Books and Authors, New Testament

The Crucifixion of Jesus; through the historical lens

Reenacting the Stations of the Cross in Jerusa...

Reenacting the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem

*NOTE* This is the first post that I have struggled to write.  I know how it will be taken by some, and I apologize in advance.

The Christian Bible presents several idealized views of who Jesus might have been.  The Bible also presents several idealized views of how Jesus might have died.  Any legitimate biblical historian will agree that these are not historically accurate portrayals of the events described.  They may indeed have references to events that happened, but the stories are shaped by the people telling the stories, their audience, and their hope.  The first historical reference to this specific crucifixion is in the writings of Paul, some twenty years after the event but he provided no details, saying only that he preached Christ crucified.  The first Passion Story (the story of the crucifixion of Jesus) was likely written in the 70’s, some forty years after the event by an unknown author.  Here is another depiction of the crucifixion of the man, Jesus, written 1980 years after the event.  I am NOT saying that this is how it actually happened.  What I am saying is that it is just as credible as the Gospel stories.

Standing Order from Governor:

Anybody who starts shit
during the Passover festival
goes up on a cross.
Do we understand each other?

The traveling teacher Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Passover festival.  Jesus is shocked by the apparent corruption that he sees; businesses set up in the outer courtyard of YHWH’s Temple, people exchanging Roman coinage for official Temple currency then buying and selling sacrificial animals.

Jesus’ anger builds as he mumbles to his disciples.  At last he can restrain himself no more “and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves;  and he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple.”

He stood up on a bench and began to speak, though not peacefully, but in anger.  “Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers!”

The Temple police push through the crowd as Jesus speaks and he is seized.  The disciples flee in fear.  Jesus is handed over to Roman authorities as violating the Standing Order and haphazardly thrown on a cross outside the city walls by Roman soldiers with no trial.

Nailed to the cross was the sign that said:

Anybody who starts shit
during the Passover festival
goes up on a cross.
Do we understand each other, now?

“What exactly made crucifixion so terrible?  The three supreme Roman penalties were the cross, fire and the beasts.  What made them supreme was not just their inhuman cruelty or their public dishonor, but the fact that there might be nothing left to bury at the end.  That bodily destruction was involved in being cast into the fire or thrown to the beasts is obvious enough.  But what we often forget about crucifixion is the carrion crow and the scavenger dog who respectively croak above and growl below the dead or dying body….  I want to emphasize that Roman crucifixion was state terrorism; that its function was to deter resistance or revolt, especially among the lower classes; and that the body was usually left on the cross to be consumed eventually by the wild beasts.  No wonder we have found only one body from all those thousands crucified around Jerusalem in that single century.  Remember those dogs.  And if you seek the heart of darkness, follow the dogs.”

“Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography”, John Dominic Crossan,  1994, pp. 126-7



7 thoughts on “The Crucifixion of Jesus; through the historical lens

  1. Your version sounds very plausible. I, too, have journeyed away from Christianity. I have a few points to say, that through my own research have found out about Roman “crucifixion.”

    First, the cross didn’t look anything like a Christian Cross. Crosses that did look like that were called tropaea and were used strictly for victory celebrations and votive purposes. Execution crosses looked instead like masts (rarely), tees (most often), wyes, poles, x’es, effs and any other conceivable shape so long as it did not express the rays of the sun, which represented life. So according to the traditional Christian understanding of crucifixion (a’ la Passion of the Christ), the Romans never crucified. Ever.

    Second, every scrap of clothing was stripped from the convicted when he was put to death. People were nailed up completely naked.

    Third, the Romans figured out positions so that the all limbs were stretched, not just the arms. For those put on mast and tee crosses, this entailed an obscene spreading of the legs. This is important for humiliation purposes as well.

    Fourth, execution crosses were frequently equipped with a “seat” that was really an impalement stake that pierced the anus. Either one was freshly impaled whenever he hung down, or he never cleared the thing whenever he pushed up on his legs in order to relieve the painful stretching in his upper body and his anus, and to get the bad air out of his lungs.

    Now we’ll never know if Pilate ever remitted any portion of the punishment of “crucifixion” — actually aerial impalement or just suspension torture — but we can reasonably conclude that he did not care to honor and enforce Jewish laws and customs and actually did only the minimum necessary not to start a generalriot. And still there were three incidents we know about where he was at fault. That Pilate was a creep and a state terrorist, Philo, Josephus and the writer of Luke ch 13 are in complete agreement.

    And the Roman histories? “Under Tiberias, Judea was silent.”

    Posted by Ed-M | December 1, 2010, 5:40 am
  2. This is probably close to what actually happened, if indeed anything happened at all. I see no reason why you felt compelled to issue a preemptive apology.

    Posted by Beavis Christ | November 30, 2010, 8:21 am
    • My reasoning was two-fold. One, I appreciate the Christian readers as well as non-Christian readers. That particular example is very uncomfortable for the traditional view. Two, when I began my journey away from Christianity, this one particular possibility was very discomforting for me, as well. Whether Jesus had risen from the dead or not, I struggled with the thought of him being picked apart by birds until a limb fell from the cross where the waiting dogs could begin tugging at their next meal.

      Christian apologists struggle against this possibility so much that they have dedicated innumerable hours to trying to prove how the laws of the Jews would not allow the body to remain on the cross, but the reality is that the Jewish laws likely had very little to do with the pointed and specific agenda of the Roman government. If Jesus was not to be left on the cross, they could have easily just removed his head. Crucifixion had a very specific purpose. Taking down the body defeated that purpose.

      Posted by Xcntrik | November 30, 2010, 3:16 pm
  3. I hate to say it but this version seems more believable than the official Gospel accounts, especially when you factor in the apparent contradictions… oops, I mean discrepancies…in the scriptural texts.

    Posted by Byroniac | November 29, 2010, 1:13 pm
    • Those discrepancies are often very important for understanding the views of the individual communities, but yes, they do abound. Again, my purpose was not an attempt to relay an “actual” account of what happened to Jesus, we don’t know, we may never know. The most that history can do is provide the most likely scenarios. IMO, mine is just as likely (though modernized a bit, I admit) as those told by first century early Christian authors who developed their stories from what they had heard. For instance, the sign on the cross: This may have been a hopeful retrospective look back by early Christians, wishing for some substantiation for the death of their savior. I find it difficult to believe that the Roman Empire would have spent more than 10 minutes taking an insurrectionist and throwing him up on a cross next to other trouble-makers. Remember, according to the biblical accounts, there were two others right there next to Jesus, just on that particular day.

      I see the burial and resurrection of Jesus developing from the hopes and fears of early believers. They did indeed hope that Jesus had risen from the dead, perhaps they feared the historical reality that maybe he never left the cross in one piece and the stories are a reflection of that fear and hope. You can notice how the burial tradition evolved just by following the canonical sources from Mark -> Matthew & Luke -> John.

      Posted by Xcntrik | November 30, 2010, 3:06 pm

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