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History Online - Crucifixion

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Crucifixion

Undoubtedly, one of the cruelest and most humiliating forms of punishment in the ancient world was, according to ancient sources, crucifixion. The Jewish historian Josephus best described it following the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 66-70 as "the most wretched of deaths."1 Whereas in Seneca's Epistle 101 to Lucilius, he argues that suicide is preferable to the cruel fate of being put on the cross.

What is crucifixion? A medical doctor provides a physical description:

The cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood.

The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought iron nail through the wrist deep into the wood.
Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement.

The cross is then lifted into place.

The left foot is pressed backwards against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain.

The nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of his feet. As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through his muscles, knotting them in deep relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe.
Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He has to push to raise himself in order to get even one small breath.

Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided. Spasmodically, he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen. Hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint wrenching cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against rough timber.

Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over. The loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level -- the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues -- the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. He can feel the chill of death creeping through his tissues . . .

Finally, he can allow his body to die...All this...and Bible records with the simple words, "and they crucified Him"(Mark 15:24). What wondrous love is this?
Many people don't know what pain and suffering our Lord, Jesus Christ went through for us. Because of the brutality, crucifixion was a given sentence to only its worst offenders of the law. Thieves would be the type who got crucified. Yet, here Jesus is being crucified between two hardened criminals . . .

Jesus could have never survived crucifixion, Romans were very careful to eliminate that possibility. Roman law laid the death penalty on anyone who bungled an execution.

The fact that the Roman soldier did not break Jesus legs, the procedure for hastening death, indicates that He had already died; this procedure was for the hastening of death. The other two prisoners legs were broken. To breath while hanging on a cross one had to push oneself up with their legs, otherwise they would asphyxiate. That is why the legs of the crucified were often broken; to prevent the crucified person from pushing himself up to breathe. Obviously Jesus, out of exhaustion, stopped breathing and died before the soldiers needed to break His legs. If Jesus were not dead, it would have been obvious because he would of been pushing himself up and down the cross to breath. The Roman executioners were experts, they would not have been fooled. Some people have claimed that the Roman guards were really trying to save Jesus life by not breaking His legs. Why would the Roman guards try to save someone who was a seen as a threat to the empire? Further, by not insuring Christ's death, the Roman guards were putting their own lives at risk.

Jesus died from many different problems, one was the actual crucifixion. But before the crucifixion, Jesus was beaten and flogged. He was so exhausted that another man had to carry his cross.

To elaborate on the whipping, the Romans would strip a person down to the waist and would tie him in the courtyard. Then they would take a whip that had a handle about a foot and a half long. At the end of the handle, it had four leather thongs with heavy, jagged bones or balls of lead with jagged edges, wound into the end of the straps. There were a minimum of five straps of different lengths. The Romans would bring the whip down over the back of the individual and all the balls of lead or bone would hit the body at the same time. The Jews would only permit 40 lashes, so they never did more than 39 so they wouldn't break the law if they miscounted. The Romans, however, were unhindered. They could lash as many times as they wanted. So, when the Romans whipped a Jew, they struck 41 or more lashes out of spite to the Jews. So Jesus had suffered at least 41 lashes.

There are several medical authorities that have done research on the crucifixion. One is Dr. C. Truman Davis, in the state of Arizona. He is a medical doctor who has performed meticulous study of the crucifixion from a medical perspective. Here he gives the effect of the Roman flogging: "The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across (a person's) shoulders, back and legs. At first, the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutalleous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small blls of lead first produce large, deep bruises, which the others cut wide open. Finally, the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons, and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue."

Many people would die just from the whipping alone. After Jesus was whipped, they took Him out to the execution area and drove spikes into His wrists and His feet. It says that late that Friday afternoon they broke the legs of the two thieves hanging with Jesus, but they did not break His legs. He was on the cross and they'd already acknowledged Him being dead. Now the Roman executioners speared Jesus. This was the method by which an executioner checked to see if a still victim was in fact dead. If blood and pericardial fluid came out as in Jesus' case, it was an indication of death and there was no need for the legs to be broken to hasten death so that the cross could re-used for the next victim. Eyewitness accounts said blood and water came out separated - indicating Jesus was already dead.

Ahmed Deedat, in his booklet "Crucifixion or Cruci-Fiction," appealed to this phenomenon (the excretion of blood and pericardial fluid coming out) as evidence that Christ was still alive. He supports this in his writing, by an appeal to an article in the Thinkers Digest 1949, by an anesthesiologist. Today, there is more medical research by various people in this area.

To comment on Deedat's error: first, from a scholastic viewpoint: many medical and university or varsity libraries that once carried this journal, no longer do so. It is considered by many in the medical field to be not only out of date, but behind the medical times.

Second, from a medical viewpoint: a wound of the type inflicted on Jesus, if the person were still alive, would not bleed out the wound opening but bleed into the chest cavity, causing an internal hemorrhage. At the aperture of the wound, the blood would be barely oozing from the opening. For a spear to form a perfect channel that would allow the blood and serum to flow out the spear wound is next to impossible. The massive internal damage done to a person under crucifixion, and then being speared in the area near the heart, would cause death almost immediately. The State of Massachusetts General Hospital, performed over a period of years, research on people who died of a ruptured heart. Normally, a heart has 20 cc's of pericardial fluid. When a person dies of a ruptured heart, there is more than 500 cc's of pericardial fluid, and it would come out in the form of a fluid and clotted blood. Perhaps this is what was viewed when Christ was stabbed by the spear thrust.

Pilate was somewhat surprised that Christ was already dead. When a man named Joseph asked for the body Pilate called a centurion and said, "I want you to go and confirm to me that Jesus is dead." This centurion was not a fool. He was not about ready to leave his wife a widow. The centurion would always check with four different executioners. That was Roman law. There had to be four executioners. They did that so in case one man was a little lax, the other one would catch him in it. And you would never have all four lax in signing the death warrant. This was to ensure accountability and corroboration in the validity of the death warrant.

Discipline was severe with the Romans. For example, when the angel let Peter out of jail in Acts 12 in the New Testament, Herod called in the guard and executed them all - just for letting one man out of jail. In Acts 16 the doors had been opened up in the jail for Paul and Silas, their chains had been loosened, and the moment the guard saw they were freed, he pulled out his own sword to execute himself. And Paul said, "Wait a minute!" You see, that guard knew what would happen if the prisoners escaped. The prison guard would be executed. He decided he would rather die by his own sword, than be executed by the Romans.

So, Pilate had Jesus' death verified [refer Mark 15:45], and he gave Jesus' body over to Joseph to be buried.

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