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 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.[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.

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.” 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 his or her 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]

 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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.

 

 

Was Jesus Accursed By God When He Was Crucified?

Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is the fact that serves as proof for Judaism that he is not the Messiah. Jewish belief holds that a person who is hanged is accursed by God; therefore, Jesus was accursed by God disqualifying him as the Messiah:[1]

“The very form of his punishment would disprove those claims in Jewish eyes. No Messiah that Jews could recognize could suffer such a death; for “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deut. xxi. 23), ‘an insult to God’ (Targum, Rashi).” – JewishEnclopedia.com

Scriptural basis for this belief is found in the Law of Moses, Book of Deuteronomy. Very plainly it says that anyone who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God:

  • DT. 21:23 “his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.(NKJV)

Connecting “tree” and “cross” is made through translations of the Deuteronomy Hebrew text word `ets meaning “a tree or wood timber.”[2] Some 300 years before Jesus was crucified, Jewish Hebrew translators of the Septuagint LXX used the Greek word xulon meaning “tree” or “wood.” Jewish and Christian Bibles alike nearly all translate `ets as “tree” or “pole.” [3]

Crucifixion involved a victim being hanged from its wood cross-timber beam on an upright pole. Therein lies the synonymous connection of the Deuteronomy Law to a cross being a “tree” or “pole.”[4]

Thousands of Jews were crucified by the Romans.[5] Some were executed as judicial punishment for committing commonly recognized serious crimes such as murder, robbery and insurrection, a form of treason.

Many Jews including priests, however, were crucified for more sinister reasons such as simple hatred, spitefulness, terrorism, deterrent effect, or merely for entertainment. Jews of the Roman era could not conceivably have viewed these hapless victims of crucifixion as being accursed by God.[6] In fact, Jewish practice was to take great care in burying the crucified Jews before sunset:[7]

“Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” – Josephus, Wars

Hanging of a victim was not intended to be the Jewish form of execution; rather, death was to be accomplished first by stoning, then the corpse was to be hanged. The hanging was not intended to humiliate, obviously because the victim was already dead. The Babylonian Talmud defines the process of capital punishment: [8]

MISHNAH

“All who are stoned are [afterwards] hanged. (Soncino)

Gemara:

“The rabbis taught: It reads [Deut. xxi. 22]: “And he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree.”” (Rodkinson)

“The rabbis taught: If the verse read, “If a man committed a sin, he shall be hanged,” we would say that he should be hanged until death occurs, as the government does; but it reads, “He shall be put to death and hanged,” which means he shall be put to death and thereafter hanged.” (Rodkinson)

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified like other Jews by the Romans – hanged from a cross until dead. Following customary Jewish practice, his body was taken down from the cross and buried with care by none other than two prominent Jewish Council members.[9]

What is then different with the crucifixion circumstances of Jesus than the other crucified Jews – something that would cause Judaism to view only Jesus as being accursed by God? The answer lies in the full context of the Deuteronomy 21:23 Law.

The difference – a person to be hanged on a tree was to have committed an offense deserving of death by stoning for a crime so reprehensible, the individual was accursed by God for committing that crime. So egregious, execution was not enough – the corpse was to be hanged publicly whereby all would know the person was accursed by God. Talmud Mishnah and Gemara defined such grievous capital offenses as being two:[10]

MISHNAH

“… the sages say:  only the blasphemer and the idolater are hanged. (Soncino)

“…but thou shalt surely bury him the same day for he is hanged [because of] a curse against God, – as if to say why was he hanged? – Because he cursed the name [of God]; and so the name of the name of Heaven [God] is profaned.(Soncino)

Gemara

“The sages, however, say: that as with a blasphemer who has denied the cardinal principle of our faith (i.e., he does not believe in God), the same is the case with an idolater who denies the might of God…” (Rodkinson)

Caiaphas and other Jewish Council members found Jesus guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be I AM.[11] According to the Law, execution should have been death by stoning, followed by hanging. Problem was, Rome had prohibited executions by the Jewish theocracy.[12]

An exception to Jewish Law was required to separate the gratuitous crucifixions of Jews by the Romans to one that distinguished the crucifixion of Jesus to signify to the Jews that Jesus was accursed by God for committing blasphemy. Without the exception, there was no justifiable difference.

Sanhedrin 43a in the uncensored Babylonian Talmud Soncino edition references an exception in the case of Jesus of Nazareth, “Yeshu, the Nasarean”:[13]

Gemara[14]

“…On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [#34 the Nasarean] was hanged…But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!.…With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].’” – Soncino Babylonian Talmud translation

Rather, Jesus was different, as he had close ties with the government, and the gentile authorities were interested in his acquittal.” – William Davidson Talmud translation

An exception was made for Jesus because he was connected to the government. After Jesus was judged by the Sanhedrin to be guilty of blasphemy and as such accursed by God, it can then be said the Jewish Council legitimately handed over Jesus to the Romans to be executed and hanged on a tree according to the required Roman judicial government process.

Posing more hurdles, Rome did not recognize the capitol Jewish crime of blasphemy nor the Sanhedrin’s verdict. The Jewish Council, instead, handed Jesus over to the Roman government under the accusation of failure to pay taxes and insurrection.[15] Either crime could result in the same desired result – crucifixion.[16]

Jesus was indeed judged by the Roman government for insurrection. However, the plan backfired when neither Tetrarch Herod nor Procurator Pilate found any guilt in Jesus despite admitting to Pilate that he is a King.[17]

Not guilty of any Roman crimes, Pilate still condemned Jesus to crucifixion at the behest of the Jewish Council. In the end, it was political influences that came to bear in Pilate’s judgment to crucify Jesus compelling him to wash his hands of the aberrant circumstances saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”[18]

Does the crucifixion of Jesus actually mean he was accursed by God only because he was hanged on a wooden cross or was it because Jesus said he is I AM?

 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8616-jesus-of-nazareth> “God Cannot die!” TorahOfMessiah.com. 2012. <https://web.archive.org/web/20140331233206/http://www.torahofmessiah.com/godcantdie.html>
[2] “H6086.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d.  http://lexiconcordance.com/search6.asp?sw=6086&sm=0&x=42&y=16> Benner, Jeff.  “Mechanical Translation of the Torah.” Deuteronomy 21:23. <http://www.mechanical-translation.org/mtt/D21.html>
[3] Net.bible.org. Deuteronomy 21:22, Hebrew text “`ets <06086>”  “Septuagint text, Greek “xulon <3586>” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=3586Bible Hub. 2017. Deuteronomy 21:22. <http://biblehub.com> Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XII, Chapter II. 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>  “Septuagint.”  Septuagint.Net. 2014.  <http://septuagint.net>  “Septuagint.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014.  Benner, Jeff A. “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.” Ancient Hebrew Research Center.  2013.  <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/31_masorite.html> Lundberg, Marilyn J. “The Leningrad Codex.”  USC West Semitic Research Project.  2012.  <https://web.archive.org/web/20170403025034/http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/educational_site/biblical_manuscripts/LeningradCodex.shtmlThe Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary. Devarim – Deuteronomy, Chapter 21. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9985#showrashi=true> Benner, Jeff, “Mechanical Translation of the Torah.” 2017. Deuteronomy 21. <http://www.mechanical-translation.org/mtt/D21.html>
[4] The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson. 1918. Mishnah IV Gemara. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htmSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 46b Gemara.<https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html>
[5] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapters V, XIII, XIV; Book IV, Chapter V; Book V, Chapters VI, XI. 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>  Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XX, Chapter VI.2. 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>
[6] Josephus. Wars. Book V, Chapter XI.
[7] Josephus. Wars. Book IV, Chapter V.
[8] Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 45b. Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Chapter VI, Mishna V.
[9] Matthew  27:57-61. Mark 15:42-47. Luke 23:50-56. John 19:38-42.
[10] Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 45b – 46a. Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson. Chapter VI, Mishna V.
[11] NASB. Luke 22:67-70. CR Matthew 26:63-65; Mark 14-63-65.
[12] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XX, Chapters IX. The Complete Works of Josephus. n.d <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[13] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Epstein, Isidor. “Introduction to the Seder Nezikin.”  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Shachter & Freedman. “Introduction to Sanhedrin.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin Chapter VI, Folio 43a. Greenberg, Eric J. “Jesus’ Death Now Debated by Jews.” Jewish Journal. 2003. Reprinted from The Jewish Week.  <http://jewishjournal.com/news/world/8546>
[14] Soncino Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a; footnote #34; “Glossary” > “Baraitha” and “Tanna, Tana.”  Epstein. “Introduction to Seder Nezikin.” Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  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 43a. Sefaria. n.d. <https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.43a?lang=bi>
[15] Luke 23:1-3.
[16] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XX, Chapter V.  Josephus.  Wars. Book II, Chapters V, XIV. Ashby, Carol. Life in the Roman Empire. n.d. “Crime and Punishment.” <https://carolashby.com/crime-and-punishment-in-the-roman-empire>
[17] Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3, 13-15; John 18:33-38.
[18] NRSV, NASB.  Matthew 27:24; Matthew 27:24-26; Mark 15:11-15; Luke 23:20-25; John 19:4-15. Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI. Chapters II, VI; Book XVII, Chapter XIII; Book XIX, Chapter V-VI. Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book II. 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>

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 and overlooking 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 of Jesus certainly knew about it shouting 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 Roman history, was a 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 by crucifixion of a noble Roman citizen, one Publius Gavius.  The motive – his public crusade for freedom and citizenship.

In his own prosecutorial words directed at Verres, Cicero describes in detail to the trial court the crucifixion process Verres used to kill Gavius:[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]

Scourging whips and the cross were the murder weapons – death by crucifixion. Cicero’s prosecution case 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 of death reserved only for slaves at that time.

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 crucifixions by Procurator Florus and, in another, from his own Roman eyewitness perspective during 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]

It was common knowledge in the Roman Empire that victims were nailed to the cross as an extreme physical and psychological torturous means to kill them. Cicero’s description is a mirror image of the crucifixion accounts of the Gospels and consistent with medical science findings – are the Gospels credible in saying that Roman crucifixion was the means used to kill Jesus?

 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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.