Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Day 24 of Lent :: Crucifixion

“Pilate had Jesus flogged, 
and handed him over to be crucified.”
(Mark 15:15

The Romans didn’t invent crucifixion as a means of punishment, but they did all they could to perfect it. Crucifixion was designed to maximize pain and suffering. It wasn’t merely about killing someone— it was about killing someone in a cruel and excruciating way. Crucifixion was the most disgraceful form of execution. It was usually reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and vile criminals.

Before every crucifixion, one would undergo a flogging or scourging. The scourging was intended to bring a victim to a state just short of death. Roman soldiers were trained to do this with great precision. 

A criminal was usually first forcefully stripped of his clothes and then tied to a post. The scourging began. The brutal instrument used to scourged the victim was called a flagrum. It can readily be seen that the long lashing pieces of bone and metal would greatly lacerate the human flesh.1
This was gruesome sight. Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, the Church historian of the 3rd century, wrote in his Epistle of the Church in Smyrna, concerning the Roman scourging inflicted on those to be executed: the sufferer's "veins were laid bare, and that the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure."2
The Journal of the American Medical Association, published a medical study of the death of Christ. Regarding the scourging of Jesus, we read:

Flogging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution, and only women and Roman senators or soldiers (except in cases of desertion) were exempt. The usual instrument was a short whip (flagrum or flagellum) 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 (lictors) or by one who alternated positions. The severity of the scourging depended on the disposition of the lictors 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.

As the Roman soldiers
repeatedly struck the victim's back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross. . . .

The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a preshock state. Moreover, hematidrosis had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state. Therefore, even before the actual crucifixion, Jesus' physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.1

Dr. C. Truman Davis
, a medical doctor who has meticulously studied crucifixion from a medical perspective, describes the effects of the Roman flagrum used in whipping:

The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across [a person's] shoulders, back, and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the beating is finally stopped.2

Reflection: Based on the descriptions of what Jesus would have experienced, reflect on the following prophecy about Jesus.

Just as there were many who were appalled at him
his appearance was so disfigured 
beyond that of any human being
his form marred beyond human likeness.
(Isaiah 52:14)

1 William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, Floyd E., Hosmer, "On the Physical Death of Jesus  Christ," The Journal of the American Medical Association 11 (March 21, 1986): 1457-1458.
2 C. Truman Davis, "The Crucifixion of Jesus," Arizona Medicine (March 1965), p. 185.

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