CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS, EVIDENCE OF IT AND THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS

CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS

20120507-Deposition Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_071.jpg
The Deposition by Rembrandt
Jesus was likely tied to the cross or nailed to the cross with a nails hammered through his wrists and ankles not through wrists and ankles rather feet and hands. Based on how other crucifixions were carried out, Jesus likely carried the crossbeam of his cross, not the whole thing to Golgotha. According to John: "The soldiers therein when they had crucified Jesus took His garments and made them in four part, to every soldier a part...After this, Jesus, knowing that all thing are now finished, that the Scripture might be accomplished, saith, I thirst. Thee was set there a vessel full of vinegar; so they put a sponge full of vinegar upon hyssop, and brought it to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar. He said, 'It is finished': and He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit."

According to the BBC: “Jesus is whipped and then, to mock the claim that he is 'King of the Jews', given a crown of thorns and dressed in a purple robe. Jesus carries his cross to the place of crucifixion, helped by Simon of Cyrene. The crucifixion takes place at a location called Calvary or Golgotha. Jesus is stripped and nailed to the Cross. Above his head is placed a sign that says 'King of the Jews'. Two criminals are crucified alongside him. After some hours the soldiers check that Jesus is dead by stabbing him in the side. Blood and water gush out. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Jesus is believed to have died sometime between A.D. 29 and A.D. 33. According to the Bible, Jesus was crucified on the cross which he was forced to carry at Golgotha ("the skull place" in Hebrew), or Calvary, at around three o'clock in the afternoon at the time of Passover, just before the Sabbath.

“The actual date of the Crucifixion is not known, but the evidence narrows it down to dates with the following properties:
A Friday
In Spring
At full moon
On either the first day of Passover (Synoptic Gospels) or the eve of Passover (John)
Between 25 and 35 AD
The 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica gave the date as 18th March in 29 AD.
Other dates that have been suggested include 7th April 30, 3rd April 33 and 30th April 28 AD, but some recent articles have argued that 18 March 29 AD is the most likely date. |::|

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ; Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus britannica.com Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories earlychristianwritings.com ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum virtualreligion.net ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ bible.org ; Jesus Central jesuscentral.com ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ newadvent.org ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org

Crucifixion in the Gospels


Professor John Dominic Crossan told PBS: “When you say crucifixion, you say immediately, two things. Lower class, because the Romans were not in the custom of crucifying upper class. That was too dangerous. People might get ideas when they saw that aristocrats died just like everyone else. So, lower class and subversion. It tells us that Jesus was perceived, at least by his executioners, as a lower class subversive. And that's very important. The details of the last words of Jesus, for example, we're totally in the realm of gospel, and not of history. Mark tells us that Jesus died being mocked and in agony and I think Mark is writing for the experience of people in the 70's who are dying like that and who need the consolation that Jesus had died that way before, feeling abandoned by God. When you come to John, you have a totally different scenario. Jesus dies when he's good and ready. His last words are to fulfill the scriptures. When that is done he gives up his spirit. There is no mockery, of course. There really is no agony. There almost is no pain. These are different gospel visions of the brute historical fact that Jesus would have died in agony on the cross. [Source: John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “We don't have that much detail about the actual crucifixion of Jesus. What we have are the stories in the gospels. And, interestingly and appropriately, the gospel writers are drawing on Psalms. Psalms that in the Jewish canon are often cries to God. They're grabbing onto that literature to shape their narrative presentation of the crucifixion. I wouldn't put much confidence in the narrative details. You know, if there were somebody who was going to pierce Jesus' side or if there were somebody who were gambling for his cloak ... that kind of thing. But I like to attend to the tone... [that] the dependence on the Psalms suggests. Because those are cries of terror and loneliness. They're really appeals to God for meaning. While they're words that are put in Jesus' mouth in Mark, "Why have you forsaken me?" It's the religious power of the Psalms that is really one of those wonderful moments of concrete continuity between what this very passionately religious first century Jew might have been thinking as he was dying this horrible death on the cross, as the finale to this week of passionate religious excitement and commitment. And asking God what happened. [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

Torture of Jesus

According to the BBC: “The Gospels do not go into details of the brutality with which Jesus was treated. Many of the details in accounts of the Passion derive from other texts, such as the 14th century German text Christi Leiden in Einer Vision Geschaut which covers the event in horrific detail. Such treatments of the Passion were common in mediaeval texts. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]


flagellation

“Those who wrote texts like this didn't want to sensationalise the story but to emphasise that Jesus Christ was as fully human as he was divine by showing that the Son of God had suffered the most extreme torture that could be inflicted on a human being. The texts also provided vivid word pictures that would help those so inclined to meditate on the suffering of Christ and, in mind and spirit, to enter into the experience to the extent of imagining themselves actually there. |::|

“Bernard of Clairvaux (died 1153) taught that meditation on the Passion was the way to achieve spiritual perfection. St Anselm mourned the fact that he had not been present at the Crucifixion... Why, O my soul, were you not there to be pierced by a sword of bitter sorrow when you could not bear the piercing of the side of your Saviour with a lance? Why could you not bear to see the nails violate the hands and feet of your creator? — Saint Anselm. And Anselm went further, and wished that he had been a participant in those events... Would that I with happy Joseph might have taken down my Lord from the cross, wrapped him in spiced grave-clothes, and laid him in the tomb. [Source: Saint Anselm, quoted in Ewert Cousins, The Humanity and the Passion of Christ, in Christian Spirituality: High Middle Ages and Reformation, by Bernard McGinn, John Meyendorff, Jill Raitt, 1988] |::|

“St Francis of Assisi was another who longed to experience Christ's suffering: “My Lord Jesus Christ, I pray you to grant me two graces before I die: the first is that during my life I may feel in my soul and in my body, as much as possible, the pain which you, dear Jesus, sustained in the hour of your most bitter passion. The second is that I may feel in my heart, as much as possible, that excessive love with which you, O Son of God, were inflamed in willingly enduring such suffering for us sinners. — Saint Francis of Assisi |::|

Stations of the Cross


Veronica wiping the face of Jesus

“There are fourteen Stations of the Cross:
1) Jesus is condemned by Pilate
2) Jesus carries the Cross
3) Jesus falls
4) Jesus meets Mary, his mother
5) Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the Cross
6) Veronica wipes Jesus' face
7) Jesus falls again
8) Women weep
9) Jesus falls again
10) Jesus is stripped
11) Jesus is nailed to the Cross
12) The death of Jesus
13) Removal from the Cross
14) Jesus is put in the tomb |::|

According to the BBC: “The Stations of the Cross are numbered stages in the events of the Passion, from the condemnation of Jesus to the placing of his body in the tomb. The Stations of the Cross are often found in churches as a series of statues or other works of art placed along the walls or on pillars. Christians can use the Stations of the Cross as the basis for a structured meditation on the last hours of Christ's life. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) takes the faithful on a journey through the final stages of the Passion, as explained in this Roman Catholic guidance note: In the Via Crucis, various strands of Christian piety coalesce: the idea of life being a journey or pilgrimage; as a passage from earthly exile to our true home in Heaven; the deep desire to be conformed to the Passion of Christ; the demands of following Christ, which imply that his disciples must follow behind the Master, daily carrying their own crosses. |::|

“The guidance note reminds worshippers that the Via Crucis...should conclude, however, in such fashion as to leave the faithful with a sense of expectation of the resurrection in faith and hope |::|

Did Jesus (Or a Bystander) Really Carry the Cross to Golgotha?

Robin M. Jensen wrote in the Washington Post, “The Gospel of John states that Jesus bore the cross by himself (John 19:17) to a hill called Golgotha, while the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke claim that authorities compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross for Him, presumably because the flogging He had received had left Him too weak to carry it. In either case, most depictions in Christian art (including renditions by Michelangelo, El Greco and Titian) show either man carrying a large, wooden cross with both a vertical and a horizontal beam. [Source: Robin M. Jensen, Washington Post, April 14, 2017 <||>]

“Yet Romans generally had the upright beam already set up at the place of execution. To the extent that the condemned carried their own crosses, they would have been given only the horizontal piece, according to historians of ancient execution methods, including LaGrange College professor John Granger Cook.” <||>

Five Precious Wounds and Seven Last Words


According to the BBC: “The Five Precious (or Sacred) Wounds are the wounds in the hands, feet and side of Christ that were inflicted at the Crucifixion. These wounds have been the subject of spiritual devotion, mostly among Roman Catholics, for many centuries. A number of churches are dedicated to the Five Precious Wounds, and many prayers have been written on the theme. Some altars are decorated with five crosses - one in the centre and one at each corner - to represent the Five Precious Wounds. In mediaeval times it was calculated that Jesus received a total of 5,466 injuries during the Passion. |::|

“The Bible quotes seven last sentences that Jesus spoke from the Cross.
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” — Luke 23:34
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” — Luke 23:43
“Woman, here is your son... Here is your mother” — John 19:26
“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?)” — Mark 15:34
“I am thirsty” — John 19:28
“It is finished” — John 19:30
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” — Luke 23:46 |::| The seven last words have inspired a number of composers, including Schutz, Haydn, Dubois, and James MacMillan. [Source: BBC]

“The Seven Last Words formed the basis of a famous composition by Haydn. Composed in 1786, it was first performed on Good Friday 1787 in Cadiz, Spain. Each of the work's seven sections is based on one of Jesus' final utterances. Haydn described the piece as “purely instrumental music divided into seven Sonatas, each Sonata lasting seven or eight minutes, together with an opening Introduction and concluding with a Terremoto or Earthquake. These Sonatas are composed on, and appropriate to, the Words that Christ our Saviour spoke on the Cross.” Each Sonata, or rather each setting of the text, is expressed only by instrumental music, but in such a way that it creates the most profound impression on even the most inexperienced listener. |::|

Sign Hung on the Cross of Jesus

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “When we look at the stories of Jesus' crucifixion in the gospels the different phases, the different episodes that occur between the arrest and the garden of Gethsemane, the trial before the Sanhedrin, the trial before Pilate, the final kind of public scene where the decision is made to send Jesus to the cross. Of all of those episodes, most of them seem to be the product, really, of literary imagination, where people later on, at the time that the gospels are being written, are trying to fill in the gaps in the story, but the one thing that most scholars do agree on is a historical artifact that tells us something about what really happened to Jesus. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

The “plaque that was nailed to the cross which identified him as Jesus, King of the Jews. This piece of evidence suggests that he was executed by the Roman authorities on some charge of political insurrection. Now I don't for a moment think that Pilate would have been worried that Jesus could have challenged the power of the empire. That's not the point. The point is any challenge to Roman authority, any challenge to the peace of Rome would have been met with a swift and violent response. <>

“And that seems to be what happened with Jesus... It's probably the case that the plaque that was nailed to the cross is one of the few clear pieces of historical evidence that we have. Precisely because it reflects a legitimate charge upon which the Romans would have called for execution and it stands out so starkly, and in fact it stands in some tension with some of the rest of the story, that it could only be supposed to have been left there because it reflects one of the central events that really happened. The plaque which names him as Jesus, the king of the Jews, suggests that the charge on which he was executed was one of political insurrection. A threat to the Pax Romana but he's also now a victim of the Pax Romana.” <>



Execution by Crucifixion

Professor Allen D. Callahan told PBS: “The Romans had a genius for brutality. They were good at building bridges and they were good at killing people, and they were better at it than anybody in the Mediterranean basin had ever seen before.... [Source: Allen D. Callahan: Associate Professor of New Testament, Harvard Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“Crucifixion was considered such a humiliating form of punishment that if you were a Roman citizen, of course, you couldn't be crucified, no matter what the offense. It was usually the execution of choice... for slaves and people considered beneath the dignity of Roman citizenship. It was a form of public terrorism.... You would be punished by being hung out publicly, naked until you died. And this sent a very powerful message to everybody else in those quarters that if you do or even think about doing what this guy's accused of having done, you, too, can wind up this way and it was very effective; excruciating, perhaps the most excruciating form of capital punishment that we know. <>

“It was a Roman job, there's no mistake about that. There has been some examination of the question of whether Jews... actually crucified people in any circumstances. There's some evidence that crucifixion did take place; members of the Pharisee party at one point were crucified, maybe a century and a half before Jesus. But that's disputed. It's a Roman form of execution and it was a public execution on a political charge.” <>

Jesus Nailed to a Stake with a Horizontal Beam: Myth?

Robin M. Jensen wrote in the Washington Post, “The iconic image of the Christian cross tends to feature a central vertical beam transected by a perpendicular beam about a third of the way down. This version of the cross is visible everywhere from emoji (which include both the two-beam Latin cross and the Orthodox cross, also known as the Suppedaneum cross, which has another bar near the bottom) to roadside memorials and, of course, church steeples. [Source: Robin M. Jensen, Washington Post, April 14, 2017. Jensen is the Patrick O’Brien Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame, and author of “The Cross: History, Art”<||>]


Christ on the Cross by Rubens

“But the actual crosses Romans used for executions probably took a different shape. The Greek and Latin words for “cross” — “stauros” and “crux” — do not necessarily describe what most people imagine as a cross. They refer to an upright stake upon which the condemned could be bound with hands above their heads. Most historians surmise that Jesus’ cross was more likely to have been T-shaped, with the vertical element notched to allow executioners to tie the victim to the crossbeam, then raise it and set it securely into the top. The Tau cross, named for its resemblance to the Greek letter, has been adopted over time by various Christian orders and sects, and it probably bears a stronger resemblance to the object upon which Jesus died on than those crosses more commonly depicted in Christian art. <||>

“Myth No. 2: Jesus was fixed to the cross by nails in his hands and feet. Nearly every depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion — including masterpieces such as Sandro Botticelli’s “Mystic Crucifixion” and Diego Velázquez’s “Christ Crucified” — shows Him attached to the cross by nails through his palms and his feet. The New Testament Gospels do not, however, directly say that Jesus was nailed to the cross. In fact, the only reference to such nails in the Gospels comes from the book of John and the story of doubting Thomas, who asks to see the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands to confirm that he is really encountering the resurrected Christ (John 20:25). The tradition that Jesus was nailed to the cross may also derive from the passage in some translations of Psalm 21:16 that says, “They pierce my hands and feet.” <||>

“Yet, while some physical evidence for nailing the feet of crucifixion victims has been found by archaeologists, it would have been impossible to fix the condemned to a cross by nails alone, since the bones in the hands or wrists would not have supported the weight of the body. Rather, Romans would have at least also tied victims’ wrists to the crossbeam, or perhaps draped their arms over the back of the beam and secured them with ropes. Suffocation, rather than loss of blood, would be the cause of death.” <||>

Evidence of Crucifixion

Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “Crucifixion was something very, very real. There are too many ancient sources that talk about it. Josephus himself describes a number of crucifixions that took place in Judea at about this time. So we can be fairly confident [of the crucifixion] as a historical event because it was a very commonplace affair in those days and very gruesome. Now different medical historians and other archaeological kinds of research have given us several different ways of understanding the actual practice of crucifixion. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 <>]

“In all probability the feet were nailed either directly through the ankles or through the heel bone to the lower post of the cross. The hands or the arms might be tied rather than nailed. It depends but it suggests really that crucifixion was a very slow and agonizing form of death. It's not from bleeding. It's not from the wounds themselves that the death occurs. It's rather a suffocation because one can't hold oneself up enough to breathe properly, and so over time really it's really the exposure to the elements and the gradual loss of breath that produces death. It's an agonizing death at that. <>

“... [E]vidence of crucifixion in archaeological form has been rare until the discovery that was made in recent times of an actual bone from a coffin which was found to have a nail still stuck in it. This is apparently someone who actually did experience crucifixion. .... Now what apparently happened was the nail that had been used to put him on the cross by being placed through his heel bone had stuck against a knot or bent in some way and so they couldn't pull it out without really causing massive tearing of the tissue and so they left it in, and as a result we have one of those few pieces of evidence that show us what the practice was really like.” <>

Skeleton Foot with a Nail: Proof of Crucifixion?


In 1968, archaeologists found the remains of a crucified man in a burial box outside Jerusalem whose wounds were remarkable similar to those described in the Bible as possessed by Jesus. Although it was known that the Romans crucified thousands of alleged criminals and traitors; this was the first crucifixion victim ever found.

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: In 1968, a team of builders was hard at work laying foundations for some new houses and roads in Giv'at Ha'mivtar, a suburb of north Jerusalem. At the time, the whole area was a wasteland, and the builders were digging it up in preparation for this new development. One morning they stumbled across something unusual. They suspected it might be important, so they called in experts to advise them. The experts confirmed that they had found an ancient tomb. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“But the most amazing discovery was yet to come. When they looked inside the tomb, archaeologists discovered an ossuary - a stone box - containing bones from the time of Jesus. It was the custom in Jesus' time for the bones of the dead to be removed from their tomb after six to twenty-four months, and placed in an ossuary to make the tomb available for other corpses. |In this particular ossuary, the archaeologists found one bone that particularly caught their attention. What made this bone distinctive was the rusty nail still lodged in it. After further investigation, they established that these were the remains of a crucified man called Jehohannan. For the archaeologists, it was a breakthrough moment. Jehohannan was the first victim of crucifixion ever found in Israel. Experts at the time believed he would be the first of many, because the records showed that the Romans had crucified thousands of Jewish rebels.

Reverend Dr. J. H. Charlesworth wrote: “At the beginning of the summer of 1968 a team of archaeologists under the direction of V. Tzaferis discovered four cave-tombs at Giv'at ha-Mivtar (Ras el-Masaref), which is just north of Jerusalem near Mount Scopus and immediately west of the road to Nablus. The date of the tombs, revealed by the pottery in situ, ranged from the late second century B.C. until A.D. 70. These family tombs with branching chambers, which had been hewn out of soft limestone, belong to the Jewish cemetery of Jesus' time that extends from Mount Scopus in the east to the Sanhedriya tombs in the north west. [Source:Reverend Dr. J. H. Charlesworth from Expository Times, February 1973 <+>]

“Within the caves were found fifteen limestone ossuaries which contained the bones of thirty-five individuals. These skeletons reveal under the examination of specialists a startling tale of the turbulence and agony that confronted the Jews during the century in which Jesus lived. Nine of the thirty-five individuals had met violent death. Three children, ranging in ages from eight months to eight years, died from starvation. A child of almost four expired after much suffering from an arrow wound that penetrated the left of his skull (the occipital bone). A young man of about seventeen years burned to death cruelly bound upon a rack, as inferred by the grey and white alternate lines on his left fibula. A slightly older female also died from conflagration. An old women of nearly sixty probably collapsed from the crushing blow of a weapon like a mace; her atlas, axis vertebrae and occipital bone were shattered. A woman in her early thirties died in childbirth, she still retained a fetus in her pelvis. Finally, and most importantly for this note, a man between twenty-four and twenty-eight years of age was crucified. “The name of the man was incised on his ossuary in letters 2 cm high:Jehohanan<+>

Archaeological Clues from the Real-Life Crucifixion


crucifixion of Spartacus pictured here probably didn't happen

Jehohanan’s open arms had been nailed to a crossbar; his knees had been doubled and turned sideways; his legs were nailed on either side of the cross (not together as is often depicted in paintings) with a large iron spike driven horizontally through both heels. The anklebones had broken in a way that called to mind the passages in John.

Reverend Dr. J. H. Charlesworth wrote: Jehohanan “was crucified probably between A.D. 7, the time of the census revolt, and 66, the beginning of the war against Rome.... According to Dr. N. Haas of the Department of Anatomy, Hebrew University--Hadassah Medical School, Jehohanan experienced three traumatic episodes. The cleft palate on the right side and the associated asymmetries of his face likely resulted from the deterioration of his mother's diet during the first few weeks of pregnancy. The disproportion of his cerebral cranium (pladiocephaly) were caused by difficulties during birth. All the marks of violence on the skeleton resulted directly or indirectly from crucifixion. [Source:Reverend Dr. J. H. Charlesworth from Expository Times, February 1973 <+>]

“A description of Jehohanan's death would be helpful toward imaging Jesus' suffering since both were crucified by the Romans in the same century and not far from the walls of Jerusalem. The lower third of his right radial bone contains a groove that was probably caused by the friction between a nail and the bone. Hence, his arms were nailed to the patibulum through the forearms and not through the wrists, the bones of which 'were found undamaged.' It is logical to infer, therefore, that, contrary to the customary portrayal in paintings and biographies,' Jesus had his arms pierced and not his hands. We should probably translate the only two passages in the Gospels that mention of the crucified Jesus (Lk 24, Jn 20) not as 'hands', but with Hesiod, Rufus Medicus, and others as 'arms'. Hence, according to Jn 20, Jesus said to Thomas, 'place your finger here and observe my arms...' <+>

“The legs had been pressed together, bent, and twisted to that the calves were parallel to the patibulum. The feet were secured to the cross by one iron nail driven simultaneously through both heels (tuber calcanei). The iron nail contains after its round head the following: sediment, fragments of wood (Pistacia or Acacia), a limy crust, a portion of the right heel bone, a smaller piece of the left heel bone, and a fragment of olive wood. It is apparent that Jehohanan had been nailed to the olive wood cross with the right foot above the left. Dr. Haas is undoubtedly correct, furthermore, in concluding that the iron nail bent approximately 2 cm because it hit a knot necessitating the amputation of the feet to remove the corpse from the cross. <+>


Hogarth drawing of Roman crucifixion

“While Jehohanan was on the cross, presumably after an interval of some time, his legs were fractured. Once forcible blow from a massive weapon delivered the coup de grace, shattering the right shins into slivers, and fracturing the left ones, that were contiguous with the cross (simplex), in a simple, oblique line. The above discoveries throw some light on the manner in which Jesus died, but the question with which we began has not been adequately answered. How could Jesus have died so soon? <+>

“Christian art has continuously portrayed Jesus as attached to the cross with his extremities fully extended. Jehohanan's torso was forced into a twisted position with his calves and thighs bent and unnaturally twisted. Since the bent nail did not secure the legs to the cross, a plank (sedecula) was probably fastened to the simplex, providing sufficient support for the buttocks and prolonging torture. If Jesus had been crucified in a similar fashion, and we cannot be certain of this although it is probable, his contorted muscles probably would have generated spasmodic contractions (tetanizations) and rigid cramps would eventually permeate the diaphragm and lungs so as to prohibit inhalation and exhalation. Jesus could have died after six hours. <+>

“The two crucified with Jesus, however, did not die so quickly--could this have been because they had not been previously tortured, or because they had been crucified in another manner? Perhaps it is logical to assume that because Jesus had been the centre of attention for at least the preceding week he might have received more of the executioners' attention prior to the final acts of crucifixion. Especially would this be the situation if the other two were crucified because they had been judged to be robbers or criminals (cf. Km 15, Mt 27, and Lk 23) but Jesus condemned for insurrection against Rome. These speculations are not wild but they do extend beyond all the available data: we can only wonder why Jehohanan was crucified, why his legs were broken, and if there were a particularly torturous crucifixion for one charged with insurrection. As we search for these answers we must remember Jesus' particular circumstance: the torture could not last more than seven hours because the approaching Sabbath must not be violated, especially near conservative Jerusalem. <+>

“In conclusion, we now have empirical evidence of a crucifixion. Death on a cross could be prolonged or swift. The crucifixion of Josephus' acquaintance who survived should not be projected to the crucifixion of Jesus. The major extrabiblical paradigm for crucifixion is no longer Josephus; it is the archaeological data summarized above. The crucifixion of Jesus, who did not possess a gladiator's physique and stamina, did not commence but culminated when he was nailed to the cross. After the brutal, all night scourging by Roman soldiers, who would have relished an opportunity to vent their hatred of the Jews and disgust for Palestinian life, Jesus was practically dead. I see not reason why the Synoptic account does not contain one of the few bruta facta from his life when it reports that, as he began to stagger from Herod's palace to Golgotha, he was too weak to carry the cross; Simon of Cyrene carried it for him. Metaphors should not be confused with actualities nor faith with history. It is not a confession of faith to affirm that Jesus died on Golgotha that Friday afternoon; it is a probability obtained by the highest canons of scientific historical research. The humanists' and rationalists' facile answer to the question why Jesus died so quickly is no longer acceptable in critical circles; note, for example, the concluding remark in the most recent 'biography' of Jesus by a Jewish scholar: 'Others thought that he called out in despair: "My God, my God (Eli, Eli), why hast thou forsaken me?" And Jesus died." <+>

Why So Little Physical Evidence of Crucifixion?


Peter by Caravaggio

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: After nearly four more decades of digging, no more victims of crucifixion have ever been found. Why not? In Tel Aviv, curators at the Israel Antiquities Authority museum had a unique opportunity to find out. They have access to an extensive collection of Jewish ossuaries from the time of Jesus. Surely among all these examples there must be a clue as to what became of all the crucifixion victims. But despite combing through every ossuary, the Tel Aviv experts did not find any bones that suggested the victim had been crucified. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The implications of this lack of evidence were unsettling. One of the central tenets of Christian history was under threat, and the case for the resurrection of Jesus potentially undermined. The logic was clear. If the bones of crucified rebels were not ending up in ossuaries, then perhaps it was because the original victims were not being placed in tombs in the first place. And if that were true then was it possible that the body of Jesus was never placed in a tomb? Perhaps his tomb was found to be empty by his followers simply because it was never occupied at all? |::|

“If that is the case, then it raises a big question: where, if not in a tomb, did the bodies of Jewish rebels like Jesus finish up? To answer that one, archaeologists began to hunt in the unlikeliest locations. Just south of the city of Jerusalem is one such place. Today it is a park, but from the evidence of chiselling all over the rock face, it is clear to archaeologists that this was once a quarry. At the time of Jesus, quarries had a dual purpose. Not only were they used to cut stone for building, they were also used by the Romans for public executions. Historians now believe that Jesus would have been crucified in just such a quarry. But places like this served other purposes too. The remains of some tombs hewn from the rock suggest that people were not just killed here, they were buried too. Was this the fate of Jesus' body, to be placed in a simple quarry tomb close to the place where he died? |::|

“Well, perhaps not, because quarries like this fulfilled yet another purpose for the people of Jesus' time, and even today the local people use it in the same way. Scavenging stray dogs and birds of prey are drawn here not because it is a park, but because one corner is a rubbish dump. |::|

“Since the first century, quarries have doubled as city rubbish dumps, but two thousand years ago they were places of execution too. The people who nailed Jesus to the cross were Roman soldiers, and crucifixion was the lowest form of punishment they knew. To suffer the ignominy of dying on a cross marked you out as beneath contempt, an outcast. It is hard to see those soldiers bothering to treat the bodies of their crucified victims with honour and respect. Surely the easiest solution would be to take the bodies down and throw them on the garbage dump, to be dealt with by the dogs and birds. |::|

“Maybe that would explain why not a single bone of a crucified rebel was found in all those ossuaries? According to this theory - shocking though it may sound - the body of Jesus never made it to a tomb: it was thrown on a rubbish tip and eaten by dogs. This theory held some sway in the 1990s, but then came the evidence against it - evidence which suggests not only that Jesus' body may not have been thrown to the dogs, but that his body must have made it to the tomb, exactly as depicted in the gospel accounts. The case begins with the nails themselves. |::|

Nails Not Used in Crucifixions Perhaps Because They Were Valuable Talismans?


Roman-era Christian Funerary inscription

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The truth is that most rebels were not nailed to their crosses, but tied to them. Some would have been nailed to their crosses - it was a Roman practice - but historians believe there is little chance of finding any of their remains. The reason is simple: the nails of crucified victims were regarded as some of the most powerful charms, or amulets, in the ancient world. Ordinary people prized them very highly, believing that they had healing properties. And apart from their popularity as charms, the crucifixion nails were often reused by the Roman soldiers. So immediately after crucified victims were cut down from their crosses, the nails would be removed from their bodies and pocketed. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]

“No wonder the bones of only one clearly crucified victim have ever been found - not because animals ate the remains off a rubbish tip, but because there is no way for archaeologists to tell if the bones found in tombs were those of crucifixion victims or not. Those tell-tale signs, like nails stuck through bones, are always missing. |::|

“So why was the bone of Jehohannan discovered with a nail still through it? Why didn't looters make off with it, or Roman soldiers reuse it? Well, the answer lies in that particular nail. It has a bent tip. When they took his body down from the cross, they must have found they could not prize it out. When Jehohannan was nailed to his cross, this nail must have hit a knot in the wood and bent, fixing it to the bone for good. So the discovery of this bone does not mean that Jesus' body was thrown to the dogs. In fact, there are strong grounds for thinking that Jesus - like all Jews - would have been given a proper burial. |::|

“Under Jewish law everyone, even the most despised criminal, had to have a proper burial in order to save the land from being defiled. To that end, there were strict procedures for the disposal of bodies, which had to be laid in tombs by sunset on the day of death. All the evidence suggests that the Romans would have respected local religious customs. The strength of their empire was built on adaptability and tolerance of indigenous beliefs, as long as they didn't contradict the aims and beliefs of the Romans themselves. History records that, more than once, Pontius Pilate himself caved in to Jewish demands. |::|

“To expose the corpse of an executed Jew beyond the interval permitted by the Law, and then to allow it to be mutilated by scavengers just outside the city of Jerusalem, was a recipe for a riot. So, what would have happened to Jesus' body? The normal practice would have been to wash, perfume and bind the body so that it wouldn't smell in the heat at the funeral seven days later. This was a laborious procedure which could take up to twenty-four hours. It was governed by religious custom and by a powerful sense of respect for the body. |::|

“But if Jesus died in the afternoon, as the gospel accounts suggest, then there would not have been sufficient time to prepare the body that day. The women would be forced to leave the body unwashed in the sealed tomb, then come back another day to finish the job. However, the timing was very unfortunate. According to the gospel accounts, Jesus died on a Friday, in which case the women could not return the following day - Saturday - because that day was the Sabbath. The earliest opportunity for the women to attend to the body of Jesus was first light Sunday morning, precisely when the gospels say the women did return to the tomb.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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