Some Thoughts On The Crucifixion

As a reminder, I am not a theologian. I am a bit of an amateur historian, however. This time of year, a Christian does think of the Death, Resurrection, and the Ascension just a bit. One of the tropes used to attack these things, and Faith, is to attack the Crucifixion itself. However, I find those attacks only increase my Faith.

Crucifixion has been used in various forms around the world for most of recorded history. The Japanese used a version of it that utilized a framework rather than the cross of the Romans. Some cultures just tied you to a tree. For this post, let’s just look at the Romans and take some of the attacks on a case-by-case basis.

For Romans, crucifixion was reserved primarily for the lower classes and subjugated peoples. If my memory is correct, full Roman citizens rarely were crucified. It happened, but it was not the norm.

I seem to recall that such executions were often done outside the city gates and along roads, so that all could see what happened to those who broke the law, particularly Roman law. In some places, a site was chosen so that the public could gather and watch, and the happenings observed from the city walls or such.

Attack One: Romans didn’t use the Cross as depicted by Christians. While it is true they most often used a tau-cross, they did use the Christian cross when a message was being sent.

The fact is, the Romans were cheap. They were not going to spend any money they didn’t have to on dealing with the riff raff. The Christian-style cross cost money (and time), therefore was reserved for when they wanted to send a message.

The standard way of doing things was to tie the victim to the cross-member and have them walk thus bound to the site of the execution. More on scourging and such in a bit. If not already naked, they were stripped and then Roman soldiers would stand on stools, piles of rocks, or other such to lift the cross-member up and fit it into a pre-cut slot of the post. The victim’s feet would then be loosely tied into place.

Pretty much immediately, the victim would begin to twist and writhe as it was rather painful. I seem to recall hearing the phrase ‘the dance that has no steps’ to describe this. To add to the physical, there was also an element of psychological torture in that the victim knew they were just off the ground, and if only they could touch it they could relieve their suffering and/or escape.

This is also why troops guarded the execution sites. It kept friends or family of the victim from coming and freeing them. For those troops, there could be other benefits, as it were. One such was obtaining any clothing or (rarely) jewelry from the victim, which could then be sold or traded. Little extra cash, as it were. There was also rape and other physical pleasures to be had.

The troops were also there both to encourage or prevent various attacks on the victims by the public. Another part of the torture that was death by crucifixion was that the public could throw things at you, hit you, sexually assault or humiliate you, etc.

It also could be a slow process. Someone in decent shape, unwhipped, etc. could last for days. As such, the troops had an iron bar that after three days (or other period specified) they would use to break the legs of those being crucified so that they died more quickly.

In contrast, what we now know as the Christian-style cross took a bit more time. The cross-member had to be fitted in place and secured, and it took several people to raise it up with the victim on it, get it into the prepared hole, and wedge it in place. For most riff-raff/scum (as the Roman’s saw it), the tau-cross was the cheaper and better option, and could be re-used many times.

Attack Two: Use of nails. There are about three different attacks, and I will reserve one of them for discussion next.

Again, the Romans were cheap and they were not going to spend any more money on executing the riff-raff than they absolutely had to. For the vast majority, rope was used as it was cheaper and reusable. It was also much easier to produce, even using local products.

Nails, however, were labor intensive to produce which only added to their expense. In construction, they were only used when pegs, wedges, tongue-and-grove and such would not work. Nails also were not always reusable, even from crucifixions because of the various stresses put on them during, and especially after when trying to remove them.

They also seem to have hastened death, and as such were reportedly used on those the Romans wanted to die in quickly. Which meant that they were often used on the royalty/leadership local (subjugated) populations who challenged Rome but a protracted death could cause unrest. See this on a Jewish prince, and I suspect there is a tale to tell behind this story. Especially since I seem to recall recently reading that they had found twelve nails buried with the man.

So, the idea that the Romans never used nails is moot, and they did use them on local royalty and others they wished to die in a hurry. For all that they mocked our Lord, keep in mind that he was by Roman standards treated like royalty. That had defied Rome. For all that it was intended as mockery, the sign above him on the cross, in three languages, proclaiming Jesus to be King of the Jews. You see it abbreviated as INRI (Latin), and INBI (Greek). In their mockery, they also declared him royal.

It also ties back into the charges against him, of which Pilate found him innocent. Pilate did not want to kill him, and so washed his hands of the affair after doing all he could to make it go away quickly. Bit more in a moment.

Attack Three: Positioning of the Nails. What little archaeological evidence we have is that the Romans tended to drive nails through the heel bone. This guaranteed that the condemned wasn’t likely to come loose. There are accounts of nails being used in the wrists, though no archaeological evidence to support that.

Keep in mind that the bodies of people crucified often were not buried, but essentially tossed on a midden heap. Most had rope used on them, not nails. So, there is not a lot of forensic evidence, which some use to attack the account in the scriptures.

The thing is, people making such attacks try to pull their “ah ha” without any understanding of why the Crucifixion happened

Yes, if you put a nail in the foot or palm, they can be pulled out. If you saw the most recent John Wick movie, the scene with the knife showed one way it could be done. But, that ignores the all-important why.

Christ chose to die for us out of love. He placed himself on the Cross in and with love, and it was love that held him in place until the end. He did not die because God demanded blood, Blood, BLOOD and death for the sin of Adam and Eve and the subsequent sins of the world. There was no penal substitution; rather, Christ paid the debt of Adam out of love, so that we could become spirit-bearing men and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Attack Four: Too Quick. This attack is an odd one, but basically according to those making it, Christ died too quickly and the timeline doesn’t add up.

Part of me really doesn’t understand this one, but here’s a few thoughts. We’ve already covered that the use of nails seems to have been tied to hurrying things along. What a lot of people don’t get is that Christ wasn’t just whipped, he was scourged.

A scourge is a nasty thing. It is a whip, usually with three or more strands, that is embedded with metal and sometimes glass. The Roman scourge tended to use chunks of metal and sometimes metal hooks on the end of those strands. Others had metal chunks or balls along with bits of glass, metal, and metal hooks. Short version is that it stripped the flesh off the person on which it was being used, as well as pulverizing muscle, bone, and even organs beneath. For example, even a single blow over the kidneys could damage or destroy them. Under Roman law, there were no limits to the number of blows, though they did want the victim to live long enough to go up on a cross or otherwise be executed.

For all that as a carpenter Christ probably had very good arm, shoulder, and back development, this would have been destroyed by the scourging. For those wondering why I say this, there were no power tools back then, only muscle power. As a result, carpenters tended to have some development. Without those back and shoulder muscles, the ability to stay up on the Cross – which allowed better breathing – would have been diminished or even eliminated.

Add to it that Christ was quite likely severely dehydrated by that point, and you have a situation where a quick death is likely. Again, I don’t understand the argument that he died too quickly, especially in light of all of the above.

I think there was something else, but I failed to write down any notes or a list, so… I will add that I find depictions of other crucifixions, or modern ones cinematic or otherwise, that make use of a crown of thorns to be off-putting (to be polite) as there was only one known use of such. Also remember that every effort made to humiliate Christ backfired, and worked to his glory.

One thought on “Some Thoughts On The Crucifixion”

  1. Also remember, Christ (as the Scripture puts it) “gave up the ghost”. He yielded his life rather than expiring due to the effects of crucifixion. He laid down his life willingly rather than having it taken from him.

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