Friday, April 14, 2017

The Brutality That Was Crucifixion

Years ago, a medical doctor named C. Truman Davis did an investigation of the effects of the Roman death sentence of scourging and crucifixion on the human body.  It becomes obvious why the Romans only used this for the lowest of criminals.  Roman citizens weren't crucified except for the lowest dregs of the society, like soldiers who deserted and other traitors.
About a decade ago, reading Jim Bishop’s The Day Christ Died, I realized that I had for years taken the Crucifixion more or less for granted — that I had grown callous to its horror by a too easy familiarity with the grim details and a too distant friendship with our Lord. It finally occurred to me that, though a physician, I didn’t even know the actual immediate cause of death. The Gospel writers don’t help us much on this point, because crucifixion and scourging were so common during their lifetime that they apparently considered a detailed description unnecessary.
It is a particularly brutal way to execute someone.  Beheading would be infinitely easier to endure; in contrast, crucifixion seems to have been designed and optimized to cause the most amount of agony imaginable.  Donald Sensing at Sense of Events writes a remarkable post on why Jesus of Nazareth would be crucified; Dr. Davis writes about the how of the practice itself and its effects on the body. 
Apparently, the first known practice of crucifixion was by the Persians. Alexander and his generals brought it back to the Mediterranean world — to Egypt and to Carthage. The Romans apparently learned the practice from the Carthaginians and (as with almost everything the Romans did) rapidly developed a very high degree of efficiency and skill at it. A number of Roman authors (Livy, Cicer, Tacitus) comment on crucifixion, and several innovations, modifications, and variations are described in the ancient literature. 
It's a medical description of a terrible act, mixed with some sense of the suffering that was being dispensed on this Friday, a Friday both long ago yet as immediate as today's news.  A Friday that would change the world forever.


  1. One of my teachers gave us all the details in 7th or 8th grade.

    Going to a Catholic grade school ensured you learned about things you never would have taken the time to learn....

  2. Of all the crucifixions, history recalls only one - all these years later...and that one certainly did change the world forever.

  3. Thank you for the reminder. I recall the first time I had a "turtorial" on just what happens when someone is punished this way. It is also interesting to note your comment " ... rapidly developed a very high degree of efficiency and skill at it."

    Amazing how there are just some things which man applies so much energy and innovation to perfecting ... more brutal ways to inflict pain and murder.

    Regardless, Happy Easter as we know this world is but preparation for the next.

    1. The Romans mess me up. When we were in Israel a couple of years ago, I was blown away by the quality of the Roman construction compared to the people that followed them. Parts of the old city in Jerusalem built by the Romans had stones that weighed hundreds of thousands of pounds, cut and positioned so precisely you can't squeeze a business card between them. The Byzantine empire built stuff on top of which was incredibly crude in comparison.

      Yet despite the civilization advancements there, they also devoted "energy and innovation to perfecting ... more brutal ways to inflict pain and murder." (as you put it)

      Happy Easter to you and yours.

  4. Barnhardt posted the entire description of the crucifixion as it progressed to death and to call it merciless and barbaric is an understatement. A Happy Easter to all. indyjonesouthere