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 role determine the truth.

The Roman capital death penalty by crucifixion 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 andJosephus depictions 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 lows of 49°F to highs 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]

If the physical torture wasn’t enough, there was the mental torment of humiliation by 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>  

Cicero’s Prosecution of Crucifixion

Crucifixion is as closely associated with the image of Jesus of Nazareth as any other save perhaps the manger scene. Yet some challenge the reality of whether Rome executed Jesus by nailing him to a cross – if doubts about the Gospel accounts can be meaningfully established, it discredits the integrity of the Gospel’s claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.[1]

All four Gospels record that Jesus of Nazareth was scourged and killed by crucifixion. The location was Golgatha just outside the city of Jerusalem where passersby could see and mock him. Aside from that, the Gospels do not go into the gory details of the crucifixion for one very simple reason – it was not necessary.

“Tacitus (“Annales,” 54, 59) reports therefore without comment the fact that Jesus was crucified. For Romans no amplification was necessary.” JewishEncyclopedia.com

Just about anyone living in the Roman Empire, the primary audience of the Gospel authors, knew about crucifixion – and most likely from firsthand experience.[2] The Jewish crowd at Pilate’s judgement knew about it calling out “crucify him!” Not even Roman historians Josephus, Tacitus or Suetonius found it necessary to explain crucifixion.[3] But, there are a few exceptions…

– – – – –

Cicero, commonly regarded as the greatest orator in the history of Rome, was a Roman Senator and Consul who lived about 100 years before Pontius Pilate was Procurator of Judea.[4] A lesser known fact is that Cicero was a prosecutor, a Roman lawyer.

In Secondary Orations Against Verres, Cicero wrote about his prosecution of Verres.[5] The charge was the premeditated murder of a noble Roman citizen, one Publius Gavius, because of his public crusade for freedom and citizenship.

Scourging whips and the cross were the murder weapons – death by crucifixion. Cicero’s accusation of Verres in court described how humiliation, psychological and mental anguish were part of the excruciating, long lasting torment of the scourged victim nailed to the cross, a fate reserved only for slaves at that time:[6]

“…according to their regular custom and usage, they had erected the cross behind the city in the Pompeian road…you chose that place in order that the man who said that he was a Roman citizen, might be able from his cross to behold Italy and to look towards his own home?… for the express purpose that the wretched man who was dying in agony and torture might see that the rights of liberty and of slavery were only separated by a very narrow strait, and that Italy might behold her son murdered by the most miserable and most painful punishment appropriate to slaves alone.

It is a crime to bind a Roman citizen; to scourge him is a wickedness; to put him to death is almost parricide. What shall I say of crucifying him? So guilty an action cannot by any possibility be adequately expressed by any name bad enough for it…that you exposed to that torture and nailed on that cross…He chose that monument of his wickedness and audacity to be in the sight of Italy, in the very vestibule of Sicily, within sight of all passersby as they sailed to and fro.”[7]

Seneca the Younger, born in Spain virtually the same year as Jesus of Nazareth, was educated in Rome. He became a stoic philosopher, statesman and dramatist gaining acclaim as a writer of tragedies and essays.[8]

With a penchant for including horror scenes in his tragedies, Seneca was familiar with the gruesome realities of crucifixion. In one “Dialogue,” he wrote to his embittered friend, Marcia, who had been grieving three years over her son’s death. Using a metaphor of crucifixion to describe the mental anguish of people of virtue striving to overcome their own self-imposed tribulations, he wrote:

“Though they strive to release themselves from their crosses those crosses to which each one of you nails himself with his own hand – yet they, when brought to punishment, hang each upon a single gibbets [sic]; but these others who bring upon themselves their own punishment are stretched upon as many crosses as they had desires….”[9]

Seneca’s letter suggests he expected Marcia to be familiar with the horrific analogy of crucifixion. A gibbet was a gallows-like structure used to hang dead, executed victims by chains or ropes for public display as compared to living victims of crucifixion who were stretched out and nailed to crosses.[10]

By the time of Josephus, crucifixion was commonly used by Rome to punish such crimes as robbery and insurrection devolving to the point it became Roman sport.[11] Josephus made nine references to Roman crucifixions. In one, he wrote of acts by Procurator Florus and in another from his own Roman eyewitness perspective to the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD:[12]

“…they also caught many of the quiet people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first chastised with stripes, and then crucified…for Florus ventured then to do what no one had done before, that is, to have men of the equestrian order whipped and nailed to the cross before his tribunal…”[13]

“So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies”.[14]

One central theme to the historical depictions of Roman crucifixion – it was common knowledge that victims were nailed to the cross as an extreme torturous means to kill them. Are the accounts of the Gospels credible in saying that Roman crucifixion was used to kill Jesus?

 

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REFERENCES:[1] “Jesus did not die on cross, says scholar.” The Telegraph. n.d. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/7849852/Jesus-did-not-die-on-cross-says-scholar.html rel=”nofollow” rel=”nofollow”> Warren, Meredith J.C.  “Was Jesus Really Nailed to the Cross?”  The Conversation.  2016.  <https://theconversation.com/was-jesus-really-nailed-to-the-cross-56321 rel=”nofollow”>   Perales, Ginger. “Was Jesus Nailed or Tied to the Cross?”  2016.  <http://www.newhistorian.com/jesus-nailed-tied-cross/6161 rel=”nofollow”>
[2]Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews.  Book IV, Chapter V. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[3] Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius.  The Annals. Ed. Church, Alfred John and Brodribb, William Jackson. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0078> Perseus Digital Library. Ed. Crane, Gregory R.  Tufts University. n.d. Word search “crucified” <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/searchresults?page=4&q=crucified>
[4]  Linder, Douglas O. “The Trial of Gaius (or Caius) Verres.”  2008.  <http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/Verres/verresaccount.html>
[5] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. “The Fifth Book of the Second Pleading in the Prosecution against Verres.” Ed. Crane, Gregory R.  Perseus Digital Library. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0018%3Atext%3DVer.%3Aactio%3D2%3Abook%3D5>
[6] Greenough, James. B.; Kittredge, George; eds.   Select Orations and Letters of Cicero.  1902.  Introduction I.  Life of Cicero. VII. “From the Murder of Caesar to the Death of Cicero.”   <http://books.google.com/books?id=ANoNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Quintilian, Marcus Fabius.  Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory.  1856.  Book 8, Chapter 4.   Rhetoric and Composition.  2011. .<http://rhetoric.eserver.org/quintilian/index.html>   “Crucifixion.” JewishEncyclopedia.com < http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4782-crucifixion >
[7] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. “The Fifth Book of the Second Pleading in the Prosecution against Verres.” Ed. Crane, Gregory R.  Perseus Digital Library. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0018%3Atext%3DVer.%3Aactio%3D2%3Abook%3D5>
[8] “Seneca.”  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Zalta, Edward N.  2015. <https://plato.stanford.edu>  Mastin, Luke. “Ancient Rome – Seneca the Younger.” 2009.  Classical Literature. <http://www.ancient-literature.com/rome_seneca.html>
[9] Seneca, Lucius Annaeus.  “De Consolatione Ad Marciam+.”  “To Marcia on Consolation.”    Moral Essays.  Trans. John W. Basore.  1928-1935.   “Seneca’s Essays Volume II.”  Book VI.  Pages xx 1-3.  The Stoic Legacy to the Renaissance.  2004.  <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_essays_book_2.html#%E2%80%98MARCIAM1>    Seneca, Lucius Annaeus.  “De Vita Beata+.”  “To Gallio On The Happy Life.”  Moral Essays.  Trans. John W. Basore.   1928-1935.  “Seneca’s Essays Volume II.”  Book VII.  The Stoic Legacy to the Renaissance.  2004.  <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_essays_book_2.html#%E2%80%98BEATA1>
[10] “gibbet.”  The Free Dictionary by Farlex. 2017.  <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dictionary.htm>  “gibbet.”  Merriam-Webster.com. 2017 <http://www.merriam-webster.com>
[11] “Crucifixion.” JewishEncyclopedia.com.
[12] “FLORUS, GESSIUS (or, incorrectly, Cestius).” JewishEncyclopedia.com. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6200-florus-gessius>
[13] Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews.  Book II, Chapter XIV. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[14] Josephus.  Wars. Book V, Chapter XI.