his back like a condemned criminal, lead him across the Sacra Via , where yesterday he was driving in the royal carriage, to the Forum, where he used to do justice as a ruler. And some hit him now, others pluck him[p. 200] Chin, everyone mocks him in high spirits, reproaching him for his voluptuous life. He lowers his head in shame. Then they stab him in the chin from below with the daggers, so that he has to raise his head. A Celtic soldier takes pity on him and tries to kill Vitellius to spare him further cruelty. But the attempt fails, and with laughter they continue to prison. Finally he gets cut down.
military brutality. The kingship of the cynic.
Christ and Emperor Vitellius! what a compilation! And yet in that wild atrocity scene we have at last found a real counterpart to what the soldiers did to the Savior before his last hour. Here we have what is completely missing in Philo’s mime: the man who is suffering is a pretender; Vitellius claims to be emperor; Christ pretends to be king. Because of this, and through this claim, both draw scorn on themselves, and that is why they are also tormented, so that they notice their defenselessness in their bodies and how little they are really kings. Both cases also involve the execution of the pretender; In both cases, however, the soldiers of Rome cannot make up their minds to carry them out immediately, but first play a cruel game like a beast of prey with its prey,
It’s good to know the Roman soldier if you want to understand his behavior. But what I assert is twofold, and these must be sharply distinguished.
When the soldiers came up with the idea, which was amusing to them, of dressing up and crowning Christ as king, it was certainly inspired by the memory of a masquerade, which, as has been shown, was in vogue and widespread at the time, and which occasionally Popular theater of Mimus to see, especially in Rome every year in October at the Capitoline Festival of Sardi venales and the same[p. 201]then in December at the Saturnalia Festival was commonplace. The most important thing about the Gospel story, however, is explained by the historical moment itself, by direct inspiration and by the brutal, cold-hearted cruelty of the common man in the army, that Roman hireling who once carried the kings of Macedonia and Numidia captive to Rome and for the now the time was just approaching when he wickedly arrogantly made the emperors of Rome themselves and destroyed them again. So we see how he revels in being the executioner’s servant, unleashing his superiority on the defenseless man who claims the purple without being able to assert it. This uncanny fermenting power, which first reveals itself so horribly and frighteningly to us at the death of Vitellius, is also the same that manifests itself in the same impulse,
We have hitherto considered only the cruder strata of ancient life, which were not exposed to higher education and the ennobling influence of Greek practical philosophy. But that is unfair. Finally, therefore, let us also try to imagine—and this is more valuable than all that has been said—what impression the Gospel narrative of which we are dealing with made on the really educated Greek world at the time it appeared, i.e., on the Greek world. i. especially those men – and they numbered in the thousands everywhere – to whom religiosity and the drive for moral purification seemed to be the most important values and sources of power in culture and in all human existence. I mean the followers of the Stoics and Cynicism, who there taught to despise wealth and honor and luxury and even the joys of love, withdrawn from all so-called lucky goods and practiced self-discipline to the point of wantlessness. As much as they looked down on the Emperor of Rome, the concept of kingship was the pinnacle of what was desirable for these men too. Diogenes needs an Alexander the Great[p. 202]to be able to say: I am more than him. be king! that’s the buzzword here too. With a long resounding echo the word goes through the centuries: “He who renounces is king!” Rex eris! Why pile up evidence? For a hundred passages I quote only the one where Epictetus, in his harsh diatribes, says of the man who, with hasty determination, turned to the monastic life of the cynic, that he grasps for scepter and kingship and that it is Zeus himself who takes him with him clothed with scepter and diadem  .
Scepter and Crown! God gives it to the one who overcomes himself! In this sense and as a common symbol for the moral victory of perfection in goodness, the coronation of Christ must have had a deep effect on the stoic and cynical Greeks. The warriors had done what was right for Christ against their will.