The Passion of the Christ – Crucifixion and Resurrection
It is probably the most identifiable image in the world. A man nailed to two crossed pieces of wood. It can be seen in churches and monuments but also on screen in countless films, most recently and graphically in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. In recent years, a modern symbolic version of crucifixion has taken place among devout Catholics reenacting the Passion Play in the Northern Philippines, although frowned upon by the Church. But there is no evidence or records that support the crucifixion of Christ or anyone else in that region for over three centuries after his death.
While the matter of the resurrection is, of course, a matter of personal and established faith, author Julian Doyle questions much of what is represented in the Bible. He was the film editor on Monthy Python’s Life of Brian, which sparked his fascination with the events. He dedicated years to historically researching the facts for his book, Crucifixion’s a Doddle, and shared seven crucial facts with Express Online.
1. The image of Jesus on the cross has been invented by commissioned artists.
After realising something was wrong I checked back to see the earliest images of Jesus being crucified but there are none. It is not until the fourth century that scenes of the Crucifixion of Jesus began to appear. And this is the first one. (See below).
Did the Crucifixion happen? Scene from The Passion of the Christ
Did the crucifixion happen? Crucifixion of Christ in the Church of Santa Sabina
Yes, this is it, the very first image of the Crucifixion of Christ, which appears on a small panel on a wooden side-door of the Church of Santa Sabina in Rome, which was consecrated in AD 440.
So around AD 430 the image we know was invented. Invented because not only is there no image of Jesus on the cross but there is no image of anyone on a cross.
Christian Roman Emperor Constantine is reported to have banned crucifixion in 337 but there are no historical texts from that tie to support this, only later ecclesiastical histories.
2. You cannot carry the size of tree Jesus is shown crucified on.
You can see we made small crosses for the actors to carry in The Life of Brian. Only an Olympic athlete could carry the trees usually depicted, but the actors still struggled with these. Historically, there is some evidence condemned men might have been forced to carry the crossbeam.
Easter Passion Play re-enactions of crucifixions in the Philippines
Easter Passion Play crucifixions in the Philippines
3. Crucifixion was not the method of capital punishment used by the Romans.
Look at this from the Jewish historian Josephus, writing at the time: “Varus sent his army into the country, to seek out the authors of the revolt; he punished those that were most guilty: the number who were crucified on this account were two thousand.”
How can these numbers possibly be? Where are all these trees coming from, not to mention the tons of nails (6,000)? The answer strangely is just a matter of translation. The word we always translate as crucifix, stauros does not actually mean crucifix at all.
Here is the full dictionary definition: “The word stauros comes from the Ancient Greek histemi: ‘straighten up’, the same root from which come the German Stern, or the English ‘stand’. In classical Greek, until the early 4th century BC, stauros meant an upright stake, pole, or which might be used in impaling. In the literature of that time it never means two pieces of timber placed across one another at any angle, but always one piece alone.”
So there is no reason to believe Jesus was on a cross at all, nor that the 2000 in the revolt were. In fact, it would almost be impossible. They were tied or nailed to a stake or even impaled, a la Vlad the Impaler, and it would all be translated by us centuries later as ‘Crucifixion’.
Jesus Christ: Experts discuss story of crucifixion
4. Why was Jesus crucified? If he was killed for blasphemy he would have been stoned.
The most subversive scene in Life of Brian is the first one we actually shot, which in context totally undermines the Bible story.
HIGH PRIEST JOHN: “You have been found guilty by the elders of uttering the name of our Lord and so as a blasphemer you are to be stoned to death.”
The scene is based on Jewish Law as expressed in the Bible: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘The one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be taken outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then let all the congregation stone him.'” (Leviticus 24:14)
Now look at Jesus’ trial before the same Sanhedrin: “Jesus said, “You shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power.” Tearing his clothes, the high priest said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard the blasphemy?” And they all condemned him to be deserving of death.” (Mark 14:61)
Jesus’ crime is also clearly blasphemy, so why do the Sanhedrin take Jesus to Pilate? Blasphemy has nothing to do with the Romans. The crime is punishable, as shown in Life of Brian by stoning, which is clearly decided by the Jews themselves. Crucifixion/staking is the Roman punishment for rebellion.
Crucifixion facts: It was a punishment and warning
5. Jesus could not have died in just 4 hours.
In the film, Eric Idle’s statement as Mr Cheeky, the guy crucified next to Brian is revealing. Eric is suggesting that death does not come that quickly? Eric says: “We’ve got a couple of days up here. Plenty of time. Lots of people get rescued.”
In the Bible Jesus is raised on the cross at either 9 or 12 o’clock and is dead by 3pm.
Every Easter in the Philippines, they perform a Passion play culminating with the actual nailing up of at least three penitents on to crosses. Ruben Enage, age fifty-three, has been crucified twenty-seven times. He began his yearly rite after surviving a fall from a three-story building. The wounds can take two weeks to heal.
So the likelihood of someone dying in such a short period of time seems impossible. To cover this criticism one Gospel, John, tries to suggest Jesus was speared in the side to prove he was dead. Problem is it says: ‘and immediately blood and water came out.’
Which means the heart is pumping, so he is evidently not dead.
Most medical experts now estimate it would take up to 24 hours to die. The cause of death would most likely be suffocation. Criminals’ legs were usually broken so they couldn’t support the weight of the body, forcing the ribcage up.
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ; Facts and fiction
6. The Post is set in the ground as a permanent fixture.
See in the picture the executioner is up a ladder, which is leaning on the cross. The cross has to be set deep in the ground to stay up. What happens to the cross after Jesus is taken down? Is it thrown away so the next victim can use his own cross? Or dug up and taken back for the next victim to carry back up? No: as in the picture, it is a permanent.
7. The primary purpose of crucifixion is not to kill a criminal.
See in the picture where the executioner is removing nails from a previous victim to make the cross available for the next. When I asked Terry Gilliam why he did something so subversive, he just said it was probably his morbid senses. But clearly it was also just so logical.
Why does this totally undermine the story in the Bible?
Crucifixion facts: Crosses were too heavy to carry and nails were removed for the next crucifixion
Because, surely the purpose of Crucifixion is to put the body on show, as a deterrent, as long as possible. Upright like a banner, struggling with pain, degraded and dehumanized, till it rotted.
Now just consider Joseph of Arimathea’s visit to Pilate when he is told he can retrieve the body as long as he is already dead.
Are they joking? They make a cross for a man, he carries it to Golgotha, they nail him up, and after a few hours he drops dead and Pilate says: “Okay, you can take him down now.”
What an absurd amount of effort and time, not to mention a ridiculous use of a valuable tree, to kill a man.
Crucifixion’s a Doddle by Julian Doyle (Clink Street Publishing: £11.99) out now.
Published at Fri, 15 Apr 2022 17:18:00 +0000