Temptations Wings

John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical Gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach) who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River. Some scholars maintain that he was influenced by the Essenes, who were semi-ascetic, expected an apocalypse, and practiced rituals corresponding strongly with baptism, although there is no direct evidence to substantiate this. John is regarded as a prophet in Christianity.

Most biblical scholars agree that John baptized Yeshua at “Bethany beyond the Jordan,” by wading into the water with Yeshua from the eastern bank. John the Baptist is also mentioned by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in Aramaic Matthew, in the Pseudo-Clementine literature, and in the Qur’an. Accounts of John in the New Testament appear compatible with the account in Josephus. There are no other historical accounts of John the Baptist from around the period of his lifetime.

John anticipated a messianic figure who would be greater than himself, and, in the New Testament (B’rit Chadashah), Yeshua is the one whose coming John foretold. Christians commonly refer to John as the precursor or forerunner of Yeshua, since John announces Jesus’ coming. John is also identified with the prophet Elijah. Some of Jesus’ early followers had previously been followers of John. Some scholars have further speculated that Jesus was himself a disciple of John for some period of time, but this view is disputed.

  • Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
    (Matthew 3:13-17 ESV)

After His immersion in the Jordan, Yeshua left the water and went out into the Judean wilderness west of Jericho; it was a dry and waterless place. There He fasted forty days. From those heights, He could clearly see the Jordan River and the plains of Moab where Moses had delivered the words of the Book of Deuteronomy to all Israel.

  • Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
    (Matthew 4:1-2 ESV)

Yeshua’s forty-day fast is a reflection of Moses’ forty-day fast on Mount Sinai. Messiah Yeshua, the ultimate redeemer, comes in the pattern of Moses, the first redeemer. More than that, the forty-day fast and confrontation with the adversary may be an allusion to the forty days of repentance that precede the Day of Atonement.

The Jewish tradition of forty days of repentance beginning on the first day of the sixth month, the month of Elul, are observed in remembrance of Moses’ second sojourn on Mount Sinai. After the sin of the golden calf, Moses returned to Sinai and was “…there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water” (Exodus 34:28). Meanwhile, Israel was camped below the mountain in a state of mournful repentance.

  • So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
    (Exodus 34:28 ESV)

The annual forty days of repentance before the Day of Atonement relive this story from the Torah. It is customary for the extra-pious in Judaism to periodically fast and recite prayers of repentance throughout these forty days in preparation for the Day of Atonement.

It seems unlikely that we can date this particular custom to the days of  Yeshua with any confidence, nor can we assume that the story of the temptation actually happened during the forty days before the Day of Atonement. Nevertheless, the imagery of the temptation story and the forty days of repentance share several features.

In Jewish tradition, these forty days are regarded as the allotted time to examine one’s life, identify one’s shortcoming and to make repentance in preparation for the Day of Atonement. It seems significant, then, that the story of Yeshua’s forty days begins with John the Baprist’s call for repentance and the Messiah’s immersion in the Jordan River. After Yeshua emerged from the water, the Gospel of Mark tells us, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12 ESV).

The traditional forty days of repentance conclude on the Day of Atonement, a day of fasting. Moreover, the Day of Atonement is regarded as a day for dealing with the adversary and his accusations. The liturgies for the Day of Atonement are filled with references to a legal showdown between God and the devil. In the Temple ritual for the Day of Atonement, the scapegoat for Azazel (the name of a fallen angel in some early apocalyptic sources) is led out into the wilderness and shoved over a cliff–an annual ritual celebrating the defeat of evil.

While Yeshua fasted in the Judean wilderness, He was probably between Jerusalem and Jericho, the very place that tradition says the Azazel scapegoat was thrown down. The imagery of the forty days of repentance–which culminate in a Day of Atonement-style, wilderness, fast-day showdown with a fallen angel–seem to be connected to the story of the temptations. At any rate, while fasting in the Judean wilderness, Yeshua encountered the prince of darkness himself.

The temptations Yeshua faced in the wilderness are not the sort of temptations you and I face on a daily basis. We find ourselves tempted by (and giving in to) much more mundane temptations. Even if we were starving to death, we would never be tempted to turn stones into bread because that is beyond our ability to do so. Instead of the common foils of human beings, the temptations of Yeshua are of a peculiar, messianic nature. They are the types of things only an anointed messiah might be tempted to do. They are shortcuts to messianic recognition and power.

In his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul the Apostle wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV). This passage of Scripture is an absolute truth. I can assure you that any sin I have committed in my lifetime I willingly choose to commit that sin. “The devil made me do it” isn’t a viable excuse.

  • And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
    (Matthew 4:3 ESV)

Yeshua responded to Satan’s temptation with a direct quote from the Torah. He said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'” (Matthew 4:4 ESV).

  • And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV)

Yeshua had some notion of where His destiny would lead Him. He foresaw the cross looming on the horizon. He saw His coming mortal death. The tempter urged Him to reveal His messianic identity by defying a mortal death through leaping off the highest point of the Temple, thereby demanding God’s divine intervention and proving to everyone that He was the Son of God.

  • Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”
    (Matthew 4:5-6 ESV)

Such an amazing leap would have been witnessed by most of Jerusalem and provided for Yeshua a shortcut to messianic fame. More poignantly, it would have defied human mortality. In essence, it is the temptation to avoid death. In response, Yeshua said, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, Yeshua quoted the Torah in response to Satan’s temptation.

  • “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. (Deuteronomy 6:16 ESV)

Ironically, nearly forty years after Yeshua stood on the Temple parapet with the adversary, His younger brother, Yaakov HaTzadik (James the Righteous), was thrown down from that same height for refusing to deny Yeshua’s messianic identity. Miraculously, he was  unharmed during the fall, but was stoned to death by the  the scribes and Pharisees.

  • Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
    (Matthew 4:8-9 ESV)

The third messianic temptation of Yeshua was to take a shortcut to world domination. In addition to miraculous provisions of bread and miraculous salvation, the messianic job description includes dominion and power over all the kingdoms of the world. Note that the devil had possession of these to offer Him. If the Adversary was not in possession of the kingdoms of the world, he could not have legitimately offered them to Yeshua, and it would not have been an actual temptation.

The third test was the most difficult of the three. It was an amazing opportunity. It had the potential of bypassing the cross, the destruction of Jerusalem, 2000 years of exile, the untold suffering of the Jewish people, the Holocaust and all that we endure to this day.

Yeshua could have brought the whole redemption to a quick and final completion, sparing all Israel and millions of human souls, had He only been willing to oblige the enemy that one time for that one moment.

And, once again, the Messiah withstood the test. He responded with another quotation from the Torah. Yeshua was not willing to take any shortcuts to redemption. All kingdoms will be His, but it will happen according to the Father’s will and within the limits of Torah.

  • Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”
    (Matthew 4:10 ESV)
  • It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.
    (Deuteronomy 6:13 ESV)

Subsequent to His resurrection and exaltation, the Master has been given the title of authority over the nations, kingdoms and peoples of the world. He told His disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

This statement provides Yeshua’s final answer to the adversary’s third temptation. By virtue of His exaltation through His death and resurrection, He has wrested the authority over all kingdoms out of the devil’s hands. When the Kingdom of Heaven is revealed in its fullness on earth, Messiah’s authority over all nations and kingdoms will be made manifest

  • Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
    (Matthew 4:11 ESV)

Yeshua did not resort to shouting matches or charismatic-style spiritual warfare. Instead, He met each of the adversary’s temptations squarely with an appeal to Torah. Fortunately, He had never heard of the theology that claims that the Torah is done away with. If He had, what weapons would He have employed against the enemy?

The same is true for us. Without the absolutes of God’s Torah, we all stand vulnerable to the subjective and shifting suggestions of the tempter. Only when we affirm the eternal validity of Torah are we able to call evil wrong and good right.

  • Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
    (James 4:7 ESV)

Yeshua HaMashiach: Our Passover Lamb

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
(John 3:16 KJV)

The life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth have formed the basis for a major world religion (Christianity), have appreciably influenced the course of human history, and, by virtue of a compassionate attitude toward the sick, also have contributed to the development of modern medicine. The eminence of Jesus as a historical figure and the suffering and controversy associated with his death have stimulated us to investigate, in an interdisciplinary manner, the circumstances surrounding his crucifixion. Accordingly, it is our intent to present not a theological treatise but rather a medically and historically accurate account of the physical death of the one called Jesus Christ.

Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials was flogged and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deep stripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of crucifixion his wrists were nailed to the patibulum and after the patibulum was lifted onto the upright post (stipes) his feet were nailed to the stipes. The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respirations. Accordingly death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier s spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.

After Jesus and his disciples had observed the Passover meal in an upper room in a home in southwest Jerusalem, they traveled to the Mount of Olives, northeast of the city. Owing to various adjustments in the calendar, the years of Jesus’ birth and death remain controversial. However, it is likely that Jesus was born in either 4 or 6 BC and died in 30 AD.  During the Passover observance in 30 AD, the Last Supper would have been observed on Thursday, April 6 (Nisan 13), and Jesus would have been crucified on Friday, April 7 (Nisan 14)   At nearby Gethsemane, Jesus, apparently knowing that the time of his death was near, suffered great mental anguish, and, as described by the physician Luke, his sweat became like blood.

Jesus left the Upper Room and walked with His disciples to the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane,where he was arrested and taken first to Annas and then to Caiaphas. After His first trial before political Sanhedrin at Caiaphas' residence, Jesus was tried again before religious Sanhedrin, probably at Temple. Next, He was taken to Pontius Pilate, who sent him to Herod Antipas. Herod returned Jesus to Pilate, and Pilate finally handed over Jesus for scourging at Fortress of Antonia and for crucifixion at Golgotha.

Although this is a very rare phenomenon, bloody sweat (hematidrosis or hemohidrosis) may occur in highly emotional states or in persons with bleeding disorders.  As a result of hemorrhage into the sweat glands, the skin becomes fragile and tender. Luke’s description supports the diagnosis of hematidrosis rather than eccrine chromisdrosis (brown or yellow-green sweat) or stigmatization (blood oozing from the palms or elsewhere).  Although some authors have suggested that hematidrosis produced hypovolemia, we agree with Bucklin that Jesus’ actual blood loss probably was minimal. However, in the cold night air, it may have produced chills.

Soon after midnight, Jesus was arrested at Gethsemane by the temple officials and was taken first to Annas and then to Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest for that year.  Between 1 AM and daybreak, Jesus was tried before Caiaphas and the political Sanhedrin and was found guilty of blasphemy. The guards then blindfolded Jesus, spat on Him, and struck Him in the face with their fists. Soon after daybreak, presumably at the temple, Jesus was tried before the religious Sanhedrin (with the Pharisees and Sadducees and again was found guilty of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death.

Since permission for an execution had to come from the governing Romans,  Jesus was taken early in the morning by the temple officials to the Praetorium of the Fortress of Antonia, the residence and governmental seat of Pontius Pilate, the procurator of Judea. However, Jesus was presented to Pilate not as a blasphemer but rather as a self-appointed king who would undermine the Roman authority. Pilate made no charges against Jesus and sent him to Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Judea. Herod likewise made no official charges and then returned Jesus to Pilate. Again, Pilate could find no basis for a legal charge against Jesus, but the people persistently demanded crucifixion, Pilate finally granted their demand and handed over Jesus to be flogged (scourged) and crucified. McDowell has reviewed the prevailing political, religious, and economic climates in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death, and Bucklin has described the various illegalities of the Jewish and Roman trials.

The rigors of Jesus’ ministry (that is, traveling by foot throughout Palestine) would have precluded any major physical illness or a weak general constitution. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus was in good physical condition before his walk to Gethsemane. However, during the 12 hours between 9 PM Thursday and 9 AM Friday, he had suffered great emotional stress (as evidenced by hematidrosis), abandonment by his closest friends (the disciples), and a physical beating (after the first Jewish trial). Also, in the setting of a traumatic and sleepless night, he had been forced to walk more than 2.5 miles (4.0 km) to and from the sites of the various trials. These physical and emotional factors may have rendered Jesus particularly vulnerable to the adverse hemodynamic effects of the scourging.

Flogging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in eases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip (flagellum) with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals. Occasionally, staves also were used. For scourging, the man was stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post. The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two soldiers (lictors) or by one who alternated positions. The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the lictors and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death. After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim.

Left, short whip (flagrum) with lead balls and sheep bones tied into leather thongs. Center left, Naked victim tied to flogging post. Deep stripelike lacerations were usually associated with considerable blood loss. Center right, View from above, showing position of lictors. Right, inferomedial direction of wounds.

As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim’s back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as 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 extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross.

At the Praetorium, Jesus was severely whipped (although the severity of the scourging is not discussed in the four gospel accounts, it is implied in one of the epistles [1Peter 2:24]. A detailed word study of the ancient Greek text for this verse indicates that the scourging of Jesus was particularly harsh.) It is not known whether the number of lashes was limited to 39, in accordance with Jewish law. The Roman soldiers, amused that this weakened man had claimed to be a king, began to mock him by placing a robe on his shoulders, a crown of thorns on his head, and a wooden staff as a scepter in his right hand. Next, they spat on Jesus and struck him on the head with the wooden staff. Moreover, when the soldiers tore the robe from Jesus’ back, they probably reopened the scourging wounds.

The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Moreover, hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus’ physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.

Crucifixion probably first began among the Persians. Alexander the Great introduced the practice to Egypt and Carthage, and the Romans appear to have learned of it from the Carthaginians. Although the Romans did not invent crucifixions they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. It was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution and usually was reserved only for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest of criminals. Roman law usually protected Roman citizens from crucifixion, except perhaps in the case of desertion by soldiers.

 In its earliest form in Persia, the victim was either tied to a tree or was tied to or impaled on an upright post, usually to keep the guilty victim’s feet from touching holy ground. Only later was a true cross used; it was characterized by an upright post (stipes) and a horizontal crossbar (patibulum), and it had several variations. Although archaeological and historical evidence strongly indicates that the low Tau cross was preferred by the Romans in Palestine at the time of Christ, crucifixion practices often varied in a given geographic region and in accordance with the imagination of the executioners, and the Latin cross and other forms also may have been used.

Left, victim carrying crossbar (patibulum) to site of upright post (stipes). center Low Tau cross (crux commissa), commonly used by Romans at time of Christ. upper right, Rendition of Jesus' titulus with name and crime Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Lower right Possible methods for attaching tittles to Tau cross (left) and Latin cross (right).

It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb., only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lb., was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms.then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death.

Outside the city walls was permanently located the heavy upright wooden stipes, on which the patibulum would be secured. In the case of the Tau cross, this was accomplished by means of a mortise and tenon joint, with or without reinforcement by ropes. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes. Only very rarely was an additional block (suppedaneum) employed for transfixion of the feet.

At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans. The archaeological remains of a crucified body, found in an ossuary near Jerusalem and dating from the time of Christ, indicate that the nails were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 inches long with a square shaft 3/8 inch across. Furthermore, ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin have documented that the nails commonly were driven through the wrists rather than the palms.

Left, size of iron nail. Center, location of nail in wrist, between carpals and radius. Right, cross section of wrist, at level of plane indicated at left, showing path of nail, with probable transection of median nerve and impalement of flexor pollicis longus, but without injury to major arterial trunks and without fractures of bones.

After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.

Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. Ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin suggest that nailing was the preferred Roman practice. Although the feet could be fixed to the sides of the stipes or to a wooden footrest (suppedaneum), they usually were nailed directly to the front of the stipes. To accomplish this, flexion of the knees may have been quite prominent, and the bent legs may have been rotated laterally.

Left, position of feet atop one another and against stipes. Upper right, location of nail in second inter-metatarsal space. Lower right, cross section of foot, at plane indicated at left, showing path of nail.

When the nailing was completed, the titulus was attached to the cross, by nails or cords, just above the victim’s head. The soldiers and the civilian crowd often taunted and jeered the condemned man, and the soldiers customarily divided up his clothes among themselves. The length of survival generally ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging. However, even if the scourging had been relatively mild, the Roman soldiers could hasten death by breaking the legs below the knees (erurifragium or skelokopia).

Not uncommonly, insects would light upon or burrow into the open wounds or the eyes, ears, and nose of the dying and helpless victim, and birds of prey would tear at these sites. Moreover, it was customary to leave the corpse on the cross to be devoured by predatory animals. However, by Roman law, the family of the condemned could take the body for burial, after obtaining permission from the Roman judge.

Since no one was intended to survive crucifixions the body was not released to the family until the soldiers were sure that the victim was dead. By custom, one of the Roman guards would pierce the body with a sword or lance. Traditionally, this had been considered a spear wound to the heart through the right side of the chest (a fatal wound probably taught to most Roman soldiers). The Shroud of Turin documents this form of injury. Moreover, the standard infantry spear, which was 5 to 6 ft long could easily have reached the chest of a man crucified on the customary low cross.

With a knowledge of both anatomy and ancient crucifixion practices, one may reconstruct the probable medical aspects of this form of slow execution. Each wound apparently was intended to produce intense agony, and the contributing causes of death were numerous.

The scourging prior to crucifixion served to weaken the condemned man and, if blood loss was considerable, to produce orthostatie hypotension and even hypovolemie shock. When the victim was thrown to the ground on his back, in preparation for transfixion of the hands, his scourging wounds most likely would become torn open again and contaminated with dirt. Furthermore, with each respiration, the painful scourging wounds would be scraped against the rough wood of the stipes. As a result, blood loss from the back probably would continue throughout the crucifixion ordeal.

With arms outstretched but not taut, the wrists were nailed to the patibulum. It has been shown that the ligaments and bones of the wrist can support the weight of a body hanging from them, but the palms cannot. Accordingly, the iron spikes probably were driven between the radius and the carpals or between the two rows of carpal bones, either proximal to or through the strong band like flexor retinaeulum and the various interearpal ligaments. Although a nail in either location in the wrist might pass between the bony elements and thereby produce no fractures, the likelihood of painful periosteal injury would seem great. Furthermore, the 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, isehemie eontraetures and impalement of various ligaments by the iron spike might produce a claw like grasp.

Left, inhalation. With elbows extended and shoulders abducted, respiratory muscles of inhalation are passively stretched and thorax is expanded. Right, exhalation. With elbows flexed and shoulders adducted and with weight of body on nailed feet, exhalation is accomplished as active, rather than passive, process. Breaking legs below knees would place burden of exhalation on shoulder and arm muscles alone and soon would result in exhaustion asphyxia.

Most commonly, the feet were fixed to the front of the stipes by means of an iron spike driven through the first or second inter metatarsal space, just distal to the tarsometatarsal joint. It is likely that the deep peroneal nerve and branches of the medial and lateral plantar nerves would have been injured by the nails. 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.

The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The weight of the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hinder passive exhalation. Accordingly, exhalation was primarily diaphragmatic, and breathing was shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and that hypercarbia would soon result. The onset of muscle cramps or tetanic contractions, due to fatigue and hypercarbia, would hinder respiration even further.

Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden stipes. Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort. As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.

The actual cause of death by crucifixion was multifactorial and varied somewhat with each case, but the two most prominent causes probably were hypovolemie shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Other possible contributing factors included dehydration, stress-induced arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions. Crucifracture (breaking the legs below the knees), if performed, led to death by asphyxia within minutes.

After the scourging and the mocking, at about 9 AM, the Roman soldiers put Jesus’ clothes back on him and then led him and two thieves to be crucified. Jesus apparently was so weakened by the severe flogging that he could not carry the patibulum from the Praetorium to the site of crucifixion one third of a mile away. Simon of Cyrene was summoned to carry Christ’s cross, and the processional then made its way to Golgotha, an established crucifixion site.

Here, Jesus’ clothes, except for a linen loincloth, again were removed, thereby probably reopening the scourging wounds. He then was offered a drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) but, after tasting it, refused the drink. Finally, Jesus and the two thieves were crucified. Although scriptural references are made to nails in the hands, these are not at odds with the archaeological evidence of wrist wounds, since the ancients customarily considered the wrist to be a part of the hand. The titulus was attached above Jesus’ head. It is unclear whether Jesus was crucified on the Tau cross or the Latin cross; archaeological findings favor the former and early tradition the latter. The fact that Jesus later was offered a drink of wine vinegar from a sponge placed on the stalk of the hyssop plant (approximately 20 in long) strongly supports the belief that Jesus was crucified on the short cross.

The soldiers and the civilian crowd taunted Jesus throughout the crucifixion ordeal, and the soldiers east lots for his clothing. Christ spoke seven times from the cross. Since speech occurs during exhalation, these short, terse utterances must have been particularly difficult and painful. At about 3 PM that Friday, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, bowed his head, and died. The Roman soldiers and onlookers recognized his moment of death.

Since the Jews did not want the bodies to remain on the crosses after sunset, the beginning of the Sabbath, they asked Pontius Pilate to order crucifracture to hasten the deaths of the three crucified men. The soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves, but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Rather, one of the soldiers pierced his side, probably with an infantry spear, and produced a sudden flow of blood and water. Later that day, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb.

Left, probable path of spear. Right, cross section of thorax, at level of plane indicated at left, showing structures perforated by spear. LA indicates left atrium; LV, left ventricle; RA, right atrium; RV, right ventricle.

Two aspects of Jesus’ death have been the source of great controversy, namely, the nature of the wound in his side and the cause of his death after only several hours on the cross. The gospel of John describes the piercing of Jesus’ side and emphasizes the sudden flow of blood and water. Some authors have interpreted the flow of water to be ascites or urine, from an abdominal midline perforation of the bladder. However, the Greek word plvra, or pleura) used by John clearly denoted laterality and often implied the ribs. Therefore, it seems probable that the wound was in the thorax and well away from the abdominal midline.

Although the side of the wound was not designated by John, it traditionally has been depicted on the right side. Supporting this tradition is the fact that a large flow of blood would be more likely with a perforation of the distended and thin-walled right atrium or ventricle than the thick-walled and contracted left ventricle. Although the side of the wound may never be established with certainty, the right seems more probable than the left.

Some of the skepticism in accepting John’s description has arisen from the difficulty in explaining, with medical accuracy, the flow of both blood and water. Part of this difficulty has been based on the assumption that the blood appeared first, then the water. However, in the ancient Greek, the order of words generally denoted prominence and not necessarily a time sequence. Therefore, it seems likely that John was emphasizing the prominence of blood rather than its appearance preceding the water.

Therefore, the water probably represented serous pleural and pericardial fluid, and would have preceded the flow of blood and been smaller in volume than the blood. Perhaps in the setting of hypovolemia and impending acute heart failure, pleural and pericardial effusions may have developed and would have added to the volume of apparent water. The blood, in contrast, may have originated from the right atrium or the right ventricle or perhaps from a hemoperieardium.

Jesus’ death after only three to six hours on the cross surprised even Pontius Pilate. The fact that Jesus cried out in a loud voice and then bowed his head and died suggests the possibility of a catastrophic terminal event. One popular explanation has been that Jesus died of cardiac rupture. In the setting of the scourging and crucifixions with associated hypovolemia, hyperemia, and perhaps an altered coagulable state, friable non-infective thrombotic vegetations could have formed on the aortic or mitral valve. These then could have dislodged and embolized into the coronary circulation and thereby produced an acute transmural myocardial infarction. Thrombotic valvular vegetations have been reported to develop under analogous acute traumatic conditions. Rupture of the left ventricular free wall may occur, though uncommonly, in the first few hours following infarction.

However, another explanation may be more likely. Jesus’ death may have been hastened simply by his state of exhaustion and by the severity of the Scourging, with its resultant blood loss and pre-shock state. The fact that he could not carry his patibulum supports this interpretation. The actual cause of Jesus’ death, like that of other crucified victims, may have been multifactorial and related primarily to hypovolemie shock, exhaustion asphyxia, and perhaps acute heart failure. A fatal cardiac arrhythmia may have accounted for the apparent catastrophic terminal event.

Thus, it remains unsettled whether Jesus died of cardiac rupture or of cardiorespiratory failure. However, the important feature may be not how he died but rather whether he died. Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensured his death. Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.

The source Material concerning Christ’s death comprises a body of literature and not a physical body or its skeletal remains. Accordingly, the credibility of any discussion of Jesus’ death will be determined primarily by the credibility of one’s sources. For this review, the source material includes the writings of ancient Christian and non-Christian authors, the writings of modern authors, and the Shroud of Turin. Using the legal-historical method of scientific investigation, scholars have established the reliability and accuracy of the ancient manuscripts.

The most extensive and detailed descriptions of the life and death of Jesus are to be found in the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The other 23 books of the New Testament support but do not expand on the details recorded in the gospels. Contemporary Christian, Jewish, and Roman authors provide additional insight concerning the first-century Jewish and Roman legal systems and the details of scourging and crucifixion. Seneca, Livy, Plutarch, and others refer to crucifixion practices in their works. Specifically, Jesus (or his crucifixion) is mentioned by the Roman historians Cornelius Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, and Suetonius, by non-Roman historians Thallus and Phlegon, by the satirist Lucian of Samosata, by the Jewish Talmud, and by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, although the authenticity of portions of the latter is problematic.

The Shroud of Turin is considered by many to represent the actual burial cloth of Jesus, and several publications concerning the medical aspects of his death draw conclusions from this assumption. The Shroud of Turin and recent archaeological findings provide valuable information concerning Roman crucifixion practices. The interpretations of modern writers, based on a knowledge of science and medicine not available in the first century, may offer additional insight concerning the possible mechanisms of Jesus’ death.

When taken in concert certain facts including the extensive and early testimony of both Christian proponents and opponents, and their universal acceptance of Jesus as a true historical figure; the ethic of the gospel writers, and the shortness of the time interval between the events and the extant manuscripts; and the confirmation of the gospel accounts by historians and archaeological findings, ensure a reliable testimony from which a modern medical interpretation of Jesus’ death may be made.

This article was abridged from a much longer work called The Study on the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.