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That Bitter Cup-- What was a crucifixion really like?
by Carole McDonnell
Not For Sale


That Bitter Cup

A week before Jesus faced His greatest Work, crowds greeted Him with palms and shouts of “Hosanna!” as He entered Jerusalem. They called Him the Son of David and wanted to make Him king. A week later He would be rejected and unlawfully imprisoned, judged in a kangaroo court and sentenced to suffer and die on a cross. His friends whom He had taught for three years would also forsake Him. But, throughout His arrest and ordeal, God would be with Him. And He would rise again.
On the night of His arrest, Jesus went to a garden to pray. His age-long purpose had finally arrived: the hour of His suffering had come. Jesus, the Sinless Lamb of God, knew He would soon be judged by sinful men in several religious, governmental, and political kangaroo trials. So intense was the torment He felt as He looked toward the cross that bloody perspiration issued from his veins when the capillaries in his sweat glands ruptured. (This condition is called hematidrosis or bloody sweat.)
The kangaroo trials of Israel’s political and religious leaders began in the middle of the night. Dishonorable witnesses were gathered. And Jesus was shuttled from one venue to another while each group took their turns “questioning” Him. Then the assaults to Jesus’ body began.

First He was scourged or “flogged.” The Jewish Law of Moses recommended flogging for wrong-doers. The Torah recommended 40 lashes. But the Jewish clergy of Jesus’ time ordered only 39 lashes in case of miscount. A powerful deterrent, scourging was also used by the Roman Empire. A punishment in and of itself, scourging was often a precursor to crucifixions. The Roman soldiers used a Roman flagrum, a cat-o-nine tails made of leather whose tail end split into two or three thongs in which small pieces of bone, metal or glass were attached. The scourging left the skin ripped from the back, torso, and legs, with exposed tissue, leading to much loss of blood. Already hypersensitive from the hematidrosis, Jesus’ skin would have been even more sensitized to the scourging. The soldiers further assaulted Jesus by plucking out hairs from His beard and forcing Him to wear a crown made from a thorny large-spiked plant. In this weakened condition, Jesus then carried the crosspiece of His cross to Golgotha –Skull Place—where He was to be crucified.
Sleepless, beaten, stumbling ahead under a heavy load, bruising His forehead and possibly breaking His nose after falling several times, Jesus was so battered that the Roman soldiers forced a passer-by to carry His cross. Arriving at Golgotha, the soldiers stripped Jesus of His clothes, exposing His beaten body to the elements and set about nailing Him to the cross. Thick seven-inch Roman spikes were thrust through His wrists and one nail through both ankles. Then He was lifted up for all to see.
Crucifixion was a precise art. Depending on how quickly or how painfully the authorities wanted the punishment to be, the accused criminal could be crucified in many ways. Jesus was charged with treason unlike. It was necessary, therefore, that Jesus suffer as a deterrent. But Jesus’s crucifixion fell before a holy day and a dead body left hanging on a cross would be a sacrilege to the Jewish people. Therefore Jesus had to die painfully but quickly. The right kind of cross was needed.
Scholars disagree as to the exact cause of death in crucifixion. The probable causes were a combination of shock, suffocation and cardiac failure. Suspended by his wrists, with his feet weighted down and fastened in one position, the crucified offender found movement difficult. The condemned had only two choices of movement. The accused could either pull himself up into a “T” position, arms outstretched in order to breathe. Or he could rest in the “Y” position, which took the burden off the feet but which made breathing difficult. A crucified man found it hard to move. And yet, he had to move or die. Some crucifixions, usually for people who were meant to linger, used ropes to hold up the outstretched arms of the condemned. Some crosses had a sedile built in. A sedile was a small stool-like apparatus on which the condemned could almost sit. In Jesus’ case, no sedile was used. The importance of the knees --and the prophecy that his bones will not be broken—is clearly seen. If the soldiers wanted death to come quickly, they broke the knees of accused and prevented him from elevating themselves in order to breathe. The soldiers would also give wine and myrrh to the dying men as a kind of painkiller and to ease the burning thirst crucifixion caused. At first, Jesus did not take the sedative when it was offered to Him, preferring to suffer the fullness of the pain. But knowing Scripture must be fulfilled, he drank it, lifted himself up in order to speak and breathe and shouted with his last breath, “It is finished!” (“Debt Cancelled.”) After His death, the officiating centurion pierced Him in the side, through the pericardium of his heart, ensuring death.

Even in the face of the historical evidences of the gospels and the Roman Empire’s effective skills, certain theories arose after Jesus’ death whose main purpose was to debunk Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The first theory is often called the Passover Plot and is mentioned in the gospels. A flat-out lie invented by the Jewish leaders, it states that the disciples stole the body while the temple guards slept. The trouble with this lie is that the priests did not believe it and the temple guards are testifying to something that happened “while they slept.” A sleeping witness is strange enough. But the lie is even stranger to accept. Are we to believe that Jesus’ cowardly disciples --people who fled as the arresting guards and deserted Jesus at the cross-- stole His body, hid it, accepted persecution, death and mockery for years and yet never --not one single person— revealed the nature of the hoax? Surely, someone would have gotten tired of this kind of perverse life and death game and brought Jesus’ decaying body out from its hiding place for all to see!

The next theory was first posited by Mohammed in the Koran. This is known as the Switch. Mohammed claimed that Allah switched Jesus with someone else and it wasn’t Jesus who died but someone else. The real Jesus, Mohammed states, was sneakily taken up into Heaven by God. Thus in making God too good to kill an honest man, Mohammed makes God a liar and deceiver. Another problem with this theory is this: even if the real Jesus did not die on the cross, where is the body? The Jewish Sanhedrin through their lie attest that the tomb was empty. The priests knew that Jesus died. They had seen His dead body hanging on the cross for three hours. And didn’t the disciples notice that the body was not their leader? Mohammed believed in Jesus’ Virgin Birth. But he did not understand that Jesus why Jesus was born of a Virgin, which is that the redemption of sinful man came through the female line.

Then there is the theory that the disciples forgot Jesus’ burial place in all their excitement. Surely, all the disciples could not have communally forgotten the same thing forever! Surely, the Jewish or Roman authorities would have done a thorough search for the body and brought the decaying body out for all to see. Some early Jewish legends state that the Jewish leaders did just this.

There is also the swoon theory. This is the most common theory and shows how far people will go in order to deny the resurrection. According to this theory, Jesus did not die on the cross. He merely fainted and then revived in the tomb. After reviving, He appeared before His followers then disappeared into the Roman Empire. The people who believe this theory are not knowledgeable about crucifixions, the facts the Bible declares, or the effects of trauma. Let’s debunk this theory. Remember that Jesus died at three in the afternoon. His dead body hung in the Y position, after being pierced by a Roman lancia, upon the cross for several hours before sunset impelled the soldiers to take down the crucified bodies. Secondly, people in ancient times knew death much better than we do. They personally handled their dead. If the swoon theory is to believed, then no one in Jesus’ family realized they were embalming a warm body. Then, after the beaten hemorrhaging body was placed in the airless cold stone tomb in a winding sheet weighed down with 75 pounds of gelatinous myrrh, Jesus revived from his swoon. And although, sleep-deprived, naked, bleeding profusely and hungry, He rose from the cold slab, neatly folded the linen he was wrapped in, rolled away the heavy stone overpowered several healthy professionally-trained guards. After this, He managed to discover where his cowardly disciples were hiding and traveled bleeding and naked through the city unnoticed until He found them. The disciples, in turn, when they saw Him were so crazed with hallucination that they immediately proclaimed that He was the Lord of life.

But Jesus said, “They will not believe, even if someone were to rise from the dead.” Often the explanation against the supernatural requires more “faith” than the miracles themselves.

The most important question is this: If God went out of his way to have prophets such as David (Psalms 22), Isaiah (Chapter 53) and Zechariah describe the crucifixion, hundreds of years before such a punishment was invented, including the need to break the bones, the pierced hands and feet, and the extraneous issues such as giving vinegar to someone to drink and the Roman habit of casting dice for the clothes of the executed, how does He respond to Jesus? Isn't Jesus important in the great scheme of things?

For those wanting to explain the crucifision to Moslems, please also check out ny article on the Quran at:

Please see my other articles at:

Sacraments, Traditions and Rituals in Christianity

or cut and paste the following

The Book of Jude

Beware of what enchants you

The healing of the paralyzed man

Let's Compare Hagar and Joseph, two slaves

The Angels who left their first estate

Potiphar's wife

God and the accuser of the brethren

The world before the flood

Are you sure you understand the Bible?

The Ten commandments, trespasses and iniquities ?

Understanding The old testament Prophets

Rituals, traditions, sacraments of the Bible

An overview of the gospel

The works of Solomon: Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Song of Solomon

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