A Romance Story Written in Red
by Tom Goodman
April 4, 2012
Do you know any good romance novels involving crucifixion?
According to Martin Hengel, there used to be.
In his famous 1973 book (well, famous among scholars), the New Testament expert surveyed the use of crucifixion as a penalty in the Graeco-Roman world. Part of the overview included reviewing the popular Roman literature in the time Christianity
began. Reading these novels evokes the horror that most people felt about the threat of crucifixion.
"Crucifixion of the hero or heroine is part of their stock in trade," Hengel says of the romances. He gives some examples:
In the Babyloniaca written by the Syrian lamblichus, the hero is twice overtaken by this fearful punishment, but on both occasions he is taken down from the cross and freed.
Habrocomes, the chief figure in the romance by Xenophon of Ephesus... is first tortured almost to death and later threatened with crucifixion. Even his beloved, Anthea, is in danger of being crucified after she has killed a robber in self-defense.
However, he says, readers would have never accepted a plot where the hero actually endured crucifixion:
Heroes cannot on any account be allowed to suffer such a painful and shameful death -- this can only befall evil-doers.... The hero of the romance is saved at the last moment, just before he is to be nailed to the cross.
Of course, in the Bible's love story, the hero is not saved from the cross. Instead, he suffers and dies, vindicated by resurrection three days later.
You do know that the crucifixion of Jesus is a love story, right? As our most famous verse puts it (John 3:16 NIV84), "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
That's what's behind the lyrics to the 1984 Gordon Jensen song that our choir sometimes sings:
In letters of crimson, God wrote his love
On the hillside so long, long ago;
For you and for me Jesus died,
And love's greatest story was told.
I love you, I love you
That's what Calvary said;
I love you, I love you,
I love you, written in red
This week would be a good time to reflect on that love story. Join us at 7 p.m. on Good Friday for the Lord's Supper, and join us at 10 a.m. on Easter Sunday to celebrate our hero's triumphant victory!
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