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The medical aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
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This document is dedicated to the Rev. Charles Sangster of St. Marks Presbyterian Church, Yeoville, Johannesburg.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life”
Contemplation on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ has a profound effect on Christians. Naturally our focus is on the risen Christ as the cornerstone of our faith, but remembering His esteemed wounds, generates momentous spiritual growth. It edifies us on being content with our own suffering. Our love for God grows with our knowledge of the Crucifixion, and the soul who contemplates the cross, is in itself pierced with the sword of love.
In the back of my King James Version, is a map called “The footprints of Jesus during His last days” which I use as a point of focus when I do an extended contemplation. And I weep everytime.......
“The cross is liberation.
The cross transforms the world….”
We think of the Man of Sorrows, as He walked from Bethany to Jerusalem for the Last Supper in the Upper Room, situated in the southwest of Jerusalem. It was in this Upper Room that Jesus told His disciples that His body and His blood were to be given for them.
From there He went for the last time to His beloved Garden of Gethsemane, to anguish in prayer before His betrayal by Judas. The Garden of Gethsemane was an olive orchard that lay over the brook Kedron on the western slope of the Mount of Olives, a secluded retreat where Jesus often went.
While still in the Garden, Judas arrived with a large crowd to arrest Him, and took Him to appear before a council at the palace of the High Priest Caiaphas. He was tried by the Sanhedrin and found guilty of blasphemy for proclaiming Himself the Son of God, and received the death penalty.
Only the Romans were able to execute criminals and therefore Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate at the Antonia Fortress. Pilate, not able to find anything wrong with Jesus, sent Him to King Herod who sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate submitted to the pressure of the crowd and ordered that Jesus be whipped and crucified.
“And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”
The medical term for “sweat like blood” is “hemohidrosis” or “hematidrosis” and has been seen in patients who encountered uncontrolled stress and severe shock.
Flogging by the Romans was so severe that the victim often died from the beating. They used a whip that was called a flagrum or flagellum that consisted of small pieces of bone and metal, attached to a number of leather strands. The skin was stripped from the back during a flogging, which exposed a bloody mass of muscle and bone. In Isaiah 52:14 is mention of the severity of the beating that Jesus received, to the extent that His form did not look like that of a human being. “He was so disfigured that He hardly look human” (Good News Bible).
Jesus walked to Golgotha on a path that is now called Via Dolorosa, meaning “the way of suffering”. He walked the total distance, which was estimated at 650 yards, carrying the crossbar of the cross that is called a patibulum, across His shoulders. The weight of the crossbar is estimated at between 80 to 110 pounds and might have led to a contusion of the heart, predisposing the heart to rupture on the cross.
The patibulum was placed on the ground, once the site of the crucifixion was reached. Then the victim was laid upon it so that nails of approximately seven inches long could be driven into the wrists. The palms of the hands would not have been able to support the weight of the body, but according to ancient terminology, the wrists were considered to be part of the hand. The points of the nails would go into the confines of the median nerve that would enforce shocks of pain to transmit through the arms. Seven feet high stripes were found at the crucifixion site. In the center of the site was a crude seat, called a sedile or sedulum that supported the victim. The patibulum was then lifted onto the stripes and the feet nailed to the stripes.
When the cross was erected upright, it caused massive strain on the wrists, the arms and the shoulders, resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints (Metherall -“Christ's physical suffering”). With the arms up and outward, the ribcage was held in a fixed position that made it extremely difficult for the victim to breathe and he would therefore be able to take only shallow breaths. As time passed, the muscles would undergo severe cramps and spasmodic contractions due the loss of blood and the fixed position of the body.
A summary of the slow process and resulting death of a crucifixion would be as follows:
“.....it appears likely that the mechanism of death in crucifixion was suffocation. The chain of events that ultimately led to suffocation is as follows: With the weight of the body being supported by the sedulum, the arms were pulled upward. This caused the intercostal and pectoral muscles to be stretched. Furthermore, movement of these muscles was opposed by the weight of the body. With the muscles of respiration thus stretched, the respiratory bellows became relatively fixed. As pain in the wrists and arms increased, the victim was forced to raise the body off the sedulum, therefore transferring the weight of the body to the feet. Respirations became easier, but with the weight of the body being exerted on the feet, pain in the feet and legs mounted. When the pain became unbearable, the victim again slumped down on the sedulum with the weight of the body pulling on the wrists and again stretching the intercostal muscles. Thus, the victim alternated between lifting his body off the sedulum in order to breathe, and slumping down on the sedulum to relieve pain in the feet. Eventually, he became exhausted or lapsed into unconsciousness so that he could no longer lift his body off the sedulum. In this position, with the respiratory muscles essentially paralyzed, the victim suffocated and died.” (DeP DePasquale, N.P. And Burch, G.E. “Death by Crucifixion”asquale and Burch).
Due to shallow breathing on the cross, the lungs begin to collapse in small areas that cause hypoxia and hypercarbia. Respiratory acidosis results in increased strain on the heart that beats faster to compensate. Fluid builds up in the lungs and under the strain of hypoxia and acidosis, the heart finally fails.
Due to severe blood loss, Jesus was dehydrated and one of his final statements was “I thirst”. He was offered drugged wine (wine mixed with myrrh), and refused because He chose to face death with a clear mind. In “The life and time of Jesus the Messiah”, Edersheim explains that this practice of offering the victim drugged wine, was a merciful Jewish practice to deaden the consciousness. Moments before He died, Jesus accepted the second drink that was described as wine vinegar and offered to Him on a “stalk of a hyssop plant”.
Myrrh is one of several burseraceous trees and shrubs that exude an aroma which is used in perfume, incense and medicine. It is another name for “sweet cicely” and it has healing, preserving and disinfecting qualities. Christ is compared to a “bundle of myrrh”, a seal which suggests the idea of delicate and idiosyncratic Grace. In Him we conceptualize a multiplicity of characters, all in elegant completeness. We commemorate Him as the Triune God of Genesis, as Saviour and Redeemer of all nations. We contemplate Him in the euphemistic totality of His closing legacy on the cross, a legacy in which hardship and discomfort became ours in all fullness, so we might participate in the sufferings of Christ. Trials were predestined for us through all eternity, as God chose us in the furnace of the crucible. We were not adopted for worldly modus vivendi or earthly exuberance, but we are the absolute heirs of eternal life.
There are divergent assumptions around Jesus’s actual cause of death on the cross. One theory states that the pericardium filled with fluid that fatally strained the heart and prevented it from pumping blood (Lumpkin, R “The physical suffering of Christ”). Another proposes that Jesus died of a massive myocardial infarction in which the heart ruptured (Bergsma, Stewart “Did Jesus die of a broken heart?”) However, the actual cause of Jesus's death “may have been multifactorial and related primarily to hypovolemic shock, exhaustion asphyxia and perhaps acute heart failure” (Edwards, W.D., Gabel, W.J. And Hosmer, F.E. “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ”) Or a fatal cardiac arrhythmia may have caused the final terminal event (Johnson, C “Medical and Cardiological Aspects of the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus the Christ” ).
The body and Spirit of Jesus were separated by death, His body laid in the tomb and His Spirit departed to the Father. But in the resurrection, His body and Spirit were reunited. He ascended to heaven, but His ministry perdures with man, until at His advent, He returns in the same human nature to judge the world and to consummate the Kingdom of God.
His death on the cross was humiliation of the lowest imaginable depths. A humiliation that began with His conception in the womb of a virgin who herself, was sinful. Although He had no part in her sin, He was part of her physical substance. The circumstances of His birth in Bethlehem were humiliating and signified the life that awaited him. His modest boyhood as the son of a carpenter in Nazareth was equally humiliating. His temptations on the mountain were humiliating, just as His sufferings, His persecutions and the mockeries were. His last anguished meditation in the garden of Gethsemane was a humiliation, just as every step that followed, until it all culminated on the hill of Golgotha.
ILLEGAL ASPECTS OF THE TRIAL OF JESUS – DAVID TERASAKA
Not only did Jesus suffer earnestly and intensely for the world, but His trial was altogether congested with illegal activities.
It took place in the palace of the High Priest, instead of the regular meeting places of the Sanhedrin as required by the Jewish law.
The guilt-sentence was enunciated on the day of His trial, instead of the following day, as required by the law of the time.
It was furthermore against the law for trials to take place on the evening of the Sabbath, on any Feast Days or at night. Jesus' trial took place on the evening of the Sabbath.
Charges against Jesus changed during the trial. He was initially charged with blasphemy for calling Himself the Son of God and for making the statement that He was able to destroy and rebuild the Temple of God within three days. When He was brought before Pilate, the charge was that He was a King who did not encourage the paying of taxes to the Romans.
According to Jewish law, an in-depth investigation into the facts as presented by the witnesses, was required. It did not happen and Jesus was not permitted a defense.
The Sanhedrin announced the death sentence and put it into effect, downright against the law of the day.
Jesus was arrested by Roman soldiers and the Jewish guards to be questioned by Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas (John 18:13) and struck by one of the guards (John 18:22) after He attempted to defend Himself. He was then taken to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, and after hearing false testimony of many witnesses, they sought to put Him to death.
Witnesses against Him did not agree, and by law no person could be put to death unless at least two or three witnesses agreed. This requirement was not met at the trial of Jesus.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the thrown of God”
According to Dr. David Terasaka (whom I regard as my mentor on this precious subject), the Church of Agony in Gethsemane, is today considered a memorial to the ordeal of Jesus. It is also called the Church of the Nations because many nations contributed money to its construction.
The greatest event that separates Jesus from all others, is the certainty that He rose again and lives today to intercede for those who follow Him.
“And so He is able, now and always, to save those who come to God through Him, because He lives forever to plead with God for them”
The following prayer appears as a conclusion of Dr.Terasaka's document “Medical Aspects of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ”. He asked me to refer to this prayer, should I quote anything from his document:
“Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me. I confess that I am a sinner before God. I acknowledge that by your death and sacrifice that you have paid the penalty of my sins for me. Please come into my heart and become the Lord of my life. As you gave your life, I give my life to you. I will take up my cross and follow You, not as I will, but to follow Your perfect will for my life. In Jesus Name, Amen”.
During my study on the medical aspects of the crucifixion of Jesus, I came across the document I mentioned above, as compiled by Dr. David Terasaka, M.D. The process of the Crucifixion is sketched in such a delicate way, that it is easy for the non-medical person to conceptualize. It is uplifting and it afflicts and numbs the heart of the reader. His report inspired me to write about the crucifixion of our Lord and Master, and with his permission I shared some of the facts from his document.
The holiness of Jesus Christ, irrupted the space-time continuum and He changed the face of all history. God became man and through His Incarnation, human life acquired a distinction that enhanced it to a deified existential level that qualified it for fellowship and communion with God Himself………
FROM “THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS” – Nymph Kellerman
ABOUT the author:
Nymph completed her L.T.C.L. in music and drama, and obtained a B.A. Psychology and Philosophy a few years later. She trained as formal singer under various renowned vocal advisers and performed in numerous concerts, recitals, and oratorios. After a car accident that lead to a few neuro surgeries, she began investigating the benefits of deep relaxation and wrote a few books and numerous articles on the subject.
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