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Crosses & Crucifixes Crucifixes - Crucifixion Group / Scene

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Crucifixes - Crucifixion Group / Scene

The crucifixion of Jesus is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross.

Collectively referred to as the Passion, Jesus' redemptive suffering and death by crucifixion represent the central aspects of Christian theology, including the doctrines of salvation and atonement.

Jesus' crucifixion is described in all four Canonical gospels, attested to by other ancient sources, and is firmly established as an historical event confirmed by non-Christian sources. Christians believe Jesus' suffering was foretold in the Hebrew Bible, such as in Psalm 22, and Isaiah's songs of the suffering servant. According to a Gospel Harmony, Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane following the Last Supper with the Twelve Apostles, and forced to stand trial before the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate, and Herod Antipas, before being handed over for crucifixion. After being flogged, Jesus was mocked by Roman soldiers as the "King of the Jews", clothed in a purple robe, crowned with thorns, beaten and spat on. Jesus then had to make his way to the place of his crucifixion.

Once at Golgotha, Jesus was offered wine mixed with gall to drink. Matthew's and Mark's Gospels record that he refused this. He was then crucified and hung between two convicted thieves. According to Mark's Gospel, he endured the torment of crucifixion for some six hours from the third hour, at approximately 9 am, until his death at the ninth hour, corresponding to about 3 pm. The soldiers affixed a sign above his head stating "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" in three languages, divided his garments and cast lots for his seamless robe. The Roman soldiers did not break Jesus' legs, as they did to the other two men crucified (breaking the legs hastened the crucifixion process), as Jesus was dead already. Each gospel has its own account of Jesus' last words, seven statements altogether. In the Synoptic Gospels, various supernatural events accompany the crucifixion, including darkness, an earthquake, and (in Matthew) the resurrection of saints. Following Jesus' death, his body was removed from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea and buried in a rock-hewn tomb, with Nicodemus assisting. According to the Gospels, Jesus then rose from the dead two days later (the "third day").

Christians have traditionally understood Jesus' death on the cross to be a knowing and willing sacrifice (given that he did not mount a defense in his trials) which was undertaken as an "agent of God" to atone for humanity's sin and make salvation possible. Most Christians proclaim this sacrifice through the bread and wine of the Eucharist, as a remembrance of the Last Supper, and many also commemorate the event on Good Friday each year.

Accounts of the crucifixion

Many modern scholars consider the baptism of Jesus and his crucifixion to be two historically certain facts about him. James Dunn states that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent" and "rank so high on the 'almost impossible to doubt or deny' scale of historical facts" that they are often the starting points for the study of the historical Jesus. Bart Ehrman states that the crucifixion of Jesus on the orders of Pontius Pilate is the most certain element about him. John Dominic Crossan states that the crucifixion of Jesus is as certain as any historical fact can be. Eddy and Boyd state that it is now "firmly established" that there is non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Craig Blomberg states that most scholars in the third quest for the historical Jesus consider the crucifixion indisputable. Although scholars agree on the historicity of the crucifixion, they differ on the reason and context for it, e.g. both E. P. Sanders and Paula Fredriksen support the historicity of the crucifixion, but contend that Jesus did not foretell his own crucifixion, and that his prediction of the crucifixion is a Christian story. Christopher M. Tuckett states that although the exact reasons for the death of Jesus are hard to determine, one of the indisputable facts about him is that he was crucified. Geza Vermes also views the crucifixion as a historical event but provides his own explanation and background for it.

John P. Meier views the crucifixion of Jesus as historical fact and states that based on the criterion of embarrassment Christians would not have invented the painful death of their leader. Meier states that a number of other criteria, e.g. the criterion of multiple attestation (i.e. confirmation by more than one source), the criterion of coherence (i.e. that it fits with other historical elements) and the criterion of rejection (i.e. that it is not disputed by ancient sources) help establish the crucifixion of Jesus as a historical event.

Although almost all ancient sources relating to crucifixion are literary, the 1968 archeological discovery just northeast of Jerusalem of the body of a crucified man dated to the 1st century provided good confirmatory evidence of the gospel accounts of crucifixion . The crucified man was identified as Yohan Ben Ha'galgol and probably died about 70 AD, around the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome. The analyses at the Hadassah Medical School estimated that he died in his late 20s. These studies also showed that the man had been crucified in a manner resembling the Gospel accounts. Another relevant archaeological find, which also dates to the 1st century AD, is an unidentified heel bone with a spike discovered in a Jerusalem gravesite, now held by the Israel Antiquities Authority and displayed in the Israel Museum.

Gospel narratives

The earliest detailed historical narrative accounts of the death of Jesus are contained in the four canonical gospels. There are other more implicit references in the New Testament epistles. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus predicts his death in three separate episodes.

According to all four gospels, Jesus was brought to the "Place of a Skull" and crucified with two thieves, with the charge of claiming to be "King of the Jews", and the soldiers divided his clothes before he bowed his head and died. Following his death, Joseph of Arimathea requested the body from Pilate, which he then placed in a new garden tomb.

The three synoptic gospels also describe Simon of Cyrene bearing the cross, the multitude mocking Jesus along with the thieves/robbers/rebels, darkness from the 6th to the 9th hour, and the temple veil being torn from top to bottom. The synoptics also mention several witnesses, including a centurion, and several women who watched from a distance two of whom were present during the burial.

Luke is the only gospel writer to omit the detail of sour wine mix that was offered to Jesus on a reed, while only Mark and John describe Joseph actually taking the body down off the cross.

There are several details that are only found in one of the gospel accounts. For instance, only Matthew's gospel mentions an earthquake, resurrected saints who went to the city and that Roman soldiers were assigned to guard the tomb, while Mark is the only one to state the actual time of the crucifixion (the third hour, or 9 am) and the centurion's report of Jesus' death. The Gospel of Luke's unique contributions to the narrative include Jesus' words to the women who were mourning, one criminal's rebuke of the other, the reaction of the multitudes who left "beating their breasts", and the women preparing spices and ointments before resting on the Sabbath. John is also the only one to refer to the request that the legs be broken and the soldier's subsequent piercing of Jesus' side (as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy), as well as that Nicodemus assisted Joseph with burial.

According to canonical Gospels, Jesus rose from the dead after three days and appeared to his Disciples on different occasions during a forty day period before ascending to heaven. The account given in Acts of the Apostles, which says Jesus remained with the apostles for forty days, appears to differ from the account in the Gospel of Luke, which makes no clear distinction between the events of Easter Sunday and the Ascension. However, most biblical scholars agree that St. Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a follow-up volume to his Gospel account, and the two works must be considered as a whole.

In Mark, Jesus is crucified along with two rebels, and the day goes dark for three hours. Jesus calls out to God, then gives a shout and dies. The curtain of the Temple is torn in two. Matthew follows Mark, adding an earthquake and the resurrection of saints. Luke also follows Mark, though he describes the rebels as common criminals, one of whom defends Jesus, who in turn promises that he and Jesus will be together in paradise. Luke portrays Jesus as impassive in the face of his crucifixion. John includes several of the same elements as those found in Mark, though they are treated differently.

Other accounts and references

An early non-Christian reference to the crucifixion of Jesus is likely to be Mara Bar-Serapion's letter to his son, written sometime after AD 73 but before the 3rd century AD. The letter includes no Christian themes and the author is presumed to be a pagan. The letter refers to the retributions that followed the unjust treatment of three wise men: Socrates, Pythagoras, and "the wise king" of the Jews. Some scholars see little doubt that the reference to the execution of the "king of the Jews" is about the crucifixion of Jesus, while others place less value in the letter, given the possible ambiguity in the reference.

In the Antiquities of the Jews (written about 93 AD) Jewish historian Josephus, stated (Ant 18.3) that Jesus was crucified by Pilate, writing that:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, .... He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles... And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross ....

Most modern scholars agree that while this Josephus passage (called the Testimonium Flavianum) includes some later interpolations, it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus with a reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate. It is notable that Josephus and other historians didn't live during Jesus' lifetime. James Dunn states that there is "broad consensus" among scholars regarding the nature of an authentic reference to the crucifixion of Jesus in the Testimonium.

Early in the second century another reference to the crucifixion of Jesus was made by Tacitus, generally considered one of the greatest Roman historians. Writing in The Annals (c. 116 AD), Tacitus described the persecution of Christians by Nero and stated (Annals 15.44) that Pilate ordered the execution of Jesus:

Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.

Scholars generally consider the Tacitus reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate to be genuine, and of historical value an independent Roman source. Eddy and Boyd state that it is now "firmly established" that Tacitus provides a non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Another possible reference to the crucifixion ("hanging" cf. Luk 23:39; Gal 3:13) is found in the Babylonian Talmud:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!

—Sanhedrin 43a, Babylonian Talmud (Soncino Edition)

Although the question of the equivalence of the identities of Yeshu and Jesus has at times been debated, many historians agree that the above passage is likely to be about Jesus.

In opposition to the vast majority of Biblical and mainstream scholarship, Muslims maintain that Jesus was not crucified and that he was not killed by any other means. They hold this belief based on various interpretations of Quran 4:157–158 which states: "they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them , ... Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself".

Some early Christian Gnostic sects, believing Jesus did not have a physical substance, denied that he was crucified. In response, Ignatius of Antioch insisted that Jesus was truly born and was truly crucified and wrote that those who held that Jesus only seemed to suffer only seemed to be Christians.

Date, place and people present

Chronology of the crucifixion

Year of the crucifixion

Although there is no consensus regarding the exact date of the crucifixion of Jesus, it is generally agreed by biblical scholars that it was on a Friday on or near Passover (Nisan 15), during the governorship of Pontius Pilate (who ruled AD 26–36). Since an observational calendar was used during the time of Jesus, including an ascertainment of the new moon and ripening barley harvest, the exact day or even month for Passover in a given year is subject to speculation. Various approaches have been used to estimate the year of the crucifixion, including the Canonical Gospels, the chronology of the life of Apostle Paul, as well as different astronomical models—see Chronology of Jesus for a detailed discussion. Scholars have provided estimates for the year of crucifixion in the range AD 30–36. A frequently suggested date is Friday, April 3, AD 33.

Day of week and hour

The consensus of modern scholarship is that the New Testament accounts represent a crucifixion occurring on a Friday, but a Thursday or Wednesday crucifixion have also been proposed. Some scholars explain a Thursday crucifixion based on a "double sabbath" caused by an extra Passover sabbath falling on Thursday dusk to Friday afternoon, ahead of the normal weekly Sabbath. Some have argued that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, not Friday, on the grounds of the mention of "three days and three nights" in Matthew 12:40 before his resurrection, celebrated on Sunday; others have countered by saying that this ignores the Jewish idiom by which a "day and night" may refer to any part of a 24-hour period, that the expression in Matthew is idiomatic, not a statement that Jesus was 72 hours in the tomb, and that the many references to a resurrection on the third day do not require three literal nights.

In Mark 15:25 crucifixion takes place at the third hour (9 a.m.) and Jesus' death at the ninth hour (3 p.m.). However, in John 19:14 Jesus is still before Pilate at the sixth hour. Scholars have presented a number of arguments to deal with the issue, some suggesting a reconciliation e.g. based on the use of Roman timekeeping in John but not in Mark, yet others have rejected the arguments. Several notable scholars have argued that the modern precision of marking the time of day should not be read back into the gospel accounts, written at a time when no standardization of timepieces, or exact recording of hours and minutes was available, and time was often approximated to the closest three hour period.

Path to the crucifixion

The three Synoptic Gospels refer to a man called Simon of Cyrene who is made to carry the cross, while in the Gospel of John, Jesus is said to "bear" his own cross.

Luke's gospel also describes an interaction between Jesus and the women among the crowd of mourners following him, quoting Jesus as saying "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

Traditionally, the path that Jesus took is called Via Dolorosa (Latin for "Way of Grief" or "Way of Suffering") and is a street in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is marked by nine of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. It passes the Ecce Homo Church and the last five stations are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

There is no reference to the legendary Veronica in the Gospels, but sources such as Acta Sanctorum describe her as a pious woman of Jerusalem who, moved with pity as Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha, gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead.

Place of the crucifixion

The precise location of the crucifixion remains a matter of conjecture, but the biblical accounts indicate that it was outside the city walls, accessible to passers-by and observable from some distance away. Eusebius identified its location only as being north of Mount Zion, which is consistent with the two most popularly suggested sites of modern times.

Calvary as an English name for the place is derived from the Latin word for skull (calvaria), which is used in the Vulgate translation of "place of a skull", the explanation given in all four Gospels of the Aramaic word Gulgalta which was the name of the place where Jesus was crucified. The text does not indicate why it was so designated, but several theories have been put forward. One is that as a place of public execution, Calvary may have been strewn with the skulls of abandoned victims (which would be contrary to Jewish burial traditions, but not Roman). Another is that Calvary is named after a nearby cemetery (which is consistent with both of the proposed modern sites). A third is that the name was derived from the physical contour, which would be more consistent with the singular use of the word, i.e., the place of "a skull". While often referred to as "Mount Calvary", it was more likely a small hill or rocky knoll.

The traditional site, inside what is now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, has been attested since the 4th century. A second site (commonly referred to as Gordon's Calvary), located further north of the Old City near a place popularly called the Garden Tomb, has been promoted since the 19th century, mostly by Protestants.

People present at the crucifixion

The Gospel of Matthew presents many individuals at the Crucifixion with Jesus. Two rebels or thieves were crucified with Jesus,one on his right and one on his left (v. 38). There were also a centurion and other soldiers guarding those being crucified (v. 54). Also, watching from a distance, there were "Many women" who had been following Jesus during his ministry (v 55), most notably, "Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee's sons." (v. 56).

The Gospel of Luke states that on the way to Calvary Jesus spoke to a number of women within the crowd of mourners following him, addressing them as "Daughters of Jerusalem". Biblical scholars have produced various theories about the identity of these women, and those actually present during the crucifixion itself, including among them Mary (Jesus' mother) and Mary Magdalene.

Luke's Gospel does not mention that Jesus' mother was present during crucifixion. However, the Gospel of John does place her at the crucifixion and states that while on the cross: Jesus saw his own mother, and the disciple standing near whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son".

The Gospel of John also places other women (The Three Marys), at the cross. It states that Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. It is uncertain whether the Gospel of John totally refers to three or four women at the cross. References to the women are also made in Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 (which also mentions Salome) and comparing these references they all seem to include Mary Magdalene.

The Gospel of Mark states that Roman soldiers were also present at the crucifixion: And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!".

Method and manner of crucifixion

Given that the New Testament does not provide exact details of the process of Jesus' crucifixion, various elements of the method employed have been subject to debate, as discussed below.

Shape of gibbet

Whereas most Christians believe the gibbet on which Jesus was executed was the traditional two-beamed cross, debate exists regarding the view that a single upright stake was used. The Greek and Latin words used in the earliest Christian writings are ambiguous. The Koine Greek terms used in the New Testament are stauros (σταυρός) and xylon (ξύλον). The latter means wood (a live tree, timber or an object constructed of wood); in earlier forms of Greek, the former term meant an upright stake or pole, but in Koine Greek it was used also to mean a cross. The Latin word crux was also applied to objects other than a cross.

However, early Christians writers who speak of the shape of the particular gibbet on which Jesus died invariably describe it as having a cross-beam. For instance, the Epistle of Barnabas, which was certainly earlier than 135, and may have been of the 1st century AD, the time when the gospel accounts of the death of Jesus were written, likened it to the letter T (the Greek letter tau, which had the numeric value of 300), and to the position assumed by Moses in Exodus 17:11–12. Justin Martyr (100–165) explicitly says the cross of Christ was of two-beam shape: "That lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted was a symbol of the suffering of the cross which Christ would undergo. For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb." Irenaeus, who died around the end of the 2nd century, speaks of the cross as having "five extremities, two in length, two in breadth, and one in the middle, on which the person rests who is fixed by the nails." For other witnesses to how early Christians envisaged the shape of the gibbet used for Jesus, see Dispute about Jesus' execution method.


The assumption of the use of a two-beamed cross does not determine the number of nails used in the crucifixion and some theories suggest three nails while others suggest four nails. However, throughout history larger numbers of nails have been hypothesized, at times as high as 14 nails. These variations are also present in the artistic depictions of the crucifixion. In the Western Church, before the Renaissance usually four nails would be depicted, with the feet side by side. After the Renaissance most depictions use three nails, with one foot placed on the other. Nails are almost always depicted in art, although Romans sometimes just tied the victims to the cross. The tradition also carries to Christian emblems, e.g. the Jesuits use three nails under the IHS monogram and a cross to symbolize the crucifixion.

The placing of the nails in the hands, or the wrists is also uncertain. Some theories suggest that the Greek word cheir (χειρ) for hand includes the wrist and that the Romans were generally trained to place nails through Destot's space (between the capitate and lunate bones) without fracturing any bones. Another theory suggests that the Greek word for hand also includes the forearm and that the nails were placed near the radius and ulna of the forearm. Ropes may have also been used to fasten the hands in addition to the use of nails.

Standing platform

Another issue has been the use of a hypopodium as a standing platform to support the feet, given that the hands may not have been able to support the weight. In the 17th century Rasmus Bartholin considered a number of analytical scenarios of that topic. In the 20th century, forensic pathologist Frederick Zugibe performed a number of crucifixion experiments by using ropes to hang human subjects at various angles and hand positions. His experiments support an angled suspension, and a two-beamed cross, and perhaps some form of foot support, given that in an Aufbinden form of suspension from a straight stake (as used by the Nazis in the Dachau concentration camp during World War II), death comes rather quickly.

Last words of Jesus

The gospel writers record seven statements uttered by Jesus while he was on the cross:

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

"Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

"Woman, behold, your son!"

"E′li, E′li, la′ma sa"�bach"�tha′ni?" �(Aramaic for "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"). It is also a quotation of the first line of Psalm 22. The latter refers to piercing of hands and feet, and has been interpreted as a reference to Crucifixion.

"I thirst."

"It is finished."

"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!"

These are all short utterances. See the section below on the medical aspects of crucifixion, on how in the face of exhaustion asphyxia, obtaining enough air to utter any words on the cross can be very tiring and painful for the victim.

The last words of Jesus have been the subject of a wide range of Christian teachings and sermons, and a number of authors have written books specifically devoted to the last sayings of Christ. However, since the statements of the last words differ between the four canonical Gospels, James Dunn has expressed doubts about their historicity.

Phenomena during the crucifixion

Mark mentions darkness in the daytime during Jesus' crucifixion and the Temple veil being torn in two when Jesus dies. Matthew follows Mark, adding an earthquake and the resurrection of saints. Luke also follows Mark. In John, there are no such miraculous signs referred to except for Jesus' resurrection from the grave.

Darkness and eclipse

In the synoptic narrative, while Jesus is hanging on the cross, the sky is "darkened for 3 hours," from the sixth to the ninth hour (noon to mid-afternoon). Both Roman orator Julius Africanus and Christian theologian Origen refer to Greek historian Phlegon as having written "with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place"

Julius Africanus further refers to the writings of historian Thallus when denying the possibility of a solar eclipse: "This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun." A solar eclipse concurrent with a full moon is a scientific impossibility. Christian apologist Tertullian wrote "In the same hour, too, the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives." The darkness was reported as far away as Heliopolis and apparently the unnatural occurrence was referred to by the Apostle Paul when converting Dionysius to Christianity.

Humphreys and Waddington of Oxford University reconstructed the scenarios for a lunar eclipse on that day. They concluded that:

"This eclipse was visible from Jerusalem at moonrise.... first visible from Jerusalem at about 6:20pm (the start of the Jewish Sabbath and also the start of Passover day in A.D. 33) with about 20% of its disc in the umbra of the earth's shadow .... The eclipse finished some thirty minutes later at 6:50pm."

Moreover, their calculations showed that the 20% umbra shadow was positioned close to the leading edge, the first visible portion at moonrise. These authors note that the Apostle Peter's reference to a "moon of blood" (a term commonly used for a lunar eclipse because of the reddish color of the light refracted onto the moon through the Earth's atmosphere) may be a reference to this eclipse. It should be noted, however, that in the preceding verse of the same passage, St. Peter expressly mentions that "the sun shall be turned to darkness", which would suggest a solar eclipse in conjunction with the lunar one.

Temple veil, earthquake and resurrection of dead saints

The synoptic gospels state that the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. According to Josephus, the curtain in Herod's temple would have been nearly 60 feet (18 m) high and 4 inches (100 mm) thick. According to Hebrews 9:1-10, this curtain was representative of the separation between God and man, beyond which only the High Priest was permitted to pass, and then only once each year to enter into God's presence and make atonement for the sins of Israel. Many Bible expositors agree that the rending of the veil is symbolic of Jesus establishing a new and living way of access to God, see New Covenant.

The Gospel of Matthew states that there were earthquakes, splitting rocks, and the graves of dead saints were opened (and subsequently resurrected after the resurrection of Jesus). These resurrected saints went into the holy city and appeared to many people, but their subsequent fate is never elaborated upon.

In the synoptic accounts, the centurion in charge, witnessing these events, says: "Truly this was the Son of God!" or "Truly this man was the Son of God!" or "Certainly this man was innocent!"

Theological significance

Christology of the crucifixion

The accounts of the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Jesus provide a rich background for Christological analysis, from the Canonical Gospels to the Pauline Epistles.

In Johannine "agent Christology" the submission of Jesus to crucifixion is a sacrifice made as an agent of God or servant of God, for the sake of eventual victory. This builds on the salvific theme of the Gospel of John which begins in John 1:29 with John the Baptist's proclamation: "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world". Further reinforcement of the concept is provided in Revelation 21:14 where the "lamb slain but standing" is the only one worthy of handling the scroll (i.e. the book) containing the names of those who are to be saved.

A central element in the Christology presented in the Acts of the Apostles is the affirmation of the belief that the death of Jesus by crucifixion happened "with the foreknowledge of God, according to a definite plan". In this view, as in Acts 2:23, the cross is not viewed as a scandal, for the crucifixion of Jesus "at the hands of the lawless" is viewed as the fulfilment of the plan of God.

Paul's Christology has a specific focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Paul, the crucifixion of Jesus is directly related to his resurrection and the term "the cross of Christ" used in Galatians 6:12 may be viewed as his abbreviation of the message of the gospels. For Paul, the crucifixion of Jesus was not an isolated event in history, but a cosmic event with significant eschatological consequences, as in 1 Corinthians 2:8. In the Pauline view, Jesus, obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:8) died "at the right time" (Romans 4:25) based on the plan of God. For Paul the "power of the cross" is not separable from the Resurrection of Jesus.

However, the belief in the redemptive nature of Jesus' death predates the Pauline letters and goes back to the earliest days of Christianity and the Jerusalem church. The Nicene Creed's statement that "for our sake he was crucified" is a reflection of this core belief's formalization in the fourth century.

John Calvin supported the "agent of God" Christology and argued that in his trial in Pilate's Court Jesus could have successfully argued for his innocence, but instead submitted to crucifixion in obedience to the Father. This Christological theme continued into the 20th century, both in the Eastern and Western Churches. In the Eastern Church Sergei Bulgakov argued that the crucifixion of Jesus was "pre-eternally" determined by the Father before the creation of the world, to redeem humanity from the disgrace caused by the fall of Adam. In the Western Church, Karl Rahner elaborated on the analogy that the blood of the Lamb of God (and the water from the side of Jesus) shed at the crucifixion had a cleansing nature, similar to baptismal water.


Jesus' death and resurrection underpin a variety of theological interpretations as to how salvation is granted to humanity. These interpretations vary widely in how much emphasis they place on the death of Jesus as compared to his words. According to the substitutionary atonement view, Jesus' death is of central importance, and Jesus willingly sacrificed himself as an act of perfect obedience as a sacrifice of love which pleased God. By contrast the moral influence theory of atonement focuses much more on the moral content of Jesus' teaching, and sees Jesus' death as a martyrdom. Since the Middle Ages there has been conflict between these two views within Western Christianity. Evangelical Protestants typically hold a substitutionary view and in particular hold to the theory of penal substitution. Liberal Protestants typically reject substitutionary atonement and hold to the moral influence theory of atonement. Both views are popular within the Roman Catholic church, with the satisfaction doctrine incorporated into the idea of penance.

In the Roman Catholic tradition this view of atonement is balanced by the duty of Roman Catholics to perform Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ which in the encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor of Pope Pius XI were defined as "some sort of compensation to be rendered for the injury" with respect to the sufferings of Jesus. Pope John Paul II referred to these Acts of Reparation as the "unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified."

Among Eastern Orthodox Christians, another common view is Christus Victor. This holds that Jesus was sent by God to defeat death and Satan. Because of his perfection, voluntary death, and Resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan and death, and arose victorious. Therefore, humanity was no longer bound in sin, but was free to rejoin God through faith in Jesus.

Medical aspects of the crucifixion

A number of theories that attempt to explain the circumstances of the death of Jesus on the cross via medical knowledge of the 19th and 20th centuries have been proposed by a range of people, including physicians, historians and even mystics.

Most theories proposed by trained physicians (with specialties ranging from forensic medicine to ophthalmology) conclude that Jesus endured tremendous amounts of pain and suffering on the cross before his death. In 2006, general practitioner John Scotson reviewed over 40 publications on the cause of death of Jesus and theories ranged from cardiac rupture to pulmonary embolism.

As early as 1847, drawing on John 19:34, physician William Stroud proposed the ruptured heart theory of the cause of Christ's death and it influenced a number of other people. The asphyxia theory has been the subject of several experiments that simulate crucifixion in healthy volunteers and many physicians agree that crucifixion causes a profound disruption of the victim's ability to breathe. A side effect of exhaustive asphyxia is that the crucifixion victim will gradually find it more and more challenging to obtain enough breath to speak. This provides a possible explanation for the accounts that the last words of Christ were short utterances.

The cardiovascular collapse theory is a prevalent modern explanation and suggests that Jesus died of profound shock. According to this theory, the scourging, the beatings, and the fixing to the cross would have left Jesus dehydrated, weak, and critically ill and that the stage was set for a complex interplay of simultaneous physiological insults: dehydration, massive trauma and soft tissue injury (especially from the prior scourging), inadequate respiration, and strenuous physical exertion, leading to cardiovascular collapse.

In her 1944 book Poem of the Man God Italian writer and mystic Maria Valtorta (who had no medical education) provided a very detailed account of the death of Jesus that supports the cardiovascular collapse theory, compounded by partial asphyxiation, and she wrote that the account was dictated to her by Jesus himself in a vision. Endocrinologist Nicholas Pende expressed agreement with Valtorta's account and expressed surprise at the level of detail in which Valtorta depicted Christ's spasms in crucifixion .

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, physician William Edwards and his colleagues supported the combined cardiovascular collapse (via hypovolemic shock) and exhaustion asphyxia theories, assuming that the flow of water from the side of Jesus described in the Gospel of John was pericardial fluid. Some Christian Apologists seem to favor this theory and maintain that this medical anomaly would have been a fact that the author of the Gospel of John would have been tempted to leave out, had he not been interested in accurate reporting.

In his book The Crucifixion of Jesus, physician and forensic pathologist Frederick Zugibe provides a set of theories that attempt to explain the nailing, pains and death of Jesus in great detail. Zugibe carried out a number of experiments over several years to test his theories while he was a medical examiner. These studies included experiments in which volunteers with specific weights were hanging at specific angles and the amount of pull on each hand was measured, in cases where the feet were also secured or not. In these cases the amount of pull and the corresponding pain was found to be significant.

Pierre Barbet, a French physician, and the chief surgeon at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Paris, advanced a set of detailed theories on the death of Jesus. He hypothesized that Jesus would have had to relax his muscles to obtain enough air to utter his last words, in the face of exhaustion asphyxia. Barbet hypothesized that a crucified person would have to use his pierced feet to lift his body in order to obtain enough breath to speak. Some of Barbet's theories, e.g., location of nails, are disputed by Zugibe.

Ophthalmologist and pastor C. Truman Davis also published a physician's view of the crucifixion, agreeing with Barbet, but his analysis is far less detailed than Zugibe.

Orthopedic surgeon Keith Maxwell not only analyzed the medical aspects of the crucifixion, but also looked back at how Jesus could have carried the cross all the way along Via Dolorosa.

In an article for the Catholic Medical Association, Phillip Bishop and physiologist Brian Church suggested a new theory based on suspension trauma.

In 2003, historians FP Retief and L Cilliers reviewed the history and pathology of crucifixion as performed by the Romans and suggested that the cause of death was often a combination of factors. They also state that Roman guards were prohibited from leaving the scene until death had occurred.

Crucifixion in art, symbolism and devotions

Since the crucifixion of Jesus, the cross has become a key element of Christian symbolism, and the crucifixion scene has been a key element of Christian art, giving rise to specific artistic themes such as Ecce Homo, The Raising of the Cross, Descent from the Cross and Entombment of Christ.

The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross by Tissot presented a novel approach at the end of the 19th century, in which the crucifixion scene was portrayed from the perspective of Jesus.

The symbolism of the cross which is today one of the most widely recognized Christian symbols was used from the earliest Christian times and Justin Martyr who died in 165 describes it in a way that already implies its use as a symbol, although the crucifix appeared later. Masters such as Caravaggio, Rubens and Titian have all depicted the Crucifixion scene in their works.

Devotions based on the process of crucifixion, and the sufferings of Jesus are followed by various Christians. The Stations of the Cross follows a number of stages based on the stages involved in the crucifixion of Jesus, while the Rosary of the Holy Wounds is used to meditate on the wounds of Jesus as part of the crucifixion .

The presence of the Virgin Mary under the cross has in itself been the subject of Marian art, and well known Catholic symbolism such as the Miraculous Medal and Pope John Paul II's Coat of Arms bearing a Marian Cross. And a number of Marian devotions also involve the presence of the Virgin Mary in Calvary, e.g., Pope John Paul II stated that "Mary was united to Jesus on the Cross". Well known works of Christian art by masters such as Raphael (e.g., the Mond Crucifixion), and Caravaggio (e.g., his Entombment) depict the Virgin Mary as part of the crucifixion scene.

The text in this box was generated from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the CC-BY-SA.

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