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The “Thorny Crown”

May 15, 2017

At our recent day-conference on ancient coinage, one speaker noted the depiction of rulers as wearing a “radiate crown,” a crown with spikey points that seems intended to ascribe the ruler with divine qualities.  You can see examples on coins here.

Many years ago, H. St. J. Hart proposed that the “thorny crown” placed on Jesus’ head by the Roman soldiers in the Gospels accounts was one made to mock Jesus more than particularly to inflict pain:  “The Crown of Thorns in John 19, 2-5,” Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 3 (1952): 66-75.  Hart’s article includes plates of coins depicting various forms of the radiant crown, and he explored also the types of plants whose spikey leaves may have been used for the crown placed on Jesus’ head.  Shortly thereafter, Campbell Bonner published an article giving further support to Hart’s proposal:  “The Crown of Thorns,” Harvard Theological Review 46 (1953):  47-48.

As Hart noted, this sort of crown fits the context, in which the soldiers are depicted as dressing Jesus in a purple robe, with a reed as a mock sceptre, and the soldiers then (in Mark) bow down to him in mock obeisance.

I’m taken with the idea, and have been since I first read Hart’s article many years ago.


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  1. Dr Nick Tavani permalink

    Makes fascinating scholarly sense though I think it was also, in a perversely clever sort of way, meant as a painful instrument of torture too. Are there any other instances of similar use?

    • Bonner’s short article refers to another instance where a person was dressed up in mock-ruler guise, complete with a mock crown.

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