Friday, January 19, 2007

There They Crucified Him

Thinking out loud...

*Has there been a crazier week of weather? Ice and snow in central Texas. Snow in the Bay Area on the Oakland Hills. Snow in L.A. county, closing parts of I-5. Over $1 Billion worth of citrus crop lost in the Valley due to the week-long deep freeze.

*Fresno State will beat Nevada, who'll likely be ranked in the Top 10, when they play in the Save Mart Center later this year.

*After the week-long soap opera that is Arkansas Razorback football (and reliable sources say the drama is far from over), I am so incredibly grateful not to have invested a penny in that program in four years. What a mess.

*Wouldn't it be great if "the Saints go marching in" to the Super Bowl? A Saints/Colts Super Bowl (Peyton Manning is a "Nawlins" native) would be the perfect balm for a city in needed of healing from Hurricane Katrina.

*What is Jon Daniels thinking inviting Sammy Sosa to Spring Training? Sosa could rediscover his groove, but count me among the skeptics who fear a lack of production on the field and a disruption of chemistry in the clubhouse.


It's been a couple of years now since Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ reintroduced people to the suffering of Christ. What Gibson did was lift words from a page that many had read repeatedly throughout their lifetime and give life to them. Visibly witnessing a depiction of Christ's suffering was gripping...and discomforting...and tear-inducing.

Sunday, I'm beginning a new sermon series centered on the cross. This morning, I want to resurrect some facts presented in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 255 (March 21, 1986)entitled "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ."

On scourging practices:

"Flogging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution and only women and Roman soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals. Occasionally, staves also were used. For scourging, the man was stripped of his clothing and his hands were tied to an upright post. The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged either by two soldiers or by one who alternated positions. The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the soldiers and was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death. After the scourging, the soldiers often taunted their victim" (1457).

On the processional to the crucifixion site:

"It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was well over 300 lbs. only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lbs. was placed across the nape of the victim's neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign on which the condemned man's name and crime were displayed. Later the sign would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death" (1458-9).

On the nailing to the cross:

"After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.

Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. Ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin suggest that nailing was the preferred Roman practice. Although the feet could be fixed to the sides of the stipes or to a wooden footrest, they usually were nailed directly to the front of the stipes. To accomplish this, flexion of the knees may have been quite prominent, and the bent legs may have been rotated laterally.

When the nailing was completed, the sign was attached to the cross, by nails or cords, just above the victim's head. The soldiers and the civilian crowd often taunted and jeered the condemned man and the soldiers customarily divided up his clothes among themselves. The length of survival generally ranged from three or four hours to three or four days and appears to have been inversely related to the severity of the scourging. However, even if the scourging had been relatively mild, the Roman soldiers could hasten death by breaking the legs below the knees" (1459-60).

On the death of crucifixion victims:

"Not uncommonly, insects would light upon or burrow into the open wounds or the eyes, ears and nose of the dying and helpless victim and birds of prey would tear at these sites. Moreover, it was customary to leave the corpse on the cross to be devoured by predatory animals" (1460).