John 19:29

From the Differentiator magazine:
Vol. 22 New Series April, 1960 No. 2

JOHN 19:29—HYSSOP? This verse says that at the time of the Crucifixion "they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put (it) upon hyssop, and put (it) to his mouth." There has always been some mystery in connection with this word. Matt. 27:48 and Mark 15:36 do not mention this term, but use a word which means a reed (kalamO).

Besides, it seems an odd thing to put a sponge full of vinegar upon hyssop of all things. Various plants, such as mint, marjoram, caper, have been proposed as being hyssop, but they are all of creeping or climbing habits. Tristram, in his Natural History of the Bible, says that the caper-plant "is always pendent on the rocks, or trailing on the ground." Elsewhere the caper has been defined as "the pickled flower bud of a low-growing deciduous shrub." One could talk about a "bunch of hyssop," but how could one attach a sponge full of vinegar to a bunch of hyssop? Some expositors, in extremity, have imagined that the "hyssop" was a bunch of that plant, fastened to the end of a reed (which, however, John does not mention), on which the sponge was placed.
Smith's Dictionary of the Bible (1861) says that if the Greek word for a reed is the equivalent of the word rendered as hyssop, the latter must be a plant capable of producing a stick three or four feet in length. But that cannot be proved.

Frederick Field, one of the revisers of 1881, helps to clear up the mystery in his book, Notes on the Translation of the New Testament (1899). He shews how a German, Joachim Camerarius (1500-1574) hit upon a solution about four hundred years ago. The two Greek words for "put (it) upon hyssop" are 'ussOpO perithentes, literally meaning to-hyssop about-placing. What we have to observe here closely is that if we run these two words together, as words were run together in the earliest MSS, we find that the two letters, Op would occur together twice. Might it not have been that the ancient scribe wrote these two letters twice by mistake? That was what Camerarius thought, and that was also what the famous English textual critic Richard Bentley (1662-1742) thought. His correction of the text is 'ussO perithentes, thus dropping out the two letters. And he gives the explanation of the word 'ussos as the pilum of the Roman Legions, that is, a dart, pike, or javelin.

Cunnington gives the same explanation in his two versions,thus:
"By an ingenious conjecture some scholars give 'upon ajavelin,' reading in the Greek 'husso' for 'hussopo' (the nextGreek word beginning with 'p,' the syllable 'op' might byerror have been written twice, there being in oldest MSS. nospaces between words)."Undoubtedly the conjecture is very ingenious, and it has been adopted by Goodspeed (on a pike); Moffatt (on a spear); while others, puzzled by the bare statement about hyssop, have taken the liberty to translate as "on the end of a hyssop-stalk," or "on a stalk of hyssop," or "upon a hyssop-stem." Even Scarlett, in 1798, has "on (a stalk) of hyssop." Wakefield, in 1795, reads, "putting a branch of hyssop about it." Young has, "having put (it) around a hyssop stalk," and Rotherham (1872) has, "having been put about hyssop." Darby goes the length of saying, "putting hyssop round it," with a Note: "or, probably, 'binding it to hyssop.'" The Emphatic Diaglott goes even further: "having been attached to a hyssop-stalk."

The Reformation translations of Tyndale, Geneva, and Coverdale, have a different idea, "and wounde it about with ysope," or "on hyssope (stalke)" as the Geneva reads. The Rheims has, "putting a sponge ful of vinegre about hyssope." Wiclif's quaint rendering I might as well give also:

And a vessel was sette ful of venegre, & thei leiden (laid) in Isope aboute the spounge ful of venegre and putten to hismouthe. All that Prof. Godet could say in the matter was:

"Hyssop is a plant not more than a foot and a half in height.Since a stalk of this length sufficed to reach the lips of thevictim, it follows that the cross was not so high as is usuallyrepresented."A fine argument if it could only be proved that there was a stalk of hyssop. There were Roman soldiers about, and each of them carried two pikes or javelins, so that such an instrument was there on the spot to raise up the sponge to the lips of the Lord. The pike or javelin was very like a reed. Besides, John was a witness of the tragedy, while Matthew and Mark were not. John therefore could give a closer description of the "reed." There are therefore very strong grounds for dropping the word hyssop and reading the shorter word. Some kind of spear would suit the situation admirably.

Alexander Thomson

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Listing of Articles

Who is our God? Chapter 1
Who is our God? Chapter 2
Who is our God? Chapter 3
Who is our God? Chapter 4
Who is our God? Chapter 5
Who is our God? Chapter 6
Who is our God? Chapter 7
Who is our God? Chapter 8
Who is our God? Chapter 9
Who is our God? Chapter 10
Who is our God? Chapter 11
Who is our God? Chapter 12
Who is our God? Chapter 13
Who is our God? Chapter 14
Who is our God? Chapter 15
Who is our God? Chapter 16
Who is our God? Chapter 17
A Female Deity?
Acts 7:15 & 16
All Things
Amos 3:6
An Answer to the Challenge of Hell
Angels & Men One Species?
An Interesting New Version
Are You an Ambassador?
Are You a Pillar?
Are You a Witness for Jehovah?
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 1
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 2
Are You an Israelite? Chapters 3 & 4
A Special Resurrection?
Baptized for the Dead?
"Beloved" or "Loveable"?
Brotherly Love
Book Review
Colossians 1:23
Common or Unclean?
Common Sense
Did Paul Visit Spain?
Did the Lord give up His Flesh?
"Divine" Fire?
Doctoring the Holy Scriptures
Does God know Everything?
Does God will Everything?
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Emphasis in the Scriptures
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How many were Crucified?
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Isaiah 26:14,19
James 4:5
Jehovah's Theocratic Organization
Jesus the Saviour
John 19:29
The Kingdom of the Hebrews
Leave it with God
Men or Mortals?
Misplaced Ingenuity
New Light on the Second Death
None Other Things
Objective Value of Prayer
Other or Different
Our Advocate
Paul's Chain
Paul the Sensitive
Paul versus James
Prevailing Prayer
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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
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Rom 9 & 10: Human Freedom & Human Choice
Romans 9:14-24
Romans 9:30 to 10:21
II Corinthians 5:16
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Seven Wicked Spirits
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Should we fear God?
The Bloody Husband
The Cherubim of Glory
The Corinthian Error
The Cunning Manager
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah
The Designation of Jesus as "God"
The Disruption Fallacy
The Disruption Fallacy #2
The Eighth of Proverbs
The Eleven "Generations" of Genesis
The Elohim
The Ends of the Eons
The Eternal Saviour-Judge
The Eternity of Hell Torments
The First Christian Convention
The Four Gospels
The Gentiles in Ephesians
The Greek Definite Article
The Hardening of Pharoah's Heart
The Hebrew Conception of Time
The Hebrews Epistle
The Hebrew Terms Rendered 'For Ever'
The Hope of Israel
The Life of Prayer
The Lord Jesus Revealing the Heart of God
The Lord's Relatives
The Lordly Supper
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The Ministry of Women Parts 1 & 2
The Ministry of Women Parts 3 & 4
The "Penalty of Sin"
The Poor in Spirit
The Primeval Laws
The Primeval Laws #2
The Problem of Evil
The Quality of Divine Love
The Rich Man and Lazarus
The Serpent of Genesis 3
The Soul and the Spirit
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 1 & 2
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 3 & 4
The Translation of Acts 28:25
The Trial of the Lord
The Truth of the Bible
The Two Seeds
The Works of Henry Clay Mabie, D.D.
"Three Days and Three Nights"
Translator's Incentive
Truthfulness and Mercy
Try the Spirits
Unto Eternity and Further
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What is Destruction?
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Whence "Eternity"?
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Who is Jehovah?
Who Shall Deliver Me?
Why Pray?
Why the "Lake" of Fire?
Will God Punish?
Will the Lord Come for Us?
Will the Man of Lawlessness be Killed?


The Differentiator Revisited 2009