Unimaginably cruel mental images are wrought by descriptions of a Roman crucifixion. If an actual crucifixion victim were to describe the horrors of the experience, such as the sole surviving acquaintance of Josephus rescued from the cross, the victim might very well describe it this way:
“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.”
Quoting not from any Roman historical account, the description was written centuries earlier before the Romans perfected this tortuous form of execution – a 1000 years earlier by King David in Psalms 22:14-17.
Prophecies are seldom as clear as Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy predicting the Ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem or Zechariah’s prophecy foretelling the King of Israel would come riding on the foal of a donkey. Some are delivered in perplexing, oracle-style prophecies often requiring knowledge of historical context, intricacies of analogies or symbolisms, and intermingling the present and future.
Historical context of crucifixion comes from Cicero, Rome’s most celebrated orator and lawyer. A victim of a Roman crucifixion was first scourged, “exposed to torture and nailed on that cross;” it was “the most miserable and the most painful punishment appropriate to slaves alone.”
Psychological torture was designed to be part of the crucifixion process. It included a location that would display the exposed crucified victim “within sight of all passersby” with “the express purpose that the wretched man who was dying in agony and torture” would lastly see the circumstances surrounding his death.
Modern medical expert analysis of crucifixion concluded that the act of breathing added to the excruciating pain by pulling at the nail wounds driven through nerves in the wrists while pushing up full body weight on nailed feet – just to take a breath. Victims most likely died from shock, if not first by asphyxiation.
Historical and medical analysis context of a crucifixion serve as the basis for determining if prophecies are consistent with these facts. Three parashahs or passages from the Old Testament, the Tenakh, are the focus of potential crucifixion prophecies – Psalms 22:1-24, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Zechariah 12:8-14.
Some Psalms are identified by Jesus as ones that would be fulfilled by him. One is well-known yet controversial, Psalms 22, depicting a man who is enduring agony and humiliation. Physically, his “bones out of joint,” “heart has turned to wax,” “tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth,” and “they have pierced my hands and feet.”
Psychological suffering describes “a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.” “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads;” surrounded by men who are like vicious animals.
Isaiah 52-53 is similarly graphic where “My Servant” bears the mental anguish of “suffering of his soul” being “despised and rejected by men” and considered “stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” Physically, “his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” As an intercessor, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment” for which “he poured out his life unto death,” ultimately “cut off from the land of the living.”
Zechariah 12:10 succinctly says, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
Jewish authorities recognize at least portions of these prophecies as messianic. In a split between the Rabbi contributors of Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52, one faction viewed Zechariah 12:10 as a Messiah prophecy:
“It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son…”
Rabbi Rashi, renowned Jewish authority, commented on Zechariah 12:10 siding with the Messiah interpretation in Sukkah 52. He wrote, “And our Sages expounded this in tractate Sukkah (52a) as referring to the Messiah, son of Joseph, who was slain.”
Jewish authorities are silent on the Isaiah 52-53 parashah’s graphic depiction being consistent with that of a crucifixion. However, certain verses within this parashah of Isaiah are acknowledged in the Talmud and by Rabbi sages as pertaining to the Messiah.
Rabbi Jose the Galilean was a Talmud contributor recognized for his authority on sacrifices and the Temple. Quoting Isaiah 53:5 and 53:6, he declared they referred to “King Messiah” who would be “wounded” for our transgressions.
Rabbi Maimonides similarly identified the Messiah as the subject of Isaiah 52:15 and 53:2. The Rabbi expounded that, according to this Isaiah 52-53 parashah, the Messiah could be identified by his origins and his wonders.
Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin is renowned for his twelfth century authorship of “Sefer ha-Musar” meaning the Book of Instruction. Crispin boldly disagreed with the prevailing Jewish view that “My Servant” is a metaphor referring to the nation of Israel. Instead, Crispin said “My Servant” in Isaiah 52:13 refers to “King Messiah.” 
Jesus of Nazareth himself referred to the prophecies describing the manner of death for the Messiah. Days before entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus forewarned his Disciples predicting in precise detail that he was about to endure what was foretold by the prophets:
LK 18:31-33 “Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”
History and major religions affirm that Jesus of Nazareth was subjected to the horrific physical and psychological designs of crucifixion described by Cicero and modern forensic science analysis. Is crucifixion predicted in the Messiah prophecies foretelling the manner of suffering and death by the Messiah?
Rabbi Crispin profoundly summed up the challenge for each person to arrive at his or her own conclusion about the prophecies:
“… if any one should arise claiming to be himself the Messiah, we may reflect, and look to see whether we can observe in him any resemblance to the traits described here: if there is any such resemblance, then we may believe that he is the Messiah our righteousness; but if not, we cannot do so.” – Rabbi Crispin
Updated October 20, 2022
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