Astronomy Tales: Birth & Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth

“Follow the science” has often been heard during the COVID crisis. The same mantra can be applied to the birth and crucifixion dates of the Jesus of Nazareth – the science is astronomy.

No mystical meaning is found in astronomy.[1] Positions of stars and planets follow a predictive path that can be charted past, present and future. Planets move in a rotation path around the Sun whereas stars are stationary, yet both can appear in different places in the sky based on such variables as nightly diurnal motions, planetary rotations, seasons and earthly viewing location.

God Himself pointed out the absoluteness of astronomy when He promised the Messiah would sit on the throne of David:

Jer. 33:20-21 “Thus says the LORD: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne…” (NRSV)

Going back millennia, many have attempted to interpret the meaning of the various cosmic alignments – Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and even Jews. Various cultures have given planet-stars and fixed stars names; assigned them to zodiacs; and even going so far as to worship them as gods.[2]

Astrology is different from astronomy where astrology is the belief that celestial bodies influence a person’s journey in life, but it is not a “science.”[3] Horoscopes, for example, attempt to define a personality, successes, sorrows, challenges – a life’s destiny.

Some have viewed interactions of the heavenly bodies and alignments as signs with earthly significance indicating something is about to happen or has occurred.[4] Persian Zoroastrian teachings of the Magi espoused that every planet has a significance.[5] 

 

BIRTH OF JESUS OF NAZARETH

Magi in Matthew’s account were not motivated by an ancient prophecy or a prophet, an angelic appearance, or any type of divine revelation. Instead, their actions were compelled by an awe-inspiring scene they observed in the night sky.

Evidenced by their actions, the Magi firmly believed in the signs when they saw “his star” compelling them to do several things well-beyond normal. They set out on a risky month’s long journey around the great Arabian Desert to a foreign land in Judea not knowing where their quest would end; sought input from a ruthless Judean king, eventually even defying him; brought expensive gifts for this unknown baby and they planned to worship him.[6]

NASA’s astronomy data can be used to recreate cosmic events seen by the Magi that may have signaled the birth of the “king of the Jews.” Closing out the last 7 years of the BC era, two sets of stellar events occurred during the years 7-5 BC and 3-1 BC. Rare conjunctions, movements and alignments typically witnessed centuries apart, occurred in a very short period of time.

Matthew reported the death of King Herod ending the Nativity account while historian Josephus described in detail events surrounding Herod’s death between a lunar eclipse and the Passover. One common fact to Matthew and Luke:  King Herod was alive when Jesus was born.[7] Secular history focuses on the death date of Herod.

Many have used the 7-5 BC timeline with a partial lunar eclipse to support the secular year of Herod’s death in 4 BC. More recent research points to the King’s death in 1 BC when a full lunar eclipse occurred.

A four-prong approach overlaying secular history accounts, Jewish calendars, the science of astronomy data and Gospel accounts produces two fascinating scenarios for the birth of Jesus and death of Herod. The question is which one, if any, makes the most logical sense?

 

 

CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS OF NAZARETH

Astronomy data can also be used for determining the crucifixion date Jesus of Nazareth, especially when compared with historical accounts and the Gospels. Three sets of information – astronomy data, history, Gospels – are defined separately below and then triangulated into a single assessment.

Astronomy

NASA astronomy data serves as an accurate method to determine the Passover dates as an alternative to unreliable calendars of antiquity. (Calendar conversions of antiquity are unreliable due to variations of Julian and Gregorian calendars.)[8]

Each year for thousands of years, Jewish Nissan 15th, Passover, always occurs on the first full moon after March 20th, easily seen in NASA astronomy data.[9] Full moon dates with these parameters for the years 28-33 AD are:[10]

28 AD:  March 29 (Monday)        31 AD:  April 17 (Tuesday)
29 AD:  March 18 (Friday)          32 AD:  April 14 (Monday)
30 AD:  April 6 (Thursday)          33 AD:  April 3 (Friday)

Often cited for either crucifixion date scenario is a solar eclipse to explain the Gospel reference to darkness from noon until three o’clock.[14] NASA astronomy defines when a solar and a lunar eclipse can occur:

“An eclipse of the Sun can occur only at New Moon, while an eclipse of the Moon can occur only at Full Moon” – NASA astronomy [15]

NASA data shows no solar eclipse occurred over Jerusalem during the Passover periods of either 29 or 33 AD simply because a solar eclipse can only occur during a “new moon” (no visible moon) – impossible during a full moon at Passover.[16] The darkening of the Sun also cannot be explained by a lunar eclipse because no lunar eclipse is visible during daylight hours even if one occurred that night.[17]

History – Roman and Jewish:

“At the death of Herod, Augustus Caesar divided his territories among his sons — Archelaüs, Philip, and Herodes Antipas…” making Tetrarchs of the half-brothers Philip and Antipas.[18] Philip’s reign triggered by the death of King Herod becomes a linchpin for subsequent dating. Josephus stated the Tetrarch ruled for 37 years meaning Philip either died in 33 or 36 AD.[19]

Tiberius Caesar began his rule as Roman Emperor on August 19, 14 AD, upon the death of Caesar Augustus. Tiberius ruled until his own death on March 16, 37 AD when Caligula (Caius) became Emperor.[20]

During his reign, Tiberius appointed only two procurators to Judea, first was Valerius Gratus for the years 15-25 AD. Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea for 10 years from 26-36 AD.[21] Vitellius sent Pilate to Rome in 36 AD to answer to Tiberius for killing Samaritans; however, the Emperor died while Pilate was en-route to Rome.[22]

Ananus was first High Priest of his family, followed by five of his sons and a son-in-law named Caiaphas.[23] Beginning his 10-year tenure in 26 AD, Caiaphas was the high priest until he was removed by Vitellius during a Passover in 36 AD, the same year he removed Pilate as Procurator.[24]

Tetrarch Antipas met Heriodias who was with her husband, Tetrarch Philip, during a trip to Rome. The two devised a plan to divorce their current spouses and remarry each other. The scheme set in motion a chain reaction of historical events – the execution of John the Baptist; an Arab-Jewish war; and Caesar wanting the demise of an Arab King.[25]

John the Baptist is renowned by both Judaism and Islam in addition to Christianity.[26] He publicly criticized the illicit, incestuous marital arrangement which infuriated Herodias.[27] From the perspective of Josephus, Antipas executed John the Baptist for political reasons.[28]

Antipas’ first wife was the daughter of Arab King Aretas. Unbeknownst to Antipas, she found out about his divorce scheme with Herodias and made arrangements to return to her King father. Herodias and Antipas married in 33 AD according to the Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities.[29]

Aretas and Antipas were agitated to war, according to Josephus, “when all of Herod’s army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives, who, though they were of the tetrarchy of Philip, joined with Aretas’s army.” Based on this statement, Philip appears to be alive. Historians date the Aretas-Antipas war to 36 AD.

Antipas wrote to Tiberius about his defeat to Aretas which angered Caesar who ordered his Roman Syrian legate, Vitellius, to capture Aretas or “kill him and, and send him his head.”[31] Tiberius soon thereafter died in 37 AD whereupon Vitellius sent his military home because Tiberius’ order was no longer valid.[32]

Philip’s tetrarchy became available when he died and Roman Emperor Caligula gave the tetrachy governance position to Agrippa in 37 AD.[34]

Gospels:

Luke 3:1 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”(NET)[35]

John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries about the same time. Unlike the three Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Gospel account of John is essentially written in chronological order.

After his baptism by John the Baptist in Bethany, the Gospel of John chronicled actions taken by Jesus of Nazareth. After being rejected in Nazareth, he moved to Capernaum; chose some of his Disciples in Galilee; attended a wedding in Cana; returned to Capernaum; then traveled to Jerusalem for the first Passover of his ministry.[36]

Approaching the second Passover during his ministry, Jesus refers to John the Baptist in present tense terms although he spoke of his ministry in past tense strongly suggesting John is in prison:  he “was the burning and shining lamp.”[37] Herod Antipas had John the Baptist arrested, but not immediately executed, for publicly criticizing his illicit marital arrangement with Herodias who was infuriated by John’s criticism.[38]

Between the second and third Passovers attended by Jesus, people referred to John the Baptist in the past tense – he is no longer alive.[39] As a reward for a dance performed by his step-daughter, daughter of Philip, identified as Salome by Josephus, Herod Antipas promised anything she wanted.[40] After consulting with Heriodias, Salome requested the head of John the Baptist.[41]

Triangulation:

John the Baptist began his ministry during the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign. Adding 15 years to the beginning the rule of Tiberius in 14 AD equates to 29 AD.

Jesus of Nazareth did not begin his 3-year ministry until after he was baptized by John the Baptist when both were in the initial stages of their ministries that year. This alone eliminates the possibility for the crucifixion year of 29 AD.

Historical accounts from 33-37 AD combined with Biblical accounts support the death of John the Baptist in 32 or 33 AD… Jesus had not yet been executed.

Sending troops in 36 AD to aide Aretas in a war against Antipas, Philip could not have died in 33 AD after a 37-year reign if he began his rule in 4 BC. This, in turn, means King Herod died during the 1 BC scenario for the birth of Jesus.

Caligula, gave the tetrachy of Philip to Agrippa in 37 AD further supporting the scenarios for the death of Herod in 1 BC followed by the 37-year reign of his son, Philip. It is highly unlikely the governorship of a tetrarchy would have been left unfilled for 3-4 years if Philip had died in 33 AD.

Jesus attended three Passovers in Jerusalem, the third and final Passover resulted in his capture, trial and crucifixion. Ruling out 29 AD based on Luke’s historical accounts, NASA data shows the next Friday Passover occurred on April 3, 33 AD. Triangulating history and the Gospels with astronomy, all point to only one date for the crucifixion of Jesus – April 3, 33 AD.

What are the odds that the movement paths of the stars and planets created by God signal the times when Jesus was born and died?

 

Updated August 14, 2022.

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[7] Mathew 2:1-10; Luke 1:5.
[8] Beattie, M. J. Church of God Study Forum. “Hebrew Calendar.” n.d. <http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar> “Easter Sunday/Jewish Passover Calculator.” WebSpace Science. JavaScript calculator. n.d. <https://webspace.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/easter/easter_text2a.htm> “Jewish holiday calendars & Hebrew date converter.” Hebcal. n.d. <https://www.hebcal.com/converter?hd=16&hm=Nisan&hy=3793&h2g=1> “Hebrew Calendar Converter.” Calculators. 2022. <https://calcuworld.com/calendar-calculators/hebrew-calendar-converter> April 33 AD. TimeandDate.com. calendar. <https://www.messianic-torah-truth-seeker.org/AD-33-3793/PDF-AD-33-3793.pdf>  “How Accurate is the Calendar at this Website?” Church of God Study Forum. n.d. <http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar/about>
[9] Leviticus 23:4-7; Numbers 28:16-25. Moss, Aron. “Why Is Passover on a Full Moon?” Chabad.org. <https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/4250850/jewish/Why-Is-Passover-on-a-Full-Moon.htm> Bikos, Konstantin. “The Jewish Calendar.” TimeAndDate.com. n.d. <https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/jewish-calendar.html>  Cohen, Michael M. “Passover, full moon and fulfillment.” The Jerusalem Post. 2019. <https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Culture/Passover-The-full-moon-and-fulfillment-586511>  “Determining the Dates for Easter and Passover.” RayFowler.org. n.d. <http://www.rayfowler.org/writings/articles/determining-the-dates-for-easter-and-passover>  Beattie. “Hebrew Calendar.”  Fairchild, Mary. Learn Religions. “What Is the Paschal Full Moon?. n.d. <https://www.learnreligions.com/paschal-full-moon-700617>  “Lunar Eclipses from 0001 to 0100 Jerusalem, ISRAEL” National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Javascrip  2007. <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html>
[10] Espanek, Fred. “Phases of the Moon: 0001 to 0100 Universal Time (UT).” Astropixels.com. n.d. <http://astropixels.com/ephemeris/phasescat/phases0001.html> Calendars for 28-33 AD. TimeandDate. 2022. <https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/custom.html?year=27&country=1&hol=0&cdt=31&holm=1&df=1>
[11] Matthew 26:17-20; Mark 14:12-17, Luke 22:7-16, John 19:14. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Epstein. Sanhedrin 43a; footnote #34; “Glossary” > “Baraitha” and “Tanna, Tana.” <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.htmlSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Epstein. “Introduction to Seder Nezikin.”  Visotzky, Rabbi Burton L. Sage Tales – Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud. 2011. p153. <https://books.google.com/books?id=pMJYU2DTZ4UC&pg=PA153&lpg=PA153&dq=Talmud+exception+for+Jesus+of+Nazareth&source=bl&ots=ir-xCPF6a0&sig=_Nx3mW86y5dgWQWtuQmV-VidP6w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwimzZi8yNvZAhXH44MKHf5AAEsQ6AEIXjAG#v=onepage&q=Talmud%20exception%20for%20Jesus%20of%20Nazareth&f=false> Talmud. “Sanhedrin 43a.” n.d. <https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.43a?lang=bi>
[12] The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Paneas or Caesarea Philippi or Neronias (Banyas) Syria.” <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=paneas&highlight=tetrarch>[13] “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2007. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8616-jesus-of-nazareth> “Easter Sunday/Jewish Passover Calculator.” WebSpace Science.  Beattie, M. J. Church of God Study Forum. “Hebrew Calendar.“ Jewish holiday calendars & Hebrew date converter.” Hebcal.  “Hebrew Calendar Converter.” Calculators. April 33 AD. TimeandDate.com.
[14] Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44.
[15] “Phases of the Moon: 0001 to 0100 Universal Time (UT).” Astropixels.com.
[xvi] Espenak, Fred. National aeronautics and Space Administration. “Solar Eclipses of Historical Interest.” Java script. 2009. <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEhistory/SEhistory.html> Espenak, Fred. National aeronautics and Space .Administration. “Total Solar Eclipse of 0033 March 19.” Chart. 2009. <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEhistory/SEplot/SE0033Mar19T.pdf>  “Phases of the Moon: 0001 to 0100 Universal Time (UT).” Astropixels.com.
[17] Espenak, Fred. NASA Eclipse Website. “Lunar Eclipses from -0099 to 0000 Jerusalem, Israel.” n.d <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html>
[18] Peck, Harry Thurston. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. “Iudaei.” 1898. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0062:entry=iudaei-harpers&highlight=antipas>  CR Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. Book XVII, Chapter XI.4; Book XVIII, Chapter II.1. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=fal >  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. Book II, Chapter IX.1. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[19] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter IV.6; Chapter V.1. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter IX.1. Strabo. Geography. Hamilton, H.C., Ed. Book 16, Chapter 2, footnotes 125, 128.  <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=16:chapter=2&highlight=antipas>
[20] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II. 2. Josephus. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter IX.6.  Grant, Michael. Encyclopædia Britannica. “Augustus.” 2022. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Augustus-Roman-emperor> Pohl, Frederik. Encyclopædia Britannica. “Tiberius.” 2022. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tiberius> “Tiberius.” Wasson, Donald L. World History Encyclopedia. 19 July 2012  <https://www.worldhistory.org/Tiberius>
[21] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter XIII. 2, 5; Book XVIII, Chapters II.2; VI.1-2, 5-7, 10. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter 9.5.  Tacitus. Annals. Books II, XV.  Suetonius (C. Suetonius Tranquillus or C. Tranquillus Suetonius).  Suetonius (C. Suetonius Tranquillus or C. Tranquillus Suetonius). The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Tiberius, #50, 51, 52. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/home.html> “Valerius Gratus.” Encyclopedia.com. 2019. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/valerius-gratusdeg>
[22] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter IV.1-2.
[23] “High Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2007. < https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7689-high-priest>
[24] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters I1.2; IV.3; V.3; Book XIX, Chapter VI.2. “High Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Jewish Palestine at the time of Jesus.” Britannica Encyclopedia. 2022. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jesus/Jewish-Palestine-at-the-time-of-Jesus#ref748553>  “Pontius Pilate.” Biography. 2021. <https://www.biography.com/religious-figure/pontius-pilate>  Pilate, Pontius.” Encyclopedia.com. 2022. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/biblical-proper-names-biographies/pontius-pilate>  “Tiberius.” World History Encyclopedia. <https://www.worldhistory.org/Tiberius> <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jesus/Jewish-Palestine-at-the-time-of-Jesus#ref748553>  Smith, Mark. History News Network. “The Real Story of Pontius Pilate? It’s Complicated.” 2022. <https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168311>  Larson, Rick. The Star of Bethlehem. 2022. <https://bethlehemstar.com/the-day-of-the-cross/pilate-and-sejanus>
[25] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II.3, V.1.
[26] Quran 3:19:2-7, 6:85; 19:7. <https://bible-history.com/links/aretas-1067>  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.2.
[27] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.4.  A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Ed. William Smith. “Salo’me.” 1848. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0104:entry=salome-bio-4&highlight=tetrarch> A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. “Hero’des I. or Hero’d the Great or Hero’des Magnus.” <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0104:entry=herodes-i-bio-1&highlight=tetrarch>  CR Matthew 14:5; Mark 6:19-20; Luke 3:19-20. CR Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.4.
[28] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.2.
[29] Peck, Harry Thurston. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. 1898. #3. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0062:entry=herodes-harpers&highlight=antipas>  CR Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.1.
[30] Josephus. Antiquities.  Book XVIII, Chapter V.1.  “Herod Antipas.” Britannica Encyclopedia. 2022. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herod-Antipas> “Aretas.” Bible History. 2022. <https://bible-history.com/links/aretas-1067>
[31] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.1.
[32] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.1-3.
[3] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VI. 10.
[34] Strabo. Geography. Chapter V. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=12:chapter=5&highlight=tetrarch>  “Tetrarcha.” A Dictionary of Green and Roman Antiquities. 1890. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0063:entry=tetrarcha-cn&highlight=tetrarch>
[35] CR Matthew 14:1, 3-4, 5, 6; Mark 6:14-20, 21; Luke 3:19; 4:16-30; 7:24-30; 8:3; 9:7, 9, 13.31; 23:7, 9, 11, 12, 15; John 1:28-34.  CR Acts 4:27; 12:4, 6, 11, 19, 21, 23; 13;1; 23:8, 35.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter John 1:28-34. XI.4; Book XVIII, Chapter V.1 Josephus. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter IX.1; Book III, Chapter X.7.
[36] John 1:35-47; 2:1-13. CR Matthew 4:13; 13:53-58. Mark 6:1-4.
[7] John 5:35.  CR Matthew 4:12; 11:2-7; John 5:32-33, 7:18-25.
[38] Matthew 14:5; Mark 6:19-20; Luke 3:19-20. CR Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.4. “Hero’des I. or Hero’d the Great or Hero’des Magnus.”
[39] John 10:40-41; 11:54-12:18.
[40] A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.“Salo’me.”
[41] Matthew 14:6-11; Mark 6:17-29; Luke 3:19-20; Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapter V.

 

Death of Jesus By Crucifixion?

One of the common charges by critics and skeptics against the Resurrection claim of the Gospels is that Jesus of Nazareth did not die by crucifixion, sometimes called the “swoon theory.”[1] In fact, one of the world’s major religions teaches that Jesus never died on the cross.[2]

Roman crucifixions were rife during the century before and after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD as documented by renowned authorities of antiquity such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Cicero and Seneca the Younger.[3] The assertion that Jesus was crucified but never died on the cross is contrary to their information.

Required for a death certificate today, three facts are to be established – when and where the death occurred and the identity of the person who died.*[4] Death confirmation today typically requires involvement by a coroner, law enforcement official, medical expert, etc. – still someone who can attest to these circumstances of the death.

In the age of antiquity, confirmation of a death was basically the same; it required witnesses. No modern technologies and sciences were available meaning a death determination relied on observations and simple common sense – lifeless; not breathing; limp, cold and still; rigor mortis; obvious mortal wounds; decomposition or other morbid evidence.

Crucifixion by the Romans was fully intended to cause death under the most excruciatingly painful and humiliating circumstances. No escape. Victims could do nothing to save themselves after a group of military men had fastened the severely flogged victims, typically by nails, to wooden beams and suspended them above the ground.

All four Gospel accounts report that Jesus was killed by crucifixion, witnessed by many. Luke brought the intended outcome of the crucifixion to dramatic closure stating, “he breathed his last.”[5]

At the top of the witness list is the Roman quaternion, the execution team consisting of four guards, and the exactor mortis who was a centurion.[6] At the risk of dire consequences for failure to perform their duty, their job was to ensure death on the cross was successfully carried out – expert executioners.[7] Mark’s quote of the centurion’s reaction at the moment of Jesus’ death is dramatic:

MK 15:39 “So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”’”(NKJV) [8]

An “excited utterance” by the centurion was his immediate gut reaction to his recognition that Jesus was dead and the significance of it. United States Federal Law defines an “excited utterance” as being made spontaneously under the influence of a startling event before the witness has had an opportunity for reflection.[9] The excited utterance is considered to be a factual truthful statement and is, therefore, an exception to the legal hearsay rule.

Quaternion wanted to be sure Jesus was truly dead prompting a soldier to thrust a spear into his side. Bold inaction by the quaternion attests to their assessment that Jesus was dead when they decided not to break his legs to hasten death – they were already convinced Jesus was dead.[10]

In the Gospel account of John, the author “testified” that he witnessed the death of Jesus on the cross. With special emphasis on why he is stating his observation, he calls out:

JN 19:35 “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.” (NASB, NKJV)

Seven women are identified in the Gospel accounts as being present at the crucifixion:  Jesus’ own mother Mary and her sister, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, mother of the sons of Zebedee, Mary the wife of Clopas, Salome and many other women from Galilee.[12]

Luke identifies the foremost witness, the crucifixion victim himself – Jesus cried out announcing to God his “Father” the moment of his death: [13]

LK 23:46  “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.” (NRSV)

Witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus on Golgotha, a member of the Jewish Council , Joseph of Arimathea reached the same conclusion as the exactor mortis, the quaternion and John:[14]

JN 19:38 “…Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.” (NRSV)[15]

Joseph approached Pilate with trepidation to ask for the body of Jesus.[16] Surprised at Joseph’s request, Pilate wanted official confirmation of death from the centurion.[17] The sequence of events suggests Pilate’s orders to break the legs of the men on the cross had only just been issued shortly before Joseph made his request.

Leaving the three crosses bearing their victims under the guard of the quaternion, the centurion left his post to provide the confirmation to Pilate that Jesus was truly dead:

Mk 15:44-45 “Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died.  When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.” (NIV)

As a government official of Rome, Pilate officially affirmed that Jesus was dead. Commanded by Pilate to hand over the body of Jesus to Joseph, the centurion’s job was not yet finished requiring him to return to the crucifixion site.

Along the way back to the crosses on Golgotha, Joseph was joined by Nicodemus, another rich man and member of the Jewish Council who also had kept a low profile as a secret follower of Jesus out of fear of the Sanhedrin.[18] While Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate, Nicodemus had gone separately to purchase 75 -100 pounds of burial spices.[19]

Hanging lifeless on the cross, the centurion released the body of Jesus to the two members of the Jewish Council. Sunset was fast approaching and a quick burial preparation was needed before the Sabbath began.

MT 27:59-60 “And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the entrance of the tomb and went away.” (NASB)[20]

Up close and personal, Joseph and Nicodemus removed the body of Jesus from the cross, carried it to the nearby unused tomb of Joseph, wrapped it and applied at least 75 pounds of burial spices. Finished, they rolled a large stone in front the entrance of the tomb with the body of Jesus inside witnessed by two women each named Mary from Galilee.[21]

The next morning Saturday the Sabbath, Jewish leaders approached Pilate with concerns about the body of Jesus in the tomb.[22] Judaism, perhaps the biggest opponent to Jesus being recognized as the Messiah, has always acknowledged the death of Jesus by crucifixion.

Fearing a fraudulent claim perpetrated by the Disciples, the Jewish leaders acknowledged Jesus had prophesied he would rise from the dead on the third day. Pilate agreed to allow the tomb to be sealed and guarded by an armed koustodia. The chain of custody of the body of Jesus was in full effect.

Twelve witnesses are identified in the Gospel accounts as eyewitnesses to the death of Jesus – four Roman quaternion, the centurion, two members of the Jewish Council, two blood relatives of Jesus including his own mother, two mothers of Disciples, and one Disciple as well as Pilate’s legal affirmation.

Diversity of these witnesses in addition to the strength in numbers builds a level of unimpeachable evidence in today’s court of law. Did Jesus truly die by crucifixion?

* When a victim cannot be identified, the name John Doe or Jane Doe are often substituted.

 

Updated September 21, 2022.

REFERENCES:

[1] Goldman, Russell. “Jesus Christ May Not Have Died on Cross?” ABC News. 2010. <https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/jesus-christ-died-cross-scholar/story?id=11066130>  Samuelsson, Gunnar.  Crucifixion in Antiquity.  2011.  Tübingen, Germany:  Mohr Siebeck.  <https://www.academia.edu/4167205/Crucifixion_in_Early_Christianity>  Bowen, Bradley. “Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 1: What is the Swoon Theory?” Patheos.com. 2019. <https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2019/06/01/defending-the-swoon-theory-part-1-what-is-the-swoon-theory>   “The Swoon Theories.” ReviewOfReligions.org. 2010. <https://www.reviewofreligions.org/2323/the-swoon-theories>  Greenberg, Eric J.  “Jesus’ Death Now Debated by Jews.” Jewish Journal. 9 Oct. 2003. Reprinted from The Jewish Week. <http://jewishjournal.com/news/world/8546>  
[2] Assaqar, Monqith Ben Mahmoud. Central Intelligence Agency. “Was Jesus Crucified For Out Atonement?” n.d. p 6. <https://www.cia.gov/library/abbottabad-compound/CE/CE620DF8125A29EA4358631CA285D178_DID_JESUS_DIE_ON_THE_CROSS-.pdf>  “Did Jesus die on Cross?” Islamic Circle of North America. 2016. <https://www.icna.org/did-jesus-die-on-cross>  Quran Surah 4:157. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. n.d. <http://search-the-quran.com/search/Surah+An-Nisa/8>
[3] Josephus, Flavius.  The Complete Works of Josephus. William Whitson. 1850.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Lucian of Samosata.  “The Death of Peregrine.” The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Volume IV. p 82 <http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm>  Cicero, Marcus Tullius. “Secondary Orations Against Verres. Book 5. 70 B.C. <https://web.archive.org/web/20160430183826/http://www.uah.edu/student_life/organizations/SAL/texts/latin/classical/cicero/inverrems5e.html>  Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius. The Annals. Books X, XV 109 AD. <http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.html>  Seneca, Lucius Annaeus.  “To Novatus on Anger+.” Moral Essays. “Seneca’s Essays Volume I.”  Book III.   The Stoic Legacy to the Renaissance. 2004. <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_essays_book_1.html#ANGER1> Seneca. “De Vita Beata+.”  “To Gallio On The Happy Life.” Moral Essays. “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> Suetonius (C. Suetonius Tranquillus or C. Tranquillus Suetonius).  The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. “Julius Caesar.” #74. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Julius*.html>  “Crucifixion.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4782-crucifixion>
[4] “Physicians’ Handbook on Medical Certification of Death.” 2003 Revision. p 9. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.  <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/misc/hb_cod.pdf>  “Death Certificate Requirements.” Education Requirements.  2015. <https://web.archive.org/web/20181031044856/http://www.educationrequirements.org/death-certificate-requirements.html> “Certificate of Death.” Two Package Template. photo. n.d. <https://twopackage.com/12-death-certificate-templates-free-download
[5] Luke 23:46. Most English translations use these exact words. CR Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:39.
[6] 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>
[7] Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Moral Essays. “Seneca’s Essays Volume I.” 1928-1935. Book III.  “To Novatus on Anger+.” Book I, p xviii. 2.  The Stoic Legacy to the Renaissance. <http://www.stoics.com/seneca_essays_book_1.html#ANGER1>  Brand, Clarence Eugene. Roman Military Law. pp 80, 99-100, 103, 141-142. 2011. https://books.google.com/books?id=TWexDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA91&lpg=PA91&dq=sacramentum+violation&source=bl&ots=cx2dAVJJkA&sig=ACfU3U0hRifTdhWkPhOVpdke7eZAyPEseQ&hl=en&ppis=_e&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjsi7Xz___nAhVDWK0KHeYHDLMQ6AEwBXoECAwQAQ#v=onepage&q=insubordination&f=false>
[8] CR Matthew 27:54, John 19:30.
[9] “Excited Utterance.”  Cornell University Law School. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/excited_utterance>  “Federal Rules of Evidence Article VIII.  Cornell University Law School.  Rule 803. Exceptions to the Rule Against Hearsay.” <http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre/rule_803>
[10] John 19:31-33.
[11] John 19:35.
[12] Mark 15:40-41. CR Luke 23:48-49. John 19:25. CR Matthew 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20, 10:35; Luke 5:10.
[13] Luke 23:46. CR Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; John 19:30.
[14] Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33.
[15] CR Mark 15:42-43.
[16] Matthew 27:58; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50-52; John 19:38. CR Mathew 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50; John 19:38.
[17] Mark 15:44.
[18] John 3:1; 7:45; 19:39. CR Mathew 27:57; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50.
[19] John 19:39. See NetBible footnote #5 conversion of Roman pounds to U.S. measurement pounds. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Joh&chapter=19&verse=39>
[20] CR John 19:42.
[21] Matthew 27:60-61.  CR Luke 23:55.
[22] Matthew 27:62-65.

Zechariah 12:10 – Death Wounds

Recognized as a prophecy by both Jewish and Christian authorities alike is Zechariah 12:10 – with a few unusual twists. Within each of their own ranks, debates occur about the meaning of the prophecy as well as the translation of one Hebrew word, daqar.

Zech. 12:10 “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.”  – Jewish Publication Society

Zech. 12:10 “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” – New King James Version

Setting the historical context, Zechariah authored his prophetic book about the same name time as the life of Zerubbabel, grandson of Jeconiah, the last sitting king in the House of David. Zerubbabel had led the Jews from Persia back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Centuries later, this “Second Temple” would be greatly enhanced by King Herod followed by the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

An interesting story in itself is the Rabbi debate found in the Babylonian Talmud Gemara Sukkah 52a. Initially the rabbinic discussion was centered on the topic of whether men and women should be separated during worship and mourning services. Referring to Zechariah 12:10, a Rabbi said that men and women should be separated during services because of the “Evil Inclination,” the temptation that leads to misconduct, in this case lust.

An inquisitive Rabbi asked why the people in Zechariah 12:10 were weeping and mourning if the prophecy was about the death of the Evil Inclination – should the people be rejoicing instead?[3] With that question, the rabbinic dialog switched direction generating a debate around the prophetic nature of Zechariah 12:10 itself: [1]

Sukkah (52a)“What is the cause of the mourning?” 

“R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point.  One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination. “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; “but according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this [it may be objected] an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep?””[2]

One faction viewed the death of the Messiah by those who had “thrust him through” was the true reason for the mourning described to be as deep as a parent for the death of an only son. Rabbi R. Judah expounded a different scenario where the Holy One would slay the Evil Inclination in the presence of both the righteous and the wicked during the Messianic age.

Centuries later, the renowned Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi, whose commentary appears in The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary, partially agreed with the rabbinic faction in Sukkah 52a. The Jewish sage believed Zechariah 12:10 refers to the Messiah.[3]

“…as one mourns over an only son: As a man mourns over his only son. And our Sages expounded this in tractate Sukkah (52a) as referring to the Messiah, son of Joseph, who was slain.”[4] – Rabbi Rashi

Preceding it, Rashi’s commentary differed on the specific reference to “thrust him through.” The Rabbi stated that “thrust him through” is a metaphor about Israel saying:  “And they shall look to Me to complain about those of them whom the nations thrust through and slew during their exile.”

Translations of the Hebrew text word daqar as either “pierced” or “thrust him through” is the difference between the two Jewish and most Christian Bible tranlations. The literal definition of daqar is:  “a prim. root; to pierce, pierce through.”[5]

Jewish Publication Society and Complete Jewish Bible translations each say “thrust him through.” Christian Bible translations translate daqar as “pierced” excepting for few contemporary, sometimes paraphrased Bible translations.

Good News Translation and God’s Word Translation interpret daqar as “stabbed.” The Message and Contemporary English Version each translate the prophecy as piercing with a spear. Another takes the middle road, Bible in Basic English says “wounded by their hands.” [6]

Regardless if daqar is translated as “pierced” or “thrust through,” interpretations of the prophecy do not clearly indicate the manner of how the wound was inflicted, by nails or a weapon? The answer can be found through language analysis.[7]

Nine other times the Hebrew word daqar appears in the texts of the Old Testament or Tanakh including another in Zechariah.[8] In all instances, daqar is used in the context of wounds inflicted by a type of weapon such as a sword or spear. Applying this word usage definition to Zechariah 12:10, the wound was inflicted by means of a type of weapon.

John’s Gospel account of the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth describes how he was both pierced by nails and had a spear thrust into his side as the witnesses looked upon him hanging on the cross.[9] Later, John described the resurrected Jesus who suddenly appeared in a locked room where he invited the doubting Disciple Thomas to touch the healed wounds in his hands and in his side. Thomas accepted the opportunity, then exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”[10]

Were the Gospel accounts of the Jerusalem crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, born in the lineage of David, a fulfillment of the Zachariah 12:10 prophecy as the slain Messiah by means of daqar?[11]

 

Updated November 9, 2021.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Sukkah 52a. Halakhah.com. Trans. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. n.d. pp 74-77, footnote #1-3. <http://www.halakhah.com/rst/moed/16b%20-%20Succah%20-%2029b-56b.pdf>
[2] Sukkah 52a, p 75. <http://www.halakhah.com/rst/moed/16b%20-%20Succah%20-%2029b-56b.pdf>
[3] “Rashi (Solomon Bar Isaac).” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13862-solomon-b-isaac-rashi>
[4] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Zechariah 12:10. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16216#showrashi=true>
[5] “daqar.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/hebrew/1856.html>
[6] Contemporary English Verson; Good News Translation; God’s Word translation; Zechariah 12:10. BibleHub.com. 2020. <https://biblehub.com/zechariah/12-10.htm>  The Message; Bible in Basic English. Zechariah 12:10. NetBible.org. 2020. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Zec&chapter=12&verse=10>
[7] Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation, Inc. n.d. <http://www.lsiscan.com/index.htm>  “SCAN – Scientific Content Analysis (Statement Analysis).” Advanced Polygraph. 2011. <http://www.advancedpolygraph.com.au/scan.htm> “Introduction to Text Analysis: About Text Analysis.”  Duke University | Libraries. 2017. <https://guides.library.duke.edu/text_analysis>  “What Is the Definition of Textual Analysis?” Reference.com. 2018. <https://www.reference.com/education/definition-textual-analysis-a95087916fcb24cb> Pfarrer, Mike “What is content analysis?” University of Georgia | Terry College of Business. 2012. <http://www.terry.uga.edu/management/contentanalysis>
[8] “daqar.” NetBible.org. Hebrew text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/search.php?search=hebrew_strict_index:01856>
[9] John 19. NetBible.org. Greek text. Strong. “nusso <3572>”  CR Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23.
[10] John 20.
[11] CR John 3:16.