Stephaton, or Steven, is the name given in medieval Christian traditions to the Roman soldier, unnamed in the Bible, who offered Jesus a sponge soaked in vinegar wine at the Crucifixion. In later depictions of the Crucifixion, Stephaton is frequently portrayed with Longinus, the name given to the soldier who pierced Jesus' side with a spear.
The account of Jesus receiving a sponge soaked in vinegar while on the cross appears in all four of the canonical gospels, with some variation. In both Mark 15:35-36 and Matthew 27:47-48, just after Jesus says "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me", a stander by soaks a sponge in vinegar and raises it on a reed for Jesus to drink. Luke 23:36-37 mentions that the attendant soldiers offer Jesus vinegar while mocking him – moving the mocking motif that occurs earlier in Mark and Matthew to the Crucifixion. In John 19:28-30, Jesus declares "I thirst" (one of his last words) and is given the vinegar-soaked sponge "on hyssop". The significance of the act is unclear, though it is usually interpreted as an act of mercy on the part of the soldiers. The episode may allude to Psalm 68:22: "In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."
The soldier who offered Jesus the sponge is often paired with Longinus, the name later given to the unnamed soldier who pierced Christ's side with a spear during the Crucifixion. It is not known when or how the name "Stephaton" originated for this character, though it had become common well before the end of the first millennium.
Stephaton is a particularly common figure in medieval Irish art. In depictions of the Crucifixion, he was regularly shown alongside Longinus, with their actions shown simultaneously, though in the Biblical narrative, these took place at different times in the Biblical narrative (Stephaton's occurs before Jesus' death, Longinus' occurred after.) Colum Hourihane and others suggest the images should not be read as a simple narrative, but rather a mix of symbolism and representation typical of medieval art.
- Johnson, Luke Timothy, and Daniel J. Harrington (1991) The Gospel of Luke, p. 375 and note. Liturgical Press.
- Moloney, Francis J., and Daniel J. Harrington (1998). The Gospel of John, p. 501 and note. Liturgical Press.
- Schiller, Gertrud, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II, 1972 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, ISBN 0-85331-324-5