Temple Police Play Blind Man’s Bluff •
And the men who were holding Jesus were mocking him, beating [him]; and having blindfolded him, they were striking him on the face, and were questioning him, saying, `Prophesy who he is who smote thee?’ (Luke 22:63-64, Young’s Literal Translation)
It seems reasonably likely in this passage that the Temple guard police officers tormenting Jesus were not making up this little game on the spot, but were alluding to and copying an ancient version of the game we now call Blind Man’s Bluff.
Blind Man’s Bluff is today a children’s activity where children stand in a makeshift circle, with one child made “it,” blindfolded, and placed in the center of the circle of friends. With repeated chants and rhyming song, the children call and respond starting and stopping points of action where the ring of children sneak in and touch the blindfolded child, who then tries to both catch and identify the friend who touched him. All this with ritualized spoken words.
It seems that every society around the globe has some variation of this game, and the variations extend back in time to ancient societies. In some of these variations, the game was played by adult males and the touching became violent striking. (Yes, men can be stupid.)
Some interpreters of scripture suggest the Jewish guards had this game in mind as they were both verbally taunting and violently hitting Christ about his head. Some translations do a better job than others at hinting at a well-known game:
Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him. And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is the one who struck You?” (NKJV)
Now the guards in charge of Jesus began mocking him. They blindfolded him and hit him with their fists and asked, “Who hit you that time, prophet?” (Lexham)
Then the men who held Jesus made a great game of knocking him about. And they blindfolded him and asked him, “Now prophet, guess who hit you that time!” And that was only the beginning of the way they insulted him. (J.B. Phillips)
The men in charge of Jesus began poking fun at him, slapping him around. They put a blindfold on him and taunted, “Who hit you that time?” They were having a grand time with him. (The Message)
Observe the verbal possibility of Temple thugs singing a repetitive chant of something like “Who hit you? Who hit you? Who hit you?” in emulation of a possible popular game.
We find only one contemporary Study Bible volume which remarks on the possibility of the soldiers emulating a popular game. The NET Study Bible remarks that there were three blindfold games of the period, and the soldiers borrowed from one of them.
In an older analysis Benson declares: “This usage of Christ,” says Dr. Hammond, “refers to that sport so ordinary among children, called μυινδα (muinda), in which it is the manner, first to blindfold, then to strike, (Luke 22:63,) then to ask who gave the blow, and not to let the person go till he had named the right man who had struck him. It was used on this occasion to reproach our blessed Lord, and to expose him to ridicule.”
You will find μυινδα and its use as the name of a blindfolding game in various online Bible dictionaries, and pointers there to Luke 22:63-64, with the Benson/Hammond quote copied.
We do not find μυινδα in standard Greek language resources, but, dropping some letters, we do find χαλκῆ μυῖα (xalke muia), which translates to something like “bronze” or “brazen fly.” “Bold Fly.” The idea is that the “it” child is some sort of biting or stinging insect or spider, and the other children must swat the dangerous animal without getting caught and stung.
Finally, we observe that second century AD author Julius Pollux authored a dictionary and collection of information which included an entry on children’s songs. Within this entry Pollux mentions the χαλκῆ μυῖα / Brazen Fly game.
To be sure, the Roman soldiers had a job to do, assigned by authorities, and making sport of and beating the poor victim was something which could be turned into a game without help from existing local customs. They certainly were playing a hideous game, perhaps made up on the spot. In any event, we see the possibility in Luke that the soldiers were borrowing from a first century version of Blind Man’s Bluff or Brazen Fly.
Does your commentary weigh-in on the Blind Man’s Bluff speculation?
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