from the Down-the-hall-to-the-left dept.
Each year, Cahleen Shrier, associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Azusa Pacific University, presents a special lecture on the science of Jesus' crucifixion detailing the physiological processes a typical crucified victim underwent based on historical documentation of crucifixion procedures used during that time period. According to Dr. Chuck Dietzen, the Romans favored it over hanging because it was a slow death taking as long as two days making it quite effective for quelling dissent. "It is important to understand from the beginning that Jesus would have been in excellent physical condition," says Shrier. "As a carpenter by trade, He participated in physical labor. In addition, He spent much of His ministry traveling on foot across the countryside."
Evidence suggests that Jesus dreaded his fate. The New Testament tells of how he sweated blood the night before in the garden of Gethsemane. A rare medical condition known as hematohidrosis may explain this phenomenon, Dietzen says. In this condition, extreme stress causes the blood vessels around the sweat gland to rupture into the sweat ducts. While few of these cases exist in the medical literature, many of those that do involve people facing execution.
Crucifixion was invented by the Persians in 300-400 BC. It was developed, during Roman times, into a punishment for the most serious of criminals and is quite possibly the most painful death ever invented by humankind. The Romans would tie or nail the accused to the cross being sure to avoid the blood vessels. While many people envision the nail going into a person's palm, it was placed closer to the wrist. The feet were nailed to the upright part of the crucifix, so that the knees were bent at around 45 degrees. "Once the legs gave out, the weight would be transferred to the arms, gradually dragging the shoulders from their sockets. The elbows and wrists would follow a few minutes later; by now, the arms would be six or seven inches longer," says Alok Jha. "The victim would have no choice but to bear his weight on his chest. He would immediately have trouble breathing as the weight caused the rib cage to lift up and force him into an almost perpetual state of inhalation." Suffocation would usually follow, but the relief of death could also arrive in other ways. "The resultant lack of oxygen in the blood would cause damage to tissues and blood vessels, allowing fluid to diffuse out of the blood into tissues, including the lungs and the sac around the heart," says Jeremy Ward.
Eventually the person being crucified would go into shock and die after organs failed. Medical science can also explain why blood and water spurted out of Jesus's body when a Roman stabbed him with a spear. That was likely a pleural effusion, in which clear lung fluid came out of his body as well as blood. Shrier says Jesus' stamina and strength were, most likely, very well developed so if the torture of the crucifixion could break a man in such good shape, it must have been a horrific experience. "I am struck every time with the stunning realization that as a flesh and blood human, Jesus felt every ounce of this execution," concludes Shrier. "What greater love than this can a man have for his friends?"