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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV



Part IV: Triumph Over Death

Chapter 29

Why The Demand For Crucifixion?  

Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!  
(John 19:6)   

Even so.  
The Son of Man must be lifted up . . .   
And I, if I be lifted up,  
will draw all men unto Me. 
(John 3:14 and 12:32)  

Looking unto Jesus  
the author and finisher of our faith;  
who, instead of the joy that was set before him,  
endured the cross, 
despising the shame . . . 
(Hebrews 12:2)   

     It is now clear that the Jewish authorities really had in mind two rather distinct objectives in bringing the Lord Jesus to trial. The first was to have Him put to death because they hated Him, for they could abide neither the light of his life nor the truth of his words. The second was to demolish his messianic claims. They had so distorted the Old Testament prophetic previews as to the nature and work of the Messiah that they entirely failed to recognize the truth about his identity when He did appear before them.
     To achieve the first objective they were dependent upon Pilate

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who alone could authorize his execution, unless they could secretly murder Him without attracting the attention of the Romans. This would have been extremely difficult without creating an uproar, and the more so as they delayed it, for his fame was spreading everywhere. Moreover, the one or two attempts they had made to stone Him had aborted because of their indecision or because of the sheer power of his 'presence.' To achieve the second objective was most easily effected by having Him arrested, publicly disgraced, and condemned to death. If possible, they would press charges of treason, for this would mean death by crucifixion, the ultimate disgrace. If it should happen that some sudden divine interference should effect his dramatic rescue, the Jews had probably persuaded themselves that they would at once accept his messianic claims. Some of those who agreed to this plan believed themselves to be moved by the best of motives, namely, the protection of the people from being imposed upon by a false Messiah. As we have already seen, there is a great deal of incidental evidence that in this they were genuinely mistaken, although the mistake was really due to their own spiritual blindness and religious prejudice.
     Now, there were among the Jews only four methods for executing a man condemned for a capital crime. These were strangling, stoning, burning, and beheading. Crucifixion was not one of them. The first was the least severe by common opinion because it did not seriously mutilate the body. Burning may have been, like crucifixion, a way of desecrating the corpse: but only after death had been effected by stoning � although it seems to be listed in the Midrash as a death penalty.
     If, in answer to Pilate's question, "What, then, shall I do with Jesus?" the Jews had demanded that Jesus be executed by burning, God's purposes for man's redemption would have been entirely thwarted. As we shall see, the same would have been the case had He been stoned or beheaded. Crucifixion alone could serve God's purposes in working out the Plan of Redemption, for only the cross could provide the altar upon which the Lord Jesus Christ could deliberately and under no compulsion but that of his own will, offer Himself as a sacrificial Lamb. In any other form of execution it would have required a miracle to keep Him alive long enough to make this voluntary sacrifice: whereas on the cross it was only by a miracle that He died when He did.

     It is hard for us who have no first hand knowledge of crucifixion as a form of execution to realize how long a person could linger in agony in this awful predicament, and how the human body can endure such agony and continue alive and fully conscious under conditions

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which would seem so inimical to life. History shows that the powers of the human body to survive physical injury are truly extraordinary. Drs. G. M. Gould and W. L. Pyle in their study of anomalies and curiosities of medicine, give many amazing examples. One illustration will suffice. (233)

     A most remarkable case of a soldier suffering numerous and almost incredible injuries and recovering and pursuing his vocation with undamped zeal is that of Jacques Roellinger, Company B, 47th N.Y. Volunteers. He appeared before a pension board in New York, June 29, 1865, with the following history (Medical Record, N.Y., 1875, p. 685 f.). In 1862 he suffered a saber-cut across the quadriceps extensor of the left thigh, and a saber-thrust between the bones of the forearm at the middle third. Soon afterward at Williamsburg, Virginia, he was shot in the thigh, the ball passing through the middle third external to the femur. At Fort Wagner, 1863, he had a sword cut, severing spinal muscles and overlying tissues for a distance of six inches. Subsequently he was captured by guerrillas in Missouri and tortured by burning splinters of wood, the cicatrices of which he exhibited; he escaped to Florida, where he was struck by a fragment of an exploding shell, which passed from without inward, behind the hamstring of the right leg, and remained embedded and could be plainly felt. When struck, he fell and was fired on by the retiring enemy. A ball entered between the 6th and 7th ribs just beneath the apex of the heart, traversed the lungs and issued at the 9th rib. He fired his revolver on reception of this shot and was soon bayoneted by his own comrades by mistake, this wound also passing through his body. If the scars are at all indicative, the bayonet must have passed through the left lobe of the liver and the border of the diaphragm. Finally, he was struck by a pistol ball at the lower angle of the left lower jaw, this bullet issuing on the other side of the neck.
     As exemplary of the easy mannerism which he bore his many injuries, during a somewhat protracted convalescence, it may be added that he amused his comrades by blowing jets of water through the apertures on both sides of his neck.
    Not satisfied with his experience of our war, he stated to the pension examiners that he was on his way to join Garibaldi's Army (in Italy).

     Gould and Pyle then recapitulate these injuries under twelve subheadings, each with the potential for permanent injury, and comment that the man can surely have had nothing but a charmed life!
     They record the instance of another soldier (a Lt. Avery) who, in the brutal capture of Fort Griswold, Connecticut, in 1781, had "an eye shot out, his skull fractured, the brain-substance scattering on the ground, was stabbed in the side and left for dead. Yet he recovered and lived to narrate the horrors of that day forty years later."
     One other case of facial mutilation is so extraordinary that one can scarcely credit the account; yet it is well authenticated in the

233. Gould, G. M. and W. L. Pyle, Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, New York, Julian Press, 6th printing, 1966, p.698.
234. Gould, G. M. and W. L. Pyle, ibid., p.697.

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English medical journal The Lancet. (235) This man's whole face, including his two eyes, was literally blown away by the bursting of a Prussian shell. Yet he survived. A false face was made for him and a false nose, and he even recovered some sense of smell, learned to speak and play a flute! Such is the stamina of the human spirit and of the body.
     It will therefore not seem quite so extraordinary to learn that men have survived crucifixion for days on end before succumbing to death by starvation, exposure, septic poisoning, or mutilation by predators (mammals, birds, and insects). A few have, for one reason or another, been taken down and have recovered from the experience.
     Josephus had occasion to see untold numbers of his countrymen crucified by the Romans at the time of the fall of Jerusalem under Titus. He wrote of one instance: "I saw many captives crucified: and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them; so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them in order to aid their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician's hand while the third recovered" (Antiquities of the Jews, § 75, p.21). At least one did recover: and with proper treatment perhaps all three would have done so, though we do not know how long they had hung on a cross.
     How long can a man survive crucifixion? In 1617 Jacob Bosius published a work in Antwerp entitled Crux Triumphans et Gloriosa ("The Cross Triumphant and Glorious") in which he tells of the crucifixion of the Apostle Andrew who is said to have lived on the cross for two days.*  He refers also to the crucifixion of Victor, Bishop of Amiterna, who although crucified with his head down � a circumstance most unfavourable to the continuation of life � survived in this manner for two days. Bosius notes that according to Origen this was the normal period of survival when death has not been hastened by other means. Death in the case of those being crucified in the head down position appears to have been hastened by starvation since it was impossible to take food or drink.
     Bosius also repeats the well-known story of Timotheus and Maura, a married couple who suffered during the Diocletian persecution in the year 286 A.D. After being horribly tortured, these two godly souls were crucified together and, according to dependable witnesses, actually survived nine days while virtuously exhorting each

235. Gould, G. M. and W. L. Pyle, ibid., p.697.
* Bosius, Jacobus, Crux Triumphans et Gloriosa, Antwerp, 1617, pp.8, 43, 47, 94, 112�115. According to W. S. McBirnie, one record preserved in the Church of St. Andrew in Patras, Achaia, where he was martyred, says that he was crucified and survived for three days. [The Search for the Twelve Apostles, Wheaton, Tyndale Press, 1977, p.85].

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other in the faith, expiring on the tenth day. It must be assumed, I think, that they had water either by rain or through the ministrations of some who were present. William Stroud, in his classic work, The Physical Causes of the Death of Christ,* believed that this was possibly an exaggeration. But it need not be assumed so. Surviving for nine days without food is by no means exceptional provided that some fluid is available and weather conditions are comparatively mild.
      In the year 297 A.D. by the order of Emperor Maximian, seven Christians at Samosata were subjected to various tortures and then crucified. According to Alban Butler,

    Hipparchus (one of them), a venerable old man, died on the cross in a short time. James, Romanus, and Lollianus expired the next day, being stabbed by the soldiers while they hung on their crosses. Philotheus, Habibus, and Paragrus, were taken down from their crosses while they were still living. The emperor, being informed that they were yet alive, commanded huge nails to be driven into their heads � by which they were at length dispatched.

     Much more recently, a Captain Clapperton reported on capital punishment in the Sudan in the year 1824.
He speaks of beheading as being reserved for Mohammedans, and impaling and crucifixion for "unbelievers." He says he was informed, just as a matter of interest, that these poor wretches who are crucified generally lingered for three days before death put an end to their sufferings. William Stroud referred to one case of a crucified man who, having no one to defend him, had his eyes pecked out by birds . . .° He also mentioned a report by a Bishop Wiseman written in 1828, in which a young man possessed of great physical strength was crucified, in 1247 A.D., under the walls of Damascus for murdering his master. The Bishop reported that though he was nailed to the cross in hands and arms and feet, he remained alive from midday on Friday to the same hour on Sunday, a period of 48 hours.
     Kitto referred to two women who were crucified but for some reason

* Stroud, William, The Physical Causes of the Death of Christ, New York, Appleton, 1871, 422 pp. Arthur Koestler mentions a "curious tale about an obscure Christian Saint, Eustratus. Around 1100 A.D., he was apparently a prisoner in Cherson in the Crimea, and was ill-treated. Eustratus is said to have survived 15 days on the cross." [The Thirteenth Tribe, Popular Library, New York, 1976, p 165].
Butler, Alban, Lives of the Fathers, London, 1812�1815, vol.VI, p.251, 252.
Clapperton, Captain: in Denham and Clapperton, Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa, London, 1826, p.107.
° Stroud, William, op. cit., p.60.
Wiseman, Bishop, Twelve Lectures on the Connection Between Science and Religion, London, 1836, vol.1, p.265ff.

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were taken down after a period of three hours on the cross.* They experienced most pain, apparently, from the extraction of the nails but otherwise seem to have suffered little injury and soon recovered. He expressed the belief, on the basis of his perusal of a number of older Classic works dealing with crucifixion in antiquity, that "thirty-six hours (is) the earliest period at which this form of punishment would occasion death in a healthy adult."

     Now it is just possible that the Jews were really expecting Pilate would execute Jesus first and then hand his body over to them to do as they pleased with it. I think the implications of their conversations with Pilate bear this out. It would have served their purposes entirely, for Jesus would then be dead and they could, by crucifying the dead body, effectively demolish the force of his claims as the Messiah without running any risk of bringing the fury of the common people on their heads. For by this one act, they believed they could secure general assent to the curse of God upon Him. The fact that Pilate would have already undertaken his execution would shatter all the common people's hopes respecting the Lord's mission as Deliverer, and this would leave the way clear for the Jewish authorities to do as they would without any danger of an uproar by the people.
     But when Pilate said, "Take ye Him and crucify Him" (John 19:6), the Jews responded with the rather curious statement, "We have a law and by our law He ought to die" (verse 7). The statement is odd because it seems querulous. One might have expected them to say, in effect, "Good! Now you're talking. Just hand Him over to us and we'll do the rest." But their actual words were highly significant. What they implied was that granting them the right to crucify Him was not enough because, in the first place, they had no such practice of executing criminals by this means, and in the second place, they would have been forced by Mosaic law to take his body down by sunset and there was a very real possibility that He would not be dead by then. In which case they would actually be forced to save his life! It is indeed possible that Pilate may have been aware of the injunction in Deuteronomy 21:22 and 23 which forbade leaving anyone on a cross overnight. The injunction is very specific:

     And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day: (for he that is hanged is accursed   

* Kitto, John, A Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, Edinburgh, Black, 1845, vol 1, under Crucifixion, p.500.

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of God) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

     Since it was probably late morning and the new day began officially at 6 p.m., there were only some twelve to fourteen hours that He could possibly hang on the cross, and there was therefore a very real likelihood that the Lord might survive the ordeal of crucifixion. Pilate cannot have been unaware of the capacity of the human body to survive this kind of punishment. This contingency seems to have been the reason why the Jews at once rejected Pilate's proposal that they should crucify Jesus. Instead, they insisted that He must be put to death, a statement which demonstrates clearly that they did not consider crucifixion a form of actual execution. They said, "We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God" (John 19:7). And we are told that when Pilate heard this, he was all the more concerned for the life of his prisoner, a fact which surely demonstrates that he did not expect that handing Jesus over to the Jews for crucifixion would actually result in his death.
     So when Pilate wanted them (the Jews) to crucify Jesus, it was by no means equivalent to their demand that he (Pilate) crucify Him. If Pilate did it, the Jews knew Jesus would die. If they did it, there was no such certainty in the matter. They thus recognized the implications of Pilate's suggestion that they crucify Him themselves. They were being invited to crucify Him but not actually to execute Him. For as we have now seen, it is quite possible to crucify a person without executing him, unless the body is left on the cross for a very considerable time. Indeed, one of the acts of mercy which was occasionally permitted to a crucified man was to give him a coup de grace, a merciful death blow to put him out of his misery. This was done either by breaking the legs to hasten death (perhaps by a form of suffocation resulting from the body weight being now chiefly suspended from the arms) or by shock. It is doubtful if the Jewish authorities would have themselves undertaken to crucify the Lord and then have deliberately applied this coup de grace. For all their hatred, they were probably still not cold-blooded enough to murder the Lord before all those who still stood around the cross.
     Now most people do not see Pilate in this more favourable light. Edersheim thinks that he was afraid simply because he was a superstitious man and stood in fear of the Lord as One who might do him personal harm later by some magical means. But I believe the evidence supports a more favourable view of his real character.
    Suppose, for a moment, that Pilate was not only convinced that the Lord Jesus was not guilty of anything worthy of punishment by death but that he was also genuinely impressed by the stature of the Man before him. We do not have to assume that he understood the

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Lord's identity or his mission. He merely assessed Him as a man and was convinced that the Jews had delivered Him for envy � and for no other reason. He must have been well acquainted with Jewish custom and law and with the Jewish national mood at that time. The Romans were not fools but very capable administrators; and although they were ruthless in punishing offenders they seemed to have had a well developed sense of justice � except where slaves were concerned. It is unlikely that they made Procurators of men who were total strangers to the customs and laws of the people they were sent to govern. Pilate must certainly have known that crucifixion of the living was an agonizing slow death. Indeed, according to Mark 15:44, he was amazed (, ethaumasen) that the Lord had died so soon, even in view of the tortures of the past hours. It was most unusual for anyone crucified alive to die within a few hours.
     Thus, leading Jesus out before the people after having Him appallingly scourged and abused, he presented this battered figure to the crowd and said in effect, "I have punished this man. I do not believe him to be guilty of any treasonable offense worthy of anything more." And he appealed to their pity. But his appeal was wrongly aimed, for the very finding that Jesus was not guilty of any treasonable action against the Romans was precisely what the crowd did not want to hear. Had Pilate said, "This man is guilty of treason: he was plotting to overthrow us," the sympathies of the crowd might well have shifted entirely in favour of the Lord Jesus as being indeed the messianic figure of their wishful thinking! Pilate's hopeful appeal to the crowd for sympathy towards a broken Man may well have condemned Jesus because their aspirations were oriented in precisely the opposite direction. It was a kind of ironic "kiss of death."
     Perhaps, with some surprise at their increased hostility towards the prisoner, Pilate said, "Now what do you want of me?" And they cried, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" It was at this point that Pilate had said, "All right, if it must be so for the sake of peace, do you take and crucify Him." The response of the Jewish authorities we already know. . . .
     So Pilate returned to the quietness of the Judgment Hall and again questioned Jesus: and I find it difficult to read the four accounts of these sad events without increasingly gaining the impression that Pilate was genuinely disturbed at what was happening. Yet he could not make up his mind exactly what should be done.
     Once more he took his regal prisoner before the crowd and said simply, "Behold your King!" (John 19:14). And when they screamed back at him, "Away with Him! Away with Him!" he suddenly seemed to realize what they were really trying to get him to do. "Are you really asking me," he said, "to crucify your King for you?" (John 19:15). It must have been

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clear to Pilate now that while the Jews were determined to see Him executed, they did not have the stomach to undertake the crucifixion themselves unless He was already dead. Their reply, "We have no king but Caesar," now left Pilate with no alternative from a political point of view � and the political implications began to override what may have previously been humanitarian or even moral considerations. So he surrendered Jesus to their will, delivering Him to the soldiers (the "them" of verse 16 is surely not the Jews who had no such authority) and they, the soldiers, took Jesus and led Him away to be crucified.

     One thing stands out above all else in this whole frightful travesty of justice, involving both Jew and Gentile alike: the Jewish people had slain their King out of hate long before they crucified Him out of ignorance. From the historical point of view, He was "crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23) by an act which was simply judicial murder. From a moral point of view, He was "slain and crucified" (Acts 5:30 and 10:39). The words are now reversed.
     The changing of the word order in these passages is highly significant, but I do not recall seeing any commentary that has recognized its implications fully. We often do not perceive a truth merely by the reading of it unless our minds have been brought into a state of preparedness. Then the truth suddenly strikes us with great force and we find ourselves wondering why we did not see it sooner. Unfortunately, in this particular case, some modern translators, having failed to recognize this wonderful truth, have now effectively denied the truth to their readers by concealing it through an alternative rendering, the implications of which are quite different. The circumstance is worthy of a moment's further consideration, since it shows that translation is always dependent upon something more than scholarship, though scholarship is certainly an essential ingredient.
     In the King James Version, both Acts 5:30 and 10:39 are rendered "whom ye slew and hanged on a tree." In a number of modern versions the same words have been translated, "whom ye killed (or put to death) by hanging on a tree. . ." In the original, the Greek is literally, "whom ye killed, hanging on a tree." This might quite fairly be taken to mean that the Jews did indeed kill the Lord Jesus by hanging Him on a tree. Yet I think that the wording in the King James Version is perfectly justifiable in the light of the original, and is nearer to the truth.
     In the first place, the Jews did not execute people by hanging them on a tree. The Romans did: but even they had qualms about it. The Carthaginians appear to have been the first to make crucifixion a mode of execution. Up to that time it had been only a method of

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shaming the condemned by desecrating his already dead body. The Jews had never adopted crucifixion as a means of execution.* In the second place � and this is even more important � the Lord was not killed by being crucified. And in the third place, it is not at all necessary to render the original Greek as these modern versions have done so, the rest of Scripture being opposed to such a rendering. The translators of the King James Version allowed the rest of Scripture in fact to be their guide, and thereby preserved a great truth for us.
     The Lord Himself had predicted to the Jews that in the years to come they would destroy other prophets sent to them as they had destroyed prophets in the past. "Some of them," He said, "you will kill and crucify" (note the order here � Matthew 23:34). In this passage the original Greek is as follows: , wh
ich is, literally, "(some) of them ye will kill and ye will crucify." The meaning here is unequivocal and the prediction is entirely concordant with Jewish procedure. Moreover, the Greek of this passage agrees in its structure with that of the Septuagint Version of Joshua 10:26 in which the English reads, "And Joshua slew them and hanged them on five trees." The original here reads as follows: As in Matthew 23:34 the same verb (apokteino) "to kill," is used, and as in Acts 5:30 the same verb (kremannumi) "to hang," is used, thus nicely tying these three passages together.
     The meaning seems to me to be clear enough, and the fact that the real murder preceded the crucifixion is reinforced. Were it not for our habit of thinking that the Lord Jesus was put to death by crucifixion, the more modern renderings of Acts 5:30 would perhaps have never been considered as appropriate. It is of great importance once again to underscore the fact that while Jesus died on the cross, He did not die because of it.

     Now for years afterwards, people generally believed (particularly the Jewish people) that Jesus was indeed accursed of God because God had not "come to his rescue nor had God either assisted or permitted Him to come down from the cross." When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, people were still saying Jesus was accursed because He was crucified. But by inspiration, Paul warned that no man who called Jesus accursed could possibly be speaking by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:3). By his crucifixion He was made a curse for us

* Genesis 40:19, 22 show that even in Egypt a decapitated man could also be hanged, and thus hanging is shown to be a "punishment" applied after death � not as a means of execution. The order in verse 19 is clear.

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(Gal. 3:13), not because He was an impostor but because He was the Lamb of God as well as the Messiah. But the Jews found it impossible to believe that the Messiah, the Anointed One, could also be the Crucified, the Accursed One.
     Later still, Trypho the Jew, in a dialogue with Justin Martyr, said, "Your Jesus, having fallen under the extreme curse of God, we cannot sufficiently wonder how you can expect any good from God, you who place your hopes upon a man who was crucified." Commenting on the fact that even Gentiles found this incredible, Justin observed, "They count us mad: that, next to the eternal God, the Father of all things, we give second place to a man that was crucified! 'Where is your understanding,' say the Gentiles, 'that you worship as God One who is crucified!'" *

     Trypho wrote further in explanation of his position as a Jew: "Moreover, resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you yet expect to obtain some good thing from God." And in another place he wrote:

     "Whether Christ should be so shamefully crucified, this we are in doubt about. For whosoever is crucified is said in the Law to be accursed, so that I am exceedingly incredulous on this point. Bring us, then, by the Scriptures, that we may also be persuaded by you; for we know that he should suffer and be led as a sheep. But prove to us whether he must be crucified and die so disgracefully and so dishonorably by the death cursed in the Law. For we cannot bring ourselves to think this."

     Paul was right indeed: "We preached Christ crucified (a crucified MESSIAH!), unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians l:23). To the Greeks it was foolishness indeed, for they and the Romans alike reserved crucifixion essentially for slaves, i.e., for people who were in fact total non-entities, "nobodies." It was for them one way of stamping the condemned man as being utterly without significance at all. He did not even have the right to be buried. He was left to rot, a mere thing. Thus did the Jews hope to ensure the final repudiation of this self-proclaimed Messiah by having Him crucified.
     Never has a mistake in establishing the identity of a single individual cost those who made it so dearly � for in repudiating their own Messiah the Jewish people committed national suicide. And when the time of their national eclipse arrived, they were themselves crucified in such numbers that the Roman soldiers could neither find trees sufficient 

* Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho the Jew" in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Scribner edition, 1913, vol.1, p199 (chap.X), p.244 (chap.LXXXIX), and p.247.

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to make the crosses nor space enough to plant them in the ground. By crucifying Messiah they crucified themselves. . . .

     Now Joshua 10:26 is by no means the only Old Testament instance of "hanging" the dead.* Further examples will be found in 1 Samuel 31:10; 2 Samuel 4:12. But it might be wondered whether hanging on a tree is really the same thing as hanging on a Cross.
      It should be noted that when we speak of hanging a man, we have in mind an entirely different form of punishment. When the Jews hung a man on a tree, he was not fastened with a rope around his neck but with ropes around his arms and legs � a quite different concept, especially in view of the fact that they were dealing with a corpse, a carcass as Joshua 8:29 has it. In so far as the word cross is an appropriate translation of the Greek words used in the New Testament in connection with crucifixion, namely, stauros and xulon, it is evident that the Jews themselves so understood it. Undoubtedly, live trees were used at first for displaying the corpse in this fashion. But trees became scarce in later times due to the practice by conquerors in those days of cutting down all trees in the countryside. They even rendered the soil totally unproductive by sowing it with salt (commonly referred to as "laying waste the land"). So in due time some alternative to a live tree had to be devised. And it appears from a study of the literature that the procedure was to erect a single upright pole or stake, firmly fixing it in the ground at some elevated spot used by the public and preferably at an intersection of two highways.
     The object was to make an example by the display of the dead man's body slowly falling to pieces. Throughout the Roman Empire live men were being crucified and left to rot on the cross. For this reason it was customary to set the stake some little distance from the city because of the odour created. Such stakes were a fixture around the countryside. It is not certain whether the crossbar, which has traditionally been counted as part of the device, was also part of these earlier stakes or not. There is some evidence that a standing tree-trunk with a single fork in it was used in some cases.
     Certainly in early Christian times, the cruciform as we now know it, was not commonly used as a symbol among Christians. In fact, during the first few centuries there is actually no evidence that it was used at all. Dean Burgon questioned whether the Cross occurred as 

* A cuneiform tablet from c. 2000 B.C. tells how the Queen of Heaven descended into Hades to rescue her beloved Dumuzi but was captured, slain, and then crucified. A very ancient idea. . . [J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton, 1969, p.52 f., at line 167, 168].

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a Christian emblem during the whole of the first four centuries. Monseigneur di Rossi, speaking of the catacombs, observed that there is no authentic instance of the Cross, as we know it, prior to the fifth century.*
     There are crosses but they are probably drawings made by visitors in later times. As a matter of fact, so rare in the catacombs is any symbol of the Lord's death that it seems clear the early Christians were almost wholly absorbed in his resurrection rather than in his death. As Sir Kenneth Clark, though speaking with a rather inadequate understanding of the elements of Christian faith, stated the case:

     We have grown so used to the idea that the crucifixion is the supreme symbol of Christianity that it is a shock to realize how late in the history of Christian art its power was recognized. In the first Art of Christianity it hardly appears; and the earliest example on the doors of Santa Sabina (425 A.D.) in Rome is stuck away in a corner almost out of sight. . . .  Early Christian art is concerned with miracles, healings, and with hopeful aspects of the faith like the Ascension and Resurrection.

     The Anglican Church in 1563 even adopted a resolution to omit the making of the sign of the Cross in baptism, though the attempt does not appear to have been successful. In 1689 a further attempt was made by an Anglican Committee consisting of bishops and ministers to exempt all who felt any uncertainty about the Cross from using it as a sign under any circumstance at all. The Reformed Episcopal Church in England and in America and in Canada have officially omitted its use since 1789.
     The English word cross is derived from the Greek krauo which means "to strike" or "fasten together," implying at least two components. But the Latin word crux does not necessitate this interpretation and Livy used the word to mean simply a stake or a pole stuck in the ground.
     Whatever may have been the formal arrangement of the structure itself, the actual penalty as the Romans employed it for executing

* Porcelli, Baron, The Cross: Its History, Meaning and Use, Protestant Truth Society, no date, p.13.
Clark, Sir Kenneth, Civilization, London, British Broadcasting Corporation and John Murray, 1969, p.29. The matter has been frequently remarked upon. Edward Hutton in an article on "The Wonder of the Roman Catacombs," observed: "[The early Christians] do not seen, to have been preoccupied with the crucifixion, the death of Christ; they thought only of the resurrection" [in Wonders of the Past, edited by, J. A., Hammerton, London, Putnan's Sons, 1924, vol.IV, p.1015]. Indeed, Clifford M. Jones points out that it was not until the fifth century that Christian artists dared to portray Christ on the cross between two thieves. The Cambridge Bible Commentary: New Testament Illustrations, Cambridge University Press, 1966, p.129.
Porcelli, Baron, op. cit., p.3.

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criminals was frightful. It was frightful not only for the agony it brought by the very fact of hanging in an attitude so full of stress, and the shame it brought from personal exposure to the curious public, and the prolonged nature of the suffering which could last for days, and the total lack of defense against wild animals and birds (men sometimes had their eyes pecked out while still alive) � but from the sense of total forsakenness which such a situation must have brought upon the condemned individual in the long hours of darkness when there was no one present with whom to share the agony of soul and when the sense of desertion must have been utterly overwhelming. It is to the everlasting credit of the Jews that up to this time they had not condemned their own people to such an inhumane death.
     If such a stake were left in place, then the condemned man must have carried to the site something other than the upright. Presumably it would be the crossbar. We know from antiquity that the prisoner was required to carry something which contributed to his own crucifixion, and we know from the Gospels that it was heavy. The Lord Jesus could not even carry this crossbar which is surely not surprising in view of the terrible laceration of his body which must have resulted from the Roman scourging as well as the probable absence of food for many hours. He certainly could never have carried a whole cross, in spite of artistic representations to the contrary
     The Carthaginians, and the Romans who borrowed the idea of crucifixion from them, appear to have used ropes to secure the body to the cross. But they also seem to have used nails through the hands and probably through the feet as a double precaution against the possibility of the prisoner wriggling free from the ropes during the night or being freed by the cutting of the ropes. If the hands were first nailed and the arms tied to the crossbar, it could then be hoisted up and fastened on the upright stake. The feet were secured with ropes and possibly with nails also, sometimes on a small platform for the feet. Sometimes a peg, placed at the height of the crotch, was used instead of the footrest. It was driven into the upright. This was called a sedile (our "saddle"). It helped to carry the weight of the body and relieved some of the tension on the arms and hands, but it also greatly extended the suffering of the condemned man who would otherwise have expired more quickly from a form of suffocation. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and other early Church Fathers tell us that a sedile was used in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus.
     It is my impression that in the absence of tying, a nail through the palm of each hand would not suffice to carry the weight of a man's body, especially with the writhing and twisting that must have accompanied the agony of the ordeal. The nails served chiefly to prevent the withdrawal of the arms from the binding ropes. By themselves,

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the nails would, I think, be insufficient to carry the weight alone since the structure of the bones of the hands would tend to allow the enlargement of the wound until the nails tore through the flesh. It is for this reason that some writers have suggested the nails were driven not through the palms but through the wrists where muscle, tendon, bone, and other connective tissue would be sufficient to carry the strain. Whether this alternative can be harmonized with the action of the Lord in showing his pierced hands to the disciples as proof of his identity is a matter of debate.
     Since the first such hangings made use of live trees, it is perhaps not unnatural that the later device, whatever its precise form, was still referred to as a tree. The Greek word
(xulon) in the New Testament is used both for the instrument of crucifixion and for a living tree. It is used for the Lord's cross in Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Galatians 3:13 and 1 Peter 2:24. It is used for a living tree in Luke 23:31 and Revelation 2:7; 22:2 and 14. Xulon is also used for what we would call lumber, i.e., wood in some prepared form. Moulton and Milligan give an instance of a papyrus recording a request for shipment of "the remaining 200 beams (xula) as long and as thick as possible." The other New Testament Greek word used in the same connection, stauros, is the preferred word for the cross itself, being used 28 times.

      And so the soldiers nailed and probably also tied the Lord Jesus to the crossbar, hoisted it into place and secured it, and then tied and nailed his feet, and set over his head Pilate's superscription identifying Him as "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." This inscription was probably written in Latin, Greek, and Aramaic. His one-piece outer garment they also removed, and they cast lots for it rather than tearing it up and thus destroying its value. Then they sat down to keep watch, not for the pleasure of seeing Him die � for this they can hardly have anticipated � but rather to see that no one assisted Him to escape. Two others were condemned to a like fate.
     For perhaps sixteen to eighteen hours He had been without food and possibly even without water: and during that interval He had endured indignities to his Person and brutal treatment from the common soldiers. He had experienced the pain of a totally unjust trial in a hostile court as well as the appalling hatred of a crowd whose disappointment had given a cutting edge to their anger and who were wholly bent on his destruction and desecration. Moreover, He had been entirely forsaken by all but a tiny handful of friends, especially by those who had assured Him of their most steadfast loyalty. But the end was by no means yet.
     Even in the agony of crucifixion, those who passed by still taunted

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Him, and their taunts must have reinforced the temptation to come down from the cross and thereby demonstrate the validity of his messianic claims and the wrongness of their judgment. "Come down from the cross," they challenged. (Mark 15:32) And surely to any other man in such a position, if he had had any power to comply, the temptation to do so would have been overwhelming. To the passers by, it must have seemed a fair enough challenge. Surely He who could raise the dead, could have stepped down from the cross miraculously and saved Himself � if He really was what He claimed to be. And surely God would have supported Him in such a course of action. All He needed to do now, to prove that the Jewish authorities were mistaken and to validate his messianic claims, was to set Himself free! How else, indeed, could He become the triumphant Conqueror they were looking for?
     Athanasius (c. 296�373), whose name has become for ever attached to one of the great Creeds of our Faith, wrote one of the most important early treatises on the Lord Jesus Christ. He titled it, "The Incarnation of the Word of God."
     In Chapter 21, under the heading Death brought to nought by the Death of Christ, he asked: "Why did not Christ die privately or in a more honorable way?" And he answered that question by saying: "Well, it was not that He was subject to natural death, but that He had to die at the hands of others. . . .  If, therefore, He had laid aside his body somewhere in private and upon a bed, after the manner of men, it would have been thought that He also did this agreeably to a natural vulnerability [i.e., to death] and because there was nothing in Him more than in other men."
     Then in Chapter 22, he asked: "Why did He not withdraw his body from the Jews and so guard its immortality?" And he answered: "It became Him not to inflict death upon Himself, and yet not to shun it either. He came to receive death as the due of others. . . . "
     Thus we see why, and know why, He could not act upon any such alternatives � not because He lacked the power but because He had another work yet to complete. And only when that work was done would He indeed do something that was tantamount to escaping the shame and the horror of death on the cross: He would escape from the tomb! For this "other work" yet to be completed, a work that involved another kind of death, the cross alone of all forms of capital punishment was to be the stage on which the divine drama could be acted out. 

The sequence of events from the arrest in Gethsemane to the Resurrection are shown in tabulated and graphic form in Fig19 and20.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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