Having an understanding of crucifixion helps us understand what Jesus went through on the day of his death. This article is based on various articles written by medical doctors, including a study by the Mayo Clinic published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1989.
Crucifixion is known to have originally started with the Persians, which is now known to be modern-day Iran.
In the beginning, the victims were suspended and were prevented from allowing their feet to touch the holy ground. As time went on, the Phoenicians, traders to many lands, seemed to have adopted the practice and spread it to other cultures, including the Greeks.
The Romans picked up the practice during the time Alexander the Great who was a Greek introduced it to Carthage. Romans started using it around the time Jesus was born. They perfected crucifixion as a punishment designed to increase pain and suffering. To them, it wasn’t about killing somebody — it was about killing somebody in a really horrible way. To them, it was giving the offender a cruel punishment deserving of him. Anyone who was crucified suffered the maximum amount of pain.
Crucifixion was usually reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and vile criminals. This was the most disgraceful form of execution, and the only time a Roman citizen was ever crucified was for desertion from the army.
Meaning Of The Flogging
Before a person was crucified, he was first of all Flogged or scourged. The scourging was intended to bring a victim to a state just short of death. This hurts a lot
The whip usually had iron balls tied a few inches from the end of each leather thong on the whip. They were sometimes, and sharp sheep bones would be tied near the ends. The purpose of the iron balls was to cause deep bruising, the leather thongs cut into the skin of the victim, while the sheep bones hastened the processes of cutting into the skin. After several strokes, the skin would be filled with bruises, the muscles would begin to cut, the victim begins to lose blood, and the pain would probably put the victim in a state of shock.
A Description Of A Typical Crucifixion
When the flogging was complete, the victim would carry his own crossbar which is also called a patibulum. He or she would carry it from the flogging area inside the city to the crucifixion area outside of the city walls. The crucifixion arena was always outside the city this was because the process was horrible and disturbing to the citizens.
The upright part of the cross (the stripe) was permanently mounted in the crucifixion area. Thus, the part that the victim carried was the crossbar, weighing in at about 75 to 125 pounds. The victims would carry the crossbar on their shoulders on a balance, and their arms would be tied to it. In this state, the victims would not use their arms to break their fall or support themselves if they tripped or fell. When they did, they would likely fall with their faces first into the ground.
The victims were usually escorted by a Roman guard or a centurion and several other soldiers, who were responsible for guarding the victim until his death.
Once they reached the crucifixion area, one of the soldiers would display a sign with the crime written on it. The victim would be offered a drink of wine mixed with myrrh to act as a mild pain killer. The drink was said to be a charitable service performed by an association of women in Jerusalem.
“There they tried to give him wine mixed with a drug called myrrh, but Jesus would not drink it”. (Mark 15:23)
The crossbar is raised and placed on the upright post, where the victim’s heels would be nailed to the post. The victim would then be nailed to the crossbar. These nails are usually driven through the wrists to support body weight.
Once a victim was crucified, he would live for a period ranging from a few hours to a few days, and how long he lived depended mostly on how severe the scourging was.
At the death of the victim, if no one or a family member claimed the body for burial, it would be left on the cross to be eaten by wild animals. In this case, a Roman soldier would pierce the chest with a sword or spear to make sure the victim was dead.
The Gravity Of This Suffering Leading To The Victim’s Death
The initial flogging would weaken the victim, causing massive blood loss, and probably induce a shock that by the time the victim carried the crossbar to the crucifixion area, he would be exhausted.
Once on the cross, the victim would have his body weight suspended by their arms. In this position, it is difficult to completely exhale or even breath. Struggling to survive, the victim could take shallow breaths for a while, but eventually would be forced to push himself up to take a full breath.
During this point three things occur:
- The victim’s weight is now fully supported by his feet. The nails through the feet would be likely to hit two major nerves running through the area, and the result would be excruciating pain in the legs.
- The nails in the wrists would likely pierce the main nerve running through the arm, and as the victim pushed up to breath, the wrists would rotate against the nail, irritating the nerves and causing intense pain in the arms. It is also believed that the crucifixion position can dislocate the shoulder or elbow, and any movement would aggravate the pain from these injuries.
- The wounds on the victims back from the scourging would push up against the rough part of the centerpiece. This tends to re-open the wounds, leading to more pain and blood loss.
Due to this combination of pain, the victim would quickly forced himself to lower back down. Eventually, he would no longer be able to raise himself up and would suffocate, and the shock from blood loss due to the scourging would quicken this process.
In some cases, the victim’s legs were broken to finish him off. This would prevent the victim from being able to raise himself up and he would suffocate in a matter of minutes.
Jesus’ crucifixion also followed the standard procedure, but there were some differences. These differences help account for the fact that he died after a relatively short period of time on the cross.
“In great anguish, he prayed even more fervently; his sweat was like dops of blood falling to the ground”. (Luke 22:44)
There is a condition called hematohidrosis or hematidrosis which occurs in people under extreme physical or emotional stress. This causes the blood vessels in their sweat glands to rupture and leak blood into their sweat. The effect is one of sweating blood. This could be a plausible explanation for what happened to Jesus.
Even if the loss of blood wasn’t significant, it is shown that he was under extreme stress, which would have weakened him physically. Thus;
“The men who were guarding Jesus mocked him and beat him”. (Luke 22:63)
“Some of them began to spit on Jesus, and they blindfolded him and hit Him” (Mark 14:65)
“Then they spat in his face and beat him; and those who slapped him said…” (Matt 26:67)
When Jesus said this, one of the guards there slapped him and said, ‘How dare you talk like that to the High Priest’?”. (John 18:22)
Before the scourging and crucifixion, Jesus was beaten by his guards. This probably had weakened him. In addition, he might have had no sleep that night and walked back and forth from trial to trial. Thus, they had to force Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross.
Typically, a prisoner carried his own cross to the crucifixion ground, but the fact that Simon was pressed into carrying Jesus cross suggests that Jesus was too weak to carry his own cross.
It was Preparation Day which is, the day before the Sabbath. So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a prominent member of the Council, and waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had been dead for a long time. See Mark 15:42-44
After hearing the officer’s report, Pilate told Joseph that he could have the body since the Jewish Sabbath would begin at Sunset. It was important that the bodies not be left up, as Jewish law required that they are buried by the Sabbath. Also, Because the Jews did not want the bodies to be on the crosses during the Sabbath being the next day, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies were taken down. Check John 19:31-32 But they did not break Jesus legs because the found him already dead. Instead one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. John 19:33-34
As mentioned earlier, breaking the legs of a crucified person would hasten suffocation within minutes, because they would not be able to raise themselves up to breath.
As said before, this was typically a crucifixion practice to stab the victim to make sure he was dead before releasing him to relatives.
The water that John describes as flowing is probably serous pleural and pericardial fluid — a fluid that would build up from shock and blood loss. This fluid would tend to accumulate in the chest cavity and lungs.
A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus lips. – John 19:29
According to the Cross Reading (Lent, 2000) by Robert Gidley, The second drink, which He accepts moments before His death, is described as wine vinegar. Two points are important to note. The drink was given on the stalk of a hyssop plant.” Remember that these events occurred at the Feast of the Passover. During this feast, (Exod 12:22) hyssop was used to apply the blood of the Passover lamb to the wooden doorposts of the Jews.