I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint; my heart has become like wax - it melts inside me; my mouth is as dry as a fragment of a pot, my tongue sticks to my palate; you lay me down in the dust of death. ....... They pierced my hands and feet." Psalm 22:14

The Cross of Jesus - the physically process

"Christ of St John of the Cross" (part)  Salvador Dali   (c)

Death by Crucifixion

The following account is drawn from articles explaining how and why a human being actually died after being crucified.   The author is indebted to Dr. Peter Rowan and Dr C Truman Davis, who acknowledged the work of Dr Pierre Barbet .  

One of the aims of crucifixion was to make the coming of death as long and as agonising as possible.  An Arab crucified in Damascus in 1247 took two days to die.

It must be remembered that Jesus' suffering on the cross was preceded by his suffering in the garden and the “trial” before he was condemned to death. 

For the religious significance of Crucifixion click here



Jesus' emotional suffering in Gethsemane caused Hematidrosis (when tiny capillaries in the sweat glands break during great emotional stress causing blood to be mixed with sweat.) 

The 'Trial'

After his arrest, Jesus was subjected to mocking and being struck about the face before Pilate had him scourged.


Jesus would have been stripped and had his hands tied to a post above his head.  The Roman soldier would then have started using his flagrum (or flagellum) that was a short whip of several heavy leather thongs which had two small lead balls near the end of each.  Eventually, when the back was in ribbons of torn and bleeding tissue and the victim was nearly dead the beating was stopped and the victim untied and dropped into a pool of his own blood. 

Then there was the crown of thorns and the beating about the head that would drive the thorns in deeper, and then the putting on and removing the "regal robe" from his back, which would have reopened the wounds caused by the flagellation.  Thus it can be appreciated that Jesus was much closer to death at the start of his crucifixion than was normal.


Jesus refused the offered wine with myrrh, which was a mild analgesic, in order to die with an unclouded mind. 

The victim of crucifixion was usually nailed to the patibulum of his cross, although some were tied.  The nails for the hands needed to go through the bones, just past the wrist joint, near the base of the thumb.  If they went into the palm they would tear the flesh, and the victim would not stay up on the cross.  Also, the nails were first driven through discs of wood, to prevent any chance of the head pulling through.   There is space between the eight small bones of the hand close to the wrist, which will support the body's weight when nailed.    The nails would have been carefully placed to avoid severing any major blood vessels allowing the victim to bleed to death, and to avoid the nerves to preserve sensation and muscle function.  

It is agreed by anatomists, ancient and modern, that the wrist is part of the hand  (Jesus told Thomas to "observe my hands", meaning his wrists; not his palms) 

The patibulum was then lifted onto the stipes and the titulus affixed.

Then the left foot was pressed onto the right and a nail was driven through the arch of both feet, between the second and 'third long foot bones.   (one archaeological find has a nail driven through the heel bone.  ( see [www.centuryone.org/crucifixion2.html - not currently available] )  Having the feet fixed enabled the victim to push down and take some weight off the hands.   This only made things worse because it prolonged the execution.

The victim then began to die.   He had a choice: either to support his weight with the feet or hands, or both.  Using the hands was generally much more painful using than the feet.  Every stage of crucifixion was a slow one.   Victims took longer to die when their arms were outstretched than if they were above the head.

The cause of death  was primarily asphyxiation.   When someone was suspended by the hands, it became very difficult to move the rib cage and to breathe.   Air could be drawn in but could not be exhaled, oxygen gradually failed to arrive in the tissues and waste products (carbonic acid) begin to build up in the muscles, making the blood more acid, producing a muscle spasm called tetany.  

As death approached, the victim's head was held rigid by the spasm of the muscles of the neck.   These cramps would spread to the arms and legs.    When the arm muscles went into spasm they pulled the body up the cross and made breathing slightly easier for a while.  Later on there would be a terrible crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly filled with serum that compressed the heart

Eventually the victim found it more and more exhausting to support the body, causing  breathing to become weaker and weaker, and the heart to begin to fail under the strain until death, mercifully, arrived.

We read that the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus.   Once their legs were broken they could no longer take the weight off their arms and breathing became impossible and death would be inevitable.  This was done on this day of preparation so that the bodies could be removed before the holy day started at sunset.

Jesus survived on the cross a remarkably short time - only a few hours.  But, bearing in mind that he had been subjected to a flogging that could have been fatal by itself, it is not so surprising.


Restructured with "The cross - religiously" 29/10/16

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