Is Crucifixion Predicted in the Messiah Prophecies?

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.”[1]

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 prophecy that the Ruler of Israel would come from Bethlehem or Zechariah’s prophecy that the King of Israel would come riding on the foal of a donkey.[2] 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.[3]

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 design of crucifixion was to choose 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.[4]

Modern medical expert analysis of crucifixion concluded 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, when they could no longer push up to take a breath.[5]

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.

Psalms 22 depicts a man who is enduring agony and humiliation. Physically, “bones out of joint,” his “heart has turned to wax,” extreme thirst saying his “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 the “suffering of his soul” being “despised and rejected by men” and considered “stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.” Bodily, “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.”[6]

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.”[7]

Jewish authorities recognize portions of these parashahs as messianic prophecies. 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 this 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.”[8]

Jewish authorities are silent on the Isaiah 52-53 parashah depicting a crucifixion event; however, the Messiah prophecies throughout Isaiah’s book are acknowledged in the Talmud and by Rabbi sages. Sanhedrin 98a alone makes 9 references to Isaiah’s prophecies about the future Messiah.[9] Three prominent Rabbi sages independently identified 5 verses of the Isaiah 52-53 passage as all referring 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.[10]

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.[11]

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.” [12]

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.”[13]

History affirms that Jesus of Nazareth was subjected to the horrific physical and psychological designs of crucifixion described by Cicero and modern forensic science analysis, consistent with the Gospels.[14] Is crucifixion predicted in the Messiah prophecies of Psalms, Isaiah and Zechariah foretelling the manner of suffering and death by the Messiah?

Rabbi Crispin profoundly summed up the challenge for each person to arrive at their own conclusion about the prophecies saying:

“… 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.[15]

 

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REFERENCES:
[1]NIV.
[2] Micah 5:2; Zechariah 9:9.
[3] Psalms 78:1-3; Hosea 12:10. Boucher.  “The Parables.”   Bugg. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.”
[4] Cicero, Marcus Tullius. In Verrem Actionis Secundae M. Tulli Ciceronis Libri Quinti.  “Secondary Orations Against Verres. Book 5. 70 B.C.  The Society for Ancient Languages   University of Alabama – Huntsville.  10 Feb. 2005. <https://web.archive.org/web/20160430183826/http://www.uah.edu/student_life/organizations/SAL/texts/latin/classical/cicero/inverrems5e.html>  Quintilian, Marcus Fabius. Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory. 1856. Trans. John Selby Watson. Book 8, Chapter 4. <https://web.archive.org/web/20170815223340/http://rhetoric.eserver.org/quintilian/index.html>
[5] Cilliers, L. & Retief F. P.  “The history and pathology of crucifixion.”  South African Medical Journal.  Dec;93(12):938-41.  U.S. National Library of Medicine|National Institute of Health.  <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14750495>  Zugibe, Frederick T.  “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>  Maslen, Matthew W. and Mitchell, Piers D.  “Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.  J R Soc Med. 2006 April; 99(4): 185–188.  doi:  10.1258/jrsm.99.4.185.  National Center for Biotechnology Information. Search term Search database. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420788>  Alchin, Linda.  “Roman Crucifixion.”  Tribunes and Triumphs. 2008.  <http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/roman-life/roman-crucifixion.htm> Zias, Joe. “Crucifixion in Antiquity – The Anthropological Evidence.” JoeZias.com. 2009. <http://web.archive.org/web/20121211060740/http://www.joezias.com/CrucifixionAntiquity.html>  Champlain, Edward. Nero. 2009. <https://books.google.com/books?id=30Wa-l9B5IoC&lpg=PA122&ots=nw4edgV_xw&dq=crucifixion%2C%20tacitus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[6] NIV.
[7] NIV.
[8] The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 12:10  <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htmSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Sukkah 52a. <http://www.halakhah.com/rst/moed/16b%20-%20Succah%20-%2029b-56b.pdf>
[9] Isaiah 53:3.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 98a footnotes: Isaiah XLIX:7, XVIII:5, I:25, LIX:19, LIX:20, LX:21, LIX:16, XLVIII:11, LX:22; footnote #31. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.htmlSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 38a, footnote #9 to Isaiah 8:14. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_38.html>
[10] The Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson.  “Part I.  Historical and Literary Introduction to the New Edition of the Talmud, Chapter 2.”  pp 10, 12-13.  <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t10/ht202.htmThe Babylonian Talmud. Derech Eretz-Zuta. “The Chapter on Peace.”  Yose the Galilaean. Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. Quote. Siphrej. pp 10-11. <https://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=Jose&f=false>
[11] Moses Maimonides. Neubauer, Adolf. And Driver, Samuel Rolles.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. 1877. “Letter to the South (Yemen).” pp xvi, 374-375.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>
[12] Crispin, Moshe Kohen ibn. Neubauer, Driver & Rolles. The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters  “Sefer ha-Musar.” pp 99-101.
[13] NIV.
[14] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. and commentary, William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XVIII, Chapter III.3. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius. The Annals. 109 AD. Trans. Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb.  Internet Classic Archive. 2009. Book XV.  <http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.html>  Lucian of Samosata. “The Death of Peregrine.” The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Volume IV. Trans. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler. 1905. p 82. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm>   Encyclopaedia Judaica. Eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 11. 2nd Edition. “Jesus.” pp 246-251.  <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/infomark.do?action=interpret&eisbn=9780028660974&prodId=GVRL&userGroupName=imcpl1111&type=aboutBook&version=1.0&authCount=1&u=imcpl1111>  “Last Days of Jesus.” PBS.org. TV show. Air date: April 4, 2017. <http://www.pbs.org/program/last-days-jesus>
[15] Crispin. “Sefer ha-Musar.” p 114.