What was mixed with the wine offered to Jesus before he was crucified?

Posted on Apr.13, 2009. Filed in Matthew, Mark. Average rating: 2.5 / 10 (Rate It).

Before Jesus was crucified, he was offered wine to drink, but refused it. Both Matthew and Mark describe this, but each says that the wine was mixed with something different.

According to Matthew, the wine was mixed with gall:

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. [Matthew 27:32-34 (NRSV)]

According to Mark, the wine was mixed with myrrh:

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. [Mark 15:21-23 (NRSV)]

So what was mixed with the wine offered to Jesus before he was crucified?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    These things are both plant extracts. I wonder if there’s no way to translate both of the Greek words that would remove the contradiction?

  2. 2

    Or wait… Wikipedia lists multiple “galls” – do you know which type this is?

  3. 3

    In the LXX, the word Matthew uses, Chole, is used as the transliteration of Ro’sh as used in Psalm 69:21:

    They also gave me gall for my food. And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

    Matthew was probably referencing this.

    Ro’sh has a range on meanings including poison, venom or hemlock. Clearly, the Romans would not have such a substance in the mixture in lethal doses. Had they wanted to kill Jesus by poison, why the cross? But in smaller doses, whatever the poison was might have had a sedative or anesthetic effect (hemlock, in small doses, does have a sedative effect).

    Myrrh is probably not the same substance, but it also has medicinal values including as a sedating or anesthetic drug.

    Though myrrh and gall are probably not the same, it is entirely possible that the jar contained a cocktail of (sour) wine and myrrh and gall (and who knows what else). As such, this does not strike me as contradictory.

  4. 4

    My lexicon (BDAG) gives the literal meaning of χολη (the word used by Matthew) as “of a substance with an unpleasant taste”, and notes that the LXX uses this general term to translate various, more specific Hebrew words.

    As long as Myrrh counts as a substance with an unpleasant taste, there doesn’t seem to be a contradiction here.

  5. 5

    Having done some looking around the net there are a number of views by people that when considered as a whole provide a very reasonable explanation to this apparent contradiction. Although I’ve not researched this from any official sources, I think the explanation is very plausible and would certainly warrant confirmation by someone with the time to research this in depth.

    the author believes ‘gall’ to mean poison. His chemistry background suggests poisons are bitter and acids are sour (presumably a general rule of thumb). His conclusion is that the first wine offered is bitter at which point Jesus refused to drink after tasting it and that the second wine (vinegar) was sour which was acceptable (not poisoned). I believe this author is on the right track but as it still doesn’t fit with the seemingly contradictory scriptures I consider his conclusion half correct and certainly a key to explaining this.

    the author suggests that the wine might have had both myrrh and gall present and myrrh was often added to wine to improve the taste and fragrance.

    the contributor believes that a medicated wine mixture of both gall and myrrh was commonly given to those crucified as a means of dulling their pain.

    This would suggest that the soldiers offered this in an act of compassion. Given the taunting and general harassment surrounding the crusifictions it does seem strange they would have done this out of compassion. Perhaps some individuals did take pity on some of those crucified. Perhaps the medicated wine was to make the soldiers job easier by making the convict more compliant. Perhaps it increased the sensations thereby increasing the pain or perhaps the symptoms of the poison were more intolerable than the crucifiction itself. Perhaps the poison just speed up the process of dying so the soldiers could get it over faster and go home sooner. Not important really, am just curious.

    It would stand to reason that gall in the context is a type of poison based on two ideas. Firstly, the meaning of the original word for gall, χολή or chole apparently translates as ‘bitter’ and might have commonly been understood to mean poison in its delivered context given poisons are bitter. Secondly, the practice of Roman soldiers providing a medicated (poisoned) wine for some of the crucified and this was probably common knowledge in the day.

    If gall is bitter and myrrh is supposed to improve flavour and smell it also stands to reason that myrrh could be used to mask the taste and smell of the gall. Otherwise the wine might have been undrinkable. The word used to describe the wine in the second offering of wine (wine soaked sponge on a stick) is ‘ozos’ which means sour wine or vinegar mixed with water. If any wine was available to the crucified it would have been this. Anything with myrrh in it was probably considered ‘the good stuff’ and wouldn’t have been wasted on convicts unless there was a VERY good reason i.e. to mask or reduce the flavour of gall.

    The probability is that the practice of providing ‘medicated’ wine was common knowledge amongst people in those days. It is therefore likely that someone referring to the wine, in this context, as having either myrrh or gall without referring to the other ingredient wasn’t important as anyone would have immediately understood that they were referring to the ‘medicated’ wine. There may have been other ingredients as well which aren’t mentioned at all. I do suspect however that gall, when referred to as poison, could very well refer to a cocktail of unpleasant ingredients.

    When Christ tasted the wine it was either sweet or bitter or probably some weird taste combination none of which he would have been expecting from regular sour wine. Once tasted, Christ would have realised this was probably the ‘medicated’ wine he would have heard about (common knowledge) and at this point declined the offer.

    So, the apparent contradiction is quite probably not a contradiction at all. The presence of both gall and myrrh in the wine makes sense. Referring to wine with myrrh or gall in the context were probably interchangeably understood conveyances referring to the same ‘medicated’ wine.

    There is one more point that was raised by one of the above links. In the first wine offering to Jesus Matthew used the word ‘ozos’ (sour wine) and Mark used the word ‘oinos’ which simply means wine. Some consider this a problem but I do not. Today we could refer to ‘ozos’ as perhaps ‘cooking’ wine or perhaps we’d refer to it as ‘cheap’ wine or ‘cask’ wine. We could also refer to any of the above by just calling it wine.

    I doubt that if it was good wine or ‘the good stuff’ that there would be any need to draw attention to the fact that myrrh had been added. It wouldn’t matter if it was regular wine or sour wine but the specific attention drawn to the myrrh is the key point. Either myrrh was added to sour wine or extra myrrh was added to good wine or good wine was used that contained myrrh (which would be unusual) but in all cases there was myrrh present to likely mask the gall.

    Chances are that Mark was just referring to wine in general, the wine that the soldiers would commonly have available i.e. sour wine, but Mark didn’t feel the need to draw a specific distinction as the application of the wine and circumstances probably do this for us i.e. it was the sour wine commonly used and available to the Roman soldiers that Matthew specifically details.

    Using the web sources referred to above and some imagination to fill in the blanks I have proposed a scenario that would explain the apparent scripture discrepancy. I certainly believe it a very plausible one otherwise I’d not have bothered posting it.

    The sources appear to have at least some understanding of the background in the topics they discuss. The first a chemistry background, the second uses a lexicon and makes some historical claims regarding the use of myrrh and the third implies some historical knowledge of the existence of ‘medicated wine’ and the ingredients contained therein.

    None of these sources have been verified as reliable or accurate by me! Verification of the sources is not important but verification of the ideas that came from them, the ideas that formed my proposed scenario are. If you have the knowledge or are so inclined to spend the time investigating then please consider confirming the following:

    -medicated wine offered to convicts was a practice observed by Roman soldiers at crucifictions
    -medicated wine contained or sometimes contained myrrh
    -myrrh was used as a flavour and aroma enhancer in wine and/or other foods
    -χολή or chole (gall) could have easily meant *poison in the context.
    -χολή or chole (gall) refers to something that is indeed bitter that might need the flavour masked.

    *Gall doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘poison’ but could just be a drug of sorts. Drugs, of course, are actually poisons in contolled doses.

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