Skip to comments.Scholars: Crucifixion Portrayal Inaccurate
Posted on 02/19/2004 3:40:35 PM PST by missyme
"Critics Never Stop"
JERUSALEM (AP) - The dearth of information about Jesus' crucifixion makes it impossible to describe the event in accurate detail, as Mel Gibson attempts to do in his new film, "The Passion of Christ," Bible scholars and anthropologists say.
The crucifixion is the centerpiece of the movie, set to open in U.S. theaters Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday on the Roman Catholic calendar.
People who have seen the movie say it adopts standard Christian imagery in excruciating detail: Jesus being pinioned to a Latin cross - a T-shaped device with a short upper extension - with one nail driven through both feet and one through each palm.
In a December e-mail sent to The Associated Press, Gibson said he did "an immense amount of reading" to supplement the Bible's relatively unadorned account of the crucifixion in the four Gospels.
"I consulted a huge number of theologians, scholars, priests, spiritual writers," Gibson wrote. "The film is faithful to the Gospels but I had to fill in a lot of details - like the way Jesus would have carried His cross, or whether the nails went through the palms of His hands or his wrists ... Since the experts canceled each other out, I was thrown back on my own resources to weigh the different arguments and decide for myself."
Some scholars say even the most widely recognized features of the crucifixion, such as the shape of the cross and the use of nails, are open to debate.
James F. Strange, professor of religious studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said 1st century historian Josephus provided only general information, probably because crucifixion was so common that details seemed superfluous.
Crucifixion was first used in the 5th century B.C., and was a widely used form of execution in Asia, Europe and Africa for the ensuing eight centuries, said Israeli anthropologist Joe Zias. Depending on technique, death could be swift or take days.
"If you suspended people by their hands and left their feet free you would kill them within an hour," Zias said. "If you suspended them in a way they couldn't exhale they'd be dead within minutes."
Zias said the question of whether Jesus was nailed to the cross or simply tied to it remains a mystery. "There is no evidence whatsoever he was nailed," he said. "The Gospels say he was crucified and leave it at that."
Zias criticized "The Passion of Christ" for accepting the standard version of three nails being used. He said experiments on cadavers carried out by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages have shown that people hanging with nails through their hands will fall to the ground within a relatively short time, pulled by gravity.
The Gospels suggest it took Jesus three to six hours to die.
"All this is Crucifixion 101," Zias said. "People who study these things understand them. But Gibson ignored them in his film."
John Dominic Crossan, emeritus professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, agrees with Zias that little is known about Jesus' execution.
"Early Christians believed that Jesus was nailed to the cross," he said. "But there is absolutely no proof of this. The only skeleton of a crucified person ever recovered indicated that the two arms were tied to a crossbar, and two nails were used in either shinbone. There was no standard procedure in any of this. The only common feature in the different types of crucifixion is intense sadism."
The type of cross in Jesus' execution is also in question, Crossan said. First century Romans are known to have used both a T-shaped device, without an upper extension, and the Latin cross that is standard in Christian iconography.
Each of the four Gospels says an inscription mocking Jesus as the "king of the Jews" was affixed to the cross. Crossan said this would have made sense "because the whole point of crucifixion was to warn people through alluding to a specific crime."
Two of the Gospels say the inscription was mounted above Jesus. This presumably would strengthen the argument for a Latin cross, which would have provided space for writing about the condemned man's head.
However, the other two Gospels don't give a locator. "It (the written warning) could just as easily have hung around his neck," Crossan said.
Crossan is also uncertain whether the cross on which Jesus was crucified was carried to the execution grounds - either by Simon of Cyrene, as three of the Gospels report, or by Jesus himself, according to John's account.
It is possible that the vertical part of the cross was kept at Golgotha, the place of Jesus' death, and that the condemned person carried the crossbar, Crossan said.
"The point is we simply don't know," he said, "not in general cases and not in the case of Jesus either."
They don't mention nails, but they seem to be understood. As in John 20:27 where Jesus told Thomas: "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here and put it into My side..."
The Apostle Paul understood it as well: "...and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." Colossians 2:14b
The whole "argument" is nothing but an attempt, as it has been down through history, to make Jesus & Christianity look false. Hasn't worked, has it?
However, the source document does not indicate that, nor has any study/reading I've done confirm this.
Death would come quickly with nails; the Romans designed their form of crucifixion precisely so that death would NOT come quickly.
Nails didn't necessarly speed up the process, the key was nailing/fixing the feet to the post. The victim would hang by their arms to relieve the pain to the feet/legs until they could not breath (the normal cause of death was asphyxiation), then push up to allow the lungs to breath for as long as possible until the pain in the feet/legs took over. This cycle would continue for days until the victim was too exhausted to continue, then they would succum to asphyxiation.
Read John Chapter 20. The pertinent quote is on this page. Jesus was nailed to the cross.
"One of the twelve disciples Thomas (called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" Thomas said to them, "Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe." John 20:24-25 (GNT)
Yes, they do. John 20:24 says very clearly that Jesus was nailed through the "hands" (which could also mean that he was nailed through what we would call the wrist).
The technique was probably to nail through the space between the forearm bones next to the wrist in such a way as to sever the nerves (resulting in intense, shooting pain when the victim tried to breathe) but keep the major vessels intact (so the victim didn't bleed to death quickly).
Excuse me if ABCCBSNBCNYTLATWPCNNNPR were not on the scene to file a report.
The Bible works for me.
It's going to be difficult to watch, no?
I'll withdraw my comments on nails. I was incorrect, obviously.
I also understand that there is a lot of historical evidence that Roman crucifixion was performed with nails through the wrist and shin bones. My guess is that the nails through the hands and feet were inventions of latter biblical transcribers.