11 Questions about the death of Jesus with Bruce Hennigan, M.D. (Part 2)

1. Tell us about crucifixion itself, how much did Jesus suffer on the cross?

Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Matthew 27:26)

Crucifixion as it became to be known began as Impaling. Victims were placed upon a stake and allowed to die in full view of everyone. This was a warning from the king to his enemies. Later, the impaling changed in nature to tying the victim to the stake and allowing him to hang and die from exposure.

Shur-nasir-pal, King of Assyria, about 885 B.C. said this: “I captured soldiers alive [and] erected [them] on stakes before their cities.

In 519 BC Darius I, king of Persia, impaled 3,000 political opponents in Babylon. In the book of Esther, we have the account of Haman being impaled — about 480 B.C. Alexander the Great impaled 2,000 men from the island city of Tyre after the siege of 332 B.C.

The Roman Empire changed the nature of impaling to the form of crucifixion with which we are familiar. In 71 BC, a slave rebellion led by Spartacus ended when 6,000 prisoners were crucified on a single day along a 27-kilometre stretch of road into Rome. In 4 A. D. after King Herod’s death a rebellion was crushed and 2000 Israelites were crucified. In 313 A. D. Emperor Constantine abolished crucifixion.

The cross used by the Romans was either a “T” or tau shaped cross or the typical Latin Cross. The tau cross had only a crosspiece, the horizontal portion of the cross which was carried by the victim to the site of crucifixion where the upright portion was already erected. The Latin cross was composed of both pieces placed together in the typical shape of the cross and the entire cross was carried to the place of crucifixion. The “patibulum” or crosspiece of the tau cross alone weighed about 125 pounds. The Latin cross weighed about 300 pounds. In either case, the victim had to carry his “cross” about two miles to the site of Golgotha.

Once the victim arrived at the final site, the victim’s hands were nailed to the crosspiece. There have been discussions about how a nail passed through the palm would have nothing but muscle to hold the victim on the cross and therefore, the “palm prints” mentioned in the Gospel accounts are not accurate. However, new information acquired through archeological studies indicates these 4 to 6 inch nails were actually placed at an angle beginning in the palm and angling down through the wrist bones. Being at an angle would then “seat” the victim on the cross and the hands and wrists would not pull loose. The wrist bones are enclosed in tough “fascia” and would hold the victim on the cross.

There is also an added bonus to the Romans. The “median” nerve runs from the hand through the wrist and up the arm. This is the same nerve that hurts when you hit your “funny bone”. Therefore, with each movement of the wrist, pain would be elicited via the median nerve.

Nails were also placed through the feet or sideways through the heel bones. The reason for doing this was to accentuate the pain that would come with each breath. With the arms outstretched, the victims’ lungs were inflated and the victim would have to pull and push up against the nails to exhale and then relax to take the next breath. Each breath brought on the greatest level of pain!

2. What is the cause of death for a victim of crucifixion?

Eventually, fatigue would set in and the victim would no longer be able to exhale. Carbon dioxide would then build up in the blood stream and oxygen levels would fall. This carbon dioxide would turn into carbonic acid making the blood more acid than it should be. This combination of changes in the blood lead to damage to the lungs and the heart.

As the lungs are damaged by this “acid” blood, fluid begins to build up around the lungs and to collapse them further worsening the “asphyxiation”. Fluid also builds up around the heart in the “pericardial” sac and begins to compress the heart so that it can no longer beat efficiently.

These combination of factors ALONE lead to death through cardiopulmonary failure. The victim suffocates in his own fluids!

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. (John 19:31-34)

Two things are of note in this passage.

First, the section describing fluid coming from the heart and lungs PRIOR to blood was for centuries viewed with skepticism. Now, we understand that this took place because the spear first passed through the clear fluid surrounding the lungs then the clear fluid surrounding the heart and then into the heart releasing blood. This description alone indicates its truthfulness based on observation by eyewitnesses relayed to a physician.

Second, Jesus was already dead when the Roman soldiers came to break his legs. Breaking the legs hastened the death of the victims since they could no longer push up to breath. Roman soldiers were experts in crucifixion and if they took a victim off the cross who was not dead, they themselves could be crucified. They took their job seriously. When they thought that Jesus of Nazareth was dead, they were not mistaken.

3. Could Jesus have “swooned,” as a few skeptics claim?

The overwhelming conclusion I would reach as a physician is the combination of blood loss through hematidrosis, blunt force trauma, and flogging alone would have killed almost any victim. But, by the time Jesus of Nazareth was led up to be crucified, he already had more blood loss due to the crown of thorns. The scriptures say he fell more than once and someone else had to take his cross. This “embarrassing” fact smacks of validity! By the time Jesus was crucified, he was already a dying man. In my opinion there is no way he could have survived these five events and merely passed out or “swooned”.

4. Is there any question or doubt that Jesus died on the cross?

Let us be honest: Romans successfully executed a man named Jesus of Nazareth during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, as commanded by Pontius Pilate due to pressure from the occupied Jewish religious leaders. To deny this fact is to swim hopelessly against the current of overwhelming evidence. It is blind faith.

5. Why do Christian need to know these excruciating details?

Why do we need to know these gruesome facts?

First, it is important to understand that Jesus died on the cross no matter what any objection or theory of how he could have survived might claim.

Second, we now know that our Lord and Savior, God in man form, can truly understand any level of betrayal, stress, or pain we could possibly endure because He had also endured it for us. He took the punishment for our wrongdoings and paid the ultimate price for our failings, our sins.

But, as we shall see, death was not the final word!

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