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. Some say it is highly unusual that Jesus was nailed because tying victims to the cross was much more common. Some have even questioned whether it actually happened.

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: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ; Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Sacred Texts website ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible Biblical History: Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

Pain, Suffering and Trying to Understand the Crucifixion

Candida Moss wrote in Daily Beast: The crucifixion was a difficult thing for followers of Jesus to wrap their heads around. How could the Messiah die such a humiliating death? According to the New Testament, in the waning moments of his life, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” In the Gospel of Mark these are Jesus’ final words. This cry of desolation, as it is known, is painful to read and theologically difficult to manage. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, March 29, 2020]

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 |::|]

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 |::|]


“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

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 |::|]

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 |::|

The Way of Sorrow (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.”

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"]

“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.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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