The Catch 22 of Psalms 22 – a Crucifixion Prophecy?

Is Psalms 22 a prophecy depicting a crucifixion, even that of the Messiah? 

Typically not straightforward nor easy to understand, a prophecy is often not fully or clearly understood until full realization after a future event has transpired or is clarified by other prophecies.[1]

Christians retrospectively see Psalms 22 as a foreshadowing prophecy consistent with Isaiah’s and Zechariah’s prophecies of a Messiah who is pierced. Judaism does not consider the Psalms to be a book of prophecy like Isaiah or Zechariah. Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi; however, did twice see prophetic characteristics tied to David and the Messiah.

“Why have you forsaken me?” Rashi commented, “David recited this prayer for the future.” Later in verse 27 commenting on the phrase “The humble shall eat,” the Rabbi said this meant “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.”[2]

Psalm 22 was written at a time when the Roman Empire did not yet exist meaning any specific prophecy about a “Roman-style crucifixion” would need to rely on prophetic details precise enough to avoid conjecture. Challenging, given Rome’s well-honed crucifixion process designed to extend death as long as possible while inflicting maximum pain and humiliation. 

Josephus described an occasion where he was traveling with the Roman military and came upon three Jewish acquaintances among many being crucified along the road to Thecoa, not far from Bethlehem.[3] Struck with compassion, he pleaded personally to Titus Caesar to have mercy on them. Titus commanded them to be take down from their crosses and treated by Roman physicians, but still only one survived.

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.  My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.  Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.  I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.” (NIV)

Quoted not by Josephus nor was it quoted by any other Roman historians who documented Roman crucifixions. It was written by King David in Psalms 22:14-17 centuries before the Romans perfected this tortuous form of execution, yet the depiction matches in precise detail that of a Roman-style crucifixion.[4]  Coincidence?

If the portrayal of suffering were to include the specific actions taken by those at the scene inflicting the suffering, would this additional detail decrease the likelihood of a coincidence if both sets of circumstances were to come true? Ramp it to a factor of five – three actions already described where the men are gathered around the victim, laid him on the ground and pierced his hands and feet, then two more very unusual actions:

Ps 22:18 “They divide my clothes among themselves and throw dice for my garments.” (NIV)

Now, if the Psalms 22 scenario added the actual words spoken by those at the scene, would the bar be raised to the highest degree of complexity thereby all but eliminating the possibility of coincidence?

PS 22:7-8 “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:  “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”” (NIV)

Inflicted extreme suffering, specific and unusual actions, and spoken words in Psalms 22 are amazingly similar to the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. A montage of Gospel verses reflects the close similarities:

MT 27:36 “And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.”

MK15:24 “And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.”

LK 23:35-36 “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One. The soldiers also came up and mocked him.”

JN19:28 “…Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”” (NIV)

One more quote, word-for-word, from the opening of Psalms 22 might tip the scales. Shortly before he died on the cross, Jesus cried out these words:

Ps 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (NIV)

MT 27:45-46, MK 15:33-34 “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (NIV)

By the time Jesus wailed out these words he had already endured severe flogging, exposed raw flesh, severe blood loss, acute dehydration, exposure to the weather, hanging by nails from the cross, labored and painful breathing and in a state of shock. In his excruciating misery and naked humiliation, he would have seen and heard the gawking and sneering crowd with their taunts and insults.    

Near death, if Jesus was a fraud who still had the presence of mind in the face of his enemies to seize the moment by quoting from Psalms 22 to advance a false Messiah legacy, to do so would have been fully dependent on the prophetic nature of Psalms 22. 

Catch 22.

If Psalms 22 is not a Messiah prophecy, then these words quoted by Jesus in his dying moments on the cross were no more than happenstance. But there is more to consider than just these words…

Could a mortal man plan ahead to perpetrate such a fraud without any foreknowledge of the lethal circumstances about to happen to him by forces outside of his control – Jews in the most unlikely collusion with their hated Roman enemies – covering 18 hours from his arrest, trial, flogging, and crucifixion up to the point of breathing his last on the cross?

Was it merely the probability of chance that the three sets of circumstances in Psalms 22 – multiple points of suffering, five separate actions taken by those present and the words spoken by the mockers as well as by Jesus – all matched the documented details in the four Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth?

Or is it easier to believe that the circumstances of Psalms 22 matching the four Gospel accounts were a Messiah prophecy fulfilled by the crucifixion of Jesus?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.” Hebrew Root. n.d. <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm> Brooks, Carol. “Prophecy.” InPlainSite.org. <http://www.inplainsite.org/html/old_testament_prophecy.html>
[2] The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. K’tuvim – Scriptures | Tehillim – Psalms, Chapter 22.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm>
[3] Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #75. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Thecoa.” Bible History Online. 2017. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/thecoa.html>
[4] Hotznagel, Fritz and Hehn, Paul. “King David Biography.” Who2.com. 2014.  <http://www.who2.com/kingdavid.html>

Horrors of Death By Crucifixion

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died on the cross according to all four Gospels. In contradiction, some opposing theories say that even if he was crucified, Jesus did not actually die on the cross. [i] If Jesus did not die by crucifixion, it disqualifies the Gospel claim that on the third day after his death, he was resurrected. Understanding the Roman crucifixion process can help determine the truth.

The capital death penalty by crucifixion during the time Judea was governed by the Roman Empire followed a well-honed process. Crucifixion can be described in no less than graphic terms. As a matter of fact, the word “excruciating” is derived from the word “crucify” or “crux” meaning cross.[ii]

Cicero andJosephusdepictions of crucifixion have been corroborated through scientific examination.[iii]Doctorate and PhD level research in the fields of forensics, pathology and medicine on Roman scourging and crucifixion articulates the horrific consequences to the victim.[iv]

First, the victim was flogged or scourged by a multi-tipped whip containing fragments of metal or bone intended to rip the flesh of the victim. It inflicted terrible pain and weakened the victim through loss of blood causing severe dehydration and thirst, induced shock and could even lead to death before the actual crucifixion.

Next, it is believed the condemned were often forced to carry their own patibulum (crossbeams) weighing about 75 to 125 pounds down the long trek to a conspicuous public place of execution outside the city walls. There awaited upright posts or stipes left in place, as historical evidence suggests, because of the frequency of use and scarcity of wood. 

Once at the execution site, the fated souls were stripped of clothing by the execution detail, forced down onto the ground in their open wounds, and affixed to the patibulum by nails possibly along with ropes. The patibulum was then fitted onto the upright stipes where the job was finished by nailing the feet to the stipes.

Crucifixion victims, shredded by flogging, were left to endure a humiliating and slow death suffering from severe dehydration, exposure and unspeakable pain. The consequence of hanging by extended arms added excruciating pain to the act of breathing with each breath pulling at the nail wounds driven through nerves in the wrists and having to push up full body weight on nailed feet.

Hypothermia would have added to the misery with the average 59° April temperature in Jerusalem, ranging from an average low of 49°F to a high of 70°F. The Gospels report that the crucifixion of Jesus began at 9:00am which was shortly after reaching the nightly low temperature. Exposure was compounded by wind chill, moisture from blood and sweat, and the severe injuries inflicted by scourging and being nailed to the cross.[v]

On top of the physical torture was the mental torment by the humiliation of being stripped of clothing and hanging from the cross at a high traffic location as a spectacle for staring passers-by who, along with the Roman soldiers, shouted insults at the victim. Hanging defenseless and fully exposed on the cross, the sufferer was subject to becoming living carrion for scavenging birds.

Victims most likely died from hypovolemic shock (blood circulation complications) or a combination of other factors. [vi] Death was believed to be hastened by breaking the legs of the victim such as mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the two thieves crucified with Jesus.

Roman judicial crucifixions were overseen by an execution squad made up of a centurion, exactor mortis, and four soldiers known as a quaternion.[vii] The centurion was in charge of the execution and responsible for reporting back to the governing authority that the execution had been completed.[viii] Failure to complete his duty could have dire consequences – survival of a crucifixion victim was not an option.[ix]

Archeological evidence of a crucifixion was found in an ancient cemetery excavated in 1968 by Vassilios Tzaferis of the Israel Department of Antiquities.[x] Pottery shards in the tomb dated to the period that followed King Herod’s dynasty up to 70 AD. One adult male’s remains were identified by anthropologists to have died by crucifixion, his heel bone pierced by a bent 4.5 inch nail.

Remains of the olive wood cross were still attached to the nail between the bend and the heel bone as well as a remnant of the acacia or pistacia wooden plaque between the head of the nail and outside of the heel bone. The lower leg bones had been broken by a sharp blow.

Forensic, pathology, and medical research on Roman crucifixion; antiquity historical references; an archeological discovery with anthropology research validated by Israeli antiquity authorities all remarkably corroborate the circumstances of the crucifixion details in the Gospel accounts.

How believable are the Gospel reports that Jesus of Nazareth died by means of crucifixion on the cross?

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REFERENCES:

Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus:  Matthew 27:26-56; Mark 15:15-41; Luke 23:20-49; John 19:1-35.

[i] Shah, Zia.  “Jesus did not die on the cross!” For Christians, To be Born Again in Islam!  2012.  <https://islamforwest.org/article/jesus-did-not-die-on-the-cross rel=”nofollow”>  Quran 4:157, Pickthall translation.  <http://www.islam101.com/quran/QTP/index.htm >  Hill, Kate, “The Physical Death of Jesus Christ: The “Swoon Theory” and the Medical Response.” 2015. Providence College.  <http://digitalcommons.providence.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=faith_science_2015>  Samuelsson, Gunnar.  Crucifixion in Antiquity.  2011.  Tübingen, Germany:  Mohr Siebeck.  <https://www.academia.edu/4167205/Crucifixion_in_Early_Christianityrel=”nofollow”>
[ii] “excruciating.”   Dictionary.com.  2017.  <http://www.dictionary.com>   “crucifixion.”  Merriam-Webster.  2017 <http://www.merriam-webster.com>
[iii] Cicero. Secondary Orations Against Verres, Book 5, Chapter LXVI.   Zias, Joe.  “Crucifixion in Antiquity – The Anthropological Evidence.”  Joe.Zias.com. 2009. Archive.org. <http://web.archive.org/web/20121211060740/http://www.joezias.com/CrucifixionAntiquity.html>  Josephus, Flavius.  The Life of Flavius Josephus. #75. Google Books. n.d.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[iv] “Flagellation.” Ed. Greg Mulhauser. PhD.  MedLibrary.org. n.d. <http://medlibrary.org/medwiki/Flogging>  Zugibe, Frederick T., PhD.  “Turin Lecture:  Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion.”  E-Forensic Medicine. 2005. <http://web.archive.org/web/20130925103021/http://e-forensicmedicine.net/Turin2000.htm>  Cilliers, L. & Retief F. P.  “The history and pathology of crucifixion”, U.S. National Library of Medicine|National Institute of Health.  Dec;93(12):938-41.  <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14750495>   Maslen and Mitchell, “Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.  2006. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14750495
[v] “Weather in April in Jerusalem.” Climatemps.com. <http://www.jerusalem.climatemps.com/april.php>   “Jerusalem.”  HolidayWeather.com. <http://www.holiday-weather.com/jerusalem/averages/april>   McCullough, Lynne, M.D. and Arora, Sanjay, M.D.  AAFP.org. 2004 Dec 15. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/1215/p2325.html> .  Li, James, M.D. “Hypothermia.” Sep 09, 2016. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/770542-overview#a5
[vi]  Cilliers & Retief.  “The history and pathology of crucifixion.”  Zugibe. “Turin Lecture – Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion.”  Maslen and Mitchell. “Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion.” Alchin, Linda.  “Roman Crucifixion.”  Tribunes and Triumphs.  2008.  <http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/roman-life/roman-crucifixion.htm>   Zias.  “Crucifixion in Antiquity – The Anthropological Evidence.”  Champlain, Edward.  Nero. 2009.  Google Books.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=30Wa-l9B5IoC&lpg=PA122&ots=nw4edgV_xw&dq=crucifixion%2C%20tacitus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Zugibe. “Turin Lecture – Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion.”  Zias. “Crucifixion in Antiquity – The Anthropological Evidence.”  Geberth, Vernon J.  “State Sponsored Torture in Rome: A Forensic Inquiry and Medicolegal Analysis of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.” 2012. <www.practicalhomicide.com/Research/Rome2012.doc
[vii]  Zugibe. “Turin Lecture – Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion.”
[viii] Santala, Risto.  The Messiah In The New Testament In The Light Of Rabbinical Writings. Trans. William Kinnaird. “Jesus Before The Representatives of the Roman State.”  1993.  <http://www.kolumbus.fi/risto.santala/rsla/Nt/index.html>   Swete, Henry Barclay.  The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Greek Text with Notes and Indices. 1902.  Google Books.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[ix] Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. “Seneca’s Essays Volume I.”  Moral Essays. Book III. “To Novatus on Anger+.” Book I.  The Stoic Legacy to the Renaissance.  <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_essays_book_1.html#ANGER1>   Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews.  Book VI, Chapter IV,  Chapter VII.  Google Books. n.d. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  
[x] Shanks, Hershel.  “Crucifixion Bone Fragment, 21 CE.”  The Center for Online Judaic Studies. 2004.  <http://cojs.org/crucifixion_bone_fragment-_21_ce>