9 Little-Known Facts About The Crucifixion of Jesus

A valuable study appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1986 (Volume 256) entitled “On the Physical Death of Jesus”. The authors included a Pathologist, an expert in Medical Graphics from the Mayo Clinic, and an Evangelical minister. It begins with a historical analysis of crucifixion as a form of execution and moves to the physiology of Jesus’ suffering and death.

Shroud of Turin

Two things make this study important. First, it takes the accounts of the crucifixion from the gospels as we have them as authentic; Evangelicals don’t do historical criticism so there was no attempt to theorize based on reconstructed source material. Secondly, the experts regarded Shroud of Turin as the actual burial cloth of Christ, which provides many of the details of what occurred during Jesus’ final hours. Some of the findings:

  1. St. Luke recorded that during the agony in the garden, Jesus’s sweat became like blood. Bloody sweat is known as either hematidrosis or hemohidrosis and is caused by blood hemorrhaging into the sweat glands. While it is rare, it “…may occur in highly emotional states or in persons with bleeding disorders.”
  2. Scourging always preceded crucifixion and was intended to weaken the victim to shorten the time spent on the cross.  “[A]s the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. …The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a preshock state.”
  3. Jesus did not carry the whole cross but just the crossbar (patibulum). The whole cross would have weighed about 300 lbs.
  4. The sign that Pilate had ordered to be made, “Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews”, was customary and was held up by a Roman soldier in the front of the condemned man during the procession to the place of crucifixion. It displayed the name of the criminal and charge against him.
  5. The wine with the gall (a “mild analgesic”), which was offered to Christ, was a requirement under Roman law.
  6. Since nailing the palms would not have supported the weight of the body, the wrists were nailed (as in the Shroud). “…[T]he driven nail would crush or sever the rather large sensorimotor median nerve. The stimulated nerve would produce excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms. Although the severed median nerve would result in paralysis of a portion of the hand, ischemic contractures and impalement of various ligaments by the iron spike might produce a clawlike grasp.”
  7. Fixing the feet to the cross could be done with either nails or ropes, the Shroud indicates that Jesus’ were nailed. His knees may have been bent since crosses did not always have a footrest.
  8. “Although scourging may have resulted in considerable blood loss, crucifixion per se was a relatively bloodless procedure, since no major arteries, other than perhaps the deep plantar arch, pass through the favored anatomic sites of transfixion.”
  9. Jesus’ death came unusually quickly; crucifixions could go on for days. This was likely the result of the severity of the scourging. “The fact that he could not carry the crossbar supports this interpretation. The actual cause of Jesus’ death, like that of other crucified victims, may have been multifactorial and related primarily to hypovolemic shock [rapid blood loss], exhaustion asphyxia, and perhaps acute heart failure. A fatal cardiac arrhythmia may have accounted for the apparent catastrophic terminal event.”

The language of the article and the accompanying illustrations are rather cold and come across like a coroner’s report. It is heartbreaking to read. The crime against the state for which he was executed was for being “The King of the Jews”.



Comparing the Two Annunciations (Luke 1:5-38)

Titian, The Annunciation

In reading Luke’s narratives about the birth announcements to Zechariah and Mary, have you ever wondered why Zechariah gets chastised by the angel for his questioning of the notion that a couple their age can conceive, and Mary, who asks a very similar question, does not?

After Gabriel appears and announces the news to Zechariah that Elizabeth will bear a child, he responds:

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

For this he is scolded and struck dumb. Mary responds to the news that she will give birth in much the same way:

“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

For this she receives the explanation that her pregnancy will be the work of the Holy Spirit.

Zechariah was a priest and “…righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly” (vs. 6). But asking how he would “know” reflected doubt, and comes across as a demand for evidence. But he had no reason to doubt; he would have recalled that God made the same promise to Abraham and can make barren women conceive. Gabriel charged, “you did not believe my words”. Continue reading “Comparing the Two Annunciations (Luke 1:5-38)”

Mary’s Search for the Son of God

In a homily a few years back Pope Francis expounded on Luke 2:41-52, the familiar story of finding the 12-year old Jesus in the temple. He adds a detail, however, which he thinks is clearly implied in the text:

“Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little ‘escapade’, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it. Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt.” (Link)

Continue reading “Mary’s Search for the Son of God”

A Provocative Look at the Creation Account

One of my former Hebrew instructors has argued that recent translators of the Bible are still too influenced by earlier translations, especially the King James Version, and this negatively affects the rendering in English of many important passages.

A good example comes from Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (KJV). “Earth” in English means two things: The whole planet, or the soil in the ground. In Hebrew, However, the word is eretz and means “land”, look how it’s described in verses 9-10:

“And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth…”

Thus, eretz is distinct from the waters that were gathered together and refers to “land”. And as for heaven:

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven (Gen. 1:7-8).

Continue reading “A Provocative Look at the Creation Account”

A Jerusalem Memory

An experience in Israel I had long forgotten recently resurfaced as I was contemplating the Second Sorrowful Mystery, the flagellation of Christ.

Kishle Station

In 1982 I was in Jerusalem for the first time and while walking through the Jaffa Gate entrance into the Old City and I heard a loud scream coming from the building on the right, the Kishle police station. A man was screaming at the top of his lungs as though he was being beaten, uttering words in Arabic that sounded like pleas. While it was probably the case that he was being forcibly restrained, it sounded more like a beating.

Israel was very tense (and dangerous) in those days; I was there a year learning Hebrew and experienced either a shelter in place, bomb threat, or evacuation at least a dozen times. Any guided tours I participated in included the mandatory guard carrying a loaded M-16 or Uzi.

Online I learned something very interesting about the Kishle Station, built in 1831 and used as a prison by the Ottoman Turks. The many prisoner cells were located behind the structure and were not in use at the time I was there. In the 1990s the adjacent Tower of David Museum took this part of the building over with the intention of expanding into it. During construction, beneath the floor they discovered the remains of foundation walls, and a full excavation of the site followed. Continue reading “A Jerusalem Memory”

Peter Hitchens’ on the Demise of the English Church

The brother of the late author and atheist Christopher Hitchens recently spoke in Copenhagen on immigration and the end of western culture (extremely pessimistic, but very entertaining). Below is a short sample from the long Q&A that follows the speech. He reflects on the Church of England, referring to it as the “enemy of it’s heritage”:

The full speech is below and the Q&A follows, both are worth taking the time to listen to.


‘Office of the Angelic Order’: St. Hildegard’s Ode to Priests

The Choirs of the Blessed, Rupertsberg Manuscript

In Book III, Vision 13 from Hildegard’s Scivias (hard ‘c’, and is an abbreviation for Sci vias domini, “Know the Ways of God”), she describes a vision of heavenly choirs, “I heard the praises of the joyous citizens of Heaven”. There is a song for angels, martyrs, Mary, etc. She wrote down the words to the songs and called them the “Symphony of the Blessed”. The following is a hymn to confessors:

O ye who succeed and serve the mighty Lion,
And rule between the temple and the altar,
The angels sing praises and stand to help the peoples,
And so do you in the Lamb’s service careful.

O ye who imitate the Most Exalted,
In His most precious and glorious Sacrament!
How great is your glory, in which the power is given
To loose and bind the indolent and the straying,
to beautify white and black, and lift their burdens.
Yours too is the office of the Angelic order,
And yours is the task of knowing the firm foundations
And where to lay them, and therefore great is your honor.†

This is one of the rare places in the book where Hildegard has something nice to say about priests. By the middle of the twelfth-century the priesthood had been corrupted and was in deep need of reform. Historians generally agree that at the time most priests disregarded celibacy and were either married or supporting a concubine. They also would regard their church and attendant properties as their own personal real estate, using the land to accumulate wealth.

Hildegard would later be authorized by Pope Eugenius III as well as his successors to conduct speaking tours primarily to groups of priests, harshly condemning their behavior. From her correspondence we know that these speeches had a powerful influence and included prophesying, as her reputation as a genuine seer had spread throughout Latin Christendom.


†Quotations taken from Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, translated by Columba Hart and Jane Bishop. The Abbey of Regina Laudis: Benedictine Congregation Regina Laudis of the Strict Observance, Inc. Paulist Press, 1990.

Video: The Beauty of the Psalms in Song

“Mizrahi” [hard ‘h’] which in Hebrew means “Eastern”, describes the musical traditions brought by diaspora Jews returning to Palestine from places like Morocco, Iraq, Egypt or other Middle East/North African countries. Few of the new arrivals spoke Hebrew; it had been a dead language since before the time of Christ. It was revived in early 20th-century by a few pioneering families who would only speak to each other and their children in a modern form of classical Hebrew. Mizrahi music and the Hebrew language were a natural match and as the generations have passed has become very popular among young Israelis today.

The interesting thing is that the music of the Mizrahi countries might reflect the music of the land of Israel at the time of Christ, which historians note would have been influenced by the traditional music of both Egypt (the captivity) and Assyria (the Babylonian Exile). In other words, not only have the Jews returned to Israel, but also has her ancient language and music.

The first example below features the guitar-like oud, which was common in both Ancient Egypt and Assyria, flutes and winds were as well.

The second example is a blend of Misrahi and Western rock. By reading the transliteration of the Hebrew text of Psalm 150, which is repeated several times, you will notice how its poetry lends itself to the music style.

The Jews have their ancient homeland back, its language and music, and one day, soon I hope, they will also have their Messiah.


A Voice from Hell

[I’ve heard many times that for every person that is received into the Church, six leave. This Easter Sunday, with the churches crammed like sardines, homilies should include a reminder of the aftereffects of dying unforgiven]

Oh, why am I here in this place of unrest
When others have entered the land of the blest?
God’s way of salvation was preached unto men;
I heard it and heard it, again and again.

Why did I not listen and turn from my sin
And open my heart and let Jesus come in?
For vain earthly pleasures my soul did I sell
The way I had chosen has brought me to hell.

I wish I were dreaming, but ah, it is true.
The way to be saved I had heard and I knew;
My time on the earth, oh, so quickly fled by,
How little I thought of the day I would die.

When God’s Holy Spirit was pleading with me,
I hardened my heart and I turned from His plea.
The way that was sinful, the path that was wide,
I chose and I walked till the time that I died.

Eternally now, I must dwell in this place.
If I from my memory could but erase
The thoughts of my past which are haunting me so.
Oh, where is a refuge to which I can go?

This torture and suff’ring, how long can I stand?
For Satan and demons this only was planned.
God’s refuge is Jesus, the One that I spurned;
He offered salvation, but from Him I turned.

My brothers and sisters I wish I could warn.
Far better ‘twould be if I had not been born.
The price I must pay is too horrid to tell
My life without God led directly to Hell.

Oh, soul without Christ, will these words be your cry?
God’s Word so declares it that all men must die.
From hell and its terrors, Oh, flee while you may!
So, come to the Saviour; He’ll save you today!

—Oscar C. Eliason


Pope Francis, Scripture, and Universal Brotherhood

When I read the Pope’s homilies (I’ve read hundreds) I noticed that he will carefully draw out spiritual applications from that day’s readings that are simple and usually (not always) consistent with the given passage’s meaning. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said regarding many of his other writings and particularly the encyclicals where he cites biblical passages to support his specific instruction.

In the following examples the Pope appears to be manipulating scripture to deemphasize Christian brotherhood and elevate universal brotherhood.

The context of the following is a lesson that spiritual formation of a Catholic is not solely based on doctrinal instruction. But notice how Francis commingles the love commandments:

“…It has to do with ‘observing’ all that the Lord has shown us as the way of responding to his love. Along with the virtues, this means above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15:12). Clearly, whenever the New Testament authors want to present the heart of the Christian moral message, they present the essential requirement of love for one’s neighbour: ‘The one who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the whole law… therefore love of neighbour is the fulfilling of the law'” (Rom 13:8, 10) (Evangelii Gaudium, 161).

Continue reading “Pope Francis, Scripture, and Universal Brotherhood”