Psalms 22 – Catch 22 of a Crucifixion Prophecy

 

Psalms 22 is retrospectively viewed by Christians as a foreshadowing or a prophecy consistent with Isaiah’s and Zechariah’s prophecies of a Messiah who is pierced. Some say it is neither, rather a falsehood.[1]

Prophecies are challenging due to many factors. Typically not straightforward nor easy to understand, a prophecy is often not fully or clearly understood until a full realization that it did, in fact, occur. In some cases, it may be clarified by other prophecies.[2]

Crucifixion does not need interpretation – Roman crucifixion had developed into a well-honed process by the end of the BC era. It was designed to extend death as long as possible while inflicting maximum pain and humiliation.

To have prophetic qualities, Psalm 22 would need to predict details about a crucifixion that are precise enough to avoid conjecture. Written at a time when the Roman Empire did not yet exist, the Psalm content appears more prophetic because the Roman-style crucifixion was not yet invented.

Jewish historian Josephus described an occasion where he was traveling with the Roman military when they came upon three of his Jewish acquaintances among many others being crucified along the road to Thecoa, not far from Bethlehem.[3] Struck with compassion, he pleaded personally to Titus Caesar to have mercy on them. Titus commanded them to be take down from their crosses and treated by Roman physicians, but still only one survived.

“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.”[4]

Not quoted by a crucifixion victim known by Josephus, nor was it quoted by any other Roman historians who documented Roman crucifixions. The description was written by King David in Psalms 22 centuries earlier, yet the depiction is wholly consistent with that of a Roman crucifixion victim a millennium later.

Rabbi sages do not considered the Psalms as a book of prophecy; yet renowned Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi twice identified Psalms 22 verses as having futuristic implications involving David and the Messiah.

Rashi commented in the second verse, “David recited this prayer for the future” and later for verse 27, the Rabbi commented “The humble shall eat” meaning “at the time of our redemption in the days of our Messiah.”[5] Psalms 22, at least in part in Rashi’s words, is prophetic.

Raising the bar for prophetic difficulty are the very distinct actions in Psalms 22 – quotes and explicit activities. Since persons other than the victim were involved, they could not be replicated by the victim:

PS 22:7-8 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:  “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”(NIV)

PS 22:18 “They divide my clothes among themselves and throw dice for my garments.” (NIV)

Inflicted extreme suffering, specific actions, and spoken words in Psalms 22 are remarkably similar to the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. A montage of Gospel verses reflects those similarities:

JN19:17-18 “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).” Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

MT 27:36 “And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.”

MK15:24 “Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.”

LK 23:35-36 “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One. The soldiers also came up and mocked him.” (NIV)

A second quote, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” opens the first verse of Psalms 22. These words were also uttered by Jesus when he was dying on the cross:

Ps 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (NIV)

MT 27:45-46, MK 15:33-34 “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’”(NIV)

Answers to two questions are in play:  is Jesus the Messiah and is Psalms 22 prophetic?

By the time Jesus uttered these words, he had already endured severe flogging, exposed raw flesh, severe blood loss, acute dehydration, exposure to the weather, hanging by nails from the cross, labored and painful breathing and in state of shock. In his excruciating misery and naked humiliation, he would have seen and heard the gawking and sneering crowd with their taunts and insults.

Jesus would have to know in advance – before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion with the most unlikely collusion between the Jews and their hated Roman enemies –  this opportunity would present itself in order to perpetrate a Messiah fraud by quoting from Psalms 22. No fraudster could know of this opportunity in advance, meaning having this advance knowledge would be supernatural.

Establishing a false Messiah image would have been fully dependent upon Psalms 22 being prophetic or else a false Messiah could not sell the fraud. Said another way, if the entirety of Psalms 22 was not prophetic, then quoting from it by the Messiah would be a pointless coincidence.

Catch 22

 

Apply the Doctrine of Chances to Psalms 22 containing at least five precise details that had to be met if the Psalm were to be a 100% fulfilled prophecy. All came to pass during the crucifixion of Jesus, according to the Gospels, making Psalms 22 prophetic.

What are the odds Psalms 22 is a Messiah prophecy fulfilled by the crucifixion of Jesus?

Updated June 21, 2024.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Green, James. Psalm 22: Is it a Prophecy about Christ?” CultoftheLivingGod. n.d.<http://www.cultofthelivinggod.net/islam/Psalm%2022%20-Prophecy%20about%20Christ.htm> Berkovitz, Abraham J. The Torah. ““My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” — Jesus or Esther?” 2022. <https://www.thetorah.com/article/my-god-my-god-why-have-you-forsaken-me-jesus-or-esther>
[2] Bugg, Michael. “Types of Prophecy and Prophetic Types.” Hebrew Root. n.d. <http://www.hebrewroot.com/Articles/prophetic_types.htm> Brooks, Carol. “Prophecy.” InPlainSite.org. <http://www.inplainsite.org/html/old_testament_prophecy.html>  “Plaster Miodu. Psalm 22: Na krańce ciemności.” (translated:  “Honeycomb. Psalm 22: To the ends of darkness.”) YouTube. image. 2015. <https://i.ytimg.com/vi/rUjYzzjEHfw/maxresdefault.jpg>
[3] Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #75. 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>  “Thecoa.” Bible History Online. 2017. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/thecoa.html>
[4] Psalms 22:14-17. NIV.
[5] The Complete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Online English translation of the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) with Rashi’s commentary. n.d. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16243/showrashi/true

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, including a major world religion, claim Jesus did not actually die on the cross…even if he was crucified.[1]

Crucifixion of Jews is a reality meant to kill without survivors. In addition to the four Gospel authors, among others historian Josephus and the great Roman orator and lawyer, Cicero, wrote of crucifixions.

Roman capital execution by crucifixion followed a well-honed process. Horrors of crucifixion can be described in no less than graphic terms. In fact, the English word “excruciating” is derived from the word “crucify” or “crux” meaning cross.[2]

Modern medical science has corroborated the effects of a Roman scourging and crucifixion referenced by historical sources.[3] PhD level research in the fields of forensics, pathology, and modern medicine articulate the horrific impacts.[4]

First, the victim was flogged or scourged by a multi-tipped whip containing fragments of metal or bone intended to rip the flesh off 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 on the long trek to a conspicuous public place of execution outside the city walls. Awaiting there were upright posts or stipes left in place, as historical evidence suggests, because of the frequency of use and scarcity of wood.

crucifixion nail

Once at the crucifixion site, the execution detail stripped off the clothing of the victims; forced down to the ground in their open wounds; and were affixed to the patibulum by nails and possibly along with ropes. The patibulum was then fitted onto the upright stipes where the job was finished by nailing their feet to the stipes.

Crucifixion victims shredded by flogging were then faced with enduring a humiliating and slow death. They suffered from severe dehydration, exposure and unspeakable pain.

Consequence of hanging by extended arms with each breath caused more excruciating pain. The victim had to push up full body weight on nailed feet which at the same time pulled at the nail wounds driven through nerves in the wrists.

Hypothermia would have added to the misery considering the average 59° April temperature in Jerusalem ranging from lows as far down as 49°F to highs in the 70s°F. Chilly at night, Peter is reported to have been warming by a fire in the courtyard of the trial chamber.

Gospels accounts report the crucifixion process of Jesus began around 9:00am soon 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.[5]

As 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, bloodied 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.[6] 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 consisting of a centurion, exactor mortis, and four soldiers known as a quaternion.[7] In charge of the execution, the centurion was responsible for reporting back to the governing authority when the execution had been completed.[8] Failure to complete his duty could have dire consequences – survival of a crucifixion victim was not an option.[9]

crucifixion nail & heel bone

Archeological evidence of a crucifixion was found in an ancient cemetery excavated in 1968 by Vassilios Tzaferis of the Israel Department of Antiquities.[10] Pottery shards in the tomb dated to the period that followed King Herod’s dynasty up to 70 AD.

One adult male’s remains, those of “Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol,” 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 between the nail 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 splintered by a sharp blow.

Forensic, pathology, and medical research; antiquity historical references; an archeological discovery and anthropology research all remarkably corroborate the circumstances of the crucifixion details in the Gospel accounts.

Considering the scientific information that substantiates historical references, how believable are the Gospel accounts saying that Jesus of Nazareth died by means of crucifixion ?

 

Updated March 11, 2024.

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

REFERENCES:

Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus:  Matthew 27:26-56; Mark 15:15-41; Luke 23:20-49; John 19:1-35.

[1] 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”>
[2] “excruciating.”   Dictionary.com.  2017.  <http://www.dictionary.com>   “crucifixion.”  Merriam-Webster.  2017 <http://www.merriam-webster.com>
[3] Cicero. Secondary Orations Against Verres, Book 5, Chapter LXVI.   Zias, Joe.  Joe.Zias.com. “Crucifixion in Antiquity – The Anthropological Evidence.” 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
[4] Edwards, William D.; Gabel,Wesley J.; Hosmer, Floyd E. The Journal of the American Medical Association. “On The Physical Death of JesusChrist.” March 21, 1986, Volume 256 <http://hopechurchonline.net/pdf/JAMA_article_The_Crucifixion_of_Jesus_Christ.pdf>  Zugibe, Frederick T., PhD. E-Forensic Medicine. “Turin Lecture:  Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion.” 2005. <http://web.archive.org/web/20130925103021/http://e-forensicmedicine.net/Turin2000.htm>  Cilliers, L. & Retief F. P.  U.S. National Library of Medicine|National Institute of Health. “The history and pathology of crucifixion.” Dec;93(12):938-41.  <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14750495>   Maslen and Mitchell. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. “Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion.” 2006. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14750495
[5] “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>  “Ancient Roman “Crucifixion Spike” 1st – 2nd Century AD.” Ancient Resource. photo. 2020. <http://www.ancientresource.com/lots/roman/crucifixion-nails-spikes.html
[6] 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.  Tribunes and Triumphs. “Roman Crucifixion.” 2008. <http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/roman-life/roman-crucifixion.htm>  Zias. “Crucifixion in Antiquity – The Anthropological Evidence.”  Champlain, Edward.   Zugibe. “Turin Lecture – Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion.”  Geberth, Vernon J. “State Sponsored Torture in Rome: A Forensic Inquiry and Medicolegal Analysis of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.” 2012. Reprint: AAFS Proceedings Annual Scientific Meeting Washington, D.C. February 18-23.  pp 176-177. 2008. <https://r.search.yahoo.com/_ylt=AwrNZs.XOMplcmMnC3wPxQt.;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3Ny/RV=2/RE=1707780375/RO=10/RU=http%3a%2f%2fwww.practicalhomicide.com%2fResearch%2fRome2012.doc/RK=2/RS=c4KuoiEJ.qGr7k28di3AscjU6i0-> Champlain, Edward. Nero. Harvard University Press. p 1222009. <https://books.google.com/books?id=30Wa-l9B5IoC&lpg=PA122&ots=nw4edgV_xw&dq=crucifixion%2C%20tacitus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Champlain, Edward. Nero. Harvard University Press. p 122. 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>
[7] Zugibe. “Turin Lecture – Forensic and Clinical Knowledge of the Practice of Crucifixion.
[8] 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
[9] 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>  Shimron, Aryeh. The U.S. Sun. 2022. photo. Last accessed 12 Sept. 2022. <https://www.the-sun.com/news/1672868/nails-crucify-jesus-fragments-bone/#
[10] Shanks, Hershel.  “Crucifixion Bone Fragment, 21 CE.”  The Center for Online Judaic Studies. 2004.  <http://cojs.org/crucifixion_bone_fragment-_21_ce>  Tzaferis, Vassilios. Bible Archaeology Society. “Crucifixion – the Archaelogical Evidence.” n.d. <https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/a-tomb-in-jerusalem-reveals-the-history-of-crucifixion-and-roman-crucifixion-methods