Did You Know?
Did people really play flutes at funerals in Jesus’ day?
▪ The Bible speaks of flutes being played on festive occasions. (1 Kings 1:40; Isaiah 5:12; 30:29) It also states that flutes were played at a funeral. In that instance, flutes were the only instruments mentioned. Matthew’s Gospel says that a Jewish ruler asked Jesus to heal his daughter, who was near death. When Jesus arrived at the ruler’s house, however, he “caught sight of the flute players and the crowd in noisy confusion,” for the child had already died.—Matthew 9:18, 23.
Is Matthew accurate when recording this custom? Bible translator William Barclay says: “Throughout most of the ancient world, in Rome, in Greece, in Phoenicia, in Assyria and in Palestine, the wailing of the flute was inseparably connected with death and tragedy.” According to the Talmud, even the poorest Jew who had become a widower during the first centuries C.E. would engage two flute players and a wailing woman to mourn his dead wife. Flavius Josephus, a historian who lived in the first century, records that when news reached Jerusalem of the Roman conquest of Jotapata, in Galilee, and the massacre of its inhabitants in 67 C.E., “many of the mourners hired flute-players to accompany their funeral dirges.”
What was the crime of the evildoers who were executed alongside Jesus?
▪ The Bible calls these evildoers “robbers.” (Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27) Some Biblical lexicons point out that the Scriptures use different words to distinguish one type of criminal from another. The Greek word kleptes referred to a thief who acted secretly so as to escape detection. This word is applied to Judas Iscariot, who furtively stole from the disciples’ money box. (John 12:6) The word lestes, on the other hand, usually referred to one who robbed using violence and could even refer to a revolutionary, an insurrectionist, or a guerrilla. Those executed with Jesus were of this second type. In fact, one of them is reported to have said: “We are receiving in full what we deserve for things we did.” (Luke 23:41) That would suggest that they were guilty of more than just theft.
Like those two robbers, Barabbas is called a lestes. (John 18:40) That Barabbas was certainly more than a simple thief is clear from Luke 23:19, which states that he “had been thrown into prison for a certain sedition occurring in the city and for murder.”
So while the evildoers executed with Jesus committed robbery, it is possible that they were also involved in sedition or even murder. Whatever the case, the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate considered them to be worthy of execution by impalement.